Chapter 18: The Chameleon

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Alone on the balcony she stared out into the night. Her thoughts were muddled and her emotions, breaking through her armor. He was not trying to be stealthy, she could tell by the way he moved across the balcony toward her. After she and Tadayoshi arrived back to the estate, she had checked on the children and went into seclusion or at least she was certain that was how it seemed to Tadayoshi. She was hardly hiding or avoiding though. “How long are you going to pretend that you are not angry with him?”

She turned toward Zen crossing her arms, “I am not pretending.”

“You worked under me diligently for four years. That armor of yours is impressive, but hardly indestructible. I can tell you are not happy. Tadayoshi will never force you to see him. He clings to some romantic notion that he wants you to be able to look at him and say, he is the one I am meant to be with. He told me you asked him not to give up on you. He is foolish and never will. There are some things that even love cannot conquer. I understand the position you are in. Even being at his side must make you die a little inside each second, but you need to understand Tadayoshi did not kill Hiko because you loved him, though I would be lying if I said he had not considered it. His son is dead because he was a blight upon his kin, no matter his strength. I fear someday that tradition will fade completely from the Kari. It is the responsibility of the elder and shield to protect those traditions and be the voice of Kazuma. Please don’t hate him too greatly for being the man he is.”

“Why are you speaking on his behalf?”

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“I was born the son of Kazuki Kari, brother to Azu. Tadayoshi and I are cousins and despite our appearances there is not a grand gap between our ages. We grew up together. He was mentor and friend during my formative years. Much of what I know about the Kari traditions I learned not just from my father, but from Tadayoshi.”

Tationy remained silent as she listened to Zen speak. She had noticed that the two of them seemed close, though she had not realized that they were best friends. “Tadayoshi was in America attending Harvard when I called him and asked him to come home to Aslann. I had gotten myself into some trouble and was arrested. Calling my father was not an option. When he arrived to bail me out of jail, I was banged up pretty good. It was the sixties and Aslann was not tolerant of homosexuality.”

Her eyes widened slightly, “I didn’t want to tell him, but I didn’t think anyone else would understand, especially other Kari. It was hell back then. The police would harass you, if your employer found out you could lose your job, you were considered lower than low. A week after I was beat up a man I dated briefly was killed outside a bar where we would sometimes congregate. Tadayoshi was acutely aware of the dangers I was in being gay, but not just from homophobic men. He didn’t want to be that Kari, the one forced to tell me how to live my life. I remember the look on his face as he sat there and told me that the best thing I could do was conform to the standards of societal norms.”

Tationy felt a tear slowly roll down her cheek, “Tadayoshi could not hide his sadness and guilt.  He was telling me to lie to myself and everyone else going against being Kari. Kari men do not hide who they are. They stand proud and strong, but he knew I would have been killed by my own blood. I know he thinks about that moment often, wishing he could replay it over and support me no matter the decision I made,” He paused a moment, “I conformed. Tadayoshi feels guilty over something, I intended to do anyway. I just needed validation.”

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She watched him turn and look up at the night sky, “I made him promise me that he would never go against the ways of the Kari again. If he had refused to kill Hiko he would have betrayed that promise. Regardless of whom led the Kari, Hiko would have been killed. People like him and Iashi are held to the family by a single, fragile thread. They hold nothing sacred. Kari men like them, never live very long so with or without your presence he would have been killed eventually. Tadayoshi is the elder of the Kari, even though he did not wish for Hiko to die, he understood it was necessary. Hiko made moves against the Kari and Shima forcing their hands until things turned out like this. If we are speaking honestly, even you should be killed.”

Tationy noticed how he turned to face her. Zen had a hard stare, “I am not going to let you intimidate me.”

She found him difficult to read, no emotion upon his face. He was by far the most disciplined Kari she ever met, even Tadayoshi was easier to gauge. “You told him not to give up on you, why? What purpose does it serve for you to give him false hope?”

“That is not what I am doing.”

“Isn’t it? Didn’t your Yamada mother teach you the art of enslavement? Incapable of saying no you allow a man to lead you where he wishes even if you do not want to be at his side. How many months did it take for you to fall in love with Hiko? Why were you so willing to stay at the side of Sesiago? What is the point of telling Tadayoshi not to give up on you? Yamada women are very dangerous and crafty. Miso has taught her haughty kin how to seduce their way into the beds of very powerful men. You are a chameleon. According to what the men desire you change yourself. For Hiko, it was your innocence which you played up with your prudish ways. With Sesiago it was your resilience and your strength as he broke down you rose up. What face will you wear with Tadayoshi I wonder. Yamada women are incapable of love.”

