[Note: The events in this story take place immediately after "The Morning After".]
Zenshou sat back on the couch and gave a silent sigh of relief as she watched Gem leave. Her friend was in a very messy place emotionally, and she hoped that whatever was going to happen tonight would be helpful rather than harmful. If it was, Zenshou was going to have a woman to woman talk with Kami about respect.
She lifted her hands and tried to wipe the tension from her eyes and temples. The hunt was going to be starting in earnest, and this might be the last moment where they could relax to any measure. Zenshou heard her stomach growl softly, reminding her yet again that she had forgotten to eat for most of the day.
"Whatever it is, I hope it makes her happy," said Jason as he strode back into the room. He had a phone book in hand as he approached Zenshou. By the characters on the front, Zenshou saw it was in Japanese. She turned toward him as he approached. "I've never seen such a pretty young lady wear such a continual frown." He shook his head.
"She takes her job very seriously, and she's having some... relationship problems right now," Zenshou answered. "I can't tell you much more than that without breaking a confidence. She's also a bit put out, I think, at my 'damned headstrong that's going to get me killed' independent streak." She pointed at the book. "Why do you have a Japanese telephone directory?"
"Oh, well, with shopping and then the meeting this afternoon, we worked straight through lunch. I thought we might do something about supper? Now, I don't mind spelunking in the refrigerator, but since I've sent the help away for the time being, the pickings are getting sparse and, uh, less than fresh." His face was certainly changing to an amusing color of red.
"And we-- You're not ready to be seen around Neo York yet, so I thought maybe we should grab a bite somewhere." Jason shook his head at his stumbling, while Zenshou stood looking amused. I've never had so much trouble asking someone to dinner before, he thought to himself. Then again, I've never asked someone like Zenshou.
Jason stopped his floundering. "Zenshou, would you take me out to dinner?" He laughed, "I'm sorry, I just am not used to situations like this." He pulled on a more serious face. "I would really like to have dinner with you, I'm in the mood for Japanese cuisine, and we can't have dinner in this city." Jason hoped she understood his hint. "My treat, of course. Once we get there, I mean." He was thoroughly embarrassed at his school-boy attempt to ask Zenshou just to spend dinner with him, and it showed. He felt half his age, as if he was a teenager again.
"What, are you more used to snapping your fingers and the women come running," Zenshou teased. "Of course I'll have dinner with you. Were you planning on going to Japan? How are we going to get there, though? I can't teleport us that far. The best I can manage with two people is maybe a little over a mile and a half."
"Oh! I'm sorry, I overestimated! I'm being overambitious. In that case, would you let me take you somewhere?" He felt about two inches big. If only this was some company party, he'd just fade away and disappear for a while. She must think I'm a fool, now. Come on, man, think! he told himself.
"But that's okay, I have an idea." I do? he wondered why he said that. Dang, I just keep digging, don't I? Transorbitals leave every day at 4pm, get to Tokyo at 6am local time, that means it would be breakfast, not dinner. Scratch that idea.
He thought of something else to save face. "As CEO of SynTech, I turned down a salary. Instead, my contract says I have been granted the use of certain SynTech resources, including a private Hughes Skyrunner. We could take a trip to Toronto, and it would only be about two and half hours. I was at a place called the Crystal Palace once and it was really amazing. Excellent food, incredible lighting, and these huge, amazing chandeliers. What do you say?" He looked to Zenshou.
"Suits me just fine, Jason," Zenshou replied. "And don't worry about making that mistake with my abilities. I'm simply not as powerful as Shion Nys." She shrugged. Though if that drug HariChem is working on pans out, that just might not be the case anymore...
"So, were you planning formal, semiformal, casual, what? What I'm wearing now isn't exactly the highest fashion," Zenshou says with a grin.
"It's a formal restaurant. Is that okay?" he asked.
"Fine by me," Zenshou replied. "While you're making reservations, I am going to take advantage of the shower in the guest room. I think I will take you up on the offer of borrowing some clothes." Zenshou smiled in anticipation of the lovely, hot water. "I'm probably going to be in there for a while, soaking these bones of mine and getting rid of this tension headache. Since you're going to know where we're going, why don't you pick out a couple of things that you think would be suitable and lay them out on the bed. I'll pick from them. If I have to choose, we won't be leaving the house as I'll want to examine every single item of clothing in that closet."
Zenshou kicked off her heels, stood up and stretched, then bent over to pick up her shoes. As she straightened, she looked over at Jason. "Good thing I got rid of the neon green streaks for the meeting with Nakata. I don't think they'd go too well with an evening gown," she said with a grin.
Jason chuckled. "Are you kidding? If you showed up in evening wear to a formal setting with neon green streaks in your hair, in six months every fashion-conscious woman in Neo York would be doing it."
"Flatterer," Zenshou said with a laugh. "I don't have that much influence over fashion trends."
Jason stood before the ominous, and suddenly intimidating walk-in closet staring at the rows of clothes there. In one hand he held a pair of high-heeled shoes. He chose black, since they would work with almost any evening dress he chose. They were shiny, yet still made of some soft, leathery material which he hoped would be comfortable. He wasn't sure of the size, so he snuck a peak at Zenshou's current shoes and discovered her shoe size was the same as Helen's were.
