"You didn't dry it again," he said, sighing a little. "You'll get sick if you do that."
In response to his words, she handed him the towel. "You want me to do it?" he said. His surprise was genuine; he was a little taken aback, actually, when she nodded, confirming his half formed suspicions.
He was reminded, briefly, painfully, of his sister. It wasn't any one memory, just little things, here and there, now and then. How she had wanted him to fetch something for her even though she could have done it; how she liked for him or their mother to brush her hair; how, even when she was past the age where she should have outgrown it, she wanted him to tuck her into bed, because their parents wouldn't do it for her anymore.
"It's nice," she'd said sleepily. He didn't remember what day it was, how old she had been, what year--- only that she had said it. "It makes me feel loved."
At the time, he had sighed over it and called her a baby, and she had pouted and complained that he was mean. But the recollection of her easy, honest admission of it made his heart ache now, a remnant of a similar time.
He didn't know what he would have said to her now, if she asked, if she spoke those words to him again. But she wouldn't. For a thousand different reasons, they would never be the people in that memory ever again.
Another tug at his leg brought San back to the present, and he looked down into the face of the fae girl. The hand that had held the towel outstretched now held it closer to her, and her other hand slowly joined it, fingers buried into the fabric. "It's alright," San said softly, kneeling down and holding out his own hand. "I'll do it. Come here."
Her eyes lingered on him a moment longer, so San smiled for her to reassure her that it was alright. Only then did she turn around, holding herself still so he could dry her hair with the towel.
As he worked over her damp hair, a cold, uncomfortable thought settled over him. What if this was what the handlers had intended? They had taken his real sister away from him as punishment, assigned her elsewhere because he hadn't been able to keep his own impulses in check. And now, if they could replace her, if they could give him something else to become attached to, that would be one more leash they had on him. And Rei was small, her mind already troubled on some level. It would be too easy to hurt her, one way or another.
He had been trying, all this time, to prepare her for life as an agent. But what if that wasn't what they wanted her to be?
If she was meant to be a whipping boy for his mistakes... Or a convenient excuse to relegate their unit to something worse than their current assignment, or even to terminate them altogether? Hachi hadn't said it, but he hadn't forgotten the way they had talked around it, the day Rei had been introduced.
He felt his fingers go numb, his stomach clenching with a sudden wave of dread. But he forced the sensation down with the ease of long practice, forced himself to focus on what he was doing. There was no sense in thinking about it. Whatever the higher-ups intended, it had already been decided. The only thing he had any control over was what he did now, and how well Rei did if they ever sent her afield.
If they meant for Unit Nine to fail with this project, then he would make sure they wouldn't. And if they hurt Rei to punish him...
... He would cross that bridge when they came to it. Depending on the circumstances, maybe it wouldn't happen.
He was running away from the idea, and he knew it. But nothing better occurred to him, and letting it fill him with dread did no one any good.
"All done," he said, pulling away from Rei. When she turned around to look at him, he smiled at her again. But she didn't relax this time, he noticed.
He was getting rusty, if he couldn't even fool her.
"We'll try 'sprint' again tomorrow," he told her, grounding himself in the familiar talk of their training process. "You're doing well. We should be doing some different things soon." She was almost ready, he realized, for at least some rudimentary assignments. Just a few more things to learn... And all of them more difficult, or at least more uncomfortable, than what they had done so far.
At their next session, San set down the markers again, but this time he kept the lines shorter than before. He walked her through the warm up stretches, then had her sprint twice between the markers. Her stamina was improving, he noticed, and now he suspected that it might not have been just the practice that they were doing. But if she was supplementing her training in her own time, it wasn’t something he would have discouraged either.
It wasn’t something they had to talk about, and if he confronted her about it, however gently, maybe she would take it the wrong way.
Maybe he didn’t want to think about her toiling away of her own accord, about what it meant.
Focus, San reminded himself.
“After this next one, we’ll try it without the markers,” said San. “When you do, you can run in any direction. Try to remember how far it is; count your steps if that helps.”
He waited for her to take her position at one marker, then said, “Sprint.”
