Description: Honoka and Zach confront some uncomfortable truths of the Ainu performer's past.
An hourlong bus ride north of Kushiro City, Akan Village was named after the Ainu word for "eternal" or "unchanging." On the books, Akan has been part of Kushiro since 2005. Japanese would consider the name to be a misnomer, considering the degree of change. But longtime residents of the surrounding area would simply point to what has not changed -- the lake, the mountains, the very spirit of nature itself.
The village itself is of two faces. Whereas the outsider would only see the gaudy new buildings, painted up in faux woodgrain and modern weatherproofed materials, the people who live and believe in the culture would have trained their eyes to look past the pink, the plastic, the polymer, and see the true stain of the wood lying beneath. There are ancient houses, hiding in plain sight for those who can see them.
And a somewhat ordinary house that would be easily overlooked by a tourist is the building to which Honoka Kawamoto leads Zach Glenn this fine morning. Just a few minutes before ten a.m. on a weekday, Honoka steps up to the door and raps her knuckles lightly upon the doorframe. The hair extensions she'd been wearing just one night ago have been removed; her slightly-wavy hair descends to her shoulders, with a few beads interwoven in. She looks nothing like the happy-go-lucky tourist of her arrival; indeed, her indigo blue attush robes, patterned with broad stripes in ordered geometric shapes suggest a reverence for the spirits completely unlike those of the itinerants who may be staying in the same hotel. She folds her hands before her as she turns back to Zach with a plain, somber smile. "I... really can't thank you enough for coming along, Zach..."
The performer has been nervous. Very nervous, considering how charmingly the /last/ conversation with her aunt proceeded.
Zach, for the most part, has been filling the role of attentive guest. So many things about the area are, well, not outright different so much as just different enough to get his attention. The Marine, despite the dark brown and black attush kimono that Honoka had picked out for him, cannot help but look like a tourist. Pale skin, blonde hair, and green eyes mark him instantly as an outsider. Nevermind the almost half a foot of height he has most of the locals.
Aside from walking down the street, though, he does nothing to draw attention to himself. He's been quiet for the better part of the day, and while Honoka knows what the psion looks like when he's exhausted, it would be clear to her that he didn't get a full night's rest either. He had spent a good amount of the time since dinner boning up on as many things Ainu as he could manage with a smartphone.
He would at least like to know when he should feel insulted.
Still, though, Zach is fairly cheerful. "It's no trouble," he says honestly. It is /entirely/ possible that things may stay civil between Honoka and her aunt with him around. Then again, maybe not.
Honoka opens her mouth as if to continue speaking with Zach, but that's when she hears the sound of the door sliding open behind her. The face of the person standing inside the doorway is unfamiliar, but the expression on her face is welcoming enough. "Kawamoto-san, Glenn-san... please come in," she says with a bow. To Honoka, she adds, "Your aunt is waiting for you..."
The assistant leads the pair inside. A small waiting room, sparsely furnished, has a few wooden benches to sit upon and a small table. But there's not really much time to soak in the details, as the half-Ainu guide is quick about leading the pair to the main room.
About fifty feet square, the main room would appear to be a focus of the community. Only Pirka is in the room, tending a pot of burning incense resting upon a stand. She stands with her eyes half-lidded, not taking direct note of the two new arrivals.
"Good morning, auntie..." starts Honoka, staying near the entrance of the room. She'd feel compelleed to ask if it was a bad time and if maybe they shouldn't come back -- but the assistant has already said Pirka was waiting.
Pirka's expression says as much. "Mmm. I am glad to see you." The tattooed woman looks up to Zach, the hints of a smile pulling at her lips. "My, don't you look -handsome- in that. It is good to see you here, Zach. Please... I would be honored if you could stay and listen to our family history. But... it may be a little while."
"Fa-" starts Honoka, before realizing she's doing the very thing that gets Pirka so enraged at her. Quietly, she bows her head.
Pirka's smile is a bit more apparent now. "You aren't as far beyond hope as I'd feared... 'Honoka'." When Pirka says the name, it's with the delicacy and detached nature that is usually reserved for foreign words. Even Zach's name was said with more warmth and familiarity...
