Full Time Job

Chapter 14

Chapter 14.0 – The Show Must Go On (Day 19)

The sun gleamed on the sheen of moisture the nightly rain hat left on the grass and leaves. It was just nice that her ‘guest’ had proved a little decency and left so early last night. Everything was pointing to a slow day. Moving down the gently creaking wooden stair of the cottage on bare feet, Tomoe pushed the floor cushions in place over the hatch where Boba had procured the slug thrower. She knelt and started a fire to prepare breakfast for two.

She was not sure why, but Tomoe suddenly felt the reckless urge to see Taichi’s face and move past the resentment and mortification that were still raging inside her. There was no one else to whom she could turn, no one to comfort her. With no thought of the consequences, she decided to call and see if Taichi had returned to the hotel in town where he had stayed before. The receptionist said that he had made a reservation indeed, so she left him a message and called the hospital to find out how Ukon had passed the night.

In the meantime, Boba came downstairs with a wide yawn and plopped down beside her. He rubbed his palms over the glowing hearth to chase away the morning cool. Would it always go on like this? Would he have to spend more nights stowed away while his mom served all sorts of aruetyc characters in the most dishonorable way?

“Taichi-san will arrive in one and a half hour.” Tomoe watched her son’s face lit up. “We need to rehearse the princess’ part. The hospital says that Ukon-san can be transferred tomorrow. She will be more comfortable at home and her continued presence will efficiently put an end to Okasan’s tries to force her into retirement.”

Boba nodded and continued to dig into his breakfast, but he was sure his dad had a quicker and more permanent solution to such problems than his mom. He watched Tomoe stand at a sound on the veranda. Her gaze was half-lidded, almost sleepy, but in the sunlight her eyes suddenly became transparent like glass. She opened the door just a crack for the maid to pass through two envelopes.

Tomoe weighted the first envelope in her hands carefully, felt and sniffed before opening it. “Our travelling permits.” She put the chips into the purse she wore always close to her body before she returned to the fireplace. “I hope we don’t need them.”

“You’re worried because Oji’s letter?”

“Yes. Here’s another one of him.” She unfolded the paper wrapping and read. “It says he didn’t give away any details, but he couldn’t just break contact as I suggested. Therefore he held his answer as vague as possible and announced a longer holiday.” Tomoe let the paper sink on her lap with a smile. Another stone to fortify the narrow path she was walking “The good old Ojisama still manages to surprise me. My harsh reaction would have been quite a give-away.”

Boba poured some water in his bowel and swallowed “It won’t work,” He commented dryly, wiped his chin and strolled over to the small bathroom, “not against dad.”

Tomoe decided not to go into that again, but to secure last night’s recording out of Boba’s reach. She put makeup on her bruised face and dressed up for the rehearsal. She chose a pair of wide skirt-like pants and draped a trailing robe over her shoulders to feign the voluminous princess’ costume. Her own hair was a catastrophe since Skirata’s onslaught, but Taichi’s wig could be tightened a little to fit her. They were of similar height, so the costume would be no problem anyway. Tying-up the outer robe temporarily with a ribbon, she padded through the ground floor of the cottage, calling for Boba.

The boy had quenched his uneasiness with a stroll around the house, checking Ukon’s cottage on the way. “Looks stupid.” He commented on the spot.

“I prefer looking stupid during the rehearsal over stumbling on my trail on stage.” Tomoe retorted, “Wait until you see the original props.” She beckoned him inside, “Can you do the recording for Segawa-sama?”

They were still figuring the ideal angle for the camera and wiring as Taichi announced himself officially at the resort’s reception.


The young actor was escorted to the cottage not by one but two overly serviceable maids and tailed by Kimiryu’s assistant, but not before he had handed out a dozen autographs. “Hushh… I’m just a visitor, not a guest…” he winked and shut the slide door into their nosy faces.

“Honorable return.” Tomoe answered his traditional greeting and poked her head around the divider “Please lock the door from inside.”

“I better don’t ask if you are up to this sort of daily nuisance…” Taichi agreed, dropped a huge package beside Boba’s notepad with a relieved sigh and rolled his shoulder.

“I doubt the girls will follow me around just because I play your old role.” Tomoe stood and threw the sash over a rafter with a casual flick of her wrist

Taichi laughed and cocked his head at the picture on Bobas screen. He waved his hand in front of the camera. “Looks good. How long can you record with that?”

“Half an hour, then I have to process the data. I can save about 20 minutes on the memory chip to be sent to your dad. Could you ask him to include another chip for tomorrow?”

“What happened to the second one we bought yesterday?” Taichi inquired and took position in the centre of the room.

“It has been transformed into a life insurance and a savings book last night.” Tomoe cut off the discussion and pulled the trailing outer robe around by the longish collar so the hem followed her approach.

