Description: Zach and Honoka share some thoughts with each other concerning the aftermath of the recent Lightning Spangles debacle. Also: a guest appearance from a certain shadow of Honoka's past...
It was a disaster.
And yet, Honoka seems to have emerged unscathed through the trial by fire. She was brought in for questioning. She gave statements. She got mobbed by reporters.
The country may be different, but the situation was the same. People have been Hurt at the Twilight Star Circus before. People expect the performers to be rattled, shaken. And many of her castmates have been. But the fact remains that safety is everyone's concern -- and Honoka could only be held responsible for the things she saw, and the things she did.
The diabolos don't carry much fuel -- at most, enough for three minutes of full burn. Honoka also keeps a small supply of water on her person, so in the event that they -did- catch something else on fire, it's something she could still attempt to take care of. Suffice to say, her safety record is a big consideration for why she's not facing the same charges that someone else did.
Some concern -was- given to the Mr. B. Natural vitamins she was hawking during the show -- but a quick check of the ingredients list shows that those were mostly sugar pills -anyway-.
As Honoka walks out of the police station, she turns to Zach with a faint smile. "At least -that- nonsense is over. An hour and a half of waiting to spend five minutes repeating stuff I said two hours ago... Rrgh. How did your session go?"
Zach heaves a sigh as he runs a hand back through his hair, his thumb catching briefly on the strap of the eyepatch. He adjusts the accessory and shoves his hand in a pants pocket. "About the same," he finally says, looking tired. "More waiting and less talking, but not by much. They seemed more concerned about the knives and two collapsable batons I had on me, but I've got permits for those." Zach had mentioned being armed before they had left for the venue, after explaining that even in an age where martial artists can do the things that they do, people still hold more caution for an armed person than an unarmed one. And Zach had a lot of permits for the weapons.
"Still trying to wrap my brain around it, though," he says as the couple walks away from the station. "It wasn't a mission, or a training exercise, or even a real fight. But still..."
"Tragedy can be hiding around any corner."
Honoka had waited only a moment for Zach's statement to trail off before adding her contribution. She is usually a patient listener, but the endless navel-gazing about what -could- have happened, versus what actually -did- happen, is a mood she's ready to move past.
"Now that I'm not -on record-, can I finally say those guys were a bunch of slack asshats? Plenty of time to get the fires under control, but they just -let it happen-, because -ratings?-" Honoka raises an eyebrow as she looks over at Zach -- frustrated, but at the crew, rather than him. "Did no one back there even =communicate?="
Zach blinks once at Honoka; the blunt interruption was... not unusual but still notable. He shrugs, going back to watching the surroundings. He's still on the job, as it were.
"You can, in fact, say that now," Zach says, a faint smile gracing his features, even as he lets the amusement show in his tone before becoming serious. "I'd even agree with the assessment," he finally says. "I wasn't patched in to whatever they had for communications. Technically I wasn't part of the event staff, so... they might have, but I wasn't privy to it." Zach frowns, scratching at his cheek just below the eyepatch. He looks around, and pulls his smartphone out of his pocket to check his call log, thumbing through it with a slight frown. "Oh man," he mutters, "Mare's probably flipping out." He blinks once, looking at Honoka. "Kid sister," he says by way of explanation, "She's... she was a fan," he says as he nods back towards the holding cells.
Honoka's anger is a lot more than just skin-deep -- the psion can probably tell that she's pretty tired of filtering her thoughts all day, trying to play nice for the matter of public record. "Mare," repeats Honoka, as if rolling the notion around in her head for a moment. She presses her lips tight, nodding quietly.
"She got too wrapped up in her own persona. Someone else... eh. They change actors for those superhero movies all the time, right? They'll find another one."
Honoka reaches out for Zach's hand, clasps it in her own. "She forgot her place, really. She forgot she was playing a role ... she'd let the role take over. But honestly, there's just as much fault with the stupid -crew- as anything else..."
Honoka's frown grows once she spies a reflection in a car mirror as they walk past it. "Damn paparazzi. They're tailing us. Ugly blue van."
"Short for Maria, after my grandmother," Zach supplies, staying steady. Like a rock for the waves of Honoka's anger to crash against. He takes the hand in his own, intertwining the fingers gently. He stiffens slightly when she makes note of the van. The eye that Honoka can see narrows as his frown firms into a scowl.
"I intend to handle it," Zach answers. "Part of the job you asked me to do. My question to you is how you would like it handled." That Zach, ever the professional.
The Twilight Star juggler thinks on that for a few moments, walking wordlessly as she tries to sort her thoughts out. It's a good question, that he brings up.
"I'm tapped out right now," she concludes with a sigh. "Probably need to keep a lid on anything else I say today until I can run it by the PR folks back home." With a quirk of an head, she steals a glimpse at the next car mirror -- yep, they're keeping their distance. Hoping to make eye contact so they can begin some sort of meaningful dialogue.
"So basically, you can just tell them to piss off. But let's screw with them for a bit and pretend we don't notice." She laughs, at that -- the first time she's honestly laughed in a few hours.
"Is the eyepatch still bothering you?"
Zach grins when the play gets called. Part of him thinks that he should go over there now and handle it, but there is a part of him that thinks this is a fun idea. "The eye is fine," he answers with good nature, "Don't know if you saw it, but there is a cut that runs over the eye socket." Zach uses his free hand to indicate spots near the upper and lower edges of the patch. "My skull did what it was designed to do, but it's still kind of nasty looking, and it's going to scar," Zach says that last with a tone that suggests information by experience. "The patch is a concession to the people around me as much as it is to protect the cut. It'll be fine, really."
