Athena - Interlude Enhanced

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Description: After a harrowing match in KOF, Athena Asamiya uses some of her fledgling celebrity status and fight winnings to secure some peace in quiet. The time alone is only improved when the Psycho Soldier team captain drops by to check after her well being and search for answers of his own.

The busy boardwalk can seem like a strange place to retreat to in order to find peace and quiet, but that is where Athena Asamiya can be found this afternoon. The weather is grey and overcast, but out here at the side of the ocean, the cool air is calming rather than depressing - and while the ocean is robbed of some of its rich blue by the blanket of clouds overhead, it is also possible to gaze out into the horizon without being blinded by sunlight.

The crowds that frequent the market street are out in force like always, their voices a continuous murmur of white noise that is easy to forget or to actively focus on as one prefers. The rest of the ambience one would expect to find seaside fills the air as well - the cry of seagulls, the occasional deep, resonating horn of a boat or ship in the distance, the beep of delivery trucks backing up to garages, and the sound of traffic on the nearby main streets.

Today, Athena has a perch from which to watch the tapestry of life playing out below. The establishment is playfully called 'The Littlest Lighthouse'; a sky blue cafe built right up against the sands of the beach. The first floor is a dinner filled with patrons enjoying a late afternoon snack but it is the upper floor of the business that currently accommodates the reflective King of Fighters victor. Half of the second floor of the building is a rooftop balcony occupied centrally by a miniature' lighthouse that rises up another two stories into the sky and gives the cafe its name.

The balcony is clear of customers except for one - the violet haired Asamiya is seated at a table for two adjacent to the railing that overlooks the Boardwalk and all of its disorderly liveliness below. Settled in a metal chair, the Justice High student has it turned toward the railing, allowing her to more easily stare out over the Boardwalk, the sandy beach beyond, and the ocean occupying the rest of the horizon. Known for her rather extravagant, ever changing outfits for all of her fight appearances, Athena is enjoying not being in uniform or costume for a change - a white, light, long sleeved blouse goes with a crimson knee-length two-layer skirt, with the surface layer featuring a floral pattern of cutouts.

On the metal table at her side is situated a large iced tea and a pink laptop that is open but currently appears to have powered itself off to conserve battery life.

The reason no one else is enjoying the view from the balcony may not be abundantly clear until one tries to approach the stairs leading up to it from inside only to find a sign reading 'Reserved for Private Party' deterring most patrons from venturing further.

No doubt, Master Gentsai would chew her out for wasting some of her fight winnings on booking a private balcony just to get some quiet time, especially considering the extremely humble building they call home way over in Chinatown... But little by little, the growing girl has come to decide she has more freedom to do with her life than she had been lead to believe over the last few years.

Occasionally, one of the cafe staff will wander up onto the balcony to check on their reclusive, celebrity patron, but for the time being, she has requested nothing beyond keeping her iced tea topped off - a cycle that has not deviated for the last hour since she got there.

While Athena Asamiya had battled against an... eldritch THING of terrifying mien, her two male teammates, Kensou and Haru, had to sit in the stands and watch. It may have been accidentally lucky for the Psycho Soldiers' fourth fighter Momoko that after her courageous showing against Himeko, the littlest psion was either unconscious or too out of it to really be subject to what happened there. Kensou and Haru, meanwhile, got a taste of something much worse going on in the ring below. For his own part, Haru Sakuraba had never felt something so akin to actual *revulsion* before in his life, as if all he wanted to do was leave the room as fast as humanly possible. Meanwhile, Athena stayed in the ring and fought it out bravely to the very end.

And in truth, Haru had sent her there.

'Team captain' doesn't necessarily mean much in King of Fighters. It has no real responsibility or prestige other than being the person who handles the paperwork, a task the nerdy but dutiful Haru offered to take on so that the others wouldn't have to worry about it. But he hadn't realized that this also meant he got to do things like choose fighting order, and long after the Psycho Soldiers' first win, he couldn't help but feel a little responsible.

