*TPD looks up as Loki comes bouncing through the door.*
TPD: What do you want now Loki?
Loki:* grins and holds up puppy with Kaede's eyes and red hair*
TPD: Uuuuuuuuuuh, NO! I'm already taking time off my books to arrange your blasted family reunion counseling session. Therefore I have no time for more of your pet projects.
Loki: But what about the reviewers?
TPD: What about them? Agreeably I could still play with this but it was an OK place to leave.
Loki:*starts making his own puppy eyes*
TPD: Ghah! Alright! If I do this will you leave me alone to work on my other stories?
TPD:*sighs* Fine! But you had better make them review or it will be November before I let you anywhere near my plot bunny again.
Birdsong slowly filtered through a cloud of haze that enshrouded Anise's mind. It's quite pretty, she thought. I wish they came by more often. Wonder why they flew so far up here in the middle of the city.
Sitting up she stretched and went about rubbing the sleep from her eyes when she froze. Her surrounding suddenly registered in her still half-asleep brain, bringing her fully back to the land of wakefulness.
She was in Kaede's room in a chair by his bed. Memory skipped back into her newly rebooted brain of the previous evening.
She had remained with the Red until night fell when his mother called to check up on him. Anise had deftly assured her that she was in control of the situation and it was no inconvenience to take care of the ill knight.
Since it was the weekend she'd opted to stay at the Higa homestead rather than return to her apartment. Kaede could hardly stand without intense attacks of vertigo. Both of them at least consented that neither had any desire to invoke the need for Mitsuru's talents more than absolutely necessary. The one thing they had managed to agree on all evening.
Stretching her sore neck Anise almost jumped again when she saw the time. It was already quarter-to-eleven. She shouldn't really be surprised to have slept in so late. Kaede spent the night in spans of restless unconsciousness intermediated by erratic bouts of coughing. She had gotten even less sleep as she discovered caring for someone else was a lot harder than she originally imagined.
When she wasn't busy running back and forth between the kitchen and his room for herbal teas and cough medicines in a desperate attempt to ease his ceaseless wheezing she sat vigil by his bed. Cooling his burning brow and whispering reassurance in a bid to ease the nightmares that offered him no rest in their clutches. Fever dreams, she was quickly learning, were a lot more unpleasant when you watched someone going through it. The feeling of complete helplessness scared her more than any subconscious terror she ever slept through.
At the moment he seemed to have calmed, for which she was thankful. Maybe now he could get some rest. The fatigue was starting to show on his pale face and she imagined she was probably sporting a similar, if slightly healthier, look.
Since he looked so peaceful she decided now would be good a time as any to grab a bite and freshen up a bit. Once her patient woke she wasn't going to have much time to take care of her own needs. It wasn't gonna benefit either if she got sick from personal negligence.
Emerging from the bathroom a few minutes later she was relieved to see Kaede still asleep. A sudden urge nabbed her and she carefully tiptoed over to the bed.
Looking down Anise smothered the small smile that tugged at her lips. She had never really seen Kaede wear any expression beyond smirky go-luck, grumpy (mostly aimed at something she did), bored, or dead serious fight mode. She was used to the dunderhead who ever ceased to annoy her at every opportunity but this was different.
Now, completely relaxed, his sleeping face seemed to bring out a totally different side. Void of any expression or thought, its complete openness made him somehow appear younger. More, well, innocent. Almost vulnerable.
This last thought caused the breath to squirm in Anise's chest. She'd never really thought about it until now. Kaede, Seiran, Tenjoh, and, yes, Mutsuki (all those years sleeping in a coffin didn't really count) were all teenagers. The miniscule age gap originally diverted any thoughts of their youthfulness. But now, here, it seemed suddenly sad. They were barely balancing on the line between children and adulthood yet the fate of the world rested with her and four boys barely older than herself.
All at once it seemed like an impossible weight.
It's not fair, she thought. It doesn't matter how much training he's had or what he's seen, he's still just a kid like me. We all are.
It just seems so wrong. He should be worrying about his school grades or out having fun with his friends. Instead they're all bound by this stupid oath to stick with me until the seal is fixed.