Finding a dress to fit was another matter entirely. Helen and Zenshou were both fit young women. But Zenshou was a bit taller, yet her Asian heritage provided her with a narrower waist for her height. He hoped he could find something just right.
After a great deal of study, thought, and effort, he believed he had something that would look right for Zenshou. He laid out a long, one-piece dress of some silky material that seemed to shimmer. The basic charcoal color was accented when the folds of the dress shined in the light. He knew that the sparkling glamour of the Crystal Palace would be the best possible kind of lighting for this dress. It was split part way up the side, to grant mobility, but not so high as to expose more than strangers deserve to see. The neckline also dipped low, but he would not expect it to reveal cleavage. Instead, the back was mostly open. Helen tended to be a little on the conservative side, and her choice of clothing reflected that.
Jason laid it on the bed and figured that it would be all right if he left the choice of underclothes to her. He noticed, then, that the sound of running water in the shower had stopped, and so he quietly slipped out of the room. Jason checked his watch. Reservations had already been made and the Skyrunner should be arriving in 20 minutes, so he hurried to his own room to find a suit and tie.
Zenshou finished drying herself off and peeked in the medicine cabinet. There was some old hairstyling stuff and cosmetics, and a small dish of hairpins, and she didn't think that Jason would mind if she used them. She decided that she'd deal with her hair and face after she got dressed.
She poked her head out the bathroom door to see if Jason was still there but saw that the room was empty and he had lain something out on the bed for her. Zenshou walked into the bedroom and over to the bed.
"Didn't leave me much of a selection to choose from," Zenshou chuckled. It was a beautiful dress, and she hoped that her being taller than Helen wouldn't be a problem. She saw that he hadn't laid out any underthings for her and smiled. Her smiled widened when Zenshou saw he had picked out a pair of shoes for her.
She picked the dress up to look it over and fell in love with the fabric's color and texture. "Helen had wonderful taste," she murmured. Zenshou turned the dress around and saw the cutout that would expose her bare back. "Well, that nixes wearing a bra."
She walked over to the chest of drawers and looked for a slip. Zenshou found one that would be suitable and shook it out. She also looked for a pair of panties but found that none of the ones in the drawer were likely to fit; Zenshou needed the high-cut style. "Doesn't matter," she murmured to herself. With the slip, no one is going to know." She did, however, find a pair of stockings she could wear.
Zenshou quickly slid into the clothing and checked herself in the mirror. She was slightly larger than Helen, and the dress clung almost like a second skin to her upper torso, and the neckline presented a slightly more generous glimpse of the swell of her breasts that it likely had on Helen. The dress then fell in soft waves towards the floor. Luckily, Helen must have preferred to wear the dress at floor length, so the extra height Zenshou had on Jason's sister wasn't as obvious.
She turned in place in front of the mirror and examined the slit in the side of the dress. Zenshou had long legs, and the slit probably was a bit higher than was intended, starting halfway down her thigh. Good thing I'm not going to be doing any acrobatics, she thought, because I can't wear this slip. It shows through the slit, and it's bunching up around my waist. Zenshou slipped the offending garment off and put it back in the drawer. This will make for a rather interesting evening. She was glad to see that the tops of the stockings were above the slit, so she felt comfortable keeping them on.
Zenshou went into the bathroom to complete getting ready, and draped a towel around her shoulders to protect the dress. With practiced ease, Zenshou turned her hair into a mass of curls piled on top of her head, leaving a few loose tendrils to soften the line of her face. She applied
only a bit of moisturizer and eyeliner, and a touch of dark rose colored lipstick.
Zenshou hung the towel back up, picked up the lipstick and eyeliner, and went into the closet to look for a small handbag and wrap. She quickly found them, then slipped on her shoes. Zenshou then sent a gentle "knock" to Jason's mind.
~I'm ready,~ Zenshou sent. ~Where should I meet you?~
~Hi Zenshou. I'm just down the stairs, standing at the little end table.~
Zenshou saw Jason before he saw her. Even in something simple, you look fantastic, she thought, reigning in her errant thoughts.
"I feel overdressed," Zenshou said, feeling a bit embarrassed.
Jason looked impressed and pleased. "Absolutely not, my dear," he said chivalrously. He finished putting the slider back on the gun he had in his hands and slipped it into a holster. With a sweep of his hand, he pushed the gun cleaning supplies into an open drawer of the night stand and then shoved the drawer closed.
He moved to the base of the stairs and looked her in the eye. "You look amazing, Zenshou," he said seriously.
"I bet you say that to all the women you take out for dinner," Zenshou replied with a shy smile. "You look rather nice yourself. Why didn't you wear a 'power suit', like you did last night? We would have matched a bit more, I think.
"Because tonight is your turn to shine," he replied with a smile. He remembered the second hand suit she wore that night, and it didn't compare to how she looked now.
"We have a few minutes before the Skyhopper arrives. May I show you around the grounds a little?"
The two had only just begun a tour when they heard the engine roar of the incoming jet helicopter and soon they were boarding the heavily armored flying machine. As Jason helped Zenshou into the passenger compartment, Jason caught sight of the pilot's name tag.
