Chapter Sixteen

While up to this point this story has been a strong T for Teen rating, at this point it will shift to MATURE, at this point for adult language and content, and later on for so called ‘adult situations’. I don’t recall the exact scoring on FF.Net for that kind of thing, but. . .I’d recommend no one under the age of 18 read this story beyond this point without the consent of a parent or guardian, just to be on the safe side.

Bad

 

Chapter Sixteen
Khota sat and watched as Saeko put a class of young students through their paces. He had told himself at least a half dozen times he wasn’t going to show up, that he would make some excuse on Monday for Takashi to give her, and that would be that.

Yet, at ten minutes until two o’clock he was standing at the door to the Busujima dojo, ringing the buzzer. Saeko answered wearing a gi, smiling when she saw him.

“Hello, Khota-san,” she stepped back for him to enter. “Welcome.”

“Thank you, Saeko-chan,” he bowed slightly, then removed his shoes. “Thank you for having me.” He looked around him, impressed with the place. He’d never actually been in such a place, and said so.

“It is much the same in all of them,” she assured him. “Ours is of course family run, but otherwise you would find the same equipment in most any training facility. Please, have a seat,” she guided him to a padded chair. He saw several youngsters already going through warming exercises or making practice swings with bokken.

“What age are students typically at when they begin learning?” he asked.

“It depends,” she told him, watching over her students even as she spoke. “Most of these students are in their second year. The oldest is twelve, the youngest nine. I would put the average age of our beginner students at around nine to ten,” she guessed. “But we have had students start well into their adult years. And it is a common thing to have teens apply for initial training. Saya and Takashi, for instance.”

“I didn’t know if there was an age bracket or if it was done by skill level,” he mused.

“Both, sometimes, especially for those at this age. It is difficult for one this young to compete with a teenager. Likewise, someone in their thirties or more may find it difficult to compete with a teenager. That is why we try to separate classes by maturity and age as well as skill. Please, excuse me,” she bowed slightly and went to the far side of the mat.

As she worked the students through their training form, Khota could not help but admire her. Morita was right, Saeko was a truly beautiful woman. Khota doubted he’d ever seen her equal, physically. But more than that, she fairly exuded honor and dignity, something that he found incredibly attractive, even more so than her spectacular looks.

What could such a woman possibly want with him? He had asked himself that question at least a dozen times since yesterday, but was no closer to an answer than when he had started. While his parents were quite well off, they were in no way so rich as someone like Saya Takagi’s family. He himself was certainly no prize specimen, despite a growth spurt over the summer and the loss of some of his chubbiness while in America. He was not handsome or charming, like Takashi, or even funny like Morita. There wasn’t a single thing about him that should attract a woman as incredible as Saeko Busujima. Nothing.

Yet she kept glancing his way every so often, always smiling slightly as she did so when she saw him watching her. He knew he wasn’t staring, and her smile wasn’t indulgent or mocking, if he was any judge. Instead it was. . .pleased. She seemed pleased that he was watching her.

That was a new experience for him and he didn’t know how to react. Had no idea what he should do, or say.

HSOTD

Saeko found it a bit difficult to concentrate as she went through the simple forms her students needed for this class, and was grateful that all of them were beginners, so that her inattention didn’t show, and her students weren’t short changed in their training. At this level, Saeko could do the forms literally with her eyes closed and her mind ranging far away.

Which was good considering how often she found herself looking Khota’s way. Almost every time she would find him watching her closely and it pleased her very much.

She had lied to Saya, ever so slightly, when she had said she didn’t know what exactly she saw in him. The simple fact was that the look in his eyes that night at the diner had taken her breath away. In those few seconds, she felt she had seen the real Khota Hirano.

And that man was one who reeked of violence. Of a barely restrained fury bordering on savagery, something that few men she had ever encountered possessed. Those few seconds of seeing Khota’s true self had given her a thrill she had never experienced before.

She had experienced it again, ever so briefly, at the arcade. His snap shot at the beginning was in no way ‘luck’ she was positive. It was simple skill. The question was why he felt the need to hide from her the skill he possessed at a video game. It made no sense to her last night, and it still didn’t this afternoon.

As she neared the end of the first form, she noted that he had not moved at all since taking his seat. He was still and quiet, intent on what was before him. Most would have been moving if only to shift in the seat for more comfort, but Khota hadn’t moved a muscle. Only someone accustomed, or trained to be still for long periods of time would be able to manage that.

