Honoka - Daniel Jack Instigates: The Devil's Stair!

Description: Zach Glenn visits Honoka at the Twilight Star Circus to try and get the straight dope on what's been going on with her. It's clear the two have some... issues to work out. (The cover shows Daniel Jack, in a strapless red gown, with a malevolent leer on his face. Action figure likenesses of Zach and Honoka are clutched tightly in his hands, locked in combat with their sad jointless arms, while a a purple travel trailer and its fold-up stairs are visible in the densely-shadowed background.) (45 cents)

For the past month, the only crowd that the Twilight Star Circus has been attracting has been a steady stream of contractors and consultants. The big top tent had been torn to tatters as the aftermath of a Yamaguchi-gumi nationalist, necessitating the commissioning of a brand new canvas. The circus is also taking the opportunity to revitalize its fading hues with vibrant new dyes, brighter and more appealing to the younger demographic.

Some circus performers are outside, taking advantage of the warm mid-morning sun. With the warmer springtime temperatures and the impending completion of repairs, the circus will soon be back to touring, and it's more crucial than ever that the performers be back in shape after their unplanned vacation. Acrobats are spinning about on bars and pommel-horses, while dancers are practicing their choreography.

Honoka is practicing an intricate dance of her own, concurrently keeping two fuschia diabolos spinning about in the air. Her off-color, form-fitting clothes wouldn't be directly suited to the stage, but they're an adequate substitute that won't cause the drag that a t-shirt and sweatpants might.

There is one element of Honoka's performance, and indeed, the faces of all those around her, that does look out of place: the sour expression of mild disappointment. The troupe's most bankable performer is not feeling great - and it is contagious.

The reason for all of that comes walking up to the front entrance. Zach's not broadcasting his presence. He's not actively 'broadcasting' himself. He'd almost prefer Honoka know about his arrival the old fashioned way. Zach had taken the time to clean himself up, change his clothes. Get packed for a job taking him out of the country. He was, in fact, ready to leave town.

But he and Honoka had parted on... less than stellar terms. Whether this was the thing that ended the relationship, or the two worked through the disagreement, Zach did not want to leave on what was undoubtedly dangerous work with this undone.

Zach arrives in jeans, t-shirt, and sports jacket. He's wearing sunglasses and a ballcap. Either Honoka will see him, or Sudo will show up to run him off. Zach was prepared for either.

Between the fire damage, the new routine, the Rumble In The Streets tournament, and a number of even more dramatic occurrences in recent days, Honoka has a lot on her mind. The disagreement between her and Zach is only the most recent wrinkle in the heavily creased canvas.

Honoka is not the first to notice Zach -- indeed, it was a couple of the apprentice knife throwers, who stop and look towards Zach. Their knives are held at the ready -- though they do not attack. They simply look back towards the star juggler.
The acrobats are the second to notice -- they respond in kind.
It is difficult to tell whether security noted the arrival or not -- their black sunglasses stare forward, the direction of their heads indicating no change one way or the other.

It's only when Zach gets within speaking distance that Honoka has progressed far enough in her set to feel comfortable pausing -- and that she does, extending the diabolo wand towards him as if she was performing a magic trick. (Presto, allakhazam, it's a boyfriend!) She pulls her other arm out, snapping the cord taut between them, causing two light 'twang' sounds as the airborne diabolos make stringfall, spinning dutifully in place as Honoka deftly slackens the cord.

"Hi, Zach," she greets him, as her aura shifts rapidly from the psychic equivalent of melancholy blue into the salmon pink of pleasant surprise. "I mean, I hope you're Zach..." she continues, rapping her wand in the direction of where sunglasses would rest upon her face. "Otherwise this might get awkward." She laughs, with a pleasant smile.

She can tell that the man has his guard up, unquestionably. But if the relationship has gone awry, it's clearly news to the Twilight Star juggler.

The arguement that had started near the end of the fight he had had with those yakuza had all the makings of a deal breaker to Zach. "Yeah," Zach says as he pulls the sunglasses off. "Maybe just a little." He looks at Honoka for a long moment, memories and not-memories washing over him for a moment. "Police decided I didn't need to stay around," he supplies. "But there's a wrinkle."

