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Tationy had asked her dad to watch the boys, knowing that day at some point Tadayoshi would be by to visit with them. She could not really explain the lack of desire to see him. They had a moment, a special one that ended when Tadayoshi took her home. She understood he was old fashion, but he seemed incapable or unwilling to read the atmosphere. She was tired and needed to feel the gentle touch of someone and at this point it really did not matter whom. What she really needed more than anything was a distraction from her life. Going to the last place she and Hiko lived together, was probably not the best idea because it gave her time to get lost in thoughts she was trying desperately to avoid.

“You have not looked at me once.”

“Dead men should not speak.”

“I have never been very good at biting my tongue.”

“Hiko, please stop haunting me.”

“Spirits and ghosts do not exist. That guilty heart of yours is making this happen. I did tell you, don’t you remember?”

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In this place, she could not keep the unwanted memories from taking a hold of her heart and mind. It was just a year after they had started dating, a few weeks after he had bought the house. Bridgeport was going through a “renovation” phase thanks to the partnership of the Kari Foundation and the Waichia Financial Institute. They were building a bigger and better city and Hiko was one of the men making that happen. She remembered being so angry, “What is wrong with me?”

“Nothing.”

“Then why don’t you want me to go?” She questioned as she pulled her shoes off tossing them toward the other side of the room.

Hiko had simply set upon a chair watching her, “My father will be there.”

“Are you afraid to be seen with me? Do you not want him to meet me? Why is it any event that he is going to be at, you do not want me to attend? What is wrong with me Hiko?” The emotion that bubbled over was almost too much.

“Someday he is going to kill me. I don’t want you around a man like that.” The surprised look upon her face as the tears streamed along her cheeks were wasted on him because he had already walked out.

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She had way too much time to think these unwanted thoughts, “You never answered me that day. Why, did you never want me with you? There were moments when Tadayoshi was not at an event and you still did not want me to go.”

Tationy really did not know what she expected from a ghost, a response was probably too much to ask for. “You are pouting.”

“I am not.”

“You always were a terrible liar.”

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There was a silence that followed as she watched the flickering flames, “I had a dream that our wedding day would be met with a sign.”

“There is no such thing.”

“Isn’t there? How terrible a person I must be for things to turn out like this.”

There was a subtle pause before he asked, “Why did you remove it?” She did not need him to specify, she was well aware he was talking about the necklace he gave her. “Do you think if you lock it away in some hidden place that you will forget? That is not the woman I know. You told me you wanted to be my wife, have my children, stay at my side, and yet you easily discarded me for my father.”

“That is not it at all.”

“Isn’t it? Why are you trying to get the attention of a man that will only see Tearra. He cares about two things, the Kari and his queen. He only even looks at you because of what you represent.”

“What about you? I was good enough to be used against the Kari, how are you any different?”

“I am different because I love you. Just before my father killed me he asked if there was anything I wanted to say to you, he told you as much. He also told you what I said. You know I love you because that was what was in my heart. I was a foul man and it was your love that sustained me.”

“I don’t need a dead man telling me how he feels,” She screamed as she turned to face the ghost only to have him gone and a familiar face staring back at her. He seemed just as surprised as she was.

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Tationy quickly wiped the tears away, collecting herself, and pretending as though she was not just caught talking to herself, “Kin what are you doing here?”

He closed the distance, his head tilting, as he stared intently at her face. It made her feel slightly uncomfortable and the longer it took him to respond the more agitated she got, “This particular dead man been haunting you for very long? Should we call a ghost exterminator or something?” She was thankful, even though it slightly annoyed her how he turned it into a joke she understood why he did, “You must have lost track of time, it is nearly eight. I stopped by your dad’s place to see how you were doing after Tadayoshi’s visit, but your dad said you had not returned and you were not answering your phone so the boys…”

She interrupted his explanation, “The boys are with you?”

“Well yeah. Your dad said something about having to run a few errands, so I told him I would bring the boys to you. Does you being in this house mean you are going to be staying here?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you going to tell me what you and this ghost were talking about? Not that I need you too or anything, I think I have a pretty good idea.”

Sighing she spoke, “Would it surprise you to find out that Hiko told me once that his father was going to kill him?”

Kin stood upright and Tationy noticed a subtle change to his expression, “No, actually that would not surprise me.”

“He never wanted me to go to events or parties that Tadayoshi was going to attend. Just after he bought this place he told me he did not want me around a man like that. I got him killed Kin. I got Hiko killed.”

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As quickly as the tears began to fall, he grabbed her. She felt the warmth of his body as he held her close to him. His voice oddly soothing, “Hiko got himself killed. Kari men take great pride in ambition, but there is a limit. Hiko crossed it. No matter how many different ways I say it to you it does not seem to get through this thick skull of yours,” He said as he patted her head lightly. “Hiko would have died, with or without you around. Uncle Tadayoshi would call it a predestined fate, but I think men make their own destiny and Hiko understood that no matter how much he wanted it, he was not capable of having one at your side; not without facing his father. He laid down a challenge and he failed. You were precious to him and even though he was angry with you in those final moments, I have no doubt that he understood well the position he put himself and you in. He died because his ambition outweighed his loyalty and my uncle could not stand by and allow him to do as he wished.”

Tationy wanted to argue that she was the one that put all of this into motion, but arguing about it was not going to get her anywhere with Kin. He was the type of man that would never allow her to blame herself, “I had a dream that on our wedding day there would be a fire, was it foreshadowing? Should I have known? My father said he knew the moment he saw Tadayoshi that he was Kazuma. That he could see him so clearly. Why do his eyes see what mine cannot?”

Kin interrupted her from continuing, “Maybe you should ask that question to that Kensuku detective.”

“The detective, why?”

“The Kensuku worshiped Tearra, many of them still do. They say upon her deathbed, she was only visited by the God of War Ryozo and attending her were the Kensuku. Perhaps in her final hours, she told them the importance of those eyes. I would suggest asking your father or other Tylo also, but I assume the reason you are posing this question to me is because he did not have an answer for you. Does your father not speak with other Tylo?”

“My uncle Moromari was around when I was little. Not so much as I got older. He was raised Saitama and my uncle Hayato, I only met once. That day, he and my father were arguing.”

“About?”

“Me. The Tylo did not want to have anything to do with my father because of me. Does your father hate you?”

“My father?” He asked as he pulled back from her.

“You are Maiba right? Iashi called you …”

“I know what Iashi called me.”

“I am sorry I did not mean….You understand what it is like to be different from your family, I was just wondering if your father ever looked at you like you were a mistake.”

“Never once. I can tell you it has not been easy being Maiba blood within the Kari, but he always looked at me like I was his precious son. Your father loves you. He may have stumbled in his life, but he always thought of you. I know it is easy to get lost in the negative thoughts you have in your head right now, but don’t doubt him. You and Miroku, me and my dad Kyo, we are not Tadayoshi and Hiko.” Taking her hand he gave it a small squeeze as he led her out of Hiko’s office talking as he walked, “How about we make something to eat and find a movie to watch with the boys?”

