Episode 22: Talking

Rhade walked away from the hot spring with a smile on his face. He had to admit to himself that he’d been worried when the spirit of Nomaie told them that she’d sent Kasei there. He knew how much she disliked water. It had come as a relief to him that he’d been sent to take some clothes to her. Nomaie had been quite insistent on that.

He sat down on one of the bottom steps leading from the hot spring, pondering the current state of things. I wonder if Kasei’s ok. What side effects will this healing have on her? Yuki seemed a little skeptical about it, but I think he was just trying to hide his hope that all would be well with his sister again. I can only imagine how I’d react if my sister was in Kasei’s situation. He paused, looking back over her shoulder. I wonder if she’ll ever talk about what happened to her. Yuki knows, I’m sure of it, but he’s not talking.

“Is there some reason why you’re just sitting there?” Kasei asked, walking up behind him. “You’re blocking the stairs.”

Rhade stood up, turning to face her. “Not really. I was just thinking.”

“That can be a very dangerous pastime,” she commented.

“Did you just make a joke?” he asked, staring.

Kasei blinked. “It must have been your imagination,” she said with a flat expression on her face. ”Anyways, you mind moving? I need to send the sun off to sleep with the others.”

Rhade stepped aside to let her pass and followed her down the stairs. “How do you feel?”

“Alright, I suppose.” She glanced back at him. “I know what you’re asking and to be honest, I’m not entirely sure how I’m feeling. Don’t expect me to say much about anything.”

“I’ve learned not to,” Rhade said, sighing. “I just hope that you’re going to be alright.”

“It would be hard for things to get worse than they were before.”

“True enough,” he agreed.

“Oh, and just as a note, don’t expect any change in my opinion of you. I still don’t like you. No magic in the universe will ever change that fact.”

He cursed inwardly. Out loud, he said, “Just as long as you dislike me for and not because I’m Nietzschean.”

She nodded stiffly. They reached the bottom of the stairs and she headed off to join a gathering group of people in loose grey robes. They greeted her amiably, speaking in Nomaien. Yuki was amongst them. He hugged his sister, receiving a light cuff on the side of his head in return. She said something to him that caused him to blush and the others around them to laugh. He pretended to be offended and left the group, heading for Rhade.

“Well, it’s good to see that her sense of humor’s back,” he commented.

“What was that all about?”

“It looses a lot in translation, but she was teasing me about Beka. Apparently, I still smell.”

“Smell?”

He flushed. “I don’t know if your nose is able to pick it up, but Kasei says I still smell like Beka.”

It took a few seconds for that to click in Rhade’s mind. “You? And Beka? I didn’t see that one coming.”

“Frankly, neither did I, but one thing led to another…”

“Huh. Well, I’m glad that someone around here is getting somewhere.”

“Now I wish that Kasei would smarten up and open her eyes. If she doesn’t realize that you’re a good person soon, mother will win and she’ll be stuck with Sabaku Ryuujin for the rest of her life.”

Rhade studied the younger man. Despite Kasei’s statement, he couldn’t get rid of his own feelings for her. The thought of her stuck with someone she didn’t even like made his blood boil. “She deserves better than that.”

“You say that and you haven’t even met him. If you had, you’d be challenging him on this.”

“I can do that?”

“Lucky for you, being a senshi is this system grants you a lot of freedoms you wouldn’t normally have. I’d save a challenge as a last resort, though. It could be fatal. Ryuujin is no weakling.”

“I’ll remember that should I ever meet him.”

“It’s doubtful t hat you will, but things that you don’t think will happen have this nasty habit of coming to pass. I’m going to join the other men in their sunset rituals. You’re welcome to join us.”

“I don’t know any of the words.”

“Relax. It’s all repetition.”

“Will anything bad happen if I say the wrong thing?”

Yuki laughed and shook his head. “No, no. They all know you’re an outsider. They aren’t sure of you, but this would give you instant credibility with them. Credibility with them is a very good thing.”

Rhade nodded. “Alright. I’ll join you.”

