I feel the sun rising in my bones. The first few rays filter through the open window. The air is cold. I lay on my side, Andrei curled up behind me with his arm around my stomach. I wonder if he’s warm enough, because I forgot to close the window. I shift to glance over my shoulder. He’s still sound asleep. The least I can do is close the window and warm up the room before he wakes up.
I slip out of bed carefully, tip-toeing around the foot of the bed. As I latch the window pane closed Andrei turns over, taking a deep waking breath. I dash back around to my side, climbing in as his eyes flutter open.
“Morning,” I lay beside him, brushing his long hair out of his face.
“Good morning, gorgeous. How’d you sleep?” he blinks with a smile.
“Better than yesterday,” I can’t help but smile back. “How about you?”
“I’m much relieved to see you here this morning. Yesterday was so lonely without you,” he closes his eyes, squeezing my side with his hand. “Don’t leave me today,” he whispers.
“I still have work to do,” I remind him. “But it won’t take too long. Markus is going to oversee Heath to do repairs, so I don’t have to.”
“Take me with you then. I don’t mind watching while you train him,” he insists, opening his eyes to look at me. I see a pleading in them and I find it hard to deny him.
“Okay,” I nod. I don’t even want to argue. “We should get ready then. He’ll probably be waiting.”
“Alright,” his face splits into a wide, happy grin as he pushes himself up and spins around to hop off the bed. The sheets tumble off his body about his waist. In the dim light, something odd catches my eye. In the middle of his back, two large red marks stand out, and as I stare at them I recognize the shape.
I glance down at my hands and back up at him. I remember last night, just before he said to stop. I held my hands there. He asked me to, so I did. I did that. I hurt him.
“I’m sorry,” The words escape my lips on the last breath I have. When I inhale again, my chest seizes. My lungs ache, and I can’t take air in. “I burned you!” I gasp, staring at the handprints. How did I not notice last night? How could I be so careless?
He looks over his shoulder with a perplexed look on his face. “You have no reason to be sorry. I asked you to. Don’t blame yourself,” he says softly.
I shake my head. “No. No, no, no. I should have stopped. I should never have used any fire. I’m so stupid!” I smack my fist against my forehead. “Damn it.”
He twists around, placing a firm hand on my jaw. “Now we know for next time. Don’t be so hard on yourself, ok?” he says in a comforting tone.
I pull myself away. “No, it’s not okay! I knew I would hurt you. I knew it. You can’t trust me!”
“Kat,” his voice grows serious. “You asked me to tell you what to do. It’s not your fault. Please, stop blaming yourself. I don’t like it when you blame yourself for things that aren’t your fault.”
“It is my fault!” I argue. “I didn’t want to do it, but I did. That makes it my fault.”
“That’s why you should only do the things you want to do!” he says strongly. “You shouldn’t do anything I tell you just because I said to. It’s ok, I forgive you. Is that not enough?” he asks with a sadness in his voice.
I struggle to breathe enough to respond. “I don’t know how,” I manage to admit. “I don’t know how…”
His face falls, eyes looking down at the bed. “I’m sorry. I made you do it, and now you’re upset. I shouldn’t have asked you to. If it makes you feel better, we can ask Caroline to heal it. Do you think she can take away burn scars?”
“Probably…” I clench my fists, searching his beautiful eyes. “Why did I do that? What’s wrong with me?”
“Nothing is wrong with you, Kat,” Andrei says with earnesty, his hand reaching for my arm. “You’ve just had a bad relationship before this, so some of the things you do, they’re a little skewed. But, I’m different from him. We don’t have to do the same things. I want to show you, my love. Good love, respectful love. Can we try that?” he asks, rubbing my arm with his thumb.
I wipe my eyes with the back of my hand, nodding slowly.
“You don’t need to cry. I’d rather it be me than you that gets hurt anyway,” he smiles, leaning in to place a soft kiss on my forehead.
A hiss in my ear makes me jump. I glance around, confused until I hear it again.