“It has been a while since we have been back here, the fridge needs cleaned out.”

“I have a feeling you are just going to say no to everything aren’t you?”

She smiled mischievously, “No.”

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Just as quickly as she teased him she found herself in a half dip, his arm around her waist, and his body pressed into hers. At first his expression was serious as he looked her over, “Are you flirting with me?”

Pushing against his chest she responded, “Don’t get cocky.”

“Fine,” He pulled away from her a half smirk gracing his lips briefly. He was so confident and in a lot of ways he reminded her of Hiko. There were differences which she appreciated because they kept her grounded in the midst of the wild storm she was in. “So let’s get the kids and go to mart across the bridge. We can get a few things, have a little family night.”

“A family night?”

“Yeah, watch some movies, have some snacks, let the boys have a normal night. Kids need normal.”

“Alright, but we are not getting pizza.”

He laughed, “How about Chinese?”

Her lips pursed, “Why do I get the feeling you are going to eat all the fortune cookies and egg rolls?”

“I promise, I will share them with you.”

In a disbelieving tone she responded, “Right.”

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Tationy allowed Kin to distract her as they gathered up the boys and made their way to the small mart across the bridge. By the time they had arrived she had reached her dad, so she spent the majority of the time talking on the phone to him as she moved around the store, “Alright, let’s see…what the heck you three. I was gone for two minutes and you put junk food in the cart?”

Kin laughed, “Guess next time you should not leave the cart.”

“You, why do I get the impression you are responsible for this ice-cream, chips, soda….and candy? Seriously Kin are you trying to rot their teeth out of their heads?”

“Is your mom always like this?” Kin asked Osa.

Osa sighed, “No, amazingly she is usually worse. She just does not want us to have sweets because she loves us though.”

“A little sweets in moderation will not kill them, Tationy and isn’t it customary on family night to have some special treats?”

Tationy sighed as she relented, “Three boys….ugh, I am completely outnumbered here. Fine, we can have sweets, but you boys are brushing your teeth before bedtime. No getting out of it.”

“See told you she would give in,” Kin responded to Osa who giggled softly.

“You boys are butts.”

“Did you just call us butts?”

“Well as a mom it would not be right for me to call you all a-s-s-h-o-l-e-s now would it?”

Osa laughed as Kin responded, “Good to know. Somehow you calling me a butt makes me feel really bad. I think I would have preferred you calling me an a-s-s-h-o-l-e.”

“She only calls you a butt if she loves you,” Osa responded as he began walking while adding, “You two know I can spell right?”

Kin chuckled before drawing his attention toward Tationy, “So, you really only call the people you love butts?”

Kin had a smirk on his face which annoyed Tationy, “I am pretty sure I told you earlier not to get cocky.”

As she walked he and Kazuma moved to her side. Kin had leaned in a bit and Tationy noticed how his voiced softened into a whisper, “Call me a butt again, it kind of turns me on.”

“I hate you,” She responded, though she hardly hated him. Tationy was not even mad. Kin managed to relax her and keep the boys upbeat. Osa had certainly noticed that she had been annoyed a lot lately, so having Kin around was probably a good thing. He was different from Tadayoshi and Hiko, he knew how to have fun. It was just what the boys needed and deep down she was certain the distraction was good for her as well.

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Back at the house they got snacks ready for the impromptu family night. “I swear to Kazuma, Kin if you get into the salsa again I will …”

“You will what? Offering to spank me?”

A cleared throat broke up their conversation, “We let ourselves in, perhaps we should have knocked.”

“Not at all.” Tationy responded to her father who was joined by a young woman, “This is…” She went to introduce Kin, but he interrupted her.

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With his hand extended to Miroku he spoke, “Kin Kari.”

“Miroku Tylo.” The two men shook hands, but it was different from something two men would do over business. They were sizing each other up with cold hard stares and a firm handshake that lingered there probably longer then either of them had intended.

“Seriously are you boys done peeing on each other?” Tationy asked before glancing toward her father’s friend. That was when she realized the young woman was looking at her. The girl was not hiding the fact that she was not happy and slightly curious more so about Tationy than about Kin from the looks she was getting. She imagined the girl was thinking to herself, who is this woman in Miroku’s life and how does she know him. If she knew her father well, she thought it seemed plausible that he only said they were going to watch movies and did not specify it would be with his daughter. She almost felt a little mischievous and considered teasing the girl.

Tationy realized she must have been lost in thought when Kin leaned in and whispered, “You got a little evil on your face.”

Glancing at Kin briefly she wrinkled her nose, “You must be Chii. I wish I could say I have heard a lot about you, but someone has been rather tight lipped.”

“Do you tell me everything that happens in your life?”

“Everything, but the dirty parts….well sometimes the dirty parts too.”

Kin laughed as Miroku asked, “Should I be asking about the dirty details between the two of you?”

“Kin is my handler. As if I do not realize what he is up too for his uncle,” She responded giving Kin a hard stare before turning her attention back to Chii, “So, does Chii have a voice that works or do you speak for her?”

“I can speak for myself. I did not catch your name.”

“Tationy and the boys in the other room are Osa and Kazuma. So how did the two of you meet?”

“At the pub. She comes and sees the show.”

“I always did love listening to you play,” Tationy said and she noticed how the young girl pursed her lips. “So Chii, you must love music do you play an instrument or sing?”

“Oh no, not me. I paint though, but that is really the extent of my artistic talents and even that, I struggle with.”

“Struggle how?”

“Inspiration mostly. Sometimes I just do not know what to paint.”

“The human form is a nice option,” Kin responded and he was not hiding the fact that he was looking at Tationy when he said it.

With lips pursed Tationy directed her attention fully on Kin, “You have been awfully forward today, are you trying to get yourself killed?”

“Not at all, I like life. Just trying to get you to flirt back again.”

Tationy scoffed, “As if I was flirting with you.”

“Are the two of you not a couple?” The little voice of Chii questioned.

“I keep trying to get into her pants, but she keeps telling me not to get cocky.”

There was a subtle laugh that was brief from Tationy’s father which surprised even her before he asked, “Shall we join the boys?”

Collecting herself she responded, “Yes, let’s do that.” Offering the chips and salsa to Kin to carry while she grabbed everyone some drinks. Beer and soda in hand, they made their way to the small lounge where the television was.

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“Did my two handsome boys find us a movie to watch.”

“Yeah, we picked out a few, but Kazuma wants to watch Who Framed Rodger Rabbit.”

“Kazuma, little man you got good taste,” Kin responded.

“I knew it. It is your favorite movie isn’t it. You seem like you would be one of THOSE guys that just has to watch a comedy. I bet half of the movies you watch are not even funny.”

