asi_icon.gif kay4_icon.gif

Scene Title Niban
Synopsis Upon her return from the underworld, Kay seeks help from someone she never really thought she'd be able to trust. Time has a funny way of twisting things into different shapes.
Date March 2, 2021

We need to meet. Tell me where.
Message Received: 10:11 AM

Can you meet me at 8:30 at Ichiban? Bring a bottle of something.
Message Received: 11:02 AM

In hindsight, Kay should have expected the first message to be ignored. The second message, however, even from an unknown number, should meet with the expected response, even unanswered.

Asi sent nearly an identical message only a little over a year ago.

From a cab outside of the restaurant, Kay finishes sending off a text before paying her driver in cash with a generous tip for letting her loiter while she finished conducting her business. Stepping out onto the curb, she’s running a little late, but she has hope her date for the evening will forgive her.

Sheepshead Bay

March 2nd
8:39 PM

Wearing a black zip-up sweatshirt with the hood pulled up over her head to hide her injury, and a pair of dark grey denim jeans, Kaydence Lee isn’t feeling herself, but how can she after the day she’s had? After the months she’s had. Brown eyes scan the rows for signs of her friend.

Just like before, it's on the raised tatami platform at the back that Asi sits, visible in the slight opening of the privacy screen. She's already seated, slip-on shoes on a mat on the edge of the platform. She waits, a drink poured already for her and her anticipated guest.

Her own cup, even, remains untouched, a lack of focus in her stare. She's lost in thought, her hands clasped together in a ball in her lap.

She still wears the black leather of her jacket, a helmet deposited on the tatami beside her. A cerulean turtleneck covers her torso, the collar of it loose. It's completely absently that she belatedly notices someone new come through the door, turning to see.

Kay is partway to the table already by the time Asi turns, and she lifts a hand to wave a greeting. The smile she puts on doesn't touch her eyes. Or it does, but in an entirely different way.

“Asi.” The greeting is a little clipped, but it's clear from what can be seen in those eyes, that it's to protect her from letting anything about her emotional state be overheard.

She steps into their little sanctuary quickly after stepping out of her black canvas sneakers. Kay swallows, her gaze cast down at the drink in front of her. “It's really good to see you.”

Asi leans over to close the screen the rest of the way as Kay settles in, then finally takes a moment to properly look her over. Her brown gaze is distant for a moment still before she gives a small shake of her head to come fully to the moment, giving her a small smile. "You look better already. More like yourself."

She tips her chin in the direction of the drink. "I got the soju you like. Hopefully it'll do."

Now that they're both here, now that she knows beyond a doubt it was Kay who directed and summoned her, she feels more at ease. She's never been on this side of things without her ability before. "I sent a local contact to verify Eizen's state. I should know more soon." She dithers a moment after that, hands lifting to rest above the table, curling around the short glass poured.

"How are you holding up?"

“The right clothing does wonders,” Kay murmurs in response to looking more herself. She doesn’t feel the part, in spite of looking it. But she smiles, lifting her gaze to make sure it connects with Asi’s to show her gratitude for the soju. That the fact was remembered is a welcome surprise.

“It’ll do,” the ombre blonde promises.

Getting down to business brings Kay to sag again, her gaze growing distant as it drifts nearer to the table again. “ありがとう.” She shakes her head slowly. “It was a shock. I was informed this morning. I tried to reach out to him, but he was already on the plane.”

Coming back to the moment, Kay reaches into the pocket of her hoodie and takes out a cell phone. It can immediately be recognized that it isn’t the PR Director’s personal and business phone. It’s much too simple. It isn’t Yamagato-made. Kay looks down at it meaningfully, then glances up at Asi.

Whose brow furrows at the answer, such as it is. She offers a hand out for it. "Do you need it hardened or is it a trash phone?" Asi can only presume it was with it she was contacted.

"Or…" It's careful the way she trails off, dancing around a delicate topic. "Do you need help using it?"

