Meiyo: Glory

They are walking side by side when the gravel in front of them the gravel in front of them explodes. Gunfire tears into the road, dirt and rocks spray their feet and calves, and they leap apart and into the brush without a second's thought.

Jensen races through the brush. The trees whip at his shoulders, pine needles sticking in his clothes, he can't see, he can't see the guy. A flash of white could be snow, a flash of black could be Jared.

The gunfire explodes again, ripping through the stillness, and everything slows down. Jensen cocks his head; it's an automatic, god dammit, some psycho is out here with a fucking Uzi.

He listens to the echoes; angles in the air translate to angles in his head, think, Jensen, think.Then he's running again, a snap of a twig in the right direction. Please, let it be, I'll find you, you motherfucker...

The trees part just in time to see Jared burst through the brush. Jensen smiles to see him alive, and he smiles back.

But before he can so much as take his next breath, he sees the glint of the sun off a scratch on the gun barrel, the ninja hidden under the cover of a tree, practically fucking invisible. It's almost like he can hear the click, hear the pop of the gunpowder, see the empty cartridge slot out the side and go spinning into the forest. He can see Jared moving, see the rustle of trees beside him but all he can do is stand there with his eyes wide, maybe throw up a hand that won't do any good.

Bullets shatter the stillness and Jensen's heart stops.

Masi would make a hell of a defenseman with that tackle. Jensen contemplates this from the forest floor, as he watches Jared chase the ninja off through the forest. Masi is heavy for a little guy, and blessedly he rolls away. "Hey," Jensen says, sitting up. "Thanks, buddy, that was a close aw, shit, Jared!!"

Jensen's pulling off his obi in a flash, wadding it up into a pad. When Jared comes back, he's almost got Masi halfway to a field dressed, but with three holes in him, it's tough. His breathing is shallow, his eyes glassy.

"...good thing they picked up this piece of shit scope at the Happy Lucky Mart, or we'd be picking up our teeth about n- aw, fuck me."

"It's fine, just help me with him. Shit, shit, shit."

"Masi-kun, little buddy, you hang on, you hear me? We're gonna get you to a hospital now, don't you worry about a thing."

"Hold this."

"Got it."

"Breathing's shallow. Check his pupils."

"Sluggish, Jensen, shit."

"Okay, hold his arms, we gotta get him to the car."

"Hold on, Masi-kun, squeeze if you can hear me. Good! That's good, man, you stick with me, stick with me..."

~

Twenty-two hours later, the three of them are in a room at the Kyoto First Red Cross Hospital. Jared and Jensen are slumped in chairs with cups of coffee, having caught what sleep they could. Takashi brought Jensen's armor from the kasho when he came to check in on Masi, so that's something. It's dawn again, the dark just fading back.

Masi is in the bed, sleeping. The soft blips of his heartbeat and breathing are lulling the room. The best doctors Jensen could round up at short notice say that it's too soon to start celebrating, but they're hopeful that he's out of the woods.

Hopeful is good.

Jensen closes his eyes as he listens to Jared talk low about things, just to talk. In theory, he's talking to Masi, but Jensen knows he might as well be staring into a mirror. "It's gonna be okay, little buddy," Jared tells him in rounded, lazy English. "Kuma 'n' Rinko oughta be here any minute. I don't know if you can hear this, but they say it's good to talk to folks in comas, so I figure it can't hurt you none, since you're gonna wake up just fine. Just fine, Masi-kun. You rest up. Healin up's a lot of work."

Jensen carefully sips his coffee, and drowses. He doesn't say a word.

When the door opens to admit Kuma and Rinko, Jared stands up and walks to the foot of the bed so he can lean against it, keep his voice down as they all talk. He folds his arms over his chest just as Jensen's clearing his throat of drowsiness and sitting up a little straighter.

Kuma looks harried and nervous. His hair is awry and he's wearing his armor - never a good sign. Rinko looks like she got run over. There are deep circles under her eyes, but the corner of her mouth is curved a little in a grim smile.