“I will have you know, little miss thinks she has me figured out. I like classic old movies and Who Framed Rodger Rabbit, has a bit of that old-timey feel.”

“Old-timey, I don’t know you at all.”

“You two bicker like you are married,” Miroku responded and Chii buried her face into his shoulder as she tried to stifle her laugh. “Just sit down and watch the movie, cuddle, and enjoy the night. It is not often we get to spend quiet moments like this.”

The room fell silent as the adults took up seats on the sofa and Osa spoke in a whisper to Kazuma, “Adults are noisy.”

Tationy noticed that during the first part of the movie that Chii would often glance at her even after Miroku placed his arm on the back of the sofa behind her. There was nothing to really wonder about because Tationy was certain the girl did not know that she was in fact Miroku’s daughter. Analyzing the girl she made note that there were some similarities between Chii and her mother physically. They both had red hair, big eyes, and thin builds and she told herself that during an intermission she would take the opportunity to ask the girl questions. Her father seemed different somehow though she could not place her finger on what it was.

“Where are you two going?” Tationy asked when she noticed that Kazuma and Osa were getting up.

“I need to go to the bathroom.”

Osa’s answer was simple and she understood that Kazuma who liked to tag along with his “big brother” was going to follow along no matter where Osa went.

“Your boys are really cute, the two of you must be really proud of them,” Chii had spoken up as the boys made their way up the stairs hand in hand.

The soft chuckle of Kin slightly annoyed Tationy, but she understood why he was laughing. Chii had assumed the boys belonged to her and Kin, “Thank you, but….”

“Yes, really proud,” Kin interjected. The tension filled her body as she felt his fingers tease the skin on her hand. Certainly they were setting in a rather cozy position and probably seemed like a couple to Chii regardless of the words they had spoken, but she had not thought their positions on the couch would give Kin the idea that it was okay to touch her. She had adjusted her body during the course of the first movie because she found the back of the couch to be rather uncomfortable. It was not as though she was interested in Kin and she was certain even though he was being awfully forward that it was just his personality.

She was thankful when her fathers words distracted her thoughts, “They are not his.” Tationy noticed how Chii quickly looked between him and her. Her father was doing nothing at all to help the situation and it was obvious that the girl had jumped to all the wrong conclusions. “They are taking their time. I think I will go and check on them.”

“I will join you,” Kin responded as the two men disappeared up the stairs leaving Tationy and Chii alone.

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Tationy stood and moved toward the kitchen with the chip bowl and empty containers in hand noticing that Chii was following behind her with the salsa platter, “You and Miroku have known each other a long time?”

Certain the young girl was fishing for information Tationy purposely evaded, “It seems like forever.”

“You and Kin, really seem close.”

“Not that close.”

Tationy turned to face the girl after having set the bowl and containers down, “I saw you and Miroku together the other night at the pub.”

“Did you?”

“Yes, I do not recall seeing you before though.”

“I have been away.” Tationy paused looking the girl over a moment before she asked, “Do you think it is a wise decision for you to be so infatuated with him?”

Noticeably the girl got flustered, her hands moving behind her back, her face turning into a sour pout, and it was with obvious nervousness she avoided the question and asked, “Do the two of you have history?”

“We do. We are very close.” There was a soft gasp and admittedly Tationy felt a little bad tormenting the girl, but she could only assume her father said nothing for a reason. The question was what purpose did it serve? Tationy suspected that it was because of her mother and the history between the two. Her father was probably worried that the girl would turn out like Tationy’s mother, “Chii, why don’t you ask me what you want to ask me instead of beating around the bush? Though, expect for me to ask you questions in return.”

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“Alright.” There was a moment where it looked like Chii was actually calling forth her resolve when she finally gave Tationy a hard stare. The cute serious face caused Tationy to relax her posture, tilt her head slightly, and offer a small smile. “Have you and Miroku slept together? If you have that is fine, it is in the past…it is in the past right? I mean the two of you are not together? Do you want to get back together with him? Should I be concerned that you might always be in the middle of us?”

“You are really interested in him, huh?”

“Well, I admit we have only just met, but I have…”

“Do not stop now, if you have something to say, then say it.”

“I fell in love with him the moment I saw him. Maybe someone like you cannot understand how I feel.”

“Someone like me?”

“You have a big house, wear expensive clothing, you obviously have money. This morning I saw your face in the paper and they made it seem like you were someone really important, even though I admit half of what I read I did not understand. If you are in Miroku’s life, I wonder if I could compete against you. Maybe I should just leave. Maybe it is hopeless.”

“What a funny girl you are.” Chii exhibited a defeated expression as Tationy spoke, “He is my father.” Her eyes widened and her mouth opened, but no words were formed, “You seem surprised.”

“He looks so young, I…I did not realize.”

“Does it bother you to know he is not a young man and that he has a daughter your age?”

“A little, but only for a purely vain reason. So, he was married?”

“Questions regarding his past are probably best asked of him. I am slightly concerned though. He has always been the type of man that has difficulty saying things he should so I should tell you to have patience with him.”

“He did say he was carrying a heavy burden.”

“I imagine it got heavier when I returned.”

“Oh, did something happen?”

For a brief moment there was a somberness as Tationy responded with, “Lots of things.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Tationy did not understand why the girls question surprised her so much, perhaps it was because the only female friend she had was Tsubaki and they had not even come close to being friends until way after she had already cheated with, Tationy’s then boyfriend Abe. The two were not exactly speaking to one another, perhaps because they were simply in different places in their lives. She had not really had any friends that were female, a couple in high school, who talked about her behind her back. She felt her defenses rising even though she was certain the girl was just being thoughtful and friendly.

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“Are we interrupting?” Kin questioned when he and Tationy’s father Miroku returned.

“Not at all, we were just talking about you boys.”

“Which means we should be worried,” Miroku stated.

Kin laughed, “Yeah, it does.”

“It was nothing bad,” Chii spoke, but both men had given the girls uncertain and concerned stares.

Tationy quickly changed the focus of the discussion, “Are the boys alright?”

“Yes, they are done watching movies and want to play for a little bit. Miroku was telling me that they are having a costume party at that pub he plays at tomorrow night, if you want to go.”

Tationy thought it sounded like Kin was asking her out, “That requires a babysitter.”

“I am sure Zen would not mind watching the boys or even Tadayoshi.”

“We will see.”

“That means no,” Miroku responded.

“It does not.”

“Please, your mother used to say the same thing all the time. Do you really think I have no idea what “we will see” or “if I have to” means?”

“Was that your way of calling me my mother?”

“I would not dare compare the two of you.”

“Perhaps a change of topic,” Chii interjected obviously feeling the tension in the atmosphere.

“Actually you and I need to get going, before the snow gets worse.”

