Description: A mandatory leave of absence provides Honoka with the opportunity to visit her hometown, along with Zach, who had recommended the trip to begin with. The town of Akan looks much like it did when she'd left it, right down to the nagging relatives.
Honoka's shoulder injury at the hands (teeth) of the Butcher was severe enough that the circus has effectively forced her to take an extended leave of absence. And, forbidden from practicing until she can prove her shoulder's well... there's plenty of time to recuperate. Honoka's hardly used any of her time off, so she decides -- with help from a friend -- to take a visit back to her hometown.
Lake Akan is a large crater lake in eastern Hokkaido. It's great for fishing, though of course the catches are heavily regulated. Despite clear skies, the weather is a bit breezy here in the Akankohan resort, an overcommercialized lakeside resort apparently engineered to milk the Ainu culture for all its worth.
'I'm... gonna warn you, take everything you see here with a grain of salt,' Honoka had told her companion on the bus ride up. 'It's like the KFC version of chicken compared to having a fully home-cooked meal -- enough to get the general taste, but nowhere near as good as the real thing.'
Honoka hasn't been back here since she'd left. And she looks practically nothing like she'd used to -- her purple jacket was something she'd picked up along the circus' travels. Her dark grey sweater and taupe cargo pants, likewise, are about as far from the Ainu cultural norms as possible. And of course, the pink highlights streaked through her bangs aren't in any way natural. In other words, the young woman stepping off the Akan Lake bus looks just as much of a tourist as the blonde-haired American next to her.
Slipping her arm around Zach's, it actually seems like she's a bit chilly. "This place hasn't changed a bit," she comments wryly, eyeing the gaudy tourist traps with disdain. "Maybe a -bit- more embarassing than I remember, but we didn't really come to this part of town much..." Clutching at Zach's arm for warmth, she looks up to him. "Um, you doin' okay? You want to get something to eat?"
'You want to go where?' he had asked when Honoka had called. He had agreed easily enough. The Butcher had faded into the mists, and Command had jumped through hoops to keep him off of the Testament situation. So really, Zach had little else to do aside from train. And Honoka was asking him to go to Hokkaido with her. Which Zach found more than a little intriguing.
Glenn is wearing a sweater, slacks, and a long coat, and his clothes are in a black military-style duffle bag slung over one shoulder. He makes no objections or moves to avoid Honoka's search for additional body heat.
The Marine is, admittedly a bit wide-eyed at all of this; he had not yet been to any of the smaller islands of Japan yet even if Okinawa would have been inevitable. He blinks once as Honoka gets his attention. "I'm fine," he says with an honest grin. "Just a lot to take in." He chuckles. "Food's a good call, though." One thing about Zach that may not escape Honoka's notice on the trip up is that Zach is not what you would call a discriminating eater. He's almost always hungry.
Honoka nods slowly, taking in the sights and sounds of the surrounding area. Plenty of Japanese tourists are around to keep the pair from feeling lonely in any way. The bus had dropped them off in the midst of the "Ainu Kotan" village, a photogenic simulacrum of life over a hundred fifty years prior. Buildings are hewn from logs, tiled with bark, decorated with natural browns and greys with animalistic decorations. Occasionally a modern building tries to blend into the scenery, but those aren't half as distracting as the brightly-colored banners pitched to advertise the "local flavor" restaurants. It's almost a certainty that ramen was not part of the Ainu diet, even though it is somewhat compatible.
"Sure," acquiesces Honoka, a smile spreading upon her face as she leads Captain Glenn right past the half-dozen garish restaurants. It should be obvious why, as the aroma of freshly-cooked salmon can be detected wafting along the breeze.
A small chime jingles as she slides the door open, breaking her hold on Zach to fit within the small passageway. The calls of a half-dozen staff from the kitchen cry out, 'Irasshaimase!' as is the norm for Japanese restaurants -- pretty much mandatory, really. Adjusting the strap of her duffel bag along her shoulder, she flashes a grin back at Zach, sweeping the wind-tossed bangs out of her eyes. "I hope you're not sick of fish yet."
