“You need to focus.” Jericho instructed, watching cautiously as I created a bursting light at the tip of my finger. It shone beautifully, as usual it was this part that was truly difficult. I turned the light in on myself, the closer to my chest it got the harder it was to maintain its shape. I struggled and beads of sweat rolled down the side of my head onto my neck. But I stood firm. I slowly placed the bead of light into my chest and waited. Jericho stopped pacing to my side and seemed to be waiting as well. This was where I found out whether or not I was doing it right.
Light shone from my wings, but it wasn’t looking how it was supposed to. It didn’t completely triple the size of my wings, and I didn’t feel a weight change in C’est la Vie, quickly the aura and light dissipated and I felt much more tired than I had before.
“Damn it.” I cursed under my breath as I sat down to make sure that I didn’t faint again. “Jericho this isn’t working.” I said glancing in his direction. He was drinking from a steel canister that I could only assume was water because of the fact that anything that tarnished his physique was basically an allergy to Jericho.
He dropped the bottle from his lips and wiped his mouth with his forearm capping the bottle and letting it fall from the short distance between his hands to the ground before pulling his pants up by the thighs a little to take a seat across from me. “I can show anyone any technique they taught me in Atlas.” Jericho started, gazing into my eyes with his own. He was building to a point and I knew it. But I listened, there was a lot to learn from him. “But not everyone I show is going to be able to pass all the tests and become a Gold Stripe.”
“So you’re saying I can’t get this no matter how I hard I try?” I responded, taken aback a little.
“That’s not what I’m saying at all.” He said matter-of-factly. “I’m saying it takes more than me showing you the technique to unlock a new part of your semblance. You can have all the moves down and not have any of the spirit, or finesse, or any other number of factors that could contribute.” He corrected calmly. “There’s only so much that basic semblance activation training can do for someone.” He pointed out, correctly again.
“Well maybe you’re just not teaching me properly.” I said, raising my voice a little.
“That’s entirely possible. But the result for you is the same, Bianca.” He said. He was pulling out my name, he only saved that one for special occasions. I probably shouldn’t have raised my voice at him. My hands dug into the grass and pulled on it, tearing some from the root.
“Either way, we’ve got to start trying something else huh?” I said looking up to the sky. “I managed the form for a few seconds about two weeks ago in a training match against Ben.” I responded fairly innocuously.
“What was different then?” Jericho asked, apparently completely un-phased by this revelation.
“I guess I was distracted.” I answered, not really knowing anything else that could’ve been different on that day. I hadn’t been to therapy for almost a week at that point and I was still in a pretty sore mood about it. But I had managed it then.
“From what?” He asked simply.
“Dunno.” I responded getting up and wiping any grass away from my shorts. “Well I’ve got to get going, as per usual busy schedule right now.” I said with a smile.
Jericho just nodded and pulled out his scroll. Not too sure who he was going to call, but whoever it was they were in for a treat. He seemed to be in a pretty good mood today.
The park we were practicing in was downtown this time, I wanted to grab some food from there before I headed back to the apartment. Estelle and I were speaking again, but only in short sentences and empty thoughts.
I walked into the small bistro, which caused the door to chime with the bells that were attached to the top of it. The cashier welcomed me with a warm smile.
“Hi, how can I help you?” She asked kindly.
“Good afternoon, can I get a pastrami sandwich on Facciata Bianco?” I asked counting out some lien in my hand for the order.
“Sure thing, can I get your name for the order ma’am?” She asked kindly.
“Of course, it’s Bianca.” I responded handing her the exact change for the order. It was something of a favourite of mine.
“That’ll be easy to remember then!” She said excitedly taking the change, depositing the order and handing the stub to the cook in the back.
Soon after it came out warm and fresh, I decided I that it’d be best to head home after getting my food. But before doing so I felt a tug on my heart. It was just a bit of anxiety at looking down an alleyway. One similar to the one we were parked at when I killed Vittoria. I felt a shiver run up from my toes into the back of my throat. But then I noticed where I was.
This was the theatre I saw Luke at a few days ago. I decided to pull my scroll out of C’est la Vie and dial Luke’s number. I placed the phone up to my ear and listened to it ring.
“Is that a girl?” April asked glaring at Luke’s scroll.
“It’s Bianca-Chan!” Dawn responded analyzing the scroll.
“Well there are no hearts next to her name…” April continued getting even closer to the scroll.
“But Onii-chan could just be hiding his affection…” Dawn analyzed.