Honoka had, in fact, known about the eyepatch. Kind of hard -not- to when she was working so closely with the medics to patch up Zach, after all. "Yeah, if we'd been able to patch it up sooner, maybe it wouldn't scar, but at least now, ummm..." She scratches her cheek with her free hand. "... you've, uh... got more street cred?" she adds, with a hopeful pitch to her voice.
There's a good long moment where Honoka thinks, looking off into the distance. "You aren't mad at me, are you? For... making the choice I did, to stop her rather than try and find out what happened..."
Zach chuckles at the street cred comment. He stops short when Honoka asks the question, though. His hand doesn't tighten around hers, but it doesn't loosen, either. If she continues walking, the hand might let go if she walks far enough. He looks at Honoka with a concerned expression.
"I'm not," he says, and he makes sure she can feel the truth of that. "I told you to do what you had to," he continues walking again, re-closing the distance between the two, retaking the hand if the situation calls for it. "From what you said, from what I saw, I don't think she was going to stop until she was stopped. You trusted me to handle things where I was, and I trusted you to handle things where you were." He shrugs helplessly. "I'm angry that Arthur managed to get that far backstage in the first place. That the situation was allowed to devolve that far, that fast."
Zach stares down the road for a moment before finishing the thought. "...That I didn't spot him sooner."
Honoka feels Zach's hand falling limp, and lets it fall from hers as she continues walking.
It would be rude to walk too far ahead, so she only takes a few more paces before stopping to look back at Zach, concern on her face. She wasn't... -really- worked up about Zach's opinion of her in that case -- she'd pretty much guessed that her statement was not reflective of reality.
But she did want to talk about -his- feelings in the matter, and she weighs the expressions upon his face against her memories of the man shutting her out of his thoughts at the time.
"It was an accident," she states with some remorse as she takes the hand once again. "But yes. I'm aggravated that the situation was so chaotic that no one -could- have spotted him." Warmth floods through her -- and through Zach. "It's... I can only imagine it being -worse- that it happened outside of a warzone or conflict..."
"It is," Zach answers after a moment. Since the incident, Zach's mental defenses have returned to a more normalized state: alert, vigilant, but not hidden. He still doesn't really hide what is going through his mind. Depending on how well Honoka knows Zach at this point, she might come to the realization that it wasn't an act of shutting her out but of shutting /himself in/. That he was keeping some kind of emotion in instead of letting it out. Though one may tend to resemble the other at this point. "At least it is to me."
Zach sighs. "I... I was ready to pull the knife on her, when I got to the stage," he says quietly. "I was just so... so angry. Ready to /do/ something about what had happened."
Shutting oneself in or shutting people out... it's the same thing, when it all comes down to it. The wall, it prevents free and easy exchange of information and ideas.
Which is why Honoka's been trying to work on making that barrier more... permissive, in some fashions. And it's why her expressions soften, once she realizes Zach is opening up -- to reassure the once-and-always Marine that even if there's no one else he can trust...
There's always Honoka.
The juggler squeezes back upon Zach's hand. "I didn't. Couldn't."
If she says it enough, the glimmer of truth will eventually surpass the clouds of doubt.
With a pained expression, she continues: "There were so many -children-, Zach, looking to us for guidance. Looking to =us= to know how to respond."
The van tailing them had stopped, with the hopeful expression of the paparazzo inside that she might be able to score an exclusive -- hopes that are dashed when Honoka shows she has eyes only for one man, right this moment.
"In a way, we're not... that different, Jezebel and I. Kids are watching our every move. And in a way... it kind of showed me that the right thing to do was... to show grief. Sadness. Not to downplay it, but to recognize that it's okay to cry, to -feel-. Because if we'd ... if we'd been too adult about it, tried to drive the situation like police officers..." She shakes her head. "That's their job. Ours, as performers, is to act as role models for children. To show them how to think."
A sigh is expelled. "And unfortunately, Jezebel's words just... show what's wrong with that way of thinking. That her -career- was all that mattered."
Honoka is not stupid. This is not a private conversation; this is a -public street-. The expression of the paparazzo lights up as they hear something else from another person within the van.
Honoka squeezes Zach's hand, shaking her head slowly. "We can't bring him back. But that company will do everything they can to make sure the public forgets."
"/You're/ an performer," Zach reminds Honoka the ghost of a grin on his face, "I've always been more like them," he says as he jerks a thumb towards the police station. "A fighter. A protector." Zach pauses as he is about to say something, and looks towards the van.
He frowns slightly. "They are excited about something," he murmurs. "Not sure what, though."
Yes, Honoka is a performer, for better and worse. Her public persona means playing the part of a heroine when she doesn't want to. First the Butcher... and now this.
But then Zach calls attention to something she'd figured out at about the same time. And she laughs a bit. "It's okay," she nods, without looking back around. "ABC15 isn't so stupid that they'd use soundbites scavenged from a directional mic without authorization. But unless they're going to nut up and file a formal request for an interview with the PR folks back home..."
Honoka smiles, as the mood inside the van shifts considerably for the worst.
"... Well, that's about all they're going to get," she concludes, stopping in front of the hotel where the couple and the circus crew are staying.
It's only here that she turns around and flashes a wink back at the van driver. Who -floors- it and books out of the area, leaving burnt rubber tracks on the pavement.
She turns back to Zach with a self-assured smile. "I can consider myself a fighter. But a protector..." She squeezes Zach's hand again. "I'm okay not being the best at -everything-."
