Sonya Blade was suddenly aware that she and Liu Kang were alone. Rayden had disappeared much earlier in the celebration, but she hadn't noticed Johnny Cage leaving. The party was still raging and of all of them, she would've guessed Johnny would enjoy it the most.
"I don't know," Liu responded.
"I'm going to find him."
Lu looked at the celebration. "I'll come with you." Cage was nowhere in the hall or in the courtyard. Now, his comrades were beginning to worry. They found him on the roof. They had to climb the crumbling side of a ruin to get to him. He was meditating as it turned out. That was why he hadn't responded to their calls.
His blue eyes were distant. He jerked awake and looked at them. "What's up?"
"We were looking for you. We couldn't find you."
"Sorry," he shrugged. "I don't actually like parties. Especially when I can't understand a word of what's going on."
"You're homesick?" Blade asked in surprise.
"No, not really. I just need to think." This wasn't the arrogant man who'd met them on the ghost ship, or even the team member who'd fought with them. He was completely detached.
"Johnny, talk to us. What's wrong? We saved the world."
"But the cost. . ." the movie star started and drifted off.
"You lost a friend in the competition," Lui said. "I forgot."
"And you lost a brother and Sonya lost a partner," Johnny chided. He shook his head. "It was a good thing. Woke me up to reality. I'm just not a very good partier. Go back to the party. I'm fine." A crack of thunder drew Johnny's attention.
"Johnny, are you drunk?" Blade asked, putting a hand on his shoulder.
"No, I don't drink. Not anymore at least. Makes me agree to do stupid things. Like my first movie." The cocky grin was back. "I really just want to think." A few more prods and they left him alone.
"Are you pleased with yourself, Johnny? You've pushed them away," Rayden asked.
"Not particularly, no." Johnny didn't feel like lying to a god.
The white-haired immortal sat down next to him. "So talk to me, Johnny."
"Because this is all my fault, right? All the confusion is because I brought you here."
Cage laughed. "Not unless you're in control of something a little more than lightening shows."
"Then because I'm not going to show up at an LA party."
"Neither are they."
"Because I'm here and I won't leave until I get the truth."
"I chose you for a reason, Johnny Cage. You needed something. Did you find it?"
Rayden sighed. This was going to be harder than he'd thought. "Why don't you let me help?"
"Some things you have to do on your own. I have to figure this out for myself."
"You won't be alone, Johnny. When you need me, I'll be there."
The trip home for Sonya and Johnny was very subdued. Officially, they'd both been missing for two weeks. Sonya reported back that her quarry had disappeared. Johnny just smiled away the concerns. Half a year later he hadn't started a new movie. He was training students. He had one small studio. Half of the students could barely pay.
"What the Hell is going on, Johnny?" his agent demanded.
"I'm. . ."
"You disappear for two weeks and now I can't get you to do a public relations shot! What the Hell are you thinking?"
"I'm trying to save my soul. The movies were fun, but. . ."
"Johnny, you're good." Cage looked away and his agent paused. "Dammit. You and I both know that the tabloids don't mean anything. The studio wants a new movie. They've sent you scripts. Just pick one. Johnny, please." He could see that the younger man was weakening. "Do a couple of tournaments if you're worried about your reputation."
Cage's eyes shut down. "I'll call you."
"It isn't nice to lie to the man, Johnny," Rayden said stepping into the office. He was dressed to fit in - jeans and a white shirt, his white hair back in a ponytail.
"What are you doing here?" Johnny snapped. Anger made his eyes glitter almost like Rayden's thunderbolts. The agent stepped back. He'd never known the man to lash out in anger, but there was always a first time.
"You need me."
"Do I really?" Cage ground out. He was keeping a tight leash on his anger. The god was unimpressed. He crowded into Cage's space trying to provoke him. Johnny stepped back to give himself maneuvering room.
"Yeah." The agent was forgotten. "You don't need to find your way alone. Remember Sonya's lesson, Johnny Cage." Cage's usual smile had been replaced by the grim determination he had found during the fights. "You're following her down that path."
"Oh, and you've come to keep me on the straight and narrow."
"No, I'm here to knock you off the path completely."
"You've already done that once." Johnny was disinterested now.
"It's called growing, Johnny."
"Screw you, Ray."
Rayden was amused by that. "Uh Uh ah," he chided. "Stop trying to piss me off. It's not going to work."
Johnny started pacing. "Why did you interfere in the first place?" he demanded. His agent's eyes narrowed. He'd figured out that "Ray" was the one who'd knocked his top client for a loop.
"Because you needed the challenge. I told you you weren't alone."
"Get out," Johnny ordered. "Both of you."
"I'll talk to you, Johnny," his agent said as he backed out the door. The white haired man settled into the desk chair.
"I think I can handle a little tantrum, Johnny." Cage growled in frustration. He refused to lose control. It was the only thing that still made sense to him. At least he wouldn't lose it with an audience. He stood staring out his home office window at the placid beach. He wished for crashing breakers, anything angry and destructive. He didn't hear Rayden move before he put a hand on his shoulder. "Let it go."
"Hurts doesn't it? Finding out who you are, I mean?" A one armed hug around resisting shoulders started to break things. "Johnny, you are one of the best. I wouldn't have chosen anyone less qualified than that. You learned a lot about yourself. Where is the problem?"
"The problem is I have to be Johnny Cage. Here. Now. No one understands what's going on and I can't explain it. I went missing. My agent's getting paranoid and my therapist wants me to use Prozac. The tabloids keep hounding my students and I have fewer friends than I did before this whole thing started!"
"Liu Kang adjusted well."
"He was raised to this. He became a monk."
"Sonya's team is probably cheering the change."
"They are. Where did you get lost, Johnny?"
"Somewhere between taking two lives and coming back to the docks."
The wind picked up and the waves stared crashing. Johnny rested his forehead against the glass. "You went to the tournament for a different reason, Johnny. Liu and Sonya went for vengeance. You went to prove to yourself that you weren't just an actor. The world was just a byproduct. You were already older than they were. You knew before they did that it was a personal battle. Explain to me why they have had less troubles."
"Because the pressure is different. My image is shaped by how the press expects me to act. It's not what I want anymore."
"You want a quiet life."
Johnny turned to face his tormentor. "Easy for you to say."
"Who would it hurt."
"My agent. My lawyer. My cleaning lady. My friends."
"I could make it complete. Johnny Cage would never have existed."
"No. You know, I donít think you're a god. I think you're a demon."
Rayden laughed. "I've been accused of that before. There's another option."
"Come with me. Just for a few years. By the time you get back you can live a quiet life."
"What's the catch?"
"Help me train champions. Help me evaluate. Decide who gets struck by lightening."
"I think I need to think."
"It's a standing invitation."
