In Memory of the Past, and Those Who Will Not be Born
by volta arovet
To one as young as the boy we observe, a cricket can become an entire world. The child's dark, almond shaped eyes remained raptly fixed on the constantly moving creature, never straying for one instant for fear that it would disappear the moment he looked away. The boy's hair basked in the late-day sun's caresses, the dark strands black and smooth as a raven's wing, waving in imitation of flight as the boy ran through the fields.
The boy pounced after the cricket. The cricket easily eluded his grasp. It paused on a branch, antennae twitching, perhaps appreciating the gentle melody of the boy's rare laughter. After a moment's rest the chase resumed. Through the field, over the hill, and into the forest the merry pursuit continued. Part of the boy wished that he would never catch the cricket, that the exhilarating chase would go on forever. Lost in the glory of the hunt, the boy stumbled upon a clearing in the forest, in which stood a tiny hut and a still man.
Before the boy, facing three bamboo poles, was a samurai, frozen in a defensive stance. Three long seconds passed before the man broke into a flurry of motion. The light from the setting sun glinted off the heavy metal of the man's sword, making it flash like bolts of lightning across the sky. The fabric of his white kimono snapped with every move, like sails caught in the wind. A moment later, the man was bowing. The three bamboo poles which had stood before him were now sliced into thirty equal pieces.
The boy's eyes widened at the sight of such precise and swift swordsmanship. Wary of what might happen if such a man saw him, the boy took a step backwards. Unfortunately, a large root caught his foot and he fell into an undignified heap. The stranger's head snapped to attention at the sound.
"Who is there?" his lightly accented voice asked.
The boy bit his lip to stifle a whimper—he had hurt his leg when he fell.
"If you mean me no harm, then show yourself," the man demanded.
The boy staggered to his feet, crying out has he put weight on his injured leg. He fell back to the ground. The stranger turned to face him. Caution, then absolute shock, then finally gentle understanding played across the man's features. "Come here, child. I will not harm you," he said as kindly as he could. The boy shook his head. "What is the matter," he asked as he raised on elegant, black eyebrow.
"My knee," the boy choked out. "It hurts."
Oh so gently, the samurai placed his arms around the boy and lifted him off the ground, carried him inside the hut, and placed him on a table. "Lie there," the man instructed as he gathered his medical supplies.
The boy looked around the hut, his eyes taking in the strange surroundings. Many sorts of weapons were placed in cases along one of the walls. The variety was amazing—the boy could only recognize a third of them, although the vicious blades and jagged edges made it obvious that these were not instruments of peace.
Along the other walls were very unusual paintings, portraits mainly, although the boy had never seen people like the ones displayed. One was of a red-haired person, another of some sort of furry animal, and yet another of an intelligent looking cat woman. All of this was very curious. There was no more time for looking, since the man was now ready to help him.
Moving aside the once white, now bloodstained lower portion of the boy's kimono, the man inspected the wound. A malicious-looking pointed stick had wedged its way in slightly below his knee. The boy winced and looked away from the mess. The man carefully dabbed a warm, wet cloth at the torn area surrounding the major wound. The boy whimpered again. The man looked at him questioningly.
"It hurts," the boy said piteously.
"I understand, but the stick must be removed. This will only hurt for a moment, I promise." The boy nodded, his dark eyes wide with fearful anticipation as the stranger focused his equally dark eyes on the task in front of him. In one smooth motion, the stick was extracted. Tears came to the boy's eyes, and as one of the stranger's hands spread medicinal balm over the wound, the other ran its fingers gently across the boy's forehead. "It is all right now."
The numbing effects of the balm quickly set in, and by the time the stranger had finished wrapping the wound in gauze, the pain had all but vanished.
"What is your name, child?" the stranger asked softly.
"Yasuo," the boy answered, his voice almost painfully innocent. He bowed as best he could while sitting on a table.
The stranger turned away from the boy. "It is as I thought," the stranger said to himself. His voice was distant and slightly mournful.
"What is your name, sir?" Yasuo asked respectively.
"At this time, I do not have a name. I am a samurai, awaiting the battle that will return my name to me," the man explained. The boy took in this information solemnly, although he was very confused.
Now that his injury was taken care of, Yasuo took the time to better explore his surroundings. "Why do you have a picture of a demon on your wall?" Yasuo asked. The man looked at him quizzically, and the boy pointed at one of the portraits in response.
"That is no demon. That is a Scotsman, a person."
"I have never heard of a person with red hair before," the boy said skeptically, if politely.
"The Scotsman is from a land where all the people have red hair." The man's voice dropped to a sadder tone. "He was an excellent warrior, and a good friend."
"Who is the cat goddess?" the boy asked, pointing at another picture.
