Chapter nine: Realisation
“Your transformation from rebellious teen to an upstanding member of the kashuya clan has been an inspiration for us all.” Hashiro muses, pride radiating from his voice.
His arms surround me like a blanket or a vice.
I’m not sure how I feel.
Honestly, I don’t think I feel anything.
Why feel when you can just follow orders?
No responsibilities, no fault or guilt.
Just tasks to complete and a singular alliance to keep track of.
I never noticed the thumping before.
The insistent knocking at the door.
“What’s that?” I wonder aloud as I look behind me.
There’s a shadow on the other side reminding me of butterflies.
A voice cuts through the paper and wood with panicked urgency. “Hui!? Hui come back! You’re not kashuya, this isn’t you Hui!”
Her cheeks are wet with tears as tatters of paper fall to the floor.
Hashiro’s cold hand touches my cheek and nudges me to face him “ She’s trying to take you away from me again.” his expression is a carefully crafted mix of disdain and smugness. “You won’t let that happen will you?”
I nod absentmindedly.
Pull my gun out of my belt.
Point the barrel neatly between her eyes.
Pull the trigger.
The sound released is loud and angry.
And still, I feel nothing as the girl slumps down with a pitiful cry.
“Well done Hui, you’re such a good kid.” Hashiro croons. “If only dad could see you now.”
I open my eyes, my heart is racing and my head is thumping with panic.
“Hi-Himowa?” I mutter softly.
I sit up in our bed with haste and pull my hands above the covers. They’re wet and I can’t tell if it’s sweat or blood that’s responsible.
There’s a rustle beside me in the bed.
I sigh a sigh of relief as I collapse over her, holding her close as if she could vanish at any moment “I love you.” I tell her with tears in my eyes.
She huffs dismissively “It’s funny how you always love me when it’s dark outside but when the sun is up all of a sudden you loathe to have me around.” Her voice is sarcastic and stabs like needles or a pinch of frost.
But she’s not entirely wrong.
“I know, I’m sorry. I’ve been cold. it’s just…”
“You want to be left to ‘your job’. The responsibility you claimed so you can lock yourself into the kitchen and shoo everyone away who comes too close.” She pushes me away from her and turns her face away “Just go back to sleep.”
Now hold up a minute “It’s not a crime to want time and room to think.”
“No, I’m not calling you a criminal Hui, I’m just calling you a prick. I’m following you around the world and you don’t even have the decency to talk to me.”
That’s a bit much, isn’t it? “Well, I guess I’m ‘sorry’ for not wanting to bother you with strings of nightmares and the fear and the sense that I’m slowly going insane.”
“It’d be a change of pace from the disingenuous ‘I’m fine’s’ for sure.”
“Really!? Do you know wanna know what I woke up from? Shooting you in the face, I bet you’re thrilled to know that. And you wanna know what the worst part is, I didn’t even feel bad about it. I just felt nothing. And that was the scariest part. What if in my heart I am kashuya and no change in name or location can change that and I’m just one bad day away from getting us all killed.” I suck in air as I try to think.
There’s a thumping in my head that won’t go away.
A dull droning that makes it hard to focus.
There’s a sarcastic chuckle from the other side of the bed. “You already got Yobu killed, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
“I mean it’s your fault he’s dead. You could have just stayed home and kept out of everyone’s way but noooo you had to work and feel useful and wanted. You took advantage of the kindness of a man who was desperate for any way to save his business. And then you tore it down and had him killed with your hubris. I never would have agreed to come with you if I knew I had to leave Yobu behind.”
“Why do you talk like that?”
“This, you don’t talk like this normally. There’s something wrong.” I try to put my finger on it but that droning “Yobu! You wouldn’t call him Yobu you’d call him yaye. And you’d never tell me it’s my fault he’s dead even if you secretly think that. But I don’t think you do because of that damn thumping!”
I open my eyes.
My neck and back are killing me.
I don’t know how I managed it but I fell asleep in the engine room and my body was not designed for that.
Behind me the machinery thumps and thunks away.
I grunt and drag myself off the floor trying to push my protesting spine back into place.
This sure was a night…
But I guess it put some things into perspective.
I should go look for Himowa.
I go up the steps and finds it’s already light outside.
What time it is?
I check our room first but it’s empty.
I check the time, ten am.
I decide to go to the parlour but on the way find Himowa’s voice in one of the cabins.
I place my hand on the doorknob but her words make me freeze in place.
“I felt so weak, so powerless.” There’s a pause. “My yaye was hurt and bleeding and I was crying but I couldn’t fight. I wanted to fight, make them pay but my blades were in the other room and I couldn’t reach them. I felt betrayed by them. I know that’s stupid, I left them in the office. It was my fault I couldn’t fight. I keep wondering what would have happened if my blades were there for me.”
My heart sinks into my stomach, I feel like a jerk.
She’s been coping alone, of course, she’s been coping alone, I wasn’t there for her.