I rub my eyes again and look up at Andrei. He stares back with brows furrowed. The voice sounds familiar.
“I think… C-can I try?” I bite my lip, holding out my hands.
“Hmm, try what?” he asks.
“To fix it,” I mumble, not really sure of myself. I have this overwhelming need to try.
“Oh, ok. If you’d like,” he says, turning around so his back faces me.
Seeing the marks again I feel a pit in my gut. I swallow back the bile in my throat and carefully lay my hands over the burns. I close my eyes, willing the burns to disappear. My hands get warmer, and I worry for a moment that it’s having the opposite effect, but then it stops. I feel his skin, cool under my palms. When I open my eyes to check, it’s like it never happened.
“Does it hurt anymore?” I ask, hopeful.
He leans his head back, a twinkle in his eyes. “No, what did you do?” he asks, letting his head fall back into my lap.
“I don’t know,” I comb my fingers through his hair. “It just said to heal. I’ve only ever heard the fire speak once before.”
“Really? You heard it speak? Maybe it’s evolving or something,” he hums, closing his eyes with a smile.
“I think it’s because of you,” I muse. “It said ‘sorry’. It feels sad too.”
He opens his eyes, smiling up at me. “I love you, Kat. You and your fire,” he stretches up his hands and cups my cheeks, upside down. I feel a gentle tug as he pulls my face to his.
“We love you more,” I giggle, leaning down to meet his lips. His lips curl in a grin and he holds me there until we desperately need air. I kiss his nose and forehead before I sit back up. “So… I guess we should get going, huh?”
“Oh, right. If we must.” he winks as he pulls himself up. I watch him cross the room, going to the closet to pull out some clothes. I debate if it’s worth leaving the bed at all… but I can’t leave Heath waiting forever. I crawl off the side, pulling out a drawer to find underwear and a bra.
“What are you going to wear? Want me to grab it for you?” Andrei asks as he searches through the closet.
“I don’t know, I hadn’t thought about it,” I reply, “You can pick something if you want.”
“Okay!” he calls back, excitedly. Hangers clink together as he flips through the closet.
I turn my attention to the chair by the bed, pulling back the blanket to reveal the egg underneath. I place my hand on it, but it doesn’t feel warm anymore. Maybe I should start carrying it again.
“How’s this?” Andrei asks. I glance up to see him holding up a scarlet red sweater and a pair of black tights.
I blush. “It’s cute. I’ve been told red is my colour.”
“I’d have to agree. I think it looks good on you,” he smirks, handing me the outfit.
Once dressed, I brush my hair and decide to tie it up in a ponytail for a change. I pick up the egg and turn to Andrei. He’s dressed in a navy blue polo shirt and brown slacks. I admire him for a moment while he’s not looking.
“Ready?” I ask, slipping on a pair of ballet flats.
“Yup,” he chirps, spinning around to face me. He freezes, a smile creeping across his face. “You look gorgeous, gorgeous.”
I blush and shake my head. “If you start that, we’ll be late.”
He pouts. “Sorry.”
I hold the egg in one arm as I open the door, stepping out into the hall first. Heath leans against the wall by his door, his expression troubled.
“Hey, are you okay?” I ask, worried.
“Morning,” he says in a deep voice. “I’m fine, it’s nothing.”
“Yeah, it looks like nothing,” I retort sarcastically. “I know, you don’t want to talk about it. You can just hit Nik until you feel better. That usually helps,” I sigh, heading down the hall.
“Whatever,” he groans from behind.
“Kat, that was a bit cold, don’t you think?” Andrei whispers at my side.
“He said very clearly he doesn’t appreciate people asking questions and being nosey,” I raise an eyebrow. “Is it cold to respect that?”
Andrei shrugs. “I guess not. Maybe you’re right. It’s none of our business then, but as a friend, can’t we be worried?”
I shrug. “I’m not sure if he considers us friends yet, so, sure we can worry all we want. If he wants to talk about it, he will. There’s no point in forcing it.” I don’t bother trying to keep my voice down. I don’t like talking about people behind their back, especially when they’re right there.