It dawned on her as she finished the form that Khota had not been hiding his skill at the game; he had been hiding his skill, period. With a start, she realized that Khota Hirano was likely to be just as proficient with a real firearm as he was with that plastic toy at the arcade.

He had called her ‘warrior’, and did so in a way that implied that he knew how the word was used. How it was really used. He had not been trying to impress her, either. If anything he was going out of his way not to do so. Again, that intrigued her.

Saeko Busujima was not an atypical high school girl. For one thing, her maturity level was far higher than many if not most of the girls she attended school with. Raised in the way of Samurai all her days, she was in no way vain or shallow. Her looks, while she knew they were pleasing, were neither anything she could take credit for, nor something she used. Her body, which she also knew attracted attention, she could take credit for because she worked it hard to stay in shape so that she could do what she loved, but again she was not vain about her appearance. Her body was a weapon, nothing more.

That being said, she was well aware that her looks caused a stir among men, and some of them far older than her. Far older than modern social norms would find acceptable even, considering she was still in high school. Men and boys were continually working to impress her with their qualities. Men who wanted to be close to her, and she was under no illusions as to what they were really after in most cases.

She was not impressed with anyone who noticed her looks and nothing else. She was equally unimpressed with anyone who fawned over her abilities. Had she not been born to the family she was, she might never have learned the sword to start with and been simply another girl at Fujimi High.

What she was impressed with was someone who knew exactly what they were capable of and felt no need whatsoever to prove it. Someone who was secure enough in themselves that they saw no need to brag, gloat, crow or prance about seeking attention.

In Khota Hirano, she was convinced she had found such a man.

Saeko hid a somewhat dark secret of her own, just as Khota seemed to do. While he had not offered to deny his demons, neither had he pressed her about her own. He was. . .content.

That was it. Khota was content. He was who he was, he knew who that was, and he was okay with it. He had come to grips with something dark within himself and. . .accepted it.

Perhaps he could do the same for her?

HSOTD

The last of the students departed finally, picked up by doting mothers and, in one case, a father who showed far too much interest in his son’s teacher. Khota noted that Saeko dealt with him easily, blunting his attention with information about his child’s accomplishments as she shuffled him out the door.

Well done.

“Are you in a hurry?” Saeko asked, suddenly standing before him. He realized he’d been ‘gathering wool’, as his American friends would have called it.

“Not especially, no,” he admitted, and immediately wondered why.

“I usually run through my own forms after this class each week,” she semi-apologized. “I can skip it if you like,” she offered. What she really wanted, though, was for him to watch her.

“Please don’t,” he told her. “I would be honored to see it.”

“Arigato,” she bowed slightly. He was surprised when she replaced her wooden training sword with the real thing before taking her place in the center of the dojo. He watched her go into her stance and then. . . .

She exploded into motion, her arms making the blade dance in the air around her. Twirls, swirls, slashes, parries, leaps and twists, multiple blows against invisible targets, she was a blur of motion, never slowing, never stopping. Her long, lustrous hair flowed behind her like a halo of blue and black as she moved with the same fluid grace he had seen in her ordinary movements and again in her competition.

The look on her face was one of intense concentration as she moved from one flurry of motion into the next. Khota did not recognize the moves, had no knowledge of the blade itself outside a few historical points, but he knew intensity when he saw it.

Saeko Busujima was intense. Her focus was similar to a laser beam that was locked into its target. Never wavering, never hesitating, never slowing.

Suddenly, she stopped, sword at her side, eyes locked to her front. He looked at her still form, chest heaving from exertion, eyes still showing that all too familiar glow that he would know anywhere. As she calmed, she turned to the front of the dojo and bowed, then returned the blade to its stand before turning back to him.

He was on his feet staring at her intently. He had never seen, never imagined anything like that in his entire life.

“That was incredible,” he said simply, his voice ringing with the sincerity of his statement. “To say I’ve never seen anything like it is an understatement. Saeko, you are amazing.”

She felt her face heat as she bowed to him, hands at her side to keep her from having to find them something to do.

“Thank you, Khota-san.”

“How long have you been doing that?” he asked her.

“That particular form I have known and worked for over two years,” she replied, her breathing now under control. “There are others, of course.”

“Incredible,” he shook his head again. “Thank you for allowing me to witness such a thing,” he bowed deeply. “You honor me.”

“Thank you for your patience,” she replied. “It is never a good thing for me to skip my own workouts. Aside from the loss of ability it can cause, it invariably leaves me sore the next day. That is especially true after a tournament.” She moved to where he was standing.

“May I offer you tea?” she asked.