Zach heaves another sigh as he rolls his shoulders back, anticipating a confrontation. He arrives at a decision point, regarding Arthur, though. Yes, Zach failed that time, and there would be others. But Zach Glenn would not let failure slow him down, let alone stop him. And then the van takes off. Zach frowns, and waves a hand in front of his nose as he squeezes back.
"You're still pretty amazing. Didn't even occur to me to think about directional mics," Zach admits as he watches the van leave. He considers for a moment.
"I could probably catch up to them," he says.
Honoka smiles back, shaking her head. "And what would you do, exactly? If they broadcast those clips they look like tools. And if they don't... well, they have better interview questions to ask me later. But they know /I know/ they know that."
She smiles faintly. Left unsaid: And really, she never said anything she didn't want broadcast. Not really: She's okay with the Lightning Spangles and Donald Trump rally crew finding out her opinion with them.
"It was pretty obvious, their faces were lighting up every time I said something juicy, so. It's not like Page, Arizona is some bustling hotbed of activity... But if we were already in /Phoenix/ for that football game..."
Honoka smacks her lips, raising a free finger to her temple. "On that note. I guess you know more about American football than I do. What's the deal?""
"I might," Zach says with a grin. "It's a pretty big thing for some people," Zach answers simply. "What do you want to know?"
Honoka shrugs helplessly, as she leads Zach into the hotel. "I... I dunno, -anything?- I know I'm supposed to be the... halftime act?"
Zach laughs at this. "You're the halftime act. You put together a routine, and at halftime you go out and do your routine," he answers. "You're there to keep the crowd entertained while the teams take a break to rest and plan. Not much more to it. Make it flashy, make it big. The crowd will love it." Zach grins. "It's not much different from what you normally do, and you'll be fine."
"Really? That's all there is to it?" she asks, probably laying on the innocence act a bit too thickly. "I heard there was a bunch of guys in really tight pants trying to beat the tar out of each other for the right to carry a silly little ball around. But fighting's somehow -not- allowed..."
She sticks the tip of her tongue out. "It's no ice hockey, but I -guess- I can watch the first half and try to make some sense of it..."
Zach Glenn has had a little time at the police station while he was waiting for his charge/girlfriend's "interview" with the police to end. He had, admittedly, been feeling a little down, perhaps a bit vulnerable. Granted, the last couple months had been rough for the former Marine. So he had made a phone call.
The ride up the elevator would be... interesting to Honoka. Zach gave off an almost palpable aura of amusement, though that might be explained by the conversation. "I don't know /why/ they call it a safety," he answers with a shrug. Might have something to do with the goal posts maybe?"
Zach guides Honoka down the hallway, and this seems normal enough, but he guides her /past/ the room she had had the night before.
Talking about -anything- other than the sad passing of one of Lightning Spangles' more devoted fans is... welcome. But Honoka can tell there's a bit more mirth than usual within his emotional signature... it's enough to bring a raised eyebrow alongside of a generous helping of smiling.
She does have the presence of mind to reach her hand out to the door as she's brought by it; her hand trails off in the direction of the handle even as she's swept away. Moistening her lips, she bows her head down with a mischievous glint in her eyes as she looks back to Zach for his explanation. "Somehow... call me crazy, but I don't think you want to talk about safety."
She runs her fingers through her pink-highlighted hair, grinning madly. "I thought -your- room was back there too, though."
Zach gives a nervous swallow that belies the mischievous grin on his face as he leads Honoka to a door. "-Was- would be an appropriate word," Zach says as he reaches behind the plant sitting next to the door and pulling out a pair of card keys. One goes into the lock and Zach pushes the door open even as he leads Honoka in. "I thought we could do with a better view," he explains.
The room is nice; nicer than the room Honoka had gotten originally. There is a balcony, with a hot tub, a nice kitchenette, and a small refrigerator. There is an area with a couch and a large television, as well. Honoka's bags are already there, as well as Zach's duffle and garment bags.
The only possible thing that might be complained about is the fact that there are also two beds instead of just one.
Nervous? -We- could do with a better view? "What are you up to, mister...?" she says with a tone of playful threat in her voice.
Of course, once she sees the view, she tends to agree: it is a bit nicer room. She steps in, as she's led inside, a faint pink coloration across her cheeks.
She's been on trips, and yes, she splurges on rooms. But being -surprised?- That's a new one.
Honoka smacks her lips. And nods approvingly. "Okay, I have to admit... you got me on that one." She wraps her arm about Zach's, squeezing it tenderly. "Yeah, I think it'll be nice to relax in -style- for a night..."
Her smile grows faintly as her eyes fall upon the hot tub, perhaps lingering a moment too long before looking back to Zach. There were questions on her mind. But they may as well have fallen into the canyon.
"This is nice, Zach. I'm impressed!"
Zach shrugs out of the suit jacket, tossing it on a bed. He smiles once, fleetingly. "Thank you," Zach says quietly. He wasn't sure how this would be taken, in all honesty. "I..." Zach glances out the window. "It was something I wanted to do," he says quietly.
Honoka laughs lightly, not quite able to banish the tinge from her cheeks. "It's sweet. And..." She shrugs amicably -- the added air conditioning in the room means she's quite comfortable as it is, compared to the warm Arizona air. "I'm glad you came along, I'm pretty sure I would've been a horrible mess today otherwise."
She takes a seat, glancing out the window at whatever Zach's looking at.
And rests her shoulder against his, drinking in the warm emotion as if it were the finest ambrosia.
"I..." Zach's quiet, almost thoughtful. Honoka recognizes the tone; Zach's working through a thought process that he had not really put to words before. "I'm glad I came. I'm... fla-... really glad you asked me," he finally says. He wasn't really looking at anything before he spoke, but now he's looking at Honoka... there... at his side...