"It's food," Zach says with a wide grin as he follows Honoka into the restaurant, ducking his head slightly as he does so. He shifts slightly, reshouldering his bag as he smiles brightly at the staff. He allows Honoka to pick the seats out; he's willing to let her take the lead for the moment. He'll order a beer for himself while waiting for a menu.
The Ainu descendant laughs, shaking her head as she trades her outdoor shoes for the house-provided sandals. "I bet I could pretty much sneak -any- food by you, at this point. Pig's feet, bear intestines... is there anything you -do- mind?" She slides into a booth, as a waitress in an authentic silk attush comes by. Bowing, she offers menus to the pair, and takes drink orders. Honoka just asks for green tea.
Lacing her fingers together, she rests her elbows upon the table, and leans forward. "... I know I've probably said this a zillion times, but I'm really glad you took off time to spend with me. I... I doubt I'd have even come back here, but... I almost feel like I -have- to."
The door chimes ring again, as an older lady steps inside. She, too, is wearing an Ainu attush, though she has a facial tattoo. It looks like a mustache. She, like Honoka, trades her shoes for sandals, and takes a seat by the bar.
Flipping through the menu, Honoka points out the salmon. Luckily, the menu is tri-lingual -- Ainu katakana, along with equivalents in English and Japanese. "Well, know what I'm getting," she laughs. "They've got all kinds of fish here, most of it local. The barbecue crab legs aren't bad, though..."
Zach follows suit with the footwear. "If there is," Zach says, "I haven't had it yet." He takes the menu, blinking once at the woman's tattoo but managing to not stare. He reads it over before looking at the young woman across from him over the menu. "...squid, huh," he mutters.
"It's..." Zach smiles a little bit. "I'm glad you asked me to come," he finally says after a moment. "Things were getting a little static at work."
"Squid's just a little bit chewy, it's not as bad as you might think. It's like eating fat off the edge of a good steak, it's nice and a bit salty." Honoka's eyes glisten back at Zach, caught in the moment of forgetting pretty much -everything- for a few days. The idea of having a true vacation -- albeit one backed with perhaps the one person she trusts -outside- of the circus protecting her -- is a relaxing one. Intoxicating, in its own way.
But... her gaze back at Zach is interrupted. Honoka looks up, and almost as soon as she does so, a stream of Ainu language can be heard just over Zach's shoulder. The lady who'd been seated at the bar has walked over, standing just a bit behind Zach's shoulder, and from the sound of her voice alone, she's right on the precipice of getting angry with the Twilight Star performer.
Honoka bows her head, looking down at the table. "I'm... I'm sorry, I think you're mistaken, I'm not..." she answers, only to be cut off by another empassioned diatribe, a red color forced across her cheeks. "... For the kamui's sake, can you at -least- speak in Japanese?"
"I suppose I should," answers the older lady, fixing a withering glare at Honoka. "you always -were- good at ignoring your legacy. And if you have any respect for me, don't you even think of trying to change my mind for me, dear /matkarku/ of mine."
Honoka brushes her fingers through her bangs in frustration. She answers, belatedly, in Ainu, just to prove she hasn't forgotten it entirely, then she bows her head to her dinner companion. "Zach, this is... this is my aunt. Pirka." Rising to her feet, she bows in front of her aunt, repressing -any- thoughts she might have about snarking to her oldest remaining relative. "I'm sorry I haven't come back till now, but..."
"It's okay. You have a busy life, I hear!" comes a fast retort.
Zach stiffens when the woman approaches his back, tension sliding down his spine like cold water. The Ainu language starts flowing, his eyes narrow. Being situationally uncertain tends to make Zach wary, but this is more minefield than combat arena for sure.
Zach stands up slowly, turning to face the lady before bowing slightly. The movement is smooth with a lack of affectation. "Ma'am," he says quietly and politely. "It's a pleasure to meet you." Zach says this in Japanese, slightly accented.