The result is that he threw himself into a combination of schoolwork and training, trying to put it out of his mind. If the others had anything bad to say, or worries to voice, they hadn't done so to him specifically yet, but a little anxious voice in Haru's head says: they might blame you. The more he filled his day with other things, the easier it was to drown that voice out.

Thus today found the yoyo-using fighter out for a run, enjoying the slight drop in temperature that the overcast day provided from the approaching summer heat. A mile or two along the beach worked up an initial sweat, and then a dip in the sea to cool after felt great. Black and silver hair damp and messy, Haru sat on a bench overlooking the sea, sipping a green tea and looking at his phone.

Specifically, a Twitter thread caught his eye, thanks to a number of social media alerts for various important names: someone had seen Athena Asamiya at a local cafe. Discussion of what she's been doing since her last album abounded with reflections on the very public KoF fight and other such chatter, but one lone post stuck out:
'lol wanted 2 meet her & ask but table wuz blocked?!?! nice 2 b famous lol'

Approximately 20 minutes later finds a pair of voices dimly audible from the roped-off stairwell, if Athena happens to pay attention.

"Sir, she's asked very specifically not to b--"

"I know. But please, I'm a friend, and this is important," comes Haru's reply, likely to a cafe employee. "Just ask her quickly! Please."

The question never has to be posed to the guest above. Before the employee can segue into 'brush off, take 2', the young celebrity in question is at the top of the stairs looking down.

"Haru!" The tone of her voice leaves no question that the young man is a welcome sight, "Come on up," she beckons with a wave of her hand before taking a step back and turning to the side to wait for him to ascend up to the balcony as well.

She wastes no time walking over to the table she had been sitting at before, gesturing at the second chair, "Please." The cafe employee follows seconds behind, making sure to check on Asamiya's iced tea and also inquire as to what the new arrival would like. A menu is tucked under the waiter's left arm, ready to be whipped out if the young man shows interests in anything beyond a drink.

"How did you find me?" she asks along the way, "Not that I'm not glad you did, of course," she quickly amends, clearly not intending to imply that she'd rather be alone at the moment even though she booked several tables worth of customers in order to achieve just that. Nothing about about welcome would suggest anything contrary to what she says, however, from her expression, tone of voice, or even other details detectable only to someone sharing their special empathy.

Reaching the table, she closes her laptop and slides it off to the side while settling into the seat she occupied before. "Have you heard anything about what's coming up next in the tournament?" As captain, the burden of paperwork is his... but it also means all communication between the event organizers and teams routes through the organized young man!

Grateful for the rescue -- and for not having to plead his case like a maniac to an increasingly surly service employee -- Haru gives Athena an embarassed smile as he rounds the top of the stairs. When the server asks what he'd like, the Justice student shakes his head in the negative, then bows it slightly in acknowledgment, before turning back to his teammate. When she asks how he found her, Haru gives a little 'eh-heh' and, with a swipe and a tap-tap-tap, brings up his phone, holding it screen outward so that Athena can get a little glimpse of the fact that despite her singing career being on hold, she remains a celebrity still.

"20% dumb luck and 80% someone having that setting on where it geotags your tweets," he admits, putting his phone away and following Athena out to the balcony. He takes in the laptop, the cordon, and even the relative quiet of a balcony high above the sound of crashing waves, before clearing his throat and adding, "I didn't mean to interrupt. But I wanted to talk to you."

There's a second or two of nervous energy while the Ryukyu islander fidgets a bit in place; it's the same kind of shy anxiety that Athena will likely have noticed from Haru multiple times before now. However, it passes when she asks a relatively prosaic question that he can answer quickly and easily. "Nothing yet. Maybe the teams in the other brackets haven't finished their matches?" he says, thinking up a potential reason on the spot. "Or maybe they just want to space them out, give people time to recover between rounds?" He rubs the back of his neck and gives a sheepish smile. "I'm kinda new at this 'international prestigious fighting tournament' thing."

If there's one thing the violet haired potential songstress is good at it is making others feel at ease. It isn't even a conscious, manipulative effort, the tool of a con or salesman... though few would know that it is a subconscious defense. She doesn't just notice unease in others, she feels it, shares it, and radiates it in return. By calming others, she is in effect calming herself. Looking for ways to ameliorate the discomfort of others is simply a part of who she is.

