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"Ronan, are you--" Jason began. "Stupid question," he reprimanded himself as he pulled Ronan close. "What's wrong?" he asked, rocking the shivering and sobbing Ronan back and forth in an effort comfort him, but Ronan just kept sobbing. Jason wasn't even sure if Ronan had heard him. Jason just held him and tried to sooth him. Thinking of his powers, Jason tried inserting his mind into Ronan's, gently seeking some way to comfort him and got the mental equivalent of a roundhouse for his trouble.
"Well, that won't work," Jason groused, blinking. Stripped of other options, he considered going and getting some help. Briefly. Paul... was being weird about the whole sleeping in the same room thing. Despite being supportive, he clearly still wasn't comfortable with it. Lara had decided to go have a 'special' night out with her husband. And Jason just wasn't comfortable with leaving long enough to find help. Something about the idea felt wrong. Closing his eyes, he turned his thought and mind inward for a few moments, seeking that new place, deep in his soul, that he'd discovered. And couldn't reach it. He sensed it, just out of reach, but...
Opening his eyes, he looked at his lover in understanding.
...For the first time in a long time, Jason really looked at Ronan. Not using his newfound sight or anything like that, but with his eyes and his heart. Remembering what he'd Seen earlier, he understood what he had to do. As Ronan knelt beside him, Jason reached up and touched his face, calling that brilliant light back and letting it set into his mentor.
Ronan jerked back, a scream rattling it's way up his throat as the light surged through him for an instant that seemed to last forever. Before his scream could finish working it's way out of his mouth he too collapsed to the floor. Gasping, he looked at Jason for a few bare moments. "What have you done?" he cried.
"I set right what you sought to destroy," Jason told him...
...Please, Jason thought as he laid a hand on Ronan's forehead, directing the thought as a prayer. Not just that one thought, but what he wanted and why. Jason offered up his love for this man, his belief that he deserved better than he was allowing himself, his earnest desire to provide it in the one way he could...
Jason understood a little better now what had happened. He'd thought them two separate, individual events, bringing healing to a mind on the verge of snapping and then letting Ronan dream. But they weren't. And the event, the act, wasn't over. That's why he'd been forced to spell out so clearly, to himself, his reasons. His desires.
This wasn't going to end anytime soon. Ronan had healed him, restored and strengthened his heart and soul, and now Jason would return the favor. Jason had more help than Ronan had, but... the wound ran much deeper than Jason had ever imagined possible. Even his own rape, for all that it left him suicidal, hadn't run this deep. Ronan hadn't been raped, that wasn't the source of his wound, but it ran just as deep, and was much, much older. Years and years had passed while Ronan had simply papered over the injury. That was what had happened to him.
Ronan couldn't heal until he faced this wound, and he couldn't. Not wouldn't; couldn't. Whatever it was ran too deep, too hard, and Ronan was simply unable to face it down. What Jason couldn't figure out was why Ronan hadn't collapsed under the strain. This was eating him alive and had been for years.
A blond woman spoke, harshly, berating him... smiling... cajoling... threatening...
Jason shook his head, surprised. That was... unexpected. And made absolutely no sense. Though... The images had been so rushed, so hurried, a thousand different images in a single instant of communion, but something about her face... he couldn't quite place it, but he recognized her. Somehow.
Sighing, Jason put that aside and focused on the here and now. Ronan had calmed a little, and was holding him back. "You feeling any better?" Jason asked.
"Undo it," Ronan begged. "Please... stop the dreams again... please..."
"Shhh..." Jason soothed him. "I'll ward the bad ones off, but you need to dream. And you need to face whatever-"
"No!" Ronan shouted, tears in his voice. "I can't... you can't make me! No! Please!"
"You need to face down whatever caused this, but not today, not right now," Jason said soothingly. "Just rest now..."
Slowly, oh so slowly, Ronan calmed down. Clutching Jason tightly, he drifted back off to sleep. Jason closed his eyes and followed, holding Ronan to himself, body and mind. No more nightmares, not tonight...
And tomorrow, he'd have to figure out some way to help Ronan face his past. That was challenge enough for any man, and thankfully he could leave it for morning.