“That would be agreeable,” he nodded.

“Please, come with me,” she invited.

HSOTD

“So you made him tea?” Saya asked later that night as she and Saeko spoke on the phone.

“Yes,” the older girl replied. “He was a most agreeable guest, Saya.”

“It sounds like it,” she agreed. “I’m glad it went well. Do you think you’ll spend more time with him?”

“I can’t say,” Saeko answered. “I’d like to,” she admitted. “I would like to know him better.”

“I can have Takashi talk to him,” Saya offered. “Not like setting you up or anything, but sort of sounding him out like. To see if he would be interested. Like if he’d enjoy going out with you. You could go to the arcade!” she exclaimed.

“No, I don’t think he would want that,” Saeko replied. “And I would rather do something more mundane, I believe. Perhaps carry him to the Museum of Edged Weapons, for example. Khota does have a love of weaponry, as do I. I believe it would be a good place for us to spend time together.”

“Then I’ll make Takashi see if he’d be interested in going to the museum!” Saya offered.

“I. . .I would be amenable to that,” Saeko sounded almost hesitant. “But. . .there is the chance he will not,” she sighed.

“What?” Saya couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Saeko, any boy would be bowled over by the chance just to take you to the grocery store,” she snorted. “He’ll do it,” she predicted.

“I will look forward to it, then.”

HSOTD

“No, I’ve never been,” Khota shook his head as he and Takashi walked down the hall at school. “Why?”

“Wee-ellll,” Takashi drew the word out. “Saya was talking to Saeko yesterday and she mentioned she would like to go, and Saya just thought-”

“That I should take her,” Khota finished for him, frowning.

“Yep,” Takashi grinned. “I think Saeko really likes you, Khota. You should do it.”

“I don’t know,” Khota sighed. “I mean, it’s not that she’s not awesome, because she is. But . . . Takashi, look at me, man. Why would she really be interested in me?”

“Have you seen yourself dude?” Takashi asked him, looking back at him. “Seriously Khota, you came back from America a changed man.”

“What’s that mean?” Khota’s voice was suddenly edgy.

“Just what I said,” Takashi missed the edge to his friend’s voice. “You’re at least three inches taller and twenty or more pounds lighter, you got a tan, you dress differently now and. . .well, you’re kind of a bad ass, Khota,” he grinned. “And it’s not just the diner, either. The way you carry yourself, the way you walk and act and talk, it practically screams ‘don’t fuck with me’, you know?”

“That’s. . .I’m not. . .I don’t mean to do that,” Khota told him. “I shouldn’t be doing it,” he added quietly.

“Maybe, but people notice, bro,” Takashi shrugged. “Girls are constantly giving you the eye and a few of the guys probably hate you for that alone,” he laughed.

“And they’ll all be my friends again when they learn I took Busujima-senpai on a date, right?” Khota’s voice was heavy with sarcasm.

“Why do you give a shit what they think?” Takashi looked puzzled. Khota looked at him, but then Takashi could see a light come on somewhere.

“Well, to be honest,” he admitted finally. “I don’t.”

“Well, there ya go then,” Takashi nodded, as if that settled everything. “I have it on good authority if you were to invite Saeko to accompany you to the Museum of Edged Weapons, followed by dinner, she would accept.”

“I’d have to know what day, or night, she was free, and-”

“This Saturday, and any Tuesday after five,” Takashi provided helpfully. “Museum’s open until eight on Saturday and six week nights. Her favorite food is-”

Which was how Takashi set his best friend up on a date with his girlfriend’s best friend. Who just happened to be one of the most attractive and lusted after girls in all of Fujimi, if not the city of Tokonosu.

HSOTD

Khota arrived at the Busujima household at two in the afternoon that Saturday. He had spoken to Saeko after school that very day and asked her if she would like to visit the museum and perhaps have dinner, to which she had smiled and said ‘yes’.

Thus he stood at her door with a small bouquet of flowers. When the door opened, he found himself face to face with a stocky, broad shouldered man who looked as if he ate nails for breakfast.

“Yes?” the deep baritone wasn’t a surprise.

“My name is Khota Hirano,” he bowed slightly. “I am here to call upon Saeko Busujima, Dono,” he spoke respectfully.

“Ah, yes,” the man’s face showed recognition. “Please, come in.” The man stepped back to allow Khota entry.

“I am Saeko’s father, Kage,” he said as Khota came inside.

“Ah, yes sir,” Khota smiled slightly. “I doubt anyone would not know who you are, Busujima-dono. It is an honor to meet you,” he bowed again, deeper this time.