Andrei looks over his shoulder, a worried look on his face. “If you say so. He seems almost as quiet as Hitomi.”
“Quieter than her,” I scoff. “She’s got a language barrier.”
“Right. I wonder what she does during the day. I haven’t seen her around much,” Andrei muses with curiously. “Speaking of which, I haven’t seen Selene around either. Not since the movie at least.”
“I don’t usually see anyone except you two and Nik,” I reply, stopping to knock on Nik’s door.
It opens a moment later. Nik steps out wearing long cargo shorts and a t-shirt. “Hey, morning everyone. Andrei, glad you can join us today. I think you’ll be impressed by our progress.”
“Well, I’m excited to see what you can do! Hopefully, I can watch without getting kicked out for risk of being burnt,” he smirks with a chuckle.
“Heath has gotten a lot better with that,” I glance back at the dark-haired man, hovering behind Andrei, and smile. I hope he feels confident today.
“I guess, yeah,” he mutters softly. His eyes dart away when they meet mine.
I sigh. “Okay, let’s get going.”
Nik fills the walk with idle chatter; something about playing a prank of Cliff. I’m not sure why, but he says they have a bit of a rivalry going. I wonder if it has anything to do with Selene. Andrei seems to find it amusing, at least. Heath hangs back, observing silently, as usual.
In the training room, I sit in the spot where I usually watch, placing the dragon egg in my lap. My arms are getting tired of holding it anyway, so I figure it’ll be easier. Nik and Heath take their usual spots across from one another, and they run through the basics of hand-to-hand, while Heath practices control of his lava. He’s gotten the hang of keeping the transformation to just his arms, and Nik does the same with his Earth to protect himself from burns. We learned pretty early on that he’s not immune as I am. It doesn’t burn as bad as it would on someone else, but it’s not pleasant.
Andrei even joins them for a few rounds, though Heath is careful not to use the lava power against him. It gets hot in the room, but manageable. After a few hours, we agree to stop for the day.
“Coffee, before you go to find Markus?” I ask Heath as I stand up. I know Andrei will make food even if I don’t ask. It used to be a little annoying, but I’m grateful for it now. I know he’s just trying to take care of us.
“Coffee sounds good,” Heath mumbles sleepily.
“You guys need more than coffee, no matter what you think. I’ll make you breakfast too.” Andrei smiles, wiping his brow.
“I don’t like breakfast, but knock yourself out,” Heath smirks. I wonder if he meant that literally…
“Here, will you hold this for a while?” I offer the egg to Heath, his eyes seem to light up. I thought that might cheer him up. He takes it and hugs it against his chest as we follow Nik and Andrei out into the hall.
I nearly walk right into Hitomi as she and Caroline are just about to step in front of the door. Hitomi squeaks in surprise, freezing on the spot. I’m sure I look just as shocked as Caroline looks up from her phone.
“Oh, Kat! Just the person I was looking for! We were thinking, today is a good day for a swim! Want to join us for lessons?” Caroline grins.
My lips curl into a grimace. “Uh… I… We haven’t eaten yet, and… And I don’t own a swimsuit,” I stumble over excuses, looking to Andrei for help.
Andrei smiles at me and looks at Caroline. “A swim sounds nice. It’s boiling in the training rooms,” I gawk at him. Traitor…
“Right? We haven’t eaten either, maybe after some food?” she suggests.
I glance between her and Andrei, narrowing my eyes. “I don’t actually have a choice here, do I?”
Andrei playfully frowns, shaking his head no, while Caroline laughs. I groan. This is going to be a long day after all.
Nik ruffles my hair. “Don’t worry Kat, we won’t let mean old Caroline drown you… again,” he chuckles with a wink at Caroline.
“Oh my God! That was an accident! Can’t we just forget about that?” she whines, not picking up the joke at all.