Her head bowed, if it was Zen’s intention to land a crippling blow he had succeeded. Tationy had often wondered if she was incapable of loving another. Even when she was with Abe, no matter how many times she told him she loved him he never seemed to believe her. She whispered softly the words her mother used to tell her as she grew into a young girl, “Willow trees are graceful and refined and easily recognizable because of their open crown of ground-sweeping branches. A woman of wealth, must always be like the mighty willow, always bending and swaying, but never breaking even against the strongest winds or the most powerful of storms. Sometimes having such a life means that even when the most traumatic events happen that change you or your life forever, you must rise above it, put a smile upon your face, and carry yourself with dignity and elegance. No one must ever see you at your lowest point, unless of course, it serves a purpose to get what you want. More importantly, a lady must never refuse the offer of a knight in shining armor to protect her. So if a man offers to escort you anyplace, you of course accept it gracefully even if you wish to refuse.” She paused a moment, “No matter what you say to me Zen, you will not break me. My armor might falter for a split second, but you will never reach what is protected beneath it. I might be many things, but a haughty Yamada woman is not one of them. I am Tylo and we do what we have to do to survive.”

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His gaze stayed focused on her though at first he offered no response eventually he brought his hand up to rub his chin. She was impatient as she tapped her foot and placed her hand on her hip. Tationy had worked under him for four years at the Kari Foundation. He was right, she was chameleon. For him she had become the diligent receptionist. When he would give his staff tasks, she would always have them done by the end of the day. He was the type of man that respected diligence and hard work. His words were not wrong, she was taught to keep up an appearance that would appeal to rich men like the Shima and Kari. That was why even Abe was drawn to her. The son of the wealthy Emitoya Sosa had liked that she was not from his world and yet was capable of appearing as though she was meant to be there. Tsubaki had described it as an uncanny ability to be anything she needed for whomever she was with and it was not limited to just men.

“Did you know the Prince of Aslann was a chameleon?” Tationy’s lips pursed as Zen continued, “Capable of hiding her true identity she was able to use her social intelligence to manipulate the various clans of Aslann. Unfortunately, such a way of life means you sacrifice your true self to be what others need you to be. By the time she arrived at the Kari village, her true self had already been destroyed. What remained was a hollow shell with no true identity of her own.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“I will not stop you from standing at the side of Tadayoshi, but you should be doing it because you want to. How many years are you going to continue hiding your true self? How much are you willing to sacrifice? Haven’t you sacrificed enough? How many years are you going to be able to keep up the facade? As someone who has hidden part of his identity for decades I can speak from experience, it eats away at you. It would kill him, if you harmed yourself.” Tationy’s eyes widened, her mouth opening and closing. She wanted to protest, but she realized it was a rather futile attempt because she was ill-prepared for his words. Had she anticipated them she would have countered easily, but he had caught her off-guard. “How close have you come?”

She turned away from him to hide the emotion on her face, “Closer than I care to admit.”

“Did Hiko know?”

Tationy shrugged her shoulders, “He was pretty smart and he was concerned, but he never asked.”

“Can I safety assume that you have not spoken to anyone?”

“You can.” Silence followed and Tationy inwardly sighed. She felt worse now than she had been when she came out on the balcony. Reaching her hand to her forehead, “I am not feeling very well Zen, I would like to lie down for a bit.” At first she thought his silence was because he was going to tell her he was not finished speaking with her, but instead he simply agreed that she should rest and the two parted company.

The biggest problem Tationy faced with keeping up appearances was when her emotions began to pour out. It often resulted in headaches and general malaise. She preferred to keep her emotions locked in a little box, it was easier that way. Stone-faced and emotionless she could move through the world at an easy slow pace.

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She felt like she had not gotten far as his voice halted her from proceeding toward a bedroom, “Zen said you are not feeling well. Is there anything I can do?”

She didn’t want to look at him, certain what little resolve she had remaining within her would fade away, “I can’t talk with you right now Tadayoshi.”

“Did I do something?”

“No, I am just in a really vulnerable state right now. I have already broken down in front of you once, I don’t want you to see me like that again.”

Her body tensed as he closed the distance, “I thought we were in this together? Have you changed your mind?” Tationy was struggling to hold the emotions at bay, but the more he spoke the harder it became, “Please look at me.”