The set of her shoulders is tense when Kay turns the phone around so the screen is the right way up for Asi, then passes it over to her.

I think I understand how it works.

The screen lights up with the letters. No program involved — not visibly anyway — just a blank screen and the words.

I don’t always mean to.

Kay gives a small shake of her head, looking afraid. “It seems to be working alright, but I don’t understand all the functions.” Like the PR maven she is, her words are chosen carefully.

"Each one is different," Asi counsels in a tight voice, her eyes not leaving the screen. "So that's to be expected. The best thing you can do is set aside some time to get familiar with it, see what the extents of the features are. It's a good practice no matter the brand."

She brushes her thumb over the screen, aching over the lack of connection between her and the device like it's novel all over again.

"If you wanted to come over to my place, I can try and get a better understanding of what we're working with and give you a walkthrough." She reaches for her drink, taking as deep a gulp of it as she can, leaving very little at all swimming in the glass when she's done with it. "But changes to the norm like this, especially when you don't have a choice, are hard things to deal with."

"So I'm going ask you again, Kay," Asi says with hint of apology that's not an apology, looking up at her. "How are you doing?"

Tipping her head to one side, Kay gives a rueful smile. “Yeah, I’ve been trying to get some time in every day to explore it. I’m having varying levels of success.” Her nose wrinkles, confusion in her brow. “It interacts with my television. The applications are unexpected.”

While Asi drinks, the screen flickers to life again. Kay reaches for her own glass and tips it back while the letters fade in.

I believe I’m being monitored. Don’t want to compromise your safehouse.

“Yes, a lot has—” The question catches her off guard, her breath arresting in her chest as she presses her lips together tightly. The tears well up a moment later and Kay shakes her head emphatically. “As well as can be expected,” she responds after a gasp of breath taken in.

Kawahara is a monster. My new operative is Mugai Ryu, formerly one of Heller’s soldiers.

Even though the war wasn’t Asi’s, Colonel Leon Heller’s is a name that lives in infamy across borders. Certainly it resounds from shore to shore in this country. “I’m meeting with Doctor Wenyi tomorrow to go over my, ah… test results.” Self consciously, she pulls her hood up a little higher.

It's this last message that causes Asi to blink the screen onto something else, a text to no one. An unwilling one, she taps back. She got out when she could, I understand. Fought in the war before emigrating. She looks up when Kay pulls her hood up further, a flash of sympathy in her eyes.

She's not me, Asi acknowledges. But I wouldn't write her off as Kawahara's lapdog. Not yet.

"You can find me at the Bastion any time, Kay," she reassures her vocally. "If the results aren't favorable, if you just need a place to go and punch something… it'd be good to see 'Ella again, too. I know she's been worried about you. Could help for you both to get away from home base."

She blinks down again though, her voice quieting as she tries to speak but can't. In the end, she taps two new lines on the phone and keeps typing.

I found out today what they might've been using you for. I have a name for what they did to the SEER. They call it Structure. They were studying you, your memories. Looking for something. Looking to make a copy of you, it looks like.

Asi sniffs, demuring quietly, "All of this has been crazy," before knocking back the last swirl of her soju.

Kay reads the screen upside down, her head tilts, signalling to Asi that the phone isn’t telling her what the message says just by virtue of it existing on the piece of technology. She nods along slowly to show her understanding. It gives her a chance to get her breathing under control again, make sure her voice is even when she responds. “I have other meetings later, of course,” she says, to indicate that she and Major Housen will be speaking soon. Not that she’ll be foolish enough to pick at her loyalties.

Honeyed brown eyes come up at the mention of the Bastion. If any place may be safe, it could be there. “‘Ella would love to see you, too. She’s been telling me how she’s been wanting to learn more self-defense now that she’s getting older and ready to leave home soon.” Shrugging, she admits, “Learning it from her mom just doesn’t suit her. I get on her nerves.”

