asi_icon.gif sako_icon.gif

Scene Title 割れられない絆
Synopsis Some bonds endure time and testing, and may come out even stronger for them in the end.
Date March 13, 2021

Cracking apart a fortune cookie by splitting the two sides of it at the middle, Asi works the shell into another piece with her thumbnail and pops that into her mouth as she smooths over the thin piece of paper from the inside. In the small Chinese restaurant, there's only two other booths aside from the one she occupies, most orders being for pick-up. The staff is in the back, her only company being the sound of the news playing on an old television sitting on top of the drink cooler behind the counter.

Her chewing slows as she considers the 'fortune' written, the sound from the television suddenly more than mere background noise. Two talking heads are discussing the seriousness of and potential ramifications of the 'the Japanese army' taking up residence in Yamagato Park. Encouraging people to wake up to the reality of the situation, realize that pieces of their country are being sold away to foreign interests, giving them a ground base on American soil to launch an attack from if the mood ever struck them to expand their ground here. They flash a still of Ryuji Sako from a previous press interaction in Japan while they talk over more fears than concerns.

But Asi lets out a quiet laugh, remembering the circumstances of that photo— how Sako had been trying to gracefully explain to press who had gotten too close what had happened in an apprehension, as well as his thoughts on the situation. The image they were using to represent the big, mean foreign asset was from a time where he was trying to dance around eggshells in awkward demi-pointe.

Sure, he could be big and scary. But that wasn't him right there.

Her laugh dies in her throat and she takes the last swig of her imported beer, looking down at her fortune again. She wonders how he's doing, how he's coping with the changes of this new situation. She remembers what it was like when she first came to New York— how long she spent surveying the land before she did much of anything at all.

Idly, she thinks to herself, that as grudging as it might be done, Kitada is likely having an easier time with all this.

Asi can't say for certain when her phone enters her hand, just that it takes several recordings before she drags the file to an email she pins and sends to what should be his Yamagato address.

«Hey, Ryuji. It's been a long time.»
«Welcome to the US.»
«If you're interested in an English lesson, it'd be good to catch up; get a drink. Let me know, and I'll make reservations somewhere.»

Merlot Joe's

March 13

1:55 pm

To resist drinking while waiting, having arrived early, gnaws on Asi more than she thought it would. It's quieter at this time of the afternoon, the lull after lunch before the restaurant closes to prep for dinner. But she stays firm on her choice of coffee, hands folded around the mug while she looks out the window to observe the boardwalk through the trees which haven't yet begun to think about budding green.

Asi sits alone at a table set for three, in the back corner of the restaurant, her back to the glass wall. She taps her rounded nails once against the side of the mug and sighs, looking back to the front doors again.

It’s impossible not to notice Ryuji Sako when he enters the coffee shop. He may not be tall for a westerner, but he’s like a mustard-colored square with a fluff of white hair on top. He’ll probably be buried in that old leather jacket one day, but for now it’s just a snappy accessory. Someone on their way out at the same time as Sako offers a hushed thanks as he holds the door for them, and his only reply is an ear-to ear smile and a thumbs-up.

Sako takes off his sunglasses on walking in, squinting against the bright afternoon sunlight while scanning the cafe interior. Once he spots Asi he raises one hand in a little wave and ambles over, squeezing between people waiting in line as he does.

Howdy,” Sako says with a sarcastic smirk on arrival. “«Kitada put money on this being an elaborate ruse to get me out of the Park so you could kidnap me or something,»” he says with a shrug, shedding his jacket as he does. “«He says hello, too.»” Sako adds, hanging his jacket over the back of the chair opposite of Asi before settling down into it with a creak of protesting wood.

Asi finds how much she's changed in how the sight of Sako brings her to smile to herself while he's on his way over. She grants him the courtesy of not being stared at the entire time on his way over by hiding her smile away into a sip from her mug, lifting her hand in return when he sights her. When he dishes a very American howdy at her, she arcs an eyebrow.

