What's Marvel's is Marvel's, what's mine is mine, and not a penny is made by one. Don't sue.
Kai (with her itty bitty few mentions in this) belongs to me. Use her without permission and I'll spell "I SHOULD HAVE STOLEN A MARVEL-OWNED CHARACTER INSTEAD" with your intestines. :)
This happens during the interval after "Ghosts" (and around/after "PV 'Vacation'") when Logan is in Japan "handling things." Continuity-wise (remembering that the K&Ls necessarily branch off Marvel continuity somewhat), the last time Logan and Yukio saw each other was shortly after he'd had the adamantium ripped out and during the time when he thought he was dying. At that time, Logan liberated Amiko (AKA Akiko, depending on which writer has her), his foster daughter, from some lousy foster parents. With the 'legal' assistance of the Silver Samurai (Harada Yashida), Logan arranged for Yukio to be Amiko's guardian. So there you have it -- in my timeline, Yukio is still caring for Amiko, and she hasn't seen Logan in around a year.
A note on names: Logan's ward was originally introduced as 'Akiko.' With typical Marvel concern for details, the creators at some point forgot this and renamed her 'Amiko.' Traditionalist that I am, I would usually tend to opt for the name under which a character was introduced... but I like the way Amiko sounds, and it appears to be the stable name for her in canon now. Thus, in this, she's Amiko.
Further notes: I have sketchy knowledge at best of Japanese suffixes, so I'm really hoping I didn't mangle them too badly in this. ;) Oh, and if there's a Japanese word you don't recognize said by a really pissed person, it's probably a naughty word.
This one's for Dan Heaven again, who wanted to see a Logan-centric K&L. Here ya go, Dan. Hope all's well. :)
Comments toKayleeSama@aol.com. You tell me things, I tell you things, things are exchanged, and thus a barter system is born! Or a conversation. At any rate, it's worth it. ;-)
The Good Samurai
He breathed in deeply, flooding his lungs with the taste of jasmine and memory. The smoke drifted lazily skywards, twining through invisible, ghostly fingers on its journey of tribute and respect. Somewhere outside, birds sang as they had the last time he'd come here and done this. He closed his eyes and stilled his thoughts, searching inside for that calm, that center, that ability to simply let himself be.
He thought he touched it. And as always, it passed as soon as a part of him believed.
There was too much anger knotted up in his chest. As long as it had been... as old as he was... he still found the fury to be safer and more comfortable than the pain of grieving. Grief brought weakness. Anger was empowering.
Sure, it was bullshit, but it was age-old bullshit that he wasn't ready to let go of yet.
He could scent her past the tang of the smoke. Her presence was no surprise. He'd half-expected her to arrive before he did, considering that he was nearly too late. But he didn't turn to her or acknowledge her yet, and he knew that she'd wait patiently until he did. It was a sign of her respect for him, for the one whose memory he paid tribute to, for the culture he'd never quite been able to become a part of.
He smiled to himself. No matter what words she put to it, she was here to guard his back.
As if he couldn't handle that on his own.
He didn't turn or rise as the smoke drifted away. "Expected you to be here," he told her quietly, not wanting to disturb this place with a louder tone.
"As I knew you would be, Logan-san." A pause. He imagined the concern in her eyes that she wouldn't allow to be seen on her face. "You are a fool."
"Been called worse, Yukio."
"There is nothing worse."
"Sure there is." He rolled his neck once, hearing a few stubborn pops, and opened his eyes. Afternoon sunshine slipped into the old temple; warm and playful... refusing to acknowledge that he didn't want peace at this moment. He wanted rage. He wanted the cold clarity of a battle he knew how to fight. He wanted someone to blame, someone to cut, someone to hurt...
But there was only Yukio at the moment, and he owed her too much to even begin to think of her as an outlet for the anger.
And besides... other targets would be offering themselves any moment now.
He stood smoothly, feeling her eyes on him and knowing they now showed appreciation as well as worry. It was easy to ignore that. He'd been doing so for almost as long as he'd known her, really. First because his heart belonged to someone else, then because said heart had been brutally butchered... And finally, when they'd been free to act on the chemistry between them, he'd held himself back from more than the physical because he'd been sure his days were growing rapidly fewer and fewer.
The cards just never stacked right for the two of them.
He turned to her and found a faint smile. "Good to see ya, Yukio." He held open his arms and she walked into them; lithe as a feline, and more deadly than the worst of those. A tigress, he'd often thought. As near to his equal as any normal human woman could be. They could've been good together.
For a while. Even he could see how quickly they'd find how little room for growth there was between them. With Silver Fox, he remembered innocence -- youth and sunshine and an optimism he could barely fathom now. With Mariko, he remembered a code of honor -- something that helped define him, that pushed him forward, always making him strive to better himself. And now, with Kai, there was someone who fed off of his strong points and rubbed at his weak, reminding him that the journey to self-discovery was a damn long one, and it couldn't be dumped by the wayside any time he wanted to stop for a beer.
Yukio didn't challenge him that way. She gave him nothing, he gave her nothing. Physical compatibility was one thing -- and one thing they had. But mentally they were too much alike; only she didn't have the same need to make herself more than she was. Yukio was content being the wild one -- she lusted after the thrill of violent adventure in a way that he once had. Logan couldn't accept that anymore; he'd struggled too hard for control to accept the wild abandon that defined her.
"It's been too long, lover," she murmured. "I've missed you."
She pulled back and scrutinized him. "You look much better than the last time we met."
He shrugged. "Life's been a bit stingier with the baseball bat since then."
Her eyes still searched his as if looking for the truth of his words. "The X-Men are well? Ororo?"
"Doin' good. 'Ro loves the kimono you sent her."
A small, secret smile. "I knew she would."
He squeezed her shoulders gently, then stepped away. "Might as well quit puttin' this off..."
"Do you want help?"
"I can handle it." His hand raised to forestall her objection. "Really, darlin'. There've been some changes since last time."
She inclined her head, a skeptical twist to her mouth, and stepped away from him with a graceful sweep of the hand. "Then by all means... handle it."
He snorted at her tone, walking past her unhesitatingly. With the falling dusk and the light breeze from the eucalyptus trees came their scents. Five distinct traces, each layered with nervous sweat and the byproducts of anticipation. It was a mild surprise that they'd only sent this number; they knew five genin couldn't take him. Or were they underestimating him the same way Yukio was...?
Well, that was their problem. He stepped out calmly, body relaxed, mind trained on every move the hidden Hand assassins made. "Gorgeous night."
Whispering... did they honestly think he couldn't hear it? Or had they somehow forgotten that he could speak Japanese more fluently than just about anyone other than a native? "Is this him?" "It must be him. Who else would come here at this time?" "He is short." "He is unarmed." "You fools, he is never unarmed."