"Report," asks Jensen, his voice rough.

If Kuma minds the orders, he doesn't show it. "Rinko-san caught the assassin."

Jensen raises his eyebrows and turns to her. It's the first assassin they've ever caught; every other one slipped away.

Rinko just rubs at her eyes. "I had a great deal of help, and he was desperate enough to screw up and ditch his robes. According to him, this wasn't a planned attempt, but his employer is starting to get demanding and he had run out of other options. It appears, Ackles- san, that you are a hard man to kill. I'm sorry to say he didn't know much else. He never met the man who hired him."

"Wait, wait - his target was me?" Jensen blinks.

"Hai," Rinko affirms.

Jared makes a thoughtful face. "No, it's smart. You're the top dog until I turn up. If I go down, maybe it's a coup. Maybe it's someone who doesn't want me to be shogun, maybe it's somebody who wants to be shogun himself. But if they take you, o-sama, there's no doubt what that is. Gaijin, go home."

Jensen curls his lip in a snarl. "Sons of bitches."

But then, Rinko steps forward. A little shy, her face turned down, she clears her throat. "Respectfully, I must disagree. Nihonjiro is a public figure, a white man who is Japanese in his heart. Even I, distrustful as I was, could not doubt your honor. I may have wished you away from Japan, but never dead any white man before Nihonjiro. No, if someone is after you, it can only be personal."

The three samurai watch her, assessing. Kuma is the first to speak up. "Without solid evidence, Abe is still our best suspect. Jen-san, you don't have any personal history with him, do you?"

Jensen shakes his head, nonplussed. "No. I've only ever spoken to him in passing or on business." He wracks his brain, going over past interactions every recollection he has of the secretary is distant, but pleasant. A businesslike man.

"What if it's not Abe? It could be somebody we haven't thought of yet." Jared's eyes are stressed, and Jensen can see the lines of warning beginning to sketch along his cheeks, his forehead. "Do you have any other enemies?"

Jensen spreads his hands. "Resistance to me is always about my color. I don't get into it with people. I don't ever have to."

Again, Rinko clears her throat. "With all respect, Nihonjiro-sama, it may not be about you."

Jensen knits his brows. "You said it was personal."

"But I did not say you were the person the act was intended to harm," Rinko suggests. Her eyes turn to Jared, and the rest of the group turns to him as well.

Jared looks back at her with startled eyes and shrugs his shoulders. "Until recently, Kikuchi-san, I would have said my greatest enemy was you. No offense."

"None taken," she says, blushing a little.

"I never even met Abe," Jared adds. The group all trade looks, and finally give up. There's nothing more to be discovered. They look at each other for a moment more, and then Rinko volunteers to go check with the nurses about Masi's condition. She slips from the room and tactfully closes the door behind her.

When she's gone, Kuma eyes them critically. "How much sleep did you two get last night?"

Jensen shakes his head. "We're not leavin."

Kuma folds his arms across his wide chest, tall and impressive. "You're no good if you're running on naps and coffee. Neko and Jason are at the Gosho; go get debriefed and then let them relieve you."

Jared squints a little. "I don't wanna leave you here with Kikuchi."

Kuma shakes his head. "She worked like a dog, Jeikun. She didn't sleep at all, not until he was caught."

"You wanna stay here with her, but we're supposed to go home?"

Kuma shrugs at him. "You have to be on your toes. She's done her job yours isn't done until the coronation." Both Jensen and Jared open their mouths to argue, but Kuma tightens his arms across his chest, immovable, and lifts an eyebrow. "Arguing with logic only makes you seem irrational."

Jensen sighs.

~

The dojo lights are still burning when they arrive. The streets are silent, the day yet to start, and all the apprentices are in their beds.

Jensen and Jared walk up to the double doors, and push them open.

A woman lies on the tiles at their feet. Just inside the entrance, she is pale and still, her eyes half-open. Underneath her tiny body, a pool of blood has formed. One hand is pressed to her stomach, red with it.