"«Ah, I see you already found City Slickers,»" she teases him, arms folding atop each other as she leans against the table. At the word from Kitada, she lets out a quiet hum. "«I was wondering if he'd come or not. Tell him hello back.»"

She takes a moment to look him over and finds herself shaking her head once. "«It doesn't look like you've aged a day. I feel ten years older, and here you are looking just the same.»" She means to say he looks well. Herself, she's hardly sure anymore that she can be a decent judge of it. "«I'm glad nothing's beaten you down yet.»"

“«I get beaten down plenty,»” Sako says with a care-free wave of one hand in the air, “«they just keep putting me back together and sending me back out!»” He bursts out in laughter, rocking his chair back on the rear legs some, hands folded behind his head.

“«You look fine. Maybe a little leaner, but you always had that extra takoyaki weight when you were with us,»” Sako adds with a crooked smile. “«I kid, though. But your replacement? Stone-cold bitch. No sense of humor.»”

"«And you complained about mine,»" Asi reminds him, some of her humor cut away at the mention of her replacement. She smiles nonetheless, small but true before she peels her hands off the mug to reach for the wine menu, tipping it his direction. "«Clearly, you didn't know how good you had it.»"

She pauses for only a moment before asking, "«What is it they're saying about me, these days? Clearly my name's not entirely cleared if Kitada thinks I'm kidnapping you, even in jest…»" Her head tips slightly to the side while she admits, "«I know Kimiko Nakamura had been trying to change the story around my name, before she passed. I wasn't following the topic as closely as I might've, owing to…»"

Asi dithers before elaborating opaquely, "«Events happening here.»"

Sako grunts, shrugging half-heartedly. “«Your reputation is what it is. I think the news did a retraction about you, but you know how that goes. No sensation, no attention. As for Kitada, he’s just being his usual self. Don’t worry about him. You know he’d be here if you invited him.»”

Sitting forward, Sako clomps the front legs of his chair onto the floor, then slaps his hands down on his knees. “«We got an order to take you in, back after that shit you got caught up in. I don’t know what you were thinking, Major, but it wasn’t easy for us. Komura dragged his heels calling us in the few times you popped up on the radar, we always wound up being just a smidge too late.»”

Reaching inside of his jacket, Sako retrieves a wafer-thin portable storage device and slides it across the table. “«The old man sends his regards, too. Said you might find that useful.»”

Being called her old title still is something. It draws up the mundane brown of her eyes to meet his again. "«Imagine being in my shoes. With the Mugai-Ryu as long as I was, only to have my own team sent to hunt me over a crime I didn't commit.»" She reaches forward for the device, looking thoughtful as she takes it under her thumb.

As ever, the urge to reach for the ability lost to her is there. But she stops herself before she even gets as far as trying to direct her focus down into the tiny drive. Eventually, you become used to just about anything. With a brush of her finger over it, the lack of the telltale sign of her ability not present in her eyes, she just shakes her head and moves to pocket it. "«Did he give any indication what it is?»"

Sako has an incredulous look on his face before he replies, but whatever brought that on is set to the side. “«Information on Mazdak. Everything the Chief has since you helped cut him loose.»” Which means Sako now knows what Asi knew. How much had happened since she was gone?

“«I don’t know the specifics, probably better that way too.»” Sako admits, exhaling a sharp sigh. “«Also, what gives with this meeting place?»” He asks, turning around to look over his shoulder at the coffee bar, then back again. “«Since when do you hang out in bougie coffee shops and not some dive bar your feet stick to the floor in?»”

Asi shoots Sako a meaningful glance when Mazdak is mentioned, studying him anew. Complicated situations like the one Komura had found himself in, and Asi found herself in, aren't his area of comfort, she knows. She wonders how he's handled all that, but… maybe now's not the time to ask.

