Ch. 4
"Culture Shock"

They were finally able to get to their gate only by contacting Crawford and getting some sort of paperwork that got Farfarello safely through security. Ken wasn't sure what the papers said or who they were from-- most likely something obtained from Rosenkreuz years ago in case of such problems --but it worked. They missed their flight because of the delay, but managed to get another one an hour later.
It was a long flight.
Ken had never flown before, aside from once in a little puddle hopper for a game in his J-League years. At first he was fascinated, clinging to Farfarello's arm and ogling out the window during takeoff. But things soon got boring, and Ken got sick of just sitting there. He went to the smelly little bathroom, then returned to their comfortable first class seats, feeling momentarily sorry for the people cramped in coach. (1)
He listened to his CD player for awhile, then watched one of the inflight movies- it turned out to be boring -before trying to nap. They hit some mild turbulence five hours into the flight, startling him awake and frying his nerves so that sleep was nearly impossible from then on out. Farfarello sat like a stone, sometimes sleeping, sometimes merely staring out the window blankly. He seemed unaffected by the passing hours, and Ken was jealous of his ability to just zone out at will like he did. The stewardess that popped by so often to check on everyone seemed nice enough, but wasn't interested in holding any long conversations, so Ken was left to his own devices.
By the time they finally landed, Ken's excitement about being in the States was somewhere in the background of his subconscious. He was plagued by an odd combination of exhaustion and aggravated pent-up energy. He was tired of being cooped up in the plane for nearly a full day, but at the same time his body was insisting on proper sleep. He decided it must be the mysterious "jet-lag" he'd heard Schwarz mention before. It was mid-morning in America, while it was evening over in Japan, nearly a day ahead.
In the end, he was too tired to pay much attention to his surroundings. He did manage to marvel at all the English signs everywhere and the chattering Americans all around as Farfarello, seemingly unaffected by the whole ordeal, led him firmly to baggage claim, through immigration, which was a little easier than he'd feared, and finally to rent a car from the lot outside, where the wind cut through his simple t-shirt and jeans like a knife.
The cheerful car salesman babbled something at him, but Ken was too lost to even attempt to translate the words into something that made sense. He found himself wishing Crawford was there; he had translated for them before the Jackal had lapsed into rudimentary Japanese back during the war. Ken knew very little English, and for a moment he was panicked, wondering why on earth they hadn't found a translator, or at least taken some classes.
"That one," Farfarello said clearly in English, pointing towards a plain Honda. The salesman nodded and hastened off to get the paperwork. Farfarello caught Ken staring at him, and misinterpreted the look. "He was telling you it's always cold in New York this time of year," he explained in a monotone.
"Wait-- I didn't know you knew that much English," Ken sputtered. "I mean, I figured you knew a little, but.. are you fluent?"
"The students of Rosekreuz travel often," Farfarello reminded him, going over to look the Honda over more thoroughly. Ken recognized it as an unconscious retreat; Farfarello disliked speaking of his past before joining Schwarz. "They teach us many languages. English is one of them. Besides, many people in Ireland speak English."
Ken would have felt more miffed at not having known this before if he hadn't been so tired. He leaned against the car and blinked blearily at his lover. "What other languages can you speak?"
"Japanese," Farfarello reminded him with an amused glance.
Ken was too tired at first to get it, and started to scowl before he remembered belatedly that he was speaking to an actual Irishman. "Oh, yeah," he said weakly. "And?"
"My English is not as fluent as my Japanese," Farfarello pointed out. "My German is not fluent, either. That's all. I did not learn any others before I joined Schwarz."
"Don't forget you can speak that old Vampire tongue, too, right?" Farfarello nodded absently. Ken cocked his head, intrigued. "So when you think, do you think in Japanese, or in Gaelic?"
Farfarello blinked at him. "...It depends," he said slowly, after thinking about it for a moment. "Now I am thinking in Japanese."
"Oops. Sorry." Ken pushed himself away from the car, grinning as he reached up to finger the long gold earring his lover now sported. "You know, you haven't been gawked at as much as I was afraid you'd be. Me, either. I guess Schuldich was right when he said America was a home for freaks."
Farfarello snorted to show what he thought of Schuldich's opinion.
"Hey, teach me to speak Gaelic sometime, will you?" Ken implored, leaning against him. "You taught me a couple words, but I want to speak it better. OK?"
Farfarello shrugged, and just then the salesman returned.
They signed the papers, paid the rental fee, and left. Farfarello seemed to have some vague idea where he was going, and Ken was too tired to ask how. After he'd gotten over the initial fear of driving on the wrong side of the road, he dozed in the car until Farfarello shook him awake at a hotel. It must have been a decently-priced one, because a bellhop took their luggage upstairs while Farfarello went to the front desk and got them a room.
By then Ken was truly exhausted, and stumbled along after his partner, clutching his hand as a lifeline. They took the elevator to the third floor, found their suite, and used the little card key to gain access. Ken tipped the bellboy-- after he figured out why the man was still hanging around --and staggered into the bedroom while Farfarello dug out clothes and toiletries from one of the bags.
He collapsed on the bed, and the last thing he remembered was Farfarello tugging off his shoes before sleep claimed him.