Zach inhales, then lets out a sigh. "Little came to see me once he had heard I was there. Had... some questions," he states. "He knows you were there. He doesn't know about your involvement in what happened." Zach continues. "He asked. I did not tell him everything, but I wasn't about to lie, either."

A little awkward, huh. Honoka seems pleased to see Zach's eyes, instead of smooth artificial lenses. The lithe psion is better able to read his expression than his mind at the moment, and unfortunately, she had no way to steel herself for what he says next.

"Why the hell was -he- there...?" The pleasant look and the aura that accompanies it turns acidic, caustic, as the juggler rests her palms upon her hips. "Fine. He was there, asked you questions - I guess that's Interpol business now."
The juggler arches an eyebrow. "So... what did you not lie about?" She wouldn't ask, of course, if Zach's body language didn't suggest he had something to hide.

"Apparently, the recent acts of gang violence are being classified as terrorism. Any investigations dealing with gang violence has to be 'inspected' by Interpol," Zach recalls. "And apparently, Interpol in Southtown means Agent Daniel Little." Zach shrugs. "I suspect his reach is exceeding his grasp on this, but I can't do anything about that."

"He asked if I was at the restaurant on a date with you, or some other woman. I told him I was there with you," Zach says. His body language suggests he's about to brace himself up for something. "He thought it... odd that the guys in suits simply chucked their guns," Zach states, "But I agreed that it was odd. I didn't tell him what we both know happened back there."

Zach's disapproval is evident, but not voiced. That's important.

"Well, Southtown PD does have a bit of an identity crisis at times, " agrees Honoka. She may be guarded, and a little acidic still, but she's not exactly disagreeable.

Until Zach explains that he didn't, in fact, hide his knowledge about Honoka. He told the truth, but was it the whole truth? Her expression hardens, her jaw becomes set.
And there it is. The accusing look. The unvoiced frustration. She can read it in his eyes, and she's going to use the techniques she learned from Zach himself in doubling up her mental defenses against him. Two can play that game.

"What happened back there?" she asks, though for a moment she doesn't look at Zach.
She looks past his shoulder. And collecting both wands into one hand, she makes a beckoning gesture towards Sudo, without offering any other words.

Honoka turns towards Zach, frowning with disapproval. It might not be clear why, though, until Sudo is within range. "Zach, are you wearing a wire?" she asks, "because I don't like where this is going. It's not like you at all."
Sudo has a metal detector wand at his side, and he approaches Zach with the intent to scan him. It seems that Honoka is unwilling to accept the possibility of Zach lying to her on this point.

Zach frowns, but pulls out his cellphone and hands it to Sudo before the wand comes into play. It's locked but asleep at the moment. Zach then holds his hands up at shoulder level to allow Sudo full access. It comes back clean. He gets it, sort of. His hurt at this is apparent, but again unvoiced.

"The lock code's eight-zero-eight-three," Zach tells Sudo, who can then confirm the phone's not recording or broadcasting. "I'm not wearing a wire," Zach answers. "And now you and Sudo know that. Daniel Little is a raging jackass, but he's also a sharp detective. He suspects something about you, that you are up to something nefarious. Warned me that you might be manipulating me somehow." That last comment is delivered with a touch of wry sarcasm, touching on that conversation with Mizuho just after Metro City.

Zach's expression shows not anger, or mirth, but weariness. "He's trying to turn us against each other," he finally says.

Hurt. Honoka doesn't feel a whole lot of pity at that, keeping her emotions in check as she rests her hands back upon her hips. "Manipulating you?" repeats the juggler with a raised eyebrow and an incredulous smirk. She questions the detective's accusation.
But more than that, she questions why he brings it up, if he's only going to back off and point fingers. What was with that expression? To her, Mizuho talking smack is just like any other day, after all.

She stares back at Zach, gauging his expression. Weariness -- like he's been having another restless night. Fatigue, as if he's tired of... whatever it is that's bothering him.

