Rose Tea and Jeopardy

Makoto sits down with Hiroshi in her Tea Lair. And is normal at him. He is remarkably unprepared for this.

Date: 2017-07-04
Pose Count: 32
Kazuo Takeba 2017-07-04 19:47:32 79950
They've tried telling people. They've tried putting up a sign. They've tried leaving the door unlocked. They've tried issuing invitations. They've tried telling people again. Sometimes they've tried leaving the door blocked open.

All of this is insufficient. Sometimes, people visiting Mamoru's apartment flatly ignore the 'this living room is effectively public space, please just come in' rule and still revert to politeness by knocking on the door.

The ones who come in afterward are somehow less awkward. This one is not one of them: a polite knock, and then nothing whatsoever afterward.

If only one of the residents were evident at the moment, this would be ... less of a problem...
Makoto Kino 2017-07-04 20:10:23 79951
As one might well expect, Makoto is in the kitchen, portioning out bentos to be stashed in the fridge as ready meals for the regulars or their visitors. Knocking is unexpected.

Even more unexpected is that somehow none of the residents materializes to answer. In the wake of the polite knocking Makoto is left standing paralized by momentary uncertainty, half expecting someone to appear from elsewhere in the apartments, half expecting the visitor to simply let themselves in as most people do... but neither happens, and the silence stretches out until finally she wipes her hands and, still in her apron, goes to open the door and peer curiously out.

"...hello?" It wasn't intended to be a question, but somehow it comes out as one.
Kazuo Takeba 2017-07-04 20:36:21 79952
Perhaps it has enough reason. Since the person at the door is not a teenager. Not even a university student. Not even one of Usagi's parents, which might almost be reasonable. No: it's a businessman in his fifties, dressed in a near standard-issue suit (albeit charcoal gray instead of black, this being what passes for individuality). His hair is receding and graying; his face is ... not literally grayish, not the unsettling hint of lack-of-color that sometimes accompanies cardiac issues or illness or shock. But there's something grayed-out about it all the same, something withdrawn and unreactive.

This is in direct contrast to the brightly cloth-wrapped boxes he is carrying: one in blues, sky-color streaked with darker in irregular lines like plant growth and spangled with bright yellow flowers; one in a brighter and warmer design, pink flowers and white rabbits against a deeper red.

He begins to say something as Makoto answers the door -- and halts before he can speak, staring at Makoto. (Staring, in fact, slightly up at Makoto.) He blinks and recovers hastily, but not hastily enough to keep that stare's nature from being clear: it's not so much the reaction to her height that she's used to. It's recognition.

"Please forgive my intrusion," he says. "It was not my intent to interrupt your business. My name is Hiroshi Takeba. I am afraid that on my last visit, I inexcusably departed while still in possession of some of Chiba-san's property; I wished to make certain of its return to him in person. Would you perhaps be willing to find someone to see that it's dealt with appropriately?"

.... maybe he just thinks he recognizes her. Maybe she bears some bizarre resemblance to an owner of his company, or something.
Makoto Kino 2017-07-04 20:50:31 79953
Mako is fairly used to surprised reactions from people meeting her for the first time, of course. She is not used to seeing aging salarymen among the many and varied visitors to this place, and in the instant of first sight she looks nearly as surprised as he does.

As he introduces himself, though, recognition brightens her face and washes all confusion away. "Oh! Takeba-san, of course. Please come in. Don't worry, you weren't interrupting anything, I was just cleaning up." In a sudden bustle of welcome she steps back from the doorway and gestures encouragement to come inside.
Kazuo Takeba 2017-07-04 21:04:15 79957
... 'just cleaning up.'

Once again, visiting this place defeats all of Hiroshi's heuristics for dealing with people. Or at least the amount of contradictory information, what he was told and shown then versus what he's dealing with now, does a good job of it. He hesitates, then resorts to bowing wordlessly and stepping inside. The glance he gives into the living room is far more nervous and wary than one would ordinarily expect. Maybe Kyouko bit him, or something. But he steps duly out of shoes and into slippers all the same(and why does that make him further uncomfortable, too?). "I, ah. Hadn't intended to linger long. May I ask -- is there somewhere I might leave these for him, perhaps?"

All in all, he gives an excellent impression of someone who only needs the slightest excuse to bolt for the elevator again. And if the elevator's down at ground level, someone who might possibly develop spontaneous magical powers for the sheer sake of escape.
Makoto Kino 2017-07-04 21:18:57 79958
Recognizing that air of nervous wariness, Makoto softens a little and offers Hiroshi her best reassuring smile. "Of course," she says, and holds out her hands. "I'll take care of it, and thank you for bringing them back. Since you've come all this way, Takeba-san, won't you please sit for a few minutes and have a cup of tea? Or perhaps something cold, if you'd prefer?"

