Description: An hour after the arrival of an unwelcome visitor, the circus is still in complete disarray. If one asked Honoka, she'd probably say that complacency has a way of becoming its own punishment.
Normally, the first hour after the final show of the night, the Twilight Star Circus is in low-power mode as the cast and crew wind down for the evening. Revelry is not uncommon among the stagehands, but out of respect for the performers, it's generally confined to the far side of the circus and kept low-key.
But right now, almost all the trailers have lights on, and patrols of three people each are marching in harsh, regimented circuits around the perimeter of the circus -- up to and including those who would normally be partying.
Those sensitive to emotions would detect a shared swelling of embarassment -- as if something quite tragic indeed had happened, and everyone feels in some way responsible for it. The embarassment would emanate most strongly from the person with the acrobatic juggler in the pink, purple, and white trailer. Sounds of conversation can be heard from within; those familiar with the cast would be able to identify the voices and general silhouettes of Honoka (huddled up on the bed) and Sudo (standing in the kitchenette). The door is unlocked, but with three guards on constant vigil around the trailer, unauthorized entry is strongly discouraged.
Zach returns to the circus after making a run to the store. One thing he has noticed, and commented on, is the lack of convenience stores in Japan as compared to the USA. He notices the tension in the air before he spots the patrols, and that gets his attention. The Marine-turned-Monster Hunter carefully walks up to the main entrance to the grounds, and is promptly let in. The reception, though, is a bit cooler than he had become used to. That draws a thoughtful frown from Zach as he makes his way to the trailer.
The three guards let him in without too much trouble, and he immediately notices a few details.
The first is the lack of greeting. Honoka had usually at least said hello to him when he returned from the late night shopping runs. The second was Honoka huddled up on the bed. The frown on Zach's face deepens. Honoka, being used to the ebb and flow of Zach's mental state, probably recognizes the mental forting up going on behind his thoughts. The third thing is the scowl on Sudo's face. Zach blinks at that. The two men had been, if not friendly, then at least polite with one another in the way that two men of similar outlooks would manage.
This all paints a picture, and it's not a pretty one, for Zach as he reaches into one of the plastic bags and produces a bottle of Sapporo Premium. He offers this to Sudo.
"You had a visitor," Zach says. It's not really a question.
Zach's concern for Honoka is there, readily apparent to Honoka, but his eyes don't leave Sudo's. There's some fence mending that needs to be done.
It's good that Sudo's occupying the forefront of Zach's attention, because as soon as the bottle is offered to the tall security chief, he sets it down on the countertop. Probably a little forcefully than necessary.
"You're damn fucking right we had a visitor. Something to do with you using the circus as your personal safehouse. Hundreds of people live here, and that might change now if you don't get your--"
Honoka has had her fingertips pressed to her temples for... probably ten minutes now. Even as Zach entered, it's true, she hadn't really even responded to him, or even really lifted her eyes up from the sheets on her bed. But when Sudo starts getting heated, all it takes is for her voice to raise just above a whisper to halt the attack.
"Stop. Everyone just cool down."
Mocha-colored irises turn up to Zach. She fixes her gaze upon his eyes, a melancholy look upon her face as she considers her next words carefully.
Sudo takes the bottle, with some frustration, and pops off the cap with a cabinet-mounted bottle opener.
As Sudo takes the first swig, Honoka exhales with resignation: "Vega."
Zach does not take his eyes from Sudo, even as the man starts to get in Zach's face. Zach doesn't get heated, but he's not backing down. That is, however, the absolute limit to his resistance against Sudo. It's only when Honoka speaks that Zach takes his eyes off the other man.
The one word is enough to stun Zach into silence. He takes a deep breath, trying to collect his thoughts for a moment. Honoka is alive, and feels to him like she's still her own person. He lets the breath out slowly, then turns to Sudo as he sets the bag containing the remainder of the six pack down next to the man.
"Okay then," he says quietly. Zach's voice is tight, controlled. Sudo might, and Honoka certainly would, noted the tiny undercurrent of fear in it though. "Then it's time for me to leave. Thank you for allowing me to stay," he says, still quiet. "And I am truly sorry for what I brought down on you. I was in error." He bows once to Sudo, then a little more deeply to Honoka, before turning to where his belongings were kept.
When someone transmits as much of their emotions as Honoka does, it's easy for psions to pick up on the shift of mood. What began as embarassment shifts polarity into frustration -- where the shame was internal, it is now inverted onto a target: Zach.
"Just like that?" is Honoka's quick reply, her lips pressed tightly against one another. The frustration would be obvious even to a non-psychic observer. "That's all the info you need to make a decision?"