Haru's answers provoke a smile and friendly nod of acknowledgement. "Possibly. I was going to catch up on the fight footage streams tonight... maybe get a look ahead at what we're going to be up against."

He speaks to being new at participating in a world-wide event like this. Millions of viewers tuning into the live broadcasts, the streams, the analysis streams and articles, and so, so much more. The world is abuzz with King of Fighters and here they are, two unassuming Justice High students, somehow part of the entire phenomenon... "Well, you're doing quite well at it so far. You have already captain'd us through the qualifying round with success," she remarks with a warm grin that only fades slowly once she takes hold of her condensation-damp glass of tea.

A sip is taken before the glass is put back down and the girl stretches her arms, interlocking her fingers as she bends her wrists back, "Still, I'm eager to find out what happens next." She glows with nervous energy, no doubt thoughts of what lies ahead consuming a lot of her imagination lately. "Maybe we'll be traveling..." She inhales then sighs softly, leaning back in her chair a bit, face turning toward the horizon, "Would be nice to get out a little."

Socially, Haru learned a long time ago that if he presented himself as just a little bit silly, a little bit shy, then he appeared more or less harmless to others. It's a subconscious, learned defense by now, but as he sits and listens to Athena talk, it really is as if a little switch in his head is able to turn that automatic defense off for a second. He doesn't have to worry about explaining to angry industrialist parents why he's not going to succeed the family business, for example. That's a big step in the right direction.

Outwardly, it is a little bit like a mask coming off, not that Haru himself would know it.

"I've only left Japan a few times, and they were all trips for that... 'Saturday Night Fights' program." There is something about the sudden strained tone of his voice that suggests not all of Haru's memories of SNF are exactly... rosy, though it's hardly on the level of flashbacks and shell shock. "So I didn't see much. It WOULD be nice to go somewhere exotic and exciting, wouldn't it?"

It's silent for a bit, after that. Not an uncomfortable silence, but the sort of natural lull in a conversation that happens when neither side has anything that particular second to fill it with. Haru, for his part, is just... thinking. Athena SEEMS fine. But she's also up here alone. A tiny voice in his head says that what he's about to do, Haru does more for himself and his own feelings of guilt than out of concern for a teammate, but heedless of it, he charges in anyway.

"Athena-san," he asks, voice quiet, grey eyes looking more at the tabletop than the girl in front of him. "Are you... okay? I mean..." A pause, a swiftly exhaled breath. He forces himself to look up. "I dunno what I mean, actually."

His mention of the SNF is met with a nod, Athena's focus shifting back to her teammate as he speaks. Even the edge of his tone provokes a faint, knowing grin of acknowledgement, as if with that expression alone, she can verify that she knows exactly what he means, that she's thrown her lot in with the eccentric producers of that program, and that not every gamble was exactly what she was looking for in her blossoming career.

She lets the silent linger then. She hasn't forgotten that he specifically said he wanted to talk - and now that she has iterated through a few of the safe, harmless topics that could have possibly prompted his confronting of the employee below, it stands to reason that she is going to have to let him broach the true impetus behind his visit. She can tell it is on the tip of his tongue - and more accurately, may suspect the subject matter before he finally comes out and says it.

Another couple seconds pass and she looks off to the side again. Two small children are playing in the sand right about where the incoming waves crest, laughing and cheering as the cold water laps up to assault their feet. Each wave is met with laughter, cries of mock fear, and rapid stomps in the wet sand, and each retreat of the sea water is acknowledged with triumphant cheers, as if the toddlers were claiming credit for driving the entire ocean by themselves.

Haru speaks her name however, and Athena's focus is back on him, violet eyes blinking, "Hm?" Her head cants to the side slightly as he approaches the subject gingerly enough to confirm her thoughts as to what it probably is. By the time he looks up, she's smiling again, though her eyes have lost a touch of their vigor.

"Thank you," she starts rather than answering the question he is circling. "For worrying, and for asking." Clasping her hands, she rests her wrists against the table.