"Thanks for coming out on such short notice, Robert."
The pilot smiled and shrugged. "Just doin' my job, sir."
Jason nodded and made a mental note to make sure Robert was at least getting some overtime pay for this. He jumped into the passenger compartment after Zenshou and slid the door closed. They were instantly enclosed in comparative silence. It wasn't completely quiet, but the roar of the engines and jets was diminished enough to allow normal conversation. In moments, the Skyhopper was aloft and they were on their way.
Zenshou leaned back in her seat. Once she had discovered she could fly without the assistance of machinery, it had lost its thrill, so she paid little attention to the scenery. "So, tell me about the restaurant. You said you were in the mood for Japanese." A small smile twisted her lips. Were you just talking about food?
He looked at her innocently. "I was. But I don't know any really good Japanese restaurants outside of Japan, so I felt the Crystal Palace was a good compromise. I hope you like it. They do have a wide variety of different kinds of food there, although I recommend the seafood primavera. They do something to it there that makes you think you might be tasting just a little bit of heaven."
"But they also have a ball room, so if you decide you're in the mood we could make a trip over there. You might be in danger of getting a foot squished, though, if you want to do any fancy dancing," he smiled. "My mother was the dancer of our family, but I just... never picked it up."
"Well, you'd be is as much danger from me squishing your feet," Zenshou replied with a smile. "Because for all the deportment classes Mother had me take, dancing just never stuck." She paused for a moment. "Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"
"Not at all. Fire away," he said.
"Did you take a dose of Pharmacope or UltraStim when we got back to your place two nights ago," Zenshou asked, "or does your cyber enhancements include some other rapid healing feature?"
"Nope. I don't use any kind of drugs normally, although I think the doctors had me on some kind of morphine stuff when I was in the hospital for a couple months earlier this year. And the only cyberware geared directly toward any kind of self-protection is the reinforced bones in my skull. Why do you ask?"
"Well..." Zenshou found she was suddenly embarrassed by the question. "Then how did you heal so quickly? You had some rather painful injuries."
"But... I thought you did it. It started feeling better right after you..." His mind drifted to the memory of that cool, calming touch. "Right after you touched my hand. It felt like..." He was going to say 'it felt like fate' before he caught himself. "It just felt better. I thought it was because you needed it to be that way."
"I did?" Zenshou was surprised. "All I had intended to do was get rid of the pain by blocking it for you. I've never healed someone like that before..." Her expression turned contemplative. How did that happed. More importantly, why? My powers have never taken on a life of their own, at least not after I learned to control them...
Jokingly, he continued, "That's what it means to be Ms. Fate, don't you know?" Then he grew serious as he thought about the implications.
"What was your mother like," Zenshou asked. She wondered what effect this woman had on Jason. In the memoires that she had 'seen', there was hardly anything about her - it was almost always his father and two sisters.
Jason blinked at the rapid turn in the conversation. "My mother?" He switched gears. "She was kind of a southern belle, you might say. She was from Virginia, as I recall, but I don't remember much about her side of the family. My dad married her when she was pretty young. It's a little hard to remember because she disappeared when I was almost 10 years old."
"Disappeared? What do you mean, disappeared?" Zenshou looked at him in surprise. "Did she just up and leave one day? I can't imagine any woman willingly abandoning her children."
"No, I don't think she ever meant to do that. That year my father went into business as an arms manufacturer to support the UNA war effort. Mom didn't like that at all, but what was she going to do, right? Anyway, there was a Confederate commando raid on one of the main factories. My parents were touring it that night when they hit. Things went wrong I guess, because a lot of people, including a lot of the commandos, died that night. They found my father buried in the rubble a few hours later. They never did find my mother. Dad always said that when the attack hit, he was holding her. She was right there. Then there was an explosion and everything went dark until the rescue workers found him. We never saw Mom again. The only explanation is that she must have died in the blast and with all the rubble, they just never found any piece of her." He looked at Zenshou steadily throughout the recitation with clear grey eyes.
Zenshou's eyes softened with sorrow. "I'm so sorry..." She held his gaze for a few moments, then her eyes dropped to her hands clasped in her lap. Her eyelids closed as she tried to settle her motions. The grief from the loss of her own family was still fresh and painful, and Zenshou could hardly imagine what it must have been like for that ten year old boy. She knew the way she was dealing with her grief was probably not the best way, but she couldn't afford to act any differently. Her life was on the line, as well of the lives of everyone she ever cared about. Zenshou promised herself that she'd grieve properly once the guilty parties had been punished.
She looked at Jason again, her eyes filled with forced emotion. "Enough talk about the unhappy past," Zenshou said. "We're going out to dinner and to have a bit of time to relax and enjoy each other's company."
"You know what? I do feel relaxed." Jason reached over and gave her hand a gentle squeeze.
The Crystal Palace was placed in the top floor of a skyscraper, and the party was able to get temporary clearance for a landing. A brief check with security established the two as Jason Stone and Guest. They were passed through to the elevator and moments later Jason and Zenshou were being lead to a quiet table decorated with a single rose in a slender vase. Huge crystal chandeliers hung from vaulted ceilings and the great windows above would surely bring bright, cheery lighting during the day. Tonight, the darkened windows remained mirror-like, reflecting light scattered by the chandeliers a hundred ways. The soft, subdued light flickered and danced like natural candle flames which drew geometric shades of light and dark upon the faces of the many guests.
