A/N: Credit to Ellen Brand for Jack's me ga mirareru. Cool idea!
Sometimes, I really hate it when Jack's right.
Kneeling behind and to Major Mary Roscoe's right, Daniel watched and listened as the brunette went through the formalities with Lady Daire on Sam's behalf, ready to murmur a subtle word if her grasp of the local dialect faltered. Jack and Teal'c were behind all three of them, sitting in the cross-legged pose expected of male bola warriors, calm and patient and ready to take this hall apart stone by stone if necessary.
Despite what some of SG-3 might think, he wasn't completely oblivious to communication that wasn't carved on rocks. The leather-clad villagers' quiet whispers and sidelong glances were clear and unmistakable as Vegas neon.
They didn't expect to see us come back.
And when Daniel glanced about the tapestry-strewn hall, there were just way too many bland looks pasted across the kilted advisors' faces. Especially the swarthy, twisted-haired draoch, Gerrit.
Theyreally didn't expect to see us back.
What hurt was... he wasn't even surprised. Amazed, yes. Sad, definitely. But not surprised.
We're a threat to the local power structure, Dr. Jackson realized, crossing his arms to surreptitiously wipe sweaty palms on his sleeves as Roscoe diplomatically circled toward the reason they'd returned. Once Lady Daire understood we wanted to fight the gods, but not her enemies, we weren't any use to her. And when we said we wouldn't turn over our weapons....
Daire can't believe we might not give them to her enemies. She can't afford to.
"And so," Roscoe concluded, "Our draoch found this eater-of-spirit, and worried it free of flesh, and destroyed it." With a deliberate flourish, she slapped an ofuda to the ground before Sam's knees.
So there, Daniel thought, resisting the urge to stick out his tongue. He watched Gerrit's eyes widen instead, gaze tracing the alien black characters on stark white.
"An impressive claim. But is it so?" With a crook of iron-ringed fingers, Lady Daire waved the draoch forward.
From the tremor in Gerrit's jaw, he obviously didn't want to go anywhere near that foreign strip of paper.
Stepping forward, Gerrit reached for the ofuda. Hesitated. Frowned, and picked it up as if it were a dead rat. "It... is not familiar, my lady. But it seems as if it might serve to ward against a corpse-smoke. If it were complete."
Daniel eyed the ofuda's torn lower edge. So that's why Kenshin stripped off the bloodstain before he gave it to me. He was disarming it.
Good call. If they had any edge over these corpse-smokes, he didn't want to give it away here.
Daire regarded them, face expressionless. "Proof of warding is no proof of binding, much less of destruction-"
Grim smile twitching at the corners of her mouth, Major Roscoe cast Sam a significant glance. Catching her cue, the astrophysicist opened a small manila envelope, and tipped out ashes.
The whole hall went silent.
Yep. Jack was right. Talk gets you a lot of places, but drama works faster.
Daire's eyes narrowed slightly.
"Don't flinch!" Daniel hissed over his shoulder.
Carved granite whirled lazily through the air at Daire's nodded command. One on each side of her, the pair of bola-throwers started picking up their weapons' speed, cord starting to blur as they prepared to throw.
Jack lifted his eyes to the standing guards, and smiled.
Hello, I'm Colonel O'Neill, and I'll be your personal executioner today, Daniel thought wryly. The archaeologist kept his gaze on Sam, willing her to stay as focused and cool as he knew she could. Sam was the leader here, as far as Daire was concerned; it was her nerve that would make or break their fate.
Hang in there, Sam. One more second, one more... now!
As one, Daire and Sam looked away.
Don't gasp, Daniel told himself. Carved stone had slowed, dropping back to its wielders' sides. But the bolas were still out and ready. Don't even look surprised. We've got to get out of this with both Sam and Daire's dignity intact. This could still go badly. Very badly.
Lady Daire rose; the rest of the hall dropped to its knees. "This audience is over."
"Well. That was a barrel of laughs." Keeping a wary eye on their honor guard as they were escorted out of the village, Major Roscoe wiped sweating hands on her fatigues. "So how'd we do, sir?"
