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Thread: Obsession (ongoing, PG-13 overall)

  1. #176

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    The woman he mentions is from the chapter that's post #105 in this thread.

    It's funny. The chapter you describe as "horrible" for his regression is more of a character moment, or that's how I meant it. In the film, he demonstrates some traits that may indicate autism (though it's of course impossible to know for sure since he literally *can't* meet all the diagnostic criteria just based on how little he's shown), and part of autism is difficulty in recognizing facial expression. He's training himself to do so, and to be sociable by rote (another difficulty). Of course, for him it ends up being far shallower in practice, which of course leads to further viewing others as not having the necessary depth to appreciate these treasures...so basically doing these things by rote is just going to continue his problems but hey.

    As far as the classical eras and everything, XY really threw a wrench in that design considering that it places three THOUSAND years ago what to us is three HUNDRED years ago (and yet the date of the moon landing is unchanged, making it MORE confusing). But as for his outfit, I'm actually describing a famous painting. Can you think of which one? (and heh, for bonus points, guess what Veronica is wearing. Hint--it's a LOT more recent, from a tv show)

    His ultimate obsession...I'm not sure if it really *is* Lugia, or even anything specific. Though he certainly comes to value Lugia above almost (ALMOST) everything else...

    And heh, thanks for the spelling input. It's funny though, I do put everything through spell checkers before I post them. I guess in my "no that isn't misspelled that's the name of a Pokémon" skipping, some things squeeze through.
    The world's greatest collector as drawn by Yoru Ryu
    Fancy Jirarudan too? Then you'll enjoy my fic Obsession! (updated June 29th, 2014)
    Or better yet, join my LJ comm Ware Wa Collector!
    Check out some of my other fics!
    Answering Machine (strong XY spoilers--winner of Most Heartbreaking Scene 2013!)

  2. #177
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    Oh god, did I just describe autistic people as 'horrible'.

    That said, autism can be horrible, and progressing through life undiagnosed and untreated can certainly be horrible.

    Let me look at your Conquest Problem thread. ...1700's France is 3000 years ago. Got damn. I feel like the only explanation that'll fit the different canons' random caprices is that, pokemon is so far ahead of our world's timeline and it has gone through so many stages of history, that the stages have actually repeated multiple times, and everybody's gained crazy technologies and lost them and regained them, and Casanova has existed not only 300 but 3000 and 30000 years ago. As to which painting: I'm definitely not widely versed in classical art, even all the famous ones, and, Windsor is clearly not a real painter (I definitely didn't have to Google that to find out), so I'm gonna try Veronica's outfit. (Not, try on, as it would not fit me.) Nope, no idea. I suck.

    I guess one doesn't have to have an obsession for one single thing, to be an obsessive type -- someone who fixates on a definite vocation and is always overly focussed on just the objects of that vocation. Lugia certainly becomes the thing he follows to the point of ruining himself/the world.
    Last edited by Praxiteles; 5th January 2014 at 2:49 PM.

  3. #178

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    Ah no, that's fine! It can be a pain to work with, and even as an adult he seems to neither know nor care how he comes off to others (though he's also a bit of a sarcastic ******* in canon as well). But since socialization and presentation are key parts of his work, he'll have to learn how to navigate those situations somehow, and going through empty phrases in the way someone would study lines from a play can help him link things together.

    His fancy outfit is quite well-known as being the "blue" part of The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough. Veronica's fringe dress and big hat has a far different inspiration--Mimi from the first season of Digimon. I sort of went all over with that.

    That part was set up in part with my friend Abby, a previous poster in this thread. Though we seem to have lost contact, so I hope she comes to look at the thread at some point!

    Lugia is definitely a severe obsession. Even with saying that legendaries have always been his passion, Jirarudan seems to have never pursued one before. The ship is set up for these specific captures, with the capture rings seemingly calibrated for *something* specific with the four birds. And even with his viewing the other three as secondary, perhaps something to trade away or sell, a previous pursuit would likely have left him with *something*, because the man doesn't give up until he's *forced* to. Lugia is special to him, above even other legendaries. Is there anything else above it, in canon? Ultimately, his Mew card, but even that seems to be based in something other than his obsession.

    I can imagine him trying to find the mural depicted on the card, tracking it to a group of scientists, only to find it was assumed destroyed! That must be frustrating as well, a dead end.
    The world's greatest collector as drawn by Yoru Ryu
    Fancy Jirarudan too? Then you'll enjoy my fic Obsession! (updated June 29th, 2014)
    Or better yet, join my LJ comm Ware Wa Collector!
    Check out some of my other fics!
    Answering Machine (strong XY spoilers--winner of Most Heartbreaking Scene 2013!)