"Wake up!" Ronan said firmly into Jason's ear. "Wake up I said!" he repeated a little louder when that didn't work.
Groaning, Jason rolled away and stretched. He'd slept well, but morning had come all to soon. While his powers removed even the possibility of waking up stiff and sore, they couldn't do anything about the fog of sleep that just didn't want to let go. With a yawn, he forced himself to sit up and shook his head. "Morning, already?" he complained.
"We..." Ronan started hesitantly. "We have some stuff to talk about," he finally finished.
"Yes, we do," Jason agreed. "but it can wait for a little while, can't it?"
"Yeah, a little while," Ronan agreed hesitantly. "But not for long, and we both have busy days today."
"Busy?" Jason asked. "It's Saturday, surely it can't be that busy."
"Master Hitoshi wants to spend some time working out with you and Paul, and teach you a very important lesson," Ronan said slowly. "And after that, both of you need to spend some time learning armed combat. I'll teach you the sword, but I honestly have no clue what weapon Paul will find most suitable, if any. And someone is going to have to asses Barney and see what skills he possesses."
"Armed combat?" Jason groaned. "Let me guess, that's going to be on top of the unarmed stuff I've been working on for the last six months!"
"Yup, though you'll find the hand-to-hand stuff is a great foundation for what I'm going to pound into your head," Ronan laughed. "And after that, Lara is going to spend some time teaching the three of you 'newbies' practical lessons on how to fight using magic."
"And after that?" Jason said laughingly.
"And then I take you to the firing range for lessons on those pistols Eric got you," Ronan added. "That's way overdue."
"And once I finish a hard day's work, I get to come home to my loving 'husband'-" Jason began.
"After the pistol training, Jericho, Ashley, and Lara would like to go over that healing trick you discovered and do some experimentation. Try to duplicate it, or at least provide the 'recharge' it needs, and apply it to several people who need it," Ronan continued, a hint of a smile forming.
"Gaaaaaaaah!" Jason moaned, falling backward theatrically. "And then?"
"I think you have some school work to catch up, so you might want to visit the library... and after all that is finished, then you get to come home to your loving family, have dinner, and relax for a while. Then we discuss last night," Ronan told him.
"It might not be such a good idea to wait that long," Jason pointed out.
"It'll be alright, Jason," Ronan assured him. "I generally don't need to take naps in the middle of the day, and daydreaming isn't likely to cause the same problems."
"Alright," Jason agreed, slightly relieved that he'd have some time to do some research before that discussion. Maybe he'd get lucky. Though he did need to spend some time studying, especially with the classes he'd missed lately.
Though millionaires didn't exactly need bachelors degrees in music. As much as he enjoyed some of the classes, he could probably afford, now, to take it a bit slower on the unit load, and that would free up lots of time for 'work'. Something to think about for next semester.
"Alright then," Jason sighed, "Let's get to it."
Jason, Paul, and Barney were rather... well, not bored with the lesson, but ready to move on. Jason and Paul had sparred often enough that it wasn't anything new, and while Barney was a new partner, it wasn't that much different from what they already did.
"Master Hitoshi," Jason asked respectfully, "what is the point of this?"
The old man smiled. "The point is I have never seen you fight before. Now, I have."
"I'm sorry, but I don't get it," Paul complained.
"That is easily rectified," Hitoshi told him. "Pick one of your number to receive the lesson."
Both Paul and Barney looked at Jason. "Fine, I guess I get to go first," he laughed.
"No, not first," Hitoshi grinned. "But you'll understand that soon enough. Now, let us spar -- gently, I am an old man!"
Jason's eyes narrowed, sure there was a trick in there somewhere, but he advanced on the 'helpless' old man. Slowly at first they traded blows, getting a feel for each other. "Enough," Hitoshi said, grinning as he broke off. "Now, let us really spar!"
