The keys to a happy life, but the priests are not.
She is, practically put, an heiress. Her parents have orphaned her by the kindest means: a quick death when she was hardly seven and a rather large joint bank account that has settled into her immediate inheritance. Kira has tried to explain to her the immorality of living in a small apartment with few furnishings and living off the money from week to week, but she is careless and unconcerned. At the very least, he has bitten out irritably, you could live a little.
She only raises an eyebrow whenever he says this and points out that all he does is party, and he is not happy.
He would say that it is a waste-she is rotting, here, in this haze of noncommittal gray. He only ever gets angry because she is right, he is unhappy, but at least he can drown himself in the neon lights and the carbonated alcohol and the women of ill repute, to forget. He remembers enough to come and check up on her, though.
They have been friends that long.
But she still believes that she is content in her apathy, and that she would prefer it to his years of experience and dissatisfaction with life.
It is between them, but it does not drive them apart.
He stops by with Emilia's sweet expression still in mind, the way her eyes glazed and her fingers flexed, nails sinking into his shoulders. She never makes a sound because she is shy, but sometimes he can coax small almost-screams out of her. He walks through the door and the princess looks up, eyebrow raised at the red mark on his cheek.
"Was Justine as vindictive as always?"
"Her timing is unfortunate." he shrugs, and the next line is more of a scoff, "She brings it on herself," touches the red-and-bruising blotch.
She flips through the pages of the book in her hand. She is small, sitting there in her gray clothes and her pale flesh and her light, pastel-green eyes. The only thing vibrant about her, color-wise, is her hair; it is a fiery red, and short, and she wears it tied back in two tiny, useless ponytails that serve no purpose, because her hair remains largely unbound by them. The rest falls around her face. She enjoys colorlessness on her person, but refuses to dye her hair-Kira has offered to bleach it for her, make it silver-gray like his own, but she doesn't want anything to do with him and says as much.
"You make her unhappy." A bland statement; a fact, an observation on the weather.
"And four two reasons, the both of which are her own fault. The first is that she is continually walking in on me. I never should have given her a key to my place."
"You were drunk," she says idly. "Half the city has a key to your place." She has abandoned the picture book for a volume on traditional Chinese weaponry.
"Nah, I changed the lock a few weeks back," and then he shrugs and makes himself at home. "Kept waking up to people I didn't remember. But anyway, the second reason she is unhappy is because she thinks she's in love with me."
"Of course not." He bites into an apple. The princess keeps apples around because she likes them; never red delicious because the skin is too tough and bitter, but always golden delicious. And no one is permitted to mention 'granny smith' in her presence and survive, because she detests that shade of green, that flavor of apple, and the reference to an elderly woman, as she does not approve of the elderly, or aging in general.
"But it hurts the same," she says and turns the page.
He's looking at her apartment. There are wall hangings, odd old scripts from the middle ages and a few columns of prose in Korean and Japanese. Kira is half of the latter, but can't make sense of the artful black strokes. It does not bother him. The room is clean for the most part, the dÃ©cor sparse but elegant, and all in blacks and whites and grays. The only color in the room comes from the many books on the shelves and the occasional tones highlighted in the artwork she displays.
"Whether you think you love someone or you truly love someone," she looks up now, meeting his dark gray eyes directly, "I'm sure it hurts just the same when they see you with another person."
He rolls his eyes. "You read that somewhere?"
Silence again and he's looking at the notes on the fridge, thumbing through her mail, checking her cabinets to make sure she has food. There is a loaf of bread and some fresh fruit, an old block of cheese that wasn't here the last time but still smells strongly; he sighs. "Wanna go out tonight?"
It's good for her to get some sunshine, or at least some fresh air. It's late, now, anyway.
"Got a party?"
"It's Thursday, I work tomorrow." He makes an attempt at exasperation.
She looks at him pointedly.
"Not until eleven," he allows. "It's seven-thirty-wanna try that sushi place?"
He has no real preference due to his heritage, but she is unlikely to turn down one of her own favorites. And, Jesus, the girl could use a little social interaction.
She's standing before he can blink again.
He tries to get her into some decent clothes, but she only ever has bland colors.
The back of her closet has one small, pink shirt that is lost among the sea of gray and she pretends not to see it for as long as she can as he pulls it out. It is gauzy and light, a transparent layer over an opaque one with sleeves that tie at the elbows and fall into a formless few inches of mesh. She hates it.
"I'm really very surprised that you haven't thrown this out yet." He says it dryly and she rolls her eyes, or maybe she's just looking at the wall with her habitually bored expression.