  4. #179

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    (well...it's not the LONGEST gap between chapters. And despite my earlier apprehension, it's also not the longest chapter. But it felt like it! This one took so much research to write, and half the questions I had I couldn't find answers for! But I hope you enjoy some of the regions I mention in here. I also worked some friends of mine into it~ Enjoy chapter 26!)




    Autumn had settled in, draping the coast in a veil of fog and chill. The sea below churned in grey fury, making the view from my window an experiment in monochrome. Though my adventure with Veronica had been only at the start of the month, the cold, threatened for some time, had settled in quickly, changing my environment rapidly.

    With the time of year came my birthday, something I had attempted to avoid discussing with anybody. Though the year before I'd given my age as advanced by one before the date arrived, this year I understood the importance of youth, of preserving it while I could.

    Yet ten was a milestone. This age was what flooded the streets and forests and plains with those starry-eyed children intent on entering the Pokémon League, perhaps to become the Champion, that grandest of all trainers of the land.

    As I've spoken of before, the draw of such things had always escaped me.

    Perhaps if I'd not met Asaph I'd have been preparing for such a journey anyway, regardless of my disinterest. I wondered what starter I'd have had. Veronica had compared me to a Natu, seeing the past and future with no mind for the present, but that species was rare to begin a journey with, especially outside the Johto region. Likely I'd be saddled with one of the trio more typical for Kanto, and simply have fallen in line like the others. I wondered how long it would have taken me to have abandoned the quest, as I knew that would be the inevitable outcome.

    I had just completed an essay on some forgettable subject when a knock came on my door--a patter tapping out some silly tune, indicating that it was my father. "Knock knock," he chimed as if I wouldn't have heard the physical result.

    "Come in."

    He left the door open a wedge and unfolded a paper in his hand. He'd asked me for a birthday wish list, and I'd hesitated on it, not knowing if doing so was mannered or not, but finally I'd relented, jotting down a few choice items. "I wanted to ask you some things about this list. Your birthday's tomorrow, of course, and I can't find some of these."

    That was strange. "They're relatively commonplace. You ought to, even here."

    "Well...it's more that I don't know what they are. Like this one; I've got no clue what a...'chatelaine' is." He stumbled over the word as though it was difficult.

    "It's a pocket chain." He'd recently spent a day enthusing over the purchase of an electronic encyclopaedia, yet apparently couldn't be bothered to use it himself.

    "Oh, so you want a pocket watch? That's a funny choice for a kid your age."

    I bristled at the reference to age. At ten, I was nearly an adult. Even aside from training or going on an aimless journey, there were a host of liberties opening to me and he still treated me though I were small. "A watch is something one may hang on a chatelaine. I wouldn't be adverse to receiving one. Of course, it would be impolite" I stressed the word "to turn down a gift, though gifts must" another stress "be given with thought and consideration."

    "Oh." The flatness of his tone left little from which to derive meaning.

    "Well, I guess that makes sense. Now, I don't know who some of these people are that you mention. Designers, I guess, right?"

    I hadn't asked for any art, since it would raise too many questions, but history had shown that he preferred to give clothing. I could at least guide him to the proper choices. "More or less, though some are shops. You'll be able to find them in Viridian."

    He chuckled. "You have a lot more elaborate tastes than I did."

    "I question your use of the past tense." Asaph would likely snap at me for such a comment, but the irritation in it would go over my father's head.

    Again he laughed, of course. "I guess you're right! Wow, you're getting quite a sense of humor too. When I'd visit when you were little, you'd never laugh at anything."

    That wasn't true. He just never heard me. "You were hardly there."

    "Ah, yeah. Sorry about that..." He tsked under his breath as he rubbed the back of his head. "Just didn't have a lot of time. I wish you could have come out here though, too...Gloria loved the ocean..."

    "...I have to send this in," I muttered as I turned back to my work.

    "Oh. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to...she would have been so proud of you."

    There was a pause before he moved, and another before he finally left. Rather than do what I had said, I instead drew out the chain from my shirt and held mother's ring in my hands. That's when I made a wonderful discovery.




    The following morning, I left early, before the dawn, and headed townward. My usual routine of wandering the galleries played out nicely, and one of the owners wished me a fine birthday. I walked along the promenade, listening to the ocean trying to rise up and touch the Wingulls that cawed above it, teasing the waves into going ever higher. Even from the cafe where I dined, though it was around the corner from the view, still carried the sounds of the playful birds.