"We're still in one piece, they're still in one piece, and Gerrit was in it up to his fuzzy eyebrows. I'd call that a win," Jack observed, tramping down the path to the Stargate with a cheerful air. The bola-throwers had just turned back, though that sense of being watched hadn't diminished. "Daniel?"
The archaeologist frowned, thinking over the audience. His right hand dug into his vest pocket, feeling the slick wrapper of an energy bar, the slim sliding rounds of dimes and pennies. Absently he took in the subdued distance of those villagers still working gardens near their path, the catch of moisture in his throat as the meandering trail led near a lower, swampy area. "I think-"
Not surprised, Daniel threw his handful of change.
"O'Neill!" Teal'c pointed toward the sizzle of metal meeting energy.
Hissing, the tiny corpse-smoke wriggled away.
Picking up his blackened coins, Daniel watched it go.
"Daniel, is that safe?" Sam almost pounced on him.
"It's gone," Daniel shrugged, gesturing toward the brighter green herbs that hinted there was a lowland swamp just beyond that ridge of trees. "I don't see any others."
"Guess deserts give you a good eye for heat-shimmer," Jack said finally.
"I didn't see heat-shimmer, Jack," Daniel said quietly. "I saw smoke. White smoke."
Jack mulled that over. Squinted, giving the path behind them a long, considering look. "Let's get the hell out of here."
Surrounded by sheaves of printout, Jack glared at his humming computer.
"I could requisition a zat, sir. Put it out of your misery."
"Very funny, Carter."
Sam leaned past his shoulder, shaking her head at the odd mishmash of information on the screen. "You know, Daniel could probably have done this a lot faster...."
"I know Daniel could do it faster," Jack acknowledged. "But he's out. He deserves to be out. And I'm the one Himura gave the riddle to." He shrugged. "I know the answer's in here. I just need a little help sorting it out."
Blonde brows bounced over blue eyes. "If you say so."
"Trust me, Carter. I've met guys like this before. It was a riddle. That whole 'oro' act is a riddle. He's waving it in my face. Daring me to figure it out." Jack rolled his eyes. "Probably thinks I need a 'learning experience'."
Whatever Sam had been about to say, she apparently thought better of it. "So. He's a Kamiya Kasshin Ryu instructor...."
"Dates back to Japan's Meiji Era, right when they put the sword-ban in," Jack muttered, looking over his scattered notes. Steamships, Gatling guns, and railroads - and there were still enough people wearing swords for them to have to make it against the law?
"Only his real style, from those footprints on the general's ceiling, is Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu." Sam shook her head.
"According to Daniel. Which barely gets a mention as some kind of weird legend from the Sengoku era," Jack grumbled. "About 1482 to 1558? What, they couldn't get any more specific?"
"It does fit with when any swordsman might be carrying two swords," Sam nodded. "According to these," she waved a hand over drifting printout, "They didn't restrict it to just samurai until the seventeenth century."
"Which would be way before this... Meiji Restoration Himura said we should check out."
Sam turned up empty hands. "Maybe he had his dates wrong?"
Jack arched an eyebrow. "Ya think?"
"No," Sam admitted.
"Which means...." Jack prompted.
"It's your riddle, sir."
"Later." When he could think of how to properly thank her for being so bright and cheery. Say, with a ten-mile hike or so. Damn it, this wasn't working....
"Is he a good teacher?"
Jack blinked up again. "Come again?"
"Is Himura a good teacher?" Sam backed up half a step, cocked her head slightly to the side. "I've just seen him fight. I haven't seen him teach. Does he respect his students? Pay attention to them?"
"Yeah," Jack said thoughtfully, going over that class in his head. Kaoru was a better teacher, firing her students with enthusiasm; but it was Kenshin who got the scared ones moving again, stepping in when their own shaky confidence wasn't up to the strain. Showing them how to make it safe... and then easing out his support, until they were standing on their own. "Yeah, he is."