"It isn't so easy to say for sure. I mean, I'm sure from what the audience saw, I had an easy couple of fights, slipping through barely scathed." She averts her eyes as she starts to touch on the matches themselves. "I don't... I don't know what it looked like, what everyone saw or heard." she begins, her voice losing some of its reluctance. "I avoided watching the replays, it's... hard to imagine seeing it from another perspective beyond the one I experienced." Her eyes shift back to his, "But no, it was horrible. It was... I don't really know how what to compare it to. It was... like, if you imagine being in a horror movie, but it was actually as scary as they're supposed to be, not like how they really are, maybe that's the best I can describe it."

She shakes her head, closing her eyes for a moment, "Toward the end... the very end of the fight, I..." She opens her eyes slowly, her clasped hands clenched tightly enough to drive the blood from her knuckles, "Haru, I am really glad it was me out there and not anyone else on our team." She swallows, her voice catching slightly before she continues. "I-... I want you to know that." The implications are several - that she believes only she could have weathered whatever nightmare she faced in the end, that she couldn't bear the thought of watching any of her friends go through it in her place, that she learned there are far darker things in this world than she ever imagined.

"I think I'm okay. But what I felt, what was said, not just in the words, but the... emotion behind them, it isn't so easy to shake."

She meant it to reassure him, but Athena's claim that she was glad it was her out there very briefly and quite visibly poleaxes Haru, eyes widening and pupils shrinking as the emotional part of his brain spins up all his anxieties and feelings of guilt anew. But thankfully, it all seems to pass, the long breath he exhales after as his features settle back into something like normalcy symbolic of the tension draining out of him. Whether it's due to Athena's words or her calming presence isn't terribly clear. But at least he stops looking like he was on the verge of freaking out.

"I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you could see right to what was worrying me," he says with a rueful smile, folding his hands in front of him on the table and looking down into his clasped fingers. There's another silent moment, the white noise of the surf below sweeping into and out of it just like the real ocean waves creating the sound in the first place. "I, uh... I think Kensou-san had it worse than me," he says, abruptly, blinking his eyes a few times. "I think it took a lot of effort on his part not to leap in there and do something to help." Clearing his throat, Haru swallows, saying no more about that. The implication, though, is clear: he himself was far too terrified to react that way.

Bringing his head up, Athena's teammate's face is twisted into an expression halfway between helpless embarassment and desperate pleading. "I really am glad you're okay. And I didn want to make sure that was the case!" he says, all the words tumbling out too quickly, a hint of 'the lady doth protest too much' despite his sincerity. Pausing, he looks down again before continuing. "But the truth is, when I saw them talking about you being here, and me being close by, I wanted to come here to ask something for myself, too."

His verbal response is met with an upward twitch of her lips, that quiet smile, reserved for solace and support, works its way into her expression so easily. As he shifts some of the focus onto what Kensou was going through at the time, however, her smile fades by a few degrees, her eyes starting to search, shifting around as if studying Haru actively rather than passively paying attention to him as he lowers his own gaze.

"I know." She looks to the side, her smile finally slipping away completely. "I... worry about him though. I don't know how to explain it, but, well, I just feel it is better that he did not have to face what I did directly." She was not oblivious to how the young man had acted in recent months, after all. She was relieved at how he seemed to be /since/, but only time would tell if he was truly over whatever phase he was going through.

When he mentions that there is something else on his mind, her smile returns, hands slipping down to her lap as she leans forward slightly. Maybe she's eager for the topic shift as well as anyone could be. "Sure thing, Haru. Is there something I can help with?"

The question that Haru wants -- needs -- to ask has been burning in his mind for a while now. That much, given the somewhat agonized expression on his face, is abundantly clear. There's a lot of displacement activity going on, too: fidgeting with his fingers, shifting his weight on his chair a little bit. clearing his throat. Things that, if Athena were to reflect on them at all, are actually some of his most common mannerisms. So it probably shouldn't come as too much of a shock when basically, everything comes pouring out of his mouth in one quick, untempered jumble, like the floodwaters finally shattering a broken dam.