The smirk fades with her realization. She, too, is tired -- and she sees no need to hide that. This feels less and less like a conversation between lovers, and more like... well, an interrogation.
"Well, did he succeed? Are you against me now?"

Zach simply stares at Honoka for a long moment. He has been thinking over this since the police carted him off. Then he closes his eyes, for another long beat. "I don't want to be against you," Zach says after those moments pass. "The..." Zach flounders for a heartbeat, Honoka recognizes this mannerism when Zach has something he has yet to put to words.

"What we have," not had, "It's as much a thing of conscious decision as it is of emotions," Zach finally says. "Love, the kind that makes a person want to be a part of someone else's life, that makes a person want someone else to be a part of theirs. It /has/ to have an element of intention to it," he says. "Or it doesn't work. Not in the long term."

"My decision to love you," he says after a moment, "Is exactly that. But if it's not my decision, then it's nothing."

Conscious decisions, emotions. These are the sorts of terms writers toss about when they're having discussions about lofty ideals like causation and free will. Like anything matters, really, but the -here- and -now- of anything.
Honoka inclines her head to the side, almost like a bird, as she examines Zach's features, picks apart the most minute of details etched into Zach's face. Why is he talking about -intention- rather than -emotion?-

Her head snaps back to the upright position. Eyes go wide with the realization -- or rather, the -accusation-.

Her right hand snaps out of its own accord, hard enough to leave a stinging reminder of its presence for the next few minutes should Zach not dodge out of its path. Presuming he dares to remain standing after such a blow -- that'd be his choice.

"So -that's- what this is all about?!!" screams Honoka, tears welling up in her eyes. It's a tidal shift in emotions -- no longer is she feeling fear, it's going into all-out -rage-.

Sudo, still holding Zach's phone after having trusted his word, politely takes a few steps back. The rest of the circus performers return to their routines, with -gusto-. This is a train wreck they do not want any part of.

Honoka steps back and away, alternating focus between her reddened hand and the accuser standing before her. "I love you, Zach, I =do=, but you just... you..."

Honoka drops to her knees, as the burst of anger begins to bleed out of her. "That's..." She stammers, tears flowing freely as she finds herself utterly unable to put the unthinkable into words. "I didn't. I =can't=. Just... You came to -me-, how could you even think that?!"

Honoka buries her face in her hands, shaking her head. "I didn't! I didn't, I swear... You make me feel like the most important person in the world, but..."

It's a few moments before she can collect herself enough to lower her hands. "You really think I -made- you love me? You think that's something I could even -want-?"

Uneven wooden bars flex as acrobats swing around them. Knives thud into wooden planks. The circus is full of life, vibrant, and it is knowingly paying no heed to the meltdown of their star juggler.

Zach knows the slap is coming. He rolls with it just enough to keep his feet, but not enough to negate all of the impact. His stance is unaltered, but the left side of his face is now all red. Honoka would know that such a mark would not last very long, but still... it's not clearing up as fast as she has seen such minor injuries have on him before. He watches. He listens. He pays attention with more than just the two physical senses. More than just the mental sense of her that he has acquired by spending time with her.

Zach takes a deep breath, then another. Then he drops to one knee in front of her, taking her chin gently in one hand to get her attention. "I'm sorry," he says quietly. "It..." Zach pauses. "Ignoring the idea was not something I could do." Zach is radiating the truth of this. The questions, the doubts, they would have chewed him up and destroyed him. Action had to be taken. He could have simply broken this off completely, just walked away. That would have settled the issue, certainly. But the damage that that might have done to Honoka, the guilt of that, would have chewed Zach up and destroyed them as well. Better some pain now, than to suffer worse later, right? Zach doesn't know if this was the right decision, but it was his to make, and he'll accept the fallout from it.

"It... this was another choice I had to make," he says quietly. "I had to /know/. Now I do. Thank you." He wants to kiss her, but he is entirely uncertain if she let him. Or if that would just make things worse. So he stands up, and walks over to Sudo, holding out his hand to ask for the phone back.

"I have to leave town for a couple of weeks," Zach says to the man in a quiet tone. "Work thing. If she asks about it, would you let her know that, please?" he asks the man.