Rayden considered. "Because you were the first mortal to accept me as who I am. You've never been awed or afraid. You didn't ignore me. And you've never tried to lie to me."
"Would it have worked?"
"Didn't think so." The blue eyes were a little happier now.
"You know how to find me." They both knew that the decision had already been made.
Sonya looked out at the raging thunderstorm. Her pensive silences made her teammates worry. They left her alone to brood as they organized a poker game. "Hello, Sonya," a voice said. She turned around to find Johnny perched on the chair across from her. He had one leg hanging over the arm of the chair.
"How did you get in here?" she demanded.
Johnny had briefly had a crush on her, but it hadn't even outlasted the competition. "I'll give you three guesses."
"You went missing two months ago, Johnny. Gave up your dojo. Walked away from your mansion. What the Hell happened? Will we find your body on the beach some day? I know the tournament threw you off center, but. . ."
"I'm not dead, Sonya. I don't think. I've just been seeing the world. I figured I'd just stop by. How've you been?"
"Blade," her second in command called barging into the room. He stopped short. He studied the man in the chair. The man stared back at him. "Sorry. Didn't know you had company."
"Oh, don't mind me. I should be going anyhow."
"Hey, you're Johnny Cage."
"Guilty as charged." Johnny grinned. His eyes were alight and Sonya looked closer.
"This is really cool. I didn't know you knew a movie star, Blade."
"I meet all kinds." Sonya rolled her eyes. "Johnny Cage, meet Dean Wilson."
"A pleasure." The men shook hands."
"What's up, Wilson?"
"Just wanted to know if you were going to join the game. I see you're otherwise entertained for the evening." Wilson winked. "See you later." He shut the door with exaggerated care.
"You're traveling with Rayden."
"Not a guess. There's lightening in your eyes now. Are you sure you're not dead?"
"Well, not really, no, I'm not sure. I don't remember dying and no one's found a body, so," he shrugged. "But Rayden is Rayden. How have you been, Sonya?"
"I've been okay. I can't help but think about things when I see a thunderstorm. I can't explain why I've stopped looking for the son-of-a-bitch that killed my partner. I can't tell them why thunderstorms fascinate me. I can't tell them where I've been. But, I'm doing okay. I'm happier now."
Johnny nodded. "I'm glad. I worried about you."
"Have you seen, Liu?"
"What have you been doing?"
"Traveling. I've seen different countries, dimensions, times. It's fascinating. I'm happier now than I've been in years."
"Liu Kang," Johnny intoned. The younger man spun around, defensive. "Hey, it's just me."
"Johnny? How'd you get here? Nevermind, I can guess. How've you been?"
"Pretty good. You like missionary work?"
"Love it. It's pretty much what I was raised to do. So what are you doing these days?"
"Teaching. Traveling. I've never felt so free."
"Or so at home?" Johnny smiled. It was a rare true smile that reached his eyes.
"Johnny, don't take this the wrong way, but. . . is traveling with Rayden a good idea?"
"Is there someplace private we can talk?"
"Sure. Come into my office." Johnny relaxed into the hard wooden chair. "Now, answer the question."
"Why would it be bad? My life couldn't have gotten any worse."
"But you're a star."
"And that's supposed to make everything better?" Liu blinked. The American stared at him calmly.
"What. . .What happened?"
"Life went on, Liu. I just couldn't live that way anymore. I wasn't happy before the competition." He shrugged.
"What's up with your eyes?"
"What do you see?"
"I see the sea." Johnny cocked his head to the side, listening for more. "Johnny, you're playing with fire. Walking with a god can burn you out. It's dangerous."
"At least I'm not dying inside. I'd rather be burning than suffocating."
"Johnny, gods don't have limits. Humans do. If you spend too much time with Rayden, you'll lose your humanity."
Cage smiled. "Maybe. Then again, it's only for a couple of years."
"A couple of years could kill you."
"Funny," he said standing. "I thought I was just learning how to live. Have fun enlightening the poor. You'd be better served by teaching them how to survive. You can't learn if you're too hungry to concentrate."
"What would you know about it?"
"More than you'd believe. I'm a movie star, remember?" Cage slammed the door and stalked out into the village. He looked around and sighed. He picked at the junk pile, shaking his head. Liu was surprised to find the American under the hood of the junk Jeep. He was humming to himself as he inspected the engine.
"I thought you'd left."
"Not yet, kid. My ride's not here yet. You know we have everything we need to fix this in the junk pile."
"You fix cars?"
"There's more to life than making movies. I worked to get money for lessons. Cars and I just seem to work. Hand me that wrench."
"In the office, when you were talking about hunger, I'm sorry, I just assumed. . ."
"I wasn't born rich. I'm not a fake."
"I know. I saw you fight. You don't fight fairly."
"I was fighting for my life. All bets are off when it's about survival."
"So I've seen. Why did you choose to go with Rayden?"
"Because what he offer is better than what I had in LA."
"Well, well, well, what have we got here?" A voice sneered. "If it isn't Johnny Cage the missing movie star."
"Awful title. I'd change it before I tried to pitch it to anyone, Paulie."
"What are you doing here?"
"Meeting a friend. Fixing a car." Johnny shrugged. "When'd you get altruistic?"
"Peace Corps got me out of town. Didn't hear you get in. I like the grease marks. Much better than your movies. Doesn't anyone get dirty in LA?"
"I don't think so. How's Sarah?"
"Didn't anyone tell you? She died, oh, five, six years ago."
"Damn I missed that."
"Geez, Jack, what happened to you?" Paul MacGinty looked at the oddly blank eyes. "Maybe you should've stayed. Doesn't look like LA did you any good."
"Home wasn't much better. In fact LA was a step up."
"Yeah. You join the Corps?"
"No. I'm just traveling."
"And fixing cars."
"Today I am."
MacGinty's eyes narrowed. "Really, Jack. What happened? Why'd you run?"
"It just got too bad. I couldn't take it anymore. He almost broke my jaw. My teacher sent me with a letter of introduction to a friend he had in the area. He hooked me up with an apartment and my first job." Johnny shrugged.
"Johnny!" a voice called.
"Be right there! Gotta go. My ride's here." The white haired man waited patiently for the ex-movie star to join him in the street. They walked out of the village. Liu watched, and was rewarded with a flash of power, like a lightening strike. He bowed his head with a smile.
"Take good care of him, Lord Rayden," he murmured as he walked indoors.
Johnny lounged on the couch. At least that's what he thought of it as. Rayden didn't have a house or anything like that. The world around them seemed to shift with his --or was that their-- whims. Not that Johnny minded that. The couch was perfect. The crash of thunder and the flash of lightening didn't bother him at all. He opened his eyes with a smirk when Rayden touched his hair. "Time for training?"