And yet he's stuck here again because of me, his dense, insensitive Dominion.
How she hated that word. It was like a thorned chain binding her to them in an unbreakable cycle of death and darkness. Her incompetence almost cost them Kaede and Seiran. Haruto had simply been lucky enough her father still deemed him useful or he would have been gone too. Lost in that void that no one had any idea of.
Gritting her teeth, she closed her eyes and willed the inner storm to calm. She would find those cards even if it meant walking barefoot through Hell on melting blades. She would free them and no one would die this time. She would make every personal sacrifice to see to that.
Sitting on the edge of the mattress, she brushed a couple locks of baby-fine hair back to get a better look. Exhaustion had taken its toll. Dark bags stood out like bruises under his eyes and his cheeks were fading to hollow shades. But still none of this detracted from his delicately sculpture looks. Instead it seemed to lend it an almost tragic element to his youthfulness.
Gently, as if afraid he would shatter under too much pressure, she stroked the back of her fingers over a porcelain cheek. After a few seconds dark lashes fluttered and Anise unexpectedly found herself staring into liquid violet orbs.
Again she found every part of her freezing at that look.
The normally guarded eyes were now void of any and all defenses. Instead they showed a muddled pool of hazed emotions glazed over with fever.
It created a look of such utter defenselessness Anise suddenly wanted to hold him like she did after his near death at Haruto's hand. As if it would somehow shield him from the enemy and make it better. Except this time her opponent wasn't a corporeal threat, but rather an infirmity brought on by herself.
Slowly, Kaede seemed to register her presence through the fog clouding his mind. "Anise?"
That did it. That one tiny whisper of utter vulnerability offed her reserves like bombs through paper. She could blame it on an excess lack of sleep later.
Tucking her legs up on the bed, Anise wriggled back until she could lean against the headboard and ran a hand through Kaede's hair. "Yeah, I'm still here," she soothed.
Kaede closed his eyes and made a small noise that sounded like something between relief and contentment and turned his head in her general direction. Anise noticed the teensy upturn of his lips and her own expression softened.
He's actually pretty cute when he's sleeping. Or at least not bugging me.
Smiling secretly, Anise continued carding her fingers through the silk-soft strands damp from sweat. Frowning at this last sensation, she placed her other hand on his forehead. The heat sparked her alarm levels again and she started reaching for the facecloth that had fallen off during the night when her hand was caught by a larger one.
She looked in surprise at Kaede who still had his eyes closed but kept her hand in a grip tight enough that she couldn't move away. "Could you just keep it there," he looked up with those disarming soft eyes. "Please?"
Nothing could have enticed her to move now. So she complied. One hand absentmindedly running through his hair while the other remained trapped on his forehead in a now loosened grip.
Anise was almost tempted to crack a wise comment about the way he was still holding her hand when she felt the shoulder her knee had unnoticedly leaned against relax. She watched in surprise as the tension lines left his face as he settled beneath the covers. Even his breathing seemed to even out a little more with each pass of her hand. She suddenly got an impish impulse and left his hair to run the tips of her fingers over his ear and cheek.
The effect was almost instantaneous as Kaede let out a breathy sigh and went completely limp. Wow, he really is almost like a dog. Anise smothered a giggle when he turned his head again to press closer to the fingers now petting the side of his face.
Is he really that sensitive or… Anise shook her head. Naw, come on. This is Kaede we're talking about here. Itsushi-sensei said the knights can activate their powers just by coming in contact with me now. It must be the magic helping him heal is all.
The moment was shattered by a loud, annoying noise. Or as it was more commonly known, the doorbell
Kaede groaned and opened his eyes. "Man! And I had just managed ta' fall back to sleep." Anise wanted to laugh at his pouty look as she slid off the bed to go see who it was.
"Oh, uh, hi Anise." Seiran said brightly when she opened the door.
"Hi Seiran." Anise responded and stood back to admit the Blue.
"Nice outfit." Seiran grinned.
Anise blushed, looking down at the slightly too big t-shirt and sweatpants. "Oh, um, yeah, I stayed over last night so I had to borrow some clothes."