    The small bookshop across from the shopping mall had gotten in a new art book, so I treated myself, petting the shopkeeper's Meowth that lazed across the counter as I paid. It pushed into my hand, enjoying the feel of my new adornment. Though I'd been by myself all day, I felt as though I was in the finest of company.

    When I returned to the cliffside, nightfall was already touching at the corners of the sky. It wasn't especially late, but the year showing its age. I hoped to slip in quietly and head to my room, but my father was waiting in the living room, on the couch that faced away and sitting so he faced me.

    "Jiri, I'm glad you're here! I expected you'd get back around this time. Go get dressed up; we're going out to dinner."

    I froze. Anything my father picked would be some horrid place, a gaudy tourist trap with pseudo-food designed to appeal to base instinct for overly filling meals.

    "Come on, we're going to Viridian City so we have to drive there."

    That was a bit better, though I still didn't trust him. Viridian was vast and held everything from high culture to the lowest. "What are we doing?"

    He stood, and I could see that he still wore the suit he did business in. "I just said, we're going out to dinner."

    "Specifically, Corbin," Helen said from the kitchen. I could hear her fussing with something in a cup, likely tea. "Tell him specifically where we're going."

    "Oh yeah." It was as though it had never occurred to him to answer what I'd asked. "It's a place called Fengsugou. Heard of it? It's supposed to be pretty nice."

    I hadn't, and mused over his settling for 'pretty nice' for what he insisted was a major milestone. "Mm. I suppose it's better than nothing."

    "Hahaha! You're getting a nice sense of humour. I'm glad; you always seemed like nothing made you smile."

    Had I been making a joke? I went over my words to think of what he could be talking about and came up with nothing. Without a further word, I started up the stairs, but he stopped me.

    "Jiri...? What's that on your hand?"

    I glanced down. "Oh, this morning I tried it on and it fit my hand."

    He smiled, but his eyes were slightly furrowed. "My god. I never thought I'd see you wear Gloria's ring. It looks so good on you. Heh...she always wore that. It meant so much to her. And I'm really glad you like it."

    He knew I had it, and I'd wore it on a chain. What was the difference? It did make me feel more mature, that it fit, but those things shouldn't matter to him.

    My silence must have gone unnoticed, because he continued. "You wouldn't let that thing out of your grip, remember? I had to come in when you were asleep and put it on the table so you wouldn't lose it. You know, sometimes, I wonder how--" and suddenly he fell silent. When I looked back up at him, Helen had taken his arm and was whispering lowly in his ear.

    But at least it gave me the respite necessary to take my leave.




    "You look really nice, Jirarudan," Helen said as we exited onto the mainland from the short bridge out of town. She and I inhabited the back seat of the smaller car--there was simply no way that I would be seen in the truck. "How are you doing today?"

    I'd been staring out the window at the dim stars, tracking our movements by the distant lights. "Mm? I'm all right. It's really like any other day, though I did pamper myself earlier."

    "What did you do? I saw you got a new book. What's it about?"

    I faced her briefly to answer, intending to turn back quickly. "It's a history of Lorrainian art in the Kalos region."

    "Oh yeah?" She smiled. "Kalosian art is really pretty."

    "Lorrainian art is often overlooked. It's similar but not as gaudy, and Kalosian masters were often inspired by the more realistic traits."

    "Does it have pictures? I'd like to see what you mean."

    She was taking interest in my passion for art. I could indulge her, but I couldn't risk her finding out my secret. "Maybe sometime, when I'm done."

    "By the way," she continued as she leaned back, "congratulations on your grades. How do you do it? You never seem to study and you're getting way higher grades than me or your father did at that age."

    I did study, and far too much. But it was only natural that she assume as she did, as I kept to myself regardless of the circumstance. "I don't see how you could figure that."

    "I guess. I mean, we never see you. You could be doing anything up there. I tell your father you're probably writing the great Kantan novel. You know, you're one smart cookie. You're gonna do great things someday."

    "It's not like I'm a prodigy or anything." This line of discussion was making me uncomfortable."

    Either she didn't notice or she didn't care, because she laughed. "Haha, well, you'll find something."

    I was ten. Though I had looked forward to the number, I was far behind so many. Madame Remi had her first gallery showing at ten, and was noted at the time to have bemoaned her lost youth. Stafford, Rhi, even the more recent Alkire, all had their hold in the art world long before my age. It was disheartening sometimes to wander through a museum full of those bright youths, but I had my own and I would do what I would with it. "...I'd rather not talk about it."

    She paused, silent for a while before squeezing my hand. "What made you decide to put that ring on?"

