A/N: Okay, I lied. One last big chapter to finish the whole thing off with a bang!
Because I was just SO sad that I was finished with this fic, my brain came up with some new ideas for Saitou fanfiction. I plan on doing a companion piece to this fic, which will appropriately be titled, "Through Your Eyes". Saitou's perspective (boy, that'll be a trip..) with some hidden goodies that I purposely skipped over in this fic to keep an element of surprise. Obviously the majority of the plot is out in the open, but I promise it will stay fresh, so please be on the lookout for it!
A big thank you to everyone who reviewed - you guys have been my inspiration throughout this entire ordeal I call writing first person POV, and honestly, I couldn't have done it without you. I only hope I delivered the kind of quality fic that really made this as much fun for you as it was for me. And, no, I normally don't spew out this crap, I REALLY DO MEAN IT.
Last Note and Most Important: Strong language in this chapter, kiddies. I used the one swear that's *technically* not supposed to be in PG-13 rated... things. And there's also some graphic depictions of violence (in my opinion, but maybe I just have an overactive imagination). Just don't complain about nightmares, k? Now, onto the grand finale...
The katana raised above me, glinting menacingly. I whimpered, thinking of my husband, on the other side of those wooden walls - but my terror would not allow me to scream.
The sudden sound of a door slamming open caused the boy to look up in surprise.
"What the hell do you think you're doing." There was no question, no chance to choose whether or not to reply - simply a demand for an answer. I craned my neck to see my husband standing in the doorway, his own katana in hand.
"She's mine. Get your own, Ishin bastard." My lungs, heaving to let in as much air as possible, froze. The Ishin Shishi… here? But they had been defeated - earlier this very night! How could they have time to plan this? The boy standing over me did not move.
"Don't even try." My husband glared at the young man as he licked the edge of his sword with a demonic smirk on his lips. "I'd pin your ass to the tree before you even had a chance. I'm surprised the Battousai even allows such weaklings in his presence." I could see the katana looming overhead beginning to shake, the fear taking root. I felt fear as well; that man with the red hair was the legendary Hitokiri Battousai! What could my injured husband do against him? Death weighed heavy around me; tonight Kyoto was restless indeed.
"I will repeat myself only once more. Back away."
"Isamu." The Battousai warned. With no hesitation, the young man retreated. Tension fairly cracked in the air. As my husband's eyes did not leave the short Battousai, directing only his voice at me.
"Get up." My head still spun as I struggled to comply with his request. Apparently, I was not moving quickly enough, for his hand roughly grabbed my wrist, jerking me upward with unnecessary force. I felt his tension, his calculations, his realizations. Even a fool knew who would be the victor.
"Get inside." His voice was low.
"Go!" He commanded, flinging me back through the open door. I fell to my knees, my eyes locked on the trio before me.
"Isamu." The Battousai summoned again, narrowing his eyes. "Find the back entrance and kill her. I will take care of this one."
A low, sarcastic laugh tumbled from my husband's lips as the young man began to make his way to the corner of the house.
"That is your solution, Battousai? You know you cannot defeat me, and so you try to corner me? Hmph! Tactics worthy of such a dishonorable Ishin dog. I refuse to play that game." He straightened and took two steps back until he was through the doorway. "I'll be waiting." Displaying very little effort, he swung his katana in front of him in an arc, crunching the paneled walls and, more importantly, two beams holding the roof and overhang. With a ceremonious crash, the front entrance collapsed, blocking off the opening. If the Battousai wanted my husband's blood, he would have to enter through the back way, which meant we were now cornered.
I watched my husband rapidly move to the corridor, ignoring his surely painful wound. "Tokio." I followed obediently. How he planned to defend himself when his dominant leg was injured I could not understand.
"Open your legs." He ordered flatly. I felt myself grow crimson.
"Do it." He growled. At last, I complied. He pierced my clothing with his sword between my knees and slit the fabric to the hem.
"Now you can run." He said, ignoring my embarrassment. "When they come in, I'll break open the wall." He gestured behind him to the paneling at the end of the corridor. "Then you must go. Do not wait for me."
"You can't be serious!" I protested. "There is no way -"
"I have fought the Battousai before."
"But you weren't injured, were you?" I retorted. "This is suicide!"