Jason had been smiling since they walked in and now couldn't keep his eyes off Zenshou. "I think you're made of stars tonight," he told her as they took their seats. Blue-grey eyes twinkled back at her happily.
Zenshou couldn't help but return his smile. "With all this special attention, I certainly am beginning to feel like one." Piercing blue orbs captured blue-grey and held them.
"What are you thinking, Jason," she asked softly. "Why are you smiling like that, and why are you going through so much trouble for a simple dinner out with a friend. At least that's what I hope you consider me to be..."
Jason chuckled, "How many friends do you think I have? A simple dinner out with a friend is a special occasion for me." He paused. "I guess it is a little different though. You've been in my head and the thing that keeps running through my mind is that you didn't run screaming at what you saw there. Some people might have been bothered by what you saw there, but you've seen my worst side and my best side; now I don't feel like I have to play games or hide things around you.
"You make me feel like I can be myself, and I haven't really felt like that for a long time. So, with all this I'm saying thank you, Zenshou."
"I'm glad," Zenshou said with a smile. She reached out and covered his hand with hers. "You keep acting as if there's some kind of monster hidden deep down inside yourself. Something horrible and terrifying. I certainly didn't see it. I saw a man who was under a great deal of pressure. I've seen glimpses and you've told me what your life has been like. There have been all those attempts on your life, and your quest to find Athena. Your life couldn't have been much harder."
He looked down at her touch. He couldn't help thinking that she had such soft, smooth hands, in contrast to his rough, hard hands made so from constant sword work. He returned the touch with his own hand and looked back as she continued.
"I know what happened, and what led up to it. You did what you thought you had to do, to protect yourself and to protect the ones that you love. What I saw, for all your foibles and perceived faults, was a man with a caring heart and generous spirit who had lost his way.
"My father has a saying that goes 'sometimes fate throws you a curve, and sometimes that pitch is a bit too inside and you get hit. If you charge the mound, you risk getting ejected from the game, so it's wiser to take the base and work on scoring a run.' You charged the mound, but the powers that be decided to give you another chance. Luckily I was able to get your attention." Zenshou hesitated for a moment. Should I say something more? But I don't even know how I feel...
"And I'm very glad that I did," Zenshou finished with a rush. She could barely keep the look of surprise from her face, and a faint blush tinged her cheeks. I can't believe I just said that!
"Me, too," Jason said.
The waiter was there, then, and it seemed all too soon. After presenting the two with menus, the waiter asked if they'd like to order something to drink. Jason asked of Zenshou, "A little wine to start with? Or would you prefer some other refreshment?"
"A glass of white wine would be fine," Zenshou said to the waiter. "Something in a Washington, I think."
"Make that two glasses." The waiter nodded and moved away.
After the waiter returned with the drinks he took their order and then left them in peace.
"I was just thinking," Jason began. "You are the CEO of a large corporation now and I can't think of a single person anywhere that both runs a company and wields the special powers you do. That makes you very unique. I wonder how people might take that."
"It would depend on who you are, I think," Zenshou replied, "and the reason it was decided that that fact would be kept a secret. Most CEO's and other corporates might see me as a threat, and I would almost certainly hit the top of their lists of people to watch. To their minds, espers are weapons and assets to be controlled, or rogues they seek to turn into weapons for their use." She took a sip of her wine.
"What other espers might think of me, I'm not really sure. To some, I'd still be a sellout because I'm with HariChem. To others, perhaps a symbol of what they could obtain if given the chance." She paused, then continued when she saw Jason's curious glance. "Freedom, Jason. Nobody owns me, nobody orders me around. Most espers, if they survive the emergence of their powers, don't have that luxury. Not all of them are Shion Nys or Ran, able to thumb their noses at the corporations and make a living without them."
"Sell out? No you are your company. You're the CEO and that means as long as you have that position, what you do, your company does. You are far more than an employee. You become the guiding force for everyone that works for you. You are the one who provides them with a living, or can take it away. And you become the target of every ambitious executive. On top of that, you are an esper. To the lower rungs of the company, you will practically be a goddess. Powerful, untouchable, maybe sometimes even a little frightening to them."
Is that how you see me? Am I frightening? Am I untouchable? Zenshou looked at Jason's eyes, hoping to read there what he thought and felt about her. After a few moments, she continued.
"The corporate life is very attractive, if you compare it to the alternative. A safe place to live, running water, money to buy fresh food and not have to fight to get at what little does get brought into the Zone, and access to good health care. For someone who is living on the street or just barely getting by, it'd be like someone offered them the keys to the pearly gates."
"I would love to be able to change that," Zenshou said. "Corps turn espers into virtual slaves. There ought to be an alternative. Not all of us want to become 'property', which is what happens as soon as they sign that contract, but what other choice do they have? Once it's discovered that they have powers, a corp like S-T will snap them up. Many go simply because there is no alternative and they see it as their way out of the life they have. The corporation tells them lies about the possibility of moving up through the ranks, getting promoted. The corporations would never allow that. Most don't see much of a difference between an esper and a piece of furniture, and if that asset becomes... 'inconvenient', well, it gets disposed of."
