Ken finished packing his work away earlier than he'd expected. Since he'd gotten the letter from Nambu three days ago, he'd been consumed by the need to get to Japan as soon as possible. Once upon a time, he'd have been able to simply go-- but his work nowadays, in some respects, demanded more responsibility than he'd had as a Gatchaman. As a scientist, he couldn't simply vanish into the sunset anymore, much as he'd like to. He had to compromise this time by getting ready in absolute secrecy-- he hadn't even told the twins yet that they'd be going.
But he was done now, all his work en route to the newly formed ISO headquarters in Japan. For the first time in three days, he allowed his excitement to show, grinning widely as he ran for his car. This time tomorrow, he'd be in Japan. Home. Even if it wasn't home anymore...
Humming, he swung his car out into traffic, heading for the school. He hadn't been in Japan since he adopted the twins-- and of course he was looking forward to seeing Nambu again, even though the other man wouldn't remember him. There might even be a chance to meet his father and mother... Besides, Japan would be just what the twins needed-- Nambu had promised to put them in a special education program that would challenge even their intellects. Ken was well aware that they were too arrogant for their own or anyone else's good, and was forced to spend too much time proving to them that they didn't know every- thing. He didn't particularly enjoy constantly taking them down-- they were, despite occasional bouts of being pains in the ass, basically good kids. Now if he could only keep them that way...
It was earlier than he usually arrived at the school, and class wasn't quite over yet. Figuring they would love him forever if he pulled them out early, Ken entered the building.
Alphabetical order notwithstanding, Kitten and Brian Bergmann were at opposite ends of the social studies classroom, him in the front and her in the back. They were convinced that Mrs. Jabowski had done it deliberately to annoy them.
Kitten made some semblance of taking notes-- she was actually doodling plans for wiretapping the school's computer line-- while attempting to discern what, exactly, Brian was doing. He kept flashing mischievous looks in her direction. She wished he would pass her a note or something and tell her what was going on.
Brian began ostentatiously tearing pages out of his notebook, ripping off the ragged edges, and folding them into paper airplanes and more complex feats of origami. Jabowski ignored him at first. But as the intricate paper creations mounted higher on his desk, she finally was forced to turn around and say, "Brian, cut it out."
"If you insist," Brian said, producing a pair of scissors and snipping into a clean sheet of paper.
"You heard me, Brian. I said cut it out!"
"What do you think I'm doing?" Brian held up the paper. It was clear that what he was snipping were actually the letters I T. The class didn't like Brian, but on the other hand they didn't like Jabowski either. They roared.
Jabowski snatched the paper away. "You want a detention, young man?"
"Oh, *yes!* On a pink slip, okay? I'm collecting them-- I've got a green and a blue and six yellows so far."
Kitten stood up. She was rather annoyed at Brian for making a public spectacle of himself, but she had to back him up anyway. "Mrs. Jabowski, you can't give him a detention for following your orders," she said. "You told him to 'cut it out'. He did."
"Kitten, I don't want any of your mouth! You know perfectly well what I meant--"
"How do you know? On the existential plane how can anyone be sure anyone else knows anything?"
"Shut UP, Bergmann!" someone shouted.
"Besides, we're Germans. How do you know we understand English idioms?" Kitten continued.
"Will you shut up?" the same boy said.
"We're not in the mood for this existential crap of yours," a girl said.
Brian stood. "How can you define mood, except by reference to existential terms?" he asked dramatically. "Doesn't the very fact of there being a mood contradict the Constitution? *ARE WE NOT ALL CREATED EQUAL?*"
"In the eyes of God, don't forget," Kitten said. "Down here, who knows?"
"I *knew* they would do this," Jabowski was muttering. "I knew they would."
"Shut UP, we don't want to *hear* you!" another classmate said.
"Fucking snotnose showoffs--"
"Shut the fuck up and sit down!"
It was time for a strategic retreat. Kitten caught Brian's eye, and they both grabbed their books and headed for the door. "Just where do you think you're going?" Jabowski demanded, trying to reassert some small measure of authority.