"A wolf never surrenders."
The stubborn, obstinate man! In all his pride, he was going to allow himself to die, to struggle in futility to make a sacrifice for his beliefs! I hated him so fervently at that moment, hated him for thinking I would leave him behind.
"No." I clenched my fists and stood my ground.
"What?" I saw his eyebrows raise in agitation.
"I'm not leaving. You will come with me!"
"Would you prefer they slit your throat?" He said coldly, his eyes trained on where the Battousai would enter. "I will not repeat myself."
I felt my will wavering. If I did stay, death seemed ready to fold me in its arms and I would be relinquished as its prisoner. But if I left…
I strongly disliked my choices, but could see no alternative. Until my eyes fell on the smoldering cigarette which my husband had discarded on his way to my rescue.
"Give me your matches."
The idea had formed in all its hideous glory, and now I was determined to see it through. He complied, nonchalantly tossing the wooden matches to me. I smiled; my heart beginning to race. If I could manage to do everything as I saw it happening in my mind…
"Cigarette?" I inquired, pulling out a match.
"I don't smoke when I fight, Tokio." He spoke to me as if I were a stupid child - and I will admit the offer did seem a little strange.
"You must!" I insisted. "When you see me return, discard it…"
"Tokio, what the hell are you -" I had lit the match and stood waiting, defiant. With a sigh, he pulled out a cigarette and let me light it. I smiled to reassure him, and I knew he was indulging me, using every bit of his patience to refrain from scolding me - maybe he thought it would be his last chance to do so.
"Hold onto it." I instructed. "Until the very end."
"Stupid woman." He muttered gruffly, taking a puff. It was then that we heard the Battousai's voice.
My husband turned, rapidly slashing through the wall twice to create a splintered hold in the paneling. His speed and accuracy daunted me, and left me wondering how efficient he would be without an injury at all…
"Yes." The matches still tightly in my hand, I left, hiding about the corner of the house, listening to the Battousai's quiet, emotionless voice.
I needed to be quick if I wanted to succeed. If I was too slow, it would only result in what I wished to prevent - his death. I needed to fly.
Kicking off my sandals, I pulled out a match. Six remained. Enough for what had to be done.
I made my way to the front of the house, the crushed-in doorway. My fingers shook as I grated the match. When it did not light, I panicked and tried again. This time, I burnt my finger in my haste. I knelt, my torn clothing no longer a hindrance, and let the match's tiny flame flicker beneath the rice paper. It had begun.
As soon as the fire caught, I dropped the match, letting it burn itself into ash. My feet rapidly carried me to the next side of the house, repeating the same steps, except there was only wood here.
Next was the kitchen entrance. I merely laid the kindling on the floor and set it aflame, blocking the doorway. I had left enough for the other back entrance as well, creating two bonfires in little time. The curls of smoke were now visible in the sky - before long it would be a blazing inferno. A coffin of flames.
My matches were gone.
I ran back to the only exit I had left open - the same one I had escaped through. I heard the clang of metal on metal, the grunts, the yells… and saw they were both still standing.
"Little wench!" A voice hissed behind me. An arm was about my throat, cold steel pushing against my chin. Isamu. "Now you will watch him die. Scream, or I'll slit your throat!"
He was going to anyway - he wanted me to be a distraction, to give the Battousai an edge. Was the battle really that close, with my husband injured? No, the two lunged forward again and after the encounter, my husband faltered. He hopped twice, favoring his right leg, when he landed. The Battousai knew. He had seen the stumble and the red beginning to seep through.
"Whore!" The boy's hands were shaking and I felt the sword grating against my throat. "I told you to scream!"
My eyes focused on the cigarette that had rolled against the wall, the tiny flamed that had caught hold of the wood. The boy's shouts had ensnared my husband's attention - I saw his feet turn as he faced us.
"…Ha…ji…me…" I choked, my eyes watering as the blunt side of the katana crushed my breathing. I heard an inhuman snarl and I saw his feet leap from the house - using his injured leg for leverage, as if nothing was wrong. The force of his impact slid me back slightly, but all I noticed was the air rushing through my lungs, the katana falling with a thud to the ground beside me.
"You fucking moron." He hissed. "I warned you." Holding him by the neck, he prepared to strike.