Jason moved in slowly, cautiously. And Hitoshi nearly took his head off anyway. The man was old, weakened by age and he never had the Guardian power to augment his health. But he came in like a ton of bricks, and only the strength and speed Jason had gained as a Guardian kept him alive. The first few blows weren't that bad, but after that it was like the old man knew what was about to happen before it even-
Jason deliberately stepped left, instead of right, and while Hitoshi adapted instantly, there was a distinct break in the rhythm, a pause that Jason could have lashed out in. "I believe I have mastered the lesson, Master," Jason said, breaking off and bowing in respect.
"Indeed. And I owe Ronan a hundred dollars for betting against you," Hitoshi laughed. "Paul, Barney, did either of you catch it?"
"Yeah, you just about took his head off!" Barney laughed. "Kinda funny watching an old man whoop your butt, Jason!"
Hitoshi's eyes narrowed in anger. "Well, loud one," he said testily, "would you care to see if you could manage better?"
"Gladly!" Barney snapped back, moving in. His body language made it perfectly clear he was done 'wasting' his time with this.
In the end, Jason had to look away. It was just too embarrassing to watch the 'weak old man' kick Barney around the underground training facility. The problem wasn't Master Hitoshi winning, but rather the fact that he made it look easy and took far too much pleasure in humiliating Barney. Who, cursing like a sailor, still hadn't figured out the lesson.
"Enough!" Hitoshi snapped, breaking off. "If you haven't figured it out by now, you won't. Paul, did you see? Did you at least learn?"
"I... think so, actually," Paul said hesitantly.
"Then let us put that thought to the test," Hitoshi said, more calmly. "Come, let us spar!"
Paul moved in slowly, tentatively, but where Jason had been struggling within moments, Paul was able to hold his own easily. "Indeed, you did learn the lesson. Now," he addressed Barney, "did you pick it up, fool?"
"Fool?" Barney said softly. "Fool is it?"
"Barney, don't even think it," Jason warned him as he felt Barney pull power in.
But Master Hitoshi didn't need the warning. Even as Barney charged in, hands glowing like lanterns with the power he'd gathered, Hitoshi vanished. He moved so quickly that Jason couldn't even follow, simply fading to the side and then bringing both hands down in a hammer blow to the back of the off-balance Barney's skull. Barney's eyes opened wide for an instant before his skull bounced off the floor with the force of the blow. "Fool, indeed," Master Hitoshi snorted. "I will teach him no longer. If he learns the lesson, so be it. If he doesn't... too bad."
Before Jason could offer to teach Barney for him, Hitoshi turned and left without so much as a glance in their direction. "Don't be offended," Ronan said from the door. "He isn't angry with the two of you... and Barney needed to have that lesson driven home. He just isn't the type for normal social graces."
"I kind of figured as much," Jason admitted. "Though I don't think Barney will get it without a thorough explanation."
"Which he won't be receiving anytime soon," Ronan said angrily. "That little stunt at the end was completely out of line."
Jason snorted. "You think?"
"It is, I will admit, one of the biggest flaws in the type of people I look for," Ronan admitted. "I insist on the ability to fight, the aggressiveness to take the fight to the enemy. Or at least the seed of that quality. But it makes most of us a little bit prone to... temper tantrums, for lack of a better word."
"That," Jason admitted, "is an aptly chosen word."
Ronan shrugged. "Most of us learn to control that aspect of our personalities. Some people take longer than others at that."
Barney groaned as he rolled over. "What hit me?"
"Sheer stupidity," Ronan told him, voice carrying an anger it hadn't a minute ago. Jason quickly hid a smile as he realized that Ronan wasn't 'angry' so much as he was driving a lesson home, hard. "You attacked a man several times your age with a blow that would have felled an elephant, and he slapped you down like he would any other child. Only in this case, since you're such a big boy he scaled the blow to fit you a little better. Or your ego, at any rate."
"My head hurts," Barney complained.
"By the time we're through, it's not just going to be your head that hurts," Ronan threatened. "It's time for the second part of today's training session, and I'm going to have a little change in plans just for your benefit."
The smile on Ronan's face scared Jason, and it wasn't even directed at him. The start of the training session Ronan was running them through confirmed his impression that Barney was really, really going to regret what was about to happen.
