A day and a half after Hiko insisted Tationy share with him what she had been seeing, she found herself locked behind a bathroom door. He had not done anything or said anything to put fear in her heart, but it was no less there. Through the course of telling Hiko about the Prince of Aslann something changed.
For a good four hours she remained stuck in her own mind and when Tationy was finally jolted free the fearful look in the eyes of Hiko was too much. That is how she ended up locked behind a bathroom door. “Are you going to talk to me?” There was pain in his voice that he did not even try to conceal behind restraint.
Tationy didn’t know what to say. Slowly and surely she thought that she was losing her mind. There was no way she could tell Hiko that she got trapped in her own head because some long since dead prince wanted to have a conversation with her. The silence after his question must have hinted at the fact that she was not going to speak, “Whatever happened, we can get through it. You know that right?”
The shakiness of his voice was hard to listen to. He was afraid; for her or for them, she was not certain. “My father once said,” Hiko started speaking and then stopped.
“Your father said what?”
Her response must have relaxed Hiko because there was a subtle change in is tone, “A lot of different things.”
“You tricked me,” She whispered.
“Ahh. I had to get you talking to me somehow. So, are you going to tell me what happened?”
“I don’t want to discuss it.”
“Why? Do you think I am too weak to handle it?” It wasn’t that, but her hesitation in responding probably did nothing to ease the feelings that formed that question. Still, Hiko’s voice was surprisingly calm when he continued, “Do you want to get out of this place for a bit? We can get ice cream….”
Those were probably the most magical words he could have said at that moment.
Without a single bit of hesitation, she stood, opened the door, and stepped out. Somehow she even managed not to be startled when the heavy door slammed shut behind her, “Can we really get ice cream?”
Maybe she was a little too enthusiastic, as she looked upon the unmoved face of Hiko Kari. He was not at all happy as he stared her down. Biting the inside of her cheek she made a soft little sound before asking, “Is my Hiko mad at me?”
“No, it is just that sometimes you are really simple.”
“In a bad way?”
“Not really,” He responded.
“Then, why are you looking at me like that?”
Hiko had shaken his head and turned his back to her, “Come on, let’s go get some ice cream.”
“Are you going to answer me?” She asked as she followed along behind him.
It became rather obvious that Hiko was done with the conversation when he stated, “We can talk about it later. Let’s just try to enjoy our day.”
There was this fear deep inside of Tationy that he would think she was losing her mind. Part of her wanted to share it all. Unburden herself and allow him to carry it for her as he wished, but she didn’t know if that was really okay. Couples always kept secrets about money and feelings; little or big things that just grew from nothing into something. She did not want that for them, but still she didn’t think herself capable of telling him she might be going crazy.
How long she had been lingering in that place of uncertainty, she couldn’t say, but there was plenty of relief brought to her when Hiko’s arm wrapped around her shoulder. “Going to give me a lick of your ice cream?” His words were teasing.
“That sounds dirty, Hiko Kari,” She playfully stated as she offered him her cone.
A quick swipe with his tongue he mmm’d and then teased, “Maybe it was meant to.” As much as she wanted to playfully banter back and forth she was uncertain what to say. So, after a moment of quiet he broke down and asked, “Are you feeling better?”
“A little. Is my Hiko still upset?”
“Ahh,” He responded. “This is going to sound…well there are plenty of women that will take my words the wrong way, but I am just going to say them. You are my girl and I want to protect you. I cannot take care of you if you do not tell me what is going on. This is frustrating for me.”
“I just don’t want you to look at me differently after you hear it. You might think I am crazy and…”
“All of your quirks are what make you who you are and they are the things that drew me to you. There is nothing you can tell me that would ever make me think you are losing it.”
That was true. Hiko had never thought her crazy back when she saw that little girl outside the Kari Foundation and chased her down. Why would he suddenly find anything she said or did strange? Of course, she had never told him that she had a conversation with a long since dead prince. That was a bit different from thinking you saw something or someone out of the corner of your eye.
Her wayward thoughts were distracted when Hiko’s arm tightened around her shoulder, “Whatever it is, we will get through it.” Was he saying that to reassure her or him? She was not certain, but she wanted to believe he meant those words.
Tationy knew she should have responded to his words, but a voice calling out pulled her attention, “Manon, come to play?”
It took Tationy only a moment to recognize the Zenaku who ran the oddities shop. So, it was not surprising to her when they both came to a full stop and Hiko casually responded, “Nah, we are just passing through the area.”
The Zenaku acknowledged his words with a brief nod, “Sorry about the loss of your home. My grandmother said that nothing could be salvaged.”
Hiko shrugged his shoulders, “Cannot plan for everything.”
“Ain’t that the truth, manon.” The Zenaku strolled casually toward them, “Got a few new items if you are interested. Stop by the shop sometime.”
