Disclaimer: It's Toei's sandbox. I just play here because it's fun.

Author's Note: Dedicated to Etapa



By Etcetera Kit

Retsu had taken over the entire operation. Ran marveled at his ability to do so, despite the fact that Kensei Elehan had given instructions for them to split up the duties. The elephant had gone missing for now, which was just as well. Ran was tired of being touched by him. The sun was setting, and the atmosphere would have been peaceful, if not for Jan stream of questions regarding when the food would be ready to eat.

Ran smiled. Retsu had told Jan to play in the lake, and then proceeded to set up the tent with little interference from the self proclaimed tiger boy. By the time Retsu spread out the bedding in the tent, Jan was dozing on the shores of the lake. Now, despite the fact that Kensei Elehan had said they could use his stove, Retsu had a small fire going on the lake shore and was making a simple meal out of what the elephant had given him.

The smells of cooking stew washed over her. Jan had perked up at the smell of food—he could smell out food at ridiculous distances—and was hovering near Retsu. Retsu might have acted like a spoiled rich kid, and he might have little patience for Jan… but he certainly could rough it, when the situation called for such. Ran leaned against a tree, watching as he swatted Jan back from the food. She smiled again. Jan viewed Retsu as an older brother, the adoration in his eyes obvious.

She liked Retsu, and was comfortable being around him. He didn't treat her as a sibling, more like a friend, a partner in crime… an equal.

"It needs to simmer for a few moments," Retsu said, his voice carrying over the lake. "Don't touch anything," he added sternly to Jan. Jan pouted, but obediently stayed the specified distance from the fire and the stew.

Ran watched as he pulled a hand-towel from inside tent and went to the pump near the house. He got the towel damp, and then made his way to her. She looked up. The food wasn't ready yet. Why was he coming to her?

"Here." He held the towel to her. "For the elephant kiss," he clarified.

"Oh." She took the towel and began to scrub at her cheek. In the fuss following the elephant's latest perverted act, she had forgotten about that.

Retsu smiled and sat down next to her. He turned briefly towards the shore and the fire. "Jan!" he yelled in a warning tone.

"I'm hungry," came the plaintive tone from Jan.

"Too bad. You can wait. You won't die."

Jan's groan said otherwise.

Retsu rolled his eyes and turned back to her. Ran smiled, continuing to scrub at the mark on her cheek. His eyes were warm as he said, "Let me," and took the towel from her. With gentle, but firm strokes, he began to scrub away the ridiculous mark. After a few moments, he seemed satisfied that her cheek was clean, because he lowered his hand, resting the towel over his leg.

"Are you all right?" he asked softly.

She nodded. The way they were sitting together was comfortable and reminded her of the time they had trained by playing the piano. Retsu had seemed more relaxed since Elehan had disappeared to go do… something. That was also when he had taken charge of the situation. Part of that might have been Retsu's control freak impulse, but the other part… was he really worried that Elehan would do more than he already had?

What to do with an elephant that didn't understand that he couldn't just feel people up?

"Are you sure?"

"I don't know."

Then he surprised her. Retsu reached out and took her hand. His grip was firm, his fingers warm against hers. "Look, if you're uncomfortable being here, we'll go back. It's as simple as that."

The situation wasn't that simple. Master Shafu had sent them here for a purpose, to train. And she was supposed to learn to use the new weapon. They needed that weapon if they hoped to defeat the latest RinJyDen. She couldn't just leave because the elephant was stuck in some weird past, alternate timeline. But the simple fact that Retsu was willing to leave because of her… that gave her a warm feeling in the pit of her stomach. Despite his protestations otherwise, Retsu really did care about her, and Jan… he cared about them deeply.

"Thank you," she said softly, meaning each word.

"Retsu," Jan whined up the hill. "Is it ready yet?"

"No!" Retsu called back, sounding annoyed at the interruption.

"I'm tired of kotokoto!"

Retsu clenched his teeth and seemed to be internally doing something to calm down. He let out a long breath and didn't reply to Jan. Ran smiled encouragingly. He wasn't lashing out at Jan anymore—he was learning to control his annoyance. Retsu was… She smiled in spite of herself. Retsu was just Retsu. He was an integral part of their triangle—the mind level. He balanced them, synthesized their ideas and methods, and made everything work. Without him, they would fall over. If any of them were missing… this wouldn't be the same.

Ran squeezed his hand. "It will be okay," she reassured him.

He nodded reluctantly. "I hope so."

Below them on the lake shore, Jan had started chanting, 'kotokoto.' Retsu turned, shaking his head. "I don't know what he's so excited about—that's not pork cube stew."

"It's Jan. He gets like that over all food." Ran grinned. "In fact, have we ever seen him dislike anything he's eaten?" Retsu shook his head. "He's gone over the moon about everything."

"I'll feed him one of the concoctions my older brother made me eat when we were little—that'll fix his obsession with food."

Ran laughed. Retsu stood up, and held out a hand to her. She accepted the help to her feet and followed him down the gentle slope to lake shore. Jan was rocking back and forth on his heels, practically moaning, 'kotokoto.' He certainly did know how to sound pathetic. If Jan was Retsu's younger brother, what did that make her to Jan?

Dinner was relatively fast. The sun was disappearing quickly, and Retsu wanted to be able to wash the dishes, and have enough time for them to wash before the sun went down. The cool spring air made snuggling into a sleeping bag more and more appealing. Soon enough, they had eaten and cleaned up the dishes. Retsu put the fire out, while Jan washed at the pump. After Jan, Retsu washed, then went into the elephant's house and found a robe she could use.

"I hope that elephant went to get more clothes," Retsu commented as he headed back for the tent, giving her some privacy.

Ran was quiet as she splashed the cold water on her face. In the distance, she could hear Jan telling Retsu something about the stars, probably a story about a constellation. If Jan was the storyteller, then Retsu was the illustrator—he sometimes used stories he heard as inspiration for his paintings. Satisfied that she was as clean as she would get with a pump, Ran wrapped herself in the robe and joined the pair on the lake shore.

They were both only wearing their under-shorts, and she wasn't sure how neither of them wasn't shivering violently. "Let's turn in," Retsu said. "Elehan said something about being ready to go at dawn tomorrow morning."

Once in the tent, Ran found herself on a far side, next to Retsu, who was in the middle. Jan was asleep almost immediately, his even breathing resounding through the small space.

"Hey." Ran rolled to her side. Retsu was on his side, facing her, propped up on one arm. "Do your best," he said softly.

If she had thought him holding her hand was surprising, his next move was downright shocking. He leaned closer, covering the space between them, and pressed a firm, yet quick kiss to her lips. As soon as it started, it was over, but that small time gave her enough to realize how soft his lips were, how she didn't want that to be their only kiss…

In the darkness of the tent, she thought he smiled.

Perhaps, this training would work out well, pervert elephant aside. As long as Retsu continued to be the synthesizing agent… and would kiss her again…

Retsu's steady breathing let her know he had fallen asleep. Ran stared into the dark, smiling. She couldn't sleep just yet.

The End
27 April 2007