Content warnings: None, just lots of angst and hurt/comfort.
Notes: Written for Jashi Week: Royal Blood. Title taken from lyrics to "You’re Not Here” by Akira Yamaoka, because it was in my head while writing, and it fits.
Enough time had passed that the restoration of his homeland was beginning to see fruition. Father and Mother no longer looked sickly and frail as a result of having lived under Aku's rule for so long. In fact, as they grew healthier--and it may have been his eyes fooling them--they seemed to gradually regain the years they had lost to Aku, bearing more and more of a physical resemblance to the parents he remembered leaving as a child.
They had taken to Ashi as soon as he introduced her. Their admiration of her and what she had done for him quickly bloomed into full-on affection as they got to know her. Naturally, his parents couldn't have been happier than when he timidly disclosed the news that they had fallen in love, and he planned on taking her to be his wife.
He lay in bed thinking of all that had transpired between him, his family, and Ashi, and what was yet to come.
His ears perked up at the sound of Ashi's voice, and at that name. He had told Ashi his real name some time ago upon returning home. It was strange to hear that name spoken upon another's tongue after all these years, and he wasn't sure he was quite ready to part ways with "Jack" just yet. It was a name that carried a deep meaning to him, one he cherished ever since the locals he first encountered in Aku's future had christened him it. As such, he did not mind that Ashi would slip and call him "Jack" out of habit, and he let her know that she was allowed to continue calling him by that name. She was still adjusting to this new setting, too, and he understood all too well that she may still have a longing for the past customs they shared in Aku's time.
He sat up to see the glow of a candle peeking from the crack of the slightly opened fusuma door, and the ghostly silhouette of Ashi.
"Sorry if I woke you," she spoke in a quiet voice. "Do you mind having a visitor?"
Jack smiled warmly at her. "You know you, most of all, are always welcome. Please." He pat a spot next to his futon. "Come sit."
Ashi nodded and stepped through, sliding the door behind her before sitting next to him and setting the candle down.
"I…have a lot on my mind," she said, fiddling at her sleeve. "I haven't told your parents about my past…about who I was before we became allies. They only know me as the person who helped return you to your home."
"And the strong-willed, selfless warrior who saved me and so many others…who I fell in love with."
"Y-yes…" She smiled feebly, then frowned. "But…they don't know about me being Aku's daughter. Or how we were enemies."
"That's all in the past."
"But that's just it, Jack!" she snapped, balling up her fists on the floor. "You…you and your family have a past you always remember and celebrate. I have nothing of the sort. I was born of evil and hate…I know I am not my mother, and I am not my father, but no matter how much I move on, I can't bring myself to just bury my upbringing. It was my very being the daughter of Aku that ended up saving you!"
Tears rolled down her cheeks furiously. "I want them to love me," she said, her voice shaking. "I want your parents to love me like you do, knowing who I am. But I..."
She shook her head, uttering curses under her breath as she wiped away at her tears. It had occurred to Jack only now that this was the first time he'd ever seen Ashi shed any. How long had she been holding those back? His chest constricted with guilt--he'd been so busy rebuilding his home and eagerly introducing her to his family that it never occurred to him to check on what was on her mind and how she was really feeling.
"Can I truly take any pride in my lineage?" she whispered.
Jack wrapped his arms around her shaking body, pulling her in and allowing her to cry into his chest. He heard a soft growl of frustration as Ashi began beating her fists against him, choking back tears. Jack gently brought a hand to the back of her head and stroked her hair, rocking her body against his.
"If you have any more tears to shed, please, do not ever hold them back," he told her. "I must be honest, I…also do not know how my parents will respond. I truly feel they will love you, but there is no way to be certain….I understand your concern."
Jack broke away from his embrace to get a look at Ashi. The anger in her eyes had dulled to that of a quiet flame, and she chewed at her trembling bottom lip. Jack stroked her tear-stained cheek with the back of his hand.
"You do not have to bury your past, if that's not what you wish to do," he said softly, bringing her back into his embrace. "It is as you said…my family chooses to remember and celebrate our past. But our past was also fraught with grim beginnings. Many innocent lives were claimed and homelands ruined beyond recovery by Aku before we could bring it to its prosperous present. Truly, it is the present we celebrate--the past is merely another reminder of why we do so.
"I'm sure I cannot compare my past to that of your own, Ashi…it is merely an example of what I am about to tell you. I think you that if you look deeply into your past, as painful as it may be, you, too, may find find it is all the more reason to celebrate the present. You, against all odds, stood up against evil even as you were born of it. You broke away from evil's influence on your mind as well as your body. You are proof that goodness can be born of its own free will no matter what its circumstances. Your story and lineage are very much ones worth celebrating and remembering."
"I'm still scared," hissed Ashi, burying her face into his chest. "I hate feeling this way. You already give me so much love and yet I still crave more."
Jack kissed the top of her head. "You deserve all the love in the world. I will make sure that everyone will know your name and love you…Ashi, the blessing born of darkness who returned light to this world."