"«I had to give you confidence I wasn't setting you up to be kidnapped somehow, didn't I?»" she replies immediately to his question instead, mirth in it. She turns her head in the direction of the bar, too. " «To tell you the truth, I've never been here. I saw it was a wine bar nearer to Yamagato Park than it was out to me at the Wolfhound Headquarters. I didn't realize they did coffee here, too, until I got here.»"

Regarding him out of the corner of her eye, she tells him with good humor, "«The coffee turns out to not be half-bad. You should try some.»" Tipping her head at an angle, Asi adds on, "«Though if you're dead set on finding a dive bar to get acquainted with, I know a few around town.»"

She's still her, after all.

Sako makes a noncommittal grunt that Asi knows is fully-comittal on his not wanting to make a choice. He waves one hand in the air, a dismissive piece of punctuation at the end of that non-thought, and looks back at Asi.

“«So, the break out at Fuchuu?»” Sako asks, not letting that particular bone go. “«Was that bullshit, or was that actually you? Because if there’s anything that smells like you, Major, it was that.»” Once more, Sako’s attention hones in on Asi. His stare is, as always, somewhere between overprotective brother and disappointed father. It’s a precarious line to walk.

Ah, that crime. The one she did commit.

Asi takes a long sip from her coffee, eyes settling what little remains of the foam on top. "I was angry," she admits, her eyes distant as she remembers. Tries not to think about what must be happening with the hardware in her head to enable that remembering. "Angry at Mazdak, for setting up so many Evolved to be arrested. Angry at the government, for the mass arrest, for giving people like us yet another reason to fear and hate the system. For… feeding into what the Mazdak preacher was trying to warn them about."

She shakes her head, her gaze struggling on its way back up but eventually meeting his. "It was a giant middle finger to everyone who let them down. Let me down." Her shoulders pitch upward in an approximation of a shrug.

Sense tells her that despite their friendship, this isn't something she should say. But if there's anything in what she did following her betrayal that she'll admit to, it's this.

"«Can you blame me?»" Asi wonders.

Sako squints, brows up toward his hairline, then casts a look to the side as he says, “«No.»”

“«But it makes things complicated,»” Sako continues, crossing his arms over his chest. “«Whatever Yamagato was doing to clear your name and smooth over relations with Japan is pretty much screwed now that Nakamura is dead. The new boss is a powerful guy, lots of connections in the Diet, representatives from all over in his pocket. He doesn’t think much of anything about you right now, but if you cross him or Yamagato?»” Sako shrugs. “«He’ll undo everything Kimiko did with about as much effort as a sneeze.»”

Slouching forward, unable to really stay still, Sako folds his hands on the table and rests his weight on his elbows. “«I’m just glad that I haven’t misjudged you all these years. Because if it were up to me, you know I’d have been there with you that day. It’s hard, doing the government’s bidding like we are, harder coming here to the States and doing Kawahara’s, instead. He’s cleaning house, you know.»”

Asi cants her head to the side before wondering, "«Do you figure he knows I've been contracting for Yamagato the last…»" She squints for a moment. "«Year and change?»" Her look darts back to Sako, her posture relaxing. "«Specific work. Research for Kay Damaris, when she needs it. Speaking with him, directly, at some point would be ideal for ensuring he knows my work comes at the price of continuing to right the negative air surrounding my name, but…»"

She lifts her mug, sipping from it. "«Not knowing where I stand makes me hesitant to set foot back in Yamagato Park anytime soon. His connections could be valuable to me, but he could also order you and I against each other again.»"

Her head shakes in a stutter. "«I don't… want that, Ryuji. We've always been on the same side. A good team. I don't want bullshit laws, bullshit corporations to get in the way of that. Ever.»" There's an opennness in her expression that comes with that honesty, a far cry from the careful concealment she often displayed in the past.

Asi looks away and then back, wondering, "«What do you mean, he's cleaning house? In a way you approve of?»"

