Final Story: The War - Finale
Tesshin moved quickly through the trees, ignoring his own throbbing wounds in favor of the forest around him, listening for any signs of an ambush as he urged Ben and Cross on once again. Behind them, he could hear the sounds of pursuers following their trail, and he forced himself not to think about Zach's possible condition and focus instead on making it home to Gajou. As it was, they were nearly there, and neither Ben nor Cross was as tired as he'd expected they'd be with their old age. This was very much to their advantage and sure enough, they burst through the tree line a short time later and came across the great rock fortress, its boulders and branches a definite sight for sore eyes. That sense of relief, however, was short lived. All around the base of it, dozens and dozens of strange dogs, a veritable army of them in fact, were subduing anyone that wasn't one of them, and Tesshin saw both Ken and Kagetora among the few remaining fighters who were trying to resist. He knew immediately that they had to be Draven's troops that had fled from the minefield ambush and growled deeply, swearing under his breath.
"What?" Cross breathed in shock, looking around at them. "What is – ?"
Tesshin nudged her roughly with his head.
"Head down to the river." He said, looking over at Ben as well. "They won't see you if you move quickly."
"What about you?" the Saluki asked in a concerned voice and he looked at her defiantly.
"I'm a soldier of Ohu." He said proudly. "I have to defend my home. They need my help, but I won't endanger either of you. Please, go!"
To his relative surprise and relief, neither of them pestered him further and Ben nodded at him solemnly.
"Protect them, Tesshin." He said and the ninja-dog nodded.
"I'll do what I can until Gin and the others get back." He replied, the corner of his mouth lifting ever so slightly in a smile.
Suddenly, the sounds of their pursuers behind them grew a little louder. Tesshin glanced back towards them and then looked at his elders hard.
"Go!" he barked and they did just that, vanishing down into the river canyon as he turned and sprinted towards his surrounded friends, howling a battle cry as he did.
There was no point in being stealthy with the short amount of time that he had, he thought, and as soon as the howl left his mouth, the nomads cornering Ken and Kagetora whirled towards him in surprise.
"There's another one!" one of them yelled. "Get him!"
"Tesshin!" Ken shouted.
"Fight back!" the ninja dog replied loudly. "Fight 'til your last breath!"
"Don't tell that to me!" Kagetora snapped, snarling at their attackers. "I would've done it anyway! I'm a Kai!"
Tesshin smiled inwardly, but didn't show it on his face. After all, the fight was about to begin. Getting close to the rear guards of the Nomad group, he came down on them like a hurricane, bowling dog after dog over onto their backs and sides and slashing left and right for all he was worth. This impressive display motivated his two comrades and whoever else was left standing nearby and pretty soon he had help, as Ken and Kagetora both leapt into the fray, the latter shouting out insults at their opponents every step of the way. Maybe this would go their way after all, he thought. Suddenly though, right as he was leaping into the air to hit a small offshoot group from above, something grabbed him by the hind leg and yanked him backwards hard, slamming him back into the snow with devastating force and knocking the wind clean out of him. Gasping for air, Tesshin heard Ken yell his name and looked up in time to see a huge wolf-like dog smash the Great Dane across the face hard with his swinging head, making a 'CRACK' echo across the landscape and Ken crumple into a motionless heap in the snow.
"KEN!" Kagetora yelled in fear and Tesshin averted his gaze back to the dog above him, trying not to show any fear as his breath continued to inch back into him slowly.
"Where's Ben?" Draven said in a low, threatening sounding voice, his entire front covered in blood.
"I…You…" Tesshin rasped, his lungs still failing him.
Draven smacked the ninja dog's head to the side and then stood on it with one of his huge paws, his claw resting dangerously close to Tesshin's eye.
"You have 5 seconds to tell me where Ben went," the warlord threatened dangerously. "Or I crush your head in like a rotten fruit. 1…2…"
Off to the side, Kagetora thrashed back and forth like a mad dog, 6 Nomad subordinates hanging off him in their attempts to restrict his movements.
"Rrrrrraaaahhh!" he howled. "Get the fuck off me! Draven, fight me! Fight me! Tesshin!"
The pressure increased and Tesshin grimaced in pain as his voice finally found him again. He glared up at the Nomad leader defiantly.
"Never." He said.
