Description: Homework, tests, training, fighting events, singing, and interacting with a growing fanbase on the internet... how can Athena possibly do all of that and succeed? According to her sifu, she can't. And she must make a choice.
Life in Japan has been quiet different from the remote village shrine Chin Gentsai owns in China. Southtown has been a blur of activity as his trio of young Psycho Soldiers made the transition to the impossible demands of intense academic requirements at Justice High, rigorous practice and training in their own martial arts, and a sudden increase in being exposed to all kinds of additional distractions. Internet, fight vid feeds, school hijinks, gossip, dances, crushes...
And then there's the buzz surrounding them. Athena's meteoric surge up through the fighting circuit ranks has garnered a lot of notice for the undeniable prodigy. From new rookie to fighting veteran martial artists in six months, she stands among their ranks as if she had been fighting for decades rather than just the four short years the old sifu has had to instruct her. Even Kensou has proven a sigificant martial artist - one who would probably climb even further than he has if he wasn't always tripping over himself at some part of his bouts. Sometimes it seems like that kid just can't stay focused on what's happening right in front of his face for more than a few seconds at a time! And of course Bao is around because it wouldn't be the Psycho Soldiers without him. But he's kind of strange and mostly gets forgotten in some unnamed middle school where teachers constantly complain that they can't see around his ginormous hat. Let's not dwell on him too much.
Maybe it was nostolgia for that taste of him that brought the small group to Chinatown. Or maybe it was because the rent was bordering on irresponsibly cheap. The low-rent district accommodations have them living over a marketplace. The Genhanten can be seen just across the street. A few dingy rooms upstairs from a fish shop is not the most glamerous of abodes, but it is shelter.
Athena and Kensou both tested into Justice High and by some miracle /made/ it along with a scholarship that helps blunt some of the damage of the tuition and books enough to be barely affordable. When not at school, or being flown around the world for ridiculous fight hijinks, training can be had on the roof of the building, alongside a rooftop shed, some AC units that haven't worked in 30 years, and several ropes worth of laundry drying. One corner of the roof features a small greenhouse that seems to go unused as far as anyone can tell.
And when not doing all of that other stuff? There is slacking to be had! Through the scholarship, Athena has come into position of a pink, sticker-clad laptop that she is constantly typing away at wherever she can find a seat. She's never managed to explain to Master Gentsai about how all that typing is important, because it's for school, but is also for writing journal posts and adding comments to videos of her fights alongside everyone else commenting on them. It's important to communicate with her small but growing number of disturbing fans!
'I appreciate eye contact in my students, I always have, it tells me that they're paying attention to the lesson and will undoubtedly do well on the upcoming test. Especially in a time where so many children have their darn cellular phones to distract them, eye contact is a lost, wonderful characteristic to see in bright children!'
Chin is reading a letter out loud - as he does - while he hangs upside down from one of the exposed rafters above Athena's bedroom. The apartment is THAT sweet. He did not ask permission to be in here, nor did he really show much concern about her having other stuff to do on her laptop-thing - he's just yakkin' away, presumably to help himself think. One wonders what happens to the brain in those golden years. Chin is an excellent case study.
'That said, your child Bao does *not* stop staring at me. Even while the class is watching a movie, his eyes are... always... on me! And his smile, while adorable, is... approaching levels that I'd associate with a possible psychological concern. Have you noticed this behavior at home? Have you considered taking him to a healthcare professional for evaluation?'
Chin pauses, here, to take a long swig from the gourd at his side, before dropping it to allow it to hang three glorious feet beneath his tiny frame, pinata-like as it dangles before Athena. Chin drops the letter - it flutters to the pink carpet at Athena's feet, and nestles against her ankles. Chin swings into the upper periphery of her vision, idly glances at the computer screen, and then looks to his eldest, best, single worthwhile student.
"Concerning, concerning...! Do you think Bao has-- auspism?? Maybe I should get him looked at." Chin strokes his chin, which is a very silly sentence when one thinks about it. "Mm. Well. I'll think on it later."