Farfarello didn't let him sleep too long, reminding him that he would have to adjust to the new time zone, but Ken managed to catch enough hours to feel at least somewhat refreshed.
He coaxed his lover away from where he'd been flipping through the phonebook in an idle search for restaurants and dragged him to the bathroom, where they showered together and got more water on the floor than on each other.
By the time he was dried and dressed and munching on the late lunch Farfarello had ordered to the room, he was feeling much better.
"So, what if the American Vampire Lord doesn't have any idea where this Elijah guy is?" he asked as he slurped at his Coke. He pulled a face and set it aside. It tasted different for some reason. So did the jelly in his sandwich, but it wasn't bad, even if the bread was beyond bland.
"Then we find another way," Farfarello said simply, digging in their bags for his knives and sliding them into concealed spots in his dark clothing. "I still must speak with him."
"I know." And he did; they'd discussed it before they'd even bought the plane tickets. With Ryan Park, the previous American Lord, dead, Farfarello needed to meet the new one and offer the olive branch. A new peace treaty needed to be signed or decided, or whatever. Ken didn't know much about these things because the last time it had been time to declare peace between Vampire nations, Malachi had ruined the meeting.
"I contacted his advisor while you were asleep," Farfarello told him, rising fluidly to his feet. "His master has agreed to see us when the sun goes down."
"He's a Pureblood?" Ken asked nervously. He couldn't help but hold a grudge against Purebloods after the last war.
"Yes. He had better be smarter than his predecessor," Farfarello added, a light of bloodlust in his eye.
"Did you already eat?" Ken asked, changing the subject.
"I had a snack," Farfarello said with a shrug. "When I was out looking for someone to get me the advisor. I will eat again before we go to meet him."
"Do Americans taste any different than Japanese?" Ken asked impishly.
Farfarello snorted. "Yes," he surprised Ken by saying.
"I thought blood was blood."
"These Americans have an unhealthy diet. But they eat more meat.. more beef." He licked his lips, gaze unfocusing. "It was richer than Japanese blood."
Ken was irrationally jealous, but his lover picked up on it in the bond between them and gave the shadow of an amused smirk. He reached out to trail fingers down Ken's face and down the scar over his eye. "Not as exotic as a Necromancer's," he mused.
Ken smiled up at him, reaching up to capture the hand. "If I wasn't still a little tired, I'd say take a nibble. But you're not the only one who wants to be on their toes tonight."
Farfarello grunted, but let his hand drop and stopped staring at Ken's neck.
"I thought the American Lord was settled in Chicago," Ken mused, rubbing absently at the scar over his left eye.
"That is where Park was," Farfarello admitted. "Perhaps this new Lord-- 'Nathan' --thinks it is better to be here."
"Or maybe he was born here," Ken said whimsically, attention already drifting elsewhere as he gazed towards the window. "They call New York City the heart of this country, don't they? The pulse.." He shuddered, remembering the blasting wind that had assailed him outside the airport. "First things first," he said firmly. "We need to go shopping."
Farfarello arched a brow at that.
"Coats," Ken reminded him. "The cold might not bother you much, but I, for one, don't intend to freeze to death on the way to this meeting."
Farfarello offered a vague smile. "Wakatta."