"Why didn't you call me?" Seiran pouted, appearing very put out that his abilities seemed to have been overlooked.
Anise shrugged noncommittally. "Did you see the way he looked after I had you cure him in the middle of that race?" Seiran nodded. "Times that by, say, a hundred and you'll have an idea of his reaction when I suggested summoning you last night."
"But still, you didn't have to stay up all night taking care of him by yourself." Seiran moped dejectedly, still obviously wounded by this disregard of his assistance.
"I didn't want to trouble any of you," Anise said, doing that thing where she tapped a finger on her cheek when she wasn't really thinking but still reasoning things out as she went. "Plus it's the weekend and I figured you all deserve a break after the tough things we've been through recently."
Seiran gasped. "Anise!" He looked at her remonstratively, "Kaede is my friend too. Don't you think it fair that I be allowed to know as well should he require my assistance?"
Looking slightly embarrassed at her honestly accidental forgetfulness on accepting his help in other possible, non magical, crises, Anise mumbled something under her breath about being too busy to think about it.
"How much sleep did you get last night?"
Under Seiran's reproachful gaze Anise couldn't lie. "Not sure. A couple hours. He kept coughing a lot so it was kind of intermittent. I just woke up not long go."
"Have you eaten yet?" Was Seiran's worried inquiry.
"Was just planning to…"
Seiran immediately reversed to logic mode. "That's it," he stated with finality. "You are going in that kitchen and you are not coming out until you have had at least a decent square meal."
Anise tried to protest, but in the end her stomach won out. Seiran could see to Kaede while she got some food for herself and tried to figure out what they would feed a sick person in a normal family.
I mean, Kaede is like, the mostnormal one of them all. Anise reasoned as she whipped up scrambled eggs and toast for herself. Mitsuru's probably got an army of servants and doctors to tend him if he's unwell in any way and I have no idea about the other two. Can artificial humans get sick, not counting allergies? Anise made a mental note to ask (politely as possible) should in the future Seiran ever fall to nature's traps.
She was just finishing up with the dishes when Seiran trotted in, a dejected look slapttered over his face.
"Let me guess," Anise beamed as she presented him a cup of hot cocoa. "He refused your treatment and is now up there sulking as usual?"
"Sometimes I still have trouble understanding human logic." He stated gloomily. "My potions would work within minutes, alleviating any virus or foreign agents in the body. But still Kaede refuses them
"Why would he choose continuing to suffer rather than go through a few moments of discomfort that would completely cure him?" Anise desperately wanted to take pity on the poor homunculus but even she couldn't figure it out.
"Maybe it has something to do with his mentality." She reasoned. "You know he was trained from a young age to be strong and depend on himself and his own abilities to get the job done. Maybe this is one of those annoying male traits to see who's the strongest?"
"But who would he be competing against?" Seiran cried. "Mitsuki and Tenjoh Sempai don't know Kaede's ill. And even if they did, what would there be to prove? Neither of the other two is sick."
Anise really wanted to bang her head against the nearest wall in frustration. Never in her life had she imagined having to fully comprehend the male psyche. Much less explain it.
"I guess it's a personal approach to the problem. Maybe you can interview Kaede more on it when he's all better. How does that sound?"
"Ok!" Anise almost cried in relief at Seiran's impressionability. Actually her knowledge of the male way of thinking was next-to-zilch since she'd never spent an extended period of time in the company of the opposite sex. Probably why she didn't have the problem with possible embarrassment issues most girls seemed to get when with guys.
The two sat and chatted for the next fifteen minutes, with Anise mostly answering Seiran's questions about human female traits. Finishing the cocoa, Seiran thanked Anise for her enlightenment and said he'd better get going so she could go back to making sure Kaede didn't get himself killed trying to do something he was too pigheaded to ask help for.
"Probably debating whether it's worth the headache dragging himself down to see what we're up to," Anise giggled.
Seiran raised a questioning eyebrow. "He would do that?"
Anise shrugged, "who knows what goes on in his head." Why did she always find herself wondering that whenever they were together?