Asher had shown him that a good teacher didn't just stand there and lecture. A good teacher studied his students, gauging for himself what they knew and how best to reach them.
Maybe you're thinking too hard.
Forget the facts. Ignore the shaky historical trail. What did he know?
"He's a killer," Jack murmured.
"He is a killer, Major." Jack drummed his fingers absently on his desk. "You don't get eyes like that swinging wooden-"
You don't get eyes like that swinging wooden swords.
"You... will not kill him."
"He knew what he was doing." Jack put his finger on that nagging feeling of familiarity. "He knew exactly what he was doing. And exactly how fine he could cut it before Williams would be dead." He glanced at his suddenly sober 2IC. "Himura's killed with a sword. Face to face. More than once."
Sam shook her head, confused. "Sir, I believe you, but - how? Where? He's only twenty-four-"
"Why, 'cause the computer says he is?" Jack let out a slow, irritated breath. "Heck, the computer says only samurai were supposed to have paired swords in the Meiji Restoration."
"Which was supposed to be the end result of some democratic movement?" Sam shuffled through a few pages, skimming dates.
"Democratic movement, Shogunate oppression, clan alliances, a couple hundred factions on either side - big mess," Jack summed up. "The bits I got said Japan turned upside-down for years. Threw over the whole samurai class system...."
Paper rustled. "Which would mean a regular swordsman might carry paired swords."
Genius. Sam was a regular genius. Only - wait. "He'd have to be one heck of a nervy swordsman to do that," Jack said skeptically, flipping through a web-site that purported to sum up the history of Kamiya Kasshin Ryu. "After this mess was settled you had the sword-ban. Before that you'd be open season for any samurai who decided to get ticked off." Himura had the kind of nerve and skill that long-ago swordsman would have needed, sure, but what did events of over a hundred and thirty years ago have to do with today?
Jack opened another page, and stopped.
"I see it, Carter."
Sam approached the screen, eyes narrowed, as if the image might change with a blink. "That date can't be right."
She gave him a look, of the "I haven't seen you get hit on the head recently, sir" variety.
"Why not?" Jack repeated. Inside he felt just as dazed and skeptical as Sam looked. It couldn't be. It shouldn't be. But....
Invisible things shouldn't try to eat you, either.
"Think of it as a challenge, Carter." Jack tapped the screen, right over that ancient, impossible photo. "Prove this isn't real."
"So he ran off and left you, and now he won't talk about it." Sweeping the last bits of grit in the dojo into one corner, Kaoru gripped her broom like a bokken, swinging at an imaginary Ryan's head. "Typical."
"Typical hanyou, or just typical guy?" Mel asked pointedly, standing well back of the bristles. "I mean, he dumps this on me, and just-" She threw up her hands. "I knew he trusted me, but with this?"
"The first time I met Kenshin, I called him a murderer and tried to make a citizen's arrest. The hard way." Kaoru had to smile at the memory. She'd been so serious that long-ago night in Tokyo, young and angry and determined to hunt down the danger to her school and city. "He just jumped away from the blow, crashed into the wall of a house, and blinked up at me with those big innocent eyes...."
"Oh lord, the eyes." Mel snickered. "Murderer? You didn't really think...." The detective sobered. "Williams. Ryan was so sure Kenshin really would do it."
Kaoru nodded. "I was out that night looking for a dangerous man, Mel. And I found one. I just didn't realize how well he'd hidden that part of himself. Not until he saved me from the real killer." She lowered the bristles to the floor. "And that's when he told me who he really was. And that he was sorry he'd caused any trouble, and that he was leaving-"
He's leaving, and he was so kind, and I'll be alone again-
What am Ithinking? He's Hitokiri Battousai!
But... the war is over. And he looks so sad....
Kaoru held up a clenched fist. "And that's when I told him there was no way he was going anywhere until he helped me clean up the mess! Unconscious goons all over the place! A murderer smashed into my dojo floor! And he was going to just wander off into the night... oooh!"
"Er...." Mel sidestepped the waving fist. "So you're saying I should just keep Ryan from running?"