Pirka frowns as the American makes his presence known, bristling somewhat at the forwardness of the gesture. Sparing one glance at Honoka, though, she swallows what words she -would- have spoken, and bows in greeting to the Marine.
"Auntie, this is Captain Zach Glenn of the US Marines. He's graciously offered to accompany me on my trip home."
Pirka nods with pursed lips, eyes flitting between Honoka's and Zach's. And then she makes some clearly irritable remark in Ainu.
"/Yes/, he's a /shisam/, I'm glad your eyesight hasn't..." comes the start of an ascerbic comment, before Honoka bows her head, practically stamping on her own foot. "Auntie, I'm sorry. I'm... I've -been- on pins and needles. A supernatural... creature could attack us at any moment."
"And you," responds Pirka, turning her gaze back to Zach, "Are guarding her, then? Or are you two lovers?" The quick-witted woman makes no secret of her disdain for either of the two, but her words are guarded, defensive. And, as she draws in her breath, she seems to realize she's projecting much more rudeness than she'd like. Rubbing her forehead with a hand, she breathes a light sigh. "I am sorry, Captain Zach Glenn. But you see, my niece ran away from home. Ran away from her -life- to, quite literally, join the circus." She glares back at Honoka. "And has not even bothered to call, leaving us to find out about her from the news. Or the webshites-"
"Websites," corrects Honoka, sitting back down and combing her fingers through her hair.
"Webshites," Pirka continues, with a dismissive shake of her head, returning her gaze to Zach. "What do you think of our dear town, so far? Have you been here long?"
Zach's blush is deep, pronounced, and immediate at the razor sharp question of his relationship is aimed at him. "I..." he stops himself. That light, witty, incredibly deflective banter Honoka knows Zach for is pretty much gone for a moment. "We're friends," he finally answers, as he stays standing for a moment. He flicks a glance at Honoka. Offered? He was the one /asked/. Between this and the shisam thing (whatever a shisam is anyway), there might be a conversation later.
"I haven't seen anything like it," Zach says. "But we only arrived just now." He's honest; he hasn't formed an opinion on the town because he wants to see more of it before he does so. "But please, call me Zach," he says, not wanting to stand on something like rank in a place or time like this.
"Friends," echoes Pirka, favoring Honoka with another brief glance. The embarassed Twilight Star performer is too busy hiding behind her hands to give any appreciable response.
The village of Akan is part of Kushiro City, but that's only a technicality. This lakeside town -used- to be a thriving center for the local fishmongers, but it's pretty much turned into an eccentric tourist attraction now -- a tourist attraction that Auntie Pirka seems to dislike. Accordingly, she seems to appreciate the Captain's tact, from the quiet nod she gives him in reply. "Zach, then. Does... /Honoka/ speak much of her time here? Of how her parents, well-established fishers with their own boat, managed to drown to their deaths in a river? I suppose she--"
A thump can be heard, the sound of two tightly-balled fists contacting the table. "Auntie, that's enough," interjects Honoka, finally having enough. Tears well up in her eyes, as she shakes her head. "You didn't even -visit- me when that happened, you didn't even -care-, and now you're going to drag me over the coals for it? You lost a sister and her husband, I lost my -parents-."
Pirka looks over Honoka as she speaks, wordlessly keeping her composure. "... Okay. This is what's going to happen." She reaches into the sleeves of her garment, and withdraws a small business card. Extending it to Honoka with both hands, she bows her head and takes two steps back. "I've disturbed your peace long enough. Just promise me one thing, Honoka. Make time for me, before you leave town."
Honoka rubs her jacket sleeve into her face, nodding quietly. "I promise, Auntie," but not without sparing an apologetic glance to Zach, her cheeks still flushed red.
Pirka nods quietly to Zach. "I am pleased to meet you, Zach. Please forgive my intrusion, and enjoy your night."
