Saeko awoke to her phone ringing, the tone telling her it was Saya. For a second she didn’t know where she was, but then she remembered and a slow smile came to her.
She was laying atop Khota Hirano, in his bed, wearing a black tee shirt that hung mid-thigh on her. A silver etched cat’s head was on the back, with the letters CAT on the front.
She eased from under the blanket that had covered them and grabbed her phone, moving into the hall and closing the door behind her so Khota wouldn’t wake.
“Yes?” she answered.
“Hey!” Saya’s voice boomed out of the phone. “How are you? How’s Khota?”
“He’s sleeping,” she replied without thinking, then froze.
“‘He’s sleeping’?” Saya sounded stunned. “Wha-, where the hell are you?!” she demanded excitedly.
“I’m standing in the hall outside his bedroom door,” Saeko sighed. “Wearing one of his tee shirts and a smile,” she decided to add. Might as well get Saya good and tore up in return for waking her.
“NO SHIT?!?” Saya almost screamed as Saeko held the phone away from her ear.
“None at all,” she answered, trying to get the ringing in her ears to stop. “I stayed here last night. Slept in his bed. On top of him,” she needled just a bit.
“Wow,” Saya finally managed. “What, uh. . .I mean, you know, if you want to. . .you know. . .tell me about it. . .I mean. . .that’s what sisters are for, right!”
“Saya, I’ve told you everything that happened,” Saeko laughed throatily. “That’s all there was to it. Neither of us are ready for more than that, just so you know. But yesterday was hard on both of us, for different reasons. I thought it was best if I stayed here.”
“Aw,” Saya’s innate smart ass-ness returned as she realized that her best friend had not, in fact, had sex before she had. “That’s sweet.”
“This is why I don’t tell you things,” Saeko sighed again.
“Fine, fine,” Saya said. “So how is he doing, other than sleeping? For that matter, how are you doing? And oh my GOD, how about you standing up to Minami yesterday! That was so awesome!”
“I think he will be okay, and if he is then I will be too,” Saeko assured her. “And I don’t see it as me standing up to Minami, but standing up for Khota. She was about to push him into a corner he would have fought his way out of, and that would be. . .bad.”
“Yeah,” Saya agreed. “I’m sorry we introduced him to her now,” she admitted. “I really thought she would at least talk serious to him. Instead she treated him like an idiot, and then gets mad when he makes her look like one instead.”
“Yes,” Saeko agreed. “He had asked me to go so that I could see him demonstrate his skill,” she explained. “He watched me going through my sword forms when we first got together and was. . .he liked it,” she settled for saying. “He called this ‘returning the favor’.”
“He shocked us both, that’s for sure,” Saya agreed. “I mean, damn. I knew he had some moves after what happened at the diner, but after yesterday. . .that boy’s dangerous!”
You have no idea, Saeko thought with a smile.
“Yes, I suppose he is,” she said aloud.
“Hey, I meant that in a good way,” Saya said defensively. “I promise.”
“I know you did,” Saeko assured her. “It’s not a problem. Now, I need to go. I’m going to go and steal one of his other shirts to carry home with me and sleep in before he wakes up. I quite enjoy this.”
“Really?” Saya sounded interested. “Hm. I’m going to have to look into that.”
Khota changed after that. Not a great deal, and it was only noticeable to Saeko and eventually to Takashi and Saya, and finally to Morita, but he did. He was a bit loser, a bit more relaxed.
He revealed that Sergeant Minami had tried twice to call him, but that he was no longer interested in speaking to her. Saeko encouraged him to do what felt best for him, while Takashi told him he should at least let her apologize, assuming that was what she was doing.
Saya thought he should answer and tell her to go to hell.
But he did neither. Instead he simply ignored her. And got on with his life, finally.
He and Saeko went out once a week at least. He went to Saeko’s matches, usually with Takashi and Saya, and whenever he was home with Kage. More and more the Busijima swordmaster was on the road, but he tried to make it home as often as he could when Saeko was competing.
And he rather enjoyed the time with his daughter’s boyfriend.
“He is a very intense young man,” he told Saeko one night after Khota had left for home. He had come to watch her practice, and then stayed for supper.
“Yes, he is,” she agreed, wiping down the table.
“His eyes are. . .telling,” Kage said neutrally, and Saeko missed a step.
“What are they telling you, father?” she asked him respectfully.
“Daughter, I know that you care deeply for this young man,” he began.
“I already know,” she told him softly. Her father was silent for a moment.
“I see,” he finally said. “And?”
“When he did what he did at the diner, it was because one of the thugs threatened me sexually and called me a whore,” she told him flatly, and watched her father’s eyes grow frosty.
