Chapter 21: Growing Up
Rion didn't really know what it was like to have a family for a very long time. He lost his parents at an early age and spent a good portion of his younger years trying to run away from the abusive life he was living after their deaths. When he came to Shibusen, he had taken some time to understand what it was to trust someone and once he had let those walls down, he had developed a new family, especially when it came to his meister. Ava had always made her way as a priority. He was very fond of Kilik and Patty could be eccentric, but fun all the same. Not to mention the support and lessons he learned from Fire and Thunder. Yes, he could easily consider this group of people to be his family, so watching them become torn apart and the torment his partner was going through because of it, left the teenage weapon lost and uncertain.
"Do we have to do this right now?" Ava asked, leaning heavily into the wall and looking up at Ares in a defeated manner. Looking around, Rion noticed their usual group of friends were there, each worn in appearance. The man in front of them spared a sympathetic smile.
"Yeah, it's really important that the group of you are here." He answered, leaning into the desk he had been standing in front of and looking at each of them carefully. "It's been a couple of days. I wanna know what you guys think about what's happening right now?"
"Seriously?" Rion glanced to the side at Ayame, who had been sitting on the floor, tugging on her sleeves and staring at the floor for most of the time they had been waiting for the others to arrive. Her eyes were now on Ares, narrowed and glassy. "You really wanna know how we feel after watching our families get ripped apart for no reason?"
"I'll have to go with pretty shitty." Gabe answered from the other side of the glowering girl. He had come back the day after the incident and had taken the news roughly, somehow believing things could have been different if he had been at home.
"Why does what we think even matter?" Zeke asked, his voice muffled since his face was buried in his arms from where he sat, further across the room. He was the furthest away from everyone. In fact, he and Ayame had come in at separate times and didn't make contact at all. "Why does any of this matter anymore?" Ares allowed his sympathetic smile to fall and he closed his eyes, letting out a sigh.
"I'm not really here to tell you the things you want to hear." He started. Rion felt Ava flinch next to him and he reached out, taking her hand in his and squeezing it. Her gave was still downcast, but she responded with her grip tightening as well. Ares continued, his tone stronger. "I'm here to tell you that you guys were chosen to be the ones to make the difference that this city is looking for." There was a scoff in response.
"You're kidding me, right?" Becca asked, indignant look in place. "What're you expecting us to do?"
"What you've been getting trained to do." The door of the classroom opened and Lyra came walking in, a strict look about her. She eyed each of them up as she entered, only to stop next to Ares, who had barely responded to her entrance. "What the hell is wrong with you brats? You think you've lost so you just give up? Do you not understand the importance of sacrifice? Of what the professors that stepped forward managed to do for us?" She looked more annoyed with them than anything and while Rion was certain that the silver haired beauty really only possessed emotions that depicted annoyance, there was something different this time.
"Are you just here to scream at us?" Aimee asked, a look of disapproval now on her face. "I don't think its fair…"
"She's here to tell us what my dad passed on." Liam answered and stood from his own seat, moving to stand with Lyra and Ares. "I shouldn't know any of this, but I found some things my father has been looking at. They've been monitoring us since the death scythes came to the city." All attention now stepped up to the young shinigami.
"You're kidding, right?" Aiden asked and Liam shook his head.
"What're they looking for?" Ava asked. "Why didn't you say anything to any of us?" There was panic in her voice that Rion rarely heard.
"It wasn't my place and still isn't… Which is why Ares and Lyra have to be here." He looked up at the older pair. "To tell us why exactly the professors have been monitoring and recording the progress and statistics of the group of us specifically."
"To simply put it," Lyra answered, bored expression in place and arms crossed. "You group of pathetic brats are the future of Shibusen." Ares rolled his eyes at his partner's lack of tact and turned to the confused teens.
"You guys are the revival of Shibusen's strongest known team- Spartoi."
"Spartoi is a group of specially talented students gathered by Shinigami himself to fight on behalf of Shibusen. Our parents were the founders and there were never new members until now. There was never a need with peace and all." Everyone was now seated around Liam and Aimee's living room, staring at the shinigami as he explained what Lyra had opted to walk away from and Ares left them to think over. "We were chosen based on skills and intelligence in order to work together against whatever it is that is after Shibusen."
"And Lyra and Ares?" Aimee asked.
"In the same sense, we lack certain skills. They're overlooking us. Every mission needs a two star meister in the least and that's them." Liam answered. He paused for a moment and leaned heavily into his seat. "This is an honor and a curse to be placed on us though."
