Asking if he was in love with her was a waste of a question. She was the kind of girl that everyone fell in love with, instantly. You couldn't be around her for more than five minutes without being even a little infatuated. Jack had made his feelings fairly obvious, Omi continued to blush whenever he received her praise, and even Clay admitted to once, briefly, harboring a slight crush on her. It was evident that she was well liked.
So if he was asked if he was in love with her, he would proudly and confidently answer no.
Of course he didn't love her. He prided himself on not loving her. It was almost like his lack of feelings for her was some grand prize, and it only fueled his cocky demeanor even more. He was special, he broke the mold, he did the impossible. The best part was that it wasn't even a conscious move; he simply never found himself going gaga over her. She remained a friend, and he remained secure in their platonic relationship.
Or so everyone had thought.
"I didn't say I hated all flowers. I didn't even say I disliked all flowers. All I said was that I only liked a few."
It was a lazy Spring day, the kind that just begged you to spend it outside, and the Xiaolin Warriors were doing just that. Omi giggled as he chased butterflies childishly throughout the tall grasses and Clay snored softly at the base of an enormous, budding tree. Kimiko and Raimundo, both devoid of their staple items (her PDA, his soccer ball), were nestled in its branches. They had had a race to see who would reach the top first, but it was abandoned once they breeched the leafy cove, and they opted to rest instead and admire the view.
Raimundo was hanging upside down, legs hooked over a sturdy branch, and watched the lounging Kimiko pick the tiny plants from the branches, though from his angle he couldn't tell what she was doing with them. He stretched his dangling arms and reached up (which was really down) for another branch, and grabbed it securely. He tightened his grip and kicked himself into a handstand, parting his legs into a split and holding it for a moment before lowering himself down and flipping into a sitting position, still holding himself up with rigid toes pointing outward, and plopped carelessly onto the branch. A small example of the skills he mastered from years of circus performances.
"It's the same thing." he finally replied, having found a comfortable position crossed legged on the branch. "Either way, you don't like most flowers. What's up with that? I thought you were a girl."
Kimiko grimaced at the boy beneath her and pulled another flower from its stem. Now Raimundo could see that she was making a chain with them.
"And just what exactly is THAT supposed to mean?" He shrugged, hiding a smirk.
"I dunno. Don't all girls love flowers and junk?" Kimiko sighed and leaned towards him so he could hear, or rather understand, better.
"One; let's drop the sexism for just a bit, kay? Two; I do like flowers. Just certain kinds."
She sat back into her original position and his mouth twisted in skepticism. He watched her delicately poke a hole into the stem of one flower with her thumbnail and thread it with the stem of another.
"What kinds, then? Do you like those?" Raimundo gestured to the chain she was making and she made a face, unsure of her answer.
"I guess. I mean, they're pretty."
"You don't even know what kind they are."
"Of course not, but I don't have to. I'm a boy."
Kimiko growled quietly, but continued her task. Raimundo looked up at her and laughed, a ringing, childlike laugh that rumbled the leaves, and stood. He balanced on one foot before expertly scaling up the branches to join her on hers. She admired the way he moved through the tree; he couldn't have been more competent if he possessed the Monkey Staff.
"So what kinds do you like?" he asked again once he was seated beside her, his long legs swinging precariously over the edge; the opposite of hers, which were tucked neatly beneath her. She took a moment to think, cyan eyes working furiously to find a response.
"Tiger Lilies." was what she came up with, her eyes still hazy and recollective. Raimundo raised a bushy eyebrow, his own emerald orbs locked on her completed chain.
Kimiko's gaze flitted back over to the tanned boy as a faint but sad smile grazed her ballet slipper lips.
"They were my mom's favorite."
Raimundo smiled too, the gesture lacking both mischief and teeth. "Those are my sister's favorite. I like them, too."
Kimiko looped the final flower through the slit, creating a ring of the small plants. She grinned at her handiwork and he laughed again, softer this time. She beckoned him to come forward and he obliged, confused. Before he could object, she threw the crown over his head and it nuzzled happily into the mess of moppish mahogany that he called hair. He gave her a deadly look, but her laughter was so infectious that he couldn't help but chime in and made no move to remove it.
"It looks pretty fly." Kimiko managed in between giggles, and he made a show of adjusting it to make her laugh more. "Raimundo Pedrosa, King of the Trees."