Draven's face didn't even change. His piercing gaze seemed to harden slightly and he didn't blink once as he looked the younger male dead in the eyes.
"…5." He said.
Then the pressure increased a hundredfold on Tesshin and a splitting pain erupted throughout the ninja dog's head like fire, so much so that the seasoned and trained soldier cried out in agony, knowing in the back of his mind that no one was near enough to intervene. At least he would die with honor, he thought.
Suddenly, an enraged howl sounded from what seemed like everywhere and a hard impact noise joined it from right above him, the pressure lifting abruptly with a grunt as Draven flew sideways off him and rolled in the snow, leaping back to his paws even before he'd stopped moving. Clutching at his head with his front paws, Tesshin looked up at his savior and saw a silver-furred Akita standing over him like a sentinel, a look of such fury on his face that it startled even him. Behind him, dogs erupted from the trees on the other side, and Tesshin managed to get a glimpse of Hakuro, Musashi, Kisaragi, Smith, and Kurotora all rushing forward with rage in their eyes, dozens of subordinates behind them doing the same in one massive charge. Draven tilted his head at his own subordinates, who congregated around him.
"Slay them all." He ordered, his eyes staying fixed on Gin all the while.
The Nomad soldiers did just that and charged right back at the Ohu Army, their numbers growing steadily as others fleeing from the minefield joined their comrades and leapt back into the battle. Moments later, they came together hard with an audible crunch of bodies slamming into each other, the sound being followed by tearing flesh and screams of pain soon afterwards. Tesshin winced as he started pushing himself to his feet, a startled yelp escaping his jaws as fangs closed around his scruff and helped him up, their owner nudging him away from Draven as soon as he had. Tesshin met Gin's gaze.
"Help the others." The Akita said sternly. "I'll take it from here."
Tesshin nodded and was about to run off when Gin said his name once more. He turned and met the great leader's gaze.
"Well done." The Akita said warmly, a brief smile spreading over his face.
Tesshin returned it momentarily, then turned and was gone, leaping into the newly erupted battle as his strength returned to him with the praise he'd received. Then Gin turned back to his quarry, the rage consuming him once more. Draven hadn't moved from where he stood and Gin could see a look in his eyes that swam with different emotions. On the surface there was fury and underneath it desperation, but it was the faint touch of fear that he'd never seen before in the Nomad leader that caught Gin's eye, and gave him hope that the battle would go in their favor. Draven tilted his head slightly.
"I don't suppose you'll tell me where Ben is, will you?" he mocked, a small smirk plastered on his Shepherd-like face.
Gin narrowed his eyes at him, glancing up briefly into the sky. Above them, the moon had started to move into place, and would be at its destination in not too long from then. The eclipse had begun. He glared back at Draven.
"I won't try and talk sense into you." The Ohu leader spat. "I know already that you won't listen and doing so would give you the false impression that I'm letting you walk away from this. I'm not. You deserve nothing but death."
Draven's smirk widened, and he padded sideways in an arc, a movement that was echoed by Gin. They circled each other.
"Now…" Draven laughed. "That's not the Gin I've been told of. That sounded almost like…me."
Gin lunged forward, meeting the other male in a flash of fangs and claws, both of them exchanging blows and drawing blood before darting back to their circling positions.
"You've changed, boy." Draven hissed maliciously as blood dripped down his neck from a new wound. "You're different. This war has hardened you. Just like it hardened your father. I can't even tell you how much pleasure it brought me watching his obsession with that bear destroy his life. Now your obsession with me is going to destroy yours. …Like father, like son."
"I'm obsessed with nothing." Gin retorted bluntly. "This is about justice. My father's justice. This is about defending our home from monsters like you!"
They attacked again, and Gin put all his strength into his slashes, his fangs tearing bloody ravines in Draven's flesh…and not fazing him in the slightest. Then Draven suddenly moved like lightning, defying his advancing age, and smashed his paw into the Akita's lower jaw, making his teeth crash back together with devastating force and stunning him just long enough for the Nomad leader to turn and kick him hard in the side with his hind leg. Gin grunted as he hit the snow, gasping silently in pain as he righted himself once more. He had felt his rib break in the kick and tried mightily to ignore the shockwaves of pain that were shooting through his muscular body. He came at Draven once more, steeling his will as he did. Dodging left and right around the Nomad leader's strikes, he waited for the right moment and then leapt up and head-butted the other male right in the eye with all his strength, making blood explode out of the socket and Draven's head whip to the side from the impact. Then Gin leapt backwards to safety.
