Author Notes: Hello everyone and thank you again for your reviews! Here at last is the final chapter to Kain and Ruka's love story, I hope you've enjoyed reading about their romance :D

- Chapter Start -

They stared at each other for a good half minute. Then Ruka blinked.

"You're here," she murmured at last. "I knew it."

Kain nodded, unable to say anything else. Ruka was here! She had come to find him when he thought...

"Why did you leave me?"

Oops.

Kain had already anticipated that question since he was on this way to find Ruka, but it still caught him by surprise. Before he could even attempt to answer, she had moved to stand directly in front of him, just a foot away.

"Was it to check on the fire?" She sounded like she already knew what the answer was.

"No." Kain was already cringing inside, but he couldn't lie. Not to anyone else. Not to her.

"Or to find us something to eat?" Ruka's voice started to rise in volume and pitch.

"No." Oh God, he had even forgotten about food! Wallowing in guilt was a great appetite suppressant.

"Then why did you leave me? I woke up all alone and - and you were here all this time?" Ruka's voice was now wobbly and shrill.

Kain closed his eyes and prayed for forgiveness.

"Yes. I was," he confessed in a low voice. He actually felt like squirming, something that hadn't happened often in his life.

"I thought... I thought you lo - I thought you cared for me!" Ruka's eyes were starting to fill.

"I do, I do love you," Kain hastily assured her. A distant, sardonic part of his mind pointed out the fact that he was at least confessing his love to Ruka in this secret glade, just like he had planned. He ignored it; that plan was in shambles already. All he could do now was salvage what was left. Quickly before those soft brown eyes overflowed with tears.

"Then w-why did you leave?" Ruka blinked hard, hating the quiver in her voice.

"Because I'd made mistakes, Ruka. Several of them," he said, trying to speak around the lump in his throat. He exhaled and lifted a hand, dragging it around the back of his neck and waiting for all hell to break loose.

Ruka simply stared at him. Akatsuki Kain never made mistakes. Whatever he did or said or planned always turned out perfectly. A perfect friend, a perfect guardian, a perfect lover. Except for that leaving her bit.

"You never make mistakes," she pointed out, sounding more exasperated than hurt now.

Kain's lips twisted in a mirthless smile.

"No? Are you sure, Ruka? How about putting your life in danger, getting you to drain your power and your strength, getting you injured, getting your hair - oh God."

Kain's voice shook at the end, his anguished gaze flicking briefly to the ragged ends of her hair. He swallowed and forced himself to hold the wide, confused gaze, relieving the horror of that moment when the fire reached for Ruka, a fear he had never felt before slamming into him.

Ruka stared at him, her throat painful and tight. It was funny. She had come here prepared to scold him, hit him and give him hell. But only because he wasn't there when she had woken up. Only because he had expected her to get down the mountain by herself. Not for the other things he had mentioned.

"Akatsuki, you - you idiot!" she cried tearfully, stamping her foot. "I'm not blaming you for all that! They were not your fault!"

She was still angry at Kain, she still wanted to hit him, but not right at this instant. He looked so guilty and lost, two expressions that ill suited his strong, handsome face. It made her want to comfort him, the way he had comforted her throughout the years.

"No?" he said, the bitter smile returning to his lips. "Then what about after that, when I bit you and completed the one sided bond we have. And - you know what happened next."

Ruka blushed the same moment Kain did, the memory of that intense, wild experience filling their minds. But then she smiled and it was trembling and shy and sweet and utterly devoid of bitterness.

"I know what happened next, Akatsuki. We made love," she whispered.

Kain shook his head in wonder. How could she still look at him like that?

"We shouldn't have. I should've been stronger," he said. His voice was hard, harder than when he had condemned Aido for the same thing. Somehow, he wasn't surprised when Ruka shook her head slowly, blinking hard.

"I didn't want you to be," she whispered.

Kain barely heard her. He was recalling the conversation he had had a few days ago with Ruka's older brothers - Tokutaro and Yasahiro. He remembered how furious he had felt then after being subjected to a patronising and condescending talk where they had warned him of what would happen to hormone controlled boyfriends who couldn't keep their hands off their precious younger sister.

