"I suppose it's too much to ask of the universe," came a low growl, "for that idealistic fool to come back from a simple assassination in one piece."
Very good at shielding his Force signature, was Obi-Wan's first thought as he stepped down into the dojo courtyard. Imperial gray, and higher ranked than Uramura, came second, followed closely by, lucky the others are occupied yelling at each other or fussing over Kenshin; everyone's nerves are wound so tight, uniforms alone might set them off. And if they had a hint who was wearing them….
Then again, in his experience, there was no such thing as luck.
"Assassination!" Uramura sputtered. "I'm sure he didn't - I mean, there's no reason anyone here would - er… this is Chief Inspector Fujita Gorou, Kenobi-san. He's recently transferred to Tokyo, and he's…."
"Going to be ensuring Yamagata hears a proper version of last night's events?" Obi-Wan said mildly, raising one brow at the man. Squinty blue eyes, Imperial short haircut striped darker-black-on-black when the sunlight hit it, a faint glint of fangs in his sneer….
Fujita Gorou, indeed.
"A task made simpler, given someone sliced the security system's records," the Chief Inspector smirked. "Only physical evidence to worry about. Though I suppose some might say we have nothing to prove that evidence remained untainted."
"I'm certain those of the Kamiya dojo would never do that, sir," Uramura said forcefully.
A deceptively lazy twitch of lips, like a cat eyeing a mouse-hole. "Of course not."
Meaning you did, instead, Obi-Wan thought wryly. To what end? "It's all right, Uramura-san. We both know Yamagata-san is a very important official. There's no reason for him to be wasting valuable time chasing baseless rumors."
"None at all," the Fireryo officer said blandly.
"Of… course." Uramura looked between them warily. "If I may ask - how is Himura-san? There was blood…."
"Which no truly skilled hitokiri would leave behind," the Chief Inspector observed.
Yes, I know who he is, and you know who he is, and perhaps we could get to the point sometime before we both die of civility? "Far better than I expected," Obi-Wan said honestly. He'd seen Kenshin move his left arm freely during the fight, despite the wound, but still…. "I would have thought Jin-e's blade would do as much damage on exit as entry. But it seems he escaped with a simple stab." Really, he shouldn't be this surprised. Kenshin had been bleeding. Not at all the result when a lightsaber's energies were granted free rein to ravage their foe. And if Kenshin could control the power of his own blade to injure no more than a blunt impact - surely he could lessen the damage of another's strike.
"He always was quick," the Fireryo noted.
Uramura stared at him.
"I imagine Fujita-san," Obi-Wan stressed the name slightly, "will have an extensive briefing for you. Later."
From the alarm behind glasses, Uramura hoped later would never come.
The Fireryo inclined his head slightly. "But there is one thing we should settle now." Blue narrowed, glinted wolf-gold. "Are you staying?"
Obi-Wan smiled dryly. "Would it be safer if I left?"
"For whom?" the Chief Inspector snorted. "The Kamiya girl? Her spirit puts her at risk so long as she draws breath. The smuggler? He'll catch a blaster bolt, or not, one of these days, as Fate and customs agents will it. Takani? She's more of a danger to herself than anyone else could be. And Himura… he'll be in peril to death, and beyond." He paused, deliberately. "You now, Kenobi-san - you have the look of a man who's been hunted. And given your ki is still calm after a murderer's well-earned death… you've been hunted a long, long time."
The Fireryo's expression didn't change, but there was a glint of predatory amusement in gold. Anticipation of the hunt, and the kill.
"Perhaps it would be best if the two of us continued this conversation privately," Obi-Wan observed. Granted a soothing smile to Uramura, who looked as if he desperately wanted to haul a poor, defenseless Jedi away from his man-eating superior. "I'm certain the local troubles are over. For now."
Uramura's slight glance toward the Chief Inspector said he doubted that. But when the Fireryo nodded, he saluted, and left.
"Finally." A fanged smirk. "He has admirable nerve for one who's never killed in war, but it still needs stiffening."
"He's concerned for the people he serves," Obi-Wan said neutrally. "Something I imagine you understand quite well… leader of the Third Unit of the Shinsengumi, Saitou Hajime."
Saitou's lip curled, even as a slight shift of stance made visible the lightsaber at his side. "If you ask Meiji's government, they'll tell you that's the name of a dead man."
"Because the Shinsengumi died fighting, and so there are no more Shinsengumi." Obi-Wan smiled without humor. "I've been introduced to recent history. I don't know how any of you keep it straight without a flowchart, indexed computer files, and a dedicated protocol droid."
"Best learn quickly," Saitou said dryly. "For your nephew's sake."
How did he-?
"Don't act so surprised," Saitou snorted. "Whatever your style - and I know it's not Kamiya Kasshin - it didn't teach you nearly enough about concealing your ki. Saigo might have needed a DNA scan, but anyone with half a brain who's fought Battousai and lived can feel you're kin."
Luke felt like Anakin… at least, Anakin before Geonosis. Before he started drifting into Darkness. So samurai know who their families are? That must be so very strange…. Belatedly, he realized Saitou was giving him an almost openly curious look.
"Spying on Saigo doesn't surprise you, but relative's ki does," Saitou said thoughtfully. "No one trained on this planet would be so amazed…."
"Kenobi Obi-Wan," Saitou stated. "Ulloriaq's stolen child. Well, well, well."
"Please tell me that's not common knowledge," Obi-Wan sighed.
"Your name? No. Court records are sealed. And most pre-Meiji records are simply ignored, these days." The former Shinsengumi shrugged. "After Ulloriaq's death, the old stories of Jedi as rabid child-stealers burned through Kyoto like wildfire. I wanted to know the truth of my enemies."
And either his status as a Shogunate warrior or his skills as a spy had allowed him access to that truth. At least, as this world knew it. "I," Obi-Wan said deliberately, "am not your enemy."
"No? A Jedi of Himura's blood…." Saitou's voice trailed off, and true surprise flickered across his face. "General Kenobi. Prudent, to eliminate the beard. You'd resemble your wanted poster entirely too much, otherwise."
"Is there that much of a resemblance?" Obi-Wan exclaimed, incredulous. "Yamagata, Saigo, Uramura, you…." Ah. That was what had been troubling him. "And while Yamagata and Saigo don't know who I am, you and Uramura simply don't seem to care."
