Reading the Leaves

Characters: Dr. Kim Matsumoto, Klevetati Yoshino

Kim Matsumoto strolled through the open doors to the galley and paused just inside with a slight frown. This was the third time in as many nights Yoshino had been in the galley, pensively staring into her tea. At first Kim thought Yoshino kept as strange hours as Kim did, and if she sensed anything wrong… well, it didn’t show in the woman’s face, and until it did, Kim honestly didn’t have the right to intrude. It was bad enough she had other’s emotions thrust upon her, but to go nosing in…

And yet now there was a note of strain beginning to break that crisp composure. Even if tentatively, she is a friend, Kim reminded herself. Collecting a cup of tea, Kim approached hesitantly.

“Care for some company?”

Yoshino’s pale eyes opened wide in sudden shock. “Doctor Matsumoto,” she said, struggling to collect herself. “I…yes. Please.” She gestured to the empty chair on the other side of the small table.

“Forgive me if I’m being nosy, but are you all right?”

Yoshino at first answered the question with one of her own. “Is it true that the Vorlons communicated through dreams?” Before Kim could reply, Yoshino added, “It could just be me, but I have been having some… disturbing dreams. It’s been getting worse, the closer we get to Vorlon space.” The words were coming faster and faster, more than Kim had ever heard from Yoshino at once, almost as if she wanted to finish before she lost her nerve. “If it does have something to do with the Vorlons, I have to tell someone. If it doesn’t, who would want to hear? And how much to tell? How much is too much?”

She silenced herself with a long swallow from her cup, then pressed the knuckles of her left hand to her mouth.

For a moment Kim was speechless. She had never seen the woman in such a state before, and with her fears given voice, Kim could even more clearly sense the depth of Yoshino’s distress. It was a little frightening, in and of itself.

Kim tried reeling back to the beginning of the conversation. “On Minbar, I was told the Vorlons did sometimes communicate through dreams, but they are gone now, beyond the Rim,” she said slowly, choosing her words carefully. “It’s not impossible something else is effecting you in the same manner, but… Are you certain it isn’t some personal stress? What were the dreams about?”

Yoshino hesitated a fraction, before answering, “My death.

“The oyabun was with me in my quarters. He told me that I had dishonored the clan and myself, that I must commit seppuku. Which I then did.”

She paused again, taking a quick assessing look at Kim. Despite her own turmoil, she must take care not to overwhelm her friend — and Kim would feel much more of her pain than an ordinary person would. Yoshino had to remember that, and try to stay calm.

“But as I was… dying… two things happened. First, it wasn’t the oyabun at all. It was… someone else. Then, I saw you, and Miss Santiago, speaking to me. Telling me that the shame I was dying for was not really my own.”

Oyabun? Kim’s gaze dropped to Yoshino’s ruined hand. Yakuza. Kim shivered slightly, remembering Tokyo. Four years of hell, it had been, sunken in a fog of loss and her own solitary fight that had stretched beyond a cry for justice to the slow, silent construction of her obsession with vengeance. But even then she had not been so blinkered to life that she did not know of the Yakuza. In the Japanese form of organized crime, missing finger joints were the marks of dishonor and atonement.

“Yoshino….” Kim began lamely.

A sad, ironic smile touched Yoshino’s face. “You would never have guessed, would you?”

Kim looked down at her cooled tea. “Well, the Rangers….” she looked up, “You got out of it, though.”

“Not exactly. I came to Minbar because I was in fear for my life. It was after the Rangers took me in that I realized exactly how much… evil… I had been responsible for.”

Kim grimaced, silent for a minute. “Yoshino.” Her voice grew more definite. “How, or why you got here, you still got here. Maybe it’s easy for me to put it aside, in my ignorance of your past, but don’t you think this counts for something?” Her hand waved to the ship and their life in general.

Yoshino’s reply was quick and earnest. “Of course it does. I thought I had a home in the clan, until… the thing happened that drove me out. But the Anla-shok have been a much better home, a better family.”

Kim smiled, her tension easing a little to find it was not an insurmountable problem. “I’m far from an expert on dreams, psychology or Vorlons, but I’ll help, if there is any way I can.”

