A Glint of Amber Stars
Sequence Five: The Last of the Wolves, Part One
Waiting in the middle of the transporter room, trying not to fidget and literally sweating bullets, one Kenshin Himura—or Lieutenant Shinta Akimatsu, according to Starfleet records—could think of several places he would rather be. However, all of those were nigh impossible, seeing as he was still on house arrest, as it were. Until such time as his 'fate' could be decided, he was temporarily suspended from duties, confined to quarters most of the time but, otherwise, not under any kind of penal action. It was more like a paid vacation, really, but Kenshin felt like he was paying each second in blood, waiting and waiting for the 'Inspector' to arrive.
Truthfully, there was no evidence besides his name that Goro Fujita was, in fact, who Kenshin suspected him to be, but the rurouni-turned-officer couldn't convince himself that it wouldn't be Saitou Hajime stepping off that platform in five minutes time. His captain, however, remained skeptical, though Kenshin had promptly informed Picard that he thought Saitou had been reborn just as he had. It had been an…interesting briefing after that, the meeting including himself and all the senior officers, with the addition of Aoshi…or rather, M'Rath. Worf was still onboard, but Aoshi had officially accepted his position just prior to the little 'incident' in the brig. And, since Starfleet hadn't mentioned anything about the Caitian, he was going about just as usual.
However, while Kenshin would have thought Aoshi's presence would have resulted in some relief on his part, the swordsman was still having a hard time even looking at the man…er, cat. And that was the problem, really. Unlike Aoshi, Kenshin was still unable to fully integrate himself with this life's memories. They were there, of course, but meshing them with his rurouni self was more difficult than he liked to admit. He was trying, yes, but it seemed just trying would not be enough. What else was needed, though…Kenshin had no idea. Did Aoshi have something that Kenshin did not? It certainly seemed so, as the ninja-turned-feline went about just as he had before he had remembered himself, though now, he carried a long black sheath strapped to his back at all times.
Kenshin visibly winced as he recalled the 'swords' he and Aoshi had used during their duel. While expertly made and without flaw, Kenshin could not get over the fact that, even in these times, he had still taken a deadly—deadlier, in this case—weapon into hand. He didn't have it anymore, of course, but he had been informed that those involved with the Tactical Medicine program were to carry non-phaser weapons with them, as per the regulations of the division. Which meant that, should he somehow come out of this with his career intact, he would be carrying what was, essentially, a katana.
Although, his discussion with Aoshi just that morning came to him as he thought this. It had been the first time they'd been able to speak alone since their duel and it had been…enlightening, to say the least…
"Aoshi…I did not get to thank you…"
Aoshi said nothing as the door of Kenshin's quarter's slid shut behind him, hiding the security detail from view. Fathomless emerald eyes watched Kenshin for a moment or two, the silence growing heavier. To Kenshin, it seemed as though Aoshi was taking the measure of him, which was completely justified, really. Offering a small, tired smile, Kenshin stood from his seat and walked to his window, violet eyes shifting to translucent blue under the lights emanating from Space Dock.
"The captain asked me to stay, and I will…if it's possible," Kenshin sighed, glancing back at Aoshi, who had not moved. "There's no doubt in your mind either, is there? It will be Saitou."
"Yes," Aoshi responded simply, but continued, the same intelligence and cunning Kenshin remembered from long ago still lingering there. But that was to be expected, wasn't it? How else would he, a young man according to his species, gain the rank of Commander and head of the security division on the Enterprise without being as skilled an individual as the onmitsu had been? In fact, if Kenshin was any judge, Aoshi was more deadly now than he had been before… "But whether or not he remembers who he was has yet to be determined."
Kenshin contemplated this for a moment, then shook his head. "It's seems far too unlikely that he would have been the one sent to us if he didn't remember his past life."
"But that implies that the Federation is already aware that there are such things as reincarnation, or whatever it is that we are," Aoshi countered, eyes narrowing slightly. "We'll be able to determine, based on this 'Inspector', whether or not there are other reborn individuals from our time that are already known to the Federation."
"And that would bring us one step closer to the ones we have lost," Kenshin finished in a soft voice, sighing the tiniest bit. He looked away, though his words still reached Aoshi. "I have to thank you for that as well. I believed that…that there was nothing left. There are still many things that I have yet to regain, but I have the hope now that I may be able to find them, that I do."