Sudo, for his part, is wearing a similar expression. But unlike Honoka, he's done speaking his peace. "S'cuse me," he begins, moving to step past Zach. "I'll be outside." As an afterthought, he adds, "Thanks for the drink." The rest of the six-pack remains right where Zach set it as he makes his way outside, relieving one of the sentries.
Even as the door shuts, Honoka doesn't take her gaze away from Zach's. She's... yes, angry now. Lowering her voice to a true whisper, she grimaces. "He knows about the other me. And..."
She pulls her eyes away from Zach, finally, glancing instead to a point off to the side of him. Not to anyhing important -- just to give her intense gaze a rest. "... he doesn't see me as a threat."
Her eyes look back to Zach's, as she smooths a spot beside her on the bed. "Unless you interfere with his plans again. And then we get to be pawns. Insurance."
Zach does not stop preparing to depart as Sudo leaves, only nodding in response to the thanks for the drink. He doesn't even really respond until she gets to the part about insurance.
That stops him cold. It's only then that he turns to look at Honoka, and the walls start to slip a little. Not much, but enough to let Honoka see the storm of anger and fear show before he gets himself back under control. The duffle bag slips out of his hand, making a heavy thunk sound against the floor of the trailer. The sword, buried in the clothes in the bag, rattles a little as the bag drops to the floor.
Zach's face is pale, his eyes wide. Numbly, not at all sure what to do, and operating on an almost reflexive level, Zach slowly sets himself down on the spot Honoka just smoothed out. "I..." Zach stops there, for once at a complete loss for words as he stares numbly at the opposite wall.
Honoka is paying attention to everything. Part of her even wants to warn him to keep from breaking his arm this time. But she keeps silent, letting the monster hunter express himself without interruption, verbally and otherwise.
When he sits, Honoka wraps her left arm about him from behind, resting her head upon his shoulder. "We're kind of sitting ducks now. And now that he thinks we're an item... -I'm- the biggest duck sitting around." She looses dark, if faint, laughter at that note.
The frustration ebbs away, replaced with a warmth more often shared with the audience than anyone individual. "But we'll survive. Persevere and whatnot. Together we are one. He caught me off-guard, and he shouldn't have. Right there, actually..." She points up to the ceiling. "I can see why you still have nightmares. He's... off the charts."
Zach doesn't resist the arm, doesn't shrug off the head on his shoulder. His breathing is long and slow as he tries to maintain control. His mind is still racing as he simply listens. He finally looks at Honoka, a weak smile on his face. "He's terrifying," he finally admits. "And I don't think any one person can handle him. That other time, every time I heard about him being beaten, there was a group involved. So he's not /completely/ unstoppable." The tone in Zach's voice suggests that he might be trying to convince himself as much as he is trying to convince Honoka.
"I am sorry, though," he says after a moment. "Sudo wasn't wrong, saying what he said. Don't be too hard on him."
No, Sudo was not wrong -- Honoka does not need convincing of this. Nor is she going to explicitly disagree with the idea that Zach might need to move elsewhere -- truth be told, Honoka has felt a little shackled, a little stir-crazy as the weeks have gone on with Zach staying over. The two have lived their own lives, to be sure, but conversations have been brief; there isn't really much -need- to share experiences with someone who's been there for most of them.
And it isn't like she's going to share her other, under-the-table dealings with him -- not after trying so hard to convince him she's nothing like Empress Honoka.
"Y-yeah, I... I was immobilized. I knew that, if he wanted to, he could choke the life out of me with the flick of a wrist..." She holds up her right hand, showing what's left of the yo-yo string there -- it's been burned completely off, the previously pristine white string burned to an unnatural shade of purple. A simple token application of Vega's Psycho Power.
"So... as far as I can gather, I'm off the radar as long as we leave him be." She smiles faintly, pulling herself close to Zach.
There are things she can say, but she'd rather try coaxing more words out of Zach first.
"'We'," Zach says as he stares at the wall again. "That... might... will be a problem," Zach pauses, the statement costing him a great deal. "He can't be left alone," he says. This is the first thing he has said since returning that had any of his usual strength in it. "Because he won't stop until everything is his. You, me, the circus, the town, the nation, the world. All of it."
"And I can't /not/ stay out of it," he says. "I can avoid actively going after his work, but I can't ignore it if it shows up in front of me." He shakes his head. "But I don't... I can't do that without putting you," Zach pauses as his voice breaks a little. He swallows. "You and yours in danger," he finally says.