When Draven turned back to him, the damage he'd done was obvious. The Nomad leader's eyeball hung from a tendon down on his cheek, and blood ran down Draven's fur around it in a steady stream, its origin the empty socket that now stared back at Gin. Instead of being wounded by this though, Draven smiled and reached up with a single claw, severing the tendon and allowing his eye to fall into the snow at his feet. Then he stepped on it and crushed it beneath his weight, making's Gin's own eyes widen in sickened shock, his horror throwing off his concentration ever so slightly. Draven strode towards him, then broke into a run. Gritting his fangs, Gin leapt to meet him in the air, but he instantly realized that he had miscalculated.
Darting underneath him, Draven grabbed him by the hind leg as he passed and threw him at Gajou's lower rocks as hard as he could right out of the air, an impact that Gin avoided by twisting himself and ricocheting off to another rock. Draven, however, was there too. The Nomad leader swept his feet out from under him and smashed him head first into another rock before he could recover, following that up with a hard kick to the stomach and second head smash into an even more jagged rock. Gin counterattacked through his fuzzy vision, ripping a chunk out of the Nomad leader's shoulder and using his strength and momentum to knock the Wolf-dog off his feet and send him rolling back down the side of Gajou to the lower rocks below. Once again though, Draven proved faster than he should've been and dodged out of the way of the Akita's next lunging hit as well, swinging back around to kick him hard in the eye and snuff all light out in it entirely, leaving them on a level playing field.
Gin shook his head, pawing at his swollen eye painfully. He refused to give in, watching behind Draven subconsciously as Akame emerged from the woods and rushed to Kisaragi's aid, the Husky having disappeared underneath a swarm of Nomad solders. Suddenly, he dodged a hit from one of Draven's subordinates and grabbed him hard by the muzzle, throwing him over to Hakuro and Smith and barely registering as the former tore his throat out in an explosion of blood in one fluid, bored-looking motion. That, however, had given Draven the time he needed to counter attack and before Gin knew what was happening, he had been bowled over onto his back and was being ravaged left and right by razor sharp fangs, his own determination allowing him to dodge the worst of the hits and return them in equal force, blood flying from both combatants as they laid into each other with horrible speed and fury. That is…until Draven managed to grab a hold of Gin's front leg and bite down as hard as he could, an audible 'SNAP' echoing across the rocks instantly afterwards. Gin let out a howl of agony and Draven took advantage of his distraction, throwing him the rest of the way down the side of Gajou and making him land in a heap in the snow below. All around them, combatants paused in their battles in horror.
"GIN!" Akame yelled in fear and concern and the cry was echoed by Kurotora and Smith separately, all 3 of them trying to make their way over to him as quickly as they could to rush to his defense.
"NO!" Gin gasped out with a snarl and Akame stopped mere feet away, snow erupting from around his paws as he skidded to a halt.
Gin met his gaze, favoring his left front leg as he did.
"This is a fight between leaders!" he said fiercely. "No one interfere!"
"Gin…" the ninja dog said, sounding shocked.
Draven cracked his neck, standing further up the side of Gajou.
"I have no more time for this, Gin." He said, sounding perfectly normal and not pained in the slightest. "What was it your father used to say? 'Accept your defeat like a true male'."
"Never. I'll fight you 'til my last breath."
Draven gave a mocking little frown.
"Why keep fighting, boy?" he asked, knowing that Akame could hear him too. "You've already failed. People have died tonight that you swore to protect, and you've allowed it because of your cowardice. You could have stopped me before, but you didn't and now you are afraid… Not of me, but of what you did. You let me kill. Their blood is on your claws."
"Gin, don't listen to him." Akame murmured, keeping a deadly eye on the Nomad leader.
Gin forced back his sudden fear, not knowing of the fates of all his friends and hoping against hope that they were all right. He steeled his will once more. He would trust them. This was not a time for worry. This was a time for deliverance. He looked at Akame.
"Whatever happens to me." He said. "Don't stop fighting. We must stop this…whatever the cost."
The ninja-dog looked conflicted in his concern, but nodded nonetheless, bowing his head lower than usual to his friend's command.
"Yes, leader." He said and leapt away, vanishing into the battle as soon as he had.