“Could this mean that nii-chan is…?” April trailed off.
“Playing hard to get!” Dawn concluded.
“Analysis: Scandalous!” April said joining her sister’s hypothesis.
“Hey what are you guys staring at my scroll for? Is someone calling?” He asked attempting to break through the barricade that were his sisters. “Let me through you two!”
“Hey this Luke, you know what to do.”Beep
“Uh hey Luke, it’s Bianca. How’re you doing?” I asked, but for some reason I waited as if he was going to respond. “Right, voice mail.” I said laughing awkwardly. “Well I just wanted something to distract me while I walked home, so thanks and I’ll talk to you later. See you.” I said hanging up the phone and nearly slamming my head off the nearest post in embarrassment. God that was a bad message. I mean no one was good at leaving messages but my god that was bad.
“Hey Bianca, it’s raining pretty badly today, did you want to reschedule training or keep on it today?” Ben’s voice rang out over the speaker phone whilst I spread some butter on the freshly warmed toast. Popping a slice into my mouth before responding.
“Well, I don’t think we should cancel.” I said trying to articulate through a slice of toast. Quickly scarfing it down before hearing Ben’s response.
“Well what’re you thinking then?” Ben asked casually. I could hear him messing around with his weapons in the background of the call.
“Maybe we could just go hangout somewhere, get some food?” I asked. I wasn’t interested in dating Ben, in fact at the moment I wasn’t interested in dating anyone at all. But I was interested in getting to know Ben better.
“Sure, how about… You know the bar and grill just down by the dust store?” Ben wondered out loud. I could tell he liked the food there just form the tone of his voice.
“Yeah I do, see you there.” I responded, hanging up the phone and placing it into C’est la Vie. I grabbed a nice jacket for the day and made sure to wear leggings underneath my skirt so I wouldn’t be too cold. I snatched an umbrella before throwing my pair of red rain boots on. The walk to the store was fairly uneventful. I had a very paradoxical relationship with the rain. I liked it, because it felt different. The same sunny day every day would drive me insane and it reminded me that I was alive. But I hated the rain because of the grey that it washed Vale in. outside of sun showers every time it rained here the city looked as dreary as the obituaries.
By the time I arrived Ben had already gotten there. I took a seat beside him at the bar.
“So, how’s training going?” He asked casually ordering a water for himself to drink. I motioned to the bar tender that I’d second that. The bar seemed old, but in good shape. The stools were all brass with a black leather seat cover and the bar itself was some kind of orange shaded wood. It looked fairly nice for a bar that was open at noon.
“It’s been alright I guess.” I responded, there were a few noises that drowned the area out. The rain pelting the door and windows was the primary noise that I could hear, but there was also the noises of the kitchen muffled by a set of double doors and the faint sound of a radio playing some oldies that Jericho probably would’ve liked. He was into that kind of music. I slid C’est la Vie across the counter to Ben. “I’ll teach you how to lift this, just as a fun little party trick.” I added motioning to the black and gold handbag. “It’s just a training device anyway that’s been upgraded anyway.”
Ben examined the bag for a second before placing a firm hand on it, his face twisted when not a single piece of the bag moved at all. “What’s so ‘I guess’ about it?” He asked casually attempting to make the bag budge.
“Try to envision your aura wrapping around the bag.” I directed as the bar tender came with our drinks. I adjusted in my seat a little bit and pulled the drink along with the coaster towards myself. “Um, I guess I’m just not getting it.” I responded swirling the three ice cubes that threatened to melt at any second with the straw in my cup.
Ben closed his eyes and followed my instruction, allowing the bag to budge a little bit. “That easy huh?” He said, growing a bit more confident. “You seemed to get the other part of your semblance in our last training session about a month ago, feel like you’re probably just psyching yourself out.” He said trying again to get the bag to move, but this time it didn’t budge. His brow crinkled and he focused in on the bag.
“Yeah I kinda hope it’s that simple.” I responded scanning the menu for something that sounded appetizing. I couldn’t really find anything that sounded all that good, unfortunately I couldn’t find much. “I’ll just have three spring rolls please.” I said closing my menu and handing it to the bar tender.
“I’ll have your best cheeseburger.” Ben said sliding the menu across the bar, having never opened it. He nodded and disappeared into the kitchen. Once more Ben tried to lift the bag, this time he did manage to lift it off of the table. With a proud but altogether humble smile. “It’s a fascinating weapon. How do you shift it?” He asked sliding it back across the bar to me.