“Well, that is very polite of you to say,” Kage smiled. “Where is it you are taking my daughter, Hirano-san?”

“To the Museum of Edged Weapons, father,” Saeko’s voice came from somewhere in the house out of sight. “And then to dinner.” She appeared in the doorway off the living room and Khota felt his breath catch.

He had known that she was beautiful, but he had never seen Saeko ‘made up to go out’, as Saya would have called it.

Wearing a simple black skirt with a white blouse and knee high black leather boots, Saeko Busujima was a nose bleed waiting to happen. Her long and lustrous hair was tied behind her head in a single tail that left strands to either side free to trail down her front. Khota couldn’t see even a hint of make-up outside the faintest trace of blue eye-shadow and the same hint of red lipstick.

“Hello, Khota-san,” she bowed slightly.

“Good afternoon, Saeko-chan,” he returned the bow. “I hope these are to your liking,” he said, as he offered her the flowers.

“They are very pretty,” she smiled brightly, taking them. “Please allow me to put them in water,” she said, disappearing into what he assumed was the kitchen.

“I am glad to meet you, Hirano-san,” Kage said as they waited. “Two of my students, Takashi and Saya, have spoken very well of you. I understand you are quite adept at hand-to-hand combat.” His eyebrows rose.

“Ah, I assume you are referring to the diner incident,” he said quietly.

“Oh no!” Kage showed mock surprise. “I was talking about your skill at killing aliens!”

Khota looked at him for a moment before laughing aloud, joined by Saeko’s father.

“And yes, I heard about the diner,” the older man nodded. “I am reliably informed that it was well executed.”

“Ah, it was over in a few seconds, Dono,” Khota shrugged.

“All well executed battles are,” Kage nodded sagely. “I look forward to talking to you again, Hirano-san,” he said as Saeko returned.

“Go safely, daughter, and enjoy your time,” he told Saeko. “And you, young man,” he turned more serious. “To you I commit the safety of my pride and joy. Let no harm befall her.”

“Father,” Saeko turned beet red at that, but Khota merely nodded.

“I will not.”

HSOTD

“Sorry about my father,” Saeko said once they were outside. “You hired a cab?” she asked, seeing the taxi waiting.

“Don’t be. I like him. And yes,” he nodded. “We don’t have to use it, but the Museum is across town, and I thought this would allow us to get there earlier. We can use the bus or train to return of course, if you prefer.”

“I don’t mind the taxi, Khota,” she shook her head. “I was thinking of the expense.”

“It’s not that much,” Khota shook his head.

HSOTD

“That was enlightening,” Khota said as the two emerged from the Museum some time later. “I have to confess, Saeko, until recently I’ve never given this type of weaponry much attention. I can see that was a mistake. I didn’t realize there were so many different styles just of swords.”

“Indeed,” Saeko nodded, pleased that the visit had been of interest.

“Why are there so many of them?” he asked. “Is it regional, or period or something like that?”

“To some extent that plays a part,” she nodded, falling into the subject with the ease of long study. “But the blades also each serve a different purpose, at least in some cases. Take the combination of Katana and Washizaki, for instance. . . .”

On the train ride back to their part of town, Khota learned a great deal about swords. By the time they reached the restaurant he had chosen, he had learned even more.

“Oh,” Saeko stopped suddenly, seeing the place. “I. . .this is one of my favorite places!” she told him.

“So I am informed,” Khota smiled, opening the door for her. “My Lady,” he waved her inside.

“Khota, this place requires-”

“A reservation,” he nodded. “We have one.”

“We do?” she asked, smiling as she walked past him to enter.

“We do indeed, My Lady Saeko.”

HSOTD

They walked to her house in the end. They pretended it was to walk off the ridiculous meal they had eaten, but the truth was that both had decided they wanted the evening to last as long as possible without seeming to be trying to make it last longer.

“What did you do while you were in America, Khota?” Saeko asked as they strolled along.

“Ah, I looked into some training and education opportunities,” he wasn’t quite evasive but she could tell he wasn’t really interested in talking about it. “I also took some independent study while I was there. I had been there before, during last year’s summer break.”

“Really?”

“It was easier the second time around,” he shrugged. “I already knew people there this time, and I knew the language. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever even told Takashi that,” he admitted.

“I will not speak of it,” she promised.

“I’m not concerned about it,” he told her. “I just hadn’t thought of it, that’s all.”

“Do I make you uncomfortable, Khota-san?” she asked suddenly.

“Why do you ask?”

