art of life
chapter four

Rio calls me in the middle of the day, two days later, to tell me she's awakened. I expect the worst when my phone rings, but her voice is bright in my ear, cheerful, and she sounds happy about it. Considering the power she's discovered, I guess I would be happy, too.

"There was an accident," she explains, "in the building next door, where firearms are tested. A rifle backfired and someone was hurt. He was unconscious, and one of my colleagues had rushed off to call for the ambulance, and..." She giggles. "I was only trying to apply pressure to his wound, but then I realized I was healing him. As soon as I saw what was happening, there was blood everywhere. It was a little bit scary, Kousuke-kun, and I felt sooo tired... When my colleague came back with a physician, I pretended to feel faint from the blood."

"Have you been able to do it again?" I ask, and both of my eyebrows are raised nearly to the top of my head; Ryouko walks in with a towel around her neck, fresh from an afternoon run, and at the sight of my face she hurries over so she can listen. "Heal, I mean?"

"I have." I can hear the smile in Rio's voice. "I had to test it on myself, and it's still very tiring, but... it's kind of cool, actually!"

"That's amazing."

"Has anything happened with you, Kousuke-kun? Or Ryouko-chan?"

"Nothing." I shake my head, forgetting she can't see me. "I haven't even felt weird. Maybe this whole thing is limited to you and Rutherford, and we'll come to find out that we're not real Blade Children after all - "

"Knock it off," Ryouko interrupts, and I hear Rio laugh with delight at the sound of the brunette's voice. "Be careful, Rio," she says, leaning closer to me to speak into the mouthpiece of my phone, "okay? You're coming back next weekend, aren't you?"


"By then, I'll have a power of my own, too." Ryouko grins. "So be prepared."

"I can't wait, Ryouko-chan!"

We say our goodbyes and I end the call, and when I slip my phone back into the pocket of my pants and look up, there's a sort of cloudy, muddled expression on Ryouko's face. She sighs as she reaches for the towel around her neck, and it's all too easy to tell that she's starting to worry. "Rutherford, and now Rio, too..." she murmurs. "What do you think will happen to us, Kousuke...?"

"Don't think about it too hard."

"But - "

"Don't," I chide her, and before she can start to protest again, I bend down and kiss her. It's not the first time, but it still feels like it, and when we break apart she is too embarrassed to look me in the eyes. She mutters some kind of protest and slaps me in the arm and then goes storming off to take a shower, and I watch, laughing, wondering how long it's going to take us to be comfortable with each other.

I'm next, just a few hours later. Ryouko and I are in the middle of the kitchen, fighting - a real fight for once, with harsh words and yelling and both of us getting emotional - when pain surges from the top of my arms into my clenched fists, and I drop immediately to my knees as the world sways beneath me. "Shit," I curse, and it's hard to speak; when Ryouko kneels beside me I push her away as gently as I can. "Don't. Don't get close. Something's - "

She sounds worried, as if she's already forgotten that she was in the middle of screaming at me. "Do you think it's - yours?"

"I don't," I start, and then the pain overtakes me fast, and I have to clench my teeth together to keep myself from making a noise that would have certainly been inhuman. For a brief moment it feels like my hands are on fire - and then my hands actually are on fire, and Ryouko falls to the floor, scrambling backwards away from me, while I lift my arms and run for the sink. But by the time I get there the fire is gone, leaving behind raw, glossy pink marks on my palms, a dull aching, and... blood. Lots of blood.

"Well," I begin, hearing the woman behind me breathing so fast I think she's going to hyperventilate, "guess that's it."

"Kousuke," she ventures, carefully, breathlessly, "did you really just... light your hands on fire?"

"Yeah. I think I did."

"How in the..." I hear her stand, and as she paces slowly to the kitchen sink I turn on the tap, washing the blood that has seeped presumably from my palms down the drain. It stings a little, but not nearly as much as any of the other burns I've had over the course of my lifetime - and when my hands are clean, I see the scars, thin and white and crossing each palm in a wide "x." Funny, I never noticed them before. When Ryouko reaches me, she touches my shoulder, leaning over to look at my hands, and her eyes are wide. "Can you do it again?"

"I have no idea how, but..." I flex my fingers; my wrists feel oddly stiff all of a sudden. "What did Rutherford say he did with his?"

