Monday night, History class. I was sitting with Derek, Lizzy, and Adam, same as always, listening to the old cane droning on about the first moon landing. How old did he think we were? I swear, every history teacher feels the need to rehash everything else we had been taught.
My armor, such as it was, was working out pretty well. Derek and I had only taken six jobs since Friday; we needed a bit of a breather after the constant fighting. But still, the Minerva silk was holding up nicely.
Adam’s astronaut was in ‘sarian custody, as expected. Word had already spread about the mutiny and the USP takeover. It didn’t affect us directly, but a lot of Domina’s supplies came from free colonies, so we’d be hit hard regardless. The big nations never liked their investments deciding to simply go independent.
But we weren’t talking about that here. No current events, or indeed anything within the last twenty years. The old cane refused to even touch upon the toy maker. Ridiculous.
Lizzy, of course, was her usual bubbly self. All the horrors of the city never seemed to touch her. If anything, she seemed happier. Probably because the screamers hadn’t affected her at all, plus she was at college. She always did love meeting new people.
She was having trouble understanding what the teacher was saying—she always had that problem—so she kept leaning over to ask Derek for clarification. He tried to explain everything as best he could, but he kept getting distracted by her cleavage. In fairness, he avoided looking if at all possible, but that in itself was obviously costing him effort. He didn’t look at any other girl on the planet like that. What made Lizzy special? They met first? Unfair.
After about half an hour of this little dance, I had enough. I couldn’t watch it any more. But what was a I supposed to do? I couldn’t just ignore it; they were right in front of me. I couldn’t tell them to knock it off; they weren’t actually doing anything wrong. I could—
“Akane,” Adam whispered from the seat next to Derek, staring at me.
I glared at him.
“Akane,” he repeated, more firmly using his gaze to gesture at my hand.
What was he going on about? I wasn’t—
My train of thought crashed and burned.
My hand was in my bag, on the hilt of my sword.
I felt like throwing up. I got up and ran out of the room as fast as I could without resorting to my power.
I heard the teacher’s voice cry out behind me. “Why do you people even come to my class!?”
I stopped in the hallway, breathing heavily. It couldn’t be. I couldn’t have been about to attack Lizzy. Sure, she was annoying, but it was Lizzy. She wouldn’t hurt a fly, and she wasn’t even stealing Derek’s affections on purpose. I was not a murderer, despite what my mother said. I didn’t kill just because it was convenient.
Footsteps behind me. My hand went to the throwing knives Maria had gotten me for my birthday, holstered at my elbow, as I turned around.
But it was just Adam, wearing a concerned frown.
“What’s with you? You feeling all right?”
I waved my hand weakly. “Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just…”
He looked back into the classroom. “Ah. Yeah. I can see how that would upset you.” He patted my shoulder and tried to smile. “Derek’s just a moron. Don’t worry about him. He’ll come around.”
I barked out a laugh. “No, he won’t.”
“Who won’t what?”
Derek had decided to follow us, Lizzy in tow. She, of course, clearly had no clue what was going on, and clearly didn’t care. She’s always very…zen.
I sighed. “Nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
He shook his head. “It’s not nothing if it made your run out of class. What’s going on?”
I rubbed my forehead. “Just…a headache, that’s all.”
Derek nodded in understanding. “Yeah, I get those a lot too.”
That finally made Lizzy speak up. “You really need to see a doctor about that. If nothing else, I have some pills that might help…”
He quieted her with a raised hand. “No, I’m fine. It’s—” he blinked, and grinned at me in what he seemed to believe was understanding. “It’s nothing important.”
I sighed again. He still didn’t get it.
Maybe I should just leave. I didn’t trust myself around them right now, and I had a few other things I could be doing.
“Akane was just saying she was going to go see Doctor Clarke after class,” Adam stepped in. “But I think she should go now.”
Derek nodded. “You should. In fact, I’ll go with you.”
“No,” I said quickly. “I can go on my own. And this is…different from your headaches. I’m sure it’s nothing. I’ll see you later.”
He looked like he was about to say something, but Lizzy grabbed him by the arm. “She said she’d be fine. C’mon, the professor is going to be mad enough as it is.”
Derek nodded, and they all went inside, Adam giving me a reassuring look as they did.
I leaned my back against the wall and took a deep breath, silently thanking Adam for coming up with a way to keep me out of the classroom. I would have been fine, I’m sure, but I needed to be alone for a little while.
I looked up to see Flynn walking down the hall towards me.
Not now. I had been avoiding him for over a week. I had even skipped kendo. Now was not the time to talk this out.
“Flynn,” I said coldly by way of greeting. Hopefully he would take the hint and find an excuse to leave.
“I didn’t know you had class right now. I haven’t seen you since your party. You all right?”
I took a step away from him, then kept going, walking back towards the dorms.
He followed. “Hey, you can’t just ignore me.”