Their powers could heal them really quickly, but getting hit still hurt, if briefly. And Ronan was not only fast, he was more than willing to thwack the daylights out of you if that's what it took to teach you. After about the fifth time Barney came up spitting blood, Jason was starting to get concerned. After the tenth, Jason was about ready to loose it... except he understood exactly what was going on, and unpleasant or not Barney could endure far worse.
"Enough," Ronan said, lowering the bundled mass of thin sticks that formed his 'sword'. Jason was sure there was a proper (and better) way of describing it, but Ronan hadn't deigned to discuss it, just thrown theirs at them and started to run them through their paces. Brutally. They'd all done the 'basics' already thanks to their martial arts training, but he pushed them harder, and faster, than they'd have ever dreamed. And Barney took the worst of it.
Of course, he had rather earned it.
"Barney, Paul," he said flatly, "I'm done with you. Neither of you seems especially suited to the sword. Through that door over there you'll find several other people waiting to try you out on other weapons. See if any of those fit you better. If any one weapon peaks your interest, speak up and your training will focus on it, but try all of them first."
"You were rather hard on Paul," Jason commented.
"I wanted to be hard on Barney," Ronan pointed out as he walked to a locker on the side of the room. "The idiot really was out of line."
"Agreed; temper tantrums like that are more suited to little children than adults. But still..." Jason shrugged.
"Being Guardians makes it difficult to learn through 'mere' bruises, I have to be a bit more... vehement than otherwise," Ronan pointed out, fingers dancing over the lock as he spun the numbers.
"True, but where does the line between brutality and training lie?" Jason asked.
Ronan snorted. "That is a very good question... and an excuse to make you watch another TV show."
"You and your TV shows, and movies, and books..." Jason complained. "If it weren't for the fact that you usually have a good point behind them, somewhere..."
"Usually?" Ronan asked with a laugh, glancing over his shoulder as the locker came open.
"Usually," Jason confirmed. "I still haven't gotten the point behind Firefly!"
"The 'point' was to have some fun!" Ronan laughed, drawing two swords out of the locker.
"You know, I could have sworn I left that in my room," Jason commented.
"We needed it for this part," Ronan shrugged, tossing the second blade to Jason.
Catching it neatly mid-flight, Jason smoothly drew the katana from its sheath. "What should I do with the scabbard?" he asked.
"You can set the saya down on the table over there," Ronan emphasized the word as he drew his own blade and placed the saya back in the locker.
"I'm kinda surprised we're moving straight to live steel like this," Jason commented as he approached the mat where Ronan waited for him."
"By the time we're done, you won't be quite so surprised," Ronan smiled. "Remember the lesson the other day, about extending your mind into the blade to lend your strength to it?"
"Yes Ronan, it's only been a few days," Jason pointed out with mock cheerfulness.
"Do so. And be mindful of the blade's response," Ronan ordered.
Extending his awareness into the blade, Jason felt it's soul touch his own as his awareness drifted into it. Slowly, gradually he felt the blade take shape in his mind until it was as much a part of his body as his hands. "Alright, what now?" he asked.
"Defend yourself!" Ronan barked, slashing forward with his katana. Reflexively, Jason stepped backwards as he raised the blade to block the deadly blow. Steel rang as the swords met, and instead of the showers of sparks movies had led him believe would be the result, small discharges of energy crackled outwards with a sharp electric sound as the edges ran along each other. Ronan moved quickly into a second blow, and again Jason reflexively blocked it before moving out in a strike of his own. Soon they settled into a stately dance of steel on steel, and Jason grinned as he felt the moves rise from within him to match and overcome the gradually strengthening blows Ronan threw at him. As Ronan pushed harder, Jason drew deeper on the unexpected reservoir of skill that he'd found.
"This is impossible!" Jason laughed. "I've never used steel like this before, I can't possibly know these moves!"
"And yet you do!" Ronan pointed out as his blade slashed outward in three quick strikes against Jason, middle, low, then high. "How do you account for this discrepancy?"
"I don't!" Jason laughed, cleanly blocking the first two and spinning under the third before sending his own blade out in an equally deadly blow that would have taken Ronan's arm from his shoulder if it hadn't been blocked. "I think it's the blade, but I'll be damned if I can figure out how!"