A brief pause as she glances around, and her smile turns just faintly rueful. "It can get overwhelming sometimes, I know, but strange as it is nobody else here at the moment but me." And perhaps because he seemed to recognize her before, it's only now that she realizes she has yet to introduce herself. "Ah, please excuse my rudeness. My name is Makoto Kino."
Kazuo Takeba 2017-07-04 21:34:08 79961
The boxes are transferred, and the weight between the two of them is moderate: the red-toned one heavier, the blue larger but surprisingly light. Hiroshi bows to her again. Can he escape now? - no, she offered him tea. Tea is the trap. Tea is what never lets him out of this place. "Thank you most kindly for taking the time."

And at her introduction, he draws a careful and slightly awkward breath. "Sanjouin-sama showed me a photograph he had of you," he agrees, half-apologetic as he explains how he started out with an advantage. Well. Sort of an advantage. "He seems -- most deeply fond."

... so that's why he's behaving as awkwardly as if he were being forced to ask a demeaning favor from visiting nobility. Instead of, well, talking with a high school student.
Makoto Kino 2017-07-04 21:52:22 79963
Oh. Makoto blinks once at this information - right, Mamoru did mention something about Neil showing him a picture of her, didn't he? - and her expression quickly turns into that of someone who can't decide of the appropriate response is mirth or dismay and abject apology. She decides on the latter, but it doesn't do anything to keep the sparkle out of her green eyes or the trace of a please blush from coloring her cheeks. "Oh gracious," she says with a little hitch of a laugh. "I hope he wasn't too, um, overpoweringly enthusiastic. Please, make yourself comfortable."

'Comfortable' does not seem to really be a condition Hiroshi is all that familiar with. Nevertheless, Makoto issues the invitation before she carries the boxes away to find a suitable piece of table space to place them on where they will be readily seen without being in the way. Once that's accomplished, it's back off to the kitchen to hastily finish putting the bento things away and start some tea. "I'm glad to finally get the chance to meet you, Takeba-san," she remarks as she selects her personal favorite rose tea blend from among the possible offerings. "Mamoru-niisan mentioned that you'd been by a few times; he's very grateful that you've been visiting."
Kazuo Takeba 2017-07-04 22:39:08 79967
Hiroshi does not flinch and glance toward the balcony. Therefore one may presume that Neil, even in Sanjouin-persona, did not take the opportunity to leap to the most dramatic point available and start declaiming Makoto's virtues in precisely the way that led Mamoru to put a time limit on local monologues. ... that does, granted, still leave a lot of range.

Table space is available, since Mamoru does not have textbooks spread over it when he's not studying there, and he just a few days ago cleared it off for the sake of said studying. So Makoto has a relatively easy time ridding herself of the boxes. A faint scent of peaches accompanies her into the kitchen all the same.

Hiroshi seats himself carefully in one of the chairs, where he can turn his head and look out at the view past the balcony. The city itsef is hazy with the summer heat and humidity, but Tokyo Tower always makes itself clear, and at the worst of times there's still a certain rosebush. He looks back toward the kitchen all the same when Makoto speaks again. "He's also very ... enthusiastic at times," he agrees. "It seems to be a common quality among your circles. And perhaps an effective one. I don't think I've met anyone here who isn't an expert at something."

(Perhaps he'll do better if he just pretends his son isn't involved in the entire situation. 'Enthusiastic' is not a word all that frequently applied to either Takeba.)
Makoto Kino 2017-07-04 22:58:46 79969
"We must seem like a very strange bunch to you, huh?" Makoto answers with a self-conscious, rueful sort of smile. "So many of us coming and going, and involved in things you wouldn't expect." Tea is started, and with the automatic ease of habit she putters about assembling a tray with two cups and the usual acoutrements, a little pot of cream and another with some of the inevitable rose honey. "Mamoru-niisan just seems to draw a lot of unusual people. I'm mostly used to it, but to someone who's not it's sure to be overwhelming."

Once tea things are assembled and awaiting only the tea, she busies herself with putting cookies on a plate - the product of her last bout of baking, pale crisp little rounds dusted with a sparkling of sugar, amaretto-flavored and not too sweet and hopefully a good match to the tea.
Kazuo Takeba 2017-07-04 23:05:02 79970
She said that they are a community.