"We will be dancing," explains Pirka. "I will be suggesting moves, but this is a spiritual voyage, not a game of follow-the-leader. If you do not feel comfortable following your heart... well, I doubt you would have come to begin with."
Zach nods to the assistant, not really surprised that the woman knew his name. When Honoka greets her aunt, he slides just behind her, as if noticing her apprehension at being here. There is a faint smile on his face as he does so, one quickly schooled off of his face with military discipline. He bows slightly at the compliment. "Thank you, ma'am," he says with polite warmth. The compliment seems real, and is appreciated. "If you will allow me to stay and listen, I would consider it an honor to do so."
Not to mention a learning experience.
He notes the the tone Pirka addresses Honoka with, with a faint frown and a slight tilt of the head. However, he says nothing. It's not his place. He grins slightly, and slightly lopsidedly at the hint of the challenge that the explaination brings. Zach is a psion; being comfortable in your own skin is almost a requirement.
The assistant hands a round wooden 'plate' and a stick to Zach, and one to Honoka. Pirka explains: "If you stay, you will be speaking to the spirits. They will not answer the calls unless everyone is a participant, I'm afraid."
Honoka nods quietly, flashing a quick smile to Zach. "It's okay. Just foll--" Again, she chastens herself, for Pirka's already anticipated what she -would- have said. "-- do what seems natural," she amends.
As the assistant disappears into another side room, the main hall grows quiet. Just the three humans, and the slowly smoldering pot of incense.
"I pray that the spirits will answer my call despite speaking in Japanese, instead of singing in my mother tongue." Pirka bows her head, walking a long, slow circle around the incense. "... 'Honoka', you may consider this a review, but I shall explain for your guest here. Ainu... means 'human', in our tongue. We were one with the forest, one with the trees, one with the animals. We coexisted... peacefully." The pungent clouds of incense waft upwards, seeming to adopt different shapes -- except not really.
As she walks, Honoka claps her stick into the plate, providing a gentle beat to go along with the story Pirka weaves. In time, her anxiety begins to fade, as childhood memories return. She joins her aunt in the slow circuit around the incense, nodding slowly.
"The spirits watched over us -- some were benevolent. Most were mischievous. But in due time... a few among us learned the patterns of the wily spirits. We call them shamans -- those who commune with the spirits. Shamans provide vital roles in Ainu culture, Captain... we advise the leaders, we heal the wounded, we welcome new life into the world just as we lead the departed away from it."
Honoka takes shallow breaths of the incense, eyes half-lidding. Pirka does not look back at her -- if anything, the two seem to be behaving themselves, now that the edge of Honoka's disrespect has been worn down.
"What do you see when you look into the clouds, Zach?" asks Pirka.
The smoke is ambiguous... unformed. It's not helping this riddle.
Zach takes the stick and the plate, examining both for a moment with clear curiousity. He listens, nods once. He follows the explanation; some of this he read last night, though the bit about the shamans did not quite make it to his phone. Though all of this, the duties of the shaman, this is familiar to Zach. One could almost say /familial/, for that matter. For reasons he cannot explain, he feels a thrill race through him.
It shows, too, as he starts tapping the stick lightly on his own plate, providing a counter rhythym to Honoka's own beat. It's soft, three beats for every two of Honoka's.
He startles slightly, but manages to keep his own beat, when given a question. "My family," Zach says in quiet surprise, but reverent at the same time. Some members of his family advise, others heal. Some, like Zach, protect. But they all serve the community.
With a larger group, it would be essential for all performers to adopt the same beat, or else utter chaos would ensue. Now, though... Zach's adaptation to the beat is welcomed, even echoed as Pirka begins to clap her hands as well. The rhythm is invigorating, and welcome.
"Family... yes..." Pirka echoes. Zach had mentioned that his family heals, Honoka remembers that much, even though she was too mired in her own selfishness to really -think- much on Zach's words.
"Family is very important to Ainu, it provides context and meaning. For without our rituals, without these important ceremonies passed down from our ancestors, we will once again be at the mercy of the spirits. The spirits are testing us... waiting to see if we think ourselves free of them. And when we forget the rituals in our complacency... they will be back up to their old tricks, they will punish our transgressions." Her pace hastens gradually, as she looks up, talking to the rising clouds of incense smoke. "We are pious, though our numbers dwindle... it is only a matter of time before the traditions are lost."
