THE CONTINUING ADVENTURES OF OUR FAVOURITE BIRDIES...

THE CONTINUING ADVENTURES OF OUR FAVOURITE BIRDIES...


 
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 One Good Turn

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GreenHawk

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Posts : 82
Join date : 2012-10-02

PostSubject: One Good Turn   Sun 9 Aug - 15:20:49

Oh, you people did it again, didn't you?  Left Lee and me to our own devices.... And this is what you get for that!


Green dropped her boots by the wall and turned around with a smile on her face.
 
The smile quickly disappeared as she noticed the big plastic tubs taking up their cosy little living area and the shuffling, slightly guilty looking Mate standing with them.
 
“Hello.”
 
“Welcome home, my love.” Kael dropped his chin and side eyed the containers, knowing it was safer to just confess than string it out, but still very wary. “Um… we were doing a bit of a clean-up of the hangar today…”
 
“Uh huh….” Green took a step forward and looked down. “Um… fabric?”
 
“Yeah.” Kael scratched his chin. “The green and some of the black fabric from our unwedding ceremony.  Kyros kindly gave it to us.  As, ah… a souvenir of one of the happiest days of my life.” He sighed blissfully.
 
“Right… so why only the green and some of the black?  Why not some of the white and red too?” She dipped and snagged an edge with her fingertips. “Oh.”
 
“Well… I believe that is because we may use that particular colour scheme at some time in the future.” Kael flicked an eyebrow. “Oh?”
 
“Huh?”
 
“You seemed surprised about something – and I do not mean unexpectedly finding several hundred metres of fabric in our living room…”
 
“Oh… I am surprised.” Green dropped to her knees and held up the corner of black. “This feels like one hundred percent cotton… I was expecting a poly of some kind.” She smirked and reached into a tub of green. “But I bet… oh.  This is the same…”
 
“Kyros would have ordered all the colours in the same fabric, Midori.  There would be no reason to differentiate between them unless the fabric was unavailable in one of them.”
 
“… I suppose so.”
 
“You thought Kyros would discriminate against the green because it is your colour.”
 
“Well…. Duh.” Green smiled up at him.
 
Kael grinned down at her before becoming slightly concerned. “I must say, my little Hawk… you seem quite… well… okay with suddenly acquiring quite a lot of fabric we really do not have the room to store.  Not that we have any use for it, but…”
 
“I’ll just give it to Kana-chan.” Green looked around. “But… there is a lot of it… I don’t think Kana-chan would want it all…  Of course… I’m sure Papa would find a use for whatever of the black she wouldn’t use….”
 
“Kana-chan?  Hayato’s wife?”
 
“Yeah.  She does sashiko – a type of traditional embroidery.  Started a club here and everything – although I think they do more than sashiko.” Green bit her lip. “I don’t think we can just drop it off to her though… I don’t have that kind of relationship with her.”
 
“What about Hayato?  What if you gave it to him and he passed it on?”
 
“Um… considered somewhat rude – because it’s a present meant for Kana-chan, not Haya-kun….” She sighed. “There’s no way around it… we’re going to have to invite them to dinner.”
 
“I think that is a wonderful idea, my love!” Kael stooped to pick up a container. “It is too late for today, but what about tomorrow?  We both have the early shifts, so we would have the time to cook…  Unless they already have plans, of course.”
 
“I’ll call them and find out.” Green sighed again, getting to her feet. “Not the way I planned on spending a night, but… if we want this stuff out of our quarters, sacrifices have to be made.”
 
***
 
Just a word on Kael’s speech patterns during this post.  There are no such things as contractions in Japanese so I’ve used them to give the sense of how natural his way of speaking would be.
 
Kael reached for the spoon Green had abandoned on the draining board when she had covered the pot of con’fer to keep it warm.
 
“I can see what you’re doing, you know.”
 
“I… I was just going to, um… give it one more stir for good luck,” he improvised, the spoon halfway to his mouth. “After all, my love, this is the first dinner we have shared with just Hayato and Kana.  Given how you feel about her… luck will be required.”
 
“I don’t hate her.” Green took the spoon from his hand, tapped the contents back into the pot and then firmly placed the lid on it. “I just don’t like her much.  Or want to spend any time in her company.”
 
“Except she would be doing us a favour by taking the fabric off our hands so you are going to pretend you do and be a good hostess.”
 
“While you do nothing but hog my niece like you always do?  Forget that.” Green patted his chest. “You are going to be the good host and I’m going to be the one playing with the kid.”
 
“I cannot help it if Aiko prefers me.” Kael swaggered a step to the cupboard and opened it, retrieving bowls and plates to lay out in preparation for dinner. “Perhaps it is because, baby or not, she senses your dislike of her mother.”
 
“She’s not a baby, she’s nineteen months old!  And maybe it’s not that she prefers you, or senses something, it’s that no one else gets to even look at her when you’re around because you hog her!”
 
“Well… if I had my own baby to play with, then I would not have to steal other people’s and you could play with Aiko all you liked…” He tried his very best puppy dog face.
 
“Kael… I don’t need to give birth to a child just yet.  I’m waiting for the one I already live with to grow up.”
 
“…Ouch.”
 
“You deserved it.”
 
“Oh, I did.  Totally.” Kael huffed a great sad sigh. “It is just, well… to be a father is something I wish desperately for and I know you must be ready to be a mother before that can happen, but…”
 
“But you’re an idiot if you think a guilt trip’s going to work.”
 
“I am bearing my soul here!” he exclaimed, a look of outraged innocence on his face. “With no ulterior motive at all!” He sagged at the look on her face. “That is not going to work either, is it?”
 
“Nope.”
 
“Not even a little bit?”
 
“Nope.”
 
“…Would begging work?”
 
Green stared at the ceiling for a moment. “…No, it wouldn’t,” she said, shaking her head a little and letting her gaze drop. “What else have you got?”
 
“Um…” Kael suddenly grinned. “Nothing I have adequate time for right now.” He leered. “But there will be once your brother and his family go home.”
 
He noted the immediate flush at Green’s neckline with satisfaction and vowed to do some calculations once he had some time at hand.
 
And his diary.  He needed that too.  He was developing a theory on how just Gwal his little Hawk truly was.  Not in the timing sense as she was human in her cycle, but in the associated behavioural aspects.
 
He’d heard rumours that when Gwal women were at their most fertile, they were also at their most… demanding.  Of their men.  He suspected there was something simil-
 
“Damn, they’re early!” Green protested quietly as the doorbell rang and she hurried to wipe down the kitchen counter. “Are you getting that or what?”
 
“Oh, I thought, because it is your brother…” Kael shook his head to clear his mind of his previous train of thought.
 
“Ah, no, you’re the man of the house.”
 
“Okay….” Kael filed that one away for later although he suspected she was insisting on doing it ‘right’ only because she didn’t want Kana to have anything to scowl about.  “Good evening!” he rumbled, throwing open the door, his hands already reaching for Aiko.  “Come in, come in.  What an adorable little dress you have on, my sweetheart!”
 
“’Ael!” Aiko threw her chubby arms around his neck as Hayato slipped two dainty shoes off her feet.
 
“Shitsureishimasu,” the ninja murmured, holding Kana steady as she slid out of her shoes. “Something smells good.” Hayato frowned slightly. “But I can’t tell if it’s Japanese or Rygan…”
 
“Because it’s a bit of both,” Green answered, tugging Kael further into the room to allow her brother and his wife some space. “We decided on the usual blend – con’fer, tsu’kel, nikujaga, rice… oh, and beef, daikon and cucumber salad.  With Mama’s sauce recipe.  All stuff you’ve tasted before so nothing surprising or too…. Rygan.”
 
“Too strong, you mean.” Kael chuckled. “I did suggest darakesha but I was outvoted.”
 
“There are only two of you,” Hayato said slowly, translating Kana’s muttered words for Kael.
 
“Well, yes…” Kael replied, just as carefully.  His attempt at humour had obviously fallen flat with at least one member of his audience.  Hopefully it was just a lost in translation thing.
 
“In this house, votes are won on how many knives you have at your immediate disposal, Kana-chan,” Green said in Japanese, tilting her head. “And I don’t like darakesha.”
 
“But if your… husband… likes it…”
 
“Then my Mate can have it when he’s eating alone.  I’ll even make it for him, but if I won’t eat it, then I certainly wouldn’t subject either of you to it.”
 
“I don’t love it,” Kael interjected quickly in the same language. “Nikujaga is much better.”
 
“And doesn’t destroy your tastebuds.”  Green laid her hand on the small of his back. “Shall we have some tea?”
 
***
 
Kael had to admit it.  Dinner so far had been a chore. Hayato had praised the food to the extreme, concentrating on how tasty, how delicious, how enjoyable the two mild Rygan dishes were while Kana had obviously struggled through every mouthful.
 
He’d thought Green was going to reach over and smack her one when the woman very pointedly removed a morsel of tsu’kel from Aiko’s hand with a muttered ‘oh, she won’t like that’ before the toddler had even tried it.
 
Instead, it had been Hayato who had moved first, snatching the meatball and handing it back to the child while hissing ‘wife, she has always liked it before!’
 
Kael was beginning to understand Green’s feelings about her sister-in-law.
 
And share them.
 
They had tried talking about the Black Hawk, the Ryngers, the Wings, families in general, the weather, the day care centre, how Kael and Green dealt with two very different cultures living under the same roof – and through it all, Kana had barely offered an opinion or observation, speaking only when directly addressed.
 
He felt sorry for Hayato… the man was obviously becoming increasingly uncomfortable, his reactions to Kana’s continued reticence more and more exasperated.
 
“You don’t know?  It’s a pretty simple question, Kana-chan!  Kael-kun would like to know what your favourite food is, and considering how often we have sukiyaki, I’d say the answer was fairly obvious.”
 
“Well… maybe that’s her favourite meal, Haya-kun,” Green murmured. “Not her favourite food.  That could be chocolate or strawberries – something you don’t really eat for dinner…”
 
Inside, Kael wanted to just curl up – he’d asked the question because it was an easy one! 
 
“I suppose we should tell you why we invited you for dinner,” Green said to break the uncomfortable silence once it had dragged on for too long. “Not that we didn’t want to spend some time with you, but… we had an ulterior motive.”
 
“My Midori said it was traditional to feed you before asking for a favour,” Kael added with a quick grin.
 
Hayato’s eyebrows shot up and he smiled. “Well, you are family so it really wasn’t necessary – depending on what it is, of course.  And assuming you have the right brother.”
 
“I can tell you apart, you know,” Green snorted.  “Been doing it all my life, but… it’s not you we need to ask.”
 
Later, Kael would swear Kana began to physically shake as they all looked at her.
 
“….Me?”
 
“Yeah….” Green grabbed Kael’s hand and grinned up at him.  “Someone’s pain in the arse boss made us a… well, I’ll call it a gift, but I highly doubt it was presented with anything close to good intentions.”
 
“I am sure there were…. No, none at all.” Kael laughed. “Do you remember the decorations from the unreception after our unceremony?  The ones in the hangar, I mean.”
 
“It’s pure, one hundred percent, cotton,” Green continued in a rush. “In black and green only – apparently, Kyros can find a use for the rest, but…. He was, ah… kind enough to fork over half the black, so I suppose we should be grateful….  Papa and Kazu-kun could probably use the black we’ve got, it’s really good quality stuff… but…um…”
 
“It would leave us with copious amounts of green material we have no room for and Midori suggested you might like some of it for your, um… what did you call it?  Shashimko?”
 
“Sashiko.  I know you’ve started a group here for it…”  Green bit her lip. “I know we’re asking a lot – there’s a lot of fabric, but, as I said, the Clan could probably use any of the black you wouldn’t want and, I guess, we could donate the rest of the green to anyone who wanted it….”
 
“You said it was good quality?” Kana asked quietly, her brows knitted. “Do you have it here?  May I see it?”
 
“Oh, yeah, sure.”  Green jumped to her feet.
 
“You can’t wait until after we’ve finished eating?” Hayato stared down at his plate – he’d been enjoying the salad.
 
“What? You can’t eat without me at the table?” Green wrinkled her nose. “Why?  Because you need me to feed you or something?”
 
“We don’t stand on ceremony here, Hayato.” Kael leaned back, ready to stand up himself. “Keep eating – just don’t steal any of my food.”
 
“No, Kael, sit down.  I’m only going to bring out one tub, not the whole lot.”
 
“I’ll come with you so you don’t have to move any… tubs.” Kana smiled, truly smiled, in humour.
 
Green tucked her hand around Kana’s arm. “Oh, you think it’s funny now.  Wait until you see how much we’re dealing with!”
 
***
 
“I cannot believe she wants it all!” Kael shook his head, his hand out for the bowl Green was drying.
 
“I can’t believe I actually enjoyed her company – once I showed her the fabric, I mean.  Before… not so much.” Green watched him carefully stack it on top of the others in the cupboard.
 
“We found a topic of conversation she enjoys, I guess.” Kael turned and leaned against the counter as Green began to wipe down the sink.
 
“But we talked about other stuff too, Kael.  It was like someone flicked a switch – RobotKana, click, HumanKana!  It was very odd.  I’ve never seen her like that before.”
 
“Have you considered… she might be very shy?  Your family – as much as I love them – are very intimidating.”
 
“I suppose that’s possible…” Green answered slowly. “She’s not Black Hawk either, so…”
 
“Not even a little bit?”
 
Green knew what he meant – non-ninja Black Hawk. “No, but her maternal cousins are.  From their father’s side…  Haya-kun is good friends with one of them… Akatsuka… something… Atsushi?  He just calls him Atsu-kun, so… I’m not sure, but I know they ended up sharing an apartment in their last year of university.  That’s how he and Kana-chan met.”
 
“How much can she know?”
 
“Ah, well… she probably knows more than she should.  I mean... she’s Black Hawk now, just not, um…”
 
“She is my kind of Black Hawk, not your kind.”
 
“Yeah…”
 
Kael nodded thoughtfully, carefully choosing his next words. “I can imagine she would then be somewhat… cut off… from her immediate family – and her old friends.  People who cannot know who she really married.  After all, if I were anyone else… or you were not a Bird… it would be difficult for us, yes?  It is purely circumstantial that we are in a position where we can both be open about your ties the Black Hawk.”
 
Green turned her head to look at him. “I have never said she hasn’t made sacrifices to be with Haya-kun.”
 
“But have you ever really thought about what that truly means for her?  Back when you could not be openly you… was it not difficult?  Did you not keep to yourself in case you were found out?”
 
“You know I did.  But it’s different for Kana-chan.  She’s not hiding secrets from the people she lives with and sees every day.”
 
“But those people are not her family, are they?  How much contact do they have with the people she calls Mama and Papa?”
 
Green blanched as if he’d slapped her. “… She doesn’t call Mama and Papa mama and papa…  It’s always Fumi-san and Yamazaki-sensei….”
 
“And she calls you Midori-san.  Kazuo is Kazuo-san… Takaya… Takaya-san.  Sayaka, Akane and Teruha all call your mother Fumi-chan, a throwback from Kurotaka, I believe, and your father is ‘Papa’ to all of them… They are more than comfortable with this, are they not?  Because they are Black Hawk.  They have their own worth to the Clan outside of who their husbands are.  But Kana?  Who is she to the Clan besides wife to Hayato and mother to Aiko?”
 
Pulling her thumbnail from her teeth, Green shook her head in denial. “She can be whoever she wants to be, Kael.  You know that about us – we would support her in anything she wanted to do.”
 