"She-" Zach is about to mention that yes, she /has/ in fact mentioned being from around here when Honoka puts her foot down. Nevermind the fact that the two younger people have only recently met. He closes his mouth, and lets Honoka take the lead on this for the moment. He catches Honoka's glance and gives a swift nod of acceptance, though he looks a little sad as he does so. He could not, for the two lives of him, imagine losing his parents any time soon.
"The pleasure is all mine, ma'am," Zach replies with an odd grace. Once Pirka has left, Zach turns to regard Honoka with a certain solemnity that doesn't usually grace Zach's face. He sits back down slowly. "This will be, hopefully," Zach says carefully, "The only time I insert myself into this matter." He nods towards where Pirka exited. "But I think that it is a good thing if you do make that time for her."
Honoka keeps her eyes closed, leaning back in her chair as her aunt excuses herself. There's no possibility of having a rational discussion with her aunt right -now-, after all.
It's a good few moments after Zach speaks that she's finally able to regain composure long enough to hazard an answer.
"... I... should, yeah." One might expect that to be followed by a 'however' or a 'but' clause. Instead, Honoka just sighs, wiping her eyes clear with her sleeve once again.
"She's every right to be angry at me, I've... I've been ignoring my past ever since I was a kid." And once the waitress sets Zach's beer and Honoka's glass of water on the table, Honoka's quick to take a few sips. "And... it sounds like she's blaming /me/ for my parents' death, which is enough to..."
She does not finish the thought, instead taking another few sips of water.
Zach takes a long pull of his beer, listening to Honoka for a moment. "That strikes me as more than a little irrational," Zach says in agreement. "But grief is like that." Zach considers his next words carefully. "How long has it been since...," he asks carefully.
"Eight years," answers Honoka quietly, staring down at the table. "We... we got in an argument. They took the boat out in the middle of a storm, and I was so angry I couldn't just... y'know... tell them..."
She looks back at the forgotten menu, eyes glazing over somewhat at the choices she finds there. "And yeah. They... they didn't come back home."
She looks up slowly, a frown now a fixture upon her face. "I'm... sorry I never told you, but... I didn't exactly expect it to be, y'know... dinner conversation."
Zach guards his expression with another long pull of his drink. "Yeah," he finally says as he sets the bottle down. "Not exactly something that'd come up." Zach frowns thoughtfully. "Though I have to ask," he says with a little grumpiness in his voice, "Why is it every time we do dinner, the conversation gets depressing?"
Honoka blinks back at Zach. In her current mood, she has to fight from actually calling him on the suggestion that she's willfully sabotaging her own happiness -- a fight that manifests in her hands shifting back and forth atop the menu.
She's offered a brief respite from answering by the waitress asking for her dinner order -- which she notes as salmon.
But it's not an indefinite reprieve, she realizes, and offers a mild shrug. "Hey, we got some dancing out of it that one night, right?"
Zach orders the squid, with a smile and nod. The grin, though, that stays. "It was good dancing, too," Zach agrees as he off-hamdedly returns the menu. "Fun times, in fact," he says, still with that smile.
"Which is promising," Zach says. "Means tonight should be fun." The grin is still there, earnest.
"Fortune favors the bold," is Honoka's comment on Zach's choice of entree. "I think you'll like how they cook it up around here. I haven't been to this particular restaurant before, but I can tell by the way the pictures go..."
She nods slowly, tilting her head somewhat at Zach's choice of words. Tonight? A mischievous glint in her eyes matches the uptick in her smile. "... Oh? Tonight shall be fun, hmm? Two... friends in a lakeside resort, how much trouble would we really get into?" The phrasing is particular for a reason.
Zach nods once. "We're both fairly creative people," Zach says with a lopsided grin, which Zach doesn't bother hiding behind one last pull from the beer bottle. "Was I out of line with your aunt?" Zach asks.
