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Kaiseki

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The lighting is poor enough in this corner of the room that it is comfortable, which was of course why his aunt requested this table over any of the others. The walls are painted, if not black then a very deep red, with rich wooden accents, and the tables are separated by clevely placed, beautifully decorated shōji screens.

There is soothing koto music piping through discreetly located speakers, and although the table has a footwell, Samar refuses to give in to his aunt, so they are both kneeling on zabuton cushions on the raised tatami bench. He's waiting to see whose legs fall asleep first, because Aunt Rose may do yoga, but his uncle has him sit in seiza as endurance training.

"I'm very glad that you were amenable to accompanying me," Aunt Rose says. "I find it difficult to justify the trip and the time outside of anniversaries or special guests."

Samar sips his tea. It tastes like a brick of grass, and he would know. "I enjoy that which is genuinely meant to imitate authenticity."

"Could you perhaps present a concrete example?"

"Take this restaurant." He gestures up at the ceiling. "The style of cuisine is that of the Japanese Zen temple, but provided at a restaurant, which is a very worldly setting, and for foreigners and aliens, themselves not monks."

"I do see your point."

The first course arrives. They eat. It is, of course, delicious.

Aunt Rose unfolds out of seiza, legs to the side but still folded, like illustrations of mermaids resting on rocks. She is wearing a black blouse and a black pencil skirt, and a string of pearls; she looks deadly, and beautiful.

Samar already knows what he looks like: a scruffy, immature troll, in busted-up jeans and a worn grey plaid hoodie, hair a mess, stick-limbed with horns too big for his age. He doesn't belong in a $70-a-head haute cuisine Japanese restaurant in New York City and he fucking well knows it.

And Hasa, his lucky, lucky little sister, got to go with Aunt Kanaya to a hair salon to fix the post-Uncle-with-wakizashi disaster of her hair.

Halfway through the second course, Aunt Rose asks, "How is school?"

"Within expectations."

"Your preferred classes?"

"Middle- and urban."

Aunt Rose's lips quirk. "I was referring to academics."

"No preferences. My interests lie in multi-disciplinary directions."

"Oh?"

"Physics and biology, as applied to violence; language, as applied to intercultural interactions between individuals and political entities; and so on."

"Do you enjoy violence?"

"Will you use my answer to judge whether I am a potential danger to those around me?"

Aunt Rose smiles, again, finishing the last bite of the course and laying down her chopsticks. "Are you concerned about being considered a potential danger to those around you?"

"The Fifth Amendment is a useful legal tool." He sets down his own chopsticks and settles in to wait for the next course. His legs aren't even uncomfortable.

The third course arrives, is eaten in silence, and departs. If she thinks she can break him with silence, she is wrong.

The fourth course, too, is silent. In the background, the music changes to some darkly unusual song, presumably in Japanese, on some stringed instrument that sounds vaguely similar to a sitar.

At the fifth course's arrival, Aunt Rose asks, "Are you a potential danger to those around you?"

"Uncle trained me to be one."

"Does that bother you?"

"Should it?"

He falls silent for long enough to finish the course, and then says, laying a particularly explosive card on the table, "I don't know what happened during the game."

"Very few do, let alone of its existence."

"But I know enough to draw a few conclusions."

"Such as?" Aunt Rose has gone very, very still.

"Gamzee killed people. That he's not safe."

"I would not go so far as to call him unsafe." Aunt Rose sips at her tea. "He has a great deal of capital, emotionally and personally speaking, invested in the life he has now."

"According to historical records, the Subjugglators were not particularly distracted by personal investments."

Aunt Rose pours them both more tea with careful turns of her fine-boned wrists. He wonders how many people have mistaken her for a harmless Lipstick Lesbian.

"I am not qualified to judge Alternian history," she says. "Only individuals, and on a case-by-case basis, of course."

"And for exorbitant fees billed to insurance companies."

"One must pay off one's educational loans."

"And treat one's relatives to expensive meals."

"I find eating with you an exhilarating experience."

The sixth course arrives, and he unfolds his legs, letting them hang under the table.

"Everyone thinks I take after Gamzee."

"I find that you take after your father tremendously."

Samar swallows a mushroom and resolves to make Aunt Kanaya take him out for steak for dinner while Hasa's talking her mouth off to Aunt Rose. A growing troll needs way more protein than this.

"Which one?"

"Which one do you think I meant?"

He shovels a few bites more into his mouth. "All of them." Another bite or two. "But you intended for me to interpret the question as referring only to one of them."

"Oh?"

He finishes off the dish. "My interpretation would indicate my state of mind regarding my relationship with humanity and trollkind, but you are already familiar with my second-generation immigrant identity issues."

"What should your interpretation tell me about your 'identity issues,' then?" Has Aunt Rose always been able to inflect words into having scare quotes, or did she have to practice to get it?

"That I'm evading answering."

She takes a sip of her tea, then says, "Evasion is in and of itself an answer, as you well know."

"Do you do this to your wife?"

Her eyes widen with amusement. "Regularly. Would you like me to go into detail?"

"I don't find xeno porn interesting."

"I'm sure you wouldn't." She sets down her teacup, and the clatter of the porcelain makes him want to spit with frustration.

Dessert arrives. He eats it. It's good, of course. Probably the whole reason they came here is because she knows from visits to Chinatown that he likes azuki.

After this, there will be tea.