“As long as she puts her husband’s family above her own and her husband’s destiny before hers….” Kael reached out a hand, palm up in a plea for understanding. “You know I do not say this with any intent other than honesty, my love.  You and I both make sacrifices to be together, we have compromised on Atlantia being our home so neither of us will ever return to our previous lives… but it is a mutual loss and gain.  What has Hayato lost to gain Kana?  What has he given up to be with her?”
 
“…Nothing,” Green admitted sadly.
 
“Meanwhile, Kana is living in a world she is not a part of.  As you were.  But, unlike you, there is no Thunderbird in her future who will meld both halves of her life together.”
 
“He could have got all of us killed!”
 
“But he did not.  If someone did alert her family about the Black Hawk… what would happen to them?”
 
“…Bad stuff,” she conceded reluctantly after a moment.
 
“So that poor woman, who is possibly already shy enough, has more than the usual reasons to keep her mouth firmly closed even around the people she has known for years.” Kael side-eyed her. “And they call her ‘arrogant’ and barely tolerate her presence, openly admitting that they do so purely out of respect for their brother and son.  Her sudden change tonight was probably due to finally feeling like one of you has actually taken time to see her for her.”
 
“We care!” Green growled.
 
“I know you do, my one and only love.  Your first thought when you saw all that material was we would give it to Kana if she wanted it.  But, other than knowing what her hobby is, have you ever taken her shopping for supplies?  When you were looking for a hobby of your own, did you consider asking her advice?”
 
“I knew I didn’t want to do sashiko, Kael.  It wasn’t the same.”
 
“My point is you have known about her passion for all of this time but you have yet to show her any interest in it.”
 
“Because it’s not my interest.”
 
“But you do care.”
 
Green glared at him, her eyes wide and filled with hurt confusion. “Are you say I don’t?  Because I didn’t ask Kana-chan to teach me sashiko?”
 
“No, but I am saying that you have never shown an interest in what Kana is passionate about.  Not even superficially – which is something I know you would not do, it has to be genuine…” Kael sighed. “It is not about what she likes, Midori, it is about her feeling left out, isolated.  Tonight we saw the Kana who Hayato sees… and all it took was for you to show you know something about her other than she is Hayato’s wife and Aiko’s mother.  For once, she felt valued for herself.”
 
Green threw the washcloth into the sink and stalked out of the kitchenette.  “We’ve always tried to get her to talk, to give an opinion – you saw what she’s like, Kael!  She wouldn’t answer a simple question about food, by all that’s holy!  That’s what we’ve been dealing with all this time but, apparently, it’s our fault?  Because we don’t go into raptures about her… her… hobby??”
 
“That is not what I am saying, Midori – and you damn well know it.” Kael bit his lip and leaned both hands on the counter, staring down. “If I am correct,” he began in a much calmer tone, “and I think I am… she is shy, my love.  Extremely so.  Keeping to herself has been a defence mechanism.  Something you know a bit about.” He looked up, his face pleading with her to listen carefully. “I am not ‘having a go’ at you or your family, really I am not.  There is a significant age difference between you and her, unlike the two years between you and Sayaka… and you do not share Clan with her, not like you do with Akane or Teruha.  Which is something they do not share with her either.  To find a common ground that does not involve Hayato and Aiko… for any of you… would be difficult.  I am merely offering an outsider’s opinion on why Kana is the way she is, that is all.”
 
“You’re not an outsider, Kael.” Green clutched the back of the couch with a single hand, her knuckles turning white.
 
“I beg to differ, Midori. Have I been welcomed?  Yes, very much so – and I do feel it, every day.  However… if your mother was not my aunt…  If the Black Hawk could not be as open as they are here… If I were not who I am… If I had obviously been brought up in a more ‘traditional’ home so I would expect to be the man and you the good wife… Perhaps things would be very different for me.  Perhaps I would also be ‘tolerated’ and considered ‘arrogant’.”
 
“No, you wouldn’t.  Because I would have killed you before any of my family had the chance to meet you.”
 
Kael let out a single chuckle and shook his head. “My point is… I have many advantages that Kana does not.  I knew who and what you were before I began courting you.  I grew up surrounded by… well, Clans of a sort.  I know family is not always about shared bloodlines.  I was prepared, Midori, for the reality of sharing my life with you well before you would even hold my hand.  Kana did not have that, did she?”
 
Her eyes sought the ceiling in the way Kael knew she was going to say something she really didn’t want to. “…It was a wedding… um… surprise.  But Haya-kun did warn her things would change.  He did, honest.  Mama made him.”
 
“I have no doubt he did, but she still married him anyway.  Because she loves him.  And she goes wherever he goes… because she loves him.”
 
“Well, no, because she’s traditional and that’s just expected, you know?  He’s the husband and so she just trots behind him and all that crap…”
 
“Midori.”
 
“…Fine.  I’ll be nice, okay?  I’ll… ask about her stupid sashiko and I’ll…” Green’s breath ruffled her fringe. “I’ll even join her stupid sewing group if that’s what you want.”
 
“Midori.”
 
“What?”
 
“You do not have to join her ‘stupid sewing group’.  That is not what I am saying at all.  Just… take an interest.  Ask her about it. Make a point of seeing her as something other than Hayato’s wife.  Do not wait for family gatherings to speak to her, even if it is just a simple email asking how her latest project is progressing.”
 
“Well… that last one’s going to be easy since we’re dropping off the tubs at the hall tomorrow…”
 
“I meant after we do that.”
 
“Oh.  Bugger.”
 
***
 
“I really can’t thank you enough, Midori-san.” Kana swallowed and she peeked up at the short line of red suited men waiting to be given instructions. “And Kael-san too.  We could have, ah… collected the material ourselves, you really didn’t have to go to so much bother…”
 
“Don’t be silly, the tubs are way too heavy for a normal person to lift.  Where did you want them?  Kael’ll get the guys to put them away for you.”
 
“Oh, um… on the floor’s fine.” Kana blinked when Green knitted her brows.
 
“No, seriously.  They weigh a ton, Kana-chan.  The Ryngers are all implanted or they’d be struggling by now.”
 
“Oh.  No, um… we’re going to, ah… wrap the material onto bolts and then put it away in our storeroom.”
 
“Oh, oh, okay, makes sense, really, doesn’t it?”  Green tried a smile. “It’d be easier to cut up if it was on bolts.”
 
“Exactly!” Kana exclaimed in relief.
 
“Kael,” Green called. “Anywhere is fine.  The ladies are going to pull the tubs apart and roll the material onto…” she paused, searching for the word in English. “They’re going to fold it up properly so it’s easier for them to use.”
 
“It is already folded so you can simply grab an end out…” Kael demonstrated, pulling several metres from his tub.
 
“No, I mean they’re going to, um… wrap it!” Green pointed at an older lady whose arms were full of cardboard planks. “Around those – like they do at the fabric store.”
 
“How wonderful!” Kael beamed. “I will happily stay to help.”
 
“Me, too!” Purone nodded, smiling at the accompanying offers of assistance from his Brethren. “With all of us helping, it will not take long at all.”
 
“Oh, they don’t have to do that, Midori-san!” Kana fluttered her hands in distress when Green translated for her. “Please, tell them to go – they’ve done so much for us already!”
 
“Kana-chan… firstly, call me Mi-chan, please, and secondly… you don’t understand.  They want to help.” Green made sure she had Kana’s attention and then rolled her eyes dramatically. “Because they love doing stuff that’s not… ‘normal’.  It’ll be the most fun they’ll have all day because it’s probable that none of them, besides Kael, has ever stepped foot inside a fabric store here on Earth.  It’s all new and exciting for them.  If we send them away… they will be disappointed they didn’t get to play.”
 
“But… shouldn’t they be… doing something else?  We don’t want them to get in trouble when they’ve helped us so much already.”
 
“Well… Kael thinks it’s okay for him to stay so I guess it’s alright for everyone else too.  He or Purone would have said something if it wasn’t.”
 
“Kana-san, if Yamazaki-san says it’s okay, then let them be,” an older woman Green recognised as one of the head caterers of the Mess Hall said calmly. “It’s been my experience that you just can’t stand in the way of a Rygan Rynger determined to ‘help’.”
 
“Midori…. Are we causing concern with our request?” Kael asked worriedly, sharing confused glances with Purone.
 
“The concern is the trouble you all could get into with Kyros if you hang around.  I mean… it was… nice… and completely out of character… of him to let you borrow Ryngers so we didn’t have to make more than one trip.  We don’t want to push it.”
 
“Yee-ah, it was nice, was it not…” Kael suddenly grinned at an immediately suspicious Green as Purone coughed. “We have not been set another task that staying to help would impact adversely…”
 
“Thank you, Kael’Ryn,” Mina, the caterer, decided quickly. “Your help will be appreciated.  Many hands and all that…  Ladies,” she swapped to Japanese and clapped her hands for attention, “I think we can get at least four groups across the width of the hall without tripping over each other.  Make sure the fold is nice and even and we’ll save ourselves a lot of headaches later. Yamazaki-san, if you could get the Ryngers to put their tubs at the end there, we’ll have this done in no time.”
 
***
 
Green held out the last bolt of black and Kana slotted it into place on the storeroom shelf.
 
“Oh, this looks so much better now with all that wonderful fabric!” Kana turned, her face red, and struggling to look Green in the eye. “I can’t thank you enough, Mido – Mi-chan,” she whispered. “We didn’t know what we were going to do…  I mean… we all have our own supplies and fabric and stuff, but… to really be able to do some good… we just couldn’t afford it in time.”
 
“…What do you mean? ‘Do some good’?  And afford what in time?”
 
“Oh… um…” Kana bit her lip. “We’re only a small group – eight in total, and, ah… Well, only Seito-san and I do sashiko.  The others do patchwork so we thought, that with winter coming up, we could make some quilts, just simple ones, and, um…. give them to people.  People who need them.”
 
“Kana-chan…” Green reached out a hand and just touched the embarrassed woman’s arm. “That’s a wonderful idea!  Do you mean people here or…”
 
“Here, in Defiance.  Mina-san saw something on the news the other night.  A shelter asking for help, they just don’t have enough for all the people who’ll need it… She said it was heartbreaking, there’s a whole family living in their car because they can’t afford a place to stay!  We are so lucky, Midori-san.  The Clan will always look after us, but… there are people who don’t even have a blanket to keep themselves warm and… It gets cold around these parts…”
 
Green looked around the small storeroom, one of several built into the hall for the various groups who used it.  A shelf of black, a shelf of green… and an old sewing machine.
 
“You need more than what you’ve got, Kana-chan… A quilt has stuff inside it, doesn’t it?”
 
“Wadding, yes.  But… we’ve got the material now!” Kana beamed. “Good material that will last… we don’t have to worry about buying that and the wadding.  We’ve all got needles and thread and scissors… and a couple do have some wadding which they’ve offered to donate to our project – as well as a bit of material too.  It’s just that… we haven’t been here very long, not long enough for anyone to have a really good stash of material in this country.  Mina-san is trying to organise getting hers out of storage and sent over, but… that’s going to take some time. Seito-san and I never had much in our stash anyway, because we never really needed it… and the others gave theirs way when they moved here.”
 
The woman gazed at the empty shelves. “Another couple of years… we would have been fine, but we want to do so much now.  We have a start though, a good one.  It’s more than we had this time yesterday and we’ll never be able to thank you enough, Mi-chan.”
 
“It’s Kyros you need to thank, Kana-chan, not me,” the little ninja murmured. “Have you spoken to Papa about what your group plans to do?”
 
“Yamazaki-sensei??” Kana squeaked. “Why would we?”
 
“Because…” Green turned to face her straight on. “He could help.  The Clan would help you.”
 
“But none of us are ninja,” she breathed, her eyes wild. “It doesn’t work that way for us.”
 
“I’m fairly certain the elephants at the zoo aren’t ninja either, but, you know… Papa helped them out.” Green smiled in the hope her attempt of humour would calm her sister-in-law.
 
While internally cursing Kael for being right, dammit.
 
“It’s not the same.”
 
“Why not?”
 
“Because… because you asked him to help them!”
 
“Yeah… that’s true.  But all I really did was tell him about the situation.  He didn’t have to say yes.  Even if I did make it clear I’d pout if he didn’t do something and that no one really wanted to see that.”
 
“No one would have survived that.” Kana clapped her hands to her mouth. “Oh, I didn’t mean… ah… I’m sorry!”
 
“For what?  Telling the truth?”  Green chuckled. “Look… it’s a simple conversation, Kana-chan.” She pulled her phone from her pocket and checked the time. “I’ll send Maeda-san a message later to get Papa to call you when he’s up.”
 
“No!  No, please, don’t do that.”
 
“Okay… I’ll get him to call me then.  What else do you need?  Might as well put all the order in at once.” Green laughed and then suddenly stopped, realising Kana was wringing her hands together. “…What’s wrong?  If you’re afraid he’ll send the wrong stuff, I can ask Maeda-san instead – he’d get it right.”
 
“It’s…. This isn’t a Clan thing, Yamazaki-san,” Mina said from the doorway. “This is just us wanting to put our hobbies to good use.”
 
“I know, but that doesn’t mean the Clan can’t help you to do that….  In fact, this is the point of being Clan in the first place.  You help the Clan, the Clan helps you.” Green chewed the inside of her cheek.  Wasn’t it?  Did she live too close to the centre of the Black Hawk to know what it was like for those on the outer edges?
 
Everything her father had done because she had either asked nicely or outright bullied him… was it only because it was… her?
 
And was it because she was comfortable in letting him do it - knowing, as she did, what it meant to the Clan’s purpose?
 
“Kana-chan… you said the Clan would always look after us, yeah?  So none of us would ever face being homeless or destitute, not like the people you want to help,” Green began, carefully choosing her words. “But it goes further than that.  The Clan wants all of us to be the best we can be… to do the best we can do – and that’s not just for core families, it’s for everyone.  We wouldn’t be anywhere as strong as we are if it weren’t for our non-ninja… and the Clan knows that.  It knows the debt it owes to members like you, Mina-san, who move halfway around the world at its’ behest.  It knows the sacrifices you’ve made, Kana-chan, to be the wife and mother of Black Hawk ninja when you weren’t born into the Clan yourself.
 
“And it knows it’s a two-way street that goes beyond taking care of physical needs like housing and funds if necessary.  You make the Clan viable – you make it possible in the first place!  And obviously that isn’t something you get told often enough because… you only see this idea of yours as something you want to do… you don’t get that it’s something the Clan would want to help you with – just because it is you and it’s something you want to do and you are Clan….  You’re all as important to the Clan as ninja are.”
 
“Say you’re right, Yamazaki-san… and the Clan would want to help…” Mina hesitated, sharing glances with Kana. “How far would that ‘help’ go?  I mean… yes, we are in desperate need of wadding and a few other things too, but… I think I speak for all of us when I say I don’t want to suddenly be dealing with an army of quilters – especially if they’re the reluctantly recruited kind.”
 
“Oh, you mean the ‘I’ve been told to sew even though I have no idea how to thread a needle’ kind?” Green grinned. “That, unfortunately, is a risk.  One, I’m sure I can avoid if I do it right.  You might still get, um… ‘volunteers’, but they’d at least be enthusiastic ones.” She held her hands out, palms up. “I just think that, once they find out what you want to do, you’ll end up with people wanting to help - and not because they’ve been conscripted.”
 
“We can work with that kind,” Mina said, returning her grin. “Just not the ‘where’s the glue to stick this fabric together?’ type.”
 
“…I’ll tell Papa that won’t be at all helpful.” Green eyed the bolts of cotton. “So… you need wadding…. What about more fabric?  Black and green’s fine for a uniform, but it’s rather drab for a quilt.”
 