There was a rustle of clothing and Aoshi came to stand beside him, his emerald eyes watching the dock. "Hope may not be enough for you, Himura."
"…nani?" Kenshin questioned, reverting to Japanese as he turned to stare at the man who was now one of his commanding officers. "What do you mean, de gozaru ka?"
"If I have to explain it, then it is something you are not ready to hear," Aoshi replied in an almost dispassionate voice, though the burning in his gaze betrayed the emotions he appeared to be feeling.
Though he had experienced it firsthand during their duel, Kenshin was struck all over again at how…well, how unlike himself Aoshi was. There was reason for it, of course, but Kenshin found it so hard to accept all the changes he was seeing…and that disturbed him deeply, though he wasn't sure why. "Aoshi…you have changed, that you have."
"And that is precisely the point," Aoshi responded, tail lashing once as he headed for the door. "Do not forget what I said, Himura: this is not Meiji. This is not Japan. This is not the past. This is the future and, inevitably, we must conform."
His back was to him now, but, if Kenshin had actually been able to see Aoshi's face, he wasn't sure if he would have been capable of understanding his thoughts.
"When this inconvenience has been dealt with, think about the nature of life in this age and decide what path you must take. And that is an order, Lieutenant."
One thing was for certain: having more than one person giving him orders once again was rather irking. Memories of the Bakumatsu would surface…and, more often then not, confuse him with their dual clarity and distance. Kenshin would recall the scent of blood and fear, the weight of a sword in his hand, the cool breeze from endless nights…then abruptly realize that those things had happened years in the past. Centuries ago, not just a decade or two.
And then, inexplicably, his heart would ache with loneliness. What he had said to Captain Picard remained utterly true: he was a stranger in a strange land, and he had no real idea how to change that, or how to even cope with a world that was suddenly leaving him far, far behind.
This life was just…too confusing, too much at once. He had never been a complicated man—not when it came to where he lived, how simple he wanted it to be—but this age was far removed from that simplistic life he remembered. Ships that sailed the stars, machines that produced food seemingly from nothing—though the part of his mind that was still Shinta knew better—rooms the could create any landscape he could possibly imagine. To a mind that had lived and died in Meiji Japan, these were things that were beyond legend, beyond speculation, in no way imagined when he had been born the first time, and not for many decades after that.
Perhaps that was what Aoshi meant. In a world so far removed from everything he had ever known, how could Kenshin ever exist? Was it even possible? It was true that part of him already could, had been for twenty-eight years, but was that really him? Or just a façade, much like the ones he had worn before…
If so, did Kenshin even want to try to adapt himself to all the things that continued to baffle and confuse him?
But what…about the others? What if they are looking for me…like I am looking for them?
Kenshin couldn't ignore that thought. He couldn't ignore the possibility that they were alive today, just as he was. He couldn't ignore how he still needed them, possibly more than he had ever before. Whatever Aoshi's words may have meant, Kenshin's decision would still be colored by that loneliness deep in his heart, seeking and needing everything he had lost.
Are you…out there somewhere…?
Kenshin's thoughts were interrupted, however, as the familiar chime of the transporter echoed throughout the room, a collection of streaks and bursts of blue-white light shimmering above the main pad. Almost unconsciously, his fists clenched at his sides, eyes hardening imperceptibly. He suspected he wasn't the only one thusly affected, though the only other people in the room were Picard and Troi. Aoshi was on the bridge with Riker, as far as Kenshin knew, the other command crew doing their various duties. After all, according to the missive sent from Temporal Investigations, the Enterprise would finally be allowed to leave Space Dock once this 'inconvenience' had been dealt with.
But this is my responsibility, Kenshin told himself silently, face calm as a figure materialized on the transporter pad, tall and lean and oh-so familiar. So I must be the one to face it.
Although…he was rather glad that the Captain was there standing beside him, and Troi as well. Kenshin was without his friends and family from before, yes…but that didn't mean that there still weren't people there willing to support him, as they had so adamantly told him.
I am…glad, that I am.
However, he could be grateful another time. The musical whine gradually died down, the light fading to further reveal the figure that stood calmly, facing them. Dark clothes, simple in cut, so deep a blue as to almost be black, a hat eerily reminiscent of old Japan law enforcement casting a shadow over a lean face. The man stepped down, movements assured and almost graceful, the gait of one long-used to travel, and aware of everything around him. He carried no weapons, but there was a sense of danger about him, of a readiness, like a wolf on the hunt.