    I answered as I wiggled my hand from her grasp. "I try it on every so often to see if it fits. Today it did."

    "Oh. That's nice. I never met Gloria, but I think she'd be really proud of you. She seemed like a great person."

    I think that was the first time I'd ever heard Helen talk about my mother, and it didn't seem right. She was so close with my father that I would hope the subject would come up more often. As Helen said, she'd never met her, but my father had no excuse.

    "Are you excited to be ten?" I'd said nothing in between and her conversation continued unabated.

    "I suppose. I'm glad to have my youth."

    From the front, my father laughed, a sharp, noiseful sound. "Corbin!" Helen snapped, tapping the back of his headrest. "Ah, sorry about that. He just thought you sounded a lot older there."

    "Helen, come on, it was funny. A little kid saying that he's glad to have his youth?"

    The car suddenly seemed so much smaller than ever before, and I wanted out but we were in motion. Had we been stopped or going slower than we were, I would have darted away in an instant, I know that much for certain. I could feel my face arrange itself in what the photographs depicted as an overwhelmed expression, and it was a small victory that it was at least what I was feeling.

    "Corbin, apologize."

    He sighed. "I'm sorry. It was just that it sounded like something an old man would say."

    "Corbin!"

    "I'm sorry!" He glanced at me through the rearview. "Jiri, it's just you don't sound like kids your age. It's not a bad thing, not at all. You sound really smart, like Helen said, way more than either of us."

    I didn't feel smart. A smart person would have better company.

    Helen sighed, almost identical in length and capacity as my father's previous sigh. "There's a lot he doesn't understand. In meetings he keeps those things under his hat until later when it's just us, but sometimes I swear..." Another sigh. "He's proud of you."

    "I am! And don't ever doubt that! You're a very special boy and I'm proud to have you as a son." His driving was wavering a little, but it was still within acceptable parameters. "I want you to know that your father loves you."

    Frankly I didn't care. I know he said it honestly, but his understanding of such things was limited. "Mm. Thank you."

    "Jiri, what do you say?" This was Helen, prodding me in the arm.

    It took me a moment to comprehend what she meant. "...loveyoutoo."

    He laughed again. "That's the spirit!"

    Under that starry sky, I wished I could be anywhere else.





    Our arrival at Fengsugou was mundane. It had begun to rain, so my father went to park elsewhere while Helen and I ducked inside. I recall that her umbrella was impractically small, so we were both grateful that we'd only had to cross a small space to the door. "Any further and I'd have to restyle my hair," I remarked, and she giggled slightly.

    "Isn't that my line? Your hair looks fine."

    Hers was worn down, something I never saw. At the factory, it was a matter of safety to make hair as short as possible, so it was usually up with pins. Even so, it still only went to the lobes of her ears, slightly shorter on one side, creating the image of a modern flapper sans headdress. "Yours too. Though it could use a little something."

    "Oh yeah? Like what?"

    "I think...a flapper headband. Or a cloche."

    "Oh yeah?" I wasn't sure if she had already forgotten that she'd just said that. "I'll have to look into those."

    She was humouring me, which was disappointing. She didn't know what those things were, so why would she act otherwise? I'd have told her if she had asked, and I almost did anyway.

    From where I stood, I could see a glimpse of the interior. It was down a curved stairway, but with a limited view I could make out the host station nestled in the space, backed by a large aquarium against the stair wall, in which a few domestic-sized Goldeen and Seaking swam about lazily. The decor indicated that it was a specifically Hengduanian restaurant, and I was a bit disappointed in myself that, though I could identify the architecture, I knew nothing of the cuisine.

    Helen took a deep breath. "Mm, smells good, doesn't it? It's been a while. I'm in the mood for something spicy. If it's ok with you, anyway. It's banquet style so everyone has a bit of everything."

    That was interesting. I dreamed of attending imperial and royal events, and banquet style was often found in those, especially in the east. Perhaps this could be practice for the future.

    The door opened but I didn't pay much attention. It would be my father, I assumed, and he wasn't worth much notice, especially during my fancy.

    "Jirarudan."

    That wasn't the voice I was expecting. I turned. "Asaph?"

    He smiled, eyes and mouth crinkling at the sides, and chuckled. "I wasn't about to miss your birthday."

    "I didn't know you'd be coming." I remember thinking that my voice was duller than it should have been.

    "Your father didn't tell you?" He glanced at Helen, who shrugged.

    "I wouldn't put it past him," she muttered. "He can be a real scatterbrain sometimes."

    Asaph laughed. "Not like Jirarudan. He's perhaps the sharpest person I've ever met."