“Oh, we’re going to dress them up with sashiko and use different methods to piece the blocks together.  They might still look a little… drab… but they are the colours of the Green Hawk and since she’s made it possible….” Mina petered off. “At least the first few should be this colour scheme.  We can talk about different ones later.  Once we’re sure our ‘volunteers’ are really volunteers. ”
 

***

Kael dropped his boots onto the rack and grinned to see the blonde head of his Mate bent over something on the kotatsu.
 
“Good evening, my love!  How was the rest of your day?”
 
“Fine,” Green muttered around the needle clenched between her teeth. “Yours?”
 
“Good…. Good…” He dropped to his knees opposite her. “What are you doing?”
 
She glared at him from under her fringe. “’Taking an interest’.”
 
He picked up a small green fabric covered card hexagon from the table and turned it over between his fingers. “This does not look like embroidery.”
 
“It’s a type of patchwork called English paper piecing.” Green flattened out the fabric she had in her hands. “It’s quite easy – which is why Fujimoto-san suggested it’s what I tried first.  It’s her favoured style so bias might have something to do with that too.” She shrugged. “But it is easy and it looks pretty good, doesn’t it?”
 
“May I?” Kael reached for the sample. “You have sewn all of this?” he asked, examining it closely. “All by yourself?”
 
“Yep.  And in about an hour too.  Fujimoto-san did all the preparation work though – she has this little machine thing that cut the card and fabric to the right sizes and she stuck the fabric to the card as well… All I have to do is sew them together and take the templates out when I’m done.”
 
“I see.” Kael licked his lips. “…Have you found a new hobby?”
 
His tone was light, the question simple, but Green could hear something in his voice that made her pause instead of giving a flippant answer.
 
“…It’s different.  To cross stitch, I mean.  And… to be honest… I think I would rather do that than this.  I like this because it is easy, I don’t have to think beyond making sure I sew the right sides together – and it’s growing pretty quickly too.  I like that.  But… this is like putting a puzzle together, cross stitching is like painting a picture.  When this is finished, I’ll stand back and say ‘yep, I did that’, but when I finish that,” her eyes travelled to the work on her frame that stood by the wall in its’ customary spot, “it’s going to be ‘I did that’.”
 
Kael nodded and she could see she’d made him happy with her answer.  It wasn’t that he was against her having another hobby as well the cross stitch that hung on the frame he had so lovingly crafted for her, it was the fear she’d replace it and he’d never see the final result.
 
And he really wanted to see the final result.  His little Hawk had so far – deliberately, he knew – stitched only background details, skirting the central focus.  There were tell-tale gaps in the work that suggested a figure or two and he suspected ‘the picture she liked’, the basis of the design, was one of them together.
 
“So… once you have finished, what will this be?”
 
“A block for one of the quilts the sewing group is making.” Green took it back from him and concentrated on matching up the next hexagon to be sewn in. “You were right,” she said quietly, not looking up. “Kana-chan is seriously shy – and feels completely left out.  Not just of the family, but of the Clan.  In fact…” She sighed. “That seems to be an issue for a lot of the non-core members here.  When I suggested they talk to Papa about getting some supplies for their group… Kana-chan freaked about it not being a Clan thing and Mina-san was worried that the Clan would take over. Because they’re not ninja…” She bit her lips together, her brows knotting with the strength of her emotions. “They… they think that being Clan only means they have to do what the Clan wants them to do and the Clan will provide shelter and money if they can’t provide their own… They didn’t know the Clan would help them in other ways too.”
 
“Like what?  If Mina was worried about the Clan taking over… I assume you mean in trade for the supplies you were talking about.”
 
Green leaned back. “They have nothing much else besides this fabric and an old sewing machine.  And they want to make quilts for a charity right here in Defiance.  And they want to do as many as they can before winter really kicks in.  But they need, um…” Dammit, another word she’d never had to learn in English. “They need the stuff that makes a quilt… poufy… warm. The stuff that goes inside.  I suggested they called Papa and… well… it didn’t go down as well as that usually does.”
 
It doesn’t work that way for us.
 
Kana’s words just wouldn’t get themselves out of Green’s head!
 
Kael scratched the back of his neck. “Maybe it is because… well, it is similar to my position, is it not?  I have no problem approaching Kyros with any idea or concern I may have, yet a new recruit, especially a Rygan recruit, would only know him as the Red Commander and All Hue Leader.  They would find my nonchalance about speaking to him quite unsettling because he is a… figure… a legend almost, one they have not dealt with and therefore cannot see as just a man.  Your father is the Clan Master, but to you he is just Papa – the man you ran to for comfort when you were a child and had fallen over.” He played with a couple of hexagons, sliding them on the table until they sat side by side. “If they have only known him as the Clan Master, the man who has directed their lives from afar… I can see why approaching him would cause consternation on their parts. It would be like a recruit asking Kyros for a favour.”
 
“But we’re not supposed to be like that, Kael!  Kana-chan said ‘it doesn’t work that way for us’ when I suggested the Clan would help them get some stuff together… She meant because they’re not ninja, they can’t ask anything of the Clan… That they’re just supposed to do what the Clan wants them to do and that’s that.  Nothing in return but the promise of looking after their basic needs if necessary.” Green rubbed at her temple. “And I don’t know if she’s right… that there is an inequality between ninja and non-ninja…  I told them both there isn’t, but… the more I think about it, the less certain I am about that… I mean… I was brought up knowing the Clan owes everything we have to the people out there who get themselves into jobs and places we don’t have the time and ninja to do ourselves, but… do they really get the privileges we get?  Or are we just like all the other corporations out there who’d be nothing without their lowest level staff but don’t value them as much as we value our CEO?”
 
“Midori…” Kael murmured, reaching for her hand, truly worried about the train her thoughts were on.  Whatever else happened in her life, she had always had one rock solid to hold on to – her Clan.  To see her questioning it now… it was heartbreaking. It was as if she was questioning everything her life stood for. “I think… I think you need to ask that question, my love.  Call your father, talk to him.  You will not know otherwise.”
 
*****
 
“Kael, come in.” Kyros gestured at the visitor’s chair in front of his desk.  He waited until the Rynger had got himself comfortable. “So… do you have anything to tell me?”
 
“Could you perhaps narrow down the field of topics which might be of interest to you, sir?” Kael grinned cheekily. “I do know a lot of things that could fall under that heading.”
 
Kyros scowled at him and then placed a box on the desk. “Start with this one.”
 
“It’s a white box, sir, with a lid.  It appears to have been designed to… contain… something.  Have you tried looking inside it?”
 
Levelling the cold, hard stare that had reduced many a recruit to a quibbling mess at him, Kyros breathed out of his nose slowly. “How are you still alive, Kael?  How have you survived being Mated to the Green Hawk for all of this time and not had a knife through your ear?”
 
“I like to think it’s because she loves me, sir.  Her aim is too good for it to be anything else.” Kael mock-cringed. “Besides out and out pity, of course.” He chuckled and sat forward. “What is in the box, Kyros?  It’s obviously something that’s bothering you.”
 
“It doesn’t ‘bother’ me, it… bemuses… me.” Kyros flipped the lid and Kael could see the green and black cushy looking contents. “The colour scheme, I mean.  Not exactly… appropriate.  However,” he picked up a sheet of paper by his computer, “this would suggest it is a thank you gift from a group of ladies for my wonderful ‘donation’ of several hundred metres of fabric to their sewing group.”
 
“You told me to get rid of it.”
 
“Oh, I know I did, but I’m not finished.  They go on to thank me for the services of my Ryngers.  What services did my Ryngers provide this group of ladies who all have suspiciously Japanese sounding names, Kael?”
 
“Ah, well… as you know, you kindly gave me several tubs of fabric, sir.  Far more than one or two people could carry, even implanted… so I… borrowedsomeoftheboys.”
 
“To move the fabric from your quarters to wherever this sewing group has their base?”
 
“Yes, sir.  To the hall in the Black Hawk Quarter.” Kael tilted his head slightly. “But we didn’t do it until all the important tasks you set us had been completed.”
 
Kyros nodded thoughtfully, scratching a finger along his jaw. “Why does the word ‘services’ always sound like it means more than ‘one’, Kael?”
 
“Ah.  Yes, well…  they took the fabric out of the tubs, sir, and then rolled it onto cardboard inserts to keep it nice and tidy in their storeroom.  When I realised what they were going to do, I offered to help.  And so did the boys, sir.  It seemed like such a large task at the time… one that was completed much faster with our aid.  We were finished in under half an hour.” Kael glanced at his face. “And then we double-timed it back to the hangar, sir, to finish the rest of our tasks for the day.”
 
“I see.”
 
“Obviously our help was very much appreciated, Kyros.” Kael flicked a finger at the box. “As was your original donation.  In fact… I believe you may have received the first fruits of their labour.  My Midori was working on something the other night that looked remarkably like that block of hexagons you can see just poking out of the side there.  I wonder if she knew who it was destined for…”
 
Kyros eyed the very section Kael was pointing at. “…I’ll have Leona run it down to x-ray and chemical analysis later.  My problem isn’t where the fabric turned up or who you gave it to, Kael.  I am just of the opinion the Black Hawk should have taken care of the running around instead of Ryngers who were supposed to be doing other things at the time.”
 
“Midori and her brother, Hayato, offered to organise a working party, Kyros.” Kael shrugged. “But those tubs were heavy, even for us.  Had I known Kana – or any of the Black Hawk – would use it, I would have got the boys to take it to the hall in the first place instead of taking it back to our quarters.  It wasn’t until I spoke to Midori that I even knew there was a sewing group on base and her sister-in-law was involved in it.  It just seemed like the right thing to do was use the Ryngers again… after all, it was a gift from you to us and… well, the Black Hawk are part of the ‘us’, sir.  As much as you don’t see that, or don’t want to see it, it is true.”
 
Rubbing at his eye, Kyros wearily asked, “And I suppose that’s going to double as your excuse for staying to help them roll up the material?”
 
“No.  We stayed because it seemed like fun, sir. And it was.” Kael smirked.  “Seriously, Kyros… it really didn’t take that long.  And the ladies were very happy that we cared enough to stay.  They’re going to be doing something wonderful with that fabric, Brother.  They’re going to make quilts for people in need.” He reached over and pulled some of the quilt out of the box, flattening it on the desk. “They all seem to have their own favourite methods, but they’re combining them – see?  This is what my Midori did and this,” he pointed at a black section covered in a geometrical design of tiny white stitches, “looks like the embroidery Kana does.  Oh.”
 
Kyros sat forward as Kael hurriedly folded the quilt back into the box.
 
“’Oh’?  What is ‘oh’, Kael?”
 
“Um…” Kael stared warily at the table top. “It would seem there is more than one embroiderer in the group, sir…”
 
Standing up, Kyros snatched the quilt from the box and shook it out. “I see,” he ground out, staring down. “Did you say they were going to make these quilts for people in need?”
 
“..Ah… yes, sir.”
 
“So… all that material… the material I gave you… it’s all going to turn out like this, is it?  And then be handed out in the name of charity?”
 
“I don’t know if it’s going to be exactly like this, sir…” Kael gulped. “That does look like a lot of work, doesn’t it? I don’t know if they’re all going to have that….”
 
“I think we can safely say they will, Kael.” Kyros’ eyes flicked up. “I want every Rynger and recruit assembled in the main hangar in one hour.  No exceptions, no excuses.  Well?  What are you waiting for?  I gave you an order, Rynger!”
 
“Yes, sir.” Kael reluctantly got to his feet, saluted and then parade marched himself out of the office.
 
He did allow himself one tiny little glance back at the man still glaring at the quilt on his desk.
 
And wondered what on Earth made someone embroider a little green hawk in the corner of the black border of a quilt destined for Kyros.
 
He did wait, however, until he was safely through the doors of the Command Suite before he pulled out his phone and started typing.
 
***
 
Kyros strode into the room, all business and ready for action. He took a quick head count -- twenty Ryngers in all, mercifully eight of them female, so there was a shot that they would be able to some sort of expertise in the sewing arts. Kyros himself always prided himself on the fact that he could weld a needle as well as anyone for simple tasks -- sewing a button back on or fixing a tear or torn hem -- but he had never felt compelled to do anything decorative with those skills.
 
But this was just simple sewing, he argued with himself. How hard could it be? He cleared his throat and all eyes swung to him. He braced his feet and put his hands behind his back. It was time to give the troops a pep talk.
 
“Ryngers, I glad to see how many of you chose to answer this call,” he began, making eye contact with each Rynger in turn as he spoke. “As you know, the ultimate goal is to create warm coverlets for those without, especially as winter comes upon this area of the planet. However, our secondary goal is to be able to create as many of the blankets as we can, at least matching what those Black Hawk ladies can do. I believe we can do it.” He paused a moment, letting the words hang in the air a moment. “I know we can do it! Are you ready?”
 
“Yes, sir!” they all chorused.
 
“Can we do this?”
 
“Yes, sir!” 
 
“Then let’s get going! While we’re standing here, they’re already stitching!”
 
“Yes, sir!” they all yelled out, rising to their feet as one.
 
And then everyone stopped. Kyros’s mouth drooped into a frown.
 
“Well, what’s the matter? Get going!”
 
“But, sir,” Gav began, giving sideways glances at the Ryngers on either side of him. “Where, exactly, do we start?”
 
“What? What do you mean, ‘where do you start’? You get pieces of fabric and sew them together.”
 
“But sir,” Ruthie said, speaking quickly before her courage failed her, “I looked up quilting online and it isn’t just a matter of putting a bunch of fabric together. There are all sorts of patterns and designs and we have to think about the fact that we only have three colors of fabric.”
 
Kyros blew out a breath, counting to ten as he did so. It didn’t help him calm down, but he liked to think it made other people think it did. Then they were always caught off guard when he really started yelling. In this case, however, he knew Ruthie was right, so yelling was not an immediate go-to just yet. He had done some research as well and he and Lee were both surprised at the amount of variety that was out there.
 
“Why not just replicate this quilt?” Lee had suggested, running a hand lightly over the surface of the quilt that Kyros had brought home in its white box.
 
“Because it’s theirs.”
 
“So?”
 
“So we should make our own instead of looking as though we are merely copying them.”
 
“But they know what they’re doing and you guys ... not so much.”
 
Kyros gave her a hard look. She pushed out her bottom lip and glared back at him.
 
“Who’s side are you on, anyway?”
 
“The side of the people who are going to be the end recipients of these quilts,” Lee answered tartly, taking the quilt out of the box. Kyros watched her carefully fold it over her arm as she left the room.
 
“Where are you going with that?” he asked as she headed down the hall.
 
“The bedroom, where else?”
 
“What for?”
 
“Well, where else does a coverlet go but a bed?”
 
“I’m not keeping that. I planned on that one being the first on the donation pile.”
 
Lee returned to the living room, a smile on her face as she walked up to him. “Fine, you don’t have to keep. I will and I want it on our bed.”
 
“It’s not our colors,” he protested.
 
“Exactly!” Lee said, almost chortling with glee. “That’s what makes it so special and unique. It’s not like anything either one of us would ever have chosen and besides, it complements the colors that are already there.”
 
He grit his teeth at the memory of the conversation and the thought that the quilt was now spread over his bed. What made it even more galling was the fact that the embroidered green hawk was exactly on his side exactly chest level, right where his heart was. As though marking the place for one of her knives. The thought left him more than unsettled and the second Lee fell asleep, he rolled up the edge of the quilt down to his waist.
 
“We can do these a number of ways,” Kyros began, addressing Ruthie. “From what I could see, patchwork is the simplest and fastest way of getting pieces of fabric together. Something called a Nine Patch, which is simply squares sewn together, is the most rudimentary and the one that most beginners start with.”
 
