Kai brooded on a corner of the porch as Ray and Tyson ushered Ayah to the beydish. He didn’t approve of this. He didn’t approve of it at all.
Ayah still had a mince to her walk, as though unused to showing so much leg (though the skirt was modest compared to what Hillary usually wore), but she seemed to forget a bit about it as Ray and Tyson got ready on either side of the dish.
“Alright, Ayah, when you see a light from the beyblades, look up, okay? Mine should be a tiger.”
“And mines the blow-your-socks-off-awesome dragon that will eat Ray’s tiger!”
“Up yours, Tyson. Don’t go making dishes you can’t serve.”
“Oh, I’ll serve it all right.”
Kai groaned. Yes yes, the trash talk before a battle was an ingrained tradition, but did they have to be so lame about it?
As Ray and Tyson readied their beyblades over the dish, Kai covertly turned himself in Ayah’s direction. If she even so much as made a peep, he’d be on her. After all, the last time the doctor’s said her throat was too injured to speak she had sung back Tyson and Max’s souls to their bodies. And since nothing had been in the paper about someone with snapped calves being arrested, he wasn’t about to let his guard down, just in case this girl was somehow still in contact with her old captors. The fact that Tyson and Ray had practically tripped over themselves to show her their bitbeasts just because she gave them those big, goo goo eyes when they asked her if she’d even ever seen one sickened Kai. It was that whole naïve friendship mentally of theirs that upheld his theory that they were all in a children’s cartoon.
Ayah bounced on her heels in eagerness, the pink bow in her hair bouncing along with her. Kai felt his lips curl.
Tyson settled himself into position. “Let’s do this sumo style.”
Ray grinned. “Then when our fighting spirits are ready.”
They looked into each other’s eyes, waiting. It was a way of starting a duel they had come up with among themselves. No count down. No sound. Just an explosion of movement—
And the blades were out, dancing about each other across the well worked grooves of Tyson’s beystadium.
There had always been something about his team mates when they battled that never failed to draw his attention, even after all these years. Perhaps it was in the way they held themselves, or the way they focused. Or perhaps it was simply because even now it still startled him to see others smiling and laughing as they bladed. Maybe it was because, even now, he couldn’t see how it was a game.
But he returned his attention to the girl with the bouncing bow. The setting summer sun cast their shadows long and tall across the backyard and onto the porch, where they played across Kai’s boots.
“What was that, Ray? What happened to your oh-so-awesome speed?”
“What happened to your oh-so-awesome attack? I’ve been taking notes from Max, unlike you. Drigger!”
A loud chink of metal on metal bit through the air. Tyson cursed, then laughed.
“Take lessons from me next time! Up and out, Dragoon!”
A blue-white blur jumped through the air. Ayah’s head tipped back to follow, her lips parting in surprise, then back to the bright smile she had worn ever since Tyson had pulled her across the threshold of the dojo.
A crash, a burst of breeze, and then a spark of blue light lit up from the edge of the stadium. Ray let out a shout and his own blade burst with green light.
Kai strained his ears and stared hard at her mouth for signs of singing, but Ayah had put a hand to it as the ethereal forms of Dragoon and Drigger formed above her, their light blazing against the leftover gold of the sunset.
The tiger and dragon weaved about each other as though carried by the currents of a whirlpool. Their passing ruffled their bladers’ dark hair and disturbed the leaves in the trees. Small waves rippled across the pond.
The bit beasts clashed, dancing to and apart from another, echoing each other’s battle cries.
And Kai was caught up again in the battle. As usual, the sight of his team’s bitbeasts gave him an odd, overpowering calm, as though the earth had fallen still. Here, with them, it was safe. Without thinking, he reached into his pocket to wrap his fingers about Dranzer, which warmed in response.
Then Dragoon swerved out of the circle and dissolved. Tyson’s blade tinkled to a stop against the stones. Tyson gaped at it.
“Holy crap, Ray, that’s the quickest you’ve beaten me yet! What were you doing the whole time I was under?”