"I'm liking the title, at least the King part, anyway." He flashed a megawatt grin and she shook her head.
"You're wearing a crown of flowers. And I'm supposed to be the girl?" He immediately flushed and glared at her, although it had no effect because she only laughed harder.
As much as he argued and fought for his masculinity, for the duration of their time in the tree he did not remove the crown.
Because it made her laugh.
No one else knew her favorite flower. He was the only one that she'd told.
She hadn't realized how personal and guarded that secret was until after she revealed itand even then it took a while. She hadn't even gone into specifics, but nevertheless, the thought that she even alluded to her mother (which was a private and ineffable subject among the other monks, one they silently vowed not to question) to someone, let alone Raimundo, was frightening. He'd allowed her to open up, if only a little, a section of her heart that she had long since sealed. And he'd done it in such a way that was so caring and accepting (not asking about painful details or mocking her with condescending scoffs) that it had been all to easy to do it.
And that was what had made her nervous. Because she could just as easily do it again.
She put the flowers in water but gave them no other attention. She barely even looked at them. They served as a reminder of how easy it would be to open up to Raimundo.
And how easy it would be to fall for him.
The admirer hadn't made any moves since the bouquet, but Kimiko didn't particularly mind. She needed a break from it, the whole ordeal was beginning to become overwhelming. It started off as innocent and fun, but as the flashing neon arrows that all pointed in Raimundo's direction grew she was starting to become less captivated and more anxious. She didn't want it to be Raimundo. Raimundo was her friend, her buddy, her pal, her obnoxious nerve wracking immature source of irritation. You're not supposed to fall for a friend. That was an important rule, it had to be written somewhere. You're especially not supposed to fall for a friend who you considered to be one of your closest companions. The friendship would be shot to hell, and so would any chance of regaining it.
Kimiko didn't want to lose Raimundo, so she ignored the glaringly obvious hints that pinned him. Because that way, she wouldn't have to worry about hurting him, and she wouldn't have to break his heart when she woefully confessed that she didn't reciprocate.
Besides, there was still the slim chance that it wasn't him, right?
The final nail in Raimundo's coffin came six hours later. Kimiko had been on her way back from the kitchen, a glass of milk in one hand and her ipod in the other. She bopped her head along merrily to the music, unaware of her surroundings, when she felt something beneath her foot. Blinking and pulling out an earphone, she glanced to see that she had nearly crushed a tiny box. Her eyebrows cinched and she immediately shut off her mp3 player, coiled the long white cord around it, and set it gently on the ground next to her drink.
Kimiko crouched to one knee to examine the wrapped item better. She picked it up to get a better look, and was only a little surprised when she saw that it was addressed to her. Her name was written on the simple purple floral paper that adorned the box, but the penmanship was not what she expected it to be. Instead of the curvy, overzealous cursive that she had come to recognize, her name was printed in a monotone, sculpted bold, and all of the letters were capitalized. The box was not wrapped very neatly, as if the wrapper's clumsy fingers continued to get in the way until they simply gave up hope. She was a little confused; her admirer's handiwork had always been meticulously tidy. With a sigh, she peeled away the tape at the sides and the paper fell to the floor.
The box that the shabby wrap job hid was much nicer than expected. Kimiko fingered the velvety surface momentarily but her curiosity got the best of her and she flicked the box open. She gasped.
Inside, cushioned by anchors of padding, was a silver locket, its size equal to the length of her pinky finger. The shining metal was broken up with twisting black spirals and flowers, and the designs gave the trinket an elegance reminiscent of the 1940's; something classic and timeless. Kimiko pulled it out by the chain, long and hair thin, glimmering just enough to let you know it was there. The locket twirled slowly, dancing in the soft light of the burning flames hung along the walls.
She didn't want to open it. She was actually terrified of what lay inside, because whatever it was could take her finely crafted fabrication and tear it to ribbons.
Drawing a long, slow breath, Kimiko slid her manicured thumbnails, the very same that had craftily separated the stems of the flowers to make the crown that she had playfully flung over Raimundo's ears, in the nearly-invisible slot. She heard when the ornament unfastened, but she still cradled it as if it were closed. Kimiko contemplated if it was wise to peer inside, if she would really be better off not knowing what the heart held. Both the silver one and her own.
But she couldn't last without knowing, so she flipped it open quick like she was ripping off a band aid. The heart flew back on its hinges, exposed and vulnerable, and Kimiko reluctantly glanced down.