Honoka's heartrate increases somewhat, her drumming pace quickening to match her aunt's steps. She seems constantly on the verge of speaking, but she holds her tongue... for now.
And it would be wise, as Pirka is about to threaten the balance of good vibrations. "There is a long line of 'tusukur' along our bloodline. 'Tusu' is an Ainu word for the act of shamanic possession... 'kur' the honorific for person. My mother -- 'Honoka's' grandmother -- was one of the most powerful tusukur..." She falters for a moment, then adds, "'Trance medium' is perhaps a more appropriate word. My mother would heal... channeling the spirits, unknitting the tangled mess of the patient... and weaving it back together into a whole."
The clapping continues for a few moments, without any words to accompany it. A small disturbance in the incense smoke indicates Pirka taking a deep breath before continuing.
"The powers go beyond folk songs and stories, however. Our family has the power to influence minds... to resolve maladies of the soul and heart. But it has skipped my generation... neither I nor 'Honoka's' mother were gifted in that regard."
Honoka wants to hear more, but at the same time... she is uneasy. But the beat allows her to keep plodding onward without showing disrespect to her aunt.
"Family is what I see in the smoke, as well."
Zach remains silent, considering these things very carefully. His eyes narrow at every mention of Honoka's name. Something about the tone, the inflection of it, just seems off. Zach's beat is steady through all of this, neither speeding up or slowing down, but despite wanting to ask about this he does not yet.
His eyes flick over to Honoka when she finally speaks, then loks back to Pirka. He's not about to step into this minefield just yet.
Pirka continues walking in the long circle. "When we first met, last night, I gave you a very specific caution, might you remember what it was?"
"Yes." Honoka's answer comes quickly. "You told me not to change your mind."
"Indeed... and why would I have said that?" Pirka continues clapping, once, twice, thrice, before speaking again. "Because your generation was not skipped. You... speak in others' minds without realizing it."
Honoka's forehead knits tightly. But she says nothing, letting Pirka's clapping keep the pace, lets it fill the void of silence.
"And you have since you were a child..."
Honoka frowns as she walks, beating her 'drum', an unsettling mood coming over her. "That... that's not right. I didn't... I couldn't, until... until -after-..."
Pirka continues walking, her metronome-like beat continuing as she pads around the incense.
Zach considers the words for a moment, his mind racing even as he keeps his beat. It's... not at all uncommon for talents such as those Zach and Honoka possess to manifest without knowledge of their presence. The first use is almost invariably an accident. For Zach, it was during a fight in high school, and it ended with the other guy breaking his arm. His grandfather put two people in the hospital. The other invariable is that the power comes during a moment of heightened emotion. Strong power responds to a strong will. Or strong feelings.
Honoka had mentioned an arguement the night her parents died. Most people who had any knowledge of boats would stay off the water during a storm if they could help it.
Zach's beat /stops/ as he stares at what can only be a train wreck in progress. He knows what Pirka is accusing. He knows what Honoka is even now denying.
But he remains frozen, unable to stop the truth in this moment.
"Everything has a purpose, Honoka. But you have been granted a gift. A blessing. How you choose to use it... that's up to your strength of character. Your charisma."
Honoka walks along, her drum beat slipping a bit. She falls out of beat, but it's noticed and remedied quickly enough -- but it is possible to hear her breathing take a different, shallow panting, even though her back is turned to Zach.
"Your eyes are cloudy, still... but in twenty years, you've never listened to me with open ears like you have tonight. There is still hope for you yet."
The pacing stops. Pirka drops to one knee, the conclusion of the story. The smoke seems to adopt the form of two adult figures for one, fleeting moment, before dissolving into an amorphous shape once more.
Honoka drops to one knee behind Pirka, bowing her head and resting a cheek upon her raised, attush-clad knee, the drum paddle lain flat on the floor beside her. "I'm... I'm s-"
Pirka shushes, calmly. "This story is over. Where it goes from here is up to you two."