Dana speaks up, calmly and without judgement “What do you think would have happened?”
Himowa huffs quickly “I don’t know. But I wonder, I was the bait right? So maybe they wouldn’t have killed me, maybe I could have kicked all their asses and saved yaye. Honestly the longer I think about it the more I feel I might just have ended up as yaye. But even then maybe that would have been good, then they had no bait, no way to lure Hui back in and then maybe we wouldn’t be on the run.”
I don’t feel comfortable listening in like this.
I knock on the door.
There’s a gasp on the other side of the door but Dana just says “Yes?”
I walk in, Himowa is sitting on Dana’s bed while Dana has pulled the chair from the vanity.
They’re both looking at me expectantly.
I’m not quite sure how I wanted to phrase this so I just stand there for a bit until I manage a “You wanted to talk?” It’s silent, too silent as the two look at me “So, uhm…I’m here now.”
Himowa stares at me for a bit with big eyes, then composes herself and says “Glad to see you made it.” She moves to get up but Dana beats her to it.
“I can leave. I needed to check on the oil reserves today anyway.” she strides out closing the door behind her.
“I-” I look at the door, then at Himowa “I think I just sent her out of her own room.”
“She doesn’t mind.” Himowa smiles and then it becomes dead silent.
And I realise this is my cue to talk. And my brain just blanks out in a panic and all that I manage to push past my lips is “I dreamt I shot you tonight.”
Her eyes grow big in shock for a moment, then cast down “That’s horrible.”
“I want to say Hashiro forced me but he didn’t it was just…He’s in my dreams, and every night it’s like I’m living inside this other world where they’ve won and I’m just some perfect kashuya puppet and then I wake up and I feel nasty and filled with guilt and- and…” I take a moment to remember to breathe, Himowa’s eyes are soft, and her hand holds mine tenderly.
“I guess I’m ashamed, ashamed because maybe it means a part of me wants to be with the kashuya?”
She shakes her head “I don’t believe that. Dreams are odd things, but they don’t represent you.”
“But then why does my brain sabotage me like this?”
“I don’t know but-”
“I killed the old man in my dream. I slit his throat and then carved out his heart like it was nothing and then Hashiro ate it raw. That’s not normal, that’s sick and it’s my head coming up with it. I can’t blame anyone else.”
“Just because you can’t blame others doesn’t mean you have to blame yourself.” She pulls me onto the bed and hugs me tenderly.”
“But it’s my brain and my paranoia. Back in Charalia, I thought I saw Takeyo in the crowd but the guy didn’t even look like him. It’s like in the back of my mind I’m actively looking for things to upset me and it’s so exhausting.”
“I can imagine. But beating yourself up over that isn’t going to make anything better.”
“But what you said to Dana just now…Don’t you blame yourself for what happened with yaye that evening?”
“No, no I don’t think so. I think the fault is with the kashuya but it’s so easy to get lost in ‘what if’ scenarios when you’re unsatisfied with how things turned out.”
“I get that.” I chuckle listlessly “All my life I dreamed of breaking from my family all my life. I thought that killing Hashiro would be the end of it. I’d be rid of these feelings but I’m not. I’m still running. I’ll never be truly free. No matter where I’ll go I’ll always have to watch my back.”
“I’m not, I’m sympathising.” She puts a tender hand on my cheek and wipes a tear away. “Look, I know this isn’t what any of us had in mind for any of this. But I meant it when I said I’d follow you no matter where we go. I love you.” She puts her head on my shoulder and strokes my back. “And we may be running now but even the kashuya must grow bored at some point right? Maybe they’ve given up already and we’re just running from ghosts.”
“I hope so.” I sigh “Do you think we can pick up our life again someday? Set up a new restaurant, just you and me?”
She smiles but I hear tears in her voice “I think yaye would like that.”
“Good. Then that’s what we’ll do.
I squeeze her comfortingly and she cries.
And then we both cry.
And we talk about horrible things and awful situation.
And it feels oddly comforting doing so together.
Knowing hugs and a shoulder to cry on are close by when needed.
“I love you and I’m sorry for acting so coldly before. I think was scared if you found out what was going on in my brain you’d reject me.”
“Do you still think that?”
“I’m glad, and I love you too.”
And then Elizabeth’s voice hollers down the corridor “Xuiyo!? Where are you?”
My shoulders jump, I look at Himowa, she looks at the clock over the mantle “twelve o clock.”
“Should I?” I ask softly.
“Sure, don’t wanna worry her.”
I collect myself and yell “Over here!”
The captain opens the door and looks at us with badly hidden confusion “Uhm, what are the two of you doing in Dana’s room?”
“Don’t worry she’s fine with it.”
“I…I was gonna ask about breakfast. Like if it’s a bad time, I can-”
“It’s fine. We can take our talk to the kitchen?” I look at Himowa.
She smiles “Sure.”