Nik hums, turning to walk down the hall. “Nah, it’s too soon to let you live it down just yet,” Caroline opens her mouth to respond, but her phone buzzes and she gets distracted.
I pout, falling in line with Andrei as we head for the caf. I grab onto his hand, leaning in to whisper, “You’ll stay close, right?”
“Of course!” Andrei assures me, squeezing my hand. “I’ll stand right beside you the whole time,” e winks.
“Kat, you won’t have to worry about a swimsuit. Kaede says he ordered you one. Here, he sent a picture,” she passes her phone to me.
As I look at the screen I feel my cheeks flush. “But that… What the heck was he thinking?” I hold the phone against my chest before Andrei catches a glimpse. “I’m gonna kill that boy, I swear…”
“Let me see! This sounds good!” Andrei leans in, trying to take the phone.
“Absolutely not!” I turn away, holding the device in both hands.
“Oh, C’mon. I’m going to have to see it at some point, aren’t I?” he whines, giving me those puppy eyes.
“Not if I don’t wear it,” I argue, scoffing under my breath. “I’m sure it’ll burn pretty fast, there’s barely any fabric to it.”
“Actually…” Caroline interjects. “He said it was fireproof,” she rolls her lips.
I turn slowly to glare at her. “Excuse me?” She mouths the word sorry without making a sound, shrinking back beside Hitomi. I grit my teeth. “I hope you don’t mind your boyfriend missing a few pieces, Caroline…” I mutter.
“Hey, come on, Kat,” Nik stops, crossing his arms. “It can’t be that bad.”
“Alright, then you can wear it,” I retort. He raises a thick eyebrow.
I feel the device slip out of my hands and try to catch it, but Andrei’s too fast. Now that’s just not fair. Andrei holds the phone up high, so I can’t reach it, pressing the button to see the image; A red string bikini with flames drawn in a slightly darker red. “Oh damn, Kat! This is… sexy!” he looks down at me, clearly imagining what it would look like. “I’m gonna have to thank Kaede for this one,” he whistles.
I smack his arm. “Why? You see me naked all the time. Why do I have to wear something like that?”
“Still, clothing can still make you look hot. And the flames, they suit you!” he chuckles.
I roll my eyes, cross my arms and bite the inside of my lip. It’s bad enough I have to go into the water, but to be on display with a ridiculous swimsuit too… It’s almost too embarrassing to describe. I don’t understand why they all think it’s so funny. I just know Andrei will get jealous if Nik is there, let alone anyone else. That doesn’t exactly sound like much fun at all.
We continue on our way to the caf where Kaede is waiting. After a quick meal, he holds out a small box with a flame design on it. I glare at him, refusing to take the box. It’s so tempting to set his pants on fire again. He sets it on the table instead and Andrei grabs for it, lightning fast.
“You can thank me later,” he smirks, running behind Caroline and taking her hand.
“Let’s swim in the sea, Kaitlyn senpai,” Hitomi whispers, hovering beside me. I jump. She just appeared out of nowhere.
“The sea? Oh no, no, no,” I shake my head. “I can’t do that. It’s far too cold. If I have to go in the water, it’ll be indoor and warm.”
Hitomi furrows her brows and tilting her head. “Indoor?”
“Oh, that’s right! Naum mentioned before, the Guild has a huge, heated Olympic-sized indoor pool! I completely forgot. Besides, the sea would be way too cold in March, even if we are south of the equator, or wherever it is we are,” Caroline jumps in.
“Supposedly. It was built a few years ago,” I huff. “Not that I’ve ever seen it.”
“What, you live your whole life here and never been to the pool?” Andrei raises a skeptical eyebrow.
“Ambrosse had to have the hot spring baths installed just to get me anywhere near the water when I was young,” I roll my eyes. “I stay as far from the pool as I can.”
“Well then, we’re in luck. It’s heated. We could make it warmer if that’s what will get you in that bikini Kaede ordered you,” Andrei chuckles.
“If you made it warm enough for me, you would all boil,” I scoff. “Well, except maybe Heath.”