He holds up his hands, and around them briefly flares the opalescent white glow of Haru's power -- the color different than Athena's purple, Momoko's bright pink, or Kensou's blue-white, but recognizable all the same. "What IS this?" he asks, finally, trying to meet Athena's gaze, even as the brief flicker of light fades away, its purpose fulfilled. "I mean, I don't... what IS it? Do you know the answer to that?"

There's a brief pause, but before Athena could possibly answer without being the fastest gun in the West, the southern islander babbles onward. "I don't... it was my sixteenth birthday. That's when something... big first happened, though before that there were other things. Dreams and visions and such that I didn't really get. But that was when..."

There's a brief pause, and then Haru shakes his head, stopping himself from following that line of thought. He inhales deeply, holds it, then breathes out very slowly, the most basic of basics in terms of meditation techniques. He's probably very lucky he's not asthmatic. Opening his eyes, he continues. "That story's not that important. Unless you want to hear it. But... everything I know how to do now, I know basically on instinct and guesswork. Before I met you or the others I didn't even know this was a thing other people could do at all. So I just..." He breathes out in frustration, pushing his still-damp bangs out of the way. "Do you know? What this IS?"

The audience for his outpouring of questions and thoughts is silent as Haru rushes through references to events left undescribed and hints of experiences that have made him into the person he is. While it was worded differently, phrasing changing a little here and there, there exists no room for mistaking the core question. The High Schooler seated across from him doesn't answer immediately, her expression gentle, supportive, but also contemplative.

She doesn't seem to have an easy answer to offer; a pithy, prepared response to give that clarifies all the confusion he has possibly felt as far back as he can remember in his life. Sitting up straight, Athena lifts her hands up to the sides of her head, fingers coming to rest on the red hairband clip that keeps her lengthy hair out of her face most of the time. Hesitating for a moment, she pushes up on it to slide it off her head only to hold it in front of her.

The fairly simple looking ornament should look familiar enough - a red hairclip band and a small, golden star situated as to rest over her right ear at all times. He has probably never seen her without it. Even while her costumes shift from venue to venue, even when she changes her hair style from time to time, that hairclip has always been a part of her ensemble for as long as the school's yearbooks can prove.

"I have been using this for..." she hesitates to think a moment, "Well, at least six years now. It is the only thing I still own from the time I first met Kensou and Master Gentsai." She turns the basic object over in her hands as if to study it further, violet eyes staying focused on it for a moment before she glances up again. "Kensou and I met on my way home after school one day - at least, that is how it must have seemed to him at the time. The truth is, I had no home to go to, nor... any idea where I was even supposed to go. If I hadn't encountered such a fast friend that afternoon, I'm not really sure what I would have ended up doing."

Sitting up straight, she places the hairclip on the table next to her glass. "All I know is that from that day forward, I was with people who accepted me, dear friends who wanted to see me grow and who inspired in me a desire to succeed and help them in return. And, perhaps just as important, I was able to learn to control whatever this is," she continues, an idle wave of her hand leaving small, violet motes of fleeting energy that vanishes in the same gesture.

"What is it?" She leans back in her chair, lifting her face to the clouded sky above, "A gift. A burden. A tool. A curse." Taking hold of her hairclip band, Athena closes her eyes, lifting it up over the top of her head, brushing her hair into place and sliding it back to where it was a moment before.

Eyes settle on Haru once more. "I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to answer that question. I asked Master Gentsai once myself, hoping that in his infinite wisdom he would know a way to answer the mystery of my life. Unfortunately, his response was about as useful as the one I can give you." She pauses, her grin working its way back into her expression, "Though in this case, I can assure you it isn't sake doing the talking." In her own case, she might not be quite so sure.

"Instead, he taught me to control it... and promised that as I came to master it, the understanding I sought would follow eventually." A lean of her head, a hint of a shrug with her right shoulder, a warming, self-deprecating grin. "I'm still waiting for that last part, I think."

Haru almost seems... relieved. He certainly appears to feel a bit silly for even asking the question in the first place, though all through the story Athena tells of the history of something so seemingly prosaic as a headband he is rapt, blatantly and undisguisedly surprised to hear that unlike his expectation, Athena didn't come from a perfect home where she learned her powers in peace and quiet. Haru himself has never met Chin Gentsai -- which given the boy's easily-embarassed demeanor is almost certainly a good thing -- but all of a sudden, the connection he felt between Kensou and Athena makes a lot more sense, given context.

