Heh, after I wrote part 1 of FTA, I realized, "This is 63 pages of FLUFF!" Don't worry though, part 2 isn't so much fluff. However, because of a lime scene I've rated it M. Don't say I didn't warn you. Part 2 was written between May 2002 and May 2003.

-----

When I'd first arrived in Sacramento at the beginning of September, I'd thought that I'd be living in the big city. But instead, I ended up in a suburb, which was an entirely different experience than having lived in MegaTokyo my whole life. First off, it wasn't crowded at all here. Two-room apartments were unheard of here, and every house had a sprawling lawn with usually a tree or two, which I had never seen in Tokyo.

It wasn't exactly much of a culture shock, suddenly living here instead of Tokyo, anyway. The basic culture was very similar to that back home. The school system threw me for a loop, though, but eventually I got used to it, even though it annoyed me to no end that I was essentially restarting my senior year. In Tokyo, it started in April, but here in Sacramento, it started in September. Why couldn't school systems around the world all be on the same damn schedule?

Another thing that I had to get used to was having a father figure in the house. Tyler wasn't anything like the guys I knew back home, like Masahiro and especially Tsubasa, and I was thankful for that. He asked me if I needed help with anything so often that I wondered if he didn't have anything better to do with his free time. On the other hand, I guess it was nice that he was trying to make me feel welcome in his home, unlike his bratty daughter, Mikhaila. God, I hated her. Well…'hate' was too strong a word; it was actually fun at times to tease her whenever she got in my face about the smallest little thing. But I certainly didn't like her, and it was apparent she shared the same feelings for me. At school, if we saw each other in the hallway, she'd just glance in the other direction and walk by without saying a word. Me, I'd just shrug and keep walking.

After my first tai chi session with Kenneth, Irodia scheduled me to meet with him three days a week. So on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, after school, I'd go down to the local gym to let him teach me some moves. After only a few sessions, like he'd said, I did begin to notice some subtle differences. I began to sleep better, and I also felt like I had more energy – or, in Kenneth's words, my chi was flowing better. I'd been bugging him to teach me some more leg moves, to help my leg, but he said that it was important to concentrate on my entire being, and not just my leg.

"Chi cannot be concentrated on one area of the body," he explained to me. "If it's concentrated in your leg, then it cannot reach the other areas of the body, and then you will do just as miserably doing your calisthenics than if your leg was still weak."

"I still have this damn limp though," I mumbled, swinging my leg back and forth as I stood there in front of him.

"You mentioned that the femur was shattered when you were shot, right?"

"Yeah. And now I have a rod and plates in my leg holding it together."

"Well, I admit I'm not a doctor, but I'm just speculating. It's possible that the length of the femur was shortened slightly when the doctors were putting you back together. The muscles were damaged badly too, right?"

"Right. I did say it took me four months to learn to walk again."

He cleared his throat. "In that case, it's also possible that the muscles are still healing."

"After this long? It's been, what, seven months?"

"Rocío, remember that I said I was only speculating," he said with an impish grin, throwing his hands up in front of him as if in surrender. "I'm probably way off the mark."

I frowned. "I hope you are. I have no plans to sit out the Olympics next year."

Kenneth grinned again. "I like your attitude. Now, you ready to learn something today?"

"Like always."

-----

For two months now, I'd been residing in Sacramento, and for the most part, I'd gotten used to life here. It was way quieter than MegaTokyo was, so it took a little while to get used to that as well as the slower pace of life here. The lack of Boomer rampages was comforting; after all, until a year ago, they were obsolete back home, so it was a relief. I just wished that my mom and the other Knight Sabers could've had that same comfort.

"What're you doing for Thanksgiving break, Rosho?" Xania asked me one day after school as we were walking through the student parking lot.

"I guess I'll be spending it with Mikhaila's family," I responded dryly. "What else would I be doing?"

She grinned. "Well, are you guys goin' anywhere?"

"Honestly, I don't know. It's not for a couple weeks, why are you asking about it now?"

"Just curious, that's all."

"What are YOU doing for the break?"

"Oh, my foster mom and I are gonna go to Montana and spend it with her family there."

"You don't look too thrilled about it," I pointed out. "Are they total pricks like your foster mom is?"

Xania nodded. "Yep. I envy you."

"You're not the only one who has to spend it wallowing in misery. I gotta put up with Mikhaila of all people," I joked, chuckling.

"You've been here two months. I thought putting up with her during the holidays would be nothing new to you," she snickered.