"That's true," Jason agreed. "I just don't understand the mindset of companies that do that. SynTech does not employ the use of an esper weapon in any shape or form. Reliance on people like that, being virtual slaves and constantly kept down, is a recipe for long-term disaster. Down trodden people will rise against their masters, given time, especially powerful down trodden people. Expert use of subtle resources such as infiltration, the seduction of employees of the target corporation onto your own payroll, judicious use of force, these are the weapons of a company that will survive. But forcing espers, or replicants, or any people at all to do one's bidding is like using a stick of dynamite for which a simple hammer will do, and it'll take your hand off with it one day."
"I can tell you exactly why corporations do it," Zenshou replied immediately. "It's the three P's: power, prestige and profit. Replicants are, by the letter of the law, in the same class as toasters - nothing more than a fancy walking talking appliance. Assaulting or killing one warrants only a interfering with or destruction of property charge. But espers..." Zenshou shook her head. "If you keep a class of people thinking that they aren't good enough to be anything but a possession, then that's who they're going to act until someone shows them another way."
"Yes. And I believe it is inevitable that any group will learn that they are better than what the oppressors tell them they are. Someone always comes along. In this case, like it or not, you're going to be the one who shows espers they can be more. I'm not expecting a sudden revolution here, but the beginning of a significant change for the scores of people who have manifested esper ability, and those who attempt to put them on a leash."
Shortly thereafter, the waiter arrived and took their orders.
"Problem is, Jason, we don't know WHAT will happen. I'll probably become a major target when the word gets out." Zenshou picked up her wine glass to take another sip, but put it down again. "Question is, what am I going to do about it. Go hide in a hole somewhere, or do something with the role that I'll have been thrust into. Gem's undoubtedly going to have a lot to say about this, most if it probably along the lines of 'do nothing, go with the flow, don't make a fuss'. But if they start coming after me, or if the espers come to me for help, what then? I can't turn my back on them. That'd be worse than what the corps are doing now."
Zenshou sighed, released Jason's hand and leaned back slightly in her chair. "Why does life have to be so complicated. I didn't ask for any of this." She glanced up at him with a hint of affection in her eyes. "Well, almost none of it."
Jason looked back at her warmly. A smile spread across his lips and there was a cunning little gleam in his eyes. "It's not so complicated as all that, I don't think. You simply do as you must; run your company, and live your life. When espers realize they don't have to be slaves, the solution will be a financial and legal one, not one to be solved by the use of power against mundane people. In the kind of battle I believe it will be, I think you will find allies you didn't know you had. And of course, as your friend, I will be there, too."
Zenshou smiled and was about to say something else when the waiter arrived with their first course.
Two hours later, Zenshou rested her back against the chair and laid her spoon down with a sigh. "I can't eat another bite," she said, picking up her napkin from her lap and setting it carefully next to her empty dessert plate. "They should have a warning label on that dessert: the amount and quality of chocolate in this dish is liable to be hazardous to your nutrition and waistline, and may be addictive."
Jason looked at Zenshou's face and raised his napkin, "There's just a bit, um." He hesitantly reached toward her. "Just a bit of chocolate right there."
What would he think if I... Zenshou leaned forwards slightly. "Where is it. I'm afraid I don't have a compact with me."
Jason touched her chin with the napkin and removed the offending mark. His eyes caught hers and for a moment, he was lost there and a silence fell over the two. A moment later, Jason cleared his throat and looked away as his ears reddened.
Zenshou leaned back in her chair and continued to watch Jason. He blushes a LOT. What am I doing to embarrass him?
Just then strains of music drifted through the air into the restaurant. "Would you mind if we went to look at the ballroom? I'd like to see if it's as wonderful as you said it was," Zenshou said with a smile.
"Yes, I'd like to," he replied with no little enthusiasm. He rose from his seat and lent Zenshou an arm before they proceeded to the ballroom.
It was a large dance area, dignified and even romantic. A rare, live band played without amplifiers and without electric or electronic instruments. It was a marked contrast to the disc jockeys at the bars and dance clubs in the Neo York Zero Zone. Zenshou had stated she wasn't an experienced dancer, and that helped the also inexperienced Jason to relax as he led his date to the dance floor.
Before they had even begun, Zenshou tugged on Jason's sleeve. "Is that who I think it is?" she asked. Jason followed her line of vision and saw who she was indicating.
"Damn," he swore. "Jack Freitz. He's that guy from the videozine, and he's the nosiest little creep, too. I think he saw us. We better get out of here." Jack was talking to another man in a cheap sports coat .
Zenshou and Jason beat a hasty retreat from the Crystal Palace, and fortunately didn't have long to wait after Jason called the Skyhopper to bring them home. Instead of wasting energy worrying whether they'd been seen by the reporter or not, Jason worked to keep the conversation light and amusing during the trip home.