Then Gin turned to Draven.
"Finish this." He spat.
Draven gave his head a little tilt.
"As you command." He mocked.
Then they lunged again, and this time Gin was prepared. Faking a move right at Draven's front, the Ohu leader instead went sideways, throwing up snow to obscure his movements and then hitting the Nomad leader in the ribs, laying into him viciously as soon as he had, hitting his face, and neck and chest repeatedly until blood covered virtually every surface of the still breathing wolf-dog. Suddenly, after missing a bite or two, Draven kicked him in his broken leg and used the Ohu leader's cringe of pain as distraction enough to allow him to swing himself over Gin's back, grabbing him by the back of the neck as he passed and slamming his face down into one of Gajou's jagged rocks. Then he did it again…and again…and again… and kept going until Gin managed to gather a burst of strength and kick him away, dragging himself close to the summit as blood poured down his forehead and around his muzzle. Draven hissed in anger as he regained his feet once more, moving towards Gin again as he did. Suddenly though, the light around them changed and both combatants paused where they stood, looking around to see why. It didn't take long for Gin to figure it out. Up above them, the moon had finally moved fully into place and shone down on the world as a black circle surrounded by fire. The eclipse had come.
"No!" Draven yelled, suddenly frantic. "NO!"
With that, he surged forward and moved to the summit, knocking Gin aside as he did. Then he looked up at the sky with widened eyes.
"I did what you asked!" he screamed. "I killed them all! GIVE ME WHAT I WANT!"
Then he was grabbed from behind and flung down the rocks once more, his battered body leaving bloodstains on every surface he impacted. When he stood back up, a glare on his face that promised death to his opponent, he still did not look in pain at all.
"Get out of my way, boy!" he snarled. "This war is over!"
Gin glared back defiantly, his silvery fur blowing in the winter air.
"You're right." He said quietly. "It is."
Then he lunged forward with more strength than he seemed to have left and pitched forward in midair, spinning faster and faster as he moved until he was nothing more than a blur in the nighttime sky. His battle cry, however, could be heard for miles.
"ZESTU TENROU BATTOUGA!"
Draven's eyes widened, and for a moment, it seemed that he remembered those words from long ago, when a wolf named Gaia had spoken them to him smugly…as though describing a gift that he would never possess.
"Impossible…" he breathed, and anyone there could see that Gin was putting all his remaining strength into the hit.
It landed dead on. The Akita's fangs smashed down into the top of the other male's skull like daggers and blood exploded in all directions, both combatants falling to the ground limply as soon as their momentum made them part ways once more. It was over.
"GIN!" a voice suddenly cried loudly, and others echoed it soon afterwards, all of them crying out loudly enough for everyone present to hear them.
From his position on the ground, it took the Akita a moment to realize that it was his comrades shouting with joy, all of them knowing that the battle was over. Forcing what little strength he had left into his 3 good legs, Gin shakily stood and limped over to the fallen Draven, his weight being partially supported by Akame, who had rushed to his aid the moment he stood. The Nomad leader coughed weakly, blood erupting out of his throat as he did, and rolled onto his back to look up at the sky, watching as the moon moved past the sun and ended the eclipse, bringing light back to the world once more. He clenched his eyes shut and then opened them long enough to look up at the equally battered and bloody Gin.
"H-How does it feel?" he asked softly. "Please tell me… How does it feel…?"
Gin looked down at him silently, looking for all the world like his strength had never left him at all. He shook his head.
"You don't deserve to know." He said.
Then he turned and slowly limped away, stopping after only a few paces when he saw a familiar figure pushing its way through the gathered crowd. Moving silently past where their subordinates were subduing the remainder of the Nomads, John of Ohu strode towards them powerfully, a bloodied tree spike between his fangs and a limp body slung over his back. Behind him, Ben and Cross followed, neither of them saying a word or impeding his progress in any way. When he got close enough, the Shepherd ducked his front and gently lay the body of Zach of Ibaraki at Gin's feet, meeting his stunned gaze only briefly before turning and walking up to Draven, the tree spike still in his jaws. From off to the side, Kisaragi approached him, and something unspoken was understood between them, for the moment John reached Draven's side and tilted his head so that the tree spike was pointed down, Kisaragi grabbed it as well, both of them looming over the fallen warlord like death incarnate. John looked Draven in the eyes.
