Author's note- this is written around a novel about Red Ronin. I have posted five, one for each prompt, as an ambitious attempt to support the big anniversary of Reedsy. They all follow separate characters, but I recommend reading "Devil Take the Hindmost" last because it has the largest cast, several of whom are introduced earlier.
Physician Heal Thyself
The stars at night, are big and bright, but I am no longer in Texas. I'm in Charleston, and I'm adrift in the sea of my own limitations. Kentaro, Red Ronin, the newest superhero on our city team, is that classic eastern riddle wrapped in enigma. And I have a crush on him. I can't help it. He works with me every day and mingling our chi, our life essence, is more intimate than any lover's embrace. So I look up at the stars, hoping for a clue.
Jessica, Sensei, team coordinator, comes out onto the balcony with me. "Nice view tonight."
"I know you want him too."
"I hoped to avoid talking about Kentaro." She has responsibilities, and they prevent her having a relationship with ream members. "But I suppose this is neutral ground."
"Only because all the women want him."
"How are the studies going?"
We don't mention chi outside where someone might hear. It's secret, how Kentaro matches against others far stronger. She shifts topic away from romance, it's painful for her. "Slowly."
"Bit like how he fares with lessons on modern life."
"I need to do better. It's essential if someone finds out how little I can do."
"Weak medics are safe from everyone. You know the code."
The unwritten code. Noncombatants are not targets at a base. Top medics are valuable enough some villains might try to kill them and deny their presence for a prolonged campaign against the heroes. Weak ones are not worth the effort or the certain retaliation. I remind her, "There used to be a code that nobody targeted police."
"Get some rest. We never know what tomorrow may bring."
She's right. The next day, I'm doing a routine checkup on Leon, an overweight security guard with the power to shoot blasts of chill air that are never more than a slight inconvenience, and are downright pleasant on a summer afternoon, when Dark Shadow appears, bleeding from a serious abdominal puncture. Leon immediately rolls to his feet and helps me get Shadow onto the examining table. I go straight to work, stopping the blood which is pooling inside his abdomen, as well as the smaller amount squirting out. Leon is talking to Jessica, but I have no attention to spare. I let my power flare and begin the process of sealing his tissues together. The rest of the day remains crazy as other members of the team show up. As fast as I finish one, another injury appears. As soon as everyone is stable, I take a brief break.
"That was the scene after an intense battle decimated the Charleston Challengers." I look up and see a scene from a war movie; buildings with scorch and blast marks, wrecked cars, broken glass everywhere, and bodies strewn about the streets. "An unidentified hero defeated the villains, who included Devil Mask, the FBI's most wanted felon. Here's a clip of the action."
I watch in amazement as a jetbike sweeps around a corner and deposits Red Ronin in a group of enemy soldiers. In seconds, he slashes them down, then leaps over twenty feet to the ground as if it were nothing. He engages Devil Mask and some other hero simultaneously, putting one on the ground and forcing Devil to flee. Then he turns and a huge brute, Masher, surrenders rather than face his fury.
I tune out the rest of the discussion, heading back to my patients instead. I won't have to do more triage and can concentrate on getting them all back on their feet and in fighting trim.
I barely finish before a summons to the hero lounge arrives. I wonder who is so hurt they cannot be moved, but head up without question. I arrive to a buffet set for everyone. Emma, support as our costumer, is there enjoying a plate of food typically reserved for the heroes. After I serve myself, she motions me to sit beside her. "Camilla, darling, isn't this exciting?"
"Unprecedented," I temporize.
"Which is what makes it exciting." Her eyes dance with glee. "This food is wonderful."
It's a lot better than what we get from the cafeteria. Behind us Dark Shadow and Firewalker begin to argue loudly. I ignore them and concentrate on the food. Between bites, I ask Emma, "Any idea what this is about?"
"I would guess the fight today."
Then Jessica calls for quiet and Red Ronin, who just came in with Jess, begins talking to the group. I probably look like I'm listening, but Kentaro is there in fine form, his hair tucked into the mask he donned for the battle and his eyes flashing with that inner fire I find so irresistible. He's talking to everyone, then Dark Shadow storms off. I'm not sure what they argued about, because it's all I can do to bring my concentration to the task at hand. Then he removes the mask and his hair falls in a wave like a shampoo commercial. Naturally, I lose it again.
“We should concentrate on what we need to do.” Kentaro catches my attention with his eyes. “I will work with Jessica and Camilla to determine the best rate of improvement you can manage without injury.”
“Do I train to fight darling?” Emma asks. “Or were you just teasing with that offer?”
“Emma, I want to personally train you.”
Her eyes light with glee. “Do you teach wrestling?”
“I might get hurt.”
“Darling, I promise to be gentle.”
“Enough games,” Jessica interrupts. “What do we do now?”
“I take you and Camilla to her office to make plans for everyone.” He gives me a rueful smile. “No rest for the weary healer. We shall need your advice. The rest of you should enjoy the victory you brought us today.”
I get up from the couch, but bring my plate. We get into the elevator and head for the medical center’s floor. Halfway there, Jessica presses a stop. “What do you truly want?”