"If he told you about family, his heart is already yours," Kaoru said simply. "You just need to give him some time for his head to figure it out. If you want him to figure it out?"
"I don't know." Mel paced the dojo, socks sliding across the polished floor. "Why me? Is it just because I smell good? Because, no offense, but-"
Kaoru smiled. "It's your chi."
Mel stopped, socks skidding a little. "My energy?"
"Energy, personality; everything that you are," Kaoru nodded. "You're a warrior. It glows around you. You never give up, and you never give in, and if you can't beat your enemies hand-to-hand you'll plot your way to a place where you can get them to destroy themselves. To someone with the eyes and training to see it, you burn like a bonfire. Especially when you fight." She regarded the younger woman with an impish grin. "You should have seen Kenshin's face when I finally got him to spar with me." Love and wonder and amber sparking in violet with pure, fierce joy... oh, she'd known he was hers then.
Mel blinked. "Too much information," she muttered under her breath.
"For a detective?" Kaoru set aside her broom. "Let me tell you the basics about youkai...."
A few blocks from the dojo, deft fingers searched through the mulch of a community garden, plucking out weed after seedling weed from squash vines and growing stalks of bush beans. "Now this," Kenshin stated, holding up a small, lanky plant with rounded diamond leaves, "Is called lamb's quarters. Chenopodium album."
"Good to eat!" Honoria Jacobs, Honori to adults who taught her how to juggle stones, sprawled on the path by the raised bed and grinned at him. Kinky brown hair straggled out of her ponytail, small gaps in her smile showed where the tooth fairy had recently visited, and grass and dirt had laid new stains on the young girl's favorite set of coveralls.
"That it is. Sniff," Kenshin instructed, passing the plant into smaller, dirt-stained fingers.
Honori sat up and brushed the soft leaves against her nose. "Smells green?"
"As it should. If it does not smell green, but ill and pungent, you have seized on another herb entirely."
"So don't eat it if it smells bad?" Honori said uncertainly.
Kenshin nodded his approval. "That you should not." And now the fierce chi was finally moving, decided. "Honori? Perhaps you might practice your juggling, by the carrots." He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "I believe I am about to have a very boring conversation with a stranger."
Brown eyes went wide at stranger. "Are you going to be okay, Ken-san?"
"I will be fine, that I will." Kenshin watched her scamper off, noting one sneaker was untied. Again. "Good morning, O'Neill."
O'Neill sat down beside him on the path. A few pages were folded over in his hand, crinkled as if fingers had worried them since dawn. "Karen's kid?"
"That she is." Kenshin sorted his pile of weeds into edible and not, setting the one in his garden basket and tossing the other into a lawn bag to be made mulch. O'Neill had chosen to sit on his right; not his left, where his sakabatou lay sheathed beside him. So you came to talk, not fight. Wise. "Such a bright little one. One would not think her half-orphaned but a year ago."
"Her father," Kenshin said mildly, "Was a Marine. Sergeant Robert Jacobs."
"At times I wonder how he died under your Mountain, that I do."
"Ken-san?" O'Neill asked pointedly.
With a shrug, Kenshin allowed him to evade the question. "Karen was one of our students in San Francisco, before she left with her husband. She was delighted to find us here. We hope to convince her to continue in Kamiya Kasshin Ryu this time. She has the gift to be a fine instructor, that she does."
O'Neill eyed him as if he held a poisonous viper. "And what kind of gift does Daniel have?"
"One akin to yours," Kenshin said levelly. "You have me ga mirareru; the eyes that can see. Your training, your work in the shadows... it has taught you to see what is truly there, not simply what you expect to be there."
"I didn't ask you-"
"But your sight is still mortal, rooted in flesh and bone." Kenshin met his gaze, unyielding. "Daniel's sight is rooted in his heart."
O'Neill's lips thinned. "Which means?"
"What you have already noticed, but could not name," Kenshin said plainly. "He trusts in the unlikeliest of places, and he is seldom wrong."