    I was? I suppose he would think so, not having seen the study of expressions and tones that I devoted hours, days to. Without that information, he would think it came naturally.

    "That's great to hear." Helen craned her head to peek out the paned window. "Since he does remote school, we don't get a lot of feedback about him. I mean, it's obvious that he's smart, but other than that, you know?"

    He nodded, just as the door opened again. "Ah, Corbin. We were just singing the praises of your son."

    My father reached a hand to my hair, no doubt to tousle it in that clichéd manner, and I ducked away. Not only did I disapprove of the action in general, I had my hair styled just so. He was being highly disrespectful, and it belied his praise. "He's a very special boy. We were talking about that in the car."

    It was hideously dull to hear that man talk. "Pardon. I'll go check the table," I told Helen and excused myself down the stairs. It was rude to depart without the acknowledgement of the other two, and I suspected that Asaph would speak to me about it later, but it was necessary.

    It was a regret that I couldn't properly appreciate my surroundings at that point. The staircase brought to mind the elegant entrances that royalty would make, and the faint splashing and vocalisations of the aquarium fish could substitute for applause. Yet, coming off of those horribly shallow remarks--what did "special" even mean?--they felt as though they were mocking me.

    Fortunately, such pessimism was short-lived, and the decor caught up with me. Though Hengduan was a very modern region, embracing radical new designs in its architecture, the restaurant was in a far more classical style. It was symmetrical, with even the chairs surrounding the tables all pointing the same directions on either side of the room. Deep red dominated the scene, highlit in gold and surrounding a small mock sky well, an inlaid light substituting for the sun and interior plants instead of the usual sumptuous garden. The effect, while not true to form, was a reasonable substitute. The walls were decorated simply, with traditional fans and inconspicuous lanterns, to an understated effect.

    Overall, it was magnificent, and I briefly forgot my discomfort.

    "Excuse me, can I help you?" A hostess was at my side, looking almost amused. I assumed it was for my age.

    "Yes, I would like to know if the table for Jirarudan is ready for seating."

    She pursed her lips. "I don't think we have any tables under that name."

    My stomach fell. Could he have forgotten to make a reservation? I wouldn't put it past him. We could obtain a table as walk-ins, but it was the principle of the thing.

    And then my father came down the stairs. "Ah, I think the table's under the name Corbin?" It was enunciated as a question, and a strange one at that. Why would he put it under his own name when it was my birthday?

    "Table for four? Right this way."

    He HAD reserved in his name. Had he no social decorum at all? I was aghast. It was my day, not his, and yet he had shifted the focus.

    Asaph and Helen trailed down the stairs, and we were led to a round table next to the garden area. To continue the symmetry, we sat in a x pattern, complimenting our surroundings.

    "How about this, huh?" my father asked, and I was dimly aware that it was directed at me. "Turning ten, having a big fancy dinner...I tell ya, it seems like just yesterday that you were this little baby."

    Helen was smiling. "Corbin, honey, I think Jiri may be a bit overwhelmed."

    I wasn't, though his presence was quickly changing that. I was simply enamored with my surroundings. Perhaps someday I would dine with royalty in settings near to this. No, I rethought, I most certainly would.

    Asaph placed his napkin on his lap and looked at me to do the same. In the rush, I'd forgotten, and wondered if my distraction made it excusable. "Jirarudan is an excellent student," he stated, as though clearing the fog. "As I was saying, he absorbs information incredibly. I've never met anyone who seeks out knowledge as much as he does."

    "Hey! Good job!" The plainness of my father's words stood out starkly against our surroundings. "Yeah, he's always got a book in his hand or something. And he's really into international stuff. That's why I thought he'd like this place. He cuts out pictures and stuff of different locations and paintings and puts them on his wall."

    My stomach tightened, Asaph's prior warning coming to the front of my head he wouldn't understand this is our secret...

    But Asaph just smiled in a small way. "Seeing the world without leaving home. It really is magnificent, to have that sort of mind."

    It wasn't just that. It was my escape from the dullness of Seafoam, my injection of colour into it. I felt rather wobbly to think of it, and wanted to hide under the table. Just a few years ago, I would have.Thinking of that, however, of how far I'd truly come in such a short time, straightened my back and focused my mind. "Seeing the world," I echoed. "Someday I will; I know I will."

    It had been a comment to myself, so I was a bit surprised by Helen's words. "What do you want to see?"

    I paused. It couldn't tip my hand. "Well...I'd love to see Hengduan. It's supposed to be beautiful. And Kalos, of course..."

    "Aah, the Parfum Palace," Helen sighed, in a tone I'd learned was called wistful. "I used to read all about it. Maybe we can go there together."