Zach slumps into a seated position, gasping for a breath he didn't realize he was holding. The look on his face is clear; he should have seen that coming about twelve hours ago. Perhaps he didn't want to face it at the time. Honoka, if she turns to face Zach, sees a familiar sight. One that, in many ways, started their whole relationship.
A single tear runs down his cheek as he watches Pirka and Honoka, his sorrow apparent even to those not gifted with psychic abilities. Unlike the last time, however, Zach makes no effort to collect himself.
Pirka rises back to her feet, turning slowly to look at the two children. Well, they're children to -her- anyway.
"I will call you whatever you wish, Honoka." Gone is the casual disgust in her tone, replaced with warmth and maturity.
She extends a hand to both Honoka and Zach. "Please, stand. I do have a performance in two hours, which I need to get ready for, but please... my assistant Mayuko will get you anything you may need. You are welcome to stay and watch, if you choose. I certainly don't mind a larger audience."
Honoka takes the hand, bringing her other sleeve to an eye. "Okay. Thank you, Auntie..."
Pirka smiles back, nodding her head to both Honoka and Zach, before politely excusing herself. The American's sorrow speaks volumes about his character -- she's especially grateful that Honoka has such a close friend to help her at this time of need.
Zach picks himself up slowly, dusting himself off even if there is no dust to remove. He make no move to clean his face just yet. He takes a couple of deep breaths before bowing once to Pirka. He looks to Honoka with uncertainty; he's not about to leave her. Not now, not like this. In fact, he'd like to stay for the performance if he could.
But he's still willing to follow her lead. If she wants to leave, then he'll leave with her.
Pirka steps into the back room -- the incense pot should be just fine, really.
Honoka clasps her hand around Zach's, drawing herself into his chest. Her breathing is shallow... but for now, the fact that he's here with her, having heard everything she has... it's enough. That's all she needs.
-- Hours later - Hotel Gozensui --
Honoka has had quite an eventful day. The morning began with her and Zach trying on their new attush robes -- the last moment that Honoka felt that she had any control of the situation. From the time she stepped into her aunt's performance hall onwards, it's been one cascading sequence of guilt, recovery, and subsequent reminders of guilt. The truth she'd been denying for years, subconsciously routing away from herself has come to light.
Some part of her knew she'd need a shoulder to cry on before coming here. And it's a good thing she'd thought to ask.
It's evening now. After eating a meal by herself, getting a short nap... she's rapping her knuckles lightly at the doorframe outside Zach's room.
She's changed out of her attush, having put on the purple jacket and camisole top that she tends to favor. It's a step backwards, spiritually... but it's not like she brought a ton of clothing options. She bears a small frown, her eyes cast downward... but all things considered, she's holding up as well as can be expected.
Zach is back in his street clothes as well. It's not like he brought a ton of clothing options either, and he just didn't feel right without something with /pockets/. He has just finished closing up his shirt when he hears the knock. He slides the door, the only sound made is the door against its frame.
He doesn't seem even a little surprised; Honoka's presence has been something of a beacon in Zach's mind during the trip. He looks tired, for the most part. The day's events have been almost as much of a roller coaster for Zach. He's lowered certain mental walls, allowing himself to feel the emotions of those around him. His thoughts, however, are still his own.
"Hi," he says quietly.
The simple greeting is... disarming. Cute, in its own way. It brings a smile to Honoka's face as she responds, "Hi!"
She lowers her eyes to Zach's chest, fingers lacing amongst themselves as she fidgets somewhat. "I... can tell you're tired. If... if it's not a good time, I can... I can go back to my room and let you rest..."
For some reason, though, she already knows the answer to that. Lifting her eyes back up to Zach's, she offers another smile. Her eyes are starting to well up again, but she's able to contain the overflowing emotion, this time. She's been pretty much silent all day -- with Zach experiencing practically everything she'd experienced, there hasn't been a whole lot to really... talk about.
Or... has there? "I think I'm... ready to talk, now. I-if you are."
Zach's role in this trip has been varied: hapless victim, escort, bodyguard. He adds counselor to that quick right her. He smiles quietly, nodding once. "Sure," he says. "Although other than something to drink, I'm not sure where you'd like to start."