Heath huffs a sorry excuse for a laugh. Sounds more like a cough to me.
“Well, does everyone else have their swimsuits?” Caroline asks.
“Oh, my trunks are upstairs,” Andrei sighs. Hitomi raises her hand with a nod.
“I don’t believe I brought any, but I’m sure there’s something in the storeroom,” Nik muses. “Heath, want me to check for you too?”
“That’d be great,” he replies. I hesitate, glancing at Heath, who generally looks bored. I didn’t think he was actually going to come…
“Alright, I’ll be right back then, in the blink of an eye. Hitomi, want to space skip with me?” Andrei looks back at her, offering his hand.
She looks at him with wide eyes, a look that shows she doesn’t quite understand. Regardless, she lifts her hand and Andrei takes it, pulling her forward to take a step in time. Instantly, they’re gone. Nik takes off, out of the caf and down the hall. When Andrei and Hitomi return a few moments later, Caroline ushers us out into the hall.
Since none of them seem to know where the pool is, I’m begrudgingly left to lead the way. Andrei holds the box and his trunks in one hand, swinging my hand in the other. He hums cheerfully as he walks. He’s way too excited about this for his own good. The pool is actually not far from the training rooms, on the bottom floor of the castle. A set of changerooms stand between us and the pool room; male, female, and neutral.
“I vote neutral!” Kaede calls out. Caroline smacks his arm with a glare.
“This isn’t a democracy,” I roll my eyes. “Everyone choose for themselves.” Andrei offers me the box, his eyes sparkling hopefully. I hate when he does that. Reluctantly, I take it, and he grins. “I’m still gonna kill him,” I mutter, turning on my heel toward the female change room.
The guys file into the male room. Caroline and Hitomi follow behind me. There are lockers and benches, with stalls along each wall; the left for changing, the right for showers. I go into a changing stall, locking the door behind me. I consider briefly the idea of hiding here until they get bored and leave me alone.
I burn the box, ashes piling at my feet. To my dismay, the suit is unharmed. I drop it on the small bench and start peeling off my clothes. I leave them in a pile on the bench too. The fabric of the bikini feels weird. I never liked the material of swimsuits. It feels wrong, even though it fits rather comfortably. It’s a little disturbing that Kaede knows my measurements like that.
Once I think it’s on right, I turn around to look in the mirror on the back of the door. I guess it does look good, except for the disgusting black spider-web looking scar that sprawls across my stomach below my belly button. It makes me nauseous just seeing it again. I’ve been avoiding mirrors for the last couple of weeks, since the incident.
A banging on the door breaks my trance. “C’mon Kat. You can’t spend all day in the changing stall. You have to come out sometime!” Caroline shouts. I gulp, glancing around the changeroom. I spot a couple towels up on a shelf above the bench and quickly wrap one around my body before I step out.
“Okay, okay. Geez…” I mutter, clutching the cotton towel in both hands against my chest. Caroline is already changed into her white bikini, dripping wet.
“Hold up! You gotta show us! What does it look like?!” she asks. Hitomi leans into view from the showers. I chew my lip. I guess they’ll see eventually. Slowly, I unwrap the towel and hold it open to show the front.
Caroline’s eyes grow wide in awe, but as her gaze wanders down, her expression darkens. “Is that… from Sam?” She asks, almost in a whisper. Hitomi wanders out of the shower, wearing a one-piece suit with some sort of crest on the top right.
“Yeah,” I mumble, closing the towel around myself again. I move past her, to a shower stall, closing the curtain before I reach out to hang up the towel. I let the scalding hot water run over my skin for a minute.
“Wait, maybe I can heal it for you, take away the mark. Do you want me to try?” she offers when I turn the water off.
I peer out from behind the curtain. “I guess if you think you can… but just the black ones.”
“Not the bullet wounds? You know I could make them all go away,” she says confidently.
“I know” I step out, picking up the towel again, draping it over my arm. “I don’t want you to. Just the black ones.”