Hiroshi tries to ignore his own note to himself, never mind that it's been more than a week and he still reads it each morning. He glances out the window again. The Tower looks the same from here as it does from anywhere else. That's comfort, of a sort. "It's confusing, at the very least," he admits. "Some of the most outlandish stories, and everyone seems to take them at face value and think nothing of them. But I suppose at least several people's real histories must be even more surprising than the stories."
Makoto Kino 2017-07-04 23:18:56 79971
"...Probably so," Makoto agrees. "Some of the things I've experienced myself, if I tried to explain them out loud they'd just sound crazy. Even to me. And I know there's more that I don't really know much about."

She's begun to speak more hesitantly, as though navigating gingerly around the possibility of saying too much. At least there's the tea as an excuse for distraction; it takes a bit longer before eventually she comes out of the kitchen with the tray of tea and cookies. "Here we are," she says with a warm, genuine smile. "Please, enjoy."
Kazuo Takeba 2017-07-04 23:25:08 79972
That is, oddly, perhaps the most reassuring thing anyone in this place has said to Hiroshi. And he looks accordingly a little steadier when Makoto emerges, enough to offer her a polite smile, to help to see to tea being poured in the acceptable order and manner, and yes, to take a cookie.

"Please forgive me for asking, but I'm curious; are these your own?" he asks. "The one thing that everyone here seems to agree on is the excellence of your recipes, and from what I've tasted of them, they have good reason." ... it is a shift to a safer topic, but it's not a desperate escape to a safer topic. This, too, is an improvement.
Makoto Kino 2017-07-04 23:46:08 79975
As subjects go, it's certainly a safe one to shift to; the hesitance leaves Makoto's face in a flash and she brightens with visible if slightly embarrassed pleasure. "Yes," she confirms with a little dip of her head, "I made them. The guys exaggerate because they want me to keep on feeding them," the words bubble with laughter, "but I do like to cook and bake, so it all works out."

Once Hiroshi has been provided with a cup of tea, she pours one for herself and settles into a chair facing his. "If you liked the madelines from before, I'm glad. Being able to share what I've made with people who enjoy it is always the best."
Kazuo Takeba 2017-07-04 23:56:22 79979
"There's not so much exaggeration. I did have the madeleines. They were wonderful." There's a hint of a softening around the edges of Hiroshi's expression, not that far from what Kazuo might show when glancing over at Usagi having fallen asleep on someone in the middle of trying to enthuse. "I might ask if you caught your gentleman's attention with your cooking and baking, since that would certainly have been enough; but he's very clearly attached to you for your own sake. May I ask instead how you came to meet him? It must be a fascinating story."
Makoto Kino 2017-07-05 00:19:48 79982
"That - hmm." Makoto has to take a moment, buying herself a bit of time to think and incidentally drowning the perilous urge to giggle awkwardly with a sip of tea. The familiar warmth and flavor on her tongue help to steady her a little, and when she's done she can offer Hiroshi another smile.

"To be honest, that's one of those stories that'll probably sound kind of crazy to tell out loud," she admits. "The short version is, when we first met he'd gotten himself into a lot of trouble and he hadn't realized how much yet. I didn't either, for a while; he had me charmed, and he told me a lot of lies at the start. Once I realized, though, I just couldn't leave him alone." She ducks her head a little, smiling self-consciously down into her teacup. "I was probably pretty foolish, and things were difficult for a while. But it was all worth it to end up where we are now."
Kazuo Takeba 2017-07-05 00:37:54 79985
Probably sound kind of crazy. Hiroshi's eyes flicker over Makoto for a moment as she's speaking, looking for something -- it's the farthest thing from inappropriate, though. Since the only thing he lingers on are her earrings. "I can't imagine what kind of thing would cause him trouble," he admits aloud. "Though I suppose I can understand someone in his position feeling he needed to resort to falsehood for a while. I'm glad he's come around to telling you the truth now; it's the least anyone ought to do."

This is going to be immensely awkward when he finds out Masato Sanjouin is, in fact, an overenthusiastic Canadian with a pop-culture habit, isn't it.
Makoto Kino 2017-07-05 00:49:24 79987
Oh, very.

"Is it that strange?" Makoto wonders, distracted enough from the awkwardness of navigating the line between 'probably sounds kind of crazy' and 'actually impossible for him to believe' that she can look up to his eyes again, brows lifting. "No matter how much money or status someone has, they can still lose their way if they don't have people who care about them looking out for them. Anyone can."
Kazuo Takeba 2017-07-05 00:58:37 79989
"Sometimes even if they do." Hiroshi glances down at his cookie. Then back to the window for a moment, out at the Tower. "The best that other people can be is landmarks. Still. You seem to be one that he can find from a great distance. Bringing someone home when they're lost is no small thing."