Rayden shook his head sadly. "It's time to go back, Johnny. If you stay any longer, it will kill you."
"I don't care."
Their eyes met. Johnny looked away. He never could stand seeing people in pain. "Don't send me away," he said quietly.
"You cannot live in this realm any longer. You're mortal, Johnny."
Cage hated that tone of voice. It was soft and sweet and completely sincere. He hated it with his whole heart. He had no defense against that voice. He swallowed twice before he could speak. "Rayden, I don't have anything to go back to. You can't just throw me back. Or are you bored with me? If you wanted something more than a sparring partner you should have told me."
Rayden's hand stroked through the blond's hair. It was to his shoulders now. Johnny leaned into his touch. "I know," he said quietly. "I know you'd give anything to stay here, but you're well-healed. You're stronger now than you've ever been. You can stay with Liu. He'll understand."
"Oh, because his pretty immortal princess dumped him? Yes, I'm sure he will. We have so much in common."
The god decided to take a more straight-forward approach. "I know you love me, Johnny. And I know that you'll do what I ask. You'll be at the Temple of Light tomorrow morning. Liu will be there. You can stay at the temple or find your quiet life. You will always be able to call on me. I don't forget my promises."
Johnny turned, not willing to give up his corner of couch. "Are you telling me that if I'd asked you a year ago, we could have fucked already?"
Rayden stared at his mortal. The anger in Johnny's eyes made them flash a brighter blue. With a rush of shame Rayden realized what he'd done. He'd already started to transform the young man. It was too late to send him back for a simple life. He'd be safe at the Temple though. They'd look after an incarnate storm. He leaned down to place a gentle kiss on Johnny's forehead. The actor looked up at him.
"At least answer my question if you won't kiss me properly."
"Damn!" Johnny pulled his knees up and buried his face in the side of the couch. Rayden sat down next to him. He tugged on a lock of hair. Johnny looked at him. His eyes were dry, but they wouldn't stay that way much longer. The god pulled his consort to him and kissed him softly on the lips.
"I love you, Johnny Cage," he intoned, with all the seriousness he could muster when joy was filling his chest. "Staying here is destroying you. I won't let that happen."
"Give me a night then. Just one before you send me back to that cold, miserable planet you want me to call home."
"You won't be alone."
"But you won't be there, so it will be cold."
"I'll speak to you in the storms. I'll visit when I can."
"And forget me as soon as I'm dead."
"Never say that. Never think it. I'll remember you." If they went beyond a kiss, the change would be irrevocable. "Sleep well, Johnny." He kissed the young man. Johnny's eyes fluttered closed. He collapsed into Rayden's arms. The god gathered his lover close.
Liu Kang couldn't figure out why he'd returned to the Temple of Light. It wasn't like there was anything more he could do there than he could in the other places he'd served. It was just that after four years of traveling he wanted to be home. He wanted to be someplace where he could refer to an incarnate god and be believed. And maybe, just maybe, he hoped that Kitana would come back for him. He was standing in the courtyard when Rayden appeared. He was carrying someone in his arms. Liu's throat closed for a moment before he noted that the figure was male. Johnny, he thought. He jogged forward to take the burden.
Rayden glared at him. He set Johnny down carefully in front of the altar. "Liu Kang."
"Yes, Lord Rayden," he answered automatically.
"Take care of him. He needs to stay here. Let his rage at me burn itself out before you tell him that." Rayden's smile was sad. He stroked Johnny's hair lovingly. He kissed the young man's forehead then stood. "I'll return soon. Don't let him despair."
"Yes, Lord Rayden." Liu bowed. The god disappeared. Liu sat down to wait.
Johnny woke with a shiver. The ground was hard. Why was he on the ground and not in the very nice cushy bed they shared, even if they didn't do anything? Were they training someone? He couldn't remember and that worried him. Normally he knew everything he needed to the instant he woke up. He felt as if he'd been drugged.
"Johnny?" a familiar voice called. It wasn't Rayden though. Where was he? Had he gotten angry and left? Was he in trouble? Was he bored with a human companion? Johnny frowned. His head was a mass of confused images.
"He made me sleep. I hate when he does that," he muttered. He opened his eyes and focused on the person calling his name. "Liu?"
"Hey, you're awake. When did you learn Chinese?"
"Learned a lot from Rayden. Where is he?"
"He's not here. He said he'd be back soon."
"Right." Johnny sat up. The world only spun for a minute, so he must be getting used to whatever the god did to him when he put him to sleep. "We're at the temple? I thought you were in Africa?"
"I felt the need to come home. I think I know why."
"To baby-sit me on my return to the real world?"
"Yeah." Liu was smirking. He was trying to get a rise out of the older man. It wasn't going to work. Traveling with Rayden had tamed his temper at least a little bit.
"Fine. Then get me dinner and a massage. I'll be in my room as soon as you tell me where it is."
"Planning horrible and painful revenge for the universe's biggest prick-tease." Whatever Liu had been expecting it wasn't that. Johnny had the immense satisfaction of seeing Liu Kang sitting with his mouth open like a Venus Flytrap. He grinned. "That's a good look for you." Johnny got up. "Come on. Show me around this little mud-patch you call home. Doesn't do much for me, but you know I like my comforts. I tell you, moving here from a place that rearranges on a whim is sort of a downer you know?"
"Christ, Johnny, wait a minute. I think the Master should look at you."
"You were unconscious for three hours." Johnny watched him calmly. The silence got to the younger man. "Besides, your eyes are sparking again."
The actor shrugged. "They do that. Then they get normal again. Nothing to worry about. Probably just a residual of Ray putting me to sleep."
Liu bit his tongue. He didn't dare call Johnny on the casual name. Lord Rayden probably allowed it. After four years, he didn't really know how to react to the actor. Well, he wasn't an actor anymore was he? He was, something else now, not an actor. "For my peace of mind okay? Master Chen's an expert healer."
The momentary freeze scared Liu more than anything he'd faced. Johnny knew something. He was still smiling and the happiness was in his eyes. Damn he was a good actor. If only the critics had realized it maybe they wouldn't be here. Johnny wouldn't have been vulnerable enough to need to prove himself. He would never have gone with Rayden. "Sure. Okay. I can go to him though. Are you going to show me around or not?"
"You'll be staying?" It was a vain hope. There was nothing for Cage here. Liu just wanted someone he could really talk to for once. Maybe they'd get Sonya to come over and have a reunion of sorts.
"Yeah. I'll be staying. For a while at least. Until I know why I'm here."
"Lord Rayden didn't tell you?"
"Oh, he *told* me I'd be here all right. And he phrased it so I couldn't refuse to come here. But the reason why? No, we skipped that."