“Oups... I already forgot we had another.” Taichi put on his most innocent face, then calmed and pulled his fan from his belt with a slow gesture, tapping his sleeve. “Do that again,” he assumed command in the blink of an eye, “...as the distraught Princess.” Tomoe nodded understandingly, as Taichi began his first lesson.

As the morning progressed Tomoe found that Taichi was a far more difficult teacher than she had expected. His voice was firm and commanding, yet unfailingly patient as well. No matter how many mistakes she made, Taichi didn’t yell or belittle her, only stopped her, corrected the error, and began again. Yet at the same time the willowy man demanded perfection, not moving forward until Tomoe could perform the required movements flawlessly and repeatedly, making Tomoe irritated at the level of perfection demanded.

"That is enough recording for today. You can watch your lover without me hanging around," Boba sighed and hit the save-button with a cool, precise movement that signaled his annoyance.

"Wait I’m sorry. I promise..." Tomoe started, only to stop as the actor held up his hand.

"No, Boba-chan is right. I will not continue with this distraction. You will practice the part I showed you – alone - then come and see me." Taichi replied in a firm, uncompromising voice that brooked no argument. He smiled. It seemed that the possibility of objections never crossed his mind.

Tomoe looked from Taichi to Boba and back in disbelief. How could they team up against her, especially her own son?! “You...!”

“You...” the actor broke the tension as quickly, “...look ready to devour us, so I suggest we have lunch before we start on the serpent’s part. Just let it out...” He moved like a teenager, quick, elastic and a little sloppy. It made turning her back on him almost a challenge. His shiny short crop bopped with every step. Her eyes followed the movement of his shoulders down to hips and thighs. He pushed the fan under his belt and plopped down beside Boba. “May I see what we have?”

Tomoe shed the trailing outer robe on the mats and didn’t spare them a second look as she rushed out.

“Oh oh...” Taichi commented in low voice, “She really needs a break...” his artless smile created a strange yet comfortable consent.

Boba just rolled his eyes “Women...”


Tomoe escaped into the kitchen, standing completely still, the only movement coming from her eyes until her shock was overcome by confusion. She closed them for a moment to keep out the blurry pictures and calm down the rising sickness. Her head hurt, every muscle was tense from the intense concentration and her mouth was dry from thirst... or an intimidation that was not quite fear.

All she wanted was to lie down, lock out the world and sink into a deep long sleep. But the nagging problems would not let her. With shaking hands she fixed herself a glass of water. Running the tip of her tongue over her rough lips, she took a sip, then put it down and pressed the balls of her thumbs on her eyes silently as she felt a shiver running over her skin from head to toe, hot and cold at the same time.

“I know what I want. I want to sleep in your arms.”

And suddenly, her fatigue wasn’t a desperate escape into the nothingness of sleep anymore, but the comfortable exhaustion that followed playful activity. Limb for limb the feeling returned into her body, prickling with excitement.

She fetched them a light lunch. While they ate, the silence was interrupted by shadows gliding over the paper screens. “Who’s that again?” Boba put down his bowl and slipped his hand into his tunic since they were not awaiting any guests he knew of.

“Amaaazing.” Tomoe drawled mockingly as she unlocked the door to the polite announcement of the princess’ attendant, “Kimiryu-san’s up and about before the late afternoon...”

The attendant didn’t dare to poke her head in further as the keeper of the cottage answered her call. Tomoe was the taller girl, gleaming with sweat but fully dressed and unruffled otherwise. “Most unusual indeed, but to attend such special guests, little exceptions go without saying.”

“I’m afraid Kimiryu-san would find our temporary inattention to her unsurpassed charms disturbing...” Tomoe overlooked the attendant’s mistress easily.

Taichi put down his bowel and put it bluntly as he pushed the other part of the slide door open as well. “What do you want?” The actor frowned down at the fully dressed-up entertainer kneeling on the veranda so the filtered sunlight could highlight her elaborate up-do and slim, elegant neck perfectly.

“I’ve heard you were here and came to pay my respects to the best acting talent our school has ever produced.” Kimiryu answered smoothly.

“Save it. We have work to do.” Taichi grumbled unimpressed.

“Oh, of course...” Kimiryu purred, “just in case you have use for some support, Segawa-sama, I’ve been said to be a decent connoisseur ... and practioneer of the art of dancing.”

“Your help will be most welcome,” standing beside him Tomoe smoothed Taichi’s harsh words, “once our rehearsals have reached your superior level, Onesan.” She added a barb of her own and watched the two ladies scamper off.

“They are impossible...” – “Practicing all day... yes, sure…” – “Doesn’t she have paying guests to serve?” – “...took her off promotion already...” sarcastic giggle joined the rants.

Leaning in the doorframe, Tomoe stopped eavesdropping and lowered the blinds so a draft of air would cool the inner rooms against the worst afternoon heat “Let’s continue with the serpent’s opening dance...” she spread a set of bowls around the room to mark the positions of the eight jars of liquor.

Taichi nodded and described the stage settings to her. “My full chorography is too long to learn in such a short time. I want to watch you improvise first, and then we concentrate on some combinations to spice things up.”

