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Link 1: Affection- Tod, Sarah, Blue Dragon, Valentine. 
Morning rituals; (or the things that the Rescuers and Kei don’t bother saying)

[Friends are the family we chose for ourselves.
-Edna Buchanan]

Everyone has their own way of waking up (or not) in the morning, same thing for getting ready for the day ahead of them.

For some people getting up in the morning was a challenge akin to running half a mile with weights strapped to their backs, doable but best avoided for as long as possible. And the task of getting ready for the day was a lazy process at best or a crazed unfocused frenzy at worst if they woke up too late. 

While for others waking up bright and early was second nature, accomplished as easily as blinking, and getting ready for the day was a practiced and relaxed routine, perfected to the point of being a dance. Fortunately for Kei, he was part of the latter group.

Unfortunately for the rest of his team, they were part of the former.

And so it goes; Kei awakes at 5 in the morning, right at the crack of dawn, stretching his limbs and cracking his neck for side to side to remove any excess heaviness from his body, leaps out of bed with a care-free shout of ‘ally-oop!’ and lands on his feet with a flourish and a toothy smirk. “Good morning!” He shouts to the empty room, as if preforming for an audience (and as far as he sees it, he always is), and starts his preparations for the day.

The Rescuers’ base of operation, such as it was, was a decently sized two story house with six small (but not too small) bedrooms (one for each of the team, plus the manager), two bathrooms (one for the 3 men, the other for the women), plus a living room, a kitchen space (barely stocked most of the time, and not due to money issues), and a small (way too small) laundry room.  Provided by Heaven’s Gate (because Latios is a really nice gal, even if she’s a bit uptight for Kei’s taste), maintained mainly thanks to their manager (who is very good with money, a skill none of them possess), and placed in a relatively secluded location, because Kei and his team like space to think (and the rest of Valhalla would like space away from Kei). It was, all in all, a good place to call home (eventually at least).  

It was a rather lively house, having six people in one place made such a thing inevitable, and that usually started early in the morning and always starting with Kei.  Whether his team liked it or not (they didn’t, usually).

Kei’s morning ritual was divided into two parts; the first consisted of prepping himself for the day: taking a shower (and posing in front of the mirror for five minutes when he was done, “When you look this good, you got to appreciate it!”), brushing his teeth (and giving the mirror his best grin), stretching (and posing again, this time in front of the full length mirror in his room) , and dressing himself (underwear,  pants, shirt, jacket, gloves, socks, shoes, hat, and one final posing session). 

Then, at 5:45, he would exit his room and get started on the second part of his morning routine; waking everyone else.

There were three bedrooms on the first floor, and three in the second. When they  first arrived at their newly acquired home, they all grabbed a room (Kei got dibs to pick his room first, because he’s the leader and no one would be able to argue with him anyway), and promptly fell dead asleep. Kei followed soon after (after making sure they were all settled), and ever since he woke up in the morning after, he has always woke them up in the same order.

First Tod, whose room was closest, he opened the door with little ceremony, nearly slamming it into the wall. Not that it would have done any good, the rooms’ occupant was a really heavy sleeper, and was still snoozing on his bed, dressed in a shirt and his underwear with a yo-yo clenched lightly in his grip.  The first time Kei had to wake him up; it took him nearly five minutes of shouting, poking and more shouting before he found the frankly fool-proof way of rousing him from his sleep. 

So Kei walked up to Tod’s bed, with a wild and wide grin, and kicked it hard enough to make the bed frame bang against the nearby wall, and making Tod bounce from the mattress and straight to the floor with a yelp.  

The aforementioned soccer player was now looking at his leader with a resigned look, “Good morning Kei.” He then dropped his head to the floor with a lightly pained groan. The first time Kei did that he turned on him with an angry snarl of “What the hell!?” And all Kei did was tell him it was his fault for not waking up. They repeated that process for a while before Tod realized for the first time how stubborn his leader was. 

Kei was still grinning, although this time with only half the teeth, and looked down on his second in command, “Morning to you too! Glad to see you haven’t died in your sleep yet.” He then watched as Tod picked himself up from the floor and rub his head, and his grin got a bit smaller, “Didn’t kick the bed too hard did I?” 

(If Tod didn’t know him as well as he did, he would think Kei was being apologetic) 

The Rescuer looked at his leader with a small smirk of his own, “Not any more than usual.” He sat on his haunches on the floor, and linked his hands behind his head, leaning on the bed frame behind him, “I’m just happy you didn’t kick ME this time.” He gave Kei a big great laugh, one devoid of any care. 

(He was the one who formed the Rescuers with Kei, hell he was the one that came up with the name.  He was also the first one to see through the nonsense Kei spouts every two seconds, through all the narcissistic bluster and arrogant bullshit, to see he was an asshole that cared, instead of just the asshole that most of the rest of Valhalla save the Rescuers believed him to be. 
Not to say he wasn’t an asshole, he was, and is, but the realization made living and working with him a bit easier. And Kei is usually more to the point with him, sometimes.) 