Jason flipped a light switch as Zenshou and he walked into his home. As the roar of the Skyhopper's jets faded into the distance, Jason paused and looked at Zenshou. He had to resist a sudden impulse to reach out and take her into his arms. Good heavens, what are you thinking? he asked himself. What would she think if I did something like that? She'd probably slap me for being fresh.
But the part of him that wanted to be closer to Zenshou continued its little rebellion, and he wouldn't resist it much longer. The entry way of his home opened into a wide area flanked by dual staircases leading to the second floor and exits to the living room, study, and dining room. The size of the entryway made it an ideal area for much more than just a place to greet guests and it was moodily lit by a tasteful, electric chandelier. The setting was, in fact, perfect.
"Zenshou," he asked, "may I still have that dance?"
"What, here?" Zenshou looked over at Jason in surprise. She set her small handbag down on the side table. "What about music?"
In reply, Jason walked over to the same side table and pulled out a remote control from the drawer. He tapped a couple buttons and the stereo came alive, softly playing a slow tune.
Zenshou could sense a yearning coming from Jason, and it sparked a need of her own inside her. "Alright," she said. "It's only fair. After all, you've been denied it twice already. And at least here nobody will see us tripping over each other's feet." She smiled and gracefully walked over to where Jason stood and held out her hand.
A little thrill shot from her hand and ran up her spine when Jason's hand touched hers. Stop being so foolish, Zenshou admonished herself. It's just a dance. It's not like he's going to put the moves on you or anything.
Jason took her hand in his and settled his other hand upon the far side of her waist. Although he had been this close to her once before, this was very different in that he suddenly found himself the focus of her complete attention. Cool hands rapidly warmed as he began to step to the music.
It was a two-step, the simplest dance he knew, and hoped he wouldn't make a fool of himself. Unfortunately, when he looked into her eyes, he lost the beat. A quiet, mumbled apology followed as he bumped her foot and he put himself back in step. He found it simpler to stay in step by simply watching her eyebrows instead, and was even able to grow a little bolder in his movements as they slowly moved across the floor.
Zenshou was both amazed and amused. She had never really liked dancing. That was one of the reasons why she never paid too much attention during those classes as a child, and now she found herself regretting that decision. For the first time, she was actually enjoying herself. Zenshou closed her eyes, unaware of the look of pleasure and contentment on her face.
She let her breath out in a soft sigh and shifted closer to Jason until there was just a fraction of an inch between them. The movement caused Jason's hand to move from her waist to the bare skin of the small of her back. Zenshou had to fight the urge to arch her back in surprise and pleasure at the touch of his callused fingers.
~Jason,~ she sent, her mental voice a jumble of emotions, but he could sense a longing and fear that matched his own. Zenshou opened her eyes and looked up at him, and in that simple movement he was lost.
Jason's heart beat like a hammer in his chest and he knew now that he didn't want the dance to end. He felt like his heart was in a velvet ocean and it was sink or swim. He chose to swim. The moment arrived and he realized they were no longer dancing to the music and his lips were but a hair's breadth away from her's.
~Midori? I...~ Then he kissed her.
When Zenshou felt his lips touch hers, she felt like she was drowning, being swept away by the sensation, and could not help but want to share it through their mental link. Pleasure fed on sensation, until they were both so caught up in it that they didn't notice the sounds coming from the foyer.
"Dad, we're home," a young woman's voice called out. "Eww.. what's this crap you're playing on the stereo." The music stopped. "Where are you?"
The sound of a man clearing his throat slowly began to bring Zenshou and Jason back to reality, and they noticed they had danced their way into the front sitting room.
"Is Jason in there, Hobbs," Moira asked. "I wanted to ask him why he packed us off to London, only to bring us back so soon."
"Miss Moira, perhaps it would be best if you gave him a few moments..."
"Why? Is Sandra there? Who is she?!" Moira pointed rudely at Zenshou.
At the sound of the young woman's voice, Zenshou broke off the kiss and took two rapid and unsteady steps backwars, turning a brilliant pink. Her slowly unglazing eyes jumped from an elderly man, to a teenaged girl, to Jason and back again.
~I'm so sorry, Midori! I knew they'd be home tonight, but I just didn't think...~ he sent desperately.
~It's not your fault. We didn't know this was going to happen.~ Zenshou lifted a hand to briefly touch her lips, and she quickly centered her thoughts again, trying very hard not to feel like she was a child had been caught doing something naughty.
Jason turned and walked to Moira, arms stretched to give her a hug. "I'm glad you're back, Moira."
Moira wouldn't be deterred, however. She stepped back out of reach and put a hand on her hip. The gesture made her look twenty instead of twelve. "Not until you answer me," she stated adamantly.
Jason shook his head and smiled at Moira's frowning face. "This is my friend," he looked over at Zenshou, hoping he was doing the right thing, "Midori."
~I hope your not upset. I just that I want to avoid problems with Moira later and giving her a false name isn't going to help that.~
~It's fine,~ Zenshou replied. ~Best not to confuse her.~
"Midori, this is my good friend Arthur Hobbs and my daughter Moira." Arthur bowed his head respectfully and quickly, the way Japanese businessmen tended to greet each other. Moira courtsied quickly and a little stiffly.
Midori returned the greetings as if nothing untoward had happened, and they were meeting for the first time under much different circumstances.