"And you're a seldom if I ever saw one," O'Neill said coolly.
Kenshin brushed dirt off his hands. "And why would one such as you say that? I do wonder. Surely a humble swordsman is no threat to what miracles of science might take place in the bowels of your Mountain."
"Humble swordsman my ass." Paper unfolded. "Explain this."
Kenshin gazed on the black-and-white image printed on the page, amazement and laughter warring for control. Where in the worlds did he find... oh, kami, no wonder he's so frustrated! Having one's world tilt so thoroughly askew could set far lesser spirits on edge.
Tokyo, 1900, Kamiya Dojo, Kamiya Kasshin Master Myojin Yahiko, the caption read below a tall, dark young swordsman whose hair still had a tendency to stick out at odd angles, even as he stood in the center of his own dojo. Other names were listed below two lines of hakama-wearing students; other youngsters still bent on learning the sword even in the modern nation Japan had become.
But two stood out, even as they'd tried to fade into the background of the picture. A smiling, dark-haired woman whose eyes were gaijin-pale, and a slightly shorter swordsman whose cheek bore a cross-shaped scar and whose hair had that odd gray tint that hinted color would find it red as fire.
Visiting Instructors Kamiya Kaoru, Himura Kenshin.
"I know you can't stick around too long, or people might start figuring things out," Yahiko had said that long-ago spring day as his class hurried about to prepare for the photo. Doors were open to spill in sunlight; a breeze had taken advantage of this tactical opening to blow in scents of the river, wasabi, and steaming rice. "But you started this style, Kaoru-san. You should be here." He punched the redhead in the shoulder. "And you. Definitely you."
"I am not qualified as an instructor, that I am not," Kenshin objected, looking for any possible exit. Perhaps a strike to the near wall....
"You will be," Yahiko said confidently.
"He's right," Kaoru nodded, smiling. "Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu might not be a teaching style, but you've been around us long enough to pick up the basics." She lowered her voice. "And don't even think about carving through the walls, Kenshin."
His doom was sealed, then. Kenshin sighed. "Have you one in mind to succeed you as master when you must leave?"
That gave Yahiko pause. "You think I'm going to have to."
"Your speed, against Kenji? Merely human, that it was not. You've been in too many battles with me, that you have. And with Shishou. We... reached out to protect you. Perhaps too well." Kenshin shook his head. "Ten years, you might walk Tokyo unnoticed. Twenty, perhaps. No more. Though it's possible you could get hit by a wagon tomorrow, that it is," he added wryly. "Yet I think you would survive it. And that might cause too many questions, indeed."
"Enough gloom!" Kaoru had raised a threatening bokken. "Let's go scare the picture-taker!"
I miss Tokyo, Kenshin thought now, looking on the evidence of that spring day. No... I miss the Tokyo that was. It is too different, now; too crowded, too driven to be so narrowly Japanese the Ishin Shishi would never have risen.
And without the Ishin Shishi, what place have the Shinsengumi?
I do not envy Saitou.
"Well?" O'Neill demanded.
"Well, indeed." Kenshin gave him a rurouni smile. "And what should I say?"
Jack looked at him.
Unblinking, Kenshin looked back.
"I didn't want to do this." O'Neill unfolded the rest of his pages. "For a school that's only supposed to teach self-defense, you've got one heck of a bloody history."
Kenshin's smile turned skeptical. "Surely we do not."
"Oh, I'm not talking about recent history. Not even as recent as this photo," Jack said dryly. "I'm talking old history. Back when Kamiya Kasshin first got started. Tokyo, 1878."
"The eleventh year of Meiji," Kenshin said levelly. "Shortly after the style's founder, Kamiya Koshijirou, died in the Seinan Wars."
O'Neill's fingers tightened on paper. "So you do know what I'm talking about."
"I may." Kenshin spread an inviting hand. "Please, continue."
"Long story short," O'Neill stated. "Someone tried to frame the school for murder. Got away with it for a while, too. Until - and this is the interesting part - 'the name they had so fiercely abused wreaked its own vengeance'."