There is, of course, an unspoken desire for food. Zach could almost /always/ eat.
It does not take a psychic to understand that the man likes to eat. As Honoka steps inside, she reaches for the menu. Wordlessly, she holds it up in front of him, tapping on the seafood platter she'd just ordered a little while ago. It has a full-color picture beside the entree name. Because tourists.
"... I... I don't really feel like going anywhere, tonight," she explains. "The chance of running into someone else... who -knows-..." She wraps her arms about herself, looking at the lake through the windows.
Zach steps aside, allowing Honoka to enter if she wants as he gestures towards the small couch in the room. The smile is still there; he's happy she's not pushing him away during all of this. "That's understandable," he says. "It's..." Zach frowns faintly. "Today was a lot to take in," he says finally.
"It... I don't think it was your fault," he finally says.
Honoka nods slowly, seating herself on the couch. She may feel very selfish right now, but she's not so selfish as to claim the whole sofa to herself. In fact, she'd rather not be the only person on the couch right now.
"... That's pretty sweet of you to say, in the face of all the overwhelming evidence to the contrary." She smiles, faintly. Or it might be a smirk. It's really hard to tell.
"But... I know what you mean. Obviously... I didn't -mean- for them to set sail in the middle of a storm." She looks down at her hands, spreading her fingers wide. "I... didn't know I could just... wish it."
Zach sits down on the couch as he had planned. He doesn't sit close; he's on one end of the couch while she sits on the other. He doesn't say much of anything. It's a lesson he learned from his father. It's best, in situations like this, to let people talk themselves out. As if verbalizing things helps people sort things out in their own minds.
He nods, showing that yes, he is listening. And then he realizes he has something to say. Something important. "But you learned how, or that you knew how to," he says quietly. There is a lack of judgement in his tone of voice.
"How does that make me any less guilty?" Honoka's response is fast, as if she's expecting it. This isn't too much different than the internal monologue that she's been dancing through all day, after all. "Whether I wanted to or not, I still -did- it, my parents would still be here if I didn't, and this whole existential crisis just... wouldn't. Maybe I'd still be fishing. Maybe I'd be dancing. But they'd be -here-. With me."
She's not looking at Zach. She's really just thinking aloud, while her eyes happen to be oriented toward the other end of the room.
"At the end of the day, it's manslaughter instead of murder... that's not really gonna help me sleep a whole lot better."
Honoka could easily curl up into a ball at this point. But she's done that enough, today. Right now... she lays one hand atop the other, looking downwards. Her hands shake... but that's about the limit of it.
"... I'm not trying to bawl you out or anything... but... sometimes I just have to vent. I'm sorry, but... thanks."
Zach wants to heave a sigh. It's hard to watch this, hard to see Honoka like this. He doesn't, but only through a supreme effort of will as he slides across the couch. It would be easy for Honoka to lean against him if she wanted to. Zach slowly, carefully, reaches out with a hand to place atop both of hers. He swallows, considering his next words carefully.
He's not sure what he should say, and simply opts to be here.
Honoka accepts the invitation, leaning onto Zach's shoulder. She's pretended to be close to many people. Playing pretend only works as far as one lets it, though... and while she's told sweet, sweet lies to plenty of young men, she's never really... opened up. Not like she is right now, her soul as bare and guileless as it was ten years ago when she was working on her parents' boat.
And of course... Zach would know how much boating appealed to her, in a past life. It's quite likely that he knows Honoka better than she knows herself, at least in some respects.
Her eyes are welling up once more. The notion of just... staying here, warm and comfortable, is appealing to her.
But Honoka has done much resting today. Forward motion is something she needs, thrives upon. A static situation is not one that appeals to her. She is ready to move on.
"Zach, you... you know the other me... wasn't a good person. And now you know I've not been a good person either." She looks down at the hand upon her own, mindful of her accelerating heartbeat. It's something he should be able to feel too, if not just sense outright -- the blood pounding faster through her arteries.
"Why are you still here? Why haven't you given up on me?" There's no tone of accusation in her voice; she simply does not understand why Zach sacrificed as much as he has to be here.
