1. Chapter 1 by Ebonyswanne
2. Chapter 2 by Ebonyswanne
3. Chapter 3 by Ebonyswanne
4. Chapter 4 by Ebonyswanne
5. Chapter 5 by Ebonyswanne
6. Chapter 6 by Ebonyswanne
7. Chapter 7 by Ebonyswanne
8. Chapter 8 by Ebonyswanne
9. Chapter 9 by Ebonyswanne
10. Chapter 10 by Ebonyswanne
11. Chapter 11 by Ebonyswanne
12. Chapter 12 by Ebonyswanne
13. Chapter 13 by Ebonyswanne
14. Chapter 14 by Ebonyswanne
15. Chapter 15 by Ebonyswanne
16. Chapter 16 by Ebonyswanne
17. Chapter 17 by Ebonyswanne
18. Chapter 18 by Ebonyswanne
19. Chapter 19 by Ebonyswanne
20. Chapter 20 by Ebonyswanne
21. Chapter 21 by Ebonyswanne
22. Chapter 22 by Ebonyswanne
23. Chapter 23 by Ebonyswanne
24. Chapter 24 by Ebonyswanne
25. Chapter 25 by Ebonyswanne
26. Chapter 26 by Ebonyswanne
The war has ended, and they had made it back from the poison apple. About a year afterwards.
Jun watched him picking up his bags and throwing them into the trunk of his new car.
“It looks like I have everything.” Joe forced a smile, pulling his sunglasses out of his top pocket and placing them onto his face, the underlying tension between them hadn’t fully extinguished. Hiding his eyes so she couldn’t see into them.
“Looks like it.” Jun responded holding back tears. Sighing heavily as he leaned against the car, arms folded, hanging his head.
“Where’s you first destination?” She said, trying to break through the silence.
“Where ever I end up. From there I’ll drive and stop when I’m running out of fuel.” He answered vaguely. He’d become distant, barely speaking, the apartment they shared together in the last few weeks had become unbearable from the weight of it, like air had turned to water.
Forcing a smile herself she tried to embrace him, woodenly returning her affections, both of them choking on pent up deep emotions.
Joe had in that time made his choice to leave Utoland and find his home elsewhere. Not once had he asked her to go with him. She waited for him to come around, try and work on their rocky on again off again relationship.
But he’d withdrawn more than ever since the war came to an end with their narrow escape from the poison apple, he was more lost than Ken was in some ways. He was trying to find a way out of it, even though he’d barely left his shack in two weeks, even to fly his new plane.
Leaping into his car, starting the engine, their eyes met for a brief moment. Searching for something that spoke of his feelings she found him shutting her out again. Every time he hit a wall in his life, she was the last person he turned too. A part of their problems over the five years they’d been together.
This time, he told her he had to escape for a while, and think about his life. Handing her a white envelope through the open window, he requested she wait a while before opening. Unable to read his facial expression, she waited for one word from him. One that would have her packing her bags and leaving with him.
Heart pounding from her thoughts about the contents she accepted it, her insides trembling.
“Take care.” He said. “I’ll be in touch.”
Then he was gone with the low hum of an engine and powered by acceleration, as he left her standing there on the curb, outside of their rented home since the war ended and Galactor disbanded for good.
Torn inside, she slowly walked back inside, pictures of them together still sat on the mantle. He’d left a few personal items around the place. She half expected him to come running back in a few days apologising for being a bastard. It’s what normally happened when they argued.
Flopping onto the sofa, staring at the envelope she wondered what was inside of it.
Could it be a surprise invitation to meet him somewhere in his travels? Surely Joe wouldn’t be gone forever. They’d have another go at working their problems.
She loved him, even though he was shutting her out again. Instead of a wedding like he promised her, he was fleeing.
Joe had proposed to her in the hours after Dr Nambu’s death. Accepting him with pure joy, swept up in the thoughts of future together, she had accepted him.
Then it all fell apart like crumbling clay in the last month.
Looking at the photo of the five of them together, she wondered where the years had vanished. It had been a tough year watching Ken going through extensive Chemo and recovery.
He’d been in a state of depression since he had gone into remission. Doctors ensuring him he was able to start his life again- Eagle was left with being unsure of where to go next.
His team disbanded, and the ISO had moved onto new projects not needing ninjas- Ken was lost.
Jinpei had left for university studying bugs and insects and enjoying an active social life on campus. He had a new girlfriend every week, and parties. Ryu was finding his dreams on his home island, with a new fishing trawler.
What was she doing? Waiting for him to come back and say he was sorry like always.
She thought she had a plan, marry Joe and settle down with a baby on the way in a year. In an instant, it was all unsettled.
At first, he asked to put their engagement on hold, he had to sort out a few things in his life before he could move forward again. After all they’d been through, and he still had doubts.
Then in the last week, it all soured, he called it off completely.
Taking the envelope turning it over in staring at the seal, and closing her eyes, she waited until she got herself a glass of wine before finally ripping it open.
Putting the letter down, she couldn’t past the first words. His answer to everything was simply to say he was sorry. Then expected it all to go back to the way it was. Each time she’d forgiven him, thinking he’d change.
The war ended and I thought I knew what I wanted. Not sure of how to say what my feelings are, but something is missing for me. I wanted to marry you, but settling down and the thought of kids and I become restless…. I hope you’ll understand one day….
“What Joe?” She threw the it across the room at the photo of them. ” After all we’ve been though.”
Ken’s illness had affected all of them, watching him suffering through chemo was draining. She had put his mood down to the distraction of his best friend’s deadly illness.
She remembered the night he dropped the bombshell. Kissing her lightly on the lips he proceeded to serve out his speciality Italian pasta, the aroma sent her taste buds into over drive. Commenting on the meal, he was silent throughout it.
“Its not working.” Joe blurted out.
“What’s not working? You’re car?” Raising a curious brow, she thought it related to the workshop he was planning to start up. Silence again, long drawn out minutes passed.
“We aren’t working. I can’t be--” He confessed. “I can’t do it… I tried but- “
“What.” Sitting back in her seat like he’d punched her in the face, she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“Where is this coming from.” Frozen- Lifting his intense grey eyes met hers, searching them for why he was talking like he was breaking off their relationship.
“When we were at war, it was different. We had passion…” He said.” Now, there’s no sparks… we’re like an old married couple before we’re even married.”
“That’s not good enough.” Jun pushed her chair away, standing up she’d been through this before not long before Cross Karakorum. He broke her heart, and vanished for two years. Then he broke her heart again, keeping her at arm’s length hiding his transformation.
“What’s happening to you that you’re not tell me.” Knowing the pattern.” I’ll stand by you, you know that Joe, we can go to counselling, work it out… we don’t have to rush- “
“Stop it.” He stood up, angry.” It’s not you, it’s me. The wedding is off…”
The whole its-not-you-its-me, tactic again.
“We can delay it for a while, if you need more time.” She offered reaching for him, he shoved her hand away.
“I don’t, I’ve thought about it.” He roughly walked away from her. Tears running down her cheeks, mixed emotions coursed through her.
“You bastard.” She hissed. “Be a man-“
“I’m a man sweetheart.” He shouted. “What if I don’t want the same things you do. We’re not teenagers anymore. We were kids when we started dating, it was exciting back then for us- things change.”
“You don’t change.” She snarled.
Watching him walk into their bedroom she stood with her feet transfixed to the floor. Surely, he was having a depressing few weeks and wasn’t thinking clearly.
Emerging a minute later with his car keys and jacket, he headed out the door not even looking back at her.
Their romantic evening together ended in tears, she was left with a pile of dirty dishes and a broken heart.
He came back in the early hours of the morning, she heard him opening the fridge and the sounds of twist top beer. Grumbling and kicking a chair. Tempted to get out of bed, in her nightie, they could have make up sex and he’d get over it, he couldn’t resist her in satin.
Pulling back the sheets, she walked into the dark loungeroom.
“Joe,” She said softly, he was standing by the window. “Want to talk about what’s bothering you-“
He turned his back on her. Walled-out completely, brick by brick she knew better than to try and touch him in this state. He was drinking again, and hard.
Storming back to bed she barely slept.
Hoping it was simply a case of ‘cold feet’ Jun waited until the next morning after he slept in the spare room to try and talk again. Walking to the bedroom door, she discovered he locked her out.
Rising a few hours later from the spare room, hung over. He grumbled when saw her in her lingerie, told her it wasn’t going to work. Rejected she raced back into their bedroom, slamming the door crying.
He proceeded to tell her through the door to cancel everything, he wasn’t changing his mind.
He left the apartment again, coming back later in the day drunker than he left.
She had made all the arrangements and spent a week cancelling everything from the venue to the flowers, suit hire, and invitations. Sending a message to Jinpei he didn’t have to work around his holidays to come home from Ameris.
The Jinpei called her several times and even abused Joe over the phone. As usual he clashed with him and it ended badly.
She came home late one evening to find Ken there talking quietly with Joe in their living room. Catching his eye momentarily, she saw sadness in them. Hesitating, for a moment she was going to join them, a slight shake of his head indicated he wanted time to talk with Joe.
He was going to be best man at their wedding… Maybe Ken could get through to him he was making a big mistake.
Joe spent the week brooding in the apartment and moving into the spare room, drinking beer and sometimes going to a local pub playing pool. Packing a few things into a suitcase, barely making eye contact with her. Unable to stand the tension she’d gone back to her tiny apartment above the Snack J for a few days.
That’s the place she ended at later in the day after he drove off. Reluctantly she stood up, walking over to the letter she’d thrown onto the dusty counter, forcing herself to finish reading it.
….. I tried to want a normal life. I think that’s the problem, wanting something, but inside it was like a… decay. I’m a cyborg, and I know you accepted me, but it’s not about that. See I can’t describe it.
Please understand, I love you, and always will. But the life of a married man, with children isn’t for me. I’m breaking off our engagement, and our relationship. Peace time isn’t what I expected it to be… I’m not good with words and talking about my feelings. I’m a loner, always have been always will be.
Don’t wait around for me. You deserve better than I can give you.
I’m sorry I hurt you, please, try and understand.
“You love me?” Crumpling the letter, bitterness lingering inside her like swallowing a cup of vinegar. “Liar Asakura… you’re a liar, how could you say you love me.” She didn’t know if she wanted to throw it or tear it up in anger. Instead she drained the wine glass, soaking up its warm peppery flavours and tannins sliding down her throat.
“Gutting me was more like it. You have a good aim Joe Asakura… shot through the heart by you again- dead on target.” Hot tears stung her eyes, running down her cheeks like a river, she crumbled onto the sofa sobbing. The wine glass shattering on the floor. Praying for numbness to take the place of the agony churning inside.
It was over for good this time, how could they come back from it? How could she trust his word again? He wasn’t coming back, but at least he was alive in the world somewhere.
If she couldn’t commit to her by now he never would. There would always be something holding him back from it.
Reflecting over the years, she’d spent more time agonising over fights and walls of silence than being simply happy with him. There were good times too, the things that kept her coming back into his arms for more.
The way he made love to her passionately and intimately, and date nights. The things she longed for again even now had been ripped away. Then there was, the silences, the lies and Joe’s refusal to work things out together when they argued.
Gradually the pain eased enough for her to draw herself to up, stumbling into the bathroom, turning the tap on the bath and running the hot water, steam eloped her like a warming embrace. A soothing bath to ease her broken heart, at least for a little while.
A few months had passed since Joe left their apartment, and she was slowly working her way into her own place of depression.
The first week after he left she spent drinking away her sorrows, loud music, singing until her voice hurt, turning up the amp on the electric guitar playing sad love songs of broken hearts and betrayal of lovers, then sleeping in until midday. The alcohol numbed the pain, if she didn’t feel, she couldn’t die of a broken heart. It had become a habit.
She had money, when the war was officially over and the Science Ninja Team was decommissioned upon their spectacular return to Earth in a firebird designed by Dr Nambu for such an occasion.
They all were granted large sums of money, and ongoing payments each year for the rest of their lives for what they did in saving their planet. More than enough to live on without ever having to work again if they chose not to.
Until that moment in time she hadn’t had to think about filling in her time. Most of her days had been filled to the brim organising their wedding, visiting Ken in hospital, and helping him out when he was weak, and unable to function. He was still living in his shack, and he wasn’t interested in moving out any time soon.
It was all mapped out for her, she’d become a wife and mother in time, married to the man she loved. Or so she thought.
One morning she woke up with the sounds of someone knocking on her door. The persistent person wouldn’t leave, whoever it was kept knocking.
Pulling on her loose grey track pants and white T-shirt, she stumbled out of her bedroom with a blasting headache ready to snarl at whoever was behind the door.
“Go away.” She shouted. Ouch that hurt her brain, even to talk.
“Common Jun, open up.” Ken’s muffled tone came through the door. “Jinpei’s worried.”
“Jinpei.” She repeated, he called her again, a few days ago? She’d lost track, and couldn’t remember the conversation.
“Yeah,” Ken said through the door. ”If you don’t let me in, he’s flying home today.”
She couldn’t let that happen.
“You see me, call him and tell I’m fine.” She said. ”Go away Ken.”
Pulling the locks to open, she pulled on the door and stumbled backwards, unbalanced from an unhealthy lifestyle since the day Joe drove off.
She handed him the phone, ordered him to call her brother and let him know she’d seen her and she was fine.
“No you’re not… this is a mess-“ He said. “I’ve never seen you like this.”
Screwing up her nose, she cast him a dirty look as he spoke. That’s when it hit her a wave of nausea, and she ran for the toilet throwing up the contents of her stomach until she was dry reaching.
Without a word, she a hand rested on her shoulder, gently helping her to feet, the sounds of the shower and waffling steam swirled around her.
Then he thrusted her into the cubical. The warm water hit her senses bringing on nausea again. She had nothing left to throw up.
Through the steaming up glass she watched him in a foggy haze cleaning the toilet. The strong scent of pine disinfectant and sounds of flushing as he moved about the bathroom, and eventually leaving, closing the door behind him.
After a while the sensations eased, and her headache dulled to light thud rather than a hammer. Stumbling out of the shower after stripping off her wet clothing, drying off and wrapping a towel around her hair.
The stench wafted around her, the whole place stank of neglect. For the first time since went on her downward spiral she noticed it.
The whole time he didn’t speak. Sitting on the lounge in the living room waiting for her to dress and emerge half human. Trying to zip up her jeans, eventually giving up from the effort and residing to wearing stretchy track pants again.
The weight had crept up on her since Joe left, a few rolls spilled over the top of the jeans. She’d barely noticed since leaving the apartment had been to stop by the bottle shop, and then she discovered the bottle shop did a delivery run, so she no longer needed to leave her sanctuary of pain and neglect to face the world outside.
Running her fingers through her long, tangled locks, she couldn’t be bothered brushing it, weak from weeks of drinking and insomnia. She barely looked at him.
Eventually walking out of her personal space, moving through empty bottles strewed across the floor and boxes of pizza, some of them half eaten and others untouched. The unpleasant smell assaulted her senses as she sobered up.
Ken didn’t move, he observed as she poured herself a glass of scotch from a half empty bottle, no ice and ungraciously flopped into one of the lounge chairs.
“Wasn’t that enough?” He queried, indicating to the bathroom. “Be prepared to be back there soon.”
“Who cares. I didn’t ask you to come here.” She snapped. “Go fly a plane or something.”
Picking up a bottle of bourbon, she smirked as with anticipation of smooth bitter taste, followed by a hint of sweetness. “My lover, we are going to have fun tonight.” She told the full bottle of dark liquid.
Ken snorted, refusing to touch the glass she poured for him, he had the nerve to pour it down the sink.
“How rude,” she said, draining her glass. “Eagle can’t hold a drink, you used to spend hours drinking with my ex-fiancée Condor Joe at the Snack J. Drinking it all for free.”
Draining the warm smooth liquid, and pouring another, she proceeded to drink the entire bottle in front of him. With the gait of drunk dancer, her head swimming from the effects of the scotch she lost track of time again. The world blurred and she forgot about him being there for a while.
She flicked the on switch of her stereo, selecting rock music, throwing up the volume, and inviting him to dance with her. Shaking his head, he barely moved from his seat.
Eventually walking into the unhygienic kitchen, boiling the kettle and making himself a pot of green tea.
Drinking the hot tea slowly, bowing his head, for the first time in her life she saw real tears pooling his eyes. Placing his cup on a cleared side table, the Eagle walked over switched off her loud music, abruptly bringing her dance to a halt.
His normally stoic facial features turned to disgust. Dragging her roughly in front of the mirror in the hallway. “What are you doing to yourself Swan, wake up.”
Flinching at the sight of her unruly mop, dark rimmed eyes and bitter frown. Her skin had gone from a healthy creamy glow to sappy and dull she looked like a vagrant. Numb inside she no longer cared.
“Did you come here to give me a lecture.” Stumbling towards her bedroom, a wave of exhaustion rolled over her like a mecha ball. “Save your moral lecture for someone who cares. I’m living my own life now.”
“This isn’t living.” He followed her. “It’s self-destruction.”
“Who cares.” She yelled. “He doesn’t. No one cares.”
Falling across the bed, dizzy and incoherent, she fell into a drunken sleep.
Waking up hours later with a blanket over her and the mingled scents of soy and honey, wafted through the door. Still tired, and unsure of how long she’d been sleeping the day blended into another.
No one had cooked a thing in the kitchen since Joe left, she’d barely boiled a jug of water. He had insisted on doing all the cooking, often kicking her out of the kitchen while he worked.
Slowly sitting up, everything ached. Throwing her stiffened legs over the side of the bed, she was becoming more accustomed by the day to waking up half drunk and stumbling out into the living room.
“What’s ya cooking?” She mumbled. “Its not helping my head.” Shifting back her messy hair, and straightening the stained single she wore. Realizing she didn’t have a bra on, she couldn’t remember the last time she bothered.
“Lunch, you slept through yesterday afternoon and most of the morning.” He answered bluntly.
Throwing her gaze around the apartment, he’d done some cleaning, the bottles were in piles and kitchen useable again. The place still had the look of some neglect. The hum of her washing machine in use was a surprise.
Pulling out a chair at the dining table, she flopped down folding her arms on the table.
“Can you get some cutlery.” He asked. “I’m not waiting on you.” Pointing to the draw he was perfectly in range in to get them himself. Pointing it out to him, with him completely ignoring her, he sat the food in front of her without utensils.
Planting her hands firmly on the table, shooting him the best death glare she could summon, and lifting herself up abruptly. Not bothering to hide her annoyance with his actions, she walked over to the draw getting her own chopsticks, and wandering back to her seat.
Without a word, she ate the stir-fried vegetables, the hit of sweet and savoury in the sauce brightened her a little. It was the first healthy meal she’d eaten since Joe left.
They ate in silence, and she preferred it that way.
Finishing up, he threw her a T-towel and with his non-verbal eye contact and body language ordered her to help him. Just like the old days… Ken’s lectures either silent or verbal…drive me insane. She internally moaned. He doesn’t even know me as a person, he’s all about saving the world and being a hero, the big picture and not caring for actual people.
Washing up and putting away the dishes she later went to the place she kept her store of alcohol in to find it empty. Spinning on her heels she demanded him to tell her what he what did with it.
Picking up the phone on speed dial, she called the Bottle shop, delivery service. Ken snatched the phone from her hand, hanging up before she finished her order.
“You gonna punch me in the face Ken, pull me into line Gatchaman.” She baited, blaring her teeth. “Go ahead-“
“Don’t tempt me.” He threw back, icy blues piercing her. “Besides, you were the one when we were a team that time me not to treat you differently from the rest of us. If I’d punch Joe over it… well you got the same.”
“Give me back the phone.” She said reaching for it, he pulled his arm back tightening his grip. Jun threw a punch, and he easily deflected it. He didn’t strike back.
“Give it back.” She screamed launching at him, rage filling her from his actions. He didn’t raise a hand, instead the Eagle pinned her to the wall until she stopped fighting him.
“Now.” He calmly whispered through his teeth in her ear. “You’re going to do as you’re told Swan.”
Clenching her jaws tight, a boiling heat rose from the pit of her stomach. In that moment, she hated him too. His blue eyes darkened as they fought a silent battle of wills. Eventually loosening his grip, and the phone flew across the room.
“No more deliveries of the crap you’ve been drinking.” He relaxed his grip, waiting for her comply.
“Why are you here?” She collapsed against the wall, drained from the effort it took to fight him. Thinking up anything she could use to insult him.
Through clenched teeth, she threw at him. “You…self-absorbed prick, you’re just here to try and fix me, how it must vex you to have me not be the obedient mouse I once was-“
“You’re getting dressed properly, and coming with me.” Ken answered her quietly ignoring her continuing interrogation over her missing supply, and hurling insults.
“You don’t get to order me around anymore Ken. We are no longer a team and your no longer my Commander. “ She repeated.
“I’m your friend.” He broke in, calmer than a still ocean. “I’ve come here knocking on your door for a week. Hearing your loud music and drunken singing, deliveries of alcohol turn up. The sounds of broken glass--- if you didn’t open it yesterday I was going to break down the door.”
“Friends know each other.” She spat. “I know all about you… but you know nothing about me. What I do is my business.” She fired back, some of the wind going out of her conviction from his tone.
“Yes, it is...your business.” He agreed. “Get on some proper clothes, we’re going for a walk.”
“I might.” She huffed. Walking towards her bedroom.
“When did you become so stubborn.” He uttered. Grabbing her arm and marching her into the room, picking some clothing, and throwing it at her. “I can put them on you like a two-year-old of you like.”
Shoving his hands into his pockets, and walking over to the living room window staring out the view.
Pulling on her shorts, and finding a clean shirt, and shoes. She emerged from the room.
Forcing her stand still while he brushed her hair, a strange gesture from Ken.
“That hurts.” She grouched, pulling away.
“Suck it up Princess.” He grinned. “Take your torture.”
“You’re rough.” She growled, resisting the urge to wipe it off his face.
“I’m trying not to hurt you, its matted.” He admitted. “I’m not good at hair.”
“I have detangler conditioner in the bathroom.” She indicated, he went and found it, applied it, and continued brushing slower, taking his time.
He was gentle in his touch as he stoked the brush through the tangles. Realizing no one had touched her since Joe- she accepted his gesture of kindness by sitting still and quiet- the touch of his fingers ignited some feeling inside of her other than the numbness.
A hour later they left her apartment, he wouldn’t budge until she was properly groomed. Walking out into the bright sunlight of mid-afternoon, squinting her eyes as the sun hit them like a rain of shuriken poking her with invisible beams. Warm sun kissed her skin reminding her they were still in summer.
Trying to keep pace they walked the streets in silence, the whole time she was trying to figure out where he was taking her a few more turns they ended up at the parklands. Green lawns stretched out before her, with families enjoying the warmth of the day.
Striding ahead of her down the pathway through the tall shady tree’s finally stopping, and sitting on a bench located in a secluded spot along the edge of the lake. Pulling a small bag out of his shirt pocket, throwing grain at the ducks walking along the banks.
“What are we doing?” She asked.
“What does it look like. Feeding the ducks, enjoying the day.” He went back his task of throwing grain, few wandered up closer.
Shrugging her shoulders, she wanted to go back to her apartment and hide from the world. Voicing her objections, and standing up he remained seated.
“You’ve indulged in self-pity for long enough.” He stated quietly. “It’s time to start over.”
“Who are you to talk, you walled yourself in your shack for weeks after your last Chemo treatment.” As soon as the words left her mouth Jun regretted it.
“I did, and you and Joe pulled me out of it…kinda.” He said. “Keep going on this path and you’ll end up an alcoholic. Did you risk everything up on that alien ship, to drink yourself to death?”
She answered. “I thought…” I’d had it all worked out… it takes away the pain.
Flopping back onto the bench she grabbed a handful of grain, and tossed it at the birds.
“I…” Struggling with the pain, she sat in silence. “I had thought since I was seventeen my life was worked out. Joe and I would be married, kids, home… now I’m single and lost.”
“It’s not so bad being single.” A warm grin fluttered across his mouth. ” I’ve been single for as long as I can remember… well… you know…since…well… I’m fine with it.”
For the first-time she noticed the sunlight drawing out auburn highlights in his short clumps of unruly hair. His hair was growing back at last. Details of the world she had shut out because of her grief from losing Joe and her future.
“What did I do wrong?” Her voice cracked. “We went wrong somewhere, but…”
“I can’t answer that, it’s between you and Joe.” He responded. “Common, lets walk again.”
For a while they walked around the park, barely talking until the sun dipped into the sky. Shoving his hands into his pockets, they returned to her apartment.
Ken said his goodbyes, before walking out the door he invited her to the airfield in the morning, she’d have to find her own way out there.
Left in the empty space around her, filled with reminders of Joe in the things he left behind. She walked over to a picture of the two of them from happier days sitting on a bench.
Chest tightening, and tears stinging her eyes, she picked up her keys for the old Snack J. she purchased the building as soon as the war ended, and hadn’t given much thought to reopening it.
Arriving at the door, switching on lights, she found exactly what she was looking for. Alone again and opening the bottle she poured herself a drink. Sliding onto one of the stool Joe occupied the during the war, she sat staring into the golden liquid.
Hours passed as the moonlight moved across the room, losing track of time Jun didn’t touch the full glass of spirits. She didn’t sleep, and she didn’t drink it. Being sober meant she thought about her former fiancé constantly, churning over in her mind like a constant grinder, over what the problems were that drove him away from her again and again.
Her walk in the sunshine and seeing nature broke something inside of her. Ken dropping in for a visit, and forcing her to look long and hard at herself. He wasn’t kind, and didn’t pander to her. His silence spoke volumes.
The words echoed in her mind. You keep going on this path and you’ll become an alcoholic. He was concerned. Someone cared that she breathed.
There was once a time when he would have walked in the door and poured himself a drink of scotch or what was available. Drinking with Joe until the early hours of the morning. That was before the hypershoot illness, and cancer. She had been closer to him as a friend, someone Jinpei adored.
This time he made green tea and a healthy meal. She saw changes in him, she hadn’t noticed being so wrapped up in Joe and planning their wedding.
Part of the chemistry was Joe’s brooding nature, she was draw to it. She had been from the time she was sixteen years old. They had been together for five years, if she included the time she thought he was dead.
Those had been dark days for her, but not once did she turn to drinking, she grieved for him, and was still grieving when he came back into her life again. Like a ghost materializing before her. Now he’d left her the same way.
It was like he died again, but was still walking alive in the world somewhere still living.
The moonlight changed into sunlight through the dusty windows. The glass untouched sat before her waiting for a decision.
Gathering her thoughts and flattened emotions, placing her hands onto the bench and gently lifting herself out the seat, and picking up the glass she headed into the kitchen and poured it down the sink, along with the rest of the bottle.
Rubbing her hands together she had to do something else other than drown in self-pity. Still crushed from breaking up with Joe, a part of her wondered if he would come back soon and try and patch things up. It’s how it had worked in the past.
They’d break up over some secret he was harbouring and weeks later they’d make up again in bed. The course of the chemistry in their relationship, the sparks that drew her to him like a spark plug igniting when the key turned in the engine over.
Walking back into the main bar area, drawing in a long break and releasing it. Ken had mentioned he’d like her to visit him at the shack.
Tired from a night of no sleep, and flattened emotionally, drained of energy, she really didn’t feel like riding her motorbike to the outskirts of the city where he lived.
The idea of returning to the apartment didn’t appeal either.
Walking upstairs, and finding a few clothes. Jun changed into jeans and clean T-shirt, grabbing an old bikers leather jacket she did up the zip and pulled on her leather boots.
The coolness of the early morning reminding her the turn of seasons would be coming soon and she’d missed most of summer locked away.
Satisfied she looked half decent, she left the old Snack J, walking to the apartment long enough to grab keys and her motorbike. Locking the place up, she left for the airfield on the outskirts of Utoland.
Enjoying his mild sleep in, Ken yawned as the sunlight drifted through the shutters. Moving the warm sheets and covers, and burying his face into the pillow, he was never really good at bouncing out of bed at the crack of dawn. Unless it involved flying.
Stretching his arms behind his head, letting out a deep breath, a smile playing on his lips as he thought about the life plans he’d been making.
A therapist had gone through personal goals with him since he had finished Chemo and was in recovery.
The whole idea of thinking of a life outside of the team was alien in itself. When he was using the hypershoot knowing its dangerous mix of chemicals and the illness he suffered from it, he was probably going to have a short life anyway--Why plan ahead.
By a miracle he’s survived cancer, and was in remission. The last screening tests revealed not a single cancer cell was left in his body. Along the way he’d been given a second chance at life and had decided to embrace it.
Floundering on where to begin, he had taken his time working on his new plane, flying and doing basically not much at all. Then Joe dropped in one day informing of his break up with Jun. Stunned he spent the next few hours trying to talk him out of a big mistake. For as long as he could remember it was Joe and Jun. He figured between them he’d be an uncle in a few years, and that was enough for him, and was looking forward to seeing them finally married and able to live a peaceful life. Is that what they’d all wanted? He thought more about it. Joe had doubts, he’d dropped in a few times contemplating his future not long before he broke of his engage.
He hoped it was a case of cold feet for the Condor. He’d had moments of not wanting commitments during his relationship with Jun and they had taken breaks- Ken had come to think it was all part of their chemistry. This time he detected Joe had something weighing on him-- Unfinished business.
Figured he would have been back by now and it would be all back on again. So far, he hadn’t received a word from him, and Jun was a train wreck.
Pushing his friend’s romantic issues to back of his mind, it wasn’t his area of expertise anyway, what did he know about romance and dating. He turned his thoughts to planning a bachelor life and ways to make it count.
The money that had been granted to them sat in an account, and for the first time in his life he didn’t have to worry about it. Dr Nambu didn’t believe in spoiling them, while he’d never let them starve, they had enough finances to make their covers appear real. Beyond that they had to make it work.
Enjoying the warmth of golden sunlight streaming across his bed, he had finally done one thing towards his own future.
Thinking about the meeting with the architect a month before, and the new plans in the cylinder sitting in the corner of the room.
The project that pulled him out of his own depression, and he’d spent the last six months planning. The first visit the architect, an older lady with a lot experience in designs he found interesting. In a hospital bed, unsure of how long he had to live, he started the process of fighting for life.
When was the Eagle a quitter? He decided one day, he wasn’t. His friends supported his fight for life and in return he hoped he could support them in tough times even if he had no clue how.
Pulling himself out of his cosy warm place, making his way out to the kitchen, searching for breakfast and a cup of tea. The sounds of motorbike abruptly coming to a halt caught his ear. Footsteps crunching on the dirt and his front door clicking open.
“Ken?” Jun’s voice filtered into the kitchen.
Feeling the heat rising to his cheeks, he hadn’t anticipated her to arrive this early, if at all from the antics he’d witnessed in her apartment. Still in his underwear and nothing else, he quickly scurried past her to his bedroom.
She raised an eyebrow and giggled, but didn’t say anything else. Emerging a few minutes later in his track pants, sweatshirt and runners.
“Want some breakfast?” He asked returning to kitchenette making his green tea and pulling out a few items, placing the on the bench.
Accepting his offer, Jun placed some of the cereal and yogurt in a bowl with chopped fruit and sat down at the table.
“No coffee?” She asked, surprised, as he joined her with his own breakfast.
“Nope, don’t drink alcohol anymore.” He said, pouring her a cup of tea. “I’ve had to make changes.”
Eating in silence again for a while, she finished up, washing her bowl and cup looking outside. Emotionally she was devoid of feeling, having spent her time trying not to feel anything through drinking. She should have been tired, but the fresh air had awakened her.
“Wanna put these on?” He asked, handing her the box. “My guess its new runners.”
Accepting the brown paper wrapped package, with her name and address on it, looking at him waiting for an explanation.
“They were sitting at your door a week ago. You weren’t answering, and rather than someone steal it. I took them back here.” He explained.
“How do you know what’s inside?”
“I’ve been a courier for so long I take a guess, besides the sender is a company that makes runner…. Same brand I buy.”
Ripping it open, she’d ordered them before her world turned sour. In the process of emotional distress, she’d forgotten all about them.
“We’re going for a run, they’ll be more comfortable than boots.” He indicated.
“I didn’t sleep last night, I’m tired, you go for a run, and I’ll sleep on the couch.”
Shrugging his shoulders, he started a few familiar warm up exercises. “Suit yourself, but you’re losing your figure.”
“You’re so rude, and clueless.” She fumed. “Its not… polite to talk about a womans figure like that.”
“You’re getting fat.” He threw over his shoulder. “Let’s be real here.”
Walking out the door, and leaving her there. He wasn’t waiting around for her.
Jogging along the runway invigorated his soul, drawing the fresh air inflating his lungs. Working on building his fitness again had been one of his longer-term goals.
During the time of his treatment he’d wasted away and feeling weak daily was one of the things that had caused his depression. Every day- he went on his early morning run to his favourite place as he built up distance.
The sounds of someone behind him caught his attention, glancing over his shoulder, and spotting Jun running to catch. Even if she was struggling to do it.
It appeared they’d all suffered from neglect over time, Jun’s was since her break-up with Joe. She was going to hate him after the run, but it worth it.
After a while he turned off the runway heading to the hills. Jogging and keeping an eye on Jun who’d stopped from time to time and walked, out of breath but trying to keep him in sight. An unusual sight since she had been extremely athletic since he’d known her in their youth and had no trouble keeping up.
Eventually he arrived at the place, waiting for her catch up, out of breath she halted beside him. The grassy hill had become a place of peace in his life.
The hushed sounds of birds, in the sparse trees nearby and the whispering sound of the breeze gently bending the longer threads of grass invigorated him.
“Nice view.” She commented after a while.
“Yeah, it’s stunning.” He agreed.
“There was a time when you’d tell me off for even looking at the view.” She looked at him again curious. She had been doing that a lot in the last few hours since he’d finally drawn her out of her apartment.
“I’ve come to appreciate more to life, than focusing on the job at hand.” Stretching his legs and arms, dropping to ground doing his usual set of push ups followed by stretches.
“You come to this place often?”
“Every day for the last few months.” He replied.
A smile played on his lips. “I have plans for this place.”
Sitting up more, drawing a knee to her chin, Jun raised an eyebrow.
“I’m building my home here.” His grin intensified. “Come back to the shack, I’ll show you the plans.”
“You’re kidding me, seriously your building a house?”
“I’ve been in the design room with an architect since the day I left the hospital.” He indicated they could start walking back. He wanted her to pull her out of her misery, but decided jogging back would be a form of torture for her at this stage.
“Really?” She sounded amazed.
“I have all that money.” He signed. “ I gave some to a research, and still I have plenty of it… Why not a decent place to live- and close to my passion, and airfield.” Smiling, he said.” I’m the eternal bachelor.”
He confessed. “I’m used to doing things my way, it would drive a woman nuts living with me and my compulsive need to have order around me... The odd one, night stand is enough romance in my life.”
“Sounds lonely.” She responded. “I didn’t plan a life alone, I planned to married with a few kids.”
“I didn’t either a few years ago, but that’s how it turned out. You learn how to live, be independent… I did, you will too in time.” He said.
Casting her eyes to the ground, she didn’t reply, appearing to be in deep thought, he left her there as he headed back. Gradually she followed him.
Jun knew the truth of it.
He was in love with Rumi, smitten from the time he met her. When the first war with Galactor ended he finally was able to meet her as himself- in plain clothes. She’d worked it out, on the train who he was.
She was in a café, and he caught her eye, and they clicked the moment he found the nerve to approach her. They’d started dating, and wanted to be able to pursue a relationship. He fell hard and the passionate love between them grew in a few months.
Until the fatal day kissed him goodbye at an airport. She was going on a short holiday to see her father. He couldn’t go with her due to a meeting with Dr Nambu, and planned to meet up with her in a few days on the Island. Her plane never made it to its destination, the pilot lost control in a storm, and everyone on the flight died when it crashed. He’d been plagued with guilt ever since she died. He should have been the one flying her to visit her father.
Devastated, his heartbroken- he was thrown back into the war again resuming his persona of Gatchaman. Hardening from the pain of his loss.
He swore he’d never fall in love again, it was too hard when it all came to an end. Pouring every ounce of his focus and dedication into ending the war not caring is he died in the process.
Jun pulled him out of it when he became ill while he was using the hypershoot. Forcing him to look at himself and his reckless behaviour, it didn’t totally stop him. But in the end when they made it back to Earth, her words had made him think about his future.
Arriving ahead of her back at the shack, the sun warming up, he showered quickly, changing into casual jeans and T-shirt, pulling on casual shoes ready for the day ahead.
“I have a few parcels to deliver, wanna come?” He invited her.
“I’m not doing anything else, why not.” She resided. Ignoring her tone, he left the shack for the his plane. Two styles of small aircraft waited in the hanger.
“You’re building a light plane.” Her voice echoed through the hanger as she walked over to his other project.
“Ahhuh.” He answered, going through his usual flight checks getting the small plane ready.
“It’s a kit plane, came with everything but I have build it yet. Two seater- its engine is a turbo, I can’t wait to finish it.”
She studied his work so far, examining the parts sitting around waiting to be fitted, including the wings.
“Ken, I’ve lost touch with everyone along the way.” Sighing she stared into the distance.
“We all got wrapped up living for a while, Jinpei off to Uni in Ameris, Ryu and his boats, me and my plane and…” Leaving it hanging, he didn’t want to broach onto a current painful topic for her.
He’d tried to contact Joe, but he wasn’t at the hotel he told him he was booking into.
He’d booked out of it a few hours before his phone call, and didn’t leave a forwarding number or address. When Joe wanted to disappear, he did it well. He figured he’d eventually surface again.
His courier run kept him occupied, he didn’t need the income any more from it, so he’d allocated his pay to support kids in the cancer ward of the hospital he’d had his treatment in.
“Ready to go.” He called out over the engine, with Jun jumping into the seat beside him, and taxing out onto the tarmac ready for take-off.
His favourite time of the day- flying.
Lifting off the ground, and into the blue skies above, turning around over the place he was going to build his home, and heading out towards the ocean for the small Islands he delivered his parcels too.
Their first stop was a small tourist resort Island. They had long enough to have lunch at his favourite café. Lined with grassy umbrellas and tourists, bright sunlight and warm day. The simple lunch menu and company of the owner Kelly, and her daughter Mia.
Jun brightened in conversation with the young girl and for while she looked like she had forgotten about her brooding moods. Almost her normal self for a while.
During the flight from the second delivery point, he spotted a familiar fishing trawler skimming across the glistening waves, into the late morning sun creeping across the sky.
“Wanna say Hi to Ryu.” Glancing at his passenger she caught his meaning.
“Absolutely.” She giggled.
Dipping the plane towards the surface and coming in low over the trawler he spotted the Owl on the deck. A full catch and three others helping him sort the load on the deck.