“In America, a friend of his. . .his sister was similarly attacked, by three men, only no one was there to defend her. She was traumatized, and may or may not fully recover.” She sat down. “Khota and her brother hunted them down. He bears a scar all the way down his front,” she motioned on herself where Khota’s scar lay, “from one of them.”
“He told me all this freely, after I told him about. . .about my own. . .issues,” she looked down slightly. “I expected him to have nothing else to do with me once he heard but. . .instead he shared with me what it is that haunts him.”
“That he killed three men?” Kage asked.
“That, he does not regret,” she told him. “They were vermin who attacked a child. He would do it again under those or similar circumstances I feel certain. He almost did so at the diner, in fact, because of. . well. But because of that and other factors, he feels he is. . .broken, is his word. Damaged. Unworthy.”
“I see,” Kage’s eyes were beginning to take on a different look. One of understanding.
“What haunts him is that he might hurt someone who doesn’t deserve it,” she continued. “He has been very highly trained over the past two summers. I have seen him in action and to call him dangerous is somewhat of an understatement. But I’ve seen him walk away from someone who rightly deserved his wrath, father. He just turned and walked away because he recognized it simply wasn’t worth it.”
“A man with nothing to prove,” Kage rumbled, more to himself than to her, his tone approving. Satisfied.
“Exactly,” she nodded firmly. “Nothing at all. To anyone. And he knows it. He is aware of his. . .he is self-aware, you would call it. He. . .he may well possess the other half of me,” she admitted. “He is special.”
“Indeed,” Kage’s eyebrows rose. “Very well, daughter,” he said after another minute. “So long as you are aware. I myself like Khota-kun very much. And, I trust your judgment.”
“Thank you, father.”
“My father knows.”
Saeko spoke the words carefully as the two of them sat in Khota’s basement, where he was showing her how to throw a knife. He looked at her, knife hanging at his side.
“Knows what?” he asked.
“He knows about. . .about your scar,” she tried again. “How you got it,” she clarified. Khota’s eyes narrowed for the briefest second, then cleared again.
“He deserves to know,” he said. “I should have told him. Owned up to it.”
“I didn’t tell him, either,” Saeko shook her head. “At least. . .that is, I provided details after. . .” she sighed in frustration. This was not going well.
“Take a deep breath,” Khota coached, watching her. She did, feeling foolish.
“Hold it for a count of four,” he ordered before she could exhale. Her jaws bulged but she did it.
“Now exhale it all in that same four count,” he told her, and she blew the air out in a rush.
“Better?” he asked. She sat for a second and then nodded.
“Now,” he said, kneeling in front of her. “Go ahead.”
“He was trying to talk to me about you,” she said slowly. “He was going to warn me that he could see something in you. In your eyes.”
“There’s nothing in my eyes but some green pigment,” he smiled, but she could see that it never reached those same eyes. It never did.
“Khota, my father is not just any man,” she gave him a look of fond exasperation. “And you try so very hard not to show it, but you absolutely reek of violence to someone who knows what it looks like, my love.”
“I. . .I’m sorry,” he apologized. “I really don’t mean to,” he told her. “I try not to.”
“I know,” she placed a hand on his cheek. “And somehow that just makes it seem worse,” she smiled. “At least to those who can see. And Khota, you knew that I could see you, remember?”
“Where do you think I learned?” she asked plainly. “My father can look at you and tell what you are. He was not judging, nor was he trying to interfere in our relationship. He merely wanted to make sure that I knew. And since he mentioned it, I told him,” she admitted.
“Like I said, he deserves to know,” Khota nodded, standing. “I should have already done it. It would have been the honorable thing to do. I’m sorry you had to do it.”
“I didn’t have to, I merely wanted him to know that I was aware. My father actually likes you very much, Khota. He’s known for some time that you were, different, lets call it,” she smiled. “His last words to me on the subject were ‘I trust your judgment, daughter’,” she tried to frown as Kage would and deepen her voice, the result of which was very funny and Khota laughed.
“Well, if the father is on my side, I guess I’m okay,” he said finally. “Want to quit?” he asked her, tossing the knife in his hand at the target board without looking. It sank deep into the board, fifteen feet away.
“I would like to do something else,” she nodded hesitantly. Almost timidly.
“If this is bothering you we never. . .I mean you said you wanted to see or I wouldn’t. . .” Khota began stammering and she silenced him with a finger to his lips.
“Can you teach me to shoot?”
“Dude, can you believe it’s already winter break?” Morita looked excited.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Khota nodded. “My parents might even be home, who knows?”