An hour later they were on the streets of New York City.
Ken, more alert now that his flying ordeal was over with, was fascinated by the sights and sounds of an American city.
It was nothing like Tokyo, as much for the people in it as for the physical appearance. The fashion of the Americans-- young and old --was definitely different from those in Japan, though some young men wore things that seemed 'normal'. And the abundance of business suits was familiar. But the women and the girls! Their fashion was nothing like what girls wore in Japan. No jeans covered by a long skirt, no flashy tops, girly shoes, ribbons, or braids. No flashy handbags or dangling little accessories on their cell phones. It also seemed to be trendy to have no bangs, but rather to brush or pull the hair straight back, or let the long bangs frame the face.
Many girls dressed like boys: jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers. Ken couldn't help staring when a pair of girls walked by in enormous baggy black jeans, obscene shirts, black makeup, and a pound of spiky jewelry. One of the girls caught him staring and stopped smacking on her gum long enough to wink at him.
Farfarello snagged him when he hesitated to stare more openly, and dragged him down the sidewalk. It was packed like a sidewalk in Tokyo would be, but people seemed a little more determined not to bump shoulders. A lot of people seemed to be driving, which was also strange. No throngs of people walking or bike riding. Just lots and lots of cars, cabs, buses and a mass of pedestrians. The noise and the stench of so many cars made Farfarello edgy and Ken wrinkle his nose.
Out on the busy street, Ken caught only two people staring at the scarred Irishman at his side. With so many young people dressed like punks, he was beginning to understand why his lover wouldn't be noticed right off the bat. Himself, either. So he let himself relax a little and took in the sights and sounds of the strange city. Even the smells were different, some that he couldn't even distinguish. They passed a pizza parlor at one point, and it smelled good enough to make Ken's stomach rumble.
It was odd feeling like a minority. Everywhere there were heads of brown, gold, red.. and sometimes something bizarre like purple or green. He spotted a group of Chinese businessmen, and one or two other Asians, but none that he could tag as Japanese. And lots and lots of black people. He'd seen only a few in his life, and that included Tatiana and Felix. He had to force himself not to stare. He had also stopped trying to understand the conversations of those they passed, as they all jumbled together into meaningless gibberish. The language was strange, the timbre of voices was strange-- several women seemed to have huskier voices than the average Japanese girl --and it was all one big headache.
And everywhere was the faint hint of death, no matter how hard he tried to block it out.
Still, it was an exciting experience.
Ken was so busy looking around that he almost walked right past Farfarello when the man stopped. His lover reached out and snagged him by his dog collar, looking amused. "Here," he said simply, and Ken stared up at the huge storefront they'd halted in front of.
"Mah... Mah-c--"
"Macy's," Farfarello interrupted, tugging him towards the doors. "It's a department store. We will get your coat here. Crawford said a place like this would be cheaper than a coat store."
That decision turned out to be a mistake.
Ken assured his lover that he would be able to find a coat while Farfarello used the bathroom, and he set off determinedly through the nicely-heated store. He got lost within the first few minutes, wandering helplessly around the first floor, then rode the escalator only to roam cluelessly around the second. He couldn't ask anyone for help because everytime he asked "Kouto?" he only got confused looks. And even if he could have gotten around that, in his anxiety he could not for the life of him dissect the language's grammar enough to figure out how the hell to ask where the coats actually were.
Farfarello found him having a private panic attack in the middle of the women's lingerie section, beet-red and miserable looking, trying to ignore the staring women.
He was so visibly frantic, and equally relieved at finally spotting his partner, that Farfarello could not hold back the amused grin that split his face.
He took Ken by the hand and led him away from the suspicious women, while Ken glowered at his back for his obvious enjoyment of the whole thing.
They stopped the first bored-looking employee they came across, and Ken listened carefully as Farfarello asked where the coats were.
The man looked a little more awake at the sight of them; he stared at their scars as he rattled off directions, and Ken clung firmly to his lover's hand in case Farfarello should decide the droopy-eyed teenager deserved to die for his rude behavior.
As they walked, it occured to Ken that they might be getting more sidelong glances and quirked brows from holding hands than their appearance. It would have bothered him almost a year ago, but he was a different man now. He stared balefully at anyone who was rude enough to gawk, and they usually looked away quickly and pretended to be interested in something else. Some younger customers snickered and spoke scornfully, but Ken ignored it.
He spotted what he wanted not in the coat section, but on a passing customer. "That-" he said, tugging his lover's hand to get his attention. "It's sort of like Ran's coat..."
Farfarello reached out casually and snagged the punked-out teenager by the collar. At first the boy squawked and cursed indignantly-- then he came face-to-face with Farfarello and actually went pale under all his dark makeup.
Farfarello shot off a question in English, the youth answered hastily, and Farfarello released him. The teenager hastened off with a parting shout-- most likely something impolite --over his shoulder that Farfarello ignored. "There is a store not far from here that sells them. It's 'trenchcoat' in English."
Ken tried out the word a few times while Farfarello glanced around at the dignified coats around them. "Is that what you want?"
"Yes," Ken decided firmly. It would go with the style he wore, and keep him warmer than his simple leather jacket.
Farfarello nodded and led the way back out onto the bustling, windy sidewalk. He glanced around and lifted his hand to an oncoming cab.
When it pulled up, Ken waited for the door to open as it would have in an automated Japanese taxi. Farfarello reached past him and tugged the back door open, glancing at him sideways.
"Oh," Ken muttered, and climbed in. As Farfarello slid in behind him, he asked anxiously, "Wait, did you remember to exchange the yen?"
"Yes." Farfarello gave the dark-skinned driver the name of the store and settled back in the seat to pick at his nails with one of his knives as they drove off. "We have enough for a few days."
Ken nodded, turning his head to gaze out at the scenery. "Farfarello," he said abruptly after a few blocks, "can we see the Statue of Liberty while we're here?"
Farfarello glanced at him sideways from under a hooded lid, his expression carefully neutral. "Why?"
Ken shrugged, picking at a thread in his sleeve. "We're here in New York.. I thought we might as well go ahead and do a little tourism while we're here."
Farfarello shrugged lazily. "Maybe," he said evasively.
They lapsed into silence for the remaining blocks, until they pulled up on the correct street. Farfarello paid the driver and they climbed out of the smelly cab into the cold once again.
"Hot Topic," Farfarello read before Ken could attempt to butcher the name. "We will find your 'trenchcoat' in here. Then we must eat and meet with this 'Nathan'." He flicked a glance towards his lover. "Be a good pet. Do not pee on the Lord's carpet."
Ken punched him in the shoulder.