“Ahh, thanks for letting me know,” Hiko responded then quickly added, “Courts seem awfully dead today.”
The Zenaku snorted in disgust, “Some Ishi showed up and allowed groups to stack the odds against him; then, decimated the competition. Pissed everyone off so they all went to another park. The only one left is Anjou.”
His tone soured, “An Ishi, huh?” Hiko’s words were phrased as a question, but Tationy could tell he was not expecting an answer. A moment later he would continue, “How did you fair against him?”
It was clear by the way the Zenaku looked away that he did not particularly want to answer, but eventually he responded, “Five to ten, his favor. He was just too fast.”
Both men glanced toward the courts and a knowing smile adorned Tationy’s lips, “If my Hiko wants to check it out, I do not mind.”
The Zenaku chuckled, “My Hiko.”
Had she said something wrong? Hiko’s attention fell upon the Zenaku, “Don’t give me shit, Sune.”
Between laughs the young Zenaku stated, “Just took me by surprise is all. So, are you going to introduce me to your girl.”
Hiko rubbed the back of his neck, “Didn’t I already do that at your shop?”
“Nah manon, but your mood seemed pretty shitty so I couldn’t bring myself to hold it against you,” The Zenaku lightly joked then offered his hand to Tationy. She accepted as he stated, “I’m Sune Zenaku.”
“Tationy Tylo, it is nice to meet you.”
She had been a half a second away from asking Sune how he was related to Tsubaki. Not to mention where he and Hiko knew each other from because their familiar banter made it seem as though there was some sort of history shared. Unfortunately, all of her questions would have to wait as Sune quickly stated, “My lunch break has been over for twenty minutes. It was good seeing you again manon. Stop by when you get the chance. Tationy it was nice meeting you.”
“Will do,” Hiko responded, but did not get the opportunity to say anything further because Tationy quickly interjected.
“Nice meeting you,” The Zenaku chuckled quietly to himself as he wandered away and Tationy quickly added, “I kind of like him.”
Hiko gave her hand a squeeze; he had never once relinquished it as they talked with Sune nor as they stepped inside the gated basketball courts. Anjou was already engaged in a match against an Ishi she recognized. He was not just the stranger that came to their house and fought Hiko; this man was a Son of Rin from the time of Prince Tatsuya.
There were many frustrations as she looked on. Hiko was being extra quite and when she would glance back at him it was obvious he was watching the exchange between the two athletes. There were too many unknowns surrounding the Son of Rin and Tationy had not seen Anjou since he left her in the care of Hiko. Her emotions were swirling violently.
Even though there were so many thoughts in her head she unconsciously asked, “Can he win?”
“Anjou is a decent small forward, but he is no Labron James. He is great at passing, pretty good at defense, and has an amazing ability to make plays happen. He is the perfect compliment to a team’s ace, but alone he is just one of many good players.” Tationy turned to look at Hiko as he added, “Sune is better all around and he could only score five points, in a first to ten, one-on-one match. It is unlikely that Anjou will even get a point, unless that snake allows him to.”
Tationy’s eyes fixed on Kuro of the Ishi, “Could you beat him?”
“I don’t know,” Hiko stated.
His words troubled her because they brought Tationy back to something the Prince of Aslann had said to her. Sure, she thought she was completely losing her mind, but maybe Tatsuya was just a manifestation of her own inner conflict. There were plenty of times she thought she was holding Hiko back; he was being cautious and that kind of behavior did not suit a man like him.
With a deep sigh she asked, “Could you beat him if I was not here?”
Hiko did not initially respond to her question and when she turned back to look at him he was giving her a rather hard stare, “What kind of question is that?”
“It is not as though I don’t want to be at your side. I am just wondering if you think you could beat him if I was not around.”
There was annoyance in his tone as he pushed away from the fencing, “You are around, so the question should never have even been asked.”
Her mouth opened to respond, but she quickly stopped herself when she realized Hiko was moving toward the Ishi, “Do you make it a habit of being a piece of shit or was all of this showy behavior just to amuse yourself?”
“Oh, kind of cocky for a guy that stood on the sidelines and watched his friends defeat,” Kuro of the Ishi stated as he took a predatory step toward Hiko, “Are you going to just stand there and flap your gums at me like an old woman or vindicate the worthless trash that I humiliated all day?”
Tationy blankly stared; was this really happening? Did Hiko just walk up to the Son of Rin and challenge him? Was this her fault? Did she provoke Hiko into action? There were too many frustrating questions as she watched the two of them square off against each other.
It was obvious quickly that the match was not like others played; they agreed to one-on-one and the first person to score would win. Tationy thought that meant the match would be over quickly, but back and forth they went. There were a few times when it appeared as though Hiko might be victorious, but he would be quickly shut down by the Ishi.