Sako shrugs, slouching to the side enough afterward so that he can drape one arm over the back of his chair. “«When do I ever approve of anything a corpo-type does?»” He asks with a laugh. “«I dunno, he’s doing what powerful men do to establish dominance, he’s clear-cutting anyone that was loyal to Nakamura.»”

Glancing out the window, Sako’s eyes take on a distant quality. “«Kawahara was passed up for the CEO role back when Kaito Nakamura died. He never agreed with the board’s choice to name Kimiko as Kaito’s successor and he’s held a grudge for over a decade about that. I think now…»” His attention shifts back to Asi. “«Now it’s a matter of a vendetta.»”

Sako shakes his head, then glances down at the table. “«People like Kawahara are motivated by power, greed, and their own ambitions. Working stiffs like us can’t hope to understand them, let alone matter when the chips are down.»” He shrugs again, this time with a hint of bitterness in the gesture. “«Which makes me think if he does know you were contracting for them, it’s only because he’s already decided who and what you are to him. Good or bad.»”

Frowning, Sako looks back to Asi. “«If I were you, Major? I’d steer clear of the Park. Nothing but blood in the gutters there right now.»”

She shifts to sit up a little straighter. "«I can't, not entirely. People I've become close to are still there. What happens with that company in the end stays important to me because it determines the shape of their lives. But that being said…»"

Asi frowns, looking down at her drink. "«I've found out they were hiding things from—»" She carefully rewords herself. "«From me. Things they likely knew since before Nakamura died, things they sure as hell have been hiding since after.»"

She jokes idly, "«After what happened with Praxis, I didn't think I'd go slaying another megacorporation to right wrongs made, but if I find out they're remotely responsible, remotely involved with…»" But that's as far as she gets before she puts her tongue to her cheek. She lets out a faint huff of a laugh under her breath.

"«I thought we were supposed to be practicing our English,»" she remarks, mostly at her own expense.

“«And I thought that was an excuse.»” Sako says with a crooked smile.

He sighs, running a hand through his hair. “I get nervous talking treason in English,” he says with a sarcastic wink. “But your, ah,” he gestures with one finger at Asi, “problem? Not a great one. Companies lie, they lie all the time. To themselves, to their employees, to the people they hurt. It is the same here as it is back home. That you learned Yamagato was lying to you?” He shrugs again. “Just means you started paying attention finally.”

The side-eye Asi levels Sako is an unkind one. "You know me better than that, Sako. The difference is, we briefly had mutually aligned interests. Nakamura's death… changes that." The soft admission comes with a sigh. "There's no personal stake for them to be open with me anymore. And you're right— someone as shrewd as Kawahara…"

She tuts once. "He's more likely to choose releasing carefully curated bits of the data I'm after rather than helping improve my position with the government." Asi laments offhandedly, "It's not as though I see or stay in touch with my family, but if my sister ever had a child, I did want to meet them. Congratulate her." She smiles thin; bitter and brief. "Ah well."

"How terrible is my replacement?" Asi asks gamely. "I've only heard of her reputation— that she fought here in the war."

Sako wobbles one hand in the air in the universal gesture of ehh.

“«Her Japanese is as bad as my English and she has a stick up her ass,»” is Sako’s unflattering assessment. “«But, she’s good at her job and she pulls her weight. So it’s hard to say. I dunno what she did here in the states outside of rumors, she doesn’t like to talk about it much.»”

Sako’s right leg bounces up and down as he talks. He’s full of nervous energy. “«And look, I know you trusted Nakamura to at least have your back on the things you both cared about. But, if you ask me, that's a little naive, isn’t it? Kimiko Nakamura has just as much a reputation for backstabbing and treachery as Kawahara, it’s just the names and faces that change. If you don’t think Nakamura betrayed you somehow, maybe you just haven’t looked hard enough.»”

But Sako sighs, realizing he’s being cynical. “The fact remains,” he says, returning to English, “you are where you are now. If you can’t rely on a corporate leader to care for your needs, who can you rely on?”