“Oh, alright.” Tationy noticed reluctance from Chii, perhaps it was concern. She was not certain, but there seemed to be some tension around her father, which made her wonder what her father and Kin had spoken about.

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Tationy did not show them out, but Kin had offered to leaving her in the kitchen slightly annoyed. When Kin finally returned he gave her a disapproving look, “I will apologize to him tomorrow. Just don’t lecture me, I am not in the mood.”

“I would not lecture you, just wondering what happened there between the two of you.”

“I did not mean it the way he took it.”

“Didn’t you? Even I took it as a no.”

She ignored his response as she asked, “Why are you acting like this?”

“Acting like what?”

“Like you are interested in spending time with me? We both know you are only here because Zen and Tadayoshi want you to keep an eye on me. I don’t need a babysitter. You do not have to hold my hand through life.”

“Maybe I am here because I want to be.”

“Don’t bullshit me. You cannot just pretend that we are a couple. That you are the father of my boys. You cannot just come into my life and be there and then just leave. I don’t need another person playing games with me.”

“Playing games,” He leaned down to look at her face, “Do you think that is what Tadayoshi is doing?”

“Isn’t he? He keeps saying this time apart is for me and him both, but it is not. He has not even asked me what I wanted. He just does what he wants. This time apart is because he wants it. I was so stupid. I thought if I kissed him, I would be able to tell how he felt about me, but I couldn’t. It was not like with Hiko. When Hiko touched me there was nothing hidden. He did not have to say the words, which is all the more infuriating that I doubted how he felt because I can still feel his touch. Tadayoshi’s touch is lacking something and I know it is because I am not what he wants. He wants Tearra and no matter how I am seen by the Kari I am not her. I may never be her. It is like he is forcing himself to feel something for me. Like he wants to be accepting of me and love me, but he can’t. He can’t love me Kin. This is why Tearra and Kazuma cannot see each other because Kazuma cannot love the vessel of Tearra. Then, there is you.”

“What about me?”

“You can’t play with me like this. I don’t need you to flirt with me and pretend. We are not a couple. You are just some guy…”

He adjusted his posture, “I am not pretending. I flirt with you because I want too and your reactions to it are cute. Telling me not to get cocky when I know you deep down like the attention. Yeah your right, I probably shouldn’t flirt with you after all you belong to Tadayoshi. You are his queen. In the end the only person that is going to get hurt is me, but if it makes you happy even slightly after all you have been through, then I don’t mind the pain that follows. I have strong arms and shoulders, I can carry my burden and yours. I don’t mind managing you, someone has to do it and it might as well be someone that does not like to see you sad.”

“Stop pretending like you know me.” Their voices had risen to the point of their discussion turning into an argument.

“You are seriously pissing me off,” He responded as he turned his back to her. “What did that girl say to you?”

“Nothing.”

“She obviously said something that got under your skin.”

“She didn’t say anything only offering to listen if I needed to talk.”

“Is that what this is about, why you reacted how you did? Has no one taken the time to listen to you before?”

“Stop…”

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“Shit, that is it isn’t it? No one has ever taken the time to talk and listen to you,” He turned quickly to face her closing the distance. His hand had gone to her cheek, his fingers gently massaging. There was tension in her body as she forced herself to remain still. His hot breath could be felt along her cheeks as he spoke, “Talk to me.”

“I don’t have anything to say.”

He whispered, “I don’t believe you.”

For a time there was silence as they held their positions, bodies inches from one another. His free hand never left her cheek and Tationy thought it felt like he was trying to memorize her face with his fingertips, “Why did they pick you?”

“An easy question. They picked me to manage you because I am Maiba. The Maiba were known to be very strong esoteric users, but their true strength was that they were of strong will. They were capable of resisting the persuasion and telepathic abilities of the Hamara and Waichia. They could withstand immense amounts of torture without breaking. It was because of these two things that Tadayoshi and Zen felt that I was most suited to become your handler. If anyone could resist the power of Tearra it is me. It is not Tearra that they should have been concerned about, but the soft form, sweet voice, and lovely face of the vessel. She is far more dangerous than Tearra.”

“I am not your type, we both know it.”

“You were not Hiko’s either and yet, you managed to break the most powerful of all of the Kari. He did not fall in love with Tearra, he fell in love with Tationy.”

“What do you think is going to happen Kin? Tadayoshi…”

“He will kill me if I touch you that is why I only flirt.”

“You don’t only flirt though. You…touched my hand today.”

“You cuddled in close. I never said I was a monk. If you are offering yourself to me, I am going to accept. So, when you moved in close, pressing your body against mine, I took the opportunity to feel the softness of your hand. Going to fault me for it?”

Tationy closed her eyes, “Kin, you should not say things like that.”

“Why? Do you find me hard to resist?”

“I need…”

“You need?”

She wanted to tell him she needed to feel some gentleness and that is why she allowed herself to be close to him. Tationy could not say the words though because she knew that Kin would accept them and the two of them would end up in bed together. She hated herself. “Do you think Tadayoshi would move in here with me if I asked him?”

“No.”

“Do you think Tadayoshi will ever be able to love me?”

“No.” There was a pause and Tationy felt quite disheartened by his words, “Are you going to tell me what happened with your dad?”

Tationy sighed considering whether or not she even wanted to respond. Eventually she spoke, “When I was little he was always trying to get my mom to be an active part of the family, but she never wanted to have anything to do with either of us. The only time she was interested in me was when she was ‘polishing’ my behavior or making me feel like I was nothing. Her disinterest and unbridled disappointment was not just limited to me. She was always quick to tell my father ‘we will see’ or ‘if I have to’ when he would ask her if she wanted to do something. She never participated. Being with us was a chore. I always told Hiko I never wanted to become her, but I guess I have. That was why he was annoyed. I didn’t mean it the way it was taken, at least not directly.”

“How did you mean it?”

“I don’t want Osa and Kazuma to feel the way I did. My mother was always off doing whatever she wanted and not caring about what she left behind. It is not fair to ask Tadayoshi and Zen to watch them. I don’t want them to ever feel like I am pushing them off on other people so I can live a life without them. Then there is you. How is it going to look if you and I go someplace together? I was already all over this mornings newspapers as being seen dancing closely with Tadayoshi.”

“People are going to assume things about you. You are important to Aslann. You are the woman that stood at the side of Hiko Kari. You are famous, whether your want to be or not. Hiko had the power to protect you. He would buy off anyone just to keep your face out of the press, but he is not around to do that anymore. Now you have to face years of curiosity and rumors head on. That is another reason that Zen and Tadayoshi wanted me to handle you. I am more suited to deal with these matters. Regardless of what you do at this point, you are going to be all over the news and social media. You are the ‘it girl’ of Aslann.”

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It was not as though she could protest even though she desperately wanted too. When Kin stepped back from her she thought for certain that their conversation was coming to an end, until she noticed that he had offered his hand to her. She hesitantly accepted, “It is getting late, we should get the boys to bed and then we can talk some more.”

