Makoto: Honesty

It is not better at home. They fight, and when they're not fighting, they fuck like water spirits flowing into each other. Jensen is losing the rhythm, everything feels wrong, off. If he could only name what the problem was, perhaps it would be better. Perhaps he could solve it. But as it stands, things just keep catching and jerking and stuttering down.

They get a mission, and it's a godsend. There have been accusations made about a smuggling ring in Oregon territory, and the samurai are required to go sort it out. When they are finished, they are to return to the palace in Kyoto and report.

A peasant uprising is taking place against the governor. Investigation reveals the noble to be corrupt, and Jensen stamps his reports - brimming with pictures and first-hand accounts of neglect of public works, abuse of privilege and sixteen hour work days - and sends them out by courier. The people they interviewed were wary of them at first, two Japanese samurai from Texas. But they proved their honor and their honesty, and they were hailed as heroes - by everybody but the governor, of course. Still, his successor was pleased, so it worked out reasonably well.

That night, as they wait for the paperwork to reach Kyoto, Jensen practices in the pagoda's dojo. The shogun needs to review his report, approve the change in administration and call back, which won't happen until morning, American time, so he's got time to kill.

When the soft applause comes, Jensen finishes his kata slow, sweeping his sword to the side and holding perfectly still, perfectly positioned. He smiles, feels the sweat drip from his hair and the back of his neck and go sliding down his back.

But when he turns, there is a tall, beautiful woman standing there, and his smile fades. He bows and sheathes his sword in one movement. "My apologies, ambassador. I thought you were my student."

She smiles and glides into the room on cat's feet. "I'm not saying I'm averse to the concept," she says. Her tone is playful, but it puts an odd strain on the Japanese syllables. "But I don't know if I'm tall enough."

Of course that's ridiculous - she's a freakin Amazon - and so Jensen smiles at her. "I don't know," he says, switching to English, since that's clearly where she's comfortable. "I bet you could find some heels."

She blushes and looks down at her shoes, smiling. "Katas in heels? Now I know you're joking."

Jensen smiles. He likes the humility of her, the humor, and of course the long, unbound blonde hair. It's been years since he's seen hair like that, and it reminds him of home. "Got me," he says, spreading his hands. "I gotta start learning not to trust movies."

She laughs wryly. "You and me both. If I believed what the movies told me I'd need a husband and two kids by now."

He returns that smile, he likes her. "May I walk you to your rooms? It's late, I was just finishing up anyway."

"That'd be nice," she says, peeking up through her lashes at him with a little smile.

Jensen supposes he should feel a little flutter in his stomach. She's exactly the kind of woman he likes, sweet and kissable, all-American hottie. But what he feels in his stomach is more of a sinking, and he tries to keep it off his face as he nods, and moves up beside her.

"Everything okay?" she asks as they walk out of the dojo, a concerned look on her face.

He waves his hand dismissively. "Fine, fine. Must have ate something funky."

"Oh, no. You didn't try anything with surprise in the name, right, because I don't care how long you've been out of America..."

She stops, and smiles, because he's laughing too much to really pay attention.

They walk and talk. Turns out Ambassador Palicki is from Ohio, likes sci-fi (especially "Lost In Space", which she used to watch with her father) and worked her ass off to get this job. Jensen approves wholeheartedly of hard work, so he asks her some questions about her rising star, and she tells him a story about this one time stealing staplers from three floors up, because the boss wanted the pages bound in a particular way and that was just that. She persuaded the copy guy to be her decoy and snuck into the file cabinet while the secretary's back was turned.

When they arrive at her door, Jensen is convinced that if this girl spends the rest of her life as the senior ambassador to Oregon district, his shogun will never have to worry about trouble in the area again. They arrive at her door and she smiles. "Well, this is me."

He bows, short and informal. "I'm glad to see you home safely."

She bows to him a little, too, unused to it but knowing enough to stay low for a little longer than he did before standing again. "You're an excellent bodyguard, samurai-sama," she smiles up at him, her blue eyes sparkling beautiful.

Jensen's smile fades. This would be the perfect time to kiss her.

He bows again. "It is a pleasure to serve," he says. "Good night, Ambassador."

He doesn't run back to the dojo, but it's a healthy stride.

It makes no sense, he thinks, as he slams the doors to the dojo open. The mats are still warm from his feet, and he brings his sword whistling out of its sheath to whip it into the first kata.

She's exactly his type, he thinks, slicing the air. She laughs with him. She's stacked. She's blonde.

He slides into the second kata, his sword flicking back and forth, and then the third.

He ought to have kissed her. He ought to have at least thought about kissing her. He must marry a Japanese woman, but he's a samurai, not a saint.

Fourth kata, fifth, he feels the bindings on his katana's hilt bite into his palms and burn against his fingers.

He pictures her hair again, just the right amount of curl. She's so tall, he loves it when they're tall, and her sense of humor can't be beat.

Sixth, seventh, eighth, faster and faster, Jensen slays imaginary enemies on all sides, focusing deeply. These exercises are second nature, ingrained, sense memory.

She's the kind of girl he could fall for, he thinks, fall in love with. Give himself to. Allow the things he dares not allow anybody, but with her perfect hazel eyes...

Are her eyes hazel, or brown? Or blue?

Why would he think hazel?

The ninth kata slides by, and Jensen throws himself into the tenth with such vigor that he feels the short sounds come sharply from his throat, an early habit. He feels his hands strengthen, his focus narrow, and when he adds a spinning slash to the end of the kata, the feel of something giving way under his blade is terribly satisfying. There is a sharp sound of tearing metal, and a heavy thump and jingle as the punching bag falls to the ground.

Half of a neatly severed link of chain pings softly over the mats.

In his mind's eye, Jensen sees perfectly the laughing hazel eyes of his shudo student.

The sword falls from his numb fingers, and he sinks to his knees.

He is in love.

In the morning, the fax comes back from the Gosho. The shogun is very pleased, and he is calling them home.

~

They lie in Jensen's bed with the colorful beginning of dusk shining softly at the window. Sunsets are beautiful this high on the mountain, with the trees and water all around them to diffuse and refract. They are sweaty and pleasantly tired, Jensen on his back and Jared leaning on one elbow with his back to the sun.

"Where do you come from?" Jared asks, with a kind of idle wonder. It's a rhetorical question; he traces the lines of Jensen's chest with his fingertips, mapping and memorizing.

Jensen, his eyes closed to enjoy the touches, grins wide. "You mean what kinda rock did I crawl out from under?"

Jared slaps his chest. "Don't be a dick. I mean... I know who you are, I think. And I know the shit everybody knows about you, white lightning dragon guy, whatever."

