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“You shouldn’t believe all he says.”

 

“Like you can talk. You’re the one who seethes for hours when he criticises you.”

 

“No, I’m just always seething.”

 

“You’re not. I know when you’re hurt and angry. The things he says get to you.”

 

“Shut it, we’re talking about you anyway, not me.” Kazuya folded his arms behind his head and looked up at the sky. They had walked out as far as they dared on the Mishima Estate, and found a hill to lie on and look up at the bright blue sky. Up there, trails of white clouds skated, and the sun hung auburn gold and sent the haze of summer shimmering in the air.

 

Chaolan rolled over. He had threaded wild flowers together by their stems to make a crown. He placed the circlet carefully on his head.

 

“How do I look?”

 

Kazuya glanced at him and rolled his eyes. Chaolan wilted just a little.

 

“The uh… purple ones go with your hair.”

 

Chaolan beamed. “Thank you. Yes, I thought they might. I was trying to do a pattern where every other one was purple.”

 

Kazuya closed his eyes and let the heat of the day drop sleep lightly on his eyelids.

 

“I can’t help letting his words get to me. It’s not like there’s anyone else to listen to…” Chaolan’s admission came out in a despondent huff.

 

“What about Wang?” Kazuya didn’t open his eyes.

 

“Oh, I like Mr Wang a lot, but he-… He doesn’t really get it. He doesn’t say anything that would contradict Father. Even if I ask him if he thinks I’ve improved in my martial arts, he says ‘That is for your sensei to determine’ and turns the conversation back to inconsequential things, like the weather, or some plant he’s growing. I do like him, but sometimes I don’t really feel like he sees me. I’m just sort of there in the room with him. He can have the conversation he wants to have without me saying anything at all…”

 

“He doesn’t even talk to me. He just mutters and walks away.”

 

“Kaz, two weeks ago you shouted at him and said if he walked that close to the house again, you’d have him dragged off the estate when Father is next away...”

 

“Huh… I said that? I don’t remember. He’s annoying. What does he want to come near the house for anyway, he’s got hundreds of miles to roam on the estate.”

 

“The power went out in his cottage.”

 

“He has electricity?”

 

Kazuya.” Chaolan kicked him. Kazuya’s eyes flashed open and he leapt up. “Wait, wait! My flower crown!”

 

Kazuya paused and let Chaolan set his flowers to one side. Then they wrestled and tumbled some way down the hill in the process. They scrabbled to get a lock on one another, but each time one got on top, the other would flip them off and try to go for a hold of their own. Eventually Kazuya won, mostly by having a few extra pounds on Chaolan and flopping on his brother when they were both too tired to keep going.

 

“Fine. You win. Now let me up.” Kazuya didn’t let him up. He pinned him there a little longer just to rub in the victory. “Kaz, come on… You already won… I want my crown and to lie in the sun.”

 

Kazuya got up and stretched. Chaolan grumbled at him. He combed his fingers back through his hair as they walked back up to the top of the hill.

 

“I think I pulled a muscle as I rolled… And you have mud on your shirt.”

 

“Nonsense, it hasn’t rained in weeks.” Kazuya stopped to look at his clothes all the same.

 

“Here, idiot.” Chaolan brushed his shirt down.

 

“Idiot, yourself.” Kazuya nodded his thanks though. When they both sat down again, they were a little out of breath and red cheeked.

 

“It was way too hot for a fight.” Chaolan groaned. He resettled his flowers on his head.

 

“Yeah…” Kazuya agreed.

 

They both fell quiet again. The drone of insects thrummed in the air and a faint distant wind shuffled the leaves of the forest at the foot of the hill. From here they could see the pinnacled pagoda roof of the family temple standing out against craggy mountains beyond. They didn’t come here for the pagoda view though, they came because the enormous estate buildings were finally out of sight from here. They could pretend they were anywhere but home.

 

“You were wrong, by the way,” Kazuya said.

 

“Yeah? What about this time?”

 

“Me. Caring what Heihachi thinks. I don’t care in the slightest; he just makes me angry.”

 

Chaolan gave him a sceptical look. He was tentatively even in the way he replied though. “Anger is a kind of caring, Kaz…”

 

“Well, whatever, but I’m not hurt by him, and that other weak stuff you said.” Chaolan masked a sigh, and didn’t reply to that. “You don’t believe me.” Kazuya’s voice had gone low with some of that infamous anger. His dark eyebrows pulled down and his eyes narrowed.

 

Chaolan gazed at him warily. Then he gave a huff and rolled over so that his back was to his brother. “I’m not talking to you when you’re in one of those moods. You don’t even want to hear what I have to say, you just want to pick another fight because you don’t like to hear it.”