"She was a scientist, a very intelligent being who made a noble sacrifice on behalf of the universe," the man explained, again in a sad tone of voice.
The boy glanced about the room, noticing a picture half hidden in the corner. "Were you also friends with a green-skinned lady?" he asked, voice totally void of sarcasm.
"She was not a friend. She was…someone I should remind myself of, so I do not fall into the same trap again," the man said wearily. Changing the topic before the child could ask another question, the man asked, "How did you come across my home?"
Yasuo suddenly looked rather sheepish. "I was chasing a cricket and… got lost," he admitted.
A playful glint entered the man's eyes for the first time that night. He took out a square sheet of cream colored paper and, within seconds, folded it into a cricket. He held it out to the boy, who took it with delight. "Can you show me how to do that?"
The man nodded and sat down beside the boy. A quick and dedicated student, it only took Yasuo three tries before he succeeded. Beaming with pride, he held the crumpled cricket out to his instructor, who seemed just as pleased with his success. A glance outside the lantern-lit hut showed that the sun had already set and darkness was enveloping the land.
"It is late. Your parents will be worried. We need to get you home," the man observed.
Yasuo nodded and slid off the table and onto the floor. He unsuccessfully tried to hide the look of pain that crossed his face as his knee protested the extra weight. Seeing this, the man again reached over and lifted the boy off the ground. Choosing comfort over dignity, the boy wrapped his arms around the man and held on securely. With a serene gracefulness of stride, the man set off towards the village, his steps smooth so he wouldn't bother Yasuo's injury.
The man didn't notice the exact moment Yasuo fell asleep. Head resting against his shoulder, hands softly clenching the silken white fabric, Yasuo was the very picture of innocence. The man couldn't bear to look at the boy's face. That very innocence would be irreparably broken in less than a year's time, and the man was forbidden to do anything about it.
The pair reached the edge of the village, the main city street, and finally the great palace towered before him.
"Yasuo," the man whispered, carefully shaking the boy awake. "Yasuo, you're home."
The boy blinked twice before fully opening his eyes. "How'd you know where I live?" he asked sleepily.
"Your parents are probably very worried. You should go to them," the man instructed, not answering the boy's question. He set the boy down on the highest step, brushed away a stray lock of ebony hair, and kissed him on the forehead. "Take care." He pulled the cord that would announce their presence. Masked by the ringing bell, the man added, "And, I'm sorry."
The doorway opened. "Mother! Father!" the boy cried as the two parents gathered him in a warm hug. Yasuo turned back to where the man was standing, only to find that his friend had mysteriously disappeared.
From the shadows, the man who for a time was called Jack watched as his parents held onto the child. A solitary tear traced a silvery path down his face. Too soon, the family had gone back inside the palace, leaving the man alone with his thoughts.
Weaving drunkenly, he staggered out of his hiding place and back towards his makeshift home. The moonlight caressed his ebony hair, turning the dark strands into raven's wings. Seeing his parents—his father, so strong, his mother, so compassionate—had almost made him break the most important promise he had made.
He wanted to scream, "Aku is coming!" He wanted to tell everyone of Aku's weakness, the one that would be his downfall. He wanted to protect his parents, his younger self from the terrible things he knew would happen. He wanted all this, but he remained silent and still.
The voice of the cat-like scientist echoed in his head. "I can send you back in time to before Aku began his conquest of your village, but you must promise me one thing: You must not interfere with your past. Your life must follow the exact same route that it has already, or else you will never have the proper training, never travel forward through time, never learn Aku's weakness, and never meet someone like me who will send you back with that knowledge. Until the time when your younger self is thrown into the future, you must allow Aku to reign, no matter what you feel you must do. Do you understand? Promise me you won't interfere."
Jack had promised.
Then, in a broken voice, the feline woman continued. "You must also promise me one more thing. If you succeed and defeat Aku in the past, you will forever change the future. That means that I, and all the people you have met in this time, may never exist. You will be the only person who traveled to this future, the one where I'm alive. So please, please promise me…" her voice broke off. He prompted her to continue. "Promise me you'll remember me. I'm willing to never exist if it means a universe without Aku, but just…just remember me: Po. Remember all of us."
He had agreed. What other honorable choice did he have? He agreed to her terms and traveled back in time to a year before Aku started his reign of terror. From that point on, the man had simply waited for his opportunity.
When he was younger, he was known as Yasuo. When he was fighting in the future, he was known as Jack. Now that he was waiting, he allowed himself no name and bided his time fulfilling his second promise, carefully creating records of all the people he had met during his journey to the future. He would pass his time this way until the day he could fight again. Perhaps, the very hour after that fateful day, he would be known as Yasuo again.
Note: Yasuo is a traditional Japanese name meaning "Peaceful One." This is not a canon name. Neither is Po.