Logan waited. Almost patiently, even. A minute passed while he pretended to be absorbed in staring at the stars. It brought thoughts of Kai, and a faint smile found its way to his lips. He didn't try to hide it: Let them think him distracted if they wanted to. All the easier when they underestimated him.
"What is he smiling for?" "He acts as if he knows something. Perhaps he has been warned of the attack...?" "We should have more men." "We are Hand assassins... the most highly trained fighters in the world. This hesitation dishonors us."
Logan kept from snorting only by force of extreme will. '...most highly trained fighters,' my hairy ass. Another minute, and still they quibbled. He sighed and thumbed a cigar out of a pocket, closing his eyes briefly while he lit it to keep from ruining his night vision with the flame.
"He mocks us with his lack of fear." "We should attack now, before he becomes aware of us."
So hurry up an' do it.
Yukio's voice came softly from behind him. "Your reputation precedes you, Logan."
He snorted quietly, eyes absently scanning the bushes off to the right of the genin. She was probably even right... but that wouldn't matter to the genin for long. Whatever fear they held of him was less than the fear they held of their jonin, Matsuo. They would attack. It was just a matter of 'when.'
He tapped the generous ash from the cigar and took another lengthy draw, watching the sullen red of the ember in the dying light. That fury-without-direction still writhed inside. So much anger... He'd welcome this fight. Even if it was only five genin.
"We must take him. Now, while he does not suspect."
This time he did laugh. There was only so far he was willing to carry this through. He dropped to a crouch to crush out the ember of the cigar. He spoke, half-resenting the formality of the language when he'd prefer brash challenge. "Are you genin going to sit there whispering all night, or are we going to dance?"
To their credit, they didn't waste any more time talking amongst themselves. Smooth as liquid night, the dark-clothed figures melted from the trees and underbrush. He took in their traditional weaponry with a sardonic half-smile, tucking the cigar into a pocket almost as an afterthought. "When is your master going to figure it out?"
"You mock, gaijin. Your lack of respect will be your downfall."
"I've only heard that a few hundred times before, bub."
They attacked. For all the good it did them.
Two went down in twice the seconds beneath a lightning-swift attack from the suddenly in-motion figure. He turned their own weapons against them rather than using the claws, figuring on beating them on their own terms. It was about that time -- surrounded by the rising mist of their companions' disintegrating bodies -- that the remaining three learned a bit of caution. They had the sense to start striking from a distance; less satisfying to pride, perhaps, but more effective in the long run. Theoretically. But the bolos that they tried to use to restrain his arms weren't very efficient when he wasn't willing to stay stationary for them to be applied, and the shuriken that the tallest threw weren't even coated with toxin, as he'd half-expected. One struck home in his shoulder, another in his thigh, and by then he was taking the ground between himself and the thrower in a savage run, teeth bared, barely aware of the growl tearing forth from his throat. He heard their cries of fear, then of pain, distantly. Every fucking time he came to Nippon! He wasn't even allowed to honor the memory of his fiancé without being set on by these cockroaches! Years, now...uncounted years he'd known of them, been in conflict with them. And they always came back again and again, determined to try -- unsuccessfully -- to end him, to hurt him, to take what he cared about...
He'd meant to keep the claws sheathed. He'd meant to.
Number three went down with a dishonorable scream, claws buried in his stomach and tearing upward. The stench of blood and bowel was choking off his sense of smell, now, and bringing back that too-welcome red haze that settled over him like a second skin. Somewhere beneath it he could taste the flavor of fear, the personal scent that belonged to this man going down quickly beneath him, the lingering traces of aftershave and deodorant... Little things that made this man an individual rather than another faceless, meaningless thug.
It still didn't save him.
Four made an aborted attempt to come to his companion's aid; aborted because his uncoordinated rush ended abruptly when a foot lashed solidly into his midsection and sent his sais flying. Something snapped, but the sound could barely be made out over the half-growl, half-shout that rose from Logan's chest as he settled feet and lunged forward, claws still out. The first slash wasn't deep enough to kill instantly, though the sudden whiff of bile told Logan that he'd nicked the stomach. He caught a glimpse out of his peripheral vision of the final ninja coming in fast from the left. No time for a fancy dodge... just a swift diving roll over his right shoulder that brought him back to his feet. The genin had a sword, and he made a pretty show with it. Steel -- painted black to temporarily shield the brilliant shine -- sang through the air with a sibilant hiss. Logan's eyes, keener than any ordinary man's, tracked its path as it arced upward towards his ribs. Rather than jumping back he timed it with careful, instinctual precision and leapt forward instead. The genin's eyes widened and he shouted something -- Logan wasn't sure, but it sounded like, "Ancestors!" Logan's left hand snagged in the snug face mask, snapping the man's head back sharply on his neck. Claws still extended, his right hand punched unerringly into the man's chest. The 'chuff' of inhalation caught on a liquidy gurgle as the punctured heart pumped blood into a lung.
The heart hadn't even stopped beating when Yukio started clapping.
"Bravo! You really haven't lost your style, Logan-san!"
He wasn't ready to turn to face her... was still too caught up in the moment of savage release. He hadn't even retracted his damned claws yet, and she was cheering?
"But he still breathes." She gestured towards the man he'd gut-slashed, who groaned softly into the ground he'd knuckled forward on. "You might want to fix that."
His eyes turned to the man she'd pointed towards. Little shudders ran the length of the genin's frame as he clutched at his stomach and tried to crawl forward, probably thinking of little other than escape. The other genin bodies had already wisped away into a foul, lingering mist. There was only the one man left alive.
And Logan was still very, very angry.
He stepped over to the downed genin quietly, then dropped to a crouch and grabbed the man's shoulder to turn him, heedless of the gasp of pain that brought. Yukio watched silently, her approval implicit. She wouldn't stop him. She wouldn't judge him. She wouldn't think less of him if he made this man suffer before he died.
Logan had fought the Hand many, many times before. So many times that they didn't even seem human to him any longer... if indeed they ever had. But the scent was still heavy with terror, and the eyes visible through the holes in the mask were still wide... just like anyone's would be in this position.
It's no good... sons o' bitches can't learn a fuckin' thing about life outside o' the Hand...
Even so, he looked from the wide, frightened eyes down to the blood-soaked abdomen. The man was already going into shock; years of ninja-training aside, he'd lost a lot of blood. Face expressionless, Logan pulled aside the torn gi and looked at the slashed flesh beneath. Ugly. Of course. Claws weren't pretty weapons, and they didn't make pretty wounds. But if he could hold back shock... and if he could get the man to a hospital...