"White hound," Jensen murmurs, smiling sleepily.

"Whatever. I just mean... where do you really come from, y'know? What were you like as a kid? I wanna know."

Jensen opens his eyes and sees a gentle smile, sharp eyes, a curious face. The heavy thud in his chest answers the question for him, and so he sighs. "Okay. But I hope you got some time."

"I'm not real busy just now," Jared grins, and so Jensen takes in a deep breath and starts to tell. They talk deep into the night, and by the time they're done, things haven't changed at all – except how they have.

~

Jensen's father was an Anglican bishop; his mother, the bishop's wife, a high-born British aristocrat. He was born in Tokyo, and as chance would have it, his mother was out shopping when her labor began. Instead of being born at the embassy, Jensen came into the world at a nearby hospital, and due to a peculiar alignment of the stars, it seemed the hospital was besieged with expectant mothers. A mix-up occurred, and when the hospital delivered a dark-haired, sharp-eyed baby to the Ackles' room, havoc reigned. Somehow, the hospital had lost Baby Boy Ackles. Orderlies were dispatched to every floor, and twenty terrible minutes ticked by.

Finally, with Mrs. Ackles in tears and Bishop Ackles threatening lawsuit, in walked an old man. He had in his arms the missing baby, and he placed the child in the arms of his mother. "I believe," he said, in broken English, "that you have misplaced this."

She cried and thanked him, and cuddled the baby to her chest. His tiny body gave a little sigh as he settled against her, and fell asleep.

In an effort to forestall any legal action of any kind, Japan's government made an official apology to the embassy and issued little Jensen honorary Japanese citizenship, in recognition of a need to see Tokyo so urgent that he made the trip when only a few hours old.

The very day after the Ackleses returned to the embassy with their bundle, there came the old man again. He spoke with the bishop and told him that his wife had passed on, his company pension had run out and his children were poor, just starting out in life and not to be burdened. If, he said, honorable sir could possibly find a place on his staff for the man who had brought his son back to him, humble servant would work very, very hard.

Of course, the bishop was happy to have him. The old man - who would identify himself only as humble Soto - was hired as the gardener, and when it became clear that the baby suffered a mild colic that would only ease when Soto was nearby, as a nanny, as well.

The boy grew up with the old man, his parents called away more and more.

On his second birthday, Jensen's father received word from London that he was being transferred - to a city called Dallas in the Watanabe shogunate. It was not so glamorous as Tokyo, but he was to be liaison to the shogun himself, and so it was a promotion. The Ackleses packed and prepared.

When Soto was informed of the change in address, he showed concern only for a moment. "May I have an evening to speak with my children?" He asked.

"Of course, Soto," the bishop allowed. "Take your time."

The elderly man appeared on the steps the next morning with a small bag in hand. The bishop asked if he had decided to leave Tokyo behind, and Soto seemed shocked. "Of course I will go with you," he said. "I would never imagine otherwise."

And so he went, and so it was that Jensen grew up in Dallas, a Japanese boy in all but skin. The piece of paper proclaiming him a citizen sat in a locked box in the bank, but it meant so much - he could go places, do things other children were not allowed to do. The Ackleses recognized the opportunity their son had, and they sent him to martial arts classes, Japanese etiquette classes, and all sorts of others intended to pave his way.

Every night when Jensen returned home, Soto would spend at least an hour undoing the wretchedness that had been perpetrated against the boy. Where the school said it was all right that Jensen could not use his right hand as well as his left, Soto instructed him to practice twice as hard with the right, so it too would be strong. Where the schools said bow, Soto taught him for how long, and how deeply. And when the school's sensei taught the child to punch, to kick, and never to do so unless threatened, Soto showed him why.

At the old master's feet, Jensen learned about pain and strength, about duty and honor. His bishop father took him to church and taught him the bible, but Soto's teachings made much more sense, and they were the ones that stuck in his mind. They were basic principles, Buddhist principles, and the fanciful stories about oni and kami and the old gods amused a young boy, and so Jensen learned to follow a dozen old Shinto superstitions side by side with schoolyard rhyming wisdom.

On a particular day when Jensen was twelve years old, Soto came to him. "Little Taiki," he said, which was the secret name that Soto gave the boy. "You must come with me now. We go to temple. It is time to observe an old custom." Jensen agreed immediately, put on his shorts and shirt, and ran after Soto with ease. He liked going to temple, seeing all the monks and statues and smelling the fragrant incense.

But when they reached the road to their temple, Soto turned away. Jensen asked why, "Master, where are we going?" But Soto urged him to be silent.

They arrived at a small temple that Jensen had never been to. Ducking inside, Jensen looked with awe at the gold and jewels, the jade and carved rock everywhere, cluttered amongst incense and coins and silk-wrapped gifts. Everywhere - on the sculpture, on the wind chimes, etched into the very walls themselves - was the image of a rearing horse, pawing the air with its hooves.

"Master, master," Jensen said, tugging on Soto's sleeve. "What is this place?"

People looked at them, at Soto's long white hair and wizened face, and at Jensen's wide, round eyes and little pink cupid's bow mouth forming the Japanese words. Their faces were confused and wary.

Every one of them, old women and young men, little girls and their grandfathers, every one was Japanese.

Soto inclined his head only a fraction, and straightened it. Jensen was astonished - since he had known Soto, which was forever, Soto had always bowed deep and low.

The people in the shrine bowed their heads to Soto, one after another.

In a gesture as old as Jensen himself, Soto extended his free hand. The other held a paper bag, wrinkled and old. Out of habit, Jensen took that steady, solid hand, and held it close.

Soto advanced at a careful walk, slowing to accommodate Jensen's smaller steps. When they arrived at the altar, Soto bent forward to have a whispered conversation with the priest there. A few coins changed hands, and the scattered assembly bowed their heads.

Soto turned to address them. "Honored guests. This is my son, Soto Taiki." There was a shushing sound as people whispered between them, but Soto did not budge.

Jensen tugged his sleeve again. "But master," he whispered, sensing the need for privacy. "I am not your son."

"You are in the ways that matter here," Soto whispered back.

Jensen settled onto his heels, confused. But he had always trusted Soto, and that trust had never been misplaced. As far as Jensen was concerned, Soto was the most honorable man alive.

His master turned to the crowd again. "My little Taiki has reached his twelfth year, and today he will undertake the genpuku. As we have no family here, Taiki would be honored if you would bear witness." The priest came up with some scissors and a comb, and Soto set the bag down.

The people came up, then, one at a time. They introduced themselves to Jensen, kneeling down to be on the same level as he. Here was a banker and his wife, here a man who had a little sushi shop. Here was a mother and her little girl (ten years old; Jensen blushed when he shook her hand and she did the same), and here an old woman, with hands like paper.