"We're expected to be the ones to save the future of our school and classmates." Zeke muttered, throwing his head and back huffing. "Why're they doing this to us? They could've taken out those officials no problem…. They didn't have to go."
"To make us step up." Ayame muttered. All eyes shifted to the girl sitting in the window. "Let's face it. They were getting pissed all last week, claiming we were playing games and not taking the situation seriously. This is our wake up call."
"Kinda harsh, don't you think?" Aiden asked but the girl merely shrugged and looked out the window.
"She has a point though." Liam answered. "We preach that we're nothing like them, but we rely too heavily on the adults. We've only stepped up to the plate when we felt our backs were up against a wall and even in the end, they were there to finish the job." He looked around at his comrades who were all defeated in posture. "They've always considered us just kids and we're more than that. We're the top of our class whether it be academically or physically. As a team, we're a force to be reckoned with, let's face the facts."
"So you're all for this. Be co-captain to a bunch of misfit kids living in their parents' shadows and left responsible for saving the world?" Gabe asked, a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
"If everyone else is ready to get our lives back to normal, then yes." Liam answered. He looked around the room and Ava was the first to let out a dramatic sigh, tossing her arms in the air.
"You know, there's no point sitting here feeling bad for ourselves." She answered and glanced out the window at the grey skies. "Christmas is coming soon you know… It's not like we'll be able to actually celebrate. Why not just work on being able to have a family for the new year, right?"
"Hey, not like I had time to get a holiday job this year anyway." Hummed Aimee, smiling absently down at her hands. "And I didn't really see myself heading back to Cali any time soon."
"I heard we get pretty cool uniforms." Mused Becca, causing Gabe to snort.
"And how to manage some pretty bad ass techniques." Rion chimed in, eyes shining with some excitement.
"So we're all together on this?" Liam asked, looking around at the group who all seemed to nod in agreement and slight apprehension. His eyes then fell on his childhood friends who were silent through the entire exchange. "Ayame? Zeke? What're you guys thinking? Are you a part of this team?" Ayame stared back at him before rolling her eyes and huffing.
"Go rushing off into danger like a wild child? Sure why not?" she answered sarcastically. Liam smiled slightly before looking at Zeke. The white haired teen shrugged a shoulder before pushing himself up.
"Guess I'll see you guys at training tomorrow." Everyone stood and looked towards Liam. "So this is it, right? Til the end?" The group of teens looked around at one another. This was the group that came into Shibusen, challenging one another to the end, watching as the other progressed, failed, was praised, or chastised with each passing day they spent as students of Crescent Moon class. On top of it all, as Liam's eyes fell on Ayame and Zeke, these were the people they had grown up with in a city that didn't understand them.
"It was always that way for us, wasn't it?" Ayame asked and Liam couldn't help but to let out a chuckle.
"Yeah, we just widened our circle a bit more."
They had agreed that it was time to step up and move forward. It was time to take action, but they didn't realize how much of their time was spent preparing. Two months had passed of them training as a team and Ava found herself standing in the doorway of her partner's room as his eyes were pinned on the television, furiously pressing the buttons on his game controller. It was their first day of down time since they agreed to be part of Spartoi and while they were all more than grateful for some personal time, it was during the silent moments when they started to realize what they were missing. Stepping further into the room, the girl brushed her steadily growing hair from her face and began rocking on her feet. "Hey you."
"Hey." The teen answered distractedly as his partner dropped next to him. He was biting down on his bottom lip as he focused, golden eyes a light with determination.
"You're really into this game right now…" Ava started and got a grunt in response. He played on for another five minutes, not really paying his partner any attention. "You know with everything going on, you know, with the team and school and whatever, we really missed out on some things the past couple months."
"Yeah…" Came Rion's blurted out grunt.
"And New Years."
"… Valentine's Day is approaching…."
"Your birthday." Finally, the boy's fingers froze and his body stiffened. Sighing, he paused his game and looked to his partner with a raised brow.
"That much time has passed?" He asked, looking around her and at his unchanged calendar, which still sported the January theme. Ava smiled and nodded.
"Yeah… your birthday was two days ago." She answered, only for her partner to let out a loud, hollow laugh and flop back into his bed, eyes closing.
"Damn, that's a pretty big deal, huh?"
"Considering you're the first birthday of the year, yeah." The girl answered, leaning back on her palms and smiling down at her partner. She liked to admire how much he had grown in the time they knew each other. He wasn't as much of a pipsqueak anymore and his physical training was starting to develop his scrawny build into a lean muscular structure. She still beat him in height, but not nearly as much as before.