Saitou gave a soundless laugh. "Wrap your mind around the realities of Battousai in your midst, Kenobi, and one more of his power isn't that much more to take."
Obi-Wan studied the Fireryo a long moment. "…You're quite serious."
"Choushuu was one han, all but alone for much of the Revolution," Saitou stated. "Tokugawa had all its own samurai and ninja to command, along with those who wished to curry favor. More than I can count were sent seeking Katsura's life. None succeeded." He inclined his head toward the dojo. "Much of the reason is there."
"And, he managed to run scores of Shinsengumi ragged every few nights in the bargain." Saitou's smirk showed teeth. "Once a shrimp of a redhead's cut a bridge out from under your whole squad, and escaped unscathed, you tend to stop underestimating the little demon."
"…You are serious." It would not be a good idea to show weakness in front of this man. Otherwise, Obi-Wan would be very, very glad to sit down.
"Blood isn't a sure measure of power, but it's better than most," Saitou said practically. "Saigo sees only a roshi who should never have been granted the right to a name, much less power. Those of us who faced him - there are reasons legends say red hair is a mark of demon blood."
"Sunrider blood," Obi-Wan mused, recalling quiet afternoons spent browsing in the most ancient sections of the Jedi Archives, so long ago. "I've read some of their history. They do have a reputation for being hot-tempered-" He couldn't help but wince. "Did, I should say."
Was it his imagination, or was there the faintest glimmer of compassion in that fierce gaze?
Not your imagination. Trust the Force. "And that," Obi-Wan dared, "is why you are not my enemy, Saitou-san. You know what it is to have given all your strength and blood and heart to what you believe in… and to survive when all about you were lost."
"Another one." Saitou's smile had a bitter edge. "I'm not certain Tokyo can survive two who read hearts as well as Battousai."
"I didn't intend-"
Saitou held up a gloved hand, shook his head. "Shinsengumi, hitokiri - we fought for what we believed in. What I've been able to learn of your kind states you did as well. And that whatever Jedi codes you claimed, in battle, the best of you followed our code: Aku. Soku. Zan."
Destroy evil. Instantly. Obi-Wan drew a wary breath. "It's not quite that simple."
"Life never is." Saitou gave him a level look. "Those I grant loyalty to intend to protect this world. I believe Yamato would not be protected, if any politician thought the Demon of Kyoto were at their beck and call. The war is over. Assassinations rarely solve the problems that remain - and when they do, they risk drawing offworld attention. More subtle means, if possible, are best… and if that is so, then I believe our planet is best served by allowing Battousai to choose where he will intervene. Or not."
"It's worked for two decades, after all," Obi-Wan observed.
Saitou's smirk was all fangs.
"So you mean to leave us unmolested, if not unwatched," Obi-Wan concluded. "And the price for this forbearance?"
"Never allow an Imperial agent to survive with knowledge of who - and what - you are," Saitou said flatly. Reaching into a uniform pocket, he withdrew a small stamp, with raised, reversed symbols Obi-Wan recognized as some of the local inked characters. "Your signature seal. Stamp the Kamiya girl's register, and learn to write it gracefully. From someone other than Battousai," the Fireryo added wryly. "The idiot's ink-strokes are atrocious." Dropping the stamp into the Jedi's hand, he sketched a sardonic bow. "And I wouldn't worry too much about Saigo. Someone's managed to bounce a copy of the latest Meiji Inter-world Dispatch off his thick skull. It contained some very interesting information on Alderaan."
With a wolf's grin, he left.
"That," Obi-Wan mused after a moment, "is the oddest offer of sanctuary I've ever had."
"A most unusual being, Saitou Hajime."
Obi-Wan smiled. :Good morning to you too, Master.:
The Force ghost inclined his head, ruefully amused. "Your nephew makes me glad to be as I am," he said wryly. "I suspect if I were still physical, watching over him would give me even more of a headache than you did."
The voice was teasing, but- Obi-Wan sighed. :You believed he would kill Jin-e.:
"It shouldn't be possible," Qui-Gon stated. "To swim in that sea of Darkness, of his own will, and come away unscathed…."
:Who was it taught me, with the Force, all things are possible?: Obi-Wan's smile sobered. :I wouldn't say unscathed. No more than Quinlan was, or Aayla….: He swallowed the sudden, tear-prickling sorrow, and began the task of releasing that emotion to the Force. And it is a task, he realized once again, one brow lifting in wry amusement. I should join Kaoru and Yahiko in their meditations more often. "More volatile," indeed, Gensai-isha. No wonder samurai and ninja here use their emotions to touch the Force. They could hardly get away from them.
"Aayla rests easy in the Force, and in your memories," Qui-Gon murmured, concerned. "Are you certain of this course? I know I hoped you would find refuge here, and healing…."
:It's not just myself who needs healing, Master.:
Qui-Gon folded his hands, drawing on calm. "The manner of his teachings… allowing this bond to continue is not what I would call safe, my padawan."
:And since when is the life of a Jedi safe?: Obi-Wan sighed, arraying his thoughts in order. :Master, the only reason Saitou's granted me sanctuary is because we are bound. Because I am Kenshin's family, and a Shinsengumi can trust his old enemy to keep a potential loose laser-cannon of a Jedi from shredding this planet's carefully-crafted safety.:
"An illusion of safety, so long as the Sith exist."
Obi-Wan inclined his head, granting the point. :Still. It has worked, so far. Assisting those who mean to aid that deception - I believe that would be a worthwhile task for any Jedi.:
"And you're fond of the boy."
Hardly a boy, despite his looks. But that was irrelevant. :"Fond" isn't the right word, Master. As well be fond of your arm. Or your heart.: Obi-Wan drew a breath. :If I left him, if he died… I could go on. As I did, after Siri became one with the Force. But I would miss him, Master. He makes me feel - at peace.:
"As you do for him, when he's not fleeing your imagined vengeance." Qui-Gon's rough face softened into a smile. "I believe he's escaped Healer Takani for the moment. And you have much to talk about."
Yes, they did - wait a moment. :Master. You said Aayla was at peace. What about Quin?:
Vanishing, Qui-Gon winked.
Quin is alive. Obi-Wan made himself breathe, when everything seemed to want to freeze in one incandescent moment of joy. Quin is alive!
I'm not the last. I'm not alone….