    There was a lot more to Kalos than one building, though I wanted to see the magnificent castle as well. "Maybe," I humored her, thinking of our conversation earlier.

    "I took a vacation in Hoenn once," my father said, as though the conversation concerned him. "Really hot there, but the beaches are incredible. And you gotta take a trip on a yacht. It's amazing."

    "I'm sure it is," Asaph chuckled. We'd gone to the Lilycove museum together, the distance taking us only a weekend. It was another of our secrets. "I tend to vary between being a rambling man and a homebody. I suppose that's why I ordered such a ship from you, Corbin."

    "Oh yeah? I'm glad to hear it."

    Before we could delve further into the subject, a server placed two small trays of sliced fruits and candied nuts on either side the lazy susan, and another set cups of jasmine tea before us. All were things I'd had before, but here amidst the finery, they seemed a world apart.

    Though my mind had wandered, thinking on the great museums of the world, I quickly snapped to attention at the scent of the tea. It was as if a bouquet had been set before me, inviting me to drink the entirety of its being, and I took a sip, remembering halfway to draw in air around it.

    Though it was hot, it was far from the scalding messes found in that cliffside house, and I was able to enjoy it without burning my tongue.

    It was at that time that I realised that I knew very little of Hengduanian customs. Was I to drink before the servers were finished? Was I to say something beforehand, a prayer or an address? I dropped my hands to my lap, fidgeting with my ring again.

    But Asaph had said nothing to correct me. Perhaps I was doing everything right. Yes, I had to be. Though I continued turning the ring around my finger for a moment longer.

    "I think we should toast the birthday boy." It came not from my father, as I would have predicted, but from Helen. She held her cup up at about face height, looking every bit my previous image of her as a flapper toasting a wild life.

    Everyone followed suit, and in the moment before I did I marveled at the differing images the other two presented in their action. My father was a mid-century Shikaakwa piece, the working man raising a glass in an unfamiliar environment, while Asaph was a courted gentleman in a Brittanian intimate, gilded scene. I hoped to present a distinguished figure myself, though my thoughts were of my surroundings and I knew I couldn't possibly fit the model of Hengduan style.

    "To Jirarudan--may your days be short and your years be long!" It was a toast meant to invoke the idea of a leisurely life, but it had always confused me. I had protested it in the past but for the time I pushed that aside.

    "To Jirarudan!" We all brought our cups forward in imitation of the ceremonial clinking of glasses, and drank at the same time. It was a strange feeling, that shared action.

    We began on the food before us, the candied nuts being my favourite. Similar confections were sold in Seafoam, but their quality was far below, made for the masses. These were light, with the slight glaze neither overtaking the core nor being dominated by it.

    The normalcy of the fruits was odd. Though they were clearly simple supermarket offerings, their presentation changed their taste. I laughed to myself, something that struck my father's attention, as I mused over my own simple beginnings. It was nothing, I told him.





    The opening course, and then the appetizers, were without incident, and soon a bowl wafting lightly-scented steam was placed on the round in the middle of the table, and then another, and another. The dishes were larger than the cuisine's standard, indicating a meal of fewer courses than the class would normally hold. I felt as though I was a guest of a monarch, the finery of the region around me.

    "Oh wow..." my father gasped. "Hey, this is neat, don't you think?"

    I pretended not to notice that he was probably directing it at me, and hoped Asaph wouldn't think it rude. We hadn't covered these sorts of situations in our lessons, of what to do when addressed by someone utterly ignorant of social mores or manners.

    Glancing across the table and him and Helen, I saw that they both nodded to the servers, so I did the same. They nodded back, and I felt somehow accomplished.

    I admit that I didn't know most of the dishes, but the enticing smell was wild, appealing to some newly uncovered part of my mind. There was a distinct spice to most of them, though I remembered that banquet dishes were milder than those of the everyday. How funny, to think that milder was special!

    "Jirarudan." It was Asaph. "If you could have anything in the world, what would it be?"

    I hadn't expected to be put on the spot like that. Knowing our arrangement and our secrets, there were many things I couldn't say. It was a test, but I wasn't certain how to pass it. Likely to name something without those hidden elements. "Well..." I pondered, twisting the ring around my finger again. I thought of the freedom I had with him, and how we could go anywhere in his ship, one that was steady enough to display priceless works in security, and the answer became clear. "I would like an airship."

    It made perfect sense, and I didn't know why I hadn't thought of it before.

    My father sat back, grinning. "Well! I had no idea!" Was that sarcasm or did he genuinely not know? I hadn't known, but people seemed to be able to guess qualities of others. I would have to speak to Asaph about it.