Only one half of the locket was occupied, but it said enough. Her own face smiled back at her, bright and colored with laughter. Beside her Raimundo had flung a shy arm across her shoulders, and although she showed no signs of discomfort, he did. His grin was bright enough to rival the sun and twin granny apples were cast sideways at the empty half, tender with youth and amusement.
Kimiko felt a hitch in her throat, because she knew she couldn't lie to herself any longer.
Raimundo was her secret admirer.
She didn't want to tell Raimundo outright that she knew his identity, she wasn't ready to tolerate the consequences. She slipped the long chain around her neck and let the locket swing between her breasts; she hoped it would be an obvious symbol of her knowledge, but wouldn't require explanation. Raimundo could know she knew, but she wouldn't have to say it. Besides, it was beautiful, and who was Kimiko Tohomiko of all people to pass up showing off a fine piece of jewelry?
The day was consumed with a new Shen Gong Wu quest, and so Kimiko didn't get to formally speak with Raimundo until that night, and it was an accident. He was stalking through the courtyard with a flashlight in hand, swearing quietly under his breath as the beam of light darted searchingly across the grass. She flagged him down with a smile and a friendly wave, and he clicked off the device and trotted over to join her.
"Lose something?"she asked as she massaged the locket more visibly. Raimundo nodded as he plopped down beside her on the steps.
"Yeah. I must have dropped it somewhere."
"What is it? Can I help?" He reclined and crossed his legs, setting the flashlight down on the cool marble.
"Nah, I can do it myself. I just wanna find it before someone else-"
He cut himself off when he turned to look at her. His olive eyes widened then narrowed, and he sucked in air through gritted ivory teeth.
"Where did you get that?" He spoke like a machine, cold and calculated, so Kimiko could not read any emotion he may or may not have monopolized.
"Oh, this?" She lifted the glittering charm by its chain, and it resembled a fallen star in the whitish moonlight. "It was a gift."
"Hmm?" His voice was newsprint, black and white. "From who?"
"It didn't say." She attempted to imitate his practiced indifference, but it sounded too false so she dropped it. "There was a box with my name on it, so I opened it. But I have an idea who it might be."
He sat up and rested on his knees, and his stare was piercing enough to make her nervous. "Really? Who?"
She dropped the necklace and it hit against her skin with a dull thud. Her eyes fell with the trinket, unwilling to meet his. "The admirer."
She said it with reluctance for reasons she didn't understand, but the moment she glanced back at him she did. Inquisitive eyes were suddenly hurt and angry, and the disconnection he so expertly applied had gone out the window.
"Your...admirer." Raimundo's usually bright eyes were black, darkened by a seething detestation that Kimiko couldn't place. "You think...You think it's from your admirer. Of ALL people...you think..."
"Well, who else would it be?"
She immediately regretted saying that. He stared at her for a millisecond longer, and then he exploded to his feet, the seething detestation now full blown loathing.
"Oh gee, I have no idea. But that's the only logical explanation isn't it? Your God Damn idiotic secret admirer! He's the only person who could possibly give a rat's ass about you, isn't he!"
"What are you swearing for!" Kimiko shrieked back at him, her short fuse lit at his unabashed, uncharacteristic use of obscenity.
"I'm pissed, Kimiko, ok! I'm pissed off at you and your stupid secret admirer!"
They were toe to toe and beat red in agitation. He was panting when he jabbed the finger at her, tempted to thrust it into her shoulder to highlight his point. His breath quickened and he drew back, his finger still raised but significantly limper.
"I shouldn't have to say why."
He thundered up the steps and away from her, kicking a hole in the door as he passed.
"What's that one again?"
"Oh. And that one's Taurus?"
"No, that's Lyra. Taurus is over there."
"Ohh, I see it now. You know, Rai, this is pretty cool."
"Yeah, you know it is. It's a nice night."
"Really nice. Hey, how'd you learn so much about stars?"
"Mm, I don't know. It's just something I picked up."
"Aw, c'mon. There has to be more to it than that."
"I don't believe you."
"You never do."
"Ha. Very true. But that's because you're usually lying."
"Come on, tell me. How do you know all this stuff?"
"I'm sure it's not. And if it is, I'll be sure to let you know."
"Yes. Because I'll be laughing."
"Well in that case maybe I won't tell you."
"Aww, I was just playing. C'mon, tell me. Please?"
