Finding Adam was simple, even though he didn't know where Adam lived and there was no Adam Pierson in the phone book. Kenshin just headed for Joe's bar. As he had observed earlier, the two of them were good friends. There were no other Immortals there when he arrived, but he sat in his Jeep, stoically enduring the cold, as the snow fell harder and the wind blew and drifts began to form.
He kept his sword tucked to his chest, the blade between his knees. He knew, from painful experience, that he did not want to let the steel get so cold that his fingers would freeze to it in a fight.
Absently, he caressed the sheath with a cold-numbed hand. He had not drawn the sword, even to clean it, since Tokyo. Since he'd taken Ren Ito's head, in fact. He was afraid that if he pulled it he would find blood stains on it still. It was not like him to neglect his weapon, and yet, bitter bile rose when he thought of drawing the sword and caring for it.
He hated what it represented now.
I have failed.
Failed his oath to never kill.
Multiple times, he had killed. Each time, it had been easier.
Tomoe, Kenshin thought. Tomoe, I loved you.
For Tomoe, he would kill one more time.
She'll never know, if I do this right,Kenshin thought. She'll go on with her life, find someone who is decent and kind and caring, not a man who takes my superior's hands apart with pliers to torture information out of him.
He waited with the patience of the hitokiri he had been.
And finally, Adam arrived. The tires of his car -- a Land Rover -- crunched through the accumulating snow in the parking lot. It was past ten PM.
He felt a flare of real fear from Adam when Adam sensed him. Had Richie guessed, and warned him? Or was it just general cowardice; a paranoia about meeting other Immortals. Kenshin half expected the other man to leave, but he parked his car and stepped out and scanned the parking lot. Perhaps he was used to seeing friends here too.
Kenshin opened the Jeep door, and hung his sakabatou on his belt as he rose. The snow was ankle deep, and the wind that tugged at his thin jacket was icy cold. It was well below freezing, and he did not have winter clothing.
Well, he'd survive. This would be quick.
"Kenshin," Adam said, with obvious relief. "It's just you."
"Hai, it's me," Kenshin said, in Japanese. Adam spoke it, or had, all those decades ago. He called out, "I need to talk to you."
"Yeah, sure," Adam said. He reached into the back seat of his vehicle and retrieved his broadsword, attached it to his belt, and then approached Kenshin. The fear, and aggression, was fading from his ki, and he responded in fluent Japanese. "Richie called me -- he said you were upset about Tammy and me."
"Walk with me, a bit," Kenshin said.
"It's rather miserable weather for a stroll, Ken," Adam objected. "Why don't you come in for a drink?"
Kenshin glanced around. The parking lot was almost empty; there were only three other cars there. One would be Dawson's, and likely the other two were employees or very persistent barflies. The miserable weather was definitely discouraging customers.
"I can't let you do this," Kenshin said, quietly.
Kenshin rested a hand on his sakabatou. His vision seemed fuzzy; he couldn't think. Yet, he knew: he could not let anything happen to Tomoe -- or Tammy.
Adam smirked, suddenly, "Jealous, Ken? Really. I thought you were better than that. She's chosen me freely of her own will. You've no right to interfere."
"No. She doesn't. She doesn't know what you are," Kenshin said. "Not like I do."
"I believe I've misjudged you -- again. This time for the worse." Adam shook his head. "Go home, Ken. I'm not going to discuss Tammy with you."
Kenshin saw red. The anger should have frightened him, but it didn't. Instead, he swept his sword from the sheath in a whistling arc that should have decapitated Adam in one strike. Except that Adam just wasn't there. Adam had been a lot more alert than he had seemed, Kenshin realized; he was leaping backwards.
"Woah!" Adam protested, drawing his sword in a smooth gesture. "Ken! Wouldn't it be more gentlemanly to settle this with a round of fisticuffs?"
Kenshin swung again, going for a kill, sword reversed. He was efficient, deadly, quick. It was the sort of move that had made him a hitokiri. Except ... Adam blocked it. His sakabatou rang against Adam's broadsword, loud against the near silent shusshhh of the falling snow and the crunch and squeak of their footsteps.
"I don't understand you," Adam protested, blocking a second strike that should have cleaved him from shoulder to waist with a blinding fast move. "Kenshin, why are you trying to kill me over a girl?"
"A long time ago she was my wife, and she is not meant for the likes of you!" Kenshin growled.