"We don't really have much time for celebrating… Pretty sure the team isn't really in much of a partying mood with our assignment being in a couple days and how we've gotta stay as focused as possible." He informed, glancing at his partner momentarily. "Maybe next year." Ava wrinkled her nose.
"Oh come on. You can't be serious?" She protested only for Rion to roll his eyes.
"What? I'm fine! We got a day away from the silver beast and I can catch up on some video games. It's just another day in the year." It was now Ava's turn to roll her eyes at her partner's nick name for their squad leader.
"That's not the point, Ri." She started in a chastising manner.
"Then what is?"
"You're fifteen now!" The girl announced, now sitting up fully. "I mean granted, it's not like you're a grown up now or anything, but you're not a pipsqueak so much anymore either! In some cultures, people celebrate that age."
"Guess that's not in mine then cuz I'm not celebrating." The boy answered, sitting up and snatching up his game controller once again. "Just leave it, Ava. I honestly don't care. It's just another day in the year. Nothing big or memorable, y'know." Ava stared at the boy as he slowly became engrossed in his game once again, his golden hair still falling slightly into his eyes. He seriously needed a haircut. While his face held a disinterested expression, his eyes were focused and scanning the screen, calculating the next moves his fingers would make with each passing second. How he saw through his sloppy bangs was beyond the dark skinned girl. She cocked her head to the side thoughtfully and examined his maturing face. It may not have been a big deal to him, but it was his birthday and he deserved something special.
"Ri…" She started, pushing herself onto her knees.
"Hm?" The boy responded, not paying any mind to his partner and the closeness between them.
"Look at me would you?" The girl asked and he wrinkled his nose, eyes never leaving the screen in front of his and fingers pressing buttons frantically. He was so determined.
"Eh? Aves I'm kinda in the middle of…" He started but an annoyed growl cut him off while hands quickly and pointedly, grabbed his face and made his head turn. Blinking in confusion, Rion prepared to complain but lips were pressed to his. It was light and brief, but left the boy's face and lips burning when she pulled back. Giving a bright smile, his meister stood up and practically skipped away.
"Happy birthday!" she called over her shoulder in a mockingly sweet tone, leaving her partner red faced and at a loss for words.
Zeke liked to think he was like his father in some sense. That he was calm, cool and collected even in the most obnoxious of situations… but then, he realized that he was also like his mother. Too smart for his own good and easy to irritate from time to time. Honestly, having a combination of your parents' opposing personalities could really be irritating, which is why he wished he could leave his own body and punch himself in the face when he considered the situation he was in. Ayame was standing in the doorway of his bed room, arms crossed and expectant look on her face. Now you might be wondering why he wouldn't just roll over and ignore his infuriating brat of a partner? Well, the Star girl was blocking his way into his personal domain and had no intention of leaving.
"Are you going to move anytime soon? The white haired teen asked, trying to keep his composure which was gradually slipping. The girl cocked a perfectly arched brow critically before her annoyed expression returned.
"Not until you stop avoiding me." She countered. "There's things we need to talk about!" It was now Zeke's turn to be annoyed. He felt himself stiffen at her words since he knew full well what she was hinting at, but at the same time, he wasn't ready for this discussion. In fact, he had been avoiding it for months now.
"There's nothing to talk about. So get out of my way, I'm tired." The weapon countered, only for a dangerous look to cross his meister's face.
"I swear Ezekiel Solomon Evans, if you don't talk to me I will make the rest of our partnership and your life a living hell." The dark haired girl growled dangerously. She was glaring up at the irritable male who eventually let out a miserable growl. Seriously, how much more could she do? She was already a major pain. Were all women this obnoxious? The young man clenched his fists and allowed a miserable growl to escape as his head dropped back in defeat.
"FINE!" he turned on his heel and stormed to their small living room, dropping down into the worn couch. He tried not to look like a brat, forcing the annoyed expression off his face as much as possible and quickly unfolding his arms from across his chest as his partner came and stood in front of him. He raised his gaze and saw she was standing with a calculating expression and hands on her hips. Damn she was annoyingly cute. He grimaced at the thought. "Well?" he barked out. The response he had gotten was the last he had expected.
"Why won't you kiss me?" It was blunt and crass and Zeke felt his heart skip three beats and his face heat up. There wasn't even a hint of a blush or shame on Ayame's face as she waited.