There's a flurry of emotions from Zach, hard to sort out but perhaps not too difficult to guess at. There's also a certain... hunger, and not just for food. Carefully restrained, but still present for all of that.
Not difficult to guess at, no.
The most overwhelming sensation offered by the wide windows of the vista suite is that of oneness. As if the entire world is available, just outside, in glorious high definition. A serenity that isn't available in larger cities, i.e., most of Japan.
There is a wellspring of warm emotions from Honoka as well, but... nothing specific. For now, she's content to rest, and enjoy the silence for a little while longer.
After a moment, one hand drifts to the side of her neck. She rubs at it tenderly, commenting, "... Ow... Guess she hit me a bit harder than I wanted to believe..."
Zach winces in sympathy pain as he eases away from Honoka. "Yeah," he says, a bit more roughly than he might intend, "Seemed like she'd hit like a truck. "Pick a bed," Zach not-quite-orders as he walks over to the duffle bag, "Go lay down on your stomach." He walks over to whichever bed Honoka doesn't choose and tosses the bag onto it. He starts digging through. Honoka doesn't need to look to know that the sword is there, but if she /does/ look, she'll see a variety of clothes, toiletries, and perhaps surprisingly... an old military-looking bag. This gets set next to the duffle, and Zach opens it up to rifle through its contents.
"Yeah, if her -kicks- weren't enough, it was the freaking... star-spangled whatever-ya-call-its." Honoka can't help but laugh at her complete inadequacy of describing just -what- Jezebel used to hit her.
But then she recieves an order from the former military man. "Yes, sir!" And with little to no hesitation, she loosens the sash about her waist a smidge, and lies down upon the bed as asked.
Stretching her fingers and toes out to their maximum extent for a moment, she turns her head to watch Zach with bemused interest, forming a makeshift pillow for her cheek with folded arms. "Done, and done..."
Emotional state: Curious, but guarded. Zach's psionic abilities are the most intriguing challenge of all -- but she'd sensed some unfamiliar darkness in his emotional state earlier. Has something... changed, perhaps?
"Probably chi blasts," Zach responds smoothly. "Judging from what I could see of the injuries." Zach pulls out a small jar, and spins the lid off with practiced ease. A faint aroma comes off of the jar of Tiger Balm, which Honoka might or might not recognize. Zach is mostly calm, with that familiar current of energy that he always seems to have during these quiet moments the couple share. Glenn scoops out a small portion of the balm as walks over to Honoka and climbs onto the bed over her.
Strong, but gentle fingers work the balm into Honoka's neck and shoulders. "Those are, near as I can tell, always going to be a weakness of yours in a fight," Zach says quietly, "People like us... can't handle the energies of the earth very well. Before-Me had a scar, about the size of your closed fist, dead-center of his chest where a girl who was a little smaller than you punched him with a chi-infused fist. Took him a year or so before it healed up all the way."
Honoka's nose wrinkles at the scent -- she's quite familiar with it. And if he's planning on doing what it suggests... he'll need help.
She shimmies her way out of the vest, laying it neatly upon the bed beside her. And then she reaches behind her back to start the zipper, nudging it down a ways. The skin of her upper back is a couple shades lighter than that of her face -- aside from a couple small forays to the beach, the juggler really hadn't allowed herself much time in the sun this summer.
But there it is, a suggestion as she lies back down upon her stomach, allowing his fingers to go to work. She closes her eyes, focusing on the sensation, and allowing his fingers to knead the compound into her flesh as she thinks. "A whole year, huh... was she trying to -kill- you?"
"Yes," Zach says matter of factly. A pause as he thinks back, his hands sure and steady. "And no. She... I never really learned why, but she was hurting. Emotionally, I mean. She had this... I think 'insane' is the word I'm looking for... need to prove herself. He had considered her one of his first real friends. She..." Zach frowns. "When he first got into professional fighting, he had almost no control over his talents. He made a lot of money on a reputation for being a walking bomb. She was one of the first people to really... support his efforts, I guess. Or enable him, maybe. One might resemble the other. He wanted to show her how much he had improved since the last time they had fought, so he challenged her to a Neo League match."
Zach's hands stop for a moment, the recalled memory close enough to the surface that it makes Zach flinch slightly. "She left him bleeding out on the Great Wall of China."
Truthfully, her abdomen hurts a lot more than her back, but there's not really a set of massage techniques that can do a whole lot of good there.
If this were a street outfit instead of a stage costume, it would be a bit more difficult to worm out of. As it is, the sleeves of the undershirt are actually attached to the dress, such that one zipper gets both out of the way. And while Zach is talking, the juggler tugs the zipper down a bit more. Backrubs, in themselves, can be as innocent as applying suntan oil.
"She sounds like a pretty nasty piece of work... how did... he... make it out alive?" Honoka closes her eyes again, a low rumble in the back of her throat: it's clear which of the six senses she's enjoying the most for now.
"Aside from that rough patch," Zach says, his hands going back to work at Honoka's indication of pleasure. "She was one of the nicest people you'd ever meet. She was just a little lost at the time." Zach replenishes the Tiger Balm before continuing. "Like I said, it was a Neo League fight. It just got serious in a hurry, like some fights can. There was medical staff on hand," Zach says, a certain contentment from the situation if not the conversation, evident in Zach's demeanor. It feels good for Zach to do something nice for Honoka.
"Neo League... I see..." She's certainly aware of the existence of such a thing, and it makes perfect sense that a similar parallel would have existed in the other timeline which Zach and others speak of. But the details of the conversation take a backseat to the sensations she's experiencing.