"You killed my friend…" He said.
"And my brothers." Kisaragi added.
"…so let me give you back the weapon you used on him." The Shepherd finished. "Consider this my mercy."
Then, moving as one, they both stabbed the spike down as hard as they could between Draven's eyes, the Nomad leader not feeling so much as an ounce of pain as his life ended at long last. Then both males stood back up and exchanged a nod of camaraderie, Kisaragi moving off to Smith and Hakuro's sides as John strode back to Gin. For his part, the Ohu leader had slumped back into the snow upon seeing Zach's broken form and looked back up at John's approach with tear streaks in the blood matting his silver fur. John nodded at him supportively and then moved to help him stand once more, Akame doing the same on his other side. Gin looked around at the others, his friends. His comrades in arms.
"My friends," he yelled loudly so all could hear him. "It's over!"
Immediately a howl arose from everywhere around them and though it was unclear who had started it, everyone there took part, and pretty soon it reached high into the sky and could be heard in all directions for miles. It was a cry of victory, of sorrow for absent friends, for the safety of those who still lived on. Gin howled as loudly as he could, not feeling ashamed for his tears, as he knew somehow that everyone around him was crying as well, in relief if nothing else. It was over.
In the aftermath of the battle, the first thing the tired dogs of the Ohu Army did was rest, healing their respective injuries and regaining their strength that the fighting had taken from them. While Gin and a few others who were more severely wounded rested quietly in Gajou's entrance, John, Akame, and the others gathered up all the dead bodies littering the battlefield, separating them into areas for burial depending on whether they were friend or foe. Gin had insisted that the dead Nomad soldiers be buried nearby as well, so that by taking their final rest in the dogs' paradise, they might find the peace in the next life that had eluded them in this one. Even Draven was not exempt from this, although Gin's charity only extended so far and he had most of the Nomads buried in a nearby valley instead of near Gajou itself, reserving that honor for fallen Ohu soldiers instead.
Once the Nomad dead had been dealt with and the fallen common soldiers from the Ohu packs had been buried as well, the funerals for the officers had taken place, and all of the high ranking boss dogs who'd fought in the war together stood side by side as Asher of Nagano and Kouzou of Saitama were buried side by side on the plains of Gajou. Only Asher's body had been recovered between the two of them, and though Gin had never particularly liked the police dog much, he was forever grateful to him for saving his life from the humans who'd attacked them, and that alone annulled any wrong he'd done beforehand in the Akita's mind.
Finally, when all else was finished, Zach of Ibaraki had been buried at the foot of Gajou itself, his grave being dug beside the hallowed ones of Akatora of Kai and Riki of Ohu, though a space was deliberately left blank beside the latter one for when Gin himself moved on, however many years in the future that might be. Despite his sadness at his friend's passing, Zach's death somehow didn't surprise Gin, and he'd tell himself in later years that he'd known the moment the Malamute had left to return to Draven's side that he would never see him again. Still, John and Tesshin had filled him in on what had happened afterwards and the sense of pride he felt at Zach giving his life to save Ben, Cross, and the ninja dog had convinced him to tell the others to give the Malamute the singular honor of being laid to rest beside Akatora and his father. Not one person had objected.
After that, the group of them had spent a few days resting and healing together, all of them talking of past glories and things that had happened in between. The happiness that it elicited in all of them pleased Gin greatly, and he quite enjoyed simply being friends with them all for a change instead of having to fight and solve dangerous problems. Eventually though, the packs had begun to head out back home, goodbyes being exchanged one by one as each leader reaffirmed their loyalty to each other and promised to visit again soon, a vow that Gin held each of them to. He would not have them wandering off for good and leaving him behind to never see them again.
Riku had taken command of the remaining Saitama pack, and thanked Gin once more for helping him with Heizo back when they'd first met, and as the Ohu leader watched him leave he couldn't help but marvel at the change in the other male. A tall, proud adult now led his clan away to their future where a timid, antisocial child once stood…and that if nothing else gave the Akita hope that things would turn out all right for all of them. When Musashi had departed soon afterwards, he had informed them that he would be taking responsibility for helping raise Zach's orphaned pups and care for his mate, and that Gin needn't worry about trying to shoulder that burden as well. This revelation was met with satisfaction from everyone involved and Gin had told his friend that eventually he would come down to visit, if only to meet the family that his friend had left behind.