He pulls out a pair of off-white pants, the lightest color in her wardrobe, and she would almost look normal, if not for her demeanor.
The princess shrugs. "I keep all the gifts I get for a least a year before I chuck them. I don't feel guilty that way."
He sighs and offers her the top and slacks and she takes them with distaste. Ten minutes later-she refused to let him do her hair or her makeup, but compromised by wearing a pair of shoes he'd gotten her several months before-they are out the door and walking to the Hanachan sushi bar. She generally refuses to go anywhere she can't walk to or from because, she reasons, if she wants to leave she isn't going to wait around for a ride. He's only pleased with how normal she looks in clothes like this; she really does have a cute figure, sleek and a little lanky with long arms and legs and torso, but she's still short overall. The pants are tighter than she likes, which means they more or less fit her like they're meant to, and all the while she is curling her toes in the shoes, disenthused with the fact that she isn't barefoot.
The restaurant is marked with a quaint pagoda-esque canopy, and the stairs lead down into a sub-level. It has only been open for about a month and a half, but is already fairly popular with the neighborhood; the owner is a sweet old woman with jet-black hair and eyes who fawns over Kira and speaks in demure Japanese that he can understand only in broken phrases. He really looks very much like his mother-unmistakably Asian and, much to his chagrin, more effeminate than most men-and it might anger him that people assume he knows the language, that he isn't only half and that he hadn't lived in Japan, that his mother hadn't died while he was young and before he really learned anything from her. But it doesn't because he pushes this all away, as always, and answers as politely as he can. She's hard of hearing anyway, and only smiles.
The princess is sipping her tea, both hands-long, slender fingers that are lily white and strong as steel besides-wrapped around the smooth, hand-thrown cup. The colors are soft, creams and an accent of pale, chalky green and brown ringing it, gold along the top edge; she studies the shades idly, as they remind her of a lagoon, or the sea minus blue, which she always enjoys. Even if it is only clear on clear on clear...
"Hey, you," Kira says quietly, looking at her. She puts off looking up as long as she can; she finally does, however, and meets his eyes; they are unyielding, expressive as slate even as he's smiling. "Know what you're gonna order?"
She runs her finger down the list, deciding, and he runs his eyes down the slim form of their waitress as she sets out the chopsticks-restaurant chopsticks, nice ones that aren't wood or plastic-and he carefully maps out the curve of her spine and the slant of her hips as she leans forward.
"I'm pretty sure," he says after she leaves, "that I dated a cousin of hers."
"Dated?" The princess looks up and makes the effort of raising an eyebrow.
He laughs, scratches his nose. "Slept with a couple of times, but that's beside the point. I'd still call it dating, to be couth."
"I always thought that dating involved some kind of emotional commitment. What you do sounds a lot like fu-"
She stops short here just before the hard 'c' consonant because he kicks her, hard, under the table. Two reasons, and the first is because they are in a nice restaurant with a nice atmosphere-it is not loud, and there is no din to cover obscenities. The second is that her parents were a good Christian couple and would never have permitted their daughter to speak with such vulgarity; he really did try, when he could, to see that she was raised properly. She coughs out a soft "Umph." And that ends the conversation because a woman walks up to them.
She is short but exceedingly curvy, given her ethnicity, and the dress she has on hikes up to her mid-thigh with slits to her waist. Her hair is inky black, pinned up into an elegantly braided coil, and her make-up is flawless; dark, dusky lavender around her eyelids that fades in a smoky way, to match her dress; red-brown lipstick that is pulled into an angry sneer along with her expression. Her eyes are narrowed-as narrowed as Korean eyes can be without closing-and she stands in front of Kira, visibly fuming. As well as a Korean woman can physically produce noxious gases.
"This is..." The princess looks the woman over slowly, from her tall, neatly pointed heels to the accidentally-on-purpose mess of bangs that falls to frame her face. The woman's glare turns to settle on her, and she continues after a short pause, "Min?"
Kira fingers his jaw thoughtfully and gives a little wince; the mark from Justine has darkened into a proper bruise. "Hello, dear."
Her shoulders heaving, her eyes wet with rage-she gives herself a minute to control her voice, and then Min says, "Kira, darling," and she laces the otherwise-affectionate term with a solid malice and glares pointedly at the princess, "I'd like a word."
He stands, smiles a little at his charge; it is an attempt at reassurance, even if he does not feel assured himself and she does not particularly care-and follows the angry young woman. The princess returns to her menu. The couple does not venture too far-they stand just off the doorway and speak in low voices, but she has impeccable hearing even when she'd rather not listen.