"You... dishonor me..."
Logan looked back to his face, undecided. He knew the genin code. He hated it. Death -- the enemy's or the self's. If he were to put himself into their system of 'honor,' he would kill this man; quickly or slowly, as he determined the genin's worthiness. The more respected the enemy, the more pain he was expected to stand, so therefore the more slowly he died.
"You want to die?" he asked, voice gruff and twisting oddly around the Japanese words. "I know about the cyanide tooth. Bite down and suicide. I won't kill you."
"Logan?" Yukio said in surprise.
"But if you want to live... I'll help you. Your choice."
"Gaijin!" he spat weakly. "Honorless dog!"
"Your choice," Logan repeated levelly. Then something hard and very, very cold glinted in his eyes. "After you tell me where Matsuo's new base of operations is."
Yukio gave a soft 'ah' of understanding. The genin snarled. "I'll tell you nothing."
"Then you'd better be biting that tooth quick."
"I will not give in to--"
Logan popped his claws. "I said I wouldn't kill you." He half-smiled unpleasantly. "I meant it."
Given his options, it was no surprise when the man's jaw worked, then the sound of a crunching tooth was heard.
Logan stood up and stepped away from the disintegrating body, claws snapping back into forearms. Yukio walked softly to stand beside him, sliding hands around his arm and stepping in close. "You surprised me."
He answered in Japanese, his mind not quite ready to reset to English again. "There isn't a single individual among them."
"No, there isn't. But I can help you find Matsuo, Logan-san."
With a short nod, he stepped away from her. "I know," he told her, switching back to English abruptly. "I was countin' on that."
"Oh?" A sardonic expression; Yukio didn't like to be taken for granted, even by him. "Confident, aren't you?"
"Yep." He was gathering 'abandoned' uniforms and weapons, unwilling to leave this place tarnished by their presence.
"And if I couldn't help?"
"You'd find a way."
"Because this time I'm killin' him."
Silence for a moment. Logan threw the last bloodstained gi on the pile and brought out a match. The flame crackled with a momentary sharp stench, then thick smoke rose sluggishly as he held the match to the fabric.
"You're killing him."
"'S what I said."
"Why now? Why not two years ago?"
"That don't matter."
"Forget about it, Yukio."
"What, no 'darlin''? You must be angry, Logan-san."
He said nothing. Smoke thickened as the flames rose, choking off the dimming sky. The discarded weapons lay in a pile by his feet. Firelight glinted off of some, deepened the matte-black of others.
She must have seen it in his face... recognized it from his voice. He could joke and play like any other man, but now... there was no room for anything but hard, resolute anger.
"You know I'll help you, Logan."
"I know where he is."
"When do you want to go?"
He jutted his chin at the rising fire. "Let this burn. Then we go back to your place and plan."
"Amiko will want to see you."
He twitched slightly -- in another man it might have been called a wince. "Yeah, I know."
There didn't seem to be anything to say to that -- not with the tone he used and the carefully blank expression on his face -- so she only walked to the temple steps and sat down to watch the fire burn, leaving him standing alone in silence.
"Yukio-sama! Logan-sama! "
"We didn't know you were coming!"
"Thought I'd surprise you, Amiko-chan."
"Did you bring me anything?"
"Well, let's see... here's a--"
"Logan, you are not giving her shuriken."
"Why the hell not?"
"She has to master throwing spikes first."
"What are you saying, Yukio-san? My English is still not good."
"Nothing, Amiko. It is adults' business."
"Listen to her, Ami."
"I always listen to Yukio-san."
"... Most of the time."
"At least she's honest, Logan..."
Amiko was in bed, having finally fallen asleep after spending hours being far more energetic than Logan remembered nine-year-olds being. He'd had to tell her story after story, feeding her beliefs about the Good Samurai even though that wasn't his intent. Yukio had looked on, smiling, showing more patience than he could ever recall seeing from her.
When she tucked the young girl into bed for the night, Yukio looked like nothing so much as a mother enraptured with her child.
As evening stretched on into morning, they sat in the main room of the small apartment and talked in soft voices. "She's been good for you, darlin'."
Yukio smiled faintly, eyes lowered as she raised the sake to her lips. "She is... special."
"I know it hasn't been real easy for ya..."
"If I wanted the easy life I'd move to America."
He couldn't restrain a snort. "'Easy life.' Yeah. That's just what I found in the States..."
"You, Logan-san, never make things easy for yourself."
"It's a gift." He finished his own sake with a bigger-than-advisable swallow. The strong rice wine burned down his throat harshly. "Ami's asleep. You've been dodgin' this for an hour. Matsuo."
"I've been dodging nothing. You didn't ask."
"I'm askin' now."
She took another slow sip of sake. "He's taken an old fortress outside the city."
Logan closed his eyes briefly; hardly longer than a blink. Away from the city. Perfect place to keep his personal army of assassins handy and ready. "There any good news?"
She slanted him a look from beneath dark lashes. "No," she answered simply.
He swore again, softly, and reached into a pocket for a cigarette. Yukio put a hand over his, shaking her head. "Not in here. It's not good for Amiko."
He stared at her, eyebrows raised in surprise, then smiled despite himself and stood to head out. With a smooth unfolding of legs, she rose to follow him. As they stepped outside to be enfolded by the thick-aired Tokyo night she slid closer to him, arms slipping around his waist and down to rest lightly on the front of his thighs. "Is he the only reason you came back, Logan?"
He was motionless. "Mariko, too."
"Is that all...?"
Voices from another street echoed briefly, then passed. He lit the cigarette, flame briefly painting his face a burning orange. "Wanted to check on you an' Ami," he said after a moment.
"You know I care about both of ya."
Her hands trailed up over his stomach. "You've hardly called... the checks come directly from your bank..."
She stepped around him, hands sliding in a caress to finally link behind his neck. "I've missed you, Logan."
He looked into her dark, delicately slanted eyes. In so many ways she fit his ideal image of beauty. And she wanted him... oh yes, she wanted him. It was in her face, in her scent, in her touch.
"I'm with someone," he told her.
The skin at the corners of her eyes crinkled slightly. "What?"
"I'm with someone. For a good while now."
She didn't move. "Anyone I know?"
"Her name's Kai."
A slow, composed nod. Her voice remained level. "Is it serious?"
He held her gaze, saying nothing.
Yukio smiled faintly -- a bitter smile of acknowledgment. "I missed my chance, then." She shook her head slightly. "That scalawag Cajun told me to go to you by Mariko's grave, but I told him that I wouldn't be a replacement for anyone."
"It woulda been the wrong time."
"It's always the wrong time for us, isn't it?"