The nature of Honoka's psychic abilities is highly different from Zach's. Whereas Zach's abilities tend to be forceful and direct, hers tend to be a bit more subtle. Suggestions, rather than commands. If she's not careful to consciously manipulate the tides of her emotions, a bad mood for her can become a terrible mood for those standing anywhere nearby.
Suffice to say, this is not a bad mood. Whereas the lean muscles of the one-time acrobat's back were stretched as taut as tent ropes at first, they soon begin to yield under the former Marine's guiding pressure.
"I think... the circus... might be hiring a masseuse, soon. You know, for the performers." She pauses, one eyelid cracking open, a coffee-brown iris barely visible in the dim light. "Mm, no. For -one- performer's... -exclusive- use."
Zach's hands freeze for a moment as he takes in a quiet breath, thinking the idea through. There was... an urge, there. A desire to stay like this. To serve Honoka. To lay down the weapons. It would, probably, be peaceful. Restful. There is appeal, and it is strong.
But... at the end of the day, it wouldn't be Zach. He would be able to rest like that for so long before his nature won out.
Zach takes another breath and goes back to work on Honoka's lower back. "You mean you'd pay me," he says amiably, "For something I'd gladly do for free?" He chuckles at the idea. "I doubt the circus would sign off on something like that."
As Honoka closes her eyes, brow furrowing at the firm pressure upon her slender frame, a dissonant thought -- almost imperceptible -- might be spotted beneath the waves of positive emotions: fear.
Why was Honoka even -here- right now, with a man who clearly knows the right words and the right actions to appeal to her? Fear. Fear that knowledge of the alternate timeline Honoka's Imperial coup might somehow upset her current plans. Her interest in Zach Glenn was shaped by that peculiar interest -- the desire to know everything he knows.
And now... fear. Because even with all she's been through, all that she's come to love and adore about Zach... his knowledge prevents her from acting freely. His -presence- prevents her from acting freely.
And he has the Empress at his fingertips, quite literally. With the former Marine's capable hands, the juggler's slender spine could no doubt be snapped in an instant, rendering her psychic abilities and vast acrobatic skills useless...
All due to a simple moment of infatuation -- all due to letting her guard down.
But the thought is buried, a single note of discordant noise, barely perceptible beneath waves of the purest bliss. "Mmm," she says, "Right there, can you feel it...?" She arches her spine delicately, subtly guiding Zach's thumbs and knuckles to a dense bundle of aggravated muscles.
A small laugh escapes her lips after a moment, as she shoves those discordant thought aside. "Hmmmmmm... it sounds like you're just afraid of the things I'd have you do if you -were- on payroll." Her lips settle into an impish grin as her eyes open once more.
What if Elise was -right- about Zach, though...?
It would be easy, really. Just a bit of pressure, in the right place, at the right time, with the right mindset. Zach knows, at least in theory if not in truth, what Honoka /could/ do... /DID/ do in that other lifetime. Life for the former Marine has always been a delicate balancing act between what he knows and what the stranger with the same name and similar set of abilities knew. For a few years, as he learned a bit about psychology, he had feared that he had been (and still is) insane somehow. There were differences, sure. Not many, but some. Most notably that that other Zach lived in a much brighter world than the one he has been fighting in.
But right now, he simply knows that he is with a woman who, for all of the horrible things she could do, could be capable of... makes him happy. He could not even begin to explain the why of it, even as some minor red flags are waving in the back of his mind.
His hands move towards the place that Honoka guides them towards with the intriguing movements. "Maybe," he admits, his voice coming out in a low rumble.
No, Honoka reassures herself, she'd read him correctly. If Zach plans to kill her... she'd see it coming. She'd -sense- it -- his emotional responses are becoming as familiar to her as clockwork. The fortress seals itself right up as soon as anything traumatic is placed on the table.
She has seen it first-hand. He may be capable of killing. He may even -threaten- it from time to time -- in her -own defense-, she recalls.
She's reading this right. She's sure of it.
"Maaaaaybe," she repeats, rolling the word about upon her tongue for a moment. Thinking.
Zach makes her happy too. Being with him is a distraction from her driving goal, but, in a way, a mutually beneficial one. And if there's ever a point in which Zach proves to be a problem for her...
"So let's say I were to ask for the hot tub now." She nods towards the mentioned fixture, while one hand snakes back to place itself atop Zach's, compelling him to continue the massage while she speaks. "With me," she adds, enjoying every additional moment she can draw this out.
"Is -that- something you'd be up for, too?"
Zach deals with trauma through sheer willpower. It is, in a way, the secret of his strength. Zach HAS killed before, in situations that demanded it. But self-control and will are what guide Zach through life. Honoka is safe from him because she is not showing him threats that he would be compelled to act against.
Zach's hands keep moving, and perhaps surprisingly don't miss a beat as he grins. "Wouldn't recommend it," Zach says as he keeps kneading. "Theraputically speaking, I mean. The heat would shut your nerve endings down. Limited form of overstimulation. It'd feel good, because you wouldn't be feeling pain." Zach's hands slow a bit.
"Recreationally speaking..." Zach says, a shy grin and a faint blush on his face. "...you might have been right, when we got off the elevator."
Self-control is overrated.
But without self-control, Honoka would not have achieved what she has. She may be impulsive, and selfish... but time has proven to be her best instructor in that regard. Moderation in all things tends to be the best course of action.
But nowhere in that guide to living does it say one shouldn't take advantage of opportunities that present themselves.
Behind her back, Honoka's hand continues guiding Zach's around to the more sore spots on her back, as she listens with a playful smile upon her face. She nods slowly -- that smile showing glimmers of fading as it sounds like he's trying to talk her out of the suggested course of action.