In response Kei’s grin doubled, “Good! I was beginning to think you were growing soft on me,” He barked out a laugh, “Least now I don’t have to waste my indispensible time toughing you back up to the Rescuers’ golden standard.” The grin grew, just a bit, sinister, “Right?” 

(Kei was also well aware of the fact he was an asshole, it made some things, like looking at himself in a mirror, a bit harder, and others, like motivating his team, very easy. Fair trade as far as he saw it) 

Tod’s eyes widened just a fraction, “No sir.” He gulped lightly and got back on his feet, still rubbing his head (because even if he knows him better than the rest of team, Kei could still scare the living daylights out of him in the right circumstance, one example being “Kei’s extreme golden standard training regimen.” Or as the rest of the Rescuers call it, “Absolute Hell.”). 

Kei made an approving hum and crossed his arms, “Good to hear, “He clapped a hand on his shoulder, making Tod wince for a second, “Now I’ll leave you to getting ready, I got to wake the rest of the lazy asses.”  He then turned on his heel and walked out of the room (not bothering to close the door because Tod honestly doesn’t care if someone sees him in his underwear), and moved on to the next room, Sarah’s. 

He opened the door to her room with significantly more care, mostly because the girl was a much lighter sleeper than her team mates, so all Kei had to do was take a deep breath and shout, “GOOD MORNING LITTLE LADY!” To get the result he wanted.

The result being Sarah bolting up in her bed with a squeak (adorable), her expansive raven mane of hair sticking out every which way in frankly the most epic display of bed hair Kei had ever seen (also adorable), which was quickly followed by her turning her head to give him a vicious combo of a glare and a pout, along with her right fist clenching and unclenching the sheets (adorable until one remembers that, once properly motivated, the girl can hit with all the power of a pile of bricks with anger issues, and only half the mercy) , and finally turning her body to face him, crossing her arms and sitting in a lotus position on her mattress (in her angel penguin print pajamas, back to adorable), glare and pout still firmly in position as she grumbled a, “Good morning Kei,” under  her breath.  Unlike the rest of the team, her response to Kei’s morning ritual has remained largely the same, Sarah being of the very few who are able to match Kei in a competition of stubbornness, though her brand of hard-headedness is different than Kei’s. While he plows through everyone’s arguments with all the grace and subtlety of a grinning, shark-toothed tornado, she plants her feet and turns into a sturdy, pouting hill, unmoved by anyone no matter how much hot air they blow her way, ironic for both, considering their rolls on the field.
     
Unaffected by her pout (and generally adorable, if childish, disposition that she had every morning), Kei only leaned on the door frame to regard her with his trademark grin, “Good to see you haven’t chocked on that crow’s nest you call a head of hair yet.”

In response Sarah’s pout deepened, and she just turned her head away from him and mumbled, “Good to see your oversized ego hadn’t snapped your neck yet.”

Putting a hand to his chest in mock injury (and real relief, he thought for second that he went a bit far, Sarah is a bit protective about her hair) he looked up at her in surprise, “Ouch, hitting right where it hurts.” He laughed a bit, before turning another shark toothed grin her way, “Blue taught you that one?”

She kept looking away for a moment before just looking down at the foot of her bed and mumbled, though this time with a bashful smile, “Maybe…” 

(Every now and again Kei gets a reminder of just how young she is, he isn’t quite sure how that makes him feel, and being unsure is something Kei tends to avoid when he can. The fact that she’s dead doesn’t help matters at all.)   

Kei pushed off the door frame and walked up to her bed, this time with a small smile, “It was a good one either way.” He shook his head a bit, “Anyway, it’s 5:55 in the morning little lady,” he put a palm on her head and mussed her hair a bit (making her bed head even worse) and gave her another grin, “Time to start the day.”

Sarah swatted his hand out of her hair (less harshly then she used to though) and rolled her shoulders, then cocked her head to the side, as if considering something, “Hmmm…”  She then gave Kei a look so utterly flippant it nearly made him take a step back and said one word, “Nope.” She then flopped back onto her bed; her back facing Kei, leaving him slacked jawed, though not very surprised.

Kei spent a long two seconds looking at her slightly wide eyed before dragging his right palm over his face briefly, growling under his breath, “Are all the ones from earth freaking brats when they’re teenagers?”  He then let out a breath and poked Sarah’s back none too gently, “C’mon, stop being a brat and get up.” 

She looked at him over her shoulder from beneath her hair for a moment, “Only if you apologize for insulting my hair.” The demand was made with such an easy-going air it took Kei all his restraint to keep himself from flicking her ear in retaliation (as well as not to be inexplicably proud of her of learning his particular flavor of flippancy), and look at her in slight astonishment. 