"This has been an alien clone production," Kitten said in a mechanical voice. "The real Bergmanns have been replaced by us for experimental pruposes. We now return you to your regularly scheduled class."
They marched out.
Running down the hallway, the two of them howled with laughter, giggling to each other in a pidgin of American-accented German and English with a smattering of French and Japanese. "She'll never live that down," Brian gasped. "Ten to one odds she's gone next year."
"*Gee*, Brian, peeling off Jabowski's skin sure was *fun*, wasn't it?"
"Oh, *that* goes without... saying..."
They made their way to the lockers without incident, still laughing. At the lockers was the usual crowd of senior jerks.
"You know," Kitten said, sobering, "we're going to be in a lot of trouble when Ken finds out about this."
"Who says he will? Rig the answering machine and do a synth of his voice."
"On our equipment? Maybe on the stuff that got stolen in Texas, but not...I think the only thing we can do is to move before he finds out. We could always say somebody was following us home--"
The twins stiffened. "Ignore them," Kitten said tightly as Brian's hands clenched into fists.
"We're already in deep merde unless we move again," Brian hissed back. "I want to take out those assholes."
"Hey, no answer? Whatsamatta, don't you want to talk to us?"
"No," Brian replied, looking up from his locker and glaring.
One walked over to Brian, leaned over him. "You don't like us, you little fag? You don't want to talk to us?"
"That's what I said, wasn't it?"
"Oh, *that's* what he *said*, wasn't it?"
"Didn't you *hear* him? That's what he *said*!" The senior boys laughed nastily. Kitten tugged at Brian's arm. "Forget the lockers. Let's just go."
He pulled away from her. "No, Kitten. I'm sick of letting these jerks win."
The boy closest to them leaned in farther, pressing Brian against the locker. "Just who the fuck do you think you are, Mr. Brainy Bergmann? You think you're better than the rest of us, don't you, you little queer? You and your cunt sister--"
"What cunt? She hasn't got one!" a boy from the back said.
Brian's fist smashed into the first boy's groin. He screamed and reeled back. "I'm sick of your mouths," Brian said. "I *am* better than you, and if you don't like it, you have to go through me."
"Ooo, he sounds fierce!"
"Brian, you fool," Kitten muttered.
"Go through you? Maybe you mean go *into* you, huh?" one boy taunted. "Maybe you want us to fuck your ugly body? C'mon, if you don't like what I'm saying do something about it!"
"You asked for it," Brian said, adopting a stance Ken had taught him.
"Brian, NO! Ken said we're not supposed to-- BRIAN!"
The boys were still snickering and making derogatory comments when Brian charged into them, dropping one with a blow to the groin, another in the solar plexus, breaking a third's knee. Kitten watched, mixed fury and anxiety churning in her, hidden behind her cold mask. Several took vicious swings at Brian, and one or two even connected-- he was too furious to fight really well. But none of them had anywhere near his level of training, and he was doing well when the first boy he'd hit came up behind Kitten and grabbed her by the neck. "Watch it, Bergmann, or your sister gets it!" he shouted.
Kitten remained motionless for only seconds, sizing up the situation before she took action. It was enough, however, to distract Brian and let one of the punks hit him into the wall. Kitten let out a ki-yai, smashed both fists backwards into her captor's face and followed it with two savage elbows to the gut. He released her, howling, and she went for her brother's attackers, nearly polishing them all off before Brian had time to rejoin the fight. He downed one and kicked the boy who'd hit him.
In the aftermath of the fight, Kitten's heart pounded and she felt physically ill. Brian, however, radiated savage triumph. "Great fighting, Kitten," he complimented her.
"Damn you," Kitten said dispiritedly. She shoved long, reddish-gold hair behind her ear with an abstracted motion. "Ken said--"
"Ken doesn't have to live with what we have to," Brian countered, a slight degree of anger entering his voice. "As far as I'm concerned they attacked first."