Anger flared in Adam's ki, replacing the confused fear. Kenshin ignored that. Tears trickled warm down his cheeks -- he ignored this, as well. Why was he crying? It didn't matter.
"You've taken a dark Quickening," Adam said, "You're mad. I thought you were strong enough to handle it -- scratch that, Ken, you are strong enough to handle this. You have to reach inside yourself and remember who you are. And why. Why did you refuse to kill, Kenshin? Have you forgotten?"
"Don't lecture me!" Kenshin tried again for Adam's head. The sakabatou struck Adam's broadsword so hard that his already cold-numbed fingers flared with agonizing pain. He nearly dropped the sword.
"Damnit!" Adam growled at him, "I don't have an onsen to fling you into, but I don't really need it! Kenshin! You're not a killer! I've read your file, I've talked to your friends, I've watched you in action! You're so much more than a hitokiri! Damnit, Kenshin!"
Again and again Kenshin tried to kill him. And again and again, the other man blocked his blows. Kenshin couldn't understand it -- he was a far better swordsman than Adam. Why was he having so much trouble? This should have been easy ... never had he felt more clumsy with a blade. He was slow and awkward, his hands reluctant to respond to his mind's command.
"Think, Ken! Why did you swear not to kill!"
Because I killed her by accident. I promised I would never kill again once the war was over, I promisedher
At that instant, Adam slipped on the icy ground, staggering backwards. Kenshin went for the kill, propelled by sheer instinct and training. With all his might, with every bit of strength he possessed, he slashed the sword at Adam's throat.
Adam's swept his broadsword up, blocking a blow he couldn't possibly have seen coming -- but he could guess at. He had known that Kenshin would take advantage of the opening. Fine folded Japanese steel representing the very best artistry of a bygone era rang against a much heavier, much older weapon.
With a splintering spang the sakabatou broke.
Thrown off balance by the lack of resistance to his strike when the sword broke, Kenshin staggered, and slid on the same patch of icy pavement that Adam had floundered on. In that instant he saw a flash of steel reflecting from the light of the bar but he didn't have time to react.
So it ends, he thought. Not a death from a more skilled swordsman -- just a more stubborn one, a luckier one.
The flat of the blade slapped into the side of his head, knocking him sprawling. Vision dimmed -- Adam's sword was at least twice the weight of a katana, and it carried the impact of a baseball bat.
He staggered to his knees in the snow, trying to get up. Now I die, he thought, even as he tried to think of a way to escape
A blade pressed against the back of his neck. "I could kill you, Ken."
"Then do it!" Kenshin said, defiantly, all the while feeling ... what did he feel? He wasn't sure.
"Do you want to die?" Adam sounded curious. It was a genuine, honest question. "You've got a choice, Battousai. Either you chose to live, and live as yourself, and remember who you are -- and that isn't going to be easy now -- or you can chose to give up. I'll be happy to take your head if you want me to."
Do I want to live?He asked himself.
"I promised ... I promised Tomoe ..."
"Uh-uh. Not because of who you promised. Do you want to live?" The broadsword was sharp against the back of his neck.
He was in his knees in the snow. Snow. It crunched under his fingers. He remembered a blizzard, long ago. Snow ... snow meant death to him, and blood, and explosions. Snow meant Tomoe's life flowing red across his hands, and the smell of slaughter in his nostrils. Snow meant grief and sorrow and a promise given long ago. He had not wanted to live then, but he had done so, because of her.
And now ...
"C'mon, Ken. Give me an answer. It's bloody cold out here."
... snow meant good times, too. He remembered snowball fights with Kaoru. He remembered making snow angels with the children he had raised. He remembered making snow cones with real snow and flavored syrup, with Atsuko. Snow ... he remembered snow on winter-naked cherry trees, every branch lined with white.
Tomorrow would be beautiful, the city covered in a blanket of winter, glittering and beautiful in the morning sunlight. The air would smell fresh and clear and crisply cold. Steam would rise from every patch of open water. It would be beautiful, and magical, and he didn't want to miss it.
"I want to see tomorrow," he said, quietly. "I want to live."
"Good," Adam said. The broadsword withdrew from the back of his neck. Fingers extended into his range of view -- he flinched back before he realized Adam was offering him a hand up.
"Why?" Kenshin said, stunned. "I was trying to kill you ... we are not friends."