"I... I'm not sure what I should do. Long term, I mean. I should still leave," he says. "The rest has been nice, but I should get back to doing /something/ at some point."
Honoka had, actually, expected something of that regard. If Vega shows up in front of Zach, she fully expects the hunter to charge in, out of some twisted sense of nobility.
Having delivered the warning, the machiavellan puppetmaster wouldn't lose much sleep over Zach if Vega were to extinguish his life. But, of course, losing the rest of the circus, and possibly her own life... that -would- be a problem.
Not that she -shares- such a view, of course -- the master performer is projecting an uninterrupted stream of hopeful thoughts, much like she does all throughout the circus performances to keep the audiences' moods high and their purse-strings loosened. She delays her response a moment, her body tensing up at the suggestion that he cannot make the choice to ignore a threat. But he amends, clarifies and quantifies his statement to such a degree that she does not need to speak, simply murmur her assent with a nod into his shoulder.
As for leaving... as for -doing something-... Honoka nods again. "... It might be good to get away for a bit. Plausible deniability if I'm ever questioned." The juggler scratches her right cheek for a moment. "I get the sensation he didn't want to go poking around in my head, but I'm sure he -could-."
Her grip on Zach's side tightens slightly. Her heartbeat accelerates, just ever so slightly. "... But yes. I agree. It... was nice having you here."
"If he wanted to," Zachs says quietly, "I don't think you could have stopped him. He's... Without knowing what I know, I don't think it would be /possible/ for one person to be that strong." He's quiet for a long moment.
"The other me," he finally says. "Didn't have a lot of people close to him. He had decided what he wanted to be, wanted to do with his life. Knew what that could cost him. He didn't want other people to pay for what for his actions if he could help it. I don't think I could stand it if something happened to you, but I don't think I could not be who I am, either." Zach swallows again, forcing down the storm of emotions in him once more. "Something would have to change," he says after a long moment. "And I'm not sure..."
He doesn't finish the sentence.
Those three damn words, "I'm not sure." Never did like hearing them.
"You may not be sure of something, but I am sure of one thing. I do not begin a fight I do not intend to end. The Butcher? With Agent Little at my side I had every reason to believe we would succeed." She considers mentioning her fight with a certain ethereal ninja, but decides against it, exhaling sharply. "My point is... if someone doesn't have the power to -end- Vega, it's complete idiocy to pick fights with him. Martyrdom does no one except the enemy any favors." Honoka looks away for a moment, but doesn't pull her cheek away from the offered shoulder. "The other you might not have internalized that."
The juggler closes her eyes. Her emotions did swell towards 'frustrated' again, but the tide ebbs away again. "All I'm saying is, he's full of himself. Cocky. It makes him happy to see you and me run around as if we're scared of him. So what? We live, right? But how many lives has -this- Vega extinguished?"
Honoka's eyes open, slowly, as she tilts up to look at Zach once again. "It's not like you can just go to the military and say 'This guy slaughtered a bunch of civilians in this recurring dream I keep having', any more than you can hold me responsible for what that /other/ me did... right?"
"I'd bet he's responsible for more than we'll ever know. I can't even prove that he's behind the thing I was actually /there/ for," Zach says in a tone that is the closest Honoka has ever heard Zach get to complaining. Zach thinks for a moment before glancing towards Honoka again.
"I mean, it might not have cost him much to deliver his threat, but..." Zach frowns, not sure how to word the thought in his head while it's still trying to form itself. "World domination's a pretty big goal. His plate's gotta be pretty full with that. If I were that busy, I wouldn't be trying to check people who weren't some kind of threat, you know?"
Grr. Honoka bristles at the idea that maybe Vega -is- responsible for more. She has a spy network of sorts, but most of her direct contacts are a bit on the airheaded side. The yakuza, however... She'll have to touch base.
She doesn't dwell on the almost-complaint. But she does realize now that, yes, -world- domination is what's on Vega's mind. The internal power struggles of a nation like Japan are, admittedly, secondary -- especially since there's already at least four factions vying for it now. Including the armies the Empress has on the table.
"So you can agree, then, that it behooves us to not make ourselves seem like much of a threat," she responds, with a mirthless chuckle. She squeezes Zach's side lightly, with a faint sigh. "... I guess it just frustrates me when houseguests don't even feel like knocking, y'know? What's this world coming to?"
That gets a chuckle from Zach. "I... never got the chance to apologize for sneaking in that night," he finally says. "I'm sorry about that." He means it. As far as Honoka can tell, Zach has never apologized when he didn't mean it. "Didn't want to scare the guests with, well," Zach gestures up towards the scar running down across his eye. "I don't remember much about that night, but I was probably a mess."