"We like you, Akatsuki. We really do." Yasahiro's tone was genuinely friendly, but then Tokutaro stepped forward. Kain felt himself tense instinctively.

"That's right. We've known you for a long time and Ruka has, too. Consider this just a friendly warning." Tokutaro's voice was about as friendly as a snake's, his eyes even colder.

Undaunted, Kain lifted his chin and met those eyes straight on.

"There's really no need to warn me of anything," he bit out, teeth clenched behind a polite smile.

"Indulge us," Tokutaro was just as adamant to be heard.

Being a guest in their house, Kain could do nothing but listen.

He had been furious then, even though he knew they were only looking out for Ruka. But that was before. He just couldn't dredge up that same anger now that they had been proven right.

"I never meant to - it wasn't meant to happen so soon," he confessed, his voice low and hoarse, his eyes full of apology. "I just wanted you to have fun, to experience what camping was like. I swear, Ruka, I never - "

Two slender fingers were pressed to his lips, stopping his stumbling words. He stared at her, his throat closing up at her soft expression.

"Do you think I don't know that?" she chided, slowly removing her fingers. "I've always known that you would keep me safe, Akatsuki."

"Not this time," he said flatly, hands clenching by his sides.

"It was the bond," Ruka replied, her voice soft, but her gaze steady. "We couldn't help it."

Kain barked out a laugh.

"'Couldn't help it?'" he echoed. "The way Hanabusa and Wakaba 'couldn't help it'?"

Ruka flinched, thinking Kain was reprimanding her for her earlier words.

"No - they were not bonded," she protested. "We are! We were both drained and - and exhausted..."

"That's no excuse!" Kain bit out, frustration lending his voice a rough edge. "I was responsible for you and I failed you, Ruka. Why can't you see that? I had sworn to take care of you! To keep you safe. I didn't keep you safe from myself!"

Ruka blinked back more tears. Kain was furious at himself, not at her. Never at her.

"But you did take care of me!" she choked out. "And I - I wanted that as much as you did! It's OK, Akatsuki. I don't mind..."

Kain groaned at that, dragging his frustrated fingers through his copper hair.

"I wanted to marry you first! To prove that I was deserving of you, to prove to your family that I'm a responsible person. I screwed up!"

Ruka shook her head, her heart both leaping in joy and breaking at Kain's words.

"No! No, you didn't," she countered. "You can still marry - that is, if you want - you an -"

She stumbled to a stop, cheeks hot. She loved Kain and she knew he loved her, but she didn't want to imply that she was expecting anything...

Kain's heart swelled at the stumbling words, Ruka's pretty face flushed with colour, making him long to wrap her in his arms. He took a deep breath and let it out. Then his eyes darted briefly around the glade before returning to her, a small and resigned smile dancing on his lips.

"I can and I do," he said quietly. "That's partly why I brought you here, little Ruka. Why I wanted to save this place from the fire..."

He glanced around him and Ruka did the same. It was fully dark now, but she knew it would look beautiful in the early morning dawn, just as the sun's first rays touched the sky.

"I wanted to bring you here. I wanted to tell you how I feel. I wanted to propose to you here," Kain's voice had dipped low, aching with regret and rich with yearning.

Ruka looked back at him and nodded. Then she took a deep breath.

"You've brought me here. You've told me how you feel. I... I'm waiting for the third one," she reminded him, her voice still quivering.

Kain closed his eyes, hardly able to believe that Ruka - his Ruka - was so forgiving. He lifted his arms and framed her face with large, gentle hands that shook.

"Do you still want me to?" he asked quietly, his eyes intense and searching.

"Yes," Ruka whispered and then she was smiling. "Yes, Akatsuki!"

She punched him in the chest, making him grin. That made her hit him again, giddy and happy and annoyed that he only laughed at her puny efforts. Eventually, they stopped laughing, Ruka's fists easily captured and swallowed by Kain's larger ones. They looked at each other, aware of the sweet, warm urge of the bond surrounding them, tugging them closer.

Kain ignored it for now, the smile on his face dying as he touched the blackened ends of her hair with guilty fingers.

