Kitty giggled again and sat down on one of the bench seats at the table. I put the cover over the wok and turned the heat down.
[May I ask a question?] Atom asked. His little puppet hand raised.
Kitty brightened immediately. [What would you like to know?]
[Why did you just imply that Tachi and Dust are in love? Wouldn’t the two of them arguing suggest otherwise?]
“Ah.” Tachi beamed. “It’s because the parties involved are demonstrating signs of unresolved sexual tension.”
[What does that mean?]
“It means that despite all outward appearances to the contrary, the two parties secretly want each other, but lack the courage or emotional maturity to make the first step.” Tachi batted his pretty little eyes at me and frowned.
I sighed and the perfect revenge just popped into my head. “Tachi why does your sister think you’re a girl?”
Tachi snapped his head back like he’d been slapped.
Kitty almost choked on a piece of carrot. “Wait, what?”
Yeah, you can dish it out but you can’t take it. “Kiru said ‘Aneki’ when she first saw you. Not ‘Aniki’. Why?”
Tachi washed the jar in the sink.
Kitty cocked her head to one side. “What’s the difference?”
Before Tachi could speak I raised my voice and explained. “There’s a lot of Japanese words that are only one or two vowels different from their polar opposite. Kireina, for example means something is clean or pretty while Kuraina means something is disgusting. Kawaii means something is cute and Kowai means it’s scary…”
Tachi sighed at me. “There are numerous layers of complexity in the Japanese culture, things even someone who has lived in the country as extensively as you have…”
I stopped listening to Tachi and instead popped a vidwindow between him and Kitty. […and while Aniki basically means ‘big bro’. Aneki is the feminine form.]
Tachi drew an exasperated breath. “You probably didn’t hear her correctly.”
“But I did hear her correctly.” I said, leaning in close to him. “I was hanging on Kiru’s every word, waiting for her to give the command that would put my head on a plate. Now please answer the question: Why does your own sister think you’re a girl?”
“Woman.” Tachi said getting right back in my face. “According to your unreliable account, my sister believes I am a woman.”
Kitty’s ears pricked up. “I think you touched a nerve there.”
Tachi stood up and gave me a glare that would reverse global warming. “I’m going to check on the rice.”
I let him go. I wanted verbal, not physical, sparring. Keeping the heat up would get me burned, I needed to keep stirring and make sure he simmered properly.
A smirk took form on Kitty’s lips and she waited to see what I would do.
Tachi made a show of taking the lid off the rice cooker and staring at the bubbling foam for a few seconds.
“If you must know.” Tachi said. “When I was a young lad my behaviour was a mite too feminine for my father’s tastes. He thought provoking me through the use of feminine honorifics would encourage me to behave in a more masculine fashion. It worked. Whenever Kiru, the golden child, wanted to snipe at me she too would make use of feminine prefixes. Today was no exception.”
I nodded and quietly ran that explanation through the bullshitometer.
“That was very good mate.” I said. “You only had a few seconds to pull that out of your arse, and it almost stands up to scrutiny.”
Kitty raised an eyebrow in response. “Care to explain how?”
Tachi glared at me again. He replaced the lid on the rice-cooker.
“Kiru was asking Tachi to surrender. Apparently while RCF thinks nothing of offing a pair of dirty gaijin, they’re more than willing to let Tachi off the hook if he hands Atom over to them and surrenders.” I turned to Tachi. “She wasn’t teasing you, she was trying to get you to come quietly.”
“She was just being formal.” Tachi snapped. “She never intended to honour that agreement.”
“She’d disobey the old man? Really? Just to get one up on you? Bullshit. Kiru would rather die than disobey her father. We both know that.”
Tachi flicked his eyes away from me. The set to his jaw suggested he was either going to cry or belt me across the head.
“Wait a second.” Kitty said. “How does any of that make Tachi a woman?”
“Only by birth.” Tachi growled. His eyes flamed outrage at me.
Kitty whipped her head towards Tachi like a spectator at Wimbledon “You mean he’s right?”
“Try not to sound too shocked.” I muttered.
“Stop being so flippant.” Tachi said sternly. He squared his shoulders. “How dare you. How dare you cut right to my deepest shame and then just laugh it off.”
“Deepest shame?” Kitty asked, her face souring into a scowl.
Tachi shot his gaze right down the barrel of Kitty’s eyes. “I understand why you’re offended. But you don’t understand. You never felt ‘mislabelled’ at birth.”
Tachi continued. “I’m more comfortable in a male prosthetic chassis than I ever was in my own flesh and blood. I felt that from the first day after the surgery. All the creeping terror of how my father was going to react was suddenly absent from my mind when I walked down the street and other men deferentially looked away.”
Atom and I said ‘Huh?’ in unison.
Tachi brought himself back to his full height again. “As a woman whenever I crossed paths with a man on the street he’d ‘discreetly’ look me over as I passed. As a man I noticed that other men would turn their gaze away as I drew near. It took a while before I realised this was so as not to provoke me.”
[I don’t get it?] Atom said. [Why would they look at you differently?]
“Why indeed?” Tachi said. “Dust, care to explain?”
I shrugged. “Guys like to look at pretty girls?”
Tachi snapped his fingers at me. “You feel entitled to look at pretty girls.”
Kitty nodded knowingly. “I’ve lost count of the number of time he’s stared at my tits.”
I rolled my eyes. “And if I walked around in a pair of buttless chaps you’d be constantly checking out my arse. If you don’t want everyone gawking at them, don’t hang ’em up in the shop window.”
“What makes you think they’re on display for you?”
“What makes you think I need your permission to…” then the proverbial penny dropped. I looked to Tachi. “Okay, I see what you’re talking about.”
“It feels much like it would feel to you if you were standing in the midst of a dozen, oiled-up Mr Universe contestants with ‘Proud to be gay’ tattooed in a ring around their bicep.” Tachi explained.
“Oh come on.” I said. “I’m an enlightened 21st century guy, I wouldn’t have a problem with that mob.”
Kitty smirked. “You would if they were looking at you the way you look at me. You’d know that if they wanted you, there isn’t anything you could do to stop them.”
I shrugged. “Can’t be harder than cyborgs. But I get what you mean.”
Note to self: Look at Kitty differently in future.