"What the hell is wrong with you!?" Zeke sputtered out and the girl rolled her eyes.
"Just answer my question, Zeke." She demanded. "Ever since the first kiss you won't kiss me. You avoid me! Even more since the team was formed." The white haired teen couldn't help but to squirm slightly under her intent glare. She was closing in on him and asking him an awkward question he really didn't want to answer but was clearly going to have no choice but to answer. Leaning further back into the couch, he violently dragged the palm of his hand down his face and let out a miserable groan.
"Listen, there's nothing to talk-"
"Yes there is!"
"No, lis-" Zeke started, pulling his hand from his face and pinning his partner with a stern look, which turned to shock as his heart skipped a beat and he lost his thoughts at the sight of the girl in front of clenching her fists, practically holding her breath with tears welled up in her eyes. He sat up straight, panic hard to hide. "Aya… you're not gonna cry are you!?" he asked, voice cracking. The girl's glare deepened, but the look of annoyance wasn't as deadly as the few tears that managed to slide from her eyes.
"No I'm not gonna cry you goon!" she shouted, voice cracking as well. She roughly wiped the escaped tears from her cheeks. "You know what, forget it. I don't want to talk to you anymore." Zeke stared at her in confusion as his partner sent him one last harsh glare and turned on her heal to storm away. Why was she always so difficult. Pushing himself up, the scythe reached out and grabbed his partner's wrist.
"Ayame, look at me for a minute." He requested, voice low and trying to fight back his own nervousness. Of course she didn't comply. She was mad at him. Why would any of this be easy? Holding back a defeated sigh, he gave her wrist a tug. "Look at me, Ayame… please."
"I don't want to. Let me go."
His eye twitched.
"Just look at me."
Why was she being so difficult?
"Let go you jerk."
Were all girls this difficult?
"Stop being a brat Aya."
"I'm no-" Annoyance had taken over any appropriate thought processes the white haired teen had. Before she could shout at him about how she wasn't being a brat and that she wanted him to leave her alone, and maybe wish for him to just got to hell, he pulled her to him and firmly pressed his lips to hers. It was probably stupid, but she wasn't fighting him back at least. And in his own defense, it was just such a damn nice feeling! After a few moments he pulled back slowly and gave a slow sigh and a slight smile at the dazed look on his partners face.
"The reason I haven't kissed you since the first time is because I don't want to lose myself." He blurted out. Ayame blinked back at him in confusion.
"I don't wanna lose myself." Zeke repeated and took a step back, running his fingers through his hair. "Aku," he gave himself a light thump on the chest. "He responds a lot to you… especially when we make contact." At this, Ayame wrinkled her nose in disapproval.
"What do you mean he responds to me?" she asked, causing her partner to shift awkwardly.
"You've got a strong wavelength, Aya." Zeke started, making his way to the couch and dropped into the cushions, allowing his head to fall back as he spoke. "So naturally he's attracted to that alone. He wants to take over. He's a parasite, that's what he does… but he also responds to my emotions, tied in with his desires to take over powerful wavelengths."
"So basically he's not only responding to my wavelength but your hormones?" Ayame asked, taking a seat next to Zeke, who was now glaring at her disapprovingly. She grinned in response.
"That's not what I said."
"But that's what it means." The girl teased and gave him a shove. "You're such a weirdo, you know that? Why don't you ever wanna tell me anything? I'm supposed to be your best friend." It was now Zeke's turn to roll his eyes.
"You're not exactly the easiest person to tell anything to. Especially with those judgmental looks you send my way." He pointed out.
"That's no excuse." Ayame informed, sitting closer to Zeke and leaning back. She was fiddling with the edge of her shirt as she spoke, but he could still see she was thinking hard about what she was saying. "With the way things are now, we need to be able to depend on each and tell each other everything. Our lives depend on it... Our futures do. All we have any more is each other and the team until we get our parents back." She then looked back at her partner. "You're really important to me, you know." Zeke smiled. She had a point. With the revival of Spartoi, aside from being with the team, all they had seen was each other, and in that time they rarely spoke due to his own insecurities. At the end of the day, they were on the brink of war and holding back wasn't going to get any of them anywhere.
"I'm sorry, Ayame." She turned and raised a brow.
"That's it?" she asked and Zeke let out a laugh.
"No… not really." Leaning in, he gently pressed his lips to hers once again. The cat was already out of the bag. Why not have a little fun.