"I'm so sorry about your hair," he whispered , voice husky with regret. "It was so pretty and shiny and long and now, it's... it's gone."

Ruka gave a tearful smile.

"It'll grow back," she reminded him and herself as well.

"You'll let it grow long again?" he asked solemnly.

Ruka nodded back just as solemnly, fighting a sudden and insane urge to giggle. No, she wanted to tell him. You've made me jealous of my own hair and I'm keeping it short from now on! Deal with it! But of course she wouldn't... not when he loved it so much and not when she missed it too.

"Of course I will," she told him warmly, smiling at the relief shining in the expressive eyes of her protector, her beloved.

Kain bent his head, touching his lips to her forehead.

"I love you, little Ruka. I've loved you even when we were children, but I fell in love with you when we started attending Cross Academy. I wanted to tell you, but then you'd..."

He hesitated, unwilling to say anything that would show her in a less than perfect light. No matter the mistakes she made, she was perfect in his eyes. Always perfect.

"I was infatuated with Kaname-sama," Ruka finished for him in a matter of fact voice. "No longer, Akatsuki. I've already told him."

"When?" Kain's chocolate eyes had widened in surprise.

"During the Ichijo dinner. I wished him good luck and then I left."

Kain stared at her, recalling how she had swept out from that balcony, lips pressed together, head held high.

"So since then...?" he couldn't bring himself to finish the question.

Ruka gave a mysterious, womanly smile that made him think of the rest of their lives where he would love her every single day.

"I started seeing someone else," she said. "Someone who came over almost every night. Someone who looked like they wanted nothing more than to be with me. Someone who asked what I wanted in life and listened to my answer. Someone who promised to give me all the things I never had before. Someone who had taken care of me for as long as I could remember and would continue to do so, without fail."

Kain watched the tears slipping down that perfect face, feeling like crying as well. He had known that she cared for him, but he hadn't realised until now that it was more than that, more than just the love for a good friend.

"And what do you think of that someone, little Ruka?" he asked, his voice so choked up and unsteady, it broke off in parts.

Ruka smiled, feeling like a queen. Supremely aware of the power she had over this boy... this man... so strong and resolute and yet, so obedient to her.

"That I'm in love with him," she said simply. "That I will always love him."

Kain was stunned, looking like someone had decked him a good one. Then he sighed and gave her a wry look.

"You're not supposed to say that yet," he teased gravely.

"Oh?" Ruka arched an eyebrow, already smiling, giddy with happiness.

"Yes. You're supposed to wait until I've done this."

With that, Kain took out the small box in his pocket. He opened it and held it out, going down on one knee before her.

"Ruka Souen, I love you with all my heart. I pledge myself to your happiness each and every day. I swear to protect and care for you until the day I die. Will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?"

The words were poetic, in and of themselves, but they came from the heart. Kain had planned a more elaborate proposal - not something as ridiculously dramatic as cutting his palm, of course - but in the end, these words came naturally to his lips and they fitted the occasion. He knew Ruka thought so too, for she was looking down at him with the smile of a Goddess, brighter than a thousand suns.

"I will. I love you, Akatsuki," she replied softly. Again, Kain had choke back his tears.

"And I love the ring," Ruka had to prompt a few moments later when he continued staring up at her, looking flatteringly awe struck.

Kain blinked. Then he grinned and stood up. Taking her delicate hand in his, he fitted the small circlet of diamonds interspersed with topaz onto her ring finger, following up with an ardent kiss on her knuckle. She admired the ring and then smiled up at him, silently inviting a kiss.

Kain didn't hesitate this time. He put his arms around her and kissed her the way he had wanted to. Not the innocent kisses he had given her before, nor the lust filled ones earlier, but the kiss a man would give the woman he loved, rich with promises of forever. A kiss for the girl he had grown up with, protected and loved for most of his life. It took a long time for that kiss to finish for it was followed by one more and then another, each accented by groans and gasps until they were both pressed close together from chest to hip, blood thrumming in their veins and bodies trembling with desire. The blood bond was rejoicing again at their closeness, winding silken ribbons of need around them, reminding them of sweet intimacy that awaited.

