Growth

Adelheid hadn't gone back much to Sky Noah the following couple of weeks. The head engineer had told him that the repairs were almost done; but he told him that there was no need to move yet. Rose had been surprisingly cordial to him-though not as close as she was before. There was always an underlying-sinisterness to her words that made him not too keen on being around her much. She had a thin cut on her cheek still, which didn't make her any happier. The cordial words seemed a bit-forced. No doubt something's going on behind the scenes. In a way, though, Whip felt a bit bad for her, she realized. Adelheid was her only family as well; maybe she was possessive of him for that reason-but her attitude had finally pushed him away; not to mention the madness that could overtake her. Jealousy could ruin so much of what could be beautiful. We're trying to help him-but we don't do much about her. Was that right? Could the younger Bernstein be rescued too? I wish I hadn't scarred her cheek like that, after all. But it was my only choice at the time. She was...out of control. I hope I didn't make it worse.

Maybe, she thought to herself. But the most important thing was-she had to want it. Right now, she didn't seem to. She did sadly get many of Rugal's bad points, according to the guys-she hoped, deep inside, that it didn't destroy her like it did her father. Adelheid, while more distant from her, would no doubt feel it deeply if it did. She could tell Adel wanted to help her-but couldn't reach out to her. It bothered him a lot, too. But he also realized, she noticed, that he had himself to worry about first. It was fine to worry about others-but if he couldn't help himself, then nothing good would come of it. He had lived for his sister most of his life. It was time he lived a bit for himself.

They had seen a lot the past couple of weeks-again not constantly, as he still had his own business to take care of, as did Whip-but anytime they weren't busy, they were together. He had discussed old memories with her-when his sister was a lot nicer. She had always been a bit of a spoiled princess-it had just gotten worse over the years. She wasn't outright...evil before. She always loved to watch her brother fight; and he would happily fight to defend her-but it was only in the past few years did she start to get sadistic-ordering him to go further in fights, and finally she wanted them mortal. She had played the piano for him before-but it never affected him as much as it did the past two or so years. Whip heard the longing in his voice for what was-he had showed her an old picture, with the young Adel-blond hair messed up, smile on his face, and a younger, skinny Rose on his shoulders, laughing. She knew he hadn't given up on her; but nor could he force anything. Any words he had for her had fallen on deaf ears these days; the only thing they discussed was business, and then it was short and curt. She dealt mainly with the people that worked for the family. It was dangerous, right now, for him to be too involved with her, in her current state. He knew this well; he didn't like it, but he knew it.

Luckily, her and the guys were staying here quite awhile more. Heidern had apparently started to get involved with another project-and when he did, he didn't stop until it was completed. So they would be here for an unknown amount of time. This made Whip quite happy-anytime with Adelheid was good time. He had recovered well from the horrible night two weeks past-his bandages were off and he was healing nicely, both physically and mentally. He had been very, very reserved for a few days afterward; but it almost seemed like he was working at himself, inside. As guilty as he felt, he knew he couldn't let it overtake him and drive him to despair. It was what Orochi wanted. As hard as it was, and he would be reminded of it for those days that he saw Whip's neck while it healed-but if anything it gave him more resolve to keep the...taint...if that was what it was, in check. Day by day, a little more of the Adelheid that Whip knew best had come back.

He continued to train, every day, early in the morning; she would sometimes go to watch him. They still trained together sometimes; with her practice-whip; Adel didn't seem to mind when it left an occasional small mark. Ralf and Clark liked the challenge as well; one time the three of them went after him. But after Ralf and Clark had been ''knocked out''-they basically fought to a set limit-Adel and Whip had trouble getting past any sort of grapples and it sort of drew. Remind me, not to have to fight him in the tournament. It just won't work now, she thought with a laugh. They had gone around a bit more too; in the countryside. He even took her to show her some of Sky Noah's secret areas, which only he his sister, and a couple of the servants or engineers knew about-and then only the ones who had to know about them. Day after day they grew closer. He was interesting in the fact that he was, in his own way, very romantic; but not sappy in the least, like some guys she had known in the past. Affection for him was not flowery words, candy, or poetry, he never really believed in those things; she could tell he wasn't that type-and neither was she. To him, sitting with her, no matter where it was-be it outside, in his quarters, library, or her hotel room, with his arms around her waist and his head on her shoulder, where he would often brush his lips against her, meant infinitely more. Even something as small as standing on the deck of the Sky Noah next to each other, looking out over everything meant more to him, even if they didn't speak. She tended to agree.

Adel still liked to be alone now and again; he and Whip were still getting used to what they had. There were a couple of nights that the guys insisted on bringing him out for a night on the town-he went along; he wanted to get to know more people, as he didn't know so many of the usual participants in the tournaments. Occasionally, Whip would be there to cheerfully greet him early if he had a particularly hard night. These didn't happen often, however-Adelheid was not a man of great excess. He sometimes wanted to train alone there were things in himself he needed to get in touch with. As much as they had opened up to each other, and as much as he trusted her, and her him-there were things that the both of them sort of wanted to work through on their own, as well.

The early August weather gave no relief from the past month. It was an early Thursday morning; and the two of them were again free. Whip had returned from a few meetings with the guys and some other military officials; they seemed to be tracking a group by the name of ''People From the Past.'' Apparently, they had ties to Orochi. She shuddered when she heard the name-but kept her composure, like any good soldier would. They sat outside, in their usual spot under the trees; thankfully the clouds had rolled in to keep the worst of the sun off of them. It was still dreadfully hot, though. They had opted for iced coffee-even Adel, who liked his over brewed, morning sludge. For someone as refined as him, you'd think he'd drink something a bit more...proper, she giggled to herself. He leaned against the tree; his shirt and boots off to the side, and her on the ground in front of him. She leaned back against his chest, and decided she didn't want to move for awhile.

''Comfy?'' he asked her. He snaked a hand around and placed it over her stomach; she had opted for a half-shirt today. She usually dressed a little less revealing; but she was alone and with Adel, so she didn't mind. She placed a hand over his.

''Of course.'' She tilted her head back and looked at him. He kissed her forehead. ''Any plans for today?''

He smiled. ''None at the moment. How about we just...get to know each other better?'' He blushed a bit.

Why is he blushing again? And get to know... She then blinked. ''Adel!''

''I...I mean, I...er...not...'' He closed his eyes and tried to hide his obvious smile.

She laughed. ''Sounds like a good idea, maybe. We don't have to go anywhere.'' She sat on his lap, facing him, legs on either side. His blush faded-but his smile didn't. He held her close and kissed her neck several times-he left his head there, breathing in deeply. She rested her head on his, enjoying the feeling.

Besides, they had seen most of Vienna by now, anyway.

--

''I don't get it. Why didn't it work?'' the mysterious figure said.

''The interlopers, naturally. There are always interlopers. And the commander is proving himself to be the biggest nuisance of them all. But the girl is really beginning to...almost surpass him in that sense.''

''I thought we had the younger one...and that she would...help the older one's power be realized.''

''Oh, we do. Don't worry. But we just need a little more...prodding. It might be a good idea to wait.''

''The next tournament?''

''Yes. If the other one completes his quest-the full power will be unleashed. Maybe then, there will be no resistance.''

''Good. carry on as planned...''