A shrug. Adam yanked him to his feet. "We are now, I guess. C'mon, I'll buy you a drink."
He stared at Adam.
Adam grinned. "I'm probably an idiot for not taking your head, but I've read your file, and I rather like what's in it. With you on my side I'm much more likely to survive another five millenia. And anyway, Joe would kill me if I killed anybody in his parking lot."
"Five ..." Kenshin was taken aback by that casual comment. Except he didn't think it had been casual. Five millenia?
"My friends call me Methos," Adam clapped Kenshin on the shoulder. "Might as well tell you; Macleod or Richie would clue you in eventually anyway. They're terribly bad at keeping secrets."
"Five ... millenia. Methos. You?"
"Yes, me. Surprised?"
Kenshin was reeling. Methos. Methos was a myth. Methos was real, and standing before him, and he utterly believed what Adam had just told him.
"I still don't understand why you didn't take my head." Kenshin looked down at the shattered remnants of his sword. "Ad... Methos? ... why? I ... you hate me. And pardon me for saying this, but you've never struck me as the heroic type, that you haven't."
"I don't hate you," Adam said, quietly. "Not anymore. Kenshin, I forgive you ... you were a boy, an idealistic boy swept up into a vicious civil war. You were fifteen goddamn years old. A child. All these years I've been bearing a grudge on a boy who wasn't even old enough to shave. Me, I was damn well old enough to know what war's like. And eventually, you became a man, though -- a very good man."
You misjudged me, didn't you?" Adam -- Methos, Kenshin reminded himself -- said, voice curiously gentle. "Did it ever occur to you that what you see now is only what I want you to see? And heroism is a good way to lose one's head. I avoid it unless I have no other choice."
"We won't ever speak of this again, mind," Methos said. He guided Kenshin towards the bar with a hand on his back. "C'mon, I'll buy you a drink."
Much later, Kenshin sat alone by the waterfront in his Jeep -- he'd dug a blanket out from his gear and was wrapped in it.
He forgave me.
It was a shattering realization. Methos was one of his victims from the Bakumatsu -- Methos, and his two adopted sons. Methos, a wealthy foreigner who had supported the wrong side. Methos had forgiven him. As simple as that: he had sized Kenshin up, decided he had lived a worthy life, and forgiven him.
Yet, once upon a time, Methos had been frightened of Kenshin, and of the Immortal he feared Kenshin would become, that he had tried to kill him before his first death. He had been terrified that the Hitokiri Battousai would be an unstoppable headhunter and, out of sheer self preservation, had tried to take Kenshin out in advance.
Five thousand years of experience, and Methos had been wrong about Kenshin's destiny.
Kenshin gazed upwards at a morning sky -- hazy blue, with shreds of clouds a few hundred feet too high to be considered fog scudding low and grey across the sky. The storm had swept inland, and had left behind a damp, cold morning.
The sun shone brokenly on the water. Ice rimmed the rocks and hung in glistening icicles off the edge of a nearby wharf. Snow lay in drifts on the beach above the waterline. It was a gorgeous morning, as he had expected. Mornings like this ... the sheer joy of the beauty of the land ... it was good to be alive.
Tomoe would have loved this -- she would have sat with me, watching and appreciating. Kaoru would have run down play on the beach, nevermind the cold and the wind. And Atsuko ... Atsuko would have bitched about the cold while capturing the beauty of the snow and ice with her camera.
He sighed. Even without them, it was good simply to be alive.
The thing was, if Methos, with all his experience, could be wrong about the destiny of a boy -- Kenshin realized that he, too, could make mistakes. Even if I think someone is irredeemably evil, if I chose to kill them, I run the risk of being wrong.
And yet ... Soujiro had pointed out that if he had taken Souji's head all those years ago, there would be a few hundred people alive now who Soujiro had killed.
Kenshin groaned. He honestly wasn't sure what to think. It was all very complicated. Maybe there simply wasn't one right answer to the question, Is it ever okay to kill?
He was still sitting in the car, watching the tide go out, and gulls circle, when someone knocked on the window. He jumped in surprise -- he'd been so lost in thought that he hadn't sensed anyone approach.
Tammy's face peered through the frost-rimed passenger side window. He popped the door lock and then leaned across the seat and opened the door. Tammy slid in, "Brr! It's cold out there."