He sighed with a self-deprecating smile, “Sarah,” His use of her name got her attention (his nickname for her, Little Lady, was more or less the only thing he called her, ever since she joined them), and she got up a bit to look him in the face, “You’re asking me,” He pointed a finger at himself for emphasis, “ME, for an apology.” He stopped there, as if that was all he needed to say (and honestly, it was).

She held her chin in her right hand for a moment, as if considering her request (and how ridicules it was), and then looked at him, arms crossed and a challenging look in her eye (the same look she gives him during practice), “Yes. Yes, I’m asking you for an apology.”  

He looked at her for a second before throwing his hands in the air in defeat, “Fine,” shaking his head he crossed his arms and matched her challenging look with one of his own, “I’m sorry for insulting your crow’s nest.” That earned him another glare from her, which he laughed off and added, with a very sincere smile, “It’s very pretty.” 

Satisfied with his apology, and knowing it was the best she would get out of him anyway, she flashed him a smirk, “Apology accepted.”   She then fingered a few of her locks with a proud gleam in her eyes, “And thank you very much, I take good care of it.” She looked at her hair, pooling around her on the bed, with a critical gaze, “Speaking of, time a cut it down a bit.” 

(When she first joined the Rescuers he kept pestering her about cutting her hair shorter, saying it would get in the way of her playing. She refused, but wouldn’t tell him why. It went on for weeks, being the subject of many arguments between the two, Tod trying, and failing, to keep things from becoming shouting matches.
It finally came to a head, one month later, after Kei lost control of his temper and spewed a particularly vicious insult, calling Sarah, among other things, a stupid little girl who cared more about her hair then actually becoming a better player, and Sarah finally revealed why she refused to cut her hair with a tear stained face, 

“I only let my mom cut my hair, okay!? No one else gets to touch it! NO ONE!” 

She locked herself in her room for a day, only coming out when Kei knocked on her door with a warm dinner and a promise to drop the subject. He then spent a week proclaiming his sudden and intense love for long haired women. It nearly got his head chopped off by Beth, and an ass kicking from Cassiel when he got a bit brazen with Mariel, but it got Sarah smiling again, so it was worth it.)

Kei gave an agreeing hum, “Yeah, good idea.” He picked up a few strands of her hair and tucked them behind her ear, “I’ll tell Blue you need a quick trim, okay?”  She gave him a spirited nod and a blinding smile, and Kei flashed her one last wide grin, “Got it, better go wake her up then.” He gave her head one last vigorous rub, and walked out of her room, closing the door behind him (because Sarah actually cares if someone sees her in her underwear), and started down the stairs for the next step of his morning ritual. 

Stepping off the last stair and starting down the hall, he stopped in front of the third room, and knocked. He waited for a second then knocked again, and when he got no answer (as well as assurance that he would not walk in on a sight that would earn him a mauling by a dragon, like Blue stepping in her qipao), he walked in with an assured stride.

Blue Dragon, or just Blue as the Rescuers called her, was a rather inconsistent sleeper. Depending on the day she had before she would either by dead asleep like the rest of the team (minus Kei), or she would wake up shortly after Kei would be done with Tod and Sarah (the first instance of which, when he went to wake her up and walked into her room without a care, got Kei more scars than the all the years of playing in the Galaxy League ever gave him, most of them teeth marks), so Kei exercised due caution.  

Currently it was the former, with Blue snoring lightly and drooling in her sleep (two things she would never admit to, and which Kei teases her mercilessly about), and her blue hair out of its signature ox horns, pooling around her pillow. Her dragon (apparently an extension of her soul…or something, Kei didn’t really pay attention to her explanation, which he summed up with: “You guys from Umbra are weird.” “Why did I even bother?”) was sleeping at the foot of her bed.

Waking Blue took Kei a while to figure out, mostly because half the time she would wake on her own, but partly was because he had to find a method that didn’t get him kicked in the head (there was a reason she was the team’s designated striker), or getting bitten by that dragon of hers. (Kei is convinced it likes the taste of him. Blue is convinced he’s an idiot.) Shouting at her made her sic her dragon on him in a sleep induced daze, kicking the bed made the dragon attack him on its own, tickling her (a last ditch effort he took just a little too much fun in resorting to) made her kick him through a wall, and trying that on the dragon (apparently whatever the dragon feels she does, “Again, weird.” “You’re weird!”)  nearly cost him a few fingers. But like all things, Kei’s hard-headedness rewarded him with a fool proof method.

Looking at the softly snoring dragon, Kei smirked. The dragon changed its size depending on Blue’s mood and how much energy she had (“Weird.” “Shut it!”), up to the size of a large lion when she’s motivated enough, or as small as a soccer ball (fitting) when she’s calm, tired, or asleep like now. He picked up the dragon, slowly so he wouldn’t be roused; he chuckled slightly, and raised his hand holding it. 

And dropped it on Blue’s face.