Finally, in the last, greatest post war gift that they had been given, the familiar and long absent figures of Daisuke and Hidetoshi had arrived together once everyone was gone, their concern clearly visible upon their arrival and their subsequent relief equally as apparent when they saw Gin and his comrades alive and well. The Akita had virtually tackled his old friend when he saw him and the two had shared a long embrace under the watchful eye of Gin's protective packmates, who also were watching Hidetoshi and John awkwardly greet one another after years apart. It was all worth it. They hadn't stayed long, and Gin had very much wanted his old friend and master to remain behind for a long while, but both knew that they walked separate paths now and things had to remain that way. Daisuke seemed to be growing up into a fine young man and promised to come visit as often as he could, if only to make up for all the time they hadn't seen each other after he and Gin had parted ways before the great battle against Akakabuto.
"Hey, Gin!" the teenager had shouted as he was leaving, making the Ohu leader look at him expectantly from his position by his fellows.
Daisuke grinned broadly and shouldered the bag he had brought along with him.
"Be good!" he called almost teasingly.
Gin had started a howl at that and the two humans had departed as the rest of the Ohu Army joined in, most of them present knowing what the two humans meant to their leaders. After that things had calmed down once more, and as they stood together in the entrance to Gajou, Akame and John had turned to Gin and asked if there was any duty he wanted them to perform, as everything was finally over at last. Gin inclined his head, looking thoughtful for a moment, before meeting their gazes once more and replying.
"You can come with me." He said. "Our journey of condolences isn't over yet."
They both had frowned at this, looking confused for a moment, before understanding finally spread over both faces. Gin nodded with a somber smile.
"We have one more stop to make." He said.
As the small Ohu contingency walked into Ibaraki for the first time in years, Gin marveled at how little the landscape had changed. It was nostalgic how everything looked exactly as it had last time, when they'd arrived with Smith, Kurotora, Great, and their other friends in tow, and Gin wondered if it would always look this way when he passed through or visited the area. His feeling of sameness changed however when he and his friends were led to James of Ibaraki, who had long now been the leader of the clan in his father's place. Gin was rendered speechless. Never mind that he looked painfully like Zach, albeit with a slightly different coloring, Gin's dim memory of the younger Malamute brother was that of an adolescent still growing into his skin. A lost soul in need of guidance and direction. Now he was an adult, with a mate and pups of his own, his figure full and muscular and his pose calm and with the air of an experienced leader. Flanked by his family, James was respectful as he asked them what their business was in his territory, but his stance held a wariness that revealed the tension that still remained over what had happened before.
"If you came to check on me to make sure I was behaving," he said in a deeper voice than Gin remembered him having. "Then you came a long way for no reason. We're doing well. I'm doing well."
"I'm glad," Gin replied, marveling momentarily at how much deeper and more mature his own voice sounded compared to before. "But that's not why we're here."
James looked back and forth in between the three of them curiously, his wariness and unease still present.
"Then why would you come?" he asked with a small frown, his head cocked slightly.
"It's about your brother."
The Malamute's gaze hardened at that.
"I told you before," he said in a steely tone. "I want nothing to do with Zach. I have a family now and I won't let him ruin their lives like he ruined his own…like he almost ruined mine. He is not welcome here."
"James, dear, please…" his mate pleaded forlornly. "He's your brother."
"He is nothing of the sort." The young leader retorted. "Whatever he did this time has nothing to do with me. What, did he send you to bargain with me so he can come back? Is that it?"
The last few questions were directed at Gin and the Akita sighed deeply.
"I wish that's all it was." He said. "Zach is dead, James."
The silence that followed that statement lasted for a far shorter time than Gin expected, and the reaction he got was precisely the one he'd been hoping he wouldn't get.
"Good." The Malamute said cruelly. "Serves him right. Maybe now my pack can have some peace at last and put this all behind us."
Gin felt a rush of anger fill him at this but managed to contain it before he said something he shouldn't have. John, however, was not so known for his self control and erupted into a full on snarl at the Ibaraki leader's declaration.
"Hey!" he hissed, bearing his fangs threateningly. "Watch your mouth!"
James straightened up in shock at this, his expression veering somewhere between surprise and offense, as if he wanted to return the aggression but was too taken off guard to do so. Beside him, his mate and adolescent pups looked frightened by the sudden change in demeanor and Gin jumped in before it could escalate any further.