“I wish to attempt something and we need Camilla to glean information.” He is tense, and soemthing electric passes between him and Jessica. “The first day, you told me your power worked easier if you could touch the subject’s head with your hand.”
“Just kiss him,” I urge over the objection of my aching heart. “It’s obvious you both want it.”
“I think we can change your powers if we understand them better.” Ken sounds so sincere, but I can see his desire to kiss Jess. She is a beautiful woman, though her hairstyle, cut short enough that the kinky curls look like a black chia pet growing from her brown head does nothing for her.
“What would they do?”
“I propose to determine if I can show you the secret which Camilla might use to grant youth to all the members of the team and the four support personnel who I invited to our meeting.”
“Powers typically make their possessors both more fit than typical and extend their youth,” I tell him. “What you propose is so far outside normal bounds that...”
“That we would be enslaved to make our leaders ageless,” Jessica finishes.
“How would they discover this?” He has no hesitation. “We must first determine if I am correct. Will you try what I suggest?”
“You want a kiss that badly?” Jessica asks.
“We begin with touching our foreheads.”
“Afraid I've got cooties?”
“You must use the same method to teach others.”
“Lots of guys would pay to watch me kiss Camilla.”
“There is only one of me.”
Ken reaches his hand and cups the back of Jessica’s head. He leans so his forehead touches hers. She stands, trembling with suppressed emotion. I cannot tell whether desire or ire. Ken says, “Use your power, but without your hand.”
She shifts and her eyes stare into his from inches away, too close to focus. Her power flares, lighting her eyes. Although I've never seen anything like it attempted before, I sense something happening. Then Jessica’s eyes snap shut and she slumps in his arms.
“Quickly, Camilla. Try to rouse her.”
“I’m aware,” Jessica says. “I’ve got the mother of all headaches.”
“You must use the images I fed you now. Give them to Camilla.”
Ken holds Jessica as I lean in for her lesson. I catch the glint of Jessica’s fire, then images flash into my head, but too intense. I cannot process them. They are too raw and powerful. A scream escapes as the pain in my head flares like a grenade exploding. I fall, my plate slipping from numb fingers. I know I am out for only moments before Ken touches his hand to my forehead, just between the eyebrows. the pain eases
“You have remarkable concentration,” Jessica tells Ken after a minute of wheezing breath. “Your thoughts are too raw, too pure, for me to stand.”
“Did you retain anything of what you taught?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Do you think you could teach another?”
“Emma.” I see how hard it is for Ken to say that to her. “If I can transfer a skill to you and you can turn it to Emma, then it may prove easier for you to take it from her, either permanently or repeatedly, to teach the other team members.”
“Nobody ever suggested using my power in this way.” Her eyes soften, her mouth puckers, and she reaches a hand to grip his. “How do you see so clearly?”
“Age brings wisdom.”
“Get a room you two,” I interrupts. “I don’t know how much this helped.”
“We will train again tomorrow.” Ken rises from a crouch, then helps us stand. “We should return to the group.”
“Our clothes look like we’ve been on the floor,” Jessica says.
“Everyone will think you gave us a try in the elevator,” Jessica sounds like she is still in pain, but it might just be her desire to minimize rumors.
“A reputation for sexual prowess never hurt a commander.”
“When all the woman and the only remaining man on the team lust after him it might,” I say. “At least one of the support staff has the hots for you.”
“Emma jokes with me.”
“I mean me,” I correct him. “You are the entire package.”
“I never took an injury down there.”
“Ronin, stop,” Jessica rebukes Ken.
“A little flirtatious banter never hurt anybody,” I say.
“Until someone claims sexual harassment.” Jessica puts her hand in front of her face. She wishes to conceal her emotions. “Where do we go from here?”
“I go to my room, gather my things, and move to the main suite with the other heroes.” Ken gestures to the spilled food. “Who cleans this?”
“Custodial services,” Jessica answers. “Yesterday, I sent my boss a report. I asked for three more weeks before deploying you. I can’t move you upstairs and make you team leader now.”
“Rules are more important than victory.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Jessica clenches her hands into claws, then screeches a wordless yell at the ceiling.
I rolls my eyes and turn the elevator on. “Working for the government isn’t supposed to make sense.”
Later, standing out on my balcony studying the stars, Jessica joins me. She brought wine. "I see you have something important to say."
"Today, I saw how powerful Red Ronin can be."
"And...?" I let it hang there, waiting for her answer. My patience runs out first. "What's the problem."
"I'm his boss and he thinks life is like kabuki, Japanese tragedy."
"He's really into you."
"Cam, you're my best friend. There's no chance for me and Ken, but the two of you?"
"It won't work." I stare up into the sky. "We're like stars from different hemispheres. We'll never meet, and only pass briefly on the horizon."
"You still need to work with him on making people young again."
"Work is not play."
But looking up into the stars, I can dream of him. Jess must notice my wistful gaze because she leaves the bottle of wine as she departs. Maybe Jess is right, Perhaps my work with chi will bring me so close to Ken that he wants me more than her. But that dream is toxic. I need to let it go, or it will twist me and ruin my skill. I put the wine away as useless. My heart is broken and I have to heal it myself.