Almost against his will, Kenshin's eyes narrowed, the reincarnated rurouni unable to forget that aura brushing against his senses. Even now, so many, many years later, he knew it nearly as well as he knew his own.
Or so he thought.
During that step of 'wolf-like grace', the tall, lean man caught the toe of his boot on the edge of the transporter pad and tumbled to the floor, hat flying off and the bag he'd been carrying skidding over to bump into Kenshin's feet.
Picard seemed likewise stunned, but recovered more quickly, hurrying quickly over to help the man to his feet. "Are you alright…Inspector?"
"Oh yes, I'm fine," the strangely light baritone said, eerily familiar yet…incredibly bizarre at the same time. "Happens all the time, actually!"
All Kenshin could do was stare. He looked just like Saitou…and was smiling apologetically at the Captain, dusting off his rumpled clothing and receiving his lost hat from Troi with an embarrassed chuckle. His hair was short, dark and sleek, the long, thin bangs over his face present as always, eyes the color of tarnished amber…except he was smiling. Smiling without that…intent he had always carried before. He even seemed…seemed…meek. And that was very close to blasphemy in Kenshin's mind.
"Ah...Lieutenant…the Inspector's bag?"
"…ro?" Kenshin said in utter confusion, stilling gaping, but blinked a second later, forcing himself to look away with great difficultly. "Y-yes Captain!"
He stooped quickly, nearly overbalancing in his haste, and hurried over to Saitou…wait, what if it wasn't Saitou? What if he just looked like him…? That was unlikely, yes, but so was the concept of the last of the Mibu Wolves tripping over his own feet. And even by some remote possibly he was Saitou Hajime, he obviously had not regained his memories from those times.
That might…be the case. He felt as he used to, at least for a moment.
"Here you are I-Inspector," Kenshin managed to say with some level of normalcy as he handed the man his bag, Saitou—or whoever he was—taking it with another thankful smile.
"You are too kind. And yes, I am the Inspector, Goro Fujita," Saitou/Goro replied politely. "I apologize for my tardiness, but there was a problem with the transport."
"There's no need to worry," Picard said at once, though not before he cast a skeptical glance Kenshin's way, causing the rurouni to wince. He had, after all, just spent the previous morning explaining to the Captain just how cunning and dangerous a man Saitou was. "As long as we can begin the…inspection as quickly as possible. The Enterprise is a busy ship."
Goro let loose another bright smile at that, nodding his head enthusiastically. "Of course, of course! I'm very eager to begin as well. If what the reports you gave to Starfleet say is true, then this is a matter of great scientific importance!"
It was Troi who gave Goro the searching glance, but Picard who posed the question, voice becoming slightly more serious as he did so. "…scientific importance? Excuse me for asking, Inspector Fujita, but I thought this was a criminal investigation?"
Kenshin winced again at the Captain's choice of words, but he couldn't fault them, could he? What confused him, though, was Goro's response, causing him to stare once again.
"…eh? Oh, naturally. But all responsibility for this case has been handed over to Temporal Investigations, so any action against the guilty party is to be decided once other priorities have been sorted out."
The searching, critical looks from the three officers must have been enough to urge him to continue, Goro blinking once before laughing nervously. "It's an odd case, I know, but this kind of thing has never happened before. Our department within the Federation is the only one with any kind of remote experience concerning your…problem."
"…I see," Picard said after a time, gaze hard. Kenshin could guess what he was thinking: why the exception? Murder—murder as Kenshin had done, killing an individual who had already been disabled—was a serious charge in the Federation, whether or not temporal anomalies besides predestination were involved. The explanation Goro had given was facile at best, and didn't really tell them much of anything. But, to push him on that point now wouldn't be in their best interests, so Picard simply nodded his head. "That makes…sense."
Apparently relieved, Goro nodded as well and looked about excitedly, almost like a kid in a candy store. Which, with Saitou's face and voice, looked…terribly disturbing. Kenshin wondered—and not entirely in a joking way—if he would be able to get to sleep that night.
"So then!" The Inspector began again, arranging his bag more firmly over his shoulder. "Where is our anachronistic friend? If you don't mind me calling him that, that is…but what else is he, really?"
Kenshin resisted an 'oro', though he thought he spotted Troi smiling in amusement. At least it answered his biggest question: this man, if he was Saitou, definitely did not remember who he had been. The actual Saitou would know Kenshin without even having to look at him, nevermind that he was standing there in all his glory, red hair, cross-shaped scar, and Starfleet uniform and all.