"John." He said, noticing that Akame looked quietly angry as well. "Peace."
The Shepherd met his gaze momentarily before relenting and backing down from his pose, looking almost guilty that he had unintentionally scared the pups. Almost.
"I'm sorry." Gin said. "This is a sensitive topic for everyone. I think we should all maintain our composure a little better, especially with the audience that we have."
James looked over at his mate and pups, pausing as they gazed back at him with fearful concern, and relented, letting out a deep sigh that sounded like the weight of the world was being hoisted onto his shoulders.
"You're right." He said quietly, the pain behind his eyes evident. "I'm sorry as well. My brother hurt a lot of people in his life, including me. I don't know if I can forgive him so easily."
"And that's your decision to make." Gin said solemnly. "But don't insult his memory. Not in front of me."
James frowned at him.
"When you absconded with him from this place," he said. "All those years ago. You made it pretty clear that he was captive. Your captive. More so than that, you all hated him as much as he hated you. I could see it even then. Why do you defend his honor now?"
Gin met his gaze steadily, his eyes laced with pain of their own.
"Because when we left here, he was my prisoner," he said softly. "But when he fell…he was my brother."
James's eyes widened slightly, and he turned his head away to the side, seeming to struggle with his emotions as he did. Finally, after a long silence, he looked back at them.
"Truth be told." He said in an almost fragile voice. "I barely remember him. We weren't together long enough to really be brothers at all. You all knew him better than I ever did."
He looked Gin in the face, seeming to come to a decision within himself.
"What was he like?"
Gin looked over at John and the Shepherd smiled widely, his anger forgotten. Beside him, Akame matched his expression and when the Akita turned back to James, he knew what had to be done.
"Sit down." He said gently and James did just that, his mate and pups following his example beside him.
Then Gin met his gaze.
"I wanna tell you a story." he said with a smile of his own and the young Ibaraki leader nodded. "It starts on the day that we all left…with one surly Malamute tagging along behind."
The sun was beginning to set in the Western sky as Gin, John and Akame made their way North from Ibaraki, their course taking them through Niigata and back home towards Futago Pass. It had been less than a day since they'd left James and his family behind, and with their leaving came a sense of completion, of finality for their mission. It filled Gin's whole being as he ran and he felt a weight lifted from his shoulders that he hadn't even known was there. It was time to get back to normalcy at last. The day had been a nice one, with moderate temperatures and only a few clouds, and right as the trio began to approach the border that split Niigata and Ohu, they realized that they hadn't eaten all day. Trotting to a halt, Gin reversed his ears in mild embarrassment as his stomach growled loudly. Coming up beside him, John raised an eyebrow teasingly.
"Hungry, leader?" he said.
The Akita snorted.
"Don't pretend like you aren't too." He replied. "I think we should stop for a while and go hunt."
"Agreed." Akame said, looking not the least bit tired despite the distance they had run. "I think if we head towards the stream west of here we – "
Then he paused suddenly and his ears perked up, his head turning left a little before swiveling back around to the right. Gin straightened up warily.
"Company?" he asked stiffly and the ninja dog frowned slightly.
"I can't tell." He said. "I thought I heard something."
Another moment was spent in silence after that declaration before John rolled his shoulders in a stretch and glanced at his friend.
"I think you're going senile, Akame." He said. "There's nothing over – "
Then a cry came to their ears, causing the Shepherd to pause in mid-sentence and all three to straighten up again. This time there had definitely been someone, and they had sounded hurt. Gin gestured with his head.
"C'mon." he said fiercely.
Then the three leaders bounded off into the trees heading East, their powerful legs and long strides helping them leap over bushes and dodge around trees as they moved. After a couple hundred yards, the noise sounded again, making Gin change direction. It had sounded much closer this time. He leapt down an embankment, his friends hot on his trail, and ran around the perimeter of a large boulder. Then, suddenly, he stopped. Beside him, the tall figures of John and Akame did the same, all 3 of them giving grunts of surprise. In front of them, lying at the edge of a small clearing in the trees, was a young female dog, her wide eyes fixed on them in sudden fear at their arrival and her fangs bared warningly for them to stay away. Gin didn't know what to say at first. She was a white-furred Kishu, he could tell, like Akame, and from the way her hind leg stuck out at an odd angle from the rest of her lithe form, he could tell that she was definitely hurt. When the scent of blood came to his nose a moment later, his suspicion was only confirmed. Taking a step forward, he relaxed his posture a little.