Kael frowned. “But then our quilts will look childish next to the ones finished by my Green Hawk and the sewing club.”
 
“Yes, well, that is one down side to it,” Kyros admitted, “but seeing as how not many of us have fancy sewing skills, it might be the only way to go.”
 
“No offense, sir,” a young recruit by the name of Changda said timidly, “but some of us have taken home economics courses back in school. I myself made a great pillow for my mum that looked like a keckrel.”
 
Kyros heaved a sigh. “Chicken pillows aside, we need these quilts to look somewhat professional, or at least, look as though they were sewn by individuals out of the classroom. Patchwork offers that, along with tying instead of quilting the layers together.”

“What? No!” Kael protested. “We either do this the correct way -- as my Midori and the other ladies are -- or we do not attempt this at all.”

“Then what do you propose we do, Kael?” Kyros challenged, tossing the problem to the younger man.

“We, we ....”

“Yes?” Kyros said, one brow sliding up.
 
“We do as they do,” he finished. “It does not look very complicated. Just sewing along one straight edge at a time. My Midori finds that she can do it very quickly and I watched her do it. All of her points come out neat and crisp and she is able to sew a great many of them in a short amount of time.”

“Fine, then we’ll do it that way,” Kyros declared. “Kael, you’re in the lead now. What needs to be done first?”

Kael looked around the room, his eye falling on the bins of fabric. “Well, we would need to cut the fabric into those little shapes.”
 
“Great,” Kyros said, clapping his hands together. “Ryngers, remove the fabric and begin cutting.”
 
“With what?”
 
“What do you mean with what? With scissors. We should have enough of them,” Kyros snapped.
 
“I know that,” Susha retorted, “but how do we know what size to cut the fabric into?”
 
“Oh, that’s easy,” Kael said, happy he knew the answer to a question. “There are these plastic things, templates, and you use that to cut them out.”
 
“Great, so many of these pieces will we need?” Ustin asked, pulling out a long tail of white fabric.

“Well, let’s see,” Kael pulled over a scrap of paper and began to figure. “If each shape is two centimeters ....”
 
“Inches.”

“What?”
 
“Inches,” Dorinda insisted, pointing at her electronic tablet, “it says inches right here.”
 
“Fine, then. Inches. If each are two inches, and we want a quilt size to be, oh, how large?”
 
“At least large enough for a bed,” Astin said and several Ryngers around him nodded their heads. 
 
“Right,” Kael agreed. “So for a king-sized bed and two inches shapes, we would need ....”
 
Kael paled and his mouth snapped shut as he came to the final tally.
 
“What is it?” Gav asked, craning to look over Kael’s shoulder. He drew a sharp inhale of breath and backed away quickly.
 
“So what is it?” Kyros demanded. Kael slid the paper over to the man. Kyros eyed the total and nodded his head. “And how many for one the size that was given to me then?”
 
Kael refigured; it was still a huge amount, but at least it was not the 3,249 that he got before. In fact, 325 seemed almost reasonable. But it was still not going to be a quick job, even with all twenty of them cutting at once, but many hands make short work, so they quickly divided up into three groups, each group taking a color and quickly unfurling the fabric. That was when they realized that they had no pattern to make the shapes with.
 
“Just get some cardboard,” Kyros suggested, having remembered read somewhere on the internet that that was what many quilters used. “Then we can all cut the shapes to size.”
 
Gav was out and back in record time, pieces of cardboard in his arms. Before long, all three tables were measuring and cutting and before long, the stacks of hexagons grew until they had the requisite number. Scissors came to a rest and everyone regarded their piles with pride.
 
“Now what?” Ruthie asked, shattering the general good feeling of having completed a task.
 
“Easy, we sew them together, right?” Dorinda said, taking up two pieces.
 
“But not from the same color,” Gav pointed out, noticing that she held two red pieces. “Otherwise, why did we just cut all of this up just to sew it back together again?”
 
“Right,” Kyros agreed, “so now we need to focus on what pattern the colors will go in. I think a red, black, white, red, black, white.”                                                                                                                                                                           
Everyone agreed, especially since they had no idea what else to say. Stacks of hexagons were handed out, each Ryngers getting the same number of colors. They all took their seats, and armed with needles and thread, began to sew the pieces together.
 
* * *

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PostSubject: Re: One Good Turn   Sun 9 Aug - 15:24:38

“Wait a second, how are you sewing these together?”
 
“They said to sew the edges together.”
 
“But I don’t think they meant like that.”
 
“Is there a problem, ladies?” Kyros asked, strolling over at the sound of exchange.
 
“Yes,” Ruthie said, holding up her work. “I’m sewing the edges together, like you said ...”
 
“And so am I,” Stalla argued, holding up her own work.
 
Kyros could see that each had, in fact, sewn the edges together, but in very different ways. However, neither way resembled the finished edges of the quilt that had been given to him.
 
“Kael!” Kyros bellowed. “Get over here!”
 
***
 
He stared and squinted, eyeing first one then the next, then the next. He sighed, blew out a breath, then ran a hand through his thick, dark hair which spiked up for a moment before falling back into place.
 
“The instructions said to sew the edges together,” Kadera said defensively, “and that’s what I did.”
 
“And so did I,” Changda huffed, crossing his arms over his chest. They glared at each other and Kyros knew they would be exacting revenge on each other in the training rooms later.
 
“But it also says to leave some allowance,” Ruthie pointed out, ever the peace maker. Kyros frowned and leaned over to read the tablet the young Rynger held.
 
“That’s seam,” he corrected, “not some.” Frustration welled up within him. These were men and women capable of flying elaborate air strikes and battling large mechas; how could they not just sew a few scraps of cloth together? The language barrier was one such impediment, cultural differences another.
 
Almost all of the blankets on Ryga, for example, were of finely or coarsely spun darash wool, which was either woven on a loom or created using the Earth equivalent of knitting needles. They were usually done in such elaborate patterns that it would have been criminal to cut it up into squares only to be sewn back together again. Any patterns desired would have been woven in that way in the first place.
 
On other planets, only animal skins were used, while on still others, such as Narcissa, they would only deign to have a fabric similar to silk or satin touch their skins, believing as they did that all others led to premature wrinkles and caused unsightly indentations on the skin. In this latest crop of recruits alone, he had gotten three requests for Rynger uniforms to be made in satin.
 
Kyros cringed at the very thought, then soundly denied every request outright, telling the recruits they could either wear the uniforms issued or go naked, whichever they preferred. Thankfully, no one yet took him up on the naked option.
 
Pulling his thoughts back to the matter at hand, Kyros reviewed the bits of fabric on the table again. Hedron had sewn the very edges of the fabric pieces together, while Kadera had sewn around the very centers, leaving only small circles to be seen when turned right side out. The others fell in between those two extremes and none of them possessed the sharp angles that the quilt he had been given had.
 
Kyros was half-tempted to take that quilt apart, to see how they had done it, but since he knew he would never hear the end of it from Lee -- and he was not all too sure that they would be able to put it back the way it was -- he wisely opted to leave it alone.
 
Besides, if he could plan elaborate battles and precise tactics, he should certainly be able to figure out a simple blanket. These women had -- how hard could it be?
 
“What we need here is a uniform method of attack,” he announced. All conversations ceased as all eyes turned to him. Kyros held out his hand and Ruthie immediately handed over the tablet. “There has to be a way to ensure that everyone is doing the same thing and yielding the same results.”
 
He stabbed the tablet face with one finger, scowled, stabbed some more. The scowl deepened and so did the silence in the room.
 
“It would seem that there is no sort of order to this system,” he finally concluded. “According to several sites, seam allowances can be as small as 1/8” or as large as 1/2”. About 7 mm and 13 mm, for you metric folk. So the question now is, what size seam allowance was used when we cut out all of these pieces?”
 
Kyros expected a rapid answer from several Ryngers, but when none was forthcoming, he looked up. Twenty pairs of eyes stared blankly back at him. He fought the urge to sigh and felt a slow, steady throbbing building at his temples. “Come on, people. This is quilting, not rocket science! Are you telling me that no one thought about this at all first?”
 
“Begging your pardon, sir,” Thedor, one of new recruits said, nervously clearing his throat between each word, “but rocket science would actually be easier for us to do. As for this, we just followed your orders. You told us to cut out the pattern pieces and that’s what we did. There was no mention of allowances, seams or otherwise.”
 
“Don’t confuse the issue with facts,” Kyros snapped. The boy was right, of course, but that just annoyed him even further. This was a task none of them had ever put a hand to, so how could they possibly know the finer nuances involved?
 
He cast a glance at the pile of hexagons that littered the tables. All of that work and fabric; he was loathe to see it go to waste. Worse, it would set them even further behind.
 
“Okay, people, listen up,” Kyros commanded and everyone straightened up. “Here’s what we’re going to do. Gav, you and Ruthie and three others gather up what’s been sewn. If it doesn’t have a, uh, 1/8” seam allowance on all sides, like this,” he flipped over the tablet and pointed to an illustration, “rip it out. Kadera, you and Thedor select ten people to help you and take all of these and start drawing in the lines on the backs of the hexagons. Those will be the sew lines, like this.” Another flick and he pointed to the next illustration. “Logically speaking, if we all sew along those lines, and they are all the same distance from the edges, then everything should work out. This first quilt will be slightly smaller than originally planned, but that cannot be helped. At least we can still salvage most of it. Everyone not on an assigned team is to take a pattern and redraft it to spec using 1/4” seam allowances all around and start cutting new pieces. As the tasks are completed, you are to start sewing. Any questions? All right, then, move out!”
 
Relief at having clear orders and a plan, the room erupted with activity as everyone moved at once to carry out their assignments.
 
* * *
 
Each sewn line looked as though it had been drawn with a straight edge, knife sharp, and as for the points, Kyros was sure that if he were to measure, the angles would all be the same. Consistently. Over and over. Again and again. Which made it all the more vexing that their own quilt, when compared to Kyros’s gift quilt, looked like what it was -- an admirable attempt by rank beginners.
 
Oh, some of the lines were straight and some of the points were crisp, but sadly, there were more crooked lines than straight and more points that were not points at all, but seemed to curve in, making the patterns more circle than hex.
 
As for the quilting stitches themselves, Kyros had read that eight to ten stitches per inch were optimal, the smaller the better, but the combination of the short, thin “between” needle and the large size of certain Rynger fingers meant that they were lucky to get four or five stitches per inch. As opposed to the quilting on his gift, which was nearly invisible, each tiny stitch exactly the same size and same distance away from its neighbor.
 
“I think it’s good,” Kael ventured to declare, “for our first attempt. It may not be as aesthetically pleasing as your gift, but on a cold winter’s night, the recipient will be grateful for its warmth regardless of the smoothness or size of the stitches.”
 
There were a few murmurs of agreement that rose up like a flock of birds.
 
“You’re right,” Kyros conceded at last, “it is a good first attempt, but I expect the next one to show marked improvement.” Kyros’s brows drew together. “How were they able to produce the same results over and over like that?”
 
Since no one knew the answer, no one spoke and then Kael cleared his throat.
 
“If I may, Brother?”
 
“Yes, what is it, Kael?”
 
“I have been watching my lovely Green Hawk most closely as she sews, even though I risk her most fascinating ire at the thrilling risk of life and limb, and it appears that her small hands and slender fingers are not only well suited to the task of wielding knives, but also for smaller sharp objects. Truly, she has the most delicate of touches, regardless of the size of the steel in her dainty hands ....”
 
Kyros cut him off with a look. “Twenty words or less, Kael. Get to your point and leave out your Mate.”
 
Kael’s brow furrowed. “I have observed the fabric pieces being sewn with the pattern pieces still on the under sides.” Kael grinned. “That was seventeen and my Midori’s points always come out as flawlessly as she herself is, a picture of beauty to make my heart stand still ....”
 
“If you talk like this around her,” Kyros said under his breath, “it’s amazing your heart is still beating at all.” A few Ryngers standing next to Kyros chuckled. Kael paused a moment.
 
“Did you say something, Brother?”
 
In a louder voice, Kyros repeated himself. “I said, do you always say things like that around her?”
 
“Of course not,” Kael said. “I am not lacking wit, but since she is not here, I am free to express my innermost thoughts around those who are my brethren.”
 
“Lucky us,” Kyros said sourly and watched as Kadera experimentally poked a finger at the green gift quilt.
 
“If they sew the paper in, it explains why the lines and edges are so sharp, but would not the quilt crinkle?”
 
“And what happens when it is washed?” Ruthie followed. “Would not the paper fall apart and ruin the quilt?”
 
“I do not know, Little Sisters,” Kael answered. “I am only reporting what I have observed my Midori doing. What happens after the pieces are sewn together is done within the group, when I am not present.”
 
Kyros harrumphed. “Then make it a point to find out before we go any further,” he ordered. “I want these quilts to be flawless and be able to hold their own against any others. Especially the others.”
 
“Yes, sir,” Kael said, outwardly confident, but inwardly wondering how he was going to accomplish this without his Midori getting rather pointed with him.
 
***
 
Green bit her lips together to stop herself from acknowledging the increasingly inventive muttered cursing coming from across the kotatsu.
 
She didn’t look up.  She pretended not to hear any of it.  She just… got on with what she was doing.
 
It was safer that way.
 
However… she may have taken the tiniest amount of satisfaction from being able to thread her needle on the first or second attempt.
 
She may have also spread her block out a few more times than she really needed to in order to ‘check her progress’.
 
Although… she did have to admit she was quite proud of how it was turning out – choosing diamonds to work with this time had opened up a range of different designs to play with and she had spent ages rearranging her pieces until she’d found the one she like the most.
 
“Midori.”
 
“No.”
 
“Please.”
 
“Still no.”
 
“I am begging you.”
 
“Beg all you like, it’s still no.”
 
“If you loved me-”
 
“Careful, Kael.” She sat back and gazed serenely at him as she very carefully and very deliberately placed the very last card diamond on her discard pile.
 
“But… you have finished and I…” Kael looked down. “I have barely started.  If you could just… as a favour to me-”
 
“A favour, Kael?  You want a favour?” Green leaned over the table. “Oh… my silly Rygan nutjob.  I’m doing you a favour by saying no.  If I thread your needles for you, how are you ever going to know all the joys of ‘taking an interest’?”
 
“You know… you really do not have to gloat quite so much at my predicament.  It is not my fault my fingers were not made to manipulate things this tiny!” Kael stabbed the inch long needle into the pin cushion.
 
She snorted. “Oh… your ‘predicament’ is entirely your fault!  If we hadn’t talked about Kana-chan, we would have just dumped the tubs and run that day in the hall, but no… Some boof-headed Rygan nutjob just had to have an o-pin-ion about ‘taking an interest’, didn’t he?”
 
“Kana and her group were doing us a favour.”
 
“And now you and the Ryngers are paying them back for it, aren’t you?” Green smiled smugly. “You got played.  Big time.”
 
He frowned in confusion. “By… Kana?”
 
She leaned over and patted his hand with a large side order of condescension. “No, not by Kana-chan…  Or any of her group.” Green stood up. “I’m going to go have a nice long bath while you, um… start your block…” She rolled her eyes at his dismayed intake of breath. “In the little sewing kit in that drawer over there is a little flat metal thing with a wire coming out of it.  It’s called a needle-threader for a reason.”
 
She turned towards the bedroom door and then paused. “While you work out how to use it, you might also think about why we call our Clan leaders ‘Master’ when they, in reality, spend their lives in service to the Clan.”
 
***
 
Kyros nodded in satisfaction as he surveyed the long conference room-turned-sewing room. Since Kael’s recon and report, also known as Operation Paper Piecing, things had markedly improved. Once he added the incentive of an eight-hour leave pass for every quilt finished to those who actively worked on them (not to be taken at the same time, of course, or all at once), they also picked up even more volunteers and they now boasted three completed quilts and two nearly so, with more pieces being cut and basted.
 