“Can,” I insisted.
“Look, we seemed to be hitting it off, and you even—” he stopped as we passed a maintenance man, installing a new speaker in the corner. Once we were out of earshot, he continued. “—you even showed me your powers. And now you’re saying that’s just nothing?”
“Yes.” I didn’t want to explain further. I didn’t have a chance with Derek. I knew that. Even if Lizzy didn’t exist, he would never look at me like that. I had known that for eight years.
My ‘feelings’ for Flynn were just the result of my heart trying to find a viable target. He was an emotional substitute, nothing more. But if I pretended he was something more, things would quickly spiral out of control.
…but he had kept our secret.
He didn’t have to. Musashi’s sword, it was becoming more and more clear that there was no real need for it to be a secret. But he had kept our trust regardless.
I stopped and turned to face him. He swallowed anxiously, but held his ground.
“Maybe…not,” I admitted. “I’ve been…mean to you. You don’t deserve to be kicked out of the loop for no reason.”
He put his hand on my shoulder. I didn’t flinch. I should have, but I found I couldn’t move. “I don’t need to be in the loop. I just want to spend time with you.”
At least he knew what he wanted. Everyone knew what they wanted. Derek wanted Lizzy, Laura wanted to be left alone, Adam wanted Lily, and Ling wanted everyone.
But I still didn’t know. Derek was out of reach. Much as I liked to pretend otherwise, that was a fact, and it had nothing to do with Lizzy.
I didn’t know what to do. I had a billion different conflicting feeling I was still having trouble sorting out. Loyalty to Derek. Love for Derek. Respect for Flynn.
“Look, why don’t we just get some coffee?” he suggested. “Lily’s at the Starcup stand just down the street. We can go there while she waits for Adam to get out of class.”
And then what? A double date? That’s not what I wanted. Lizzy kept suggesting I do it, to ease myself into the ‘game,’ but its hard to take advice from her. She’s about as smart as a bag of rocks.
I was being unfair. Yes, Lizzy wasn’t very smart. But she was cunning. She knew what worked and what didn’t.
“Akane?” Flynn asked slowly. He didn’t want to force me to give him an answer, but my silence was probably making him uncomfortable.
But I still wasn’t ready for a date. Of any kind. I had been loyal to Derek for so long—in more ways than one—that I didn’t really know what to do with the romance side of things.
And it wasn’t just me. Flynn was eager. If I went out on a date with him, even just coffee, he’d take it as a sign I approved of a possible relationship. Which could be…good?
No. It would be very, very bad.
Flynn removed his hand from my shoulder and took a step back. “If you don’t want to, that’s fine. No pressure. I’ll just—”
“Wait,” I whispered, thinking. There was something Lizzy had said, when I mentioned some of my anxiety about dating.
My sparring partner frowned, but stayed.
“’Kisu o kaishi suru ni wa yoi bashodesu,’” I quoted slowly. She seemed completely convinced it would be enough to tell me everything I needed to know. Although to the best of my knowledge, she didn’t have any first-hand experience in the matter, so I don’t know where she gets these ideas.
Flynn’s brow furrowed further. “What are you—”
I stepped forward and kissed him.
Technically, it was my first kiss. Okay, yes, it was my first kiss, since the time Robyn got drunk and licked my face doesn’t count by any stretch of the imagination. Perhaps giving it to Flynn wasn’t the best of ideas.
He was surprised at first, and nearly flinched away, but after a moment he wrapped his arms around me. He was warm, and more tender than I expected. Most of my experience with men other than Derek involves working with them for hunts or hunting them, so perhaps I should have expected him to be different.
My brain stopped working shortly after that, at about the same time that he slipped his tongue in my mouth.
I lost track of time for a while there, and I’m still not sure exactly how long we stood in the hallway, but it couldn’t have been more than ten minutes. Twenty, tops.
Eventually, I managed to break free.
He looked me right in the eye and smiled a little. “Um, not that I’m complaining, but what was that about?”
I felt all the blood in my body rush to my face in a flush of heat. Had I really just done that? What the hell did I do now?
Drawing on my mastery of the English language, I squeaked out an “Eep” before running away at superspeed. My power had been improving ever since I decided to drown the consequences and practice; now I could go for about twenty seconds (from my perspective) at full tilt.
So I was well out of Flynn’s sight by the time my reservoir ran dry. I placed my back against the side of the building and took a few long, deep breaths. It was a long day, and Lizzy’s advice hadn’t helped much. Kissing Flynn hadn’t told me anything, didn’t make my decisions any easier. I needed to go back to the dorm and take a long shower.
That’s about when I realized I had left my bag in the classroom.
Behind the Scenes (scene 62)
Flynn speaks a little Japanese. Just barely enough to recognize simple words. He immediately picked out “kisu” (kiss), but didn’t understand the rest.