An hour later, Yuki led an exhausted Rhade up to the guest room. Senshino Garan didn’t see too many visitors, so they only had one long guest room with small beds spaced out on both sides of the room. For privacy, thick curtains could be pulled around each area. It wasn’t perfect, but it was better than nothing. Rhade sat on his bed for a while after Yuki left him there to go bathe. He was alone in the room, but evidence around him suggested that he wouldn’t be for long. Yuki had selected the bed next to his and his traveling clothes for the next day’s return journey to the city were laid out and his packs were made up and sitting at the foot of his bed. At the far end of the room, the curtains were drawn partially shut around one bed. Through the small opening, Kasei’s traveling clothes could be seen. He figured that her packs would be already made up as Yuki’s were.

Deciding that it was the best thing to do, he also laid his clothing out and then started making sure that his packs were in order, making sure that there was a jacket out before closing the bags up. He looked at the clothes, nodding. They were a nice tan color. Hopefully, he wouldn’t burn as badly as he had on the way here.

He sat down to take his shirt off just as Kasei walked in. His arms wouldn’t move properly to get it over his head. Kasei stopped and watched his efforts. He grunted in pain and looked at her.

“I’m sure you must find this very amusing, but if you wouldn’t mind lowering yourself for a moment, I could really use some help here.”

Kasei walked into her bed area and came back with a jar of the same ointment she’d used on his burns before. Wordlessly, she sat down behind him, opening the jar and lifting his shirt up. She got some on her hand and spread it over the burned area. “You’re starting to peel,” she said, smoothing the ointment over his burns. ”Really, I’m not surprised that you’re having trouble moving considering how badly you burned.”

Rhade gritted his teeth in pain, knowing that it would only hurt for a little while. To her credit, Kasei was trying to be gentle, but she was putting the ointment on a mix of burned and new skin and it stung. It took longer this time for the pain to fade.

Kasei stopped rubbing and eased his shirt off before continuing. This time she used more of a massaging touch than the soft rubbing she’d used previously, trying to relax his sore muscles. He closed his eyes and let her work. When he opened them again, he was lying down with his head in Kasei’s lap with the curtain pulled closed. He sat up and turned around to look at her. Her eyes were half closed and she was unresponsive when he waved a hand in front of her face. He scooped her up in his arms and carried her over to her bed and lay her down, pulling a thin blanket over her. He paused before pulling the curtains shut.

How did my head end up in her lap? For that matter, why would she have allowed that to happen? Her eyes closed and her breathing slowed. Whatever the reason, I’ll have to wait to find out. He smiled. Not that it matters, really. I’m just glad that it happened.

Kasei woke the next morning drenched in sweat. She sat up and looked around. She was in the area she’d claimed as her own the day before, but the last thing she remembered was falling asleep with Rhade’s head in her lap. She growled a little. You try and help a guy and he goes and falls asleep on you. Hmph! He must have carried me in here. I’m sure he felt that was the most appropriate thing to do, but it would have been better for him to just choose another bed and let me sleep.

She got up and made sure the curtains were closed tight before peeling her sweaty clothes off and wrapping herself in a light robe. I refuse to get dressed with sticky skin, especially if I have to travel through Kanehr Shovasea. I’d wind up just as sore as Rhade was last night.

Gathering up the clothes she’d set aside for the day, she headed out for the hot springs, noting that Yuki and Rhade were already awake. Yuki knew better than to disturb her sleep, so he must have warned Rhade against waking her. Good. My brother is showing some sense for a change. Now if only he’d show some sense towards that woman, Beka.

She made it to the hot spring, saying good morning to people on the way. It was a false cheeriness that she showed them, as she wasn’t a morning person. As she approached the spring, she heard voices. Rounding the corner, she saw Rhade and Yuki already there. Yuki waved cheerfully at her.

“Good morning, Kasei. Sleep well?”

“No,” she said bluntly. “For some odd reason, I went to sleep fully dressed with a blanket on.” She glared at Rhade. “I’m sticky and disgusting.”

“Sticky perhaps, but never disgusting,” Rhade told her.

“It’s your fault,” she pointed out. “You’re the one who pulled the blanket over me. At least, I assume it was.”