Refuge. Kenshin slumped on the rooftop in relief, stroking sun-warm tiles with gratitude. He didn't begrudge Kaoru and the others their worry, or their right to yell and grumble about taking actions that, to them, had seemed risky and perilous indeed-
Well. If he were honest, it had been risky. But no more so than many missions he'd taken during the Revolution. He'd survived then; why did no one seem to think he could manage it now?
They don't know what you are capable of, a more logical part of his mind pointed out. Not yet. With luck, not ever.
And that's not why you're really up here.
True enough. Twenty years, he'd wandered Yamato, never in one place longer than a season. He was… not used to others being concerned for his health. With so many others involved, and what - who - he'd sensed… well, it was flee, or risk putting rurouni-shaped holes through Kaoru-dono's innocent walls.
A quiet voice, from the courtyard below. "Would I be intruding?"
Kenshin tried not to sigh. "Are you carrying medicinal tea, bokkens, cargo manifests, or a gagged apprentice?"
A chuckle. "Not at the moment, no." A joyous shift of ki, like wisps of rainbow, and Obi-Wan touched down on the roof near him.
Joy. Kenshin tilted his head, allowing innocent curiosity to show. "What has happened?"
"It's-" Obi-Wan deflated slightly, sitting within inches of him. "Too dangerous to speak of openly, even if it is unlikely anyone would have listening devices targeted here."
Kenshin caught the older man's hand, easily as he'd take the paw of a kit who wanted to show him now, first prey, mine! :Then do not speak.:
Surprise at his touch. Wonder that he would allow anyone so close. A torrent of images of a tall, tan Jedi with dark hair and a yellow clan-stripe tattooed across his face.
Quinlan Vos. Friend. Battle-comrade. One who fell to the Dark, and returned, sad but wiser. One the Force whispers is alive, alive.
One who reminds me of you….
"He is - not quite the same as this one," Kenshin admitted, allowing their grasp to loosen. "Wait, but a few moments." He rose to a crouch, circling the space they would speak in. Silence, he finger-sketched on warm ceramic. Solitude. Overlook. Ignore.
The four directions tended to, Kenshin settled down beside the Jedi again, and drew the final character in air. Seal.
"I can just barely feel that," Obi-Wan murmured. "What did you do?"
Recognizing Kenshin's request, ki drifted into a new form, softening the breezes about them. "A silence spell," the rurouni stated. "Proof against onmitsu, and technology. No one will hear us, and no lenses will focus enough to read our lips." He tilted his head. "Saitou did not threaten you, or one would have sensed it. What was he after?"
Obi-Wan blinked. "You could… well. I shouldn't be surprised that you could sense him." He thought a moment. "Threat assessment, I believe. He seems to find it reassuring that we are related."
"He would," Kenshin muttered. "He prefers his enemies gathered in one place."
"Oddly enough, I don't believe he is our enemy," Obi-Wan mused. "He seems dedicated to protecting this planet. Even if the best way to do so involves protecting us." His voice was level. "Is it because of Okita?"
"No." But I'm not sure…. "Not likely." Gods, how to explain? "Souji… knew he would die young, of poisons that had been unleashed on our world. And I… this one did not expect to survive the war. We both wanted - hope. To help those young ones who would survive, whom our battles had orphaned. And while this one was hitokiri, one's face was not known, and Sou looked very different out of uniform…."
Obi-Wan was rubbing at a headache. "And you could both conceal your Force signature."
Kenshin smiled weakly.
"I'm beginning to suspect the galaxy has a sense of irony," Obi-Wan muttered. "Dare I ask?"
"We assisted at the same orphanage for almost two years," Kenshin admitted. "Sou… he is one of the reasons this one has studied healing. There is a technique, in Hiten Mitsurugi, for shedding the body's toxins. One thought it might be adapted, to help…." He looked down. "One was only able to finish it years after the war. Okita… would not have survived that long."
"He died as he wished, and in the Light," Kenshin said quietly. "We should all be so lucky, ne?"
The Jedi nodded. Let the silence rest between them, while Kenshin gathered his thoughts.
Took a breath, and nodded toward the symbol-touched tiles. "I've seen stage magicians use words and gestures, when they put on a show," Obi-Wan stated. "But none of them touched the Force."
"There are many paths of ki on Yamato," Kenshin said honestly. "One has tried to learn what is useful, when one finds such."
Obi-Wan frowned. "A Jedi uses his will to work within the will of the Force-"
"And does one not see you reach out a hand, when you wish to move a foe, or a friend? That is a symbol as well. It is only a matter of degree."
"The most skilled minds can mold ki without such symbols," Kenshin admitted. "But ki responds to one's unconscious mind, as well as trained will. Spells, such as this silence, are a way of aligning them in harmony. Like meditation. They allow one to be more subtle with ki. To use less. For those who do not have the strength of Kaoru-dono, or yourself, using less is very, very important."
"Especially if the goal is not to be sensed." The Jedi looked into the distance, considering that.
Kenshin inclined his head. "Similar spells are inscribed in every shrine and temple on Yamato, maintained by priests, miko, and any with strength to aid them. Yamato is not important, they claim for those with eyes and will. Yamato is not here, they claim for those less strong of soul. And even their instruments will tell them so."
"Even their-" Obi-Wan cut himself off. Hesitated, choosing his words. "I have read of techniques that could mold the Force in such a fashion. Like the manipulation of life-codes, it was practiced by those… not friendly to Jedi."
Sith, then. He'd suspected as much. "Before you choose to react to a situation," Kenshin said, as carefully, "one would ask that you reach out, through the Force, and sense the nature of that you would deal with. Techniques have moved from clan to clan; healer to warrior to scholar, and back. Many of these spells may have begun in the Dark, but have turned to Shadow, or even Light."
A thoughtful silence.
Kenshin ducked his head, trying not to blush. "There is," he admitted, "another reason one might use spells, instead of pure ki. It is - a shortcut. A way to learn that shape of ki quickly, without the deep understanding needed between master and apprentice. Spells may be learned from books, or holo-recordings, or ancient symbols scribed on forgotten cave walls. Though one would suggest avoiding those. At least once a generation, it seems, some fool who lusts for power and cannot otherwise touch ki stumbles into stony Darkness - and what is left to stumble back into living air usually needs several samurai and a miko to put down."
"Or one rurouni?" Obi-Wan eyed his blush, let it pass. "Holding Megumi in that death-trance. A spell?"