Aimee liked to think that over time she had become in tune with her partner and all of his emotions and quirks, so she was certain that she could handle his current breakdown with the grace and elegance of that only she possessed when it came to her germaphobe of a meister. She stood in the doorway of his room, watching as he stared at a variety of clothing laid out across his bed. They were supposed to be turning in for the night but apparently he was obsessing over what he should pack for the journey ahead. Granted, the items he had out probably meant nothing with what was to come, but knowing Liam, he wanted to be a prepared as possible. Letting out a dramatically wide yawn, the red head stretched with her arms high above her head, leading out a content moan as she walked into the room.
"He Li, what're you still doing up? We've gotta be up early to meet with the team tomorrow. You're gonna need all the rest you can get the way Stein was talking." She hummed. The shinigami only grunted in response before giving a nod and making a grab for his duffle bag.
"We're going to be gone for an extended amount of time and I want to be as prepared as possible. We don't even know where we're being dragged off to." He informed, neatly folding and packing away each item. "You should reconsider some of the things you pack." Aimee raised a brow.
"You think they're sending us off to boot camp or something?" she questioned, only to receive a shrug in return.
"I can't be sure of anything anymore." Liam answered and glanced back at his partner. He seemed to be taking in her appearance before he turned his attention back to his packing. "It's been months since the others were taken and no action has been taken by the staff here other than these courses and training." Aimee walked around her partner, dropping onto his bed despite his disapproving glare.
"You're paranoid, you know that?" she teased, arms behind her head and crossing one leg over the other as she stared up at the ceiling. "For once, just think that maybe something good is going to come from all of this." It was now Liam's turn to scoff.
"Something good?" He asked and Aimee raised a brow at him.
"Why is that funny to you?"
"Because we're on the brink of a war." The dark haired teen answered. Silence followed and Aimee let out a sigh, rolling onto her side and staring thoughtfully at her meister. He was so adult for his age. He had always been. She could never really understand why. Ayame and Zeke did the best at bringing him back to his own age but still…
"Li, have you ever been kissed?" Instantly, his head shot up, blue eyes wide and face red, causing his partner to let out a loud laugh. "I'll take that as a no."
"W-why would you even ask that!?" He stammered, look of embarrassment and shock on his face. Aimee rolled back onto her back and closed her eyes, sprawled out on the bed now.
"I don't know. I just wanna know why you're so uptight all time time." She answered. "I wanna think of ways you could possibly lighten up."
"I'm fine, Aimee."
"Of course you are." A silence filled the room for a while. "Do you at least wanna give it a try?" Liam gave his partner a pointed look before letting out a sigh. He zipped his bag closed and dropped next to his partner on the bed.
"Why is this so important to you?" he asked as she moved over slightly to give him more space. Rolling onto her stomach and propping her chin onto a pillow she was now hugging onto. She titled her head to look at the dark haired young man who had his arms behind his head and eyes closed as he spoke. "Why does anything with me being relaxed or not relaxed concern you so much?"
"Because, you're my partner." The red head answered with a hint of a giggle. Liam peaked at her for a moment and noticed a hint of mischief in the woman's eyes. He raised a brow.
"And you seem to forget that you're still a kid." Aimee answered, now rolling her own eyes.
"I'll be 18 soon enough." Liam countered, a stubborn frown on his face.
"Yes, and still having missed a first kiss." Aimee challenged. "You'll be an old man, completely reliant on work to get through your day and not knowing the loving touch of a woman's lips against your own." Liam rolled onto his side, pinning his partner with a critical look.
"Are you kidding me?" He questioned, only to get a shrug in return as the red head propped herself up on her elbow.
"You could always prove me wrong." She hummed. Liam fought back a blush at the challenge. Girls were so difficult. Aimee giggled at his uncertainty and gave a warm smile. "C'mon, Liam. I promise I won't bite." That did it.
"I-I didn't say you would!" The shinigami croaked out, face completely red. Aimee let out a loud laugh, an entertained gleam in her eyes. She reached out and cupped his cheek.
"Just close your eyes." She instructed, voice softer than usual. Liam gave a mute nod, still pink faced. When his eyes closed, Aimee took a moment to admire his features. The clear anxious but awkward way be kept randomly biting his lips. The way that his hair, despite how much he tried to keep it tamed, seemed to flare out in random angles. His face wasn't nearly as round as when they had first met and she was certain that he would never grow facial hair. He was cute… no he wasn't a little kid any more. He was attractive. Handsome really. Yeah, that seemed to fit the asymmetrical young man.
She leaned in slowly to press her lips to his.
That's right… He wasn't a boy any more.