Konichiwa, Taiki-kun, they said. We would be honored to attend the coming of age for the son of a man like your father. You are most blessed. Soto interjected with a smile that it was he who was blessed to be given such a child to raise.

Jensen had never been the center of attention like this, except to be presented to church officials or English nobility as part of the family assets – these are our sons, this is our daughter, this is our house. This was the first time so many people had paid attention to him, were interested in him, directly.

"Soto-san," he whispered, afraid. "I don't know what is proper, please."

"I apologize for not explaining," Soto said quietly. "But there was no time. You have already done the work for this - just try to listen, and learn."

Jensen made nervous fists, but controlled his breathing just as Soto had taught him to do on sunny afternoons in the garden. With that to help him, he focused his attention and pushed the fear aside. "Hai," he said, and bowed just a little.

Soto smiled, and then turned away to unwrap his parcel and lay things out on the silk that covered the shrine's altar.

Jensen looked around the temple. There were items of tremendous beauty here, the flowing manes of the horses like banners in the wind, calling to war. Their eyes were proud and fierce, Jensen could see, and he felt his heart pull toward them, up high to the roof. He wanted to be like them, he thought - perhaps he could learn to ride.

The paintings and statues seemed to shimmer in the golden candlelight, those noble eyes looking down on him, witnessing this - what had Soto said? "Genpuku" – this coming of age. Jensen made a little bow toward the horses on the walls, feeling their kami deserved the respect.

A gentle breeze slid through the shrine, flickering the candlelight, and the people whispered again.

Soto turned to face him. "Little Taiki. Come, up here."

Jensen mounted the steps, one-two, and stood before Soto with his hands folded and his head bowed, waiting.

Soto held out to him a bundle wrapped in paper. "Here," he said gently. "This is a gift to you."

Surprised, Jensen blinked and took it. The paper crinkled under his hands, and he opened it to reveal a proper kimono, and underneath that, a folded suit. There was an obi for the kimono and a tie for the suit, folded in perfect lengths on top. Jensen bowed deeply, not knowing quite what to do. "Domo arigato, Soto-san."

Soto bowed back, and when they rose, Soto put a hand on his shoulder. "I am pleased to gift you with your first set of adult clothing, my son. May you always be prepared for whatever comes to you. Please, turn."

Jensen turned to face the altar, and his old friend put a cloth on the back of his neck. Jensen felt a comb run through his hair, pulling it all back from the loose-around-the-shoulders style he and the boys at his school had always favored. Soto gathered it into a ponytail at the back of his head, straight back from his face, which Jensen had never liked as a hairstyle, but it seemed inappropriate to interrupt. So the boy studied the altar in detail and waited.

When Soto was pleased with the results, he quickly plaited the light locks into a short braid. Jensen felt it tugging on him, and bore it patiently. Finally, there was a quicksilver snip-snip-snip, and Jensen knew that sound perfectly. "Master!" he whispered, and glanced down at his feet to see the wisps of hair covering the floor.

"Shh," Soto said, tying off the braid with an elastic. He turned Jensen again and met his startled eyes. "Now, my son, you are past childhood. Let others always see you as you are, as I see you."

Jensen looked around at the faces in front of him - they all were bowed and respectful. He began to feel that he didn't know quite what was going on here, but he did remember the edict to listen and learn. So he listened with all his soul, until he thought he heard hoof beats, fast and thundering.

"Honored guests," Soto pronounced in formal tones. "Please greet my son: Takehiko Soto."

The first Japanese word Jensen ever learned was taiki, meaning great radiance. It was Soto's special name for him, his student name. It was common practice between a devoted sensei and a favored student to have a fond nickname, something to build on when it came time to choose a samurai name. But this...

Jensen listened to his friend, his almost-father, call him bamboo prince, soldier prince, and felt the red climb his cheeks. Suddenly, he felt, the whole world had shifted its great and terrible eyes to look at him for a moment, and he didn't know what to do.

"Master?" He asked, but was drowned out by the applause and the smiles, these people he'd never met who were suddenly his friends.

He swore, at the time, that he could smell horses.

~

The night is all around them. They have twisted and turned a dozen times until they finally reversed; Jared is on his back, and Jensen is on his side, leaning on one elbow.

Jared looks up at Jensen with wide eyes. They are dark against his face, which is dark against the white pillowcase. "So... then what happened?"

Jensen smiles. "We went home. My parents were surprised at my new haircut, but sensei-sama convinced them it was fashionable."

"No," Jared says, his fine brows drawing together. "I meant, who was Soto-san? Did you ever find out?"

"Oh, yes," Jensen says, bowing his head reverently. "He was known by many names, but the one he gave to me when I was old enough to ask was Goichi Oda."

Jared stares at him. "Goichi Oda?"

"Yes."

"The Goichi Oda? You mean the man that all yakuza wanna be when they grow up, that Goichi Oda?"

"Yes."

"You were trained by Goichi-"

Jensen cuts him off, smiling. "Yes, Jeichan, yes. Goichi Oda, master of martial arts and Zen practice, man of unimpeachable honor, yakuza ronin, yes. Goichi Oda."

"Shit."

"No shit, shit," Jensen grins. "Think I was born this awesome?"

"I had my suspicions," Jared says, smiling back. "Okay, so, what'd he teach you? I mean, show me everything."

Jensen shakes his head, grinning. "Well, the first thing he taught me was patience. You wanna hear the rest of this story or not?"

Jared pushes his chest, flat handed and hard. "God, you're such a tease."

"Is that a yes, or..."

"Tell me, senseidono," Jared murmurs, cutting him off with gentle breath across his skin. "And I will make it worth your while."

Jensen raises an eyebrow. "That's a confident promise," he says.

"I'm a confident guy."

Jensen laughs and brushes his hand across Jared's shoulder, soft and relaxed. "All right, shudo student. I will tell you the teachings of my master, and then you can show me what you've learned. " He kisses Jared's hair, and then his neck, enjoying the warm inertia of the man beneath him.

"Deal," Jared says, shifting just a little.

Jensen leans his head on his hand and thinks back to where he was in the story. "So, yes. Soto-san taught me... jiu-jitsu, of course. I told him what I had seen in the shrine and he convinced my parents to let me try horseback riding. I learned mounted combat, cavalry maneuvers and, most of all, the ease with which a man and a horse may talk to one another, despite the language barrier."

Jared laughs and shifts closer to Jensen's chest.

"Don't make fun," Jensen kindly admonishes. "Shinto is not a required part of bushido, but it doesn't hurt to know."

"Do you practice Shinto?" Jared asks, surprised.

