Leave Yourself Behind
“We heard what happened,” Mother said when Aki finally stumbled through the front door, long past midnight. “We’re so proud of you.”
The WRGP opening gala had been a mess, and what should have been a relaxing evening out with her friends had become a rollercoaster of emotions. Aki wanted little more than a hot shower and eight solid hours of sleep, so it took her several long seconds to even realize what Mother was talking about.
"I'm glad you have come so far," Mother continued, undeterred by her silence. "It's so good to see you back with us, away from that place."
That place, Aki had learnt, was code for the Arcadia Movement. Of course her parents had never been able to call her powers by name. Psychic, she had wanted to shout as a child. She wanted to shout it again now, years later. The memories of the night hit her with full force. Summoning Black Rose Dragon. Driving off the man who'd crashed his D-Wheel in the middle of the gala. Watching him be destroyed, so very grateful it hadn't been by her hand.
"Yeah, it's a lot easier now," Aki said. Mother seemed happy with her answer. She brushed a stray lock of hair out of Aki's face and patted her shoulder.
"Look at you, your hair's all tangled. Why don't you go take a shower and head to bed?" she said warmly. Aki nodded, grateful for the excuse to get out. She had only been living with her parents for a few months, and her room didn't feel like her own yet, but it was better than staying here and pretending nothing was wrong. She kept her poise until Mother was out of sight, then took the stairs two by two and barely refrained from slamming the bathroom door behind her. No, everything was fine. She wouldn't worry her parents. Not now, not when they were finally proud of their dangerous daughter.
It had been instinct that had made her summon Black Rose Dragon. She had seen danger and reacted. She had been lucky.
Trembling, Aki unzipped her dress and stepped out of it. What if she hadn't been? She could imagine it. Could feel Black Rose Dragon's attack, too strong. She could hear the man's neck break, inaudible to all but her. It would have killed him, and that... People would have stared. They would have turned towards her, fear and hatred in their eyes. Aki could hear the murmurs, the accusations. The Black Rose Witch, never reformed. The villain who pretended to be a victim. She'd almost fooled them all, but now she had finally shown her true nature.
Or maybe Black Rose Dragon's attack would have hit the ceiling and made the building collapse. Maybe there wouldn't be any accusing stares. Maybe she would only spot a flash of black hair, or red or blond or green. She imagined Ruka, looking at her with empty eyes, blood coating the side of her face. Yusei, so very disappointed. He wouldn't like her if he knew what she could do. None of them would.
The cold emanating from the bathroom tiles provided a welcome distraction. She took her hair roll out and shivered as her power intensified and turned into an almost tangible aura of energy around her. She clamped down on it firmly. For now she could pretend she had a grip on it. She hadn't slipped up. People expected her to be good now. Perhaps she would get praise tomorrow, the way her mother had praised her. They'd tell her how brave she was for using something she had to hate so much to save those people. Right now, she could still be the victim. Everyone still saw her as the girl whose powers got abused by Arcadia. On her own, she never would have caused such destruction. Right?
But the truth was... Aki glanced at the mirror before stepping into the shower. Her make-up had started to smudge, but not enough to ruin the perfect façade. The truth was that she loved being psychic. Loved the power it gave her. She had been her parents' perfect daughter all her life, and then she'd been Arcadia's perfect puppet, but the powers had always been hers. She loved what she could do with them and loved the destruction she could create. She could stop anyone in their tracks with just a thought. She wasn't supposed to like it, of course. She was supposed to find some perfectly safe outlet, like dancing or martial arts or anything that couldn't destroy people with a flick of her finger. Other people had no problem with that. Yusei, who was so calm and reasonable whenever she talked to him, clearly loved the adrenaline rush that came with dueling. He, at least, had enjoyed himself tonight.
Her mind wandered back to the woman from a few days ago, the one who'd dueled Yusei. Aki ran a shampooed hand through her hair, now wet from the shower's spray. Sherry, her name had been. Aki had gotten a brief taste of the rush that made Yusei and this Sherry love riding a D-Wheel so much, and she thought she could understand it. Riding a D-Wheel was only a pale imitation of the feeling that came with using her powers, but it was the closest she'd ever come to finding something that compared. Female D-Wheelers were far and few in-between, but if Sherry could do it, maybe she could too?
She could be known as Izayoi Aki, not as the Black Rose Witch. Her parents would protest, of course, but secretly they'd be happy. Aki licked her lips and regretted it immediately when she got shampoo in her mouth. She sputtered and rinsed the remaining suds out of her hair. Without her hair roll, her powers felt immense. She could level the house with a thought if she wanted to. She quickly shut down the shower and stepped out, grabbing her hair roll along with one of the large, fluffy towels found everywhere in the bathroom. It should've felt like a relief. It didn't.
But D-Wheeling could help her. It would never feel anything like summoning Black Rose Dragon had felt, but it was acceptable. It was something her friends would approve of and her parents would secretly love, even when they complained about the danger. Aki could imagine their thoughts right now. Their daughter would finally be giving up on those awful powers and abandon the memories of that place. She'd finally be doing something that wouldn't hurt anyone.
Their precious daughter, no longer the villain or victim, but a hero.
It was a start. Aki hoped she could live with that.