"Akatsuki," Ruka whispered, no longer shy about hiding her feelings. She wanted Kain, wanted to welcome his body into hers again, her core starting to grow slick and heavy with desire.

Kain groaned at the soft invitation in her eyes and her voice. He linked his fingers at the small of her back, holding her close and forcing her to feel his body throbbing against her stomach.

"No, Ruka. After our marriage," he whispered. He swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down in his throat.

Ruka blinked. She had to bite her lip to stifle another giggle. Wasn't it usually the other way around?

"I don't have any uh, protection," Kain continued with a deprecating twist of his lips, his lean cheeks flushed with dull colour. "I didn't use one earlier."

"I know." Again, Ruka stopped him from talking with her fingers. "I saw the evidence."

And felt it going down my thigh.

"We already made love once. What if - " Kain broke off with another groan, tipping his head forward to rest his forehead against hers. "What if you -"

Ruka felt herself turn pale. Being a noble class female, the fear of scandal was strong. It reminded her of Wakaba's situation. She wasn't ready for that right now. Mentally, she was little more than a child. She wanted to be taken care of by this wonderful man first before even considering taking care of others.

"But I want - I want to feel it again, even though it - uhm..."

Kain closed his eyes on a sigh.

"I hurt you earlier, didn't I?" he asked quietly, making Ruka smile.

"It's all right," she said softly, giving a casual shrug, "seeing as how enormous you are..."

"Ruka!"

Kain was staring open mouthed at her, colour washing into his cheeks. It just made Ruka laugh and soon, Kain followed with an embarrassed chuckle, the sensual urges of the bond receding for the moment. He took advantage of it, kissing her with tender care before straightening up.

"I want to make love with you, Ruka, so much. You know that, you can feel that," he said gravely. "But please - let me prove this to myself... and to your family."

Touched beyond words, Ruka nodded, a lump growing in her throat.

"All right," she whispered. "But we can't let them know of today. I don't want my brothers to kill the bridegroom before I get to marry him."

"Nope, we can't have that," Kain replied, his eyes twinkling briefly. Even the threat of Ruka's brothers couldn't dampen his joy now. "We're going to have to plan something. Where did you leave the Saab?"

"At the cave."

Kain nodded. He gave Ruka a final kiss before taking her hand and leading her out of the clearing. He was filled with purpose and calm, a different man from the despondent person he had been just a while earlier.

- o -

Ruka remembered her parents had a dinner party to attend tonight and wouldn't be back until dawn. She wanted to get home before they did so Kain started their journey in less than ten minutes. Ruka was content giving him sidelong glances as he concentrated on negotiating the Saab down the winding mountain road. They both did their best to ignore the bond humming between them, teasing them with heightened awareness and need, leaving them nervous and excited as they exchanged shy looks and meaningful smiles.

As they neared their destination, Ruka pulled out the Hermes scarf from her bag, using it to fashion a stylish head covering she had once seen in a fashion magazine. Kain drove them first to the nearest hotel to clean up. They booked a room and went upstairs, both of them studiously avoiding the King sized bed dominating the room.

Kain pulled his gaze away first, his resolve almost crumbling at the pretty blush on Ruka's cheeks. He fisted his hands and took a deep breath.

"Go take a shower, Ruka. I know you've been wanting to," he said quietly.

Ruka blinked and looked at him with a smile.

"I'd kill for one," she said feelingly. She took her overnight bag from Kain's hand and made for the bathroom before she could change her mind and kiss him. At the door, she turned around and smiled again, blowing Kain an impish kiss before shutting the door.

Kain sat on the bed and smiled to himself, his heart overflowing with love. Then he pictured Ruka in the shower, soapsuds running down that pale, supple body and groaned, wanting to break down the bathroom door and ravish her where she stood. Instead, he took a deep breath and let it out again. No more mistakes. He was going to do this right. He let himself fall backwards to lie on the bed and started counting from one to one hundred. Again and again.

- o -

Ruka stripped off her clothes and stepped into the shower stall, moaning in bliss at the cascade of clean, hot water. She took her time, scrubbing herself from head to foot, eschewing the complimentary toiletries for her own travel sized bottles of luxuriant foam. It was utter bliss.