She ran from one side to the other, putting on a burst of speed like he had taught her. That much was within San’s expectations by now. What he wanted to see was if she would remember how to do it without the markers.
He gave her a moment to recover--- the intervals that she needed were getting shorter, he could tell. Then he led her away from the markers and said, “Sprint.”
She ran, but this time the distance was too short. “A little more,” he said. “Maybe three extra steps. Sprint.” Her next attempt was better. Still, he had her practice it several more times, until the distance she went was sufficient and consistent.
And then he had her practice some more, just for the sake of exercise. It was only a matter of improving her stamina now.
Over the course of a few more sessions, they gradually reduced the lapses between sprints, until she could perform them more or less consecutively. It was a lot to ask of someone, especially when she was as small as she was, but he couldn’t be lax in this regard. This could save her life someday, when it came down to it.
There was a little more to do with regards to her swimming, and in between the running sessions, San covered their bases there too. It wouldn’t see as much use, and he had originally gotten her swimming as another way to introduce exercise to their training routine, but now he supposed he might as well make sure she could do it well.
The tub was filled with more water than there had been previously, up to her shoulders now if she stood at the bottom. He put in a block at one end for her to stand on if that turned out to be too much.
That was where he set her down, when they started the session. "See how it's a bit deeper today?" said San. "We'll work on your diving skills today. I know it might look a bit scary, but I think it'll actually be easier to dive properly now that there's more water."
If she was scared, she didn't show it. He wondered if she was learning that too. If she hadn't, she might have to soon, though for now it wasn't something he asked of her.
"Do you think you can try it? Remember, lead with your hands and your head," he said. She nodded. "Good. Dive."
She dove. It was still awkward, still a good deal of flailing limbs, but she dove down and her hands touched the bottom. And even though it was awkward, it wasn't quite so awkward as it had been. "That's it. Let's try again when you're ready," he said, when she came back up.
He waited for her to catch her breath, then gave her the signal again. "Dive." She dove down again, but this time she didn't jump into the water so much as she slipped beneath it, first submerging herself and then plunging deeper from there. When she came back up this time, San said, "That's better. Not as much noise this time. And it feels smoother that way, doesn't it?"
He hadn't actively been coaching her towards it, but she had tried and figured it out on her own. That was good. It was the start of something closer to autonomy. Smiling, San said, "Soon you won't even need me anymore, will you?"
She looked up at him like that, almost sharply, as if startled by his words. San blinked, then shook his head. "It's just a joke. I'm not going anywhere," he said. At least, not for the moment, and he didn't want to upset her with hypotheticals to no end just yet.
She stared at him a moment longer, but slowly, the tension ebbed from her bearing. He was watching her choose to believe him, San thought, and felt the imaginary noose pull a little tighter around him.
If they really did mean to leash him with this, they had chosen well. Her dependence on him was genuine, with no ulterior motives on her own part. And he was the one who had fostered it, without ever considering the possibility until it was too late.
He took a deep breath in, then let it out. "Let's do it again, one more time. Dive."
When she got used to diving with this water depth, he made it a little deeper, and added another block so she could still swim up to stand on it and rest. "Let's try again," he said. "This time, since it's a little deeper, you don't have to touch the bottom. Just go as far as you can."
He had said she didn't need to touch the bottom, but he could see her trying for it anyway. On the first attempt, she didn't reach it, but on the second, she did. And then on the third attempt, and the fourth.
"That's good," he said. "You're a natural at it now. I've got just one more thing to teach you, and then we'll be done with all this swimming." He didn't know, even now, whether she actually liked it or not. He suspected she probably didn't, since it was cold, and there was none of the fun in this that he had enjoyed when he was younger, jostling with his friends and picking lotus pods, the water a cool balm to the summer heat. He probably wouldn't have enjoyed it if he had learned like this, in a bare room with a pool, and an instructor who asked him to do the same thing over and over again.
He would have liked to promise her that they could go somewhere nicer, if she liked to try it again, but there was no sense in saying anything like that, since it wouldn’t be true. If he received leave to take her outside, it would only mean that she was moving forward in the progression of her training as an agent, and then it would be for more training, if not work. And agents of the Watchful Ones had precious little time for themselves.
