Part 2

By William "Logan" Jordan, Mathieu Roy, & Michael Surbrook

"A beach in Australia." Lora sighed in obvious envy, "I wish I could go swimming. But I'm too heavy. If I wade out from shore I just sink to the bottom. At least the sound of the waves is nice. And the sun." She hoped Shion would forget whatever was making her mad and just converse naturally.

"You and me both," Marta interjected suddenly. "My weight's and density's a bit to high to let me really float. If I want to go swimming I need a buoyancy harness." She jerked a thumb at Shion. "Unlike big sister here, who I've seen walk on water."

Lora couldn't help but grin at Marta's poke at her sister, which seemed so at odds with her former image of Shion. The fact that the Empress had a sister who not only wasn't awed by her but actually made sisterly jibes at her made her more "real" somehow.

"That'd be a neat trick to see, actually," Lora said. "But seriously, the only swimming I've done is in virtual reality. I haven't been swimming for real in..." She paused to think. "Six... Seven years?"

"That's rough," Raven said. She glanced at Johnnie, who'd scrambled back into his chair when Shion had started bending spoons, and sighed inwardly. The famed Empress needed to develop a thicker skin, or a better sense of humor where it came to teasing. She turned to Lora again. "Can't you wear some sort of floating device so you can swim?"

"Oh sure I could. But I'd have to be wearing a flotation suit that looks like a full coverage wetsuit. That's nice for scuba-diving I suppose. But not for just playing around on a beach or in a swimming pool. Blegh... No thanks."

"I don't need to go that far," Marta replied. "I just need to wear a vest. Just enough to give me neutral buoyancy."

"Since I can fly, walking on water isn't a big deal." Shion nodded over at Raven. "I see no reason why she can't do it."

"I could." Raven shrugged. "Just never bothered to try."

Lora gave Raven and Shion a cockeyed look. Then she snorted, and hooking her thumb at Raven, she said, "Oh yes, and there's this lovely trick with loaves and fishes she does that you've just got to see!"

Raven snorted right back. "Fine, next time we're at the pool or the beach I'll give you a little demo."

"Loaves and fishes?" Ling Ling glanced at Marta.

Got me," the street samurai replied.

Johnny, too, looked puzzled by that comment.

Raven rolled her eyes. "C'mon, don't tell me none of you have actually read the Bible?"

"Never had time," Marta replied. Ling Ling merely shook her head. "I was brought up to be a Buddhist. Sort of..." Shion simply kept silent.

"Oh well..." Lora shrugged. "I went to a Catholic school for a year when I was 13, what can I say?"

Shion stared at the two spoons she'd bent into unrecognizable lumps of metal and felt a sudden surge of dark depression. She felt she should be happy—after all, Raven was free of Shiroko-Tsuhi, and her own sister had just announced she was getting married. And yet here she was feeling upset and angry. In fact, why was she even here? So Raven could poke fun at her in front of her friends? (She was used to Marta's antics, that she felt came with the territory.) And, of course, if she reacted to Raven, then she needed to relax and learn to laugh at herself, while if she sat there in stony-faced silence then she was simply the uptight and bitchy Ice Queen. Very much the no-win situation.

She needed to get out. Get out and away, before she folded something far less disposable than a soup spoon. Get out of Hong Kong and get back home—to Neo York. She'd call Aoi, see if she was busy, take her out for drinks, and... Shion paused and considered her chain of thought. She had never asked for help from anyone, not if she could help it, but... In the course of the anti-esper cyborg mission she'd come to like the short samurai, and felt the feeling was somewhat mutual. So yes, she would go to Neo York and look Aoi up, and ask her opinion and thoughts on Raven, the Empress, and the nature of friendship. But first...

"Excuse me," Shion said as she slid her chair back and stood up. "I'll be back in a moment." Not bothering to see if anyone would acknowledge her leaving, she made for the door.

Johnny watched Shion go with uncanny intensity, then he glanced at Raven. It seemed like yesterday that he'd finally truly realized that she was a fully functional person now. Even for months after her operation, he'd never have dared to elbow her like he did now.

Raven jumped a little in her chair then bent to talk to Johnny in a low voice. "Yes?"

"Your friend... Shion." Johnny had a bit of difficulty getting the Empress's first name past his throat, even at low volume. He was startled by the familiarity Raven was showing her and obviously, so was Shion herself. "I dunno, but she doesn't seem in a good mood."

Raven sighed. "She can be so uptight sometimes. I didn't mean to piss her off."

Johnny nodded. "Okay, so I know that. But maybe you should tell her, just in case." He paused, then added, "Just in case she's really ticked." Another short pause. "I don't think she's used to having friends. It's kinda you and walking, see? You might take it for granted, but..."

"She won't," Raven replied, her face the picture of epiphany. "I better go talk to her."

She stood up and smiled to the others. "Excuse me. I've gotta go, too."

Out in the hallway Shion could see their waitress finally coming to take their order, pushing a cart laden with water pitchers and tea pots. Silently she slipped on by, making her way to the restrooms, forming an image of Neo York in her mind, building her Power in perpetration for sending herself halfway around the world in an instant.

Raven gently pushed the restroom door open, peeking her head in. "Hey there..." The black-haired esper suddenly realized she had no idea what to say at this point. What should one say when one's teasing of a friend had gone sour? "I guess I wanted to apologize." Yes, that was a good start.

Shion stood where she was, her back to Raven, staring into the mirror on the wall, neither moving or speaking, her Power signature pulsing in Raven's mind like a heartbeat.

"I shouldn't have been needling you like that," Raven continued, watching Shion for a clue, any clue. "That was very rude of me."

The mental pressure of Shion's power winked out as the tall esper visibly relaxed, tension running from her body. "Contrary to popular opinion," she said, still looking into the mirror, "I do have feelings... and they can be hurt."

"I didn't mean to hurt you," Raven said. She walked over next to Shion, leaned her back against the counter to regard her. "Just to banter a bit. Give you a break from being the Empress, you know?"

"It's not that easy to break..." Shion looked over at Raven. "I think I told you that once before."

"I know. But if you don't try it never will work." She smiled self-depreciatingly. "I didn't take the best way to get there though, did I?"

Shion shook her head. "No... I'd say not."

"So," Raven said. "I apologize for that. I didn't mean to insult you. And I won't do it again."

"Thank you."

"It's me who should be thanking you. I owe you big, I should repay you better." She glanced towards the door. "Feel up to going back? No needling, I swear. Though I can't guarantee about Marta, but you can handle her."

Shion gave a slight smile. "Her I'm used to."

"Well I admire your courage and resilience then," kidded Raven.

"And not my vast reserves of patience?" Shion asked in a far lighter tone of voice.

Raven laughed. "Those too."

Shion's smile vanished suddenly. "But it is true you know. It's not easy being the Empress all the time. To always be cold and harsh and distant. To always be there... alone." She glanced back a the mirror. "Aoi was right..."

"So don't be," Raven said. She smiled at Shion's reflection in the mirror. "Yeah, I know, harder than it sounds, but maybe it's not. You do have friends who you don't need to impress, who aren't scared of you just because of who or what you are, people who you can trust. You can loosen up with them."

"That may be..." Shion continued looking in the mirror, her face now expressionless, "But I think those same people... those friends... should realize this isn't easy for me... and accept that."

"Well, this one does now," Raven said simply.

For a long moment Shion was silent. "Let's go have dinner," she said finally.

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