Tomoe chuckled “You want it to look like I burst the form?”

“Do we have a choice? I know you have the spunk to do it.” Taichi sat down beside Boba and watched as Tomoe fell into a mixture of fluid trance and total awareness. The actor narrated in low voice, his breath catching in his throat. What astonished him didn’t surprise Boba the slightest. He had seen his mom going there twice already... for real, when she prepared another deadly onslaught.

There was no gentleness in her moves, just deadly flexibility, ravenous envy that faded into drunken stupor before the serpent appeared in her true shape with eight heads, it’s back covered in moss, eyes shining like bloodshot jewels, scales clacking, horns standing up on end like trees as the monster’s gaze darts around to face the victim...

Hai?”

Despite her preparations, Okasan jerked back at Tomoe’s death stare. “What are you doing here?” she stammered and clutched her chest in shock. So last night hadn’t been a nightmare, but once and for all, the ruling days of the warrior class were over. Today, she would record the threats for the police and get a rid of the unruly servant.

“Some promotion of my own,” Tomoe replied evenly, lowered her raised arm and snapped her folding fan close, “since you failed that paragraph of the contract.”

“You cannot do that,” Okasan lifted her palm and waved it left and right. It had been a mistake to come out here and try to catch the girl in the act, “I’m the one to supply the appointments. You are my employee and heed to my call.”

“...with a due time-span for preparation,” Tomoe corrected her, “and I have the right to refuse guests that don’t suit me.”

“Ukon-san’s guests will be just fine for you, she can fill you in on short notice.”

“Yesterday, you had no difficulties to let Ukon-san’s guests wait for her return from the shadow realm.” Tomoe commented, “Today you are down to a couple of days.” She stepped forwards...

“You forget your place.” Okasan complained but stepped backwards.

“...seconds.” Tomoe corrected herself.

Her boss decided rapid retreat was an acceptable option in the face of the grim reaper guarding the doorframe of the Nanakusa-cottage. It couldn’t go on like this... but what could she do? Norio denied to throw her out... the Yuwa-society seemed to be on her side and even the governor had chosen disappointment over the trouble with them...

No, Okasan wouldn’t complain if that actor took the problem to another stage... If the ill prepared play failed, Harada could no longer pay her rates and tehn she would loose the cottage. If the play succeeded against all odds, the resort would cut its shares out of the newest celebrity. Promotion... Good point! She would call Segawa’s manager right away to get some news items for her own advertisement.

Left behind in the shadow of the cottage, Taichi chuckled “See what I mean?”

Hai, sensei.” Tomoe bowed, “our audience will have a heart attack or run away at my performance.” She returned her full concentration to the forms Taichi gave her from his choreography and made some notes for later self-studies before the visiting hours ended.

“I love to dance with you,” his finger ran along the side of his face as he had to excuse himself for the evening, “and that is just the beginning... I’ll be waiting.” He tapped her nose “It seems you need to be taken care of.”

He left, fully aware that his request was bold and unconventional. But then, Tomoe-chan was the most unconventional woman he had ever met. He knew that he couldn’t match her stealth anyway. She had always snickered at his attempts - after they had made love and tried to catch their breath, of course. He chuckled and wondered how tonight would tie in with those memories. After all, they weren’t that young and inexperienced anymore.


After seeing to their daily chores, she sat down on the veranda with Boba, a tray with kombucha between them. “How do you like Taichi?” she inquired and tried to sort her own thoughts. She had to relax, prepare Ukon’s cottage for the old lady’s return and health care, then have a look at her next appointments.

“He’s nice.” Boba nodded and got right to the point, “You want to go see him later?”

“Yes...” Tomoe admitted carefully, “it is a private thing, you know?”

“So what’s your problem?” the boy sipped the fermented ice tea. It had had not slipped his notice that his mom was acutely troubled, “since you tell me all the time how convinced you are that dad won’t come.”

“I don’t like the idea of leaving you alone.”

“Don’t worry, I can take care of myself another night,” he searched his feelings, before adding with hurt spite, “Can’t be worse than yesterday.”

Tomoe swallowed hard “Please, Boba, that’s very different.”

Boba crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Why? I already said I don’t mind...” He stopped short - “But?” she inquired - “Dad does mind. He hates to let you out of his sight, especially when other men are seeing you.”

The boy had a keen observation, but Tomoe didn’t want him to become too fond of this particular side of his role model. “Do you know why?”

Boba considered briefly. “He was never sure that you are going to be back, afraid that somebody could steal your attention away. But I know that you’ll be back, Tomoe... though waiting hurts me, too. But I am so used doing that, some hours more won’t trouble me.” He shrunk his thin shoulders “Just don’t leave me alone without notice, without saying good bye. I hate that.”

“Thank you,” Tomoe agreed, “I’ll be back at sunrise. Nobody else needs to know.”