Start: Tread Water
“You know how to move around in the water now,” said San. “Swimming and diving and going under. Now we’ll work on staying in one place, with your head above the water.”
This was San’s least favorite aspect of swimming himself, so he was glad in a sense that he wasn’t going to have to demonstrate it for her, at least not in the water.
But it was a useful skill to have, just like the others were, and if he was going to teach her to swim, he was going to do a thorough job of it, if nothing else. They had come this far, and there was only this last stretch left to go.
“It’s called ‘treading water’. Instead of moving your arms to sweep yourself forward like you were doing before, you move them back and forth, from side to side, like this.” He demonstrated the arm movement for her. “Can you do it?”
Rei mimicked his motions. It had become fairly standard practice for their swimming sessions at this point. San watched her a moment, then nodded. “Right. Like that. As for your legs…” There were a variety of different techniques, some of them more or less efficient, but since she was just learning the basics, he decided to keep it simple.
“You kick back and forth, but just a little bit. You can keep your legs bent if you like, since you’re not trying to go anywhere, just keep your head above the water. You’re trying to save energy and keep breathing when you do this, so it’s important to slow down and take nice, deep breaths.”
By this point, he had explained all that he could, and she had tried all she could without actually getting into the deeper part of the tub. “When I say ‘tread water’, can you go to the deep part and give it a try?” She nodded, so he said, “Tread water.”
She swam just off the shallow portion he had created with the block, then did her best to follow his instructions. It didn’t immediately work, or at least not very well. She stayed afloat, but she bobbed in the water somewhat erratically, back and forth for a bit.
Jack: Thanks for the notice!
May 28, 2020 10:05:26 GMT -6
Darky: Heads up: there's a chance you might notice Trepuldra images having loading issues on June 3rd, for about 3h. No need to panic, Veebimajutus just notified there's going to be some scheduled maintenance, is all x3
May 28, 2020 10:05:06 GMT -6
Fiera Ferella: right??? i was really hoping i could find one of those pachee before the season was out.
May 26, 2020 18:51:32 GMT -6
Fanged: Oh wow that's an awesome garden find FF
May 26, 2020 18:13:26 GMT -6
Riku: Oh how perfect! I woke up wanting to post (unexpected, but yay) and saw I had a reply. <3 Meant to be.
May 26, 2020 6:40:43 GMT -6
Twilight-Claw: I really, really love all the updates that have come~! <3
May 24, 2020 2:12:37 GMT -6
Fiera Ferella: np!!! I hope y'all like it!
May 23, 2020 13:45:06 GMT -6
Riku: What an awesome update, staff! Thanks for that! <3
May 23, 2020 12:06:52 GMT -6
Jack: All have been found!
May 23, 2020 9:53:27 GMT -6
Jack: Might want to be on the lookout for anything... odd
May 22, 2020 23:51:22 GMT -6
Fiera Ferella: Yeah it’s definitely a coincidence but wow did it work out well for us! XD
May 22, 2020 6:43:27 GMT -6
Silver: I'm pretty sure that was just a coincidence, but it sure feels lucky!
May 22, 2020 2:07:09 GMT -6
Riku: So did you guys make this hosting switch perfectly RIGHT before pb broke? >.< Thaz crazy. It’s a huge relief and I’m very glad we’ve come to this. <3
May 22, 2020 1:41:01 GMT -6
Fiera Ferella: It’s free up to a certain number of GB, which we haven’t hit yet.
May 21, 2020 6:46:33 GMT -6
Twilight-Claw: Is the site that is going to be used to host all those images also the type you'd need to pay for? (definitely noticed the broken images yeah. Photobucket feels like it is standing on its last legs. X3 )
May 21, 2020 0:13:57 GMT -6
Morgan: I'm just kinda nervous about them going down before things get moved over completely. It's prolly nothing to be worried about though. :3
May 20, 2020 22:13:15 GMT -6
Fiera Ferella: Thank goodness we're moving out of there? XD
May 20, 2020 21:59:22 GMT -6
Renathan: Ugh, photobucket has the images broke again. x3
May 20, 2020 21:18:53 GMT -6