"Well, I haven't seen how she acts when there's turkey and cranberry sauce at the table, so I guess I'll have to find out the hard way."

As we climbed onto my bike, Xania added one more thing. "Y'know how they say Thanksgiving is all about how the Pilgrims celebrated with the Indians and shit?"

"Um…yeah," I lied; I didn't know jack about what the holiday was about.

"Well, wanna know why I celebrate it?"

"Why?"

"For the food, what else?"

She laughed, and I couldn't help but laugh myself as I slipped on my helmet and started up the bike. "I should've known!"

"Yes, you should've," she teased, slapping me playfully across the back.

I drove us out of the parking lot and down the street, weaving around the traffic with ease. I thought for a moment, then asked, "Oh, Xania! How's your boyfriend doing? I don't think I've seen him around your house lately."

"Huh?"

"Y'know, that blond guy."

"Oh! Greg?"

"Yeah, that's him. What happened to him?"

I heard a low chuckle from her as she tightened her grip around my waist. "We're not an item anymore. I thought you knew."

I let out a sigh and grimaced in disgust. The stories were true, after all. "May I ask why? Or is that a stupid thing to do, to have to ask?"

Xania laughed. "That was the longest I've ever stuck with one guy. But I will admit, it was a lovely time we had together."

"How long were you two together?"

"We first hooked up about two weeks before you came, so about two months."

"That's IT?"

She laughed again and said, "Yeah! I got bored of him. He wasn't doing anything that he hadn't already done before, so I ditched him."

"I think I've heard too much already," I groaned as I turned the corner onto another street.

"Honestly, Rosho. He was a stallion in bed. He always had a trick up his sleeve, and I guess that's why I stayed with him for so long. But lemme put it this way: if you ate pizza at every meal for a month, you'd get sick of it, right?"

"Uh, right."

"Yeah. So Greg was just like a pizza. Eventually I just got sick of 'im. I need some variety in my life, y'know? Something to spice things up a little bit."

"So…you basically got bored of him?"

"Duh! He was great in bed, trust me, but I just started to get bored with him."

"Xania, can I say something?"

"Sure. Shoot."

"You're pathetic."

She laughed loudly. "I know! I'm just so hard to please, aren't I!"

"Well, judging from the noise you made whenever you locked yourself in the bedroom with him…" I let my voice trail off, and rolled my eyes in sarcasm as we pulled up into Irodia's driveway. Xania just laughed as she climbed off, her tail flipping back and forth.

"Like I said, he's great! Feel free to try him out anytime! You'll say the same thing!"

I blushed and frowned as I took off my helmet. "I hope you're joking."

She just grinned again. "Of course I am. I know you're saving yourself for someone who might prove worthy."

"I'm saving myself for someone who won't just get in my pants, then throw me out right afterwards. If I ever do it, I want it to be with the man I'm gonna be with for the rest of my life."

"I think I can help you."

"With what? The man part or the bed part?" I asked dryly.

"Both," she joked. "No, not really. Juliana is having a pool party at her house this weekend. She invited tons of people."

"This is the first I'VE heard of it."

"She said she didn't know if you'd want to go or not."

"Sure, I'll go. But I don't want you playing matchmaker, ok? Forgive me, but I don't trust your taste in men."

"Heh, fine. You think your taste is any better?"

"I've dealt with enough bastards in my life. I'm sure my radar can detect one from a hundred miles away. Don't need to worry about me," I said, half-joking.

"After what you did to those two guys who were playing with your bike when you first got here, I don't need to," she said, laughing as we both headed inside the house.

God, what am I doing? I thought. I don't have time for a relationship! A pool party did sound like a lot of fun, except for the 'pool' part of it. I still didn't care for water very much, and on top of that, even though this was California, I hadn't brought a swimming suit along. Oh well, maybe I just won't go into the pool. Maybe I'll just sit and crisp in the sun all afternoon long, I thought dryly. Not like anybody is begging to see my scars, anyway…

-----

"Ugh. Don't tell me you're gonna go too," Mikhaila groaned when she saw me slathering on some sunblock.

"What's wrong with me going?" I inquired, raising an eyebrow. "I'm free to go if I want to. And besides, Xania said Juliana was too shy to ask me."

She smirked. "Mom looked a little worried when you told her you were going. What's wrong, you afraid of water?"

"I'm not afraid of it, per se, I'm just…not fond of it," I said quickly, rubbing the lotion on my neck.