It's Ziyi.

Jared falls to his knees, right into the pool, he doesn't care. "Ziyi! Wake up, sugar, come on, come back." He presses two fingers to her throat as Jensen brings his sword whistling out of its sheath, looking for her attacker. Jensen's mind races through all the reasons she might be here, in Kyoto, instead of home in Takai where she belongs, and every single reason he can come up with is bad, bad, bad.

Softly, her eyelids flutter. "Shin... ju. He... has her."

"Who?" Jared asks, and Jensen spins around.

"What? What did she say?"

Ziyi blinks slowly, and Jared presses his hand over hers to stem the flow of blood. She cries out a little, so quiet, and Jensen grits his teeth, turns to face the hall. "Neko!" He bellows, his voice ringing through the dojo. Immediately, there are sounds of stirring.

Jared leans in closer to her. "What's going on, Ziyi-san? You gotta try to be strong, darlin."

She gasps in a little breath, and her eyes flash steely. Under Jared's hands, she's hard muscle, sculpted by training. "Ninja," she whispers. "You must save. I tried, but there were. Too many. I could not reach "

Jared hushes her as young samurai in training come rushing around the corners, as older ones come pushing through the ranks. Neko is right behind them, yelling, what the hell is going on, and Jason behind her trying to clear a path.

Jensen turns to his wife's companion and kneels down. "Where," he demands, his voice terrible. "Where did they take her?"

Ziyi clutches his shoulder, meets his eyes with crystal clarity. "Gosho," she grits out. "Go!"

With a rustle of activity, everything happens at once. Jensen slams open the front door and races off across the quad, his blade naked in his hand. He can feel the rage, the fear thudding through his veins his wife, his ultimate responsibility, and he left her alone.

Behind him he can dimly sense Jared, who runs a little distance back. Others follow him, but who exactly they are, he can't tell. Maybe it's Neko, maybe overeager kids. They'll be too late, anyway. The whole dojo was up, so somebody will care for Ziyi. Jensen puts it out of his mind.

The gravel crunches under his feet as he flies down the path that leads between the trees of the Gosho park. A caretaker scurries out of his path, a young page after that, and they both wear the same terror on their faces as Nihonjiro's sword catches the first rays of the rising sun. Jensen dodges both of them, and keeps going.

The trees part for him. He can't seem to go fast enough, his mind flying ahead to what could be waiting his wife dead, his attacker gone again. No, no, no.

When he finally reaches the Gosho, he can feel the sweat and the pounding of his heart, the catch of his breath in his chest. He ignores it. The urge is strong to call his wife's name, hoping she will lead him to her he resists that, too, and tries to think. Where would he go, where would he take her? There must be something in the Gosho, some reason he would risk coming here...

"He's looking for me."

In a flash, Jensen turns and races for his quarters.

The buildings blur by him, people gasp and slide out of his way. Nihonjiro's gone mad, god oh god. Finally, he reaches the main building, and when he bursts through the rear doors near the sleeping quarters, the three men with swords who wait for him actually draw back, just a little.

Jensen doesn't recognize any of them. They're all dressed in black, swaths of ridiculous fabric that won't do them any good. Amateurs. His sword clashes off two of theirs before shearing the third in half.

The tin-laced blade rattles on the stone, and Jensen draws back slow, careful. In perfect kendo form, he draws his wakizashi and tightens his grip.

The third guy pulls out a pair of nunchuks.

Jensen barely refrains from rolling his eyes.

They fall fast, the three of them, stripped of their weapons and their shirts and their dignity. But as they break and start to run, more that look just like them come running in from the hallway and howl, pull their swords and charge.

Jensen whacks wrists and heads, twisting and ducking between the blades just that easy. But it's slowing him down, and he's starting to get angry. For every one of these assholes he has to put down, another one shows up, and he doesn't have time for this. He feels his sword slide a little too far, cut actual skin, and the man at the end of his blade cries out for real this time, and crumples to the ground.

