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and farther than our eyes can see

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Lin cries when they receive news of what happened to Kenshiro.

Bat struggles for the right words to say and, failing to find any, just holds her tight and close.

"I don't understand," she whispers, "He promised he would come back, he promised."

What is he to say in response? What words were there, when he is thinking the same thing?

"I miss him too," he says, and this only makes Lin cry harder.

-

"What are you doing?" he demands when he finds Lin hunched over on the edges of the town square.

Rather than hide her instruments, Lin proudly shows them off.

"I'm sharpening a knife," she answers.

"Why bother?" Bat presses, looking at blunt blade and scowling, "You're a girl, you're not supposed to fight."

Lin kneels back down, continuing to sharpen, and says between gritted teeth, "Miss Mamiya said it was important."

Although Bat doesn't like it, her answer shuts him up at least. He crosses his arms and huffs, stomping up a small tantrum before leaving in a flurry of dust.

He changes his tune however, when he dashes home from the fields once to find Miss Mamiya and Rin up on their feet and panting hard, with a would-be bandit's corpse bleeding into the dirt floor.

"What happened?" he asks, running over to check for injuries, "Where were you hurt?"

Lin shakes her head but Miss Mamiya strides over and pulls them both into a bone-crushing hug.

"Miss Mamiya...!"

"Hey!" Bat exclaims, already at the age where non-violent physical contact left him uncomfortable. "What are you..."

Miss Mamiya maintains her hold and through the closeness, Bat can hear her shouting for orders: for the body to be disposed of, the front door to be fixed, and the blood to be swept away. This is the closest he's been to Lin in a long time, he realizes, ever since they started sleeping on real beds in separate rooms instead of whichever overhang looked the least likely to collapse. In the darkness of Miss Mamiya's embrace, he can make her short and stilted breaths out as well as the scent of blood and grime.

When Miss Mamiya releases them, he still has his face to save. So he brusquely brushes past the two of them, muttering "take better care of yourself" in passing.

Neither Miss Mamiya nor Lin tell him until years after the fact that it was Lin who the burglar had caught unaware, that it was Lin who drove the knife into the man's throat.

-

Surprisingly, it is Bat and not Lin who develops a taste for blood. Rather, it is a taste for power, not blood, but the years mold him into a capable fighter in his own right.

The difference in their physical capabilities are made apparent after their transition into adolescence. He's suddenly two heads taller than Lin and nearly twice as wide; faster, stronger, and a tinge more vicious to boot. The bandits, Bat is certain, will stop coming so long as they're taught a lesson. And seeing as Kenshiro is still missing and neither Miss Mamiya nor Lin have the heart for unprovoked violence, the duty falls on him.

-

"I don't like the way they look at you," Lin tells him over dinner one night.

"What do you mean?" Bat asks.

"You're only a boy."

"No," Bat snaps, "I'm a man."

"You're younger than me!"

He kicks the table leg in his retreat and the subject ends just like that.

-

Despite her distaste for violence and penchant for staying near Miss Mamiya and Airi, it is Lin who declares they must make a move. The mysterious lord known only as Kaioh is amassing power even faster than Ken-oh and their village is months away from being swallowed up.

Well, she says as much but Bat and the others ignore her concerns. There are more pressing issues at the moment, the village elder explains, like transporting the livestock from the north to the west field, as well as reinforcing the western barricades.

But don't you see, Lin tries to explain, there will be nothing to protect if we don't act soon.

Bat listens, but doesn't know what to do. Lin has a point, and she is the one in charge of guard duty, but how on earth would their village of children and geriatrics fight back against a full-scale invasion?

Still, he knows her better than anyone else and rightfully keeps an eye on her movement. His paranoia is justfied when he catches her skulking about a full hour before daybreak, sneaking into the stables and walking out with the village's oldest horse.

"Lin," he greets, hopping down from his vantage point, "What are you doing?"

Rather than look ashamed, she looks him in the eye and answers: "I'm going to intercept the forward guard of Kaioh."

And Bat hears: I'm riding to my death -- as the blood rushes between his ears.

And for the first time since taking up the sword, Bat feels the sting of cowardice. Here he was, busying himself with borderline-administrative duties, while Lin had prepared herself to ride into battle! The woman before him has both jaw and fists clenched, ready to be talked down, ready to bolt for the gates if need be. This is the difference between 'central' and 'frontier', he thinks, for they had been concerned with the immediate present for too long.

"On that kind of horse?" he says instead, scoffing.

"Well -- " Lin bristles, flushing.

"C'mon Lin, why skimp when you're planning on saving the day?"

His teasing brings her back to center. She returns his smile (while ignoring his proffered hand) and slides off the mare to lead it back to the stables. They choose more suitable mounts then, for, as Bat said, they were riding into war and all, and even come up with a name for themselves.

"No way," Lin says, making a face, "That sounds silly."

"Whaaat!" Bat exclaims, only to be shushed, "It's a great name, what are you talking about?"

"But neither of us know it."

"Yeah, and?"

"So it doesn't make sense!"

"But he's the reason we're doing this, right?"

On Kenshiro, Bat bitterly thinks, would make Lin smile like so. Her lips slowly quirk upwards and the light of the moon seems trapped in her eyes.

"Alright," she sighs, as if this were some great concession, "The Hokuto Army we'll be."

Bat could wallow in his own feelings. But if he started, he fears he'll never stop. So he pastes on a devil-may-care smile and pulls at his reins, clicking his heels to spur his stallion ahead of Lin's.

"Race you to the west gate!" he calls, and so, they set off.