It was with great hesitation that she turned to face him. Noticeably tensing when he reached out his hand to touch her face she grabbed his wrist on instinct. Tationy could tell by the surprised look he displayed that he was certain he had done something wrong, “I don’t have the strength in me right now to resist. Please Tadayoshi, don’t stand before me with a softer maturer version of Hiko’s face when I have nothing left in me to fight it with.”

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Tadayoshi had quickly dislodged his wrist from her grip, further closing the distance. His hands went to either-side of her face. Tationy could not hold the emotions back any longer. Gasping softly for breath, the tears rolled down along her cheeks as Tadayoshi spoke, “Close your eyes. Please close them.”

His sonorous voice was soothing and his touch so gentle that she found herself complying to his request. She could feel his hands move down from her face along her bare arms until he took her hands in his. This was how she moved through the world as though she was blind. If she could not see all of the ugliness around her then she did not have to acknowledge it. Tationy did not need her eyes to tell that his body was tense. She could hear his troubled breathing, feel the hesitation in his touch, and tell by the way his aura darkened that he had things he wanted to say. “Forgive me, please forgive,” He begged softly.

Tationy was certain that he felt he had brought this pain upon her, but the truth was it existed long before the Kari ever came into her life. She had always felt like she had a hole in her soul and it wasn’t until she was sitting across from Tadayoshi talking about the man on the subway that it felt filled even in the slightest. There was a part of her that wanted to tell him that he should have been honest with her from the very first encounter.

Her silence must have troubled him because she noticed how he pulled away from her. Giving her hand a light squeeze he began walking. Even with her eyes closed she followed suit, allowing him to lead the way. It was after all what her mother had taught her and Tationy knew that no amount of wanting to resist would stop her from moving forward.

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Tationy could hear the sound of a door opening and closing behind her. She was tense because she was certain she was in a bedroom and confirmation came when he let go of her hand and she heard him as he made himself semi-comfortable. He directed her, softly whispering often to keep her eyes closed as reached out for her hand and guided her to join him. He must have been able to sense her apprehension because he had spoken, “I just want to hold you.” Tationy agreed though hesitantly. She was nervous, more so then she had ever been in her life. His hand rested to her shoulder, sliding slowly along the bare skin of her back.

She had whimpered slightly at the unexpected roughness at which he gripped her hand, “Tadayoshi, your holding my hand too tight.”

“Forgive me,” She could hear him take a breath in, assuming it was to settle his own nerves, he lessened his hold on her hand. “Being close to you feels different to me now that you know.”

There was a hesitant pause from her, “You should have just told me.”

With a sigh he responded, “I should have done a lot of things.” There was something in the air, unsaid. She wanted to know what it was that he was holding back from her, but she found she was not brave enough to ask. Most of the time, she did not really want to know the particulars. “I decided I will be going back to Aslann tomorrow.”

Her eyes opened as she asked, “What, why?”

His voice was gentle as he encouraged her, “Please keep your eyes closed.” She noticed how he paused and waited for her to comply before he continued speaking, “There is a lot of business that needs to be handled. Hiko caused disruptions with his power-play and our investors will need assurances. There needs to be a face respected and trusted at the helm of the Kari Foundation. I am the only person capable of doing this.”

“What about me?”

“I cannot tell you what to do, but I think you need time to process everything and me being at your side will not make that easy for you.”

“We are not really in this together are we?”

“We are, we just will be doing it apart for a while. If you decide in a year, I am the man you want, all you have to do is tell me and I will drop everything to be at your side.”

“A year? Why are you doing this? Did Zen say something?”

“He said a lot of things, but I am my own man and make my own decisions. I need you to be healthy and strong and I am worried that you will never fight for yourself if I do not give you the space and time needed to heal. A year might not even be enough time, but I am not getting any younger and I am a selfish Kari man, so that is all the time I can give you.” Tationy found herself angry, though she did not entirely understand why as she tried to pull away from him, but he would not allow her. “Please forgive me for not being capable of forcing you to see me.”

Her body stilled. She could hear the pain in his voice. Had he just told her, pursued her, and did everything in his power to get her attention none of this would have transpired. That was what he was telling her. He was not asking her to forgive him for being weak or killing Hiko, he wanted forgiveness for allowing her to make her own decision. It seemed a foolish thing to ask forgiveness for, but any other Kari man would have just taken what he wanted. This man sacrificed his heart so that his queen could decide. He was probably the only Kari man that would have. She felt that unwanted emotion again as she rested her face to his chest, but she could not find the words to say to him.