“Gah!?” Blue practically jumped out her skin, grabbing the dragon on her face (clinging onto her out of shock) and trying to pull it off. Kei tried to hold in his laughter before losing his composure, chuckling loudly, bending at the hip from the force of his mirth. In response to the familiar noise Blue stopped her flailing, sighed, and turned her head to face him, the dragon still stuck to her head, “Good morning Kei.” 

Taking a deep breath and calming down, Kei straightened up and gave his team’s Striker, who managed to calm down her familiar and remove it from her face while he gained control of himself, a mirthful grin stretching his face, “Morning Blue.” He put a hand on the still sleepy dragon’s head and stared petting it, making it hum contently.  “Glad to see the little guy didn’t want a midnight snack!” He laughed and started petting it harder, causing it to wake up with a growl and try to bit at his hand, which Kei managed to snatch back before the dragon’s jaws could snap closed on anything important. “Yikes!”

Petting her spirit animal with a good natured laugh (Kei could swear he heard her say, “Good boy,” for almost biting his hand off, but decided to pretend he had too much wax in his ears for now), and looked at him with a satisfied smirk. “Good to see your oversized ego hasn’t snapped your neck yet.”

Kei stopped his ear picking for a second, then laughed at Blue’s choice of words. Then he saw her giving him an odd look (the kind she would give something she planned to sic her dragon on), and chuckled, “Sarah beat you to it with that one.”

She looked confused for a second, before a proud smile spread on her cheeks, “Good to see she’s learned something during her time on our team.” She looked away with a pleased chuckle, the smile still plastered on her.

Kei took on an offended air and put a hand to his chest while he puffed it, “Hey, I’ll have you know I’ve taught her plenty since she joined.”

Her smile vanished, and in its place she raised her left eyebrow at him, a dubious look on her face (a look she perfected in an interest to keep her sanity while on the same team as Kei), “Allow me to correct myself then,” She closed her eyes and lifted her nose in a mocking upturn (Kei could see she was trying not to smile), “I am happy to see she has learned  something that doesn’t fall into the category of ‘How to act like an asshole.’” (She wasn’t always this crass, but hanging around Kei has influenced her beyond repair, so she has resolved not to be bothered by it.)

Kei scoffed, “If that’s what I’ve been trying to teach then I’ve failed,” Blue gave him a confused look, but he just kept going, holding up a finger to her face as if for emphasis, “Because, she’s acting like a brat, not an asshole.”  He lowered his head to her level, presenting an impish grin that showed off all his teeth, “Big difference, as you should know.”

She returned his grin with an honest laugh, that was calmed into light giggles (another thing she would never admit to, but Kei doesn’t make fun of her as much for) as she answered him, “Yes, I should know, after spending all this time with you.”

He barked out a loud laugh, “You say it like it’s a bad thing!” They shared a long laugh, loud, care free, and full of joy (Blue needed this more than anyone on the team save Sarah, but like hell Kei is just going to say it), and gave each other challenging smirks when they were done.  His grin widened a bit, “Ready to start the day Blue?” The challenging look he gave her didn’t falter for a minute.

She squared her shoulders, and gave him her best confidant smirk, “Aren’t I always?” She and her dragon gave him matching spirited grins, “If you don’t believe me, we’ll show you how ready we are,” Her smile got a bit warmer, though no less wide, “Captain.” 

(For the first few months after she joined the team, Blue Dragon spent every waking moment from breakfast on the first day in the new house trying to kill Kei.

Blue came to Valhalla as many non-angels do, by dying. Like many before her, she didn’t take it well. She was causing a mess, fighting every angel sent her way, screaming at them to show her the gatekeeper so she could go back home and, “Make that witch pay!”

It got so bad they sent the Rescuers, at the time consisting only of Kei, Sarah, and Tod, to try and calm her. The logic was that Kei was the closest to her location with any experience in handling this sort of situation. 

It backfired, as all plans involving Kei in some way do, and all he did was piss her off further, and causing her dragon to expand to the size of a full grown bison and join the fight. Kei ended the fight by telling the other two members of his team to fall back, and once they were safely away he kicked his game up a notch, beating Blue and her dragon handedly.

Once they were both too tired to keep fighting, and Kei had calmed himself down enough, he told her that if she can’t even stand up to him, she shouldn’t bother trying to get home and finding whoever killed her the first time. 

She was quiet for a moment, then looked into his eyes with an angry fire in her gaze, “Fine, let’s make a deal then, if kill you,” She got on her feet and gave a challenging look, “I can get back at the witch.” 

Kei matched her challenging look pound-for-pound, then smirked and agreed, on two conditions: That she would stop causing such a ruckus. And that she would join his team. 

She agreed, on the condition that she wouldn't have to call him ‘Captain.’ 

She took her time preparing, and after they got the house, the first thing she did after breakfast was attack him. He beat her, again, and again, and again. After a while her attacks became less frequent, mostly because between all the insane training Kei put the team through, Sarah needing her help for all sorts of “Girl things”, as she put it, Tod seeking her out for one on one matches, and even a few soccer games, she just didn't have the strength, and after a while, the will, to go through any of her attacks. 

