** DAISUKE **
// But you like the new DragonRider. // Vrekk flew at top speed, not bothering to try and keep his fierce excitement from me. We’d been doing tricks, too, flipping upside-down, rolling, twisting, turning really fast… It was great! // Humans don’t always mate for life, do they? So just explain it, and if you both still want one of those temporary matings, why not? //
"I dunno." I made a face. "Maybe. We haven’t even found this person yet." I wasn’t really sure what I thought about the idea of casual sex. I’d really liked that kiss, but…
I loved my angel.
// We will, // Vrekk answered confidently. // I think I know how to find that Blue. I have a strong hunch… // He dipped a little and flew around some low hills.
"What’s your hunch?" I asked after a moment, a touch breathless from the maneuver.
// They’ll find us. //
There was a swishing feel over to my left, like the wind rushing or being blown fiercely in one direction. Before I could even look, I heard somebody laughing, from that same spot.
"Is this what you call fast?"
I looked over quickly, and my mouth fell open – though I should’ve been expecting it. The Blue was flying right beside Vrekk, keeping up with him perfectly, and the Rider sat on that sapphire-scaled back calmly, grinning at me openly. He – and I could tell it was a he, that close – had pale skin and the smoothest dark hair I’d ever seen, the kind that didn’t even lose its perfection as the wind tossed it. His body was slim and beautifully toned – a body that made people stare, whether they liked guys or not. There was that brilliant smile on a perfectly carved face, and…
A blindfold across his eyes.
I was disappointed.
"How can you tell?" I blurted out, not even really thinking about what I was saying, just that I had to say something in response to that tease. "You’re wearing a cloth over your eyes!" I couldn’t seem to stop staring, either, and not with shock. Damn, how can anyone possibly look so good? And he’s the one who kissed me…
He gave me a smirk. "Proof that I can beat you blindfolded. You see, I’ve been watching you for quite some time now." He laughed again. "I thought you were fast, but if this is the best you can do, I’m not so sure! You’re moving pretty slowly right about now…"
"I can go faster than you!" I shot back, recognizing the challenge for what it was.
"Oh really?" His smirk widened into a grin. "What makes you think that?"
"Vrekk’s the fastest thing in the sky!" I boasted, grinning back. "Nobody and nothing can beat him when it comes to speed! Not in a million years!"
"We’ll see about that! Wyrrl!" He straightened and pressed his hands to his Blue’s back in the same way I always did with Vrekk. "Let’s show them what real speed looks like!"
The Blue was off like a shot, and his Rider’s laughter was left behind with us. He was fast, for sure! I had to admit, that was going to be hard to beat.
I loved a challenge!
For a second, I just sat there, staring after the new Rider in awe. "That is one exciting guy," I breathed out loud, feeling a mix of thrilling exhilaration, burning curiosity, and definite attraction. "As if I’m gonna let that one get away… Let’s get ’em, Vrekk!"
We took off after the Blue up ahead, at top speed.
** IORI **
He looks gorgeous. I glanced to the side again, trying not to move my head. Takeru was riding right beside me, and our pace was slow – probably because Ayviar wasn’t exactly built for speed. He looked so good it made my heart ache: blond hair tousled by the wind, a little half-smile on his face, leaning over Pekkue’s back just a little with his blue eyes scanning ahead.
That made me feel guilty. I should be watching, too. I turned my eyes forward, trying to concentrate on the task at hand. It was starting to get really dark out; the sun was just a little sliver by the horizon.
"Hey Iori!" Takeru called suddenly, and I jerked my head up toward him again, startled. He grinned. "Want to stop here for the night? I don’t think we’re going to find anything."
"Okay!" I agreed, and both of our dragons started a downward descent.
"I’ve got sleeping-rolls with me," Takeru told me, sliding off of Pekkue’s back. "We’ll have to gather some wood for a fire, though. I’m just glad the weather’s good, and we’re not being rained on."