Moira's attention was on Zenshou only for a moment, then she looked at Jason again. "Where's Sandra?"
"I'm sorry Moira, she is gone."
The expression on Moira's face was one of accusation. "You made her go away, didn't you?"
"She couldn't be here anymore, and yes I wanted her to go."
"Sandra hurt somebody I cared about. She-"
"Your Aunt Athena. We-"
"I have an Aunt Athena?"
"Don't interrupt, Moira. Athena-"
Jason gave Moira a stern glance and waited for a few moments. "Athena was my sister, your aunt, who's been missing for a long time." What do I say? he wondered. That Sandra killed Athena? It's true but also harsher than it needs to be.
"Sandra hurt Athena?"
"Sandra killed Athena, yes."
As Moira stared at Jason, there was a scraping sound. Hobbs leaned heavily on a chair he dragged over, his normally kind and patient face drawn with sorrow. Yet, he did not look surprised at all.
Moira looked at Hobbs for a moment. It was plain she didn't really understand what this meant, but she did know it upset both Hobbs and Jason. Moira gave Jason a quick hug.
"I'm sorry," she stated. She changed her line of sight to Zenshou and watched her for a few moments. "Hello, Miss Midori."
Hobbs cleared his throat. "If you don't mind, I think I shall retire, sir."
"Do you need any help, Arthur?" Jason asked.
"No, I'm fine Jason. Good night."
Partings were traded and Hobbs quickly disappeared, heading to his rooms in the guest house.
"Good evening, Miss Moira," Midori replied with a smile. "My full name is Midori Harihatu, but please, call me Midori. I hope your short stay in London was pleasant, and your return flight was comfortable?" She took the opportunity to sit down on the loveseat, looking for all the world she was at some official, elegant, and high class function. Every move spoke confidence, and Jason could once again see the powerful, capable CEO that hid inside that beautiful package.
Moira looked carefully at Midori and then at Jason, her face as coolly impassive as a doll's. It was the advantage of her full cyborg conversion that granted her the advantage of being difficult to read. Still, it was evident she wasn't ready to leave her adoptive father to the hands of a stranger. She moved across the room and sat down next to Midori on the love seat and folded her hands in front of her. "Although my father was unable to go with me, my trip was lovely," she said as properly as she could manage. "How long have you known my father?"
"We first met two years ago at a business function," Midori replied, "and became reacquainted a few days ago. I feel that I've come to know your father very well."
~Why do I feel like saying that I've had all my shots and my teeth are all original equipment,~ she sent to Jason with a glance.
"In a couple days," Moira responded. It was a statement more than a question.
Jason, displaced, dragged a chair over. This was looking to be an interrogation, and he intended to be there to mediate.
"There are a few... extenuating circumstances," Zenshou tried to explain. "Let's just say that I did a rather thorough background check on your father shortly after we met." Zenshou decided to use the phrase Jason himself had used earlier. "I am satisfied with what I discovered. Your father did his own homework, so to speak, as well."
"Is there anything that you wish to know about me," Zenshou asked. She knew she was opening herself up to all kinds of trouble, but it was important that she got Moira's approval. Approval for what, Zenshou found herself thinking. For a relationship with Jason? Well, she is Jason's daughter, and is important to him. I don't want to be the one to drive a wedge between them.
"Yes. Later," replied Moira a little ominously.
With a completely dead-pan look, Moira said, "You'll be okay if you remember that sometimes he needs a hug but is too stubborn to ask. Also, if you hurt his feelings, I'll punch you in the stomach." She caught Midori's eye so she knew she meant it.
Jason looked wide-eyed at his daughter. "Moira!"
"The last thing I want to do is hurt your father's feelings," Midori replied seriously, "and I will try to remember your advice. Is there anything else you think I should know?"
"I'm tired now. Good night." With that, she stood up and marched off to her room.
Midori watched Moira leave, then looked at Jason. "That wasn't nearly as bad as I expected," she said. "Is she normally as accepting of strange women kissing her father, or should I expect some kind of guerilla attack in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning?"
Jason furrowed his brow. "I don't know about her being accepting or not. I'm not even sure if 'normally' even applies to her. I think she might really be angry."
"How can you tell," Zenshou asked. "I mean, I didn't want to scan her thoughts, because that's rude."
"Well, for one thing she is almost never tired. She can tire her body, but it never feels tired. For another, she usually barely speaks at all to anyone but me. Yet she spoke directly to you and even warned you."
"Don't worry about her hurting me, Jason," Zenshou tried to reassure him. "With my shields up and set to take on physical damage, I can easily take the hardest hit that you can dish out, if you don't overexert yourself, without taking any serious injury. I'd end up with bumps and bruises, that's about it. Of course," Zenshou said with a smile. "I'd have to have a bit of a warning."
"I've never known Moira to be violent, or even talk about violence. She's never even shown interest when I practice my forms. I don't think the damage would come from a physical outburst."