There was a moment of mental shuffling before Liu came to some troubling conclusions. First, Johnny was angry. Lord Rayden hadn't been joking about letting him rage. Second, the sparks in the man's eyes weren't fading. He looked a lot like the thunder god on a rant. And third, Cage was Rayden's consort with all the privileges and problems that would create for him. "Master Chen's chambers are this way. He only has two patients today. There will probably be more later in the day. Are you really comfortable with Chinese? I can switch to English if you want."
"No, Chinese is fine. Ray speaks it so I speak it. Nothing like full immersion to force you to learn languages. Bastard." Johnny's pace was faster than Liu was expecting. There was a new leanness to his form.
"You've been training with him?"
"I've been training fighters for him. That Mortal Kombat shit happens all the time. I don't know why. Gods seem to have it in for each other. I mean, honestly, don't you think one universe should be enough for anyone? They don't. So Ray gets to watch out for this one and deal with all the petty shit because we're pretty much off limits now. That means I get to train a bunch of snot nosed teens from different worlds who couldn't hold a long and coherent thought about world domination if their lives depended on it. At least in LA there were gang members who understood the idea behind defense and offense. These kids are like sheep." Johnny paused to look at the monks that were parting for them. "A lot like these brats here. Do whatever Master says. Mustn't anger the gods. Bullshit. It'd do everyone a lot of good if they'd just get pissed at the bastards once and awhile. Maybe it would teach them not to interfere like over-bearing parents." Johnny bowed absently as he passed an older monk. Liu bit his lip to stop from laughing as the monk did a double-take. They didn't get many foreigners here. They especially didn't get blond-haired, blue-eyed, whites wearing jeans, a tee-shirt, and a leather coat with a thunder-bolt on the back. Like it or not, Rayden had definitely been staking a claim to the man.
"Tell me, Johnny, how long have you been gay anyway?"
The actor paused in his rant to process the question. "I'm bi. Have been since I was a teenager. Of course, the boyfriend was mostly to make sure I had someone to run to when I got the shit beaten out of me, but co-dependency works for me. Hell, ask Rayden. From what I've been able to pry out of his stubborn hide, he normally only goes for pretty little one-night stands. And if I'd even gotten that much from him I'd be a little less pissed off that he dropped me at the end of the world! Four years, Liu. Four. And did I complain once? Well, once, but that was last night. He never even hinted that it could be anything more than it was. And why am I telling you any of this?"
"Because I'm here?" Liu offered. He couldn't help the laughter. Johnny's eyes narrowed. "I'm sorry. I really am. But, Johnny, he's a god. You're pissed off because he isn't acting like a human being."
"No, I'm pissed off because last night he told me that if I'd asked we'd have been fucking for a year. Then, three sentences later he's telling me that he's dropping me off here because if he doesn't I'll be dead. If he were human, that wouldn't be a fucking issue and we'd be in bed right now because I've got one hell of an imagination and he'd have a few years experience on me. Where is this fucking healer? Then where can I get a drink before I go nuts and try to take down a wall?"
"Down this way." Liu tried to force the smile off of his face. It wasn't kind. But this was Johnny. How could he take him seriously? The smack to the back of his head stung.
"Be nice to me," the man ordered. Liu composed himself. He felt his lips twitching. Johnny face settled into an almost teenaged pout. Liu bit his cheek until he tasted blood.
"This way. Maybe he can help you with the mood as well."
"No, it's never that easy. It's just a power surge from the teleportation. It should dissipate." The blond waved a careless hand in the air. There were calluses on it that Liu had never seen before.
"You've been doing weapons training? I thought you didn't like weapons?"
"What? I like weapons. Ray likes swords. I like chain. And not one word. I know it's usually a woman's weapon, but I can find chain anywhere. I can't find a sword. I do okay with a bo, but you know that."
"I did know that. Must be someone else I was thinking of. Sword, chain, bo, anything else recently?"
"Some weird thing that looks like it came out of a Star Trek episode. I can't pronounce the name. Healer?" Johnny nodded toward the door.
"Healer. Go on. He won't bite."
Chen looked up at the new voice. I thought I knew everyone now. I haven't heard that voice in, oh, six years. There's no way I would have missed his arrival. Then, the door opened. "Johnny Cage," he said with a bow. The young man returned his greeting automatically.
"That is correct. Sit here and let me take a look at you. No obvious strains or gashes."
"No, nothing surface. Liu's worried about me."
Chen nodded. "Close your eyes and relax. This will take a moment."
Cage sighed. He closed his eyes. Chen waved Liu out of the room. He'd be perfectly safe. He could fight a young man like this with ease if he turned violent. He set a hand on the young man's head. His chi wasn't flowing properly. In fact it was barely flowing at all. It was simply tangled up throughout his entire body.
"Have you taken acupuncture before?" Chen asked, moving to get the things he'd need.
"Once, when I messed up my back."
Chen nodded. The young man hadn't moved. He was far too still for a Westerner. Take off your coat and shirt and lay down on the pallet on the far side of the room from where you are now. I'll be with you in a moment."
"Sure." Chen noted that he moved quietly and quickly. He lay on his stomach on the pallet. It was likely a remnant of when his back hurt each night. He'd noted the damage to the chi stream there. In fact there was pain etched in every movement, though most would never see it. He'd noted the pain the first time he'd seen the young man, but hadn't been able to get him alone. He rearranged the man's arms to his liking. He lit the incense and began his treatment. It didn't take long for him to realize that problem was not the damage to the streams, though that was part of it, but rather that there was too much energy in the young man's body. He'd only ever seen it once before, when he was just learning his art. Lord Rayden's consort had been a young woman with dark soulful eyes that burned like a lightening strike.
"You are Lord Rayden's consort?" Chen asked mildly.
"I guess that's what you'd call it. We never really talked about it."
"You are aware of the energy in your body?"
"It's like a buzz in the back of my mind. It plays with my anger sometimes."
"I am redirecting that energy to allow you to deal with it more easily. The damage to your back was never fully healed."
Cage was quiet. "No," he said after a long moment. His voice was soft. "There was nothing to be done about it. It used to slow me down a little. But it never hurts when I'm with Ray." He turned his head so that his face was away from the healer. Chen placed a gentle hand on the back of the young man's neck.
"Cry," he ordered gently. "This will hurt very badly, but when it's done the pain will be gone for good. Do you understand?"
The young man nodded. He didn't move, though his breathing deepened. He was waiting for the pain. Chen closed his eyes and forced the energy into the channels. If he'd been able to do this when he was younger, he might have saved Li from her fate. The young man inhaled sharply, but didn't cry out. He didn't move either. Chen released his grip carefully. There was a faint glow to the pale skin. "Thanks." The word was whispered. Chen removed the needles carefully.
"You can move if you like." Cage curled up on his side, facing the wall. He shivered. Chen laid a blanket over him. He would need time to come to terms with the energy.