“Yeah...” Boba made a face “They think they already do.”

“It is a matter of tact.”

“Do I have to learn tact as well manners?”

“Uhm... it would help you to avoid problems.”

“Now you sound like the Nulls bragging about Kal’s need-to-know-thing... usually to tell me that I don’t need to know the interesting things...” Boba looked for disappointment on Tomoe’s face and was surprised by her smile.

“Not a bad comparison, indeed.”


The night was moist and cool, a layer of mist hanging between the cottages of the resort. After dinner, Tomoe had tucked Boba in and joined her moves into a dance that made up for his bedtime story. He understood a lot more already. Afterwards she had changed into comfortable pants and tunic. The dark, well worn cotton fabric melted into the darkness as she slipped out of the garden gate and started running in the easy but mile-eating pace of a hunting wolf.

She filled her lungs with the night air and ran up the boundary wall fast enough to catch the cap stone and pull up onto it. Her concerns lifted from her chest but kept hanging somewhere outside. In the shadow of the house, she balanced over the length of the wall and slunk over to the balcony on the first floor level that Taichi had indicated, a whiff of his perfume leading her on.

The light of a candle shone through a crack of an unlocked slide door invitingly, but she could hear Taichi walking around in the room and his voice speaking to somebody on the comlink. She respected his privacy and let him finish the call before she let herself in. Leaving her reinforced socks on the threshold, she slipped into the room soundlessly, closing the door behind her.

All she could see was the shimmering slits of his eyes as he turned to her and rested his hand on her shoulder to pull her close, covering them with his shadow.

The candle was extinguished and darkness fell like a curtain. In the same moment he started ravishing her, Tomoe’s arms flew around his shoulders. Panting and swaying, their bodies pressed into each other. There was no sound but the wild hammering of their hearts. Taichi’s hand wandered up her neck, his fingers spread and entangled in her raven black tresses, feeling her skin, fluttering over her glowing cheeks.

As she let her hands travel over his chest, she felt his muscles clearly underneath his surprisingly soft skin. He was like a birch tree... she wished could crawl under the velvety bark and sleep all winter. In his embrace she would feel safe like a small animal in hibernation. But she couldn’t ask for more than one night. At sunrise, she would leave... maybe earlier.

His hands glided down her sides and loosened the flat knot of her belt on the small of her back. Glowing warmth broke her tension like the paring of an overripe pomegranate filled with bitter sweet juice. Moaning into his mouth she had to split from him in order to unwind the narrow sash and drop it next to the bedding, her knife on top of the pile. He pushed the tunic off her shoulders and she bend backwards with a light shake to let it slide off her arms.

His hands came to rest on her breasts gingerly, his voice at her cheek was no more than a whisper, telling her how much he had missed her. Her heart was hammering; her knees became jelly so she could hardly stand. She didn’t answer, pressing into him, clinging to his neck as his face lowered. His tongue stroked the joint of her neck, the small circles sending sparks over her skin.

Encircling her with his long slender arms he released her just to pull the strings of her pants open and watch them drop while she pulled on the bow of his soft belt. The crinkled river of tie-dyed silk rustled as it sunk on the mats. His elastic skin touched hers like an electrical shock, cool and smooth like pebble. His hands continued their journey, sliding her underwear down gently before wandering upwards along her spine... Tomoe flinched before she arched into him. ‘Don’t think about it tonight...’

He didn’t say another word, kissing her, his eyes half closed. Her chest rose and fell. The world shrunk into the two of them as she became blind and deaf for anything but him, velvety flames igniting in her belly. He guided her staggering down on the mattress and knelt beside her. Extending his hands, his fingertips mapped the lines of her body, circling around her breasts, her naval, gradually closing more firmly. A hand slid further down between her thighs and back up, knowingly feeling for her arousal.

She pushed into his touch, throwing her head from side to side. Her face burning and missing his lips, but his fingers dove deeper into her. She put her hand on his, guiding his strokes until the loneliness of her pleasure became unbearable. He had kept his summer robe wrapped around him. It seemed that he was restraining himself to stoke her longing. “The wait can be nice, too,” he had said. Now she understood. It was a delightful pain, sweet and all consuming. She was about to go crazy.

He noticed and guided her hands to the overlap of his summer robe and reached behind him for a condom. Panting, she shoved the cool fabric apart. He was ready to pounce as she clung to him. His limber, warm body slanted over hers. She clawed his shoulders like a drowning woman, her face pressing against his. All she had felt so far was nothing compared to this. Her teeth wandered over his collarbones, nibbling and exploring. Under the mantle of his robe her hands saw him with her eyes closed.

She felt him lift her with a fluid move that turned him over onto his back. Pressing her body against him, he pushed into her with a deep, powerful stroke, then again and again until he filled her completely. Conducting and guiding her like he had all day, the harmony of their motion reflected the pulse of her body, became a storm, a wave crashing through her. Shapes and shadows mixed, freckles danced in front of her eyes.