There's just a trace more weight than there ought to be, in that last sentence. Some small suggestion that he might be coming to have ... well. If not an idea what had happened. At least the thought that an idea might exist.
Makoto Kino 2017-07-05 01:25:06 79993
Makoto nods slowly, acknowledging that hint of weight and the rightness of his words. "That's true," she agrees in a slightly softer voice than before. "That's very true. Although, it wasn't only me. I was able to help him find his way back only because there were a lot of people backing me up." There's a brief pause, time for that statement to settle, before she adds, "Ku-- um, Kazuo was one of them. Even though he was still halfway lost himself, back then."
Kazuo Takeba 2017-07-05 01:43:45 79996
"Our -- mutual host --" Hiroshi is doing a great deal to attempt not being lost in a maze of honorifics never designed to deal with status signals that skew so bizarrely against age and behavior. Tea is highly valued, but still not nearly enough to deal with this. "-- described your gentleman as my son's second. I suspect you have ... some idea why that is difficult for me to come to terms with. Thank you for giving me a hint as to how that could possibly make sense." ... tea, yes. And another cookie. Cookies may perhaps have a little sanity baked in somewhere.
Makoto Kino 2017-07-05 01:53:28 79998
Mako does try to include at least a little sanity in her baking, so his chances are not zero. "Yes," she agrees solemnly, "I can imagine. There's probably not a lot about his situation that's easy to understand, is there? But he's here, instead of lost like he was. It might take a while, but it'd be good if the two of you could... figure out an understanding."

Looking embarrassed again, she glances away, cradling her teacup with both hands. "I guess it's not really any of my business, and I probably shouldn't meddle in things between you and him. It's just, second chances like the one you guys have don't happen very often."
Kazuo Takeba 2017-07-05 02:28:03 80001
"I don't think either of us have an idea how to start. Or what understanding we would come to." Hiroshi drops his attention to the new cookie. Well, new partial cookie. That sugar is very pretty. Unlike his son, he looks faintly guilty at this. "Some people would suggest just going back to the last time there was an understanding and beginning again. But that was twenty years ago. I can't treat him like a child. And --"

... he shifts uncomfortably. That is very nearly squirming. That is not something his son is ever likely to do.

"Osaka-san said something about a ... community, here. You said, a lot of unusual people. But the people here have ... things in common, don't they? Certain things, that bind them, you, together."

He looks back directly to Makoto again at last, and this time it's steadier. "That I don't have. I'm an outsider to that community. His interest is that community. I don't see any common ground there."
Makoto Kino 2017-07-05 02:57:58 80006
Makoto doesn't have any immediate answer to that. For a short space she sits quietly, watching the slight shimmering movement of the surface of her rose-scented tea.

"...I suppose that's true," she admits eventually. "A bit, at least. It's definitely an obstacle, and one that would be hard to get past. Especially since he's... well." Head still inclined, she risks a look up at him, faintly abashed. "The way that he is."

She draws in a long, slow breath, before straightening up in her seat and meeting Hiroshi's eyes directly. Hers are bright, earnest, and utterly sincere. "But still, it's not like it's impossible. You mention you've talked to Naru-chan about this kind of thing - did she mention, for a long time she didn't have any of that either? She just chose to start asking questions, instead of staying out of it."

Catching herself, Makoto shakes her head a little. "What I'm trying to say is, you don't have to stay an outsider. It might be difficult to understand or accept this world, but you have the choice, if you're willing to try." She's held eye contact through this, but now Mako breaks away, looking down with a troubled expression shadowing her face.

"Wouldn't getting your son back be worth it?"
Kazuo Takeba 2017-07-05 03:08:45 80009
The way he is. The way they both are: Kazuo is at least halfway flexible for the sake of the others, but the same fundamental rigidity present in Hiroshi is there, stubborn, barely willing to admit how to spell compromise.

"She mentioned asking questions," Hiroshi agrees. "But she also mentioned -- she - well." He falters, awkward again, and leans to set down his cup; with his hands free, he takes a slip of paper from his breast pocket and lays it on the table. It's a drawing, neatly geometrical and unelaborate, plain black ink: a single cut gem, unset. Kunzite's. Of course it's Kunzite's. "She has one of those, doesn't she? Like -- he does."