"One learned it as a spell, but one did not have time to cast it as such," Kenshin nodded soberly. "So one used ki alone… and you saw the difficulty."
"I'm amazed you could do it at all," Obi-Wan said frankly. "Morichro is an advanced healing technique, and its last living practitioner was lost in the Clone Wars. Unless we can somehow reclaim the Archives on Coruscant, it may be forever lost to the Jedi." Sea-green eyes weighed violet. "Unless one who knows it, however imperfectly, would be willing to help us rebuild it."
Breathe, Kenshin reminded himself. "One is not Jedi, Kenobi-san."
"You follow our code; an ancient one, but still valid. I know you Fell, and became an assassin-"
"One never Fell." Say it. Clearly. Now. He must know. "One is not of Light. One is a Shadow."
Long silence. "Please," Obi-Wan said at last, "explain."
Kenshin let out a slow breath. "The second meditation of Hiten Mitsurugi. Enchained in peace, there is passion. Through passion, I gain strength. Through strength, I gain power. Through power, I gain victory. Through victory, my chains are broken. The Force shall free me." Another breath. Calm. "It is the cycle of our power. The heartbeat of… Himura Battousai."
"One is, Obi-Wan. One ever will be. No student of Hiten Mitsurugi has ever Fallen." Eyes half-shut, he reached into the shadows of his soul, and let them surface. "And neither did I."
Obi-Wan tensed, hand on his lightsaber. But did not strike. "You."
"Me." Battousai smiled wryly. "You may think of us as two halves of a soul, if you wish. It is not entirely untrue." He leaned back against the roof, deliberately looking away. "Every school of Shadow - and we are few, Jedi, very few - has its own means of balancing the Light and Dark within us. Koubai, I suspect, entwines them with her two different lives: geisha and kunoichi. Some of the Shinsengumi, like Saitou, granted bright loyalty to those who deserved it and swift death to their enemies. And I wait within the cycle, roused when I am needed."
"The cycle." The Jedi's hand was no farther from his lightsaber. But no nearer.
"When we are at peace with the world and ourselves, is when our strongest attachments form," Battousai explained. "Parent and child. Husband and wife. Friend to friend, and yourself to the world that nurtures you. The best - the only - reasons to fight, and die. Or kill." He smiled at Obi-Wan. "The Sith may have forgotten, but the true source of all power is peace."
From the careful non-expression on the Jedi's face, he didn't like that smile. At all.
"So when those I care for are threatened, I remove the threat. However necessary. Even with the Dark. Death is part of life, and destruction as much child of the universe as creation." He paused. "But to use the Dark too much, destroys the chains of peace that bind us together. The source of our power. So we must never dwell in the Dark. Know it, yes. Call on it, at need. And when the fight is over - let it go."
"You were an assassin."
"I chose to be." Battousai looked down, nights of blood and fire shadowing his memory. "Katsura-san needed someone to kill in the shadows, to strike terror into the hearts of those who supported the Shogunate. He asked me if I could kill. I said yes."
"You were thirteen."
"I knew what I was doing," he bit out. Winced, and sighed. "I did not realize how much pain my actions would cause. And for that, I am sorry. I would that I could change… some of what happened." He stared golden defiance into the Jedi's level gaze. "But I do not regret serving Katsura."
Another sigh. "Our world was dying. Someone had to act."
"Or others would suffer," the Jedi stated. "As your family suffered."
As my father - your brother - suffered. "Yes."
Battousai shrugged. "Why not me?" Cast a glance toward the Jedi, sensing a flare of surprise. "What is it?"
"No ranting, no claims of vengeance, or wreaking justice on those who betrayed you… you're surprisingly sane."
"No," Battousai said softly. "No, I don't think so. Sane people know their nightmares are over once they wake." He lifted his shoulders slightly, setting aside the pain of the lost child he had been, who wanted-
I protect the innocent. It doesn't matter what I want. "Be wise, Kenobi-san. Protect those who deserve it, and let this nightmare vanish once more. Away from Tokyo, and Jedi, and innocents who have never seen war. Into the stories to frighten children, where it belongs."
"It would be a poor Jedi," Obi-Wan said, as softly, "who decided a repentant man did not deserve protection."
"My nephew," the Jedi went on relentlessly, "has every right to call me Obi-Wan."
Amber eyes narrowed. "Would you endanger two of your own?"
"As a Master - one of the last - I acknowledge that Kamiya-sensei has passed her Trials, and may choose for herself the dangers she allows her padawan to face. If, in fact, you were a danger to any of us."
Battousai glared at him.
"One of these days I need to tell you about another Jedi Master, who knew his own Darkness, and a 'saber style called Vaapad." Sea-green turned stern. "I have faced Sith Lords, and murderers, and Jedi whose paths led them through deep shadows. I will not allow you to manipulate me into fearing you."
"Nor will I allow you to drive me away," Obi-Wan went on, more gently. "I have missed my brother for years uncounted, and I wish to know his son."
I know Shishou swore I hadn't the common sense the kami gave a blind kitten, but I didn't think it was hereditary!
Yet the arms around him were real, and warm.
"A danger to this dojo," Obi-Wan stated, resting his chin against Battousai's whole shoulder, "would never have risked himself for a stranger. Would have behaved as if his means of manipulating the Force were superior, instead of warning impressionable youngsters precisely how dangerous they are. Would have killed his foes, instead of granting them every chance to save themselves."
"I was in the Clone Wars. I know what it is to fight, and kill, even as despair paints all the world in gray." He drew back, enough to search Battousai's face. "I saw you heal Koshijirou. I felt you grieve for Ulloriaq, even as you struck. You would not have suited the Coruscanti Temple, true - but I believe you would have made a fine Corellian Jedi, indeed."
Battousai stared at him.
"Now," Obi-Wan said briskly, sitting up, "what was that odd emotional projection you used? It reminded me somewhat of family interactions I brushed by on Zeltros; they're empaths, and not shy about sharing. Yet I haven't sensed anything like it elsewhere on this planet, and I didn't notice you shaping any symbols…."
He's not running. Battousai became aware of a very rurouni-like desire to pound his head against a wall. Or possibly Obi-Wan's. Why is he not running?
Not a trace of fear in the man. Only sympathy, warmth - and pure, unadulterated curiosity. If he'd held any lingering doubts about the Jedi being related, that would have squashed them.