"Now and then," replies Jensen, offhand.

Jared laughs again. "I wasn't aware it was a now-and-then kind of thing."

"Sure it is," Jensen says, smiling. "Later, I'll take you out to the garden and show you the prayer lantern."

Jared makes a little scowl, pushing his face against Jensen's chest and gripping his waist. "I don't know the right way," he says. "You always gotta know the right way in the Empire or you offend eighteen different people just by wakin up in the morning."

It's Jensen's turn to laugh - it seems his student is forever drawing that from him, no matter how terrible things have been. "I promise, you will offend no-one by praying. Besides," he says, allowing a little seriousness to drift into his tone. "It can't hurt, given the givens."

Jared stills, and nods. "All right," he says, his voice drifting across Jensen's stomach. It's light, weightless, like nothing about Jared should be - even his breath should have heat - and Jensen almost regrets bringing up the subject.

He squeezes Jared's shoulder a little tighter, and then eases up. "So. What have you learned from my stories about Dallas, hm?"

Jared's hair tickles, his hand is warm and heavy. "Well, I know why you're the best, now."

"All right," Jensen says softly, rubbing the fine skin. "What else?"

"I learned that you're not coughing up any hidden samurai secrets, you tight-lipped bastard."

Jensen laughs. "Respect, Jeichan."

"I learned you got no shame at all," Jared rumbles, pushing at him, restless and annoyed.

Jensen allows it, more amused than anything. "Okay, then. Anything else?"

Jared makes an unhappy sound. "Man, I was just makin conversation, I didn't know you were gonna make me think. If it's a lesson, can it maybe wait 'til later?"

Gently, Jensen strokes his back. "Of course, Jeichan. Of course."

~

It is late afternoon in the Gosho's audience hall. Officials have gone home for the day and all is quiet. Shogun Watanabe has pulled off his robes and slung them over the arm of his throne so he can relax; so much preparation, so much work. He drinks a little water from a cup at his side and tries to stretch a crick out of his neck.

He's very tired.

The Kanrei is the first to answer his summons, and he smiles. "Rinko-san. I haven't seen you much today."

She gives him a warm tilt of her lips in return, folding herself down on one of the cushions nearby. "It's been busy," she says. "Some of your initiatives have taken some serious work to get done - wrap-up is important."

"Ah, cross every I, dot every T," he smiles. "I will see you in the dojo again soon, I hope? I am interested to see what your latest studies there have taught you."

She smiles wider, a little more fiercely. "Any time you're ready, Watanabe-san, but I will tell you that you remain the best sensei I have had the privilege of learning from."

The shogun nods and smiles. Then, with some more seriousness, he lays a hand on her shoulder. "I'm proud of you, Rinko-san. I have laid much at your feet, and you have done everything I have asked, better than I could have hoped."

She turns her face to the ground in a seated bow, and he can see her cheeks glow pink. "Domo arigato, Watanabe-san. You are most kind."

He can hear the waver in her voice, and smiles, patting her shoulder.

Across the hall, someone clears his throat. Both of them look toward the sound. "Ah, Toshiro-san!" Watanabe smiles. "Please, come."

Toshiro does just that, moving forward and up the stairs, just as Rinko did. He executes a short, crisp bow before tugging a pillow out to sit on. "You called, Ken-san?"

Rinko makes a little face at the familiarity, but Watanabe ignores it. Rinko's a bit of a stickler for propriety, but she didn't know Toshiro back when neither of them could grow a beard and sparring mostly included throwing rocks at pigeons. "I did," he answers. "But before we get down to brassy tacks, allow me to say it is good to see you, my friend. You don't come around the Gosho much."

"I don't often get time outside my duties," Toshiro allows. "But you are right. It has been too long a time. You should come to the dojo, perhaps. Stay for sake, ah? We can keep the bureaucrats and politicians away from you for some small time, I'm sure."

Watanabe meets the grin with one of his own, and then claps him on the shoulder. "Sometime soon, perhaps. But I know you're both very busy, so don't let me get distracted. I asked you both here to discuss Colonel Ackles's young protégé."

Toshiro sits back, smiling. "Lieutenant Padalecki. He's doing very well."

"Your pardon, general, but so what?" Rinko's nose and brow are lined with distaste, and she turns her face to Watanabe. "He could be the best samurai in Japan, but so long as he's not Japanese, the buke will hate him. And so they do. You heard about what happened in Kami-Hiraya."

Toshiro immediately jumps in. "I thought they did very well in Hiraya."

The shogun leans back in his chair as Rinko turns to face the general. "With all due respect, general, are you feeling all right?"  She lifts one cool eyebrow at him. "They shot up a manor house and treated the buke there like children."

Toshiro's eyebrows pull together, irritable. "Well, perhaps the honorable gentlemen shouldn't have acted like children," he fires back.

"Please," Watanabe says, raising his hands. "I did hear about that. What else? What are they saying, Rinko?"

"It's not good," Rinko tells him, the chill in her voice fading and the worry coming back. "They say that Watanabe Shogunate is sullying itself by allowing these... people into the ranks of the samurai. There has been talk of appealing to you, sir, to have General Mifune replaced with someone more..."

Toshiro looks at her, flat and uncompromising.

"...exacting?" she finishes sweetly.

"Kyoto Dojo produces the finest samurai in the Empire," Toshiro bites off. "Bar none."

"There are some," she allows, raising her hands in a gesture of placation. "Raidon Satoko is one of the most promising young men on the Imperial islands."

Toshiro rolls his eyes. "Raidon Satoko is a fool."

"Enough", Watanabe says, rubbing his fingers over his eyes. "I believe I have the point. What of his training, Toshiro-san? He is capable?"

"And more than." Toshiro smiles. "The colonel's letters are... well, it is high praise, coming from him."

Rinko makes a little sound, a huff of breath. Watanabe turns to her. "Surely you heard about Portland, Rinko-san."

Her mouth tightens. "I did," she says. "I could find no wrong with their handling of that situation. Profits fluctuated for a while, but the crime rate has steadily dropped and the hospitals complain less now."

"There," Watanabe says. "So that's one solid mark in the plus column, I hope?"

Rinko shakes her head. "Perhaps. But the buke are not the only ones to talk, Watanabe-san. I understand you wanting your experiment to succeed, but even in the country there is talk of this boy. A samurai with no father?"

Watanabe nods. "I know. That's a difficulty for him."

Reluctantly, Toshiro sighs, and turns his face away. "It would be difficult enough for any fatherless man to be a samurai, let alone a white man."

"Precisely." Rinko's voice has grown empathetic again, worried. "I have even heard rumors from some friends in the palace. The very liberal might excuse one fault or the other, but both? It is hurting you, sir. And the Shogunate too."