Honoka shakes her head. "No... I don't think there's any right or wrong answer you could've given her." She scratches her cheek. "In our culture... history isn't written in books, it's passed down through stories. Rituals, plays... each one tells a story from our past. And she's... she's a storyteller. So she's not really used to listening."
"Fair enough," Zach says. He looks thoughtful for a moment. "Gonna be hard to have a conversation, though," he says slowly. "Shouting at her may not be the answer." Zach flags down the waitress for another beer.
"I'm going to ask you a question," he says, "But if you don't want to answer it, you don't have to." He stops, almost talking himself out of asking. "What does she think you ran from?"
"I know that, Zach, she is my aunt..." comes Honoka's chastened reply, her fingers carving transparency through her misted glass of water. "I'm not going to just go up there and start cussing up a storm at her or anything..."
She blinks some clarity back into her vision as well, her emotional turmoil having abated for now. "... I ran away from home, Zach. There wasn't anything left for me here. It came down to a choice, either I put up with that sort of conversation on a daily basis, or follow my heart, running off to join the circus." She looks aside for a moment, to the sunny day just one pane of glass away. A mild tinge of red returns to her cheeks. "I was twelve, Zach. It sounded like a no-brainer at the time."
Zach is quiet for a moment. "It's wierd," he says. "Last time around," Zach's eyes are staring through the table as he reaches back into that vault of other memories. "I came into my abilties in a very sudden, very violent manner. I put someone in the hospital." He startles slightly when the waitress bring him another beer. He drains half the bottle at one go. "I was in college at the time. Away from everything that I had known until that point. I ran, and spent the five years or so after that in terror of my abilities, and what they might mean."
Honoka looks away from the window, her expression softening as Zach tells about how he'd manifested his abilities. To Honoka, the story seems inconsequential at first -- why is he bringing up his -abilities- at a time like this? What does this have to do with anything? she wonders.
But then she realizes... he ran, too. "... I guess running from problems is kind of a defense mechanism," she chuckles mirthlessly, her glass of water -- refilled by the super-attentive waitress -- garnering another sip from the performer.
"... But that's why I'm overdue for a return visit, I guess, right? That is, of course, why I'm here. To reconnect. Maybe even, gasp, learn something." She offers another quiet chuckle. "If she hadn't run into me, I might've avoided her for another eight years, but... I guess it's serendipity."
"I ran, that time," he agrees. "This time around," Zach twirls a finger to represent the here and now, "It was a bit easier. Less terrifying, because I kind of knew even then what I would come in to." He lets out a little chuckle, "That alone..." Zach shakes the thought loose.
"Running from a problem only delays dealing with it," he says with a smile and nod. "And for this one, you won't be alone," he says. "If you'll allow me to stand with you."
The young woman's smile is distant, as she nods in reply. "I won't run. But..."
Honoka looks down. She's been nursing the complimentary water, instead of the green tea she'd ordered. No wonder the waitress kept giving her funny looks. Lacing her fingers around the earthenware cup, she takes a sip of tea instead. "Mm... well, it would seem that I might be running from... more. My grandma was... I guess the word would be 'shaman,' not unlike that Nightwolf creep you sent after me." She shrugs mildly, offering an apologetic grin for that unnecessary barb.
"But the point is, um... my grandma was a community pillar. You might also call them 'midwives' as well... chasing away bad omens and evil spirits during birth. Offering bold visions of the future." Fingers stroke against the texture of the cup. "But sometimes the gift of visions skips generations. Not all of the bloodline receive the gift. Auntie Pirka didn't. And neither did Mom."
"But you might have," Zach says, ignoring the barb. Zach did /not/ send Nightwolf to Honoka. "The talent runs in my family as well. They show up differently from person to person. Mine are more like my grandfather's than my father's, for instance." He shrugs.
"My family has, I guess you could call it a tradition of service. We're strongly encouraged to put our talents to use in helping other people," he says. "My mother's a doctor. My father is a counselor. Grampa and I, we fight."