Her head swayed back and forth and she shivered, but his strong, well practiced hands held her. She felt supported, lifted, held in his embrace that was firm and gentle at the same time. Every move, every breath carried her further away into the realms where noise came to rest, dark became light, pain turned into pleasure. Her body rose to the fire pulsing through her, riding on a wave of impossible sweetness to paralyzing exhaustion.

Then silence... calm. Stupefied, she licked the moisture of his skin, pressed her face into the soft darkness of his hair. She felt herself sink into nothingness and didn’t mind as long as he stayed with her. Seeking out his hand she guided it up her thigh and on the small of her back. “Please stay.”

“Like this?” he asked smiling, turning them on their sides, taking a nipple between his lips to suckle lightly.

After a while he lifted his face, rubbing his forehead gently against hers. They laid clutching each other, listening to the pounding rush of their circulation, feeling the warmth of their moist skin. Their lips pressed together, stroking each other with the tips of their tongues while their lashes touched like butterflies. His hands dug into her hair, smoothing the rich tresses under his palms like a blind.

He didn’t open his eyes until he felt her move again. Withdrawing carefully he returned to her exhausted form with a smile. “Sleep... I want you to sleep...”

“And you?” her hands caressed him, again and again.

“No. I want to await the morning, guarding your sleep. Because one day, I think you’ll spread your wings and fly away...”

She stretched along his body, trying to touch as much of his skin as possible as she slung her arms around him. “Sleep, just sleep” she mumbled and leaned her head into his chest.

***

A bloody face haunted her dreams. It wasn’t the inanimate face of a dead man. Its features changed as it floated on the waves on a pond... it was painted on a meadow by the brush of the wind... it hid the pattern of the wooden rafters. It was talking to her all the while, “Stop... Cin’ciri... Please stay with me,” it whispered, “I need to tell you something...”

“No, no, NO!” Tomoe’s heart moved, grew, beat in her throat, a hammering like a reverberating drum as her mind returned slowly to the pathways of consciences and logic. Taichi had gifted her with his laugh, loving, trust... changed her in his own way...and... ‘I killed him.’ But there was no way back. She rolled around and slid out of the bed without lifting the padded beddings.

“So this is good bye?” Taichi sat and slung an arm around her waist from behind. He nuzzled her neck lazily, his chest protecting her bed warm skin against the cold of the night.

She breathed in the scent of his hair and whispered “Only for so long.” Turning to him she slipped the tunic over her shoulders and reached for her pants, kissing him back hungrily as he brushed his lips over hers.

“Wait,” he commanded, and then suddenly asked, concern swinging in his voice, “what do you fear?”

Her lover hadn’t been busy enough to be fooled... or had she been talking in her sleep? Darkened words spreading her anguish? “The sun will chase it away in a moment. I have to go.”

“Be quick and tell me... I sense that you have gone through horrible events... that it is still inside of you... that you try to push down that fear, but this is a mistake. You cannot run anymore.” He rested his palms on her shoulders and held her down, their knees touching. Sitting among the plush sheets he conjured her, “You need to make a stand. Open your eyes. Fight the fear that is inside you. Once you have got a hold on it, it won’t hurt you anymore. It can even strengthen you.”

He was right. There was no hiding it, no living with that lie, no taking the decision away from him. He wouldn’t be safer just because he didn’t know. “I killed a man... and again I continue to kill. I don’t know what to do about it. Now please let me go... for the sake of us both.” She stood.

“I knew.” He sat and wrapped an arm around her thigh. “You have shown me that side, but I can’t see you turn it on me. I’m not afraid of you,” he let go gently, “but I won’t stand in your way.”

“Thank you.” She slipped into her pants and socks, belted her tunic and slunk out of the room into the blue hour before the night sky turnes into the turquoise that precedes sunrise.

Chapter 14.1 – Meeting on a Dustball (Day 19)

On board of the TIV, Jango set course and made the jump into hyperspace before he ran another health check on his battered body. He would have preferred to stand at Slave I’s controls, just supported by the seat’s frame. His ribs would continue to act up once the effect of the painkiller ceased. ‘K'atini!’ He needed a clear head and an unobtrusive vessel that hadn’t teased the local orbital surveillance into frenzy a couple of times.

The most recent scans had shown all the cracks that could cause further damage had been properly clamped and mended. The bacta had closed the superficial wounds and with sensible behavior he could certainly avoid bending clamps and nails beyond their elastic properties.

While he ignored the pain, this didn’t mean that Fett was neglecting himself. He spend the transit hours doing light gymnastic and readjusting to edible food – whenever it came in the form of a board. Afterwards, he ran the results of Skirata’s recce and his own research on the HUD again while he rested his body. Despite the fact that he had been out for days his body and mind seemed to lack sleep, so he gave it what it needed.

After all, what he was doing was in their best interest.

He just had to remind her. And for that, he needed a mediator.