“Because on occasion you seem to be so,” she replied.

“I’m not,” he assured her. “If I seem so, then I apologize. The truth is, I enjoy your company very much,” he admitted, kicking himself the entire time.

“I do yours as well,” she smiled.

“May I be so forward as to ask why?” Khota looked at her.

“Why I enjoy your company?” she looked puzzled.

“Yes.”

“I like you,” she said simply. “You aren’t. . .fake,” she settled for saying. “You are who and what you are, and you are comfortable with that, if not completely accepting. You have a side of you that is guarded, hidden, but I don’t think that’s because you are ashamed. It’s simply not something you feel the need to show. To put it simply, Khota-kun, you impress me. And not to be vain, but that is not easy to do.”

“No, I would imagine it isn’t,” he agreed. “I am flattered you think so highly of me, Saeko-chan,” he smiled. “You do not make me uncomfortable. I make me uncomfortable. I am sorry if that made you think it was because of you. I swear to you that nothing is further from the case. I find you to be as fascinating as you are beautiful and deadly.”

“A strange combination to make note of,” she said softly.

“And now it is I who make you uncomfortable, or have offended,” Khota sighed. “I meant it as a compliment, Saeko-chan, I swear. You are the very definition of grace and power. To watch you move with your sword is like nothing I have ever seen. It is a thing of rare beauty to look upon and to be honest it takes my breath away.” He cursed his own weakness as he had to continue, having started.

“I don’t need to tell you that you are beautiful. You have eyes of your own, and I’m sure you’ve heard it before, yet I would be remiss not to say it because it’s true. But you are what fascinates me, Saeko-chan. Not your beauty or even your blade to be honest, though you are nothing short of amazing. You exude grace and power, honor and integrity and I must admit to you that I find that combination extremely attractive.”

Saeko said nothing at first, her gaze focused on the ground a few feet ahead of her. They were passing a park and suddenly she stopped, spying a bench nearby.

“Would you sit with me?” she asked, offering him her hand.

“Of course.” He took her hand in his and followed her to the bench, where he removed his jacket for her to sit upon.

“I must tell you something,” she said softly after a few minutes. “Before I do, I must admit that I like you very much. You intrigue me. You will know why, perhaps, when I am done.” She looked away, focusing on a tree a few feet away.

“When I was thirteen, I was attacked on my way home from a practice one evening,” she said calmly, and fought to hide her wince as she felt his hand tighten. Would he reject her already? When he didn’t speak, she continued.

“There had been a man lurking nearby for some time, and other girls had been attacked before me. I. . .I saw him, watching me from the alley, Khota-kun. I knew he was there, watching me. Following me. So I let him. I walked slower than usual, and I might have put a bit more sway in my hips than would be considered lady like.” She finally looked at him.

“I baited him,” she admitted, and waited for Khota to judge her. Instead she saw nothing but patience.

“I baited him, and acted the distressed female when he struck. I had my bokken and I knew I could take him, and. . .when I knew he was committed and about to violate me, I struck. I hurt him very badly, Khota-kun. I. . .I think had someone not screamed at the sight, I might very well have killed him.”

“He deserved it,” Khota said simply and Saeko felt her heart soar at those three simple words. Had she been right about him after all?

“The thing is, I. . .I enjoyed doing it, Khota,” she finally admitted her real demon to him. “I enjoyed the thrill of the hunt, of the combat, and I enjoyed hurting him. Yes, he had it coming, but. . .I enjoyed it. I reveled in it, and I would do it again in a second if I thought I could get away with it!” she had grown noticeably louder as she spoke, and suddenly she stopped.

“I see,” he nodded when she didn’t resume speaking. “Well,” he sighed a bit, “I guess if we’re baring our souls tonight, that makes it my turn.”

“You do no-” she began but he shook his head.

“You saw me,” he said simply. “At the diner, you saw me when I was still . . . engaged, for lack of a better word.”

“Oh yes,” she almost whispered.

“Well, that is a part of what makes me uncomfortable,” he told her. “See, when I went to America the first time, it was to take an advanced firearms training course. The kind you can literally only get there. Firearms aren’t feared there as they are in Japan, being literally a part of their culture. I studied for most of two months at a school run by a former commando. I did extremely well.”

“He invited me to return this year, this past summer I mean, to take a more advanced course. One that included other subjects than just the firearms. My parents are always gone, and there was no reason to stay here, so I went.” He paused for a moment.

“I told you I made friends the first year,” he went on after the pause. “One of them was the instructor, the owner actually, and his family, including his son and daughter. Lovely girl, a little more than two years younger than me. Never saw her without a smile.”