"«She did betray me,»" Asi admits coolly. "«She foresaw what would happen with Mazdak when I went back to Japan, didn't tell me, didn't warn me. Let it happen just to see how things would play out. Like you said, the people at the top don't give a damn about the people below, except for how we can serve their needs. I know that. I haven't forgotten that, and I never will.»"

"You seem like you needed to hear that from me," she adds in a softer register. "I get it. I just want you to know."

She lets out a breath of a laugh when Sako acknowledges she's without someone watching her back. "«The only person any of us can rely on is ourselves, Sako,»" she chastises him. "«And if we're lucky, we find allies we can depend on. Even luckier, friends.»" There's a wistful twist in her voice for that.

"«For now, I'm working full time with a PMC stationed here in the Safe Zone. They call themselves Wolfhound, partner with the local police to provide SWAT coverage. The more things change, right?»" Asi smiles, little more than a tightening at the corner of her eyes. She shifts, one hand coming to settle on her lap. "«I've got options, though, if my body fails me. Tech work on the back-end, if nothing else.»"

Without having any prior intention to admit it, she suddenly finds herself saying, "«I had a stroke in January. Wolfhound was patient enough with my recovery, but if something like that happens again… I might find myself stuck in the civilian sector after all.»"

Assuming she'd even survive a second episode.

“«A stroke?» Sako fails at trying to hide his concern. “«Major, I know you don’t need me to tell you, but that’s pretty serious. Have you… considered that maybe the stroke is kind of like a warning shot? That maybe that is your cue to get into the civilian sector?»”

Sako makes a disconcerted noise in the back of his throat. “«Not that you want to hear that from me either, but I know you. You’ll climb a mountain until all you’ve got left are two ragged stubs for legs, and when someone asks you how you’re doing you’ll say,»” Sako pauses to give a big thumbs up, “I’m doing A-Ok!”

Grimacing, Sako shakes his head and lowers his hand back down to the table. “«Don’t run yourself into an early grave because you don’t know how to stop.»”

"«Once there stops being a mountain to climb, then maybe I'll relax,» is as much ground as Asi is willing to concede. She doesn't so much as blink under the weight of his worry. "«There's still things I need to do. I can't rest at least until then.»"

"とにかく," she tells him with deadpan humor, "«If I give in to my restrictions, I'm half convinced they'll kill me that much quicker.»" It certainly feels that way to her, anyway. If she didn't fight for the chance to unravel the mystery of what happened to her and the other victims… it felt too much like waiting around for death. "«But if you ever find yourself with free time and little compunction about potentially starting an international conflict, there's two different jobs on any given day I'd happily have you on for.»"

Asi tips her hand holding her cup over in a small shrug. She imagines the chances are low, so low, but it doesn't hurt to daydream. Not usually.

"«What about you, anyway?»" she asks in a way he knows well is being asked only to shift the topic away from her. "«You've been at this longer than I have. You'll have to hang up your hat first before I can even consider it.»"

Sako laughs, that deep-chested laugh that used to fill the cramped cabin of a Yellowjacket while they were on patrol. “«You know those old men, the ones who worked in factories all their lives and the minute they stop working they drop dead?»” He jerks a thumb at himself. “«I’m pretty sure that’s me now. If I stop moving, that’ll be the day I keel over.»” In spite of that sentiment, Sako smiles.

“«I’ll be fine, Major. If I haven’t dropped dead yet I’ve got a ways left in me. Besides,»” Sako says with a shrug, “«the hell would I do in retirement anyway, knit?»” And once more Sako breaks out into a deep laughter, crossing his arms over his chest.

“«That said…»” Sako says as he leans forward, elbows propped up on the table.

“«What’s this about an international incident?»”

The immediate enthusiasm is met with a small hook of a smile as much as Sako's admission that he'll never quit for the same reasons she won't. Asi shakes her head to herself once as she looks down toward her drink, thoughtful before she looks back up.

"«Well…»" she begins in a quieter voice than before.

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