Maybe it was just difficult for him to say. Maybe he changed it from 'like you do.'
Makoto Kino 2017-07-05 03:32:41 80012
Makoto looks at the drawing, and then up at Hiroshi, soberly. "She does now," she answers. "At least, she has something. I'm not really sure if it's the same, and if it was there the whole time and she just didn't know or if it's something that came later. For a long time she was just Usagi-chan's friend who kept asking questions. And then she was friends with more than just Usagi-chan."

A beat, and then Makoto pulls a wryly apologetic face. "I'm not really the best person to ask about the technical details," she admits. "It doesn't work the same for everybody, either. But if you talk about a 'community'... at least for me, the connections I have with the others came first, before any of the rest of that stuff came into it. It wasn't because of magic that I made friends with Usagi-chan, or started to think of Mamoru-niisan as family, or wanted to save Neil - that is, Masato."

A faint crease forms in her forehead as her brows draw together. "Maybe it's hard to separate the two. I understand if it's difficult to get past. But still."
Kazuo Takeba 2017-07-05 03:54:08 80019
There's the word that they were avoiding, and Hiroshi shudders despite himself when it's mentioned. Only a little, though. It's almost easier to hear it from her. Like Naru, she's ... well, normal; polite and charming and intelligent, but normal on top of it. And there are cookies. And there is tea, and he reaches for his cup again afterward, sips, is entirely uncertain why his eyes drift to the honey. He pulls himself together a moment later, and thinks back over what she said. One thing stands out most of all.

When he repeats, 'Neil?', though, he does it silently, lips moving without a hint of noise.

Then: "Usagi-chan. She is a sweet girl." And even he can use -chan for her without a blink. He even almost smiles. "If you knew her first," and wouldn't that be why she listed her first?, "knowing the rest of them must have come easily. Well. Perhaps a little more quickly than expected, but easily."

He finishes his tea before speaking again, and then it's only two quiet words, with a little nod toward Makoto accompanying them. "I'll try."

If he remembers the conversation tomorrow, that is. If he remembers it long enough to take notes. But there's a chance, and he doesn't see any reason to trouble her with that when he's already troubled her enough.
Makoto Kino 2017-07-05 04:06:35 80022
She can't help it, really - his remarks about Usagi, and about the effect of knowing Usagi, draw a soft little giggle from Makoto. "Well," she agrees in a tone of deep affection, "You're not wrong about that."

The smile that's once again brightened her face only grows, warm and genuinely pleased, at those two quiet words. "I'm glad," she answers, simple and wholly sincere. "If there's anything that I can do, please don't hesitate to ask me. Even if it's just emergency tea and cookies." And speaking of cookies-- "Would you like to take a box with you when you go? I always make loads, since I know we'll go through them no matter what."
Kazuo Takeba 2017-07-05 04:11:04 80023
"Please, that would be far too much trouble for you to go to. You've already done a great deal for me this evening." This is also sincere. It is, granted, possible that the please might also have been sincere entirely on its own. ... probably more so.
Makoto Kino 2017-07-05 04:19:23 80026
"It's no trouble at all," Makoto replies, easily waving away the protest. Setting down her cup, she rises to her feet. "They're already made, it'll hardly take a second to box some up." Thought is already transformed into action, and off she goes to the kitchen to pull out one of the stack of plain white bakery boxes she keeps stashed for just such occasions as these.

"Not that I'm trying to rush you out, Takeba-san," it occurs to her to say as she's bustling around in the kitchen. "You're welcome to stay as long as you like. But I wouldn't want to keep you if you have somewhere to be, either."
Kazuo Takeba 2017-07-05 04:26:29 80028
"I hadn't intended to stay this long," Hiroshi admits. "Though I'm very pleased to have had the chance to meet you, instead of only hearing your name reverently invoked like some particularly kind guardian spirit." ... which is actually a fairly apt description, quite honestly. Just rather more on the guardian part and less on the spirit. "There, ah. Seems to be only so much I can deal with in an evening, and the gentlemen can sometimes be ..." Overpowering? Steamrolling? "Enthusiastic, I believe was your observation earlier."
Makoto Kino 2017-07-05 04:33:56 80032
Mako can't help laughing at that - it's a point she certainly can't argue. "I understand," she says. "They can definitely be a bit much. Especially as a group."

Very shortly, she's coming back out of the kitchen with the box in her hands, still blushing faintly from the flattering description. "Thank you for indulging me by staying long enough for tea, Takeba-san. I'm glad to have finally gotten the chance to meet you, too."