"What's the point of going then?"

"Unlike you, I'm not a sociophobe. So why are YOU going if all you do is stay locked up in your room when you get home?"

"Juliana throws the best parties, but you wouldn't know that."

"I will once I've been to one," I deadpanned.

"If Rocío wants to go to Juliana's party, I don't see the harm in it," Irodia suddenly said, walking into the room. "She needs to get out and meet new people anyway, and Mikhaila, you should too. Did you remember to put on some sunscreen?"

"Yeah," I said, holding up the bottle.

"No," Mikhaila groaned.

Irodia took the bottle from me and handed it to Mikhaila. "You oughta know that us redheads are very fair-skinned," she joked. "We need sunscreen more than anybody. Put some on unless you want your skin to be redder than your hair."

Mikhaila grunted as she took the bottle and walked out of the room.

"Are you sure you'll be alright?" Irodia asked as she sat down next to me.

"I'll be fine," I said. "Not like I'm planning to go in the pool anyway. I don't have a swimsuit."

"Why didn't you tell me?" she exclaimed.

"Why would I? Wouldn't a swimsuit just show everybody my scars?"

"Not if it's a one-piece."

"I don't like one-pieces," I said nonchalantly, then sighed. "Aw hell, not like it's gonna matter if they see 'em or not. Maybe they'll show Mikhaila just what I've gone through, and that she can't possibly complain about how 'boring' her life is."

"This is Mikhaila you're talking about," Irodia said dryly. "You couldn't get her to say anything different if you had a gun to her head. She's very stubborn in her opinions and attitude."

"No kidding," I groaned. "Then again, maybe it'd be a GOOD idea to show people my scars!"

"W…why's that?"

I grinned and replied, "It'll show people not to mess with me, that's why. And that I've faced things way tougher than them."

"Are you assuming you're going to be hit on?"

"If the guys here are like the guys back home, then yes."

-----

After I first heard about the pool party Juliana was throwing, I was a little bit surprised. After all, how many pool parties are thrown in November? But considering this was California, it shouldn't have come as much of a surprise. What was definitely a surprise, though, was how many people showed up. I was expecting five, maybe ten people. But at least twenty showed up, showing off their summer tans even though it was now fall, and me, I could tell I was the only one who didn't have a swimming suit, but I didn't really care.

Unfortunately, Juliana did.

"Rocío, you didn't bring your bathing suit?" she asked when I showed up in normal garb. "What's wrong, not a fan of the pool?"

"Actually, I figured I'd come here to meet some people," I said, rolling my eyes. "I needed to get out of the house anyway."

"Follow me," she said, grabbing my hand.

Juliana dragged me inside her house and up the stairs to her bedroom. Once inside, she shut the door behind us and started digging through one of her dresser drawers. After a few seconds, she smiled and took out a dark green bikini, holding up the two pieces in her hands.

"I don't need to borrow one of your bikinis. I'm fine, really!" I protested.

"C'mon, what's the point of a pool party if you can't get in the pool? Besides, you look about my size, so I'm sure this'll fit."

I felt my cheeks turn red. I didn't know whether to be flattered or embarrassed. "Really, I don't need to—"

"Pleeeease?" she begged.

"No, I'm fine!" I said firmly, shaking my head. I really didn't think that anyone was THAT curious about my scars; I'd decided that on my own on the way here. What was wrong with keeping them to myself?

"Rosho, put it on!" I heard Xania cheer from the other side of the door.

"Xania? How did you know I was up here?" I exclaimed.

"I saw Jul drag you up here! C'mon, put it on, show off that bod of yours!"

"I'd really rather not!"

"Xania said you're a gymnast," Juliana said. "Bikinis show off your body just as much as leotards do, right?"

I sighed and gave in, snatching the two pieces of the bikini from her hands. "Fine, fine, you two win. But I'll just say right now that I'm not responsible for any damage incurred from looking at me in this thing."

"Why, green isn't your color?" she joked.

"Trust me, it's not that," I said flatly, ushering her out of the room so I could change. What am I doing? I asked myself as I took off my shirt and bra, putting on the bikini top. I looked down at my stomach and saw the scars dotting it. The long scar that I had acquired at the summit, plus the four stab wounds that had healed up… The long scar I actually almost didn't mind; it reminded me of what I had survived, but the four smaller ones…they made me feel like I'd been marked for life, and reminded me all the more of why I was in the States and not in Tokyo.