I picked the bag up and glanced at it for a moment, placing it on the ground by my feet. “I have to keep some secrets.” I said with a small laugh and a smile.
Soon enough our food was here and Ben and I were ready to go our separate ways, by the time I was ready to leave I realized that it had nearly stopped raining. The sky was still overcast, but it had lightened up just a little. I tuned to thank Ben for making it out to visit. But a question sat in my mind grating the side of my skull.
“Hey Ben.” I called out, he stopped and turned back to me. “If someone was going to kill Sangue, or you thought they were, what would you do?” I asked, my voice shook a little bit, but I think it was fairly well masked to the point where Ben wouldn’t have been able to call me out on anything.
Ben’s weight shifted and he looked up for a moment as if wishing that day never came or some other such prayer. “I’d kill them Bianca. I’d find out how to deal with it when I knew Sangue was safe. Nothing more to it.” He said in a calculated and cool tone. “Have a good day Bianca.”
“I really don’t want to go, okay?” I said groaning and covering my entire body in a blanket.
“I understand that, but you’re still going. All of our friends are going to be there, even Luke is taking the train down from Mistral you owe it to him to make it out to the beach, just for today.” Estelle said chiding me from the other room. “Besides even Jericho will be there.” She said in her you have a crush kind of voice. Except she was wrong. I didn’t want to go because I felt embarrassed to be there in my bathing suit in front of them. I didn’t still have any scars, Luke’s blood made sure of that.
But I still felt so naked.
The hot sand embraced my feet as I stepped into it. I hadn’t seen anyone in over two weeks and felt like I shouldn’t even be there. But apparently it was some kind of gathering based on what I saw. Gratia and Luke were chumming it up on a towel underneath an umbrella chatting away, most likely about the sun’s effect on Luke’s hair. Beryl was playing in the water with Lauren and Ben, although it seemed more like Lauren was on Ben’s shoulders and had no intention of ever getting off. Even Skye and Sangue seemed to make it out to the beach today, though they also were resting by the cooler underneath the shade of an umbrella. Jer was firmly planted on the sand with a beer in one hand a small novel in the other. A pout proudly protesting on his face.
I could even make out the silhouette of Napoli way down in the water, by himself. Wonder if he was just going to stay there the entire time. I couldn’t figure out why everyone was here though. Was this just the day that best coincided with everyone’s schedule?
“She’s here!” Estelle exclaimed still unloading some things from her car’s trunk.
Why does that matter? I wondered.
Everyone glanced in my direction. Maybe even Napoli, but it was too difficult to tell from all the way back here.
“Happy eighteenth birthday Bianca.” Jer said raising a bottle of beer in my name. Wait… What day was it??June 16th
Oh my god they’re all here for my birthday.
Estelle must’ve convinced Lauren to come, the team were all here, well except for Jack but this wasn’t a combat mission so that wasn’t too surprising. Ben had brought Sangue from the looks of it, Gratia and Jericho came of their own accord. Which was entirely surprising in its own right.
Everyone seemed to be giving me a little show of approval, and I must’ve lit up like a Christmas tree. Estelle made her way to the beach and Gratia was the first to approach me.
“Happy birthday birdbrain.” Gratia said standing adjacent from me in her completely monotone voice as per usual.
“Thank you Gratia.” I said warmly, she looked beautiful in her bathing suit. Even if she did look like she hated every second of it.
“I didn’t get you anything, because you know I hate birthdays. But my family wanted me to give you this card. So open it when you get home tonight, okay?” She said handing me a fairly small manila envelope. I nodded and hugged her. Her hand kind of patted me on the side, which was huge progress for a girl like Gratia who wasn’t about hugs in anyway. She left and soon I was met with Luke.
“Hey Bianca, happy birthday – I think we can both agree this year has about a 100% chance of being better than last year.” Luke said, but then got the kind of look on his face that only happened when you felt you said something extraordinarily dumb.
“That’s okay, I agree. I think this next year will be a lot better.” I said happily reaffirming the sentiment.
“So listen, I know you’ve got a lot going on with therapy and all that. But I just wanted to let you know that if you wanted to come and stay in Mistral, we could set you up in a guest bedroom for a month or so.” Luke said not avoiding my eye line.
“Oh, that is so sweet. But I could never put you out like that!’ I said shaking my hands in front in front of my face, it was an incredibly kind offer but one I surely couldn’t take him up on.
“Well I’ll leave it on the table in case you decide to come by.” Luke said with a smile and nod and he was off.