"I know," he says, his heart heavy. "I know. I will do what is right, Rinko, you have my word on that. My people will never suffer under my care."

Rinko smiles. "I know, tonosama. I am fortunate to serve you."

Toshiro glares at her for a moment, and then looks up at Watanabe. "He has done you proud, tonosama. So much as a man may do on his own accord, he has done. I hope that, whatever his final disposition, that is taken into account."

"I assure you that it will, Toshiro-san." Watanabe smiles at him, and then at his second in command. "Thank you both. You have done exceptional work and I prize you both for it."

They stand and bow, preparing to depart.

As they move toward the door, Watanabe calls out. "Hiroshi-san?"

The two pause, and Abe materializes from behind some drapes to bow low. "Watanabe-sama. I beg your pardon. I was concerned for your health."

Rinko nods and turns to leave. Toshiro turns to look at the shogun with a raised eyebrow. But Watanabe just waves his hand. "It's fine. Please, Hiroshi-san, I believe I'll go to temple. Arrange for my car, please. I will bathe and then I wish to leave."

Abe bows very low. "Of course, tonosama. It shall be done. General, is there anything I can help you with?"

"No," Toshiro says, caution still on his face. "I'll take my leave. Ken-san. Have a pleasant evening."

"And you, my friend," Watanabe smiles, and sighs when the door closes behind him. Abe disappears again, and Watanabe drags himself up off the chair and heads down the hallway, toward the onsen. His feet are heavy, and his shoulders low.

He knows what must be done.

~

Jensen butters some toast while Jared's voice fills the room, animated and good in the warm morning sun.

"So I was walking out of the kasho, along the mountain. It got really dark and so I drew my katana, but it wasn't mine, it was iron and really heavy. I could hardly see enough to put one foot in front of the other, and I was tripping, y'know, branches cutting my face, and I didn't know which way was home, and then I saw this white light. Faint, like, sneaking behind some bushes. So I went over and looked, and then all of a sudden this huge wind was blowing in my face and I fell right on my ass."

"And I'm there, right, with this big honkin sword in my hand that I don't know, and this wolf comes out from behind the bush. And he's snarling at me, and he's got these huge teeth, and he's pissed, and man, I'm not usually scared of anything, but, like. This was the biggest wolf I've ever even seen, and I don't mean, like, too big to be real, but. A real wolf, with huge shoulders and his fur all standing on end, and he's growling at me, right? So I sit up and I bow to it. Cause, y'know, it's a dream, you do retarded stuff like that in a dream, right? And then he parks it and just sort of licks his chops at me for a second, and then turns and walks off, just like that." Jared claps his hands in front of him as Jensen looks on, bewildered.

Undaunted, Jared launches back into the narrative. "Well, what do you do but follow him, right? And the trees are beating on me, harder now, and I'm bleeding and stuff, but I keep going and I lose sight of the wolf, but then there's this big bronze, like, gong type thing. Round. And I don't know how I see, but it's not so dark anymore anyway. I get my reflection in the mirror, with this sword in my hand, and I stared at it for a second."

"And then I hear this girl laughing, somewhere. I look around but there's no girl, and the sound keeps moving, and finally I yell come out! and this fox comes running into the clearing. She runs up like a ninja and she just stops dead, like, on a dime. She looks at me, right? And she says, gimme your wallet, pal."

Jensen's eyes widen. "What?"

"No, seriously, man, that's what she said! She didn't move her mouth or anything, but I swear that's what she said!"

Jensen smiles and pulls a parody of the lingo they're using in Seattle. "That's wack."

"Shuddup," Jared scoffs. "You're not good at that. Okay, so, I figure what the fuck, right? It's a talking fox. And I'm in a dream, I mean, that's pretty obvious by now. So I ask her, this is a dream, right? And she says, maybe it is, and maybe it isn't. Now hand it over."

Jensen leans back in his chair. "Did you give it to her?"

"Course I gave it to her! You don't not give a dream fox your wallet, man."

"No shit."

"No shit, no shit, " Jared smiles. "So I give it to her, and then she gives me this necklace."

"Was it unbearably pretty?"

"I said shut up," Jared says, not missing a beat. "It was, like, jade and heavy, I think half a yin-yang. And she said, put it on."

"So I did, and then she turned into a woman, and it was afternoon. I think she was a different person, I mean, different than the fox. But anyway, it's high noon and she's got the goddess gear on, y'know, with the white flowing robes and the butterflies, y'know. But she says, wait for it, she says, you think if I ask real nice I can get one of those pointy hats? And I think she might mean a crown, or maybe just a... I don't know, a tiara with spikes on it or something, I don't know how I know but I know what she means, and I know it's supposed to be made out of bronze so I'm about to say I'll melt down the mirror and make her one, but she just says, that's okay, I could never lug that book around. And then she kissed my cheek and told me to watch out for snakes."

Jared looks at him, wide eyed, and then crams half a muffin into his mouth. "And then I woke up."

Jensen bursts out laughing, and even though Jared's demanding that he's totally serious, dammit, he's laughing too.

~

Late in the night, they lie in bed together. The wind is singing softly in the eaves, and they are talking quietly before sleep. Jensen is idly thinking of sex, debating whether it's worth the energy to do it now, or if it should wait until morning. It doesn't really matter either way – the days stretch out ahead of them, endless and warm. Now or later, it'll be just like this: perfect.

There is a knock at the door.

The two men look at each other, confused. In all the time Jared has been here, nobody has ever interrupted Jensen in his bedroom before. Indeed, when Jensen gets up and wraps a robe around his body to go answer the door, he half-expects the house to be burning down, such is the rarity of this sort of intrusion.

Behind the door is Masi, and Jensen can only see the top of his head, as he is already bowing. "Please forgive, Ackles-sama," he says humbly. "But you have a telephone call from Shogun Watanabe." He stands awkwardly, his face a brilliant red, and holds out a cell phone.

Jensen takes it. "Arigato, Masi, for bringing this to me right away."

With a huge, relieved smile, Masi bows low again. "Arigato, tonosama," he says, fast, already backing up toward the hall.

Jensen comes back into the room, closes the door and puts the phone to his ear. "Hai, Watanabe-san?"

"Moshi moshi, Jen-san," Watanabe says, his voice clear and perfect. He sounds like he used to, before all this began – like he's Jensen's friend. "I know it's late, but I'm going to be near your house in the early morning and I wondered if I could stop in."

Jensen blinks, seeing Jared's confused look out of the corner of his eye. "Uh. Of course, Watanabe-san. Of course you can. I'll have the guest room made, if you'd like to get some rest."

