Episode 07: Duel

“So what was it that you wanted to talk to me about?” Dylan asked when they were alone in the room.

“Jen.”

“I see.”

“I felt you deserve a bit more detail to the explanation I gave earlier.”

He crossed his arms. “I’m listening.”

“If it was only about the dream, we would have jumped down her throat as well. That’s not the only reason she attacked you. The Nomaiens are female dominated.”

“So she took exception to me laughing at her.”

“If you were a Nomaien man, you wouldn’t be conscious right now. Under normal circumstances, she wouldn’t have attacked you like that.”

“But as you keep saying, she’s not all there right now.”

“Yes, exactly. I’m not condoning what she did, I’m just saying that, given her background, it’s understandable.”

“I should warn Rhade and Harper.”

“No, you shouldn’t. Harper she knows from before and understands his behavior. Rhade…well, him knowing this isn’t going to help him out any. If Jen is as traumatized by her experience in the prison camp as I think she is, she’ll take any excuse to pick a fight with him. No matter what he does, he’s in trouble.”

“Great. Is there anything you can do?”

“Getting them to work together is the only way to curb it. Perhaps if she knows he’s not as easy a target as she currently thinks, she might think twice about trying anything.”

“I hope it works. If she hurts Rhade, I will have to confine her.”

“Good luck with that.”

Jen woke the next morning soaked in sweat. She tossed the covers off and sat up, cupping her head in her hands. This is insane. I’ve had the same dreams over and over for the last six months. Why won’t they stop? She got up and headed for her bathroom to splash her face with cold water. I haven’t gotten a decent night’s sleep since they started. If this goes on for much longer, I may truly loose what’s left of my sanity.

She patted her face dry with a towel and went back out to put her clothes on, making a face as she did so. I’ve got to get some better clothes. Granted, I’m lucky that I’m the same size as Rommie, but these just aren’t me. I prefer to have less of my skin showing. It’s all fine when I’m in uniform, but not for every day wear. Admittedly, I have the clothes I came out of my transformation with, but they just don’t feel right anymore. I haven’t seen that outfit in a very long time and the memories associated with it aren’t pleasant ones. I’m still not sure why those clothes appeared and not the ones I was wearing before I transformed. For that matter, how did the ones I had been wearing show up back in my quarters?

There was a knock on the door. She finished pulling the shorts on and opened it to find Rhade standing behind it holding a large bundle in his arms. “What do you want?” she growled, tensing up..

“How many times do I have to tell you that I’m not going to hurt you before you finally believe me?”

“It’ll never happen.”

“Uh, anyways, Trance asked me if I’d bring these by.”

“And those are?”

“New clothes,” he said, handing the bundle to her. “She said to tell you that Okami and Yumeko sat up last night getting these together for you.”

“I see. Well, thank you for bringing them by.”

Rhade looked at her, startled. “That’s the first nice thing you’ve said to me since you woke up on board.”

“Don’t get used to it.”

“Oh, Tenshi also asked me to let you know that there will be a training session in one hour. She suggests that you get something to eat before hand. I can show you the way, but if you want to change your clothes first, I can wait for you out here.”

At the mention of food, her stomach rumbled unpleasantly. “The last thing I need is to be following you around the ship. On the other hand, it’s a big ship. I get lost easily when I can’t see the sun.” She nodded. “I’ll be back out in a couple minutes,” she said, closing the door.

Jen leaned her back against the door. What the hell am I doing? I hate him! Why am I saying these things? It’s not like me, even my normal self isn’t like this. These dreams are affecting me more than I thought.

She took the bundle over to the bed beside the small couch she’d slept on the night before. She hadn’t felt comfortable sleeping in something that large bed, so it was as good a place as any to toss the clothes for now. Sorting through them, she found a lightweight pair of tan pants and a dark red tank top with the Japanese kanji for fire embroidered on in a dark golden color of thread. Her lips twitched into a brief half smile. Her friends had even included underwear in the pile.

Much better, she said, slipping into the soft pants and top. Maybe now I can avoid accidentally giving myself a black eye during training sessions and concentrate better on giving Rhade one.