He saw her anger as clearly as her pain. "Yeah. I guess it is."
Some part of her -- pride, maybe, or something similar -- made her raise an eyebrow and grin suggestively. "Ever heard the saying 'what she doesn't know...'?" He knew she wasn't serious... or wasn't completely serious, as he had little doubt she'd accept the offer of a night's entertainment even without the possibility of more... but somehow it hurt, hearing that. Not hurt him, exactly -- hurt to see her hurt, and to know himself responsible.
So he kept his voice as gentle as he could. "Tempting, darlin'... but not an option."
"Can't blame a woman for trying." She stepped back with a single long stride, arms crossing loosely over her chest. "So..." She cleared her throat. "Matsuo."
He eyed her, then took a drag off the cigarette and glanced away, eyes scanning the oddly lit street. "Matsuo." Exhaled a stream of smoke, warm scratchiness caressing his lungs and his nose. "What're his defenses like?"
"Not so strong as you'd think. The jonin has been spoiled by his reputation and the fact that few people are foolish enough to test it. He's overconfident."
"That's him, all right."
"If you're going for him, I think it would be best to attack in the evening when he's with one of his consorts... he's likely to be most off-guard then..."
He grunted noncommittally. "What sorta muscle's he got?"
"Only the best."
Logan snorted. "Yeah, right."
"Don't be so quick to discount them, Logan. They may not be much compared to the 'supervillains' you and yours face, but they're respected fighters regardless."
"Doesn't matter." Any hint of humor fled. He met her eyes again. "I'm gettin' him this time. Whatever it takes."
She asked again-- "Why? Why now?"
He shook his head. "Can't explain. Wouldn't make sense to you."
"You might be surprised how much I can understand," she said coldly.
He scowled. "Didn't mean it that way, darlin'. It's just... I can't put it to words."
"Then don't," she said suddenly, smiling as if it had just ceased to matter. "We'll go with it. Just let it take us wherever it will. Just like old times."
"No," she cut in sharply, eyes flashing. "Enough talk. I'm not one of your teammates, Logan. I handle life on my terms, and I won't compromise that for you or anyone."
"That's not what I'm sayin'."
"It is. You want to tell me that we have to plan, and that I can't take a risk like this because of Amiko." Her glare was fierce, full of an utterly feminine fury that he'd seen more than a few times in his life. "If you want my help, you accept it the way I offer it."
He breathed out a short huff of anger. "You wanna orphan that kid again?"
"You knew the kind of person I was when you asked me to care for her."
Logan dragged off the cigarette savagely. "I thought she'd settle ya."
"I won't be settled."
"You love that kid, Yukio. I've seen the way you look at her."
"I love you. I still won't compromise my life for you." Her eyes flashed again as a distant blinking light caught them in its dim glow. "You decide how much you want this. I'll be with you."
His jaw tightened as he looked at her resolute face. He knew this kind of stubbornness well enough to know that it wouldn't be swayed. If he wanted the information she had, he had to accept everything that came with it.
He'd vowed on the flight out here that this time he'd end Matsuo and finally pay the bastard back for all the harm he'd caused. It was a matter of honor. It was something encompassed by the system of beliefs he'd adopted as his own. It was...
Vengeance. And it was worth the risk.
"Fine," he told her shortly. "Fine."
Triumph brightened her dark eyes and curved the corners of her lips up slightly. "I thought you'd see it my way, Logan-san."
It would have to be worth the risk...
Matsuo had the guards. He had the security. He had every measure of protection that he should've needed.
And Logan slipped through them all as unobtrusively as a ghost. Yukio was a little ways off, her own movements so quiet that even Logan wasn't aware of her location at all times. It was disconcerting, trying to keep track of her and the guards at the same time. He knew she could take care of herself, of course...
He wouldn't see Amiko orphaned. Not again.
But he wouldn't let go of his revenge, either. Not. Again.
When he hit the edge of the trees, Yukio melted from the shadows to crouch beside him. "It's all open from here," she murmured. "No more cover."
He only nodded. Didn't need cover. Just caution and skill, and maybe a smile from Lady Luck.
"I'll watch your... back," she said, almost whispering. The innuendo in the tone teased a half-grin from his mouth, but his eyes didn't soften.
"Stay outta the line o' fire when the shit hits the fan," he told her quietly. "This is personal." The last was about the only thing he could think of that might encourage her to actually keep herself out of the worst of the action. If he'd expressed concern for her safety, she'd be out there in a heartbeat to prove herself.
He only hoped that his making it a matter of personal 'honor' would be enough to keep her safe.
Silently, he slipped from the trees and into the too-well-lit yard. For the moment, at least, she stayed back... watching.
Ten yards... twenty. Ground taken in swiftly, body low. He figured he'd be seen no matter how careful he was, but the longer it took, the better off he was.
Thirty yards. Thirty to go. Half a football field stretched around him -- more than enough room for them to notice a single running figure beneath the floodlights.
Twenty left... ten...
No way. He pressed against the building, breath coming a little fast, but steady. How fuckin' incompetent can they be?
Incompetent enough, evidently. He heard the scrape of a boot over cement above him and chanced a look up. A black-clothed arm was briefly visible over the edge of the roof, then gone. He'd just made it inside of the lookout's patrol, then. Lady Luck was smiling on him.
Just keep grinnin' up there, Lady. I'll do the rest.
He crept along the wall, moving swiftly and silently. The team had never understood how he managed such economy of motion. He didn't bother to enlighten them. It wasn't really something most of them would be able to emulate, anyway. When a person lived with enhanced senses for as long as he had, he learned how to tread quietly enough that he could barely hear himself.
Going in through the door wasn't an option. Wall was stone, so his bone claws wouldn't help in a climb. That was okay, though. He was in shape, and the stone was uneven enough to give him finger and toeholds. Even if it would make him even more of a target for the minute or so the climb would probably take him...
He felt eyes on him all during the climb -- Yukio's eyes. He could almost sense her little start when a foot slipped briefly. Just don't come out here, darlin'.
A claw convinced the lock on the window to relinquish its hold. Another few seconds, and he was in.
Into a room drenched in Matsuo's scent. His lip curled unconsciously and he felt his blood stir. Never again. He'd had enough taken from him. Time to start some payback.
Matsuo wasn't in there, but it was clearly his room, as Yukio had thought. Lavish, elegant furnishings, all traditionally Asian. Tapestries chronicling legends -- all of great swordsmen and other men of power, Logan took the time to notice. And there on the low stand just inside the door was a photograph of a very familiar face; Kwannon.
Another one we owe ya for. Another life you fucked up.