Jared's eyes go wide.

"Please, my friend, only if it's no trouble."

"No trouble at all," Jensen says, too shell-shocked to do much else.

"Then I thank you," Watanabe says, sounding oddly sincere. "I should arrive in the early hours... unless that is inconvenient?"

"My home is your home," Jensen replies, automatically. His friends can come and go as they please, and no matter how Watanabe's been acting lately, Jensen still thinks of him in that light. "We'll see you then."

"Domo, Jen-san," Watanabe says, and then the line is blank.

Jared and Jensen stare at each other for a long moment before Jared breaks the silence. "What in the fuck was that?"

"I'll be goddamned if I know," Jensen replies.

Jared climbs out of bed and grabs a robe. "Something's gotta be wrong."

"Well, it sure as hell isn't right," Jensen says worriedly, and when Jared's belted his robe, he opens the door and calls out for Masi.

~

The shogun arrives at dawn, alone in a black sedan.

Jared stands on the steps and looks back over his shoulder at Jensen (in the doorway, waiting) and they trade the same look they've been trading in quiet moments ever since this phone call arrived – in between the frantic getting ready, the phone calls to the village about food, a thousand demands about how many people the shogun usually has with him and what he'll be expecting. The kitchen's been a wreck, Takashi yelling his head off at anybody who comes in the door. All the field hands were running around in the dead of night giving last minute trims to the hedges, and all the older relatives were inside helping the house servants to air and prepare everything six times. More than once, Jensen has seen Masi hurrying past him, whispering under his breath: "Please don't let him bring the entourage, o holy Shinto, don't let him bring the entourage."

Nobody was expecting this.

The shogun retrieves his bag from the car (just one bag; a carved, cherry wood valise) and climbs the stairs. At the top, Jared bows deeply, and he bows in return.

Which, of course, is insane. Usually the shogun inclines his head if he wishes to show favor, and that only to ranking officials and close friends. But this time, the shogun puts his case down on the ground, clasps his hands in front of him and bows from the waist; not too low, or too long, but a serious bow. Jared just stares at him.

Jensen receives almost the same bow, just a little more, and of course he nearly genuflects. Obviously, he knows, this is a case of some seriousness, whatever the cause. "Please," he says, gesturing inside as Masi appears, picking up the shogun's valise and disappearing again almost before he's noticed. "Please, sensei. My home is your home."

They lead him inside, through the house. Watanabe comments a couple of times on how lovely the kasho is – not the first time he or anybody else have done so – and Jensen accepts the praise with pride.

Before they leave the shogun to rest after his journey, he turns to them both and says, "You both have earned respect. I was not sure I could trust you with him," he says to Jensen, "but he has learned much under your teachings. I hardly recognize the boy I gave to you."

Jensen bows, and Jared follows suit. Jensen isn't sure what's going on, exactly, but he can feel Jared's confusion at the compliment, and at the question of trust. He's not clear on it himself.

The shogun continues. "After I have rested, there is something I wish to discuss with you both. Over supper, perhaps. But... if you would oblige a cautious old man and dismiss the servants for the night, I would be grateful."

"Of course, sensei," Jensen says, immediately - even though in order to oblige the request, he will have to send the servants into town to sleep in a hotel. Whatever this is, if the shogun believes it should be secret, then it will be so. "We will be guided by your wisdom."

They eat together, a quiet meal. The shogun compliments the food, and that relieves some tension, but they have not yet been accustomed to being in the shogun's presence without yelling happening, and so.

At the end, they go to the library to smoke and drink, as is custom.

"You wonder why I am here," the shogun tells them, and his head is bowed.

They know better than to answer.

"I have come to a crossroads in my life," the shogun tells them. "The direction I know must take is difficult to choose, but I believe it is necessary. And you will need to know some things before I can move forward." He smokes a little, from a cigarette. It makes him look ordinary, and Jensen feels his heart go out to this man - his shoulders are bowed, as if carrying something heavy, and Jensen dos not doubt it will do him good to unburden.

Watanabe-shogun sighs a little. "And I have something to ask of you, my young samurai. It may not be easy for you, but I beg you to consider carefully before turning me away."

Now, this, even Jared knows the answer to. "Whatever I have is yours," he says, bowing his head. "Whatever service I may give to my shogun is his to command."

But Watanabe shakes his head. "No, Jared-san. This favor is not for the shogun. It is for me."

They both stare. That the shogun would give Jared the respect accorded to an adult, that he would ask something personal... Jensen is utterly flummoxed, as Jared clearly is too.

"Please," Jared says, shaking his head a little. "Ask."

The shogun waves his hand. "No, no. First, I tell you what I have kept locked in my heart for two full turns of the stars, and more. Then, I will ask you what I must, and you will decide whether you will give me what I require... if you will help me."

A terrible, sinking feeling begins to build deep in the pit of Jensen's stomach. A samurai would only ask for help like this for one thing.

But surely that is impossible. This is the shogun, a more honorable man does not exist. So he pushes it aside, and settles in to listen. If Jared cannot help the shogun with whatever he needs, perhaps Jensen can.

"A long time ago," the Shogun's story begins, "my father told me I would one day be shogun. He told me about America, about the territories I would rule, and he said he was sending me to live there, to learn about my people. A ruler, he said, cannot hope to rule wisely if he does not know his people."

"Of course I objected. I was young, and I had no wish to leave my home, my friends. I told my father the people of the west were dirty savages and if it meant I would not be shogun, so be it." The shogun laughs, soft. "Fortunately for me, he gave me no option."

"I was miserable. I lived at the embassy and rarely left; I am ashamed to say I became a terrible racist. I called my people round-eye, gaijin, paleface; I would have done worse, but I couldn't get away with it. I was terrible at learning English, believing I had no use for such a crass tongue. I refused to attend the school because they would only teach me in English. I'm afraid I was very foolish."

"But then... I don't know who it was that decided it, but somewhere in my rebellion, I was given a tutor."

The shogun breaks off, his eyes going far away. "My marriage is arranged. I have been married since I was twelve, my wife newborn at the altar, her parents speaking her vows. She is a tremendously intelligent woman who shares my views on many things, and I have great respect for her. It is... inexcusable that I should have done what I did."

Jensen bows his head, not sure why this confession has come to them, but ashamed for this man nonetheless.

At Jensen's movement, the shogun makes a pained face. "It is worse than you imagine. Not only did I dishonor my wife, but I despite the care we took, the woman I loved bore me a child."

Jared's face hardens a little - Jensen sees him try to hide it, but it's clear enough to one who knows him well.

"What happened to him?" Jared asks, trying to sound understanding. Jensen hears the tightness in his voice.