All of that stoicism crumbles away bit by bit when she reads that Asi knows more about what was done to her, if not precisely why. It’s enough to leave only short blanks. One elbow thunks against the table so Kay can rest her head in her hand, shielding her face as though it obscures the fact that she’s crying silently. Her shoulders quake, her quiet breathing comes ragged.

“Yeah.” A hand is swiped under Kay’s nose, her lip is bitten to hold in a noise. She takes in a deep breath. “It really has been.” There’s tears streaking her cheeks when she lifts her head, eyes rimmed red. “I’m glad you’re here.”

"I'm glad I was there," Asi echoes in kind. Her eyes solemn. "I fought hard for it. To be well enough again to…" She cuts herself off as she realizes Kay likely has no context for that. "I, um…" Her brow furrows as she refocuses on the woman across the table. "What happened in November to the others happened to me in January. The stroke."

Did Kay even know about that? Or had she already been replaced at that point?

"It hit me hard. I still lose feeling in my right side, I get… migraines." She shakes her head once. "But I get around okay now. I can hold a gun and pass with the best of them."

There’s alarm in Kay’s expression. “The what?” It pulls her away from her own misery, sitting up taller and regarding her friend with wide eyes and parted lips. There’s some recognition that sparks in her, and she doesn’t like the fire it causes. She’d been briefed on the effect these incidents had on Yamagato, but not informed of who else was also caught in it. She’d taken it for granted that it was a targeted attack.

“I had no idea.” Kay reaches across the table now, her hand up in offer to Asi. “And you came for me.” The very idea overwhelms her. “You… and Eizen… Sun… and Godfrey.” She shakes her head in bewilderment. The others, she imagines, were getting paid for their participation, but those four…

“I’m not used to havin’ friends.” That much has been obvious ever since Asi took it upon herself to drag Kay out of her apartment to celebrate her own birthday. “You… did that for me?”

It's only then that Asi accepts Kay's offered hand, to squeeze it briefly in support of her rather than receive any herself. Her struggle for normalcy is something she's dissociated from, presently, given the upheaval from the confirmation the Sundered received only yesterday regarding just what they are.

"Of course we did that for you. What kind of monster would leave their friend to continue to be impersonated?" The smile she wears is little more than a tightening of her eyes, more grim than sympathetic. "Just wish we'd been able to get there sooner. We… had obstacles to overcome first. Finding out where you were was the biggest one."

Her brow knits together for a moment before she decides to pour herself more of the bottle she either brought or bought from here. "The strangest thing to me out of all of that is that when she was there, the day I had my stroke, she was wanting me to look into Renautas— into someone who'd taken research from them and ran. There were lots of little things about that day that didn't add up, and when we finally learned where you were… it all kind of started to make sense, abruptly."

She sighs, setting aside the bottle on the table after a modest pour. "それと,日本語全然しゃべれなかったらしい1," Asi notes with a faint twitch of her lips in a proper smile.

Kay squeezes back, accepting the support for what it is and giving her own in return. Her lip trembles, brow twitching periodically to betray how easy it would be for her to break down again. “S- Still, it… I think I was written off as an acceptable loss.” It wasn’t her employer that searched for her, after all. Eizen set out to recover her. “God, I was so awful to—”

Looking off and to the left just over Asi’s head, she stares through the walls and to the space where her regret lives, listening as she continues on, to the oddness of her double’s behavior. It’s holding onto that rope of confusion that keeps her from going over that edge into her despair. “そうか?” She slants a small smirk in Asi’s direction, her focus having returned. “Do you… Do you think she was trying to point you in the direction of where to find me?”

That can’t be right, can it?

Asi shakes her head once. "No— she took an interest in trying to recover information that had been stolen by an employee who left the company abruptly. An IT person, and the extent of what he took … unknown." Swirling her drink, she tucks her head and supposes, "If I had to guess, it must relate to the project you were subjected to."

"Because," she explains languidly, "The kid got tangled up with Mazdak, and right after that happened, Praxis fell, and several employees there shifted to Renautas… really dug into the project, turned it into what it was." She begins to frown idly. "I don't know for sure. But what I do know?"