There was only one thing; a small thing, really, but it niggled at him enough that he felt compelled to do something about it.
 
“Before we start on the next quilt,” Kyros announced with no lead in, “I think it time that we change things up.”
 
Joel looked up from the pieces he had been squinting at. “Change how? We finally got a working system here ... ouch!” He stuck his stabbed finger into his mouth. Heads nodded, half in agreement and half in sympathy.
 
Kyros’s gaze settled on Joel a moment. Joel had been one of the first to volunteer, always eager to lend a hand or help -- he had been like that even as a small boy -- and this was a good activity for him at moment. He kept busy, but it did not place a lot of physical demand on his ribs. And the fact that he could also work towards earning time off to be used after his Betrothal made it even better.
 
The only problem was that he seemed incapable of making any stitches smaller than 1/2”. So now he sat with a few other of the Ryngers whose skill set did not include needle and thread, basting the paper pieces in and handing them off to those who could master smaller, neater stitches.
 
“We’ve done three now and they all look alike,” Kyros explained.
 
“But that’s a good thing, right, sir?” Thedor asked, wetting the end of a thread and poking it through the eye of his needle. “I mean, that’s what you wanted. To make it look like the green quilt.”
 
Kyros cringed a little at the description; despite his continued calling it ‘the gift quilt’, everyone kept calling it ‘the green quilt’ just the same. If he didn’t know better, he’d swear they were doing it just to annoy him.
 
“Well, yes. At first,” Kyros said, “but now that we have the right of it, I think it time that we expand our repertoire, as it were.”
 
“How?” Ruthie asked cautiously. Kyros smiled and withdrew several folded papers from the inside pocket of his jacket. He smoothed out the folded pages and fanned them out on a clear surface.
 
“We’ll still do the same shapes, following what we’ve been doing, and using the same fabrics, of course,” he assured them, “but I think we need to change up the designs a little, so Leona came up with a few different choices for us.”
 
They all crowded in to see; the girls squealing in delight over the one that made it look like large red poppies in a field of white, while the guys seemed drawn to the strong chevron patterns.
 
“Each group is to select a new design and take the pieces you need accordingly,” Kyros said, pleased at the reception of his idea and the designs. A change up in design definitely seemed to boost the flagging spirits. A scuffle of feet in the hallway brought the next welcomed surprise.
 
“Pizza! Get ‘em while they’re hot!” Gav announced as he burst through the door, a stack of the flat boxes in his arms so high he had to lean around them to see where he was going.
 
Not that he was going very far. The Ryngers were on their feet, crowding around him as the pizza boxes were grabbed and distributed, leaving him holding only the bottom box, which he clung to as if for dear life. If Kyros had to guess, he would say that Gav arranged it so that Gav’s favorite toppings on the pizza was in that box. Not that he minded. The boy offered to make the run, so it was only fair he get something out of the deal.
 
Kyros always felt that he needed to treat his troops to something -- one day take-out from the Kan and Kura, another day take-out from the Tea House, but pizza seemed to be by far the biggest favorite, with toppings that could be changed to allow for all of the individual tastes and dietary restrictions of the Ryngers.
 
There was also a certain amount of satisfaction that he got from watching his men and women as they dived in, all chatting, laughing, eating, sharing. 
 
Happy.
 
It wouldn’t be for long, it never was, but Kyros enjoyed it while he could.
 
“Speaking of Little Sister,” Kyros heard Kael say in a low voice next to him, “why is she not here? I would have thought her the first in your line.”
 
“She prefers to work in other mediums than the fabric arts,” Kyros said smoothly.
 
A little too smoothly. A black brow rose, but Kael said nothing further. One exchanged glance and they both knew Kyros’s answer was a cover.
 
But he would be damned if he actually spoke aloud her true answer; he was afraid too many would agree with her and walk out, promised time off or not.
 
“Besides,” Kyros added for good measure, “sewing isn’t really her thing.” Which was true enough. Oh, she could sew well enough to mend a tear or hem -- sort of -- or sew on a loose button, just as all Ryngers could, but that was as far as she ever wanted to go. 
 
When he first mentioned this project to her, she crinkled up her nose at him.
 
“If I want my blood spilled by steel,” she declared, “I’d rather it be all at once from the single stroke of a longblade and not drop by drop from a thousand puncture holes.”
 
Kyros had to concede that she had a point -- no pun intended -- so he had not argued, but he had been practicing his answer for days ever since, as he knew someone was bound to ask. He was just surprised it had taken this long. Kael’s green eyes narrowed.
 
“Uh huh,” he said, “if you say so.” There was a hint of laughter in his voice as Kael added, with a wicked gleam in his eye, “But it isn’t Brother Joel’s either, but that fact hasn’t stopped him.”
 
That was when it occurred to Kyros that Kael had probably already asked Lee directly and that one, or both, of them were just curious as to what Kyros would say.
 
Well, now they knew.
 
“Don’t you have a few hundred or so pieces to baste?” Kyros snapped.
 
“Indeed I do, Brother,” Kael said, openly laughing now. “Right after I eat. Hey, Gav! You better have saved me one of those fireberry slices I know you’re hiding!”


***
 
Kael shucked his boots, picked them up while juggling his burden and then punched in the door code.
 
“O-kaeri!” three female voices chorused brightly from the kotatsu, making him start a little in surprise.
 
“You don’t welcome him home, Mi-chan?” Kana asked, blinking at her sister-in-law who had remained silent.
 
“He doesn’t welcome me home.  Well, not in Japanese anyway.” Green shrugged as she shifted over to make room for her Mate. “You’d have noticed he doesn’t answer either – plus we tend to use English when we talk, so… I guess the habit’s just fallen off.” She lifted her cheek and was rewarded with a buzz as Kael knelt down. “Besides, I like that kind of greeting a whole lot more.”
 
Kael smiled at Kana. “Midori and I talked about the differences in our customs when we first became Mated and agreed that in our own home we would do what we are most comfortable with.  And I am much more comfortable with kissing my Mate hello instead of saying it.”
 
“I wish Wata-kun was as openly affectionate… he won’t even kiss me in front of the kids, let alone anyone else!” Teruha sighed. “You’re a lucky girl, Mi-chan, to have a man who isn’t afraid to show his affection.”
 
“To be fair to our boys, Kael-kun doesn’t have to be afraid of it.” Akane giggled. “Mi-chan’s issued a protection order on him so tight, all the boys and Papa know they’d be in for hell on Earth if they touch even a single hair on his head.  Despite all the threats and promises they make to the contrary.”
 
“It’s not me they’re scared of.  Mama’s had a few things to say about it too.” Green stood up and walked into the kitchenette. “She said it was hard for her when she and Papa were first in love to live within the boundaries of Japanese propriety and since Kael’s not Japanese, nor trying to pass as one, he shouldn’t be subjected to the same limits that were set on her.”
 
“You also don’t live at Kurotaka,” Akane murmured as Green returned, carrying a cup. “Not like she did.”
 
“Or you guys used to.” Green set the cup in front of Kael and poured him tea from the kettle. “It’s different for us, so… we’re different.” She smiled up at her Mate. “Did you have fun today?” she asked, sticking to Japanese – for Kana’s sake, Kael knew.
 
“We finished another quilt.” Kael grinned happily. “That makes six now.  Kyros even congratulated us so it was a good day.”
 
“Oh, that’s nice. So… you haven’t told him we’re on number eleven then?”
 
“Eleven?  I thought you were on ten!”
 
“That was yesterday.  Today, we’re on eleven.” Green gestured to the table where neat piles of multi-coloured shapes were stacked up in front of each woman, each with their own theme.
 
“How are you doing so many?  I know how long it takes to make a block – I’ve watched you.”
 
“And have made several yourself…” Green smirked. “But there’s a few more of us now… and we have machine patchworkers… They can really churn them out if they stick to the less complex designs.”
 
Kael narrowed his eyes at her. “You’ve ‘picked up’ some more… how many more is in your group now?”
 
“Um…” Green frowned. “Well… Let’s just say a ‘few’ and leave it at that, shall we?”
 
Kael scowled. “I thought your father promised no taking over, Midori.”
 
“Yamazaki-sensei has kept his word, Kael-kun,” Kana replied defiantly, bravely. “Every single person has sworn it is of their own free will.  That they heard about what we are doing and think it’s wonderful and they want to help.” She smiled shyly. “To be honest… I think it’s because Mi-chan’s involved.”
 
“That’s how I found out about it,” Teruha said. “Haya-kun told Wata-kun that Mi-chan was doing some so I thought why not give it a go?  It sounded like a bit of fun.”
 
“And then Ta-kun told me about it and I figured it couldn’t be that difficult if Mi-chan and Teru-chan were doing it…” Akane added, grinning at her sisters-in-law. “And it is fun!  A group of us went into Defiance today and spent hours choosing material.  A real girls’ day out.  Don’t get a reason to do that very often.”
 
“Your group has grown through word of mouth alone?” Kael side eyed Green. “Really?  No  interference?”
 
“He hasn’t, Kael!  All Papa’s done is get the wadding for us, that’s all.  He hasn’t sent out memos suggesting people help out or anything like that… they just are – because they want to.” Green tilted her head at him briefly. “The newbies will probably only do a few blocks while it’s new and fun then they’ll go back to their own hobbies.  Which is fine because they’d have helped to make more quilts than the group could have done on their own and so that’s a few people who’ll get a quilt instead of missing out.” She side eyed him right back. “Because it’s not a race between the Clan and the Ryngers, Kael.  It’s about all of us doing something for people in need.”
 
“Yeah… because that’s exactly what spurred Kyros into this….” Kael sighed and pulled his bag to him and began to unpack it of its’ contents. “And why I have to baste two hundred of these by tomorrow.”
 
“At least we’ll keep you company?” Green bit her lip as the pile of red, white and black fabric hexagons got bigger with each handful.
 
“Oh… you’re going to sew them in?’ Kana blinked as a spool of thread landed next to the pile.
 
“Um… yes?” Kael blinked back in confusion.
 
“That’ll take you hours, Kael-kun!” Teruha exclaimed. “Why don’t you use fabric glue like we do?”
 
Kael perked up. “Glue?”
 
“Oh, yeah.  This stuff.” Teruha handed over a white stick Kael had taken to be a pen of some kind. “It’s still going to take you a while, but it’d be a lot faster than sewing them.”
 
“My thanks.” Kael bowed his head slightly. “Anything to make this job faster is very much appreciated.”
 
“It’s a shame you have to do it at all…” Akane said. “The boys are looking after the kids and they’ve decided to make a night of it – order in dinner and all that.  Ta-kun said you were welcome to join them if you got sick of all the female company taking over your home for the evening.”
 
“Really?  That’s what Ta-kun said?”  Teruha laughed. “Wata-kun came right out and said he hoped Kael-kun would join them so he’d deal with all the diaper changes three babies will require!”
 
“…I was invited?”
 
Green looked at Kael gazing mournfully at his pile of work and then sighed.  Picking out a white hexagon, she pulled it towards her and then snagged its’ companion card template. “You so owe me for this, Kael.”
 
“You’re going to help me, my love?”
 
“…No.” Green sighed again. “I’m going to do your damn hexagons for you.  Go – the kids are all at Ta-kun’s, don’t keep them up too late, when their fathers say it’s bed time, it’s bed time, got me?  Babies need their sleep.”
 
Kael stared at her in disbelief. “You… you would do this for me?”
 
“…Yeah.  I would – I am.  Go, Kael.  Have fun.”
 
His eyes searched hers for signs of dishonest intent.  He listened to her heartbeat next to his and realised she was serious.  She really would do his hexagons, every last one. 
 
What he wouldn’t mind knowing was-
 
“Why?  Why would you do this for me?”
 
“To be honest?” Green lowered her lids and looked up at him, all very adorably and innocently. “Because it’s better than having to sit here all night and listen to you sigh and moan about missing out on play-time.  Now, go get changed and leave before I change my mind.”
 
“Midori…” Kael grabbed her face with both hands and kissed her soundly. “I love you.”
 
“Yeah, I know.  Just don’t get back too late.  My love for you only extends as far as playing with the kids and putting them to bed.  It stops right before my brothers break out the sake, got me?”
 
“Yes, ma’am!” Kael dashed off to the bedroom.
 
“Why-“
 
Green held a finger up to her mouth at Teruha and winked as she moved it to tap her ear.
 
Within a minute, Kael had flown out through the door with another ‘I love you’ and a promise to be home in a sober condition.
 
“So… would you offering to do his hexagons have anything to do with feeling guilt about lying to him?” Teruha picked up a black shape and got to work gluing it to its’ template.
 
“He really would sit here all night and be mopey and I really don’t want to deal with that.” Green smirked. “Besides… I haven’t lied to him at all.  I may not have told him the whole truth, but… that’s not lying, really, is it?”
 
“He thinks there’s more people making quilts than there are – and you told him straight out we’re on quilt number eleven when we’re not.”
 
“We are on quilt number eleven.  The Ryngers have made six, plus the one we gave Kyros, that’s seven… we’ve finished three on our own, so that’s ten.” Green jabbed her glue stick at the fabric shapes all ready to go. “And those are going to quilt eleven.”
 
“You think Kyros will donate the quilt we made him?” Kana frowned. “But it was a gift.”
 
“And it’ll be gifted to a person in need.” Green chuckled. “There is no way in hell he’s keeping a black and green quilt with a green hawk signature, trust me.  I reckon it’s already in the pile to go.”
 
“You’re counting the Ryngers’ quilts…” Akane gasped. “There’s no way they’re going to overtake us if you tell Kael our quilts plus theirs.”
 
Green snorted. “But… their quilts are our quilts, Akane-chan.  I didn’t go to all the trouble of goading Kyros into using his Ryngers for the cause not to count them!”
 
“…You got him involved?  Not Papa?”
 
“Yep.  With Kana-chan’s help.” Green nodded her head towards her sister-in-law. “I knew Kyros would ask Kael about the quilt and that Kael would tell him what the group is doing.  Hell, I barely managed to stop that nutjob from sending out a memo asking for volunteers to begin with, he was that excited about the idea.  By getting Kana-chan to add a little green hawk to the thank you ‘gift’ for Kyros… I just made sure those ‘volunteers’ were dedicated, that’s all – and that there will be a selection of quilts to choose from besides black and green.”
 
Teruha rubbed her eye. “…You played your own Mate.”
 
No… he wanted to help, remember?  I can’t help it if he thinks he’s just following orders now, that’s not my problem.  My problem was how the Clan was going to help without taking over which Papa was going to insist on unless I came up with a solution to the lack of personnel, so I solved that one and there’s only so many miracles a girl’s able to take on at once, you know?”
 
 Akane shook her head. “Nah uh.  You’re talking to women who’ve been married longer than you’ve been a Bird – or a Fledgling.  You played your Mate and you’re feeling guilty about it.”
 
“Because I’m gluing hexagons for him?  I’ve already explained that, Akane-chan.  I’m not doing his hexagons, I’m doing our hexagons.”
 
“No, no, no.  That’s only a part of it.  We were all at the mall together, Mi-chan.  What kind of ninja would we be if we didn’t notice you popping into that other shop?  You’ve sent Kael-kun out on a boy’s night and there’s going to be a little something ‘special’ waiting for him when he gets home – that’s why you were so insistent on him coming home sober.  So he’ll be in a condition to enjoy what you’ve got planned for later.”
 