"But--" A grin. "I've been watching your fights! You're doing better than I thought you would! You need to work on your throws - I saw how that confused young schoolboy disarmed your efforts during the Halloween fight - but beyond THAT..." Chin squints.
"Hm. I'll need to evaluate your skills again sometime. I think you've *grown* since moving out here."
Athena is typing away like mad on her laptop, pausing now and then to click over to some page or another. It's fortunate she has enough will to only do this kind of thing when there isn't homework to be done, fights to prep for or participate in, exams to stress over, or training to be had. So, really, she gets about 43.4 minutes of internet a day. What a life.
Sitting there, eyes on the screen, she does't seem to be listening to Chin read the letter at all. How could she, with all the reading and typing to be done. These comment therads aren't going to comment themselves!! The dangling gourd presents a problem however, the girl making a it of a fuss as she lifts her hand to swing it out of the way of her monitor. It... kind of works, until it inevitably swings back the other way and bumps her on the side of her head. A soft inhale is followed by a quiet exhale as she takes hold of the dangling purveyor of sake and in an act of complete efficient problem solving, balances it atop her head instead so that she can get back to typing away.
When the letter drops and lands at her feet, she finally seems to snap out of whatever heart-racing in depth conversation she's getting in that comment thread and fishes it up, violet eyes looking it over with a faint frown. When Chin himself dangles down with the kind of mid-air acrobatics no man his age should be doing, she lowers her laptop monitor down a little, giving him a /look/. All these public conversations are private!
"It doesn't seem right, that's for sure," she admits thoughtfully, finally pushing the laptop a way for the moment. "Auspism, that is." She glances up at Chin with her usual mixed expression of respect and very, very carefully suppressed worry. It's not too hard to see. "That isn't a condition. Bao is all right. Maybe he just needs friends his own age." She pauses as she says it, frowning slightly. Okay, saying he's all right might be a stretch. "He and Kensou get along well!" she offers helpfully.
But the matter of her matches is brought up and Athena perks visibly. "Thank you, sifu, I've just been doing what you taught me!" She looks confused after a moment when he talks about her throws and the Halloween fight. That was... that was- "I think you mean Sakura Kasugano. She's a girl, from Taiyo." She doesn't bother reminding him she was fighting in a /skirt/.
He is right though, throws are definitely her roughest part. The girl bows her head, long, violet hair resting against her shoulders. "You do? Thank you, sifu. I feel I have been learning a lot in the matches I have been in. Especially against Mr. Chaolan..." her voice fades out. That was definitely an eye opening experience, to fight someone so skilled yet so deceptive.
Athena has made a huge mistake. The mistake wasn't hiding the laptop from Chin's view - no, he would have paid too much attention to it and a week later 'WHISKEY_THOMAS' would have joined all of Athena's fan sites and posted frankly upsetting things in the comments sections. Chin's got those computer skills, you see. The mistake was setting Chin's bottle on her head. This will come into play later. Pay attention!
Chin smiles at his young charge as she shows such a depth of manners. That's how things should be! Gorgeous women bowing their head at your every word! Sifu this, Sifu that! Yes! It brings a not-at-all-alcoholic glow to Chin's cheeks, and he eerily-casually swaps his legs on the rafter above. "Sakura Kasugano... hmm. She reminds me of an old friend. I wonder if he took on a third student..." Chin loses himself in thought for a moment, but only just. "Well! Anyway. You're right that your grappling needs work! And furthermore!"
Chin becomes SO ANIMATED that he FALLS FROM THE CEILING. He lands in a graceful heap on the Hello Kitty carpet bedecking Athena's room, but the shifting in position means that his gourd rockets off of her head and either knocks her laptop over or slams into her knees. Either way, she gets Special Move'd, and it's all thanks to the old man lounging (how did he land in a lounge?) in the center of her room (how did he get THERE).
He drinks from that gourd, long, satisfied, and entirely without regard to the comment he hasn't quite finished. When he's done drinking, those merry little eyes twinkle at Athena from over the brim of his vessel.