When she stepped out of the bathroom some twenty minutes later, she was dressed in a long, sleeveless blouse of pale green silk and black tights, a towel wound around her shampooed hair.

"Your turn," she murmured to Kain, trying not to notice his hungry chocolate eyes. He stood up, gave a jerky nod and strode to the bathroom.

Ruka waited for the door to close before she giggled again. She took off the towel and ran her fingers through the wet strands thoughtfully. Then she searched through the directory listing on the desk and looked for hairstylists who handled house calls.

No one answered when she dialed the first two numbers, which made her suspect they were humans since it was now just past midnight. Dialing the third number, she was relieved when her call was picked up almost immediately, the male voice sounding young and alert. He agreed to come to the hotel and named a fee that Ruka agreed on without batting an eye. It would never do for anyone to see Ruka Souen with ragged and burnt off hair. Her mother would have a fit if she got to hear about it.

The young man who arrived was human after all, looking so emancipated that Ruka doubted he had the strength to wield the shears hanging from his belt. When she opened the door, his mouth fell open in shock. He hurriedly closed it as she lifted an eyebrow at him. She then gestured for him to come inside and he obeyed, his shocked gaze replaced by a professional, appraising one.

Without a word, Ruka seated herself at the desk, trying not to wince at her reflection in the mirror.

"Well?"

She blinked, her eyes snapping up to the waiting face behind her.

"Bob," she decided. "Keep it as long as you can, straight across the back. Don't touch the front."

He nodded and got to work, spreading a sheet on the carpet and another around her shoulders before starting to snip off the burnt ends of her hair with precision. Ten minutes later, he had finished cutting it and was using the hotel hair dryer to blow her hair dry.

Ruka looked carefully when he held up a large hand mirror and nodded. It was worth the amount she was paying. She waited quietly as the young man packed up his things before handing over the money. He pocketed it with a brief word of thanks and left.

With a sigh, Ruka went back to the mirror, turning her head from side to side. Her hair was now straight and shiny, ending at her jaw line, hugging her head like a sleek cap. Coupled with her bangs, it made her eyes look huge. She looked good, but she preferred her hair long and had taken pains to care for it. Long hair was, after all, a time honoured symbol of beauty and feminity.

And Kain liked it long.

"You look good, little Ruka."

Kain had come out of the bathroom while she was paying the stylist. He stood behind her now, close enough that she could feel his warmth and smell the hotel shampoo and soap he used. The approving smile on his face was marred by the painful regret in his eyes.

Ruka didn't reply at once. She looked back at herself and shook her head gently, the ends of her hair brushing her jaw line. Her head felt much lighter now. Perhaps... perhaps this wasn't such a bad change after all. Then she met his gaze in the mirror and smiled.

"Thank you, Akatsuki," she said softly. She wanted to add that it would grow back, but she didn't want to bring up that incident again. She trembled a little when large, warm hands closed over her arms.

"Ruka..."

She heard the deep, husky note in Kain's voice and turned around instantly, her lips already parted in welcome. The kiss was light, sweet and unbearably tempting. Then Kain growled and deepened it, drawing out a throaty moan from Ruka as he held her close, letting her feel the hard, aroused length of his body, letting her know how much he wanted to love her. By the time the kiss ended, their lips were swollen and their eyes dark with need.

"I want to - oh, God," Kain groaned and broke off, shaking his head in frustration.

"You can... if you want to," Ruka answered breathlessly. She wanted Kain to love her again, but she didn't want to push him, not after that promise he had made her. It meant a lot to him and Ruka cherished it, no matter how painful it was.

"I do want to," Kain groaned. With a growl, he ran his hands down her shoulders, briefly skimming over her breasts, stomach and hips, committing them to memory. Then he swung away from her, trembling hands closed into tight fists by his sides.

"Let's go," he said as soon as he had controlled himself.

The sooner he got Ruka home the sooner he could plan his formal proposal and the sooner they could wed. Then he would finally have her all to himself and spend every moment of the rest of their lives pleasing her. With a last, wistful glance at the tempting expanse of the large bed, he picked up Ruka's bag and offered her his arm. She took it and they left the room.