“When I returned this last summer, I got there the night after she had been attacked, just like the man who was trying to attack you. Only this was three men, in a parking lot. She survived, but. . .the delicate flower that I had known the year before was crushed.”

“I have been, or at least had been, bullied much of my life,” he told her. “You asked why you’d never seen me, noticed me before? I wasn’t lying when I told you I wasn’t really noticeable. I’m not the guy who gets noticed except when he’s being bullied. Or at least I wasn’t before.”

“Over the summer I took a training course designed by former special forces soldiers. I passed. The physical part was tough on me and without the motivation of what had happened to Briana I doubt I would have been able to do it, but I did. I stuck it out and I finished it.”

“Brian, her brother, is two years older than I am. He is as tough as shoe leather, the Americans would say. Once I finished, he and I. . .we spent nine days hunting down the three men who attacked his sister. We took them, one by one, and we made them suffer. When I say suffer, please understand that I do not exaggerate,” he looked her in the eye, returning the respect she had given him.

“We carried them into the desert. It’s a quiet place at night, the desert,” he mused. “You can hear something for miles if the conditions are right, but you’ll never know exactly where it is. What direction it’s coming from. Including the screams of a man who is terrorized and in great pain. And one thing I now know very well is how to hurt someone.”

“It’s strange, really,” his voice sounded ‘away’, and Saeko realized that Khota was in the desert again, in his mind. “When it stops, it’s almost deafening.”

“So, yes,” he seemed to come out of a trance suddenly. “I make me uncomfortable. Not because I did it, but because I liked it. I enjoyed it. Reveled in it, as you put it. I did it, and I would do it again without a thought, and will if the need arises.”

“Something broke inside me when I saw what had happened to her,” he admitted. “Don’t misunderstand, it wasn’t as if I had a crush on her. She was just. . .a beautiful child that was a joy to be around, especially for someone like me who is constantly and continuously alone. Always happy, always smiling, always with a kind word. And her brother and her father are my friends. I don’t have many friends. Could and can count them on one hand for the most part.”

“Whatever broke within me, it stayed that way. I suppose it will always be like that. That dark and primal. . .thing, within me. That’s what you saw in the diner. He did the worst possible thing he could have done when he made that particular threat, because that’s what broke me. I suppose it became a trigger of sorts.”

“So if you expect me to think less of you for what you did, Saeko Busujima, you’ve got the wrong man,” he sighed, looking away from her and into the ground.

“And that’s why I said I’m not fit to be around someone like you. I’m not fit company for any one, really. I didn’t mean to be like this. I guess years of bullying and tormenting and isolation coupled with the shock of what happened to. . .I don’t know exactly what caused it, and to be honest I don’t care. I don’t care about much of anything anymore. For all I know, I was born this way. Many people are,” he looked back at her again, almost smiling. She had noted that when he smiled, nice as it might be, it never quite reached his eyes.

“You’re right. I do accept what and who I am now. I’m not ashamed of what I did in America, or the diner, or of what I might do tomorrow in the same situation. And I know I should be. I know that what I’ve done should haunt me, but it doesn’t.”

“What does haunt me is that I’ll do it when it isn’t called for. That I’ll hurt someone who doesn’t have it coming. And thanks to the training I’ve done the last two years, I can do it without much trouble.”

Neither spoke for a minute or more, simply sitting in the silence. Finally, Saeko broke the silence.

“We are the same, you and I,” she said simply. “What I saw in you that night, I knew what it was, because I’ve seen it in me. I knew right away. And then, it was like you shut it off. Just flipped a switch and turned it off. Smiled, even.” She gave him a small smile then. “And oh, at that moment, Khota Hirano, I knew that I had found someone who might understand me. Even accept me, damaged as I am.”

“Accept you?” Khota raised an eyebrow at that. “What about me, Saeko? After hearing all that? Doesn’t that give you pause at all?”

“Why did you attack that man in the diner?” she asked him. “If you knew who I was, then you knew I could protect myself. Yet you did it anyway. Why?”

“He called you a whore, and threatened to. . .to attack you and Saya,” Khota told her.

“Would you ever attack me like that, Khota?” she asked him plainly. “Like you did him, I mean?” she clarified, so there was no misunderstanding.

“No,” he didn’t take offense at the question. “No, I wouldn’t do that. I couldn’t do it.”

“And that is why it does not give me pause to do this,” she said and leaned forward, kissing him squarely on the lips.