"Yeah," I agreed, climbing off my own dragon. "But we don’t need to worry about finding wood, Takeru. I brought some with me. Just in case."
He laughed. "You’re so practical it’s amazing, Iori!"
I could feel myself blushing. "Um… thanks."
"Don’t change," Takeru said with a smile, making me turn even redder. He unhooked the bedrolls that had been attached to Pekkue’s saddle, and patted the Gold in a comforting way. His dragon was dipping its head in a way that was sort of sad.
"What’s wrong with Pekkkue?" I asked.
"He misses Gyvera." Takeru shrugged. "It happens every time they’re separated. It isn’t serious; he’s just had a mate for so long that he gets a little lonely when they’re separated."
I sank down to the ground and concentrated on spreading the wood out, not looking at Takeru. "Do you?" I asked carefully. "I mean, do you miss Hikari like that?"
Silence. When I looked up, Takeru had frozen in place and was staring at me. "Wh-what?" he blurted out finally, sounding a bit shocked.
Oh right, I’m not supposed to know! "Sorry," I apologized. "I know, it’s a pretty personal question. Just pretend I didn’t ask, okay?"
"Pretend you didn’t…?" Takeru let that trail off. "You think Hikari and I are together?" He sounded totally confused – and more than a little distressed.
I looked up at him. "Well, aren’t you?"
"No!" He sounded appalled. "Hikari and I are like… like brother and sister! It’d be… well, weird! Besides, I wouldn’t be interested in Hikari – or any other girl, for that matter."
My heart started to pound. Does he mean…? "What are you saying, Takeru?"
His grin returned, and he actually looked amused. "Well, do you remember when we were having that conversation about how it was okay for guys to be attracted to other guys"
Oh god, oh god, oh god… "Uh-huh."
Takeru shrugged. "Well, I am one of those guys."
"Really?" At his nod, I immediately blurted out, "So am I!"
He smiled at me, suddenly seeming hesitant. "There’s something I wanted to ask you, Iori. It’s just a suggestion, but…" He took a deep breath. "All right, here goes. It would mean a lot to me if you would maybe consider…" He trailed off, looking at me with a sudden mix of apprehension and hope.
My heart felt like it was going to pound itself to pieces. He’s going to ask… I just know he is… I can’t believe this is happening; it’s like a dream come true! "Yes?" I urged him, eagerly.
"Ah…" He blinked rapidly, then turned away, suddenly very interested in the ground. "Never mind. It’s not that important; I’ll ask you later."
No… I don’t know what came over me then, but I suddenly jumped forward impulsively and grabbed both of his hands. "Be with me, Takeru?" I asked breathlessly, staring up at his eyes with a desperate hope. He has to want me… he has to… "Please?"
His head shot up and he stared at me in shock. "I-Iori…"
I stared right back, lost in the deep blue depths of his eyes. "I love you, Takeru. I don’t care if you think I’m too young for love; I do. I won’t stop hoping, either, unless you tell me right now that you don’t want me and never will."
Takeru was gazing at me then, a kind of wonder in his eyes. "I do," he said finally, softly. "I do want you, Iori. And I…" His cheeks flushed, and a hesitant smiles crept onto his face. "I love you, too."
I couldn’t say which one of us started leaning forward first, but when our lips touched, I knew I didn’t care. Warmth spread all through me, and Takeru became my whole world.
** HIKARI **
"I’ll bet they’re really enjoying themselves." Miyako grinned, poking at our fire with a long stick. "If Takeru’s in love with Iori, and Iori’s in love with Takeru… it’s going to come out, right?"
"Maybe." I smiled, watching the fire’s light dance over her face. "Takeru kept it in for a year, and if Iori thinks that he and I have something between us…" I spread my hands. "It might take them a while."
"Oh, come on!" Miyako waved a hand. "They’re alone together! Don’t you think they’d at least be able to tell that they’re spending half the time gazing into each others’ eyes?"