He opened the door -- not so much as a creak in the hinges -- and took in the hall. Not a guard in sight. Matsuo probably assumed the Hand outside would be enough. Either that, or perhaps he'd sent his guards away so as to have no distractions while he entertained himself with his woman for the night.
And Logan could hear them... could smell the jonin and the woman. She murmured to him quietly from a room two doors down, her voice the soothing, satisfied croon of a woman after sex. Matsuo's voice was leveler... less affected by their activities and more perfunctory. A part of Logan was surprised that the man even bothered with that much. His impression had been that the young leader of the Hand was a man impatient with niceties and interested only in gratification and solitary celebration of such.
The woman might be a problem. Chances were that any woman the jonin allowed to entertain him was an accomplished fighter in and of herself. For all that he'd done so more times than he could count, Logan didn't like fighting women. He wouldn't hold back... but a part of him, deep inside, always flinched when or if it came down to kill or be killed. He had no stomach for cutting on frails, even after he'd known so many -- intimately known them -- with strength to rival any man he'd faced.
The woman's voice again, sleep-laden. Something short from Matsuo with the sound of a command layered in between the false tolerance. Logan stood outside the door, listening, smelling. He could hear the rustle of sheets, then the soft thump of feet as the jonin stood. Returning to his own bedchamber for the night?
Logan slipped back into Matsuo's room and pressed himself against the wall next to the door. His heart had started pounding somewhere in the last few minutes -- adrenaline and raw anger churned his blood. Finally...
The doorknob turned. The door opened, momentarily obscuring his view. Matsuo didn't bother to turn on the light as he entered, trusting to his exterior defenses and confident in his own skills.
When he closed the door, he was all Logan's.
Not even two strides... just a powerful push from his right leg that propelled him forward, then a left-right one-two combo that sent the jonin reeling backwards to slam against the facing wall. Matsuo didn't have time to shout -- or even to curse -- before Logan's solid weight rammed into him. One hand snatched the man's right wrist. The other snapped up to press knuckles warningly into the slim Asian throat.
Matsuo, no fool, didn't try to speak. His dark eyes flashed a thousand messages of murder and hatred, instead.
The moment was here. Logan had the bastard in his damned hands... the chance to repay more wrongs than he could count was right in front of him... the opportunity he'd dreamed of night after night for months after this son of a bitch had taken everything that mattered from him...
And he wanted to say something. He wanted to find words that would make the man's last breaths on this earth full of terror and bitter, writhing defeat.
But he couldn't find the words.
So Matsuo did. "I should have known you'd come back, gaijin." He spoke English pointedly -- emphasized Logan's nationality... his lack of 'pure' blood... with every word. That his voice was low and quiet only showed his lack of respect for the danger he was in.
Though Logan knew that the last, at least, was merely an act. The light sheen of sweat on dusky Asian skin spoke of fear. The jump in the man's heartbeat beneath the bare chest whispered seductively of surprise and fury and anticipation. Oh yes... Matsuo was smart enough to realize what he faced here.
And not many people had faced Wolverine when he was this close to the edge and lived to tell about it.
"Is this your way then?" Matsuo continued levelly. "To sneak in like the cowardly dog you are? To ambush a man and to kill him without offering a fair and honorable fight?"
Finally, Logan found words. "You," he growled softly, "wanna talk to me about honor?" His fist pressed more tightly into the vulnerable throat. "You?"
"I have... more right to the word than you. It is... my birthright."
Logan shifted his grip on the man's wrist, twisting cruelly until he got a satisfactory flinch. "Is it honorable to murder a woman with treachery?" Without really thinking about it, he switched to Japanese. "Is it honorable to use a child to murder that woman?"
"I don't answer to you."
"You do now." Low and flat. A voice of promise. "Right now, you answer to me for everything."
Matsuo's voice was throttled past the pressure at his throat. "Answer to your claws, maybe... but never to you, Logan."
"This goes far past any honorable match, Matsuo. This isn't a fight." Logan's teeth bared in something too much like a smile. "This is an execution."
To his credit, Matsuo's eyes didn't even flicker. "Then do it."
Logan ignored that. "She'd done nothing to you. Nothing."
"Her pride is what killed her, gaijin."
"Bakatai!" Logan spat. "The Yakuza didn't need Clan Yashida."
"How would you know what they needed or what they didn't?" Matsuo wouldn't, of course, confirm that the Hand was merely a pawn of the Japanese Mafia. Not even to someone who obviously knew already. "You have no understanding of the way things work in Nippon--"
"Wrong." He wasn't here to debate with this man, Logan reminded himself firmly. "I know more than enough about the way things work. Or did you forget that I took down an arm of the Yakuza already?"
"Shingen was a mere finger."
"And you are even less."
"If that were true, you wouldn't be here now."
Logan's voice went deadly quiet. "I'm here now because you murdered my betrothed in cold blood."
"I had far less to do with that than you believe."
"Bullshit," Logan hissed in English. "You were there. You gave the order. You had her killed--"
"Wrong," Matsuo said sharply, eyes shooting daggers and mouth... almost smiling? "You've been working under a mistaken assumption for two years, gaijin. You don't even know who to blame, do you?"
The hand clenched into a fist under Matsuo's chin twisted suddenly, fingers turning and closing over the man's neck tightly. With a brutal jerk, Logan flung him unceremoniously across the room to thump gracelessly on the floor. Matsuo hissed, but didn't cry out.
No sound from outside... no feet traveling from the other room. Logan stalked forward, knowing that Matsuo could call out and attract attention, knowing that the man's right hand was prosthetic, and that there were amazingly sharp and strong blades imbedded in those false fingers, knowing that his chances of killing this man and getting out of there alive were slim... and not caring about any of that. "Talk," he said coldly. "Fast."
The jonin's nostrils flared faintly in distaste, but he spoke. One word. Two hard syllables. "Hydra."
Logan snorted disgustedly. "Why the hell would Hydra have an interest in Yashida?"
"I don't know." An eyebrow raised with admirable nonchalance. "Perhaps you should go accost them and find out."
"Tell me whatcha do know," Logan suggested. His words were backed with the queasy sound of bone through flesh-- 'schlukk!' Matsuo's dark eyes flickered swiftly to the three ivory-white claws, laced with runnels of crimson in their imperfections, descending from the back of Logan's loosely closed right fist. "Or this is gonna take a lot longer than it needs to."
"Ain't your concern."
"But Yuriko said that the process could not be reversed..."
A subtle tightening of an already iron jaw. That fist clenched slightly. "Yuriko."
Matsuo smiled; a cold smile. "I make it a habit to cultivate your enemies."
Don't think about Yuriko... don't think about one more whose life got fucked up 'cause o' me... Logan said flatly, "Hydra."