Zach smiles faintly. "Two answers," he says after a moment. "Both of them true. The flippant answer is that I don't know how to give up." He leans over and places a gentle kiss on the top of Honoka's head. "The serious answer is that in both cases, there was good in both yous."
A flash of memory. Zach and Honoka in a parking garage. Discussing ends, means, and justifications. He blinks once slowly, forcing himself back into the now.
"Methods were questionable, at best, in both cases. But there was good to be found," he says, slightly teasing, but completely honest.
Honoka shrinks slightly at the kiss, kindly offered without hesitation. With nearly anyone else she'd be relying on her abilities to get a general sense of what the other person is thinking. With Zach... she doesn't need to. Nor does she particularly -want- to.
"There's no good in me at all, Zach..." she states in a rare display of honesty. "I'm a bad person, and you're... you're the nicest person I think I've ever met. You've seen sides of me -I- haven't even seen, and you're... you're not even judging me." She looks down at the hand atop hers, eyes sifting through the years of experience and training in the small wrinkles upon the Marine's skin. "The shaman who... had every chance to just let me wither on the vine, who saw through to my core... he made sure I knew I'd be accountable to him... before helping me. But not you."
She's still looking down. Never stopped. "I've got to right this wrong, Zach... I've got to preserve my culture. But there'll come time when we won't agree. And it'll break my heart..."
Zach notices the shrinking movement, and makes note of it. "The shaman," Zach says in a rather... /not/ nice tone of voice, "Is something of a judgemental asshole."
Here Honoka just made such a big deal of how nice Zach was, and he just plays the 'judgmental asshole' card like it's nothing.
It's enough to get a self-aware laugh out of her, as she finally turns over to look at the handsome man beside her on the couch. "Y-yeah, he kinda is."
Her coffee-colored eyes look back at Zach, expectantly.
Zach's not one to hide what he is thinking, typically. Many people, possibly Honoka included, would discount this for simplicity. Or a lack of ability. What most fail to realize is that that not keeping things hidden, not keeping them secret offers a freedom you cannot /find/ anywhere else.
"He's talked down about people I think very highly of," he says. "Like he's somehow better than they are." He frowns, "And then he..." There's a flash of anger across Zach's mind, forced down by sheer force of will. Honoka may get the impression that while some of it involves her, not all of it does.
"Matter at hand," he mutters almost to himself. "As far as you and I disagreeing," he says a little more conversationally, "We can burn that bridge when we cross it. Disagreements don't always have to get violent." Zach smiles softly. "People disagree all the time. It's part of being people."
The younger psion looks back at Zach. She's looking right into his eyes, she can -feel- the anger in him. It's... uncharacteristic, and yet... the honesty is part of the reason she feels attracted to the Marine to begin with.
But even the most honest person in the world can't say every thought that pops into his head. The mouth is nowhere near as fast as the mind -- case in point, the flash of anger that's subsequently buried.
A skill she's very, -very- familiar with.
"You don't make any sense sometimes, and yet in this /weird/ sort of way, you make perfect sense." Honoka flashes a quirky smile back at him, before leaning into the crook of his arm, closing her eyes in a wistful sigh.
"Your turn, now. Ask me something. I don't want to be stuck in my own thoughts right now."
Zach lets out a little bit of a chuckle. There's a smile on his face, in his voice. "How do I not make sense right now," he asks. "Wait. No. Not my question," he says quickly, showing that sometimes the mouth can be faster than the brain sometimes. "How does asking you a question /not/ keep you stuck in your own thoughts?"
A pause. "That's my question."
Shaking her head, Honoka draws up her knees, placing both hands (and presumably Zach's as well) onto her kneecaps. "A, you're silly, and B, it seemed like you've been dying to ask me something. Not just once... but lots of times today, yesterday, the trip up... whenever. So maybe I don't want to be up on a pedestal in the spotlight sometimes, y'know? So if you ask your questions... stop treating me like a porcelain doll that's gonna break... I dunno. Maybe we can both relax a bit more." She's not mad -- far from it. She's not stopping to question her words.
"... And besides. Even if you break me, you get a free pass after this whole week, okay?"