"Mm... yeah. I was even younger when Grandma passed away. I guess my mom knew there would always be a chance that I would get the gift... that's why they took me out fishing all the time. Well, not the -only- reason. But they wanted me to get a true Ainu upbringing, so that I would know all about it."
Honoka looks out the window again, sipping at her tea. "I've never really talked about it, have I? About... fishing. About how much I used to love running up the rigging, helping keep the ship running smoothly,"
She grows silent for a moment, pain knitting her brow at the memory.
"On the boat..." Honoka continues, eyes snapping back to Zach's, intensely. "... the Wajin had no say over us. It was a country of three people. Five, if my aunt and uncle happened to join us for a day trip. And..."
The intensity falters, as she looks down into the rippling surface of her tea. "Japan's changing, already. The Wajin have realized their mistake, a hundred fifty years of discrimination. We don't have to run, any more. Brave people have fought to restore the rightful way of things. And we don't have to hide ourselves behind this..." She gestures with a free hand to the town around her. "This farce."
Zach will now be able to fully appreciate the aroma, and flavor, of perfectly-cooked squid, as it's brought out to him on a plate, expertly sliced into cross-sections for his sampling. Honoka's presented with a slab of the most wonderfully aromatic salmon, as well, which earns a bowed head from the performer. "I suppose that's enough of a hint that we should enjoy the world we live in, hmm?" she asks, unsheathing her chopsticks with a hungry look in her eyes.
Wajin. Another term, which Zach assumes is an Ainu one, that is unfamiliar to him. Zach was going to have a serious chat with Google later, to be sure. The fire Honoka is showing... it's quite possibly the closest the Marine has gotten to Honoka's true feelings on, well, anything the two have talked about or done. "The town /did/ seem a little over-the-top," he admits somewhat sheepishly. He clearly wasn't about to say as much to Pirka. He was not at all certain about how the older woman would have taken the comment.There may have been more serious thinking along those lines...
...but the food arrives. Zach's eyes go wide as he swallows some drool that doesn't escape his mouth.
"I /did/ receive some good advice along those lines," Zach says as he reaches for the chopsticks, "From someone whose advice I trust, and trusted."
The Ainu have lived under Japanese rule for a hundred and fifty years, and for most of it, they weren't legally permitted to practice. That didn't stop them from practicing in secret, of course, and most governments shy away from exterminating an entire culture in broad daylight. Most.
"It's pretty ridiculous. But folks need yen to continue running their businesses, even if the government -does- let us practice in public again. Everything costs yen, even if it's as simple as lumber and cloth for the boats."
As she slices a rectangular portion from her salmon steak, Honoka raises an eyebrow at the notation of 'good advice along those lines. With a twinkle in her eye, she ventures, "Someone I know?"
"Dunno," Zach says after swallowing a chunk of squid unflavored. "Ever met Rose?" He takes another slice, and sets to it with a passion.
Plucking a morsel off her plate, she wags it at Zach with a mischievous grin. "No... but if you do decide to tell her about me, please tell her to let the front office know before she arrives? I'd like to be wearing actual clothes the next time I meet one of your friends."
Zach frowns a bit at that. He knows what Honoka is doing here, and he's done deflecting and ignoring. "I think if Rose approached you without asking me, she'll arrange things so it won't be an issue," he says as he sets down the chopsticks.
"Honestly," he says, "All I told him was that you were a woman with powers like mine. I didn't even go into detail about what /my/ powers were. No names. No locations. I didn't send him."
She pops the morsel of salmon into her mouth, flashing Zach an amused grin as he contests her little barbs. Pausing to dab her lips with a napkin, she holds up a finger. "C'mon, Zach, I'm teasing. It's no wonder you're hungry all the time, with how much energy you spend taking my bad jokes at face value. So," continues she named 'harmonious flower,' "tell me about this... 'Rose' person."
Log created on 18:25:10 03/08/2015 by Honoka, and last modified on 07:28:27 03/09/2015.