The others slow for a moment, almost everyone is distracted, and Jensen uses the time to form a plan, a way to get past them and maybe rope off the door...

And then one of them jerks away toward the door with a surprised yelp, and another one's eyes roll back in his head. As he drops to the ground, he reveals Jared standing behind him, the butt of his wakizashi placed right about where the base of the man's skull would have been. Jared meets Jensen's eyes, and he smiles.

They go to work.

When they're finished, only a minute or two later, the Gosho guardsmen are piling in through the doorway just in time to see a lobby full of groaning men with broken bones, and the backs of two samurai disappearing down the hall.

"My quarters," Jensen says, and Jared nods. They race through the hallway, not even bothering with stealth the fight they just had wasn't exactly quiet, so their enemy is sure to know where they are.

Together, they bang open the doors that lead to Jensen's quarters.

They stop dead.

Abe is sitting against the pillows on Jensen's bed. He has Shinju pressed tightly to his side; she looks terrified, tear tracks shining on her cheeks.

She has good reason: Abe is pressing a heavy black gun to her temple.

He smiles at the two samurai. "I thought you'd never get here. Tell the guardsmen to back off, right now."

"Back off," Jensen shouts out the doorway, never taking his eyes off of Abe. "Back it up, we got a hostage."

Sure enough, moments pass and nobody comes.

"Good," Abe says. "Now. Here's the way this is going to work."

Jensen can't see. He can't think. Everything is blind red rage and he has to calm down, but that's never been his strength and Shinju's breath is buzzing in his ears. "You don't make that decision," Jensen says, through his teeth.

Abe shrugs. "You're right. You do. And if you want me to pull this trigger, you push me, and I will."

Jensen is going to move. He is going to march across the room and shove the sword right into that mother fucker's chest.

And then Jared's hand takes his shoulder.

Abe smiles, and presses the gun against Shinju's head. "Very smart, Watanabe-san. Keep him in line, or this will go very badly for everybody."

Jared's hand is heavy. "What do you want?" he asks, in a deadly serious voice.

"What does any man want?" Abe asks. "Money. Power. Prestige. But right now, what I want is Nihonjiro. I want him on his knees in the corner, facing the wall. Weapons on the floor. Or his pretty new wife will be painting the bedspread."

Jensen sees white.

Jared's hand moves, but only because Jared's striding forward already, heading for the bed, too insane to take another second.

Abe's pistol corrects instantly, pointing at Jared's head and firing. Jensen's heart stops beating, but Jared is still standing when the bullet thumps into the wall. "Ah, ah. No more steps, please. Miss Nakama, if you'd be so kind as to follow me." Without taking his eyes off Jared for even a second, Abe shifts over, dragging Shinju along. He stands, slow, yanks Shinju up, and she stumbles.

Jensen starts forward. Jared starts forward. There's not enough time, there's too much room between them, Jensen can feel it. Somebody is getting hit with a bullet.

And then from the far side of the room there is a movement, and everybody's eyes turn. A slight, dark blur races across the room, Abe corrects to aim at Jared and fires the gun with perfect accuracy. Jensen is too slow, his body won't move fast enough, and he feels something breaking inside.

If Shinju hadn't moved just so - if the blur flying across the room to slam into Jared's shoulder hadn't hit at just the right moment - Jared would be dead.

But as it is, Abe grips Shinju harder around the shoulders with a scowl. Jared is left holding Rinko in his arms as she stares up at him with wide eyes, and blood begins to spread in a dark stain on her shirt. "Get down," she whispers, and then she coughs and red flecks her lips.

"Gomennasai, sweetheart," Abe says softly. "Next time, don't get in my way."

Jensen drops his swords and pulls out his guns in a flash. He points both at Abe's head and he is silent. Focused.

Abe squeezes the trigger and Jared curses, claps a hand to the outside of his arm where it scraped him. "I'm fine," Jared says. "Scratched me."