"To hell with Boh," I mumbled to myself as I pulled off my jeans, leg sleeve, and panties, replacing them with the bikini bottom. "I've healed, and that's all that matters."

I turned and looked at myself in the full-length mirror that Juliana had in her room, and mustered a grin. This bikini really did make me look good, in spite of my scars. I struck a pose and turned my body every which way I could, only to grimace when I realized what the guys that were at the party were probably gonna say when they caught a glance of me.

"To hell with them too," I said aloud, casting those thoughts aside as I opened the door and marched down the stairs. I took a few deep breaths; I had no idea what kind of remarks I'd get when these people would get a look at my battle scars, but I didn't really care. They were entitled to their opinions, however bigoted they might've been, but of course, that never stopped me from trying to change those opinions.

I took a look outside into the back yard. A swarm of kids were out there, swimming in the pool, gathered at the barbecue grill, or just lounging in the sun. I sighed and scratched the side of my head. This was a trap that I felt like I'd just literally walked into.

"Well…here goes," I mumbled, sliding open the door and stepping outside. I walked casually towards the grill, where an older man was preparing hamburgers and hot dogs. On the way there, I could practically feel everyone's eyes boring into me. I turned my head to look at the pool, and several kids had slowed down their swimming to look at me. I snorted and turned away, tossing my hair over my shoulders, practically flaunting my back scar.

"Hi," I said to the man at the barbecue.

"Hi there," he said, grinning at me. The grin quickly disappeared when he saw the scars on my stomach. "W-what can I, uh, help you with?"

"Could I have a cheeseburger with pickles and ketchup?"

He eyed me up and down nervously for a moment, then said, "Sure. It'll be ready in a minute."

"What happened to YOU?" one boy chuckled behind me. I turned around to face him. "Were you in World War III or something?"

"How is it your business?" I inquired, folding my arms over my chest.

"Well, you look like it. Looks like ya got sliced and diced."

"I'll be honest and say I came damn close," I hissed, grabbing him by the neck. "If you want scars like mine, I'll be more than happy to give you your own set." I let go of his neck, then traced over my long scar with my index finger and added, "I almost died when I got this one. If you want that experience, feel free to call me."

"Hey, I didn't say I wanted my own set," he grumbled, his eyebrow twitching. "I'd rather have those be a one-of-a-kind deal."

"Then don't make any more smart-ass comments," I snapped.

"Kid, your burger's ready!" the man called out from behind me.

"Thanks," I said sweetly as I grabbed a paper plate and put the burger on it. As I made a beeline for the table of appetizers, several guys stepped out of my way, apparently not wanting any trouble from me. I smirked and grabbed some potato chips, then scooped up some beans and put them on the plate. As I put a potato chip in my mouth, I looked around the yard for any familiar faces. After a moment, I saw Xania sitting at a table with Juliana, Sara, and Karen.

"Hey Rosho!" Xania yelled, waving at me. "Come over here!" I smiled and did so, limping the whole way. Juliana, Karen, and Sara just stared at me, jaws agape.

"Don't look so shocked," I said dryly, sitting down. "I said my dad beat me up, remember?"

"Well, yeah…" Sara agreed. "But geez, I didn't know how bad it was."

"Now you do."

"You don't look surprised," Karen said to Xania.

"She showed me her stomach scars before," Xania said. "But this is the first I've seen of her leg ones." She shoved a forkful of macaroni salad in her mouth.

"I don't care what anybody thinks of them," I snapped. "They're my scars, I'm the one who dons them 24-7, not them!" I took a few stabs at my beans with the fork and shoved them in my mouth. What did it matter what anyone else thought of 'em? This was likely the only time they'd be getting a free peek at them, anyway.

"Ever thought about getting them removed?" Karen asked. "I don't think it costs that much."

"I wanna keep some of them," I said.

"Why the hell wouldja wanna do that?"

"'Cause they remind me of what I've gone through. Sometimes, I…don't wanna remember, but I don't really wanna forget either. Does that seem silly?"

Xania took a sip of her drink and shook her head. "Not to me, it doesn't. It's your body, if you wanna keep the scars, then keep 'em. I ain't tellin' ya any different."

"She's right," Juliana suddenly spoke up. "We can't tell you what to do with them, Rocío."

"Thanks," I said, managing a weak smile. "At least YOU guys don't poke fun at me and say that I look like I've been through World War III." I glared at the guy that had made that comment.

"Well…" Karen started to say. "You DO look like you've been through hell."

"I already told you how I got the scars, didn't I?"