The jonin gave the impression of a shrug with the barest of movements. "A woman came to me from Hydra. She had a method of doing away with an obstacle. I would have been a fool to turn her away."
"She came to you with the plan?"
"Are you really so slow that I'll need to repeat everything?" Logan remained silent, eyes steady and furious. Matsuo continued with something dangerously close to smug satisfaction. "She came to me. Her people arranged everything. All my people did... was keep you busy."
"No. She wasn't mine. I think our friends had a little something to do with that one. I only supplied the ninja."
"And Reiko?" Logan could still remember encountering the girl. She'd felt obligated to him after that first meeting. It was a matter of giri... something bred into her culture and her very blood. Finding her there... realizing that she had brought the poisoned knife that killed Mariko...
Honorable or not, at that moment Reiko had probably been lucky to be dead.
"The woman supplied her, as well."
Logan went silent. Too much to absorb. Somewhere deeper inside his chest than his heart, he balanced precariously over a bottomless pit of fury that he knew too well. Some part of him knew that in moments he'd let himself just... fall. Let go this iron grip and drop into blissful, burning hot darkness. Familiar. Empowering. Free.
The thought was in his voice, but calm. Level. Not him. Too calm to be him. Too soothing, when he'd never been able to soothe himself. His voice, but whispering of memory. Mariko might have said that to him, if she were alive today. No, Logan. You cannot lose control. You cannot abandon that which makes you a man and a warrior and the champion of Clan Yashida. You cannot throw aside the honor that won you my heart. You cannot, you should not, you will not...
Hydra was a big organization. He could fight them his whole life and never take the whole thing down. For every head that was cut off, two more grew back.
But he could at least get one head. "I want a name, Matsuo."
"The woman, then."
"Don't play stupid."
Another eloquently raised eyebrow. "I have nothing to lose by telling you. Hydra does nothing for the Hand."
"So spill it."
Matsuo pushed himself into a seated position, holding his wrist against himself as though it hurt. "She called herself Silver Fox."
The world stopped spinning with a grinding churn. Logan's heart slowed, slowed. He wasn't sure how he got the word out: "What?"
"Silver Fox," Matsuo repeated unnecessarily. "American. American Indian, actually. Very cold. I almost could have taken her for one of our own..."
Thoughts crashed wildly into emotions, bombarding Logan's brain with a cacophony of small nuclear reactions that chased any contemplation from his mind. With a leap he was on Matsuo. With a pained roar he was wrenching the man up and slamming him back against the wall, fist lashing out, claws burying themselves to either side of the suddenly taut neck as the middle claw retracted just in time to preserve the jonin's throat. "Liar!" Somewhere beneath full conscious awareness Logan heard the feet hitting the floor in the bedroom down the hall... noted the racing strides outside as his shout alerted guards to his presence. None of that mattered. The growl tearing through his throat made the words barely understandable-- "It's a lie!"
Matsuo's head crashed into the wall, and the jonin's teeth bared in pain and fury. "I do not lie, gaijin!"
It had to be a lie. It was impossible. It was insane. It was incomprehensible.
And he'd seen Fox wearing the green of Hydra himself. He'd heard the hatred in her voice when she'd said his name, and he'd flinched back internally at the cold glimmer of satisfaction in her eyes that'd accompanied his realization that she wasn't the woman he remembered.
He remembered the Silver Fox he'd thought he'd known. He remembered the sweet scent of her skin on cold and snow-brushed nights, the bells in her laughter, the warmth of her arms.
But they were wrong, his memories. Twisted and corrupted; he knew that. Some were real, some were fragments of dreams, and some...
... some resolved themselves into living nightmares.
"No," he snarled, making it a command. "No."
"True..." Mastuo ground out. "Though if I'd known it would bother you this much... I would have told you two years ago."
A flash of emerald cloak in Logan's memory... a rich voice gone flat with uncountable years of harsh, bitter reality...
It couldn't be. It couldn't be.
He knew the lie even as he desperately tried to convince himself it was truth.
The footsteps from the other room reached the door, then wasted no time in opening it and propelling their owner through; the 'consort' for the night. She was a woman of medium height, slim, elegant and deadly with her dusky skin and flashing Asian eyes and the shuriken she flung towards him without pause. He took one high on his shoulder, barely missed catching the others along his ribcage, and then tore claws free from the wall and Matsuo free from his bony cage to thrust the jonin before him as a shield. Matsuo had other ideas. He spun with the motion and whirled, hand lashing out, catlike. Slim, strong blades in the artificial fingers snapped to readiness, then buried themselves in Logan's abdomen, tearing through.
Logan abandoned thought without hesitation and let savage instinct guide him. The bone claws cut air, then parted flesh with almost equal ease. Something like a brief, choked-off scream escaped the jonin. Dark, slanted eyes fixed in shock on the falling hand, the trail of crimson behind it, the stump that started to spout instantly behind it...
Logan's arm clutched across his midsection and gripped hard as the pain hit. His shoulder burned from the shuriken and the taint of some unfamiliar substance on its blades reached him over the iron scent of the blood. He could feel the heated agony racing through his body already from that single point.
Another throwing star struck him, this time in the forearm over his stomach. Another in his chest, making him stumble back a half-step. The woman's face was blank. Her arms moved in slow motion, but he was moving more slowly still and couldn't dodge the next blade any more than the earlier ones. Through a haze he saw Matsuo waver on his feet... saw the jonin clamp his bloody arm to his chest-- Three times now I've taken that hand from him... --until the silken leggings the man wore were dyed an indistinguishable dark ochre from running blood.
There were more feet in the hall, coming for them. He didn't care. Didn't matter. Nothing mattered except what he'd come for... the vengeance -- justice? -- he'd withheld for far too long. Blood roared in his ears, almost loud enough to drown out the memory of her screams.
She hadn't been meant to scream like that. No one was.
Slow or not, poisoned or not, he was here to kill Mariko's murderer, and he wouldn't leave until he'd done that.
Feet scuffed on the windowsill behind him. Scent was slow in filtering through his fuzzy, heavy brain, but she called out a warning to him as she entered the fray, and her throwing spikes whizzed past him through the air to catch Matsuo's female bodyguard in the eye, the throat, the chest... Matsuo shouted something as the woman fell to Yukio's spikes -- it sounded almost... anguished.
Logan's abdomen had healed enough to keep internal organs on the inside where they belonged. His arteries sang in pain from whatever toxin was on those shuriken, but he could still act. He would still act. After all this time...
Goddamnit, her scream wouldn't stop ringing in his ears...
There was something else trying to reach him -- a voice, strong, anxious, saying his name: "Logan, they're coming... we have to go now,... Logan, listen to me... Logan..." But he didn't want to hear it. The world was red, his blood was boiling, and there was nothing he needed more than to feel that bare resistance of Matsuo's flesh to his claws.