“I bet it smells fishy down there.” He joked over the noise of the engine.
“Nice pun.” She giggled. “Hi Ryu.”
Jun waved as they flew low over the top of him causing waves. It wasn’t the first time he’d done it over the years, and in his fighter, jet the small boat rocked a hell of a lot more.
He couldn’t see his face, but the big guy waved as they passed over. Leaving them in distance for the Islands ahead.
Landing on the Islands only airfield she helped him unload the parcels and supplies.
“Afternoon Ken.” Craig called from his van, he was the next point of delivery for the people of the Island.
“Craig, nice to see you.” Ken greeted him with a handshake after he jumped out of his van. A young man a few years older than himself. Craig was a local on the small Island south of Utoland.
“You gotta pretty friend this time?” Craig sounded surprised seeing Jun. It was her first mail run for as long as he’d known her. Mostly she’d hang out at the race track watching Joe or running the Snack J during the war.
He introduced them with Craig extending his hand and warmly in a handshake with her. A wiry guy barely taller than her. His puppy brown eyes indicating his interest in her. Jun awkwardly smiled, noticing his body language and stepping away, freighting an excuse to leave them- Walking towards the shed containing the toilets.
“Bad timing.” Ken said. “Recently broke up with her fiancé.”
Craig’s eyes followed her, glued in place admiring the sway of her hips, staring openly.
“She’s hot.” He turned back to continue his work. “How long?”
“Not long enough. Ken said. “About three months. Usually they end up working it out. The wedding be back on before we know it.”
“Three months huh.” Craig stroked his chin. “When was the wedding?”
“It was supposed to be today.” Shaking his head slowly.
“He’ll be back, I’m sure of it.” Ken said. He had been hoping he would be, so far Joe hadn’t given indications of remorse over leaving.
” Too bad, I was thinking of getting her contact number before you left.” Craig could be dense at times, Jun hadn’t shown him a shred of interest in him.
“What about you? She’s obviously single and available now-“ Craig smirked.
Holding up a hand before he suggested it. “I’ve known her since I was a kid she’s like a sister, the guy she was going to marry is my best friend, so no… we’re only good friends. Nothing romantic there, never has been, never will be.”
“Mmmm.” Craig huffed, dropping the topic. “Heard that before, you mean to tell me you’ve not even looked at her sideways?”
“Huh,” Ken shrugged, wondering what he was going on about, and ignoring the comment. “You got what you need?”
“Yeah, here are a few supply orders for the mainland. Mary ordered them through the websites as usual, should be delivered to your airfield in the next week.” Craig said, jumping behind the drivers, seat as Jun walked back to the plane, opening the door she hopped into the passenger side.
Farewelling Craig and hopping into the passenger side observing her arms folded tightly and soured mood.
“Got a problem?” He asked.
“Men are my problem.” She huffed. “Bastards ALL off them. I’m never dating again.”
“You’re just Ken, doesn’t count.”
“I’m not sure how to take that.”
“Just fly the plane.”
Watching her for a moment, a wry quiver crossed his lips. Preparing for take-off the rest of the of the flight back home to his airfield was quieter.
She stared out the window, tears forming on the edges of her eyes. The sun dipped on the horizon as the airfield came into sight.
“We should have been married and off to the reception.” Her voice broke, he didn’t know what to say, so he stayed quiet.
He taxied the plane back to the hanger, and as soon a he grinded to halt she leaped out of the unlocked door.
Reaching her side before she could jump on her bike he indicated she come inside. But Jun stood there with her feet planted to the ground trembling.
“He called me last week.” She mumbled, dragging in breaths. “ He didn’t say much, wanted to know how I was. It was awkward. I thought he was going to say he’d made a mistake and was coming home.”
“I’m…I’m sorry.” Placing a comforting hand on her shoulder.
Drawing her into his arms, resting her trembling cheek on his chest, it was all he could think of to do, she was heartbroken. Mystified by it all himself.
“Look, it’s not good to ride your bike in this state, stay, eat some tofu with me, sleep on sofa tonight. See how it all looks in the morning.” Concerned for her welfare if she went home, making eye contact with her, seeing the depths of her pain.
She thought about it, relenting she followed him inside as he made dinner and helped her set up the couch. She was asleep before he had food onto the table. Leaving her to rest, he ate his meal, spent time reading his latest novel and finally went to bed himself.
A few months had passed for Jun since she went on her first mail run with Ken.
He called in a few times when he was passing by. She’d even managed a few early mornings a week to go jogging with him around the airfield, another mail and dinner. Gradually she was picking up the pieces of her shattered heart.
Coming around the corner she had been thinking about her next move in life, and wondering if part of it was to go and find Joe. She wondered if she’d spend her life waiting for him. I had been like Joe was another path of seeking revenge, going missing presumed dead. The things that made their relationship interesting and added to the chemistry, and caused her a great deal of pain.
Something had taken him away again, she wondered… he’d called her recently, they spoke briefly. Small talk and trivial matters.
The part of her that wondered why he did it every time he had doubts and fears, he’d hide from her the truth. Speculating it could be a cyborg health problem, he’d suffered from it in the past, and kept it from her constantly. Almost to breaking point, she found out through other means.
They worked through it later, but only after a lot of heartache and arguments. Whenever she their relationship was in a good stable place, it was unsettled by him breaking up with her, and weeks later they’d be making up in his trailer.
She had though their troubled times were over, and now they could move into the happier times.
This time had a different feel to it. His voice on the phone was different, and the sounds of another woman’s voice in the background didn’t help either.
During the first part of the war each time they’d argue, and broke up he’d end up in the arms of some woman who turned out to be a Galactor spy.
A stab in the guts knowing he a lover was in the room with him when she rallied up the courage to call him at the number he’d left on the message service- almost sent her back to the bottle shop.
Staying strong like she promised Ken, instead she called her him and they went out for pizza. Enjoyed a night of two old friends, catching a movie and talking.
During the evening the topic of being successfully single came up.
“There’s an art to it.” He leaned back in his seat, crossing arms.
“An art to it.” She repeated, mulling it over in her mind. “You enjoy being on your own, no one sharing your life with you?”
“Yeah.” He said, picking up another piece of pizza.” I had liked the idea for a time, but relationships take time and focus.”
“You’re not Gatchaman anymore, and really had been your main reason to no be in a relationship. You once said it took too much focus away from more important work.”
“Forced retirement.” He sighed heavily, staring out the window. “I spoke with Kamo recently, and he’s even retiring. No more Gatchaman base. The ISO is moving into other things. They don’t see the need for me. Apparently, cancer was enough of a liability for them.”
She didn’t have words for it, the whole team had been forced into retirement. It didn’t sit well with Joe either at first. She could adjust, she had more plans in life beyond it.
“Back to learning how to be single.” He grinned. “You have become less dependant on someone else filling your happy spaces. Your own woman in your case.”
Slightly offended by his assumptions she curtly replied. “I owned a bar and grill at sixteen. That’s independent.”
“It was a cover. Besides you always had a boyfriend.” He pointed out.
She didn’t argue on that point. She’d been with Joe since she was sixteen, at twenty-two life was taking a new turn.
“We’ll have a few lessons in clubbing, you need it Jun.” Smirking the Eagle was enjoying himself.
“You talking about picking up, one-nighters, but nothing else.” She confirmed as the conversation progressed.
“Part of staying single.” He informed her. “I can have woman think I’m just missing all the signals if I’m not wanting anything.”
She knew it! He wasn’t so oblivious after all.
“Code signals.” She was in. “Get out of trouble.”
“You’re catching on.” Leaning on the table, he chuckled. “Bird signals, we know how to communicate across a room without words.”
“You’re on Washio.” She giggled. It sounded like fun, and she needed it like rain in drought.
So, they started going out to bars together as friends making up for their lost teenage years. Some nights ended in laughter from the people they met along the way. The situations they assisted getting each other out of, laughing at the antics. The only times she saw him drink a few beers and lighten up.
They had a tactic. He would rock up at the bar and find a seat. She observed his usual stoic face and clueless response to some girls showing an interest.
“I see, so it was all an act.” She said, watching him suspiciously after an evening of meeting other singles and observing the male population from a different view.
“Sometimes, but I was extremely focused on my job.” He admitted. “She’d have to be something exceptional to get my attention even now to go home with, usually it’s her place.”
“I see.” She raised a curious brow. “What about me?”
“Nah, you’re a friend more like a sister.” He said lightly. “An important friend in my life, and I don’t do, the Friends-with-benefits thing. Way to complicated, and it ends messy. Tried it once, and not for me.”
“Then I won’t feel rejected.” Playfully placing her hands on her hips, turning a mock pout in his direction. “I’m not interested in you either, too much like a brother and a boss.” As they approached a popular night club on evening.
Both of them laughing, she was enjoying the lightness of it. Good friends on a night out together.
“You see?” He said, placing a finger thoughtfully on his chin, he was forming a strategy.” I’ll show you how it’s done in a target rich environment.”
Adjusting her mini skirt, and crop top. A little nervous, seeing the beautiful women pouring into the place, it was rocking. He’d spotted one pretty woman going in the door. Neither of them had picked up the weeks they’d been clubbing.
“Game on.” She agreed, topping up her lip gloss.
“Do you think you’ll be going home with a woman tonight?” She asked quietly.
“My rule, not my shack. Her place, no dodgy hotels.” He replied quietly.
“My space, belongs to me.”
“Okay.” She said.” What should I do?”
“Jun, why do you always ask me that?” He was serious. “Make up your own mind, its part of being single.”
Shrugging she didn’t have an answer.
“Keep my cell number handy if he treats your badly, I’ll come straight away and beat the crap outta him.” He offered, Ken didn’t joke about those things.
“Thank you.” She said, sincerely. “I can handle it.”
“Another thing.” Ken turned facing her serious.” Stay out of hotels, for some reason, guys that take women there from clubs well…I wouldn’t trust them.”
“Hypocritical don’t you think Ken.”
“You’re probably right.” He said. Surprising her by agreeing.
Stopping for a minute, placing a finger under her chin, he looked into her eyes. “You look pretty Jun, remember, have a fun night and don’t worry about new romances, it’s too complicated, likely too soon. Be yourself, and confident without a guy on your arm.”
She sighed knowing he was right, and feeling the sting of being out on her own- Single. Sensing it, he squeezed her shoulder. “You’re not on your own. Just because your single now.”
“Make your own choices.” He threw a brotherly arm around her shoulders for a brief moment she could see he was being genuinely protective.
Appreciating it, she returned his friendly affection, he had her back, and she had his like on the many missions they went on during the war.
“Will you…go home with someone?” She asked.
“I hope so, been a while since I’ve had sex, and I’m feeling it.” He smirked. “But, I’m fussy, she’d have to be hot.”
Nodding she wondered about herself. She’d never had a one nighter.
Walking past the bouncers the pair of them split up this time. Scoping the place like it was a Galactor base and picking their targets. They agreed to meet up again soon, and signal if one of them was leaving with someone.
The smile ran from her face as she scoped the venue. The only man she’d ever made love too was Joe, it was hard to imagine being in bed with someone else.
“Why the frown?” A young man about her age, with a quiet disposition and drink in his hand caught her attention.
“I’m not sad.” She turned on a warm smile. He had a slight awkwardness she found charming, lean in his build, dark curls framing an oval face- he was there with a few work friends. She figured her type was the bad boy kinda guy like Joe. He was more the geeky type but cute- But she could try something new.
Ken was already talking with the pretty brunette at the bar she saw going into the club earlier, and it was likely he was going back to her place later from his body language, the stunning woman, was moving in on him thrusting her ample bust in his direction, flirting wildly- Ken was showing his interest. He signalled her he was picking up, going back to the woman’s place. So, she left him to it, with a discrete side glance, and flick of a finger that indicated she got it.
“So…ahhh.” She began, wondering how it all worked.” Do you have a name?”
“Brett.” He answered. “Do have one?”
“Jun.” she answered. Without thinking she was flirting with him.
They fell into conversation for a while, she learned he was into computers, and rarely went out to clubs. He was sweet, and she warmed to him after they danced for a while. He was safe, and she accepted his invitation to go on a breakfast date, as they talked into the early hours of the morning.
A few dates turned into a few more, and she was enjoying Brett’s company, even a few nights of heated sex at his house after romantic dinners. She was nervous when he first initiated it after dinner one evening, but she caved into her desires, and they stumbled into his bedroom stripping of clothing lust driving her to distraction.
The romance didn’t last, it fizzled out like a burning match after two months, it was on the rebound and she couldn’t commit to a longer relationship. They broke up and she was alone again.
“You didn’t learn.” Ken shook his head after she told him it was over with Brett.” But I figured you would some kind of rebound with a guy.”
She had another decision to make, and she wanted to discuss it with him.
Today Ken was picking her up to go shopping. Utoland council had fully approved his plans and he was eager to begin building his dream home.
Finally- he was ready to show her the plans.
A knock on the door, and she opened it see a glowing Eagle holding a long cylinder in his hands.
Putting on the kettle she made up some tea as he spread out the plans on her kitchen table.
Walking over and perusing over the white lines on blue paper she studied the layout of the home. She tried to imagine it as a home.
“It’s bigger than I thought.” She said, “Wow, your building a Dojo, and a pool, games room… its amazing.”
“I’m going to do training in it, have students.” Nodding, he turned the page and as her interest grew in the design.
“What’s this going to be?” She asked pointing to section on the plans.
“Observatory.” He filled her in. “Watching the stars, it’s a great area for it. Ever since we escaped from the Poison Apple I’ve been fascinated with space.”
“I love it…” Running her eyes over the layout of the private quarters and living spaces. Five bedrooms with ensuite’s, and three other living rooms and big kitchen. Parts of it open plan, with high exposed timber ceilings.
“You’ve put a lot of thought into it.” She warmly smiling at him. “Details.”
“I need your help in colours and a few other touches.” He admitted. “I’d do it all to bland beige, but you’ve always had good taste in furnishings and colour.”
Blushing from his compliment, his eyes scanned the room indicting her liked her style. She’d decorated the apartment, Joe said he preferred plainer, and no colours. Her red cushions she felt lifted the neutral tones.
“That’s what I wanted to talk about.” Residing to bring the topic up before they left. “I’m moving out.”
“Where too?” He asked surprised.
“I’m not sure, I just know I no longer want to live here in this apartment.” Jun sipped from her cup of warm tea.
“At one point, I thought of moving to Ameris, closer to Jinpei…. But he’s living his own life there and I’d feel like an intruder now.”
Her last conversation smashed the idea, he was dating a girl, and it looked like they’d be moving in together soon- He need his independence.
“Your problem is, you don’t know how to be single.” Ken said, rolling up his plans.
“Yes I do.” She defended.” I’ve been single for over six months now and I’m fine-“
“No, you wanted someone to take care of you.” He straightened up putting the roll of paper into its tube. “You’re capable of taking care of yourself, and standing on your own feet.”
Her mouth forming an ‘O’ words failed to combat what he was saying.
“What do you do with yourself daily?” He asked.
She sank into the chair, as his words sank in. She’d done nothing but plan for when she thought Joe would return. She’d not once planned a life for herself.
“What do you want out of life?” Ken sat down opposite her.
She couldn’t answer him.
“I thought I wanted to be married, with children. Joe was supposed too…” Placing her face into her hands, she couldn’t think. Provide for her, and together they were going to build a life.
“Pick one thing you want to change.” He challenged. “Indulge me.”
“Okay, I’m tired of not being able to cook anything that’s not in a packet, and chopping basic salad without buying it pre-made from the store.” That was all she could think of looking at the kitchen. Joe had been the chef in their relationship.
“Well, when are you going to book yourself into a cooking course?” He watched her with his intensive blue eyes boring into her.
“I can’t-“ She paused, she was going to say she couldn’t do it alone. “Will you come with me if I do it.”
“No, it’s something you can do on your own. Being single means doing things alone sometimes.”
“Alone? Always?” She hadn’t contemplated it. She’d always had Jinpei around, and the dating Joe since she was sixteen, and before that Koji did everything with her. Doing things on her own made her loneliness worse.
“Alone.” She repeated chagrined by his suggestions. “Really? You make it sound so dismal.”
“Not that kind of alone.” He stood up, walking over to the window. “More independent.”
“I thought I was independent.” She sighed heavily resting her chin in her hands feeling it all drop from under her. “Sounds like you don’t see me that way.”
“Don’t be too hard on yourself.” He softened a little. “Brett was passing through and I don’t about Joe, he’s complicated. One day, when your ready someone will come along and I hope he’s the love of your life. You deserve it.”
She wondered privately if one day she’d end back with Joe again. She thought he was the love of her life, and he was becoming more like a chapter in it.
Forcing the hurt memories of him out of her mind. She forced a smile, and brightening up a little she stood up, slipping on her shoes checking her make-up in the hallway mirror.
“I hope the same things for you Ken.” She said, walking over to stand beside him. “Don’t deny yourself a life with someone because you lost Rumi.”
She caught a glint of sadness in his eyes before he turned away. He was holding back on something that was eating away at him.
Pausing for a moment, his shoulders slumped.
“I’m sorry…” She placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, feeling him tremble slightly from his own memories of happier times with a woman he loved.
“Don’t be, it was a long time ago…” He walked back to the table, picking up his blue prints- Forcing a smile.
“Common, let’s get moving I have a few places mapped out to visit today.” Moving out of the seat he headed to the door, he was on a mission and she needed to keep up. Following him out the door and into his car, she silently stewed on his comments.
Reaching the first building supplies place, he leaped out leaving her sitting there for a minute still lost in thought.
“You coming?” He asked over his shoulder, smirking. Dragging her out of it for a moment, Jun followed him inside.
The place was wall to wall and high ceilings with tiles for all parts of a house. There was a section for tapware od kinds of silver tones and shapes, and more shower head designs than she could have imagined.
“I like the style of those ones.” He pointed to a few for the bathrooms, pulling the wall tiles, feature tiles and floor tiles next to each other. Shaking her head, stoking her chin as she studied the selection, they really didn’t go well together.
“You don’t like it?” He said, watching her face.
“It’s not my house, I’m not the one who has to like it.” She pointed out. Visions of clashing tones entered her visual mind as she observed his choices. “To be honest, it’s not matching in with the themes you showed me in your design pictures of other parts. It will look odd.”
“I value your opinion on it.” His genuineness touched her.
“Alright.” In a few minutes, she had another combination of tiles laid out in front of him.
“See the colours reflect your warmer timber tones and high ceilings, flows better.” She pulled his arm as they stepped back a little to view it from a distance.
“Imagine walking through the house room by room, does it flow?” Her confidence increasing.
The spent the next few hours going through catalogues and looking at designs of toilets and bathtubs, along with other bathroom features. He was due to finalize the designs and requirements within the next week so the builder had an idea.
“They’re starting the excavations tomorrow for the foundations.” Ken excited, his eyes lit up brighter.
“I’m working on some of it. But decided it was too big of house for me to spent time being an owner builder. I do have a licence to be project manager.” He informed her over lunch. “I’ll oversea every detail.”
“Sounds like you.” A smiled played on her lips.
“Huh.” He answered, scratching his head, confused.
“Always in control.” Jun wagged a finger at him. “Relentless in it.”
“Was I that bad?” He chuckled. “ I suppose I was trying to prevent an Alien being from destroying the planet. If I wasn’t completely focused on the job… the Earth wouldn’t be here.”
“You didn’t stop it on your own.” She reminded him. “ We were with you.”
“Yes you were.” His tone quietened, and his demeanour more serious. Reaching across the table in a rare moment of Ken relenting his usual emotional control. Clasping her cold hands with his, warming them.
“Thank you.” He whispered. “I couldn’t have done it without the team and especially you.”
Not knowing what to say, she returned his warmth in silent acknowledgment of the times they shared a dangerous path while wearing their birdstyles into battle. It was their connection and bond in friendship.
“Thank you.” She whispered back, choking on her emotions. “For not giving up.”
She meant that for more than one thing. Not giving up on her, on the planet, on the team. Even when they all made mistakes and he became an emotional train wreck towards the end, and almost died of cancer. The number of times she watched him in pain, throwing up from Chemo drugs and admitting to her it would be easier to die.
She held his hand and begged him to live one more day. Often, she wept outside the ward wondering if they’d receive a phone call one day that he was gone. Joe holding her close telling her not to worry- Ken’s a fighter, and hates losing.
Remembering the day Jinpei received his admission to University in Ameris, but he told her he couldn’t go, because it meant he would be abandoning Ken. When Ken found out, he ordered the Swallow to accept the placement to study to become an Entomologist. A bug’s expert, his dream.
Asking him to video call him from campus, it would be like he was there too. His words touched her heart, warmed her for his unselfishness in a time when he could have been selfish. Jinpei loved Ken like an older brother and did as he asked.
They’d had plenty of hospital video calls when she’d go to visit him. Jinpei called him almost every day.
The moment passed as they both stood up to pay for the meal and leave the café back on the renovation hunt for ideas and designs.
One sales person asked Ken if his wife was enjoying the shopping for the house. They both laughed as they corrected him.
“No, no, no.” Jun giggled. “We’re friends, I’m helping him.”
Blushing Ken backed her up on it. Later, over dinner at her place they had another chuckle from the responses throughout the day of shopping.
“Who knew there were over one hundred sixty shades of beige in carpet.” Ken shook his head, relaxing into the single seat sofa opposite her. “I still haven’t picked one, from the sample how do I know if I’ll really like it.”
Kicking back with her shoes off on the two-seater lounge Jun agreed with him.
“The range, do you want shaggy or sleek.” She giggled. “Smooth or plush.”
“Should I rethink carpeting the bedrooms and go for timber floors and big mats.”
“Did you see the mats selection?” She reminded him.
“Yeah, so many patterns.” He agreed. “I never knew I could be stuck on making a decision until now.”
“Who knew.” She warmly smiled, enjoying the company and the conversation. “You have time, the work begins tomorrow on the foundations, not everything has to be decided on today.”
“You know me, I like to have it all planned, booked and on schedule.”
“Heaven help the builders if it rains, then what will you do?” She said.
“Fly my plane, start on my bucket list again.”
For a while they sat in silence, she’d offered for him to stay in the spare bedroom. He’d accepted for once instead of driving home to the airfield.
“Bucket list?” Curious about it, he’d not mentioned it before.
Staring into his tea cup, his fine features turned serious. “When I was dying, I made a list of things I’d miss out on doing.”
“Oh.” She prompted.
“Building the house is on my list.”
“I see,” She replied. “What else is on your list?”
“Do you really wanna know?” Staring over his cup, his blue eyes intensified.
“Yeah, I want to know.” Resting her head on her arm, laying back as she waited for him to reveal his dreams.
He pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to her.
1. Build my dream home, share it.
2. Build a kit plane, with a turbo engine
3. Turn up to the kids, cancer ward in birdstyle.
4. Climb Mount Everest to the peak
5. Go to Rio during mardi gras
6. Be able to fight like a martial artist again
7. Watch Jun and Joe get married
8. Be at Jinpei’s graduation
9. Go for a day out on Ryu’s fishing run
10. See the tour de France
11. Fly a plane again
“Only eleven?” She asked looking up from his list. ”Uneven number for a start.” He’d revealed something extremely personal by showing her. Saddened that attending her cancelled wedding was on it.
“I’m working on more, but for now I haven’t done everything on the list.” Ken accepted it back, folding it again and putting it into his shirt pocket.
“Have you thought about your life much, your future?” He asked.
A hard-twisting sensation in the pit of her stomach told her it was a painful topic.
“No.” She said. “I feel like I’m starting over in it, all we had was defeating Galactor and now...it’s over, they’re broken and I feel discarded.”
“I know that feeling.”
“I suppose you do.”
Sitting up, running her fingers through her long hair, Jun thought about it some more.
“You’ll have to change number six.” She said softly.
He didn’t respond at first- he simply placed his cup on the side table. “You could get married one day to someone else, fall in love again- and when you do I’ll be there.”
“Since I don’t have plans, how about I come with you on some of your adventures.” She offered. The thought of a few parties in faraway places sounded enlightening.
“You wanna climb Everest with me?” He brightened.
“Yeah about that one.” She stifled a giggle. “Why? Do you remember the amount of missions we flew around there? Haven’t you done it?”
Shaking his head, he replied. “Not the traditional way with the local guides. I want to be a real experience without worrying about an enemy looming. You always saw the scenery even in dangerous moments. I didn’t even value a moment to admire beauty when it was right in my face.” He became distant. “ I want to notice details of places. Feel alive in them.”
“I see.” She softened. He was changing from the ridged teenager she’d once known into someone else. She wasn’t sure what, but Ken was trying to live in more peaceful times.
He came back from his faraway place. “How about write one of your own. You’re your own person Jun, and if you do, I’ll go with you on yours too.” He promised. “Except the cooking class.”
“Oh, well, it’s not on your list.” She stood up and went to the draw containing paper and pen.
“Mmm…” She tapped the pen on her lip, trying to think of things she wanted to do. She wrote a title for it.
Jun’s bucket list.
1. Learn to cook a real meal by myself.
2. Go to Jinpei’s graduation
3. Find my own place
4. Attend a Venetian mask ball in Venice.
5. See Ken’s house when its build, and cook dinner in the new kitchen.
6. Play my electric guitar on a stage with thousands of people with a famous band.
7. Attend Ken’s wedding one day.
8. Start my own business.
She handed the list to Ken, and waited for his reaction. Nodding, smiling he handed it back to her.
“My wedding.” He choked on his own laughter.” You could be waiting forever on that one, I don’t ever intend to marry anyone.”
“You have my fictitious wedding on your list, fair’s fair.” She bargained. “It stays.”
Lacing his fingers together, observing her, he changed the topic. “When are you booking in the cooking class? I intend to be your experimental subject in your new art of cooking.”
“Oh…well.” She faulted, no knowing where to begin, she could burn water. “I could also be an epic fail like always in the kitchen. I could blow up the cooking schools facility by accident—"
Ken leaped from his seat placing a finger on her lips for moment to silence her list of reasons not too. Leaving the room and returning a few minutes later with her laptop computer. Logging into the search engine he typed in Utoland cooking college courses and handed it to her.
“That’s how you start.” He said. “You’re smart, you can do it if you really wanted too. You’re no quitter.”
”There, are ahhh ummmm… a few starting over the next few days.” She stared at the screen battling doubts, along with butterflies. “I think I’ll book into the French class, and then the Thai.” Enrolling online, something shifted in her mind like a wall in a labyrinth, revealing a new path once hidden by her mourning over her lost relationship.
She was starting afresh and Ken had spurred her on to think about goals in life and what she wanted. All she thought about before was supporting Joe and how to help him through his dilemma’s in life.
He’d been her whole life, so immersed in him, she had lost any sense of herself. When he left, she had been left like a ship without it sails and an anchor drifting aimless through the oceans of life.
“You do the classes and you can be the first to cook in my new kitchen.” He said warmly. “I’ll have you honour that on your list.”
“You’re on.” She said, a flicker of a flame grew inside of her with his challenge- She had a goal.
“No way will you put me in a frilly costume in Venice.” Ken warned, as he stood up and headed towards spare bedroom. “Goodnight.”
“If I’m going to Mardi Gras in Rio you bet your wearing a costume in Venice.”
“Yeah, well… it’s not far away, get ready. This time we’re not going to Rio to hunt down Egobossler or Galactor. That will different.” He said in the hallway.
“Goodnight,” She called out, as she headed to her own bedroom. Tomorrow was the start of a new day, expanding on her bucket list.
Ken woke up the next morning refreshed, Jun had started housekeeping again and the sheets were fresh on his bed. Signs of Joe remained around the place, he’d left a few items of clothing in the wardrobe. Some car magazines on the side table in the room indicated he must have spent some time there before he left. His former second-in-command could be a closed person at times, and during the last part of the conflict with Galactor he’d became more contemplative than angry and talk of revenge.
He mentioned once in a conversation towards the final climax of battle he still felt a part of him missing when it came to his parent’s reasons for dying a horrific death that almost claimed him.
Ken wasn’t in a place to instruct him on it, caught up in his illness and anger, grief for the loss of Dr Nambu. He had been preoccupied with the bigger picture than personal problems.
Finally speaking with his old friend on the phone a few weeks before, he couldn’t gauge from him if he intended to come back for Jun. They talked more about Joe’s travels, and his search for other Asakura family members. It sounded like Joe was searching for his identity. Not once did he ask him about Jun. He got the idea from him, he wanted space from everyone. He mentioned not knowing what he wanted from life, Joe sounded confused.
Ryu had invited them to his hut on the marina, during that time and the three of them had an evening of dining on his latest ocean catch. It was a casual time out, and long overdue.
Making the bed before he left the room for the shower down the hall, Ken stepped into the cubical, turning on the taps. Enjoying the soothing warmth of steamy water raining down on his flesh an invigorating his start for the day. Soaping up and washing his thickening hair.
His thoughts turned to Jun, and the time they’d been spending together. It had become more regular in the last few months.
He was noticing things about her that hadn’t come to his attention before. She was no longer a teenage girl he’d been accustomed too. In all the time he had known her, she had been a stable person on their team. Seeing her falling apart ripped him inside.
It was the last thing he expected to see happen to her in peace times. He warmed inside with the memory of her face lighting up when she wrote down a few things on her bucket list. The months of sadness fell from her in that moment. So, used to caring for everyone around her, she had forgotten about her own needs as a person.
The colour creeping into her cheeks warming her green eyes and cherry lips. She was lovely in so many ways he found himself mentally, scolding Joe leaving her like he did.
Turning off the water, he proceeded the routine of drying off, and pulling a towel tight around his waist.
She’d wrote a few things he had on his longer list back in shack, and he didn’t want to admit he liked the idea of them spending more time together. It had become a highlight in his week- Having someone sharing in building his home.
Running his fingers through his damp short hair, he tried to push the tingling sensations in the pit of stomach aside, and associated it with his excitement of starting the building foundations that morning.
Meeting her in the hallway on his way back to bedroom he astonishing became conscious of merely wearing a towel for clothing as he inched his way to the spare room.
She had changed over time, now in her mid-twenties her figure had become more, womanly than the young teenager he once knew. Exercise had toned her figure more again. She was maturing and growing even more stunning, and stylish as time progressed.
Plenty of times during the war he’d had the same situation in base locker rooms, and not blinked an eye, given it a second thought. She was part of the team and often shared the same locker rooms as the rest of them. He’d seen her part naked and even stripped off in front of him, and not a spark of interest or a lusty side glance. She was Joe’s girl, why would even think about it.
Faltering for a moment as her green eyes sparkled, warming him deeply inside.
“You’ve been working out more.” She commented. “I think it’s time I started working with weights again, tone up more… and kata’s too. I’m still way out of shape for an Everest climb.”
“Ahhh… yeah. Kata’s… weights, yeah, I’ve been working on it daily.” He responded, moving into the bedroom before she could notice his blushing cheeks and awkwardness- Getting a grip on himself.
“You okay Ken.” She asked concerned. “You look a little flushed.”
“You wanna come out and see the start of the house?” He spoke the words before thinking poking his head out the door.
Brightening, she accepted his invitation, he had to admit, he was happy she did. It wouldn’t feel the same without her there enjoying the moment with him.
“I’ll have to be back later this afternoon- my first class starts tonight. I got the last place in the French basics course, and the Thai dinning starts in a few weeks.” She glowed.
She was standing closer as they talked, he could feel her breath on his skin as she moved past him towards the bathroom stripping of her shirt, exposing her slender back, as she walked down the hallway wasn’t helping his unexpected feelings. Tingling sensations coursed through him, raking in a breath, he was stumped, ducking back behind the door, closing it and hard leaning against it shutting his eyes tight.
He would never go after his best friend’s girl, it was more than likely Joe would come back and they’d work it out. He wasn’t about to start now, Jun was Joe’s girl, and that how it should be. Repeated it over and over to get it into his head.
He wasn’t looking for a relationship anyway, he couldn’t do it to a woman, after barely surviving cancer and he wasn’t in the clear yet. He didn’t know how long he would have before it came back.
The doctors had told him he could live a long life, some cancer survivors did- but he had to come back every six months for five years for testing, then every year for the rest of his life.
He could control his budding feelings towards Jun, he was master of emotional control.
Dismissing the silliness of it, and dressing in his jeans and shirt from the day before he couldn’t wait to get back to his land near the airfield and watch the bobcat diggers breaking ground for the foundations. The cement slabs would be due to go down in a week.
Riding her motorbike ahead of him, he had to draw in his focus to keep an eye on the road ahead instead of her. Taking the highway exit for the backroads that lead to his airfield they arrived early enough to see the builder and his crew waiting for him. Taking the dirt track up to the sight, halt his car at a safe distance.
Leaping out of his car, greeting the man waiting, as the bob cat diggers engines kicked into gear.
Jun halted her bike close by, removing her helmet, long mass of midnight locks falling around her, and was met with a few interested stares from the younger male workers and low whistles.
Growling internally from the attention she received he pulled himself back in line emotionally from wanting to smack a few of her admirers.
Shifting his gaze back to the project, he lit up inside as the bucket hit the dirt, dragging the first hole towards the start of the building.
Anticipation was the tone of the day ahead. He was keeping his focus where it should be. The first rumbling sounds of an engine kicking into gear was like the hum of the engines of his G-1 in bird mode.
Without thinking he swooped Jun up into his arms, twirling her around cheering, both of them ecstatic as the work began. Flushed from being taken by surprise she enjoyed the moment with him.
“That’s the happiest I’ve seen you in a long time.” She said breathy, as he placed her dainty feet back onto the grass.
“I’m living.” He said, as they watched together the work in progress.” It’s happening.”
He spent the morning with the plans laid out going over details of the slabs with the foreman, other things for the work site arrived. Building materials and a few port-a-loo’s.
Attention to detail, ensuring the job was being done right. The day was flawless, not too warm or cool, the sky barely had a cloud in it, a stark blue horizon backdropped his project.
The environmentally friendly aspects of the design meant recycled materials, and solar panels eventually for the power.
Then there was the special building about to start on the hill a short walk from the main house. He had requested it was started soon.
The whole time she was there with him walking together around the building site, she was taking an interest in the project and helping with ideas.
Jun pulled at the list in his pocket. Biting her bottom lip thoughtfully, she pointed to one of his dreams.
“It’s time to start ticking a few of these off, this looks overdue.” She indicated to one he’d been thinking about for some time. “Would you like company Gatchaman?”
“I think the Swan is perfect for the job.” He wrapped an arm loosely around her elegant shoulders, she was the right height, and fitted perfectly under his arm, her head resting on his shoulder- Grateful for having a special friend in his life called Jun Nambu- Ken’s heart soared into the clear blue sky.
A week later she stood in the entrance of Utoland children’s Hospital. It was situated next to the main public hospital. Ken was seeing a few of the nurses and doctors first before they started their day in the wards.
“All set to go.” He said coming around the corner.
Out of the habit the two of them peered around the crowd, the old days of caution creeping up on them when dressed in their civilian uniforms. Catching his sparkling blue eye with hers they both broke into laughter. Sharing a silent connection with days gone by.
Walking into a secluded room close to the main cancer ward doors the both arched their wrists in front of their faces saying the words ‘Birdgo.’
It was the first time since the war ended she’s worn her uniform. Thankfully it still fit her since she had started to work-out regularly again and lost the weight gained from neglect.
The Eagle silently edged his way to the door, peering into the ward filled with kids and their parents.
“I am the white shadow…” He began, edging the door open. “That stalks it prey.”
Those words sent the kids into excited hysterics, fan kid screams and over excitement set the atmosphere in fire in the room.
“He’s really here!” One boy yelled. “Gatchaman, the real Gatchaman.”
“Not the fake one a month ago.” Another echoed. “Do think he’s not another fake Gatchaman?”
“No way!” Another kid cried out. “Gotta be the real one, are you the real Gatchaman?”
“I can tell a liar.” The kid with puppy eyes sat up straighter in his bed. “The real one doesn’t have plastic weapons, they’re steal and kill people.”
“Show me your weapons.” He demanded. “The feather shurikens too.”
“Nah, that’s the Condor.” Another shouted. “He’s bad ass.”
“No fooling a kid.” She giggled.
Another young boy laughed, he reminded her of Jinpei when he was ten years old, full of jokes and energy. Even though he was pale, head shaven and with puppy brown eyes filled with awe.
Ken walked over to him falling into a martial arts stance, drawing a shuriken. “The Eagle has them too, but the Condor likes them for breakfast, you should see his teeth these days.”
The kid loved it.
“That’s right it’s me the real Gatchaman, and I’ve brought with me someone else you all know.” Gatchaman walked into the room, followed by the Swan.
“Wow it’s the Swan!” A little girl holding a teddy bear with a tube tapped to her nose excited tried to sit up in her bed. “You’re my hero.”
Jun walked over to her, leaning down and allowing her to touch her visor.
“I’m the real Swan.” She said, catching Ken’s eye, he was smiling.
They spent the day walking the wards in their birdstyles, talking with parents, and kids. There was the kid who was a diehard Condor fan. He cried when he was told the Condor wasn’t there, his mother comforted him, and eventually he accepted it. A few who asked about the Swallow and the Owl. The kids were enthralled by them, seeing the famous members of the Science Ninja Team up close.
Their stories of their battles brought tears to her eyes, and the heartache of watching their child suffer, fighting wars with cells in their own bodies.
Ken understood the battle well. Stopping at one point to explain to the kids that The Eagle had cancer and won the biggest battle of his life against it.
He’d become more than a distant hero to those kids, he was one of them, someone who fought the same battle and proved it could be won.
She watched his gentleness, and genuine interest in the kids and their struggles, and other things like favourite TV shows and hobbies. Allowing them to touch his armour and wings. Until that moment she hadn’t truly noticed the person he really was, and how cancer had changed him.
One of the mothers walked up to her later in the day. A knowing smile spread across the ladies, face. “He’s a real person isn’t he, not as robotic in person.”
Jun didn’t realize she’d been staring at him for some time before the lady snapped her out of it.
“Yes, he is, he’s a good person. He sacrificed everything to save the planet.” She managed. “He struggled for a long time with cancer, once we escaped the alien’s ship. He came close to not making it a few times during chemo.”
“You were there, you all sacrificed a lot.” The lady noted. “All of you are hero’s my daughter loves you, she thinks your amazing.”
“Kerry is amazing, she’s a real fighter.” Jun had been talking with the five-year-old girl, tubes all over her, she couldn’t move from her bed. She dreamed of riding a motorbike one day just like the Swan.
“You like him don’t you.” The lady said watching her. “You’ve been watching him all day when he’s not noticing.”
“I like him as a friend.” She responded. “We watch each, others backs in battle—“
“That’s not what I meant.” She said, walking back to her daughter’s bedside.
The lady had it all wrong, there had never been anything romantic between her and Ken despite what some of the media liked to say in articles.