He starts to walk away, but either Honoka or Sudo would have no trouble stopping him.

'Sorry.' That gets him one half of a point of dignity back.
'Ignoring... was not something I could do.' That's at least three points.
Taking her chin in his hand, though? Ten points, easy.

But even with the focus firmly upon herself and how -she- felt about the suggestion that she forcibly changed the American's mind, she can't bring herself to look into Zach's eyes as he looks back at her. Yes, that's the point of raising her chin. No, it's -not- a pair of eyes she can meet right now, between the tears and the accusation.

'Another choice.' Two points.
'I had to know.' Four points.
'Thank you.' A full point, but a special commendation.

Honoka would not allow anything of the sort. She doesn't even raise her eyes to him until he releases her, until he stands up. And even then, it's just a glance, before she closes her eyes -- and lets her aura reach out.

Sudo hands the phone back without complaint. He starts to nod -- but then he looks pointedly towards Honoka.

<< I'm scared, Zach. Don't... don't go yet. I need you. >> The juggler dries her eyes upon her shirtsleeve, but turns to Zach with a more sentimental, apologetic look. << I don't... I never needed you -that- bad, Zach... >>

The juggler rises to her feet, wiping her eyes dry once more. "Sudo, let him know he can speak to me if he likes." She offers a faint smirk -- a shadow of her usual self.

<< I can explain, if you want to talk somewhere quieter. >>

Zach turns to face Honoka with a tired smile. This whole thing as at least as difficult for him as it was for her. He takes the phone back and pockets it. <<Sure,>> he thinks. <<But we can't go too long; my flight leaves this evening.>>

Zach walks back to Honoka, holding a hand out to help her to her feet. <<Too many people pretending not to be interested around here anyway.>>

<< It won't take long. >>

As Honoka starts to walk away, she catches a concerned look from Sudo. Despite the moisture on her upper cheeks, she shakes her head back at him. "Don't worry. I'm fine. Just a little misunderstanding." It's a gross understatement, but it's backed up with actions, at least. She considers reaching for Zach's hand, but considering the almost-accusation, she won't be taking that chance.

Besides, they're not going into the trailer -- just stopping just outside it. It's only here that she actually steels herself to speak in weighty words again.
"You've fought... Noembelu, was it?" Honoka leans against the side of the trailer, taking caution to leave plenty of space so that Zach isn't tempted to stand near the Devil's Stair that doomed his arm, so many months ago. "... Have you ever fought Satsuki?"

She draws in her breath, looking up towards Zach -- and -now-, it seems, she's ready to face him properly. "People like her..." she continues, sadness in her voice. "That's what happens when it goes too far."

Zach lets the hand drop, a little sadness levied with understanding. He eyes the steps with grim chagrin. He's face the Devil's Stair since then, but there is a wary respect of them all the same. He also leans against the trailer, next to Honoka. He allows as much space as she feels she needs.

"I've fought both of them, actually," Zach answers quietly. "Satsuki tried to break into a Marine Camp, back before I met you." Zach thinks for a moment. "Yeah, that... that tracks with what Dad has told me about it." He looks hurriedly at Honoka. "There was this one time about ten years ago that Dad, Grampig, and I had to find and stop someone who was... basically breaking people. Breaking women. His wife, one of his co-workers. His fifteen year old niece. He..." Zach visibly shudders at the memory. "He had turned them into some kind of harem. I had tracked them down. Dad and Grampig put a stop to him. They..." Zach takes a deep breath. "Dad won't tell me what happened. The one time I asked Grampig..." Zach chuckles ruefully. "I had a hard time walking off that training session." Zach's expression sobers again. "The wife committed suicide afterward. The young girl is still in a psychiatric ward. The coworker... well... she's alive, but she's afraid to be around people for any length of time."

"It's... it's pretty bad," Zach says. "Grampig needed a cane after that. Dad spent a year in a wheelchair."