"Furthermore, you and I both know your power is great, but you rely too much on it! There is a give and take to combat, a dance, a flow! Combat is meditation and zen, it is emulating things in nature! The crane! The bear! Even drunken boxing is just an attempt to reach that perfect nothingness in the drunk's mind! Your fighting with Mr. Chaolan was..." Chin spins on his tailbone, moving from 'lounge' to 'cross-legged', with a hand to his chin.
His eyes have stopped twinkling- a sort of chill sternness overtakes that wrinkled, jovial face.
"You're becoming concerned with the image of Athena Asamiya, with selling yourself to the camera. Flashy attacks and costumes! Everything becomes transparent when you focus so much on the show! That is why that young man took you so easily!"
"But grappling is..." She lifts her left arm to rest against her right bicep in thought. "It feels like it requires a lot more strength than-"
She let her guard down for a moment and disaster strikes. She should know better. Any lapse in attention around Master Gentasi always ends in disaster. The laptop takes the bullet this time, getting knocked hard enough on one corner to be sent tumbling a meter to the right before landing hard against the carpeted floor while young Asamiya snaps her hands out in a desperate, but unfortunately too-slow bid to grasp it first. "Ah!" Real panic sets in then as she lunges forward and pulls it back onto her lap. The screen is dark. Was it shut off by a safety mechanism in the device? With more concern than she's shown for a lot of things, she starts hammering the power button but nothing seems to happen!
The girl breaths in deeply at that point, certainly exasperated but never one to just let the emotions fly, especially when it comes to the venerable Chinese Master. She exhales slowly, still not facing him as he lounges before she finally pivots to face him, "Master... Gentsai..." she says through strained teeth, "Everytime you break my laptop, I have to take it back to that boy in the IT club to get it fixed, and... well..." she starts gesturing with her right hand. She might have mentioned how uncomfortable Simon in the IT club makes her feel before. Or maybe not. Kids these days don't tell the old man anything. She finishes with a final sigh and puts the deactivated laptop down on the floor and shifts to a kneeling position, hands on knees, across from the old man.
He has her full attention now, the exasperation of the previous moment already appearing to melt away as he starts discusing her fight appearances. Shoulders slouch a little in spite herself. He is astute in his observations. There has always been that dependency on her power and it has definitely carried her far. But her fundamentals? Her core strikes and defenses? It's hard to admit it, but Kensou has her beat there. If he could only concentrate better...
She nods her head slowly as he talks about the ebb and flow of combat, taking his words to heart as she always has. This is one area she has never argued with him. For all his faults (list too long to fit within the buffer), when Chin speaks about fighting, his teachings have always born out.
Then he brings up her focus on her image and Athena opens her mouth to protest, "But sifu-" before she cuts herself off and listens as he continues, hands tightening on her knees. The girl frowns a little, violet eyes shifting to the side. There was no denying how bad the fight against Lee Chaolan went for her, especially in the opening seconds, where so much often hangs in the balance. "I just felt like... well, I- the audience has expectations too. I can feel their excitement when they are there in person, their hopes, their anticipation... how can I not try to give them what they want?" she tries to defend herself.
Chin says, "+OOC HEY that is a PSI THROW attack and we both know it!"
Chin watches the laptop, his current competitor for Athena's rare attention, -die in a fire-. His mildly concerned expression lasts perhaps a bit too long for it to be genuine - but it's more likely that Gentsai's sloshed than it is that he harbors any kind of insidious thirty-step plan to get Athena to stop focusing on her celebrity ambitions like some seventeen year old prat!!! He smiles at Athena when she readily admits her concerns, expression once again kind, eyes vanishing within a lifetime's worth of crows-feet.
"You came to my kenpo class because you wanted to impress people, then?" The words are harsh, the tone is merely inquisitive. Chin has always taken this sort of route with his students- to the casual onlooker, the man is a reckless drunk and probable idiot, but his 'mistakes' have always worked out to his favor, his ramblings always touched a little too sternly on the nerves. His students - his chosen ones - get to see a bit beyond that veil, but the core of Chin Gentsai remains unfortunately unchanged. He's kind of a goddamn mystery.