"Yeah. But to actually see the scars from 'em is a completely different story."

"Xania? What're you looking at?" Sara asked, tapping her on the shoulder.

"Not what, who," Xania corrected, grinning as she pointed at a guy in the far corner of the swimming pool. He had brown hair which was slicked back by the water, and a deep tan. "Don't he look like a hottie?"

"You sure he's not a previous lover of yours?" she giggled.

"I'm sure." She took off her shades and set them next to her plate. "Keep an eye on my stuff, ok?" She ran past me and dived right into the pool. I held up my arm to shield me from the resulting splash.

"Doesn't take much for her to go after someone, does it," I remarked.

"If he looks good, she'll go for the gold," Sara said, giggling again. "That's just how Xania is. Didn't you know?"

"I've only been here two months, of course not," I said dryly. "Hmm, take a look at her talking to him."

Sara and I both watched as Xania swam up to the guy she'd been ogling, and struck up a conversation with him. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but it looked like he was starting to get into her. And suddenly, I could see Xania frown as he made a remark and laughed to himself. She raised her arm and slapped him across the face.

"Fuck you!" she yelled as she climbed out of the pool, swinging her tail out of the way when the guy reached to grab it. She came back towards our table, looking really pissed off.

"What happened?" I asked. "Wasn't your type?"

"Did he shoot you down?" Sara asked innocently, sipping her drink.

"He didn't shoot me down," Xania spat. "But I'll just say that no guy insults a friend of mine and gets away with it."

"Was it about me?" I asked.

"Yeah. He was calling you the Scar Girl and generally just making some, well, not-so-flattering comments. I ain't gonna be with no guy that insults my friends like that."

"But if he hadn't said those things, you would've taken him to your place eventually, right?"

She smirked. "Maybe. I was really into him until he made those bullshit comments. That was a total turnoff."

"Probably one of those womanizer types, a guy that treats women like property," I guessed. "Maybe it was for the best, anyway."

"You're not pissed he made those comments?" she inquired, raising an eyebrow.

I shook my head. "He can say whatever he wants. But if he says it to my face, he's in for an ass-kicking."

"Want me to bring him over? I can if you want."

"No. I'll get around to it when I meet him myself. The bastard won't know what hit him."

"Y'mean like those two guys you beat up that were messing with your motorcycle?" Juliana asked, chuckling.

"You heard about that?"

"Yeah! Xania told us all about it!"

I looked at Xania, who merely gave me the peace sign and grinned innocently as she put her shades back on. "Yeah, like that," I finally said.

"Y'know, Rocío, you really do look good in that bikini. You can keep it if you want."

"No, that's alright."

"Really, you can! Green's not exactly my color. It doesn't go with blond hair very well," she joked, running a hand through her hair.

"Say," Karen suddenly spoke up, "what're we sittin' here for anyway? This is a POOL party, ain't it? So let's go swimming!" She made a mad dash past me and yelled, "Cannonball!" as she leapt into the pool. Once again, I had to hold up my arms to shield me from the ensuing splash.

"You heard her! Let's go!" Xania declared, standing up. She grabbed my hand and started leading me towards the pool.

"No, you can go," I said quickly, planting my feet firmly on the ground. "Besides, isn't that guy you were hitting on still in the pool?"

"Ah, screw him. C'mon, let's go get wet!" She walked behind me and gave me a shove.

"No!" I yelled, waving my arms to the sides to keep from falling forward. Being hydrophobic was embarrassing enough; showing everybody that I was would only add to it. I was gonna keep it to myself if I could help it.

"C'mon in," Mikhaila suddenly said, popping up from the water as she grabbed my ankle. "The water's fine."

"I'd rather not," I said, feeling myself go pale.

She pulled on my ankle, making me yelp in surprise. "What's the matter, Rocío?" she inquired with an evil grin. "Not fond of water?"

"It's not my most favorite thing in the world, no. Let go!"

"Not until you come in," she said, yanking harder. I almost lost my balance, and tried to pull back from her again.

"Go on, let's see ya swim," I heard a guy say from behind me, followed immediately by a forceful shove. It more than caught me off guard; I went stumbling forward, and screamed as I found myself falling face-first into the pool, Mikhaila darting out of the way.

I held my breath and squeezed my eyes shut as the water went rushing into my mouth and up my nose, flailing my arms and legs. I tried to swim upwards, but I felt a pair of hands press on my head and push down, keeping me under. I was in total panic by now; I tried to pry the person's hands off my head, but they held fast. Lemme up, lemme up! I thought, my lungs starting to burn for want of air.