It had been her and Joe in a relationship, and they couldn’t publicly correct the media, since Dr Nambu felt it would bring more attention to the team, and their enemies would know the truth and target them more directly.
Jun hadn’t thought about it, gobsmacked by the comment she tried to recover by walking over to another group of kids and engaging them in an activity. Eventually she discovered Ken was close by, and he indicated it was time for them to leave.
“Looks like we’re being called on a mission Jun the Swan.” He addressed her. Falling into his act she responded, by pretending scout around for the enemy. The kids loved it as the two of them dramatically left the through the open windows.
Hanging onto the outside of the building, opening their mantles, and dropping to the ground with kids pressing against the glass to see them. Waving they ran off into the street around a corner and transmuted.
Glowing from a day of giving hope, and surrounded by kids in need of hope, they walked together down the street towards Jun’s motorbike.
“Mission successful.” He said cheerful.
Hoping on behind her, straddling the bike, and placing his hands on her hips. “We should do it again, we could make it an annual event.”
Thinking about it she agreed wholeheartedly. Pulling on her own helmet, his masculine hands were warm through her shirt, both of them in uniform drew her back to her teens and the fun times they all had together. A twinge of sadness for those times, and her emotional roller coaster loving Joe, stopped her moving for a moment.
“Wanna come out to the shack for a few hours.” He leaned over shoulder, a few tingles from his breath on her neck brought her back to the present.
She had other things to do, but didn’t want the day to end, even if the sun was slowly sinking on the horizon.
“I could look at the electronics set up on your new plane.” She said thoughtfully. “You asked me the other day remember.”
“Yeah, check my work, and make sure I’m wiring it right.” He agreed. “I’ve set up the spot lights, so I can work later on it. How about you stay the night, since you don’t have a class on until tomorrow evening.”
“We’ll stop by my apartment, so I can pick up a few things.”
“Sounds good, what’s for dinner?” He asked. Of late she’d been bringing him a few meals to try out.
Joe would never let her touch his cars when she offered to help him. He liked to keep his babies to himself and she often sat on the side watching as he worked.
“Chicken, I’ll make something from the ingredients I left at the shack.” She smiled, her skills were growing, it was like learning to make explosives, she just had to apply herself to the task.
It was a hasty cover when she took on the Snack J at sixteen, they had to have something that didn’t tie them down, and Jinpei found the place and figured they could make something of it. She didn’t think it through enough and the next thing she knew she was running a diner and bar, underage and couldn’t boil an egg.
Stopping briefly by her apartment, picking up a few things into her backpack, Ken hopped onto his own motorbike and together they headed out of the city towards his airfield.
Watching him scoot ahead of her, she thought about his house. The slab had been poured a few days before and needed time to set, so work had stopped on the house for the next week as more things were put into place. As usual there were site issues he’d been working out. Ken’s perfectionism was driving one of the builders insane.
She softened the blow of the man almost quitting by pointing out the Ken he could have another meeting with him. The man was a good builder, and he would be stuck for six months finding another one. The problem was sorted and the building continued.
Her tasks basics like washing and housework. She had some assignments to complete, and had thrown the paperwork and textbook into her bag. Ken liked his reading time, and it gave her company, while silence to study. Cooking techniques and blending flavours was current module.
She was a remodelled version of Julia Childs, learning French names and how to use a whisk effectively.
A few hours later, she had pulled some chicken from his freezer and a few other items, making a basic poached chicken, greens with hollandaise sauce.
Ken tuckered into it, his response encouraged her to keep going.
“It’s called emulsification.” She said between mouthfuls, explaining the process of the sauce to him. Nodding his interest, she continued.
“The prime ingredient was the lemon juice, it blended caused the butter and the eggs to blend, scientific.”
“Sounds like you.” He chuckled. “It all comes down to how the chemicals come together. Tastes divine.”
“Thank you.” Satisfied she had succeeded, they cleaned up the dishes together and walked out to the dark hanger to begin working on his plane.
“If you have studies to do, you really should have said so.” Ken stopped halfway there.
“It’s okay, I’ll study later.”
“You can say no…” He pointed out.
“Why? You don’t want my company.”
“Sighing he shoved his hands into his pockets. “It’s not like that, I love having you around, but don’t immerse yourself into my world.”
“I won’t, that’s why I brought my studies with me. Tomorrow after we go for a run, I’ll spend time studying.”
Nodding, he lightened up a bit. “I’m flying to the Islands, a few deliveries, and later checking with the progress of the house. You’re welcome to stay in the shack, get some work done.”
She was tempted to ask to go with him, but after what he said, she wanted to prove she didn’t have to tag along all the time. She used to do that with Joe, she didn’t have interests of her own, until now.
Over the next few weeks her time was spent going to her classes and looking for a new place to live. Jun had decided it was time to move out of the place she’d set up home with Joe.
It during her time of internet searching new places the phone rang. Expecting to Ken, she found her heart racing as she picked it up wanting to know when they’d be leaving Rio in the next few days. She’d booked accommodation, and it was looking good so far.
“Hi Jun.” A familiar deep voice echoed through the line.
“Joe,” Sinking into the chair.
Silence for a moment as usual. This time she wasn’t feeling the same she did other times he called.
“How are you?” She asked, opening up conversation. There was noise in the background.
“I’m going okay, just wanted to hear your voice.” He said casually. It was first time he’d said anything like that.
“Oh, it’s nice to hear from you too.” She said trying to keep her voice even.
“Hey…I was wondering if…” He hesitated. “I ahh, want to see you.”
Speechless. Her mouth opened several times to respond.
“When?” She finally managed.
“This weekend, you could fly over.” He said. “Meet me in Rome, in two days, catch up, we could talk…“
Temptation to drop everything and go there to be with him weighted on her shoulders.
“We can talk now.” She lowered her tone, fighting of conflicting feelings.
“Not now, come and see me.” He said. “WE can have a weekend together, like old times.”
“Then what?” She asked, feeling the pull. “We have a weekend of great sex, and then I come home?”
“I’m not ready for, more yet.“ He hesitated. “We take it slower, you’re the one who wants it all now not me.”
Mixed feeling coursed through her as she stared at the picture of him she still kept on the shelf in the living room. There was time she longed to hear those words. Now uncertainty stood before her. Warm tears wet her eyes.
“I have other plans.” She blurted out.
“You do?” He said. ”Can you change them?”
“I said I have plans for the weekend.” She repeated. “A week away with you isn’t in it.”
“Is it important? Can you make other plans?” He pressed. “I get your angry with me, but we always-“
“No, I can’t re-organise it.” She said, pursing her lips together hard determined not to allow her emotional tug to rule over her. “I don’t hear from you in months, barely talk to me about why you left, and now you want me to drop everything because you’re making plans?”
Taken back by her response, he sounded like he didn’t expect her to say no.
“Have it your way… I thought we could talk…” Came his curt reply through the line. “I thought you wanted us-“
“Not once have you asked me what I wanted Joe.” She snapped. “You think I’m sitting here waiting by the phone for you to call?”
“I needed time to think.” His tone stiffened. “I have things I want to sort out in my life too, peace isn’t what I thought it would be.”
Bracing herself, fingers tightening around the receiver from his hurtful words, until her whole body trembled.
“I love you, and tried to be there for you…” Her throat tightened. “You shut me out every time. How can that be love?”
“You know me.” Joe growled, becoming agitated. “I can’t talk over the phone, there’s more going on it involves-”
Tightening her resolve for once she broke into his plea. “I’m not coming to Rome. You hear me, I’m not coming.”
Her words were met by shocked silence. Tear slid down her cheeks.
“Have it your way, I was trying to make it up to you.” He slammed down the phone, the buzzing sound of line was she heard.
Tempted to throw the phone and instead she placed it back in its charger.
Grunting out loud, she stormed into the kitchen going through the draws until she found a pair of scissors, proceeding down the hallway towards the room containing the clothing he left behind. With a few swift cut’s she shredded all of them like paper.
A pile of ripped bits of fabric sat before her. Going through the draws again she noticed something missing, his civilian uniform. An odd feeling came over her, like a revelation of his real purpose in leaving, she had been missing something in the months before he left.
A few times she had walked into the apartment and he’d hung up the phone quickly. Telling her it was a marketer selling insurance- she’d not given it a second thought-until now.
Rummaging through the boxes in the top of the wardrobe in the spare room and her bedroom all she found was old racing magazines. He wasn’t a person that kept stuff. Sighing heavily, she wondered if she was searching for excuses for him.
When he broke up with her at the end of the first war Galactor war, he shut her out, drove her away from him when he discovered he had a short time to live, and tried to take out Galactor on his own. She forgave him for it, grieved his loss for two years before he returned.
Even then when he hid from her his transformation she accepted him as he was, spent long nights forgiving him each time he broke her heart.
Running to his side when she suspected he was hiding something from her. The pattern happened over and over again, and they always ended up in the same place- Nowhere.
This time she had the same temptation, cancel her plans with Ken. Their next holiday was already booked.
If she explained it to Ken, he’d support her and go on his own. He’d want them be happy and offer to help if he thought Joe was in some kind of trouble.
“Mmmm…” Sinking to the floor of her bedroom, crossing her legs trying to think it through.
“Not this time Joe.” She finally concluded aloud. “This time if you have something to say to be open with it Condor.”
She wasn’t running after him this time. Satisfied with her conclusion, a twinge of guilt lurked like a dark shadow. A niggling thought of him being in trouble and he needed her.
Drawing in her resolve to break the pattern, he’d have to do better than demand she drop everything and go to Rome. He had accused her of smothering him, Joe was strong man, this time if he really needed her and wanted a life together he could be more honest with her.
A plastic dress cover caught her eye hanging in the wardrobe, a glimmer of sparkling sequins and crystals. It had been there since she picked it up a day before he broke off their engagement. It was one item she couldn’t get her money back on. Picking up the scissors, and ripping open the bag she stood transfixed as the pristine gown sparkled as the artificial light fell onto it.
Emotionally sapped, she hadn’t looked at it in months, because of the toxic emotions it churned inside of her.
“Mmm.” She thought. She had an idea.
Picking up her portable phone, punching in his number she wanted to get rid it in style.
“Hi Ken.” She brightened.
“Hey Jun, what’s up.” He said. “Are you packing yet? I’m almost done.”
“Tomorrow morning, do you have plans?” She asked, forcing a smile.
“Checking on the building, other than that, working on my plane, getting it ready for us to fly out on Saturday.” He said.
“Can you spare a few hours?”
“Yeah, I suppose so, why?”
He sharped, he was suspecting she was up to something.
“I’d like to tick something off my bucket list, and thought you could help.”
She could hear him sitting up straighter in his chair.
“Bring your camera and meet me at the river.”
“Why? Wanna fill me in?”
“It’s surprise, and you’ll know once you get there.”
Giving him the rest of the location details. Pulling out the gown she once loved and still did, at least she was going to get some use out of it.
“See you there.”
BC Island. Somewhere in the pacific.
Joe slammed the wall of his hotel room. He’d tried to tell her in a cryptic way that he was on a mission of some kind- usually she was more in tune than that.
Holding the old photo filled with visual clues he couldn’t leave it alone. The images haunted him, bringing back his post childhood trauma. His parents deserved revenge and he had lost his path when he ‘died.’ Jun had almost convinced him he could let go once Galactor was broken, he had his revenge according to her view- and living a life was would be a gift his parents would have wanted him to have.
He was missing Jun badly, aching from the longing to tell her the truth of why he had to go. Asking her meet him in Rome was part of it, he wanted a few days with her in his life again.
Go and live a normal life, they were told by Camo and the new executives when they all miraculously returned because of Dr Nambu’s pendant. He thought he could, marry, children, a picket fenced life in a nice house- but he couldn’t.
All the years he fixated on Galactor seeking revenge for his parents, death he’d overlooked a few things along the way. The end of Galactor should have been the end of his crusade.
He was trying to come to grips with his internal relentless drive kicking into gear the moment he looked into the picture and the people surrounding his parents.
He had received a mysterious phone call, during Ken’s chemo treatment. A first he hesitated to meet the caller. He wanted to forget about it, but a nagging part of his mind wouldn’t let up. Finally he caved in and returned her call wanting to know more.
It wasn’t and the informant who tracked him down and highlighted, he had unfinished business, and dragging Jun into the middle of it was a bad idea at the time. She would have tried to talk him out of it, wanting to include Ken in on the information. Bad idea since his best friend was dying at the time and nothing would stop Ken from coming along if knew.
Meeting the pretty young woman was easy in a parking lot outside of Utoland.
An Italian woman named Chiara, with thick dark curly locks and contrasting eyes typically beautiful. Her parents and brother had died because of Galactor she claimed, he wasn’t the only child left an orphan because of links to Galactor- Their parents knew each other.
They had been trying to uncover the separate group linked to the mayor of BC Island. She wanted to know if he could shed light on it.
She claimed to have more information and wanted to know if she could trust him. Suspicious at first, he’d discussed it with no one. She had met with him again on BC Island, and from there they travelled to various locations, spying on the group, gather information to sort out where they all fitted into it.
Seeing the photos and the listening to the recording he was left without a doubt the Devilstar that threw the rose bomb and the men behind it, were still breathing.
Gripping his insides like someone had tight battery clamps on his intestines. The pain of knowing they were out there woke up the old sleeping dragon within.
Worse, they sounded like they were reforming a group similar to Galactor- He had to stop it.
Powerful men and women in prominent positions.
Breaking off his engagement with Jun was hard, but he couldn’t rest until he’d resolved it for good.
A knock on the door, he cautiously opened it. Chiara flew in, closing it behind her.
“We have to leave.” She was breathless, she’d been running hard.
“What’s going on?” He drawled.
She was a business partner and nothing more, he’d shared a room with her more out of safety on her behalf. She was innocent in a lot of things, and had taken on more than she could handle.
“Maris’s men are downstairs. Your confrontation yesterday was a stupid move I told you, he’s dangerous.”
“Then you pack and I’ll take care of it.” Joe casually opened the bottom of suitcase revealing a hidden armoury. Picking his weapon- quickly slotting the pieces into place.
“I figured he’d send a few men around. He’s not creative.” He sighed, the man was arrogant.
“Are you insane, it will be a bloodbath.” She stood there wide eyed and flabbergasted, and wide eyed as he loaded up, curly auburn hair bouncing around her shoulders as she rushed to throw items into a suitcase. Her Sage eyes widening further as he pulled out another hand gun passing it to her.
“Mother Mary of God...are you serious. “ She said. Holding the weapon with trembling fingers, breathing heavily.
“How did you think it was going to end?” He tested his sights. Maintaining his usual calm before a fight. “Its going to get worse as we find the rest of them. I want to know why my parents had to die. Why…”
She was frightened. “Joe, send them to prison, put them before a judge to answer for their sins, it’s what we planned-“
“You planned, my plans are different, you can’t put these creatures behind bars and expect them to stay there.” He informed her. “Those men don’t work like that- how do you think either of us barely escaped death as children. They kill kids for Christs sake, wake up.”
Drawing her lips in a straight line, she thought about it. “I don’t approve of killing.”
“Then sister, you picked the wrong man to track these killers down, I want the truth and I’m getting it this time.” He watched her intently. ”It’s personal for both of us.”
“I…know…but…Joe.” She whispered. “What if we fail? I shouldn’t have brought you into it.”
Watching her weighing it up, Joe didn’t have time for her preaching, she was more beautiful holding a gun in her hand, than the rosery he often used to calm her nerves.
“I don’t do failure.” He reassured her. “Too late now for regrets, you couldn’t have survived an hour without me.”
“What can I do to help?” She choked on the words.
“Stay out of my way.” He aimed his gun at the door, shooting through it, as several armed men tried to storm the room.
The fresh dawn sunlight shone brightly for Jun, cool air whipped tendrils of loose hair across her face.
She was angry, she had admitted that much to herself. At the same time, she had to let it go and move on from the dream she once had and start anew, and this was a way of doing it.
Pulling on the white hopped skirt and throwing the gown over her head was hard work on her own. Determined to full-fill her plan, as Ken rode up to the spot stopping his motorbike to be greeted with a partly dressed Jun.
“Can you lace me into this thing?” She asked. Holding the back of the gown as he surveyed the layers of satin and tulle.
Amused, he fiddled with the cords, pulling them tighter. “Wow, women really wear this stuff for a wedding.”
“Yeah.” She pulled a face. “I was supposed to dazzle him with my beauty and sparkling sequins blinding his grey eyes and he could work to get it off me later that night on our wedding day.”
“Ahh… it’s pretty I suppose.” He sounded doubtful.” Not my kind of dress on a woman, does nothing for you too much fabric- I don’t like the puffy ones at all.” Ken said honestly.
She laughed at his rude comments. “Serious Ken, how would be if your bride turned up in one?”
“I’d tell her she was beautiful of course, and hope she had a change of clothes for afterwards, getting this off would be a nightmare.” He informed her pulling on the lacing.
“You’d lie, that very gentleman like.” She shook her head.
“There you go. I think that’s how it’s done I think.” He stepped back out of range of her amused expression.
Wiggling into the satin more, and adjusting the veil on top of her head, she turned to face him.
“You look frothy, like a cappuccino without the chocolate. You know-” Grinning widely, shaking his head.
“I get the picture Ken. On my wedding day when walking down the aisle of the church we picked, you would have been comparing me to frothy milk?” Narrowing her eyes, as a mocking smile wiggled his lips. “No wonder you can’t find a girlfriend.”
“Harsh.” He mockingly backed away as if she hit him. “Besides, it’s the grooms job to drool, not the best man.”
“True.” She said thoughtfully. “You could try a real compliment over a backhanded one from time to time.”
“If I told you that you look amazing, the most beautiful marshmallow I’ve ever seen- “He joked.
She moved in to strike him. “Argghhh… can’t fight with these tight sleeves.”
“See another reason against the practicalities of the design.” He moved out of her way broadly grinning. “Not practical at all for martial arts.”
“I didn’t expect to be fighting anyone on my wedding day.” Thrusting her hands on her hips, catching onto his humour, and breaking into a smile. “I liked it at the time.”
“Bruce Lee said… a marital artist must always be prepared.” He said nodding. “Good advice from a master.”
“You would have been wearing suit since you were going to be the best man.” She parried.
“A suit I can fight in, Dr Nambu did it all the time.” He parried.
“You have a point.” She sighed.
“To be honest, it’s not what I’d thought you’d wear, not really your style.” He said. “Something more elegant…”
“Huh? How would you know my style?” She shot back.
“Well, you have more class, less froth…” He waved a hand.” Its more Italian, something I’ve seen at the movies…”
“Joe’s Italian, he would have loved it.” He defended.
“See, you picked it because he would like it, not because it’s your own style. You tried to please him too much.” He shook his head. It stung worse than a snake bite, and in that moment she hated him for it.
“Glare all you like it’s the truth.” He folded his arms. “I observe a lot of things, doesn’t mean I have say it out loud what I see.”
“Ken, you surprise me all the time.” She was gobsmacked.
He paid more attention than she thought to people.
Rarely did he say things like that about his best friend, he rarely commented at all on relationship with Joe. His only ever comments, had been, he wasn’t going to be dragged into the middle of any their fights.
“Is this getting back at Joe.” His tone softened more serious.
“Yes… revenge is his mistress, so I’m getting mine.” She pursed her lips, indicating she wasn’t changing her mind about it.
“You have a point, but I doubt those are his reasons, he’s probably well… what if he comes back and you-“ He started to say.
“Ken.” She warned, putting up a hand.” He’s not coming back, I spoke with him last night and he…well… I need to move on completely not hang onto things like this dress.”
Without another word- Pulling out his camera, he started taking photos. After a few shots around the river, with her fishing, he asked what she intended to do with them.
“I’m emailing them to him.” She said.
“Sounds like a plan.” Placing a finger on his chin thoughtful. “How about we make it into a slide show, telling a story, and he’ll get the picture.”
“I’m liking it, I’ll make a photo album too.” She burst out laughing. “This is fun.”
They spent the rest of the morning with Jun in various places wearing her wedding gown. Playing golf, and ripping sleeves in kata moves.
The whole time Ken photographed her, at one point she got on the motorbike, veil flying behind her, caught in the wind it took to the skies like a kite.
They went to mall and did some shopping, carrying bag of goods and enjoying the stares and a few hoots from other people seeing her gradually ripping the beautiful gown, destroying it in the process of her day out.
Ken was amused the whole time, wisely he didn’t say anything else about her conversation with Joe.
They finished the day with Jun dressing back into her casual shirt jeans, and throwing the gown into the dumpster in the alley way next to the snack J, with Ken taking photos of her marching away shoulders straight waving it goodbye.
“You ready to fly out tomorrow?” He asked packing up.
“Yeah…” She followed him to the bike.
Holding onto her waist, she started the engine. He said. “How about you come out and stay the night at the shack, we can leave at dawn.”
“You just want me to cook you, dinner, how old fashioned and male of you.” Casting him a sly glance and he was a little sheepish.
“You saw through my plan, what now?” He blushed. “Besides you didn’t cook at Snack J,. Jinpei did… remember the time you set it on fire as we called out?”
“How can I forget, fortunately we got the flames out before we left leaving half the kitchen intact, Chief wondered what happened to us.” She baulked at memory of the charred blackened mess and the smell of smoke the went through everything including their upstairs apartment. It took months and loads of air freshener to get rid of it. Regular customers made snide comments and bad jokes for ages afterwards. Fortunately, she had insurance curtesy of the ISO to cover the damages.
“There has been improvements in your cooking style since then, I loved your last meal.” He brightened, warming her heart from the sincere compliment.
“I’ll pick up my bag, and cook dinner for us tonight.” She answered. “It’s nice to have company.”
Indeed, it was she was looking forward to their next adventure.
The rushing wind past his ears send a refreshed vibrancy through his whole being. Winter sunlight streamed through the forest bringing out golden hues in the snow-covered branches.
Beautiful. He thought taking in his surroundings.
The humming of several engines close by caused him to have a quick sweep in his peripheral vision. They were riding snow machine sleds, and Ken was having the time of his life racing Jun down a snowy slope in the countryside of a Norwegian village on the way to their hotel. He couldn’t wait to see the place.
Taking risks was part of his life for so many years it was good to be pushing a few boundaries again as he crested an uphill slop and becoming airborne as the skies hit the snow sending it flying around him. A group of about twenty on part of a tour of the Northern lights, it was exciting to finally be there.
“Yeeee hahhhh.” He heard a male rider sang out behind him. He understood the rushing feelings, adrenaline was pumping like a rushing river through his veins.
Hew could see their destination in sight. Jun came up beside him, indicating. He could read a smile behind the cloth covering her lower face, she was enjoying the freedom as much as he was.
They were a group of people around their ages. They’d had a short time to meet the others before leaving for the hotel. Loading bags onto the transport vehicle, wasn’t something Ken was used to.
He had only one real set of clothing for years, the idea of packing more than fresh underwear was news to him. Until Jun pointed out a change of clothing was nicer than smelling like a cattle truck after a few weeks.
He took the hint.
A stunning Norwegian woman with long flaxen locks and coy smile greeted him as she picked up her bag to go onto the small truck. He assisted her, noting her curves and model like figure. He’d have to catch up with her later.
Jun was talking to a tall man with a cleft chin and dark trimmed hair. By female standards he’d be considered handsome, a few women on the tour were casting long gazes in the mans direction.
Ken tuned out the looks he was receiving himself. Choosing to focus on the ride and their destination.
Pulling up outside of the huge ice doors they all parked their sleds in a place designated for them so they wouldn’t covered in fresh snow by morning.
“This place is beautiful.” Jun breathed beside him. “I can’t believe we’re spending the night here.”
“Yeah.” He responded. “Let go inside.”
The doors were opened by the hotel staff, inviting them all inside they were greeted with a cocktail in the ice carved bar.
“Its all carved from ice. Wait until you see your rooms.” The tour guide said in English, followed by two other languages.
Walking down a decorative hallway into the lodgings, his eyes roamed the structure the whole time. Awed by the attention to details and carvings, statues along the way until he came to his door. Jun was next door to him.
“Oh.” She cried with joy. “Ken, my bed is made of ice. I’ll feel like the snow queen sleeping in it.”
“Wasn’t the Snow Queen a villain?” He said poking his head over her shoulder.
“Snow Princess then.” She corrected playfully slapping his shoulder.
“I need to change for tonight.” She blushed. “I have some winter clothing that suited a cooler night in.”
“No heaters here, and I know you hate the cold.” He said, walking to the door.
“There are ways to keep warm.” She giggled. “Shaun asked me to sit with him at dinner tonight.”
Getting her meaning, he grinned, with an uneasy feeling creeping over him at the thought.
“It looks like I’m not then.” He folded his arms, trying suppress the odd feelings creeping over him. The guy had been flirting with her for the last two days of the tour. Gritting his teeth, he ducked out of her room. She’d removed her heavy overcoat, wearing lighter winter clothing.
“Yeah, just like Lisbeth has been trying to get you into her bed for the last two days.” She threw in, standing in his doorway arms folded.
“I don’t wanna be easy.” He said opening the suitcase that had been delivered to his room.
“She is hot by female standards.” She prodded. “You making plans move in on her tonight?”
Raking fingers through his growing hair he’d allowed some length, and not sure how to answer, he did find Lisbeth attractive. Long legs and as tall as him, with nice breasts and lips. There was a time he would have already taken up her offer. Jun obviously had her own plans, and it gripped his insides to think of her going to Shaun’s room or worse, next door.
Pulling out his book, and removing his heavy coat.
“See what happens.” He clearing his throat.” I’m getting in some reading time in now, see you later.”
She walked over to him, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. Warming him inside, with her smile.
“This whole being single thing has its perks. Thank you for showing me the ropes.” She said. “This holiday is getting better by the minute.”
“I know.” He tried to say something, but no words came out. He wanted to hold her closer and tell her she was churning his insides by being so close. Feelings he hadn’t had in a long time.
“See you later Eagle.” She planted a friendly kiss on his cheek. Watching her leaving the room with a bounce in her stride he was warmed all over seeing her happy. Picking up his book he kept reminding himself they were only friends, and she was like a sister to him, nothing more. The feelings would go away all had to do was ignore them.
The tour was living up to everything that had been promised. The dining area set up for groups like themselves was a magical place of carved ice and walls surrounding them. Wearing lighter warm clothing as the place didn’t have heaters that would have melted everything around them. Jun still managed to make her evening clothing look attractive. Tight winter white pants, and long creamy boots, and a fitted jumper, that sparkled in the light. Her long dark locks caught up in a casual bun, with loose strands, she was beautiful.
The groups were on tables of four, allowing for more intimate conversations as they were served a three-course meal on clear glass plates adding to the wintery atmosphere of the hotel.
He was trying not glance in Jun’s direction across the table too much, she was seated opposite Shaun and was absorbed in conversation with him and a lot of flirting between them.
Suppressing a surge of jealous feelings threatening him to blow his stoic cover of appearing to not be concerned about her battering long eyelashes at the guy and warm smiles as she leaned forward taking in every word the man was saying.
“The entrée was divine.” Lisabeth was doing her own flirting job on him. Normally he’d be taking mental notes, and of her curves. Soft blue eyes, observed him from across the table. Warming to her, she was attractive and did enjoy her intelligent conversation. She turned out to be a scientist, not the kind he was used too.
The dessert eventually arrived, and later dancing with soft music, the whole time Jun was completely focused on Shaun.
He tried to forget it, and asked Lisbeth to dance, as the music slowed down he could appreciate the woman in his arms. From the corner of his eye, he watched Shaun pull Jun in closer until they were almost at a standstill.
He knew that move.
Turning his side glance away as Shaun whispered in her ear, he could almost feel her catching her breath as he led her out of the room. He understood the place they were going too. He wondered if it would Shaun’s bed or hers.
Until that time a man paying Jun attention wouldn’t have bothered him, he’d have been busy assessing his own situation, especially with a woman like Lisabeth. She had the makings of woman who’d give him a good night of loving.
He was a focused man, he could switch off emotions when it was needed to get on with the job. Closing his eyes for a moment, and drawing in a sharp breath, he turned his full attention to Lisabeth. The scent of her perfume, and husky voice. Tuning into the feel of her soft breasts against him, and inviting bare neck. It was to be their last evening with the group. Indicating his intentions, she didn’t need encouragement.
Grasping his hand, they left for her room. Closing off all images he had of Jun as they stumbled into the small space shedding clothing as fast as they could, hot kisses all over each other’s, bodies seeking the warmth that a few hours of lovemaking gave them. The sex was incredible, she had skills of an experienced woman who liked sex. He focused on pleasing her like he did any of his other lovers, she indicated through her responses and moans, cries of more, she was more than pleased with him.
A while later, as she cuddled up to him, warm and naked he lay there staring at the ceiling. After Rumi’s death he had sworn he couldn’t love anyone like he had in that short time with her. It was his fault she died, and had spent the last part of the war trying reconcile powerful feelings of guilt and loss of the woman he loved. Over time they had softened into the place grief resided, and he come to terms with it.
Gently untangling himself from her arms, she softly moaned as he threw an extra blanket over her. He was going to spend the night sleeping in her arms. He didn’t wake up with a woman he’d made love too, it would mean that she’d expect from him. Quietly dressing again, and leaving her room. He quietly said to goodbye to her. He wasn’t leaving contact details, and a chance for them to meet again.
Walking down the corridor he stopped in front of Jun’s door. He wanted to knock, and see if she was alone. His fist was poised, hesitating he lowered it. The sounds coming from the room stopped him in his tracks. She was with Shaun and it was getting heated in there from the moans and whimpers.
Balling his fists, and the clenching inside of him, for a flash of second he wanted to change places with the man in there making to love to her. Despite her skills in bed Lisabeth was a lusty moment of emotional release- not love.
With Jun it would have a different meaning. They’d known each other from childhood, it would be because of deeper feelings and more intimate. That was the reason he had try and quash those runaway thoughts and feelings.
He didn’t want to lose her because of a brief affair in a moment of surrender. That’s even if she looked at him the same way… He thought.
Racing into his room, Ken grabbed his warmer jacket and riding gear. The night would be freezing and he had to be prepared as he pulled on the thick gloves and balaclava before walking out the main entrance of the ice building.
He found the snowmobile in the shelter. Checking the fuel before he leapt onto it, gunning the engine, he guided it out into the open air.
Allowing the speed and challenge of navigating into the darkness swerving through the forest into the clear passageway, cresting a hill he drew the machine to an abrupt halt from the elegant natural show before him.
The royal blue velvety skies, and a galaxy of diamonds was the perfect backdrop for the ribbons of colours adorning the openness ahead of him.
Alone in the forest his breath was taken away by the Aurora Borealis before him. Never in his life had contemplated he’d see Jun in a different light, like the ribbons of colour showing their beauty he hadn’t stopped long enough to appreciate the planet he had fought within an inch of his life to save.
He remembered a time on the God Phoenix when she commented on an Aurora Borealis, sighing at its beauty, and telling them to slow down for a moment.
He scolded her instead, snapping at her to focus on the mission and give him an update on the position of the enemy ship they had been searching for.
In their darkest hours she’d had a different focus and reasons for fighting. She saw what they would lose if Galactor and the alien creature won the war. It was her drive to fight, and what made her special on the team. She reminded them to live.
Moved beyond his imagination he wanted more than anything for her to be sharing the moment with him. Hold her hand and thank her for reminding them even the most dangerous moments the world surrounding them and its depth.
It was a planet worth saving, even if it was riddled with good and bad. He was beginning to see it life was worth living.
Recalling her words when first began to introduce her to a single life. They stung him like a bee as the coldness crept in around him.
He was lonely. He had to admit it, and it wasn’t reason to start a relationship that would end in hurt. He’d wanted love and family, a warm place in a home with a loving wife, and the sounds of children- messy toys and laughter. The painful price he paid from the hypershoot, was more than he could bare if he gave it too much thought.
Turning on the engine he rode back to the hotel, and eventually found his bed shrouded in furry blankets. Sleep would take care of it, he was tired enough not to dream.
Later the next day they finally arrived at their next destination. The area was filled with igloo’s that had glass panels allowing for a magnificent panoramic view of the winter skies.
“These places are magical.” Jun Dreamily sighed. “A winter paradise.”
He had to agree. They’d finished dining at the restaurant while the porter had taken their bags to the small igloo. Trudging through the soft snow to their accommodation, he warmed at the sight of her pinked cheeks from the crisp night air.
“Let’s get inside.” She said, opening the door. They both hurried into the single room igloo.
“Oh.” She placed a hand over her mouth seeing the king bed in the middle of the room covered in golden creamy plush blankets.” I’m sorry, I did request two singles.”
“Looks big enough.” Folding his arms, standing at the foot of the bed. He drew an imaginary line down the middle of it. “Your side, my side.”
“Deal.” She giggled. “I need to get my pyjama’s on, turn around.”
He did as she asked, pulling off his warm jacket, and opening his suitcase. Finding his wintery sleepwear, he pulled them on while she was distracted.
Turning of the lights they both laid down on the bed, watching the evening skies.
“It’s so clear and rich, like your eyes.” She breathed wistfully. “How can I describe this moment.”
Placing his hands behind his head, he turned his face to observe her.
Softening at the loveliness of her wonder and the intimate moment between them. Swallowing hard he tried not to notice her curves and desire to move closer. He wanted to hold her in his arms as they stared at the Aurora Borealis breaking through the blackness above them. Hearing her drawing in a breath of wonder, he was filled with overwhelming warmth from sharing this one with her.
He wondered what was more beautiful. The night of translucent ribbons of colours or the woman next time admiring its beauty and uniqueness.
“It is amazing.” He whispered. “Unique.” Like you are he thought.
“Yeah.” She warmly breathed and turned to face him, glittering greens meeting his eye. “Thank you for sharing it with me.”
In that moment he wondered about the undercurrent, between them, was a like one of the light ribbons had dropped from the sky into the space between them. Creating a newly awakened connect of electricity. It was like his heart had stopped, and not through her gentle smile he had a pulse again. Was it one sided? He asked himself. Did she feel it too?
“Anytime.” He replied warmly. Turning his gaze back to the openness above, he couldn’t think of any place in the world he’d rather be than in that moment watching the Aurora Borealis, with Jun.
Weeks passed since their holiday in Norway, and for a while they were both caught up in life in Utoland. Ken was working on his house, helping with walls and checking progress. Jun had started looking to serious study, she’d explored an option to become a gymnastics teacher and decided against it. She wanted to do something outside of her childhood ninja training.
They had caught up a few times for dinner, and some quiet evenings.
Jun had often found herself watching Ken, he’d softened from his usual ridged personality. It was stll in some ways the old Ken with a new touches in his nature.
“Look at this view.” He said one day on the work site of his new house after she’d dropped in to see how it was going.
She had leap up on a few scaffoldings to reach him, the top floor of one of the sections was partially in place. Navigating the space with ease she was finally standing beside him. It was indeed a fantastic view of the mountains.
“My bedroom window will be most of this wall.” He explained. “I don’t need to worry about privacy since I own the acres around here. A curtain should do the trick for light.”
“ I have a look at some ideas for you.” She offered, watching a warm smile spread across his mouth.
“I’d love that.” He said, not taking his gaze of the scenery. The place flooded her with ideas on how she could help him make the most of the interior design work. He listened for hours with her talking about what she thought would work in colour and textures. Appreciating the sincerity, she looked forward to their time together.
Flying out their next destination was part of her highlights.
They’d been in Rio for two days, enjoying sight-seeing and tours of the colourful city and its most famous guardian statue of Christ, watching over the innocents in the corrupt city below.
The warmth of the sun flooding through the hotel window, was like an invitation to explore the sea of beach umbrella’s below and swim in the surf.
“Looks nice.” Ken said over her shoulder, tickling her neck with his breath. Walking back to his travel bag, pulling out his blue board shorts, a lopsided grin crossed his mouth.
“I’m in.” She said. Excited to be there. Racing him to the bathroom with her new bikini dangling from her fingers, she won the race by hairs breath. Relenting he laughed.
They’d booked a twin share room, two separate beds, and a bathroom. With most places full to the brim it was all she could find last minute rather than their own rooms.
“I’m dressing out here.” He informed her. “Watch it if you walk out you might see something scary.”
“I’ve seen enough of you to know its not scary.” She giggled. Ken had a handsome body and with his mid-twenties he was filling out more in muscular bulk, she could appreciate it at a distance.
Walking out a few minutes later ready for the beach, she picked up the sunscreen.
“I can’t go near sun without it. I burn to a crisp, and then go straight back to white again.” She handed him the tube.
“I’ll rub your back, as long as you return the favour.” He hinted, taking the sunscreen tube and pouring the cream into his hand. Moving her hair aside he started with her neck, working his way down under her bikini strap.
Trying to control her internal response to his hands on her body, she flinched as a bolt of lightning ripped through her, as he accidently touched the side of her breast when she lifted up her arms.
“Oppss…sorry.” He blushed.
“Making moves on me?” She joked. Feeling a tingle from his touch.
“Ahh no…” He replied.
Working hard to control her breathing, and shocked by it, and she tried to hide it, as he worked the down the back of her thighs with his hands. Trails of heat coursed through her sending her knees to jelly.
His blush deepened. “I’m finished.”
“You’re turn.” She offered. Taking the cream trying not appear awkward.
He turned his back on her. Pouring the thick white cream into the palm of her hand, and moving in closer she began rubbing it into his tanned shoulders.
He trembled. “That’s cold cream.”
“Sorry, should have warmed it up.”
She kept running her small hands over his tight muscles, rubbing in the cream into his tight skin over toned muscle. Ken’s frame had thickened in the natural course of time, in a more, manly mould. Working out again his bulging muscles perfectly structured under tight golden skin, veins protruding in places from his ridged exercise and diet.
Working her way down his back, to the top of his board shorts, she slightly ran her fingers under the elastic waist band touching the curve of his buttocks. She wanted to see past the tan line. Gaping in surprise she hadn’t looked at him that way before.
For a split second she stopped trembling and hoping he didn’t notice. She could feel him drawing in a ragged breath, swallowing hard and moving faster, she kept rubbing in the cream up his back again making sure she wasn’t missing any spots.
“Um…I think it’s rubbed in.” She stepped back trying to still her beating heart.
He didn’t move for a moment. “Ahh… yeah the beach.” Fumbling with his towel, he headed out the door, slightly glancing in her direction, but not making eye contact.
Walking onto the warm golden sand she found an empty set of deck chairs and with a large shady red and white stripped umbrella.
“Looks like I can hire a surfboard.” Ken grinned wildly, dropping his towel on the seat next to her.
“Wanna come?” He asked glowing. The sunlight was revealing auburn highlights in his lengthening hair.
Shaking her head, she was still emotionally reeling inside from what he stirred up inside of her. Trying to comprehend the bolt of chemistry she didn’t know existed between them.