After a while she just stopped, and no one, least of all her and Kei, has even mentioned the deal ever since.)

Kei gave an approving nod, “That’s what I like to hear.” He opened his mouth for a second, and then smacked his head, “Right, almost forgot.” He gave her a look that was all business, “Sarah’s hair needs a trim, could you get on that?” 

She sobered and nodded, getting out of her bed and opening her drawers, “Yes sir, I’ll just grab my scissors, and join her in the bathroom.” She took out a few towels and other things she would need for Sarah’s haircut. 

(Why women would need so much stuff for a little trim would forever elude Kei, and he’s pretty sure he doesn't want to know.)

He coughed, a bit bewildered by the shear amount of stuff she was pilling on the top of her drawer, “Right, I’ll just leave you to it.” He turned on his heel and started making for the door, “Got one more idiot to wake up.” Blue pointedly ignored him, as well as waving a hand to shoo him out (while still pulling things out of her drawer…sweet Neris), and he walked out. Closing the door behind him (because Blue would kill anyone who saw her in her underwear), and made for the final stop of his morning routine.  

The last door on his path, actually the second to last room, the last one belonged to their manager, and Kei didn't bother to wake her, she didn't need any training like the rest of the bozos (and she was too young for that anyway), belonged to the relatively newest member, Valentine. 

Opening the door with a leisurely push, Kei looked at the room’s occupant with a lazy gaze. Aside from Tod, the long-passer of the Rescuers was probably the heaviest sleeper among them, stemming from the fact he spends most of his time watching all their backs or tending to their wounds (and reading porn magazines, but Kei has no right to judge anyone on that matter so he leaves that subject alone), and indeed there he was, sleeping like a rock, motionless as a corpse. 

(Kei takes a deep breath to forget that analogy, death makes up enough of their daily agenda as it is, and it’s too damn early for it.)

Finding how to wake Valentine up was a bit of an ordeal, all kicking the bed did was move the man to the floor (where he continued snoring for another ten minutes, not even complaining of a sore back when he woke up), and all shouting at him earned was a sore throat that lasted for the rest of the day (which he made up for with an extra lengthy training session the next morning, he told the team to blame themselves for being lazy in the morning, and Valentine for being a stubborn rock), so he decided to use a more subtle approach, for once.

Leaning on the door frame with an easy air, Kei rolled his shoulders such in a way that his head ended up leaning back, his gaze falling on the empty hallway, and then he made a dramatic show of freezing in his tracks and opening his eyes as wide as he could manage, “Holy crap! Is that that Blade chick in a bikini kissing Cynthia!?”

With the sound of fumbling sheets and the frantic beating of feet, he was pushed aside by a fully awake Valentine (dressed only in his shorts), who was looking left and right with a crazed look, “Where!? Where are they!?” He looked at Kei, “Kei where are-“He stopped abruptly when Kei started laughing as loudly as his lungs could afford him, his hand on his forehead in shear amazement.

He chuckled, “I can’t-“He laughed again, shaking his head, “I can’t believe you’re still falling for that!” He was bending as low as his spine allowed, cackling with enough force to shake his bones and making his breath hitch, “Oh sweet gatekeepers you should have seen your face!”

Looking at his leader with a flat stare, Valentine merely sighed, “Good morning Kei.” Valentine had taken the least amount of time to choke down his indignation at being rudely awakened by his loud-mouthed leader every morning, which he attributed to his adaptability. 

(Kei would have called it being a quitter, but Valentine hadn't left the team yet.)

Kei chuckled a bit more, “You need to get that head of yours out of the gutter, man.” He shook his head, “Considering the kind of women we regularly work with, it might just get your ass kicked, if you’re lucky!” He started snickering anew, heedless of his team members’ blank look.

Valentine raised his eyebrow at his leader’s shaking shoulders, and opened his mouth for a retort. But before he could say anything, probably something involving Kei’s tendency to be no less gutter minded, Blue rushed out of her room, carrying a bunch of hair care products in her arms (and dressed in her fluffy blue bath robe), her head whipping back and forth along the hallway much like Valentine did a moment before (her cheeks tinted red), before her eyes landed on the two men looking at her mildly surprised, “Uh…I…I thought…”

She stammered like that for a minute, before Kei raised both his hands in a placating gesture, “Don’t worry Blue,” He gave her his best winning smile, “We all still love you.” Valentine copied his gesture and gave Blue a small smile of his own. 

(Blue came out to her team about her ‘preferences’ over breakfast about 3 months after Valentine joined, as a show of trust in her teammates, and a need to be honest. Kei mumbled a blithe, “Whatever.”, his mouth full of cereal. Tod shrugged his shoulders with a nonchalant, “Cool.”, and went back to his sandwich. Sarah went starry eyed and immediately started asking her what kind of girls she likes, her own bowl of cereal forgotten. And Valentine gave a quick and neutral, but not unkind, “None of my business.”, and went back to reading the newspaper, and that was the end of it.)

