So I lost the original draft for this chapter, and then I found it, and then I kept editing and re-editing the ending over and over again, but I know a fair number of people really wanted to know what happened, so I'm just putting it up now. I hope you guys like it!
Oh, quick warning: maybe a teensy hint at a little Taiora at the end, but it could just as easily be friendship as romance, and I'm not sure which it is, so no big deal.
Tai: An Epilogue
"I forgot my key, could you…" TK smiled and leaned against the apartment door, close to the small brunette. Kari looked up at him and smiled a little, her pretty chocolate eyes amused. "Are you gonna let me in?" He shrugged and took a step closer to her.
"It's nice out here." He angled himself carefully so that she was trapped between his body and the door. Her eyes broke from his, studying the ground as her face flushed, still too shy to keep eye contact for very long. He leaned his face down near hers, forcing her to look at him again. "And I'm not supposed to kiss you in there."
He and Matt had implemented the rule not long after her birthday, following a long, uncomfortable conversation about creating a sense of boundaries and also not risking adding premarital pregnancy to the long list of crap in Hikari's life. Moreover, as Matt had so nicely phrased it: "I don't want to come home to you two making out on my couch." Unless someone else was home, contact was limited to hugging and hand-holding as necessitated by Kari's lingering depression. There were no such regulations applying to doorways, however.
Gently, he pressed his lips to the corner of her mouth and smiled as another rush of heat showed in her face. She was still too shy; it made him want to kiss her more. "Did I tell you how adorable you look today, pretty girl?" More heat, but she kissed him back when he pressed his lips to hers this time, softly, quietly. He tilted her chin up gently with his hand and kissed her mouth before running his lips along her jaw. She giggled softly.
"That tickles," she smiled, and he kissed the upwards curve of her lips. His hands moved to her hips and he took a step closer, tracing the top hem of her jeans with his thumbs. She felt soft and warm and small under his hands.
"I like it when you smile," he whispered, kissing her jawline again, and she giggled as he touched her waist.
"Stop it," she blushed, "that tickles." Another kiss, deeper this time, more serious.
"Matt's neighbors," she began, but he covered her lips with his own, and her words were lost in the kiss.
"…are all jealous of me," he finished for her, and continued the kiss, moving his hands up her waist, drawing her small form against him as hunger pulled deep in his body. Her scent filled his lungs, and her lips tasted soft and sweet as they moved in rhythm with his own. Cool fingers brushed his jaw, and he sighed.
Her phone rang.
He frowned fake-moodily when she pulled away, and his hands remained on the soft curve of her waist, refusing to let her escape. "Tell Davis to find himself his own girlfriend." He moved his lips to her jaw again and followed the curve to her ear.
"It's probably just Yolei," she said, a little breathless. He liked that.
"Then why do you need to…" His lips brushed her earlobe, and he trailed off, suddenly very distracted.
"People don't call my phone unless it's pretty important," she explained, and he grinned at the brilliant red in her cheeks. He glanced over and down at her phone.
"That's not her number, or Davis'." He tried to press his lips to hers again, but she turned her face as she brought the phone to her ear.
"It could be Willis." TK grunted at the name and stole one more kiss before she could speak into the receiver. She blushed furiously and stumbled over her words. He smiled. Adorable.
He moved his lips to her neck and pulled her closer again as he planted soft kisses below her jaw. "Tell him you're busy kissing your very handsome, very strong, very overprotective boyfriend," he whispered against her throat. She finally shoved him away with her shoulder, but there was still a smile on her face.
"Y-Yes, to whom am I speaking?" she tried not to laugh and then paused and frowned. "Who?" She pushed away TK's left hand, still lingering on her waist, and took a step away, her face paling.
"Who is it, pretty girl?"
"No. I mean, I'm not staying there anymore." He frowned. "I'm at Matt's… I-It's complicated." Her voice was shrinking with each word, growing softer at every syllable. Possibilities bombarded his mind as anxiety built in his chest. "Mhm. Like 6:30? Yeah… Y-Yeah, hold on." She looked over at him for the first time, her eyes scared and shadowy. "Wh-What's the address for the apartment?"
"Hikari, who is that?" Her eyes welled up with tears, and he took a step towards her. "Who's on the phone?" She shook her head weakly.
"Please, TK." He fed her the address hesitantly and listened to her repeat it back into the receiver and whisper a soft "goodbye." She blinked frantically and turned back to the door, avoiding his eyes completely. "W-Would you get the door, please?"
"Kari, who was that?"
"P-Please, Takeru." A tear broke from her eye, and he gave in, jamming his key in the lock and opening the door. She walked in ahead of him and, hand trembling, set her cell phone on the coffee table.
"Hikari, pretty girl…" She sat on the couch and closed her eyes. He followed her, taking the space beside her. He touched her shoulder gently.