I gazed into her eyes. "That depends on how much they believe that the love of their life could never, ever possibly want to be with plain old them. I know Takeru doesn’t think he could ever have a chance. Iori was always too pure, or too smart, or too… perfect. At least, that’s the way Takeru saw it."
"Well, I know what he means," Miyako agreed, and a hint of sadness flashed over her eyes. "When you’re that much in love, sometimes it seems like they’re too high above you to ever look down."
I’d see you, Miya – no matter how high I got! If you’d only love me… "It’s strange, you know," I said, starting a new conversation. "Takeru and Iori are probably going to be together before long, and the new DragonRider is probably smitten with Dai. All the guys we work with are going to have significant others. I wonder if things will change an awful lot."
"Well, how do you know Dai’s even going to be with this new person?" Miyako asked. "He’s still totally head-over-heels in love with that ‘angel’ he saw, isn’t he?"
I grinned. "He only saw a pair of eyes. I think it’s too much of a coincidence for that Blue dragon to have been there to freeze the lake at the same time as Daisuke was rescued."
A smile inched across her face. "So the new DragonRider is Dai’s ‘angel’. Huh!"
"It’s just a theory." I shrugged. "But it makes sense, don’t you think?"
"Oh, definitely!" She stood up and moved to get something from our food supply. "You’re smart, Hikari," she told me, in an admiring tone of voice. "I would never have seen that."
I felt my face grow hot. "I-It’s nothing that great. Just something that occurred to me, that’s all."
"Like a stroke of genius?" Miyako sat down right beside me, her leg brushing against mine. The contact was warm and soft, and I felt it all through me. Oh gods…
"S-Something like that, I suppose," I managed to stammer.
She didn’t seem to notice. "Do you believe there’s a soulmate out there for everyone? I mean, what if there’s that one person out there who’s just destined to be with you? Would you always feel like something was missing if you didn’t find them?"
"I don’t really think much about destiny," I answered, truthfully. "It would be a lot of work, finding someone who was perfect for you. I’d rather find a person I could love without knowing they were my soulmate. It’d seem more real that way – less of a dream world, you know?"
"Mmm." She nodded, staring at my face thoughtfully.
"Destiny’s overrated, anyway." I couldn’t seem to stop talking; the fact that Miyako was so close, and staring at me… I felt horribly nervous, and only wanted to cover it up with confidence. "I mean, you might say Takeru and I are destined – since our dragons are mated – but that’s not enough to make me actually love him, right?"
"And, sure, if you met your soulmate, you’d be madly in love right away," I went on, using the matter-of-fact tone to cover my feelings. "But it’d lose a lot of its meaning that way. How special is it to have someone who’s supposed to love you? Right? I’d rather be loved for me."
"And, anyway, how often do you actually find your soulmate?" I babbled on. "It’d be better to find someone you could love and be happy with, rather than spending all your time looking for something that you really only have a one-in-a-million chance of finding, because you can’t love an idea, after all, and if you spent your life waiting around, you’d miss out on…" I stopped for a breath. "Well, everything!"
Miyako sighed. "Hikari?" she said, looking at me.
I blinked. "Yeah?"
And she leaned forward and kissed me.
I was so surprised that all I could do was sit there, frozen, for a moment. Then it hit me. Miyako is kissing me. Miyako is kissing me! Oh my gods! And that got me moving again.
Letting instinct take over, I deepened the kiss, resting my hands on her shoulders. She’s so… oh wow! This can’t be real… It was the sweetest thing I’d ever tasted, and Miyako’s arms were around my waist, pulling me closer…
I broke away. "How did you…? But… you… you…"
She gave me a wicked grin. "I like you, ’Kari. A lot. Enough to call it love, I think."
"And you…" I let that trail off. Oh heck, we can talk about it later! "I love you too," I said instead, and pulled her back into that sweet embrace for another kiss.