"Go to Hell." My gaze refused to divert itself, despite the gore as the katana pierced through Isamu's neck, the boy writing in silent agony, his pupils rolling about. The katana came back out, streaked with red, running and dripping off the end. With an expert flick, the drops fled to the ground, leaving the silver blade untainted, as my husband angrily flung the deceased boy to the ground.
"And as for you…" He turned to face the Battousai who now stood in the only entrance left in our burning home. There was another rabid cry as my husband charged at him, launching himself at the red-haired man with such a force that both disappeared into the smoke. The rice paper caught flame with a burst as the flickers from the cigarette crept up the wall, and I could see the two struggling. The Battousai batted him away.
"Hajime!" I shouted, watching him crumple. A snap from the rafters above caused the Battousai to lose his concentration with a quick glance upward. My husband staggered to his feet.
"As for you, Battousai." The words were spat venomously from his lips. "Burn with him!"
Jumping backwards, he cut the two beams on either side of the corridor, the roof creaking loudly before slowly caving in, creating a shower of sparks.
I stood stupid gaping at the flames that now crackled ominously in the night.
"Go!" My husband grabbed my wrist, flinging me forward. But when I did not move, he wrapped his fingers around me again and fairly dragged me behind him.
"Stupid woman! So that's why you wanted my matches…"
"That isn't enough to kill the Battousai. Fire cannot defeat a man like him."
"But a wounded wolf can?" I muttered, running to keep up with his long strides. His eyes narrowed, but he did not pursue the subject.
We ran in silence until we reached an inn, apparently one my husband had been to before. The owner opened the door, seeming to accept the state we were in - clothes torn and bloody, panting like dogs.
"No. One." My husband placed the money in the man's open palm.
"This way." He led us to an empty room and departed. I entered, realizing there was only one futon. Wonderful.
My husband walked to the window and slid it open, pulling out a cigarette.
"Damn it." He cursed, recalling the fate of his matches. Walking over to the lantern, he used the flame from the candle. Pensively, he returned to the window, his back to me. I could tell by the way he carried himself that he was angry - no doubt at me, for I had meddled in his fight with the Battousai, providing an opportunity to escape that he did not want to take, and selfishly making him come with me against his wishes.
So many thoughts danced in circles inside my mind as I blankly stared at the floor. Bottled inside, they crashed into one another heedlessly, and I could not separate them to make sense of any of it.
The minutes ticked by as if they were hours, the silence gently caressing my brow and turning into fatigue. I was so tired of fighting against him…
"You are quiet, Tokio." He seemed to have found the silence unnerving, particularly after that scolding I gave him. Had that really been earlier today?
"I have been thinking."
"Ah." The quiet resumed, but I had lost the comfort in it. His voice had taken away the last of my reserve and will to hold myself above the crashing waves of thought in my mind.
"Okita's dead." I blurted out unconsciously. I do not think he realized I saw him freeze, his fists slowly clench. That I heard the strained, painful muttering: "That stupid bastard." My words hung in the air like the smoke that wafted from his cigarette, unfurling unhurriedly.
"I am sorry. I held Death in my hands once already tonight. I could not bear to do it again."
"…I see." Only now did I realize his anger had departed completely. He looked depleted, tired even - it struck me how often I forgot that he was as human as I.
He leaned back against the wall and slid down to a sitting position, cradling his forehead with one hand, the other tending to his cigarette. The pain from his wound must have returned, now that the adrenaline had worn off. I remained where I sat, facing the window, his hand hiding his profile from me. The time had come - we were both worn down to the point where nothing could remain hidden, no matter how we wished to mask our emotions. And I had to know…
"Hajime…" I began, looking at him anxiously. It was the first time I had ever addressed him by his name this way, and it elicited an unpredicted response.
He lifted his head to meet my gaze, which he had never done before. The amber eyes that looked so haunting startled me into staring for a moment. In those mirrors was an untamed defiance, a flare of superiority, and a knowing glint of confidence that he heard every thought. I saw the wolf.
"Will… I ever have… you?" The words escaped my lips in pieces, as my mind felt itself being devoured by his gaze. Slowly his eyebrows raised into a questioning furrow.