“I’ll relax for a while here.” Taking a seat, and laying back onto the beach lounge.
He ran off down the beach kicking up sand, to the hire cart, picking a board, waxed and ready to go the Eagle ran down to the surf. The whole time she watched him.
As he jogged past groups of women all eyes followed him, lusty stares and women flirting. Many making comments and a few even followed him to the water’s edge.
He didn’t blink an eye at them, smile or give an indication that he noticed any of the female attention and of a few men too smiled his way.
Ken was focused on the surf ahead of him. Watching his powerful arms paddling into the water, he waited for a wave to come his way.
Drawing in a breath as he readied himself for a wave, jumping onto the board as the wave crested white foam spraying salty water as it curled over top crashing down.
She dozed under the shady umbrella, the sounds of surf lulling her senses and the noise of people excited about the coming evening events of the Festival.
After a while he eventually rode a wave back to the shore. Damp messy hair, and soaked through from his time, he walked directly towards her.
He made a striking figure, girls threw themselves in front of him, and still he ignored them. Unable to breath she fumbled with her sunglasses she he wouldn’t see the affect he was having on her.
A playful smile flickered across his face, dropping the board and standing over her dripping cold water onto her, and shaking his hair like rain. Jumping up she scolded him.
Laughing hard her quickly picked her up and threw Jun over his shoulder. Envious eyes of women around them followed them as he strode to the beach holding onto her the whole way walking into the surf and threw her into a wave.
“You rascal.” She laughed playfully splashing him, no longer able to be mad at him. Splashing water in his face, they played in the surf. Enjoying the warmth of the sun, they swam out further, diving into waves.
His eyes sparkled like the foamy water around her. Softening inside, he indicated they dive under the waves as they swam further out.
Holding her breath, she followed him, waves breaking in the churning water above they swam together under water, emerging a little closer to the shoreline. The spot they came come up in was calmer, circling each other she tried to not meet his gaze.
“Something wrong?” He asked.
“No.” She lied, not wanting to answer, wading in the water she was feeling things she couldn’t fathom towards him. The sun on her face, and the cool water sparkling, the moment couldn’t be more perfect.
“We should go back.” She said, a hairs breath from him, wanting him to take her into his arms and kiss her ached inside.
“We should...go back.” Ken answered, breathing hard. It was like they both caught in a trance, he touched her shoulder, she could feel his body floating closer lips parting, warmth of his breath on her cheek.
“Let’s swim in freestyle into shore, we ahhh… need to get ready for the party.” Ken powered on ahead of her breaking the moment.
For a second she watched him swimming, heart hammering, she had to get a grip on it. They were close friends and she didn’t want her bubbling emotional mess to spoil it.
Breaking into a freestyle swimming motion she raced to catch up. Ken’s powerful form ploughed through the water body surfing in waves like his arms were oars on a boat. He was waiting for her, drying off on the beach when she came in.
“I’ll take back the board, meet you at the room.” He said, picking it up. She had a head start for the shower. She wanted to be dressed and waiting for him in the lobby to avoid any more awkward moments between them.
Watching Jun walk up the sand Ken fought to contain his explosion of feelings inside of him, an undercurrent of electricity flowing from her touch. They were supposed to be two close friends enjoying life and he was falling for her in a way he wanted to switch off and couldn’t.
The emotional discipline he’d kept in check on romantic feelings towards potential girlfriends during the war had worked until now. Rumi had been the only one he let in during that time, and even then, it was because they thought they were in peace time and the war over.
In the depths of the ocean while they were wading, he wanted to lean in kiss Jun so badly it was like torture to swim away from her.
Closing his eyes tight for a second, drowning out the sounds of the festive music and people talking around him, he jogged along the wet sand further down the beach to expel his churning emotions.
He found himself thinking about her in the still moments of his life, every aspect of it while driving nails into the construction of his house, and flying his plane. She warmed his heart every time she said his name.
Over the last few months his feeling had subtly changed towards Jun without his even seeing it. No longer seeing her in the light of a sister, someone he grew up with. She’d blossomed into a stunning woman. He had to get over it, so they could still be friends, and at the same time he wanted to be with her every day holding her in his arms.
She would turn up with meals from her course, sharing time together in a way he’d never experienced during the war. His focus was changing, at one point in his life he had ridged grip on his feelings, and relaxing more in post-war life, he had allowed her into his heart undetected.
Arriving back at the hotel, he could take control of it all again. They had tickets for a Festival party, plenty of people around them.
Colourful outfits and an evening ahead of dancing and light atmosphere. She was sitting at the bar as he walked to the elevator, drawing a breath, she was stunning in a long silver gown covered in sequins contrasting to her curled hair.
Jumping into the elevator before she could see him, he raced into their room and showered. Dressed in his festival clothing and hurried to join her.
Sky blue and yellow patterned shirt, with white jeans and silver shoes, he was ready for the party.
For Ken, it was colourful bold in colours- he mainly wore plain colours. She softened as she commented on his loud shirt, warming the air between them he was proud to have a beautiful gem on his arm. Men turned as she walked with him admiring her.
Holding out his arm she accepted his invitation as they walked out the doors and got into a waiting taxi to the party.
Entering the venue, they were both swept up in the party atmosphere, dancing and loud music, people doing the samba.
The venue for the party was situated on the route for the parade, they had prime views of the floats as they passed on the street below.
Walking out the balcony during the evening drinking the warmth of the air, and enjoying some solitude, he turned to see Jun on the dance floor doing the Samba, moving her hips and arms, the sequined sheath gown glittered like a thousand diamonds at once hugging her curves, she glowed as she moved to the rhythm of the beat.
Their eyes met as she spun around, a roguish smile crossed her cherry lips. Indicating she wanted him to join her on the dance floor.
She was surrounded by admirers. The simplicity of her style, elegance of her moves, made her more classy than other ladies in frills and over top costumes. In that moment, she truly was a swan amongst geese.
He was proud to be there with her.
Walking inside she held out her hand, and they danced together, laughing and enjoying the party.
“You tick this one off your bucket list.” She said collapsing into his arms giggling, cheeks flushed and eyes sparkling from her exertions dancing.
“Yes, we can.” He replied. You’re breathtaking… he wanted to tell her.
His other thoughts were, Joe you’re a damn idiot, you gave her up? He wanted to punch him in the face for hurting her. Joe can’t you see what you had in front of you?
Twirling her back to her feet, as the night wore into the early hours of dawn they finally made it back to the hotel room, exhausted and happy.
Drawing the blinds closed so they could sleep, in the semi-darkness they got ready for bed as the broke through the clouds, the first rays of dawn.
Exhausted from a night of dancing, good food, and partying, he watched her pull out her light pink silk nightie. A small part him was disappointed to see her about to change out of her glittering gown.
“I had a fun night.” He said quietly.
“Me too.” She whispered, warmly blushing. Overcome with emotion, her face softened searching green eyes met his.
Not knowing how to respond, and trying to hide his surging feelings. Turning his back, he quickly pulled off his clothes placing them over the bag next to his bed, and jumped in under the covers in his underwear. Turning on his side away from her, so she could have privacy in changing clothes.
Hearing her silky gown dropping to the floor, he tried to control the images flashing through his mind, as the whispering sounds of silk moving, she was pulling on her silky nightie.
After hearing the soft rustle of sheets, he rolled over.
She was smuggling under the covers, resting her head on the pillow, long flowing locks of dark hair spilled around her.
“Goodnight.” He whispered warmly.
“Goodnight.” She said, a gentle smile touched her lips. “Good morning really.”
“Yeah good morning… get some sleep, we’ll fly out to Utoland this afternoon.” He yawned.
"You're a good dancer." She yawned. "We should go dancing more."
"Yeah." He agreed. "Take some classes, put it on the list."
"Latin?" She asked. "We try a few styles."
They lay there for a while, listening to the sounds on the street as the party continued, drunk patrons stumbling down the hall outside their room.
Staring at each other the whole time, in silent communication. Drowsily her eyes fluttered closed, long lashes resting on her pale cheeks. Time had no meaning as he watched her relax into a slumber.
The gentle sounds of breathing. He didn’t know when sleep finally came, it melted into the fabric of time, the cracks of sunlight filtering through the blinds, and his last view was of her sleeping, warm with the love growing inside of him only for her.
Darkness surrounded her on the highway leading to the marina, the hum of the engine of the motorbike, and the tunnel of light ahead her only company. She wasn’t far from the airfield, they were going to tick another item off his bucket list over the next few weeks, one that was on hers too.
She’d had fun on their adventures so far. Even her sensual night with Shaun in the ice hotel didn’t compare to the next evening watching the Aroura with Ken.
The way he looked at her… she thought, with her heart skipping a beat. Piecing it together and not daring to believe it at the same time.
She had to be there early so they could catch Ryu’s fishing trawler. They were meeting him on his home Island, and going for a few days out fishing with him.
A few weeks had passed since their magical weekend in Rio, and she couldn’t stop thinking about him, warming inside from the memories they have growing together.
Ken revealed a side of him she wanted to get to know more. All the years he had been her commander, ridged and almost as stoic as Dr Nambu. She didn’t think he knew how to relax and enjoy life.
She had started to box up her apartment ready to move, found a storage company to place Joe’s boxes for him until he was ready for the rest of his stuff. If he decided to come back to Utoland. She wasn’t sure how she felt about him anymore. It was like the wartime romance between them had been part of dangerous and path than had reached its end.
A new road lay ahead of her now.
Ken had dropped in to help her pack up the place, appreciating it, since he was busy with the progress of building his home. They’d spent time shopping for various things, he had decisions to make and for once the Eagle was stumped. Decorating wasn’t his thing- It turned out to be her talent.
She had decided to move towards the outskirts of Utoland. Closer to Ken since she spent more time out there, and had spent time looking at houses and apartments. The college she was looking at applying for was out that way too.
He’d asked for her help with some of the budgeting for the building, he was in danger of going over it, and she was going through it for it finding areas when he could save money and be more affective.
The cooking classes had finished. And she had another decision to make. What to do with the old Snack J, it had once been a cover for her while they were operating as the Science Ninja Team with Jinpei. Now she had found she didn’t really want to keep the restaurant snack bar. After a conversation the Swallow about it, he was ready for the place to move on too.
Interior design was looking promising- She had a new direction on her own life was taking shape.
She hadn’t heard from Joe in a while and he wasn’t good at leaving contact numbers. He had become nomadic from what she could tell in the last year since he left her.
The evening of tracking down Maris the leader of a Mafia group had taken an interesting turn. He had his hit list, and was working his way through it of people who knew his father and he had learned betrayed his parents from Chiara.
The list had grown, as they researched for clues. He had hunch he was getting closer to woman that ended their life.
“Maris,” Joe casually sat down the chair opposite his enemy, the captive man of Italian decent, didn’t have much to say, tied solidly to a chair in an empty room with a few bruises on his jawline. The former Galactor Captain hadn’t improved his company since the defeat of his leaders.
“Sending your men after me was a mistake.” He moved forward in his seat. “The running away like a coward.” Clutching his hands in front of him. Maris snarled, and remained quiet.
“Tell me where Randle is and I’ll think about letting you live.” He offered.
Maris chuckled. “Randle? You won’t find him. He knows nothing of George Asakusa and his slut wife, and brat kid.”
Those insults earned the man few more bruises.
“What do you know about their deaths?” He snarled, heat rising through his body, tensions escalating. He was running out of patience in the hunt for the truth.
Joe had been searching for months to capture Maris. Chiara had found information that he was one of the former leaders trying to bring Galactor back together. The scattered the remnants of it, but a few rogue idiots remained it appeared. It was solid enough for Joe.
“You worked for Galactor, that’s enough for me.” Joe turned to face the man, rubbing his fist, if it came down to it, he’d use brutal force. He liked to avoid it, usually he was intimidating enough to make weaker men talk.
“I never worked for Galactor or those crazy leaders.” Maris spat the name like it was vial in his mouth. “Who told you that? They were a scum organisation ran by dirty aliens. Asakura was a business man, and he was Galactor, that’s all I knew about him. I hated the bastards.”
“I’m asking the questions, and you’re a liar.” Joe sneered, he was becoming impatient. “You know the woman with the red roses, she is the one I want.”
“Fuck you.” Maris spat on the floor in front of him. “I opposed the scum Katse-“
“You’re right he’s lying.” Chiara cut in, glaring at the man with all the hatred she could muster. “We want Randle tell him, if he gets angry I can’t control him.”
She looked at Joe, and in turn he punched the man hard across the jaw, sending his chair flying.
The sounds of gunfire outside caught their attention.
She ran to the window of the apartment, peering out onto the cobblestone road below.
“It’s the polizia.” She hissed. “Someone called them.”
He had to work faster. Walking over to the overturned man and chair, he went to move him, to find him drowning on foaming running from his mouth.
“Poison.” He said as she ran over. “Suicide.”
She confirmed. “He’s dead.”
The sound of footsteps on the stairs had him working on their escape. He had one alternative, throwing on his wrist band, and arcing it across his face. “Birdgo.” Left his lips.
In an instant, he grabbed a bewildered Chiara in his arms and hurled them out the window flying across the next building.
“Tu sei il Condor.” She gasped, curly hair flying around her in the wind. They landed on the next building, grabbing her arm and pulling her along hard, he didn’t have time to answer obvious questions.
“Yes, that’s who I am.” He replied. “Its no secret, that one escaped out years ago thanks to Galactor.”
Leaping with her across rooftops, eventually he found a safer place away from the danger of getting caught.
Breaking a window, they walked into an ancient looking antiques warehouse, guided by streaming moonlight. Holding her hand tight, he led her further inside until they found a spot to catch their breath, surrounded by musty old furnishings, dim light.
The owner didn’t bother to alarm the place, they’d hide here for a while, until he was sure the polizia were no longer looking for them.
Still holding her close, she softened her sage green eyes, touching his jawline tenderly. It had been over a year since he’d had that kind of affection, his last night with Jun before he broke her heart again.
His pride was in keeping promises, and his he had promised his parents he would avenge him. But he had made a promise to Jun when asked her to marry him in a rush of danger without giving it much thought. Both promises tore him in different directions. They stood before him like a crossroads. He had to choose to forget one path.
It cut him to think about his choice, and he wanted to forget what she felt like, Jun’s scent and smile.
Chiara had made herself useful, gathering information- even if she was a lousy shot with a gun.
“Joe, we’ll find that Devilstar assassin soon, she can’t run from us forever.” She whispered, he drew in a deep breath, it felt good, and enticing, holding a woman’s warm body close. Breasts pressed against his arm, sent his senses into a spin of wanting.
She had become a constant companion in his life since he’s left on quest to find the assassin responsible for killing his parents and the conspirators that betrayed him. Her information was accurate- He was close to finding the truth, he could taste it like a sweet wine.
Once he was done, and it was buried for good, he could try and have a normal life-with Jun. He’d find a way to keep his promise. He’d have to work hard, but he was sure she’d forgive him, like she had every other time.
Looking down into the warm eyes of the pretty woman in front of him, he wanted badly what she was offering.
“Not here.” He whispered drawing her close and pulling off his helmet. His lips touching hers, warmth flooded him, drinking her in, his body responded. Wrapping his mantle around them as the kiss intensified, she moaned from his touch. Her full breasts surging with desire as he intensified the kiss.
He stumbled back towards an overly decorated love seat. He had a change of heart, as he pulled off her shirt freeing her restraints, he gripped the soft flesh in his gloved hand. Roughly pulling off her jeans and panties, exposing everything she had to offer. She proceeded to rip off his belt, finding the fastenings of his bird style, running long fingernails over his muscular chest as his mantle dropped to the floor.
Grabbing his thick hair with her fingers dragging him down onto the long seat as he mauled her breasts with his mouth like a hungry lion, tasting her flesh as he parted her legs with his thighs. She moaned loudly wanting him inside of her. He wasn’t going to disappoint her.
Lustful eyes racked his body almost naked body, freeing his growing male muscle, the Condor wasn’t wasting time, and neither was she.
They arrived at the jetty after their flight into the Islands, and drove in the car Ryu left for them at the airfield.
The dawn was still an hour away and Ryu had to be going with the tides, they just arrived in time.
“About time you two showed up.” He casually waved in usual laid-back manner. Winter was in the Islands, and the coolness of the air around them sent a shiver through him.
Walking onboard, the pair reported to the skipper of the trawler, Ryu.
“We’re here now Skipper.” Ken addressed him, clasping hands with his old friend and former helmsman. The smells of salty fish assaulted his senses, as Jun walked up the plank behind him.
The deep-sea trawler called-‘The White shadow.’ Ken warmed inside every time he saw the name on the side of the large boat.
Ryu had told him the name of his trawler when he was in the worst of his cancer treatment, at the time his hair was coming out in clumps and he was delirious with pain and drugs. The name drew a smile from him, because the Owl wanted to honour his friend and brother in his worse hours.
“Put your things into the sleeping quarters.” Ryu indicated with a sharp turn of his head, leading the way down the narrow passage, passed the kitchen and common room to the sleeping quarters.
“Sorry Jun, we don’t have any women on board. Mostly, I haven’t had applicants for positions from them.” He apologised. “I’ve put you in with Ken, rather than one of the other guys. You’ll have shifts anyway. You won’t have to put up with him the whole time.”
“I’m okay with that,” she surveyed the tight sleeping quarters with two narrow bunks. Placing her bag underneath.
“Top bunk or bottom?” she asked him.
“Top- meet you up on deck.” He threw his back inside, and left her there. She joined him a short while later.
Dressed in overalls, a heavy knitted jumper and beanie, they both looked the part of fishermen.
His medium sized trawler had a crew of ten deck hands. The skipper and the ships mate. Ryu had two deck hands that wanted shore leave, so the he’d contacted Ken and asked him if he wanted to join the them on the run. They’d be at sea fishing for three weeks, stopping in ports to offload catches. There were freezer and refrigerated sections for storage in the bottom of the ship, careful loading to keep the boat even in the water.
The fresh salty air filled his lungs. Ken was up to it, and Jun didn’t have any objections. She was used to working with an all, male crew.
Within the hour the engines kicked into the gear and the trawler headed out to sea as the sun rose in the skies before them.
Ken discreetly observed the woman opposite him, dressed like a sailor, she was roughing and blending in with crew. Over the years he had witnessed Jun standing up more for herself, the timid sensitive girl he grew up with, had learned how to handle men. Some of crew learned not to make jeering remarks in her direction of being weak and unable to keep up. She rose to the challenge, making him proud.
A new respect for the only female on the modern trawler was growing amongst the men, after an incident three days before, involving an accident of a sailor going overboard tangled within a net. Her quick actions saved his life.
“It’s beautiful. The sunrise across the water. The colours are stunning, I wonder if I can translate it into decorating a room.” Jun mused, as the breeze lifted loose strands of her hair, tossing them across her eyes. It was annoying, as she pulled them out of her eyelashes tucking them behind her ear.
They’d been at sea for over a week. Working hard with the deckhands doing their shifts, and learning about hauling nets to be dragged in collecting fish and tossing back anything that got caught up in it that wasn’t supposed to be there.
They were smelling like fish not matter how much either of them washed in the tiny shared bathroom, laughing about it in the tiny cabin.
“Yes, it is.” He replied, and he wasn’t talking about the sunrise. Dressed in tones of grey, plain fishing clothing. She was cute, with her beanie pulled on tight.
They were working on a net up on deck. One of the other hands had shown them how to mend it, a regular job on a trawler- Along with other tasks.
“I think I’ll buy a house.” She told him in conversation. “I decided I wanted some space around me, and decorate it. Can’t do that with a rental.”
He had an idea he’d been pondering on for weeks, and decided it was time to share it with her. “You could move into the shack rent free. I can sleep in the hanger, there’s a few old rooms there I can fix up until the house finished, you can have free reign.”
“No Ken, I wouldn’t do that to you, you need space, and the house will take time finishing.”
“It’s almost to lock up stage.” He said.
“Think about it.” He offered. “All I need is the kitchen sometimes, there is a shower in the hanger, its useable. Won’t be in your way.”
“I’ve seen the hanger, it’s a store room right? Would need work to make it liveable.” She cast him a sceptical glance, but he could see she was thinking about it.
Warming inside at the thought, she would still be close to the college, and close to him too. He wanted to see her everyday- a part him was bursting with the need. Did she feel how her touch made him tremble? He had become a master of controlling his feelings and now it was like a boat without a rudder, he had no control at all over what his feelings for Jun.
“I could move into the rooms you have in the hanger, use them as part of my design course, I could work more space into it.” She glanced up from the task. Waiting for his reaction.
“We’ll work out the details over the next few weeks, we have beak times, kinda, depending on how hard skipper Ryu works his crew.” Ken lightened, catching his mood, she smiled warmly too. Enjoying their closeness, she liked the idea of seeing him daily.
“Your house is looking wonderful. I’m loving the latest part.” She picked up the net, finding a new hole to work on.
There is so much of you going into it too. He thought warmly. Her touches made more like a home.
“The glass walkway is working out exactly how I wanted it, it looks better being built than it did on paper.” He agreed.
“Yeah, leading into the Dojo, and gym, are you making a greenhouse garden parallel.” She asked.
“That’s in the extra passage, more a rainforest, it’s not another walkway, the ferns and other rainforest plants.” He answered. The greenery made him think of his old mentor and friend Dr Nambu’s mansion. He had a greenhouse inside the mansion, it was amazing.
“The garden design is coming along well, Japanese style, and an avenue of pink cherry blossoms, I gather they start landscaping once the main house is finished.” She said dreamy, imagining it in full bloom. Ken had added them in the design for her when she mentioned it was her favourite flower.
He nodded, working on another section, warming from her reaction he reached over and touched her hand. She made a tiny sound, trying not to look at him. Curious of her reaction he watched her intently.
Frowning for a moment, and confusion flinted across her fine features, like she was trying to fight something.
“You okay?” Ken asked. Trying not be obvious in seeing it.
“Remember how Jinpei would tease me about you during missions.” She quietly recalled.
“Yeah,” His face broke into a cheerful smile at the memories. “He didn’t like Joe’s teasing, and it was his way of getting back at him, he tried to make him jealous.”
“I know, it made it worse for him when it came to Joe.” She said. Catching his lighter mood. “He confessed one day he didn’t want me with Joe at all.”
“Really?” He raised an eyebrow.” Why?”
“Jinpei was worried he’d hurt me one day. Not be abusive Joe was angry but he didn’t mistreat me, just…” She confessed for the first time. “We argued too much for Jinpei’s liking. Mainly me trying to work out what he was keeping to himself- It was complicated. I don’t blame him for everything now. Its… different, I don’t hate him any more for leaving, I should have seen the signs.”
He went silent, allowing her talk.
She continued. “He didn’t tell me about his head injury or becoming a cyborg, he often kept things to himself pushing me away without me knowing why. That’s when it hurt more. I could handle his anger towards Galactor it was something we all shared in the end…anger, and changes… but not lies, please don’t hold back the truth from me… Ken.”
She stopped turning to face him more. Nodding, he couldn’t avoid that one. It had almost consumed him completely towards the end of the war.
“Joe has his faults, and he saved us, was a hero that brought Katse to an end even gave us peace for a while.” Ken concentrated on his work. The more his feeling grew deeper for Jun the more he felt like a traitor to Joe in them.
Joe might have ended his relationship with her, but one day the Condor would come back to Utoland and want to claim her again. Jun’s usual response was go back to him, deeper than ever before. He didn’t deserve her any more than Joe did.
The thought of being gutted like a fish when it happened was something he didn’t want to think about. He had other things to be concerned about, the ever, unknown hanging over him about his health.
“I’m going in for some tests when we go back to Utoland.” He said quietly, keeping the fear in voice at bay. “The usual check-up, seeing if I’ve developed any new cancer cells.”
“Do you want me to come with you?” she offered.
Drawing his lips tight, he was nervous about it. “I don’t know, they say second time round the chances of survival diminish.”
Dropping the net and reaching out for his hand, clashing it tightly with her hers he tried to control the trembling inside of him.
“I’m here, you don’t have go alone.” She searched his eyes.
“I can’t have kids.” He blurted out. “Chemo destroys all of that, I don’t know if I’ll grow old or even live past a year. Don’t waste time on me. You deserve to give it to someone you can spend a lifetime with grow old together. I’ll be okay if you meet someone special who will love you like you deserve…build a future with.”
Her breath quickened, she was speechless, green eyes softened with intense emotions, she drew him closer with her arms, both of them tangled in the net and holding his head against her chest.
“Is that why you’re avoiding a real relationship with anyone?” She whispered. “You’re afraid, and I thought you were… fearless… nothing could pierce your armour.”
“Everyone has a weakness.” He hoarsely whispered, his throat drying from holding back tears. “Only a fool would think they were bullet proof.”
He had finally told someone the hurtful truth of his deepest gut wrenching pain.
He went on to tell her his heart. He’d wanted a family, and he couldn’t because he was infertile. He wanted a real life, but how? Would he one day soon, think it was joke building a house to live in. Leave it all, and fight mafia groups and oppressors, once more saving the world, so he could die fighting with honour. If cancer came back again, and nothing could be done against it. Its what he would do alone.
He held back one thing from her. He had already willed the new house to Jun, in case he was sick again. It would be his gift to her to raise her own family in with her husband. He wanted her to be happy with a good man that loved her deeply.
She didn’t say anything, holding back his tears, he knew it was his whole reason for not trying for a relationship with Jun beyond close friends.
Slowly he pulled away, untangled the net, and jumped to his feet, wanting to run from the ocean of churning emotions inside, he headed up the deck towards the bow of the ship.
Hanging over the edge watching the waves crashing against the side as it dipped into the water, and back up again. Ryu was up on the bridge, steering his trawler to a new fishing ground. Adjusting the black beanie on his head a touch of warmth on a cool morning. Trying to clear his depressive thoughts and caste his fears into the water.
The touch of a delicate hand on his arm caught his attention. Her arms wrapping around him, burying her face into his back, as he beanie fell off, her long hair tumbling, and whipping around them. Closing his eyes, feeling her gentle warmth against him. It sent his heart pounding like waves crashing against the ship.
They didn’t need words, she wanted to be there for him, and wasn’t allowing him to push her away like he was trying too.
Turned enough face her, wrapping her tightly in his arms- her resting head against his chest, watching the golden sunrise on the horizon across the rich depths of water stretched out before them. Leaning against the side of the boat, light sprays of sea water covered them from time to time as the bow dipped into the waves of a churning ocean.
He didn’t care he, he was in love with her, and he wanted a lifetime with, holding her in his arms in the quiet hours of a new day.
He loved her, enough to let her go.
Joining Ryu a few days later in the bridge, Jun was sleeping in the cabin. The Owl was at home steering his ship, navigating it through the churning waters of the open ocean before him.
“Looks like some storm cells forming, from the radar and reports it’s not heading on our direction.” Ryu looked over the printout.
Ryu smirked touching the marine varnished timber of his ship. ” The ISO built a fantastic fishing trawler for me. It’s a dream, everything is like it was designed by DR Nambu himself. Its really Kamo’s work, and I’m in love with it.”
A more modern ship with up dated facilities and cleaner engine efficiency. It wasn’t a huge ship, but bigger than a traditional fishing trawler, and used clean energy in its motors.
The net methods he used didn’t involve, trailing the ocean floor. He was concerned about it since Dr Nambu had worked so hard to maintain the marine environment. Kamo had taken an interest in the project and was providing the Owl with funding to trial new methods. It was ground breaking and set a positive future for the fishing industry.
It was during their discussion that Ryu enlightened him on a few personal aspects of his life.
“When did you know?” He asked, more curious.
“I worked it out one day after I met Hideji.” A lopsided grin spread across his chubby cheeks.
“Hideji.” Ken folded his arms, staring at his friend. “A guy?”
“Yeah… I discovered why I’m hopeless with women nothing worked for me there. I’m not into women that’s why. It all made sense one day.” He slowly watched Ken’s reaction.
“I didn’t see it, just thought… well… mmmm.” Ken confessed. “Where is Hideji?”
“He’s part of the design team for my trawler and he’s smart, fun, we are…umm…well when I’m home… we’re living together now been a few months.” Ryu blushed. “I’m in love.”
Ken slapped him hard on the back, grinning wildly. “I’m happy for you brother. We’ll come and visit the two of you when we get back to shore. Introduce us… does Jun know?”
“Well she worked it out really.” Ryu warmed up, seeing his brother’s acceptance. “We talked about it a few days ago, she’s happy for me.”
Ryu raised a brow, throwing a curve ball his way.
“You and Jun.” He asked out of the blue. “Are you two dating?”
“Ahhh… no.” He answered bewildered.” Why do you ask?”
Ryu snorted. “Coulda fooled me…”
“We’re closer friends these days, spend a lot of time together…” He floundered. “Of course, I love her in a plutonic friend way, she’s a wonderful girl-”
“Huh.” Ryu’s mocked him with a wry grin. ” It didn’t look like ‘Just friends’ yesterday morning near the bow.”
Ryu went back to manning his ship, silence fell for a few minutes while he checked weather patterns and other instruments.
“I know it’s hard for you.” The Owl, clasped a brotherly hand on his shoulder. “The war with cancer shook the hell out of you, worse than Katse, Gel Sadra and Egobossler put together. Shook all of us to the core wondering if...” Stopping in mid thought pain crossed his face, as he went back to running his trawler. Adjusting settings and receiving reports from the engine room.
Cancer- his enemy inside, who attacked him from within, through tiny cell mutations forming deadly cysts, and was still lurking in the shadows. Waiting for its chance to bring him to his knees and early grave if it won.
“She’s Joe’s girl, how could you even be suggesting I’d step in, because we spent time together- they always work it out eventually, and then I’ll be putting her in a position to have to choose-”
“Why don’t you let her decide for herself who she wants to be with.” He calmly pointed out. “Fight for her.”
Those words were a stab in the guts like a long knife, reminding him of his solo life. I’d die for her, but I won’t break her heart and steal her dreams like Joe did. He thought sadly.
“Joes been gone for a year. He had his chance, and broke it off. Who knows what he’s up too now.” The Owl shook his head, frowning. “Joe’s got his own issues, and I figured settling down with a wife and kids… well wasn’t a fit for him. I saw it coming, but figured it would be years from now with Jun and a few kids, then he’d leave and buy a trailer. Go racing again be more a nomad, or somethin’.”
Ryu’s cheerful manner, morphed to a more serious tone as he checked his instruments.
“He was a loner. But she…” His words pitted out, thinking of her passed out drunk, not herself, after Joe had left, and the mess he left behind him.
Ryu’s concern caught his attention, drawing him out of his thoughts.
“We need to tie a few things down, the weather is turning, and unexpected storm forming, and we can’t avoid it.” Calling his first mate up to the bridge. Ken’s natural response was ready himself for action. Turning his focus to more important matters.
On high alert, he walked out onto the platform beside the bridge, the distant horizon looked like an artist had scribbled back charcoal across the blue sky.
He’d see storms like this, and had flown through one in his fighter jet in the war against Galactor. It brought down his fighter with a lightning strike, almost got him killed.
Worse, the storm reminded him of the one Rumi’s plane went down in. It formed out of nothing and they flew into it.
“Skipper.” Ryu’s first mate Akimitsu arrived on the bridge, a tall skinny old man, wrinkled and brown like a paper bag. His former helmsman respected him.
“We can take shelter if we go further out to sea.” He advised. “We can miss it if we-“
The radio kicked into life the voice of a desperate man sounded over the line.
“Mayday… mayday.” He said. “We are caught in the storm, our yacht ‘The Sleeping giant.’ is taking on water, I have a wife and three kids. Please someone.
“This is the “White Shadow’.” Ryu responded. “Send me your coordinates.”
Cursing his mate punched them in. “Too close to the rocks, they’re in trouble alright, and in the middle of it.”
“We are responding to your call, hang in there, get to lifeboats as soon as you can, keep your radio with you.” Ryu ordered.
The law of the ocean, no one ignores a distress a call. Ryu didn’t hesitate.
Sending the failing yachts coordinates to the mainland for rescue centre, the recording of the distress call and their own response.
“We’re going on a rescue mission- ‘The White Shadow’ can handle the weather. Tell the crew to buckle up for a rough ride ahead.”
He admired Ryu’s confidence and knowledge of his trawler, and trusted it with his life. The man had uncanny gut instincts in the rhythm of the ocean and flying warships.
“Skipper, I’m onto it.” Akimitsu replied, acting briskly with thirty plus years of experience at sea. “All hands on deck. Now…”
He sounded the alarm, alerting crews on rest breaks.
The once pristine clear skies turned steel grey as darker clouds loomed before them indicating worse weather ahead of them. The water responded to the commands of the winds lifting its peaks to greet its call as swell rose and the ship was hit by a few erratic waves warning it of impending danger.
Ryu turned the ship around heading directly into the churning ocean of stormfront following the beacon.
Receiving transmissions from the distressed yacht, they hadn’t abandoned it yet. Ken stayed on the bridge with Jun silently joining him from the alert posted to crew.
Wet weather gear on- Fluro patches and bright yellows manned the decks below as deck hands ran to secure the trawler decks, and ensure the load was proper tied down keeping a balance while they navigated harsher conditions.
The harsh wind was stirring up the ocean, dark clouds blocking the sun like a solar eclipse.
“It’s the beginning, we’re on the outer edge of it. Worst place to be really.” Ryu was piloting the trawler through increasing waves like he was in the god Phoenix- no fear. The bow sank low, rising high covered in water and foam, dipping back down again for the next wave. A scary sight at sea.
Dangerous waves grew bigger by the minute, tossing the small ship through the waters and throw them around the bridge. A freak wave slammed into the side of the trawler, engulfing part of the deck, throwing everyone starboard Ken landing on Jun pinning her to equipment- and the sounds of a line cracking caught all of their attention.
Snap- a rope holding a grappling hook line in place broke, sending it flying across the deck, hitting one of the deck hands sending him flying over the edge as the wave receded. Everyone acted fast. A lifesaver floating ring was thrown overboard. Slowing the trawler down as crew hurried to pull him back in.
A chorus of back slapping and laugher resounded across the deck as the young chap pulled himself over the side, falling onto the deck like a penguin.
“Hang on next time Burke.” A few of his friends help him stand up, relieved he was still with them.
“That was close.” Burke yelled, resuming his tasks soaking wet, as heavy rain pelted down on them, the conditions worsened by the minute.
“We aren’t far from them.” Akimitsu reported. “We can’t go in closer, the undersea rocks in those parts will rip the hull to shreds in this weather.”
“I’ll go with the rescue team.” Ken offered. Watching as the sky darkened with the kiss of night. It was going to be rough night ahead.
“Stay frosty.” He nodded in Ryu’s direction, falling into the habit of Gatchaman - Turning to Jun.
“Did you even have to ask.” She said, already opening the door, and being greeted by rocket blast of wind and rain hitting them like darts.
Racing to the small powered boat, three of them jumped on board as the deckhand named Gregory powered up the motor. Blasted by wind, rain, large waves, it was a wonder the yacht was still floating.
A detached life raft floating away in the distance, swirling around in the choppy ocean, from them told its own story. The family had attempted to leave, and their only way out was swept off to sea. Clinging for life against the storm, they were on the only place they could be without drowning.
He could see the family standing on the deck, Jun watchful beside him, assessing the situation. The mast was broken in half, and the yacht was lisping to the starboard, filling with water.
“We can throw them a line, then one by one bring them to the boat, we get in too close… “ The young Deckhands eyes widened. “They’re going to flip any moment.”
“I’ll swim over.” Jun shouted over the storm. “Start helping them to the boat.”
Before Ken could respond, she was in the water swimming, towards the yacht holding a rope with a life ring attached.
He wasn’t going to sit around and wait.
“Keep it steady.” He ordered.
Diving into the choppy ocean. Swimming after her, she reached the yacht before him, placing the ring around the youngest boy.
“We tie a line to your boat from the yacht.” The father shouted over the storm.
Shaking his head at the idea, it was too risky.
Jun spoke quickly to the parents, father nodding as he went into the water with his son holding onto the life ring.
Ken reaching them- swimming back to boat, helping them stay above water until they reached the hands ready to pull them into safety. He swam back towards Jun and repeated it with the mother and her eldest daughter.
Jun indicated she would swim with the young girl finding a life ring.
Without warning the little girl bolted down the stairs, into the hull of the yacht. Jun ran after her and to Ken’s horror a wave flipped the whole yacht over, the mast pulling the luxury yacht under.
The family watched on horrified.
“She must have gone after her teddy bear.” The wife cried, terrified for her child. The father almost jumped back in. Ken stopped him.
A few minutes passed, and other wave caused the whole thing to flip back upright, with no sign of Jun and the little girl.
Placing a firm hand on the father’s chest, he indicated he had experience in rescue, leaping into the water, maintaining his focus on rescuing Jun and the little girl.
Pulling himself up onto the lisping boat, he called out her name. He heard the child’s cries. The water was high, wading into the bottom sections of the boat, he found her, bringing the five-year-old to surface clutching her precious teddy bear.
Jun was no where to be seen.
By this time her father had used a safety line to reach them. Handing him his terrified daughter, the noise of the storm drowning out verbal communications. Seeing them reaching the boat, and Gregory pulling them inside he called out for Jun running along the half sunken deck.
No response. Signalling the boat to return to the trawler, he refused to allow the family to remain in danger. Gregory would have to come back for them.
Swimming in the raising waters inside the boat, searching for her. Swishing in the water like a shark on the hunt he called out her name over and over.
The yacht rocked as the ocean tossed it about like toy boat in a bathtub, thrown around he clung to railing trying to find her.
For a brief moment he’d thought he’d lost her in the depths of the ocean, wildly racing around without a response from her. All the missions they ran during the war and their narrow escape from space and he’s lose her in a storm on a sinking boat.
Conviction coursed through him.
“Jun…” He bellowed. In that moment he saw the fluro colours of her wet weather clothing in the darkness.
Diving over the side into the churning waters she was caught up in the sail. Drawing out a knife he cut the lines dragging her down, ripping through the fabric like a madman. Gripping her in his arms, and pulling her to the surface and back onto the yacht, placing her on the deck as he breathed life back into her.
Pumping her chest hard, begging her to live, breathing air into her lungs she coughed, spluttered and rolled over.
“The little girl.” Frantically she looked around. Trying to breath, she was gasping for air.
“She’s okay.” He shouted. “With her parents.”
The bow of the yacht dipped dangerously under the water, grabbing Jun he pulled her with him into the ocean as it sank beneath the waters.
“Swim…” He barked.
Dragging her semi-conscious body along with him towards the distant life raft. It was their only real chance of survival.