"You know," he says at last, as Athena finishes her story. "I was afraid you actually WOULD have an answer. Because if you did I was going to feel really, really stupid. Like I was the only one that didn't know." He gives Athena a lopsided smile. "I guess it sort of makes me happy to know that everyone else is just as in the dark as I am?"

There's a pause, and then Haru makes a face, a sort of... lips pursed, contemplating expression, a held breath puffing his cheeks out ever so slightly, before he continues talking. "You know Towazu-san's mentor? Lady Rose? They say she can see the future." He pauses a second to let Athena get in a confirming or denying nod or the like before continuing. "I can't do that but I can, uh... I can see the past? Sort of. Through other people's eyes, if we touch. That's why I wear gloves all the time, and why I fight with a yoyo... well, part of the reason, anyway." He'll spare poor Athena the explanation about how a family style with the meteor hammer turned into whatever style he uses NOW.

There's a moment of fidgeting, before he continues. "My parents are pretty wealthy. I'm the oldest son and they expected me to take over the company but I, uh... I didn't want to do that. So I was kind of a disappointment to them, haha," he says, a little self-deprecating laugh of his own thrown in to match Athena's from before.

Looking down, drawing idle circles on the tabletop with one finger, Haru forges on. "When I was 16 we had an argument. My dad, he grabbed my arm, and I guess because I was so emotional or whatever, it... triggered my ability. And I saw..."

'He's a screw up. He'll always be a useless dreamer.'
'He gets it from your side of the family.'
'It doesn't matter where it comes from. He's never going to be worth anything the way he is now.'

Swallowing, Haru clears his throat. "I saw him and my mother talking about me. How useless they thought I was. So I got mad and knocked my dad into a wall and ran out of the house." He pauses, then looks up. "I think when the time came for me to start attending Justice, they were happy to get rid of me. But ever since then I've been trying to get a handle on... whatever this 'thisness' is. 'Cause I guess... I don't want to feel the way I did that day again, you know?"

His initial response provokes a soft laugh, the sound almost musical against the somber nature of their present conversation. "No, I'm afraid there are no easy answers on this one. Or if someone has them, they certainly aren't sharing them with us." He brings up the enigmatic Rose and Athena nods in recognition, memories of a truly mind opening SNF against the woman recalled to her thoughts - maybe SNFs aren't all that bad after all.

As he begins to share more about how his unique ability works, how it manifested, and how it has shaped the path his life has taken, Athena is completely quiet, her eyes never leaving him, clearly absorbing every word of what he has to share. He speaks of conflict, of withering disappointment, and of course-changing outbursts of emotion. Her eyes slip down to his hands at the mention of his gloves before returning to focus on his face.

"I think with time, you will be able to control it to the point that you will not need to wear those gloves. I had a similar problem at one time - for me, it's..." she leans back now, lowering her eyes, hands in her lap, "Emotions, thoughts, feelings... all around me. I can feel them and the more there are, or the stronger they're expressed, the louder they get. I had to learn how to block it all out, to make a barrier in my mind." She glances up then, blinking while weighing how much further she wants to speak to before continuing.

"I've had to learn to play dumb at times too, not sure if the empathy and insight I had on others' thoughts were..." One hand lifts from her lap to wave absently, "Well, you know... Normal?"

A faint frown, a soft exhale, a glance to the side as if to confirm the balcony is still empty. "That's not all," she confesses, "I know that it's more than just picking up on them. If I'm not careful, I can..." She swallows, taking her own turn at looking awkward now. "I can, well... I don't know how strongly, exactly, but I believe I can affect how others feel too. I see it even more so in Momoko-chan. I'm not sure she knows how much her presence alone can affect people."

Athena shakes her head, lifting her hand to wave it again as if brushing the expressed concerns aside. "You have a responsibility, to yourself, to control it. But it takes effort, you aren't going to get there on instinct alone. At least," she pauses, catching herself reciting things she, herself was taught, " I've been told." she finishes with a slightly bashful smile. Since when did she become such a know-it-all, she asks herself quietly.