Green went almost as red as the hexagon she had in her hand.  She didn’t discuss her sex life with Sayaka let alone anyone else!  All their husbands were all too close to home, so to speak, to be comfortable with the girlie sharing of secrets.
 
But her honour demanded defending.
 
That has nothing to do with quilts, I can assure you.”
 
“Nothing?” Teruha sniggered. “Pull the other one!  It’s not his birthday or your anniversary and you’ve been together too long for it to be an out of the blue surprise so it has to be guilt over something.”
 
“It’s not guilt!” Green exclaimed. She licked her lip and stared at the table. “Kael… he has a diary, okay?  He keeps it in his office in the hangar… Now…,” she rubbed at her flaming cheeks, making it far worse, “he doesn’t write anything about it, but… there’s these little notations by the dates.  I haven’t had chance to completely break the code just yet, but… I think he’s keeping track… of us.  Um… of, ah… you know.”
 
Akane’s jaw almost unhinged, it dropped open that quickly. “Kael-kun’s keeping… score?  Really??”
 
“I think it’s more, um… my behaviour.  I’m a bit Gwal, you know, and, uh… they do have a certain, um.. a reputation.  So I think he’s trying to work out whenI’mmostfertile,” Green finished in a rush, refusing to look up from her glue stick.
 
“That… that… dog!” Akane breathed, her eyes bright with scandalised amusement.
 
“So…” Teruha began to smirk. “That lacy little red thing you picked up is to…”
 
“Completely mess with his head, yes.  Oh, hell, yes.  You know I have to.” Green scowled. “Boys’ night out, hexagons glued and me waiting for him in that thing?  Totally gonna blow his ‘statistics’ out of whack.”
 
Kana lowered the hand from her mouth. “Ladies… we have a mission. Teru-chan, you do the white, Akane-chan, you do the red, and Mi-chan and I will sort the black.  Once we’ve finished, we’ll help you to do what’s left.  I’ll just call Haya-kun to get him to call me when the kids are almost ready for bed – and I’ll make sure there’s no offers of ‘just one little cup, Mi-chan won’t mind’ while I’m at it.”
 
“How are you going to explain why he can’t?  Mi-chan’s his little sister and you know they’re a bit precious about the whole her sharing a bed with someone…”
 
“Explain?  Oh, did you think I planned on explaining anything to my husband?” Kana snorted. “I’m just going to tell him.”
 
The three women watched her stand up, snag her phone and walk into the bedroom to make the call.
 
“You know… I’m really beginning to like her,” Green murmured, pulling a black shape closer.
 
“That’s because she’s finally getting the hang of this being a Black Hawk female thing,” Teruha deadpanned back. She pointed a single finger at her blonde sister. “And when Haya-kun comes over to complain about it, I’m blaming you.”
 
“Pfft. Tell him it’s all Kael’s fault.” Green preened modestly. “After all… he was the one who said I should take an interest.”
 

***
 
“Thank you so much, Colonel,” Melissa Barrett, the director of the Pulham Street Shelter said, clasping her hands together in an attempt to still them. “You have no idea what this means to so many!”
 
“And I bet that once people hear how the Ryngers got together to make so many quilts, others will follow suit!” her assistant, Riley, added, his eyes widening as the tubs just kept coming, each containing two or three folded quilts.
 
“Well, Mr… ahh, Riley.” Kyros plastered a smile on his face and looked around. “You never know.  After all, we were inspired by the actions of several… ah… ladies.  Yes, ladies.  On Atlantia.  In fact, as I understand it, their contributions exceed our meagre efforts, isn’t that right, Kael?”
 
“I believe so, Brother,” Kael rumbled, his eyes zooming in on the blonde hair of his little Hawk, easily picked out among her sisters-in-law.
 
“Do you mean the sewing group?  The one that seems to be made up of Japanese women?” Melissa blinked, her brow furrowing in confusion as she followed Kael’s gaze. “Oh, no, Colonel!  The Ryngers have definitely, ah… out-performed… them.”
 
“How is that possible?  Midori said-”  Kael suddenly coughed. “Ah.  Right.  Let me guess – we have donated twenty two and they have donated… twelve.”
 
“I believe that’s about right…  Um… is there a problem, Colonel?” The director asked, backing away slightly as Kyros swung his head to level a very loaded glare at his Second.
 
“Twenty two and twelve make thirty four, doesn’t it, Kael?  Now, where have I heard that number before?  And recently.  It was definitely... very… recently.”
 
“That would be the number I told you this very morning, Sir,” Kael admitted. “As the number I was given.”
 
“I see.  And what number did you pass on before being given thirty four?”
 
“…Twenty two.” Kael shuffled. “It would appear I have… ah… I may have been, um…”
 
“I believe the word you’re looking for, Kael, is ‘played’.”
 
“I would not.  Um, what I mean to say is that, perhaps, that is not quite… ah.”
 
“I’m disappointed in you, Brother.  After all of your battle and Intel experiences and all of my warnings, you still fell for it.”
 
“We’re just going to, ah, go.  Over here.  Aren’t we, Riley?  Yes, let’s go.” Melissa hooked her arm around Riley’s elbow and beat a hasty retreat to where the quilts were being handed out to the waiting throng.
 
“I apologise, Kyros.  I thought-”
 
“No, you didn’t.  If you had done any thinking whatsoever, Kael, you’d have known to find out how many they had done before disclosing our numbers!” Kyros scowled as he caught Green’s eye, the little ninja blanching before catching herself and throwing her head back in defiance. “How long is it going to take you to learn never trust a Black Hawk on Black Hawk business?  Even – especially when it’s her.”
 
“It was not Black Hawk business, Kyros.”
 
The Colonel practically snorted. “Of course it was.”
 
“No, it was not, Brother.  In fact, Midori…” Kael blinked. “Midori was very firm on that.  Her father donated the wadding, but that’s all.  Their volunteers were volunteers, they were not actively recruited…” He began to chuckle. “Kyros… I may have been fed… ah, let’s say ‘misleading information’, but I was not the one played.” His chuckles turned to full-blown booming laughter. “Midori was counting our quilts with theirs because, to her reckoning, they had done thirty four!”
 
“What the hell are you talking about, Kael?”
 
Even his Commanding Officer’s obvious seething anger couldn’t silence Kael’s amusement. “Every single one we finished, Kyros, was because of her.  Because she had played…. you.” The large Rynger grinned. “And won.”
 
“Now, listen here,” Kyros hissed. “I was not played and she did not win so she has no right to call our quilts theirs.  You need to open your eyes and-”
 
“Gentlemen,” Green purred loud enough to cut Kyros off. “Is there a problem?  Should we come back, perhaps?”
 
Kyros bit off the rest of his sentence when he looked down into two pairs of eyes that didn’t belong to ninja.
 
That he knew of.
 
“Ah, no.  Not one we need discuss now.  What can we help you with?” he managed almost civilly, trying to concentrate on the two up-turned faces of the children standing with the little ninja instead of the rather smug look on the face of the little ninja.
 
“This is Katelyn and Nikeal.” Green’s sharp eyes didn’t miss the slight reaction at the traditional Rygan name of the young lad. “They wondered if it was possible to come over to say hello.” She smiled slightly. “I said it might be, but…”
 
“Of course it is!” Kael exclaimed as Kyros hesitated. “Is that not correct, Brother?”
 
“We are not here to merely stand in the corner and chat among ourselves,” Kyros confirmed, back in control. “Hello, young people, I am Kyros and this is-”
 
“Oh, I know!” Nikeal gushed. “You’re the Red Commander and the All Hue Leader!”
 
“My brother talks about you all the time!” Katelyn nodded furiously. “He wants to be a Red Rynger too when he grows up.”
 
“Oh?  Well, that is a career path I can highly recommend,” Kyros answered jovially. “And what about you, young lady?  Is there a Colour in your future too?”
 
“Nah.  I think I want to be a teacher.  Or a vet.  Maybe a hairdresser.  Mom says I don’t havta decide right now ‘coz I’m only nine.” She nudged her brother. “But he’s eleven so he hasta start thinking about it.”
 
“Thinking is good.  It takes a lot of preparation to become a Rynger…” Kyros paused. “Why are you here?  Where are your parents?”
 
“Mom’s at work today…” Nikeal took a deep breath and his hand clasped around his sister’s. “Dad, um… Well, sir, he’s dead.  He went back to Ryga for Grandma’s birthday last year and, ah…”
 
“The Invasion?” Kael guessed quietly.
 
“Yeah.  So it’s just us now.  Mom, Katie and me.”
 
“Your mother decided against returning to Ryga?  Afterwards, I mean?” Kyros frowned slightly and Kael prepared himself to be ordered to find space for the family on the earliest convenient transport.
 
“Oh, Mom’s Terran, sir.  So I guess we’re staying here…”
 
“They lost their apartment in a fire a month ago,” Green murmured. “That’s how they ended up here.  The shelter has found them accommodation nearby, but… they lost everything they own too.  Their mother is trying to save enough money to take them back to her family in Idaho and replace necessities and pay rent all at the same time.”
 
“We’re going to be okay though!” Nikeal looked at Green over his shoulder. “Mom’s got a job so it’s just a matter of time.  A lot of the other people here…. They’ve got it way worse than us.”
 
“If you have a place to live, why are you here now?” Kyros asked.
 
“We come here when Mom’s working.  They look after us and it doesn’t cost Mom anything,” Katelyn answered matter of factly. “Others havta live here because they got nowhere else to go.  Don’t you think that’s sad?  That people don’t have homes and stuff?”  She gazed up at Kyros with all the disbelief a nine year old can muster. “Why don’t they have homes and stuff?”
 
“Well, young lady… it is indeed very sad and, to answer your question, there are usually many reasons why they don’t have homes of their own.  But, either way, aren’t they lucky they can come here?”
 
“Oh, yeah.  Mom says this place is awesome.  They really helped us out when we lost our apartment.” Nikeal straightened. “They gave us clothes and beds and, ah, stuff…”
 
“I believe you were both lucky enough to get a quilt?” Green prompted.
 
“Yes!” The young man beamed in delight. “I couldn’t believe it, sir, when they told us the Ryngers made them with their own hands!  Is that true?  The Ryngers really did make them?”
 
Kyros locked gazes with Green. “We made most of them, yes.”
 
“All the red, white and black ones – which isn’t surprising, is it?” Green grinned at the kid. “But, truthfully, if it weren’t for the Ryngers, there wouldn’t be any quilts at all.  Colonel Kyros was kind enough to donate some fabric to the sewing group on Atlantia which is how he found out what they wanted to make with it in the first place.”
 
“And once he did, he just had to get involved,” Kael added. “Because it is such a wonderful thing.  We were all so… very… happy… to get involved.”
 
“Excuse me, Colonel?  Hi, I’m Jackie Fay from Channel Twelve Nightly News.  Could we possibly get a quick interview about what you’ve done for the people relying on this shelter?   I mean, donating money and food is something, but to actually expend the time and effort to make quilts for people facing a cold winter with not much more than the clothes on their backs?  You and your Ryngers are just wonderful, Colonel, just wonderful and we think the people of Defiance and beyond need to know about it!”
 
Kyros immediately straightened his tunic and oozed gentlemanly charm as he fixed his gaze on the heavily made up young lady waving a microphone at him. “Well, if you think a little sound bite from me might encourage other groups and organisations to support the wonderful work of this shelter, I’d be happy to oblige, Ms Fay.”
 
“Oh, thank you, Colonel!  In three, two… Yes, Linda, that’s right.  I am down at the Pulham Street Shelter where Colonel Kyros of the Ryngers has just dropped off a sizeable donation of handmade quilts.  I was told you and your men made over thirty, Colonel.  Is that true?”
 
“Ah, well, my Ryngers – both male and female – made just over twenty.  The extra come from a group on Atlantia-”
 
“You got the whole base involved, Colonel?  How wonderful!  Tell me, what inspired you to take on this cause?”
 
“Actually, it was the sewing group who got us involved, Ms Fay.  We had some material just lying around, going to waste, so I directed Kael here to find a home for it.  He was the one who discovered the group and then informed me of what they planned to do with the fabric-”
 
“And it was just such a wonderful cause, you just had to join them?”
 
“Well, no, we didn’t join them as such, but we still had a lot of material and my Ryngers were willing to try their hand at learning something new which would benefit both themselves and others-”
 
“Oh, and hasn’t it just?  You should see all the happy faces down here, Linda, everyone is just so grateful to Colonel Kyros and his men-”
 
“And women.  We do have several female Ryngers-”
 
“I honestly don’t think I have ever covered a story like this one, Linda.  They may live apart from us on the base, and their own planet is still rebuilding after the Invasion of last year, but the Ryngers can still care so much about the people of our little city…  It’s just so heart-warming!”
 
“It wasn’t just us, Ms Fay, Linda.” Kyros eyeballed the camera, hoping his rising annoyance with the reporter’s incessant interruptions wasn’t clearly written all over his face. “I would like to make that very clear.  The sewing group is very small and yet they were the ones who drove this enterprise.  Without them, there’d be no quilts.”
 
Jackie plastered a huge smile on her face and simpered at the lens. “But you just said that, without your donation of fabric, they’d not have been able to do anything, Colonel-”
 
“I did not!”  Kyros took a breath. “Yes, we gave them fabric which they did need, but…” He glared at Green who was standing behind the cameraman and biting her lips so she wouldn’t laugh.  Then his eyes dropped to the two kids still standing with her.
 
“Yes, they needed resources,” he began again with less heat. “Which I didn’t know about because I didn’t know about them until Kael brought the group to my attention.  However, given their, ah, general… determination… I am sure they would have found a way to meet their goal without us or the fabric we provided.”
 
“Assuming their goal was a measly ten quilts while you and your men managed over twenty.”
 
“Ma’am.” Kyros drew himself up. “You are incorrect.  We managed thirty four quilts.  In total.  As a group.”
 
“But, Colonel,” Jackie giggled inanely. “You said you didn’t join them.”
 
“No… we didn’t, not physically.  We did our sewing in the Rynger facilities and they did theirs… wherever it is they meet.  But.” Kyros hurriedly flicked a finger up to stop her opening her mouth and interrupting him again.  “The fact remains that if it had not been for the ladies of the sewing group recognising a need and wanting to be part of the solution, not a single stitch would have been made on a single quilt, let alone thirty four!  Did my Ryngers sew the bulk of that number?  Yes, they did, but only because there are many more of ‘us’ than there is of ‘them’, so I will thank you to not discount their involvement, young lady, as they made all of this possible in the first place.
 
“Besides, does it really matter how many the Ryngers made versus how many the sewing group did?  I doubt if Ms Bennett and the wonderful staff and volunteers of this shelter care all that much about who made the quilts as long as there are quilts to give to the people who need them!
 
“After all, isn’t that the most important part about all this?  Not who made a quilt, but who needs one?  And there is a need, a desperate need – and not just for quilts either.  Clothes, personal items, towels, food!  Whatever you can name, someone out there will need it.  My Ryngers and I are lucky enough to be in a position where we want for nothing...”
 
Kyros paused for a split second. “Even a year ago, when we were rebuilding after the Invasion, we wanted for nothing.  Okay, so the food was basic and cold, there was no coffee to be had, we slept in tents and we washed in cold water – but we had what we needed.  We have the good people of the Federation to thank for that-”
 
“So you’re saying you’re paying back some of what you owe?” Jackie jumped in, nervously glancing at the camera.
 
Kyros frowned at her for both her interruption and the concept behind her question. “Ah… we don’t owe anyone anything.  Ms Fay… it would appear you need a lesson in basic Federation philosophy if that was your first thought.  So be it.  Yes, Ryga received a lot of sorely needed aid from other planets during and after the Invasion, but that’s just part of being a Federation member.  There is no ‘debt’ incurred.
 