Matsuo had fallen back against the wall... was trying to stagger towards the door with uncoordinated, sluggish steps. Logan started forward on his own unsteady feet...
A gunshot... two. Shouts and red and black clothing and guns and swords, all boiling through the open door like ants from a flooded nest. And he still didn't care, he'd die for this if he had to, because the only thing that mattered was ending the man, ending the liar who told him that... that...
Her scream wasn't so shrill, and it was accompanied by a curse that Mariko would never have used. He turned his head just far enough to catch her in his peripheral vision--
--then whirled fully and lunged for Yukio. She was half-bent forward with her hands gripping her head, red bathing the side of her face and matting in her close-cropped hair. The gunshots... they hadn't been at him... not at him when he was poisoned and barely keeping his feet...
It was a crazed miasma of sound and light and scent and sensation. Whatever was in the toxin made his saliva taste metallic in his mouth and throat. There were bullets behind him moving slowly through the thick air; a murderer and liar he'd sworn to kill that he was turning his back on; and a woman who was a friend and had once been more, a woman who was raising a child he'd taken as his own, and she was bleeding because of him, had screamed because of him, and none of this was right in his fucking muddled head...
They shot him twice before he reached Yukio; one bullet chipped his shoulder blade and the other buried itself in his right thigh. Yukio straightened as he reached her, keeping her left hand firmly pressed to the side of her head. Her other hand flashed to her bandoleer, then fingers flicked more rapidly than he could follow. Blades swept past him, a familiar scent carried in the breeze of their passing.
He grabbed her and bore her bodily to the windowsill, more falling through the opening than jumping, only managing to twist and grab the lip of the ledge by a feat of sheer acrobatic skill that he wouldn't have thought himself capable of at the moment. Yukio held him as tightly as he held her. For a moment they wavered between hanging on and falling hard.
A last glimpse through the window... bodies falling, more arriving... Matsuo collapsed heavily against the wall, panting in great, shuddering breaths, a single throwing spike standing proudly at attention from his biceps muscle...
They half-fell, half-clawed their way down the uneven wall, grabbing handholds whenever they could. Nails split, fingers tore, flesh was scraped raw through clothing. He managed to get himself beneath her when fingerholds finally failed for the last fifteen feet of wall, and bones bruised and cracked at the impact as they landed.
She was up first. Her hands closed over one of his and jerked until he thrust himself dizzily to his feet. Her eyes were focusing strangely and her balance seemed off, but she was on her feet and breathing, and that was all that mattered for the moment. There were more shouts and more gunshots, all from above. Too far away to matter to their unsteady, running feet. He wasn't sure if she was supporting him or vice versa... maybe both, maybe neither.
Twenty yards... thirty yards... fifty yards...
His head was clearing by the time they hit the trees. Yukio was moving all right, if not with her accustomed grace. He heard no pursuit, which struck him as very wrong. Even bleeding and badly injured, Matsuo would have been ordering their deaths fervently. Something wasn't right with this. They shouldn't be able to penetrate the jonin's estate, kill guards and maim him without further retaliation.
They evaded the mechanized security perfunctorily, more concerned with watching their backs for genin. He healed steadily from wounds and poison until finally he was moving with almost his usual accustomed precision.
But he was silent. Very, very silent.
She dropped to the ground when he stopped to listen behind them. From here he could already hear the buzz of the too-close city that cupped this rare plot of undeveloped ground so close in. The fortress was a relic from a bygone age, and only its various owners' money over the years had defended it from 'progress.'
And would continue to defend it, apparently.
I failed you, M'iko. Again.
"You okay?" he asked Yukio, eyes turned to the sparse trees behind them. "How bad is it?"
"It's only a graze."
"Why'd ya come up there?" He barely kept the anger from his voice.
And she didn't even try to hide it in hers. "You were in trouble. What did you expect me to do?"
"I coulda handled it."
"I don't think so." He heard her stand, but didn't turn to look at her. "What did he tell you?"
"I saw that look, Logan-san. You were about to lose control."
He snapped around and took one, two, three sharp strides for her... then caught himself and froze in place, lips still drawn back in a faint snarl. "No shit, Yukio! Didja somehow forget what that sonuvabitch did?!"
Her face was cold and her eyes were burning. "I would never forget something that affected you so deeply."
"I didn't finish," Logan growled, hearing and hating the helpless frustration under the rage. "I promised her he'd die, and the little fucker's alive."
"Not for much longer."
"I'm sick and tired of waitin' for tomorrow!"
She shook her head, almost calmly. "Minutes, Logan-san, if that."
It was enough to silence him for a moment. Eventually-- "What?"
Her head turned, eyes gazing towards the fortress they couldn't see anymore. She pulled a throwing spike from her bandoleer and flicked it idly in the moonlight. Her fingers carefully avoided touching the blade... even the flat of it. "Oh great jonin," she said, sarcasm mingling with something cruel, delighting. "Lord Matsuo of the Hand..."
She still didn't look at him, giving her attention to the man he'd gone in there to kill. The blade winked in the dim light. His muddled sense of smell slowly filtered that same familiar odor he'd caught earlier out of the air. He tensed, memory finally catching the trace and labeling it, supplying it with a scream, with a convulsing body in his arms, a plea from the woman he'd loved for him to end the pain and...
... and spare her the final agonies of the blowfish toxin.
The blade flashed. A breath of wind rustled the trees with a secret whisper.
"Gotcha," Yukio whispered hollowly towards the dying jonin.
And Logan could only stare.
He'd insisted that Yukio get checked out, and felt validated when she turned out to have a minor concussion. She took the exam with ill spirits and the injury itself with somewhat better ones, telling him that she'd never expected to come out of the situation unscathed. He'd found that hearing that disturbed him deeply... seeing her lack of concern. Realizing that she might be willing to risk herself again and again the same way, heedless of the young girl depending on her.
They'd rested the day after the fight, and the following night Logan had gone off, pointedly alone, to discover whether or not she was right about Matsuo's fate.
He'd found a funeral, attended only by genin and a few select supporters, and a stone set grandly away from the four others that marked the night's toll. Even the bodyguard/consort that Matsuo had evidently cared something for wasn't allowed to be honored beside him.
Mind strangely calm, he'd watched the memorial from a distance, then had turned and gone his own way undetected.
Sundown found him wandering aimlessly along the too-bright streets as he wavered between chaos and stillness in his head. Every time his mind began to accept it, accept that Matsuo was dead, another voice would cut across the thought and steal any peace he found in it:
'Silver Fox. American. American Indian, actually. Very cold. I almost could have taken her for one of our own...'