"He said he glared at the piano, didn't he?"

"Yeah, that was it." I glare at my hands for a while - eventually I begin to curse at them, too, in my head - and I'm about to give up when I feel heat creep into my palms, and then suddenly there's a little flame burning, cupped in my left hand, and both of us gasp like we've just seen a miracle. Which... I guess we probably have. "Holy shit," I murmur, lifting my palm, and am stunned when I notice that the fire doesn't hurt, this time... nor is it even touching my skin. It's actually sort of hovering above it. "Okay," I start, slowly, "so Rutherford can move things around with his mind, Rio can heal people, and I can light things on fire. That seems perfectly reasonable."

"What is wrong with us?" Ryouko asks, and I can't answer her. We stare at the little ball of fire in my hand until it eventually goes out, and a few minutes later I am sound asleep on the couch, too worn out to even stand.

Eyes hadn't been kidding about the fatigue, after all.

It takes another week for Ryouko, and by the time it happens she is nervous to the point of making herself sick. She misses classes on Friday morning because she's holed up in our bathroom alternately puking and sobbing. I feel bad for her - and I offer to stay home - but she waves me off to campus, tells me she'll be alright, that she just wants this to be over with. I sympathize, of course, because our scars have been small, but hers is huge, and doesn't bode well for her awakening.

Five hours later I get home and find Eyes and Rio in our living room. Ryouko's smiling and laughing when I walk in, and I stare at her a little too long, apparently, because she rolls her eyes and throws a pillow at me instead of welcoming me home. "You missed it, idiot."

"I missed - oh, damn." The pillow bounces off my head and hits the floor, and I drop my bag before bending to retrieve it. "So what's your po - "

I forget to finish my sentence when I notice that the pillow is gone. When I look up, it's on her lap again, and she smirks broadly at me as Rio giggles. "Okay," I begin, slowly, "what the fuck just happened?"

"Ryouko-chan can teleport!" Rio announces, clapping her hands together gleefully.

"It's not really teleporting," Ryouko explains, casually, as if it's perfectly normal for us to be discussing this - and after a week of me lighting things on fire with my hands, I guess it is. "It's super speed. I can move much faster than a normal person. I can still see everything as it happens, but the rest of you basically... stop."

"How," I start, and then realize it isn't even worth asking how she discovered it, because she's clearly too giddy to give a shit about the particulars, and it's then I also realize that I am never, ever going to be able to lay a finger on her again unless she wants me to. So much for kissing her, I think.

"That's all of us," she says, leaning back in her chair, carelessly tossing the pillow aside. "So now what do we do?"

"We should tell Kirie-chan, right?" Rio asks, and Eyes nods. "What about Ayumu-kun and Hiyono-san?"

"They'll need to know, too." I flop down on the floor by Ryouko's legs, stretching out my body, worn from three long hours spent in a lecture hall. "That is, assuming they haven't left, and that we still plan on making the truth about the Blade Children known to them."

"They have a right to know, don't they? Considering what they've done for us so far..." Ryouko sounds pensive. "But I don't know that they'll even believe us."

"I barely believe us, honestly." I glance up at her. "I keep expecting to wake up from a long dream."

"Me too, Kousuke-kun..." Rio shakes her head. "Honestly, it's been difficult to keep this a secret. I've been thinking about how I could be using my power to help people who are in the military hospital on our base, and how I want to test it out some more, but..."

"We must be careful with how these discoveries are revealed." Eyes folds his hands together in his lap, frowning slightly, and we watch him in silence for a nearly a minute until he speaks again, with a nod of his chin at me. "Please call them to meet us here tomorrow morning. I will get in touch with Kirie this afternoon. I would like her to be present, as well."

"Hey, one more thing..." I clear my throat, a little uncomfortable with this subject, but I feel like it has to be brought up. "Do you think this means all the other Blade Children are going through the same kind of thing? If Kanone's out there somewhere, and then the two Kiyotaka had with him..."

"Undoubtedly." I can actually see Eyes swallow after he responds, and his voice turns cold. "And that is why I expect the most danger not from the Hunters... but from others of our kind."

"Like we've turned ourselves into some kind of weapon," Ryouko says, quietly, and I can't help but shudder.