The night had fallen over the dustbowl and the white city walls when he let himself into Oniro’s office. Apparently, the guy preferred long working hours over seeing his wife... or maybe he had still to make up since that holiday the bounty hunter had ended the hard way?

Whenever for surprise or bad conscience, the pudgy nerd nearly fell over the hem of the long white tunic when Fett popped up behind him at his shadowy best. There was a reason why Mando’ade of both genders left such fashions to aruetyc grannies’s nightwear without jealousy.

“I didn’t do anything wrong this time!” Oniro’s try to climb over the desk in his back was stopped by the multiple screen system the programmer used on his job, “I’ve been good, I swear.” Sitting on the keyboard ended the running processes in a fizz. Blackness spread over the screens and the shadows crept out of the corners as if they wanted to back up his uninvited visitor.

“Course you didn’t.” Fett’s amplified voice always sounded at his most menacing when he was doing his all-reasonable-violence act. “I just want to ask you a few harmless questions about your connection to Tomoe Harada.”

“The questions might be harmless, but you are not...” Finding no facial expression to hint at the invader’s intentions, Oniro’s eyes ghosted over the metal encased devil standing in the middle of his office. He then realized that the weapons were holstered – at least as much as it was possible for such a walking armory.

“I see we understand each other. Tell me, what do I need to get into the Promised Land?”

What new devilry was this? Fett had already given him a personal demonstration that he could break in there any time he pleased. “You mean: officially... without attracting attention? You need a booking to get a landing permit. And for a booking you need to be introduced.” Oniro explained the concept in his best impartial voice.

“Give me a week’s pass. If I find we have ...more time to kill, I’ll extend it.”

‘Safe with Fett... at least for as long as he was needed?’ It took Oniro some time to get used to the new perspective and start speculating. “I can tell I wouldn’t mind seeing her one last time before she grows out of my financial margin,” was the first idea that bubbled up. The possibility to retrieve his own small yacht from the resort’s parking was a welcome prospect, too.

Fett listened up. If Oniro was so bold to ask for money for this favor, he would put his head right quickly. “What do you mean?”

“Don’t you read past the first page of culture daily? Our girl’s been busy. She has taken on a second affiliation with a famous actor at the biggest theatre in town. If that play is successful - and with that male lead it is rather failsafe - she will be in such a high demand, a poor gaijin boy like me won’t get but a glimpse at her on stage in near future.”

Fett’s helmet hid his surprise. There was a lot Ordo’s research hadn’t turned up. “How so?”

“…unless she really likes me, that is.” Oniro gave Fett a nerdy smile. “Tomoe-chan’s going to call the shots soon. And I doubt the two of us look good enough to match what she already calls her own... as rumor goes.”

“Which rumor?”

“Well, that she’s made her partner a man and not only in pun. This young actor used to play the female lead next to his distinguished mentor as the male hero. The old man called in sick for the first time in forty years, his handsome pupil moved up in rank and guess who’s got the princess’ role now?”

Fett did Oniro the favor, “Tomoe-chan?”

“Exactly. The preview promises an all modernized show, a first with a mixed couple on stage and lots of exiting effects and action to go with the traditional form. Nobody knows how they finance all that, but everybody wants to see it. I can tell you it’s not my little refund. From the costume description, we have to expect at least three spectacular on-stage changes.”

“What?!”

“Our Tomoe-chan is not only cast for princess, but for the eight-headed serpent as well... which was the role for the younger Segawa before his ascension to Storm God... and neither him nor his mentor is known for compromises in quality. So what did she pay him to train her on that role? I wager ‘distantly related’ and ‘old friendship’ isn’t enough to justify such a favor. Not to mention the musicians and technicians, stage-rent, curtains, advertisement...”

“I happen to know the play.” Fett cut him off. This got worse by the minute. He already felt that volcanic rage building deep inside of him again.

Oniro noticed nothing of that, but arched a brow anyway “Oh really?” he watched Fett stiffen underneath the metal suit and cleared his throat. “I mean... somebody did a remarkable fundraising.”

“Like what?”

“Just more gossip, okay? She’s said to boost her connections to the highest echelon as well as to the underworld... in fast-forward mode.”

“Criminals?”

“Yeah. As in politicians and gang-leaders that still control the licensed quarters… it is a meager difference these days.” Oniro laid his head to the side, “See what I mean? It’s time to say goodbye for the likes of us. If Tomoe-chan hasn’t bitten off more than she can chew and Mr. Handsome doesn’t keep her private life busy, one of the big shots will.”

“I’m a good shot myself.” Jango rasped, “Get going.”

Oniro felt his hackles rise. Fett sounded like trouble... and him in the middle of it... but then, you lived only once and Fett’s proposal was quite the adventure. Hit the nightlife with the infamous bounty hunter by his side... what could be more exiting? “I understand, Sir.” Oniro lifted his palms in front of the T-shaped visor very slowly. “Just let me get my suitcase, alright? It won’t help your intentions to show up there like beggars and thugs.”

