Slim Pickings

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His eyes snapped open in time to see a spit of flame dissipating against the front of the stone oven, tongues and petals of it flecking off like sprayed metal.

From inside he heard Ray give a shout. Kai didn't blame him.

Did I just...breathe fire?

The window above the oven snapped open and Ray's head popped out. "What was that?"

Kai blinked. The log inside the oven was untouched. The stonework had protected it. Baffled, stunned, he looked up at Ray with a new concern.

"Is the tub full?"

"No, are you kidding me? I only have one good working arm and you've only been out for five minutes."

"Then hurry, and tell me when you're done." After all, he didn't want to cook Ayah.

Ray nodded and vanished, keeping the window open. Kai, half wishing he had closed it so he could practice this in relative secret (as he always preferred), he shrugged and drew a bit away with another log.

Once more he focused on breathing deep to his gut, down to the heat, and blew out. This time he had his eyes open so he was able to watch the thin stream of flame hiss from his mouth and burst free some two feet from his face. The log exploded with a roaring crackle. Kai stumbled back out of habit, even though the fire didn't burn him, nor did it feel too hot. He even saw raw hot sparks land on his bare arms and chest without harm.

Okay, so less breath?

He tried just breathing out. Nothing happened. But, then, that made sense. If he breathed fire every time he just breathed out...

In fact, he had a bit of trouble breathing out the fire without going all the way down to the point of bursting his lungs. It had to come from the belly, from the very warmth of his blood. Two more logs were incinerated to instant coals before he managed something half-strength, even then the log was gone twice as fast as it would under a normally heated fire.

"Kai! It's full!"

Kai hesitated. If he wasn't careful with this...

Hoping more fuel would take away the brunt of the uncontrolled part, he filled the oven with the hardest logs he could find. Then, focusing, even closing his eyes, he lowered himself to the earth, dug deep, and let out a slow, steady breath from the gut.

The hush of flame whipping the air into wind—a crackle—and he opened his eyes to see a fire dancing merrily away in the oven as though it had for hours.

Only then did he manage a self-satisfied smile.

"Okay, that's cool."

"Agreed."

Ray hung out of the window above him, grinning.

Kai raised an eyebrow at him. "Don't you have to climb over Ayah to get out the window?"

"Hey, it's better on this edge of the tub where I don't have to look at her, trust me. Get back up here, I need your help. Gimp arm."

"If she's anything like me, she'll need food." Kai pushed himself up with a groan of effort. His legs wobbled tremulously. Maybe the fire practice now wasn't such a good idea. "I'll make her something. Cover her with a towel and get started."

Ray rolled his eyes. "How about I make her something, being able to cook unlike you, and you start cleaning her? Mind you, the same warning goes to you, the other teenage male in the house."

Kai ducked his head as he felt the heat returning to his face—and not the cool 'I'm going to breathe fire' kind. "Fine."

Which was how he found himself alone with an unconscious Ayah covered in only a towel.

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