"You said it yourself the other day: our blades have souls," Ronan said reverently, tone at odds with the crisp motions of his renewed assault. "They know us, and how they are used. They are centuries old, and have been the personal weapons of dozens of warriors over the years. They've learned how they are to be used, and are capable of sharing that knowledge. If they so choose."
"Sounds useful, but shouldn't I learn this for myself?" Jason asked.
Ronan almost missed his parry as he started laughing. "Jason, do you truly think your blade would accept simply using you to fight? It grants you its skill, yes, but think about it! It's strength, its honor, is tied into the strength and honor of the one wielding it. If it simply... gave you the knowledge you need, it would only be diminishing itself!"
"So why is it doing so?" Jason asked, after blocking a particularly nasty string of blows. Ronan's laugh irritated him enough that he fired back an even nastier series of blows.
"Do you really think it's simply providing you the skills, without cost or obligation?" Ronan snickered. "Your senses are sharper than that! Be mindful of your blade -- you can ask it the question yourself, if you really want!"
Jason blinked and tried to ask the blade the question. He stumbled over it for a few moments before remembering how he'd 'prayed' the other day. He sent his mind inward, seeking that place where his soul resided. Instead of seeking out the point where God touched him, he reached out from there and felt his way in the direction he sensed the sword lay, and found the point where their souls were touching. Reaching to that point, he accidentally pressed too hard and suddenly found himself... elsewhere, with his own soul a point within that crystalline, shining structure he'd found himself. It wasn't a human place, and it wasn't a place he was meant to be, but it welcomed him, even as it suggested, politely, that he leave. Quickly. He was welcome, but he wasn't meant to be here, and already his mind began to crack under the strain. He retreated beyond the point where he sensed his own mind lay, and marveled at how each soul had seemed to 'contain' the other, yet not. The sword's soul touched a place deep inside him... but that touch was him touching a place deep inside the sword's soul. The effort to understand it made his mind ache. He'd never liked paradoxes, and it looked like he'd found one.
Still, for all that, he had his answer. His few brief moments had provided that. The sword wasn't simply dropping knowledge in his head. It fought with him, beside him, and aided him, and at the same time it forged him, trained him in the arts it knew. As much as Ronan was teaching him, so too was the sword.
"That's why you sent them away," Jason whispered, attention rising from the depths of his mind. The pace had slackened, slightly, but Jason knew that it hadn't actually faltered. Ronan had merely let up for a few moments while Jason did as he was told. "They couldn't possibly learn like this... and my sword was getting impatient, wasn't it?"
Ronan smiled. "Never forget, these blades are aware. They want to be used, they want to be wielded in honorable battle. To ignore it is to disgrace it."
"You didn't answer my question," Jason said testily.
"No, I simply delivered a minor reprimand that preempted the question," Ronan agreed. "You haven't touched your blade since you hid it in your closet -- and a very nice hiding that was, by the way."
Jason understood the point, but he wasn't particularly happy. "So now what? I have to carry it around everywhere I go?" he asked.
Ronan's rather violent response almost took Jason by surprise, as he found himself driven backwards by the shining flashes of steel that were Ronan's attacks. "Don't be snarky," Ronan snarled. "Spend time with it, clean it, care for it, practice with it. It deserves no less, and you will be the better for it!"
"I didn't exactly mean to be snarky!" Jason complained, barely holding his own against the furious assault. He was giving ground more slowly now, and Ronan's face took on a look of concentration as the assault grew fiercer.
"Well, you were! And I for one don't care for it!" Ronan snapped. "These blades are alive, not in the sense most people would recognize, but you should have!"
"Yeah, I kinda did notice the whole 'I have a soul' thing!" Jason pointed out. "I just didn't connect that to the whole 'use me please!' thing!" Jason noticed that Ronan's assault wasn't growing any fiercer, even as Jason was slowly catching up to it. Risking himself on the assumption that worse was to come if he didn't figure out what he was supposed to learn, he rolled to the side and slashed blindly backwards. The shock as his blade met flesh went almost unnoticed as he rolled again, thinking he'd missed cleanly. When he came up to find Ronan rolling away, leg bleeding fiercely from a deep gash, he froze. "Fuck! I didn't mean to... Ronan!" he gasped.
