It had been quite an adventure. Two hours to Meratoia, an argument, and then they were back on the road again. Tationy had chosen to sleep most of the trip and she had a vague recollection of asking Hiko if they were home. His response, nothing at first, but then eventually he stated that they were.
Tationy did not find it surprising that he disappeared the moment they stepped into his apartment. He and his father had exchanged plenty of heated words some of which were about her. It was difficult for Tationy not to wonder if she was causing problems for the man known as Hiko Kari.
She had told him that he did not have to take her with him anymore. Like a princess in a fairy tale she would remain locked in the tower, at least until Anjou came and got her. Which would probably not be long now because her path was still the same. At the end of it, there stood Aoba.
Failing to contain a deep sigh she grumbled under her breath, “I am so tired of this path I am on.”
“Then do something about it,” She heard Hiko Kari say.
How foolish she thought she was because she had not realized he was there. Her eyes were wide, her expression surprised, as she mustered the courage to respond. “Maybe for someone like you it is easy….”
Hiko cut her off, “Don’t think because I appear to have everything one could desire that I do not have to fight. Nothing is just handed to you. Even with those eyes, you should be aware that sometimes it requires you to be proactive.”
“You have freedom though,” She mused quietly.
“Not as much as you think,” He stated as he took a seat on the sofa near her, “I am the son of the Elder of the Kari and because of that I am able to get away with a lot more shit than my kinsmen, but eventually he has to put his foot down. A Kari man is not allowed to run wild. There are expectations that are required of me.”
A momentary pause followed as she quietly contemplated his words. Hiko did not allow them to linger there for long though as he added, “What do you want?”
“I want freedom,” She stated.
Hiko shook his head, “There are always rules, laws, traditions, and societal norms that will dictate behavior. Freedom is an illusion. We are all in man-made cages. Even if we manage to escape we simply build another.”
“You really are a fatalist,” Tationy responded. Hiko simply shrugged his shoulders as Tationy added, “Then I will make my own rules.”
“How do you intend to do that?”
“By rewriting the norms of our society and becoming a woman more powerful and feared than my grandmother.” It seemed a novel idea as she was saying it, but she was not foolish enough to think it was truly a possibility for someone like her. Women did not gain power in Aslann. It was rare and difficult. Her grandmother had been an exception; respected and elevated.
She knew deep down for someone like her that it was an improbability. The clans would never accept her because she had Ishi and Tylo blood.
Hiko laughed which of course made her feel three feet tall, but it was a rather ambitious and foolish thing to say. Still, what he said next caught her off guard, “I like you.”
“You….you…” She stammered, “You like me?”
“Ahh,” He responded as the room fell silent.
Tationy realized that Hiko was staring at her though she was not entirely certain if it was an expectant gaze. If he wanted her to respond with something more than utter disbelief he would have to wait a hundred years for her to process what he said because Tationy had never had anyone come right out and say that they liked her.
She and Tsubaki had been friends for well over a year and not even the beautiful and talented Zenaku had ever been so forward. Some things were just a given, Tsubaki told her once. Reflecting back on it now, she thought it odd that people did not feel the need to reinforce the things they held dear by speaking such important words.
Certainly, she had considered that a good share of sayings like ‘I love you’ were just tossed around when the mood struck someone or said because people thought that was what the other person wanted. However, when Hiko said he liked her she did not get the impression he was the type of guy saying it just to say it. He meant it and for reasons she could not explain that made her very happy, but also extremely frighten.
“Something is wrong, isn’t it?”
There was a moment where she thought that Hiko might not respond, but then he simply gave a curt nod of his head. “I am not very tactful when it comes to these sorts of things. So, I am just going to come right out and say it.”
“Alright,” She waited expectantly for him to tell her that Anjou was on his way.
It was very difficult to keep her expression unmoved. She was so afraid of the unspoken words. Aoba was not the future she wanted. Even if she was alone for the rest of her life it would be a better and more satisfying outcome in her humble opinion.
Clearly, Hiko was having some difficulty with telling her the news. Perhaps he was afraid as well, though of what she could not be certain at least until he finally responded, “Anjou called and the Waichia refused to meet with him.”
Even though it did not seem like bad news to her, she knew it was. It meant that the only hope to protect her from the Ishi was no longer an option, “So, he is coming to take me back to the Yamada?”
There was the briefest hesitation from Hiko as though he was uncertain. Not about his words, something else. Something deeper, but she could not see or understand what it was. He shook his head, “Sorry Tationy, Anjou is not coming to get you. He knows if he does, he will have to return you to the Yamada and they will hand you over to the Ishi.”
She choked on the emotion, “He…he is abandoning me? I am really alone?” The words sounded so strange to say aloud. Tationy had thought them so many times before, but never actually spoke them. How surreal the moment felt when she realized she truly was unwanted. “I have never been on my own,” She nervously stated.
“You can stay with me,” Hiko responded.