"I'm sorry, my heater's broken." Kenshin handed her the blanket and she huddled under it in the passenger seat. "How did you find me?"
"Trial and error," she said, with a smile. "I figured you might be in this part of town, though -- you seem to be the type to look at pretty things and brood."
She was teasing him. That surprised him, because he hadn't remembered her having much of a sense of humor. Gentle, loving, kind, yes. But not teasing. What had changed to give her the confidence to engage in a bit of friendly banter?
"Kenshin, Adam told me what happened."
"All of it?"
"I know he's like you, yes," she said and studied his face.
"Do you love him?"
"Good." Kenshin leaned back in the seat, staring up at the sky through the driver's side window. The sunlight was too thin to be warm, exactly, but he could feel it on his scarred cheek. "Tammy, I misjudged him."
"Everyone makes mistakes."
"Why are you here?" He turned his face to look at her. "I'm very glad to see you, please do not misunderstand, however I am surprised you looked so hard for me."
"Why did you react so strongly to Adam dating me?" Her voice was soft, but very curious.
He couldn't answer that, so he didn't. "I would prefer not to say."
"I can guess," she smiled faintly. "You knew me in a past life, didn't you?"
"I ... yes." He confessed, hanging his head. "I did."
"You loved me in that life, did you not?" she reached a hand out, slipped her fingers under his chin and lifted his face up so that he would look her in the eye. "Kenshin, who was I to you?"
He folded his fingers around hers. He couldn't lie, not to her. "We were married, a very long time ago, for a very brief period of time. I loved you with all my heart and I accidentally killed you. Most of who I am today, I can trace back to you. You, in that past life, set me on a path that changed my destiny. Your name in that past life was Tomoe."
She leaned over and pressed a kiss to his lips. It was sad, wistful, and very chaste. He reached up and brushed a hand against her cheek but didn't embrace her, and when she pulled back she said quietly, "I'm not her, though, am I?"
"No." He was surprised to find that there had been no desire to extend the kiss, no real attraction. He cared about her, but not that way. And he was okay now with the idea of her and Adam.
She exhaled sharply, "I'm sorry, you know. That I can't be her."
"Don't be." He smiled faintly. "Live your life, Tammy-dono. If Adam is a part of it -- if you love him -- share that life with him. And do not worry about this one."
"But I like you, and I will worry about you."
"Mmm. Then ..." Kenshin rested a hand on her arm. "... perhaps it is comforting to know that people care. Because people who care, worry. But please believe me when I say that I think things are going to be okay now, that they will."
She hugged him, awkwardly, because of the Jeep's bucket seats. "Kenshin, I have to get to work. But do you still have my number?"
"Aa, I do."
She reached for the car door and pushed it open. "If you ever need anybody to talk to, give me a call."
He started to tell her that he was fine, and that he didn't need her help. But then he bowed his head, and his hair -- grown out to a shaggy inches long mop in the months since Atsuko had died -- fell forward into his eyes. He brushed his bangs back and said, "Tammy, I'll call you -- just to talk to you as a friend. If that's okay."
Her smile was blinding. "That's okay, too. We can be friends. Adam's not the jealous type."
He watched her walk away with a smile on his lips.
He had friends -- he had people he could count on. Some he barely knew; others, he'd known a mortal lifetime. He owed them all some calls, some visits. And he would do that. It was high time that things got back to normal for him.
He stared out at the ocean for a moment longer. He still wasn't sure how he felt about killing other Immortals. But maybe, he decided, it was good that he was so torn. He never wanted it to be easy. Kenshin closed his eyes. His goal, he decided, would be to never kill again. But it would not be an unshakeable vow anymore. He would simply have to make the best decisions he could and trust in his own instincts.
He blinked, as realization struck: he trusted himself again. Some how, some way, he had come back to himself. There was nothing left of Marshall's Quickening. All that remained was Kenshin's own soul. He could feel the difference.
It's over, he thought. I can smile again, and laugh again, and be me again. I've found my way back to who I am. Somehow.
"Atsuko," he said, "if you're listening ... I'm going to move on with my life now."
She was listening. He knew it, somehow, even though she didn't acknowledge his words in any way.
"You can move on too."
Nothing. But he knew she heard.
"And ... I love you."
Silence. And now he felt that she was gone, her presence fading away.
"Sayonara," he whispered. "And I'll watch for you."