"I've had worse," Ronan reassured him, pressing the flesh on either end of the cut together to assist the healing process. The wound closed over with breathtaking speed... but to the waiting Jason, it was agonizingly slow. "And in the future, I'm going to be in full leathers when we train. That was one hell of a nasty blow! If I'd been any slower in realizing the trick, you would have taken the leg clean off!"
The thought of removing Ronan's leg, even by accident, made Jason feel slightly faint. "Ronan, I nearly took your leg off and you're treating it like... like..."
"Like a training accident that didn't actually happen," Ronan said calmly. "We'll know better for next time... and I should probably point out, that this is a good thing, not bad."
"Excuse me!" Jason shrieked.
"You just managed to fake me out. You almost took my leg off. You managed to best me. In a real fight this wouldn't have been the end, but it would have definitely shifted the odds in your favor," Ronan told him with a grin.
Jason worked his mouth for a few seconds then threw his hands up in the air, "Insane! You're in-fucking sane!"
"Watch the sword!" Ronan warned him. "Motions like that with a sword in hand can be dangerous!"
Jason wanted to snap back, but given the lethal edge on the blade, he really should have been more aware of where it was before he tried a move like tossing his hands in the air. And now that he thought of it, it probably was a bit close to his hand when he'd done that -- a little closer, and he might be missing a bit of a finger. "I'll be more careful, but you are insane!"
Ronan laughed. "Jason, I've spent years training in how to fight, including this technique, and you managed to best me in a day. Think about that. Think about it! How many people have ever bested me, much less on their first day of sword training?"
"Not many I take it?" Jason asked.
"Counting you and Eric, exactly two people have ever bested me with a blade," Ronan said seriously. "In full up combat training," Ronan tossed his head back and forth a bit, clearly debating with himself. "Well, in full up combat training a few others are my equal, and they all took years to get there. And, well," Ronan hesitated, then shrugged. "And of course, Lara kicks my ass at pure-magic battle any day of the week, and twice on Sunday."
"What? But I thought you were stronger than she was!" Jason argued.
"Strength isn't everything," Lara laughed as she walked into the room. "Perfect timing you two, it's about time for magical combat 101."
"Didn't we already go through that?" Jason asked.
"No," Lara drew the word out. "You went through a crash course on how to use your powers to survive if you had to fight someone else with them. You weren't actually trained, per say, in how to fight using them."
"I don't get... oh," Jason felt stupid for not getting it. "It's kinda like... on a computer, the difference between showing someone simply how to use the internet and a word processor, and actually making sure they understand how to use the computer in it's entirety. Like how my mother can use Word, but if anything goes wrong someone else has to walk her through fixing it."
"As... good an explanation as any," Lara smiled. "Now, if you'll follow me, we have a specially built and warded chamber elsewhere in this little underground playground."
Jason suppressed a laugh at the look that crossed Ronan's face. Clearly, that was a long-standing joke of some kind between them. And not one that amused Ronan as much as it did Lara. "Alright, give me a moment and I'll follow you," he told her, walking to the table that held his saya.
"And bring the blade," Lara added. "I'll show you how to really use it."
Jason didn't manage to suppress the laugh this time as Ronan scowled at her.
Again, let me remind you that your e-mails are the only payment I recieve, and please do send them in to me at firstname.lastname@example.org -- I enjoy the positive responses, and negative responses are invaluable for a chance for me to develop my skills! All it takes is a simple one line e-mail telling me I did a good job to make my day for a good five minutes, so please take the time to send it in!
This story is also available at Castle Roland, courtesy of 'Lord' Roland, and additional stories by this author can be found there, not all of which will make it to Nifty. I also maintain a presense at GayAuthors, and additional stories may be found there not available elsewhere. You can also visit my website, www.RilburSkryler.net for information and a selection of my works. If you wish to purchase a copy of this work, Lulu.com provides both a print and e-book edition, and you can find additional copies of my work through various other self-publishing websites. Thanks to my editors for helping sort out all the many typos and other stupidities that creep into my writing!