Powering his legs and holding onto her tight as the he struggled to grip the rope. With a mighty heave of his powerful biceps, he threw Jun into the life raft, pulling himself up beside her. Quickly turning her onto her side and clearing water from her lungs as coughed out an ocean.
Drawing in ragged breaths the Swan dragged herself to her knee’s. He put an arm around her shoulder, they had no control over the raft as it bobbed in the water like a cork hit by erratic waves, he sealed the shelter shut. Keeping the weather at bay. A small plastic window the view of the storm.
Collapsing into the sheltered raft, the storm throwing them around like corks, it tossed them further out to sea. He had no idea where they were heading.
Jun pulled herself over him. “The family?”
“They’ve gone back to Ryu, he’ll take care of them.” He held her tight, both soaked to the core and trying to keep them warm.
Acknowledging his words, she clung to him, they had no control over the raft in the high seas around them. Hanging on tight as the winds and churning ocean was deciding their fate.
Darkness surrounding the small life raft as it lifted up onto higher waves almost tumbling it over. Tossed around like an out of control car, slamming into the waves as the storm didn’t let up.
“Shivering in the bottom of the raft, Jun moved slightly to help in balancing the tiny boat as they crested another rolling wave, sliding down the other side into the next and up again.
“Captain Ryu has to be around here somewhere.” Ken called over the wind.
“We could literally bump into him at any moment.” Jun said hopefully.
“I hope you’re right on that one.” He said.
Hour passed as the storm gradually lost its fury, calming down as its energy drained away, they both settled into the bottom of the raft, completely exhausted from a night of battling it. The sun rose and the seas calmed.
Jun yawned, snuggling into his arms. “We have a few supplies in here.”
“I’ll keep watch.” He offered, pulling back the protective canopy revealing nothing but ocean.
That was their life for days. Rummaging through a few survival basics in the raft, and keeping an eye out for ships.
Water was down to mouthful an hour, and they had another problem lurking in the depths.
“Sharks.” Jun sat up straighter from the bump under the raft.
“Real ones I bet.” Ken noted, seeing a few fins out in the water. It was dawn, prime feeding time.
“Katse was the master of mechanical creatures.” Jun forced a smile, watching a fin headed straight for them. “I’m not sure if they were good memories, but we had out adventures.”
“Not sure what was worse.” Ken readied the raft for impact. “They were dangerous times, but we had purpose too.”
The shark diverted at the last minute. A few fins surfaced close by.
“Purpose.” She mused. “We still do, its just different now.”
He was silent for a moment, as Gatchaman he made a difference, and he had to admit he loved being a leader a mysterious person to the world and a hero. A civilian was different, and finding a purpose was harder.
“Hmmm…” Jun placed a thoughtful hand on her chin. “We can paddle.”
“It would likely attack it, drifting isn’t much fun either.” Ken sat back down next to her. “We can have shark for dinner.”
“Sharks aren’t my bucket list for meal options,” she giggled.” It’s an added bonus to our adventures.”
“Being stranded in a life raft, was that on it?” She ventured. “ No food left, and barely a drink. We can die together after all.”
“You won’t die here.” Side glanced her, with a hint of affection. “ I won’t allow it.”
She blushed, looking out the canopy window of the circular raft.
“What will we do to pass the time?” she threw her hands in the air. “It’s boring waiting to be rescued or eaten by sharks. Do you have a deck of cards?”
“Do think it’s optional?” He chuckled. “I’ll let the sharks know they’re not on my bucket list or yours so go away, and no… no cards either.”
“I’m sure they’ll listen.” She said dryly. “You could try.”
“I smell like a fishery, now worse.” He indicated by lifting his arms.
“So do I, we can be smelly together.” She lightly shook her head, running fingers through tangled hair. “A shower and a brush, some toothpaste.”
Moving in closer, he placed an arm around her shoulder.
Drawing in ragged breaths she leaned in closer to him, laying her head on his shoulder. Shifting she moved so they were facing each other.
“We could fill in time doing other things.” She hinted, a small tug of her lips he wasn’t catching onto her meaning fast enough.
The softness of her lips brushed his chapped lips, lightly kissing him. Softening as she closed her eyes for a second, he could feel the tiny flame that had gone untouched ignite. Lost in the moment, all he could see was her, his heart hammering.
Without another thought he drew her into his arms, holding her tight, the moment changed, becoming more intimate.
“Hey, you’re alive.” A voice interrupted them. Ken drew away.
The sounds of engine and people calling out caught their attention, as the trawler drew alongside of them.
“Hey Ken.” Ryu chortled hanging from the ladder. “I’m surprised you didn’t see us or hear us.”
He heard, but for once in his life he’d had no sense of urgency.
“Sharks are getting around, so get out of there.” The Owl bellowed.
Exchanging long glances with Jun, reading each other like they did on missions.
“I ahh… was keeping an eye on the sharks.” Jun cleared her throat. “We’re coming.”
She jumped up to the ladder dangling down from the side of the trawler. He followed closely, disappointed they were interrupted.
Ryu greeted them and proceeded to fill them in on the last few days they’d been searching for them. The Family were put onto a rescue ship in the area and take to one of the Islands for medical. One of the deck hands threw them some blankets, an applause for their safe return followed.
Making their way to cabin, Ryu encouraged them to have time to clean up, rest and have some food, they deserved it after rescuing the family. Gregory had told the rest of the crew of their bravery, and a new respect for the two of them especially Jun’s actions resounded amongst them.
Showering in the small room, and dressing, he met Jun inside the cabin after her shower. She stole glances in his direction, and he was doing the same.
“We need to talk about this.” She turned to face him.
“Talk about what?” He pretended to be dumb.
“What’s going on between us.” She quizzed.
She raised a quizzical brow, waiting for something.
Barely enough room to turn around with two people in there, she threw her arms around his neck.
“We were here I believe an hour ago.” She said. Green eyes boring into his.
“We could do dinner at the shack, get started on cleaning out the hanger for your renovation.” He blurted out.
She chuckled, with a glint of mischief in her eye. “We can do that, soon, I want to move out. I’ll start designing the space, and materials. Shouldn’t take long to make it liveable. A few weeks for a bedroom and shower. The rest can be done with me living there.”
“The new floor is down in the hanger, it’s dove grey, painted concrete, and no dust, better than it used to be-“She placed a dainty finger on his lips.
His breath quickened as she pressed her warm body against him, drawing him in closer.
Parting her lips and inviting him to kiss her again. His body and mind fought against all reason as her arms drew him down to meet her lips. After that he lost all sense of time, as he passionately engaged her lips in a dance of tongues crushing her against him, losing all control in a moment fuelled by awakened desires.
The intensity of his feelings hit like a freak tidal wave against the bow of the ship sending it of kilter.
Eventually they parted, panting for air. He kissed her again wanting to feel the tenderness of her lips and touch as she ran fingers through his hair, it was heating up the room. He fiddled with her clasps on her bra underneath the thin shirt, wanted to touch her soft flesh, clutching a breast in his hand. They came free as she ripped off her shirt. Allowing his lips to travel her body.
She tasted like the ocean and hints of lavender, moaning from his touch, he sucked on a nipple. She was shaking, as she touched his skin under his shirt running her slender fingers down his flesh, turning him on in a way he wanted more of it as he pants grew tighter. She pulled it off, eyes dilating with desire.
It was signal things were getting out of hand.
Forcing himself to Pull away. She was visibly shaking, as he untangled himself from her, every part of him wanted her badly he was in physical pain.
“I’m sorry.” He mumbled. “We can’t do this.”
“Why?” she asked, collapsing against the wall part naked.
He made a lame excuse to leave her there.
Pulling on his shirt. He had to report to the skipper…. Anything to prevent the urge to fall into her arms again, and strip off the rest of their clothing for a few hours of making love.
She didn’t come after him, and he was grateful for it. They had both stepped over a line he had tried so hard to keep.
It had been a few weeks since their time at sea and her moment of being blow away by Ken’s kiss. He’d been distant, and she understood why, the impact of their romantic moment took them both by surprise. But he came around one day, quietly. She was having panels placed in the hanger, and flooring. The workers she employed for the job were on a break. Happy with the progress she’d be ready to move in within a week.
He brought her a soda, and asked if they could still be friends, and she accepted him with a light- hearted smile. The awkwardness gone he asked if they could have dinner in a few days. Delighted she accepted and offered to cook, and as usual he allowed her into his kitchen. The evening had strengthened their friendship, bringing them closer than ever before.
“I can’t see.” Jun giggled as he placed a blind fold over her eyes, securing it into place.
They’d finished a meal in the shack, she cooked Thai, and enjoyed a lovely evening talking over a few candles. When she was about to leave he instead had other ideas.
Playfully Ken held her arms guiding her as they walked.
“You’ll have to trust me.” He said.
“Why? Where are we going?” She found herself being assisted onto a motorbike, he hoped on front and telling her to hold onto his waist.
“You’ll see soon enough.” The vibrations of the engine kicked into gear underneath her.
He kicked up the stand and they headed off down a dirt track from the sounds of the gravel under the tires.
Holding on tight and moving with him, the cold breeze touching her skin as he turned off onto what felt like a grassy plain. Stopping not far from the shack, he helped her off the motorbike.
“I bet we’re near your house.” She guessed, excited, did he have something new there to show her.
“You’re good at this game.” He laughed. Ken had lightened up a lot over the few years since the end of the war. She was seeing a side of him she didn’t know existed.
“I have my talents, and I was once the Swan.” She informed him.
“You still are the Swan, no one else can be you.” He said, guiding her up a hill. Bringing her out her memories of her teenage years.
“Okay, you can remove the blindfold.” An impish grin spread across his handsome features as he pulled off the silk covering her eyes. Overwhelmed with excitement as she stood at the door of a round building.
“When?” She asked. “How did I not see it?”
“Wanna come inside?” He held the keys out for her. “I kept it a surprise.”
Opening the door, she stepped into a circular wonderland with a dome ceiling. The design and interior, turned out exactly how she’d planned it on paper- deep blues and bright whites, red cushions on the comfortable lounges moulding the walls like the night skies and Ken’s Gatchaman birdstyle.
“You like it?” He asked intently. “I had the lady place everything like you’d said…”
“It’s beautiful.” She walked around the observatory.
“We can star gaze, and this is the best time to do it.” He indicated to the new telescope perfectly positioned in the centre of the room.
Pressing a few buttons, the central dome opened up a panel revealing a splendour of diamond studded night sky above them.
“This is an added feature.” He pressed some more buttons and the other panels of the entire dome opened revealing clear glass beneath it. The velvety night sky was a studded display of floating diamonds on an ocean of outer space before her.
Walking up the stairs onto the platform, expressing her delight, he lit up from her reaction. Sitting in the comfortable seat as he punched in a few co-ordinates into the telescope.
“I’m looking at open space, nothing there.” Confused she looked up at him standing close to her.
“That’s where the world saw the firebird emerge, and flew around the planet three times before we came back to Earth.” His tone softened. She placed her eye over the lens again, staring into the darkness of space.
They had shared memories of that time before she was rendered unconscious. Jun… Jun…Jun… Ken’s desperate voice was the last thing she heard, his hand reaching out as if to catch her was the last thing she saw. The alien environment was a nightmare for all of them. Shuddering like the temperature had dropped she turned her eyes skyward once more staring into the blackness.
For the first time since they landed the full impact of their escape hit her.
“Jun.” He caught her as she trembled, her legs gave way from under her. “I said goodbye to Jinpei in that place… I thought we would all die. I heard you calling me, and it went black.”
“I know, I saw what I thought was Dr Nambu walking towards me, like a dream… the amulet rose in the air- and our ship came together, after that it was eerie.” Walking to the large round daybed relaxing together, it was the first time they’d talked about the last mission.
“You saw him.” Tears welled in her eyes, she had times when she truly missed the only father she’d known. “I woke up in a hospital, on a drip being told we crashed.”
“I know, I… my memories are blurred, by then I was delirious.” Ken sat up, drawing his knees to his chest. “I should have been dead.”
Choking back on tears from the memories, she was glad he wasn’t.
“It was like it was his ghost. He was speaking to me, he wanted us to live… in my dazed state I thought it was to be ghosts- we would die there. I didn’t expect to wake up again.” Ken was lost in his memories for a while.
“It was a dark place to be in for all of us.” She agreed, lost in her memories of their terrifying mission. Galactors back was broken and diffused in weeks afterwards.
“What’s next on the Bucket list?” She tried to brighten a dark moment. Laying back drawing up her knees, sighing wistfully.
“I’m not sure.” He laid back with his arm behind his head. She turned on her side facing him.
“We can gaze at the stars.” He whispered.
“We could.” She whispered back. “We could be more than friends too.”
It was risky in a way, but she couldn’t shake it. The chemistry between them had grown strong, how could he ignore it?
His forehead wrinkled in confusion.
Watching her intensely. “You’re someone I’ve known most of life, I feel…I…don’t want too…” He stopped mid-sentence, like he wasn’t so sure of his words.
“Ken sometimes.” She giggled.
He wasn’t like Joe- her ex-fiancée had no problem seducing her on their first date, she was swept up in his world. He didn’t hold back when it came to making love, there was no way he would have stopped like Ken did. Joe knew all the right moves with a virgin, she was swept away with his charm at sixteen.
In those moments with Ken she felt like she was a virgin again, he treated like a delicate flower yet to bloom.
“It’s not like we don’t already know each other.” She tested. “We can be friends, and have sex occasionally-“
“No.” He shook his head abruptly, cutting her off.
Embarrassed she faltered on her own suggestion. She was wanting it to be more between them, she could feel the sexual tension even now.
“If we have sex, it changes things no matter what we agree too. I want you to be in my life without complications. That’s why we won’t be friends-with-benefits.” He gently touched her arm, his tender blue eyes betraying him of something more. “Not us…”
His chivalrous behaviour was another surprise. His kiss set her on fire, blocking any thoughts of her past and other loves. He touched her soul in that moment, and couldn’t stop thinking about it ever since.
She blurted out. “You’ve slept with other women-“
“Rumi and I slept together before she died, and I loved her, I know the difference between it being physical and emotional.” He stopped, deep emotions wracked him of memories fading into shadows. “We wanted to get married someday, I loved her so much. She knew who I was, and she was willing to wait for me if it came down to it. She understood if we were activated again I couldn’t be in a relationship. The thing is, love is better than sex on its own.”
“I’m sorry.” She said, resting her head on his chest, she understood his meaning, she loved true intimacy and missed it immensely.
“You lost so much… it’s heartbreaking.” She empathised. Intimacy was also painful when it died.
He sighed, like he wanted to find the right words. “I treasure this time with you. Being in a relationship, giving everything to one person, heart and soul, is different from one-night of sex.”
She was enjoying the intimacy of the moment and heartfelt conversation. Connecting with his thoughts, and past anguish. Her heart was aching for more being so close, she loved the deepening bond between them, and knowing him below the surface.
“Joe was my first serious relationship. Koji I was too young to really be in love, it more a few innocent kisses and awkward moments.” She sighed, rolling over onto her back, shifting so her legs stretched out away from him, and resting the back of her head on his chest.
“You like being in control Ken.” She stated, a trait she’d known since childhood and was even more ridged as a teenager- but it grew worse during their time as a team.
“If I let my emotions rule me, then how could I have pulled us through and led the team?” He said quietly.” I’m not Joe… one day in your mind you’ll stop comparing us.”
“You think I’m doing that?” Jerking a little, she moved searching his face for clues. His stoic mask was blocking anything she could read there.
“Yes, it’s natural, I’m not going to be compared to my best friend.” He confessed. “We’re different people, and still have things to talk about there if we’re moving from friends into something deeper.”
“Like you comparing other women to Rumi including me.” Her tone softened. “She was the love of your life.”
He admitted he hadn’t considered that in his ruminating. Making love to someone, and their thoughts turning to a past lost lover, especially one who was significant in his life.
“Umm… wanna look at some stars.” Breaking the tension, Ken shifted to move off the daybed.
They spent more time looking at the stars, searching for constellations and being close. She loved his touch, and depth. Ken was like layers, you had to peel them back to get to the person he kept in tight check.
A comfortable silence fell between them for while staring into the night sky with moon moving slowly on its path towards dawn.
Gradually they drifted off to sleep, being woken by the warm golden sun streaming through glass, and the feeling of hard muscles against her back, a leg tangled with hers. Waking up with Ken’s body moulding her, his arm casually over her waist. Steady warm breath tingled the back of her neck, warming her like a soft blanket thrown over them.
Yawning, she snuggled in closer. “We should do this more often, I enjoyed last night.”
He woke more abruptly shifting a little, like he had cuddled up to her unconsciously he didn’t exactly move away in a hurry. She took a second to enjoy that reaction from the Eagle. Eventually he did move, sighing internally she could have laid there with him all day against her.
He warmly responded with a sheepish smile- messy chestnut hair and crumpled clothing, he was cute first thing in the morning. “Coffee and breakfast, I need something.” He mumbled.
“I see you have a few supplies here already.” Indicated to the bar fridge as he opened it revealing orange juice and milk inside, a box of cereal, a few bowls and spoons. He’d been prepared for a night out with her under stars. It was romantic, and he was doing it without even trying.
“I have a lot to do today.” He said. “They’re working on the gyprock, and I’m helping with the work.” He brightened.
“I have a few classes on today. I’m building a design portfolio and its loads of work.” She stood up, walking over to him. “I’ll have the swatches for the paint today for you. Two assignments due in a few days.
“I at least want a goodbye kiss.” She snaked her arms around his neck, playing with his hair.
“I have morning breath.” He warned, playfully.
He kissed her tenderly on the cheek, sending warm shivers through her, winking as she smiled warmly back.
Walking out of the building and locking it up he handed her an extra key. “Come up here anytime.”
“I will, it’s a lovely spot.” She replied.
The sun rose in the sky as he hammered in nails, stretching his biceps carrying in timber for parts sections to be finished and holding on place panels of dusty wall gyprock as it was nailed into place. Being part of the building team boosted his esteem, he was growing stronger through work.
The sun rolled across the skies day after day from that time on for a few weeks, his days were much the same, and his house progressed. Sometimes slow- Jun walked through it with him one late afternoon.
He’d been into the ISO hospital for his tests and was waiting on the results. So far, he hadn’t heard from his doctor. Trying to blot out the negative thoughts roaming through his mind, he poured all his focus into work.
“It’s feeling more like home.” She commented. Arriving on her motorbike, pulling a newly forming book of samples out her backpack.
Inviting her to join him, they had recently put in the staircase. Walking through the upstairs level of house she was walking into rooms asking about the colours and finishes he would prefer. Opening her folder and pulling out colour swatches, she placed them in parts of the room.
“Carpet and more flooring samples arrived this morning, I put them over there for you.” He indicated.
Walking over to the huge window in the main bedroom. The view of the mountain ranges was stunning from it, the place brought him peace. He had brought a mattress up there some nights.
Hearing sounds of her excitement, he walked away from the view to see what she was going about.
Swallowing hard, his stomach was doing flips. Joy filled him hearing her gasping at the bathroom layout, and huge wardrobe space. The tiles ready to be laid in place. His reading room off to the side would be filled with books wall to wall and other personal items.
“I like it.” She approved.
After a worksite coffee and chat, she had to leave, she was moving in today and was waiting for the truck to arrive. He loved how she had turned a few dusty rooms into a modern living space.
Following her back, he wanted to do a few things at the shack before continuing the work on the house.
A message on his answering service sent cold shivers through him. It was his doctor wanting him to call as soon as he could. Pacing the room as the phone rang, he nervously picked it up, seeing private caller he couldn’t be completely sure it was his doctor.
“Joe.” A smile spread across his face as he heard the voice on the other end.
“Yeah its me.” He replied.
“Sounds noisy, where are you these days.”
“Travelling, I’m on an Island for a few weeks.” He sounded on edge, like he was wanting to talk about something else.
“Have you spoken to Jun of late?” Ken queried.
“She mentioned you two went out on Ryu’s trawler. How’s the old Owl going?” He replied.
“Loving being a fisherman, and he has a boyfriend.” He chuckled.
“Ahhh… what?” The Condor sounded shocked. “Who...ahh…”
“Yeah, we met him when came into port, nice enough guy.” Ken kept his tone light. “You should drop in on him sometime let him know your alive.”
“Sure, look, I just wanted to thank you for looking out for Jun.” Joe sounded like he was in a hurry.
Dropping his tone more serious. “You in trouble?”
“I’m travelling, checking things out, working out my life.” He vaguely replied. “Nothing to worry about.”
“She’s had a few dates with other guys.” Ken threw out the bait, seeing if Joe had plans of coming home soon.
“She’s free to do what she wants.” Joe Inhaled deeply. “I don’t own her.”
“So, it doesn’t bother you at all, she’s moving on.” He tested the waters with him.
He said tensely. “I’m fine with it.”
“That’s good, glad to hear it’s okay between the two of you.” He kept his tone even.
A female voice in the background, she was speaking to Joe.
“You’re new girlfriend?” He asked him.
“Business partner.” Joe corrected softly. ”With benefits.”
“Benefits.” A sharp edge crept into his tone. Joe and women, he knew how to make it complicated.
“What kind of business?” He interrogated. “Something you need help with?”
“I’m helping her out, nothing serious, a few odd jobs.” He brushed off.” Don’t worry about it, Its nothing serious.”
“So…I got a few interesting photos from Jun recently.” Joe asked.
“Really, what did you think of the photography?” Ken stifled a chuckle, he had to admit it was creative.
“Creative, but a waste. Pity.” He huffed. “ She hate’s me that much?”
“I doubt she hates you, but she was pissed off for a long time.” Ken threw in. “You deserve it.”
He snorted a few short comments, he promised to make it up to her.
-Saying his goodbyes.
“Yeah, bye.” Ken hung up.
The phone rang again, this time it was his doctor, asking him to come into the office and discuss his test results. He made the appointment, a tremor in his hand as he hung up.
Trying not t mull over it, he set about getting his plane ready for the next day. Seeing Jun walking over to the moving truck, he walked towards the hanger to greet her.
Hanging up the phone, he turned to Chiara.
“Next time I’m on the phone you keep quiet.” He scolded her.
“Why?” She narrowed her eyes with jealousy. “You’re afraid your ex-fiancé will hear you.”
Joe folded his arms walking ahead of her down the street.
“It was my best friend, not her.” He grimaced, she was a jealous woman.
She told him when they made love after his phone calls he was different. He was rougher with her, less loving. He would get up afterwards, and would go out for the rest of the night.
He’d spoken to Jun a few days before, and she told him she was moving out of the apartment. That stung him, and when he asked her why she told him since he wasn’t in her life he could stay out of it.
Another ouch moment.
Then he mentioned how he felt about her email and it was childish and beneath her to do it. The slideshow of photos in her stunning wedding gown, exactly how he’d pictured she’d look. A real bride, it’s what he’d said he wanted when they first started planning the wedding.
She mentioned wearing a kimono, have a few of her cultural traditions, and he baulked at the idea. She was marrying a full-blooded Italian, and they having a full catholic wedding a priest and rituals. She relented, and agreed saying she loved him and it was all that mattered.
She ripped the stunning gown to shreds, doing ridiculous shots all over Utoland, and she didn’t mention the photographer, probably some professional she paid, and didn’t want him to damage his camera. He tried to sus Ken out as to how much he knew of it. As usual Ken was playing dumb.
He didn’t even get her new address, he was that livid.
He mentioned coming to Utoland for a visit soon, and she told him she was seeing someone else, and to stay where he was.
He called Ken to find out who she was seeing, and wasn’t helpful as usual.
It infuriated him, he broke of their engagement to protect her, he didn’t want anything to be traced back if he was captured in the process of tracking the female assassin who murdered his parents.
He had his hesitations when it came to kids, but time had him wondering if he could handle being a father for Jun’s sake. She would take him back, he would have to apologise big time, with a few lavish dinners he could cook for her since she lacked the skills- flowers and gifts. But she would come back to him he was sure of it.
He had his mission, and the sooner he finished it the better, the sooner he got back home, blow off the competition, and get his woman back.
Bringing his mind back on his mission, they’d been following another lead.
Making their way to a rooftop on the opposite side of the road carrying a small drone. He was ready to scope the building, and find the rooms Randle worked from with his people. It was becoming more complicated as the months went by, his search for answers as evasive as ever.
Then he’d plan out with Chiara their next move.
Setting it up, he held onto the remote as it moved along the building wall to the open window.
The conversation between two of the mafia groups was becoming heated. They were in the middle of striking a deal, and by the looks of it, Randle wasn’t backing down.
The word Vienna came into the conversation. What he needed was time, dates and location. He’d stumbled onto a plan of Randle’s to take over several mafia groups forming a much larger group and picking up where Galactor left off.
They had a leader, and he had find out who. The Alien wasn’t coming back, so the groups had to do it on their own. At this point they had no real financial backing like the old syndicate.
“See there she is.” Chiara said excited. “We have her now, she’s their leader.”
Dressed in a red bodysuit with a mask, blond wig and holding a red rose smelling it from time to time as they talked. An uneasy feeling crawled over him like falling into an ant nest.
The woman had to be Rica, the name of the woman he learned in his investigations and some interrogations responsible for the death of his family.
“Stay here.” He handed the remote to Chiara.
“Where are you going?” She hissed.” We only planned to listen in today, find out their bigger plan.”
“I’m getting in closer, Rica is in the room and she’s the one I’m after.” He drawled. “Keep cosy, and bring in the drone, this will be over soon.”
“Joe.” She sounded annoyed.
“Get back to the hotel room Chiara, pack up and be ready.” He ordered. Straightening his trench coat, pulling out his sunglasses. It was a warm day and the coat would be hot, but after he’d finished he’d no longer need it.
Once he’d taken care of Rica, he was going back to Utoland and patch things up with Jun, and explain to her his reasons. Getting his life back again, he could rest knowing his quest for revenge had been fulfilled.
Ken would be keeping his competition at bay, with him hanging out with her, guys wouldn’t go near her seriously despite what Keen said. He’d at least be reliable to do that for him.
Entering the street, and casually adjusting his sunglasses, he strolled across the street, keeping a sharp eye on the place, he’d already counted the goons with guns, taking into account the ones that would be lurking in the stairwell, outside the room and the few in the alley waiting to leave. He counted thirty, a small number.
Swiftly pulling out two high-powered semi-automatic hand guns from under his coat, with silencers in place, swinging them into place, strategically aiming bullets into black suited goons as they tried to stop him.
Moving like a cat stalking a mouse, his shoes not making a sound he crept up the stairs. Easily making his way into the building, and towards the locked door of the room containing Rica- the assassin.
The sounds of people moving inside told him they hadn’t worked out he was there. The door opened and a man with a semi-automatic rifle stepped out.
“Shit.” He cursed diving for cover into a room close by. A few deep breaths, and he shot out the door, it took one bullet to take the man with a more powerful weapon down. Racing into the room, it was empty.
“Shit, shit shit.” Joe cursed, searching the walls for a secret passage door.
Finally working it out, reloading his weapon, he pushed in the panel as the floor opened up revealing a narrow stairwell, walking down slowly, keeping his gun ready. He ended up in a basement. The sounds of someone above him sent him into a panic, and the door above him slammed shut, with bolts locking into place.
He’d been led into a trap.
Before flying out he told Jun about his appointment, sensing his apprehension she asked if she could come with him. He wasn’t sure, but in the end, he accepted her offer.
His Oncologist team had taken a few analyses, of the samples, sitting in the office the doctor a man with years of experience in treating cancer and one of the ISO’s top medical personnel brought up the scans on a screen.
He spent time showing Ken the new cysts forming inside of him.
“We can operate soon, run some more tests on them and see if they’re malignant. They still could be benign.” The older man adjusted his glasses, waiting for Ken’s response. Jun reached over for his hand, squeezing it.
“What if its malignant? More chemo?” He asked quietly.
“Yes Ken, it’s the process of making sure we have got all of it.” The Doctor sat back behind his desk maintaining his serious demeanour.
“I can book you in for the operation this week, we’ll take care of you.” He promised. “We all know what you sacrificed for our planet.”
Standing up, and shoving his hands into his pockets, the Eagle strolled over to the window, silently staring out of it. Jun’s eyes followed him, he could feel her gaze boring into his back.
He had fought battles bravely. Never backing down when he could have using the dangerous weapon, and cancer scared him more than facing a visible enemy.
In his dream during treatment before their last mission, his father had told him… Ken don’t be afraid of death.
“I’ll do the operation, but no chemo again.” He turned to face the doctor. If it was benign tumour he’d live but more cancer… dying like a sickly skeleton in a bed with tubes. There was no dignity for him in that kind of death.
Jun covered her mouth with her hand, looking away, he saw a glimmer of tears in her eyes.
Leaving the office, she touched his arm.
“Will you give up?” She asked with a pleading expression.
He didn’t have an answer for her.
“You’re a fighter, you can’t throw your life away-“She implored him.
“I’m not.” He halted. “Shrivelling up like a worm. I’ve seen what happens to people who go through treatment after treatment. Is that a way to die?”
Lost for words, she walked beside him to the exit, walking into the sunshine it had no effect on his mood.
“I’ll be here when you wake up.” She said. “I’ll be here for you… don’t tell me you thought you had to go through it alone.”
He words touched his heart. She was the one who risked her life for a cure of the illness. Find a way to stop the effects of the weapon on his body.
She put a comforting arm around his waist, turning to face her, he drew her into an embrace. He needed to feel something in that moment. She snuggled into his shoulder, throwing her arms tightly around him. With Jun in his life he was no longer alone, she was always there.
“I know.” His voice thickened. “I know you will be.”
The time of the operation came, and he had the tumours removed. He woke up from the anaesthetic with Jun sitting beside him holding his hand. Pain in his abdomen from the incision and internal operation, another scar to add to his collection.
A warm smile spread across her heart shaped face, gently kissing his forehead, and welcoming him back. She spent as much time as the visiting hours allowed over the next few days of his recovery. When he was finally released from the hospital with orders to take it easy she drove him home.
“Don’t dote on me.” He scolded. “I’m tougher than I look.”
Fluffing his pillows and making him soup, it was too much.
Waving a dismissive hand, she indicated he needed the rest, and being released from hospital was on the condition he wouldn’t over do it. He would bust stitches internally and externally.
“You’re not going out after Galactor today are you?” She asked, pushing him into the bedroom. “Any urgent battles we need to fight today?”
“No.” He answered.
“Good, get some sleep, and don’t think about doing work. I’ll be here on the lounge keeping watch.” Said. “If you move I’m tying you to the bed.”
“You wouldn’t.” He mocked.
“Yes- I would, don’t mess with me Ken Washio.” She knelt down beside the bed as he drifted off to sleep. “I’ll chain you to the bed if I have too.”
Chuckling he wouldn’t put it past her.
“Jun.” He whispered. “Stay with me, you don’t have to sleep on the lounge.”
Lying down on the bed next to him, she gently rested a hand on his chest snuggling up to him, the scent of spring blossoms drifted past him. Mussing her thick hair with his hand he warmed from her touch. It was like a healing balm to his pain, dulling the internal aching from the surgery.
He was in a happy place being held in the arms of the woman he loved. He never thought he’d know what it was like to be in love again, and being with her was renewing his spirit.
Two weeks later….
They’d flown to the small village for his annual visit to the birth place of his father and Dr Nambu, while his parents had moved to Utoland before he was born, he treasured his time there as being part of his family history.
Spending most of the day, exploring the small villages in an area that was close to his heart with Jun, and spending the time with an old family friend.
She’d been showing them her Japanese gardens with bridges and small water courses through it, green foliage, a small avenue of cherry blossoms, with budding flowers. Shops and tailors making traditional garments and trades, it was a busy village, with gossiping on corners and old friends and relations greeting each other warmly and some not so.
They were staying a few days exploring the village and relaxing. Staying under the roof of an old friend.
Yuki was proud of her garden, she’d spent many hours working in it since she was a young bride. He was gathering ideas from her for his own future garden. She was delightful to part with tips on starting it properly.
“Thanks Yuki.” Bowing respectfully, she was, a friend of his father in their youth. She’d once told him her parents wanted an arranged marriage between Kentaro and herself. Village gossips enjoyed the scandals surrounding their refusal to marry.
Then there was Kazoburo Nambu. She said his name affectionately, with a haunted twinge, and saddened eyes. He had his honour and duty as a man to the world- she said turning away.
But she ended up marrying a business man many years older, after Kazoburo left for the ISO. Ken had never been told the entire story of the things surrounding her arranged marriage, her father and Dr Nambu.
Streaky dark hair that looked it had been sprinkled with an abundance of salt was pulled back in a practical bun. Wearing a tan cotton kimono with a rich brown obi, she moved gracefully as she set the table.
They had been reminiscing as she poured him tea. A traditional lady in male and female roles, she insisted he sit, as she served out the light meal. Ken loved her cooking, and she enjoyed serving him noodles and fish on his visits.
Even though Yuki played the role well, she had a stronger nature under her soft obedient demeanour. She had survived on her own with young children after her husband’s death at a young age.
Her inner strength in the difficult situations was something he admired in her. She was like a second mother to him. She grew up with his father and Dr Nambu, and nursed his mother during her illness, for her kindness towards him as a boy he loved her like a blood relation.
She often told him stories of his parents courting and his father’s childhood- warming from the memories that were before his time. Jun had come with on this visit, and was busy helping Yuki with serving mochi for afternoon tea. Leaving the young girl around her youngest daughters age in the kitchen. She briskly raced back to Ken.
“She’s a pretty one…” Yuki said crisply, narrowing her dark eyes.” You don’t bring anyone else to visit me normally.”
She was right, he didn’t even bring Rumi to meet Yuki, normally he was alone.
She often pointed out to him marriage was a serious business. He had to pick his life partner on more than a pretty face and sexual attraction, a man and a woman can be blinded by things and end up with an unhappy marriage. Her interrogation skills on potential suitors and matches in the village was legendary.
“She’s beautiful, those green eyes… I can see why you’d be attracted Ken. Would she understand the dedication of a Washio male who always going off to war without giving his wife a second thought?” Yuki whispered. “Can she cook? I know you, she’s have to be able to keep up with your appetite.”
“War’s over Yuki, I’m retired.” He threw his hands in the air.” She can cook. Well learning…”
“Hummppff. Wars are never over. You’re drawn to conflict, like a fish to bait.” She scoffed. “There is always another lurking around the corner.”
“Not me, I can’t fly a fighter jet anymore.” He reminded her. “Cancer put a stop to a lot of things.”
“You still have arms and legs young man, it’s in your blood. Still breathing…” She scolded.” Washio men don’t have a history of surviving wars. Well get her pregnant before you go off to battle again, and you’ll keep the family line going. Hopefully it’s a boy to keep the name going.”
Ken choked on his tea, Yuki had no tack when it came to speaking her mind on subjects she found important.
“She’s smart, you have to get to know her, that’s why I brought her here.” He sighed internally.
”How well do you know her family? Is she educated?” She grilled.
“We’re old friends, and have only just started… well… seeing more of each other in the last two months.” He fumbled, feeling like a small boy again being dragged over coals, because of a broken set of Bonsai plants in her garden. He was practicing his kicks when he was ten years old visiting with Dr Nambu, and he missed his target. Taking down a whole shelf of bonsai, crashing to the ground along with them.
She was one of the few people that brought the future Gatchaman to his knees trembling, and he respected her for it.
“Mmm...” She narrowed her dark eyes again, adjusting her kimono.” You brought her here to meet me, she means more to you than friendship.”
“Sharp as always.” He said dryly.
Yuki’s husband had passed away when her youngest daughter was still a small child, a few years before Dr Nambu was murdered by Egobossler.
“What are you saying? I’m like my father?” He said. Straightening with those words, drawing in his emotions. He admired his father for his heroics, loved him until end even though it gutted him to have not known him as his real father for more than a few seconds.
She wasn’t intimidated by him. “A young woman deserves a man who is more than a soldier if she’s free to choose. Your father was honourable, dedicated, a leader, followed his closest friend and brother to the grave. From what you told me, he thought he was protecting you and your mother. But at times--“
Shaking her head in thought, sipping her tea.
“You had more than friend, feelings for Dr Nambu.” Leaning in, he watched her closely. He often didn’t speak of observations he made of people.
“Kozaburo Nambu, was a good man, but not perfect, even a man with honour like he had can...” Her words trailed away, eyes glazing like glass. “The past is the past.”
He had wondered about her relationship with Dr Nambu. She was in an arranged marriage by the time she was eighteen.
One day on a trip to the village her husband was away on business, and he was spending time with her two sons around his age, her daughter was yet to come into existence. They were renting a house on the waterfront as the doctor was wanted to spend a week there.
Coming back down the path to the small rental house, he witnessed Yuki in a dressed in a beautiful kimono, seated before Dr Nambu in the middle of a tea ceremony. The doctor’s usual stoic features softened, his eyes solely for Yuki.
The depth of emotion bonds between them couldn’t be mistaken. Their affections for each other ran deeper than old friends. Fluid stealth movements like he’d been taught, he made his way around the house to another window.
The intimacy between them flowed, as she gracefully handed him the cup of tea, brushing of her fingers against her softened her usually hard expression, bowing her head as he accepted her gift.
After a while he drew her to her feet, holding her hand, touching her cheek gently, he couldn’t see his face.
It was at that time Ken fled, feeling like an intruder in the private moment in his mentor’s life.
Yuki’s daughter Mitsu was born within a year of that visit. In years to come he wondered about her father, she’d stood at Dr Nambu’s funeral in the distance with Yuki.
It was hard for him to believe that Dr Nambu could have fathered her Mitsu, he couldn’t think of him having an affair with another man’s wife, even if he was in love with her.
Dr Nambu never breathed a word of any private life, he barely knew much about his background. He’d been single for as long as he could remember.
“These are divine.” Jun purred, emerging from the kitchen, changing the atmosphere of the room, brightening it with her presence. Yuki warmed with delight from her sincere compliments. Halting any further conversation on the last topic of long gone past.
“Yuki makes the best Mochi in all of Utoland and the Islands combined.” He said, pushing the thoughts of running off to find potential foes from his mind.
Excusing himself for a moment to walk outside and catch a breath of fresh air. Staring at the gardens, he’d be trying to create a new life, and Yuki was reminding of his family name curses.
A sense of guilt hung over him that his father died and he survived the war, for some reason it was like it was expected he would follow the same path.
Yuki meant well, at times her words were careless. Like the conversation he could from inside as Jun accepted a cup of green from her.
“Do you know the tea ceremony?” Yuki moved in closer to a bewildered Swan. Seeing Jun falter Yuki sat back shaking her head in disapproval.
“I have had some education.” She sipped her tea, watching Yuki over her cup, not giving away too much.
“If you’re going to date a Washio, you should learn a few traditions.” She crisply replied.
“Ahh… well… I can cook a variety of meals.” Jun responded, like she was being interviewed.