"Put those guns down, Nihonjiro," Abe warns, perfectly calm. "Or the next one goes between his eyes."

Jensen puts the guns down, slow and sure. He has no choice.

"Very good. Now. In the corner, please. It's your pride or your lover, o-sama. Your decision. Either way, my friend Rinko doesn't have much time."

Slow and deliberate, Jensen starts to move toward the corner.

Abe waits. When Jensen is standing to the side, he loosens his grip on little Shinju. "Excellent," he murmurs. "Now, Watanabe-san, if you would be so kind as to stand."

Jared sets Rinko carefully on the ground, and she groans as she moves. Jensen can see him, blind with rage, jaw tight, as he slowly begins to rise. When he stands at his full height, Abe smiles. "I've been waiting a long time for this," he murmurs, and swings his gun up to point straight at Jared's head.

Again, Jensen can see the bullet. He can't move, it's too late, Jared will.

No.

Shinju shoves Abe hard just as he fires, and the bullet goes wide, drilling into the roof. Her little hands come up, tears slip down her cheeks, she's terrified - but she pushes him, rips away in a move that can only be described as incredibly foolish. She tears his arm away from her by the sleeve, ripping it open in the process, and when she is free, she makes a break for Jensen.

It's the last thing that Abe is expecting so, impossibly, it works.

Jensen watches her run across the room. Things won't stop being slow motion, people won't stop dying behind his eyes. But this time, maybe...

With a low sound, a snarl that tears its way out of his throat, Jensen sprints toward her. Abe raises his pistol in a flash, training it on her back, and Jensen hears the hammer smash down on the bullet, he swears he can. Shinju's hands are out for him, her face, her steps so small, and he reaches her just in time to spin her around and put his body between her and Abe.

Pain like nothing else slams into his shoulder. His whole body shudders and he falls to the ground, shielding Shinju's head with his arms and chest. Another bullet strikes the floor beside him, the wood crunching heavily, and then Jared's deep roar shakes the foundations and the bullets stop coming. Jensen is able to look up in just enough time to see Abe dart across the mattress, to the opposing door. Jared is coming around the bed, sword in hand, and then Abe tears the connecting door open and Raidon steps through.

"Step back, baijo," he cries, leveling his sword at Jared. "This is my country, my home, my shogunate! You have no place here!"

His armor is elaborate, and he wears on his head an ancient horned samurai helmet. The chain neck guard drapes over his neck, and his eyes are full of madness.

Abe presses back against the wall, and Jensen's heart falls into his stomach, even as his head starts to swim with pain. Raidon is a fool, but he is a trained samurai. Jared will probably win, but Abe can't be watched every second, he'll get away. The guns are right there, thinks Jensen, why didn't I keep just one gun...

But Jared doesn't even slow down. He pulls a gun from its holster, fires it at the wall. Raidon only just has time for the beginnings of a laugh before the bullet ricochets off the armoire handle, pings back and slams into his helmet, right at the temple. It rings like a subtle gong, and Raidon's eyes roll back in his head before he slumps to the ground.

Jared steps over him, holding the wakizashi in his off hand, his good arm pressed tight against his waist. Jensen can see the drip of blood onto the floor - more than a scratch. But Jared grips the short sword hard and steady. "You," he says, in the lowest voice.

With his eyes full of rage, Abe aims the gun straight at Jared's head and pulls the trigger.

The Beretta clicks.

It hits the floor a second later, and a short sword comes whistling out of Abe's robes. Jensen's head spins, and he tries to keep his face up. He needs to see.

"I remember you now," Jared says softly. He flicks the tip of his blade at Abe's torn cuff, the thready fabric sliding back to reveal a jagged white line across Abe's forearm. "That scar. I remember giving you that."

Abe flips the fabric over to conceal the scar again a longstanding habit. "You were an idiot boy, then," he says, in a terrible voice. Jensen sees the viciousness in the lines of his body, the way he holds his sword. "And you're an idiot boy now. Your father protected you before, but I could see what you are."