"...Ok...So, when I was a little kid, I used to be scared of the dark."
"Aw! That's too cute!"
"You know what, if you're gonna get all girly on me-"
"Alright alright, I'll be quiet. Go on."
"Thank you. So, you know when a little kid's afraid of the dark, you just turn on the night light, right? One night, my whole village lost power. Faulty powerline or something. Anyway, I was pretty freaked...crying and junk."
"Aw-sorry, force of habit."
"Hmph. So, annnyway, my dad asked me why I was crying, and I told him I was scared of the dark. So, he takes me outside and shows me the stars. Now, I'd seen stars before, but never this many. There'd always been too many lights out to seen all of them. So you know, I was totally fascinated by them, and he'd take me out every night until we got power back and point out new stuff until I fell asleep. Since then I've never been scared."
"...Rai I have to say it..."
"You said you wouldn't!"
"I have to, though. That's probably the sweetest thing I've ever heard."
"Yeah yeah yeah, whatever. So, what about you?"
"What about me?"
"I've gone and born my soul, now it's your turn."
"Oh, no way. You know, maybe it's time to go inside..."
"Hey hey now, we're bonding. I told you something, now you have to tell me!"
"I didn't ask you to tell me that!"
"What! Yes you did! You ripped it out of me with a pair of plyers! Now spill!"
"I don't know what to tell you. I used to eat toothpaste?"
"That's really lame. Give me something good. Anything."
"Anything! I don't know, any old boyfriends back home?"
"...We really should go inside..."
"Not until you talk. Now say it."
"...I don't have any good stories about boyfriends..."
"Ha! I don't believe that for a second! You honestly can't tell me you don't have a single story about one of your-"
"-Because I've never HAD a boyfriend."
"Ok, there. I said it. Can we move on now?"
"Let's just drop it, ok?"
"You've NEVER had a boyfriend?"
"What's that constellation over there again?"
"Not even a little fling? Nothing?"
"No, ok! I'm a prude! Is it really that pathetic!"
"No, I'm not saying it cause I think you're a prude! I'm saying it cause...I mean, I didn't expect it. I always figured you had a ton."
"I dunno. You seem like the type that all the boys would be after. You're kinda the full package, Kim."
"Oh. Wow, thanks..."
"That's fairly high praise from someone as experienced as you."
"Didn't you have girls crawling all over you back home? You're always talking about them."
"Yeah, don't tell the others, but I'm more talk than action."
"Oh, REALLY? I NEVER would have guessed."
"Oh I know, I put on a good act."
"So have you...had a girlfriend?"
"Well, yeah. A few. But you know...ok, if I tell you something else, will you promise not to get weirded out?"
"...Well then fine."
"I'm just kidding, tell me."
"Ok...So, I've been with a couple of girls, yeah, but I...I mean, since I've been here, I don't wanna be with a girl...unless she's like you."
"I'm not weirded out. I'm really, really flattered. You can be really sweet, Rai."
"Yeah, well...don't let it get around. I have a reputation to protect."
"Yeah, a reputation of being a jerk. I can see why you'd want to protect that."
"Better a jerk than a sissy."
"A jerk who likes stars."
"Consider it a compliment."
"It's Raimundo. The admirer is Raimundo."
She sealed herself, Clay and Omi into the meditation hall for total privacy. She wanted the secret to remain among the three of them; it wasn't that Master Fung or the dozens of ancient monks inhabiting the temple would really care, but after her tiff with the Wind Dragon the night before she didn't want to take any chances. He could have ears all over, for all she knew.
Clay removed his hat and smoothed his flaxen hair over so his sky-like eyes could clearly access the situation. "Are you sure, little lady? That's a mighty big cow pie you're pitching." Kimiko nodded, alternating her gaze between her male counterparts.
"I'm positive. It all adds up! The pens, the flowers, and look at this!" She produced her locket from within her robe and cracked it open, extending her arm to its full length so they could see the evidence in her palm. Clay whistled softly and replaced his hat, still keeping it tilted back so that his eyes were visible.
"Shoot, I guess there's no other choice. Facts are facts. You reckon that's why he's been more ornery than a bull on rodeo day? To throw you off?"
"It must be!" Kimiko exclaimed, snapping the locket shut and placing it furtively back under the cloth. "Why else would he be uber jealous and pissy?"
"I never would have pinned Rai." The Texan added, scratching the back of his head. "I sooner would have expected it to be Wuya."