"They didn't attack first. Your pride was wounded and so you attacked them, and nearly got me strangled--"
"You weren't in any danger--"
"I *hate* having things around my neck--"
"So do I but you don't see me complaining--"
"Nobody strangled you--"
"Damn it, Kitten, you *heard* what they were saying! They do this kind of thing every day and it just gets harder and harder to live with. If we are leaving then there's no harm done and if we're not they'll think twice about insulting us again."
At 13, Brian was a tall, thin young man with a pile of thick, if short, red-gold hair and a voice that annoyed the hell out of him, as it showed little sign of deepening. He and his sister looked almost exactly alike, which was one of the reasons they were picked on so often-- while not downright ugly, they were awkward-looking, bony and spare with intense blue eyes set slightly too far apart to look normal. Their body language was uncannily alike, a combination of typically masculine and feminine movements, but unfortunately the only thing anyone ever noticed were the feminine aspects in Brian's motions, which combined with the other factors to get him into more fights than he bothered to count. Kitten, controlled and with the sort of mind that assessed every possible action for positive and negative possible results, was driven to distraction by Brian's impulsive nature and his tendency to make bad mistakes, which she then had to try to fix. "I understand why you did it, but what are we going to tell Ken?" she asked angrily.
"We'll think of something, I'm sure."
"You mean *I'll* think of something. You're always making messes, and I'm always the one who comes up with an excuse."
"What's wrong with the truth? They were being total assholes and deserved to be pounded into sludge. We were merciful, Kitten-- their kind would benefit the world by falling off it."
"Ken won't accept that. Ninja are supposed to have some measure of self-control."
"So I'm not ninja. So sue me."
"It has to look like we were in life-or-death danger. I could say they had knives..."
They both whirled and saw Ken, standing in the doorway. He looked very ticked off. Brian instantly adopted a defensive expression, while Kitten replaced her guilty expression with a mask of cool detachment. "Hello, Ken," she said.
"Just *what* did you think you were doing?"
*He's mad*, Kitten realized, and amended it a second later. *He's _really_ mad.* "Defending ourselves, the way you taught us," she replied. She didn't say it, but implicit in her tone was *Is there anything wrong with that?*
"I didn't teach you to butcher untrained people for insulting you!" Ken said sharply, his rage tightly controlled. "I taught you self-defense techniques, not ways to bully people. You--"
"*Bully* people?" Brian snarled. "What do *you* know about it? Every day these assholes insult us, push us around--"
"Did they physically harm you?" Ken asked.
"Continual unalleviated stress of this sort can lead to lessened disease resistance, lowered performance in school--" Kitten started.
"Did they break your bones? Hit you in the head? Cause anywhere near the sort of damage you just did?"
"Did they need to?" Brian asked.
"*YES!* Damn you, I didn't raise you to be better terrorists-- kamisama, you would have been good enough without my --" Ken drew in a sharp breath, cutting off the rest of his statement. "That isn't the point. You are ninja. Ninja bear insults, they *don't* beat fools to a bloody pulp simply for saying unpleasant things. What's the matter with you two, don't you have *any* self-control? These boys didn't deserve this--"
"Oh no? You want me to repeat the conversation?" Brian was furious.
"I'm sure I can guess what was said. A ninja doesn't allow himself to be tricked into revealing his abilities like that. That's always been your problem, Brian-- you don't *think.* You let your emotions control you-- and then you control your sister. You have no self-control, no--"
"They grabbed Brian first!" Kitten said, arguing a position she didn't believe, as she usually ended up doing. "They started the violence-- if we hadn't been trained, we would have been beaten--"
"Maybe you misunderstand. I'm not saying you shouldn't have defended yourselves. But it's a matter of degree. You *don't* use the same force on teenage scum that you use on the forces of evil--"
"In our position, there isn't any difference," Brian said.
"Yes, there is. There are people out there-- there is true evil in the world, kids." Ken suddenly sounded very tired. "I've spent enough time fighting it to know. There are people in the world who want to capture you and use you for their own purposes. More than anything else, that's why I get so angry when you do things like this. You draw attention to yourselves, attention you can't afford." He sighed. "It hardly matters now anyway, I suppose-- but if you pull something like this in Japan I swear you'll wish you were dead."