But then he changes his tack, and her expression brightens. "Okay, then! Taking into account the day so far, adding the craziness, carry the one... It's decided, then!"
But she doesn't move. Not just yet.
"Whenever you're ready, that is. 'Cause I'm fine riiiiight here for now."
"Maybe," Zach says, in an almost hungry growl, "I'm not."
And with that, Zach simply scoops Honoka out of the bed through main strength, and sits her upright. "Get changed," he says with a grin as he heads towards his duffle bag to dig out his swim trunks.
The world is on fire. Surrounded by tall walls on all sides, the actual -location- isn't terribly clear at first from all the fire and smoke. It's possible to breathe, though that may be because the billowing clouds are allowed to rise upwards into the air, rather than consuming all the oxygen at ground level.
Panic. There are many workers rushing about, their forms silhouetted by the smoke to such a degree that it becomes difficult to identify any one figure. But their intention is clear: they are all working towards the obvious and unified purpose of extinguishing the flames, dousing them with buckets.
Where are the buckets? There is a stack of them next to a decently large body of water, surrounded by smooth slabs of shale. The full body of water is obscured by a dense mist -- the moisture does not appear to be helping with the flames one tiny little bit.
There are two figures who are not helping with the flames. Both the same size, roundabouts, but one is dressed like a geisha, with her hair tied up in a tight bow. It's hard to make out any more details than that, though.
In the distance, almost imperceptible with raging conflagration: the crying of panicked children.
Zach has about two seconds, and he doesn't waste time trying to figure out how the heck he got here. He starts towards the buckets to help out when he hears the crying. Zach looks around; it doesn't appear as if anyone else is moving towards them. Nothing for it, then. Zach dives into the water, allowing his clothes to soak up as much of the liquid as they can before clambering out of the... pool? Lake? Not sure, doesn't matter.
Zach takes another moment to figure out where the cries are coming from; there's too much panic and fear for Zach to pinpoint any one source. And then Zach dives into the flames, intent on rescuing the children he had heard.
The two figures off to the side are engaged in an argument: shouting can be heard, indistinct though it may be over the raging flames. A rather loud and painful-sounding slap seems to signify the end of the conversation -- the outcome, though, is washed out as the conflagration suddenly flares in intensity, obscuring all details.
The flames dance higher, leaping about as if responding directly to the altercation.
The pitch of a child's shriek can be heard -- it seems like a lost cause, as if flames will surely consume the child alive. But at the last moment, the source becomes clear -- the child is safe, for the moment, pinned against a stone boundary wall by a collapsed food cart. Even a full-sized adult could be trapped at that angle, so the fear on the child's face is palpable as the burning embers of the flames creep closer. Without help, though... the child is doomed.
It doesn't seem appropriate for a person to laugh through this sort of situation. But nevertheless, a woman's laugh can be heard over the flames -- a shrieking, exultant laugh, as if this flame is some sort of crowning achievement.
Zach is reaching for the food cart when he hears the laugh. He glares in the direction of the sound, but only for a fraction of a second, before setting himself to the task of extricating the child from her plight. Zach pulls the child free, pulling her in close before turning back the way that he came.
He can still hear other cries, but he won't be doing anyone any favors if he has to shepherd more than one child in this inferno.
Once Zach is close enough, he'll be able to see that the child is Japanese, probably about seven years old. She's dressed in a loose, billowy dress, crying her eyes out -- the only bright spot being the smile he gives Zach as he draws near. She's thoroughly grateful, clinging onto the damp rescuer with both arms as he extricates her from the remains of the food cart.
So that's where he is: within a Zen temple in Japan. The flames burn hot, the smoke choking at the lungs, but there is an end to it: the bucket brigade has been successful in clearing a path to the exit.
A concerned parent calls out, trying to reach the child. She responds to her name, reaching out with a hand.
And another child shrieks out, on the other side of this area of the temple complex.
Still that maniacal laughter, coming from above. Fires rage behind the figure, standing atop the boundary wall, her form silhouetted by the flames.
For one moment, though, her face is lit from below as she lights a match. And uses that match to ignite a torch, just before tossing it at the food cart.
Zach guides the little girl to her mother with a smile which freezes on his face when he hears the laugh. He turns in to see the match, and the torch. His eyes narrow as considers things. The bucket brigade would have things in hand if it were not for My Little Pyro adding fuel to the fire.
Lines are drawn, calculations are made. "Get her out of here, please," Zach says in a steely calm voice as he draws in his will and drops into a low crouch.
A burst of golden sparks and motes, all but washed out in the flames, launches Zach towards the arsonist! As Glenn arcs through the air, he pulls back his right hand in a fist as golden energy wraps around it. The power forms into a almost absurdly bulky gauntlet, which Zach slams into the wall with shattering force. During the impact, though, Zach only has eyes for the woman in the flames.
The figure smiles back at Zach as he approaches, her laughter fading away in the back of her throat. In her arrogance, she waits until the very last moment to nimbly cartwheel out of the way, leaving mere inches of distance to spare. The wall crumbles from the impact with Zach's golden energy, and the figure with wide, billowy sleeves laughs yet again. As she stands atop the wall, she gestures her hand towards the voice. One scream, one shriek -- cut short, a dying breath.
The laughter erupts outward again, as another match is lit. And another torch is tossed. "Ahahaha! You can't save them all!" comes the shrill voice, hoarse from... well, laughing so much.
Zach lands in a low crouch, his left hand whipping towards the thrown torch. "Pull," he mutters, as a dart of psychic energy lashes out and destroys the tool before it can do any more harm. He lowers the arm a bit to regard the laughing woman, trying to get a look at her features.