Min is saying, "How could you leave like that! After everything I told you, I thought-I thought it would be different with you!" Her voice is accented just enough to make it exotic, and it's really something, heated as it is with her rage. "You're just like every other piece of shit guy..." Her hands fist themselves and her lacquer nails press rounded pits into her palms. She swallows with her eyes closed, and then looks up at him. Thick lashes, and they are beaded with tears.
Kira, for his part, looks sheepish but sympathetic. She says her piece-she yells about how she trusted him, she waxes on about the state of his mortal soul, the way he used her; she calls him all manner of vulgar names, the vast majority of which he can't understand because he doesn't have the faintest idea about the Korean language.
Fifteen minutes later, after she's stopped and her mascara has run a bit, she sighs softly; the sound is shuddering.
He has stepped closer to her during the discourse, and she only notices when he is breaths away. She looks at him, in his eyes; it is a rare woman that can stand to them and not fall prey to them, and Kira has yet to find her still.
Min doesn't respirate for the full fifteen seconds it takes for him to lean forward until they are nose to nose; one hand against the wall, half caging her, and the other resting lightly on her bare shoulder. Then she inhales softly, but will later refuse to herself that she gasped.
"Sweetheart," he coos softly, and her lashes fall, half-lidding her eyes. He leans into her so that they are very nearly chest to chest, and she can feel the heat of his body all around her even though he is only just in front, only surrounding her halfway with one arm. He closes his eyes to kiss her.
For a moment-only a moment, because he does kiss her-the spell breaks and she bites out, "/Cheori kaseyo/!" and between his mouth and her mouth she manages a weak, "/anio/..." because she lapses into her native language when she's flustered, which is invariably when she's with Kira, or around him, because strong women always fall against at least one man.
He leans back and says softly, "There's a bit of a get-together at Bahari's tonight, around eleven." He's speaking sweetly; he's always sweet when he's in the doghouse. "You game, hun?"
Min looks him over and says, as harshly as she can, "Who is that girl?"
He sighs. "That's a-...friend of mine. Her name is," and before he can continue the friend in question glares across the room, and he rolls his eyes in exasperation. "Princess Lulu. I sorta... take care of her," he twists his lips wryly. "Because she can't take care of herself."
The princess ignores that.
"Oh," and Min gives the girl an appraising look. And then she blinks, looks at him incredulously. "Princess?"
"Yeah." He makes no excuse for this and she writes it off, as women in love often do.
He leans closer, her breath hitches, and he whispers against her ear, "Her name's Cassandra, and she hates it. Insists on Lulu," and each syllable of the name curls against her skin, and even though he's talking about another woman, he isn't really saying anything-it's all Min, right now, and she knows this. Even if it won't be in fifteen minutes, or tonight, or tomorrow-she's his right now, right this second. She shivers despite herself.
"I'm game," and she makes her voice as steady as she can, which isn't very-but he is a gentleman, and women always lose themselves around him anyway.
"Okay, darling," he says quietly, and she can all but feel the teeth behind his smile. He glances over at the princess and steps away; she is cold for it.
Min nods, smiles in a way that is depressing for the self-deprecation in it, like she already knows she's making a mistake, again, but can't help herself. Candles, and all of the pretty butterflies go to burn their wings on him. Kira will always promise warmth; he will never promise security within it.
He seals the deal by daubing lightly at her eyes with his sleeve; he always wears black, so her mascara doesn't leave any telltale marks, but he leans in and kisses her again, softly, and her heart clenches because she knows it's a lie, even when he makes her believe that he loves her. He steers her gently, guiding her elbow, arranges to pick her up at eleven o'clock.
Just before she leaves, she stops; she hadn't noticed, at first, angry as she had been, and now she reaches up and touches his face. "What happened? Was it-was it that wicked woman again?"
He gives a weak smile. "Yeah. Girl can hit."
Her eyes narrow, and he fleetingly sees the possibility of a catfight in the near future; but he holds off on the idea for now. She kisses his cheek and leaves.
Back at the table the princess says, "You know, it's strange how many of them you have under your finger."
He smirks a little, but half of it is a rueful smile. "It's not so hard."
"You've never promised them anything, and they assume."
"Hey," he says, and takes a dragontail off her plate; she's already ordered and he's momentarily touched that she remembered to include him. He knows she hates shrimp unless it's tempura. But then she likes tempura everything. "I'm the master of implicity. You'll understand when you're older."
She circles her gaze around sarcastically, up and over him in an arc, and because the source of light between them is from a candle, and it's low, he sees it catch in her eyes and they burn up in the pale green way they do. He smiles wolfishly.
"You're the devil," she says and reaches for the hirame roll.