And suddenly, the hands let go of my head, and I felt someone else grab my arm and drag me to the surface. Once I got my head above water, I instantly started coughing and gasping for air, dragging myself onto dry ground.

"Shit, you ok, Rosho?" Xania asked, patting my back as I coughed up water.

"What the…hell do you think?" I spat, shaking all over. What a horrid joke to play!

"Damn, you're freakin' scared of water!" I heard Mikhaila exclaim from behind me, a trace of joy in her voice. "I didn't believe it till I saw it!"

"Just shut up," I growled, spinning around on her. "That wasn't funny at all."

"Well, at least I know the almighty Rocío's weak point," she said gleefully.

I was about to jump up and run to deck her in the face, but Xania held me back. "Before you punch her face in, you might wanna kick that guy's ass first. The one who pushed you in," she said, smirking.

"Where is he?" I demanded, sweeping my drenched bangs out of my eyes.

"Right over there," she said, pointing to the barbecue grill, at the guy who was eating some potato chips and grinning mischievously. "He's the one I was hitting on a couple minutes ago."

"Ok, you son of a bitch," I spat, marching up to him. "What made you think that would be funny, huh?"

"It was a joke," he said simply, grinning.

"Like hell it was. Xania was saying you were badmouthing me earlier, and I don't take kindly to that, especially the Scar Girl part of it. I do have my share of scars, but it's none of your business how I got them, and you don't have any right to be teasing me about them. There's plenty of stories behind them, and as much as I'd love to sit down and tell them to you, I know better than to waste my breath on a thick-headed peon like you. You couldn't begin to imagine the hell I've gone through." I pounded my left leg with my fist. "I said to my best friend once that I wouldn't wish the experience upon anybody, but now I think I've changed my mind about that."

"What, just from that one shove?" he inquired, chuckling as he idly itched his cheek with one finger. "Damn, you're no fun at all, no sense of humor."

"After what I've been through, the LAST thing I wanna see is a joke played on me! After a while, everything just stops being funny, but you wouldn't know about that, right?" I asked with a hint of irony.

Before he could answer, I continued. "I don't give a shit what your answer is, because I already know that you haven't an iota of a clue what the hell I'm talking about. But trust me, you don't wanna see what I've seen." My voice grew steadily darker as I went on. "I hope you're comfortable in your little cave, because sooner or later, you're gonna have to come out into the real world, and then, maybe, if you're lucky, you'll experience a little bit of what I have."

"Uh…what the hell are you talking about?" he asked, confused.

"See? I knew you wouldn't get it. All I'm saying is, you chose the wrong person to play a joke on, because frankly, I've become a very cynical person, much more than I was before. And it may have been a joke to you, but for me, it was anything but. So just keep the hell away from me and Xania if you know what's good for you."

"…Whatever," he mumbled, walking away.

"Man, Rosho, you told HIM off," Xania remarked, looking impressed, but confused at the same time.

"I don't even know what I was talking about!" I admitted. "I just went off on a rant there!"

"No you didn't," she said softly. "I know what you were saying, and you said it great. You've been through some rough shit, and so nothing is a joke to you anymore. That sums it up right there."

I meekly scratched the side of my head and turned to look at her. "You said you'd been through some rough times yourself. So…I guess you DID understand what I was saying."

"No fucking kidding," she said, frowning as she nodded solemnly. "You said it better than I ever could've. Sorry for trying to drag you into the pool, Rosho. I guess I should've seen it from the way you were acting."

"Try not to tell everybody about my hydrophobia, ok?" I asked with a joking tone. "It's still embarrassing for people to know about it. And I forgive you."

"That's good." She thought for a moment, then asked, "Well, how 'bout we go grab some more grub? We'll avoid the pool if you want."

I smiled and chuckled. "Sure, that'd be great. Anything but the pool!"

-----

After the pool party was over, Sara gave Xania and Mikhaila a ride home while I rode my motorcycle. As I recalled when Mikhaila tried to pull me in over and over, I grew steadily more pissed off. Even Maru had had her limits, but Mikhaila…she was entirely different. Even so, I'm sure she and Maru would've gotten along just great. It made me wonder just how a girl like her could've come out of two great people like Irodia and Tyler. Maybe it was something similar to that one saying about geniuses giving birth to idiots and idiots giving birth to geniuses. Talk about a way to balance out nature, god damn, I thought in disbelief.