The shogun's face tightens as well. "I was shamed, but my honor had not been completely erased. I provided care and opportunity for the boy wherever I could. His mother felt it would be better for him not to know who I was - she thought it would make him resentful. We fought about it for years; I wanted to be a part of my son's life, but she told me if I pressed the matter, she could take him and leave me. I would never hear from them again. So I had no choice but to be silent, to give what I was allowed to give and leave it at that."

"When father called me home, I thought certainly I would lose them. But fate smiled on me, and I was able to persuade him that I had grown attached to my tutor, that she was responsible for my changed outlook toward my people - and of course, she was. He allowed me to bring her with me to Japan, and I gave her and the boy a place in my house."

The shogun meets Jared's gaze steadily. Jared's eyes are showing white, and Jensen is certain his own eyes look much the same. It cannot be.

The shogun bows his head, just for a moment. "That was fifteen years ago, my son. Today."

"No," Jared says, shaking his head. "This isn't possible."

"I assure you," says the elder man, looking tired and worn. "It is the truth. I have brought shame on this family, and I come here today to rectify it."

Jared's face is going red with anger. He stands, backing up, and Jensen tenses, ready to go after him if he should bolt, or attack. But he just stares. "You're my father," he says, in a voice low with rage. "You."

Watanabe bows his head. "And now that you know the truth, I must ask your help."

Jensen's getting to his feet, moving across the room in an instant. He's not thinking; all he sees is red.

It's only one thing that could stop him, and there it is - Jared's hands on his shoulders, dragging him back and away from the shogun's calm, sad figure.

"You got no goddamn right!" Jensen shouts, furious, his English tearing the air. "How dare you come to my house, tear my lover's life apart with your own bullshit and then have the brass to ask him for a fucking thing! I'll kill you myself!" He's driving a pointed finger at the air, he can hear the part of his mind that remembers discipline screaming at him to stop but it's too quiet, everything's drowned out. Jared's voice is a low buzz in his ear, indistinguishable, but then...

"You may have to," the shogun murmurs, his head low.

Jensen stills. "What?"

Watanabe doesn't move, or raise his head. "I said you may have to. I will explain, if you will allow."

"Daijen." Jared's voice is soft and quiet in his ear. "Domo arigato. Now please... let him talk."

Reluctantly, Jensen allows his body to relax. He crosses his arms over his chest and presses his lips together, waiting.

"Arigato," Jared says again, rubbing his arm. "Watanabe-san. Please, explain."

Watanabe bows a little from his seated position, his eyes still downcast. "As you wish. With my household I have left a letter. They were to open it a day after my departure, so surely it is read by now. I have discussed the matter with my wife, and we have agreed."

He pauses on a little sigh. "My wife is a beautiful woman, but she cannot bear children. She has always wondered why I did not want to put her aside - now she knows. I am not worried about my dynasty because I already have an heir. " He lifts his eyes and looks at Jared.

"Heir?" Jared paces away, and back. "I don't even know... heir to what?"

"Everything," Watanabe says softly. "The shogunate, my wealth, everything. The letter I left contains my will, as well."

Jared looks at him, startled. "Are you dying, Watanabe-san?"

He pauses a moment, contemplative. "Yes," he says. "I plan to, yes. No child that does not bear the Watanabe name may claim rulership over the shogunate, and you are not a legitimate child. There is only one way to cleanse the taint of shame from my name, and make of it a gift to you, instead of a burden."

Jared stares at him blankly, but Jensen's sinking feeling has returned. "You cannot do this," he tells the shogun, his heart in his throat. "You cannot ask this of him, I will not allow it."

"With all due respect, honored samurai, you have no choice."

"What are you talking about?" Jared asks, getting irritated. "Jensen."

Jensen raises his hands, palm out, he can't possibly explain. This is not happening.

But the shogun's voice is calm, and quiet. "Tonight I restore my honor - and yours, my son. I have acknowledged you as my child and made my intentions plain in the letter I left. Now all that remains to be seen is who will assist me. Given the choice, I would choose you." He bows low to Jared, and as he does, he speaks. "Please accept my apology for what you have suffered. I have no one to blame but myself."

Cornered, Jared stares at him. Jensen can't look, but he can imagine the way he would look, blinded and mute.

"No."

The shogun bows lower, seeming to ignore Jared's words, his hands crossed and his fingertips touching the floor.

Jared takes a step back. "I don't want it, I don't want any of it. Tell your people you made a mistake." Jensen can hear the waver in his lover's voice, and it tears at him.

"I cannot," the shogun says, sitting up. "My name has been blackened since I first dishonored my wife. Whether it is known or not, the mark is there. I have only now found the courage to make things right."

"This isn't right," Jared whispers.

The shogun's voice is understanding, quiet. "It is, my son. I have failed you from the moment of your birth, and it is long past time that I took responsibility."

Silence stretches then, in a long, shivering line. It is fragile, tension beating through the air, but it seems to Jensen that if there are words to say, nobody wants to give them voice.

"I need time," Jared whispers. "I need to think."

"I can give you only tonight. You must be on the road to the palace by morning if you intend to claim your birthright. There will be eight weeks of mourning when the shogun dies - time for scheming." The shogun sneers a little in contempt. "If there is no clear heir to insinuate themselves with, they'll be assassinating each other in the streets. Even if you do not intend to take leadership yourself, you must go to the palace and name my successor."

Jensen looks, he can't help it.

Jared's beloved face is flushed and tense, angry and miserable and vulnerable. "You can't do this. I won't allow it."

"You know it is right," says the shogun, eyes down again. "I'm sorry for everything I have put you through, but whether I was the one to teach you or not, you were raised to believe in honor, and justice. I made your mother promise me, and she kept her word. You were a samurai without me, and I believe you will be shogun when I am gone. I have one chance to be an example for you, and I will not fail you again."

"Father," Jared says, and Jensen watches the tear slip down his cheek. "No."

Watanabe looks up, startled, and Jensen is shocked to see his face matching Jared's own, streaked and miserable. "What it means to hear you call me that."

Jared bows his head. "I will find you and lose you in the same night."

"Yes," Watanabe says, somber. "But we have some time yet."

"Dawn," Jared says, in a final tone.

"Yes. After that, you must go."

Jared nods, and silence settles again between them, like snow falling.

Jensen steps forward, halfway between father and son. He looks at neither, but at the floor. He is careful to speak softly, and firmly, but without sounding upset or irrational.

"You will give me five minutes with my student."

"Of course," the shogun says, bowing again. "I will go to my rooms and wait there." He stands, and leaves.

It's not certain who takes the first step, but Jensen is holding his lover at the end of it, so it hardly matters. "Jeichan. I'm so sorry."