“My past, at least the immediate past, is a very tangled and ugly thread, I’m afraid.” Yoshino sighed. “Are you sure you’re willing to take this on? I know that for you especially it could be painful.”

Kim contemplated her tea for a long moment, but her voice was sure when she spoke. “Yes it could… but I’d shame myself not to try. I despise ‘fair weather’ friends. How could I not try to help?” she said and looked up as she did.

“You are very kind. Most of my –the tangled ugly part of my story– concerns how I left the clan, and Earth.” Yoshino looked at her mutilated left hand thoughtfully. “I took the name I have now because of it.”

“They wouldn’t let you go?” It was in the form of a question, but there was little doubt in Kim’s tone.

Yoshino’s voice lowered for privacy. There were few in the galley, distanced from them, but the room was also quiet with the hour. “They — some of them — wanted to kill me.”

“What did you do to cause this?” Without thought, Kim fell into their shared language. Yoshino replied in kind.

“I was a trusted and valuable member of the clan. Then I — I killed one of the clan’s favorites, the oyabun’s nephew, a man named Sasaki. It was self-defense, but there were no witnesses. I had no proof.”

Kim grimaced. “And you ran?”

Yoshino shook her head. “No. I tried to play by the rules. I told the oyabun exactly what happened.” She paused, shuddering visibly and then checked to make sure she wasn’t within touching distance of Kim. “I asked his forgiveness, and sacrificed my finger to prove I meant what I said. That was good enough for him.”

For her part, Kim kept her shields tightly shut, as not to invade. “But not for those close to this one you killed?”

“Exactly. Sasaki’s friends still wanted me dead. So then I had no choice but to run.” Yoshino tried to close her mind’s eye to the images that came — leaving behind the small apartment that had been her home for ten years, clutching the only things that seemed to matter any more — her swords, and Kuri…

“I’m sorry.”

Yoshino tried to nod her thanks, though Kim’s voice seemed suddenly distant as the dream-images came to mind, almost hypnotic in their intensity. “It was Sasaki I saw in the dream. He was pretending to be the oyabun, compelling me to kill myself.”

Kim hesitated a long minute over her next words, and the quiet murmur of other conversations filled the silence. “Yoshino, do you feel you should have died for that?”

Yoshino was suddenly angry, though not at Kim. “I didn’t ask for what Sasaki did to me, and I didn’t intend to kill him. What I got for that… well, that was why I adopted my new name. Klevetati is a Croatian word. It means, ‘to slander’.”

Kim was silent, not sure what she could say to help. Yoshino sighed. “I’m sorry. This isn’t your fault. I hope I’m not… hurting you.”

“Only that I’m not proving a great deal of use.”

“You are. There has been a part of myself that has been praying for someone to listen to me. Someone who would believe me.” Someone who would give a damn about all this,she added to herself. As if her emotional state was being echoed in her body, the missing finger began to throb, the pain of loss overwhelming all her control.

Yoshino slowly lowered her head to the table, pillowed on folded arms. It was nothing Kim was at all prepared for, but finally she reached out and touched Yoshino’s shoulder, squeezing gently. The other woman looked up, tears standing in her eyes. Then visibly she drew a breath, trying to calm down. “Thank you,” Yoshino whispered.

“Any time you wish.”

“Perhaps….when we are safe and there is time –and a large bottle of sake– I will tell you all of what happened.”

“A deal.” Kim let go and sat back again. Her eyes roved the tabletop, the walls, anything, searching for a distraction. “But for now, perhaps you’d care to share some real tea? And I’d love to see Kuri again…”

“She’s been settling in nicely, in part thanks to you–” Yoshino suddenly did a double-take. “Real tea?”

“Mm-hm. Tucked away in my room.”

Yoshino smiled warmly. “Then perhaps we should be on our way, before Kuri gets too worried about me, and decides to rearrange all my data crystals….”

Kim chuckled, as much relief in the sound as anything. “Among other things,” she said as she stood. She left her cup to be collected.

Yoshino stood and bowed very deeply to Kim. “Again, thank you. I am in your debt, and I will not forget.”