Guess I'm not the only one who has to learn the hard way…. Kenshin let his shadows fade back, setting the problem aside for further consideration. "It is not a spell," he said reluctantly. "It is… 'Tousan was thought… somewhat odd. All our village knew of the kitsune living near us, and left offerings, and message-scrolls when village affairs might affect the forest. But only 'Tousan wished to talk to them." He gave his uncle a rueful shrug. "They are cautious, and not inclined to trust humans. But they are also curious - and the chance to meet a newborn human kit, with strength enough to touch ki as they did, and a mind that might be taught the proper manner of speaking, was too interesting to ignore."
"You were raised with kitsune?" A slow nod. "That's how you know they're not demons."
"They are not human," Kenshin said bluntly. "When they harm us, and they do, it is often not from malice, but from a knowledge of our lives as imperfect as ours of theirs. A kitsune may sense that the peasants who let her hunt fat rodents in their fields wish to see a government official brought low, and cast an illusion that makes it seem as if one peasant took action - and be bewildered when that peasant curses her for the trouble that follows. They love, but they are ruthlessly practical, and they are very much creatures of now." He hesitated. "And some of them - not many, but some - do choose evil. Nogitsune are dangerous to all that lives. One has been asked to deal with them, from time to time."
"By which people?" Obi-Wan nodded, as if the question itself made the answer obvious. "They must trust you a great deal."
Kenshin tried not to think of blood, and snow, and a chill of body only outmatched by that in his soul, as sight returned and he knew…. "They were aid and shelter when one had lost all hope. One would very much like to correct Yahiko's impressions of them, someday." A slight grin tugged at his lips. "One would like to correct Katsu's as well, but one doesn't believe in miracles."
Obi-Wan nodded in rueful agreement. "I've grown accustomed to fear and distrust from those unfamiliar with the Force, unfortunately. To find it in one who's been exposed to its practitioners all his life-" He shook his head. And gave Kenshin a considering look. "May I come with you, someday? I try to make a practice of meeting the native sentients of a planet."
"One will ask," Kenshin promised.
"And do you ever intend to share the contents of that datachip you took from Shinomori?"
Kenshin let out a long breath, somehow not surprised. He is patient as the Jedi of legend. "Yes."
Something that concerns the whole dojo. Kaoru studied the faces of her fellow Jedi, and one rurouni who swore he wasn't, in the evening calm. Kenshin had the ninja datachip in hand, ready to slip into her holo-projector - then stopped, and quirked one red brow up at her.
She reddened, but straightened her shoulders, and looked Obi-Wan in the eye. "Kenobi-san, I owe you an apology."
"Oh?" Polite interest, nothing more.
"And that's part of why," Kaoru said reluctantly. "You blend in so well here, sometimes I forget how much you don't know. You should feel like you're part of this ie, and you don't - and I've left you alone when I knew you needed family."
"The fault, if there is one, must lie as much at my door as yours," Obi-Wan replied. "Family - well, it wasn't part of my training."
"But I've been most of the problem, because I was afraid." She gave Yahiko a look when he would have jumped in; he subsided, frowning. "I'm the only woman running a dojo in Tokyo, and I'm young, and - custom is, you'd be head of the family." She took a breath. "And I wasn't trained in the Temple, and most of my training is samurai anyway, and my mother was married-"
"As was Master Cho-Leem," Obi-Wan stated. "Many times. The Force only knows if any of her children survived the Purge… she was an excellent Healer, and always welcome in the Temple. As for the rest, I've known more than a few Jedi trained outside the Temple, and I certainly would not presume to take your place in a society I barely know." Brows lifted, he smiled at her. "Public beliefs to the contrary, no true Jedi would fault a Knight for being afraid. You mastered your fear, and acted from calm. Well done."
Kaoru blinked, not certain she'd heard correctly. "Huh?" Is he saying - I passed?
"What she said," Yahiko grumbled.
"He means," Kenshin explained, "that once Kaoru-dono has mastered the crystal meditation, she will be truly ready to claim full mastery of Kamiya Kasshin."
I passed the Trials. I did it! She wanted to jump for joy.
"Oh," Yahiko said doubtfully. "Why didn't he say so?"
"Because I'm not from this world, and so lack knowledge of how to phrase matters appropriately, at times," Obi-Wan answered. "Diplomatic training for hundreds of cultures, and none of it covered here."
"There is," Kenshin stated, "a very good reason for that." Leaning forward, he inserted the datachip.
"Himura-san." A tall, calm Yamato man of noble bearing folded his arms in the hologram; dark gray haori over lighter blue gi and hakama, hair tied back in a simple topknot.
"Hitotsubashi Keiki," Kenshin said quietly. "Better known as Tokugawa Yoshinobu. The last Shogun."
"If you are viewing this," Yoshinobu went on, "the Oniwabanshuu have succeeded in their mission, and Takeda Kanryuu has been neutralized.
"I apologize for involving you in this matter. Takeda's situation evolved more rapidly than we had expected. Swift action was necessary; and action of a nature that would not draw Imperial attention. At least," here the man's smile turned wry, "no more attention than Spider's Web has already drawn.
"Takeda has been trying to bring his compound into official view for quite some time. We believe he first made contact with subordinates of Grand Moff Tarkin, through a bounty hunter sent to our world to seek out information on a Kenobi Owen... more on that in a moment.
"Takeda has been building his network and influence over time. Three months ago - my people were only able to ascertain this after the fact - he finally made contact with medical inquisitors in Tarkin's command. Who were very intrigued. Tarkin is dead, thankfully, and whatever he knew with him. The trail of Spider's Web should have gone cold.
"It must remain cold. No matter the cost.
"I don't need to tell you that the Imperial Medical division has easier access to Vader, and the Emperor, than any other branch of the government. If one of them, or their ki-sensitive agents, were to come here... we've already been lucky twice, before and during the Clone Wars. I don't want to try for three.
"Yes, twice. I know you've heard the story of the boy Watchman Ulloriaq kidnapped. Who hasn't? Kenobi Owen made a valiant plea. It should have been honored, for its sheer bravery.