“Kin you do not have to do this.”

“I told you already. I have strong shoulders and arms. Whatever it is that is weighing you down I can carry if you let me. You need this.”

“It is not fair to burden you.”

“What I think is not fair is that you are carrying it alone. I cannot speak for men like Hiko or Tadayoshi, but what type of man would I be if I allowed you to carry all that weight and never once offered to help? Whatever you need from me, you can have. Just ask me.”

She teased him, “You are not really Kari are you?”

He laughed, “You assume that I do not have it in me to take what I want. I assure you I do, but my mother taught me that women are to be respected and only when she gives you the appropriate signs does it give you the right to take her.”

“What sort of signs?”

He did not answer her, simply stared at her face as her hand remained rested in his. The tension sent goose bumps along her skin and she realized that it was not just her that felt the change in the atmosphere, “Tadayoshi will kill me if I touch you.”

“Am I giving you signs Kin?”

“Yes.”

“Tell me what they are and I will stop.”

“I don’t want you to stop.” The soft patter of little feet on the floor above them broke up their conversation. She could tell he was forcing himself to pull away from her, “I believe the boxes from the Shima estate are in the garage. I will see if I can find something for Osa to wear to bed.”

“Alright. I will go and start getting them ready then.”

“I will be up shortly.” She felt so nervous as she stepped away from him and moved up the stairs.

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With beds situated, Kin had delivered some clothing for Osa to wear. While he took Kazuma out of the room, Tationy sat on the edge of the bed, “Mom.”

She managed a soft smile. Tationy still had not gotten use to Osa calling her mom, but he had started because the smart boy that he was realized that every time he called her Aunt Tationy that Kazuma began to call her it as well. The considerate son of Seiji Shima, thought as the ‘big brother’ of Kazuma that it was his responsibility to help guide Kazuma in the respectful ways of addressing adults, especially ones own parents, “What is it baby?”

“Why were you and Uncle Kin fighting?”

Tationy sighed, “I sometimes say the wrong thing.”

“Are you mad at him?”

“No.”

“Is he mad at you?”

“No. Don’t you worry about it alright? Sometimes adults argue, it is normal.” Osa nodded his head and stifled a cough with his hand. Tationy quickly showed concern; feeling his forehead, “Are you not feeling well?”

“I feel a little tired.”

“You cannot be getting sick, you are going to go back to school soon. Don’t want to miss your first day back after your break.”

“Mom, are we going to move in here?”

“Do you want too?”

“I like living with Grandpa Miroku, but his place is really small. Do you think he would come live with us here?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you not want to live here? Does it remind you of Uncle Hiko?”

Tationy felt an emotional response bubbling within her, “It smells like him and everything in it reminds me of him.”

“You miss him. Kazuma misses him too.”

“I miss him very much.”

There was a somberness that washed over Osa, “I miss him too. I miss my dad and Grandpa Katsu, Uncle Yayoi, and everyone that is gone now. Why do the Kari and Shima hate each other so much?”

“I don’t really know baby. I wish I could answer all of those questions for you, but …. ”

“Grandpa Tadayoshi tries to.”

Inwardly, she chuckled at hearing Tadayoshi called grandpa. Even though he was actually Osa’s uncle, Tationy understood that he called Tadayoshi grandpa for much the same reason as he addressed her as mom. “Does he not satisfy the questions inside you?”

“He does sometimes, but I think there are just some things he is not capable of answering. Mom, are you in love with Uncle Kin?”

“What, why would you ask that?”

“My dad always said that when you are in love with someone that you are happy. You have been really sad, but when you are with Uncle Kin you are really happy even when you are are calling him a butt. Isn’t that what love is?”

Tationy was not certain how to answer the question, “Love is a connection with someone so deep that when you are with them you feel so complete. You feel happiness, fear, sadness and so many other things. The person you fall in love with can make you so happy that you fear you might lose them or be consumed by the emotions. You can feel sadness because you doubt whether or not you are good enough or deserving of the amazing person in your life. Love can be felt in every part of your body and comes in every form. It is so much more than a feeling. Love comes at you so unexpectedly. It is not something you can control. It is free and yet it binds us so completely that even death cannot destroy it. That is why in your heart, you still feel love for your dad and your grandpa. They will always be in your heart, you will always love them because love is so precious. Kin…well he is a butt.”

Osa laughed softly, “You like him though, right?”

“I like him, but things are very complicated.”

“Is it because of Grandpa Tadayoshi?”

“Partly.”

“Do you love Grandpa Yoshi?”

“I don’t know.”

“Does he love you?”

Tationy shook her head, “I don’t know, baby.”

“It makes me sad when you are sad.”

“I am sorry. I try really hard not to let you see me sad.”

“Mom, will you ask Uncle Kin to stay with us?”

“Osa I don’t think that is such a good idea.”

“Please. When he is around, you are happy.”

Tationy really did not know how to respond to Osa words so she leaned down and kissed his forehead, “You should get some sleep. I love you so much. You and Kazuma are my precious boys. I promise to try really hard to get past this sadness. Alright?”

“Alright. I love you, mom.” Tationy managed to awkwardly respond with ‘I  love you too’ as she tried to hide the unwanted emotion his words brought forth within her.

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After departing Osa’s room she collected herself and found Kin and Kazuma sitting in Hiko’s bedroom on the floor reading. She stood near the door watching them and when Kin looked up at her she could tell he knew something was wrong, but he did not let it stop him from reading to Kazuma. He made faces and funny voices, which caused Kazuma to laugh and giggle. Eventually all the effort he put into reading to him was rewarded when Kazuma yawned, “I saw that little man, you are getting tired.”

“Noooo.”

“Yesss.”

“No, no, no.”

Kin laughed softly, “You know big boys need to go to sleep. If they do not they will not grow up to be big and strong. Do you want to be a big and strong Kari man like your daddy?”

“Daddy went away.”

The tension was noticeable in the posture of Kin as he set down the book and picked Kazuma up into his arm, “Your daddy loved you little man and I promise I will be here every day for the rest of my life. So all those moments your daddy would be by your side walking you through, you can count on me to be there.”

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When Kazuma wrapped his arms around Kin giving him a hug, Tationy inwardly smiled. She believed Kin meant every word he said to Kazuma. He was a good man, probably too good to be Kari. Kin set the boy down and stood staring at Tationy, “Is Osa sleeping?”

“He is. He is not feeling very well though.”

“Kids experience stress just as much as adults do, they just manage it differently.”

“Is that your way of saying when I am stressed, they are stressed?”

“Pretty much.” There was a moment of silence, “Was that the doorbell?”

“I think it was.”

“I will go and get it while you lay Kazuma down.”

“He is not going to go to sleep.”

“Trust me,” Kin spoke, “He will definitely go to sleep.”

“You are giving me the hard job.”