"Jensen," Jared says, almost choking on the word. His arms are tight, fingers digging into Jensen's shoulders. "I can't, I can't."

"You don't have to," Jensen says, feeling it trip out of his mouth without really meaning to talk. "You don't have to do this, you don't have to go anywhere or do anything, I swear."

"Just tell me you're here with me," Jared says, his voice ragged. "Tell me no matter what happens, you'll be here."

Jensen holds tightly, his hand firm at the back of Jared's head. "I swear to you. On the grave of my mother's mother, I swear."

Jared presses his face to Jensen's shoulder. "I didn't know your grandma was dead, I'm sorry."

Jensen hesitates, but decides it's worth it. "She's not. Still kickin. But the plot's bought and paid for next to my granddad, so I figure it counts."

The silence stretches long enough that Jensen worries he's made the wrong choice. When Jared finally allows a sound to escape, Jensen worries that he might be crying until it's followed by another, and another, and Jensen clutches Jared close as he lets his tension flow out in laughter, shaking in Jensen's arms. They collapse to the floor together, Jared still laughing between the deep, gulping drafts of air.

It wasn't that funny, Jensen thinks. But that's not why he said it, anyway.

"Oh Daijen," Jared sighs after some time, more than five minutes, surely. "What should I do?"

He wants to say don't do it. Don't go with him, don't be shogun and don't be the one to end it when he does what he's going to do. Don't leave, don't go, leave it alone, pretend it never happened. Be my lover and my student, stay here with me, and if the sky should fall down around us, don't look away from my eyes.

But he can't.

"You know in your heart what is right," he says, and every word is like a knife, because Jensen knows it too. "Follow what it tells you, and know that I will be with you, whenever you want me."

Jared kisses him then, hands framing his face. "I always want you," he breathes, and they hold each other for a moment more.

Finally, they break apart. Jared stands and rights his clothes. "Don't wait for me," he says. "I don't know if I'll be in tonight."

"Hai," Jensen says, soft.

Jared lingers for just a moment more, and then squares his shoulders. When the screen door closes behind him, Jensen stays right where he is for long minutes before getting up and going to the dojo.

Jensen fights until he can't stand. It's just a workout, there's nobody to spar with him, but that's probably for the best anyway. The punching bags take his rage and pain and jealousy just fine. He falls asleep on the tatami mats.

When he rouses, it is to Jared touching his shoulder. He doesn't feel rested, and it's still dark. "Sensei. Wake up."

"Jeikun. Is it finished?"

"No," Jared says, gently. "He is still here. He wants to speak with you."

Jensen rubs his eyes and sits up. "The shogun has nerve," he grouses.

Jared smiles at him. "He scraped the floor when he bowed. I'm just shortin' it up some."

They move through the halls, the house eerily silent as they pass. Jensen misses his family, and hopes they made it to the hotel all right.

At the door to the guest room, Jared squeezes his shoulder. "Don't worry," he says. "It gets easier the longer you talk to him."

Jared knocks.

"Jenkun?" The door opens wide, and Watanabe smiles when he sees Jensen standing outside. "You came. Arigato. Please, come in. Or we can return to the dining room?"

"No," Jensen says, feeling like a shamefaced child. "It's all right, we can talk here." He walks in and Jared leaves, saying something about going to the garden. Watanabe bows, and Jared returns it before he disappears.

"He's a good boy," Watanabe smiles, coming into the room on quiet feet. "A good man, now. I know you will take good care of him. I am glad you found each other."

Jensen bows his head. "Ken-san," he says, his heart hurting in his chest. "This is too hard."

"I know," his old master responds, sitting down. "But it must be done, and the honor we do now will crown us through all the days of our lives."

"Not long enough," Jensen says sadly.

"No," Watanabe agrees. "It never is. But I consider myself lucky. I have the chance to say goodbye. I will not linger in sickness, for my family and my people to suffer. I will leave my land in the hands of those I trust, my own family, my own students. And I will die an honorable death, making the lives of my wife and son better for it. A man cannot ask for better."

Jensen nods, and says nothing.

Watanabe smiles gently. "It is hardly a comfort for you, is it?"

He shakes his head, trying not to let the sadness show. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry for me," Watanabe says, and pats Jensen's hand. The older man's skin is still healthy, but Jensen can feel the places that it's drying out, readying itself for old age that it will never see. Watanabe's voice is strong, and kind. "I have no wish to leave you, Jenkun."

"But you are," Jensen insists, surprising himself with the vehemence. "You come here and you drop this on us, you say you're going and you don't even..." He trails off, his throat closing. "Why do you have to go?" he asks, and wishes it didn't sound so hopeless.

Watanabe's kind voice smoothes over his mind, just as it always did. "You know why, my friend."

Jensen sniffs in a breath, and swallows. A moment or two passes like that, and then: "Will you watch us, when you get to heaven?"  Jensen bows his head. He sounds like a child and he can't seem to care.

"Oh, Jenkun," Watanabe sighs, and holds his hand a little tighter. "Of course. I swear it."

Something loosens in Jensen's chest, and he swallows again. "Good," he whispers.

Jared is right. After that, it is easier.

They talk for a bit, about the shogunate and the things Jared should remember in the time to come. They talk about Jensen's time training under Watanabe, and even laugh once or twice. They share tea, which Watanabe insists on pouring, to serve Jensen as a mark of the respect he is owed. "I am so proud of you, Jenkun," he says. "You are everything I wanted in a student, and in a teacher for my son." Jensen has to force back tears, but they are sprung of love, so perhaps that's all right.

And then, in the yard, a rooster crows.

The three men walk out together. Jensen carries Watanabe's katana and tanto, strapped to his belt. Watanabe and Jared are robed in formal white kimonos, and Jensen in black. They hike up to a waterfall, not too far from the house. The sunlight touches the treetops, gilding its way down as time ticks down.

"Jenkun," Watanabe says, bowing deeply.

Jensen returns the gesture, holding it as long as he feels he needs to. When he's ready, he stands and steps back.

Father and son trade the same bow, the movement so rife with respect and meaning that Jensen looks away.

Finally, it is time.

The tanto falls from the shogun's hands as he kneels by the pool, and blood begins to seep down as he grits his teeth against the pain. He makes no sound - only the rushing of the falls is heard, and the sound of birds greeting the sun.

Light glances off the sparkling water, and off the rocks.

Jared puts his hand out. Jensen meets his eyes, warning, but Jared keeps holding it there, his eyes deep and impenetrable.

So Jensen carefully draws the katana, and passes it across his arm.

The shogun's sword sings in the morning mist, and the sun catches just a flash of silver.

next