Honoka blinks at the sudden admission -- and then realizes that her attempt to introduce a smidgen of levity to the situation was the trigger for it. Oops! "... Oh. Ahahaha, no, it's... I was actually kind of touched, being the first person you felt you could go to for safety." She laughs -- not rudely, and not cruelly, but just enough to blunt the edge. Emotions are kind of... raw for this sort of conversation, after all.
"I don't get upset at people who take action when it's needed. If you'd curled in a ball and I had to come -find- you, well..."
Honoka gives Zach another comforting squeeze. "Well, you wouldn't be Zach, for one thing."
"True," he finally admits as he leans into the squeeze, reaching around Honoka to give one of his own. He closes his eyes, a very slight wave of... contentment coming off of him. He knows that Honoka is upset with the situation, but at least willing to forgive him for it. To an extent. It's a comforting thought.
"If..." he asks carefully. "If it's okay with you and yours, I'd like to stay here just for the night. I don't think I'll be able to get to Yokohama tonight." He reaches into a pocket with a free hand, pulling out a slip of paper, before handing it to Honoka. It has an address in Yokohama, and two phone numbers on it. One is Japanese, the other one she might not recognize.
"You can reach me there," he says by way of explanation. "I'm just going to ask that you don't give out the Scotland number. There are people who wouldn't like you to have it." Zach pauses, then continues. "It's nothing against you personally, it's just that one or two of the other people who have it would not approve of me handing it out to anyone at all."
Honoka can appreciate the subtle shift in emotional pressure -- it's a good thing. A sign that Zach is, at least, listening and responding. It always kind of bothers her when the man walls himself up inside his nigh-impenetrable fortress around her. It's really hard to get a decent conversation out of him when he's like that!
But... trying to stay the night now, after he'd made a defiant stand about leaving all of a sudden? It's enough to bring a more teasing smile to Honoka's lips, as her emotional aura turns a bit more playful. "Hmm, I'm glad you didn't just walk out the way you -were-... Liable to break another arm that way..." She glances down at the pieces of paper briefly, and then folds them up. Not to discard them, but -- ".. Ah-ah, plausible deniability..."
Instead, she places the pieces of paper inside the mouth of her stuffed alligator for safekeeping.
"I won't," she agrees, turning back to Zach with a smile that is at least 80% reassuring. "Though I'm pleased you seem to consider me on equal ground with your own family..."
Honoka finally pulls the mass of sheets away from her legs: t-shirt and sweatpants, traditional loungewear of the circus star. And she stands up, quietly padding over to the kitchenette. "I... crap. Forgot to put the fish on." Giving the cooler a light kick with her foot, she frowns down at the fish, lost in thought. "... You hungry?"
Probably a silly question, that.
"You're at least that important to me," he says quietly when she stands up. He watches Honoka as she walks to the kitchen. The outfit she is wearing is way more comfortable than flattering, but he can't help but watch her walk. He... likes the way she walks. He smiles faintly. "You got a little distracted," he grants when she mentions the fish. She is still staring down at the fish when he stands up and walks behind Honoka. Zach moves almost like a shadow, as he wraps his arms around her and nuzzles her neck. When he speaks, it's in that low rumble that she's only heard from Zach in private settings.
"How about we skip to dessert," he asks.
Honoka quirks an eyebrow when she notices a small change in the atmosphere of the trailer. Somewhat drowsy after the show and the subsequent encounter, her brain isn't acting at peak efficiency, but... something changed.
The lithe performer's mild paranoia breaks once she finds herself embraced from behind. And then the reason for staying another night becomes crystal clear. The approach is not unwelcome, to say the least; the vast gulf between their two moods has been eliminated.
"Well, I can honestly say I've never heard -those- words from you before."
She lingers for a moment, wrapping her hands lightly upon Zach's arm -- and most importantly, pressing her neck against Zach's nuzzle, lest it become more of a tickle than the warm affection he was likely going for. A little levity is appropriate, but this ain't exactly a pillow-fighting vibe she's reading from Zach.
Zach, conversely, is perfectly positioned to take note of Honoka's accelerating heartbeat. On some level, some part of her insists that it's kind of awkward to go from being threatened by a megalomaniacal dictator to... well, -this-. But the rest of her...
"Mmm... depends on what you're in the mood for, I suppose..."
Log created on 19:37:10 11/15/2015 by Honoka, and last modified on 22:25:55 11/16/2015.