He felt alternately hollow and nauseous, and couldn't even find the will to give the necessary attention to the occasional uncomplimentary shouts from the more disruptive natives that were offended by the gaijin walking so unconcernedly among them.
Eventually he found his way back to Yukio's place. She offered him sake. He accepted it distractedly, everything on the surface of his thoughts numb, barely noticing her ruined nails and battered fingers as he brushed them.
"Logan-san... he is dead. It's over."
He said nothing. Stared into the rice wine blindly.
"Mariko Yashida's killer is dead."
Yes, she was. Killed by his oldest enemy right before his eyes. Creed had killed the woman who'd killed his fiancé. And Yukio had no idea of the truth...
Still motionless on the outside, he felt the tremor run through him beneath the skin.
Yukio said something cold and angry. He didn't register the words. Her bare feet hardly made a sound as she stood and left him for her small room.
And still he stared into his sake and tried to find a way to make it all make sense in his mind.
It might have been minutes later, or perhaps an hour, when a quiet pad-pad warned him of small feet approaching. He looked up from the wine he still hadn't touched, meeting large, warm brown eyes in a small, delicate face. It'd always struck him as remarkable, how much Amiko looked like Mariko. Almost like enough to be her daughter.
"Logan-san, can you not sleep?"
"No, little one," he said quietly. "I'm thinking."
She nodded very seriously and pad-padded to stand in front of him, then sat with a graceless plop only a nine-year-old could have managed, nightgown billowing around her and tangling with her legs. "Yukio-sama told me to leave you alone. She said you think of the dead."
He nodded with equal gravity. Far be it from Ami to do what she was told. "I do. And sometimes that is a dangerous thing. It's easy to get lost, remembering."
She cocked her head curiously. "Then why do it?"
So simple for her, innocent that she was. "It's complicated, Ami."
"I'm smart. I can help." Only earnest confidence and desire to ease his mind could be heard in that piper-pure voice. She wanted to be strong and as fearsome as Yukio could be, he knew, but she couldn't hide the youth and innocence that those precious nine years gave her. "I don't want you to be sad, Logan-san."
He smiled at her tiredly. "You have a good heart, kid."
She waited a moment, then scowled slightly when he didn't continue. On her face the expression was nothing short of adorable. "You didn't answer me."
"You see a lot, Amiko-chan."
"You're still not answering me."
"This is true."
Her little face went stormier still. No, Yukio definitely wasn't raising this girl to be a 'proper' young Japanese lady. "I don't like you being sad. The Good Samurai isn't supposed to be sad."
"I've told you, Amiko-chan... I'm not a good samurai." A good samurai wouldn't have failed the women who'd depended on him. Wouldn't have lost Mariko when he was so, so close by. Wouldn't have somehow missed the fact that Silver Fox was alive, was being changed, was needing him to find her and keep her from becoming... what she became. No, he was far from a good samurai.
But Amiko smiled with sudden, sure faith. "You saved me, Logan-sama. From the dragon and from those foster parents who were so mean to me. I know you're the Good Samurai. I've seen it."
He dropped his gaze towards the sake. Something in his chest clenched, loosened, clenched. "There were other people I didn't save, Amiko-chan."
"Like Lady Mariko?" No judgment in her voice, no condemnation in her eyes. Good. He had enough for the both of them.
"Like Lady Mariko," he agreed heavily. "Yes."
A pause, then hesitantly-- "And my mother?"
He closed his eyes. "Yes."
She said nothing for a minute. Two.
Then she did, and his eyes opened at her words. "You saved me, Logan-sama," she emphasized quietly. "I know who you are."
Logan blinked at her slowly, letting the words turn over in his mind. He wished on some level that he could share her faith; in himself, in anyone. Ever since he'd pulled the six-year-old girl from the wreckage that'd crushed her mother she'd believed in him unquestioningly. He was the Good Samurai, and no matter how bad things got, he'd find a way to rescue her.
It scared him, in a way, to have someone who was so sure of him. He'd have to be more than superhuman to protect her forever, he knew that. Sooner or later she might be used against him as others had been, or she could find herself in a perfectly mundane situation he couldn't save her from, or she might follow in Yukio's footsteps as a ronin only to discover that the life held no mercy for the young and inexperienced...
But right now she was only a nine-year-old girl with engaging brown eyes and all the faith she'd withdrawn from the world sunk into him... her own Noble Samurai.
He couldn't possibly protect her forever... but damnit, he'd try. And if he'd failed time and time before, he'd just have to try all the harder now.
"Maybe you're on to something there, kid," he told her eventually. With some effort he managed a smile. "Go to bed, Ami."
She searched his eyes with her own narrowed suspiciously. "Are you still sad?"
He reached out and touched the tip of her nose with his finger, making her giggle. "Really, little one. Sleep."
Reassured, she stood, smiled brightly, and pad-padded to her room. Having her own room was a luxury she hadn't known at Yukio's old place. The money Logan made sure LL&L supplied them with was enough to afford this little house and the niceties that went with it. It wasn't often in his life that he did something so mundanely simple and generous for someone he cared for. It gave him a different kind of pleasure than the more hands-on approach of working with the X-Men did.
Hard to believe something so easy for him to give up could mean so much to any one person.
Yukio breathed quietly, deep in sleep, from her room. He heard Amiko rustle into her sheets with the satisfied sigh of a little warrior confident that she's just won a battle. Slowly, contemplatively, he raised the neglected sake and took a sip. The rice wine burned down his throat and seared its way into his stomach.
He'd asked the questions only days ago, tearing them free from their dark home in his chest: 'Why does it keep happening? Why do they keep slipping through my fingers?'
He looked at those fingers now, flexing them, watching tendons shift beneath skin. Strong hands, these, and yet those gaps between fingers, those blind spots he allowed himself, always betrayed him when it really counted.
Lights from outside snuck in past the thin shades. He downed the rest of the sake in a throat-scorching swallow and set the cup beside him on the floor, then held up his hand, palm to him. Fingers spread, letting multi-colored light spill through to pool faintly on the wall beyond.
"Good Samurai," he murmured, staring fixedly at his hand. Fingers curled slowly, thumb wrapping firmly around his forefinger to tighten the fist. Muscle flexed in his forearm lightly.
The Good Samurai would have no gaps between his fingers. He wouldn't let them slip through; not anymore. And if the goal was hopelessly unrealistic and he was only setting himself up for the self-loathing that went with failure again...?
Then that's what he'd do. Noble Samurai or just a man, he'd hold those fingers as tightly closed as he could for as long as he was able.
And he wouldn't let himself think of how many times he'd made the same promise.
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