"Me neither. But like you said, facts are facts. There's not arguing that."
"When will you tell him?"
Omi had been oddly silent for the entire time, so when he spoke both Kimiko and Clay jumped. His dark eyes were focused but his expression was like a taut bedsheet, revealing nothing. He moved towards Kimiko but stopped shortly after he started, and he kept his focused eyes locked on her, waiting for a reaction.
"What I think Omi's tryin' to say is, are you gonna tell Rai you know?" Clay offered, vainly trying to break the youngest monk's concentration. Kimiko stared down at her delicate, pointed black shoes.
"I suppose I have to. He must know by now, anyway. We...we kinda had a fight last night. About all this."
"Was it bad?" Clay asked, concerned. The Japanese girl nodded.
"Very. We haven't spoken since. I don't even know if I'll be able to tell him." Clay shrugged and turned to unlock the door, tipping his hat back into its rightful position with a flick of his head.
"It's all you now, Kimiko. When and how, or if, you tell him you know is all you. I ain't gonna stop ya." He pushed aside the heavy bolt and opened the door. "Though I will admit, I don't wanna be there when you do it."
Clay left and Kimiko started to do the same when she felt a tug on her sleeve. Omi's small yellow hand clutched the fabric, and his intense eyes bored into her.
"Kimiko, what Clay said I meant...was not what I meant."
He released her and left, with Kimiko standing dumbly in the center of the shrine.
Kimiko resolved that if she ever were to fall in love with any of them, it would be Raimundo.
She gave it a lot of thought, or rather had been from the moment she began to suspect him, and he really was the only logical choice. Omi was young in every sense of the word. He was too absorbed in himself and innocence to really see what was around him. Omi was like her kid brother, the one who was too arrogant for his own good and got into one too many fights that she had to drag him out of. He was naive and simple, and probably had never been in love. Of course not, he probably didn't know what love was, aside from narcissism. Dating Omi would always feel weirdly wrong, and she couldn't be with someone if it made her feel like a pedophile.
Clay, on the other hand, was her rock, her pillar of support whenever she slumped or stumbled. He always offered an open ear and mind when she needed to talk, and sometimes, in her rare moments of weakness, he offered a strong, broad shoulder to cry on. When Rai had crossed over, the cowboy's bones had been swimming in her tears. Clay never judged and he never condescended. Even still...Clay was too patriarchal; he was only a year older than she, but his simple, quiet wisdom made it seem like decades. She needed Clay, that was certain. But not as a boyfriend.
Raimundo was an ass. He was cocky and selfish and impractical and rude and had the sense of humor of a six year old. She knew that, everyone knew that. Nonetheless, she'd pick him. His immaturity had subsided in the past year or so, she had noticed, and it allowed her to see the Raimundo behind the jokes and masks; the real Raimundo. The real Raimundo was kind and charming and compassionate, and fiercely protective of his friends and those he held close. He didn't have to pull her from that tag team Xiaolin Showdown; the bruises and broken bones and scars could have been hers to heal. She'd catch a glimpse of the remains of that battle when he changed or trained, and each time she felt a pang of guilt. He didn't have to do that, but he did anyway because he wanted to. He'd rather die himself than have harm come to his friends.
The real Raimundo was funny too. Genuinely funny, the kind of funny that was the only thing that could make her laugh when she needed it. He was also understanding and didn't question the skeletons in her closet the way the others would, because he knew things that had been buried (like her mother) were supposed to stay there. He understood her...there had been times when he knew things about her before she even did. Like intuition, or something. Something that would breathe a word of encouragement or slide a hot cup of tea across the table. She'd consider Raimundo to even be her best friend, which was a high honor in her book. He outranked Keiko (though she'd never tell her that).
And there was of course his looks. She couldn't deny that. He had good genes, that's all she could say. And the body...well, training was working out for him. Really well.
But that was all nonsense. She only imagined that she could be in love with Raimundo. She'd never actually fall for him.
Unless she already had.
She shot up as if the bed were made of electrodes and resisted the urge to scream.
Had it always been that obvious? Or was she just that dumb?
Bwa ha ha! We reach the exciting part, finally! Sorry this took so long, college is mad hard, fo' realz. But only one chapter to go! And it's the epic conclusion! As always, reviews are loverly! Drop 'em like bombs, if you can! Oh, and I hope you enjoyed!