    "Ooh, what kind?" Helen asked, leaning forward with her head on her hand. Her elbow was on the table but I said nothing.

    I was a bit dizzy. "Oh...who knows? It's a flight of fancy. I'm not certain." Though, in that moment, I was. The elegance of Asaph's ship had always captivated me, and for a moment I felt as I did when I was soaring over the land and sea.

    "He looks so happy," I heard her whisper to someone, perhaps even herself, but it was faint. I'd closed my eyes to focus on my dream, images of the surface below as clear as life.





    The rest of the meal proceeded without incident, aside from the continued magnificence of the food. Although by now I would simply repeat myself to describe them all!

    Hengduan banquets had no sweet dessert, and I was grateful that it would prevent the classless cake that my father had presented me with the year before. Though we capped the meal with a sweet, it was in the form of a milky, tea-like drink that tasted of almonds.

    "So," my father pronounced, "if you'd like, we can do presents now."

    That was something else I wasn't sure of, if presents should be given in public. It seemed horribly rude, but again, Asaph nodded me on. "All right," I muttered, looking around as I did just in case.

    Helen smiled, which I caught only briefly. "I'll start." She retrieved her purse from under her chair, drawing something out from it and handing it to me. Again I looked at Asaph and again he nodded for me to proceed, so I did, drawing my finger under the tape holding the wrapping paper closed so as not to rip anything.

    Within was the image of a distant castle, the famous Neuswaronessstein, dream of a mad king. I'd dreamt of it once, a few months before, and the idea of an unfinished palace, lost without its dreamer, was incredibly tragic and appealing. Turning the book over to the front cover revealed that it was on palaces around the world.

    "I hope you like it," she grinned. "You seem to love all those faraway things. I saw this and it just fit."

    Though her words were off in the distance as I stared at the back cover again, finally setting it down when I realised that we were to continue.

    Asaph had prepared a fancier gift, a small hinged fabric box with the name of a jeweler in town in small foreign letters across the top. "I've looked forward to this. It took a considerable effort to keep it a secret."

    Carefully I tilted open the lid, the contents shining in the dim overhead light before I could see it entirely. I could hear Helen oohing in anticipation as I drew it back, revealing a gold brooch with a highly stylized hiragana "Ji" engraved lightly into it. When I drew it out of the box, I could hear my father laugh sharply, causing me to nearly drop it. "Fancy! That'll be something you keep your whole life."

    "Ji", I said to myself, running my fingers over the engraved surface. It was ever so slightly coarser than the polished area around it, and it was an interesting sensation. "Ji..."

    Asaph chuckled. "I'm glad you see that. I worried it may have been too calligraphic to discern properly."

    I recall being entranced by it, still feeling that emery-like area and repeating "Ji" as though it was a holy mantra. Even then I didn't understand why.

    "Jiri, can you show us?" I'm not sure who said it, but it broke me out of the trance. I tilted the box to show it to them and the two gasped simultaneously.

    "Asaph..." My father dropped his voice and I believe he thought that I couldn't hear him. "Are you sure? That looks really expensive."

    Asaph waved his hand ever so slightly. "Don't think of it." It was slightly softer, but it was still very audible.

    I put the cover back over the brooch, brushing the surface again as I did, and took another sip of the almond tea.

    "Oh, that's right!" my father exclaimed, though I knew that it was an artificial energy. "My present!" He extended the second word in the manner of a teen idol, and Helen lightly slapped his shoulder I assume for it. Grinning, he presented me with a red envelope, the telltale sign of a gift of money.

    Again I felt uncomfortable, and again I looked around to see who was watching, but I opened it anyway. It was a novel sort, the kind held closed with a wind of string, and I peeked inside without withdrawing the funds. It wasn't money itself, but a bank note made out for an embarrassingly high sum.

    I felt a bit woozy, although the money was minor compared to what I had already made. It felt as though he was attempting to buy my happiness, and it bothered me to no end. "I'm not certain I can accept this," I told him.

    "Oh come on, it's a drop in the bucket compared to what Asaph must have gotten that pin for." I followed his eyeline to the box that held it.

    Asaph turned towards me, reaching his hand to mine. "No matter what it is, it's fine. Accept it graciously."

    I lowered my head. "Very well. Thank you, father." Although it did nothing to sway my opinion, I could set it aside.

    "Father now, huh? Heh, you're making me feel old. So, you can do whatever you want with that, of course. You've been so responsible with what I gave you before, buying your own clothes and books and all that." He shook his head. "I couldn't handle all that when I was your age. I don't know how you do it."