Blue laughed a bit and rubbed the back of her head (her cheeks still a bit red), “Right, well Sarah is probably almost done with her shower,” She cleared her throat, “Better get to her and give her that haircut.” She gave off a nervous laugh, and started walking to the stairs.

Kei gave out a questioning hum, “Yeah, about that.” He turned to her, “Hey Blue,” She stopped and turned to him, rearranging all the hair care in her arms to more easily hold it, and waited for her leader to continue, “Considering the…enthusiasm you just displayed,” He cleared his throat (his lips twitching up, something that Valentine caught, but Blue did not), “I feel the need to ask…”

Valentine turned to his leader with a confused raise of an eyebrow…before something clicked in his head and his eyes widened in horror, and mumbled a weak yet desperate, “Don’t say it…” 

Blue caught that and tilted her head in confusion, “Don’t say what?”

Kei turned to the other man and gave him a serious look, “Please don’t interrupt Valentine,” He cleared his throat again (his lips twitching even further up, making Valentine’s panic grow twofold), “This is a very important question, and I have to ask Blue now.”

Valentine’s face morphed from panic to an expression that seemed genuinely scared (all though when he directed it at Kei it was less scared and more silently asking, ‘not even you’re that damn stupid, right?’, it was a bit of a signature face of his, and with Kei the answer was always ‘yes, and you should know that by now’) and muttered again, “Please don’t say it…”

Blue tapped her foot loudly, catching the two men’s attention, “Don’t say what?” Her dragon flew out of her room, yawning, and landed on her shoulder, seemingly unaware of its master’s rising irritation, “And could you hurry up and either say or not say it already?” She shook her head a bit, “Even giving Sarah a little trim takes a while, as you should know, and I’d like to able to have a shower of my own before lunch.”

Kei rubbed his face, “Alright, just be honest with me okay?” He sighed and looked at her with all the seriousness he could muster (which to be honest wasn't much, but more than you would think) , “I know I sent you to take care of Sarah’s hair, not that I have much of a choice considering you’re the only one here who knows anything about that stuff,” He rubbed that back of his head, “And I don’t want you to think I don’t trust you, I do, but as a leader it’s my responsibility to look out for all of my subordinates’ well-being…”

“Captain,” Blue was giving him her best flat stare, “Get to the point please.”

“Right,” He sighed lightly, “Considering the fact you’re going to be spending a substantial amount of time with Sarah, alone, combined with that display just now, I really feel the need to ask…” He gave her his best suspecting look, “Should I be worried about Sarah’s virtue?”  

Behind him Valentine placed a palm on his face, and with a resigned sigh muttered, “He said it…”

In front of him Blue looked at him with a raised brow, until realization dawned on her, causing her eyes to widen to the size of dinner plates and her face changed to the tone of an overripe tomato, ”Of course not!” Her face was a mix of offended and embarrassed, her voice pitched high and loud, and she started making denying hand gestures at Kei (almost dropping everything she was carrying, and her dragon copying her movements with its paws), “Captain why would you-! You know I would never-! Sarah is like my little-! I would never even think of-!” She stopped her stammering tirade when she noticed Kei’s shoulders shaking; she looked at him in confusion, “Why are you…?” 

Her captain burst out laughing, both hands holding his midsection, “Oh-oh jeez…” He wheezed in between heaving peals of laughter, “Y-your face!” He guffawed loudly, slapping his knee and barely sucking in breath, “Y-you s-should have seen it! It was like- “ His face mimicked her expression for a moment before it crumbled again into a snickering mess and his mirth bent him at the hip.

Her eyebrow twitched, Kei didn’t notice, although Valentine was trying his best to get his leaders attention, “Kei, stop being stupid for a moment please.” He accompanied his request with repeated pokes to his laughing leader’s shoulder.  

(That request had become a habit of his not long after he first joined, it was a bit of an in-joke within the Rescuers to count how many times he said it in any given day. The current record was 57; Kei was aiming to break it. Valentine was ready to break something else, but that’s neither here nor there.)            

“Oh relax,” Kei said after taking a long breath to get his laughter under some control, “Blue knows I’m just messing with her.”  He chuckled a bit before straightening up and glancing back up at his Striker, “Right Blue? You know I’m just-“He stops short when he fully catches her features.

Namely, that her dragon was now the size of a large dog (it was even growling and baring its teeth at him), her right heel was lifted off the ground (a sign she was ready to kick, which worried Kei more than the dragon), and most worrying was her face; eyebrow twitching, eyes narrowed and cold, and mouth twisted to something between a scowl and a snarl. Overall, it all added up to a very striking (and horrifying) picture, a picture Kei saw more than a handful of times by now, so he knew how to handle it, or at least how to mitigate whatever damage was sure to follow.