I made sure to thank everyone, even Napoli who I had to fly out and greet just for him to hit me with a silly pun.
But then I finally got to relax.
“Hey Biiiiiiiird.” Jericho called out. Maybe I won’t get a chance to relax.
“Hey Jericho what can I do for you?” I asked politely.
“I don’t know.” He responded glancing down at the bottle in his hand.
“Want another beer?” I asked casually with a small grin.
“Sure.” He said in his typical Gratia impression.
“Okay give me one sec.” I walked down to the cooler and leaned over to grab a beer. Glancing back in Jericho’s direction I felt his eyes on me. He was staring at my ass.
I walked back over to him and took a swig of his beer, sighing in relief from the cool drink hitting my throat. Huh, I guess I really am Estelle’s sister that was better than I thought it’d be.
“Gah!” Jericho gasped reaching for his drink.
“You can have it back but you can’t stare at my ass anymore.” I said leaning down to his level. He used that opportunity to snatch the beer from my hand and plop the opening into his mouth.
“Liar.” He said abruptly. “I wasn’t staring at your ass. Now come and sit.” He said pouting even more than when I first saw him.
“Alright but you scoot you have to share your towel with me.” I said to the Atlesian lieutenant. He shook his head while he laid on his back.
“You may be my own personal eternal hell” Jericho started.
“As long as you’ll have me around anyway” I added with a chipper smile.
“But if that’s the case,” Jericho continued completely ignoring me. “Then get down here and help me finish this beer.” He said motioning down to his stomach.What doesn’t kill you.
“Fine.” I said sprawling out on his torso so that my head could rest on his chest. I snatched the beer from his hand and took a small swig.
“Next year in practice, I’m teaching you how to play poker.” He announced taking his beer back with little to no effort.
“I wouldn’t bet on it.” I said laughing to myself.
“See that’s the issue. I’m going to teach you poker but you wouldn’t bet on it. This is why I have to teach you.” He said.
“Yeah okay.” I responded, sinking into his chest a little more.
“Come back to my place tonight, we’ll watch Casino Royale. You like the old Bond movies I think you’ll like this one.”
“Sure.” I said quietly falling asleep.
“Bianca we gotta go.” Jericho said, the sun was setting over the ocean and most of everyone else had already departed.
“O-okay.” I said pushing myself up off of Jericho’s chest. Estelle was still packing a few things up but it seemed like everyone had a good time. I was somewhat sad that I spent the majority of the time sleeping but the company was nice enough.
“Stella would you mind dropping Jericho and I off at his place?” I asked.
“Sure thing!” She responded happily.
The car ride was mostly silent. I decided to sit in the back seat so Jericho could talk to Estelle on the way back to his apartment.
“So Jer what have you been doing this summer?” Estelle asked, glancing at me in the mirror. I stuck out my tongue in protest to her questioning but she didn’t seem like she was going to let up any time soon.
“Nothing much,” he started placing an elbow against the window and allowing a finger to gently run through his hair. The car was a dry cool, the air conditioner was working overtime and was the dominant noise just over the tires on the highway. “I’ve been helping Bianca with some training here and there, keeping busy mostly.” He said remaining fairly non-descript. “And yourself?” He asked, his eyes glancing towards Estelle as well as to me in the rear view mirror on the side of the door.
“Well I’ve been preparing my fall curriculum, chasing after this nutcase,” she said motioning towards me. “And honestly that’s about all I’ve had time for beside a small part time job I picked up.” She said resting one hand on the wheel and brushing the hair out of her face. “Alright, we’re here.” Estelle said bringing the car to a stop across the street from Jericho’s apartment. “You guys alright if I drop you off here?” She asked casually, glancing back at me and across the car to Jericho.
“Yeah this is fine.” I said hopping out of the car. Jericho said something to Estelle but I didn’t quite catch it since he was still inside the car. The trunk popped and he made his way there, grabbing the cooler.
“So where’d you get all this beer anyway?” I asked waving goodbye to Estelle as she drove away down the dark city street.
Jericho glanced both ways before starting across the street. “Estelle got it from her work, she’s working at the bar now right?” He said casually, once more only glancing at me.
“Oh, uh, yeah I guess so.” I responded. I didn’t actually know she worked at a bar.
We got into Jericho’s apartment. It was actually quite nice. He had a perfect view down one of the streets and the summer night time looked gorgeous from his windows. He had a nice island dining table in the kitchen that I promptly sat at. He gently put the cooler down and began offloading it into his fridge. Taking the last two beers out of it and sliding one across the table, the other stayed with him as he plopped down on the couch.