"Kamiya Kasshin is not meant for vengeance," Kenshin observed. How much do you know, O'Neill? And how much do you believe?
"Wrong name," Jack said dryly.
"During the Bakumatsu," Jack read quietly, "One name above all others struck fear into the heart of Kyoto. A demon, who brought lightning from the sky with a katana-stroke and whose eyes burned with all the fires of hell. Though a few say he was a real human with uncanny abilities, who could draw his sword quicker than eyes could see and disappear swifter than a shadow. For five years the sky rained blood where he passed, until the battle of Toba Fushimi was won and this greatest of patriots vanished into the wind. He was... Hitokiri Battousai."
Expressionless, Kenshin waited.
"Bad guys must've gotten the shock of their lives when the real hitokiri walked in on them." O'Neill lowered his pages. "If I believe that you could have been in this picture - and crazy as it sounds, damn it, I do - then I have to believe you could have been around in 1878. And before. You have blade-scars. You have combat experience. Hell, you probably even have PTSD." His voice dropped to a near-whisper, mindful of the child now poking around young carrots to see if any were a size to snack on. "And even under all that calm, all that harmless mask... I know an assassin when I see one."
Once a hitokiri, always a hitokiri. Until death.
"So," Kenshin said mildly. "If you believe me to be this most frightening of creatures, O'Neill, why have I not slain you where you sit?"
The colonel snorted. "You wouldn't do that in front of the kid."
Violet melted into amber.
"...I think," O'Neill added under his breath. "I didn't come here alone."
"Teal'c would need ten seconds to leave his cover, draw, and fire through the fence. Carter would need more than that to emerge from her position on that rooftop. You would be dead within three." Battousai regarded the colonel coldly. "Do you truly regard Daniel's choices so little?"
"Not that you care, but Daniel's choices haven't been the best since his wife-" O'Neill bit off his words.
"He is a widower, yes. And perhaps it is you who does not truly understand the depth of grief and guilt he feels, being the cause of his beloved wife's death." For a moment, the world had no scent but plum blossoms. Oh, Tomoe. Rest easy, beloved.
O'Neill's face kept its wary calm, but his chi shifted uneasily.
"Or is she dead?" Battousai's gaze burned. "And to think he worries at keeping secrets from you...."
"If she's not dead, she's gone," the colonel bit out. "He's just started putting his life back together. I'm not going to tear that apart."
"Then you will slay him." The rurouni might have shaken his head; Battousai was still. "One who sees with his heart needs truth as most need air."
"I'm not lying to him. Not like you are," O'Neill said defensively.
"I have not lied to him at all." Dark rage burned in him; prey, hunt, kill!-
No. I will not.
"Damn," O'Neill said, hands trembling as he shoved himself to his feet, backing away. "What the hell are you?"
Sheathed sakabatou in hand, Battousai rose in one fluid motion. "Your lies will kill him, O'Neill. And it will be slow, and painful - and he truly does not wish to die. So he reaches out. He draws away from you-"
"And that cuts you to the core, for he has taken the place of a son in your heart-"
"The son whose blood you cannot wipe from your hands, no matter how you strive to forget-"
"You son of a-"
A blur of movement, and he had her. "Maa, maa. Shh." Battousai held her close, mindless of the grass staining his gi, feeling only the drum of her frightened heart. "I'm sorry, little one. Forgive me. I'm so sorry...."
"Don't you dare." O'Neill shook his head, fingers flexing as if they wished to wrap a slender throat. "Don't you dare hide behind a kid."
"I never have." Amber burned at the man. "I am not your enemy, O'Neill. But there is a wound in your soul that is broken and bleeding. Tend it - for if I can find the breach in your armor so easily, your true enemies will not hesitate to twist the knife within."
Dark eyes narrowed. Studied him, obviously calculating how fast his right hand might drop from frizzy hair to the hilt of a sword.
"'Tousai?" Honori whispered against his shoulder.