Jared bares his teeth. "You don't know jack shit about what I am."

"You think not?" Abe bares his teeth right back. "You took everything from me. I was a respected guard at the palace until your little sugar craving. I offered you an out, you wretched little brat, but you wouldn't take it... though you obviously learned your lesson about taking it, thanks to Nihonjiro, here."

"Shut your mouth," Jared says, quiet. "I'm giving you one chance to live."

But Abe can't hear him. "I had to give up my name to get back into the palace. My honor, my training, everything. You ruined my life, and if it costs me mine, I swear by every god there is that you will pay with yours."

Jensen tries to stand. He needs to get up, to fight. But his hand slips in blood on the floor, and Shinju whimpers underneath him; he manages to land on his elbow and it sends pain flashing all through his head, warmth down his arm.

Jared cuts his sword through the air. "So be it," he says.

The clash of steel is a sharp song, ringing through the Gosho. Jensen watches the flash, the fall, the sparks, and he thinks of snow falling. He thinks of cherry blossoms. Jared is a golden dervish, but Abe is fueled by pain and hate - the battle rages through the room, cutting apart his bed, smashing against his vases and finally toppling the armoire. Rips appear in the drapes, the walls, the perfect folded swords stopping at nothing.

Jensen catches only images now. Jared's face, bleeding.

Abe limping, wincing.

Jared flying through the air, a kick to the chest.

Abe crumpling to the ground.

Jared's feet in front of him, and the slow drip of blood off the end of his blade. Those beloved lips moving, but no sound coming out. His worried face.

And then, nothing.

~

"Ready?"

Jared's question startles Jensen out of his thoughts, and makes the corner of his mouth quirk up. "I think so," he says, smiling up into Jared's face as he shifts his arm. The sling is getting uncomfortable now that the bullet wound is mostly finished healing, but Jensen can't mind that today. "Everyone should be in place. Kuma and Jason are on perimeter, Neko and her team are on crowd, Ziyi and Shinju with the buke."

Jared looks out the broad doorway where the sun pours in, his serious face still bearing a pink scar just under the cheekbone. "Jesus, I'm nervous."

"Don't be," Jensen assures him. A warm breeze sweeps into the shady hall they're in, and it tosses their hair a little before moving off to go play somewhere else. Jensen smiles. "There, see? The kami have blessed us."

"Don't make me laugh," Jared scolds, but Jensen can see his shoulders straighten and the line between his eyes smooth out. So screw him.

"I will if I want," Jensen says. "They can't see you from there anyway."

"They brought binoculars."

"The hell with them. You'll be great." With a practiced hand, Jensen smoothes out the shoulders of Jared's long, ornate robe, and makes sure it falls just right. He adjusts the sash, and then stands back with a critical eye. "Masi says the TV's all set up in the room, Rinko's awake. They're going to be watching. You look great."

Jared rolls his eyes. "You have to say that."

Jensen takes his shoulder and looks him in the eyes. "No. You look like your father."

Jared looks away, his mouth setting in a firm line. He sniffs in a breath, and then punches Jensen's good shoulder.

A gong rings, deep and bell toned. Again, again, slow and stately, it sounds its call over the Gosho square. A booming, heavy speaker crackles to life, and the sounds from outside die.

"Ladies and gentlemen," intones a voice, basso profundo.

Jensen smiles softly. "That's your cue."

Jared nods, turns to the doorway and takes a deep breath. When he steps out, he's in full sunlight, and Jensen can't help but watch him walk out onto the wide veranda, raise his hand above his head and wave.

The crowd roars so loud that they almost drown out the speakers. "Hail, Shogun Jared Watanabe, son of Nihon no Ichiro, hail and welcome."

The gong sounds again, over and over. A flock of doves are released, and they startle from their cages to spiral up into the clear blue sky, swimming in the cheers of the crowd. Jared's robes shine black and red in the sun, his katana glints, and a line of samurai chant their oaths of fealty.

The day is bright and warm, and there is no hint of cloud.

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