"Miss," he said in a disarming voice. "Are you alright?"
"Stay back!" she warned, an audible nervousness in her voice. "Don't come any closer!"
"We're not going to hurt you." Gin reassured. "You seem hurt enough already."
"I'm fine." She said almost defiantly, but her face twisted into a grimace a moment later, betraying her pain.
"It's a bear trap, Gin." Akame said, examining her wounded leg from where he stood right behind her, and Gin wondered silently how his friend had gotten over there so fast without his knowledge. "A relatively new one too. It should be easy enough to pry it off."
The female's eyes widened significantly at that. She seemed to shrink down slightly.
"No!" she yelped. "No, it's all right! I can do it myself!"
"Ma'am, it's almost impossible to remove those traps alone." John said, and his voice sounded less gruff than normal, almost reassuring. "Trust me, I was a hunting dog once. We can get you out."
She seemed genuinely surprised by this and looked back and forth in between the 3 of them with obvious confusion.
"You…" she said softly. "You would really help me? Why? I-I don't even know any of you."
Gin walked up and crouched down beside her, meeting her gaze warmly.
"Because that's what we do." He said simply, a smile crossing his muzzle. "We help."
She sat there for a minute, seemingly debating whether or not the trio of strangers was tricking her. Finally, she gave an almost inaudible sigh and nodded shyly, allowing Akame to come closer to grasp the trap in his jaws. In front of her, Gin shifted his position slightly.
"Here," he said. "Grab onto my neck."
Once again, she hesitated nervously and he chuckled.
"It's alright." He smiled. "I don't bite."
This got him a small smile back and she did as asked, latching onto his thick neck with her jaws and fangs. Once he felt that her hold was firm, he nodded at Akame and the Kishu carefully pried the trap open just a few inches, allowing Gin to pull her away from it and slip her hind leg out from its steel hold. Once she was free, the female let go of him and slowly tried to stand, obviously favoring her wounded leg as she did so. Once she had, she looked around in confusion, her head turning back and forth as she tried to get a bearing on her surroundings. Eventually, she let out a long-suffering sigh and turned to Gin, who was now standing by John and Akame once more.
"Thank you." She said gratefully. "For helping me like that. I'm sorry for how I acted earlier."
"It's all right." Gin reassured with a smile. "We all have reasons for doing what we do. Where are you from?"
"Kofu." She said. "I was out here with a friend and got separated from her somehow."
"Do you need help getting home?"
"I…" she hesitated, and he chuckled, seeing the answer to his question immediately.
"I'll show you the way." He said, his tail wagging slightly as his smile seemed to widen.
"Oh, no!" she said, shaking her head as John and Akame exchanged a knowing look behind their leader's back. "It's all right! You don't have to – "
"You shouldn't be out here alone." Gin said, cutting her off kindly. "And besides…I want to."
She looked down at her paws bashfully at this, a smile spreading over her muzzle that seemed to match his almost perfectly. Then Gin moved forward and came up beside her once more, letting her lean her weight onto him before they set off Northeast at a slow, steady pace. Behind them, John and Akame stayed where they were, the two males turning back to their trail and looking after their leader's departing form.
"We'll meet you back on the road, Gin." John called with a smirk. "You know, when you can walk straight again that is."
Akame let out an audible chuckle at this and Gin felt the female shrink slightly in embarrassment. He snorted.
"Go jump off a cliff, John." He said coolly without missing a beat and laughter sounded behind him, two teasing voices joining in before fading out of his range of hearing.
He wasn't worried. He would be with them again soon. Beside him, the female gave him a somewhat shy look.
"Thank you again," she said. "For helping me. I'm not used to males doing that."
He smiled warmly down at her.
"You're welcome." He said, still supporting her weight. "Not all of us are bad news. What's your name?"
She smiled at him, seeming much more at ease. It made her look beautiful, he thought. It made her look very, very beautiful.
"Sakura." She said, then paused for a moment before adding: "What's yours?"
The Ohu leader smiled back.
"It's nice to meet you, Sakura." He said warmly. "My name is Gin."
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