"Shh, little one," Battousai said softly. The rurouni would be gentler... but he could not yield that much yet. "What did I tell you?"
A sob. "'Tousai won't hurt me?"
"Hai. You're safe, Honori. That I swear."
You don't know that!O'Neill's skeptical glance shouted.
Oh, but I do, Battousai thought coolly. My weapons do not leave my guardianship. And children are not my enemies.
Tomoe he had struck; wounded, blind, deaf, and unable to sense chi of friend or foe. But Tomoe had been an adult, one he trusted to save herself. Had there been a child....
I could never have struck blindly. Even to save my own life. Or hers.
"Honori," Battousai said plainly. "No one will be hurt here today. Colonel O'Neill and I merely need to speak. As adults." He tapped her chin. "Would you do us the honor of allowing us privacy?"
Wet eyes turned up to his. "Promise? Nobody gets hurt?"
Battousai glanced at O'Neill. Well?
"That's a promise, Miss Jacobs," Jack nodded, serious. "Now, if you could just stay right here, and we'll head over this way...."
Back into Teal'c's line of fire, Battousai mused as they stalked down the path between two beds of strawberry bushes. Well, he'd expected no less.
He'd struck his point home. Time to withdraw the blade, and see if the wound might leak its poison and heal. "It was not your fault, O'Neill."
"Like you know anything about it." The colonel's voice was cool. Controlled. Almost a perfect mask for the raw anguish roiling through his chi.
"It was your responsibility, but it was not your fault." Amber softened. "And I do know. I have lost two of my sons. One to human evil... and my firstborn to his own choices. Ill choices, that he might not have made had I been a father and husband first and a warrior for my country second." Violet reappeared, and Kenshin sighed. "Or then again, he might. I cannot know. I only know - now - that his spirit could not rest in Kamiya Kasshin Ryu. None of my children's can. There is... too much fire in us."
"Like father, like kids, huh?" O'Neill raised skeptical brows. "What's your wife have to say about that?"
"It hurt Kaoru, that it did." Kenshin accepted the verbal blow, tying the saya to his belt. So much pain behind that mask. "Still, she knew what I was when she married me. It was too much to hope that our lives would ever be normal."
Yet neither of us truly knewwhat I was. We thought the wars over, the past behind us. And yes, the hitokiri's rage still struggled in me... but I had killed so many, so young. Who could expect other than that the blood would stain me to the core?
They'd never expected that same bloodlust to rise in Kenji.
They'd known for the others. Gods, they'd known. And every child had been precious, and loved - and dangerous as all hells between fourteen and twenty.
They'd seen the signs quicker with Mizuki. Moved faster, following Aoshi and Megumi's advice, channeling youkai-spawned fury into as much constructive action and sword-work as possible, exhausting her night after night. They'd never had so much firewood split and stacked.
Yet it wasn't enough. Inu and kitsune were fierce, but they didn't seem to burn as ryuu did. So when love, patience, and desperate ingenuity had worn near to breaking, Kenshin had finally given in and asked Saitou how he managed his pack of wolf-blooded youngsters.
"I would have thought the answer was obvious, Battousai."Saitou's cigarette-stained drawl was still clear as if he'd heard it yesterday. "Take the cub out and show her how to kill something."
It worked, damn it.
Kaoru had broken a bokken on his head afterward. And cried, and helped them wash the blood out of their clothes, and cried some more when he'd promised her they'd only been hunting deer.
Just as he had with Shishou, that last year of training before moral outrage and rising ryuu-hanyou blood overpowered what little common sense a boy just turned teenager had, sending him haring off to the Ishin Shishi.
He'd never felt so much sympathy for Shishou in his life.
"You, and Daniel... your wounds fit almost too well," Kenshin stated, setting away the memories. Mizuki was safe. All his surviving children were safe. He'd call tonight and make sure of it. "You wish to look after a young one, and he wishes a parent's love. Yet in your hearts, both of you still stand on the battlefield, waiting for death to strike." Strands of red fell across his face as he met O'Neill's gaze. "I have been there, and I swear to you: you cannot live this way."