“Alright, whatever you want. Are you ready to head out?” she says with a nod towards the pool door.
“I’ll never be ready,” I grumble, but I walk toward the door anyway. May as well get it over with.
“Kaitlyn senpai…” Hitomi chirps from behind. I pause to look and find her right behind me, and I flinch. Her cheeks look a little pink and she looks down at her feet as she speaks. “You are beautiful. I like your swimwear,” she says, practically whispering.
I stare at her with my mouth hanging open for a moment. When she looks up with her strange multi-coloured eyes, I scramble to make words. “Uh… t-thank you…”
“Cutie pies, you two are. C’mon. It’s getting cold in here,” Caroline pushes the door open and a wave of hot deck air billows into the changeroom.
The boys are already out there, standing on the deck by the bench along the wall, under the words ‘Shallow End’. Kaede is the first to spot us walk out of the changeroom. He taps Andrei on the shoulder, pointing at us. He turns, a smile spreading on his lips. I drop my gaze to the floor, hugging the towel over my stomach. My face feels hot, even more than the air around us.
Luckily, there’s no one else around. I give the edge of the pool a wide berth as I follow behind Caroline. There’s a building sense of dread in my throat, but I remind myself that this is as safe of an environment as it gets…
Another pair of legs appear in my view, and then the floor disappears. In a blur, I find myself swept up in Andrei’s arms. His hair drips, strands clinging to the sides of his face as he grins down at me. “Are you ready for your swimming lesson, M’lady?” he asks with his silly, fake accent.
Flustered, to say the least, I glance at the pool, and then the towel. “I… still have this. Should put it down,” I mumble, trying to stall for a little longer.
“Hmm…” he hums. “Wouldn’t want that to get wet. Wanna put it next to the egg?” he zips over to the bench as he speaks. I blink and shake my head, feeling a little dizzy. He holds me over the bench and I reluctantly lift the towel and drop it on the bench. I hear a soft growl from his chest as the towel disappears. I somehow doubt the others will so easily overlook the marks.
Kaede leans over beside Andrei. “Looking good! I’m glad I got the size right.”
I glance over at the others and find Nik conspicuously looking away while Heath’s eyes trail over me with a blank expression. I cross my arms over my stomach and nod.
“You can put me down now,” I mumble. “Caroline said she’d do something first.”
“Aww, but I don’t wanna ever put you down,” Andrei pouts. I notice Heath roll his eyes.
There’s a splash, and then Caroline calls out from the water. “Well, the way I see it, there are two options; one, you put her down and she comes in herself, or two, you carry her in. Just don’t be all day about it,” she huffs, hands on her hips.
I push against Andrei’s chest as he takes a step. “I need to do it myself.”
He pouts, but sets me down gently, hovering at my side. “Go at your own pace, ok?”
I nod, taking a deep breath. I know they can all see the marks clearly now. I try not to look at them, holding the railing as I step onto the first stair. The water is cold to me. I’m sure to them it’s warm. My heart begins to pound in my chest with a hissing sound in my ears. When I reach the third stair, up to my thighs, the hissing becomes deafening. Another step and the water reaches my stomach. The hiss turns into a noise akin to a kettle whistle. I grind my teeth, trying to ignore it.
At the base of the steps, the water reaches my chest – just below my breasts. It sends a chill down my back and my legs feel tingly. My chest aches from my heart pounding, and I try to take deep breaths to slow it down. Caroline stands a couple feet into the shallow water so I wade in a little closer.
Caroline looks over my head, her tone sharp. “Don’t! I need the water to be calm for the healing. When we’re done you can jump in,” I glance back to see Kaede, about to make a running start to the edge. He heaves a heavy sigh and his shoulders sag.
“Healing?” Andrei asks. “What for?”
I look up at him, brows raised. “Isn’t it obvious?”
His expression becomes pained. “Oh, sorry. I just… guess I don’t see them anymore.”
“I do,” I reply, turning back to Caroline. “Ready when you are.”
By Krystyna Yates