"Of course I can't," Zach says. "But I'll save who I can," he states with conviction as he throws another bolt of concussive force at the arsonist!
The torch is knocked out of the arsonist's hand, evaporating to cinders as she lets it fall. Embers land on the sleeves of the elm bark garment, lighting it aflame, but a quick brushing motion from her hands is all it takes to extinguish the flames.
"Small comfort..." A quick step to the left, a small pirouette, and the mysterious arsonist is carried out of harm's way, the bolt blasting a crater into the wall behind her. "... for those who -die-..."
A flash of cold steel, a blur of silver: Zach will find a knife approaching his throat, gripped tightly by the arsonist as she steps closer. "... while you dance with the devil!"
Zach's left hand comes up, catching the knife hand at the wrist and stopping the blade from going in too deep. A slight trickle of blood runs down the blade, the wound more irritating than dangerous.
"The dead," Zach says, that surety still in his voice as he leans in to see who this devil is, "Are beyond any comfort." Zach throws a short uppercut, with no mental energy behind it. Just power born of size, speed, and technique.
"Who are you," Zach asks. "Why are you doing this?"
The knife is withdrawn, and almost as quickly brought to bear again in a followup slash. But with the uppercut that follows, the arsonist aborts that plan, leaping backwards with a mad cackle. "But what of the -families- of the dead?! Surely they'll learn the cost of your 'heroism'!"
The hair is pinned up -- that much is clear. The figure looks much too regal, too -formal- to be casting flames about. Indeed, the garment is a pale color, unmarred except for the soot and places where the fine cloth has been scorched. "Who am I? Do you really think the families will -care?- You sit and watch their children DIE!"
Again, a strike, but this one is in a wild, reckless slash, meant to cut upwards at the throat to catch Zach unaware.
The slash, as reckless as it is, almost does it. He leans back, aborting a follow-up punch in the process. However, it's not quite enough, and the knife score a line of blood and cut flesh over his left eye. Half of his vision goes red as the blood washes down his face. The eyepatch... wasn't there? Something about this whole mess...
No time. Think it through later. Zach presses back in, reaching for the front of the woman's outfit to start throwing a knee or three into her midsection. "Not exactly sitting," Zach growls, no shame in the tone, no uncertainty. "People are already dead." If the knees work, Zach plans to follow up with a headbutt. "More people are going to die if the fires aren't stopped." Assuming that the headbutt works, Zach drives a heavy right directly between the stranger's eyes. "Stopping /you/ seems to be the fastest way to effect that."
A mad cackle of glee erupts from the arsonist as her blade bites in. It's not a full victory for her part, but it's a demoralizing blow, a reminder of mortality. She stays close, pressing her luck, aiming for another strike.
And that's when she gets caught, Zach's grab pulling her off-balance. A knee is slammed into her, the elm bark garment straining, wearing thin from the severity of the strike. "Al...ready?!" The answer is more of a gasp, of course, as the second and third knee slam into the woman.
A chain reaction of explosions occur, ripping through the side of a building. The arsonist is unable to dodge anything so direct as a headbutt.
As the upper floors crash down into the field of vision less obscured by smoke, it becomes obvious that it was the complex's tall pagoda building.
The mysterious veil of darkness which had obscured her features passes in the wake of the headbutt. A familiar face looks up at Zach, though the features are all wrong. The chin too pointy, the eyes emphasized with too much makeup. The eyes are -shaped- similarly to someone he knows, but their icy cold blue is ... foreign. Wrong.
Knuckles become more acquainted with the face. The arsonist flies backwards with a splurt of blood, hands clasping at the face as she's let go.
And a low rumbling laugh echoes through the shrine complex; no more voices can be heard, none except hers. "They're only -dead- because you haven't -saved- them... ahahahaha! You spent all your time... with me...!"
The fire rages on.
Zach wastes little time as this oddly familiar woman staggers away from him. Zach plants his feet, leading with his left as he turns his shoulders away from this stranger. He brings both hands to his right hip, posing them as if her were holding a basketball. Golden light flares into existance between those empty palms.
"Because I'm totally omnipresent," Zach says, the sarcasm being the first emotion beyond resolve to touch his voice as the sphere of energy grows in his hands. Emerald eyes smoulder with inner fire as Zach pours more energy into the working. "There would be no way to know if I would have been there in time for all of them. No way to be sure I would have survived the flames long enough to get to all of them."
Zach thrusts that globe of energy towards the woman. The construct warps before turning into a beam of brilliant light, as wide as Zach is tall, that promises a great deal of pain should it connect. If nothing is done to interrupt the technique, the blast lasts about five seconds before tapering off and dying down.
"Omnipresent?" The cackling figure parts her hands from her face, but lowers her chin to keep her face shadowed, only the teeth of her wide open smile clearly visible in the rising heat waves. "You're using this fight as an -excuse-. You think that as long as you dance with /me/, you don't have to face the realities of /death!?/ Ahahaha, you're so damned naive!"
A voice calls out to Zach, from far on his right. One reason the screams have been lessened: Honoka's here now, having been helping clear the children to safety. The juggler is in her Twilight Star costume, just as in the fight with Jezebel, carrying an unconscious one child over her shoulder as she rushes to safety. "Just finish her off, Zach!"
The arsonist cackles madly, one supernatural leap being more than enough to carry her over and beyond the beam of light.
Everything the beam touches explodes into more and more flames. It probably wouldn't, if this were the real world. But it does here.
In the blink of an eye, the arsonist has landed next to Zach. She makes a grab at his shirt with the left hand, while plunging a surely critical strike with the right. The crazed figure has no remorse -- and what's more fearsome, she has no fear of death.
