Chapter 4: Pre-Owned

He didn’t come back until night. By the time he stumbled in, his ribs were burning up a storm and blood had seeped to his shirt. Since they were use to him vanishing, no one had waited up for him. He would have been disturbed if they had.

The bathroom light hurt. Streetlights had been soft in comparison.

Turning on the water so it could get warm, he stripped off his shirt and took a look at himself in the mirror. The blue paint on his face had started to smudge on the edges, as it always did after he had sweated more than usual.

“Stupid muggy Japan,” he muttered in a hiss of Russian. He pulled out a washcloth from the drawer and got to work peeling off the bandages on his torso. Old scabs pulled away with the gauze. “Disgusting.” Really, he couldn’t see what was so attractive about the human body. She shouldn’t look as appealing as she did. She was just a blood bag of flesh and ooze, just like everyone else.

The door creaked. Speak of the devil.

Ayah stood in the doorway wearing a knee-length blue night gown. Her loose hair nearly reached just as far as it did and swathed her shoulders in gentle white-gold curls.

He couldn’t help but feel just a little triumphant when her eyes trailed along his bare chest and widened. But whatever satisfaction he had vanished as she closed the door behind her and he found himself alone in a small room with her, with no one else conscious enough to even know they existed.

She slipped the rag from off the counter and ran it under the now steaming water. He tried to glare her away—that worked for most people—but she ignored it and reached out to wipe the blood from his side. He dodged it.

“Pardon?” he growled.

She didn’t glare at him. She didn’t pout. Nor did she flinch. She just looked at him, as though to stare down a jittery dog.

Being no dog, he yanked the cloth from her hand and set to work on himself, doing his best to hide back the wince as lifting his right arm stretched and aggravated the wound. She shut off the facet then and sighed.

“I want to call you names,” she whispered, or rasped. “But I know you’re far to use to them and will probably just insult me right back or ignore me.”

He snorted. “Stop pretending you know me. Go back to bed.”

In response, she poked him in the chest. He slapped at her hand with the bloodied rag.

“Go. A. Way.”

“I will if you let me help you.” If she kept wheezing like that, her throat would never get better.

“I thought you weren’t supposed to be talking. Why do you care anyways?”

“Because I like you, and you’re in pain.”

That answer stunned him more than it should have. He had given her no reason to like him. In fact, she hadn’t even the time to decide whether or not she liked him. Perhaps she was like Tyson in that regards and simply suffered from poor judgment and a naïve trust in strangers.

While he had stood there, shocked, she stole the rag back from him and had stepped about him to reach his side. When her cool fingers wrapped about his bicep and lifted his arm, he started to protest, but chocked on the words as she suddenly ducked her head to his side.

He reflexively recoiled, just to back into the wall. “Aren’t you supposed to be mute? Coughing on blood and all that?”

“I don’t need my voice that much,” she whispered, than took up his arm again, this time keeping eye contact until she ducked down. Her hair against his skin felt just as satin smooth as it had in his dream. Heat boiled up from his stomach, heavy and opening every pore on his body. If he looked down, he’d be able to see her lips puckered up as though for a kiss, just as they had over Ray’s fingers.

A familiar hum prickled along his skin. She moved his arm to her shoulder, offering to be a support as she breathed and hummed against his injured side.

He didn’t know how long he stood there, fighting the urge to just look down at her. He ended up staring at their reflection in the mirror. It was an odd sight, to be sure, and he couldn’t help but notice that if she had bent down any further, her nightgown would have shifted up—don’t go there. This was not cool at all. He was not—would not allow himself to be drawn in by a girl just because of her looks and soft hair.

Right when his feet were beginning to prickle from being in one position too long, the humming stopped and she pulled back. Her lips had turned bright red from vibration, but her face had gone nearly as pale as her hair. In the mirror the gash of the gun wound had shrunk by half and pinkened with new, healthier scabs.

“That’s best I…” he barely heard before she fell back, catching herself on the counter. Before he could stop himself, he was reaching for her, catching her as her knees gave way.

“Smooth,” he said against her bowed head. “What, can you not breathe?”

She gave a little moan that sent tingles all along his spine.

“I gave you…some a my…sound waves are energy…did you know?” She shuddered and he felt her settle in just a little more. The next words that wisped past her lips he couldn’t quite make out. Perhaps her vocal chords had given up for good.

Exasperated, confused, and more than a little apprehensive, he figured she wasn’t going to walk out of there anytime soon. Even if she had forced herself on him, she had helped. He might as well show a little gratitude.

She must have fallen completely unconscious, for she didn’t respond as he scooped his arm beneath her knees and waist and lifted. He underestimated her weight and ended up shooting into a stand. Kenny hadn’t been kidding. Hollow bones indeed! This couldn’t be healthy.

She’s not human. He sucked in that thought and pounded it into the part of him breathing in the cinnamon bun and rose sweetness from her hair and marveling in the softness of her bare legs against his arm. Her lightness gave him the impression of something delicate, and a fierce protectiveness he had only ever felt for his team curled dragon-like into his chest.