Asi glances back to Kay meaningfully. "What I'd not give for 15 minutes with the impostor to find out."

“You and me both.” There’s a grimness to what Kay says. A deadly seriousness. Her hand in Asi’s does not slacken. She needs her for what she’s about to say next. “I know you saw the end result of what they did to me, but…” A shudder runs through Kay’s body. Her other hand reaches for her soju and she drains what’s left of the cup.

“They made me choose it.” Kay closes her eyes and turns her face away in shame. “They were going to hand me over to Praxis after everything I’d done to subvert them over the years. I— I tried to escape, but I screwed up. I zigged when I should have zagged.” There’s a horrific disappointment in herself for that. Maybe she could have made it out. Maybe she would have figured out she controlled the drone and she could have fought her way out.

The phone lights up. The text scrolls along the message to no one that Asi began before.

They dug into my head. I don’t know what they were looking for.
Something to do with Linderman.
“The Inheritance.” Whatever that means.

The whole while the text appears, Kay keeps her gaze steadily on Asi. “That woman, Erica… She told me her project would help people. Preserve lives. Minds. Maybe allow people to live forever, in a sense. None the wiser that they were no longer part of the living, waking world.” Her fingers tighten in their grasp as she asks the question that’s been on her mind ever since she was unhooked from that machine:

“Are we real?”

Asi looks down at the phone screen as the new message appears, shifting a look back up when Kay continues with such gravity in her voice. She backspaces the entire block. It was for them only, after all, and they both knew now.

Erica Kravid pursuing her project to preserve minds puts a new twist on the information uncovered, one Asi finds to be particularly perverse. In her mind, there is no question Kay was coerced into Structure under false pretenses.

"We're real," she reassures quietly. "Who would make a fake world this hellish? This entire thing can't be aught but the manufacture of a crueler god. It's a construct no single human could devise." Asi's lips twist in a wry, bittersweet smile. She squeezes Kay's hand before letting go, moving to pour them both another glass.

"If anything, it's a living hell. And very real. I've spent the last nine months wishing it's just a bad dream I'll wake up from, but…" She carefully sets the bottle aside. "So far, nothing. I'm putting all my chips on this being very real."

“I thought it was real. All of it. But I want to believe part of me was trying to snatch back control.” Kay draws her hand back toward herself, but leaves it on the table. “I started questioning things. I started thinking about—”

The hooded blonde shakes her head. “I think I stopped trying to imagine a future with Spence a long time ago. It made it feel… strange, the further along things got. He was a dedicated detective. Wanted nothin' better'n to help people.” True to form, the more emotional Kaydence Lee gets, the more pronounced her accent becomes. “Imaginin' him quittin' the force s'young, without good reason… Nah. That wasn't Spence's style.”

She smiles ruefully. “He wasn't a coward. Not like I was.” Asi doesn't need the rundown of Kay's history to know how that played out. “I started noticin' hints of someone else I was sweet on after I became the widowed bitch.” There's no wistfulness for this revelation.

“I dunno. I wanna believe I set m'self up with the wrong guy—” A tear runs down her cheek and she doesn't miss a beat in wiping it away. “So that I'd wonder what'd gone wrong. But… Maybe with time movin' differ'nt — I lived years in those months — I just noticed it all crashin' down 'cause y'all were pullin' me outta that horrible machine.”

Kay finally lifts her refilled cup with a tired smirk. “Cheers fer that again.”

It takes Asi a long moment to know what to say, and all she can do is lift her cup in return. "I don't know one way or another, Kay. The mapping they were trying to do against you, maybe you did fight back. You could lose years of your life wondering, if you let yourself." Looking down to her drink briefly, she opts to knock it back quickly, nose burning with the sweet taste of it as it leaves behind the smell of it. "Don't," she advises bluntly.

And then she needs the services of the bottle again. Even when they'd met here before, Asi drunk and wallowing in her mistakes, she'd not been quite so aggressive in her refills.