Liu came to check on Johnny at dinner time. "Master Chen?" he called softly.
Chen shook his head impatiently. Liu settled on the floor to wait. Johnny was carefully dressing. Chen was watching the American carefully. "You know what you must do?" he said.
"Yes, Master Chen." Johnny was sulking. There was no other word for it. Liu stared at him.
"And I will not have to remind you each day?"
"No, Master Chen."
Liu swallowed. He'd known, somehow, that Johnny was ill. That's why Lord Rayden had left him in their care. He saw beyond the sulk. It was all an act. The man was terrified. His eyes weren't sparking at the moment, but they were a different color than Liu remembered. His eyes had automatically cataloged the scars on the man's torso. He didn't like the conclusions he reached. They couldn't talk here. "It's dinner time."
"Oh, great, rice."
"Be nice," Liu chided.
"You gonna make me?" The words were in English, the tone a light challenge.
The blue eyes did spark then, but it was mischief that lit them, not anger. "I think I can make you back down."
Chen watched them with a small smile. "Out," he ordered. "There will be no sparring here. This is a place of healing. And you, little storm, should not be fighting today. No matter how much you wish to. You must finish healing first or I'll have to do it again."
Johnny paled at those words. "Yes, sir," he said quietly. He followed Kang out without another word.
"Little storm?" Liu said finally.
"Yeah." Johnny shrugged.
Liu waited for an answer. It didn't seem to be forthcoming. "Did Master Chen rename you when I wasn't looking?"
"Actually Ray did, I think."
"Let's get dinner, then we'll sneak on out to the ruins to talk. You like it out there."
"Why are you being nice all of a sudden? Master Chen scare you?"
"You told me to be nice, so I'm being nice. Deal with it." Contrary son-of-a-bitch, Liu added mentally. Why does he always try to pick fights? Liu considered the scars on his back and the conversations he'd had with McGinty after Johnny left. He sighed. He'd be nice just to piss him off now. "So, when you said Outworld was like high school, you actually weren't joking to bolster my confidence?"
The blue eyes sparkled. "Well, no, it was to boost my confidence. I mean, I survived high school. Just barely, but I survived."
"And I thought you were just playing the faithful sidekick."
"I'm too handsome to be a decoy. Do you have scissors I can borrow? I need to trim my hair. It's getting unruly."
"How long until you can spar?"
"Master Chen says no less than three days or he'll have me laid out flat on my back until further notice. I unfortunately believe him."
"So you aren't going to spar just to piss him off, right?"
"Right. Which means you'll have to entertain me with tales of missionary adventures."
"Like you weren't watching in with Lord Rayden?" Liu meant it as a joke. He was shocked to see Johnny blushing.
"Only once or twice. I swear. A few more times on Sonya."
"She had a much more interesting time going on. It was like watching a cop show. Complete with soap opera undertones."
"And how is she?"
"I'm not sure. We didn't check in on her this month. Last month she was testifying against some low-life she and her boys took down."
"All boys," Cage confirmed. "All very big, gun-toting, don't cross them, boys."
"They're not smart enough for that. They follow orders, but most of them don't have the ability to think too far beyond that." Liu's brows raised. "Okay, okay, so I'm a little jealous. I just don't have the frame for that kind of muscle."
"So that's your secret dream? Muscles?"
"No, that's what I normally look for in a boyfriend. Some idiot big enough that he scares off the assholes who think I'm a good target." Johnny winked and Liu laughed. "Food still in the same place?"
"And where am I sleeping tonight? The courtyard?"
"Only if you want to. Actually, I think we have a private chamber with your name on it. We'll have to run it by Master Mei Pei."
"He's the headmaster right? Keeps everything in order?"
"Yes. You remember him? You only met him for a few minutes."
"Ray talks about him."
"That's going to take some getting used to."
"Hearing you call Lord Rayden 'Ray'."
Johnny shrugged. "He actually calls me Jack sometimes, so it's all fair."
"You don't look like a Jack."
"You've never seen me pissed off in front of a line of teenagers who don't respect me, covered in dust from a desert that just happens to be purple and pretending that I don't have the Barney theme song stuck in my head. And before you ask, I babysat an ex-girlfriend's toddler. That was more than enough childhood for me."
"And this prompted Lord Rayden to call you Jack?" There was something missing in the story.
"As in 'Jack, be nice or I'll send you back to your father.' I wasn't going to hurt them too badly and he's threatening me with home? That's just wrong."
"Given what MacGinty told me about your father, I think you're right."
Johnny paused. He looked up at the sky. "Did you hear that? He thinks I'm right!" The actor put a friendly arm around Liu's shoulders. "So, after dinner, you're going to tell me all your adventures right?"
"After dinner, we're going to talk to Master Mei Pei and get you tucked away for the night."
The blond sighed. "Fine. Abandon me. Everyone does."
"No, it's fine. I can deal with it."
Liu looked down his nose at the man. "Johnny."
"Really. I'm just teasing you. You're so touchy." The actor shook his head. "So, what's the menu?"
"Rice and vegetables. Remember?"
Liu smirked at the sigh he got in reply and led Johnny in to get some dinner.
Mei Pei looked at the two young men. "Liu Kang. Johnny Cage." They bowed to him. When he caught sight of the Westerner's eyes he caught his breath. He bowed deeply. "I did not realize we had been so honored. Welcome consort of Rayden."
"Oh, great, talk about a reputation to hold up."
Mei Pei felt his lips twitching into a smile. "It is easy to recognize. The scar on your throat confirms it."
"Scar?" Cage reached up to touch the scar automatically. "I've had this for years."
"No you haven't. You didn't have it when you came to Africa."
"Yes, I did. I've had it since I was twenty. I burned myself with steam from a broken radiator. I just usually cover it up. I didn't have a chance to do that before Ray brought me here."
Mei Pei eyes widened. "And how was the radiator broken?"
Cage paused. His eyes narrowed. "Lightening strike hit the street in front of it and kicked up some debris that got lodged inside. But I don't see how that could be connected. I didn't meet Ray until five years ago."
"That doesn't mean he didn't know you," Liu said quietly. "How young are the champions you've been training?"
"Oh. That's. . . disturbing."
"It would make sense. Lord Rayden keeps track of the warriors of this world. He chooses only the best to defend it."
"I'd have been dead in minutes if I'd gone back then."
"Exactly," the master nodded. "So he waited until you and the contest were ready."
"I really think I need to sit down." Cage dropped to the floor in a cross-legged position. His eyes were dazed. "And Master Boyd let me into his classes the same year. Christ." He buried his face in his hands. "And I got my first acting role." The master glared as Liu opened his mouth. The young man shut his jaw with a snap. Cage looked up. "Bastard." There were sparks in his eyes. "There's fine line between interest and stalking." The blond looked to the sky. "And I'm talking to you. I know you can hear me. If I'm coming to the right conclusion, you better tell me or so help me, next time I'm going to do to you what I did to Goro. Understand?"