"But the Shogun's own miko swore to interfere would mean disaster. Not only for the boy, but for all of Yamato. Darkness was seeking our children, as it had sought our ancestors millennia ago. The only way to stave it off was to allow the Jedi to believe they had succeeded - and failed, all the same. Our records of Ulloriaq's transmissions to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant indicate that the boy showed promise, but was ultimately destined for the Agricultural Corps. Between that and my predecessors' refusal to allow midi-chlorian tests on this planet, the Jedi, and something else, lost interest in this world.
"If you've seen holos of the Emperor, I imagine you know quite well what that something else was.
"We narrowly escaped disaster again a few short years before the Revolution was over. When this man-" the holo shimmered, into a tall, arrogant silver-haired human, dressed head to toe in Inner World black, "-visited our world."
"Dooku," Obi-Wan breathed. Caught his companions' eyes, and winced. "He was a Jedi… before he became Darth Tyrannus."
"We have evidence he spoke with Watchman Ulloriaq on several occasions, before she... well, you know well enough," Yoshinobu sighed. "Onmitsu shadowed him from a distance. They knew better than to do any more. But some of our kunoichi were able to probe him, carefully. And they discovered something interesting.
"He knew very well we had souls strong in ki here. And he did not intend to tell his Master."
The holo shimmered back to Yoshinobu's image. The former shogun looked weary. "I can only speculate that, like the Sith of legend, he planned to strike down his own Master at some point. And that he considered a planet full of potential apprentices a weapon too valuable to be known. Whatever his reason, he was very efficient, and influential. Outside of our direct trading partners, information on Yamato has vanished from every off-world database our onmitsu have gained access to. It's rumored even the Jedi Temple lost all record of us.
"I tell you this so you may know what is at risk. You were always an honorable enemy, Himura-san. I know you will do what is right for our people, and our world."
"That," mused Obi-Wan as the holo faded, "is a very dangerous man."
"Had he been shogun in the heart of the Revolution, instead of Iemochi, things might have gone differently," Kenshin agreed. "By the time he was chosen to take control, Emperor Komei was failing of the offworld plague, and the Shogunate was already collapsing. Though it was almost two years before Toba Fushimi demonstrated that for all to see." Violet looked down. "If Komei had not died, leaving Meiji in loyalist hands… if the patrol squad had missed Sakamoto Ryouma in Kyoto… if Yoshinobu himself had learned earlier to shed the fear of being branded traitor, and done what was right instead of what was wise…."
"If you had never joined the Ishin Shishi?" Obi-Wan said quietly. "We all carry regrets, Kenshin. I know I have more than my share." He glanced at Kaoru, sympathetic.
If 'Tousan hadn't gone to face the riots…. Kaoru made herself breathe, and release the grief. The world was as it was. 'Tousan would be the first to tell her to keep moving forward.
"Um… maybe this is a stupid question," Yahiko ventured, "but how come he's not trying to kill you?"
"Saigo commanded the loyalist forces at Toba Fushimi," Kenshin said frankly. "He has seen many samurai sword-styles, and he knows Hiten Mitsurugi is more dangerous than all of them. Yoshinobu saw only the aftermath of the battle, and had little intelligence of precisely how much of the damage was this one's responsibility." He smiled wryly. "Though he was still overheard to say he would not hunt this one without bunker-buster torpedoes." Violet turned thoughtful. "One has not met the man face to face, but… Okubo and Katsura-san claimed he was a man of wide vision, yet one who sometimes missed matters close to him. And by the time this one's name would have reached Yoshinobu's ears, one was no longer an assassin, but a skirmisher, guarding the Ishin Shishi in the streets of Kyoto. One suspects that the idea Battousai could be a threat to him, simply has not crossed his mind."
Kaoru narrowed her eyes at a thoughtful Obi-Wan. "You're plotting something."
"Plotting has such a sinister air," the Jedi said mildly. "Let's just say, I am considering potential future scenarios."
"One would advise against any scenario that included meeting Yoshinobu without at least an intermediary for introductions," Kenshin cautioned. "He lives in retirement in Shizuoka; he has recently arranged a marriage, but otherwise avoids people and sees only a few of his old retainers. If the Oniwabanshuu still serve him, they have been very discreet."
Obi-Wan arched an eyebrow. "You know a great deal about a man you never expect to meet."
Kenshin winced. "One left politics on the battlefield. One has learned, in years since, that it will never repay the favor and leave this one in peace." Violet glanced down, thoughtful. "It is, after all, likely one reason why Yoshinobu does not consider this one a threat. Battousai was known to be of Choushuu - and Choushuu was sworn enemy of the Shogunate from the moment it was first created. Yoshinobu saw us as honest enemies. But those of Satsuma, like Okubo and Saigo, first crushed us as the Shogunate's hammer; then, when our power grew, pretended to support the Shogunate while all the time preparing to betray it. Yoshinobu has not forgiven. Or forgotten."
"Should he have?"
"Okubo was for Katsura from the beginning, but had to bow to the wishes of his clan, at first," Kenshin said honestly. "Saigo…." He shrugged, and spread empty hands. "He believes, passionately, in good and evil. When Choushuu was accused of trying to kidnap Emperor Komei, we were evil, and Saigo led the campaign to crush us. When those with knowledge of the wider galaxy spoke of the weakness of the Shogunate, and how a new government might save our world, he allied with us. Katsura-san worked with him, mostly through Okubo, but he did not trust him." A breathless sigh. "And given what he has tried to do… neither can I."
"You guys tried to kidnap the emperor?" Yahiko's eyes were round.
"One wasn't involved, so one doesn't know the full facts, that I don't," Kenshin said practically. "There were many with hot tempers. On both sides." He smiled wryly. "Some things, it would seem, never change. Poor Megumi-dono."
"But Spider's Web doesn't matter anymore, right?" Kaoru objected, trying not to shiver. "Takeda's in prison. Megumi's safe."
"She'll remain safe only so long as no one makes the connection between her skills and Takeda's products," Obi-Wan said soberly. "If I knew of a safe means to remove that memory from her mind-"
"Memory-wipe her?" Yahiko objected, aghast. "That's rape!"
"Not if someone agrees to it," Kaoru said uneasily. Though I don't know how anyone could. To lose part of your self….
Kenshin shook his head. "It would not matter. The danger is not only in what she knows, but that she has the skills to create it in the first place. A determined enemy would force her to recreate what she could not remember."
Yahiko gulped, obviously all too able to picture that. Kaoru felt sick. How can Kenshin think that anyone would be so evil- I'm not sure I want to know. "So what do we do?"