Her expression shifts then, the girl leaning forward, a mien of intense solemnity takes over from the rambling thoughts she was expressing. "It saddens me to think of what you've been through. But you need to know most importantly, you, Haru, are not useless. Like everyone in this world, you have parts about yourself you need to understand more about, and that can only come through time and effort. In that way, you are no more special, no different than everyone else.."

She leans back in her chair slightly, hands clasped together in front of her once more, "No matter what happens in the future, you are a part of this team. And you matter to me." A brief pause. "And someone has to stay on top of all the paperwork." she finishes with an completely serious, assertive nod.

"You know," Haru says, with a bit of helpless laughter, "everyone thinks I'm a sucker for taking on that kind of thing, but between you and me? I kinda like it. It's... soothing? Maybe that's the wrong word." He brings up a hand, fingers upward, palm in, and looks up at the ceiling/sky a bit. " I guess, like, it's something I have control over? Where I know what I'm doing and I feel confident. Kind of like... have you ever woken up late at night and not been able to sleep, so you get the urge to clean your room? I think people get that urge because it lets them feel like they have control over something when they otherwise feel kinda helpless. It's like that."

There's a brief pause, and Haru touches a fingertip to his nose conspiratorily. "Don't tell Kensou-san that."

The silence rolls back in like a heavy fog, with Haru digesting what Athena just told him. It's heavy stuff, that; a lesser person might find Athena's genuine anxiety over the idea that she's subconsciously manipulating people surprising. After all, isn't the ability to make others feel and think what you want the sort of power most people would kill for? But he can tell, the pop singer/fighter/heroine is sharply aware of the consequences of that act. How *scary* doing it could be... and how bad you might start to doubt yourself because of it. Do they like me for 'me'? Or because I want them to?

"I think... you're right about responsibility," he says at last, quietly. Haru's reluctance to use his psychometric abilities is about protecting himself, but... for a fraction of a second he recalls the intense images he saw from Kensou's memory when they had fought, when whatever it was that had Kensou in its grip was still in control. The terror and guilt, among other things... stuff that had felt very real.

But when he leans back in his chair, Haru smiles. A little weakly, but it's still a smile. It's a sign that he's trying. "I'm not gonna say finding out my parents really hate me was so great. But..." He pauses. "I ran away from home that night. And I ran into a Buddhist nun. Weird, right? They're pretty rare in Japan. And for some reason I poured it all out to her. All of it. And she told me that just because my parents had chosen a path for me didn't mean there couldn't be meaning in it."

Tilting his head to the side, Haru's gaze flickers out into the middle distance, where the grey sky meets the cobalt and white of the ocean. "I always wondered what she meant. But you know? If I hadn't decided to go home, I don't know where I'd be right now. I don't know that I'd have met any of you. Something really bad might have happened. Or really good! I don't know. But I guess the point is, even if I got hurt, I guess I can't... feel too bad about it. Because it was what got me here."

His conspiratorial remark is met with a grin, "Our secret," she answers readily enough, seemingly comfortable with easing in and out of the more ponderous thoughts woven throughout their conversation. It is a lot to dwell upon, but a little levity certainly helps make the harder topics more palatable. The things she's discussed with Haru... thoughts she has expressed to no one. As much as she was certain Kensou would do anything to help shoulder whatever burdens she was feeling, she had chosen to keep her worries, her fears, and her challenges to herself. Maybe, in some way, she felt she was doing him a favor by not sharing.

But here and now, on this peaceful ocean side balcony, a different approach felt natural with Haru. Maybe it was because they didn't share the last six years of life together... she could confide in him things that perhaps Kensou would have felt he should have realized on his own.

When he mentions encountering a Buddhist nun, Athena cants her head to the side, clearly curious about where this is going. Her eyes shift away as he continues, still listening, but taking the time to reflect on the significance of what he learned as well. There is a lot to consider... that the worst moments in life can be a gateway to the best. That understanding their significance takes every bit as much effort as controlling the gift they have been burdened with. And that it is possible to recover from even something as what must be agonizing rejection of one's parents.