“You mean you can’t make basic noodles?” She said in disbelief. “You’re a Japanese girl, didn’t your mother teach you-“
“No, my mother didn’t.” Jun said stiffly. “I can cook noodles, and-“
He ran back inside. “Yuki that’s enough.”
“It’s okay Ken.” Jun, looked at her relaxing.” I didn’t know my mother, she died when I was a baby.”
Yuki’s eyes turned sympathetic. “I see, I’m sorry to hear Jun, a girl with no mother to teach her… sometime you can come here and learn from me.”
She stood up, drawing herself to her full height, barely reaching his chest. “You are guests in my home. I’m sorry to be unkind to you Jun.”
For all her words about a girl being subservient, Ken understood Yuki barely believed a word of it. Her son would tell a different story in how she raised his sister. She might know the tea ceremony, but she was also independent and currently studying a degree in psychology in New Jork.
Not once in his memory, when he was a boy, did she allow him to get away with misbehaviour. Her weapon was to withdraw food, that brought him into line faster than a stick across the backside.
“I have something to show you Ken.” Turning to Jun, warming to her.” You can come too Jun.”
“What?” Ken asked curious.
“I’ve been keeping them in storage in honour of your family.” Yuki bowed as she spoke of them. “His marriage to you mother was a scandal. She was English, brightest blue eyes and creamy skin. She had spirit, it’s what attracted him.”
Yuki walked down the hallway of her traditional Japanese home, opening rice screen doors leading into other room until she came to storage room.
He observed her opening a trunk, and pulling out a few carefully wrapped items handing him one of the parcels, and one to Jun.
“Walk with me.” She indicated as they moved into another room. Setting the floor with a wide cloth she indicated the place the parcels close by.
“I have story to tell you about your great…great…great grandmother.” Yuki folded her legs underneath her, pulling the ties off one of the parcels. Catching a glimpse of colourful silk.
“There is a family tale of love going back a century…. You see I have known your father since I was a girl. We had been expected to marry.” She told him. “Of course, we didn’t. We were friends, and he’d fallen in love with an English girl visiting the village. But your grandmother told us the story one day as children. I’ve never forgotten it and became caretaker of these parcels when your mother died.”
“What do these parcels have to do with your story?” Ken asked sitting cross legged. Jun joined Yuki on the floor next to her.
“It goes back further in time. To a Japanese General named Daiki Washio.” She watched his face as she told the, story. Slowly opening the wrappings as she spoke.
The tale of Daiki Washio a samurai warrior and leader of men, unfolded in the words of Yuki. “ He was a brave samurai, who rose up to be a leader amongst his men. His sword skills were like none other in his ranks. But he had a weakness and he carefully kept it hidden inside of him.”
Both of them leaned in closer. “He was a master.” Ken said. “How did he die?”
“I’m coming to that.” Yuki had their attention- satisfied, she spread out the stunning hand dyed silk kimono before them. Jun gasped at its beauty. Hand painted with autumn tones of falling oak leaves and flower petals.
“His weakness was a beautiful Geisha apprentice coming of age. A girl of seventeen years old. He was ten years older than her.” Her tone softened. “Daiki contained his emotions tightly, hid his passionate love from her when he saw her on the streets of the village.
“She was as graceful as a swan with her fans, her dancing captivated him during the long nights with his fellow warriors drinking Saki in the tea house. She was coming of age…”
She drew in a breath. They waited. “Then one day she handed him a red box, he was invited to bid for her.”
“Red box?” Jun asked. Yuki explained the price of young geisha coming of age, she would no longer be an apprentice after it.
“The young geisha was popular and worth more money that he could afford as a soldier. But he had these kimonos passed down to him from his family. Their value would buy him a night with her, hoped. He was wrong, she was given to a Clan lord who paid an enormous sum.”
“What about geisha? Did she have any say in it?” Jun asked frowning.” Sounds romantic from his side of it. She had no choice but to sleep with the Clan lord, did she have any affection for Daiki.”
“Ahh.” A smile broke like the sun through clouds flew across Yuki’s face.
“I missed a few parts, sorry.” She corrected.” Her Geisha name was Fumichiyo.”
“Eternally beautiful.” Jun said.” Pretty name.”
“Geishas like to be mysterious, I think they like it that way, gives them a power over men.” Yuki, stood up inviting Jun to hold out her arms, placing the kimono on her shoulders.
“She was in love with Daiki.” Building the mystery. ”Her heart was broken that she wouldn’t be with him for her first.”
“But it’s not the end of it.” Yuki went on. “He left her for war with his Clan Lord. Returning a few a few years later to find she the Warlords mistress. She was not to have anyone else and he would challenge any man who touched his Geisha.”
“Chaiki wouldn’t be deterred, and he sent her a note. They met in private, and he confessed his love for her. For a while they secretly had an affair.”
“Where they discovered?” Ken watched as Yuki placed a beautiful crimson silk obi around Jun’s waist. Ceremoniously tying into an elaborate bow at the back. She was stunning to be held. The colours complimented her ivory skin. Sweeping her thick dark hair up into a bun with a long decorative gold hair pin, she was exquisite and graceful.
Handing Jun two fans, the Swan flicked them open with a skill taking Ken by surprise, in front of them she danced like a graceful butterfly. Fluid moves and tosses of her fans as she turned.
“You can do traditional dance.” Ken gasped, drawn in by her beauty. She winked, with a playful turn of her lips.
“Dr Nambu thought it would be a useful skill.” She informed him. “I was trained in some skills. You knew I did dancing as part of my training. He sent me places to learn the arts.”
“Yeah, but you never...like this…ahh…” He faltered, enchanted.
“Your naturally white skin is rare my dear.” Yuki noted, her eyes shifting between the two of them.
Jun signed heavily. “It’s a lacking of pigment, I have a skin disorder. Dr Nambu tested it when I was young, and there is no cure.”
Yuki chastised her. “Don’t be so ungracious, it’s part of your beauty- and legendary in the old days for a woman to born with skin like yours. Prized by Geisha’s.” Yuki warmly smiled. “You’d barely need the powder.”
“So, what happened? They got caught, and both died?” Ken concluded.
“She ran away with him.” Jun’s eyes widened in excitement, as the romantic tale of two lovers emerged, as they tried to guess the rest.
“Their love affair was their best kept secret, but a warlord obsessed with her had his spies. He was dedicated to his cause, and when the call came to go to into battle came again he brought her the only kimono he had left as a promise for when he returned. They would leave together far away from the Warlord. Torn, he left to fight in battle honouring his oath, and his loyalty to his Clan lord.”
Intrigued they asked her to tell them how it ended.
She’d opened the parcels- a pile of high quality silks and obi’s lay on the floor. Then she opened the last one.
“His promise to marry her.” She opened it.” This was to be her bridal kimono.”
Spread out before them was an incredibly beautiful heavy winter snow coloured silk, hand embroidered Kimono with white silk thread cranes, in flight, sprays of soft cherry blossoms, outlined in fine silver threaded details. The padded edge of the hem and long sleeves covered in extraordinary work. The matching obi was no less beautiful. A precious gift with the promise of marriage.
“A kimono like this is worth a fortune.” Yuki said.” It belongs to the Washio family.”
“What happened when he came back?” Did they marry and have kids?” Ken asked.
“She waited for him, but he didn’t come back.” Yuki sighed. “She discovered she was pregnant with his child, and was forced to leave her Geisha house to protect her unborn child from the warlord.”
“She left the village, taking the kimonos, with her. She sold a few to survive when he was born in a distant village. She wondered if Daiki would come to find her. One day someone did come looking for Fumichiyo, he’d searched villages trying to find her with a blood-stained letter and a bundle. It was his closest friend Haru bearing the sad news… Daiki Washio died in a battle, he would never return.”
“How…” Ken wondered.
“The warlord obsessed with Fumichiyo found out about them, he felt dishonoured by Daiki’s affair, demanding combat with the Samurai warrior. Neither warlord or Daiki survived their wounds in their one on one combat.”
“So- the child was given Washio as part of his name?” Ken concluded.
“She lied I believe, told them she had married Daiki in secret, in her heart she did marry him… so their son could bear the name of his father. In those days, it was possible for her lie and get away with it, he was brought into the fold of his fellow warriors when he was old enough.”
“It’s a sad story.” Jun signed. “Sounds like your family.”
“Yeah.” Ken echoed her. ”My, family has a way of doing tragedy, well.” What would be his? Die of cancer and no more Washio’s- it ended with him.
“Is it true.” Ken frowned.
Yuki pulled out an old piece of parchment. “It’s true. Read it, it’s his hand writing.”
Handing it to him, astounded, he was reading the letter a man who had written it in case he didn’t survive the coming battle. Telling her of his love and deep sorrow for not returning to Fumichiyo as he promised. She was to keep his family kimonos, he was the last of the Washio’s and wished her love and happiness.
“He sent her his swords, it’s what his best friend brought with him along with the letter.” A revelation washed over him, as his mind wandered to the long and short samurai blades carefully stored in his shack. His mother had told him they were from his father’s family bloodline.
“The letter hand been thrusted into the hands of his friend as Daiki drew his last breaths saying her name.” Yuki Assisted Jun out of the kimono.
They spent some time there as she packed them away, telling Ken they were part of his inheritance and when he a place to keep them he could pick them up next time he was visiting the village.
“That was a sad story.” Jun broke the silence. “It’s nice to have a legend in the family, knowing about your past.”
Indicating he was going to give Jun a tour of the village for the rest of the afternoon, and check on his new plane. The walked down the cobbled path into the village.
“I’m sorry she was blunt, she can be that way, but her heart is in the right place.” He causally threw an affectionate arm around her shoulder. “She didn’t mean to be so direct about your past.”
“I know, but I’m more accepting now about it. No records of my mother. I was left on the doorstep, who knows why she abandoned me.” She moved in closer, enjoying the affection that came so naturally between them.
“Do want to search for her?” He asked.
“I’m not sure, I feel one day I will go back to the orphanage for a visit.”
Snuggling closer under his arm, she was warm and inviting.
“Those kimonos are beautiful, and high quality in silks.” She said, getting excited.” They’ll look stunning in your home.”
“Huh, ahhh… how?” He dumbly responded, trying to picture it.
“Carefully because they’re antiques. You can ask the builder to put recesses in the walls in parts of the house, and proper glass display, but not in sunlight… I’ll research the proper methods, it’s a part of your family there…and the letter would be a lovely touch framed. You have so many spacious areas.”
“How about you do it, I’ll do the recesses for you, I’ve been learning some things since I started the house. Together we’ll work on it.” He agreed, he had no idea what to do with expensive silk kimono’s. Jun looked incredibly stunning in the one Yuki put on her.
“You’re relinquishing control, that’s a change.” She noted.
“I’m not desperately trying to save the planet.” He smirked. Feeling the gently sea breeze and gentle warmth of the afternoon sun.
He thought about the old story of his family, and how it reflected through the generations. She was right Washio men died young, it was like a curse passed down from father to son.
“You’re not the same man as your father, or Daiki.” She said. “Daiki obviously didn’t allow war to stop him from loving his Geisha.”
“I’m a descendant from Samurai.” Straightening his shoulders. Proud of his heritage- his mother had mentioned the name Daiki when he was a boy, and now he had his story. Jun raised an eyebrow and laughed.
“What?” he said Bewildered.
“You missed it.” She waved a hand confusing him further.
He didn’t, just didn’t react in a way that indicated he got it.
“Yes, it comes out in your, ridged dedication.” She studied his face. “I know, but ghosts have a way of sticking around if we let them, and then they run our lives.”
They walk towards the jetty, and checked on the plane before heading back to Yuki’s house for dinner.
A day later Ken was out seeing a few old friends, and Jun was spending personal time with Yuki.
The more she was in her company the more she understood Ken’s affections towards the older woman. Beneath the stoic surface was a loving mother and friend. She had to be emotionally strong in raising her children, earning an income- Keeping the family home from being lost because of the depts her late husband had left them, when he died of heart failure. During their marriage he had been away often.
During their walk through the garden, Yuki had indicated she had something she had been wanting to give to Ken for sometime and had asked if Jun would be able to help her.
Curious, Jun followed her into one of the rooms. Opening a slender wooden box, she unfolded the calico storage fabric revealing a black karate tengtegi. Known in some cultures and as a Gi, a form of training uniform in martial arts.
The smooth cotton fabric was high quality, Yuki held unfolded the top revealing a decorative circular Mon on the back of it.
The Eagle in golden thread in a circular embroidered, the contrasts of the black and gold made it stand out beautifully like the golden rays of a setting sun across a night sky. The wings of the Eagle were like leaves in a spread formation ready for flight. The Eagles turned head and claws filled the space of the circle.
“Who did this belong too?” She asked.
“Kentaro Washio, it was made for him as a wedding gift by Ken’s beautiful mother.” Yuki warmly smiled looking upon the garment. Remembering the day, the gift was presented. She told Jun of Kentaro’s emotional reaction as he put the jacket
“Its beautiful.” Jun studied the design, feeling the stiffness of the carefully stored fabric. A black belt lay in the box along with the pants.
Looking at Yuki she questioned why she hadn’t given it to him.
“Timing.” Yuki replied. “I think the timing is this visit. You are the person to give it to him.”
Stumped by the privilege she asked why, since it was in Yuki’s house and she had been the one who knew his parents well.
Yuki warmly smiled at her question, indicating she had a gift for her as well.
Opening the timber box, Jun gasped at the beauty of the elegant silk kimono inside it.
“It was made for a lady close to the heart of an Eagle.” Her smile broadened as Jun pulled out the silk kimono covered in printed patterns of pink cherry blossoms in full bloom on dark branches on a soft cream background darkened Ombre edges into almost black. A matching silk obi the colour of watermelon and shoes and white stockings her size lay inside.
Picking up a hair decoration, made especially to match the garment, she ran her fingers over the enamelled cherry blossoms on the metal comb.
Her heart hammered inside of her, from the words Yuki spoke and what she already knew deep down. Hoe many times had she caught Ken’s long looks in her in direction, the way he softened, more around her these days and affection in his touch.
She wanted to deny it, and the feelings that swamped her as he held her in his arms the few times they embraced.
Even when he pulled away from her on Ryu’s trawler after he kissed her so passionately, she could feel the longing wanting more, but he held back. All the time he was trying not to hurt her. She could see the fear in his eyes when it came to cancer and the prospects of it taking hold again had reared its ugly head.
The thought of losing him, cut her to pieces like a sword running through her.
When did it happen, her deepening feeling for Ken beyond friendship? She asked herself, when did she allow it?
He heart had been bruised when Joe left, and she was hesitant to give it again. But Ken had found his way into her heart, like a door left ajar for a second, unbeknownst to her.
Seeing the garments, she formed an idea for the evening ahead, mentioning it to Yuki the older woman agreed.
“Somethings can’t always be expressed…with words.” Yuki said tenderly, as she stood up from the floor as they began their preparations.
It was late afternoon by the time Ken arrived at Yuki’s house, it would be sunset soon and he was looking forward to finding out what the two of them had been up too during the day.
Yuki was in her room when walked in. Noting Jun’s absence, he called out to her, Yuki came to her door, and handed him a box with a letter on top.
Dumbfounded he went ask her what it was all about. Briskly his old friend fobbed him off, telling to read the instructions, and he was smart enough to work it out from there.
Walking into his bedroom, he sat the box on the bed, looking at it for a moment. Choosing to open the letter, written on rice paper- it was from Jun.
“Meet me at the dojo.” He read aloud. Frowning for a moment, he knew the dojo she was talking about. It had belonged to Dr. Nambu and now Yuki. Its was by the shore, with a jetty running from it. He had many training sessions there over the years, especially before they became an active team.
Opening the box, his heart skipped a beat seeing the garment inside it.
There was a photo from his parents wedding day that had always stood out to him. His father opening a box like this one holding up a jacket with a mon emblem on the back of it. He had wondered what had happened to it.
Sitting the box was the same garment.
Picking it up in his fingers, turning it over in his hands, he didn’t need to be told it belonged to his father and was special. Emotionally over whelmed it was like a parting gift from him.
Closing his eyes for a moment, he didn’t waste any more time putting it on. Pulling on the cotton pants and tying the thin cord, and throwing on the jacket with mid length sleeves designed for speed and ease of movement. The thickly stitched black belt was last, finishing the picture of a man ready for training.
He walked out the door, slipping on a pair of light shoes and headed down the road from the house to the building by the water.
The same place he had seen Dr Nambu and Yuki’s lost moment in time.
The sun was lowering on the horizon, sending golden rays across the deep blue ocean with black silhouettes, of small fishing boats with single sails, heading back into the main village, as he approached the old Dojo, with its rice paper doors and sturdy timber structure.
Sliding back the rice door, he walked in to find Jun in the centre of the room, dressed in a stunning formal silk kimono. Her long hair was carefully swept up into a bun with a decorative comb holding it into place.
A tile had been lifted revealing a clay pot kettle, for preparing tea steaming as she waited for him to arrive.
Set out before her was a simple ceramic tea set, and cups, a small tea whisk, bright green powdered tea leaves the shade of her eyes- and other utensils- along with a serving on a plate of small treats.
It was like time stood still as left his shoes at the door. She stood up, bowing to him, and indicating her join her with a fluid movement of her arm. No words came to him, he simply accepted her invitation and knelt opposite the beautiful vision before him.
Watching her elegant movements as she began the ceremony, his heart swelled with love. He couldn’t think of a moment in time more precious than the gift he had before him. After a few deliberate gestures and movements, she presented him with a cup of carefully prepared tea. Accepting her gift of matcha tea- he slowly drank the silky earthen brew with well-balanced tannins.
Placing his hand on top of hers. She made eye contact with him, Quivering, from his touch, her lips parting a little, softening her eyes. He proceeded to serve her the green tea, holding the cup to her delicate cherry blossom lips, moving in closer she accepted his offer silently sipping from the cup.
He could feel the magnetism between them as the intense hues of dusty pinks and deeper blues of the sunset splashed across the sky around them illuminating her in a sea of soft light. Bathed in the colours he was almost brought to tears from the weight of the emotions inside of him struggling to escape.
Placing the tea on the bamboo mat, he gently took both her hands into his. Slowly unfolding his legs from the kneeing position, and pulling Jun to her feet so he could admire the woman before him.
Searching her eyes, he wondered if he could contain his feelings, they were like a wild horse inside of his heart wanting to be let loose untamed and raw.
Without thinking he gently caressed her cheek with the palm of his hand. She turned her head slightly kissing his hand.
The gesture sent raptures through him, as he drew her into his arms, leaning down his lips softly touched hers without hesitation. She returned his gently kiss, as it deepened. A tear escaped her eye, he kissed it with his lips. Searching for hers again as they kissed tenderly and deeply, he poured his love like the warm tea into their tender kiss. Eventually they parted, watching the sunset as they held each other close- Deepening their bond.
“I love you.” She whispered in his ear.
He was lost for words in that moment, tears stung his eyes, as he watched her closely. His heart soured like the wings of the eagle in the golden emblem on his back, as he held her closer touching her cheek again tenderly.
“I love you with all my heart.” He is voice thick with strong emotions, that had been in his heart for months.
Awakened from what felt like a long slumber, they held hands, fingers entwined in the warmth of affection, as they walked out along the long jetty not wanting the romance of the moment to end.
Joe was accustomed to tight situations, he specialised in solo missions and suicide missions beyond what a normal functioning human being could even endure. He could transmute, take them all down in a few swift moves. The thick door was a problem in his plans. He had to get out of there before they could feel the full weight of the cyborg weapon they were dealing with.
This one wasn’t like anything else he’d face. But currently he was also faced with a choice.
“Come out willingly, or she dies.” A feminine smug voice, filtered through the door.
Damn it, he thought, grinding his teeth, and clinging to his gun like he could solve any problem by the feel of the leather handle in his fingers. He could think of few more vial words that would be more fitting to the moment.
“How do I know she’s not already dead?” He casually asked through the door, ready to take down anyone who dared to enter.
He could take them all out and still save Chiara, if she was still breathing.
A scream and his name confirmed her currently state, they had her.
A few more curses left his lips, he had hoped it was bluff.
“Joe please.” Chiara’s terrified squeal muffled through the door. “She has a gun to my head-“
“Have it your way, bitch.” He spat, “I’m surrendering.”
Joe was a lot of things, even selfish at times. But he wouldn’t risk her life for the sake of his pride. Chiara had helped him find the bitch who murdered his parents and tried to kill him, leaving with a mysterious head wound that cropped up later in his career as the Condor.
He's danced with death more than once, in his world the current situation was chicken feed.
Calmly, the Condor made the sound of his gun falling to the ground.
“All of you weapons.” She demanded.
“I had one gun-“ He began. She cut him off with a high pitched sarcastic laugh.
“I know you Joe Asakura, a man like your father.” She purred. “You have enough weapons on you to cut down a small army on your own. One move towards any weapon and your lover dies.”
“You have my word.” He said. “I won’t shoot anyone unless of course you shoot first, then its self-defence, and how do I know you won’t throw a bomb in here.”
“You don’t.” She simply answered. “We’ll just have to trust each other.”
He could have laughed until his guts ached from those words. Trust, what did a Devilstar know about trust.
“Let’s say it’s more a mutual interest transaction.” He drawled. “Give me the woman, and you get to walk out of here.”
“Promise.” She said. “She’s pretty, I like her, I might want to keep her for myself.”
“I’ll make you one promise. Harm her in any way and you’ll regret the day you were born.” He projected venom into his tone.
After a few minutes the door opened- and he walked out. Instead of the confrontation he expected to find he was left with a note.
You know we have her Condor Joe Asakura. Leave and you can have your life back…. Keep hunting me and everyone you know dies by the red rose…. It’s a promise.
Bitch. He walked back in picking up his gun, marching out he had an idea where they could be taking Chiara.
He wouldn’t abandon his quest, like a knight of crusades he held his sword of revenge high, never faltering on the mission. He had made a promise at his parents grave he’d kill the woman who threw that fatal rose bomb.
His insides twisted from the thought of them harming Chiara, he wasn’t in love with her. But she was still his current lover, and he wasn’t going to allow former Galactor agents to murder her for their pleasure. Whatever they were up too, he was going to shut them all down for good.
Setting out for his next location, he began forming a plan on how he was going to locate her in the city of Venice.
The Venetian young man with his stripped shirt and straw hat gently paddling the gondola turned away as Ken leaned in closer, until that moment he’d been sitting opposite Jun. Enjoying her warm smiles in his direction.
“It’s beautiful.” She whispered. Enjoying the ride and the company. Placing an arm around her shoulder, drawing her closer, she snuggled up to him.
“A kiss.” She tilted his lips towards his, and he willing obliged. Their relationship had taken an unexpected turn less than a week ago. He was still adjusting to the idea of them exploring their deeper feelings for one another. Even holding back, and his conversations about her being shackled with a man who’s potentially on death row didn’t faze Jun. he wondered for how long, once the reality set in that she might not have a future with him.
“Stunning sights.” He agreed. “The festival is in full swing.”
Trying to squash his depressive thoughts, and simply live in the current moment. They had both agreed to wait for the holiday before exploring their romance on a physical level, further. Allowing things to naturally occur between them.
People in decorated costumes roamed the streets off to parties, and parades at different times. They’d been enjoying a few days of the festivities and atmosphere. Arranging their costumes for the formal ball later that night.
Jun was on her way to a beauty salon, she’d said something about her nails, and toes, along with other feminine needs.
He didn’t fully understand her reasons for it, since she was going to be wearing a mask, and a seventh century wig that looked like it was stolen from the court of Marie Antoinette.
She wouldn’t let him see the full costume.
Hesitating when she helped him find his, it was way over top of anything he’d considered. Way out of his depth in frills and trimmings. But the theme of the ball was seventeenth century and he didn’t want to let her down by not going in full costume. It was her bucket list, and he was going to be supportive and ensure she had a magical evening.
The gondola pulled up at docking bay, the salon was a few steps away from them.
They both stepped out onto the footpath after he paid for man.
“What are you going to do?” She asked at the door. “You can come in for a few minutes.”
“Ahh, no you go and enjoy it.” Shoving his hands into his pockets, the thought of going behind those doors was like walking into an ambush of goons voluntarily. She didn’t look like she needed back up.
Looking around fast for an escape. “There’s a café down the road, wait for you there, and a bookshop. I’ll see what can I find for my collection.” Ken said.
“Okay, see you soon.” She waved merrily walking into a flutter of women greeting her.
Taking his time Ken walked into the musty bookshop. He spent some time in conversation with the owner. Speaking in Italian, and showing him classics in several languages, he even had a few Japanese books filled with artworks. Being a reader, Ken had learned a few languages over the years. It was handy in his role as Gatchaman. Italian was one of them.
Selecting a few that appealed to him, he purchased the books and made his way to the café spend time drinking tea if they served it other than coffee, waiting for Jun.
Joe turned down the engine of the boat he was scouring the city in. He had a few clues on finding Chiara and the red rose bitch.
A few new contacts, money exchanged for information, was pointing him in the direction of an old Galactor base, somewhere in the city. He had arranged to meet with an old Galactor goon he had been put in touch with. The man was from Katse’s era. How he made it out alive was beyond him.
Seeing a familiar face on the relaxing at a café took him by surprise. Ken’s face was stuck in a book, and he looked to be enjoying himself. He was the last person he expected to see in Venice.
A plan formed in his mind, he could easily find out where the Eagle was staying…
Moving on, he stayed out of the way of Ken’s sharp eyes until he decided if he was going to need his old friends help in rounding up a few rebels trying to pull the old Galactor back together again.
Ken would enjoy that kind of challenge and with his help he could end it all sooner and head back to Utoland and start his life again without the weight of revenging his parents hanging over his life.
He might just have a chance of getting Jun back again. His time away had revealed to him how much he still loves her, and he was willing to make a few compromises after all.
“It’s like walking into a dream, you know that scene ballroom in the movie Labyrinth.” Jun said wistfully. “I loved that scene since I was a little girl.”
Exquisite props of floating clouds dropping from the ceiling, with professional dancers on the floor in the middle entertaining the guests with thousands of candles lighting the room. Golden flickers highlighting the atmosphere sending her into a world of fantasy.
Standing beside her in a long curly ash wig, and a seventeenth century costume of peacock blue and golden trims with a half mask was Ken.
Acknowledging her sentiments of the banquet spread out before them and an evening of dancing, and music to come, guests were still arriving.
“Italians, know how go over the top with elaborate.” He noted staring up at the golden leaf and ceilings covered in artworks depicting romantic scenes and another an ancient battle.
Tightly laced into her costume, she adjusted her curly mass of an ash wig falling down her back, with a fake peacock sitting off to the side with its long tail feathers sweeping around to her shoulders.
Her gown weighed a ton, she was sure to have bruises on her shoulders by morning, it was a replica of a something that would have been found the French court, with more Italian touches, the peacock theme of the gown carried through in carefully placed feathers in rows on the stomacher, and yards of golden trimmings, silk, and brocade, with petticoats and wire hoops.
Ken was speechless when she emerged from the dressing room that was part of their hotel suite. A team of assistants had helped them from the costume place. A part of the service.
She was no less amazed seeing him in his costume. He was handsome, she’d always know that, but he’d matured in his good looks, more manly toning in his facial features, than the smooth baby-faced teen she once knew. The tones of the rich shades of blue enhanced his eyes, made him devastatingly handsome. His smooth looks suited the old fashioned styled ash wig and three pointer blue velvet hat with white fur trimmings. Holding a golden mask in his hand.
He bowed to her like royal courtier, falling into a character. “My Princess, your carriage awaits…but since its Venice… your gondola.”
Giggling, and accepting his hand, they left the hotel room, walking slower than normal. Patrons greeting them and extending compliments on their costumes. They made their way to the location of the ball.
“Shall we?” He extended his arm chivalrously, she placed her petite hand on his as they sat down at their table.
“The next challenge is sitting.” She giggled softly.
“Getting into the gondola was interesting, we almost went for a swim instead.” He laughed at the memory. Drawing closer to her she could feel his ticklish breath on her bare neck. She loved the feel of it, and everything about him.
The warm between them electrified the air around them. She had a feeling she was going to a love a lot of things about this bucket list trip.
Navigating the elaborate gold guided seats at the table she sat down gently as Ken joined her.
“Dancing will be interesting later.” Clearing his throat, picking up the napkin.
“I have my silk dancing slippers on Ken, you’re not getting out of it.” She hinted.
“I wouldn’t dare try.” He responded warmly, not ignoring it.
Smiling as he touched her hand tenderly with his under the table, he was as caught up in the elegant atmosphere as she was.
The banquet proceeded with fine Italian wine, and elegant local dishes served with pomp and formality of the banquet and ball to follow.
After a few courses, she wondered if she could fit another morsel.
“I need to move.” She moaned with pleasure from the delights she’s recently finished. “I’ll explode.”
Within in minutes they were on the dance floor in a waltz. One thing Dr Nambu had insisted they all learn some forms of traditional dancing. He felt they had to be prepared for all situations.
Ken’s dance moves were as fluid as if he was stepping through a kata, twirling her in the appropriate places, moving with the line. The touch of his fingers brushing hers sent quivers though her- His eyes through his mask never leaving her.
The perfectionist in him had learned the details of every move, searing it into his form since he was a boy.
They danced until their feet hurt into the night, soaking up the atmosphere as the ball drew to a close in the early hours of the morning and they returned to the hotel room.
Walking through the door, her heart hammering as he drew her lovingly into his arms, she couldn’t see his eyes through his mask, but the touch of his lips on hers spoke of his love, searching mouth with tongue, the passion intensified.
Whispering yes in his ear, she wanted the same as he pulled at the lacing on her gown.
She giggled remembering his comments on her wedding gown, and the inconvenience of lacing.
“You bet it’s a challenge.” He said mildly frustrated with the fastenings.” You just want me to work for it.”
“You bet I do Ken. The anticipation… ” She glanced mischievously over her shoulder catching his eye and relishing his struggles with her costume.
The heavy yards of silk brocade fell to the floor as she stripped off his costume piece by piece revealing tight muscles beneath a loose fine linen shirt.
Gently she removed his wig and mask… pulling the shirt off over his head. Lusty eyes roaming, sent waves of passion flowing through her.
Swept up in the erotic fog of undressing her, feeling his body responding until it hurt with pleasurable torture. Jun’s finger slipped into his underwear, skilful working on his arousal with her fingers.
Turning him on more, from her touch as she roamed his body with her tongue leaving hot wet trails as she worked. He was moaning from what she was doing to him.
Running his fingers over her half face mask, a playful smile courses across his lips.
“I’m leaving it on you… and that corset is too hot for words.” He whispered in her ear. “All these barriers to peel off.”
“Makes it worth the wait.” She purred.
Tracing his fingers down her back he loosened the ties on her hoops and petticoats. She pulled off the remainder of his clothing, running her fingers over naked buttocks, sending pleasurable goose bumps with her touch. From his physical reactions, he was already for her.
His hands ran all over her body, moaning with pleasure as he worked his way down teasing her breasts with his tongue through the top of the corset, running his fingers between her thighs parting her legs, she couldn’t wait to have him inside of her.
Raptured by the flames of her desires, the air magnetic, they couldn’t get enough of each other.
The floor was covered in rich satins and brocades as he swept her up in his arms, carrying her towards the bed. Laying her down, he peeled off the stockings and garter, followed by her panties. He parted her thighs, working on her with his tongue increasing her arousal.
Shifting into position, he fell on top of her, widening her thighs she pulled him inside of her. A rush of pleasure swamped her, gasping for air as he moved inside of her, thrusting hard, she wanted more of him.
He moved faster, bringing her into steadier faster rhythm as they made love bathed in moonlight. She cried out as brought her to a climax, shuddering for the intensity of the rushing sensations igniting her every fibre. She could feel the throbbing him inside of her as his climax followed.
Collapsing on top her, she could feel the intense warmth and weight of his body pressing against her, panting from his exertions. She was gasping for breath from the sudden tightness of her satin corset still encasing her torso. Freeing her of her mask- and gazing longingly into her eyes.
“Let me help you with that.” He warmly smirked. He undid the fastenings, freeing her from its silky restraints, entwining their bodies together he gently caressed her breasts with his tongue.
Lingering pleasure she relaxed onto the feathered pillows, he tenderly brought her down from her heady emotional high, moving up her neck, tingling all over, kissing her lips, gently dancing tongues like a slow waltz in after play. She was loving the intimacy between them in their first after moments of making love.
The sounds of breaking glass and blue caped figure came flying through the window.
A familiar voice interrupted their soft lover’s conversation.
“Take cover.” A tense familiar deep tenor broke through the moonlight.
A blue winged figure halted at edge of the four poster bed, drawing out a feather.
“What… Joe.” Jun startled, bolted upright.
Joe’s sharp eyes going from Ken to Jun. Dangerously narrowing- and chewing on a feather shuriken. Brewing anger lay beneath his cool demeanour. Taking in the sight before his eyes roaming Jun’s flesh, and the obvious indications of what was happening in the bedroom- His face darkened further.
Jun sank onto the edge of the bed. Storms brewing in his grey eyes piecing her like she was caught with a lover behind his back.
“I see, you moved in on her as soon as I left town.” Joe hissed.
“You left, and its not what you’re thinking.” Ken responded.
“Get dressed, both of you.” Joe snarled nostrils flaring. “Companies coming.”
“Get talking.” Ken ordered briskly. “What company.”
“We have a situation in the city, it looks like an old friend has come back and wants to start her own party.” Joe growled. “I can take care of it. But I figured you’d enjoy some action after all this time of… Well, it looks like you’re already getting some action after all.”
Ken ignored his sarcasm- she watched the Eagles posture change, as he slipped off the bed.
“We have our bird styles, gather you need help.” Ken said.
Joe snorted, she figured he had other thoughts on why they’d bring their birdstyles- and he was wrong.
“We were dropping into the children’s hospital tomorrow for a surprise visit-“ Jun said with Joe cutting her off abruptly.
“You’re full of surprises. I thought you brought it for kinky sex, remember that time on the God Phoenix Jun?” He a sardonic smirk crossed his lips, glancing in Ken’s direction. “How long have two been fucking--“
“That’s enough Joe.” Ken’s tone lowered dangerously. “It’s not like you cared what she was doing.”
“Keep this going Condor and I’ll slap you myself.” She hissed.
“Go ahead darling, a bit of feisty is a turn on in the bedroom.” He shot at her sarcastically. “You should know-“
“Enough Joe.” Ken snarled. Ken balled his fists, grimacing at the way Joe was talking to her, expressing as much she had to step in before a fight broke out.
Jun pressed her lips tight, she hated being sandwiched in the middle- Too furious for words she stood up folding her arms across her breasts, standing between them.
She wanted to slap Joe, for the acidic sarcasm, he was throwing at her like rain, moving forward, his darkening eyes dared her too.
A torrent of mixed emotions coursed through her, seeing him again in person. While he was gone she could forget her feelings for him, now it was buried in confusion. He was hurt and angry, she could feel it emulating from him like a forest fire.
“Settle this later” Kens eyes darted between them. “ Joe, Jun- focus on the mission Joe has decided to include us in.” Ken hardened. “Who’s the ‘friends’.”
“The ones about to come through your window.” Joe drawled. Pointing at the glass.
The three of them turned as men covered in black burst through the window, shattering the glass, and the door. Engaging them in battle they knocked them down in minutes. Ken had barely warmed up when the last one fell, turning to meet green eyes with open admiration for him.
“Who says you need clothes.” She smirked warmly, forgetting for a moment Joe was there. It took him a second to remind her of his presence from the grunt behind her.
“What have you been doing?” Ken demanded. “Who have you pissed off? Joe, is this why you left Utoland, you could have told me what was really going on and I could have helped you--”
“Shut up Ken, enough of the lecture. Get some clothes on.” Joe barked. “I’ll fill you in as you both get some clothes on.”
Drawing in a ragged breath- Hesitating like she wanted to say something to Ken, but Joe was hanging around close and she couldn’t.
Instead of a night of intimate passion they’d waited so long for, they had company- her ex-fiancée and his best friend and the man who she’d grown to love- awkward. Joe talked about his last eighteen months of tracking the woman who killed his parents, the path he was on to find her and how he was close.
The syndicate she was forming, and his plans to unravel the whole thing and get his revenge. Then his life’s purpose would be complete.
Jun stiffened when she learned of the woman he’d been sharing the hotel room with. She was the one who brought him the information in Utoland. Along the way she’d been kidnapped and he was trying to rescue her.
“You were sleeping with her?” She asked him quietly, tilting her head sideways, pushing back the tide of emotional. “Before we broke up?”
“No, not before. I didn’t have an affair.” He answered her quietly.
Joe didn’t need to answer her question fully- his face spoke volumes of it. He was of course in bed with this woman Chiara… The Condor couldn’t resist a beautiful woman with danger lingering around her like sweet perfume.
Ken saw her reaction, and could see the pain in her eyes, stealing a glance, he looked away. For a moment she saw her pain reflected in his eyes.
Pulling on his jeans, and shirt, she found her own clothes. Shaking a little, she masked it by quickly dressing. The feel of Ken inside of her lingered, and his scent on her body- a tear threatened to fall. Blinking it back, she fought to pull herself together.
He must wonder about her lingering feelings towards her ex-fiancé and childhood sweetheart. She watched him Shove his own passionate feelings for her deep inside locking them away as his facial muscles twitched into his stoic expression. She could see the thoughts ticking over him his mind. He’d deal with it in a time when wasn’t trying to prevent a catastrophe. It was how he coped when his personal life was in chaos.
Birdgo… both of them went through the process… as the whirl of colourful light transformed them.
Leaping out the window following Joe onto the ledge, along with Jun.
“Stay frosty.” Ken stated.
Briskly nodding she tried to ignore the Condor’s taunting words.
“I expected to find Ken, since I saw him at a café earlier today.” He glanced at Jun. “Not you, I want know--”
“You walked out on us, our life.” She bluntly hissed, turning her tinted visor to Joe. “We broke up remember.”
“Who’s the friend?” Ken’s icy blue eyes glaring at both of them, he had that look, of focus on business.
“She’s the assassin who murdered my parents. She kidnapped a lady who was helping me find the gang she’s putting together of former Galactor agents. I’ve been tracking her for a long time.”
“That’s why you broke up with me?” Jun said astonished.” You told me you could live a real life once Galactor was broken.”
Joe, he didn’t answer her question. He stood there, with his arms folded like a simmering volcano.
“You have clues I gather.” Ken stood up, his mantle flapping in the breeze.
“Yeah, it’s under this location.” Joe said, waiting impatiently. “I can handle it.”
“Seriously, since when have you handled any crisis well on your own?” Ken pointed out. “You came to find me-and didn’t expect to see Jun too get over it for now. We put this aside until later. We’re in it now, so let’s go and finish it.”