“I will make it up to you.”

“You better,” She responded as she picked up Kazuma who was hiding behind Kin’s legs. “My little boy going to go to sleep for me?” She questioned as she carried him toward his room.

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After she settled Kazuma into bed, she found her way to the living room. “Kin I completely do not know what you did to Kazuma, but whatever that magic was he went right to sleep.” Tationy spoke as she entered the room and then stopped suddenly. There, standing with Kin was Chii and her father Miroku.

Her father gave her a hard stare, though Chii’s expression was soft and kind. “Forgive our intrusion. The roads are really bad, so I convinced your father to turn around. I hope that is alright.”

“Of course.”

Tationy noticed how Chii looked over her shoulder at Miroku, “He has something he wants to say to you.”

“Oh?”

“I am sorry. I was rather short with you earlier and did not give you an opportunity to explain. When you said ‘we will see’ it reminded me of the past and I don’t want that kind of life for you.”

“Did Chii, tell you to apologize?”

“I intended to regardless, but she did say I was wrong to jump to conclusions without allowing you the opportunity to explain.”

Kin looked toward Tationy, “Now it is your turn.”

Wrinkling her nose she stepped closer to Kin, “My life is really complicated as you know and when Kin mentioned the party, it sounded like he was asking me out. Not that going out with Kin would be such a terrible thing, I just don’t need any further complications or pressure right now and I feel like there are enough assumptions about me without being seen at some costume party with yet another Kari that is not Hiko. So, I am sorry that it turned out the way it did. It was not intended that way.”

“You and your father got a lot of heaviness around you,” Chii spoke, “Even I who is new to this environment can sense it. I wish I understood what troubles the two of you carry. Maybe what the two of you need is people like Kin and myself in your lives. People not burdened by troubles of the past. People capable of helping you carry that burden. Sometimes what we need is not a shoulder to cry on, but someone to keep us distracted from reality and listen. You should go to that costume party with Kin. Having moments of joy will bring about a positive environment, which is what those two little boys need. If you are sad all the time, they will be sad as well. At least that is what I remember from when I was small. My mother’s mood was so overpowering to the whole household that when she was happy we were happy and when she was sad, so were we. Maybe you recall some of that from your own mother.”

There was a moment of silence before Tationy and Miroku both spoke at once, “She had an ugly heart.”

Chii had not been the only one surprised by their words. The moment had also been reflected in the eyes of Kin. “I apologize, I did not know.”

“I did tell you if you want to know about my father’s past you should ask him, maybe you should start with her.”

“When he is ready to tell me, he will. Just as I imagine Kin will be there when you are ready to talk to him.”

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“Interesting woman you got there, Miroku,” Kin responded.

“What she is property now?” Tationy asked as she looked up at Kin.

He offered her a telling smirk, “If another man said that to me, I would respond with, I know she is one of a kind.” Tationy blushed and looked away which resulted in Kin directing his attention toward Miroku and Chii again, “She is not wrong. I know enough about what the two of you have been through being Tylo’s, but you have carried this burden alone long enough.”

“It is not that simple,” Miroku interjected.

“Isn’t it? You were limited before by the lack of money and power. That limitation is lifted now. Tationy has as much money and power as the richest and most influential people in Aslann. The Tylo can rise up against the oppression if they truly want too.”

Tationy noticed the look that Chii had given Kin. The girl was in a position of ignorance and Tationy could not help wondering if Chii would remain at the side of her father once she knew the truth. How do you tell someone that you and your family have been property for another family for centuries upon centuries and that any child deemed to be the vessel of Tearra will never be safe from the Kari?

“You will never understand Kin. Maybe if you and Tationy end up being committed and serious about each other and the potential for you to have a child together happens you might understand. It is not such a simplistic thing. The only reason Kazuma is protected from this nightmare is because my daughter is alive. Once she dies, no Tylo will be safe. Her wearing his bracelet is the only thing that keeps her protected.”

Tationy’s lips pursed as she spoke, “Chii, why don’t you and I let these men talk.” Chii gave a single nod of her head as she followed along behind Tationy, “You boys play nice.”

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Silently the two young women walked until Tationy opened a door and waited for Chii to enter. “Is this your room?” The seemingly skittish girl asked as she turned to face Tationy.

“I used to sleep here, but you will stay here tonight.”

“Is all of this clothing yours? Is this your wedding dress?”

“Hiko used to bring me home a new piece of clothing, shoes, or jewelry every day. This is not even a fraction of it. As for whether or not this is my wedding dress, it was one of ten sent to me by Mai Waichia for my wedding.”

“Mai Waichia? Her work is really amazing. When is your wedding?”

That somberness again washed over Tationy, “It was supposed to be soon, but things change every day around here.”

Chii noticeably brought her hands to her chest, fidgeting a moment. It did not appear to Tationy that she was nervous, more thinking or considering the situation. “The newspaper said you and Hiko Kari are together, but there are rumors that your relationship is on the rocks, due to …. you being seen with his father. Do you want to talk about it?”

“There is nothing to say. Hiko and I are what we are and Tadayoshi and I, well he is a different matter entirely. I do not understand why my life is so interesting.”

“I really did not understand the paper this morning, but it was my first time reading it. It only caught my attention because I recognized you. So needless to say when I arrived here and you and Kin were close, I thought how odd it was that the paper could be so wrong.”

“Kin and I are not together.”

“You are with Hiko Kari though, right?”

Tationy was not certain how to answer the question, considering Hiko was dead so she simply responded with, “Unless he changes his mind we are still scheduled to be married.”

“So his father and you, there is nothing going on?”

“It was a business meeting and after, we danced. People read into things.”

“I get the impression you are only sharing a fraction of what is going on. I cannot help wondering why you seem so sad when such a glorious day is approaching for you. Is it about what Kin and Miro were talking about?”

Making note that Chii had called him Miro, Tationy responded, “Partly.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“There is nothing really to say.”

“You don’t think I will understand?”

“I don’t really understand it.” Tationy paused before asking, “You and my father, you never did answer me when I asked you if you thought it was wise to be so infatuated with him.”

“Physically I find him quite attractive, but that is not what drew me to him. Your father probably does not realize it, but I saw him before the pub. He spoke at Aslann University where I attend about the dangers of alcohol addiction. He came in as a guest speaker for my Sociology class. His speech was so powerful. We had plenty of guest speakers that came in to discuss alcohol addiction, but his was different. You could feel his pain in every word. I could tell he was holding back a part of him. He never talked about you or your mother, but he was so open about the rest of his life and how his addiction overtook him. I could feel this deep expressive pain in every word. I wanted to understand and help him carry it. Silly I know, but I tried speaking with him after the class, but he rushed off so quickly so I did not get an opportunity. He mentioned during his speech that he played in a band and I did some research to see if I could find him. Eventually I did, but did not know what to say. How do you approach someone you do not know and tell them that their pain made such an impact on your life and heart. It seems so silly. You and him are the same. Your pain has such a powerful aura. It is like it takes on a life of its own. I have never met people like you before.”