“That’s great, Khota!” Takashi patted his friend’s back.
Khota’s parents were home, for a combined total of ten days. His mother was then off to America to a showing in New York, his father to South Africa for a meeting with a diamond cartel.
Both were able to meet Saeko finally. His mother fell in love with her instantly, taking her into her office to see and try on new designs.
His father took one look at her and then winked at his son and mouthed ‘good job’.
Neither noticed that their son was different. Neither ever asked if he was okay.
Saeko thought her heart would break when Khota watched his father get on a plane, his mother already gone, and turned to her and said “thank God they’re gone”. It wasn’t that he didn’t love them she realized. It was that the two of them came home a few days every two or three months and pretended they were a family, then were gone again. Neither gave any thought as to what this did to their son. They provided him with money and comfort and felt that was enough.
It drew her closer to him in the end, and he grasped her like a life line. A drowning man holding on for dear life. She was his life preserver. She kept him afloat.
He did the same for her. They helped each other.
The way it should be.
Afterward Khota had taken her to eat and then walked her home. At her door that night he looked her in the eyes and for the very first time said something she had longed to hear.
“I love you.”
He smiled after he said it, and again for the very first time, she saw that smile reach his eyes. They might not smile at anyone else, but she didn’t care so long as they smiled for her.
“This can’t be safe.”
Saeko was holding a small pistol in her hands. There were once more in Khota’s basement, where she had been learning to disassemble and reassemble that same weapon, one he now called ‘hers’. She had become proficient at it.
Next had come a small ‘bullet’ laser, placed in the pistol’s chamber. With it, she could practice aiming and firing, the laser showing where she would have hit had she been shooting.
There was nowhere for them to go that they could actually let her shoot, so this was the closest he could get. Despite that drawback, she felt confident in her ability to handle the handgun at this point.
But she’d never actually fired a live round.
“There’s no projectile,” he told her. “I removed them and replaced them with wadding and a bit of wax. You can fire the pistol and feel the recoil of the shot this way, and not worry about where the bullet goes. And no one will be the wiser.”
“This isn’t really legal, is it?” she said more than asked, eyebrow raised.
“Very little of anything in this house that’s mine is legal,” he freely admitted. “I’m a very bad man I’m afraid.” She leaned toward him and captured his lips for a second with her own before smiling.
“Yes, I’ve seen that, myself,” she agreed. “So,” she took a deep breath.
“No reason to be nervous, it’s just like you’ve been doing, only this time it will have some recoil, and it will be louder.” He checked her glasses and hearing protection then stood behind her, watching over her shoulder. She was very conscious of his presence as she took aim.
“Remember,” his voice was barely audible. “Squeeze the trigger. It should surprise you.”
“You handled that very well,” he complimented.
“I had a very bad man who was a very good teacher,” she teased and he laughed.
“Go ahead and shoot the rest,” he told her.
And so it was that the second national ranking kendo student in all of Japan learned to shoot. In her boyfriend’s basement.
Valentines Day came and Fujimi was in an uproar. Girls ran in every direction, carrying chocolate boxes and cards, laughing and red faced.
Saya of course presented Takashi with a box of chocolate in the hallway outside their first class of the day.
“Please accept my feelings with these chocolates, my wonderful baka,” she smiled as she presented him an ornate box from the same place he had bought her first chocolate. A gleam in his eyes, he opened it to find a truffle. A single truffle. Smiling, he took the precious candy from the box and held it out to her.
Her eyes alight, she leaned forward and took half of the truffle in one bite, then took his hand in hers and guided the rest to his mouth. Without thinking, she then leaned forward and kissed him in the hallway.
They broke apart to cheers and catcalls from the other students, Saya hiding her red face in Takashi’s bulk. But she was smiling.
Saeko was a bit more patient, and found her ‘target’ at lunch time. He was sitting on the plaza with Takashi and Morita, Takagi being in the library. Talk died down on the plaza as people saw her walking toward him. It was of course known that they dated, and that they spent a great deal of time together, but. . .both were very private people so that was about all anyone knew.
Seeing Saeko with a box of chocolate on Valentine’s Day. . .well. That was pretty open.
She stopped in front of him, and Khota stood as soon as he realized she was there. She smiled at him, her face beautiful with a tiny blush.
“Khota, dearest man to my heart,” she whispered. “Please accept my feelings, along with these chocolates.”
“You honor me,” he told her softly, accepting the box and bowing at the waist until his back was horizontal. As he rose, he captured her hand in his, kissing the back.
Without another word she turned and left, her message sent.
Morita got a box from Hitomi, and Saya had to threaten him before he’d stop talking about it and sit down. Takashi had never seen him so happy.