When I got back to the house, it was almost dark outside, and Mikhaila had apparently gotten back before I did, because when I opened the door and took off my sandals, there she was, on the couch reading a book, acting like an angel.

I marched over to her and ordered, "Get up."

"What?" She looked up at me over the edge of her book. "Why?"

"Just do it before I make you."

Mikhaila put a bookmark in her book, closed it, then stood up, folding her arms over her chest. "Ok, what do you want?"

I cracked my knuckle, then with all the strength I could muster, punched her right across the face, making her head snap to the side. Before she could react, I grabbed her by the shirt and jerked her so that we were face to face.

"Ok, you," I hissed through clenched teeth. "You KNOW that I don't like water. You knew it before we went to that party today. So what made you decide to try to drag me in the pool anyway, although you saw how much I freaked out?"

"C'mon, who's afraid of WATER of all things?" she retorted.

"Well, apparently there's at least one person in this world who is," I snapped. "You think I like to go around and FLAUNT it? Do you? Trust me, it's embarrassing to live with it, and I wasn't planning on letting anyone know anytime soon! But what you did today…that was just downright low. Do you enjoy tormenting people so much?"

"I was just seeing if it was true," she said, making a bad attempt at acting innocent. "I thought you were just trying to get out of getting into the pool."

"I would've thought of something better than saying I'm hydrophobic, don't you think? The ONLY reason I went today was because I figured I should get out and get to know people better. But apparently, that didn't work. Instead, a lot of people got to know ME, which was not what I was shooting for."

"You're acting like I was the one who shoved you in!" she protested.

"In a way, you did. You just encouraged that other guy to push me in when you grabbed me and tried to pull me in. You're lucky I didn't just kick you in the face right then and there." I let go of her shirt and shoved her away. "Don't pull anything like that again."

Mikhaila just snorted and smoothed out her shirt, not even paying notice to her new black eye. "Jesus Christ, Rocío, you're acting like I shoved you out into the street in broad daylight stark naked. Now THAT would've been embarrassing."

"Remind me to do that to YOU someday," I said as I headed to my room and shut the door.

Shortly afterwards, Irodia and Tyler got home; Irodia had said that since me and Mikhaila would be out of the house, she and Tyler would be going to the movies. Just like I predicted, Mikhaila blabbed to them about how I punched her, and showed them her black eye to prove it. Neither of them were too happy with me.

"I really wish you would learn to control yourself," Irodia chided. "What made you think that punching her would do any good?"

"It didn't," I admitted, "but I had to teach her a lesson for trying to pull me in. She KNEW I was hydrophobic, but did it anyway just for the hell of it! What do you want me to do, just grin and bear it? I've NEVER been that type of person, and I'm not gonna start now!"

"I'm not asking you to," she said. "But you don't want to sink to her level, either."

"Isn't SHE getting punished for any of this? I feel like I'm the only one getting punished, and for defending myself, no less!"

"Tyler already punished her. She won't be allowed to go shopping with her friends for a week."

"Oh, like THAT'S gonna do any good. She could just do that online."

"Nope. Tyler took away her debit card too."

I couldn't help but snicker; the poor baby wouldn't be getting her fix for a while! Who cared if she'd lash out at me for it? At least she'd be getting her just desserts, sort of.

-----

The following Monday at school, it seemed like everybody knew about what I had done to Mikhaila at Juliana's pool party. Most kids agreed with me and said that she could go a little too far at times, and deserved that black eye I had given her. Karen and Vicky, however, weren't quite as much in agreement. After gym class, the two of them approached me, not looking happy at all.

"Rocío, what made you think that you could punch her?" Karen snapped. "We're supposed to have fun at pool parties, not get pissed off!"

"Well, she got me pissed off. Too bad for her," I said nonchalantly. "How can you be friends with a bully like her?"

"Just gotta learn to get on her good side," Vicky said. "Isn't that what you're supposed to do with friends, not get on their bad side?"

"She's not my friend, and never will be," I retorted. "I live with her, but that's as close as we're gonna get."

"I thought you woulda learned to live with her attitude by now."

"I live with it, but it doesn't mean I have to like it. She's even worse than some of the girls I knew back home."

"Well, guess what, you're not home anymore," Karen said.

"That's been made painfully clear to me many times, thank you," I said dryly. "Don't rub it in my face."

"You're impossible," she said, rolling her eyes as she walked away. I started to do the same, but Vicky put a hand on my shoulder, stopping me.