"Oh," Zach says after a moment. He doesn't resist the movements. "I had, and still have, plenty of questions. Some of them have been answered today, though." He is silent for another moment. "And after they were answered, I guess..." He frowns for a moment. "You've had a lot to deal with. It's not..." Another pause, sympathy and kindness mixing together with a need to be merciful where one can be merciful. Zach refuses to be a blade with regards to this matter. Honoka has made it clear she doesn't want him to be a shield, as well. "Today dealt you a deep, jagged wound. I don't know how to ask about it, what to say about it, without tearing it open and rubbing salt in it."
"Did you know, Mister Glenn... that salt happens to be the very best treatment we have available for dealing with a third-degree burn?" She withdraws a hand, looking at it intently for a moment. "You see, if you get burned anywhere else, with modern hospitals and whatnot, you'll definitely up with scar tissue. Because the folks in hospitals swore this silly little oath to not hurt the patient worse than they already are." She places her hand back upon Zach's, musing aloud, "Whereas if you get burned here... right down to the flesh and meat? The family method of dealing with that is to rub salt directly into the wound. You see, that's where the turn of phrase comes from. You salt the wound, aggravate the skin to such a degree that it's now really pissed off at you. It hurts like hell. And you scrub all the bad, damaged skin cells away at the same time." She pauses, drawing in her breath. "It heals, just like brand-new, because there's nothing stopping it from healing brand-new. All the the partially damaged skin is gone, so it all comes back in at the same rate."
She ponders on this point for a moment, splaying her fingers out to look at her painted nails. Is it a memory, of... some time she'd burned herself? She's not telling.
"Well... that said." She chuckles lightly, continuing to look at her hand. And Zach's, now, beneath it.
"I... can't help but notice that you're staying close, and still keeping walls up around me. We go out dancing... you play a perfect gentleman. I invite you to stay in my room... you rent another, beside me. And now I'm here in your room, practically in your lap... with my deepest... -darkest- secret... now perfectly accessible."
She rests her cheek on Zach's chest. It'd be hard to look up to him, but she can feel his heartbeat, a hammer thudding mere fractions of an inch from her eardrum.
"You still don't trust me."
A moment passes, before she adds, "I guess that's fair."
Zach freezes, ever so slightly, when Honoka lowers that statement of irrefutable truth. That despite the fact that he enjoys being around Honoka? Despite the fact the Honoka excites Zach on so many different levels, some of them purely physical and others not even remotely, that he has a hard time seperating them? Despite the fact that is seems she is willing to answer some of that excitement? That she was willing to have him along for this trip KNOWING what might happen?
Zach /doesn't/ trust her. She said it best, after all. He knows her perhaps too well. Part of it is straight forward. Knowing what he knows, what the two of them are capable of, letting Honoka all the way in is dangerous. And insane. And insanely dangerous.
And yet, Zach is staying. And he is not dealing with Honoka as he would someone he doesn't trust. He typically doesn't have much to do with people he doesn't trust.
But Honoka is absolutely correct in that the matter needs to be addressed.
"The dancing, the room arrangements," he finally says quietly. "Some of that is upbringing. My family has a lot of devout Catholics. My mother is one of them. Whatever it is that we are right now, we're not husband and wife, so sharing a room would be out of the question."
Zach thinks for a long moment, taking that time to very carefully construct the thought that will produce the next words out of his mouth. "One of the things that is never far from my mind," he finally says, "Is that despite the sheer volume of minor differences between my experiences and the other me's experiences, that the major things... with very few differences... did not." Zach takes a deep breath, steeling himself for his next words. "I know of three people who have made very different lives for themselves. Two of us had help. Daniel Little is the third."
Two days ago, Honoka was not the least bit concerned with social mores. Today... that's a bit different.
She can appreciate that Zach is willing to answer that excitement, to toe the line between yes and no, to constantly flirt with danger without actually committing. She follows similar ideals, in different contexts.
Religion, then. Culture. The very thing that Honoka's been voluntarily distancing herself from over the past eight years... the very thing that, today, she'd had her eyes opened to once again. Sure, Zach speaks of his religion with different words, but one must be true to one's own heart.