“Now Blue,” He started, voice calm and hands up in an apologetic gesture, “I get it, that joke was a bit much,” He grimaced when he heard her growl, “Okay, way too much, but you know how I am, no filter.” He chuckled a bit, “And besides, this isn’t even the worst joke I played on you, remember the one where I-“

“Shut up.”

He blinks at her, his expression a bit angry but voice still apologetic, ”Now wait a minute Blue-“  He stops again when she just starts stomping her way to the stairs, “Blue c’mon! You know I was just joking!” She reaches the stairs and starts her stomping ascent without even acknowledging him one bit, “Blue!” Her figure disappears, and soon the two men hear the bathroom door slamming shut above them.

They both stare at the stairs for about a minute, perfectly silent.

“Well,” Valentine started, voice flat, “Another wonderful joke gets its expected response, sir.”

“Shut it.” Kei rubbed his face tiredly, “Shit.” He shook his head looking back at the stairway, scratching the back of his head, “I keep forgetting how damn sensitive she is about that…” His eyebrow knit together in a scowl, “Damn Umbrans…ancient assholes with a mindset to match…”

“And you would know everything there is to know about being an asshole,” Valentine chimed in, “Sir.”

“Didn't I say shut it?” Kei glared at the man from the corner of his eye before pinching his nose and letting out a breath, “Now I’m going to hear about this all damn day,” He started rubbing his temple, “Not just from Blue, but Sarah is probably going to give me the cold shoulder, if she doesn't give me an earful about being a jerk,” He lets out another frustrated breath, looking at the ceiling, “And to top all of that off, Tod’ll probably just sit there and let those two have at me, and add his two cents when they’re done.”

“Don’t forget about me, sir”

Kei sighed irritably, “Okay,” He turned to face him, “What part of ‘shut it’ don’t you get?”

The man simply raised his eyebrow, “That part where you actually expect me to stop talking, sir.” 

Kei rubbed his face with both hands, “Alright already, I get it,” The goalkeeper crossed his arms, “I fucked up, not like it’s the first time. Now if you would stop being a sarcastic jackass for two minutes, and let me think so I can maybe find a way to fix this mess with minimal risk of a headache, that’d be great.”

Surprisingly (or not so much, considering Valentine noticed that his captain’s expression showed signs of wanting to punch something, and Kei was very open about his wants, and besides, being a sarcastic jackass was Kei’s job) Valentine stopped talking and let his leader lean against a wall to think, for two minutes.

“How about just apologizing?”            

He scoffed, “Yeah, right.” Kei put his hands in his pockets, still leaning on the wall, “Blues’ ego is almost as big as mine (and twice as prone to bruise, but that was better left implied),” He pushed off the wall with his left foot, hands still in his pockets, and turned to face his subordinate, “You really think she’s just going to swallow her pride and move on after a little apology?”

Valentine held his leaders’ look firmly, and shrugged his shoulders, “Than make it a big apology.” Seeing his leader open his mouth to keep on arguing he continued, “She has more respect for you then you think.” His leader closed his mouth, his expression carefully blank (as a general rule, Kei didn’t do anything ‘carefully’, unless it was absolutely necessary), he kept going, “Why do you think she reacted so strongly to that so called ‘joke’ of yours?” He crossed his arms, “She thought you trust her, so you joking about that hit her low, especially considering what she had to go through on Umbra because of her...you know.” He stopped, before sighing, narrowing his eyes at Kei, “She thought you would be above that, that you would be different than that, you promised as much.”   

Kei kept looking at his teammate, his expression unchanging, for a long minute, before he scoffed.

“Look at me.” He mumbled to himself, than he threw his arms up in the air helplessly, chuckling, “Getting leadership tips from some jerk in his undies.” He shook his head at himself (electing to ignore Valentine remembering his state of undress, hilarious as it was), before looking back at his long-passer with a resigned scowl, “I’ll talk to her after breakfast, apologize for being an ass, again, and promise I’ll leave that subject alone.” He gave him a shark toothed smile, “Happy now?”

Valentine laughed a bit before taking a few steps towards the threshold of his room, “I’m only happy when you’re not being stupid Kei.”

Kei barked out a loud, bitter laugh, before giving Valentine his best jagged grin, “Than you must be the most miserable asshole in Valhalla!”

Valentine stopped, and then looked at his leader with a small, honest smile, “Not as much as you would think, Kei.”

(Valentine is the only one that actually volunteered to be part of the Rescuers, to the surprise of the current members of the team, the annoyance of Kei, and the confusion of nearly everyone else in Valhalla.

The only reason he ever gave was a quick and neutral, “I am fairly certain you could make the most use of me.”

Kei didn't accept him at first, saying that if anyone could join the Rescuers just by asking, he’d be up to his neck in useless morons. And he wasn't going to join his policy anytime soon; the only way he was getting in was if he was chosen, and Kei was pretty clear that that wasn't happening. 