“Do not know if I should take that as a compliment or not.”

“It was. I have never seen two people capable of such great sadness and expression. It is really quite amazing. I am sorry, it must seem rude of me. I assure you, I am not making light of your pain.” Tationy found she was not certain how to continue the conversation. The girls words left a lasting impression as they stared at each other, “Are you happy at all?”

“Happy with what?”

“Your life?”

Tationy stepped toward the door, stopping only briefly to place her hand on the doorknob, “I am not sure I even know what happiness is.”

As Tationy exited the room she heard the soft whisper of Chii, “That makes me very sad.”

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She was not certain what to make of the girl. Unusual and quirky she could certainly see why her father was interested. As she mauled over their conversation she found her way to the living room where the men were still talking, though she happened upon them at a point where their conversation stalled. She found her resolve to enter the room was at its limit so she took a seat in the little alcove where a bench used to be. “If your daughter told me she wanted to be with me, then there is nothing I would not do to make certain it happened even if that meant facing off against Tadayoshi for the position as Head of the Kari. She is not interested in me though. I am not certain she will ever be interested in anyone. I am sure she will give herself over to Tadayoshi at some point, but I doubt it will be because she wants to be with him. I think…mind you this is just speculation, I think she is seeing Hiko. He has always been a tough guy to compete with, him being dead will make it impossible.”

“How your uncle is handling this has me greatly concerned. I have thought about his actions for many years. When he gave me that money and never once took Tationy, I thought him an unusual Kari. This situation though, I do not understand his motivation for keeping his distance let alone wanting a year apart. Many things can happen in a year and what is he going to do if she falls in love with another man or decides she does not want to be with him? No, I think there is more too this and the fact that he is one of the voices insisting that you remain at her side …”

Tationy listened as Kin interrupted, “When Zen first told me that he needed me to ‘manage’ Tationy I thought at first that Tadayoshi was unaware. When I realize that it was his idea, I admit it surprised me. Certainly, I am the most suited to stay at her side. Tearra will have no effect on me, but they had to have speculated that there was a possibility that I, like Hiko would find myself attracted to the vessel that holds Tearra after all Zen is all about crisis management.”

“Do you think you have the kind of power needed to stand against Tadayoshi?”

“I don’t know. I would have to challenge him for his position and we would be tested. There is none among the Kari that knows more about the traditions and ways then he does. I do believe I could best him in combat and my business knowledge is superior. I wish I could say it would go either way, but on this matter I don’t have that much confidence. It requires backing from other Kari and I am not even certain I could garner that. If she told me she wanted me though, I would do it even if it resulted in my death.”

“Your attraction to her surprises me.”

“It surprised me. It was not like it was overnight though, despite how it might seem. When she came to work at the Kari Foundation I often found myself in her company. She is intelligent, beautiful, and feisty. Sesiago was not the only man that thought Hiko got all the best ‘toys’. It was not as though any of us Kari were capable of competing with him. Believe me, all of us Kari boys tried and Hiko enjoyed flaunting her in front of us. She was his trophy, no matter how he felt about her. That was part of the turn on for him. He loved knowing that every Kari man was looking at her and desiring her. I do think it came to bother him at some point though, after all he began to isolate her.”

“What will you do Kin, if she accepts you and you have a daughter?”

“Well I don’t see your daughter accepting me any time soon if at all. Why would she want me when she can have Tadayoshi? He has all the power, being the Head of the Kari and he is the vessel of Kazuma who is the King of the Kari and the gods. I am just some half Kari, half Maiba. I can offer her a lot, but what she wants is probably not something I can give her. If though, if by some slim chance she looked at me with love in her eyes and we were blessed to have children together I would protect them both. No Kari, no matter who he was would take them by force as long as I have breath in my body. I know you think it is such a simplistic way of thinking, but the part of me that is Maiba knows no other way then fighting tooth and claw. The part of me that is Kari, is just willfully stubborn to no end. Honestly, I like the thought of having children with her. I bet she is beautiful when she is pregnant. I did not get to see her when she was carrying Kazuma within her womb. Do you feel like you missed out, not being there for her?”

“Yes. My own doing though. After Hiko raped her, without even knowing what he did, I told her he did not mean it and that she should go back to him. Sad truth is, if I told her what to do in this situation she would do it. I don’t think she knows what she wants that is why she told Tadayoshi not to give up on her. I will not condemn her decision if she finds herself in the arms of Tadayoshi, but that is a decision only she can make whether she regrets it or not. You on the other hand, need to not do this to yourself. If you want to be with her, then you need to tell her. It is easy for us men to ‘pretend’. We take whatever little moments we get and we tell ourselves that it is enough, but it won’t make you happy. We both know you want to be more than just the man assigned to ‘manage’ her.” She could hear them moving around, “I am going to go and find Chii, say goodnight and then crash.”

“Night.”

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Tationy had remained hidden in the alcove until her father left the room. When she was certain the coast was clear, she maneuvered herself onto her knees only to come face-to-face with Kin. Her entire body tensed when his fingers rested on her knee. Doing her best to avoid eye contact, she stared over his shoulder at the painting on the wall, “How much of our conversation did you hear?”

“Enough of it.”

“Do my feelings bother you?”

“Did you mean it?”

“Which part?”

“That you would challenge Tadayoshi for the Head of the Kari?”

“If that is what I have to do.”

“Why would you do that?”

“I think you are worth the fight.”

“You can’t just say things like that and expect me to ….”

“Expect you to what? Look at me Tationy.” She forced her eyes to settle on him, “If you want to love me, then I would be a pretty lucky man, but I don’t expect you to do anything.” There was a pause and even though she felt like she should say something at that moment she couldn’t speak, “Come on, let’s go to bed. We got a long day tomorrow. Got to pick up this house, do some cleaning, restock the food supply, get some costumes.”

“Kin we are not…”

“We are going. I want to see you in a sexy costume.” Tationy felt too exhausted to protest further so she did as she always did and allowed a man to lead her where he wished.

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Silently they made their way to Hiko’s bedroom and while Kin showered Tationy gathered some sleepwear for Chii and her father. When she returned, Kin was already out of the shower, stoking the fire. Her eyes widened when he turned to face her. “What is that expression for?”

Quickly she collected herself, “Nothing.”

“Disappointed my body is not like Hiko’s?”

She found herself awkwardly staring, he was right their bodies were different. Kin was tall and lean not a single ounce of fat on him and while Hiko was in good shape, he had plenty to hold on to, “I was actually looking at your tattoos. This is the first time I am seeing them fully. They sort of remind me of Sesiago’s.”

“They should. They are a variation of the Mark of Kazuma. There are twenty different tattoos that are considered the Mark of the King of the Gods.”