While Jen changed, Rhade leaned on the wall beside her door. That was entirely unexpected. Perhaps she’s not as much of a bitch as she wants us to think. Granted, she didn’t look like she slept very well last night. If I wasn’t curious about her before this, I would be now. He turned his head to look at the door. What is it about her that’s so fascinating that I have to keep putting myself near her, knowing that she hates Nietzscheans and would kill me in a heartbeat given the means and opportunity? I know it’s not masochism, but what is it if not that? Attraction? Maybe. She’s pretty. Not beautiful, but not hard to look at either. The only problem there is that she’s not Nietzschean. If she were…

He let the very pleasant imagery of Jen with bone blades fade when he heard her door open. He knew she was going to hit him or yell at him for staring, but he couldn’t help it. It appeared that her chest had shrunk. I wonder if she knows that those are the colors used in High Guard uniforms. ”Ready?”

“You can stop staring now,” she said, glaring up at him. “They’re just clothes.”

“It’s not the clothes I’m looking at. You don’t look like you slept well.”

Jen shrugged casually. “It’s a new place. I’m too tense to sleep.”

Rhade nodded, leading her towards the mess hall. “Even though I know you’ll turn it down, I could help with that.”

“You’re right, I will turn it down, but for the sake of argument, what would you offer?”

“Normally, a soothing neck massage and hot cup of tea. If that went well, perhaps a back massage as well.”

Jen wrinkled her nose in disgust. “I hate tea. Mother always used to make me drink it. As for massage, we don’t do that on Nomaie.“

“Might I ask why?”

“Only if you leave me alone and stop asking questions about my life afterwards.”

Rhade raised an eyebrow. “Why is it that you don’t want people knowing much about you?”

“Because I’m a very private person. Now stop asking questions.”

Rhade shook his head. “I can’t make that promise,” he said, stopping.

She took a couple of steps and turned to face him. “You’re being intrusive.”

“I find you fascinating. I think I mentioned that before.”

Her black eyes flashed angrily. “There is nothing fascinating about me. What you see is what you get.”

Taking a deep breath, he walked towards her. “You have no idea what I see.”

“Really? Enlighten me.”

He nodded. “As you wish. What I see is a woman with some very odd behavior, but otherwise fascinating. Between that and your looks, I need to know more. Who are you? You say what I see is what I get, but I’m not entirely sure what I’m looking at. I ask questions to better understand the image before me. I’m quite confused, actually.”

“What do you mean, my looks?”

“Heard that did you? You’re pretty. Not stunningly gorgeous, but pretty. Maybe if you smiled you’d be lovely, but I doubt there’s much chance of that happening where I can see it.”

“I’ll only tell you this once. I’m not pretty. Your eyes must be defective.”

“Not possible. Nietzscheans are engineered to be perfect.”

“Then open those supposedly perfect ears of yours. I don not like you. I don’t want to talk to you. We will never be friends. I’m here to help with this insane fight Trance decided to get us all involved in and nothing more. When it’s over-“

“You’ll do what? Go home?” Rhade rolled his eyes. “You’ve made it clear that you don’t want to go back there. Where will you go if not there?”

“That’s not your concern, Nietzschean.”

“Stop calling me that. I have a name.”

“As if it matters to me. Now. You said you were taking me to the mess hall. I’d like to get there before I starve to death.”

He bit back a curse. “Of course. This way.” They continued on in dead silence. As they walked, Rhade’s mind reeled. I can’t keep doing this to myself. No woman is worth this much anguish, no matter what one feels for her or how fascinating she is. He looked down at her as he walked. This is ridiculous. She’s not even Nietzschean.

Jen prodded the plate of food with her fork, moving it around but not really eating much. Okami slid into the seat opposite her. “I thought you were hungry.”

She pushed the plate away, setting the fork down. “Not anymore.”

“It’s really good,” Okami said encouragingly.

“It’s not the taste. I just don’t have any appetite right now.”

“Want to talk about it?”

“Why does everyone want to talk to me about things that aren’t relevant?”

“Ah. Rhade.” Okami leaned forward. “Being a bit of a pest?”

“I’m forcibly reminded of Seiya in his annoying persistence.”

“Yes, and we all remember how that turned out.”

Jen snorted. “Turns out he wasn’t what I thought he was.”

“You also weren’t what he thought,” Okami pointed out. “In this case, you both know who the other is. Well, you at least know what Rhade is. You’ve made sure that he knows as little about you as possible.” She leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. “You Nomaiens are so secretive you make my head hurt. It’s a wonder you people talk to each other at all you’re so obsessed with privacy.”

“You well know why,” Jen replied stiffly.

“I still say it’s a bunch of crap, but that’s me.”

“Everyone knows how open the Laisheen are.”