No. He decided what he would feel and for whom he would feel it, and it would not be this inhuman…thing. He had to remember her power. She had nearly imprisoned his teammates into a fate worse than death. She could hear their heartbeat, hear their blood, make their vessels burst within their brains. At a single note, she could kill whomever she pleased.

Yet, as his feet found the steps to take her up to her temporary room in the attic, he froze at her little squeak of protest.

“What?” he snapped, though it didn’t come out as harsh as he wanted it to.

He had to strain to hear her answer.

“Don’t leave me alone.”

For the second time that evening, another shock ran through him. He stood there, letting the wave of it crash over him, before he tightened his jaw and turned towards the dojo instead.

“Let me be clear,” he said, lowly so as to not wake anyone. “I don’t like you. I don’t trust you. And if you make so much as a squeak that I think might hurt my teammates, you’ll be dead before you even blink. Stop trying to—to cozy up to me or whatever the hell you’re doing.”

She didn’t answer, but he was more or less certain she had heard him.

Still, despite his words, when he opened up the dojo door and stepped around the sleeping (and in Tyson’s case), snoring bodies of his teammates, he went to his own futon set on the far side of the dojo and set her down in the sheets. It was a good thing she was so light, as a sudden wave of weariness threatened to tip him over when he leaned down.

She weakly caught his wrist as he pulled away.

“You’ll need sleep. Lots. And food. I made your body rush against its nature.”

He tugged, but her fingers tightened. Grunting in annoyance, he glared back at her half-lidded eyes. He could just see them in the light of the bathroom from the hallway. The blue was hidden. It was easier for him to think of her as a demon that way.

“Kai,” she tugged at him, and with a roll of his eyes he drew nearer so as to hear her wheezing better. He regretted it as the cinnamon bun smell thickened. “None of you have any reason to trust me and every reason to hate me. People hate different. But…” she took a shaky breath. It was a full minute before she spoke again, and this time he could hear the tears warping her words, though her voice had strengthened somewhat. “But Tyson called me sister. Grandpa claimed me his daughter. Ray and Max and Hillary…you have no idea…”

He wanted to tell her to get to the point, but even he had tact. Or did he? Why was he even here still, letting her whisper to him and breathe her sweet smell into his face? When had he ever given a damn about tact?

“Kai Hiwatari, I will die before I try to harm your team. You and your friends own my soul.”

“Is that why you stayed in that cage, then? Because they owned you?”

Her face twitched with pain, and for the first time he felt guilty for hurting an enemy.

“No. No, please, they…” she closed her eyes.

“You could have broken out of those bars, couldn’t you? Just vibrated them to pieces?”

“No. They were made…of a plastic. Pliable materials don’t—” she broke off with a cracking cough. Her light body curled against the attack and he once more found himself moving without thought, pulling out the blankets to tuck around her.

“Enough. Go to sleep.”

Even if she had wanted to, she didn’t have the chance to stop him a second time, even when he wobbled on standing from the head rush. His head started to throb in a way he knew all too well. Exhaustion and stress would only be tolerated so long by the body, and if what she said about healing him was true, she had just taxed it.

See? She isn’t so nice, he thought scathingly.

That didn’t stop his subconscious from dreaming of her once he curled up in Tyson’s clean bed.

They went as his dreams usually did at first. Nightmarish, by normal people’s standards, but just generic for him. There were stone walls, memories of pain, darkness, and occasionally a familiar Moscow building filled with targets he didn’t want to kill, but did anyways. He was running through the old stone train station, weaving through the crowd, his feet only touching the floor enough to remind him that he wasn’t flying. Red feathers fluttered past his fingers till he knew his scarf was made of them. Feathers of fire. Dranzer’s feathers.

Then he turned a corner, busted through a security personnel door, and aimed his blade.

To find Ayah as his next target.

But instead of screaming or running or, worse of all, treating him with naïve politeness, she spread out her arms and her face lit up with welcome. She was wearing that blue nightgown bought for her by the overexcited Grandpa Granger, and it brought out her eyes till he knew he was looking at fallen pieces of summer sky.

Without remembering dropping his blade or crossing the room, she was against him, soft as comfort, light as a bird, trusting as a child. He could taste her, and it was warm sweet bread.

Some part of him woke up and he pushed her away. They weren’t in the train station any more, but somewhere else. Somewhere he didn’t remember, but enclosed with stone and broken bits of sky and red feathers. “Wait, I don’t know you. You’re—you could end everything. Get away from me.”

His voice was weak, however, and she just smiled.

The next thing he knew, his surroundings solidified into that dungeon of the Abbey he knew so well. Boris stood at the wall, grinning, spectator to all the weakness Kai displayed by holding her in his arms.

“Worthless. Weak. A waste of blood and space,” he said.

Ayah wasn’t in his arms anymore. She had a beyblade—one of the dark obsidian slips of things only the elite students were ever given, designed to move faster than the human eye could catch and against every BBA regulation. The ultimate assassin’s weapon.

And it was pointed at him.

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