As kind as that was of him to offer she started shaking her head, “Anjou dropped me off on your doorstep. It was only supposed to be a couple of weeks. I cannot impose on you further…”
Hiko cut her off, “He asked me to take care of you and that is exactly what I intend on doing.”
Her mouth opened to respond, but the sound of a buzzer interrupted their conversation.
Hiko had ordered food. Probably, before he came down to speak with her. She could not be certain, but he grabbed a few drinks for the two of them, the food, and his cigarettes and made a little picnic area for them in the garden.
She expected to be sitting on the chairs, but Hiko helped her onto the table and then took the spot next to her. It was nice, but it did not change the fact that her heart was beating rapidly from all the unwanted excitement.
“Is this what you want?” Tationy braved asking for no other reason then to break up the silence which seemed very smothering at that moment.
Between bites of noodles, Hiko managed to make a few sounds that seemed as though he was going to say something. Eventually he sat his food to the side, “I have never been asked that before. It is one of the things we have in common, isn’t it?” It was clear he did not expect her to respond to his question, “I never had any friends growing up. So, it is probably foolish of me to put so much faith in one person, but Anjou has had my back since the first day we met. Now…”
There was emotion from Hiko that she had not seen before. He was in pain. Had she taken a step back from it all sooner, she would have realized that Anjou was not just sacrificing her, but his friendship with Hiko as well. “Take me to the Ishi,” She said the words. “It is the only way for the two of you to remain friends.”
“No,” Hiko responded. “If I did that, he and I would never be friends again. Right or wrong, this is the path he has chosen to walk and a good friend does not stand in the way. I am going to do as he has asked of me and protect what he cherishes from the Yamada, the Ishi, and all of the fucking piece of shit clans of Aslann. Even if I have to do it myself, no one is going to take you unless you want to be taken.”
He fell silent and his eyes drifted toward the stars. Tationy noticed how he seemed lost in thought. Was this really alright? It didn’t feel like it, so she looked to her future for some sign of what would come only to gasp slightly, “What is wrong?”
“Nothing. I just felt a chill,” She stated. There was no way for her to explain that she could no longer see her future. Not the path with Aoba, nothing. There were so many questions racing through her mind, “Hiko….” She said his name which drew his attention toward her, “Is this really alright?”
“Ahh,” He stated and then took a deep breath. He was relaxed, oddly not on edge as she would have imagined. Something told her that he did not mind being at odds with everyone in the nation. There was a calm about him. She wished she could see things as clearly as he did, but she hardly felt relaxed after the news.
For about an hour they sat under the stars eating noodles. Tationy did not feel much like talking and Hiko remained his usual silent self through the majority of it. Eventually, they cleaned up and went their separate ways.
That feeling of uncertainty was burdening her far more than she expected. Even though Hiko had said it was alright, she worried that he was taking on a responsibility that he did not want. Loyalty could be just as double-edged as obligation from where she was standing.
For a while she paced and sulked and eventually even found herself outside the office of Hiko Kari. No idea what she would say if she entered, but she felt like she had to ask again if this was really alright. Perhaps it was not what Anjou wanted, but maybe going to the Ishi was the best decision for all involved.
With a sigh she hesitantly knocked on his door and only entered when he told her it was alright. Hiko had gestured for her to take a seat as he stated, “It is four in the morning. You should be sleeping.”
“I am not the one that works tomorrow,” She responded back.
Hiko nodded his head briefly as though he was acknowledging her statement, “I was thinking. Lost in thought, I suppose.”
“What we are going to do for starters,” He stated and then continued quickly, “Two weeks is one thing, but this apartment is meant for a single person. Sleeping on the couch is not a long-term solution I like for either of us.”
“I am fine sleeping there, really…”
Hiko interrupted her, “For someone that has nothing it is far too easy to give up even the simplest of luxuries. At some point, it will break you down and that seems unfair besides something you said earlier has been weighing on my mind.”
“Something I said?”
“You asked if we were home…”
Tationy tried desperately to explain away her sleepy question, “I was really tired when I asked that.”
“Tired or not, it got me thinking that I have never had one. It was always just a place where I laid my head or hid from the public. I moved in here to get out of Meratoia and my father’s home, but it is not my place. Even the decorations belong to the corporation. Your words really struck me. I never even thought that someday I would buy a place of my own, but maybe it is time.”
“Is it something you want?”
“When I was a kid, I thought I would get married and have my own place. Biggest house in all of Aslann. I was going to be someone that my father could respect. If nothing else, I can have the biggest house right?”
“You do not seem like the type of guy that much cares about how big and fancy something is, but somehow I think that it is the respect and acknowledgement you really want.”
Hiko’s expression was heavy as he stated, “I doubt my kin will ever give me either and that is alright. I will keep fighting because it is the only thing I am good at.”
She made a little sound which drew his attention toward her, “Sorry that …. I …. I wish I was as strong as you.”