Lightening flashed across the sky. There were no clouds in the sky.
"Fine. We'll discuss this later." Cage looked back to the master with a gentle smile. "Liu was saying there's someplace I can stay while I'm here?"
"Of course. Follow me. You are a teacher?"
"Yes." Cage nodded. "Master Chen said no sparring for three days, but after that, what else am I going to do here?"
"Study Lord Rayden perhaps?" Mei Pei offered.
"No, I've been doing that for four years. He's messy, secretive, scatterbrained in his personal relationships, and manipulative." Thunder rumbled in the distance. "Eavesdroppers never hear anything good," Cage said nastily. The thunder quieted.
"You were saying?"
"I love the bastard. What can I say?"
Liu snickered at that. Mei Pei glared at him.
"Oh, come on, laugh. It'll do you good. So, Liu, any new girls in your life or are you celibate still?"
"I understand why you and Lord Rayden get along," Liu snapped. He scowled. "You know Kitana left."
"Yeah. Never fall in love with an immortal right? Bullshit. Find her and yell at her until she sees reason."
"Because that's worked so well for you."
"I yell at Ray all the time. He yells at me too. He likes my temper. You might have to do the sweet, sappy romantic thing though." Cage shrugged. Mei Pei found the young man fascinating. All of the records indicated that Rayden favored quiet lovers. This consort was anything but that. He was brash, arrogant, loud, and mildly sadistic. Perhaps their lord was getting bored with sweet lovers. While Cage was obviously a storm now, at least he wasn't merely accepting his fate with a sweet smile and a prayer. Maybe the difference was that he hadn't been chosen from the temple.
"Johnny, why did you agree to go with him?" Liu's voice was quiet.
Cage paused for a moment, looking at the younger man. "Because there was nothing in my life that compared to what he offered me. He got me out of that town before it devoured the rest of my soul. And I stayed because I couldn't dream of anything better. Now, I'm here to figure out what I did wrong."
"You did nothing wrong, little storm," Mei Pei said quietly. "Human bodies are not made to live with the gods. He left you with us so that you would be safe."
"Again with the 'little storm' name. What is that all about?"
"You feel the lightening in your body, do you not?"
"Yeah." Johnny had started walking again. He ran a hand through his hair. "But I felt that before I started traveling with him."
"When did that start?"
"When I started studying with Master Boyd. Can we talk about this later, I really need to think."
"Of course. This temple is always open to you," the master of the temple said quietly. "We will never turn you away." He saw the young man's jaw tremble. "Here. These are your chambers."
"Thank you." Rayden's Consort bowed formally, then went into the room. He closed the door carefully behind him, shutting Liu out in the hall.
"You know where to find me when you need me," Liu called through the door. "Master."
"You know where your room is," Mei Pei said with a small smile. "Go on."
Johnny sat on the bed. It was simply a pallet on an upraised dais, but it was better than being on the floor. And it had a pillow and blanket that he knew wasn't standard issue for the rest of the temple. He closed his eyes and tried not to scream as energy coursed through his spine. He didn't know exactly what Chen had done, but he'd seemed sincere when he'd told him to rest as much as possible. He took off his boots, then laid down. He set his feet flat on the mattress automatically before he realized that his back didn't hurt. He didn't question his good fortune.
"Ray, it's been less than a day and I'm already missing you. Why leave me here? Why didn't you tell me about this?" He touched his scar. "You are so, so paternalistic sometimes that it makes me want to scream at you. I thought we were partners, Ray. Guess not. Damn it, you could have told me. You should have told me." He shuddered. "And what's with the energy surges, Ray? Is that what you were worried about? I'm an American, Ray, we don't deal well with secrets." He rolled onto his stomach and pulled the blanket around himself. "And I'm really, really, not relishing the thought of spending the rest of my life sleeping here." He was asleep almost as soon as he closed his eyes.
"Master?" Liu asked quietly. "Is there anything I can do for him?"
Mei Pei shook his head. "Most storms die quickly. Just watch over him and try to keep him active. Perhaps that will burn off some of the energy."
"Storms?" The young fighter frowned. He hadn't known Johnny all that long in the scheme of things.
"When Lord Rayden takes a human consort, his energy seems to leak into their body. They become incarnate storms."
"What does that mean? When he asks, what do I tell him?"
The master smiled and shook his head. "Tell him to speak with Lord Rayden."
Liu bowed and left, head full of strange thoughts. He needed to mediate, then sleep. Things would be clearer in the morning. They couldn't be much more complicated.
Johnny looked up at the sky. "You could send my baggage, you know," he said irritably. "And while you're at it, you could get your paternalistic, over-bearing, sarcastic, ass down here to answer some questions. And you know I'm just being nice because there are children present."
A flash of light delivered his bags.
"What if I hadn't come?" Rayden asked. He was smirking.
"Then, I'd keep yelling at you." Johnny's smile was feral.
"Now, now, no fighting."
Johnny swallowed his curse with obvious difficulty. He stalked forward. "This tops the list, Ray. Of all the things you've done and claimed were for my own good, this is by far the worst. You have dropped me in the middle of China with no passport, no ID, no money, no idea what the Hell is going on, and enough energy running through my body to make the healer cry. So, I think, all in all, I'm doing fairly well. I haven't even threatened to pull your spine out. It's not like it would kill you, even."
Rayden pinched the actor's cheek. "Did you practice that?"
Johnny threw his hands up. "Why do I bother?"
"I haven't figured that out yet."
"Don't start with that."
"With what?" Rayden smiled his most benevolent smile.
"Answering rhetorical questions in order to piss me off. I know you do it on purpose."
"Johnny Cage, would I taunt you?"
"Frequently and with increasing intensity," Johnny responded. He was sulking now and Rayden's lips twitched. "If you even say it, I'll kick you."
"Your mistrust is unfounded. Would I ever say you're cute when you're angry?"
The courtyard was full of silent faces, studiously not watching the confrontation. All except Liu who was watching with the smirk of a friend who loves seeing arguments. Johnny took a deep, cleansing breath, then released it. "You tend to, yes," he answered pleasantly. Rayden's smile grew.
"Do I? Sorry. You're cute when you aren't angry too."
"So I got down-graded to cute? There's no justice in the world."
"I could have said pretty, but you like that even less."
"I haven't been pretty since high school."
"That is a matter of opinion. And speaking of high school, did you throw temper tantrums like this at home?"