Jun shook her head, tight lipped and keeping silent. An emotional turmoil was loose inside of her, heart pounding inside being close to men she loved in different ways.
“Let’s get going.” Ken, fell into Gatchaman mode without blinking an eye, leapt up to the rooftop, surveying the sparkling party lights of the landscape around them. Sounds of early morning party goers and music drifted through the atmosphere.
“We have go lower.” Joe indicated. “Down there.”
“Underwater…” Ken mused. An alien emotion crept over her as she prepared for the mission. Unaccustomed to it, she tried to push it away, but it hung around her neck like a noose.
“How do we get there?” Jun raised an eyebrow, waiting for Ken’s command. The moon was lowering in the sky, dawn would be upon them soon.
Pulling out his mini snorkelling device, an invention Dr Nambu came up with in the days before his murder, Ken placed it into his mouth. She pulled hers out too, along with Joe.
“We’re going sightseeing underwater.” Spreading his white wings, Ken was a magnificent sight as he dove off the building cutting the water with barely a ripple. She barely looked at Joe as she followed him into the depths.
Jun swam through the murky waters of the canal while they explored under the dark waters using small torches to find a strange entrance. At first it looked to be a smooth slab of concrete, no different from others they’d tested, this one moved.
Catching her eye, and motioning with his blue gloved hand, she followed Ken and Joe down a tunnel, eventually diving further into what at first had the appearances of an underground water filled cave. The difference was the walls made of steel, an unnatural cave under the city.
Swimming through to a point where the water receded they found themselves in a room, surrounded by concrete walls and a porthole size door.
“I feel like Alice in Wonderland.” She stated. “Did we grow while swimming?”
“Follow the white rabbit.” Ken half-smiled, warming from the way he connected with her. Joe folded his arms for a moment scrutinizing.
“Yeah, bloody white rabbits.” Joe drawled. “They lead me into all sorts of trouble.”
Afraid to be too close to Condor as familiar feelings awakened. A part of her was drawn into the emotional sweep she’d had with him during the war. Then there was Ken, the friend she had during the war and the man he’d grown into after it. Glancing at him, he gave nothing away of his feelings beneath his blue tinted visor.
She had a history with Joe, she couldn’t deny its pull, and had fallen back in with him time and again. Now something else held her back, a wedge in the old feelings that once would have ignited into a consuming flame every time he came back into her life, was dampened, dousing the old flames, like trying to ignite wet wood.
Ken… When he held her in his arms less than an hour ago. She not a single thought of Joe had entered her mind, she was totally consumed with the man undressing her, wanting him inside of her. Her newly ignited feelings…
Standing beside Ken, it was right. She could feel his thoughts like when she was on the Poison Apple and for a time when it was telepathic.
Ken moved towards the small door, “Rusty.”
“Step aside.” She said, pulling out a small piece of clay like substance, rubbing it between her fingers, she placed it on the lock.
“Take cover.” She turned, and the three of the formed like a circular shield, with their wings as the clay ignited, blowing the lock.
“Were you demonstrating those skills at children’s hospital on your holiday?” Joe smirked. “It’s a crowd pleaser, kids live stuff like that.”
“No, usually its more pretend martial arts move’s.” She grinned, warming with the memories of Ken doing a kata because a little boy asked him to. The little kid glowed with delight watching his hero in person.
Following the Eagle through the hole in the wall. They stepped into a more cavernous room.
“This looks like it’s a leftover from Katse.” Ken observed. “His style, and it a concern its below the city, it’s not so easy to destroy.”
“He or she, had bases in strange places.” Joe said. “The old goon did tell the truth, I wondered if he was lying.”
“Let’s move.” Ken ordered. “We do a sweep, so far it quiet.”
“Got a torch.” Joe pulled his out, the other two followed, breaking through the blackness and shedding thin streams of white light ahead of them. The place was musky, and a few unpleasant smells drifted past her as they walked.
A strange feeling crept threw her, shuddering from the ghosts of green clad goons, the place was deserved and had the look of not being occupied in years.
“No one’s been here since at least Berg Katse’s time.” She said following Ken down a corridor. Weapons drawn, ready.
Ken had his original birdrang out, and his favourite from his teenage years, along with his bird saucer. She noticed he’d gone back to them since the hypershoot was destroyed along with the fencer.
Keeping her aurora ribbon handy along with her yo-yo bomb, and Elenettor, fastened to her right arm. Touching the buttons, she readied it for action.
Marching through the old dark base, nothing appeared to be used, and none in sight. Dank musty smells assaulted her senses, dampness surrounding them from the lagoon’s depths.
“We found an old Galactor base that’s for sure, but no one here.” Frustrated, Joe turned to walk out of the room they’d found their way into.
The door slammed shut before his eyes, and the lights flickered on, a familiar laugh echoed through the room.
Ken urgently, spinning around looking for another exit. “Someone’s here.” He said.
Another panel opened revealing a figure standing behind a reinforced glass window. Arms folded, with long curly locks and sapphire eyes.
“Chiara.” Joe moved in closer. “Are you okay?... you’re eyes…”
“I’m fine my love.” She purred, with another woman coming into the light wearing the same bodysuit of the woman who killed his parents. Chiara, placed an affectionate hand on the woman’s arm. Moving closer to the glass like she didn’t have a care in the world.
“You had greenish eyes.” He said, coming closer to the glass. “I’m sure of it.”
“So right you are Joe- and look what you brought me a gift… exactly what I’ve been hunting.” A sinister smirk tugged at her pretty lips.
“We have a long history you and I.” Chiara drew in a breath, her chest rising. “But now I have all of you where I want you. You see none of your fancy weapons will work in that room.”
“Who are you?” Ken moved in beside Joe, Jun kept looking for an exit.
“Don’t you know me?” She said studying him. “Surely I have something familiar left.”
“Indulge me.” Joe said bluntly. Punching the glass as if he could break it with the force of his fist.
“Did she kill my parents or was it all a lie?” He shouted blowing a fuse. “I should have known your intel was too good, so who did I kill for you?”
“Remember the last time we all met?” She gently touched the glass. “Your last sight of me, was falling into a volcano wearing a purple cape and mask.”
“Katse.” Ken’s muscles tightened in complete disbelief. Joe placed his hands flat on the glass, eyes widening in shock.
“So… Gatchaman, you do remember me? Precious memories and good times we all had together. Lets talk about our fun times.” She laughed, warmly smiling at the Condor. “I’ve changed since then…. It took, a special doctor who found on the edge of the volcanic river… took him years to reconstruct the damage, it was a world of pain. I can no longer shift forms, but I’m alive, as a woman.”
Joe paled considerably, and Jun could see the implications of her statement. He’d been sleeping with Katse and doing her work, he’d fallen for her manipulation and was paying the price for it.
Katse kept her eyes on the Condor. “Dr Raphael Kept us in separate rooms, and eventually moved me to a new location. But I saw you Joe, handsome and complete, when he was finished rebuilding you. I was still…being changed into a cyborg, many complications.” She said. “He died before he could finish me, I was left in a coma, until his apprentice found me in a lab… alive. He finished his masters work.”
Katse purred, lusty eyes on Joe as he reeled back from the glass, readying another fist.
“You’re truly a man, and one I wanted to experience in every way, and you’re not a disappointment.” She said. “Shame we have to break up.”
“You-“ He tried to break the glass again and again, the three of them helping him with weapons- Not even a scratch.
“Who murdered George Asakura and his wife, leaving me a child for dead.” Joe snarled.
“I killed them.” Katse stared straight into his eyes. “He discovered my secret and was leaving Galactor. I wanted to make sure he was dead, and his family. The people I had you kill was the last of the traitors, they were aiding Asakura in his attempt to escape.”
It was like she drove a sword into the Joe, he collapsed to his knees, a cry of blood curling aguish left his lips.
“I’m going to finish what I started.” Katse announced. “But first I’m not making the same mistakes as I did in the past. I’m removing the three of you first. I have a bucket list of things I want to accomplish now that I have a new lease on life. Joe, making love to you was one of them… I can tick that one off now. How much more of your life can I leave in ruins before you die.”
She hit a button, and the floor began to fill with water.
She read out her list;
Here are few things I plan to accomplish.
Take over the world
Rid the world of saviours
Own an Island of course and a yacht for parties as Galactor reforms under me. No alien to rule my world. I have that to thank you for Gatchaman.
“Seriously, it’s the best you can come up with?” Ken threw his hands in the air, cautiously watching her, and observing the room.
“No… you’ll have company.” She grinned broadly. “Joe, you worked it all beautifully, touching you came to rescue me my love.”
“You’re a sick bitch, and not my love.” He hissed. “Insane psychopathic—”
She laughed, and they all knew that sadistic chuckle. “I have an assassin already hunting the Swallow at his University with orders to kill him and his girlfriend- and a missile lined up to blow up the Owl’s trawler and a his lover...won’t last the night.”
“Jinpei.” Jun cried out in horror. “No…”
“Stand back.” Jun aimed her laser at the glass again. The whole thing made a vibrating sound as the laser hit it. The vibration grew louder, an explosion caused the three of them to be thrown into the knee-deep water. It didn’t work, she should have known it was useless.
“Great.” Joe gritted his teeth as a fin cut through the shallows. The three of them fly upwards out of the water, gripping the pipes running across the roof, water still rising.
“Sharks… really, more sharks?” Ken and Jun exchanged glances of mutual understanding, both remembering their castaway time at sea. She could feel the tension rising with the water. Seeing a few pipes above them, the three of them leapt upwards.
“Katse was never original.” Jun held on tight, watching him.
“They won’t get to Jinpei, he’ll outsmart an assassin.” Ken tried to reassure her.
“The squirt will throw bugs at ‘em.” Joe clenched his jaw tight. “Ryu… God I hope he… damn it we have to get out of here.”
“I’ll leave you all to die.” Berg Katse smugly watched the three of them. “You’ll either drown, or be eaten by my sharks. This time no mistakes, and Joe…” She watched his eyes.” I enjoyed watching your family die. Served them right for betraying me. It was my personal revenge.”
Joe’s nostrils flared as she talked, throwing death threats and vowing to hunter down.
“Asakura, he wasn’t a good man, he was Galactor, he had a few mistresses did you know what he really was. One of them was me in female form, I changed into a male before his eyes unexpected…that’s when he discovered who I was. I expected loyalty from him.” Her voice echoed through the chamber. “You’re from a dangerous breed of men, and a lot like him.”
“How did the sharks get in?” Ken’s face shot up, looking directly at Jun, ignoring Katse’s taunts.
“I have a plan.” He said, watching her.
“Right.” She answered briskly, her focus on the job of escaping. “Fill me in.”
“I’m gonna kill that bitch.” Joe fumed. Still absorbed in his metal battle.
“We have to get out of here first, then kill her.” Ken informed him lips drawn tight. “This time she’s not coming back as anything.”
For a moment Ken stared directly into her eyes like he wanted say something, she longing in them, his lips parted slightly.
“Get out of here. I think I can find a way.” He said swallowing hard. “Look after her Joe.”
Ken released his grip on the pipes, before a panicked Swan could stop him. If any should be taking the risks its him. She had more of a chance of a long than he did as he was met with the jaws of a hungry shark. Jun called his name as he rolled underwater with it, she saw blood pooling at the far end of the room.
Screaming his name as anguish swamped her, she watched as the sharks all headed towards the blood floating on the surface.
“Jun, it’s our signal.” Joe watched in horror, as a panel opened on the far wall. Whatever Ken’s plan was, he had found a way for them to escape.
Dead sharks floated to the surface, as monkey bared her way across the to the rabbit hole door.
Breathing a sigh of relief, she hoped that meant the blood curling through the water wasn’t Kens.
Finally making to the open panel, she threw her legs inside hoping to see the him.
Instead she was inside a sloping shoot, sliding down a narrow tunnel with Joe coming behind her, as they fell out into another part of the base.
“About time you two joined me.” A familiar voice was waiting for them. “I was going to make myself a cuppa tea while I waited.”
“Ken.” She raced up to him, throw her arms around his neck, seeing him standing there.
Brushing off her worry, he warmly placed his hands on her shoulders for a moment, drawing her away like he always did when she worried. She turned to walk away, and he quickly squeezed her hand indicating he appreciated her concerns.
“My birdrang and saucer saved my life, it was close.” He breathed in deeply.” I was almost dinner for one shark that came too close to catching me.” Ken said. “I cleared a path for you to escape.”
“I saw blood and lots of it, and thought you were a shark’s meal.” She playfully slapped his shoulder, a part of her was serious- showing her relief, she threw her arms around him, in seeing him alive.
Ken kept filling them in. “I remembered some of the tricks we used to get out of Katse’s old bases when Katse thought he or she had us. I figured they had similar secret passages it was something I clicked onto. Katse only thinks she has us fooled.”
Letting go of Ken, she turned to Joe. He drew out his gun, flashing eyes and tense jawline, he was still a smouldering mess, she had never seen him this wild.
“I’m going after her.” He hissed. “She won’t escape me this time, I’ll feed her to sharks dead, just to make sure.”
“You’re not alone this time.” Kens tone dropped serious. He could see Joe’s old irrational behaviour lurking below the surface like a shark waiting for its timing to attack.
For while towards the end of the war, Ken was the one losing his cool constantly, having to held back by the Condor. But once it was all over, the Eagle slipped back more into his calmer self.
Ken understood he almost lost his sanity- and had time to recover it since the war ended. He wasn’t going down that path again.
Racing down the passage the searched for an exit, trying to find a way to catch up with Katse.
A sadistic chuckle flited through the corridor, halting the three of them.
“You escaped, but I knew you would.” Katse said. “Wouldn’t any fun if you all died straight away.”
The sound stopped and other sound replaced it.
“Whats that?” She asked looking between Joe and Ken.
“Duck.” Joe grabbed her, throwing her to the ground, as a something sliced through the darkness above them.
“Run,” Ken cried out, another sound of air being sliced whispered past her as they dodged huge round wheels appearing from nowhere coming down on them like scythes cutting wheat in a harvest.
She was separated from the two of them in the race to avoid them, finding herself in another corridor, a door closed sealing her in. She called out to Ken and Joe. Alone she had no choice but to try and find another way out.
Sprinting down what was becoming a labyrinth of corridors she found herself in a dark room. A single light glowed in the corner.
“Katse.” She snarled.
“My dear Swan.” She purred, turquoise eyes roamed her slender form.
“Where Ken and Joe?” She asked tersely.
“Condor Joe.” Katse warmed at the mention of his name. “My darling lover… was once your fiancée I believe, how sweet is it to be reunited with him.”
Pursing her lips tight, she readied her armband laser weapon, turning it onto the former dictator. Sending a blast in her direction she could finish it.
The laser went straight through her, it wasn’t her. It was a realistic hologram.
“Swan, that’s no way to treat a fellow lady.” Katse turned on her charm. ”I wonder if he compared us as he thrusted me, made love to my body… but I know he did, you see I think the poor lost boy still holds a flame for you.”
Ignoring the hologram, she searched the room for a way out.
“Ken, Joe…” She whispered into her communicator, to be met by static. “I’m in a room.” She didn’t know where to begin to describe it’s location. Instead she tapped on her bracelet hoping they’d be able to track her.
“Come on Katse, why not confront me yourself.” She baited. “We could have a woman to woman talk about Joe.”
The Katse figure, walked around the room as if they were taking a casual stroll in a park on a sunny day discussing the weather.
“He’s a skilled lover. I bet he made you scream with pleasure. I know I did when he fucked me.” She continued. “I can see why you had him in your bed Swan. Did you screwed around with, all of the team? Did you sleep with Dr Nambu too?”
Growling internally agitated, Jun hated what she was implying. Determined to escape and ignore the taunts she ran her fingers down a seam in the wall.
“You’re sick.” She hissed. “Sick and insane.”
Katse said sadly. “ I bet the boys loved having you on the team for more than one reason, little sluts like you deserve what you get. Did they line up outside your door. I bet educating the Swallow was an adventure for you.”
If she could slam her in the face for those horrific words she would have, instead she poured her energy into regaining control of the situation again.
Clenching her jaw tight, she hit her communicator frantically. “Katse’s still out there, she’s in a room projecting a hologram.” She whispered, hoping they could hear her.
Bearing in mind Katse was insane before he/she died the first time she expected the newer version to nothing less than completely insane. She wasn’t going to underestimate her. She had planned her own revenge for a long time.
“Sluts like you are punished in some parts of the world by place called an isolation room. It’s what you deserve. ” Katse crossed her arms watching her. “They’ll never find you, The Condor and Eagle will be dead soon- underwater in a beautiful city that will be bowing to me soon as its leader. I’ll take over the governments of the planet without Gatchaman and his team in the way.”
Katse paused, walking towards her. “You’ll die slowly, going insane in darkness.”
Spinning on her heels dragging in a deep breath, the entire room fell into pitch blackness. Jun stumbled around still desperate to find a way out.
“Joe is useful as a cyborg, being one myself I know how his internals work. Raphael failed to destroy him, but I won’t.” Katse’s voice carried through the darkness. “The Eagle, he’s interesting, and will be a pleasure to finally bring him to his knee’s. You all became complacent in peace times.”
Ken searched the area, and no sign of Jun or even a signal from her. They’d been moving for what felt like hours- but had to be a shorter time than that since they escaped death a second time.
“Katse has put a lot of planning into attempting to kill us.” Ken said, entering another corridor.
Joe snorted, the Condor had become more, moody since they lost Jun in the catacombs of the insane place they’d entered a few hours before.
Sinking down a wall, he stopped for a moment, still holding his weapon.
“I was a fool, a complete idiot taken in by a woman called Chiara. Katse is a good actor.” He coarsely murmured. “I… Katse murdered my parents, and my father was sleeping with her in the female form. I thought he loved my mother and its why we were escaping Galactor-“
“Joe now’s not the time, we have to keep moving.” Ken urged. “Seconds are passing and Jun could be in more trouble—"
“Then Jun.” Joe pulled off his helmet, grinding his teeth. “I thought… damn it Ken… Why?”
“Why?” Ken halted a little further down the corridor, turning to face his friend.
“You know what I’m asking. I know what I saw in your bed.” He said. “How long?”
Ken hesitated, his focus was on the mission, and finding Jun, he never liked combining his personal life while trying to solve a problem.
“I didn’t look upon her that way. There was no secret love or crush.” He said. “ We were friends, pals, nothing else.”
“Then it’s a friends-with-benefits arrangement between you. Some Sexual release for the both of you.” Joe threw in, questioning him with his eyes.
Ken slowly shook his head. “No…” He quietly answered, his heart pounding. “When you left I went to see because I hadn’t heard a thing from her in weeks.”
Pausing he closed his eyes for a moment. “You left a wreckage behind you, she was heartbroken and falling into a state of depression, she wasn’t even bathing herself, none of the usual tidy, happy Jun was there. She was drunk all the time, house a mess. I was worried.”
Joe bitterly rested his hands on his bent knee’s, taking in the story.
“then what?” He asked simply.
“Then…” Ken continued. “I started hanging out with as a friend, it was the two of us in Utoland. So we went out to clubs at times. Then I mentioned my plans to go to places and she wanted to come along. I couldn’t see why not. She was lost Joe, no direction without you.”
“She can’t cook, and wanted kids, but had no other ambitions.” Joe drew in a breath. “She needs someone-“
“No she doesn’t, she doesn’t need me. She’s independent and can manage on her own.” Ken’s tone thickened. “What you walked into was our first time being intimate.”
Joe’s jaw dropped. “First time.”
“We slept with other people on our holidays, being single, friends, just going out and having fun.” Ken remembered some of those times. “Then last week… things changed, we discovered our feelings were mutual.”
“Mutual.” Joe repeated the word, banging his head on the wall.
“I didn’t plan anything. “Ken could feel the intense emotions rising to the surface. “I wanted to be a single man for the rest of my life after Rumi died. Love cuts a person to pieces and drove me almost insane missing her. With Jun it wasn’t a love at first sight or a lightning strike moment, more a gradual awakening, I noticed her. We gelled in a way I never would have imagined even a year ago.”
He couldn’t tell a time or a moment when he fell in love with Jun. When it became more, and deeper, the attraction grew intense over time.
“You love her.” Joe’s tightened facial muscles and hurt was written all over him.
Nodding, Ken looked away, as it hit how much he truly loved Jun. A deep love that went beyond a night of lust and rushed attraction. With Rumi it was lightning bolt moment, a teenager smitten by her pretty auburn hair and flirty eyes, and personality. It was a magical rush…
Jun’s was more like standing on the shores of an ocean, as he walked further into her life, he discovered the depth of her as a person, going in over his head, she ignited emotions he hadn’t felt in years. A few moments of passion were not enough, he wanted to spend every day learning something new about her.
“I don’t deserve her.” Ken’s heart clenched in his chest. “The cancer, is likely to be back, she deserves more than a sick partner in life being a nurse.” He stopped, it was too much. The pain of no future, mixed with the pain of being without her.
“You can sit there and wallow.” Ken, had enough talking, and folded his arms tight. “I’m going to find her. You can have Katse, it’s what you want, kill her and then what? What do you want Joe?”
Joe’s grey eyes clouded. “I was coming back for Jun, I was going to try again.”
Ken drew in a sharp breath at those words, was taking away any real future Jun has at being a mother, a real life? He remembered his mother’s illness, dying of a vicious cancer she was bedridden for so long. Jun couldn’t be left like that.
Katse didn’t have the power she boasted about, he wasn’t completely out of touch with ISO operations. Kamo had lunch with him at times and would fill him in on missions run by their other special ops teams. Katse was insane, had illusions but no power.
Pushing his helmet back on Joe, stood up. “We’ll find her together.”
Picking up the pace, the pair of them sprinted down the corridor searching for clues.
Joe picked up the pace as he jogged alongside Ken. It was like they had been running in circles for hours, or days. He lost all sense of time in the darkness. Their small torches barely cut through the murky blackness.
Ken words cut him, he couldn’t avoid the slicing emotions of losing her. He was used to them making up and being able to reform a steady relationship no matter what they were encountering during the war.
This time felt different.
Ken along the way had told him of his feelings of Katse more acting on a smaller scale than she was boasting about. He wanted to be sure of it and bring the psychopath to a sticky end.
A fool… he was in a place of not knowing what he wanted in life, a part of him wanted Jun to come and live in a trailer with him and they could hit the road- and go places without commitments.
Ken stood in the way of any of it. What did Jun really want?
It hit him he’d never really asked her that question, he’d always assumed he knew. When he broke up with her, he barely understood his own thoughts and feelings, his past was clouding any thoughts of a future. Blinded by the need for closure over his parents and the opportunity presenting itself he didn’t think to ask her those questions.
He assumed, she wanted a house, marriage, and kids, beyond that not much-- She followed him on his path-- Waiting for him like she always had.
Both of them stopping to catch their breath.
Ken straightened to see a glowing figure in the middle of the passage.
Drawing his weapon, she standing fully exposed, snarling before the Eagle could move he fired few rounds into her.
The figure waved for a moment, and then stabilised. Laughing like she had not a care in the world.
“It’s party time in Venice.” Katse elaborately cried, as she twirled in an elaborate strapless velvet purple ballgown, with layers of soft satin, and sparkling sequins. She held a mask similar to her customary one as Berg Katse in the old Galactor syndicate. This one was more elaborate- and sparkling like her costume. Her new hairstyle set off the outfit with dangling curls and pretty ornaments placed in her hair.
At any other time, she would have been the bell of a ball, elegant and stunning looks, with a slender waistline and bust in proportion to her figure- she would have men falling to their knee’s as she strolled past.
“Hologram.” Joe shouted. “Coward, come and face me.”
Ken was snarling, but he was in full control of himself as he approached her, stopping in front of the silent hologram and folding his arms.
“Do you like my maze?” Her haughty lips curled slowly, folding her arms. “My base has become a playground of torturing you.”
“Where’s Jun?” Ken fumed. “You won’t win Katse, you should have learned a lesson the first time.”
“You little slut is paying a price for her whore ways.” Katse’s face lit up brighter like the sun. “She’ll die slowly, all in the darkness all alone, in a hole made for her, wondering why you both abandoned her.”
“Damn bitch.” Joe felt the heat rising. “You’re playing games, and your maze sucks.”
“I’m enjoying finally having you all together what a fun reunion.” She said.” Let’s see, I can’t have you bored.”
A flicker of a finger and Katse vanished, a low predatory growl filtered down the tunnel.
Exchanging glances, the pair of them readied for battle. The lights flickered in the hallway before going out completely. Leaving shadows, and glowing eyes.
A pair of mechanical lions, moved gracefully towards them.
“Bored?” He exclaimed as a lion hunted him. “Only two? That’s an insult.”
“She’s playing with us as usual.” Ken grimaced, readying himself for the fight as one charged him. Rolling down the corridor he fought it as it’s metal teeth went for his throat. Joe wasn’t sitting around waiting to be attacked, he was instantly on the defensive. Taking the robotic creature with the force of his cyborg strength and ripping it to pieces. Charging down hall, and single handed he wreathed the creature off the top of Ken, pulling out its wires sending it flying against a wall sparks and pieces of metal scattered around them.
“I was winning.” Ken said still laying on the ground. His chest heaving from the fight.
“I can see that, had it in the bag right? A few more seconds… huh.” Joe smirked sarcastically. “I think we’re all alone on the base.”
Extending his hand- and helping Ken to his feet they walked cautiously along the corridor.
“She thinks she has an army.” Ken shook his head, and side glanced him. “She’s got a small band of gangsters, I bet, that’s all.”
“Either way, she’s alive and I’m going to correct that mistake.” Joe promised.
“Why the games?” Ken mused. “Katse was like a spoilt cat with a mouse playing and toying but not seriously…”
“Whatta you thinking?” Joe stopped. “She’s not here on the base?”
“No, she’s not, she set this up and gave you leads to get here. Katse is a genius but insane.” Ken said. “It’s smaller than most of the old bases. I wonder what its use originally was?”
Shrugging, he couldn’t care less about its original purpose, only that it belonged to Galactor, his parents, murderer was out there toying with them and he was getting irate going in circles.
“Where would a purple cat hide?” He looked around expecting something unusual to stand out. Ken put his communicator to his lips. “Jun…Jun…”
They’d tried calling her over and over- with no response and he could see Ken was met again with silence. Frustrated Ken punched a wall, marching off ahead of him.
The white caped figure disappeared around a corner. Catching up to him eventually, the Condor surveyed the ceiling looking for escapes.
Ken halted, his head swinging around him like he had a revelation.
“She mentioned Jun being in a room.” He said. “Smaller base, but no doors that’s odd.”
Indicating he got his point, Ken walked up to a wall touching it.
“She’s a hologram.” He pondered. “Hologram.” Ken kept saying. In darkness he could see the Eagles sharp mind ticking over the puzzle.
He remembered their childhood- Ken loving impossible puzzles the more impossible the more he loved it. The ones that sent Joe to the brink of mental disturbance as he hurled them out windows. He almost hit Hakase one day with one narrowly missing his head as he watered some plants, that was the last time their mentor gave him a puzzle.
Ken would sit patiently absorbed in the problem quietly turning it over in his hands until he found the solution.
“The doors are here, but she’s using a mind manipulation device to confuse us.” Ken brightened. “Search with your fingers, don’t trust what you see.”
For a while they searched, and he was seeing what Ken was talking about as his gloved fingers ran over bumps his eyes didn’t register.
“We are going in circles, this wasn’t a base as we knew them. This corridor I bet….” His words trailed.
Hitting a button, the sound of a door opening met his ears, but it simply looked like a wall.
Smiling broadly, the Eagle stepped through it, followed by Joe.
“I was wrong.” Ken said.
Walking into a control room, a woman dressed in an elaborate ball gown was standing at a control panel.
Spinning on her heels, the wasp with curly auburn hair turned her sting onto them. Hurling a flower bomb, the two of them leapt out of the way as it exploded. Through the smoke he saw her running, dragging in the deep breaths he lifted his unharmed cyborg body off the ground.
Knowing Berg Katse’s moves Joe threw himself towards the exit blocking her as he grabbed a handful of the gown dragging her to ground.
His gun in hand, he wrestled her to ground, pinning her arms above her head, he stared into wild turquoise eyes. Holding her tight, he carefully placed the nozzle of his gun under her chin.
“Kill me and you’ll never find her alive.” Katse bargained. Breathing heavily, she struggled to get out of his grip.
Ken was at the terminal, punching in buttons tearing down the illusions. Searching the rooms using the observation cameras to look into spaces quickly. Unlocking doors, he frantically searched.
“Ken.” Jun’s voice came through his bracelet. He explained their location and Swan ran from her prison to find them.
Focusing on his enemy, Joe snarled, his deep hatred for the woman before him surfaced as he pulled her to her feet, keeping a grip on her, he pushed her hard against a wall, breathing down her neck he wanted to hurt her badly. He wanted take all of his pain and losses out on her.
“Stop Joe.” He Ken’s calm tone broke into his moment.
“She’s mine.” He hissed. “She’s a murdering bitch who deserves the most painful death I can give.”
“It’s not who you are.” A feminine voice joined Ken’s. He tried to ignore Jun’s pleas. “Let it go, she doesn’t have to die.”
Internally, his insides hurt like someone was poking him with knives all over. He envisioned his revenge the death of the assassin, not mercy.
“Tell me the truth.” He said, pulling her hair backwards, exposing her throat. Dropping his gun, he instead put a feather shuriken across her throat, ready to cut it open if she moved.
“I won’t shoot you.” He whispered in her ear. “I’ll do worse, far worse.”
“I told you truth.” She whispered, clearing a lump from her throat. “I had a love affair with your father. I was thirteen, and he took my virginity and came to me when I wanted him too. He made me a woman, and years later when he discovered my truth…. He betrayed me. He was disgusted and wouldn’t sleep with me as a man when I asked him too, even though he told me I was still beautiful as a man. I thought he loved me no matter what I was. I was angry with him, we argued- I told him I would… take you as a prisoner if he left me.”
He tightened his grip, watching her cringe. His father a paedophile, it couldn’t be.
“Liar.” He roared. “My father wouldn’t betray my mother.”
“I’m not lying.” She calmed like a smooth lake. “He was Galactors finest marksman a trained killer- you were a small child, when the affair started it we were lovers for years, I was eighteen when it ended.” She continued. “He was my bodyguard, appointed by the alien himself to be my protector. I was different, you know that, I was an experiment, a freak of nature, a man and woman who could interchange at will. I matured well at thirteen and wanted to be his lover desperately, and he came to my bed when I asked him one day. Your father was handsome and charming. We had chemistry, and I was in love with him. His lies of love for me drove me insane, his death was my revenge for leaving me, and my greatest heartache.”
All his dreams of revenge didn’t involve his father being a traitor to his own family. He had thought of as a man loyal and devoted to his gentle mother, his childhood memories, and life was gone, how could he be the person she described.
“You’re a child of Galactor Joe Asakura. You can’t escape it.” Katse searched his eyes. “You reminded me of him, the way you made love to me. I loved you too, I wanted you because it like your father had returned to me, you are like him.”
Emotionally wrecked he wanted to kill her, but a part of him was fighting it.
She hissed. “I won’t grow older in looks, I wanted to die when I jumped off that cliff, I wanted you all to die with me, the whole world to be gone.”
She was beautiful, even as she told him her story, Katse softened, slumping from her painful memories. Soft curls resting on her creamy shoulders. The whisper of a sweet perfume of summer flowers met his senses. The perfume Chiara wore often during his time with her.
“Chiara.” He gently said the name of the woman he thought her to be.
“The name I chose for myself.” Katse, softly smiled. “I wanted it all, I wanted to be free.”
A gentle hand rested on his shoulder. Jun stood close by.
“It’s over.” Ken said.” We hand her over to Kamo, she can face real justice for her crimes against our planet.”
Jun handed him something to bind her with, as tears stung his eyes. Shaking like he was in the middle of a snow storm with scant clothing, the weight of years of wanting to know the truth cut like ice. The price of seeking revenge had been high- and seeing Jun from the corner of his eye he wonder if the casualty list of loss in his life, was going to go higher.
“You have to kill me Joe.” Katse pleaded. “Let me die my own way.”
“The red rose.” Joe said softly, staring into her eyes.
“Red… was for our love.” Katse bitterly dropped her gaze to the floor. “The red rose bomb was for him. I gave him my heart and he shattered it.”
“The best revenge isn’t always death.” Ken beseeched him. “Joe…”
Joe drew in his emotions tight. “I’m not like you, nor was I ever a child of Galactor. I’m ISO, Science Ninja team.” He tied her up roughly. “I’m not my father, I’m my own man.”
He secured her, as they found a way out of the base. Katse had come by a small submarine, boarding it, pushing her inside and onto a seat. He stayed with Katse, watching her. She didn’t take her eyes of him, painfilled eyes of a fallen leader, as they left. Drained like a damn in a long drought emotionally, they both had nothing left to say.
“Jinpei and Ryu.” Jun sat in the communications seat as Ken piloted the sub out of the city basin.
“Hey Jun.” Ryu casually said.” Someone tried to plant a bomb on my ship. The bastard regretted that move when I caught him doing it. He didn’t like being hung over the side with a rope tied to his feet, with hungry sharks circling close by. The mongrel is now in an ISO prison as of an hour ago.”
“Happy to hear it.” Ken chimed in. “Have you heard from Jinpei?”
“Yeah, he called to say someone was waiting for him in his apartment, holding his girlfriend hostage. He’s okay the assassin isn’t, and his lovely lady is unharmed. Jinpei thought he was going to lose her in the fight when a gun went off- he was worked up badly. He’s booking flights for Utoland, he’s frantic about you and Ken there.” Ryu filled them in. “We were about to catch flights looking for you. You should answer your phones or bracelets occasionally. We thought you were in big trouble. Joe??”
“He’s with us.” Jun said into the mike. I’m happy Jinpei is okay. ” Jun let out a deep breath, shaking a little from her worry.
“We ahh… had a run in with an old… enemy.” Ken laughed lightly. “We’ll fill you in soon.”
Calling Kamo, he informed him he had a prisoner for him. He was surprised to hear who it was, and he gave Ken directions, with the sub to a closer underwater research base in the region. He was going to meet them there and take Katse into custody.
“I can’t believe it.” Kamo sounded excited. “We finally get to put a top Galactor leader on trial and its Berg Katse. The world will rejoice. “
“Yeah.” Ken replied. “Like the Nazi trials right.”
“You can say that.” Kamo agreed. “The world needs this, a reassurance Galactor is long dead.”
Joe wondered about his future, it was like a void in out space now, he could see nothing but blackness. The truth rocked his world, shattering it around him like thin sheets of ice.
Standing behind the glass watching the ISO officials interviewing the pretty dangerous woman in the small room sent shivers through Jun.
Ken was leaning against a far wall like if he moved it would collapse and Joe wouldn’t make eye contact with anyone. Brooding as the woman claiming to be Katse told her story in vivid details unfolding before her.
At first Jun seriously didn’t believe her. She witnessed Katse throwing himself or herself over a cliff heading towards a stream of lava. No one could survive that kind of dramatic fall.
But then again, they had believed no one could ever survive the amount of gunshot wounds Joe had endured in the final hours of that mission either.
One day she was in the Snack J, overwhelmed with grief and anger. The Eagle walked through door at the wrong moment in her day. Turning her wrath on him in a rare moment of truly standing up to him, in a time when she barely ever questioned an order. Calling him a traitor to his team- and demanding how could he have ordered Joe to be left alone to die. He took her abuse silently. Hand shoved in his pockets and stoic as usual.
Eventually he spoke a few words. “Joe wanted us to save the planet.”
“Save the planet?” She fumed at the time hating him for it. “Ryu wanted to take him back, you wouldn’t allow it. He could have been on his way to hospital. You only needed me and Jinpei to complete the mission.”
“I know you loved him, and--” Kens’ tone was almost a whisper, his voice breaking. “Joe… he… loved you… I… Jun… hate me now for his death even blame me, if it helps you feel better.” Turning away from her, he walked to the door, turning the handle, and pausing.
“Dr Nambu asked me to tell you there is a memorial for him in a week.” His tone even, after that he walked out and it was months before she saw him again.
It was in after math of mission was one long sad two of years of trying to pull her life back together. She was finally at a point where she could live with Joes death, coming to grips with her grief and even forgive Ken for his orders.
The Joe came back, like a ghost haunting them….
Side glancing the Condor, he had a way of turning up back in her life at a time when she could finally live without him.
The interview details didn’t change from what Katse had told them on the base. They had performed blood tests on her. The samples were off to the labs to compare DNA with ones they had on record of hair samples and skin that had been picked up from the real Katse during his time in command of the Galactor army.
Kamo walked in closer to the glass, folding his arms across his rounded chest. A knock on the door alerted him. Opening it, she was handed a sheet a paper by a lab assistant.
Taking his time to read it, the head of security in the ISO handed it to Ken, going over the information, not changing his facial expression, he handed it to Joe. Walking over she leaned into read it.
“Confirmation of DNA sample of female named Chiara 100% match to Berg Katse.”
Cyborg status confirmed of the subject from examination.
Joe balled up the paper into a tight ball, his biceps standing out from the tension.
“Let me have her, damn it. I wanna talk to the bloody bitch—” He hissed like a deadly snake.
“No.” Kamo’s tone was firm. “She stands trial now, formally charged for war crimes.”
“Fuck.” Joe slammed the chair against the walk, shattering it into pieces, bending metal. He stormed out of the room, and down the hall.
“You have our testimonies.” Ken straightened, making eye contact with Camo.
“Yes, you can go and rest now.” Camo briefly nodded, watching the two of them. “Katse isn’t going anywhere. They put in a restrainer device, inside of her systems to prevent escape. If she tries it, she’s shut down automatically.”
Kamo walked out into the corridor with them, falling into step he had a brief conversation about the process. The Eagle asked a few questions as he was told the testimonies and reports was enough for now. He had done the planet a service once more by capturing Katse alive before she could do any damage.
“Thank Joe for that one.” Ken said.” No matter how it came about, he exposed her for what she is, he stopped her. I was along for the ride.”
Stopping at his office door, Camo bid them farewell, indicating they were welcome to stay as long as they needed to in the underwater research base.
Ken was silent as they strolled through the complex. It was a smaller version of the old Crescent Coral base. With bigger viewing platforms throughout, Ken walked over to one of them. Standing in front of the window staring out like he used to do during the war against Katse. Before the place was destroyed in one of Katse’s rare victory moments.
Jamming his hands hard into his pockets she waited for him to say something.
Instead she chose to break the silence laying heavily between them.
“I’m going with Joe to Rome for a few days, he can’t be left alone, not now. He’s on the brink, and he needs--” She said softly, unsure of what Ken might read into it. He needs me… her thoughts trailed away…
Nodding, he finally turned to look at her.