That beam... it was raw force. Zach's not /capable/ of generating flames. He frowns at this. Things... just aren't adding up, and the effects of that attack cinch it. He's in someone's headspace. Probably his own.
The arsonist isn't the only one here with no fear of death. Two can play that game. The arsonist gets her grab. "Drynwyn," Zach whispers, and suddenly that claymore is in his hand on the far side of the arsonist. Zach grips the weapon near the tip of the blade and halfway up it, blood flowing from his hands as he drives the weapon through his own side, jamming the blade through his own torso and into the arsonist's body. Zach then adjusts his grip, grasping the hilt of the weapon to force /more/ of the steel through him and into his attacker.
"Everyone dies," Zach gasps, coughing up blood. "Just a matter of circumstance after that." Zach is keeping his feet, but only barely. Even though he's certain this is only happening in his own head, he also knows that people don't handle two feet of steel through the midsection lightly.
The arsonist had been expecting -- even -planning- for a counterattack from the psion. She'd even gone so far as to expect that he'd take the knife in the hand, and use it to keep her close.
Summoning a bastard sword and lancing it through -himself- to impale -her- though... that was unexpected. The arsonist vomits blood and bile as she jacknifes forward, letting go of the dagger and pressing both palms against Zach's body -- the only way she can conceivably extert enough force to get the blade out of her.
Blood gushes down to the stone walkway, both the arsonist's and Zach's, painting her black garb and white jacket with stark splashes of carmine. The arsonist looks up at him, her crystal blue eyes glowing despite the dark orange color-cast of their environs. It shouldn't be possible for her to talk with that much steel embedded within her, but she manages.
"Such wisdom from such a handsome young man. A stitch in time saves nine... is it?" With another wracking cough, the blood-spattered arsonist leans close, her leering grin so broad it nearly cuts her face in two. "And yet you hesitate," chides the hoarse voice. "Still trying to save them -all-, even though you admit you can't..."
A hard shove to the shoulder. A stiff leap. The arsonist slides herself backwards abruptly, her insides smearing a streak of blood and bile along the length of the blade -- but she is free. For the moment. And smiling, despite placing her weakened self in a position for a coup de grace, tailbone against the ground with inertial now working decidedly against her.
"Zach, I... the building's about to--" Honoka's voice, strained with exertion, calls out from behind him. She's got two kids clutching at either side of her, her hands pressed upwards against a support beam preventing the last story of a burning building from collapsing upon her and the children.
"More like 'kawa o kirasete niku o kiri, niku o kirasete hone o kiru,' really," Zach gasps. When the skin is cut, retaliate by cutting the flesh; when the flesh is cut, avenge by crushing the bone. Then things go sideways, in more ways than one. The psion collapses, the imposed effects of stabbing through his own midsection the long way overriding his own sense of will. He falls, and as he falls Zach sees both things at the same time; the arsonist trying to flee while Honoka is trapped with the children. The arsonist is seriously wounded. It would not take much to finish the job, and she's not in any shape to be flinging more torches.
Honoka and the two kids, however, are in very present danger. Zach is either going to die or wake up any second now. He reaches for Honoka, one last time, his hand taking on a golden glow. A sharp lance of energy, shaped like the sword through his guts, slams through the beam just above Honoka's hands. The beam snaps in two and falls to either side of the trio. The psion grins weakly, more than a trickle of blood trailing from the corner of his mouth as things go black...
The arsonist grits her teeth as Zach counters her aphorism with one of his own. But even left in such an awkward position, the gravely wounded anarchist has means to win at her disposal.
A black blur flits through the area, and two men dressed in all black kneel down beside her. The ghostly pale sleeves of her attush flutter as she's lifted to her feet, and a malicious smile is cast Zach's way, even as he cleaves his way through the support beam. "Here's one for you, smartass. Never put off till tomorrow what you can finish today." The weakened anarchist snaps a mocking salute with one raised hand as her helpers spirit her away to safety with... flying magical wushu powers. "Ciao!"
With Zach's assistance, Honoka and the children are safe. The anguished cries of grieving adults intermix with the chattering of concerned kids -- some children escaped, but there were casualties. A mixed blessing. The juggler flashes a grateful grin to him; it's only after a moment that she realizes that he's bleeding profusely from the side. "Zach, you're bleeding!" She sweeps her arms around him, pressing her hand to his si--
The blackness takes over, and the fury of the raging fire no longer presses against his eardrums or assaults nostrils. Only the calm, regular breathing of a Twilight Star juggler sleeping peacefully in an adjacent bed.
Zach sits upright quickly, his breathing rapid. He reaches up to his left eye, fingers tracing lightly across angry scar tissue. He looks over at Honoka, concern evident on his face as the hand falls to his side, tracing the point where he felt Drynwyn bite into it. Nothing. He slides out of the bed quietly, and walks out on to the balcony, his mind racing as he considers the nightmare.
The night air is cool and dry as Zach leans against the rail to mull things over.
Honoka is snuggled safe in her bed, sound asleep after the traumatic events of the day. Experiencing a moment of abject tragedy is usually rough for the first night; no doubt she would be experiencing nightmares of her own before long. Right now, though... there's no sign she's had any disturbing thoughts at all.
And, unlike the last time Honoka was psychically present within Zach's dreams, there's no indication that a simple shake or push would wake her, this time. She is out, like a light.
No... this time, Zach will have an opportunity to contemplate the meaning for himself. For now.
Log created on 18:07:17 09/20/2015 by Honoka, and last modified on 22:50:53 10/03/2015.