He nodded. “It was. I wasn’t expecting you to sleep through the night, though. I figured you’d wake up not long after I moved you.”

Yuki snorted. “I could have told you that wouldn’t happen. After what she went through yesterday, I’m amazed that she’s awake as early as she is.”

“Had I know that, I wouldn’t have put a blanket over you. I know how you prefer to sleep, as it was pointed out to me not long ago. I highly doubt that you would have appreciated me taking your clothes off.”

Yuki took one look at Kasei’s expression of mixed shock, outrage, and slight embarrassment and burst out laughing. Kasei glared at him which made him laugh harder. She walked over to the ledge and crouched down, cuffing him on the head.

“Hey! Show some respect!”

“Why? Just because you’re a little older than me? Ha!”

“Are you going to come in here or not?”

Kasei shook her head. “Not with the two of you in there.”

“Oh come on! It’s not like you can see anything in this water,” Yuki scoffed. “We’ll even turn our backs so that you can get in without Rhade seeing anything. Otherwise, you’ll just have to wait until we’re done.”

“And knowing you, you’ll be in there for hours if no one hauls you out by the ears.” She sighed. “Fine, fine. But no peeking.”

Rhade and Yuki dutifully turned their backs for Kasei to disrobe and slip into the water. When the splashes subsided they turned to see her sitting on a ledge as far from them as possible.

“There. That wasn’t so bad, now was it?”

“Don’t patronize me, Yuki,” she snapped.

“I wasn’t patronizing you, Kasei,” he replied calmly. “You need to lighten up a bit.”

“My burns feel much better today,” Rhade said after a long silence. “Thank you.”

“I’m only going to tell you this one more time. You don’t need to thank me. You asked for my help, so I was required to help you.”

Sighing, Rhade shook his head. “So you have to do what I ask of you, no matter what. I hope you save my life soon because I don’t think I can take much more of this.”

“That feeling is mutual. Being forced by cultural laws to stay around someone I don’t even remotely like makes me sick to my stomach.”

“So break the rules.”

“You know I can’t do that. Think about it from my perspective. Even before I told people about the life debt, I would have walked around with the stain of guilt on my soul for the rest of my life. Now that people know, breaking with it would knock me out of favor with the people. Even without my position as princess, I’m still a senshi and no one would trust me.”

“So you’re stuck doing everything I ask until you save me.”

“Right.”

Rhade was very rapidly getting tired of all this dancing around. “So if I told you to come over here, you would have to.”

“Weren’t you listening? And besides that, didn’t I warn you about abusing this? I can’t do anything to you now, but I will eventually be in a position to.”

“Kasei, come over here.”

“You’re serious about this?” He nodded. “Fine, but I’m not happy about this.”

Yuki climbed out while Kasei was heading for Rhade and wrapped a robe around himself. “I’ll just leave you two to work this out,” he said, gathering his clothes up as well as Kasei’s and Rhade’s. “Until you get this thing worked out, you’re stuck in there unless, of course, you feel up to parading stark naked in front of the entire compound.”

“Yuki! Get back here this instant!” Kasei shouted.

“I agree with her,” Rhade added. “This isn’t funny.”

“It’s not supposed to be. Kasei, you might be healed of your other trauma, but the mental turmoil is starting to make me crazy. Work it out or boil. Your choice.”

Speechless, Kasei watched him walk away with her clothes as she stood in the middle of the pool. It was deep enough that nothing beneath her shoulders was showing. Her long black pony tail floated on the surface of the water, trailing out like a serpent behind her.

“Well, I guess we have to talk,” Rhade said.

She turned to look at him. “There’s nothing to talk about. I don’t like you. I’ve said it many times before. How many more times do I need to say it? I feel like a broken record.”

“Come over here and tell me,” he suggested. “I might be more inclined to believe you.”

Figuring that it was the only way to get him off her case, she walked right up to him. Her solid black eyes met with his deep brown ones. “I. Don’t. Like. You,” she said spacing out each word as if she was speaking to a child.

He looked at her for a brief moment and nodded, surging forward to wrap his arms around her, pulling her up to his chest and kissing her deeply.