“So.” I said, taking a swig of my beer while I noticed the silence hang in the air.
“How are you Bianca?” He asked, cutting me off before I started a question about god only knows what.
“I’m okay.” I responded.
“… It was nice… Today. Not being on high alert for the first time in… Years I guess.” Jericho said looking up through some of the hair that had fallen through his eyes. I took a swig of my beer, placing it back on the island with a small clang and walked over to him. Looking down on him from the end of the couch.
“You okay?” I asked cautiously.
“Always.” He responded returning to his usual tone of voice. “I felt like a little kid again today.”
“You must’ve been a cute kid, god I can only imagine.” I said walking back over to the island and taking my drink back into my hand, grabbing just the neck of the bottle between my index and middle fingers. Quickly turning it to meet my lips. The beer felt cool on my throat which was largely dry.
“I was okay.” He responded as simply as always.
“I wasn’t such a cute kid,” I started taking a seat near his head on the arm rest of the couch, gently running my fingers through his hair gently and slowly. His eyes met mine but I didn’t feel different at all. “I was a very quiet kid. I didn’t talk too much.”
“I see why with a dickhead dad like that.” He said, not breaking the eye contact we had. I stopped running my hand through his hair and closed my eyes, forcing a small smile to my lips.
“Yeah.” I said quietly, opening my eyes and continuing running my hand through his hair. “He can be a little much at times.”
“You know him better than I do so I’ll take your word for it.” Jericho said closing his eyes, bringing his beer bottle to his lips and taking a massive gulp out of it, tearing through nearly half the bottle. I realized we were still in our bathing suits, but for whatever reason I didn’t really care.
“I respect your opinion, Jer. I’d like to hear it.” I said intent on not letting it go.
Jericho’s eyes opened and he seemed to take a breath. Not showing any emotion, but also mentally preparing for the conversation we were having. “He’s the kind of person I would be tasked to kill to make the world a better place.” He said completely neutrally.
“How so?” I asked, immediately following up on the question.
“Well typically we’d have to catch him in some sort of illicit deal with a terrorist or mob organization, like the Dodici. But I’d skip that.” He said, finally managing to catch me off guard. "But I would have shot him in the head just for turning one of the liveliest girls I know into such a meek trophy piece. I had to use my Semblance just to keep cool."
“Jer…I understand." I said quietly. This time I seemed to take him off guard a little bit. "I'm going to distance myself from him I think. I've been saving with Estelle for some time. Just in case something ever happened. We can afford three months’ rent downtown and we already bought Estelle’s old car so I think we can do it." I realized my hand was stuck on the top of his head, not having moved in some time.
“…Huh.” He said out loud, seemingly pondering a thought as bizarre as the Nuit sisters working part time to afford rent.
“I wouldn’t want to lose the title of one of the liveliest girls you know, just to someone who thinks the family name is more important than the family itself.” I said.
“You won’t. Unless you’re some kind of spineless shrimp, which I don’t think you are.” He said closing his eyes once again.
“I’m not.” I said, emboldened.
“Good.” He said quietly, seemingly getting ready to doze off.
“Good yourself.” I responded quietly, stroking his hair one last time before bending down and lightly kissing him. “I’m going to get some air.” I whispered quietly.
Leaving the apartment and taking the elevator up to the roof I sat with my feet dangling off taking in the sight. If myself four months ago could see me now. I kissed Jer, was staying the night in his apartment, and yet. I didn’t feel like it changed anything. I was happy to be doing what I was doing and be where I was. But I didn’t need
this to be whole.
I took out the letter form Gratia’s family and my fingers dextrously opened the manila envelope, finding a small card wedge inside. It read:
“From our family to yours
Bianca darling, we have heard from Gratia that you are going through a hard time. Please know that as always our thoughts are with you. If you hadn’t acted we might not have our daughter. So from the bottom of our hearts,
Have a happy birthday, Bianca.
Love the Mindaro’s.
I decided to phone Luke. I quickly tapped out his number onto my scroll and listened to the ringing.
“Hey Bianca, everything okay?” Luke said immediately upon picking up the phone.
“Yeah, I’m all good.” I said quietly. “Would you mind if I… Took you up on your offer? And came to stay with you guys next month?” I asked.
“Yeah of course, that’s why the offer was there.” He said positively.
“Okay, I guess I’ll see you then.” I responded.
“Have a good night Bianca.” He said, hanging up the phone.