“Someone has to be. Who else would it be? The Kal’tresh’nal? They’re so busy with their music and philosophy that they rarely have the time for anything else. The Tora? Well, ok, they’re fairly open, but they still have weird restrictions.”

“The Tora are actually a lot like humans.”

“Like I said, they have weird restrictions.”

Jen gave her long-time friend a strange look. “How do you survive away from your won people?”

She shrugged. “It’s a struggle, but I manage. Especially when there are so many lovely men out there. Like Rhade.”

Jen snorted. “You find him attractive? By all means, go for it.”

Okami’s grin faded. “You’re serious? This isn’t like with Seiya?”

“Seiya’s people didn’t do to me what his did.”

“Hating a person solely based on their race is completely irrational and wrong.”

“It’s not just that. He irritates me. He’s pushy, intrusive, far too tall…shall I go on?”

“Please,” Okami said, gesturing for her to continue. “Entertain me.”

“My apologies, but I have to interrupt,” Rhade said, walking over. “Jen, Tenshi sent me to get you. Our training session is going to start soon. You might want to change.”

“I’m fine dressed the way I am,” she informed him in a cold voice.

“Well, then, if you would let Tenshi know I’ll be there as soon as I change, I would greatly appreciate it.” She gave him a curt nod and left. He watched her go.

“Well, isn’t this awkward,” Okami said, eyeing him carefully.

“How so?”

“It’s written all over your face, Rhade. You like her.”

Startled, Rhade looked down at her. “What are you talking about?”

“Oh please. You’re going out of your way to talk to her, to be nice and polite and learn about her and her people regardless of how horrid she’s being to you. If you didn’t like her you wouldn’t bother. Trust me. I’ve been through enough of her relationships to know.” She sighed. “Unfortunately, I have almost the exact same taste in me. Even more unfortunate is the tendency on the man’s part to prefer Jen.”

“Must be the tail,” Rhade quipped. “Or the ears. Not sure which.”

“Just what I thought.” She stood up. “Look, Rhade, being polite to her isn’t the best way to get her attention.”

“What is?”

Okami smiled slyly, her tail curling upwards, the tuft twitching beside her left ear. “What’s in it for me?”

“My eternal gratitude.”

“I suppose that will have to do. All right. I’ll help you on one condition. Don’t you dare tell Jen I gave you any advice other than ‘stay away from that psychotic she-bitch from hell’. Alright?”

“Deal.”

“Great. Walk with me to your quarters. I’ll give you some pointers while you change.”

“From outside?”

She grinned, showing her fangs. “No, no, silly boy. How are you going to hear me from out there? If I can’t touch, I may as well take the one chance I’ll likely ever get to look.”

Rhade sighed. “I suppose. I really need your help.”

“Excellent! I hear that Nietzscheans are physically perfect. I admit to a curiosity as to just how perfect that is.”

Jen and Tenshi waited in the gym for Rhade to show up. “You said he’d be here shortly, but he’s late.”

Jen shrugged. “When I saw him last, he was talking to Okami.”

“You didn’t. Did you?”

“Tenshi, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t give me that,” Tenshi warned her. “I know you too well for that.”

“You’re late,” Jen said, looking past Tenshi to Rhade, who had just walked in.”

“You aren’t getting out of this so easily, Jen.”

“Whatever. We’ll talk later.”

Rhade looked between the two women, puzzled. “Did I interrupt something?”

Tenshi said yes just as Jen said no. “It’s not important,” Jen said, shrugging. “Let’s get this over with.”

“Right. Today, we’re going to do two things. First, we’ll start with the same warm-ups we used last time. Then I want the two of you to spar.”

“Spar?” Jen repeated. “You’re joking, yes?”

“No. Come on, Jen. I’ve seen you take down guys bigger than him without breaking a sweat.”

“What makes you so sure that she’d win?” Rhade asked.

“I’m not. There’s a chance you could come out the winner.”

Jen rolled her eyes. “Doubtful.”

“Afterwards, we’ll do something different with our meditation exercises. I won’t tell you what just now.”

“I hate it when you get all secretive about these things,” Jen grumped, taking her place on the mat.

“You’re hardly one to talk about being secretive,” Tenshi replied, running them through their warm-ups. “Rhade, watch your left leg. It’s looking a little wobbly.”

“Right.”

Tenshi watched them for another few minutes before telling them to stop. “Alright. That’s good enough. Take a break for a couple minutes, Jen. I need to talk to Rhade for a minute.” Jen smirked and walked away. “Why were you late?”