"And I suppose you've got a suggestion." Sarcasm sharpened O'Neill's tone.
"No. You know your perils better than I, that you do. You, and you alone, can judge what you may risk." Kenshin shrugged. "But I would leave you with this thought. Why do you fight?"
"What, the uniform didn't give you a clue?" Jack countered. "Why don't you fight?"
"I will not yield up my soul."
Jack stared at him.
"A selfish reason, truly," Kenshin admitted. "Yet it remains. There are those who love me, and care for me... and who would grieve a thousand years if ever I became the hitokiri again." He brushed a fingertip over the braided cord wrapping his sakabatou's hilt. "Every time I draw a blade, I remember that the only reason to fight is to protect. And the only thing in this world or the next worth protecting is love."
"You don't lose your soul just because you're a soldier," Jack objected.
"As you have not," Kenshin agreed. "But you are stronger than I, O'Neill. You have the heart of a samurai. You can serve, and accept your orders, and kill. Or refrain, as your superiors' will and circumstances command. I... cannot."
Jack chewed on that for a long, tense moment. "You're serious."
"That I am."
Jack absently stuck his hands in his jacket pockets. "You're telling me you can't get back into a war without killing."
"You have read of hitokiri, O'Neill. You know they were not given orders. Only targets." Kenshin searched Jack's face and chi, hoping for that lone glint of understanding. "And a wise swordsman knows his limitations."
O'Neill paced away. Stopped in front of a multicolored planting. "The heck is this?"
Kenshin's lips twitched. "Chard."
"Chard's a funny green spinach-thing with white stalks," Jack objected. "Some of this stuff is red, some's yellow, some's orange...."
"It is an heirloom," the swordsman stated. "Preserved from an earlier time. By its nature, it cannot conform to what most expect; that it cannot. Yet for its purpose, it is unequalled." He smiled. "For those who cannot quite match themselves to the sameness society expects, it is invaluable."
Silence. Kenshin watched O'Neill's chi shift, seethe-
"Janet says you gave her a list of things to look for." Jack turned toward him. "If something like that gaki shows up again, can we call you?"
Kenshin inclined his head. "I would hope that such as Colonel Kennedy have no power over civilians, that I would." He arched a brow in mild inquiry. "And one day, I would hope to know why I am needed." Talk to me, O'Neill. Tell me why Karen still weeps in the night.
"We'll deal with Kennedy." Some of the tension left O'Neill's shoulders, but his jaw was still set. "Daniel's my responsibility."
"Daniel's actions under your command are your responsibility," Kenshin corrected. "His life is his own." Though both of you seem to have misplaced that on your way.
By which you mean, not fine at all, Kenshin thought. Ah, well. Aoshi would not have asked were this a simple matter.
"Just make sure you don't teach him anything that gets in the way of staying alive," Jack finished. Took his hands out of his pockets, gave the swordsman a nod, and stalked out of the garden.
"If Daniel's conscience calls him into danger, none of us can teach him to ignore it," Kenshin murmured under his breath, searching with eyes and senses for a young, frightened chi. "Not even you."
Ah. There, trying to cloak itself among the growing green of carrots fighting their way into sandy soil. "It's all right, Honori. He's gone."
"Ken-san?" The young girl flung herself at his leg. "He was mean!"
"No," Kenshin corrected, laying a hand on small shoulders. "He is hurt. Inside. Like your mother was, when you found her crying and called us. Which was very wise, Honori-chan, that it was. You are a brave girl, to know when you need help."
"Mean," came her muffled answer, face pressed into the folds of his gi.
Ah, to be young and certain of one's self. "Come. Help me rid this plot of intruders, and we shall plant some more seeds."
Honori took her face out of magenta cotton, scowling up at him in confusion. "But we weren't planting seeds!"
Kenshin laughed. "You'll see, little one. You'll see."
Translations from Japanese:
Maa, maa- Now, now; it's all right. (Said to calm someone.)
Hai - Yes.
Saya - sheath.
Owari - End.