Rei had presented Hisashi with chocolates, but she kept her eyes on Takashi through most of the day. Hisashi knew she had a second box of candy, and he hoped it was for him, but. . .he was pretty sure he knew who it was for.
But she never got the chance to deliver it as Saya stayed between the two of them any time Rei was near by, often glaring at her when she came too close. Rei was furious, but managed to contain it rather than lash out.
Hisashi decided he now knew roughly how Takashi had felt.
Rika Minami had tried several times to contact Hirano, without success. The more she played over what had happened in her mind, the worse she felt. She had been arrogant and condescending, then gotten mad when she was shown up.
She had probably cost the police service a good recruit. She had almost certainly cost herself some good, if young, friends.
“Shit,” she sighed, moving on through traffic. She couldn’t fix it if she couldn’t get him to talk to her. Maybe she should just write them all off and forget it.
“Is America actually like that?”
Saya was looking at Khota as the four of them, her and Takashi and Saeko and Khota, watched the end credits for the last episode of Walking Dead, Season 1. They were sitting in the game room of Takagi Manor, basically having a double ‘home date’.
“What do you mean?” Khota asked. He was laying across the sofa he shared with Saeko, head in her lap as she played idly with his hair.
“So many guns and so many people who know how to use them,” Saya specified. “I mean, if something like this happened here, very few people would actually have firearms, right? I know the few of my father’s people who carry firearms have to go through strenuous issues to be granted a permit.”
“Pretty much,” Khota nodded. “Gun ownership is an actual right guaranteed the American citizen by their founding documents. Their Second Amendment assures the right to keep and bear arms. They regularly have court and election issues over how regulated that right is, or how regulated guns are in general for that matter, but. . .in truth, any attempt at something like true confiscation would be ruinous. The majority of Americans are actually peaceful people despite how we often see them portrayed, but any attempt to disarm them would result in violence, I can assure you.”
“They do have a strong sense of justice, however,” he continued after a few seconds. “Vigilantism is not at all uncommon there, especially in cases where their justice system fails the victims. Still, their criminals are very bold and arrogant in many places simply because the more liberal areas tend to respond to criminal activity with ‘treatment’ rather than punishment. Most areas outside their major cities aren’t so big on that.”
“I always just imagine America a land full of cowboys toting guns and shooting at each other on a daily basis,” Takashi admitted. “But like you said, that pretty much comes from television and movies.”
“And it’s not entirely wrong, but. . .it’s not exactly accurate, either,” Khota frowned. “The thing is, almost every home outside those urban areas I was talking about, has at least one firearm, and most have more than one. In many areas of the country, people still hunt wild game for food. They do this with guns as well as bows, and even traps. But. . .firearms in general are a part of American culture. Where so many people in Japan fear guns because we don’t know anything about them, the average elementary student in America actually knows more about firearms and firearm safety than an average Japanese adult.”
“So because it’s so prevalent, it’s not as intimidating to them,” Saya mused.
“Exactly,” Khota nodded. “Where for us someone actually owning a firearm is deviating from the norm, for them a home without at least one gun used for self-defense is the odd one. It’s just expected that most every home has a gun in it. What kind will vary from house to house of course, but. . .that’s as much a matter of what someone is able to handle as it is a personal preference.”
“So this is actually pretty accurate then,” Saya nodded, going back to her original question.
“Well, aside from the fact that we aren’t ever actually going to have a Zombie Apocalypse,” Khota chuckled. “But if we did, then yeah, America would be the one place that would almost certainly have some survivors.”
“You don’t think we would do so well?” Saeko asked, eyebrow raised.
“We’d do all right, at least for a while,” Khota mused. “Our military is fairly strong, so assuming they were able to get on top of something like this quick enough, we’d almost certainly have some safe zones. But overall? No, the rank and file citizenry of Japan would not do well. Those who have studied the spear and the sword would probably do all right in defending themselves and their homes, at least against only two or three, but against a horde like that,” he nodded toward the television, “they’d be doomed.”
“But not helpless,” Saeko stressed.
“At that point there isn’t a lot of difference between hopeless and helpless,” Khota shrugged. “If there’s no hope of winning, or of ultimate survival, the average person will eventually lose hope and quit. It’s hard to keep going when you have nothing to fight for. The examples you see on shows like this are pretty accurate I would imagine. People who fight for their children, or because they enjoy fighting. I don’t imagine the real thing would be any less so.”
“I thought you said we weren’t going to have a zombie apocalypse,” Takashi smirked.
“There’s more than one kind of apocalypse,” Khota shrugged.