Ray caught Drigger in his palm with a grin. “Practiced all night with Kai in order to save your sorry hide. Next time don’t get sucked up into a ball so easily, okay?”
Kai noted that, at these words, Ayah fell still, and all happiness fled to leave her expression closed and impassive. She glanced over her shoulder at him and he averted his eyes just in time.
“So, Ayah, what you think? Pretty cool, huh?” Tyson puffed out his chest, all but ready for her to launch herself at him. Kai rolled his eyes and slumped back against the wall. He could relax for a bit. Crisis averted.
She answered Tyson with a nod and a smile that paled in comparison to the one she had held before.
Ray noticed this. “You alright?”
She nodded again, more fervently. Then she slipped out the little notepad Grandpa Granger had gotten her to communicate with and handed it to him. Ray read it and nodded, handing it back.
“It’s cool. Really. We don’t hold anything against you.”
Kai barely avoided meeting her eyes again when she looked over at him. Tyson gave a bark of friendly laughter.
“Don’t worry about Kai, he’s always like that. Grumpy is his middle name! Though, between you and me, I bet he’s just shy because you’re so cute.”
Kai aimed a glare at Tyson that could have cracked glass. The other respectively drew back in apprehension, though Ray just laughed.
“Ten bucks says you have to run laps tomorrow.”
“Yeah right, no one’s going to be doing laps tomorrow. After all,” Tyson grinned. “Tomorrow is the real reason I invited you guys here.”
Ray frowned. “Your birthday, right?”
“Yes, and no. Hillary helped me organize it. When you guys see it you’re going to love me so much I might have to turn bisexual to satisfy you all.”
“That’s just gross.”
“Hey, now, don’t be a hater. You’re talking to the man who get’s Victoria Secret scented envelopes daily.” And the idiot throws his arm about Ayah’s shoulders, pulling on the stupid face he thought was a flirtatious smolder. “But I’m not into that, sweets. I’m just wait’n on that special someone.”
“Don’t even try that,” Ray came around and peeled Tyson’s arm away as though it were an old smelly banana peel. “She’s at sister status now. Besides, aren’t you dating Hilary?”
“Wha—pfft—who told you that?”
“Hillary. She said you guys had a date to the movies.”
“Exactly. A date. She’s still in the interviewee process.”
Ayah had pinched her legs back together again and her amused smile looked just a little forced. Rolling his eyes and feeling more disgusted than usual with his teammates, Kai turned to go back inside. He was in dire want for a shower, as he could still smell the hospital on him. If she tried singing out a soul he could always launch his blade from the bathroom window or something.
“Yo, Kai, you up for a battle?”
He debated Tyson’s challenge for only a second. “No.”
“And that’s as eloquent as he gets.”
“Birthday boy’s going to get laps,” said Ray.
“Maybe not the laps you’re thinking of.”
Kai closed the door with a hard snap behind him. He was beginning to miss the Tyson that couldn’t tell the difference between girls, boys, and beyblades. Poor girl didn’t know what she was in for. He thought this again on spying Tyson’s grandpa watching them through the kitchen window with a blissful smile and a cup of tea in his hands.
Kai usually took his showers cold. He had grown up in a country of harsh winters and short summers, and the warmth of Japan often put him off or made him drowsy, which was something he detested. Anything that muddled the mind muddled the senses and made one an easier target. This time, however, he turned up the heat, hoping to dull his thoughts and block out the world for just a bit. All he needed to do was keep his ears sharp anyways.
Fifteen minutes later he was out, the sky had darkened to dull silver, and the noisy sounds of Tyson and his grandfather having a kendo match vibrated the floorboards beneath his feet, meaning he’d have to dodge around them in order to get to his things in the corner of the dojo. Figuring he could brush his hair later, he swiveled on the spot and pointed himself back outside to the now empty yard. Noisy places unnerved him. Anything could reach you in the din. The beating of your own heart could even cease without you hearing it.
But outside it was properly quiet. For not the first time, Kai was grateful Tyson lived in such a quiet neighborhood.