"Anise," Seiran looked perplexed, "why do people hide their emotions? Wouldn't it be easier to just say what you are thinking?"
Anise paused to think. She had never really considered this before. "People are afraid of what others will think if they say what's really on their mind," she ventured, "or what might happen if we talk about what we're feeling. So instead we keep it locked up."
"But a lot of people still talk about what they think while others like Mitsuki just glare when you even so much as say good morning."
Anise had to muse hard on that one. "Some people have it harder than others; they don't have friends they can trust. So instead they learn to build walls as a way of protecting themselves from getting hurt because they are afraid that is what could happen if they trust the wrong people.
"Or sometimes they get hurt and build the walls so they won't get hurt again."
"Is that what happened to Mitsuki?" Seiran looked extremely upset by this idea. "Is that why he doesn't want to get close to any of us?"
"Weeell," Anise scratched her head, "he's friendly with Tenjoh, or as much as he can under the circumstances I guess. I have no idea what happened to him, maybe it's simply part of his nature. There are people who are just that way too."
"But you had to grow up on your own while Kaede had a family that loved and took care of him. Yet you're so happy and open while he says about as much a Mitsuki."
This time Anise had to agree with him. "I honestly have no idea. Maybe because sometimes it might actually be a problem to tell others the truth, so that's why we have secrets. You know what that's like, right?"
Seiran nodded. "I was so scared of what Kaede would think when he found out I wasn't human. I was afraid he wouldn't want to be friends with me anymore because I was just an artificial stand-in to help contain the seal. Especially since I was lying to him about what I was all this time."
"There is nothing artificial about you Seiran," Anise smiled and squeezed his hand. "You're you. It doesn't matter if you came from a normal family, you're the Blue Knight and our friend and we care about you very much.
"Did you know when you got taken Kaede was yowling circles trying to figure out how to save you?" Upon seeing Seiran shake his head in muted surprise Anise pressed forward. "When we couldn't come up with something he just sat on the roof all depressed and worrying about you. You're the best friend he's ever had. Even if you don't have a normal family you both care about each other and that's what matters most!"
Her words seemed to ignite a spark in Seiran's eyes that quickly lit up his whole being. "You have no idea what this means coming from you Anise!"
He clasped the other hand over the one holding the first. "This has been weighing on my mind for the last few days but now I think I may be starting to understand. Thank you so much!"
Anise had no idea what she was supposed to do with a comment like that. She wasn't sure if she was supposed to hug him (he was so cute the idea was tempting) or just smile. She decided to err on the side of caution and stuck to the later.
"Well then I had better let you get back to him. Thank you so much again Anise. You wouldn't believe how hard it is trying to comprehend some of these 'human' behavior patterns on my own. And quite obviously it's a bit of a problem finding someone I can discuss it with."
"Any time," Anise smiled. "Next time try asking Kaede. Maybe explaining male ego syndrome will help knock some sense into that thick head of his."
"Would it?" Seiran looked puzzled on how this could be.
Anise smirked. "Doubt it. See ya."
She watched Seiran disappear around the corner of the main temple before shutting the front door and leaning her forehead against the cool wood. Why did Kaede always act so private around her? He was usually pretty open with Seiran.
Is it possible he's hiding something? Anise was quick to shake off the thought with a small laugh.
Kaede? Have a secret he was desperate for her not to discover?
He may be a brilliant fighter but he had a bad habit of practically wearing his heart on his sleeve. The image of his pained eyes upon discovering his best friend of the past decade was nothing more than a bunch of implanted memories had burned itself on the inside of her eyelids.
In truth, the knight who had probably suffered most was him. Mitsuki had no recollection of his past while Seiran merely suffered doubts of his self-importance. Kaede had had his heart tampered with then crushed as carelessly as an unseen rosebud underfoot, all for the sake of maintaining equilibrium the duty-free way.
But still he refused to let that get him down. How many knights and Dominions of the past cared that they were throwing away lives just so they could take it easy and let someone else suffer what should have been their responsibility?