"You'll never know what you will find at the end of life's many branches, I suppose. All you can do is press on." Her smile returns, "Thank you for sharing... I appreciate the chance to know you better, Haru."

The girl's warm smile fades again, another pensive look taking over, her hands once clasped together in her lap. "There is one last thing. Back in the arena... you should know, in that... that young man I felt there were a horde of psyches. You must have felt that impression as well. But what you might not have felt was how the loud one, at the end, she..." A faint frown, averting her eyes for a moment, before she continues. "She wanted in. It was close. I-... I think I stopped her, I think I kept her out, but..." Another swallow, eyes closing for a moment before opening, her expression softening, some of the tension bleeding out immediately. "Well, what I'm getting at is if I start acting weird, I'm hoping you'll smack me, okay?" she finishes, an uncertain smile taking over. If anything of that apparition's influence got through, what could she even expect Haru to do about it? But at least someone has to be on the lookout for anything amiss!

Haru doesn't have the will to tell Athena that he *didn't* particularly sense individual separate psyches from her weird opponent. Different and stark emotional senses, yes, but he didn't think of them as actual, individual *people*. Just a mark of how far he has yet to go, one supposes. Still, regardless of any of that, Athena's apparent fear is quite genuine, and unenviable besides. He very pointedly doesn't share that he continually feels a presence other than 'himself' inside his own body... and despite that presence being comforting and calm, it's still sometimes unsettling to think that there's something living inside you that *isn't you*, or at least feels separate from you. Rather than giving any of this voice, he just offers a solemn nod. "Okay. I'm sure you'll be fine. But I... we'll ALL be watching out for you and each other. As a team."

For a moment, Haru's mind wanders to Kensou, and the feelings he experienced through their brief but intense psychic rapport. Not for the first time, the southern islander wonders if either of the two has ever spoken to each other about stuff that seems plain as the nose on their faces, to him. Probably not. But secretly, Haru does not envy the fate of any ghost that decided it wanted to hurt Athena Asamiya.

Kensou can get... a little extreme.

"I think I'm going to go. I know you came up here for some peace and quiet, so thanks for letting me intrude on that for a bit," Haru says with a sheepish smile. He really is sorry... but threaded through the genuine feeling of regret at disturbing her solitude is a great sense of relief at the various things she told him. "As soon as I hear something from the tournament organizers, I promise I'll get right in touch with everyone."

There's a leaden pause as Haru gets to his feet and seems about to say something, before changing his mind and sketching a tiny bow from the waist. A somewhat formal goodbye, for friends, but one entirely in character with his personality. As he's about to step away, however, he adds, without turning around: "And, uh... thanks for taking my questions seriously."

"Thank you," answers Athena regarding everyone looking out for each other. It's the heart of the Psycho Soldiers premise - they all have their struggles, they all have their insights, abilities, and backgrounds to bring to the table, and they can all work together to help each other grow. So... why, exactly, are she and Kensou so bad at talking about this stuff?

He expresses his intent to leave and Athena is quiet, looking as if she's debating to bid him to stay or deciding if she prefers the return of quiet solitude. She decides to let him go in the end, "It was no problem, I'm really glad you came by. I..." she searches for the right words, not quite sure how to express what is on her mind in that moment.

"I hope we take the opportunity to talk again like this sometime. I feel like it's too easy to rush through life, so much to do, so many places to go, so many goals to check off... there's never time for moments like this if we don't make the time. I appreciate that at least this once we did."

She finally reaches for her glass of tea, cradling it in her hands, nodding regarding the tournament, reminded of how eager she is to find out what happens next.

At his last comment, her earnest smile returns, "I can promise you that I always will. Take care, Haru."

Watching him go, the driven Psycho Soldier turns to the side, pivoting her chair to give her the ocean view she sought in coming here. On the shore below, the children continue their game of war against the monstrous sea, their peals of laughter a gentle reminder to appreciate the small victories in life.

Log created on 17:31:12 06/11/2016 by Athena, and last modified on 03:16:56 06/14/2016.