Picard, in any case, lifted a brow, but gestured to Kenshin. "Ehem…this is Lieutenant Shinta Akimatsu…although, as you read in the report, Ke—"
"The Hitokiri Battousai, Himura Kenshin!" Goro interrupted excitedly, all but scampering past an irked-looking Picard to stand in front of Kenshin, leaning this way and that, obviously inspecting him. "My my my, I didn't realize all those rumors were true! Or that they would be in this century, at least. I should have recognized you at first, but my level of attention wavers at times, you'll have to forgive me…but look at you! Just as short as I imagined!"
One of Kenshin's eyebrows twitched, but he restrained himself. Being called short was one thing and a very true one, unfortunately…what bothered him was how much research this person appeared to have done. Surely…surely if they had looked into his past—given in brief in the report—wouldn't they have seen information on Saitou? Or at least a police officer with this man's exact same name?
Not all…is as it seems, that it is not.
However, dark thoughts could be saved for later, as Goro's 'inspection' was getting a little too friendly for Kenshin's liking. Luckily, Picard coughed into his fist rather loudly, and Goro shot back up straight, then laughed nervously once again.
"Forgive me, I get a little carried away sometimes. But you have to admit this is a chance of a lifetime. Even reincarnated, an individual with memories and input from hundreds of years ago is far more precious than any artifact or record we could ever uncover. Oh! But I'm being rude, aren't I?" At that, he stopped his stream of words and offered Kenshin a deep, almost reverent bow in the old style, one which the rurouni nervously returned. "I am very pleased to meet you, ah…Himura-san! While I know I'm here in a judgmental position concerning your involvement with that…unpleasant incident planetside, I want you to know I shall do everything I can to make sure you are treated fairly!"
"…t-thank you," Kenshin managed to stutter in return as he stood upright again, more confused than ever. Were things…really as bad as he thought? He had his own inner problems, yes, but even if he still felt separated from this world, he knew it couldn't really be this easy…could it?
"Well then, if that's settled," Picard interrupted briskly, now in a mode his command crew called 'pleasantly inclined'. He would be polite…as long as people did what they were told. "Would you allow our ship's counselor to show you to your temporary quarters? You can debrief us in a more detailed fashion once you're settled."
"Yes, of course! I look forward to more discussion with you both!" Goro said at once, giving Kenshin another quick, excited bow before following Troi—who was diplomatically keeping a straight face—out the door.
It took a moment, but Kenshin eventually found his voice, shoulders slumping rather helplessly. "Captain…I may have been mistaken. The Saitou that I knew never…acted like that. It just…wasn't possible."
Picard didn't respond at first, then straightened his uniform in a brisk manner, voice calm. "That may be true, but I think you and I can agree that the Inspector is not all that he seems. Even if he isn't this Saitou person, there may still be reason to be concerned."
Kenshin had to smile a little at that, glancing at his commanding officer. "So you had the Counselor escort him rather than yourself, after which you'll ask her opinion of him."
"Precisely," Picard responded with some justified satisfaction. "In any event, we must prepare for the briefing, Lieutenant."
"Yes, Captain," Kenshin replied, almost naturally, and was strangely heartened by that fact as they walked out of the transporter room together.
OMG I LIVE. It has been…some months, no? But eh, an update is an update and, hopefully, I can get back into it with a little more expediency. I just didn't feel inspired for this story for a while, but I think it's coming back, so that's something to be celebrated, ne? Let us all hope together, then! That is, if anyone is still reading…if not, then I shall dance in victory on my own!
Wren Truesong: Many thanks for the kudos! They are much appreciated, especially when I'm having writer's block.
baka deshi: Funny that you should ask about Hiko, mainly because…he's already been mentioned! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Hiko's already been in this fic…somewhere…but I'm not telling!
jesphoenix05: Now that you have seen what I have done to Saitou (the BLASPHEMY) all details concerning what's up with him and who he might know are a myyyyysteeerryyyy…
Kalai Eljahn: Thanks for the praise! Although lay off the 'pleases'; stroking an author's ego is always WAY better towards getting updates, perhaps even just a little encouragement and rightful appreciation. After all, writer's block is a terrible, terrible thing, so we authors are very fragile when we have it!
Until next time, folks!