"It's more important you learn to live in the present. Defend yourself against what you have to. Keep moving, and don't let yourself get taken advantage of like that again." Despite the drinking, or maybe because of it, her next movements are telegraphed but direct. "Let me see," she asks, hand lifting to gesture for Kay's head, toward the port.

With her own lamentation completed, Kay looks across the table to Asi pouring that next drink. Her brows lift, calling her on her shit rather than letting them furrow with concern. “Yeah,” she drawls, “lookin’ real present there, sug’.”

And if Asi was meaning to distract Kay from pointing out her hypocrisies by calling attention immediately to the parting gift the rogue faction of Renautas-Weiss left her with, it’s worked. Kay gives a quick glance around as though someone else might be watching even with their walls up. She knows how precarious a thing that is.

Asi’s gaze is met and held a long moment that ends as Kay begins to pull back the hood covering her head, revealing the port. Her hair is still shorn short on that side, a shade of brown that the Japanese woman had never seen before the retrieval in Toronto. The longer strands are blonde still, but the same color has grown long at the roots.

Kay’s hand is shaking as the hood falls back and she doesn’t disguise the hard sniff for what it is. This time, she lets her tears run their branching paths down the gently rolling plains of her face.

If Asi was going to let herself be called out, there's no indication of it. And her touch is gentle for all her brusqueness otherwise, certain only to touch the exterior rather than the inside of the port. She lets out a thoughtful, nearly disgruntled hrm.

"A silicone mold could be made to cap it, keep it and you safe when it's not in use. If ever you want to use it for the leverage it could give you." Fingers part from the metal so Asi can make a single swipe with her thumb across Kay's stream of tears. "Directly interfacing with tech could give you a huge edge. Process and act at the speed of thought, once you get used to it."

With a quavering quirk of a grin, small and momentary, she posits, "Much more neat than my own mechanical trappings, if we had to compare."

That barrier between the defect that Asi swears will benefit her and the rest of the world is drawn up again hastily. Kay can’t have it in place again soon enough, even if she nods a little thank-you for the once over.

“Ah, well.” Her thumb swipes over the delicate skin beneath her eyes, willing herself not to give any more of her tears to the monsters that violated her, at least for tonight. “I hope you’ll say nice things ‘bout me at m’funeral when I die of some kind’a fuckin’ brain infection.” It’s supposed to be a joke, and Kay does manage a small smirk for it, but it’s chagrined enough to let on that she suspects Asi won’t be laughing.

But she does, inhibition low and cynicism high. "Only if I don't beat you to it first," Asi teases her with a snigger, the world's greatest dark joke just been revealed. She leans back in her seat, head thrown back as she lets go, however briefly, of the volume control she almost always maintains on her voice.

Tears sting the corner of her eyes when she comes back to the moment, part amusement, part something more solemn. "Shit, neither of us can afford to talk like that, though." She swipes her thumb at the corner of her eye. "Too much to still live for. People to still live for."

"I won't give up in the face of these difficulties if you won't," Asi bargains, elbow hitting the low-rising table as she extends her hand out to Kay, pinky first.

“Hey now,” Kay reasons, “if we didn’t talk about it, we might go an’ do somethin’ really stupid, like actually do it.” Her smile is a tremulous thing, but not as fearful a one as before their conversation began.

Already having started reaching out across the table, Kay stops short at the sight of that pinky extended. It makes her think about how many times she pinky swore with her daughter, back when she was still small.

Kay’s hand slaps down on the table. “Fuck you, Tetsuyama,” she barks without bite. “I promised m’self I was gonna keep it t’gether from here!” And while she’s crying all over again, it isn’t for the reason that Asi might think. A quick swipe pushes away a fresh set of tears before she lifts her hand again, setting her elbow down almost as if she’s preparing more to arm wrestle than to link little fingers.

“Y’know, ‘Ella used to really believe in stuff like this,” Kay tells her friend, the tears left unshed still glistening in her eyes.