"... Huh." She doesn't remember seeing Satsuki in Zach's dreams, but considering how long ago the fight was, she is not terribly surprised. "It was like fighting a marionette -- almost all the feeling drained out of her." She pauses, for a moment, looking off at the performers, now so distant from her. "Almost," she repeats.

But then she listens to Zach, and how intently he recounts the story.
'Harem' - That's the word that resounds ost with her, triggering a look of sheer disgust.
Was this the Grampig from this reality, or the other one? Or could it be that...
The juggler turns back to Zach, eyes wide. Intent, even sharing in his palpable fear at the memory. "Was this Vega that they fought, or someone just the same?"

If there's any sign that she approves of the behavior of this criminal, it's not obvious at all. She is, for all intents and purposes, just as aghast as Zach is about the blatant disregard for free will.

Zach shakes his head at this. "Not even in the same weight class," Zach says. "The guy had the one trick, but he was really, /really/ good at it." Zach frowns in thought. "If I had to make a guess at it, the guy also had some people to do the actual fighting for him. Wouldn't have been hard to gather 'recruits', between the control and... and the other things that could have been offered." Zach looks at Honoka, then pulls out his wallet. He brings out a simple photograph. Zach, perhaps sixteen, holding the keys to a car and a new driver's license. Next to him is an older man, who looks like Zach might fifty or so years later. One arm is wrapped around the boy in a loving gesture, the other bracing against a thick cane. "That's Grampig. Ignatius Glenn." Zach looks at the photo fondly. "He taught me how to fight," Zach says.

"Ah..." responds Honoka, nodding quietly at the notion that the man wasn't anywhere close to Vega. And yet... he proved to be a challenge for Zach's forefathers, who appear to have devoted their entire lives to mastering their art.
That is good information to know.

"Grampig meant a lot to you," Honoka states, more for her own frame of reference than Zach's. She remembers how he reacted upon learning of the elder's passing. "And I think he did a good job."

The Twilight Star juggler smiles faintly, reaching up towards Zach's hand. She gives it a gentle squeeze, one borne more of sympathy than her own connection to the blonde-haired man.

"You have such a rich family tradition of this. And me... " She shakes her head with a tight, bittersweet smile. "I didn't have that same opportunity to learn. I'll make mistakes here and there. But I still owe it to -my- family to protect the world from people like that man. From people like Vega."

She draws her hand back, clasping both hands together and placing them over her heart. "Auntie Pirka... she sings, in the Ainu tradition. She tells stories, she shapes minds... Me? I can't do it the same way she can, but she's all I have now."

The performer lowers her head, staring at the bare patches of grass on the ground. "I made a mistake, and I lost them. And I think... I maybe almost lost you with another one." She brings her hands before her, spreading her fingers out. "I have to get better, Zach. I don't want to control people. I want to help people live out their dreams. And when madmen try to take those dreams away..."

She leaves that unspoken, drawing in a tense breath.

There is no move to resist the touch. Zach returns the squeeze. "When someone tries to take them away," Zach says firmly, "Then it's up to those who protect those people to step in and stop it." He looks over at Honoka.

"People like me," he says quietly. "And people like you."

Zach looks at Honoka, hope in his eyes. "Together," he asks carefully, almost fearfully. Like he's afraid that he's already lost her through his own actions.

Honoka turns tearfully towards Zach. "Together," she repeats, "we're in this together."
She smiles brightly. "Vega is keeping an army from even -having- dreams. It's... it won't work in the long run. The power of the mind is boundless, infinite." She laughs, without mirth, adding, "And he thinks he's the only one who can utilize that power."

Honoka steps closer, slipping one arm behind Zach's waist. She raises her other hand up to his face, as if to brush her fingers alongside it, but as her eyes drift up to his...
She winces, sharply. "Oh wow. I really did a number on you, huh." Her wince turns into a hesitant and hopeful smile. "I, uh... S-sorry? I said 'sorry', I guess, but... again? Moreso."
She flashes a giddy smile. "I'm sorry."

"I was kind of asking for it," Zach admits as he pulls Honoka in closer. "It'll heal," he reassures.

Log created on 16:18:21 03/20/2016 by Honoka, and last modified on 22:49:18 03/20/2016.