Oniro watched Fett nod slightly and step aside as he went over to the adjoining room. He opened a wooden chest with ornate carvings and took out the suitcase with his summer clothing “See, I’m always packed and ready to go.” he explained, “but I’m afraid steel went out of fashion a while ago... What size are you, partner?”

“I’m old fashioned.” Fett snapped and scanned the suitcase briefly with the sensors in his gauntlet before he marched Oniro out of the backdoor and to the TIV that sat in a gap between buildings not far away. The bounty hunter’s every move made clear that he didn’t respect him as an equal partner. Oniro was relieved not to see any shackles or cages in the aft section as Fett took him up to the cockpit. He strapped in quickly.

Fett opened a secure com-channel for Oniro who made the reservations ‘for a friend and himself’ with a relaxed friendliness that reflected the serenity of the woman’s voice on the other end. He didn’t understand the greeting and closing phrase, but gave his ‘guest’ an approving nod anyway.

“You could try to don local clothing over those plates since it is pretty much one-size-fits-all,” Oniro mused and looked down on his belly “I’m not that slim either... but how am I supposed to get you in unnoticed when your hat blasts all my efforts to kingdom come?” He pointed at his forehead “What’s wrong with your face?”

“Nothing.” Once he got seated, Fett pulled the buy’ce off his head and let his negotiator see the undamaged side of his profile while he pulled up the TIV in a cloud of dust.


Oniro stared for a long time, and then frowned. He had the feeling that the view could cost him dearly one day. He redirected his gaze on the star field that came up over the shimmering atmosphere of his home planet as they left the orbit. Visor or not, it made no difference in the bounty hunter’s stone cold expression anyway.

“Did you consider that she won’t be the sweet girl you’ve known anymore?” Oniro finally tried to make up a conversation.

“She stopped being that a while ago, but I’m surprised how quickly she threw her morals over board once she returned to her familiar environment. I had expected just the opposite.”

“Oh c’mon, there is no diva without a nice package of exiting rumors. That’s what makes it interesting.”

“Suck it up, Oniro, while you enjoy my hospitality. What else is new?”

“She calls herself O-yuki now.”

“Harada O-yuki?”

“No, just O-yuki. It’s a stage name.”

“Meaning?”

“Snow... tells you something?”

Cin’ciri...’ Jango smiled “I think she remembers me. Go on.”

The predatory aspect to the smile that crossed Fett’s face was not lost to Oniro. “Uh oh... In the original myth, yuki-onna means snow-spirit, an apparition of a beautiful woman in white robes so pale that only her hair stands out against the snow. She reveals herself to travelers who find themselves trapped in snowstorms and uses her icy breath to leave them as frost-coated corpses. Other times, she manifests holding a child. When a well-intentioned soul takes the ‘child’ from her, he or she is frozen in place. She occasionally takes on a succubus-like manner, preying on weak-willed men in order to drain or freeze them through a kiss or sexual intercourse...”

Taking Fett’s previous reaction as a warning, Oniro decided to censor that particular strand of thoughts.

“The name O-yuki got a legendary connection with the vengeance theme: one of her predecessors was an entertainer who had a Kintaro tattooed on her boobs and the mountain witch on her back before she wiped out an overlord’s every henchman rank by rank up to the clan’s sword master who had raped her.... Another one was born in prison by a murderess serving a life sentence. The grown up daughter slaughtered every single member of the gang that put her mother there... unfazed by their highest political connections. Good name for a kick-ass chick... The exiting, but...” Oniro summed up, his finger drawing up a box, “’handle-with-care’... sort.”

“I see.” Fett continued his silent routine while he thought about how Tomoe was challenging him once again.

“So what’s your plan?” Oniro finally broke the silence that had dropped on them like a mud slide, “Take her and make her yours?"

"I will. She already is; she just doesn't know it yet."

“Ah. Ha.” Oniro stretched “...Any preliminary events I should know of, my knight in tainted amour?” Fett just harrumphed, so he continued “Tell me... what did you do after dropping us off at my relatives?”

Fett had his own way to sum things up, “I bought her on the slave market. She tried to kill me then ran away.”

“You want revenge?” Oniro stared at the armored nightmare beside him in shock, before he realized, “…but what do you need me for? You could certainly find and kill her without my help.”

“I need you to talk. She kidnapped my son and carries my child.”

Oniro gulped. “What can I say?”

“I’ll leave the details of the negotiation to you. She’s coming back with me.”

“Let me guess: a ‘no’ isn’t an acceptable result of negotiation for you?”

“She’s coming back. One way or the other. Since we both prefer her alive, we are on the same side.”

“Huh... you want me to convince her to go back and marry her rapist?” Oniro put things straight, “Great, just great. What do you have to offer?”

“Her life. Safety.”

“She can have that without strings attached once she manages to kills you.”

“No - she tried that. As you can see, I’m back. In case she succeeds, somebody else will come.”