"I teach my students - all of them - to follow their own path and reach their own heights. Close friends and relatives, teachers and mentors -- these people can help you if you lose sight of your peak, but the *crowd*? Athena. You are smarter than this. You have more focus than this!" Chin wiggles his toes on the tatami mats beneath Athena's rug, briefly distracted. Soon he is engrossed.
"Are all of the houses here made of paper like this? How did Japan ever get out of the imperial ages with paper homes?! No wonder they're all so quiet all the time. Pfah. I don't know how you and Kensou deal with it, personally." His conversation has trailed off entirely.
Still, those tiny eyes watch Athena's face, every twitch presented there.
Just what, exactly, are her priorities? Teenagers are awful people.
Eyes widen at the directness of the question. Not because it is so blunt - she's long since come to expect that from him over the four years she has been learning from him. But the precision of it hurts. In one simple question, he takes her back years. No, of course not, back then... the very thought of impressing anyone had never crossed her mind.
She bows her head after a moment, fingers clenching on her knees, eyes scanning back and forth across her carpet, as if the answer to his question could be found in one of the banal caricatures looking back up from her if only her eyes were actually focused there. When did it change? It had to be when she did her first public fight... only six months ago now. The rush of the crowd, resonating with their emotions, the thrill of feeling their excitement. How could it /not/ be addicting? The young prodigy glances up, her expression a blend of worry and resolve.
She answers his question from a long half minute before.
She inhales then exhales, nodding slightly, mouth forming a faint frown, cheeks blushing lightly. "No, no, the crowd is just..." She looks away again, eyes back to the floor, exhaling softly. "I know it's just... hype, and sensationalism. But I feel like... I feel like I could make a difference in that way. Maybe even more than from fighting." She looks up suddenly, eyse widened then, "N-not that I ever want to stop training. I still have so much to learn, to do!"
She frowns and looks away again, flustered now. It isn't often she's at a loss for words. Even in front of audiences, she has proven eloquent when speaking, able to sway people just by her delivery and sincerity. "It's just-" It's always 'It's just'.
She blinks, glancing up as Chin ruminates on the paper thin housing, then frowns a little. "No, not anymore, we just..." Don't have the money to afford a nicer place, the sentiment goes unspoken. She shakes her head, making a face, hands clenched in her lap now, "I don't understand. How can I do everything!" she finally exclaims.
Chin's drawn features remain hopelessly unreadable while Athena speaks - he has a tremendously bad habit of being a *complete* riddle when it comes to honesty vs. acting... it's how he's gotten along in his life. Still, the eye-contact boasts a earnest eye-contact that belies authentic concern, even if the face isn't quite playing ball. Old people are just -- jesus. Are they wrinkles? Creases from expression? Chin has *so many wrinkles*.
He doesn't speak throughout Athena's entire monologue, simply - hopefully - listening. When she finally does finish, the man's attention follows her clenched hand - he glances upwards, thin-fleshed cheeks rosy, expression downright grandfatherly.
"Athena..." That voice wavers and cracks, a breakaway from its traditional backbone. "You are growing up. The teenage years, children are..." Idiots. "Artists. Poets. Sages, saints. Every day is an adventure, every whimsy holds promise. People would never aspire to the heights they do if they didn't chase those dreams. I won't ask you to do the same." The old man glances downwards, oily eyelids creasing over watery eyes. "But I cannot teach you if your focuses are split. I *will not*." Gentsai looks up once more, eyes creased into a smile, large-knuckled hands lifting to smooth his cap back.
"This doesn't mean you aren't allowed to practice with us! Keep up your skills, for when you come back, and help teach the others -- but my lessons cease while you explore your passions. I won't waste my breath on a girl dreaming about the spotlight--" He stabs a finger towards the girl.
"And I'd hope she wasn't stupid enough to try splitting her attention between such lofty goals!"
ATHENA HAS HIT A CROSSROADS--!! WILL SHE PURSUE STARDOM, AND LOSE A WHOLE LOT OF JUSTIFICATION FOR ENHANCING ANYTHING BUT CHARISMA/PRESENCE/DM ABILITIES? OR WILL SHE APOLOGIZE AND GO BACK TO MARTIAL TRAINING?!