“It is not strength, just stubbornness.” He noticeably sighed, “Besides, it only gets you so far. Some people are impossible to deal with.”
Hiko snorted, “There are people far more obstinate than I am.”
“I think I would like to meet these people if that is the case,” She stated. His reaction was confusing to her. While the conversation did not appear all that serious, the way he crossed his arms and looked away said that there was something lingering. “I am sorry, what I said bothered you,” Tationy managed to say.
“No, it has been weighing on me for a while now.”
“Maybe talking about it will help.”
At first she thought he would not continue speaking, but eventually he sighed. “The Kari Foundation has received several government contracts that could greatly benefit Aslann. One of them incorporates some pretty amazing aerospace designs from the Shima Corporation.”
“I think you mentioned that before that they were on hold, but you did not say why.”
“It requires the Kari Foundation and Shima Aerospace to work together and the CEO of that company keeps refusing.”
“Lord Seiji Shima thinks he knows what is better for Aslann apparently. As long as he refuses, any contract that requires aerospace technology is dead.”
“This hurts the Kari Foundation?”
“Ahh and Aslann as a whole. The benevolent Seiji Shima he is called. The piece of shit pisses me off.”
Tationy made a thoughtful sound, “I would like to meet him. Allow my eyes to look upon this man and see his weakness…”
Hiko cut her off, “No.”
“I can help though. My eyes might not be strong, but I can certainly see into that man’s heart.”
“Using your eyes makes me no better than other men and I will not do that. I will find a way to deal with Lord Seiji Shima on my own.” He paused a moment, “As for you, don’t you think there are other things for you to be concerned over?”
Hiko seemed slightly taken aback by the fact that she did not already know the answer, “What do you want to do with your life, Tationy? School? Work? Family? Have you even realized that all the worlds possibilities have opened up for you?”
All the worlds possibilities that was what he said and she still had a hard time believing it. For a while she just stood there staring at him. How was one suppose to even answer something like that? She had more purpose in her step, then she did in her ambition or at least that was what she thought as she stood out on the balcony staring at the stars.
It would be a moment later that Hiko would join her, “There is no rush to figure it out. I just thought you might have some idea of what you will want to do now that you will be free to do as you please.”
“This is going to sound foolish perhaps, but I only thought of being free and never what I would do with that freedom.” She paused a moment, “Did you go to a university? What was it like?”
“Ahh,” He stated and then quickly added, “It was not that much different from high school; a lot more work and less hand holding. Graduated with honors; have a Masters in Business and a Bachelors in Finance.”
“Where did you go to school? Were you apart of any clubs? Do they have clubs?”
“I graduated from Aslann University, but I did not waste my time or energy on any extracurricular activities. I was not there for that shit.”
She nipped her lip as she considered his words, “Have you always worked at the Kari Foundation?”
“Since I was a boy,” He stated.
It was difficult to contain her sigh. She had never worked a single day in her life, let alone even thought about attending a university. If she was truthful, the only future she saw was her at the side of Aoba. They married, but never had children. She was not even certain that she could say she wanted any of that.
Hiko must have noticed the way her mind was over focusing, “You have time to think about it. I only asked because if you have an interest we could see about getting something started with that this week.”
Tationy felt guilty as she hung her head, “I’m sorry. Really, I am just not sure. I never thought … is it even real? Part of me is excited and the other part is worried that I am dreaming while awake again. It would not be the first time that I lived through an entire lifetime only to wake up.”
If he was surprised by her words he did not show it, “There is no reason to apologize. You have not processed everything that has happened today between visiting my father and Anjou…”
Tationy brought her hand up, “I don’t know if I want to discuss either of them at this point. Maybe never.”
There was a moment of hesitation from Hiko, “I cannot tell if you are angry or afraid.”
Her eyes locked on the Kari man before her, “My grandmother always told me that it made no difference when you are from the snake clan. The end result of both is always a deadly strike.”
Hiko snorted, “Remind me not to make an enemy out of you.” Despite the humor in his tone, Tationy could tell he was concerned. “I know you do not want to talk about it now, but I hope at some point you will tell me what my father said to you. Now, if you want to go with me tomorrow, I suggest you get some sleep.”
Tationy only managed a brief nod of her head as she left Hiko standing on the balcony. It had been a long day with far too much uncertainty. Would the world move at a difference pace now that she was without a clan and a future? A small part of her wished she knew the answer, but truly she felt relief that she had no idea what the next day would bring.
Author’s Note: I just wanted to let everyone know (if I did not mention this to some of you) that I am doing this story by seasons. This chapter is the last of the Spring season and we will be moving into Summer.
During a season, we will see the story move by days and weeks. Depending on what events take place and when. It is my hope that each season will run no more than five chapters each, but that could be more or less depending on what I have planned for that season.
I have edited the first chapter with a “title” of Spring Season to indicate what season we are on and will do the same for chapter 6 for the Summer Season once I get it started.