“When the Cyran grain silos were attacked last month, the Ryngers flew to their defence and then transported thousands of pounds of replacement supplies to help them get through their winter.  When that new fuel source was discovered on Janus, King Harkan sent a team of specialists to help them get production up and running in time to save their economy.  We helped with both situations for no other reason than that’s what we do in the Federation.  Neither Cyran nor Janus ‘owes’ Ryga anything and there will be no compensation for either act, because that is what being a part of the Federation is for.  We are a group of planets and societies helping each other to grow and flourish for no other motive than strengthening the friendships between us.
 
“What we did here,” Kyros gestured around them, “was merely take the philosophical basis of the Federation and… shrink it.  As Ryngers, we are expected to live by that philosophy.  We risk our lives defending it!  But you call twenty two quilts ‘wonderful’ and praise the action of my Ryngers, when in actual fact, we have merely extended what we already do every day.
 
“But here’s the thing, Ms Fay, which you seem to be missing.  You see twenty two quilts.  I see thirty four.  Twenty two made by the people most likely to do something to benefit their neighbours and… twelve made by people who don’t have that expectation on them.
 
“The ladies of the sewing group have not had Federation philosophy drummed into them since basic training.  They don’t get reminded of it every time they show up to training or to duty.  They have not taken an oath to defend the ideals of the Federation at any and all cost.  They were not simply living up to their reputation!
 
“I am a man who sees the foundations of the Federation in effect every day, Ms Fay.  I see it in the eyes of my wife, I see it in the mirror.  I see it whenever I speak to one of my Ryngers, or to one of the Birds or to someone wearing a GalSec uniform.  But that’s not surprising, is it?  We are all people who have taken that oath.
 
“But the ladies who made the other quilts?  They have not and yet I see it in them too.  They could have just said ‘oh, that’s sad’ and then forgotten all about the people who will suffer through this coming winter with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, but they did not.
 
“And that, Ms Fay, is why I asked for volunteers among my Ryngers to take on their cause, to join our efforts with theirs, despite those who would say we do ‘enough’ as it is.  We are not the heroes in this, Ms Fay, despite which angle you think will garner higher ratings.  The ladies who gave up their own time and resources, who put their own money into it, who didn’t forget – they are the true heroes because they didn’t have to and, yet, they still did.”
 
Kyros waited, looking at the flummoxed reporter, expecting her to say something.  Anything.  She seemed to have had plenty to say while he was speaking…
 
Glancing over his shoulder at Kael, he found the Rynger looking upwards, the tightened jaw and flaring nostrils indicative of barely contained amusement.  Squeaking a look at Green as he turned back to the reporter confirmed she was doing the same with the added bonus of obviously biting her lips together.
 
“Perhaps an interview with Ms Barrett would answer some of your viewers’ questions about how they can help the shelter,” he suggested gently, gesturing to the group by the large table. “Not everyone can make quilts, but I’m sure the shelter has a list of items that would be just as appreciated.”
 
“What a wonderful idea, Colonel!  Ms Barrett?  Where is Ms Barrett?”
 
“That was quite… impassioned… Brother,” Kael murmured, watching Jackie and her cameraman pushing their way through to an immediately embarrassed Melissa.
 
“It will only be cut – if shown at all, Kael.” Kyros shrugged. “No matter, any exposure for the shelter is bound to do some good.”  His jaw automatically clenched as Green sidled up to them.
 
“Kyros.”
 
“Green.”
 
The little blonde remained staring at the ceiling. “That was… unexpected.”
 
“And what did you expect?”
 
“…. Not that.”
 
“Obviously.”
 
“I’m just saying.”
 
“…If you insist.”
 
“I do.”
 
“Good.”
 
“…Because… you know…. It was, ah… definitely… not… expected.”
 
“I do believe that is the very definition of ‘unexpected’.”
 
“Right.” Green finally dropped her eyes to his. “There’s a quilt missing.”
 
“Are you sure?  I checked them myself as they were coming off the transport.” Kyros controlled his tone. “There were definitely twenty two red, black and white quilts in the tubs.”
 
“…It’s not a red, black and white one.”
 
“Ah, well, then… Only the red, black and white ones are my responsibility, Green.  It was your people who did the others.”
 
“You know which one I’m talking about.”
 
Kyros straightened, put his haughtiest expression on his face and looked down at her. “I repeat – only the red, black and white ones are my responsibility, Green.  If you happen to be short one, it is not my problem.”
 
She stared at him for a moment and then smirked. “Something tells me you do have a problem with it, but no matter.  We still donated thirty three, right?  That’s at least thirty three people who’ll benefit.”
 
Kyros narrowed his eyes.  He should have put his foot down with Leona and made her give up that damn quilt!  Yes, she would have been angry with him for a few days, but that would be better than facing the knowing glint in Green’s eyes.
 
“Tell me, Miss Green.  What do you get out of this?  What did you gain?”
 
“’Gain’, Kyros?  I think you’re misunderstand the meaning of ‘charity’ if you think we gained anything from this.”
 
“Your people don’t do charity, Green Hawk.”
 
She blinked and the smirk turned to a smile.  A genuinely amused with a large side-order of self-satisfaction smile. “Kyros,” she murmured, “you’d be surprised.”
 
He practically snorted. “Only if I ever did see a true act of charity from you or your kin.  It’s not in your nature.  Seriously, how did your Clan benefit?”
 
Gazing at him from under lowered lids, Green contemplated her knowledge of main arteries and general soft spots in Rygan anatomy.
 
“Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  That wasn’t the point.  As difficult as it might be for you to understand – despite your little speech for the camera.”
 
“Green, you cannot expect me to believe that the Black Hawk have suddenly become… White Knights.” Kyros shook his head. “People don’t change.  Not that much and certainly not that suddenly.”
 
“Again, you’d be surprised.” Green raised a single brow. “After all, we changed from being honourable samurai to being dishonoured ronin in a single night and the ninja thing happened not long after that… So, why can’t the reverse be true?” She tilted her head. “Or, maybe, you could look at it as us merely remembering our origins and deciding to live up to them for once, instead of living down to what we are now.  Your choice, really, as you’re the one questioning our motives.   Either way, the fact remains that we gained nothing but the satisfaction of doing something for someone else.  A concept I would think you, as someone once deemed worthy to wear the Red, would understand.  Now, if you will excuse me, I should return to the ladies so they can leave.  I will see you at home, Kael.”
 
“Of course, my love,” Kael murmured, biting down on the urge to kiss her goodbye.  He was in uniform, she wasn’t, and there were cameras around.
 
“Kael,” Kyros muttered, watching Green make her way through to where Kana and her group were waiting, “what did they really get out of it?’
 
“Ah… the satisfaction of duping Kyros’Ryn into helping them?  What?” The large Rynger shrugged as Kyros whirled to glare at him. “From the start it has been about making quilts for people in need, that’s all I know and all I can tell you, Kyros.  Other than… when she told me of the group’s plans, my Midori was excited about the idea.  But then, Midori’s kind heart and desire to aid others is no surprise to me as I can name several examples where she has jumped at the chance to be of service.”
 
“No.” Kyros shook his head. “You can name times when she’s helped someone she personally knows and cares about.  This… this is different.”
 
“Not really.  Kana cares about the quilts.  Kana is her sister-in-law.  Midori cares about Kana.”
 
“But Kana is Black Hawk!  That’s what I’m saying, Kael.  The Black Hawk only care about their people, they don’t give two hoots about what happens to people they don’t know.”
 
Kael grinned. Looking around, he lowered his head so Kyros would lean in further. “Kana is not Black Hawk.  Not like Midori or her other sisters-in-law.  The whole sewing group is made up of… support staff, for the want of a better designation.  Um... think of them as ‘part time’ Black Hawk.  They do not live and breathe the Clan as my Midori and her family does, they are Clan only when called on.”
 
“So…” Kyros blinked. “They’re… normal?  Like… real people?”
 
“Um… yeah.  They are part of the Clan so the Clan cares about them and, because the Clan cares about them, the Clan cares about what they want to do.  They wanted to help people… so the Clan wanted to help them do it.  When it’s Clan related, all aid is given freely with no strings or gains expected.”
 
Watching the group take their leave, Green lingering over the two children she had befriended, Kyros slowly nodded. “Alright, I suppose I can accept that explanation.  Although why Green couldn’t just tell me that herself, I’ll never understand.  All that BS about ‘living up’ to where they came from blah, blah, blah.  Completely unnecessary.  Seriously, Kael, I have no idea how you put up with it.”
 
“Well, sir, she certainly makes things interesting, does she not?” Kael answered seriously. “It is a Gift among many Gifts all wrapped up in the Gift that is my Midori.”
 
“One of these days that ‘Gift’ is going to kill you.” Kyros about faced and headed towards the exit when he realised Jackie and her cameraman were looking around. “And that’s assuming I can wait that long.”
 

***

_________________
Resident Ninja


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PostSubject: Re: One Good Turn   Sun 9 Aug - 15:27:58

“Even without that quilt, it’s still an impressive total, Mi-chan.  You did well.” Maeda dipped his head while he wrote something down on paper Green couldn’t see on her screen. “We can even write off the quilt as a necessary expense because it was the catalyst for another twenty two to be made.  You and the ladies would never have been able to do that on your own – even if your father did provide volunteers.” He glanced up. “And Kyros made a publicised plea on behalf of the shelter, you said?”
 
“Yes.  They showed that part of the interview – as well as Melissa’s list of desperately needed items.  You can watch it on their website if you want to.”
 
“I might later.” Maeda bit his lips together. “I wonder if there’s a way to track the success of the plea… It would be a direct response from your initial actions so it would be counted too.”
 
Green’s back straightened by its’ own accord. “It is?” she breathed, her eyes bright. “Really?”
 
“Oh, yes.  If you hadn’t come up with the idea of giving Kyros the quilt, the Ryngers wouldn’t have got involved and without the Ryngers, the news agencies wouldn’t care about a few donated quilts and there would have been no public plea from Kyros himself.  It’s simple cause and effect, my dear.” He held his non-madly scribbling hand up. “Just give me a moment here to add it all up.”
 
“Of course, Sensei.”
 
“Okay…” Maeda murmured after a couple of minutes. “Mi-chan… I’ve checked the figures twice and I must say… I’m very proud of you.  So very proud!  This beats any of your missions.  And that’s without factoring in any effect from the plea from Kyros.”
 
“It does??”
 
“Yes.  Genuine acts of charity rate higher than pretty much anything else – including saving lives in the line of duty.”  Maeda finally looked up. “Why do you think so many of our people run fundraisers in their spare time?  Not everyone can be a Bird, you know.” He chuckled. “Some actually have to work at earning their honour.”
 
“Hey!  I work at it.  Kind of.” Green chewed at her thumbnail. “So… is it enough?”
 
“It’s more than enough, Mi-chan, since you had ‘enough’ before becoming a seamstress thanks to Saya-chan being on parental leave.” Maeda put down his pen and concentrated fully on his screen. “You know the drill.  What do you officially want to do with it?”
 
“Well… Saya-chan’s getting bored and that’s never a good thing…  Is there a contract she can do?”
 
“Several.  I’ll run them by her when she gets up.   You do have more than enough though… do you want to bank the rest in case she decides one’s not enough to keep her amused?”
 
“Oh.  Well… I suppose… Kael’s birthday is coming up and he did mention a desire for a silver darash hide covered flight seat for his jet.”
 
“Ah… no.  Not enough for that – even if Saya-chan did spend it all.”
 
“Oh, no, I wasn’t thinking about actually getting him one!” Green laughed. “Oh, hell, no. Just a cushion.  Possibly only silver darash on one side.  He was joking when he said about the flight seat, but… I think he’d find it funny, you know?  If I got him a silver darash cushion…  But it’s still significant enough that it’d make a pretty decent present too…”
 
“Oh, well, in that case…  One good contract will probably cover it.” Maeda paused when she murmured a low ‘uh huh’. “Unless… you want the money for something else?”
 
“No… it’s I just don’t know how much it’s going to cost, that’s all.  Or where to even find such a cushion!”
 
“I see.  Well, I’ll do a little research, get a rough idea before anything’s set in stone.  I can always suggest to Saya-chan that she gets her feet wet with a smaller contract to begin with before sending her on a big one if they’re overly expensive.   But even doing that, Mi-chan, will still leave you with a significant credit.”
 
“Oh. Okay.  Um… then, half to the bank just in case Saya-chan isn’t satisfied with just the two contracts and half to the Clan.”
 
Maeda watched her in the screen for a moment, chewing the inside of his cheek. “Are you sure, Mi-chan?  No one would blame you if you were to put it all in the bank for Saya-chan to use.  Everyone knows you’ve not earned anything from contracts in a while and everyone knows she’s not going to have a long career anyway.  It would be perfectly fine and understandable if you wanted to spend it all now while she’s not tied up helping Kazu-kun run the Clan…”
 
Green tapped her fingernails on the table and considered her words.  “I have my inheritance from Jenny and Peter… and Saya-chan’s done some really lucrative contracts in the past…  Both Kael and I are paid quite well…  To be honest, Sensei, the only reason why I spend any of it is because Saya-chan needs to get out once in a while or it’s just not safe for anyone.  I’m looking forward to the day she retires and it all automatically goes to the Clan.”
 
“Oh, I don’t think that’s a day that’s coming, Mi-chan.  I think there’s always going to be a need to send her out, even when she’s old, grey and using a walking frame.”
 
Green snorted at the image.  Sadly, she could imagine the frame would be as much of a weapon as Saya-chan’s knives.  “Well, yeah,” she said, “but as the Clan Master’s wife, it’d come out of the Clan anyway.  She won’t be relying on me to earn it for her and I won’t have to judge how dangerous she is.  It all becomes someone else’s problem.”
 
“True.” Maeda sighed. “It’s a shame, though.  If you keep pulling off jobs the way you handled the quilts… you and Saya-chan would be on track to take Kazu-kun and Sasaki-san’s title of the Clan’s highest earning pair.”
 
“Well, if I ever managed something like it again, the Clan will be able to use it all instead just getting a bit of it.”
 
“Oh, I know the Clan would benefit, Mi-chan – not that the coffers are in desperate need or anything.”  Maeda sighed again. “It’s just that you and Saya-chan are so close to usurping them, you know?  It would have been fun to see who really is the best pairing before Saya-chan and Kazu-kun need to concentrate on the Clan.”
 
“Really?  We’re that close?”
 
“Oh, yes.  Kazu-kun is the better counter, there’s no doubt about that, but you are the better balance.  Sasaki-san has done well, but your earning capacity is so much greater because of the wider impact – and interests – of the Wings.” Maeda hunched forward. “I shouldn’t be telling you this, but… Sasaki-san only tithes, he doesn’t gift the Clan the way you do.  Obviously they decided to take on as many contracts as possible while Kazu-kun can. The only thing holding you and Saya-chan back is you don’t just tithe, you gift as well.  If you were to bank it all and allowed Saya-chan to really go to town… You’d beat them hands down.”
 
Green frowned. “I… I don’t think it’s really a competition, Maeda-sensei… I mean, yeah, it’d be fun to beat Kazu-kun and all, but… Papa’s trying to retire, and he can’t do that if I keep sending Saya-chan on contracts because it means Mama can’t retire.” She licked her lip. “And I really think Mama wants to retire…”
 
“Your mother would like to, ah… slow down a little, yes.  Which she can’t do while Kazu-kun keeps taking contracts – which, if you think about it, is entirely your father’s fault.  The day he states he is definitely stepping down will be the day Kazu-kun has to stop working and he hasn’t done that yet, has he?”
 
“…Huh.”
 