That stopped Johnny cold. His face went blank. "Never, never mention that time again." His voice was a low snarl that made Liu tense. "And you know damned well that I never threw temper tantrums in high school. I would never have survived it. Are you trying for his title?"
The god seemed unperturbed by the speech. "Funny, because you're acting like a child who's been grounded."
"I wouldn't know. Dad never bothered with it." Johnny pivoted on his heel and went to collect his bags. "By the way, you're not going to be able to run me off this way. If you want to be rid of me, just hit me with a bolt and get it over with."
"You'll be staying at the temple then?"
"I don't have a choice."
Rayden went still. "I wasn't sure you'd figured that out yet."
"I tried to go to the ruins." Johnny motioned with his hands. "Bang, splat. Force fields are very convincing. Now, since this place doesn't have a shower, doesn't believe in mirrors except to keep demons away, and believes room service is immoral, you are currently one step below Barney on my hate-list."
"I've been upgraded?"
"Yes, just after the force field incident you were above Barney, but I've calmed down a little bit. I would like a book or two when you get the chance."
"You won't be studying here then?" Rayden's eyes crackled. It was amusement, not anger though and Johnny obviously knew that.
"Let me see, I've been training other fighters for you, with your techniques for three years. Four years with just my own. So, I'm going to pretend this is a very nice vacation and spend it planning tortures for the next time I get you in an enclosed place you can't get out of."
"And that would be?"
"I'll ask Thesalonia to make something."
There was a hiss of inhaled air from the not-watching company. Thesalonia was the goddess of an underworld dimension and one of Rayden's ex-lovers.
"Really? And why would she be willing to help you? And when did you get a chance to talk to her? We were busy during that season."
"She likes anyone who can piss you off." Johnny batted his lashes. "Besides, she thinks I'm sweet."
"Your actual acting ability never fails to amaze me."
"I am sweet."
"To my ex-wife?"
"Well, at the time, I thought you were as straight as an I-beam. She kept in touch."
"You've been seeing other gods on the side? I'm shocked."
"I'm biting my tongue to keep from making a really bad joke right now," Johnny stated. He had one bag over his shoulder and the others in his hands. Rayden moved to take one of the bags. "Oh, don't bother pretending to care. I'm beginning to empathize with your exes now. You are the most tight-lipped and uncommunicative bastard I've ever met."
Rayden smirked. "You forget, I've met some of your friends."
"Those were not friends. They were sharks. I can't believe you materialized me in the middle of LA!"
"You deserved it."
"Telling Leniod that I was just tense because I hadn't been laid in millennia. For your information, I did have a lover less than a century ago."
"It got him to lay off, didn't it?"
"Just because he thought you were holding out on me as some form of punishment."
"No, he just thought you couldn't get it up! He gave me a lot of useful herbal tips if we ever go back there." The actor stalked past Rayden towards his room. "And believe me, if you'd had the balls to tell me the truth, you wouldn't have to worry about my mouth so much."
"Oh, really? You become more reticent about lovers? Sonya didn't seem to think so."
"Sonya and I never got past first base and then, only because it was the middle of a celebration and we were both drunk. Besides, my hair's better than hers. Always a bad sign when it comes to dating."
"Did Chen fix your back?" Rayden took one of the bags without waiting for permission. He settled his hand in the small of Johnny's back as they walked to his room.
"He did. And he said that if I did any training before tomorrow he'd have to do it again." Johnny froze for an instant, spine stiffening. Then, he moved forward.
Rayden frowned. He waited until they were in the private chamber that was set aside for his consort. He looked around the room, trying to see it with Johnny's history in mind. He winced. Johnny wasn't a monk and at times Rayden forgot that. The pallet and blanket were thin. There was no fire pit to warm the room and only one window. The walls were stone. The paint that had been on them once was chipping away. The door closed behind them with a sturdy thump. Johnny sat on the floor, knees to his chest. He buried his face against them. Rayden settled next to him. He stroked the shoulder-length blond hair. "Does it hurt?"
"Yes. Almost as bad as when I broke it."
"It's finally healing."
"I know that. It doesn't make it hurt any less. It only makes it more endurable." Johnny lifted his face. The careful image he'd projected to their audience was gone. Rayden read the pain and fear there. It was a fear he'd put there. He pulled Johnny into his arms. The actor shivered. Rayden tightened his grip. Was this the wrong decision? Should he take Johnny back to the clouds? They could continue to travel, to train, to love until this frail human form was gone. Or he could leave him here to remember he was human and to die naturally. "I just wish you'd tell me what I did wrong."
"You didn't do anything wrong. Jack, listen to me, this isn't a punishment. You were dying."
"I'm still dying. I'll always be dying. I'm human. It's what we do. I chose to stay with you. Every year. Every mission. Every dimension. I chose to stay with you and not go back to LA to laze around on the streets or teach gang members how to defend themselves."
"I need you to stay here. I have lost too many to the energy that's running through you now." Rayden could feel the tears against the skin of his throat. More disturbing than that, was sensing the tears falling as he would a raindrop. He tightened his grip. "Don't ask me to kill you, Johnny. I can't do it."
"Staying here will take care of it." It was the first real complaint about his accommodations. It seemed the young man was finally calming down. "Ray, I hate being alone. You know that."
"You are not alone, Johnny. You are never alone."
"It feels like it. Here more than anywhere else. It's so quiet. Even when we stayed in other realms there was noise."
Rayden held his consort firmly and the young man relaxed into his grip. The utter trust in the gesture made the god smile. There were very few in this world who were willing to offer their trust. The monks offered obedience and worship. Johnny offered trust and love. There was no choice necessary between the two. His worshippers depended upon his grace. His consort asked only his love. Leaving him alone again would be seen as a betrayal of that. "I will stay until you can fight. And don't bother to pretend it hurts when it doesn't because I can read you, Johnny Cage."
"Love you too, asshole." Johnny's arms tightened around Rayden's throat. "You won't leave?"
"I won't leave until Chen allows you to fight again."
"You'll stay here?"
"Yes," Rayden clarified, "I will stay here, in the same room. I won't abandon you, Johnny. You will never be alone. Rest for a little while."
"And you won't put me to sleep for my own good again?"
Rayden laughed. "No, Johnny, I will still do what I think is best for you."
Johnny knocked into Rayden with his shoulder. The god glanced at him. The American was ignoring him in favor of a scroll that Mei Pei had given him. He was chewing his lip as he worked on translating the document. Rayden returned his attention to the young man who was asking him about a channeling technique. Rayden talked him through the technique one more time. Johnny settled against his side and he draped an arm over him without thinking. The young monk's lips twitched, but he quickly schooled his face into a respectful mask. Rayden dismissed him to go practice. He looked down at the young man who was happily snuggled against him. He looked at the document. He frowned. "You can't read that can you?"
