The Taste of Flame

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Afterwards, Tyson showed Kai his old Dranzer blade that he had been able to dig out of the coals. The metal had been twisted and warped, and the yellow bit was not only blank of any phoenix, but shattered from the heat. This blade would never spin again.

Ray and Grandpa Granger returned with empty hands, though not exactly dampened spirits. The old man nearly had a small party on seeing Kai up and about (sort of, since when he wasn't eating he was sleeping), and Kai had to put up with another Granger poking at his weak wings and making stupid obvious comments. After a night of heavy sleep, broken by binges of food which he ate in the pantry doorway, watching over the humming egg of Ayah, dawn broke over the Granger household ready to head out on another heavy search for Max. Ray and Tyson decided to trade for the day on Kai/Ayah watch (which annoyed Kai, as he had gained enough strength to walk just fine, thank you), when they were interrupted by a sharp knock at the door.

Max's blond American mother stood at the doorway, accompanied by Max's father, who had deep circles beneath his eyes.

"Where is he?" she asked.

Grandpa Granger blanched. "Max, ma'am? Uh-uh, that's what we're trying to find out—"

"Not my son. Kai. The only sense I can get from my husband is that Kai is somehow the reason you all know my Maxie is still alive."

Kai, who had been in the kitchen when this happened, quietly closed the pantry door along with the little chain lock on the front. He barely understood the onrush of protectiveness that rose in him and made him want to push Max's parents back out the door.

He had managed to somehow pull up his wings to his back when she walked in, all frazzled mother nerves and cool professionalism in one. She raised an eyebrow at the shirtless teenager who stared broodily back.

It took her a full five minutes of pointless chatter for her to figure out that Kai had wings and a tail. Kai couldn't help but wonder what else she had thought the mass of red feathers was. Some pointless cosplay? Because Kai Hiwatari was so into cosplay when his teammate and friend was lost at sea and his worried parents were over. Honestly.

When she reached out to touch them, however, he recoiled. Tyson, Ray, heck, even Grandpa Granger he could stand, but this woman he barely knew, half of the time of which she had been on an enemy team. Add to the fact she was a scientist who spent most of her time overseas studying sport rather than being a mother for her son or a wife and Kai seriously didn't want to see what she would do with this discovery.

"They're real," he said lowly. "Get over it."

Tyson and Ray fluttered in to explain between muttered affirmatives of her husband, but her eyes never left Kai. He began to wish fervently for a shirt—and for everyone to get out of the kitchen and away from the pantry. He didn't like people, and he avoided being around lots of them, more especially in close quarters. But he couldn't very well leave Ayah. What if the woman tried to stick her nails in or break it open? What if she tried taking Ayah with her for experiments or even try to get to Ayah to demand what she did to her son?

"So a girl sings," she said, one eyebrow as high and skeptical as an eyebrow could get. "And suddenly your team captain grows wings?"

"Not exactly—"

"It's a theory—"

But she broke over all of them with a low, closed mouth yell. She whirled on her heel, fists clenched. Her husband flinched horribly.

"This is—we could have been looking for Max. I can't believe you..."

And without another word, she stomped out of the kitchen and out of the house, her husband scrambling to give apologies to them and keep up with her at the same time.

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