- o -

Ruka's arrival home turned out to be anti climactic. The reactions from the servants were exactly as she had envisioned - the butler's eyebrows shooting up into his hairline and her maid gasping in horror and then weeping copiously as if it were her hair that had been cut off.

It was quite rewarding actually. Ruka had grinned at their reaction and blithely ordered some food to be sent up to her room. She still had to make sure she answered her parents' questions on her camping trip and her new hairstyle tomorrow, but she was very much looking forward to Kain's formal proposal of marriage the day after.

School would start again in a few days' time and she hoped to go back to Cross Academy as Akatsuki Kain's wife.

- o -

Epilogue: Ten years later...

"Mama, hurry up! We're going to be late!"

A nine year old boy peeked around his parents' bedroom door, dressed for the outdoors. He sighed when he saw his mother still sitting in front of her vanity table, the heavy silver backed brush going through long, honey blond tresses.

A seven year old girl was standing next to the vanity. Previously, her admiring brown eyes were fixed on her mother's crowning glory, her own shoulder length hair bound up in a ponytail. Now, she narrowed her eyes at her older brother.

"Mama's brushing her hair," she announced importantly. "You'll have to wait. Papa too."

The boy frowned at her.

"I don't want to wait! I want to reach the campsite now. Papa's promised to teach me how to hook worms and catch trout."

The little girl shuddered.

"That's gross! Isn't it, Mama?"

Ruka smiled at her daughter and put down the brush.

"Then it's a good thing we have our men to catch them for us, right, pet?" she teased before standing up, as graceful and slender as she had been before marriage.

"Let's go, we've made Papa wait long enough."

Ruka held hands with her two children as they walked out the door and down the wide sweeping staircase of their home. She smiled down at her husband standing at the bottom of the stairs. His chocolate eyes were filled with same love and admiration that they had held when they exchanged wedding vows ten years ago in front of family and friends, none of whom realised the newlyweds had actually blood bonded a few days before.

"Sorry we're late, Papa," the little girl said with a winning smile that she knew would melt her father's heart.

"Mama always takes ages to comb her hair!" grumbled her brother, rolling his eyes a little.

Kain shot him a wink before giving his beautiful wife the most disapproving look he could summon up.

"There's no need to comb your hair so often and you know it," he told her, his face perfectly serious.

Ruka heard her son's sigh and saw the knowing smile on her daughter's face. She grinned at both of them and then she looked at Kain, tossing her head slightly.

"There's every need to brush my hair and you know it," she returned lightly, giving Kain a very meaningful smile and giggling when his glare faded instantly. She knew exactly what was going through his mind now.

Kain closed his eyes, that smile triggering memories that made him feel very warm. He remembered sensuous moments in bed with Ruka's honey coloured tresses framing her perfect face and shifting over pale shoulders, her eyes alight with mischief, crimson with passion or soft with bliss. He remembered her gorgeous hair spread out on pillows as they moved together in the timeless dance of love. He remembered the silken locks trailing over his taut stomach and quivering thighs, leaving him breathless with need and filled with so much love for this woman who had given him herself and two beautiful children to complete his life.

Kain sighed and gave his son a conciliatory smile.

"I'm afraid your Mama's right," he said and feasted his eyes on the freshly shampooed waves tumbling over Ruka's shoulders. She had kept it at waist length ever since and wore it down whenever possible, regardless of whether she was camping or paragliding or rock climbing or working on the latest design of her fashion line in her salon or helping her children with art and collages.

"So, ready for camping?" Kain murmured in Ruka's ear as she reached the bottommost step. Their children rolled their eyes at each other and went on to the front door, already knowing what would happen.

Ruka smiled at Kain and pressed her lips to his. With him by her side, taking care of her and their children as he always did, she was ready for anything.

"As I'll ever be," she assured him, her hand in Kain's as they followed their children out the door.

- Story End -

A/N: Thank you for reading! Do take a moment to review if you've enjoyed it, I'd love hearing from you :)