    Though I was a bit lost in thought. The meal, the generous gifts, the opulent surroundings, the mélange of smells still drifting around the table, even the distant rain, grown stronger since our arrival; all together it drew round in my brain, too many things to sort through all at once. It was odd how I could handle such things in other situations.

    "Jiri, have you had a good birthday?" I refocused to see Helen smiling at me.

    "I have. Thank you all. It's been an honour. I feel like nobility."

    "Oh shucks." Obviously my father, with his plain language. "We were hoping you'd feel like royalty."

    "Royalty has too many obligations. I've not got the head or want for matters of the world."

    He stared at me for a moment, as did Helen, who at least was smiling. Asaph carried on with his tea as though nothing was unusual. "That...that just came out of you, didn't it? You spend a lot of time thinking about that kind of stuff, don't you?"

    "I read a lot about them." More specifically about their treasures, and those of their regions and nations. The art of every area of the world...I sighed just thinking about it.

    "Getting tired? I don't blame you; you've had a long day." He laughed softly, under his breath.

    I was tired, come to think of it, although he had misinterpreted my sigh. It wasn't important. "A bit. It must be near midnight by now."

    He checked his watch, a surprisingly expensive-looking piece for a man who lived so pathetically despite his fortune. "It's close to ten. We should hit the road, since I think they close at ten. I had a great time."

    "Me too," Helen added. "Corbin, we'll have to come here sometime, just the two of us."

    "Oh?" Asaph quirked an eyebrow, his voice turning up at the end. "Jirarudan never speaks of these things, so I'm terribly behind on you, Corbin. Considering that your son is my business, I feel that I must."

    Helen laughed, something high and bubbly. "We've been seeing each other for a while now. Almost as long as we've known you!"

    But the discussion of relationships seemed inappropriate. Petty gossip had no room in these situations, and it was strange to see Asaph entering into it. Why was he so interested? "So, we spoke of leaving?"

    My father turned to me, eyebrows furrowed. "I...guess we did. Everyone ready? I pre-paid so we can just go."

    As we all stood from the table, I tucked the book under my arm and the envelope into my inner jacket pocket, taking the jewelry box into my hand. "I had a wonderful time. Thank you all for coming." Saying so, I bowed midway.

    "Ooh, our little society boy," Helen said as she bowed back, at a smaller angle, and Asaph followed suit. Though my father had already wandered off, seemingly unaware of my gesture.

    When I looked back from where he had vanished to, Asaph was offering his arm. "Shall I accompany you up the stairs, young sir?"

    Helen laughed, and she looked what the pictures had called amused. "Two gentlemen."

    For some reason I wanted to ignore that. I took his arm and he led me up the grand staircase. The sound of the rain outside, pounding against the door and window, was soothing in a way, and I thought back to something I had read about how there was something in our psychology to find rain relaxing, though I couldn't remember why. "I believe Corbin went to fetch the car."

    "He should have said something."

    "Yes, he should have. Although he's polite in manners of business, the ideas of everyday manners escape him."

    Helen had followed us, and nodded, I assume in agreement. "He's got some work to do. But I've talked to him. I'm going to go wait out there for him, and I'll tell you when he's pulled up." The windows were red, of course, in keeping with the theme, and it was nearly impossible to see out of them.

    "Very well. I will see you both later, Helen. Give my best to Corbin."

    "I will." She held the door open for a moment, pulling her umbrella open outside before joining it, leaving me with Asaph.

    "I must be heading back myself. I'd love to have you over some time, perhaps for a few days."

    That sounded like paradise! "And I'd love to join you. Do you have a preference in date?"

    "Not especially. Though autumn in the hills is a sight to behold, and I want to share it with you." He smiled, and I didn't need my pictures to identify it as kindly.

    "I'll call you and we'll arrange this. Will Veronica be joining us?" Her appearance in Seafoam had been a surreal experience, but I still valued her company.

    "Perhaps, if she wishes. I haven't seen her since that trip you both took to Viridian, though I've spoken to her. It's about time I reach out."

    That was relieving for some reason. "I look forward to hearing her answer."

    The door poked open slightly and Helen told us that the car was ready, so I said my goodbyes and headed out, shielded under her umbrella.





    The drive back to Seafoam saw drowsiness catch me, lulling me to sleep with the gentle, repetitive motion of the car over the road, and the feel of the brooch under my ringed finger. I fell into dreams to the sound of the rain.
    The world's greatest collector as drawn by Yoru Ryu
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    Answering Machine (strong XY spoilers--winner of Most Heartbreaking Scene 2013!)

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