When the ancient master speaks, Athena is completely silent. Gone are the distractions of a few minutes prior. Now that he is talking about her own path, the choices in front of her, nothing else can compare in priority for her attention. Violet eyes stay focused on him as he elaborates on the paths that could and do lie before her. Dreams to chase, just like any growing child might see before them...
But then the wizened martial artist and counselor makes clear his stance on the matter - that there really is a choice to be made, and the girl's eyes widen noticeably, Athena leaning back slightly, hands clenching even tighter in her lap. She doesn't realize that she has started holding her breath before he even got to that point, perhaps sensing where this thread of thought was going. She is, perhaps, as familiar with Chin Gentsai as just about anyone still living.
The implications of her choice are staggering. No more training? No more direction? She wobbles a little, still forgetting to breath. His declaration has staggered her now that it is actually out in the open and after several seconds of rapt silence, Athena looks away, to the side, cheeks blushing faintly. There is a flash of anger. How dare he make her chose! That isn't fair! Can't she be successful at both pursuits?
At once she realizes how ridiculous such a thought is. Of course she can't. Every minute spent chasing one dream is time spent not advancing the other. The blush in her face retains the same soft pink though it stems now from a touch of silent embarrassment at having thought she could do both! Unconsciously, her right hand lifts to brush her fingers up through her bangs, unable to look at her sensei while furiously deliberating her plight. It seems like the should be some solution, some compromise, some answer like on the relentless logic problems hurled her way at school. It takes a long while for her to conclude there is not a lot of room to work with.
After about thirty seconds of consideration, she finally exhales, remembering to breath at last. "Sifu, I understand." she finally states. "I will not squander what you have given me already. I know I have so much further to go." She closes her eyes then, shoulders slouching a little. It isn't easy to let the idea of it all slip through her fingers.
Opening her eyes again, she continues. "Just..." She swallows. "Just tell me what I can and cannot do. I- I understand that I must turn the scouts down." The letters, emails, and phone calls have already been coming in. Agents interested in her potential as a fighter as well as an idol. The money would have been nice. Maybe an actual house could have been on the horizon. One with real walls.
"But I can still sing, can't I? For..." she lifts her right hand again and waves it as she looks for the words, "If I'm invited, for small things?" she looks hopeful but her voice is starting to pick up a hint of a tremble to it. She lifts both of her hands to wave them quickly, "If I don't spend any extra time on it?"
Chin is the same as before - stonelike in his expression while he listens to Athena work through her own thought process. It's a lot like talking to a wall - those dewy, tiny eyes barely blink, Chin's mouth moves imperceptibly with the rare, underplayed reaction. Athena's lived with him long enough to see how the man's mouth twists downwards the moment she mentions 'compromise', but there's not much else to go on. Occasionally, the man twists his gnarled fingers within his hands, falling deeper and deeper into thought. It's when Athena mentions wanting to do *both*, *still*, that Chin finally erupts - staggers - to standing, twisting along the way so that he's facing *away* from his oldest pupil. At the very least, it means she can't see his face, even if his *voice* isn't quite as calm as he'd like it to be. Athena's not the only one who dislikes this conversation.
She knows full well what she means to him, too - she has to. 'Goes with the territory', one might say - powers like Athena Asamiya's manifest once a century, if not less than that. The ability to sense and manipulate sheer thought into kinetic force! Since they'd discovered her unique talent, and Chin's unique ability to help her *shape* such, the backwater, questionable Kenpo class had become substantially more interesting, more a show of Athena's skill than any sort of *class*.
One assumes it was here that she got her first taste of stardom. It showed, too - in the arguments she'd started having with her teacher. Little things at first, but increasingly explosive, something about 'sharing talent with the world' versus focusing solely on oneself. All this and more flood through Chin's mind as an emotional torrent - it's easy enough for even Athena to pick up on, in her younger state.
"I don't think you understand my point at all, Athena," comes the quavery response, Chin's tiny fingers curling into fists, nails biting at the flesh of his palms. "You have *trained*, and you are *so close* to being ready for so much more than local tournaments. Losing focus now could be disastrous for you! One fight spent pleasing the crowd, one massive loss -- you've lost it all! Can you *PROMISE* me you won't spend your time showboating? Can you *ABSOLUTELY* focus on your training, and on improvement?? I don't have time to spend correcting you for vanity, and you don't have the time to spend being vain!! If you say you can do this..."