Ken picked the place for dinner-- McDonald's, because he was sure it would be familiar enough for him to easily pick something from memory, even if he couldn't read the menu.
Sporting his new ankle-length black leather trenchcoat, he trailed after his lover to the back of the line and stared up at the menu just for the fascination of seeing so many English words. When it was their turn, he asked Farfarello to order a simple teriyaki burger and a Fanta to drink. He wasn't sure where the teriyaki burger was on the menu, but he recognized the Fanta logo on the drink machine. "And.. banira ice-su cream," he said to the unimpressed-looking girl behind the counter, proud of his limited grasp of the English food words.
He earned a long, blank look for his efforts.
"Banira ice cream," Ken said a little more clearly. At Farfarello's look, he said defensively, "I just feel like it, okay?"
The girl asked something in a rude tone. Ken stared at her.
"Vanilla," Farfarello answered.
"Oh." The girl sniffed and tapped that into her register. Ken was crushed. He couldn't even order something as simple as ice cream! It had seemed obvious to him-- he couldn't quite grasp the slight difference between 'banira' and 'vanilla', but evidently the accented word was enough to make him sound like a dolt to the pimple-faced girl behind the counter. Just as he had confused the workers at Macy's with his butchering of the word 'coat'.
Ken had the irrational urge to throat-punch her for her scornful tone. Why were these people so rude?? He found himself wishing for the cheerful, peppy service of the teenage girls in Japan's own fast food restaurants.
Farfarello spoke to the girl again, she responded again in a degrading voice. Farfarello stared her down until her bored expression turned a little more fearful, before turning to Ken patiently. Behind them, the line had gotten long. Some were getting impatient, others were watching in fascination. "They do not sell teriyaki burgers here," Farfarello explained quietly. "Only beef. And fish."
"..Fish is OK," Ken muttered, starting to feel embarrassed.
Farfarello finished the order, then they stepped aside until their number was called. When it was, Ken snatched up his bag and drink and hurried from the store, trying to ignore the stares. In his rush, he completely forgot his ice cream.
Farfarello was smart enough not to tease him about the episode, and instead began to glance around for his own dinner as the sky started to get darker and street lights flickered on. Muttering darkly under his breath, Ken dug his fish sandwich from the bag and took a big bite.
He had to fight not to spit it out. Farfarello looked at him when he coughed violently.
Ken took a quick gulp from his Fanta-- like the Coke, there was something slightly different about it --to wash down the food. "This doesn't even taste like real fish," he sputtered indignantly. "And this isn't mayo!"
Farfarello shrugged. "Welcome to America," he intoned.
In a fit of temper, Ken hurled the sandwich into the nearest trashcan, not caring if it was one intended for plastics or paper. "How do they eat this garbage?? Too bland or too grainy, too watery or too salty.... Urgh!" He spat in disgust.
Farfarello looked on in vague amusement. "Would you like something else?"
"No. I've lost my appetite." He stuffed his free hand in his coat pocket and slurped up his Fanta, scowling darkly at nothing.
When Farfarello slowed down a block later and glanced to the side, Ken turned and wandered towards a bike rack to wait. Leaning against a bike there, he gazed up at the dark, smoggy sky overhead as his lover crept down a sidestreet in pursuit of his own dinner.
His thoughts drifted to home, and he wondered how his friends were doing.

(1) I've never ridden first class before, but I would kill to do so during one of my long flights from one base to the other. >_< Some of my friends have, though, which is all I have to pull on for the description of it. o_O;

Author's Notes: I had a lot of fun doing Ken's first experience with American retail and fast food. ^_^ I didn't know how different simple things like that were until I went to Korea and Japan. Yes, their McD's sell bizarre things. And the Asians seem to love mayo. >< They smear it on a lot of things that I personally think should never be touched with it. Korean McD's sell bulgogi burgers.. with mayo. blech. Anyway, yes, even soda tastes different on this side of the world. American fast food and drinks can be quite a culture shock, and vice versa.
-- Thanks to firetwit for the "banira" idea XD; *cackles at poor Ken*

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