Maeda glanced over his shoulder. “Listen, Mi-chan…” he whispered.  “I think the problem is Kazu-kun, to be honest.  He takes too much delight in rubbing it in – that he’s the Clan’s highest ever earning counter, I mean.  If it wasn’t for your grandfather’s untimely demise… your father would have had a shot at that.  But you know Kazu-kun… can’t keep his mouth shut and I bet that’s what’s stopping your father from completely stepping down.  He’s hoping you and Saya-chan will take up the challenge – to take a shot at highest earning pair.  To put Kazu-kun in his place, once and for all.”
 
“Even if I let Saya-chan completely off the leash, there’s no guarantee of us beating them, Maeda-san…” Green shrugged. “That’s assuming Saya-chan wants to.  It could seriously piss Kazu-kun off-”
 
“Yes, it could,” Maeda interrupted with a smile. “He’d still have the title of best counter, but… yeah, she’s the one married to him.  How about you don’t make any decisions just yet, Mi-chan.  Wait until Saya-chan gets up and then talk to her, see what she thinks.”
 
“Yeah… I guess.”  Green glanced over her shoulder, looking at the corner of the kitchen, not at the door.
 
Maeda knew what that meant.  “Kael-kun?”
 
“I think so.  Yeah, it’s him.  Just got off the elevator.”
 
“Ah, well, I will let you go.  I know how hard you try to keep him, ah…. ignorant… about this side of Clan business.”
 
“He’s just happier not knowing too many details.” Green tilted her head again and sniggered. “I think he’s just found someone to talk to – he’s stopped moving.”
 
“Shocking.” Maeda grinned back at her. “Mi-chan… how do you, um…” He bit his lips together briefly. “If Kael-kun would prefer to think you gain nothing but family from the Clan, how do you explain the extra money in your account?  If you don’t mind me asking, of course.  It’s just… should the worst happen, I don’t want to have to be the one explaining to him how he’s just inherited a rather significant income…”
 
“Oh, he knows about it.  Went all Rygan nutjob….” Green sighed. “And wanted to ‘provide’ for me and all that, so I showed him.  I did kinda buy him off with the idea of what we’ll be able to do for our children one day so he accepts it – somewhat.  It’s actually what led to the silver darash flight seat joke, but…”
 
“But knowing about it is different from being actively a part of the decision making.”
 
“Exactly.  Not that he knows I… um… that I decide when Saya-chan works.” Green grimaced. “I may have given him the idea the Clan decides that…”
 
“I see.” Maeda smiled. “I’ll remember that just in case it comes up in one of our conversations.  Unlike some, I can and will outright lie to him.”
 
“It’s not that he’d be angry or anything, but…”
 
“But he’s happier thinking all you do is earn the honour and get, um… a little ‘present’ once a contract’s been completed.”
 
“Yeah.”
 
“I totally understand, dear child, and so will everyone else.  Once I’ve told them that’s the way it ‘is’.” Maeda flicked his eyebrows when she blanched. “Don’t worry, Mi-chan.  We have to look after our highest earning balance, now, don’t we?  If a few little half-truths keeps Kael-kun happy, and a happy Kael-kun keeps you happy, then everyone will swear on their grave there is nothing ‘half’ about them.  Even the people who would usually use the knowledge to torture Kael-kun with will not contradict you.  I’ll make sure of it.”
 
“Mama?”
 
Maeda chuckled. “Of course!  I think this is definitely something to pull out the big guns on, don’t you?”
 
“Oh, yes!” Green smiled at him warmly. “Thank you, uncle.”
 
He couldn’t help himself, Maeda melted a little.  On the inside.  She was his niece, officially and legally, as well as considered so by the Clan as he was her father’s lieutenant, but to hear her call him ‘uncle’… he got the feels.
 
“Don’t mention it, dear child.  Now expect to get a phone call from your father later. He’s going to be so proud when I tell him of your latest figures, he’ll probably want to congratulate you himself.  Oh, and I’ll let Saya-chan know you need to talk to her about your options.  Although, since what you decide may influence how quickly your father will step down, you might want to chat to him before talking to her.”
 
“Yeah, I suppose so.” Green turned slightly towards the door and Maeda shook his head.
 
“Give my regards to Kael-kun.”
 
“I will – and give my love to Mama and Papa!” Green closed the laptop as the screen went black and the door opened.  Getting to her feet, she turned around as if she’d just stood up from the couch. “Hey.  I didn’t expect you home until later.”
 
“Hey.” Kael grinned back, dropping his boots onto the rack with one hand while holding out the other.  Slipping it around her waist, he pulled her in for a hello kiss. “And why did you think I would be late?”
 
“Because Kyros would expect you to make up the time you spent at the shelter today.” She pulled away from him.  “Coffee?”
 
“Tea, please, and going to the shelter was Rynger Business.”
 
“Really?” Green pulled his cup from the cupboard.
 
“Yes, really,” Kael chuckled at the disbelief in her voice. “And… I do not have any hexagons to baste tonight either!”
 
“Oh?  And you didn’t bring any paperwork home with you….” She widened her eyes in shock. “What did you do to earn a night off?”
 
“Made twenty two quilts,” he deadpanned back with a flick of his eyebrow. “But… I do have… ah… something to take care of…”
 
“Of course you do.” Green practically slammed the kettle back into its’ base. “Do you get to eat dinner before you go out to do his dirty work or has Kyros ordered you to starve too?”
 
“I do not even have to leave our quarters, my love.” Kael stood behind her, his hands wrapping around her shoulders. “And…” he stooped to nuzzle her neck. “It is something you could make much, much, easier for me…”
 
“Ohhh.” She tilted her head to the side, allowing him easier access to her jaw. “It is?”
 
“Oh, yes, you could make it very easy indeed.” He dropped a hand to her waist and slipped it under her shirt to caress the warm skin of her stomach. “But…”
 
“..But?”
 
“You have to promise Kyros will not find out you helped me.” Kael tightened his hold, clenching his elbows and pinning her arms to her sides, preventing her from twisting from his embrace.
 
Or reaching for a knife.
 
As it was, he heard a snick and knew she had a blade in hand.
 
He rested his chin on top of her head. “I promise it is something you will approve of, my little Hawk, as I believe you engineered it.”
 
He could feel the blue eyes narrowing even if he couldn’t see them.
 
“Kyros has decided to extend the good work of the shelter in aiding young Nikeal and Katelyn.  He has contacted their mother and placed a transport at their disposal.”
 
“Uh huh.”
 
“They would be ready to leave for Idaho in a few days but for one thing…”
 
“Uh huh.”
 
“And it is what I have been tasked with to provide.”
 
“Uh…huh.”
 
“It is what you could make very easy for me.”
 
“..Huh.”
 
“They need… accommodation.”
 
“Ah.”
 
“In a very specific area to be close to her family.”
 
“Right.”
 
“…And…”
 
“And?  There’s an and??”
 
“She needs a job.”
 
“You said one little thing!  That’s not one, that’s two!  And not exactly ‘little’ either.”
 
“She will need a source of income, Midori, as her savings are practically non-existent after replacing the essentials they lost.”
 
“Kyros told you to get her a house and a job?”
 
“Well, no, but it is obviously something that will be necessary in the short term and I know your family have done it in the past for people caught up in situations out of their control.”
 
“Yeah, but the situation really isn’t the same, Kael.  We had leverage!”
 
“So… find that leverage again.”
 
“Easy for you to say.”
 
“And she will need to start it by, ah… next week.  She really does not have much to fall back on…”
 
“Kael…” Green dropped her head. “I don’t know…  I mean, Idaho?  It’s possibly not, um… it might just not be possible…”
 
“Ah, well, my one true love, this is where I say I have faith in you.  So much faith, I am going to start running the bath.”
 
She twisted in his arms, the blade disappearing up her sleeve. “What if… what if it’s just not doable?  Hawaii? Oh, yeah, so doable it’d be done by now.  But Idaho??”
 
Grinning down at her, Kael said, “I have done some research, my Midori, which is why I believe it is more than ‘doable’.  There seems to be quite the cluster of companies with Japanese names in Idaho…”
 
“…Oh.”
 
Kael watched her eyes glaze over. “So… I will go start our bath and you… do what you do.”
 
Nodding, she pulled from his grip, her phone in hand and open. “Yep, you do that.” She flicked through a couple of screens and then looked up. “Well?  What are you waiting for?  The bath isn’t going to fill itself.”
 
***
 
Maeda hung up with one hand, the other already on the laptop keyboard, scrolling through the folders that had popped up when he searched ‘Idaho’.
 
“Well?”
 
“I think Mi-chan has decided to, ah… ‘cooperate’.”
 
“Did she say that?”
 
“Of course not.” The ninja smirked at his companion.
 
Or it could have been a quick grin for Mikan who has demanding belly rubs by hooking the hand whenever it stopped moving.
 
“Then how do you know?”
 
“Because, dear Fumi-chan, she asked if the Ryngers aiding a family to move would ‘count’ because she had deliberately introduced them to Kyros for that very purpose.”
 
“She could just be curious.”
 
“Except Mi-chan has never asked that question before, because, until now, she hasn’t cared if this action or that has ‘counted’.  Do you have any idea how many times I’ve had to revise her earnings because she hasn’t told me about things she’s done?  I find later out through you or Masa-kun or Kael-kun!”
 
Fumiko leaned over and gave Mikan a double-handed face rub. “And you think her asking now is a sign she wants to earn as much as possible for Saya-chan to use.”
 
“Yes.”
 
“She could just be worried about having enough to buy that cushion.”
 
“Except she didn’t ask me about it.”
 
“Probably thought you hadn’t done anything about finding it yet.”
 
“I sent her a link!”
 
“Probably hasn’t seen it.  Kael-kun did just get home!”  Fumiko frowned at the keyboard tapping. “What are you doing?”
 
“Finding houses in Idaho – that’s what Mi-chan called about, because, apparently, I’m a real estate agent now.”  Maeda blinked. “Huh.  Kael-kun asked Mi-chan to help him… obviously knowing she’d call me… I wonder if he knows he’s engaged the Clan’s services.”
 
“Is it for the family she introduced to Kyros?”
 
“Yes.  And I have to arrange a job for the mother too.”
 
“Ah…”  Fumiko shrugged. “Then it goes to Mi-chan’s total, not his.”
 
“But, Fumi-chan…”
 
No, Ryu-kun.  From now on, you will add these things to Mi-chan’s tally, not to Kael-kun’s debt.” She grinned at him. “Hell, just move the outstanding balance to hers now and be done with it.  It’s not like she’s ever going to let us collect anyway so it might as well go to a good cause.”
 
“But-”
 
“But nothing.”  Fumiko stood up. “You know damn well Kael-kun would help us out if we needed him to – and if he could.  So, just add it to hers and I’ll go tell Saya-chan the good news.”
 
“She already knows there’s a contract.  We’ve just been waiting for Mi-chan to approve it.”
 
“She knows there’s a contract, not that she’s being let loose.”
 
“Mi-chan hasn’t confirmed it yet!”
 
“Ryu-kun… how could she say no?  She thinks she’s stopping us from stepping down by only letting Saya-chan go out when she’s getting dangerous.”
 
“No, she thinks she’s stopping Masa-kun from stepping down because he wants her and Saya-chan to show up Kazu-kun!  Have you talked to your dreaded husband about this?  Does he know you’re manipulating your daughter so you don’t have to step down yet?”
 
“I am not!”
 
“Ah… yeah, you are, Fumi-chan, or you’d straight out tell her you’re pissed because Kazu-kun is the best counter this Clan has ever had.”  Maeda waved a finger at her. “But he’s only the best because you had to stop taking contracts when Masa-kun’s father died and you don’t want him to forget it.”
 
“Well, he shouldn’t!  That boy, as much as I love him, needs a lesson in humility or he’s not going to be half the leader his father is.” Fumiko drew herself to her full height and glared at him. “I’m doing this for the Clan, not because my own career was cut short.”
 
Maeda leaned back and shook his head. “Is that what you’re going to tell Masa-kun when you go wake him up?  Because if it is, you might want to work on your delivery.  It’s just not believable right now – although the ‘lesson in humility’ and ‘half the leader his father is’ were very nice touches.  Needs more sincerity though.” He waggled his hand back and forth. “It’ll still be touch and go, but get him while he’s groggy and you might just pull it off.” He laughed as the door slammed behind her. “She’s so not going to pull it off, Mikan-chan.  He’s going to know.”
 
He has met his Mate, Mikan agreed with a hint of amusement. But I think he will play along anyway. He often calls the young one ‘smartarse’ under his breath.
 
“And to his face.  But… that’s a family tradition.  It’d be unnatural if the Clan Heir was anything but a smartarse.”
 
The Cat put her head on the table and gazed at him calmly. Then… he will play along because he was once a smartarse and it has been my experience that they never grow out of it.
 
Shaking his head, Maeda returned to flicking through the files on his laptop. “You know, Mikan-chan, my dear, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.  Once a smartarse, always a smartarse.  Masa-kun will throw himself in feet first, regardless of what Fumi-chan tells him.  Just because he can.”
 
***
 
“…Why are you all… echo-y? And sound like you’re standing next to a waterfall? … In the bathroom?  What, you couldn’t step outside for a moment?” Kyros blinked. “Kael… too much information.  I don’t particularly need to know how you’re getting your Mate to find a house and job in Idaho, just that you are. …. No, no, I don’t need you to call me back once you know she’s done it, a message will be fine. … Seriously, just hang up.  I don’t want to-”
 
He stared at the suddenly dead phone. “You could have at least waited until I had finished speaking!”
 
***
 
“Who were you talking to?” Green eyed the phone Kael had just tossed onto the vanity. “Don’t tell me Kyros-“
 
“It was Kyros, but…” He pulled her in the bathroom proper. “He just wanted to confirm I was working on our little, ah… housing problem.”
 
“What did you tell him?”
 
“That I was just washing my hands and then I was going to get to it.” He ran his hands up her back. “I am getting to it, right?”
 
“What?  Oh, yeah.  It’s being got to.” She pushed away from him. “How are you going to explain the job?  He didn’t ask you to get Nikeal and Katelyn’s mother a job too, right?  So how are you going to explain it?”
 
“Oh.  Um…” Kael frowned. “I… was… going to… tell him…” His eyes lit up with a flash of brilliance. “I will tell him I know someone who works for one of the companies that have branch in Idaho and I sent them her resume as well as a recommendation. He will not think to question why someone would be hired without even an interview if they came with a recommendation from a Red Rynger!”
 
Pursing her lips, Green nodded. “Yeah, he’s arrogant enough to buy that.”
 
“It is not arrogance, merely a fact.”
 
“Oh, it’s arrogance.  You just happen to share it so you don’t see that it’s arrogance.” She breathed deep through her nose as Kael pulled his shirt over his head.
 
Carelessly tossing it to cover his phone, Kael posed.  Just a little.  Enough to make Green bite her lip. “We work... hard… for our reputation, my love.  We are known for our… our… um…”
 
“You were saying?” she asked innocently, her own shirt dropping to the floor.
 
Kael dragged his eyes up to her eye level. “Do you really care?”
 
“Yep.” Her trousers joined her shirt. “Weren’t you the one who told me I needed ‘to take an interest’?  I’m taking an interest now.  So, tell me.  What are you known for again?”
 
“I forget.” Kael rushed her, picking her up to place her on the high side of the vanity. “I really do not care,” he mumbled, his experienced hands undoing the sheaths attached to her arms with barely a flick.
 
Leaning back and doing some posing of her own as he simply jumbled her blades onto his shirt, Green grinned up at him. “Seriously, Kael… you are so easy to play.”
 

***

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