Jason continued with the link, not wanting these words to be overheard by anyone. ~Her body wasn't made for combat. Between the engineers and I, we selected one that would protect her and get her out of trouble if need be. She's strong enough to hold her own, but she's untrained and far weaker than I.~
~You told her what happened to her and about the decision you made to keep her alive.~ Zenshou looked at Jason in concern. ~Even if she doesn't understand it, she knows, correct.~
~She knows that she had a terrible accident and that her real parents are gone. She knows that I adopted her, and that she has an artificial body. I never told her that it was my decision to save her life by putting her in the cybergraft.~
He sighed, then continued, "I think I better talk to her and try to figure out what's going on in her head."
Jason returned about fifteen minutes later wearing a long face. "The poor kid was crying," he said quietly. "She said that when Hobbs took her to the airport, she thought she would never see me again. I think she's still trying to figure out what happened. She's mad at me and happy to see me at the same time and I don't think she's paused to think too hard about your being here just yet. Anyway, she really was exhausted. She fell asleep pretty quickly."
"Did you give her the patented Jason Stone cuddle treatment," Zenshou teased him with a smile. "Come here." She patted the loveseat next to her. When he sat down, she slipped an arm around him and cuddled up close. She smiled at him. "Just doing what Doctor Moira ordered."
Jason put an arm around her and returned the hug with a tight embrace. "Mmm. I'll have to thank the doctor," he said.
She rested her head on his shoulder, drinking in his warmth and the smell of him. "What do YOU think about me being here, Jason," Zenshou asked softly. "Should I head back to the apartment tonight to give her some space?"
Jason turned his head and looked at Zenshou's face. His response was a warm, long kiss. He relished the taste of her lips but reluctantly pulled away after a moment. "Please stay," he asked.
Zenshou rolled over in bed, hugging the large down pillow to her chest. She had had trouble falling asleep that night, finding herself missing the presence of Jason's warm and hard body. Waking up next to him the previous morning had been very pleasant.
Her musings were interrupted when she sensed a presence in the room. Zenshou opened her eyes and saw Moira standing in the doorway, staring at her.
"What do you want from my father?"
Zenshou took a deep breath. She knew this was going to happen, but she had hoped it wouldn't have been at the crack of dawn. "As Jason said last night, we're friends. We're working on a couple of things that are related to my business."
"What's your business?" The small inquisitor saw no boundary between herself and whatever business her father associated himself with.
"I am the majority stockholder and CEO of Harihatu Chemicals," Zenshou replied honestly.
"Why did you kiss him like that? He doesn't kiss me that way."
Zenshou tried very hard not to smile, knowing that Moira would in all likelihood take it the wrong way. "Well... Adults who care a lot about each other sometimes kiss like that. I like your father very much, and care about him a great deal."
Moira paused while she took this in. "Why?"
Zenshou was puzzled for a moment. "Why do I like or care about him, or why do adults kiss like that?"
Moira thought about it a moment. "I meant why do you care about him, but I want to know why you kiss like that, too."
Oh boy, Zenshou thought. The birds and the bees talk, and she's not even my daughter. How do I explain this... She paused for a moment to collect her thoughts. "I care about your father because he's a good man. He can be very kind and generous, and wants to help other people who need help. Like how he's helping me now, and like how I helped him after your Aunt Athena died."
"I... found out he was very sad after she died. I helped him become happy again." Zenshou had a sudden flash of inspiration. "And with your help, we can make sure that he doesn't become sad again."
This was news to her. The thought pulled her face into a frown and doubt filled Moira's brown eyes as she measured up Zenshou with childish authority.
"Now, you want to know about kissing, and why your father and I were kissing 'like that'. It's really hard to explain... Maybe if you could tell me how you thought we were kissing, I could tell you why and what it means."
"Daddy just kisses me on the cheek. But he kissed you full on the lips." She wrinkled her nose to illustrate how she felt about that. "Yuck."
Zenshou gave a mental sigh of relief. "Ah, okay. Kissing on the lips is just the way adults kiss sometimes, especially if they really care about another adult. And if you want to know if or why your father cares about me, you'll have to ask him about that."
"Why are you here?"
"Your father and I went out to dinner, and he suggested that I stay the night," Zenshou replied simply. "I live quite some distance away and I didn't want to make your father leave you alone on your first night back. I'll be going home later this morning, if that's okay with you." Her tone of voice was serious, letting Moira know that she felt Moira's opinion was important.
Moira leaned on one foot and then the other as she thought about Zenshou's answers. She sighed and plopped down on Zenshou's bed. "Wanna know a secret?"
"If you want to tell me," Zenshou replied. She sat up, keeping the pillow against her chest to conceal her nakedness from the girl.
"You gotta promise me something first. You have to promise you won't let him send me away like that ever again. He'll listen to you."
Zenshou looked at Moira. "You know that he only did that to protect you, don't you? But I promise I'll do my best to stop him from sending you away again. Moira, why do you say he'll listen to me? He's your parent, I'm not."
"Because of the secret, that's why. He told me he likes you better than he ever liked anyone, except me. But you can't tell him I said that!" Moira jumped off the bed. "We have to get breakfast now. Come on!" Moira skipped out of the room.
Zenshou sat on the bed and stared at the doorway. He told her what? What is that supposed to mean? Oh, it's too early to deal with this... She flopped back on the bed for a few moments, then sighed and got up to get dressed and have breakfast with Moira.
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