"Rocío," she said, "Mikhaila, like all people, has a reputation to maintain. If you think you can just punch her like that and not expect any repercussions, you're wrong."

"I'm not naïve, Vicky. I know full well she's gonna try to get back at me."

"Just warning you, she's going to try to look for a weak spot to exploit."

"She already did that at the pool party," I pointed out, frowning.

"No no, that's not what I meant. She's gonna look for something else besides the obvious, something that's a little more subtle. And considering you've been living with her for the past two months, she probably already knows what to do. I'd just be careful if I were you."

"Why are you telling me about this?" I inquired.

"You've been through a lot, and I think that Mikhaila is gonna try to exploit some part of that. I don't like seeing people hurt, so I'm just warning you to prepare yourself."

"Why don't you just go talk to her and tell her not to pull anything?"

"She won't listen to me. I'm not as close to her as Juliana and Sara are. And besides, once she's set a plan in motion, it's impossible to derail her."

"Well…thanks for warning me," I said as I pulled myself away from her and headed down the hallway towards my locker.

Having been here for two months, I guess it should've come as no surprise that Mikhaila could be pretty devious. But the question was, what would she be trying to pull? I hadn't known her quite long enough to predict her moves to the T, but somehow I had the feeling that she would be making her move pretty soon. Damn, this is almost like trying to predict Genom's next move!, I thought. What's she going to do? Or is Vicky just making me worry over nothing? No, it couldn't be that; Vicky had proved to be a trustworthy person, and to me even seemed like a slightly more mature and less bubbly version of Michiko. Maybe that was why I was quick to trust her on her word.

-----

After I arrived back at the house after my tai chi lesson with Kenneth, I made sure to keep an eye on Mikhaila at all times, trying not to give her the opportunity to do anything. But it didn't take her long to notice I had my eye on her.

"What the hell are you doing, stalking me?" she yelled, snapping her head up from her homework when she noticed me looking at her subtly from the doorway.

"I'm going to my room. It's right next to yours," I said nonchalantly.

"I see you watching me! You think I don't notice or something?"

"That's nonsense, Mikhaila," Irodia said, walking up next to me. "Why would Rocío be keeping an eye on you? It's not like you have a chance to try to pull her into a swimming pool again."

"It's her fault she's scared of water! There's no way anybody can b—"

"Well, apparently there is. There's also a phobia of having peanut butter stick to the roof of your mouth. It really exists, I'll look up the word myself if you want."

"You're kidding," Mikhaila said, dumbfounded.

"No, I'm not. Now just keep your voice down and do your homework."

"Speaking of homework, I guess I should do mine," I groaned, heading back into my room. Better to just do it than to have Irodia hounding me about it for the next few hours. And I think she knew it, because as I cracked open one of my textbooks, I saw her grin out of the corner of my eye and head down the hallway.

And then, I heard Mackie's voice in my head…something that he had said while me and the Knight Sabers were on watch at the summit… "Yumeko, doing her homework? What has the world come to?"

"Yeah yeah, so I'm doing my homework, so what?" I muttered to myself, writing down the answers to some of the questions in my textbook that I had to answer. The others had always acted like it was a miracle of the world or something. I DID do it every so often, what was so miraculous about them catching me doing it? I sighed and wrote on.

To my left, I could feel a pair of eyes boring into me. But when I looked up to see who or what it was, only the picture of me and Michiko greeted me. I sighed as I realized that it must have been Michiko watching me…or maybe it was just my imagination. But even if it was, I didn't care. I reached up and brushed her cheek with one finger, gazing at her brown eyes that seemed so filled with life, eyes that were filled with hope for the future, one that she would never have. I sighed as I directed my eyes to the necklace around her neck, the one that I now wore around my own, albeit without the amber heart that came with it. But it seemed fitting, somehow, that the heart was missing. After all, Boh had had no heart of his own; he was just a heartless, soulless monster, built for killing and killing alone.

I still feel like there's something missing, Michiko, I said in my head as I closed the textbook; I couldn't concentrate on it now. I killed Boh, but…I still feel like I haven't done all I possibly could to avenge you. But what is it? Tell me…

I changed into my large shirt and boxer shorts, keeping Michiko's necklace around my neck, and as I turned off the lamp and curled up under the covers, I idly twirled the necklace around my finger, watching the moonlight catch on it as I twirled. Something's missing…but what is it? How do I find out? How do I figure out what it is?