 

There was a pause. Then,

 

“Fine. Say what you want to say.”

 

“No. You’re just going to hit me.”

 

“You kicked me first last time.”

 

“I’m still not talking to you.”

 

“Fine. I won’t punch you.” Chaolan flicked his head back to give Kazuya a glare. His scowl came sullen through a silvery curtain of hair. “Or kick you,” Kazuya added. “Or fight you.”

 

Chaolan rolled back over. His flowers had slipped slightly so that they were jaunty on his head.

 

“You don’t want to hear what I have to say. It won’t do any good anyway. It’s not like it anything can be done. Forget about this.” Chaolan sounded older, more serious, and quieter just then.

 

“Tell me. I won’t lash out, I promise.”

 

Chaolan sighed again. “It’s just that, it’s not only me who believes all those things Father says. You… you internalise a lot of it.”

 

“What’s that meant to mean,” Kazuya deadpanned.

 

“When he puts you down…”

 

“So? It’s usually in the dojo, where he’s right.”

 

“You’re good, you know that, don’t you? You’ve never heard it, but you are an incredible karate-ka.”

 

“Why does it matter if I hear that or not? Praise goes to people’s heads. Criticism makes you improve.”

 

“And I’m not even just talking about the dojo… The things he says to you-”

 

“I don’t listen to half of what comes out of that old man’s mouth. I’m usually shouting over most of it anyway.”

 

“Look me in the eyes and tell me you don’t lie awake thinking about his words.” Kazuya didn’t look at him. He gave a solid, black scowl and kept looking straight up. “I can feel it when you’re awake at night, lying there angry like that,” Chaolan said more gently. “You make the whole house… heavy, oppressive,… hard to breathe.”

 

“So now I’m being criticised even for lying in my room doing nothing?”

 

“I’m not criticising you. I just want you to know that I know. And that you’re not so alone.”

 

“We’re all alone.”

 

“Kaz…”

 

“What? He made sure of it. We talk freely like this only when he’s away from home. This isn’t the norm, Chaolan. The norm is that we’re at war with each other, vying for his non-existent favour in attempt to not be the one feeling the brunt of his temper.”

 

“Maybe...” Chaolan said. He was thoughtful and melancholy. “But I think it’s important to recognise that you do care what he thinks, Kaz, because as long as we keep caring about what he says, we’re going to end up under his thumb. If you really didn’t care – I mean really didn’t care – it wouldn’t matter if he thought you were weak or if-”

 

“Obviously what he thinks matters when we live under his roof, and by his rules, where he can do whatever he pleases when-”

 

“I don’t just mean now. I mean in the future. You’re seventeen. It’s not so long until you become an adult-”

 

“In the eyes of the law. A law that is subservient to him. You think he’ll just let us walk away when we’re old enough? You think he won’t try to control our every move?”

 

“Will you let me talk?”

 

Kazuya folded his arms.

 

Chaolan shifted his elbows on the meadow and propped his chin in his hands. “I mean, that we’ll only really escape him by breaking out of his expectations for us and refusing to play the game he’s set up.”

 

“Are you done?”

 

“For now.”

 

“Right, because you’re talking nonsense again. Escape Heihachi? Why do you think your old friend Wang is here? You think he genuinely wants to live in the back yard of the man who killed his best friend.”

 

“Y-you don’t know Father did that…”

 

“Wang’s here because he knows too much. Probably Heihachi would kill him if he tried to leave. How much worse would Heihachi do to us, his supposed heirs that he’s drained hours of his attention into?”

 

“He hasn’t given us that much attention…” Chaolan muttered.

 

“We’re never leaving ‘the game’, Chaolan. The best way out is to beat it. Beat him. Don’t worry though. He grows older and we grow stronger. It won’t be so much longer now…”

 

“Kazuya…”

 

“Don’t Kazuya me. You said yourself I’m a good karate-ka.”

 

“Yes, but I didn’t mean you should go pick a fight with Father.”

 

“I won’t…”

 

“Yet.”

 

“… yet.” Kazuya gave Chaolan a grin.

 

They both lay still. Some of the heat was going out of the sun as the afternoon wore on.

 

“We’d better start walking back. He’ll be back at dusk.” Chaolan stood and brushed himself down. Kazuya followed suit. Then he reached towards the chain of wild flowers on Chaolan’s brow. “I want to at least wear it back to the house!” Chaolan exclaimed. He sounded like a kid again.

 

Kazuya gave a small smile, tilted with a little sadness. “I know,” he said.

 

He set the flowers straight, then led the way back toward home.