She wants to just tell him he can just take marriage off the table. But now she's tongue-tied. Immobilized by the need to show him the same social graces she's been presented with. To avoid pissing off the one person who she trusts, without having him in one pocket or another.
Silence ensues for a few harrowingly long heartbeats. To quell the silence, she states, "Okay," and it's lacking conviction. The need to say something, anything, overpowered the need to tailor her words into a plausible response.
But, at last, the silence is broken once again, as she settles upon a perfectly reasonable proposal.
"I'll just tie you up, then... aaaaaaand you can tell her you were under duress."
She lets those words hang in the air for a moment, licking her lips. She already has some expectation on how he'll respond to that.
But as always, it's not the answer itself that concerns her as much as how it's answered.
Zach is fairly still for a moment. His breath is caught in his lungs for an instant. However, positioned as the two are, Honoka couldn't possibly NOT notice the sudden acceleration of his heart rate. There is a flash of something from the Marine that is both intense and fleeting. Zach disengages just enough to allow himself room to breath as he laughs.
It's not mocking laughter, but nearly a belly laugh. Zach is clearly blushing, but he is also taking a lot of joy from this as well. It takes him a little bit of time before he gets his breath back, but eventually he turns a smile towards Honoka even as he wipes a tear from one eye.
After a sigh of contentment, he finally speaks. "She'd love me regardless of how this played out. Mothers tend to do that," he finally says, an impish grin on his face. "Besides, we're both adults here. Quite possibly consenting adults."
Did he just...?
Part one -- check! She'd expected him to remain deathly silent for a moment. As Zach moves to withdraw, she complies and sits up properly, taking the opportunity to turn her eyes to his face.
Part two -- check! She'd imagined laughter to be the second response. But laughter can be many things -- a cover for discomfort, an expression of mockery, or just simple amusement. And... joy.
A wry grin crosses her lips as he starts to speak. He's... kind of adorable in the way he twists his words around to steer them back into an amenable direction.
"'Possibly.' Maybe! Who's to know, for sure, if we keep speaking in vague terms?"
She settles more comfortably on her side of the couch. Her heartbeat had sped up as well -- it's not something she can really hide. But she's doing her damndest anyway, to keep up the game.
"Ah, but you wouldn't want to hurt my feelings. I'm so -fragile-, Zach. I might crumble to pieces in your arms."
She probably shouldn't tease him, after all he's sacrificed to get -to- this point. But after the day she's had... it feels pretty alright.
Zach just stares at Honoka for a moment. At the woman who has gone toe-to-toe with him and fought him to a draw. He wasn't exactly pulling his punches that night. Who helped one of the Butcher's victims at great personal cost. Who, until this injury, got up in front of a crowd on a nightly basis to perform. Who called herself fragile. There is an incredulous look on his face, like he is trying to not break down into another fit of laughter right then and there.
He manages to bring that fight to a draw, letting out another joyful laugh that does not last nearly as long as the previous bout. "I know you, Honoka. I've seen some of the things you have done. Facing me, facing the Butcher? A fragile person isn't capable of such things. And you faced that thing after helping a complete stranger. Someone who would not benefit you in any way," he adds. "You can rationalize that however you want, but a person who has no good in them at all wouldn't do any such thing."
"Perhaps," he says carefully, "I keep you at a distance to protect /my/ heart."
Laughter. Again. If she truly were fragile, that might make her shatter into pieces -- but then again she wouldn't exactly be starting off the topic by bringing attention to such. Honoka didn't suggest she was fragile out of a need to be showered with compliments.
But it doesn't hurt. And it keeps the smile which had been so elusive over the past day from flitting away yet again -- a unicorn that refused to be tamed.
It's a smile that rests upon her face for a good few moments, as her eyes dart back and forth across Zach's face. Gauging his expression. Reading the signs.
She slides across the couch, planting one hand on his chest. Her grip tightens, as she draws herself closer. "So that's a 'no thank you' on the tying up? Right, then."
She'd kissed him once before. So this shouldn't be so big of a deal...
Log created on 07:18:48 03/09/2015 by Honoka, and last modified on 22:33:07 03/17/2015.