It took no time at all for that to register. "JAPAN?" Kitten shrieked. "*Finally?*"
"Are we really *going?*" Brian's face lost its defensiveness and lit with anticipation and excitement. "YEAH!" He flashed Kitten a thumbs-up, and she returned a quick, excited nod.
"We're leaving at 3 AM tonight, so we've got a lot of packing to do. Leave your schoolwork here-- you won't need it, and I don't want anyone to realize we've gone." They had already moved away from the site of the locker area battle, so Ken wasn't worried that someone would hear. He managed to recover some of his former mood, and smiled. "Dr. Nambu's promised me he would find some teachers for you that can give you a real challenge."
"No more busywork," Brian said, grinning.
"A challenge," Kitten breathed. "Teachers who *know* what they're doing. Just think--"
Their excitement would have been infectious even if Ken hadn't been wired up already. He grinned at them, and ran for the car. Racing toward their future, the twins pelted after their sensei.
Packing was more than usually nightmarish, since it had to be done so quickly. In a life filled with constant traveling, none of them had acquired many possessions, despite the fact that Kitten and Brian were by nature quite materialistic. They were all punchy with exhaustion and caffeine by the time they got to the plane, and ended up sleeping through most of the 14- hour ride. Ken dozed fitfully in the window seat, waking up several times in sudden terror that they'd missed Japan. Not that they *would* miss Japan-- the stewardess would wake them up, and Ken knew it-- but his subconscious was too keyed to comprehend such things. Besides, riding as a passenger always unnerved Ken, the way riding in a car with someone else driving had always annoyed Joe. Ken wondered, drifting in and out of sleep, what Joe would think of his current life work. He missed that friendship most out of his former life, and would have given anything he had to see Joe again-- but it would never be. Even if by a miracle he returned to his own time, Joe would be dead...and if he had changed the past sufficently, that Joe would not die, then the Ken that would be might never have known Joe...
As it happened, Ken was awake to hear the stewardess announce, "We'll be entering Japanese airspace in ten minutes," and he stayed awake. Outside the window, the glimmer of dawn was just visible on the easternmost clouds, lighting them pink from within. Ken stared out the window, drinking hungrily of the beauty there. He'd deliberately timed their flight to coincide with early morning in Japan, out of a sense of the dramatic and fitting. Finally, he pulled himself away from the window and shook the twins. "Kitten, Brian!"
"Whu-- ist," Kitten mumbled in garbled German, and promptly fell asleep again.
Brian blinked groggily, visibly dragged himself awake. "Mm-- okay, m'awake, what is it?"
"You want to see our approach to Japan?"
Brian leaned over Ken, looked out the window. "*Fantastich*," he murmured, mixing languages. "*Nanto mo schen*--" He turned and poked Kitten. "Wake up!"
"C'mon, we're breaking cloud cover and you're missing it! Don't you want to see Japan?"
"Not now," Kitten muttered.
"We're never going to see Japan for the first time again," Brian persisted, with irrefutable logic. "Kitten, it's *beautiful!*"
Ken, listening to the exchange, felt a rush of warmth for his charges. Brian might be a pain in the ass on occasion, and have an unpleasantly familiar voice, but the sense of wonder and joy that flowed through him now made him beautiful "Kitten, you did want to see this," he reminded her.
Slowly Kitten managed to come awake. "Okay, okay, I'll look-- ohhh..."
They were spiraling down over Japan now, and the rays of the morning sun highlighted the mountains and valleys, creating a gorgeous effect. The three of them crowded around the window, Kitten and Brian excitedly pointing features in the landscape out to each other, and Ken had to fight back barely realized tears. Ten years since he'd see Japan, even longer since he'd seen the ISO, and Nambu... if only he had someone to share this with, Joe or Jun...but Joe was dead in his own time, and Jun hadn't yet been born in this...