Once, when she was little-about five or six, and wearing a traditional children's kimono because she used to think they were so pretty-they had been at a festival. Their parents had been very close, his mother and hers, and their fathers were friends as well. They were often in each other's company and would travel together. Eric was Kira's father, and worked for an airline. He was a higher-up of the company, vice president or chairman or something to that nature, and would often invite her parents along with his family. So they were at a summer festival in Kyoto, and Kira was in his kimono, looking uncomfortable because even if Americans can't tell that he is only half, Japanese can. He was a few years older than she, and more susceptible to the impressions he left on others, and even though he was tanned and smooth-skinned and almond-eyed, his hair was not quite black; his eyes were not quite black, lighter as they were because his father's eyes had been pale blue. He used to walk with them lowered all the time, and when it was dark and his hair could look black, and he could play at conformity.
All he remembers now are the soft trills of a vowel-y language that he never tried to understand, and Cassandra-she wasn't the princess, then-calling /kirakira/, the spoken sound effect for all shining things; like the glitter-lights on the water, or the stars. He hated it, but held her hand anyway when she pulled him from booth to booth, and all the pretty women doted on her, and all the young men said she would grow up be a beautiful demon with hair like that, blood-colored and fire-colored, and she would giggle at the words she couldn't understand.
That is what his mother said, anyway, when they had talked about it later; and the little daughter had been asleep, still holding his hand, still dolled up in her yellow and orange and gold kimono with the blue obi and tiny pink flowers all along the sleeves.
Kimiko had died shortly after, though, and he stops thinking about it whenever memory catches up.
It is rare for him to stop by more than once in the same day, but he stumbles into her apartment and shuts the door behind him in a not-quiet way, though he's trying at stealth. She's in her room, but not because it's three in the morning; her sleep schedule is highly irregular most days anyway.
The light is on and bleeds under her door and he slips out of his shoes and wobbles a bit across the room, hands groping for purchase on the walls. He finds the handle and opens it and it rattles; he doesn't appear concerned.
The first thing he does is stumble over a beanbag. The second thing he does is stumble over a chair, and by the time he falls into bed with her she has already put aside her book and her pile of un-thrown knives. She is sitting up with her loose white shirt hanging baggy and oversized off her slim shoulders. The target on the far wall has seven or so of the blades poking out of it, focused in the general area of the bull's-eye.
"Let me guess," she says quietly as he peels off his shirt and his socks and curls up next to her in his dress slacks, the gel that gives his bleached-gray hair its rockstar spikes crumbling and smearing into her pillow. "Min went to Bahari's party with you. You started drinking and forgot she was angry from before, so when she came back to the couch from the bathroom you had your hand up Jade's skirt-even though she's sworn off you. And men in general, for that matter, but that's a separate can of shit entirely."
He murmurs something indistinct that ends in "watch your language," and then he tugs weakly at the sheets, trying to figure out how to burrow under them. The corner of her mouth quirks in pitied amusement and she tugs it back, and then up, and then over and around him. He shifts close. He smells like wine and vodka and sake. Mostly sake, even though he hates it.
He says, "Cassandra," and she elbows him, "Er-Lulu. Princess Lulu." He laughs hoarsely; it isn't bitter as much as it's depressing, to hear it, and his eyes stay closed. "You've got it, dear." He smiles against her throat and she sighs. "But we were in one of the guest rooms, actually, and she walked in on us."
The princess coughs.
"But then Min-well, I guess she..." he trails off, collecting his thoughts, and it's difficult to do when all he can think about is sleeping and how he probably won't remember most of this in the morning. "...had been drinking. Jade was topless, I think, and Min walked over and... both of them, and I..." he talks around a yawn now and she frowns because his hair is poking her in the jaw, "threesome with two Asians, can you imagine... God it sucks that I'll forget... so much sake, that Bahari is a... a beast, a monster. Shots with him, and he can hold... anything... schnapps, whisky, mixes, imports... absinthe, you name it..." He says something else and it's muffled; she picks through his hair and comes across a lump that is purplish in the dim light from the moon at the window, where it crosses his hairline onto his forehead.
"Didn't think she'd be there."
"So she saw you with Min?"
"No," and he says it like he's finished with the conversation. "She saw Jade. With Min. I was... just between them."
"Packs a nasty punch."
"Told you. Bad timing." He yawns again for the last time, "Rotten luck, that girl..."
And then he's asleep and the princess eventually makes herself comfortable because once he's out, he's out. She arranges him as best she can, only slightly miffed that she won't be able to finish practicing until he lets go and shifts away from her. But he doesn't, not even once, even when she kicks him. She gives up and goes to sleep, too.