"Every few characters I think I get one, but I'm not sure. It's pretty."
"You don't have to act interested. If you don't understand something, tell me."
"Translate this for me then?" Johnny looked up through his lashes. Rayden laughed.
"Of course. Perhaps we can teach you to read the language as well."
"Lost cause, I think. I can read enough to order in a restaurant."
The god smiled. This is why he enjoyed spending time with his consort. There was something reassuring about having a companion who was secure enough in his weaknesses to trust him with them. He never tried to hide the pains that ran as deeply as the veins of his body. He stroked Johnny's side absently. The actor settled more fully against him and he started to read.
Mei Pei watched Lord Rayden with his consort. They were showing off a few techniques to a few select advanced students. Chen had given Rayden's Consort permission to spar again and he was obviously enjoying himself. He was twitting the god again over some piece of shared history. Rayden's eyes narrowed. The young man smiled innocently at him in response and they were off on a tangent of how to apply the theory behind the motions.
Liu Kang came to stand beside him. "You wished to see me, Master?"
"How is Johnny adjusting?"
"He's miserable any time Rayden hints that he's going to leave."
"He will leave soon."
"Yes. Johnny's just not looking forward to it. They've been together every day for four years. He doesn't know what to do with himself without Rayden there. He needs and audience. He's an actor."
The master's brows rose. "And?"
"He likes people watching him. He likes being the center of attention. And he's jealous."
Mei Pei sighed. "We'll have to deal with that."
Rayden looked into the sad blue eyes of the man who had been his constant companion for four years. He placed a gentle kiss on Johnny's lips. "I'll be back. I simply must check on things. You know how much can change in a week."
"I know. I don't have to like it."
"No, I'd never ask you to enjoy my leaving. In fact, I prefer you jealous." Rayden couldn't help but smirk.
"Oh, good. I enjoy being jealous of you."
"Don't torture Mei Pei or Liu."
"Hey, don't take away all of my fun."
"Johnny, be good."
"That's far too boring. You wouldn't recognize me. Will you at least kiss me goodbye?"
Rayden kissed Johnny gently, carefully, only to have the young man catch him in a fierce embrace and change the kiss passionate and burning. Energy crackled between them. They shivered as they parted. Once he was sure Johnny could stand, Rayden flickered out of his physical form. He knew Johnny was watching the sky and left a trail of light for him to follow with his eyes.
The night was perfectly still. Johnny sat up, listening for the wind to build. It didn't. The chamber was dark, not even lit by moonlight. He knew that the builders had assumed that the resident would still be asleep at this hour of the night. Perhaps he would have been asleep if he'd been able to curl up next to someone. There had been very few times in his life when he'd slept alone.
Alone in the darkness, his mind replayed memories. The few sparks of pain left in his healing back brought them back in full. He shuddered. He'd never known pain like that before. After his father's steel-toed boot had slammed into his back, he hadn't even been able to scream. The crack had been sickening, worse than his arm. He remembered the panicked voice of his mother on the phone calling for help, not caring for once that the police would get involved. His father had even seemed to be worried. The old man's hands shook when he tucked a smoke-scented throw pillow under his cheek. The only thing Johnny could think was get the fuck away from me and call Mick. There hadn't been any breath left in his lungs to make the demand. He'd stayed silent even when the paramedics had carried him out.
The tears he'd never cried streamed down his face. Who was here to care or to know? He wanted to scream to the heavens, but he couldn't disturb the oppressive silence of the night. He curled up and buried his face against his knees. The energy crackled through him and he knew what he needed to do. He wiped the tears off of his face with the back of his hand and started his katas. He hadn't done a complete set in what felt like months.
Liu knocked on Johnny's door, hoping that he wasn't interrupting something. "Yeah, come on in." Johnny was sprawled on the dais. Ball lightening danced around the room. He was watching with a laughing smile. "Check it out, better than a fountain display. They'll dance to almost anything. Duck." Liu ducked and a ball of lightening passed through where his head would have been. He settled on the bed.
Johnny shrugged. "It is lightening." He put out a hand and one of the balls settled on it and spun. "It likes me. They showed up just before dawn. They're sort of like kittens. They'll let you pet them, but they do what they want to do."
"Did they wake you up?"
"No, I've been awake since around midnight. The quiet got to me," the actor admitted. "Is it time for breakfast or something?"
"Yes. Will you join me?"
"Sure." Johnny stood up. The lightening balls followed them dancing and spinning around the young man's body. The actor laughed as one buzzed past his ear. The monks who were already eating paused to watch them progress across the courtyard. Liu knew what they were feeling. He was just as awed by the display. It was hard to remember that Johnny wasn't just Johnny anymore. This was normal to the actor now. Lightening didn't surprise him or frighten him. He was utterly secure in Rayden's affection. The most rambunctious lightening ball whizzed away to buzz around the servers and Master Mei Pei. Mei Pei smiled. The ball settled on his shoulder for a moment, then spun away, unable to stay still for very long. It zapped one of the older monks on the nose. Johnny snapped his fingers and held out his hand. The ball danced back in a round about way to finally settle in the patiently still hand. "Be good," Johnny admonished it. "That was very rude."
"You think it understands you?" Liu asked incredulously.
"Of course it does. It's part of Rayden's power. You can only zap the young ones who aren't practicing. Old men have earned their rest," he chided. The ball zipped away to torment the younger monks. The calmer balls spun and danced close to Johnny's body. They gathered their breakfast and found a discrete corner. The lightening was anything but discrete. It bounced off the walls. Liu couldn't help but smile, Johnny's grin and laughter were infectious.
"So, you've seen these before?" Liu asked carefully.
"Nope." Johnny winked. "But I've felt them before."
"Pitch black place. Teenagers. Not a rave, but should have been. No alcohol. No music. No clue what it was called. These showed up to guide me around, but the darkness swallowed all the light. The kids didn't have eyes. Never needed them. They could hear anything though. It was fascinating."
Liu blinked. "You're already bored aren't you?"
Johnny laughed. "What gave me away? I haven't even been bitching. And believe me, I have the practice. Don't worry. I'll try not to be a jealous bitch grousing about my missing mate. He promised to come back, but I know that politics can get messy. He better remember that I'm human though and I won't be able to last forever." The actor looked up with the last part. One of the lightening balls cuddled against his cheek. He rubbed against it, eyes going distant with some fond memory. "And I expect to get more than a kiss before I die," he added in an undertone.
Liu raised a brow. "So you never?"
"Never. The bastard."
"Not even when he stayed here?"
"No fighting. No strenuous activity. Nothing that would stress my back. Bastard," Johnny stated once again. "So, Kitana's gone, any other girls on your horizon?"
"No question about it being girls?" Liu teased.
Johnny cocked his head to the side, studying the younger man. "No way."
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