“So there are other Kari men with these tattoos? These marks?”

“Yeah, twenty Kari each picked to represent one of his marks. Most of the Kari that have them you will never meet. The three most important marks were adorned on the bodies of Sesiago, Katsu, and myself.”

“So what is the point of these tattoos?”

“The significance of them is to mark us as a potential vessel for Kazuma. There is a Kari called Osoma, who deems which Kari are to be adorned. When we are children after we complete our trials we are given these markings. It is an alternative reincarnation method for Kazuma.”

“Has Kazuma ever been reincarnated in a living vessel before?”

“No, but such a method has been used before with the god Rin. Rin existed long after he became mortal. Due to the regenerative abilities of the Ishi, he was still alive when the child Emperor Miroku took the throne in Ancient Aslann. Rin was plotting against the young ruler and Miroku set upon Rin his very own son. The one born of his union with Tearra.”

“Mikio,” Tationy whispered.

“You know your history. Mikio and his father Rin fought, but it was a battle that neither were capable of winning and both ultimately fell. Mikio’s drive to survive was unlike any other and even though for a fraction of a time he was dead, his heart eventually started beating again and Rin piggybacked his way into being reincarnated. The option has always been there for Kazuma, though he has never used it. Perhaps because none of us embody what it means to be Kari. Regardless, those deemed by the Osoma to be worthy as his vessel are given these marks. When I die, mine will be passed onto another. Just as Sesiago’s and Katsu’s will be passed on.”

“Why you?”

She noticed how Kin gave her a hard stare, “Is this your way of asking why they would pick a Maiba? Or maybe you want to know why me over Hiko?”

“I did not mean it in such an offensive way.”

He shook his head, “I asked the same question. Why pick Maiba scum and the Osoma said to me that once upon a time during the War of the Kingdom a young Maiba born Kari became the mighty shield of the elder. That he fought to protect Tearra until he had no breath to give and allowed time for her and others to escape into Thacian. He told me he looked at my soul and knew that Kazuma would find this vessel, regardless of the blood, one worthy of carrying his mark. Really, could you imagine Kazuma choosing a Maiba? It would never happen, but someone like Hiko who spit on the ways of the Kari was never considered worthy.” Kin shrugged his shoulders, “Most people think they are just a fashion statement, if they only understood the investment and time it took to get them. Hours of painful inking. A badge of honor to be given Kazuma’s mark or so they say.”

She climbed onto the bed as she asked, “You do not feel honored?”

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As she settled into the bed she realized Kin had not answered her question and was approaching the bed rather quickly. There was little chance to protest. When he climbed into bed with her she felt every part of her body tense all at once. It was not fear exactly, but she was worried where this might lead. When he snuggled into her body she noticed there was a sigh of contentment. Braving it, she rested her hand to his shoulder and realized that he was just as tense as she was. Though it quickly dissipated. His hold on her tightened, his fingers teasing her skin, “Is this alright?”

His question washed away any tension that remained in her body as a soft smile graced her lips, “It is fine. You did not answer me.”

“About whether or not I feel honored?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t really think about it. Sesiago never felt honored, Katsu did, I suppose I have no opinion on it one way or the other. Is your ghost here with us?”

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Tationy knew he was asking about Hiko. Even though she wished he was not there she sighed as she glanced toward the chair. He was all in her head and no matter how much she wished he would just disappear, Hiko had not been wrong. Her guilty heart was the reason he was there, “Unfortunately.”

“Unfortunately, what do you mean by that?” She ignored his voice in her head.

“Is he watching us?”

Kin’s question forced a purse to Tationy’s lips, “Yes.”

“So I guess, I should probably keep my hands to myself.”

“Damn right you better, Maiba scum.”

Ignoring the part of her mind that brought Hiko into her reality, Tationy sighed, “I don’t really understand why he is in my head lately.”

“You miss him. You loved him,” Kin responded. She felt the unwanted emotions bubbling and tried to stifle a sniffle, but failed miserably, “Don’t cry. Talk to me.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Talk to me about anything. What was it like when you were pregnant with Kazuma, did you have cravings?”

“You want to know about that?”

“Yes, tell me all about it.”

Hesitantly she considered what to say, “It was lonely. No Hiko, no Sesiago, just a lot of time by myself. I had no one to go to the store at three in the morning to get me olives and snicker bars.”

“If Sesiago was still alive would the two of you be together?”

“I don’t think so. He was a nice enough guy, but he was just there for me when I was feeling at my lowest. I was doubting Hiko and my stupidity set all of this nonsense into motion. Sesiago was gentle with me. Though Hiko hated when I said he was a good guy. Not one Kari is a good guy, right?”

“There is an old quote that says, ‘We are Kari, none of us are good men’. It is a true enough statement. Was Hiko ever gentle with you?”

“In the beginning. Eventually he stopped touching me. Trying to keep his distance I guess. He would do and say these things that made me feel so naughty and even dirty. Like I was a bad girl or something. If it wasn’t for him I would not own my sexuality now. I would still be that same prudish girl that blushed when a man was naked. I could not appreciate his form. Thought it was disgusting and weird. No matter how much I wanted him to have sex with me, just so I was no longer a virgin all I could think about was that I was letting this ‘bear’ of a man on top of me. I did not have it in me then to appreciate the fine lines of his body, the bulk of his form, even what was between his legs. After he assaulted me, I kept thinking about these things that I could not appreciate. How it felt with him pinning me by force. How it lacked the gentleness, confidence, even the anticipation. I missed it. I missed that body of his and the gentleness even when he was calling it my kitty and making me feel so foolish. Weird huh? Why was I not capable of appreciating him before then? Maybe I am only capable when that person is no longer in my life or does something terrible.”

“What about Tadayoshi?”

“What about him?”

“You kissed him, didn’t you?’

“Yeah and when he told me he would take me home after one more kiss, even after I asked him if it would be his place or mine, he still took me to my father’s apartment. How oblivious is he? Would you have taken me home Kin?”

His hold on her tightened, “Without any hesitation.”

“I don’t think Tadayoshi will ever fall in love with me. He will always see Tearra. I can’t wait around for him to decide I am worth his time. He does not even want to get to know me. The only person that matters to him is Tearra and this house, I can’t live here, but I don’t want anyone else to live here either. I love Hiko so much, but I need him to stop haunting me and this house … I see him in every corner.”

“I will help you find a place.”

Tationy thought on Osa question, “Will you stay with us, Kin?”

He lifted his head to look at her the surprise clear. At first he did not respond eventually nodding his head a couple of times as he snuggled into her again. Tationy knew it was wrong to drag Kin into her life. She was only making it difficult for him. The world as she knew it was so different now and she just needed to cling to anything that seemed normal. He was going to get hurt, she was certain she would be the cause, but she felt just a little bit of happiness knowing that he would be with her.

To Be Continued

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