Anise didn't care if the council or whoever was pulling the strings didn't approve of her methods. She was going to see this thing through and she wasn't going to lose a single knight to this madness as long as it was within her power to save them.
And right now one of those knights was upstairs sick in bed because of something she had caused. With new determination Anise marched up the steps to face whatever the rest of the day would bring.
Kaede lay with one arm clutching the blanket pulled up to keep as much of his shoulders warm as possible. The other was draped over his eyes to block the light but was quickly removed when the mattress dipped under the weight of someone sitting down.
Mentally spinning through a few possible arguments for Seiran on why he would not be taking those completely vile concoctions, he was pleasantly surprised and not a little relieved to see it was Anise. Four seconds later suspicion set in.
"If Seiran wants me to take his potions, unless it is a life or death situation, I refuse. And tell him to do his own dirty work next time instead of dragging you into it!" He snapped.
"Seiran just left." Anise tried not to feel smugly superior to the shocked Red. Did he honestly think Seiran would stoop so low as to make her sweet talk Kaede into taking the meds? Not if she could help it.
"Oh!" Kaede looked a tad wary about this statement but decided to believe her. "What made him change his mind?"
Anise managed to restrain a grin at the memory of their conversation. "Well I told him you would get better faster on your own without people shoving stuff down your throat," Kaede looked truly relieved, "although be warned you will be required to explain 'male ego syndrome' to him when you're better."
"'Male ego syndrome' Kaede choked. "…The hell is that?"
"No! Save it. Don't want to know." Anis smirked and for once was happy for the migraine's timing. Although…
"Kaede," she asked softly, "Why don't you want to take the medicine?" She ignored the scowl he shot her from under the shaded protection of his arm. "I know it's nasty but wouldn't it be easier than lying around being sick? I mean, wouldn't you rather have a few seconds of 'really nasty' and have it over than stretching things out?"
Kaede shrugged, "You wouldn't understand."
"It's basically the same as taking antibiotics from the doctor."
"You ever had prescriptions that feel like you're stomach, entire throat and jaw, along with a good chunk of brain are being freeze burn liquidated and hammered around like a psychotic…troll?"
Anise winced. "Still," she shrugged, "better than a dwarf tap-dancing in my skull for two days."
Kaede managed to muster up a decent smirk.
"Maybe I just like you're company. Being cared for by the one and only rose princess is a rare delight indeed. Not something a Knight of honor should pass up lightly."
Anise swatted him lightly on the head. "And refusing treatment is a part of that honor?" She shook her head in bewildered amusement. Men and their brain processes, Mars sounded about right.
"Alright you don't want the meds; you've been surviving on good ol' fashion shut-eye since you started your training." Shaking her head she patted his hand and stood. "I'll fix you something to eat but then you promise you'll be good and obey me till you're better?"
Kaede nodded vigorously and instantly regretted it as his brain bounced not-so-happily off the walls of his cranium.
"Alright," she gave a light laugh and headed out the door. "Just no more stupid Knight jokes. We both know you'd smush me flat before learning to like having me around 24/7." Still smirking she sashayed down the hall, happily mixing up new idioms to use on this newest claim.
Kaede watched her go. Snatches of her chirpy tone floated up to grind over something deeper than his ears.
The remnants of her scent still lingered in the room. But most prominently on the spot where she had so casually caressed his wrist. All of it went straight to his head where it over wrote the fever code to flood his senses.
Bringing the limb up to his nose he breathed in the last few traces on his skin and looked at the spot longingly. He could still feel tingles where her fingers had made contact with his skin. The leftover warmth felt like spring sun on the chill in his heart.
"But I wasn't joking.
"Not about liking your company…at least."
Ok two hours of sitting in a van on the way to a dressage competition with your MP4 out of battery and your friend blasting the speakers with Korean songs that he doesn't even understand demands an imagination if you are to survive with your grey-matter somewhat intact.
So please review and I will consider how long until I spare the next chapter some brain functions.
Now if you will all excuse me I have a certain boy band I must eliminate for the sake of World Sanity. *attempts to hid AK47's and several custom made 'smart' rifles along with knives and katanas along with a truckload of C4 just for the studio*