Kenshin and Obi-Wan traded glances. Looked at her.
Oh, I have a bad feeling about this….
"No," Sanosuke growled, as two chattering youngsters, their indulgent grandfather, and the rest of the Kamiya dojo's usual inhabitants swarmed through his ship. "No, no, and no."
"Now, now; the education of the young is a responsibility of every decent, upstanding adult in society," Obi-Wan reproved gently, trying not to laugh.
Sano made a strangled noise. "Since when am I-"
"And Gensai-isha's assistance will allow you to refit the Sekihoutai more efficiently and effectively," the Jedi went on, letting a hint of a grin slip out. "Surely, the chance to show his daughters a real, live spaceship is not too much to ask."
"You're not the guy who's got to deal with Katsu after this," Sano grumbled.
"That's actually what I wish to speak with you both about," Obi-Wan admitted. "If I may?"
Sano cracked his knuckles, and rolled his eyes. "I'm going to regret this, I just know it…."
But Sano headed down the ramp into the hangar anyway, evidently trusting Kaoru to keep the less tech-savvy of their visitors from breaking anything. "Hey, Katsu."
Katsuhiro slid out from under a spare thruster manifold, dark brows lifted - and falling again, face cool as he noted who was behind his partner. "Oh. You."
"Kaoru informs me that along with other cargo, the two of you sometimes work for the Intergalactic Zoological Society on Mycroft," Obi-Wan said bluntly. The more he thinks of us as business instead of samurai, the better.
Katsu glanced at Sano, and frowned, obviously distracted from what would have been a chilling insult. "Yeah. Yamato ecology scares most of their people, and the ones it doesn't scare aren't interested in risking Miasma. So we ship them a few things. Why?"
"I imagine Megumi's skills may make it easier for you to transport various botanical specimens," Obi-Wan observed. "But if the Society is still anything like the one I was familiar with a few decades ago, they have much greater - and for you, far more lucrative - interest in zoological specimens. Which would be far easier to transport if you had someone along who knew how to calm them."
"Like you," Katsu said neutrally.
"Or other members of the Kamiya dojo, yes."
"Himura?" Katsu's gaze was dark. "No."
"He has the most skill with animals of any of us," Obi-Wan pointed out. Gently. Not a hint of influence. The man has reason for his paranoia, even if it is unfair. "And if you do mean to keep Takani on as crew, it would be wise for you to have samurai along to guard her."
Katsu's eyes narrowed.
"She's a healer, trained in ki. There may come a time when you need someone to weave an explanation for an… unusual healing method. Or to cover your escape, if worst comes to worst." The Jedi made his voice light, casual. "The Kamiya school teaches some basics of spaceflight and technology, but Yahiko would learn faster with real equipment to examine. And I find that while my nephew seems to have surprising skill at database manipulation for a backwoods samurai, he has no idea how to fly. Or even which end of a hydrospanner to pick up. My forebears would be spinning in their graves." If Jedi had graves. And assuming their ashes weren't twisting in whirlwinds already, given what he planned to do. Still. A Force-sensitive who couldn't pilot? Unthinkable!
"Your nephew?" Katsu brushed dark bangs out of his eyes, Force prickling around him with distrust and disbelief. "Himura?"
"I'm not asking you to befriend the man." Obi-Wan stood straight, unyielding. "He did what he had to, to save your life. And I believe we can be useful to each other."
"Useful, as in a good excuse to be out of Koubai's reach if she gets grabby again?" Sano grinned.
Obi-Wan smiled ruefully back. "I can't deny that would be handy, yes."
Katsu scowled at his partner. "I suppose you want to say yes."
"It's got pluses and minuses," Sanosuke said levelly. "Right now, Saigo's pissed at us. Meaning we've got to find other cargoes to carry. Megitsune's travelling doctor routine could bring in credits and give us a reason to hang around ports a few days longer than normal, which means more time to pick up the best cargo for us, and more time for you to soak up juicy news. But if she does use some of her ki techniques, and if she's a good doc she probably will, it'd be better if there's a samurai or two around to back her up. Healers can burn themselves out without help, you know that. And Kenobi's right about the Society." He rolled his shoulders, working out stress-kinks as he looked back at the Sekihoutai. "Downside - extra food and supplies, less cargo room, and the samurai have to keep their 'sabers out of sight offworld."
And you'd have to deal with Kenshin, Obi-Wan could hear Sano carefully not saying. "We don't need an answer right away," the Jedi stated. "I believe some members of the dojo plan to go on a training retreat, to certain crystal springs outside the city. A trip I'm given to understand may take a few weeks." He bowed. "Please, do give it your full consideration."
Now to find the other side of the argument.
Hmm. Not in the ship. Not in the hangar, or the alleys outside. So where-?
Letting his eyes slip half-closed, Obi-Wan quested out and-
Up. Why am I not surprised?
A few Force-leaps and a scramble later, Obi-Wan joined a wayward rurouni on the hangar roof. "For someone who's never seen Coruscant, you've quite the taste for heights."
"One was raised in mountains." Kenshin didn't look his way, violet eyes searching the bustle and confusion of ships loading and unloading, guards searching, isolation ray shields springing up and down as particular items or passengers were scanned. "Cliffs were common. As was the knowledge that past thirty feet, there is no reason to fear; you have the skills to survive the fall, or not."
And there are limits to who can reach you here without a lot of fuss and obvious noise, Obi-Wan thought, almost sighing. As Kaoru had said, it wasn't quite paranoia. Not given Kenshin's list of enemies.
Odd. There was something in the way Kenshin's eyes searched the vibrant tableau below, trying to take in everything. "You've never been in a spaceport, have you?"
Kenshin shook his head minutely. "One saw the ships that came to and from Kyoto, during the Revolution. One was responsible for taking them, more than once; one spent the most time on a large freighter, I think. Its defenders were many, but lax…." He shrugged, setting the thought aside. "Another of the Ishin Shishi had to fly. It was always… unsettling, to be on a craft with no will of its own, no connection to land or sea. And no idea what to do if it should suddenly decide to fall out of the sky," Kenshin added dryly.
That would be a bit hard on the nerves, Obi-Wan imagined. "But you do intend to learn."