** DAISUKE **
I could barely see in the fading twilight, but I knew the Blue and its Rider were right beside me. It was a feeling I had – this comfortable warmth that settled inside me, telling me that we were close together. I could feel him near me – and I think he felt me, too.
It was… nice.
We were still racing through the sky, too – Vrekk felt ecstatic as we shipped along, side by side, matching each other for speed. I’d never thought any other dragon could be so much like mine, but they were so alike, so matched, so equal. Neither of them was even an inch ahead of the other. And with the wind whipping over my face, the fierce fury of speed sweeping all through me, and the other Rider at my side, matching my pace…
It was excellent! It was more than excellent! It was… everything great, all wrapped up in one flight.
I couldn’t resist trying to talk. "Are we gonna fly all night?" I called. Not that I’d mind… "It’s getting kind of dark out, don’t you think?" I really liked how the fading light made his hair seem to shine.
"Afraid of the dark?" There was a teasing note in his voice.
"No way! But I don’t want Vrekk to get tired! He needs sleep!" That was true. I really wanted the chance to meet him, though. That was the main reason for stopping.
"All right, if you say so." Abruptly, his dragon dipped down, heading toward the ground. It was really amazing, how they worked together. His Blue seemed to know just what he was thinking.
And he was still wearing that blindfold, too.
I wondered if I could ride blindfolded.
Vrekk dipped down to follow the Blue and we both reached the ground at about the same time. The new Rider dismounted before I did gracefully, and immediately started toward me, not seeming to mind the blindfold at all. I had a feeling he could see through it a little.
I slid off of Vrekk’s back and dropped to the ground, then faced him, warily. "So what did you say your name was?" I asked, knowing he hadn’t said but wanting to find out.
"I didn’t. It’s Ken." He reached me about then, and totally caught me off guard by taking my face in both his hands. He was taller than me, so he tipped my chin up a little. Then he smiled. "You couldn’t see me last time, so I thought it was only fair to do it this way…" At that point, his face was so close over mine that his breath fanned over my cheeks, and his voice had gone soft. "…this time."
I shut my eyes, and let me kiss me. It felt soft and warm, and even better than the last time, so I kissed him right back, dragging it out. I couldn’t help it… even though I loved my angel…
It just felt so right.
He pulled back before I did, and I felt him smile before I even opened my eyes. "You’re cute, Daisuke," he murmured. I wasn’t really very surprised that he knew my name. "I’ve been watching you for a while, and I’ve made up my mind. I want to know what you think."
"Oh." I rubbed the back of my neck nervously. "Um… well… see, that’s a little mixed up. I mean, I think you’re really great, and a good kisser, and I wouldn’t mind being with you, but…"
"But?" he prompted.
"I kinda… I mean, there’s someone else." I shrugged, a little awkward. "Sorry."
He nodded, then tilted his head at me. "One of the other Riders?"
"No." I decided that I might as well tell him. "An angel."
An amused little smile was forming on his lips. "Oh really?"
"It’s true!" I was quick to defend what I’d said. "An angel pulled me out of this lake when I was drowning. All I saw was a pair of really, really beautiful blue-violet eyes. But I’m always gonna love my angel. I’ve never seen anything like them."
"Oh, I see." Ken was still smiling, like he knew a secret I didn’t. "Well, that’s all right. We should get everything set up for the night, though. Let me take this off, and I’ll help you." He reached up behind his head for the blindfold ties.
I busied myself getting the bedroll from Vrekk’s saddle. "I hope you have your own… oh no!" I stared at the roll in dismay. It was half its usual size!
"It shrank!" I groaned, throwing my useless bedroll to the ground. "Probably from when I fell in the lake… Now where am I gonna sleep?"
I felt as well as heard Ken move closer to me. "Mine’s big enough for two," he suggested simply.
I sighed. "I told you, I’m already in love with my angel!" I spun around, ready to give him a super-fierce glare…
…and stared directly into the blue-violet eyes that had been in my head since I was rescued.