“She could run and hide.”

“She knows I would not give up my children and that I’m good at finding people.”

“She could leave your son behind and even lose your child because of what you put her through.”

“That’s why I picked you up.” Fett sighed under his breath. Were his actions so hard to understand? “She trusts you. I want you to explain the facts to her without the stress of my presence.”

“To get this clear: Do you care for her?”

Fett was petrified for a long moment, then he nodded slowly. “Yes.”

“Good, that’s a start. Do you love her?” Oniro pressed on.

“You are a nuisance.”

“I am. Yes or no?

“You don’t need to know.” Fett snapped.

“She will ask me this. What do you want me to tell her?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Are you going to tell her yourself?”

“YES.” Fett wondered how he ended up in this cross-question.

“Fine. That’s a start. You can detail that in private. What else do you have to offer?”

“I’m the father of her child and I’m taking care of my family.”

“Sounds more like a minimum to me, than making up for something. How badly did you hurt her anyway? Did you do permanent damage?”

“No. But she did.” Fett rubbed the fresh scar on his forehead.

“Leave yourself out of this for a moment... try to see things through her eyes. There isn’t just physical damage.”

“Okay...” Fett wrinkled his forehead. His headache didn’t make it any easier to remember the details. “I had to subdue her to take care of the bruises the slavers left on her.”

“Oh really? She tried to kill you because you tried to treat her wounds?” Oniro shook his head in disbelief, “You wouldn’t have asked me to talk for you if I was stupid enough to believe that.”

“I had to subdue her twice and took what I was entitled to, but I didn’t hurt her needlessly and I didn’t strike her. Her resistance faded anyway after the second time.”

“Only temporarily, it seems. Don’t you think she ate all that hate you inflicted in her just to throw it back at you in an opportune moment?”

“Possibly.”

“Nevertheless you still talk as if you own her.”

“I did own her. I gave her a fair chance to unleash that hate on me. Afterwards we made a deal and I did not have intercourse with her again.”

“But it was too late for her...”

“What do you mean?”

“You said she’s with your child.”

“Of course.” Fett suddenly looked like he was really proud of himself. He certainly didn’t consider that a damage.

“You do realize that you changed her whole life in the matter of days?”

“It’s natural for women to have children. She’s not going to be abandoned.”

“Let me sum it up for you: She didn’t want you to father her children. So you raped her. She got away from you violating her on a daily basis... but not far enough to be truly liberated of you.” He sighed “I’m not surprised she tried to kill you.”

“Should I have abandoned her?”

“You could have tried to offer your help for her to take.”

“I did, in fact.”

Oniro suppressed a groan. “Did she understand that she had a choice to decline your offer?”

“Of course. She declined the hard way.”

“I take it, you aren’t going to accept another decline like that.”

“I’m not going to let her kill me.” Fett grumbled.

“You are stuck between a rock and a hard place then. If you want to get out, you need to understand that she can’t choose you when you don’t give her a real choice.”

“I can’t do that.”

“When you truly love her, you can. And you will.”

“What if she says no?”

“Then you can try to ask again later or learn to live with her decision.”

“I don’t have that much time.”

“Her whole life is certainly worth some time of yours.”

“I try to avoid taking her life, period.”

“Well, in her belief, she will be reborn if you kill her... unless her hate on you is so great that her spirit stays behind to haunt you... and I’d say that you are working on it…”

“That’s superstitious poodoo.”

“Believes becomes quite real once she acts on them.”

“Make her believe she has a choice. There’s still a chance she answers right.” Fett offered.

“A very slim chance with what we have: you love her, you care for her, you offer your help with the kids. What else can you do for her?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then think about it. So far your arguments are too thin to back up your very big request.”

“So what?”

Oniro shrugged “I’m going to ask her anyway. Tomoe-chan’s the inventive kind.” He decided to change topic. “What about dinner?”

The mercenary rummaged through his utility belt and dropped a nutribar in his guest’s lap.

“Oh no... you suck at cooking as well,” his guest groaned and chewed on the hard mass. “Anything you are good at beside your bounty hunting profession?” Fett stayed quiet, so Oniro pressed on, “Hobbies? ...No? ...What do you do when you are not working?”

“I am a busy person... There are always things to mend or to improve... but I cut out the time to play with my son... tell him a story...”

“That’s good,” Oniro approved, “what are your plans... your wishes for the future?”

“I would like to have more time for my family. As far as I can see, my workload will get lighter in a few years.”

“Sounds like things are not that settled with you after all.” Oniro mused “Try not to force things right now. Once you change your surroundings, you change yourself as well... and it’s the same with her.” Oniro wiped his hands clean on his sweat drenched tunic. “Maybe it’s good that she went home after all. Give her time.”

“My son doesn’t have that time.”

“She won’t hurt a child. That is Tomoe-chan we are talking about. I can’t believe this.”

“There isn’t just physical pain.” Jango countered.

“True. I promise I’ll do my best.”

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