There was nervous anticipation watching the two battle it out, so much so that when her cell began ringing she was almost grateful for the calm brought by the distraction. “Hello,” She answered and then quickly took a seat when she heard the voice of Zen on the other end.
“I need you and Hiko to stop by the Kari Foundation.”
With a sigh she glanced toward the dueling athletes, “Is it something that can wait?”
“Why, is there a reason the two of you cannot stop by? Is something going on?”
“No, no, no,” She tried to dismiss quickly. “We took a walk and are nowhere near the car at the moment. It just might take us a bit to get there.”
The prolonged silence that followed made it seem as though Zen was gauging the situation, “I will send a car to get both of you. Tell me your location…” She made an uncertain sound which interrupted the words of Zen before he quickly added, “Do I need to come there myself?”
She adjusted her posture as she considered how she wanted to answer his question. The truth was, she did not think Zen’s arrival would help the situation transpiring between Hiko and the Ishi. So she had to force a perk to her tone before responding, “You know how he gets when there is a challenger involved. He loves his basketball. There is no need for you to come, I will make sure he knows and we are ready to leave when the car arrives.”
“Alright, are the two of you at his favorite spot?”
“You can see the whole city from these courts, you know how he loves them.”
“Understood, I will see you in thirty.”
“Mmhmm, see you then,” Tationy responded as she disconnected the call and sighed deeply. The hard part was going to be pulling Hiko away from the Ishi and she had been just about to shout his name when she heard the sound of a ball going through a hoop.
Tationy’s eyes scanned the scene, but the two men were simply staring at each other. Which brought the question of who won into her mind. The answer, however, was not readily available to her and even as Anjou walked by to leave there was no hint of whom came out on top gleamed in his eyes.
She took a breath and an uncertain step toward Hiko and the Ishi, “Zen called we need to go. He is sending a car for us.”
Hiko had offered only a curt nod while his eyes remained fixed on the Ishi. Tationy assumed that he was wondering the same thing she was; would the snake let them just walk away? It was clear Hiko’s guard was up as he reached for her hand and the two began to move.
Though they didn’t make it very far as the Ishi known as Kuro, grabbed Hiko’s arm which halted their departure. Tentatively they both glanced at the man. The wild eyes and smirk adorning his features showed that he was happy, but about what Tationy could not be certain.
“I thought you were some imitation replica, but here you are the real fucking deal. Commander Kari in living form once again. No wonder the baby snake is standing at your side,” Kuro spoke. There must have been a glimmer of something glinted in Hiko’s eyes because the Ishi quickly added, “Oh, she didn’t tell you.”
“Whatever sick and fucking twisted shit you got going on in your head, just keep it there snake. I don’t care who you think I am, but you come at me or my girl…”
“Oh, it is not as cute when the little dog barks at me.”
Her eyes widened as she stared at the face of Kuro of the Ishi. It was obvious by Kuro’s words he was attempting to antagonize Hiko which was the worst possible course for the confrontation to take. Tentatively she squeezed his hand and managed to whisper, “This is not the time or the place to handle the Son of Rin.”
“Oh,” the Ishi couldn’t hide his amusement as he finally relinquished his hold on Hiko’s arm, “How do you intend to handle me baby snake when you haven’t even grown into your fangs yet and your Kari dog is all bark?”
“How insulting,” A voice from behind them stilled the conversation. Tationy did not even need to turn to know who it was speaking; Zen Kari had arrived. She thought she had done well covering up that Hiko was engaged in something quite troublesome, but his arrival told her that she was not as good at hiding things as she thought she was.
The intuitive Kari with the Waichia blood did not hesitate to stare down the Ishi who was quite amused by the development. “Oh, rattle the little dogs cage and a bigger one arrives. I guess it is true what they say about the Kari always running in packs,” With a dismissive shrug he added, “I don’t have time to waste on an old dog like you; the weak don’t interest me…”
Tationy could tell that Hiko wanted to get involved, but he was stopped when Zen halted Kuro’s words, “I assure you, this old dog won’t disappoint.”
Kuro’s laughter started out softly and then built. There was no denying that the Ishi appreciated the response offered him, “Been a long time since I had my way with a Kari dog. So, you will have to forgive me. I might get a little over eager and finish too quickly.”
Unmoved was Zen as he directed his words toward the son of the Elder of the Kari, “Take Tationy to the car and leave this Ishi to me.” Hiko did not want to budge and the cold hard gaze of Zen fixed upon him momentarily. Sternly, he insisted, “Go now, this is no time for ego when your woman is in harm’s way.”
Kuro responded as Tationy and Hiko began to move, “Oh, what type of guy do you think I am; baiting a man with his woman is not really my style.”
Tationy had no doubts that the Son of Rin would use anything at his disposal to come out on top. The question that lingered was whether or not Zen realized it. As they exited the gate she looked back momentarily as the voice of her boss faded away, “You’re exactly that type of snake.”