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The night progressed and despite her semi-naked state the two were not intimate with each other. Tadayoshi had been gentle, only touching her back or her face with his fingers. He did not even venture to steal a kiss. Admittedly, Tationy was not used to a man that moved at such a slow pace. Sesiago and Hiko had both pursued, done inappropriate things, and on the first night she gave in to both of them in one form or another. Even Abe had moved at a considerably faster pace. She believed the reason he did not try anything was that he was truly old fashioned making the fact that they shared a bed both in relatively unclothed states a rather forward action for him.

As she pulled herself from his arms she grabbed the first thing she could find to put on. It was nearly five in the morning and Tationy was aware that Tadayoshi intended on leaving for Aslann. She had thought about it all night; why he made this decision and even how she felt about it. She stepped out on the balcony, watching the sunrise. The boys would be getting up soon so she had little time to come to terms with it all. Some would tell her that she did not have to accept and move forward so soon, but Tationy had never been the type of girl to dwell on things. Allowing herself to get sucked into the unfortunate events gave them power. On the flip side of that, she understood that she pushed way too many things out of mind simply because they were inconvenient or uncomfortable.

If she told Tadayoshi she wanted to be with him, there would be fallout. The nation of Aslann knew Hiko Kari. He was famous and she had been at his side. As far as the public was concerned they had a son together and were going to get married. If she was suddenly with Tadayoshi the backlash would be problematic. If she told him she did not want to be with him right now, what would become of them in a year? If she decided in a year she wanted to be with him, what were the chances that he would even be there waiting for her. A year was a long time, no matter what anyone said. There were too many variables. She remembered that her being with Sesiago for that short period of time was particularly scandalous, even though Sesiago explained it away by telling the paparazzi that she had been injured on Shimragata and Hiko, who was attending to business, asked him to bring her back to Bridgeport. She was family, he had said, and family takes care of each other. That did not stop the rumor mill from working overtime.

More importantly, was she even willing to accept this as reality? Did she want to be Tearra to his Kazuma? Even though she knew herself to be Tationy Tylo there was no Kari in the world that would not see her as Tearra, even if she profusely denied it. The Kari of Aslann were gangsters. Certainly they had legitimate businesses, but that did not mean they were not also dirty dealing. Just because it was not blatantly put out there did not mean it did not happen. Which begged the question, what were the other Kari like? If those closest to Kazuma’s blood turned out like this, what did the remainder of them turn out like? She hated all of the questions swimming around in her head.

Some women and men might find it weak of her to stay at his side. She even considered this as she stood out on the balcony watching the sun rise. Aslann was a global nation controlled and dominated by families that still held tightly to ancient traditions and blood feuds. The biggest of the families controlled land throughout Aslann. Mount Celiabai was sovereign territory of the Ishi. The Kari controlled Bridgeport once known as Thacian and Shimragata, the Waichia held a grip on Sobatole, with the Hamara primarily settling in smaller territories such as Garvator.

The Tylo only knew how to hide. That is what her family had been doing for centuries. Primarily, residing in the neighboring nation of Progmato the Tylo had become rather strict. In her generation she had been the only girl born and she never associated with other Tylo’s. Her father had told her often that he was not close to his family, but she always suspected it was something more than that. Considering the events that led to the here and now, she understood well why none of the other Tylo’s associated with her. She belonged to the Kari. How pathetic she thought the Tylo were to allow themselves to be seen as property. Yet, she understood better than any of them could. The Tylo were about survival and if it meant sacrificing one of their own, they would not hesitate. They saw female Tylo’s as a cancer to be cut out. The Kari would always come and if any tried to stop them, they would be annihilated. After a while, the Tylo learned that it was survival of the fittest and the only person that mattered was oneself.

Thinking on all that happened through the pass few years she realized that it was too late to change anything. The Tylo were how they were and even her father who boldly brought a female Tylo into this world, was incapable of changing them. She wanted to speak to him. Certain that he could clarify things for her, though she was believed she understood how things were. She was on her own. Without money and power, she would not be able to protect herself against the Kari. However, she also understood that she had great power, though perhaps not in the way she would have liked. Just as the Kari could hold the world in the palm of their hands, she could do the same with the Kari.

To Be Continued

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