But Valentine was persistent, and after many requests, and surprising support from the other members of the team, Kei relented, but he spent every chance he had to get Valentine to quit. Extra training, no breaks, waking him up more harshly as time wore on, but Valentine weathered the storm, and he didn't even complain.

Soon he became the team’s go-to voice of reason, and, oddly enough, first aid guy. Soon even Kei stopped trying to get him to leave, having someone close a massive gash in your calf with 25 stiches so you wouldn’t bleed to death like an idiot kind of takes the wind out of your sails, and Valentine took on the shared burden of keeping Kei from getting into too much trouble with Tod.

They try, bless them, but everyone had a limit to what they could do; keeping Kei out of trouble all the time is beyond anyone’s’ limits.

They didn’t know it at the time, but Valentine was the last thing the team needed to be functional. Well, as functional as they would ever be.)

Kei scoffed again, “Whatever you say weirdo,” He stretched his arms above his head, “Now if you excuse me, I’m going to make myself some breakfast, waking you jokers up gives me an appeti-“

“So I heard you screwed up,” Tod chimed in unexpectedly, hair still wet from his shower, dressed in his uniform, yo-yo dangling from his right index finger, “Again.”

Kei hung his head and sighed theatrically, “I see word travels fast in this house of ours.”

“That and angry dragon women, sir.”

“Oh just shut it already.”

“Can’t leave you alone for one second…” Tod muttered under his breath, rubbing the back of his neck, “It’s too early to give you the riot act though,” He put a hand to his stomach, “I’ll wait after Blue and Sarah have a go at you, It’ll give me enough time to get something to eat.”

“Take your time Tod,” Valentine chimed in, one hand on his open door from inside of his room, “I’ll make sure those two don’t lose him by the time you finish your food.”

“Thanks Val.”

“My,” Kei chimed in cheerfully, face stretched to something between a smile and a sneer, “It sure does feel good to see my teammates work together for the worthy cause of giving me a headache.” His expression turned into a full blown scowl, a hand rubbing his left ear, “Couple of noisy crickets.” 

(That name came from the duo’s self-appointed job of keeping Kei from going overboard with anything he does, or at least trying to. Tod stepped in whenever he did something reckless, while Valentine spoke up whenever he was doing something stupid. They called themselves Kei’s conscience and common sense, respectively. Kei called them, “An annoying cricket on my right, and an annoying cricket on my left.”) 

“And proud of it,” Valentine added blithely, “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a day to get ready for.” And with that he closed the door (because nobody wanted to see Valentine in his underwear), leaving his two teammates alone in the hall.

Kei rubbed his face tiredly, “Finally…” He turned to his right hand with a bored gaze, “I’m making coffee, want some?”

Tod laced his fingers behind his head, “Sure, I could use the energy when I’m giving you that lecture on when you should keep your jokes to yourself.” All that was said with a nonchalant tone, earning him a flat stare from his leader which he completely ignored, “You know how I like my coffee right? Black with-“

“Two sugars, yeah.” With that simple mutter, the leader of the Rescuers started towards the kitchen, his second in command walking calmly behind him, and after a brief stop next to knock on his managers’ door, “Morning Perial, I know you’re awake, off your lazy butt.”, his morning routine was complete.

The rest of the morning went by rather simply, Kei and Tod reached the kitchen and sat down with their cups of coffee (Kei took his black) and sat there until Blue and Sarah showed up, who proceeded to give Kei an angry earful he was sure all of Valhalla could hear, when they stopped to take a breath, Kei gave Blue his apology and promise to leave that business alone (as well as give her a cup of her coffee, milk with one sugar), then turned to Sarah to compliment her newly cut hair (and give her a cup, milk and cream), and just when he started to dig into his breakfast (a bowl of sugary cereal, which he always shares with Sarah) Valentine showed up and reminded Tod of his lecture (and this after Kei gave him his cup of coffee, milk, too. Ungrateful.), who proceeded to do just that.

All that noise stopped when their manager sat down in her chair with her drink (orange juice, ice cold, with a bendy straw), and graced them all with a tired look, “Why do you people have to be so loud this early in the morning?” 

After a beat of silence wherein they all looked at each other, all of them pointed at Kei with a small resigned smile, who in turn pointed at himself with the biggest grin on his face. 

“Idiots.” With that the whole table, Perial included, burst into laughing fits, any fight or hurt feelings that happened before forgotten.

“Alright,” Kei started after a few minutes of laughing and wiping tears from his eyes, “Got that out of your systems everybody?” After a few more chuckles he got a pleased and relaxed nod from all his teammates, “Cool,” He stood up, giving them his best, widest, wildest shark toothed grin, “Ready to start today's training?”

A lot of things go unsaid with the Rescuers.

“Yes Captain!”

(But that’s fine, Kei talks enough for all of them anyway.)

“Right, let’s get to it.”