“I thought you would.” He leaned against the glass. Even Ken couldn’t hide the full impact of finding Katse alive and trying rebuild Galactor from the ground up.
“I’m not going to make you decide between us.” Ken’s tone thickened. “I know you still care about him, with him… you could have a life, with me it’s not-“
She put a hand to his lips. “It’s not about who. I’m not making choices here.”
He stood there like statue, watching her with eyes like the ocean. Nothing else betrayed his deeper feelings, but his eyes were like the depths around them. She had learned how to read them.
Slowly her hand dropped away, moving in closer, she could feel his warmth, longing for more of what was starting between them, the forming chemistry and love.
But something held her back.
“I need time alone, by myself completely.” She finally said. “I’m not going to get back with Joe we are over- but for now, I…” How could she put her feelings into words?
It had been an amazing ride since she started the journey of becoming closer to Ken. It was whole world of discovery, like exploring lost places, and discovering lost treasure, that only she could see.
Clearing his throat. Lost for words, he simply placed his hand affectionately on her cheek, tender fingers encased her skin warming her soul. That simple action drew her back to moment of them in the old Dojo by the sea, when he confessed he loved. It felt like an eternity since that moment, it was less than two weeks.
Her mouth opened a little, turning slightly and pressing her lips against his palm- inside she trembled from his touch. Releasing her in a single motion by removing his hand, he reached into his pocket, pulling out something, and pressed a warm piece of metal into her hand. Closing her fingers around it, he squeezed them for a second with his own.
“It’s yours.” He said simply. “One day… if you choose to come back to Utoland. Please live the life you want to live.”
Ken walked towards the exit, running a hand through his tangled messy locks.
“I’m flying out of Venice, leaving on the transport sub in an hour.” He glanced over his shoulder, she saw a flicker of pain there in his carefully arranged features.” I’ll make sure your bags are okay at the hotel. Send them back with the sub, should be a few hours. Look after Joe- you’re right. He needs you now.”
Before she could say another word, he was gone.
Joe was brought of his catatonic state by Jun sitting on the edge of the bed. He had expected her to leave with Ken. Instead her she was sitting there with him. A glimmer of hope lit inside of him as to why she stayed behind, a part of him wondered about Ken’s words on the relationship she had with him and the depth of it.
The initial shock of the woman he knew as Chiara being truly Berge Katse had dimmed a little. She was in ISO now and have to find a way to accept the outcomes they would find in the official court hearings.
Not in his life had imagined revenge would turn out more bitter than the event of his parent’s death. It was going take for it to all sink in and process. His lifelong mission was over, now what?
Turning his grey eyes onto her- Pushing himself up onto his elbows, he tried to sit up more, ignoring her offer to help, he threw his legs over the side, placing his bare feet on the ground.
“You’re not going home with Ken?” He said waiting.
Shaking her head, Jun wasn’t giving much away, mentioning she would instead being go to Rome with him. He found that interesting, and the possibility Ken had it wrong.
Raising an eyebrow, he asked her way.
“We can talk.” She said softly. “You and I need to talk.”
“Ken?” He asked. “Does he know where you’re going?”
“Yes.” She answered simply.” He knows, we had a talk too.”
She appeared to be contemplative, unsure of something.
“Alright.” He said pulling on his shoes.” We go to Rome and talk.”
He hoped it was about their relationship, and a possible third chance at making it work again, Ken didn’t say a lot when he came to see him before he left. He did mention Jun was free to make her own choices and live her own life as she chooses. It sounded like she didn’t see it as serious, as he made it all out to be between the two of them.
She stood up waiting. “My luggage arrived a few minutes ago. We can leave as soon as you’re ready.”
“I’m ready now.” He stood up next her, a whole foot and half shorter than him, he couldn’t wait to see why she had stayed behind.
Joe finished his round of shopping for a few items of clothing, he’d flown into Venice with a few threads on his back. Jun had patiently as always helped him find a few things, new shoes and bag to put the extra’s into.
They’d booked into accommodation a few hours before. A tad disappointed she booked a single bed room for herself when they approached the desk.
A minor thing, and he should have expected it.
“Want take those things back?” She said, as they walked through a small plaza, eating gelato.
“Yeah.” He said absently. “We can find some dinner, a few places close by sound good.”
He hadn’t had much to say. Images of his father as a child crept up on him constantly. A warm loving father, kissing his wife in front of him, telling her he loved her. Playing games and the toy racing track with battery cars for them spend hours on.
The moment Giuseppe Asakura walked out his front door he became a different man.
He understood some of his mother’s sad face when he came home of an evening, as she held one of his father’s shirts.
It was like she sensed something, an argument in the bedroom they’d had when he was supposed to be sleeping. Her tears and demanding he tell her the truth.
Not all was as it appeared in his memories, he had selectively suppressed more than he ever realized of the other side of his childhood home.
Dropping his bag into the small room, Jun had opted for some time to shower and change before they went out again.
The Swan emerged wearing basic blue jeans, and a classic white blouse, simple shoes and her hair caught up in a bun. He’d hoped she’d wear a dress, he loved seeing her in mini-skirts and sexy tops. She used to wear them for him all the time, and he loved taking them off her.
“You look nice.” He found some words, she warmly smiled and they walked down the narrow street towards the row of restaurants. Soft lights on cobble stone paths probably set in place by the Romans he figured.
Picking a restaurant was harder, Jun was steering clear of the more intimate settings from her responses. His usual attempts to create a more romantic atmosphere fell flatter than a French crepe onto a hot plate.
They eventually agreed on a pizza place, with tables outside. The temperate evening allowed for outdoor dining.
Perusing the menu in Italian, he was picked out a few dishes he figured they’d both like. When the waiter came to order, he automatically went to order for her.
“Ahhh…no, I don’t want the pumpkin and parsley gnocchi.” Jun replied, using her fingers to communicate with waiter.
“What?? You love the gnocchi, it’s your favourite dish when I cook it for you.” He exclaimed in surprise. She pointed to a dish on the menu, smiling.
“Lovely choice.” Th waiter replied in a heavy accent. He sounded used to English speaking tourists.
“We’ll have the antipasto and garlic pizza.” She said. “Joe will have the gnocchi, and I’ll have the veal scaloppini. That lovely rocket and parmesan salad too.”
He wasn’t used to Jun doing the ordering, that was his job. She used to let him take care of things like that. She looked at him for any objections about the order. Waving a hand, he was alright with it, the waiter proceeded to finish writing it, and left.
A few minutes later he brought out the red wine he’d picked. At least she didn’t change that too.
Pouring her a glass, she rested in her chair taking in the scenery.
“A few changes in you since we last met.” He noted.
“Maybe.” She sighed, sipping at her wine. “I don’t know, have I changed much?”
Pausing, he wondered.
“You never would have taken over the ordering like that.” He said. “I know you and Ken had a thing going and it’s odd to be here with me after you two obviously were in bed together a few nights ago. But… hell, why are we here now?”
“To the point as always.” She sat up more in her seat as the antipasto was placed on their table. She had an idea of flavours from her conversation, talking about cooking methods? What had gotten into Jun, she hated the kitchen, or so he thought.
Taking the bread and cheese, and some dried tomato, he salivated on the rich flavours for a while waiting.
“You left me with a scant note that might as well read. “I’m sorry darling, I must go on my revenge crusade with the damsel in distress who knows who destroyed my childhood and can’t do it without me,I love you, but your helpless too and can’t do anything to assist me in my crusade. Keep the wedding gown on hold until I one day come back to marry you. Of course… you’ll wait for me, even though I’m not telling you a thing. I’m protecting you dearest. ” Her tone was even. “You keep looking at me like you’re expecting something more from me.”
Lounging back in his seat, placing a finger on his lips he looked away from her. Harsh, but it had some subconscious truth in it.
“You’re angry I get it, I deserve a few blows.” He finally said. “Ken was there and it happened between you right?”
Shaking her head, she pursed her lips tight. “No, he wasn’t the next man available in my life to fill in space in your absence.”
Another fight was brewing, exhaling, shifted in his seat, an awkward silence sat between them for a while. Jun broke it eventually.
“I had a boyfriend for a few months after you left.” She leaned forward, playing with a fork.” It was fun, but nothing serious, a few other lovers after it. Ken knew about it, he didn’t judge me for it. He had a few himself. I shouldn’t have to explain it to you. But I feel like you need to know.”
“Then what?” He waited.
“I feel in love with Ken long before we slept together. He allowed me to have space to find who I am as a person. Not what he wanted me to be. He’s still doing it, I asked him for time and space, and he didn’t pressure me, knowing I’m here with you, and for him it is a risk he’s willing to take for my freedom. He knows he could lose me and we have things to talk about too- but he’s not clinging to me…. He encouraged me to do things that I thought I was hopeless at doing for to be independent. We were friends long before that night we become more… so much more.”
Their mains came and the table cleared again. They both drank a few more glasses and the air thickened between them.
“I was clingy?”He scoffed, surprised. “I…Jun…I… “
“You didn’t trust me enough to tell me about your illness all those years ago, being made into a cyborg, or your last mission. I could have helped you, maybe together we could have figured her out sooner. But…no… you have to go it alone. Shut me out.”
Inside his heart pounded like a hammer as it hit him like a punch in the mouth. They’d never talked on this level emotionally, she was always accepting of his explanations in the past. Happy to have him back in her life each time he left her- than expect more of him. Deep down he could see now each time he hurt her, betrayed her in trust and she tried hard to accept it all again, and to love him.
“You should have said something.” He whispered. “Years ago.”
“We had old habits you and I.” She said looking out into the street. “That’s what they are now, old lovers who knew what to expect from each other because we were good together in bed. It was good for a while each time even fun…but only a while, it wasn’t going to last. Sooner or later we’ll fall back into the same pattern.”
He stewed on it, she was the only person who really understood him. His heart ached for what they once had before his obsession for revenge got in the way again.
Declining the dessert menu, she paid her half of the bill. Another sting, he was an Italian man, he should have paid for it all.
Walking back to the hotel, she declined the stroll he indicated along a romantic street with views. Reaching for her hand, he wanted to spend more time with her. She let it go… gutted, by that action she throwing all sorts of hints his way of change.
“I’m tired.” She said. “We can talk more tomorrow.”
Talking he thought, side glancing her. She was a vision even in simple attire.
He walked with her to her hotel room door.
Standing for moment partially blocking the way he was still searching for a way back into her heart. Placing a hand on her shoulder, she turned a little face. Leaning in, all it would take was a kiss on her lips to send the old sparks flying, but turned her head, and he ended with a light kiss on her cheek.
“See you tomorrow at breakfast.” She opened door, went inside without looking back. The soft sounds of it closing behind her, hit him harder than expected. She treated him no more than she would a plutonic friend.
Leaving the building, he had to blow off some steam. Adjusting to a different way of being around Jun was harder than he thought. His automatic reaction was a continuation of their relationship.
The next few days together were more, small conversations in coffee shops and seeing the sights, and forming a new kind of relationship. He talked a little about his returning memories of his mixed-up childhood.
They even had a laugh about her email photos of her wedding gown, and learning Ken was the photographer. He suggested she frame a few. The air was lightening and becoming more comfortable again.
He coming to know Jun in a way he hadn’t before now. She made the suggestion he see a psychologist- and get real help this time. He scoffed at the idea of a head shrinker telling him he had post trauma and deep conversations. He wasn’t a broken toy to be fixed. A part of him for once listened to her. He had to move on in life somehow. He’d at least give it a go, for once in his life.
Over breakfast one morning Jun announced she had booked a flight to Ameris, and she was going to stay with Jinpei and his fiancée for a week, and then she was going on a road trip across country by herself. He offered her company and she declined it.
“Where will you go from here?” She asked him over as the waiter delivered their coffee, the early morning breeze was pleasant. Soft and cool, and the sounds of cars drifted through the air and people going about their business.
“I don’t know.” He admitted. “Hire a car, and drive.”
Jun pulled out a pen and paper, warmly smiling.
“What’s this?” He asked picking it up, it had rows of numbers.
“A bucket list.” She picked up the pen and wrote the title. “Start thinking of things you’d like to do, places you want to see. The kind of life-“
Holding up a hand, he sat back in in seat.
“Life.” He shook his head. “I’m not dying, I’m a cyborg remember. Runs on batteries.”
She pushed the notebook back towards him insisting he take her seriously. “Neither am I and I have a Bucket list, so does Ken. It was his idea.”
Picking it up again, he accepted her gift saying. “I’ll write a few things, give me time to think about it.”
“Joe, your still special in my life. I realized seeing you again we need to be somewhere in each, others lives. I want us to be friends, not hate each other.” She searched his eyes.
The revelation was new, but she had hit on his real reasons for wanting her back. He didn’t want her gone completely from his life, he missed her and the bond formed through war. He could do it, he could be her friend. It could work out that way.
“I want us to be friends too.” He said, to help her understand he was serious he added. “Don’t take that bullshit from Ken about his cancer and being a hero wanting to save you the pain of him being sick. If that’s the results. I can kick his butt if you need some help waking him up to what he has in you.”
She glowed from his words. It was what she needed to hear from him. This was the real conversation they both needed to have to move forward in their life. He didn’t really lose Jun after all. The pain inside eased from those thoughts as she stood up to pack her bags for her flight.
“Really.” She asked expectantly. “You’re okay with me…seeing Ken? You don’t hate him?”
“Yeah.” He resided.” It’ll take some time getting used to the idea, but I can live with it being Ken, not some stranger. I’ll go and drop in on him, see this new house. Have a man to man talk over beer.”
With those last words she warmed even more. She even allowed him to embrace her one last time as friends. He was relieved, even though it was over, and they were finally on a path of healing the rifts between them and finding a life.
It had been weeks since he parted from Jun in the ISO research Centre. Thinking over the last weeks as he jogged around the grounds of the airfield, sighting the hanger, and the temptation to take his plane out for another run. He was currently grounded due to an aviation fuel strike in the industry. He had to conserve what he had in the tanks, until another delivery could be made.
Then there was the small apartment she renovated, how many times had he gone to knock on the door, hoping she was there….
Jinpei, had called him, informing him she had stayed for a week at his house, and hired a road bike. She left on a road trip across the country. He wasn’t sure of her destinations. She wanted time alone and that’s all she told him of her plans.
Ken had made his way home eventually. Picking up the costumes and neatly packing Jun’s things into her suitcase. He sank onto the bed he’d spent a few hours of bliss with her making love, a moment of intimacy he couldn’t shake. What was going to happen from this point on he wasn’t sure.
The appearance of Katse had sent doubts into his mind about Galactors demise. Camo reassured him that Katse was now a small fish in the sea. Galactor was broken, and the person Katse had become was still delusional, caught up the old days of time when she was a powerful leader in a strong army.
His heart aching the Eagle sent her bag down stairs for the young ISO man waiting for it. Sending it back with him to the sub, she would have it in a few hours.
He wondered if she would change her mind about them, then whole events of the last few days consuming his thoughts as he drove the hire car from the outskirts of Venice to the airfield his new red plane was in a hanger waiting for his return.
The flight home was lonely, the passenger seat empty. He missed her company already, a stab in his heart that it soured.
That’s when the threw all of his focus into completing the new house, working long hours with other workmen, laying carpet in the bedrooms, polishing the rich timber flooring in the main sections of the house. Painting walls, and bringing the new house to life inside and out.
He could totally focus on the job- and forget his personal struggles. It was during that time a white envelope arrived. He knew what the contents of it would be. His test results. He had decided not to go into the doctor’s office to find out, so his doctor sent to him in letter form.
The envelope sat on the kitchen bench unopened.
Dragging his thoughts back to the present, he held in his hands a package that had arrived during the day. It was heavy, and expensive to post.
Taking it into the new dining table, with a light thud, placing it onto the black tinted timber table, and, Ken slowly opened the brown box. Hesitating for a moment, he left it there as he walked up stairs and into the new bedroom.
A simple king-sized bed with white linen coverings, was resting against the wall. A luxury compared to his shack. He undressed from his workout clothing and showered. Deciding afterwards he would do a few more exercises. He pulled out his black karate Gee. Leaving the room, he walked back into the kitchen.
He was met with white paper filling, as the stuff spilled out like foam onto the table as he unpacked the parcel.
Searching through the paper fill to find the contents. He eventually placed his fingers on a smooth metal piece sitting towards the bottom.
Pushing away the final bits of paper, tearing the tissue off it. A glimmer of gold met his eyes in the soft lighting of the room.
It was beautiful, a mon made to the exact image of his family symbol shone before him.
The mon was made to go on the front door of the house, an Eagle inside of a circular piece of golden metal. The Eagles wings in flight, like the scattering of autumn leaves, and its intense eyes staring back at him. A set of claws were moulded over the edge of the circle. Like it was coming into land.
Who did this for him? He wondered for a moment. It was a majestic gift, one that touched his soul.
Family had always been important him, he forgave his father for not telling him he his identity. He had fought grief and bitterness over his losses during the war. It had been a hard road to walk, but he come out the other side a better man for it.
Running his fingers over the metal, he couldn’t wait to have it mounted. It was the finishing touch on the house. The welcome and acknowledgment of his heritage.
The door had been painted black, a contrast to the lighter colours of the outside walls, and warmth of the timber flooring in the entry way. Carrying it along the wide corridor lined with show cases of the kimono’s in the recessed display boxes Jun had designed. He stopped in front of one kimono.
The pretty patterned one, splayed with Cherry blossoms. A tear stung his eye, threatening to fall as he stared at it a piece of her. He could vividly see her grace and beauty as she poured him the tea. Elegant fingers clasping the tea pot, and her warmth as he leaned in to kiss her soft cherry lips
The memory of that golden afternoon, was burned into his mind, was more precious than gold. He loved her, and hoped where ever she was, she was happy. He wondered if she would find another home, and eventually he’d receive a notice of where she was living. A moving truck at the hanger one day… the whole idea of her gone from his side broke his heart.
He assessed the mounts and small holes for it to be placed there.
Racing to his tools, he pulled out what he needed. Taking his time to ensure it was centred correctly, at the right height. Finally satisfied, he began to the task of using the electric drill to make the holes in the door. Then the electric screw driver to put the first mounting screws in place.
Once the job was finished, he closed the door stepping backwards. The sunlight hit the Eagle, sending streams of golden rays across the entry to the house. He thought the Eagle would spring to life at any moment.
Touched by the gift, he wasn’t sure who to thank for it.
Joe had dropped into see him a month ago, spending a few days working with him. They had a few evenings of beer and the usual small talk. In that time, he realized Joe was still friends with Jun but there was nothing more between them. Their few days in Rome had been more closure to their previous relationship and forgiveness.
Joe had a bucket list- a shock to Ken when he mentioned it, he choked on a mouthful, of beer thinking Joe would scoff at the idea.
That brought a smile to his face, the Condor was thinking of a real life than floundering around in the dark. He had a few ideas. His first stop was to see Ryu and meet his partner, see his trawler and catch up with Jinpei. Joe was then going to purchase a luxury trailer- and go on a driving tour of Europe. It was a start for him in a new life, and he promised to keep in touch.
Heading down the glass walkway towards his Dojo. The new training room was finished a few days before. The rice walls and traditional setting was one of his favourite places. He spent a few hours doing katas on the new flooring- Testing it out barefoot.
Something caught his attention. His instincts kicked in as the sun set across the skies. The feeling of not being alone.
Jerking around ready for battle, he looked for the intruder around the dojo, he’d hear a creaky floor board if the person was outside. A deliberate addition to the outside sections. He didn’t like the idea of someone sneaking up on him.
Could his imagination be playing tricks?
Moving silently thought the courtyard, and into a side entrance, he could hear the shuffle of feet on the floor boards. He wasn’t expecting visitors. But someone was inside the house.
He peaked through one of the windows, and not seeing anyone, he kept moving. Carefully opening the door enough to get inside. Ken tiptoed through house staying ready for a fight as soon as he came across the intruder.
The sounds metal clanging in the kitchen gave him direction.
Whoever it was, they were a hopeless thief. He thought.
Spying a hand from around the corner, he gauged his next move. Crouching low behind a lounge seat, he moved like a whisper on the wind. Coming up behind the person he was so focused on ensuring he had the upper hand. He didn’t see the persons face before he acted.
Placing an arm around the intruder’s throat, he clenched the smaller person into a tight headlock. Gritting his teeth and coping a, hard sharp elbow in his stomach, a few swift moves, black long hair whirled around the person, sending him backwards, and over the lounge, he leapt into action again. Determined to pacify the thief in his house.
He steeled himself for a fight, as the figure swiftly flew over the lounge after him, and landed square on top of him. Going for his fists, and pinning him to the floor, a familiar voice broke through his concentration before he could land a punch in her face.
“You should try looking at the person before you attack Ken.” The female voice scolded him. “You’re paranoid.”
Stopping him in his track, he lay splayed on the floor, a pair of twinkling green eyes met stunned blue.
“What are you doing here? Can’t you at least knock?” He said still unable to tear his eyes off the vision in front of him.
“You gave me a front door key, I figured that means I can come in without knocking.” She leaned in, he could feel her breath on his face for a single moment and, the fall of long locks around him like a waterfall. As she lifted herself off him top of him-and headed towards the kitchen.
Ken watched in fascination the woman working comfortably in the huge kitchen with the latest appliances he was still trying to work out how to use. He studied her every movement like she was a creature he had never beheld before. The scents coming from the place was amazing, a mixture of garlic and assorted herbs, his stomach rumbled from anticipation. She was light as a feather as she danced merrily about the kitchen making dinner.
“Ken.” She piped up, glancing up from her work. “I’m almost done here. Will you ahh.” She pointed a dainty red finger nail towards oven, and then indicated to the smooth granite bench top. “Get that out for me- and place it on the heat mat. I’ll back in minute.”
“Sure.” He moved swiftly as she walked past. “Won’t be a be a minute, I need to change.”
Her cheeky smile, made him lighten up a bit more, and he fought to overcome his shock. He hadn’t heard a word from her since the day she left him. Now it was like they had made plans for dinner all along that night and should have known.
“Placing the hot dish on the mat, he strolled over to the table already set with a decorative bunch of flowers, candles, and dishes. She had laid it all out carefully while he was busy in the dojo working on new moves and invisible enemies.
Then she emerged a few minutes in a dress that sent his jaw to the floor.
Her fingers gently touched his chin, closing it, winking as she sailed past him a whirl of soft scarlet silk. Touching his five o’clock whiskers, running a finger across his chin and cheek.
“You having shaved in the last few days.” She merrily chirped. “A few minutes earlier than I expected you. How was your workout?”
“Ahhh.” He tried to catch up. “It was… umm.”
She warmly smiled with red tinted lips, picking up a platter and handing it too him. Taking her queue, he carried the hot dish to the table. Glancing over his shoulder, he watched her whirling though the black and white kitchen like a splash of paint had been thrown at her, in an old silver screen film she stood as a lovely contrast to the plain backdrop.
Heart thumping in his chest, swelling from the feelings running around inside of him from the sight of her being there.
“Smells great.” He said, swallowing a lump in his throat. “What’s for dessert?”
“Sometimes, you are a little slow.” Her laughter was like silver bells to his ears. “It’s in front of you. Later…”
Feeling his cheeks warming as he stared at her beauty, he was catching up on her hints.
The scarlet halter-neck gown flowed like a gentle stream along her curves to the waist. Completely backless, and if she moved slightly he caught a glimpse of a curved bare breast rippling underneath. The cut rested gently on her hips- and flowed full around her ankles as she walked. Bare feet with red polished toe nails, he could tell she had thought it all out in advance.
A classy simple look, the kind he liked on a woman, a statement without hiding the woman, keeping a feminine touch without it taking away from her beauty with overbearing bling and glitter.
Mini skirts and shorter tops he didn’t really find as attractive as a woman wearing simple clothing with confidence. More conservative himself as a man he appreciated class in a lady.
She had grown in confidence over the years. The woman she become emerged before him eyes, a graceful classy lady, with her own mind, still sweet in her nature, but less likely to allow him to walk on her like he used too.
Admiring the bareness of her long neck, midnight hair caught up casually in a few long, enamelled sticks.
The marking her left shoulder blade caught his eye, it was new.
Walking up as she finished placing the last dish, he ran his fingers over the tattoo.
She shivered as he touched it, like sparks igniting between them, she sighed happily.
The white swan in the picture wasn’t sitting quietly on a pond, like many artworks he’d seen over the years. This one was in full flight, its wings spread wide, and long neck stretched as it worked with the wind. When she moved slightly, and the ripples of her creamy skin across her shoulder blade made it appear to be in motion. He found it fascinating, and sexy, it had a sense of class to it, that other tattoos he had seen lacked.
“Jun, when did you get this done?” He asked as she turned to face him. Warming from his touch, her green eyes softened.
“During my road trip, we can talk more over dinner.” She indicated he sit, and sliding out a chair for her, she graciously accepted.
“Suits you, and I would have never imagined you with a tattoo.” He said. “Umm… I should have changed clothes.” He hesitated, half standing to find something more suited.
“No, I love what your wearing.” She side glanced through dark lashes, nodding with approval of his black Gee with its golden mon on the back.
“Enjoy.” She was brimming with joy, he every movement and eye contact indicated she was where she belonged.
What a contrast the day had morphed into, when he woke up, he was missing her, lonely for her touch. Wanting to see her and wondering where she could be in the world. And now here she was dressed for a date, and in his home, filling it with joy and tinkling laughter.
Her mood was infectious, throughout the meal they talked, and laughed, like she hadn’t left him for a moment. She held the envelope in tip of her fingers.
“This is your test results right?” She asked, placing it between them as they finished the meal.
“Yes.” He answered, not looking at it.
“I remember you saying often it determined a certain direction in your life.” She said.” What your future plans would be… lets take a look. Number 1. If its positive, more cancer, than you’d be running off to spend your last days fighting insurgents and future evil dictators. Noble of course. Then there is your second option.”
She waited, leaning more forward on the table. “You could stay here and find another way to make a difference in the world. Starting smaller this time.”
Wiping his mouth with the serviette he wondered what she had in mind.
“I also have a suggestion involving your first option.” She tapped the envelope with a polished nail.
“You have been thinking about this a lot?” He furrowed his brows, working on the puzzle she was presenting him.
“I hired a pretty house almost on top of the sand on an isolated beach for a week during my road trip.” She sighed heavenly. “It was a stunning location, dreamy from the sounds of crashing waves, walks along the sand, and lapping foamy water at my feet. The Whole time I wanted you there with me. Holding my hand, talking about our next Bucket list adventure…”
“Sounds beautiful, we could go there one day again-“ He said, she cut him off.
Jun frowned for a moment, coming close to scolding him. “Not if you take off to fight bad guys again as Gatchaman, going rogue and leaving me here in a big house all by myself.”
“Ahh… Jun.” He pleaded for a minute, halting from her glare.
“How about this idea.” She leaned in closer again. “ You think about a successor for Gatchaman, find someone who id worthy of it. No matter what outcome you find on the piece of paper inside this envelope.”
She hit on a something he hadn’t given any thought too. What came after him? How could he continue his mission to protect the planet if his birdstyle died with and legacy died with him- like back in ancient Rome when a legion was falling, there was no one to pick up the golden Eagle off the battle field and carry on the fight.
“Dr Nambu was a man who thought beyond himself into the future for a better planet.” She said. “He found you to become Gatchaman- and he could have easily have lead the team himself of soldiers older than us. But he found us, younger than him teenagers. Why do think he did that?”
“Forward planner, leadership.” Ken said softly. “He…he was skilled enough, could have done it without us and your right soldiers with more experience.”
“He was a fighter, like you, and your father. He grew older, he understood a person isn’t nibble and flexible forever, a younger person has what is needed in that kind of job. Either way, you need a successor.” Her gentle smile returned. “Ken, think past your own time into the future. You’re good at seeing the bigger picture, that’s what future planning is. The bigger picture.”
“I love you.” His voice thickened emotionally. He was closer to her than anyone he’d ever had in his life.
She blushed from his words, warming more as he touched her hand.
He fully understood her logic. Sitting back in the chair, stroking his stubble, watching his intelligent lady, and warming to her ideas, she saw into the details and into him as a person.
She picked up the envelope to open it, he placed a tender hand onto hers shaking his head.
“Tonight, let’s not have anything interfering with us.” He warmly hinted. “I like your ideas, lets rest on them, talk more in the morning.”
Picking up the dirty dishes, he headed towards the new kitchen. Part their early deals in cooking was if she cooked he washed up. Things had become easier and she voiced a note of how he was getting of the hook lightly now. She got his ideas on traditional roles, and she challenged him on it from time to time. Secretly he need it from her.
The task had been made simpler by the twin automatic dishwashing system. Strategically filling it up, she walked in holding her glass of red wine. Placing it on the counter with a clink, she strolled over closer. She was hotter than the colour of her gown, trembling he wanted her badly.
He couldn’t hold out any longer, reaching behind her, and pulling out the sticks holding in her hair, it fell seductively around her shoulders. Pulling her into his strong arms hands resting on the small of her back, feeling her warm flesh he wanted to explore what was underneath. He drew her soft lips into his with a burning kiss, deepening it by the second, the passion between them grew more urgent crushing her body against him. He wanted to caress her all over until she ached for him. Pulling at the belt of his Gee, it unravelled allowing the cotton jacket to fall open, running her hands over his tight torso.
His fingers slid into the bodice from the side, confirming his suspicions…. She wasn’t wearing a bra as he touched her bare breast, rolling a nipple between his fingers, feeling it harden.
His other hand slipped over the gentle curve of her spine down underneath the silk, loosening the zipper, touching a bare smooth bare bottom. No panties, he found it incredibly sexy.
Jun moaned wanting him, falling into his arms without resistance. Breathing more heavily as his fingers moved down further squeezing her bottom tight, feeling her toned flesh. Pulling her close so she could feel his physical response to her.
Turning her around dramatically in a whirl of red fabric, clasping her body firmly against his, she reached up clutching clumps of his hair as his fingers parted her toned thighs underneath the dress. She’d had a Brazilian waxing, feeling the thin strip of pubic hair, she was gorgeous. Taking her weight, she went to jelly from his massage of her feminine folds. Opening her mouth, she pulled his head down so she could kiss him as he stimulated her.
“Ken...please…oh…yes… ” She breathed into his mouth clutching him tighter, pressing harder against him, he could feel her cum from the heated moisture of her loins.” Oh…my…I want you, all of you.” She cried out.
Collapsing into his arms, he picked her up in his arms, aching to be inside of her. He briskly headed towards the staircase towards the bedroom leaping two steps at time.
Waking up with content, Jun’s eyes fluttered open, groggy from a few hours sleep, they had made love and talked for a while afterwards more about their feelings. A rare conversation with a man like him, he opened up more in the moonlight, than in the sun.
Soft rays of the early morning grew a little brighter, warming the room with its huge panoramic windows.
Ken was still sleeping, a mop of messy hair and white sheets, sprawled out beside her like an octopus. She could tell he’d been accustomed to sleeping alone.
A confession he’d made about his previous encounters, he usually left not long afterwards. That stunned her for a moment, and then full impact of that statement lay beside her warming her body and breathing rhythmically.
He was waking up with her….
Ken in love, became a less ridged man in private.
Laying on her stomach, head turned to watch him- she waited for him to open his big blue eyes, move slightly and look at her.
At first when she had told him she needed space it was more than finally bringing to a full close her relationship with Joe. It was also because she was trying to reconcile her own aching pain at the thought of Ken denying any more chemo if he needed it. The painful thought of him quitting, even in guise of leaving to fight battles. He would be still surrendering to an internal enemy. She wondered if she had the strength to witness him dying.
She came back because she was in deeper love with him than she originally thought. Walking along a beach, wet sand between her toes, soft foam lapping the shoreline she had time to think.
Leaving him too wasn’t going to mend her heart if he was still sick. It would be worse, she couldn’t let him fight alone, no matter what he decided. He wasn’t a hero to be alone, unlike others in comic books, he always had a team beside him. He had her by his side because she chose to be.
Unlike her last relationship, she wouldn’t be left a mess by him leaving her through death, she had a grown into a less needy person. She was more herself in their relationship. He allowed her space explore her own life, even then.
“Good morning.” She whispered as he opened his eyes, the sky blue was more intense in colour in the first rays of sunlight.
“I slept in.” He yawned contented. “Morning.”
Moving in closer to him, wrapping her into his arms, they lay there together in silence for a while.
“What happens today?” He asked. “Tomorrow…”
The envelope lay on the side table, her heart hammering. Reaching over and opening it before he could protest, she pulled out the letter, and read it.
“I’m here, with you.” She laid the paper onto his chest. “No matter what it says.”
“What did it say?” His tone even.” Well?”
“Read it.” She hinted. “Why do want to hear it from my lips.”
“You know we haven’t discussed the obvious obstacle in our relationship.” He sounded extremely serious. “You want children, and one day you’ll regret being in a relationship with a man who can’t give them to you.”
He was thinking of everything, always wondering why she would stay.
Resting her arms onto his chest, she made sure she had direct eye contact. It was true she wanted to be a mother, and it was also true he longed to be a father himself.
“I do want children.” She admitted honestly. “But you haven’t asked me how.”
“Ahh.” He faltered, a little confused. “How?”
“I remember you asking me would I ever return to the orphanage me and Jinpei we found in.” She said, watching the expression in his eyes change. “There is more than one way of becoming a parent.”
He was still processing it. There were times, when could be a dolt. A little slow on hints. The smaller details boggled him at times.
“Well, we could adopt.” She said more enthusiastically. “Raise a few orphaned kids like me and Jinpei were… like us.”
“You’d be happy, adopting a child over giving birth to your own? Not having a child looking like you?” He maintained his seriousness. “I could raise a child not biologically my own. Dr Nambu taught me what being a real father is… beyond creating one. I loved him as my father as I did my biological father… its hard to explain those feelings.”
Not to me, she thought. She understood his meaning fully.
She answered truthfully. “Loving a child isn’t just about your own DNA. There are kids who need parents out there. I remember what it was like longing for a mother… or a father… we can change that in a child’s life. What do you think?”
“We can start by figuring out living arrangement.” Ken sat up, the paper fell to the floor. “No matter what… Jun I promise… I’ll fight it.”
There words she’d been waiting to hear. He wasn’t quitting, a child depending on him, brought back to being a warrior. Observing the determination creeping back into his spirit gave her hope.
“Stay here.” His smile turned almost mischievous. Untangling himself from her arms, he walked into the bathroom, emerging a few minutes later, she watched his naked bottom as he walked out of the room.
Sitting up, she ran her fingers through tangled hair.
He came back into the room carrying a lacquered timber box. Placing it on the bed before her, she opened it revealing inside…
Gasping as the impact of his precious gift hit her, emotionally overwhelmed she touched the contents lovingly.
“You gave me the golden Mon on the front door didn’t you.” He moved so he could sit beside her, pulling her into his arms.
“Yes, I had it made for you.” Her words thickened with the intensity of the love she was feeling.
“In my heart I knew it was you, and it was out of love for me.” He touched her bare skin tenderly. “I give you my heart, all of me, no matter how long I’m here for. I want you to be more than my lover.” He said warmly.
Pulling out the white silk kimono, and running her fingers over the embroidered cranes, outlined in silver thread she was like his ancestor’s geisha. The bridal kimono was his proposal to her, the gift of his heart, and for her to be his bride.
Accepting his gift with her whole heart, she cried yes. He kissed her lips tenderly warming her with his love, flooding her soul, as their life together began with a list of goals and places it had become more.
“Welcome home Jun.” He said warmly as they parted. “This is as much your home as it is mine.”
He was right, she was home at last in the house they built together.
Eighteen months later…
It was a bright sunny after as the guests gathered around them, standing under the pretty pink blooms of a Cherry blossom tree. She was wearing the bridal kimono standing next to her husband waiting for photo’s Ken was wearing a traditional Japanese wedding attire, the black light silk jacket set off his darker hair.
The Eagle was standing tall proud of his family, he hadn’t stopped smiling the whole time. Greeting guests and stopping to sternly pull into line his daughter for arguing with her six-year-old brother, the youngest boy was only a toddler, he was with Ryu and his partner playing and wondering, keeping them on their toes. The children had a sad story, their father died tragically, and their mother married again within the year.
They had become the parents of three siblings from the orphanage. The eldest a young girl of eight years old, and strong willed. Challenged him at times, but she was also keen to learn her father’s fighting skills on the Dojo.
Her new husband didn’t want the children from her first marriage. The three of them were placed into the orphanage. It wasn’t uncommon for it to happen, but they had gone to see her before adopting the three of them as their own. She gave them her blessing of becoming their new parents. She already had another baby- and was pregnant again with twins. A complex situation, that tore Jun’s heart, but she accepted they wouldn’t be returning to their birth mother.
Ken had ten students, all of them at the wedding. Hearing him being addressed as Hakase, by them warmed her heart. He had beaten cancer- and he was still in remission.
Some of their guests were old friends like Yuki. It turned out Jinpei’s new wife was her daughter Dr Nambu’s only child. A more serious young woman than her husband, she had gone into the field of science and was working within the ISO.
The swallow had an interesting relationship with his mother-in-law, who at times didn’t know how take his mischievous nature. She scolded him often for his double meanings and hyper temperament, but she could tell Yuki liked him from the hidden smiles when the Swallows back was turned. She was holding Jinpei and his wife’s newborn son loving being a grandmother at last.
In the crowd stood Joe alone, catching her eye, and walking towards them. Her heart warmed for a moment, seeing him there. She had fond memories of her time with him- and was happy he came to the wedding. She had wondered if he would come when she sent him the wedding invitation. Greeting them warmly, he asked about a photo with his two closest friends. The photographer snapped away, rounding up the family for more photos.
“Where are you two off too for the honeymoon.” Joe asked casually.
He was putting together a racing team, he had shown them pictures of his new red racing car, sponsors and big truck to transport him and the team across Ameris and onto other locations.
He was excited about his future. She could also see a woman a tall woman with short blond locks, sharp eyes, working on his race car in one of the photos. Joe warmed when asked about her, bragged about her ability to fix anything mechanical, but he didn’t elaborate more. His eyes did linger on her in one photo afterwards.
Ken told him about the Maldives for a week, in a romantic hut set out on the ocean, then they would be flying onto another location. They would be joining a team climbing Mount Everest. Joe made a remark on it not really being a romantic location for a honeymoon.
“The Maldives is the romantic location; the waters are incredibly clear and the hut is amazing- followed by the Aurora’s in Finland later in the year.” She had it planned out. A family holiday with the children at the beach after their Everest climb.
She could finally see a future. One day some else would become the Eagle and the Swan, the rest of the team had agreed on successors for their birdstyles as Ken decided on candidates for the new team.
It wasn’t the end of their story, it was just the beginning.