“I was talking to Okami.”

Both of Tenshi’s eyebrows rose, vanishing under her long bangs. “May I ask about what?”

“Jen.”

Tenshi relaxed her shoulders. “Good. I don’t have to worry about you being involved with Okami then.”

“She’s giving me advice regarding Jen.”

“Oh no. Not again,” Tenshi groaned.

“She offered.”

“And you took her up on it.” She shook her head. “You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into, do you?”

“Should I have turned her down, then? Tenshi, I’ve tried to be nice to her, but nothing I say or do has any effect on her.”

“You really do like her, don’t you?”

He ran his hand through his hair. “I’m not even sure why,” he admitted.

“I see. What did Okami advise you to do?”

“I promised not to say anything.”

“Alright. Just don’t let Jen know, ok? She and Okami aren’t fighting at the moment, but with her dislike of you, we can’t afford for the two of them to be going at it yet again.”

“Okami already warned me about that.”

“Sensible of her for a change.”

“Are you two done over there?” Jen asked impatiently. “I’d like to get this over with.”

“I think that about covers it,” Tenshi sad, nodding. “Take your positions, then.”

Jen and Rhade took their places on the mat, facing each other and waited for Tenshi’s signal. Jen’s eyes were narrow slits with only a small portion of the black eyes peeking out from under her lashes. Rhade tried hard not to think about whom he was fighting and concentrated instead on beating an opponent.

“Go.”

Rhade lunged at her. Jen grabbed his fist and flipped him using the momentum of his attack. He landed in a crouch and swung his foot out to knock her legs out from under her. Jen landed on her butt. She was back up on her feet quickly, returning to her original fighting stance. She lashed out with her feet with enough force that, had any of them connected, it would have really hurt. Rhade grabbed on of her feet as it passed just in front of his face and held it there. He gave her full credit for not falling down. She tugged her foot back, but she couldn’t free it.

Rhade grinned at her. “Looks like I win.”

“Think again, Nietzschean,” she snarled, dropping to the mat, taking him with her. She rolled over and up onto his chest, pinning him to the mat. “I win.”

“Not so fast.” She wasn’t very heavy, so it wasn’t too hard for him to flip her onto her back, pinning her legs with his, pinning her arms above her head. He lowered his face until it was a couple inches from hers. “Think you can get out of this one? I doubt it. I’ve beaten you and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it either.”

“That’s enough, Rhade,” Tenshi said, walking over. “Get up and we’ll move on to the meditation.” Rhade let go and got up, offering Jen his hand. She slapped it away and stood, glaring at him as she did so. “Jen, behave. It was a fair win. Now, I want you two to sit cross-legged on the mat, facing me. Now, what we’ll be doing today is attempting to see our auras. Jen, I know you know how to do this already and are quite good at it, but Rhade has never done this before. Your aura is quite clear, so it should be easier for him to find than, say, mine or Okami’s.”

“How, exactly, do I go about doing this?” Rhade asked, puzzled.

“It’s not impossible, but it isn’t easy. I will be guiding you as we certainly can’t count on any help from Jen,” she said with a wry smile. “Now close your eyes, both of you. Relax. Clear your minds of everything and picture each other in your minds.”

Rhade followed her instructions, wondering what the point of this exercise was. An image of Jen instantly sprang to his mind. Now what?

As for Jen, it was easy enough to bring an image of Rhade up. She was familiar with this from her very first training sessions. With the image formed in her mind, she forced herself to relax.

“Now, try to relax and think of the other person. What are they like? Not what you feel, but what you know. Take that and apply it to the image in your mind. If you’re doing it right, you should see a colored outline around the image,” Tenshi instructed.

Inwardly, Jen cursed. What did she know about Rhade? Very little, really. He was intelligent, certainly, if extremely annoying. He always spoke politely to everyone. Really, that’s about it. I don’t care to get to know him at all.

As for Rhade, his list was somewhat longer. She’s strong, fast, irritating, proud, private, and excessively stand-offish. Angry, too. From what Okami told me, she can be very passionate about things. Passionate, fiercely angry. She is her element of fire, for certain.

Jen felt as if the floor had dropped out from under her. She opened her eyes to find herself standing in a bright white room opposite from Rhade. He glowed with a bright red aura. Her heart stopped for a moment, seeing him as he really was. Not Nietzschean, not an enemy, but a senshi. He was staring at her, walking towards her as the room went black.