He sat himself against the wall and leaned his head back. Crickets. The hushing of leaves. A distant car horn. A cool brush of a breeze, carrying the scent of cement, grass, and that indefinable cleanness of oncoming night.
The back door opened and closed with a quiet snap. He heard bare feet pad across the floorboards as though hardly there and something like a dish being set next to him. He didn’t open his eyes until he heard them sit down and lean against the wall.
Ayah had sat next to him, her legs pulled up to her chest and a cup held atop her knees.
He closed his eyes again. “Go away.”
In answer, she pushed the cup she had set next to him against his leg. He could smell chamomile and something sweet.
Never one to discount a peace offering when he saw one, he picked it up without looking and took a careful sip. It wasn’t like she’d have to poison him if she meant any ill will anyways. And as long as he kept his eyes closed, her appearance couldn’t muddle his thoughts.
There were a few minutes of blessed silence before there came a rustling of paper and her notepad was pressed into his hand. Sighing, he opened his eyes and skimmed over it quickly.
If you are up for a jog to get your heart rate up, I could heal your side.
He ended up having to re-read it just to understand what she had said, not because her words didn’t make sense, but because her handwriting was atrocious. He found himself smiling. Of course none of the others would have said anything about it.
“Your handwriting is hideous.”
The notebook sped out of his hand, a quick scribble, and was pushed back with a grumpy scowl.
And you’re afraid of everything.
Something cold prickled through his blood, giving the sensation of needles beneath his lungs and fingertips. He considered throwing the notebook at her along with the tea, but he would never be so childish. Besides, reacting like that would just prove her right.
And wasn’t she right?
Suddenly sick to his stomach, he dropped the notebook, left the tea, and got up to stalk off of the porch. He stuffed his hands into his pockets and went around the house, the cold prickling in his gut slowly giving way to a murderous boiling. He didn’t care that he wasn’t wearing any shoes. He’d walked barefoot through the snow plenty of times. Bare summer-warmed side-walks would be nothing, and he had Dranzer in his pocket—always on hand—in case anything came up.
He didn’t hear her pattering after him until he had walked to the end of Tyson’s street. He thought of running, then shook it off. He wasn’t about to run away from a mute girl with a big pink bow in her hair. He had his pride—always his pride.
“Stop!” she wheezed—or more like whistled like a sick old dog out of breath.
“Go away,” he said. “I’m not into making friends with charity cases who suck out souls for a living.”
Her hand caught onto the back of his shirt and he twisted it out of her grip with a growl.
“I said leave me alone!”
And he twisted back to pick up his pace. Her footsteps didn’t follow, but he kept on, falling into a run until he finally reached the river side and bridge that Tyson often went to train in private. Not so much out of breath as he was cringing in pain from the smarting wound at his side (that probably had started up bleeding again), he half limped to the cover of the bridge and collapsed in the shadows. Only then did he notice the crumpled lined paper in his pocket. Wiping the sweat from his brow (he really hated Japan’s humid summers), he smoothed it out against his knee.
I hear your fear—thought it was me—but everything. Why?
Her sense of hearing was getting annoying. Was there anything she didn’t hear? Would none of them be allowed to have any privacy from her? The thought made him chuckle to himself, thinking of what Tyson would make of that with all the weird bodily functions he went through, before he returned back to frowning at that nearly illegible scrawl. She must have written it right before running after him.
“Why what? Why am I afraid?” he sighed, balled it up, and threw it into the river. “What a stupid question.”
Because, really, it was. And it also didn’t matter what he was afraid of, because, in the end, he never paid any attention to his fears. He would do what he wanted, when he wanted, and no wheezy girl collecting his teammates like ribbons on her fingers would play as his therapist. His past would give her nightmares, as it sometimes did for his teammates, and he was handling it just fine. Great, even. It made him stronger than most—greater than most. Because fear? He didn’t even know the meaning of it.
Then why had he just run away from her after he told himself he wouldn’t?