"Oh, without a doubt, a pinky promise is the most sacred of vows," Asi agrees with past-Ella, voice so very grave. "You don't fuck with those."

She sits unbalking under the new tears, unflaggable from her current mood. Sad is a place she seems to refuse to go, perhaps because it's a steep slope to fall down— the likes of which she might not recover from. Not tonight, at least.

And perhaps she's had enough of that.

"Your girl is very smart, but we've already said that," she notes knowingly.

Tch goes Kay’s tongue off the back of her teeth, eyeing that hand a moment before coming back up to Asi’s eyes with an expression bordering on the pained do I have to?

Her free hand scrubs at her face. Asi may not want to wind her way down that path, but sad is the place where Kay has lived for longer than she hasn’t, or so her current state of mind leads her to believe. Her foundations are shaky at best right now. Perhaps she’ll feel differently when the dust has had more time to settle.

Kay laughs quietly. “She is that. Smart enough not to believe in things that aren’t real.” The commendation to her daughter is given quietly and it’s like if Asi dropped a pin, she’d hear it echo in the chambers of Kay’s heart. “Like mothers who keep promises.”

There’s an exhale, and it feels like she’s letting go of something she’s held on to for far too long. Maybe she still deserves the guilt — and she’ll always carry that — but that doesn’t mean she has to stay the way she was. “But I’m tryin’.”

Those two small fingers twine together. The vow is made.

Asi wags their joined hands back and forth, firmly shaking the two of them as though that'll make the vow better stick. "Good."

At the end of the day, all any of them could vow was to try to do better.

"Now please," she asks as she finally lets go. "For the love of whatever god you believe in, help me finish these drinks before I drink them all myself." Perhaps she's capable of taking a potshot at herself in that regard after all, even if there's no shame to it. She shifts the bottle to and fro indicatively, shaking it to demonstrate what yet remains. "Please?"

“Gawd, it’s like I have t’rescue ya right back or somethin’. So needy,” Kay teases with a scowl that evaporates quickly, turning tail after the brief appearance of a stuck-out tongue. “Fine,” she relents, but gets to her feet, shuffling over to the other side of the table, nudging Asi’s shoulder with her hip before she drops down to sit next to her. “But move over. I’m gonna drive.”

No one is driving after they’re done, except whoever’s running the cab. But they have to get there first, so for now, Kay is happy to lead them both down this road to mutual oblivion in this imaginary vehicle of theirs that runs on soju.

Looking up from where she’s been resting her head on Asi’s shoulder after a couple more rounds, Kay blinks slowly, then presses a kiss to her friend’s cheek before putting her head right back down again. “Thanks for bein’ here. Next time we drink at your office.” Squinting, there’s a brief pause before she continues. “We control the radio. And it’s BYOB for anyone else who wants to get shitfaced.” With her conditions laid out, she pours another round without lifting her head. “T’friends, I guess. Have we drank to that one yet? I think I drank to Xanadu last round, so friends sounds good for this one.”

Kay’s honey brown eyes roll upward as though that would give her a better view of anything more than Asi’s jawline. Her brows lift to ask for buy-in. “Friends?”

The closeness is something Asi is unused to, if not uncomfortable with. It does, however, make her a sturdy shoulder to lean on when Kay lays her head down, her discomfort with physical closeness kept firmly under wraps. The current state of drink hasn't loosened her inhibition in either regard there.

But she huffs a laugh at the thought they're drinking at her place next time, takes a hold of her small glass, relishing the rounds from the bottom of the bottle almost as much as the first.

She smiles when Kay works on that last pour and attempt at a look up. Her arm lifts from around Kay's shoulder, laying a hand on top of her hooded head.

"Friends," she agrees, lifting the bit of drink up before setting it down on the table. The two of them will need dragged out if this carries on, so she opts to leave it where it is, a drink poured for her future or past self, or for someone she's promised to find and hasn't had luck yet in doing so.

Maybe all of the above.

Asi suggests, "Let's see if Jiba will be a dear and call you a ride home, hm?"

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