"You know," the voice is young for a priest, and offhanded as opposed to the fatherly tone that most adapt when taking confessional, "none of those things really matter that much. Don't beat yourself up over them."
The pause is short but the man is unmistakably bewildered. "But-what? You mean I can have se-have relations, sorry father, with..."
"Listen, son," and it's ridiculous because the man in the confessional is in his forties or so, and the priest sounds much younger. "Most of the sins don't really count anymore-they don't apply. You've gotta realize," and he says this all in a row so that he remains uninterrupted, though he's sure the man is too stunned to speak anyway, "that the whole purpose of religion was to propagate the species. The scientific and biblical 'meaning of life' is the same, in essence; it's all about procreation. The reason that sodomy is a sin is simply because no children come from it. 'The union does not bear fruit', and all that jazz. And since there are so many people in the world now, you can more or less do whatever you want. I mean, don't go crazy-like I said, the meaning of life. 'S why you aren't suppose to kill people or steal things. Back in the old days, stealing something from someone meant them starving or quite possibly killing you. So don't feel guilty about all the unimportant crap. Just be happy, enjoy yourself, and don't hurt anyone's feelings."
There is a long silence, and finally the man says, "So... it's okay to have premarital sex?"
"...With other men?"
There is a pause as the man digests this.
"What about-'thou shalt not covet'? Is coveting a sin?"
"Oh," and then the priest smiles and it is audible in his voice, "There is nothing wrong with high expectations! As long as it doesn't control your life or cause to harm another person, go ahead and want anything you see. It's perfectly healthy to have strong interests and desires."
Another couple of long, silent seconds, and he adds, "Technically, you don't even need to be Catholic."
There is a short, stifled gasp.
"I mean, as long as you believe in something, that's all that really matters."
The man leaves, and he looks somehow newer, refreshed, if moderately confused; the priest steps out of the confessional and stretches. He still has a hangover from the night before.
He winces, turns around. David is standing behind him, arms crossed. His angular face would be handsome if it wasn't frowning, and his blue eyes are narrowed. His hair is long and blond, parted down the middle where it falls forward on either side of his face and rests on his shoulders, pulled back at the nape of his neck in a loose braid.
The half-Japanese man looks pointedly at the ground. The high priest has that effect on people.
"I'm sure I've told you," he ventures idly, "about misleading the members of the church?"
Kira sighs, and it is long-suffering. They've had this conversation before. "I'm not misleading them. I just give them the sweet version, that's all."
David is taking off his glasses and massaging the bridge of his nose.
"And besides," he claps his fellow clergy-member on the back, "you know I'm not wrong, and I know I'm not wrong. Why can't everyone?"
"-was written by fanatical men who had no concept of today's societies and values." And Kira thumps the text in question. "These are all vestigial. All people need to worry about is being happy without infringing on the happiness of others. Peace, baby."
David sighs; he has lost this argument, as he always loses it, for the simple fact that Kira is overpowering most days, even when recovering from a bitch of a hangover. David wonders if it isn't because he refuses to accept any arguments raised against him; and the fact that David doesn't disagree only makes it harder to present his case. He usually just gives up.
"Right, well, I'm off! You gonna be at Sonia's?"
David's eyes cut cautiously across the room; he is very young for his position, but the church is small and mostly frequented by teenagers and men and women going through midlife crises.
One must keep up appearances, however; but the chapel is empty.
"Yeah, but not until ten or so."
"See ya then, buddy."
He's taking off his collar and tucking it into his pocket, scratching idly at his neck where the white material had been; damn but it was itchy. David asks as he walks him to the door, "How's the princess?"
Kira stops and looks at him appraisingly. "Why would she be any different than usual?"
There is a silence that he doesn't quite trust, and David smiles. "You don't remember."
He gets a chill down his back, as he always does when he hears those three terrible words. "What-um, did I do anything while I was..."
"Completely trashed?" He holds the door open for the smaller man and his expression is kind; Kira relaxes a little. "Nothing, you were just talking. Usual things. But you never go through with what you say."
Kira wishes he remembers for the sake of the conversation; otherwise, he would really rather not know.
"So... you don't remember Jade or Min?"
"Hmm? Oh, was Jade there?"
"Justine was, too."
Kira sighs. "Shit. So that's where I got this nasty bump."
"Kira," David admonishes, "We're in a house of God."
"Shoot," he amends with a small, toothy smile.
The heavy door is closing, but it doesn't quite click shut before he hears the soft, half-murmured, "One of these days I'll tell her myself, if you don't..."
Kira swears under his breath but he waits until he's on the street and walking back to her apartment before he does so.