Chin turns around calmer, expression as placid as ever. He adjusts his hat, ducks his head, and settles down into that impossibly folded crossed-leg posture old men tend to have.
"I trust you. But if you break my trust... I am not a talent scout. I'll have to turn you over to their care."
Until Chin spins up to his feet, turning his back to her, Athena remains hopeful. They can work something out, right? Like, some kind of 'earned credit time' or something? Kill yourself training for four days and earn an approval for some show somewhere? But it's clear that trying to split hairs is not what this is about, a point punctuated without a single word when she is left with only his back to stare at. Slowly she lowers her face, hands still in her lap, sharing with him this long moment in silence, feeling on some level what it is doing to him - an echo of the heartache she's feeling herself in those long seconds.
When he speaks again, his words are daggers, cutting without error to the core of the matter that she has so desperately tried to dance around. That this breaking her dear old master's heart is even more painful than the thought of what she's being asked to give up. Athena swallows, feeling an ache in her throat, as the old man puts the burden of promises on the table. For all he's done for her, for all he means to her, the weight behind the words he's asking is incomprehensible.
Her eyes lose their focus though she can still make out his small-statured figure in front of her. He is turning it back on her - this trust she cannot even fathom betraying. She's cornered by that, there's no hope of compromise, no argument that even threatens to find its way to her tongue. Her breaths come a bit faster now, hands still clenched in her lap.
It's his last works that break her composure at last, however. His trust, and his heart, are both put on the line, and the once hopeful idol bows her head at last.
"Y-you can count on me, Master Gentsai." She pauses and swallows in a bid to keep her voice from catching.
"I will will only focus on my training." She leans forward further, hair slipping off her shoulders to frame the sides of her head.
"What you have to teach me is more important than anything else in the world." There is a quiet moment. She can only manage one more line, she knows, before it will be impossible to speak.
"You can trust me with your heart."
A tear drops into the cheerfully pink carpet and vanishes.
Chin's shoulders sag noticeably when Athena breaks down. His head droops, his poise falters, but only for a second. It must break his heart to hear his eldest student's burgeoning sobs, but... Chin cannot let her see that he is just as conflicted about this as she, or that he wishes it could be different. She may mistake the way he's gone white-knuckled as anger, the way those slumping shoulders suddenly stiffen as indignation. She'd be wrong. One look at those fierce eyes, at their redoubled wateriness, the practiced, inscrutable smile on his weathered features is enough to speak volumes about Chin's conflict between presentation and honesty.
"...Good." Chin's voice is all Athena has to go on - his face remains willfully static, dissonant with his posture. The qualities of the man's tone are dual-natured - the gruff scrape of frustration and disbelief at impetuousness add a certain harshness to his statement, while a wheedling, exhausted sigh belies the frailty beneath the judgment. Chin is tired. He's old. His star is fading, and there's only so much time left to keep this generation's sky lit.
"I can tell you aren't happy with me, but you will see, Athena." Chin stands, once again, and turns to start making his way out of the door. He doesn't want to be here right now, and she probably doesn't *WANT* him here. He's just clipped a teenager's wings. "It's not that I don't want you to be happy. Or that I don't want you to be the most you can be."
The old man pauses on his way to the door. "I just don't think I could stand to see the look on your face if everything fell apart. I don't want you to have to deal with that much responsibility just yet." There it is. Hope, glimmering at the end of a frugal path, passing light into a featureless corridor!
Or not - it's hard to imagine how a crushed teenage girl must feel, right now. But as Chin closes the door to Athena's room, as he makes his way down the ratty corridor in his students' disheveled home, his lips pull into a slight smile.
He remembers being young. He remembers being told how it was going to be.
Damn the rules. Ignore the odds. Passion is the flame that lights any youth's path!
He could go for a drink right now.
Log created on 21:52:18 11/25/2014 by Athena, and last modified on 04:20:01 12/02/2014.