"One has little choice," Kenshin said practically. "You are Jedi, and Sano is a smuggler - and if assisting the Rebellion here is difficult because of Saigo, Kaoru-dono will eventually think to look out there." Violet turned on him, unreadable. "Is that not, after all, where you are likely to find your friend?"
"Actually, I rather think not," Obi-Wan stated, considering the matter. "He does remind me of you, after all. His teacher was Master Tholme, who learned - well, some rather odd things from an Anzati master assassin. Unlike most Jedi, they knew espionage, and assassination… and a way of vanishing out of the Force much like your own."
The rurouni's eyes narrowed slightly, weighing that. "You believe this one is enough like them to be a guide for what they might do?"
"With all the Galaxy out to kill them if they were discovered? Yes." Odd; when had Quin, in his mind, become more than just Quin?
Because Master Tholme was always wary enough to have two backups plans for every occasion, Obi-Wan recalled. If deception and intelligence could save a life, he stood a better chance than most of us. Granted, Master Tholme had been getting on in years, hair gone from black to almost completely gray. Still, even without Sunrider heritage, human Jedi who didn't die on assignment would live decades beyond the Galactic average of a hundred and fifty. He'd be a bit more creaky, yes - but if he lived, Tholme would still be able to fight.
But I doubt either of them would be fighting. Not if there were another way. "Quinlan saw some of the worst of the Clone Wars," Obi-Wan said carefully, fitting fact together with feelings and the will of the Force. "He knew what it was to kill, and to lie, and to walk in Darkness. He had many regrets… and his former padawan, Aayla Secura, died in Order 66. He would have been - wounded. And the last order sent from the Temple was scatter and hide." The Jedi shook his head. "I can see him gathering information. Helping those who crossed his path. But to go to war again, when he believed the Republic had become corrupt beyond our ability to save it? No. No, I think not."
Kenshin's expression didn't change, but he felt a whisper of concentrated attention down their bond.
"You expect me to leave this world, and seek out the Rebellion," Obi-Wan realized. "Why?"
"Do you not have friends there?"
Obi-Wan hmphed, all but hearing Master Yoda in his head. "Much as Yamagata-san is your friend, to be sure."
Shock, shimmering down the bond. Disbelief. Incomprehension.
"You… don't know," Obi-Wan realized, stunned. "Uramura knew who I am, and Saitou - you grew up isolated, in the mountains. And with all the havoc on this planet - you didn't see holo-casts in the Clone Wars, did you?"
Shyly, Kenshin shook his head. "Why does it matter? One knows you are Jedi. And as a Master, you were a General. One of many."
"Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi," the Jedi bowed, as befit a proper introduction. "Former General of the Third Army. They called me the Negotiator."
Kenshin eyed him as if he'd sprouted fangs. "One did not think the Jedi encouraged their exploits to be attached to any one name."
"We don't," Obi-Wan said candidly. "I assure you, the last thing I ever wanted was a reputation. Unfortunately, I have one - one that ensures if I ever come to the attention of Rebel leader Mon Mothma, I will be in just as much trouble as you would be in Yamagata's sights. And for much the same reason."
He sounds so young. Peace and tranquility were well and good, but Obi-Wan had a sudden sympathy for Kaoru and her bokken. "I tell you I want to get to know you, and you think I intend to take off on some damnfool idealistic crusade?" He gentled his voice. "No. Why would you even think so?"
"…You said you cared."
And your parents cared, and they died, Obi-Wan knew. But - no. That was gasping and terror and the first chill of autumn. This hurt in you, this flinch from the fear of betrayal…. "Why do I feel snow?"
Panic in violet, pain-
Oh no you don't! Force-granted speed let him seize the younger man's hand, just barely. And he would not let go.
No place for the Negotiator here. He's one with the Living Force, he feels more than thinks….
Read my feelings, Kenshin. I, too, have known betrayal.
He dragged forward memories of lava, of Padme's body broken by one she loved. Sparks and breathlessness and fighting for his life against the brother of his heart….
Snow, reached back. Dark hair, sad eyes, never smiling. But compassion, deeper than any love a young man expected, holding back the madness of war. Compassion with the darkest of roots, sprung from murder and hate… snow, freezing cold in Dark-twisted woods, bleeding and death near and striking out blind to save-
:I couldn't save her.:
:I couldn't save him.:
:I wanted to die….:
:But I made a promise.:
:I will find a way to protect without killing.:
:I'll keep your children safe.:
:But nothing I do can ever be enough-:
:-Because it was my fault. I was his teacher, I was a Master, yet Palpatine turned him right under my nose-:
:-I killed her beloved, and she was trapped by her own vows, for revenge. Who would stay with such a monster…?:
:Who could ever forgive one whose blindness brought the Sith to power?:
Obi-wan sighed, and stroked two-toned red hair. "I don't know what next month may bring, or next week, or tomorrow. But for now the will of the Force has brought us both here, and I for one plan to make the most of it." He raised a brow at his nephew. "So. How do we handle Koubai?" He hesitated. "Preferably without my getting married, buried, or - ah - otherwise entangled."
That won a faint smile from the rurouni. "Well," Kenshin said impishly, "one did have the start of a plan…."
A/N and info:
Ne? - "isn't that right?"
Nogitsune - "field fox"; malevolent fox-spirit.
Owari - end.
Roshi - wave warrior; more polite than ronin.
On merging the manga Rurouni Kenshin with the Star Wars Extended Universe…. While RK is supposed to be set in a "realistic" 1878 Meiji Japan, many characters in the setting do things that are practically impossible. (Fans have used the phrase "Watsuki physics".) The Force fits perfectly. In this AU, while Hiten Mitsurugi likely strongly resembles Ataru, it is actually a development of the ancient Form VIII, Sokan; users make strategic use of their surroundings as well as general acrobatics. (Kenshin will sometimes perch on overlarge weapons, much to their users' dismay.)
Timeframe for training a Jedi versus the known time Kenshin had learning from Hiko…. A Republic-era Jedi not only learned Force-use and lightsaber combat, but also inter-species diplomacy, spaceship flight and maintenance, multiple languages, and who knows what else in the mechanical and technological arena. Hence a relatively long training period. Kenshin's diplomatic abilities come from watching what happened in the Ishin Shishi for five years, and another twenty-odd knocking around the planet. (He definitely didn't learn them from Hiko!) His knowledge of anything originating off-planet is extremely scanty.