"I think my previous attempts answer that." He responded sarcastically, purposefully evading the query and drawing a blush to my cheeks. I really had not worded my question intelligently.
"No, I mean…" I shook my head, clearing my thoughts.
"Before Okita died, he said he wanted to die for it… would you?"
"Die for what?" Under his intense gaze, I forgot he did not know what I was referring to.
"Loyalty to an idea."
"Hmph." He dragged on his cigarette, the sarcasm leaving his voice to be replaced with an utmost seriousness. "You speak like it is uncommon. Look around Kyoto and you will see hundreds who follow that path."
"'A wolf never surrenders'? That is what you hold most dear?"
"You did not ask me that." He calmly corrected me. "You asked me what I would die for when you already had the answer. Ahou." His tone was not condescending, remarkably, although the words would have offended anyone. Despite the insult, he was not reprimanding me for my misunderstanding. "It just proves how little you know. People cannot survive if they only have something to die for."
"I do not understand…"
"Of course not. I would not expect you to." He averted his gaze to tap the ash off the end of his cigarette before his eyes continued to observe me speculatively. "A cause will lead men into battle, but it will never lead them back out. It is he with the stronger will to live who will prevail."
"If the will to live is stronger…?" In my mind, I saw him leap towards the Battousai, his mental state overpowering the pain of his injury, providing him with enough strength in his weakened state to drive the Battousai back…
"Mm." He responded with the hum that I had grown accustomed to.
"But you are dedicated to the path of 'Aku Soku Zan'."
"That does not mean I do not possess a stronger reason to live." He stubbed out his cigarette, a thin smile on his lips. "The only thing more important to a wolf than his prey is his pack."
The intensity of the joy I had felt when he left earlier that evening was nothing compared to the flood of confusing emotion that filled me now. Mostly guilt, at having misunderstood every intention of his, overwhelming me until I felt the tears begin to stream down my face.
"Hajime…" In the blur, I saw him edge towards me, looking uncomfortable.
"Women. Always crying." His hands cupped my face, wiping my tears until I could see every detail of his disapproving scowl.
"I am so sorry. For everything!" I choked out.
"Apologize only when you are at fault." He dropped his hands but did not move, examining my streaked face closely, to my chagrin. Still frowning, he conceded, "And that I have yet to see."
I felt another wave of emotion strike - he forgave me of everything? My rejection, my criticisms, and my disobedience and interference in his affairs, gone with such simple words. As the weight lifted off my shoulders, I was able to see clearly everything I could not see in my confusion. He did not simply want me as a possession, he wanted to have me as a reason to live. I did not think he would ever say he loved me - he did not see things in that light, using petty, sentimental words to convey his thoughts. But all that he had said proved it to be true. The wolf had chosen his mate.
We sat in silence for a moment, as I was unable to find a suitable way to respond. Only once had I given him hope that I felt any emotion toward him at all. But, somewhere amidst the ups and downs of these long days, I had grown to love this man who was my husband - it was only fitting he should know as well.
"Do you remember asking me what you were?"
"Mm." His eyes clouded as he recalled the tension from our wedding night.
"I finally have the answer." I smiled, a pride in myself and in him refusing to stay hidden.
"Dare I ask." He snorted dryly, watching me carefully. Behind the retort, I could see the hunger - he was waiting. I dropped my eyes to my hands in my lap, to see his own fingers lolling idly beside him.
"I know what you are, Saitou Hajime." I said resolutely, picking up one hand with both of mine. The sword calluses on his palm made me smile, their roughness only reminding me of his devotion to everything he held sacred. Now I was to be included. I raised my face to look him in the eye.
"You are my husband, and I would not have it any other way."
His face flickered at my words, as if they somehow caught him off guard. The hand I had taken lifted from my hold, to steer my face toward his, as he silently demanded proof. To his surprise, my lips welcomed him without hesitation. Immediately he pulled back, a mischievous smirk tugging at his face. A grin that was mirrored on my own lips as our thoughts coincided. The mate accepted her partner.
"Ahou." The insult was oddly affectionate as his arms pulled me close, his voice only a low murmur in my ear.
"Didn't I warn you? I always get what I want!"
Through my eyes, there is black and there is white.
But all I really see is Hajime.