"W-Would you mind… w-would you mind j-just kissing me? I-I know we're not supposed to, I-I just, I-I don't w-want to think right now. P-Please?" Her voice had that fear to it, like she was asking him for something awful, like he would find the act of kissing her repulsive. Pain rang in his chest. She wasn't supposed to talk like that anymore.
"Kari, we need to talk about this."
"I-I know, I know. I-I just need a minute, please?" Her voice broke on the please this time; that was all it took with her.
It moved very fast. He was kissing her, their movements laced with pain and fear, and then her pink cardigan was off, his hands on the curves of her hips below her thin tank top, the pain gone, and then he was on top of her, his lips buried in her neck, the fear dissipated.
"W-We need to stop, Hikari," he managed when he knew he was getting too close to not being able to stop, his breathing hard and rough against her skin, and he tried to be gentle, but she fell to pieces immediately as his lips fell away. Her body shook, and tears poured from her eyes, sobs tearing from her throat. "Sh, sh, pretty girl," he murmured, moving off of her so that he could sit up and pull her into his lap. "Sh, it'll be okay; who was it?" His heart still pounded from kissing her, but reality came down hard, and any pleasure was gone with her tears. He picked her sweater up off the floor and laid it over her shoulders.
"I-It w-was Tai," she cried weakly, burying herself against him. Anger flared in his chest.
"Why the hell would he be calling? How did he even find your number?" She winced when he swore, like he was yelling at her.
"H-He came home, f-for gr-graduation. H-He went over t-to the apartment; m-my number was in the kitchen."
"What?" She pressed into him, and he tightened his hold on her body, pulling her into his chest protectively. "Please, Kari, if he honestly thinks- That's just total crap. He isn't going to barge in on your life again a week before you graduate."
"I don't care what he said to you, Kari! You don't have to see him, or even talk to him, again if you don't want to, all right? Matt and I'll take care of it."
"Y-Yes I-I do."
"No, pretty girl, I'm pretty sure you don't," he snapped sarcastically.
"I-I have t-to- He's coming over f-for dinner."
"Well then I'll call him back and tell him to get lost, okay?" She shook her head against him. "Yeah, and why not?" She choked back tears to speak.
"H-He's my br-brother, 'Keru."
"He hasn't been much of a brother the past few years," he retorted, but he already knew what she would say.
"H-He's the only f-family…" she whispered, and he fell silent for a moment.
"You have Matt."
"I know…" he murmured, but he couldn't help himself, "you know, even if I can contain myself, Matt's going to murder him."
"Listen, I don't want you to be scared about this, okay? We're gonna give it a try, but if you feel so much as a little uneasy while he's here, he's gone. Just like that. We'll call Matt, so he can get home early to help with dinner, and then we'll put on a movie, and when he gets here, I'll be with you the whole time, all right?" He stared into her teary brown eyes intensely, waiting for a response. She hugged him and pressed her face into his neck.
"I-I love you," she whispered, her tears still wet on his skin.
"I love you, too."
A knock sounded at the door, and Kari stiffened against his side. "Deep breaths, pretty girl," he whispered, placing an arm around her waist. Her small fingers found his hand and wove the two together as they waited. "I'm right here," he added softly when her breathing started to quicken nervously, squeezing her hand tightly in his.
They watched as Matt checked the peephole and then, swallowing hard, opened the door. Her brother was taller and more muscular than TK had remembered, and his hair was shorter, though still just as messy. His eyes were darker, too, the same way Kari's had been just a few months prior, distant. The dim eyes moved from Matt to TK to Kari, then stopped.
"Hey, Kar." TK could feel her shaking slightly in his arms. He squeezed her hand again.
"Hi." Silence hung in the air for a few moments.
"Do I at least get a hug?" TK tightened his hand on her hip, but she pulled away and walked across the room to her brother. Matt moved hesitantly from between the two of them, and they watched the small brunette's shoulders stiffen slightly as Tai's arms moved to wrap around her. He caught Matt's eye and saw the same resentment he knew was showing in his own face. He hadn't seen her do that in a long time, almost two months, stiffen at someone's touch as though anticipating injury. "Are you guys gonna tell me what's going on, then?" TK was too busy fighting back the words he very much wanted to yell at her brother to answer him.
"I-It's complicated," Kari managed softly. TK took the few steps forward necessary to take her hand in his again. "Matt's letting me stay here with him instead of with…"
"You mean stay with Blondie here instead of at home." Kari frowned up at her older brother.
"I didn't leave because of-"
"Yeah, well it's certainly what's going on in Takaishi's head." TK held back his impulse to glare at the boy.
"Don't interrupt her, all right?" he said instead, trying not to betray his anger, but his hand tightened on Kari's beyond his control.
"Certainly polite, that works on all the girls, right Takaishi? This is convenient, though, isn't it? You can be with my sister here and then go home and have another girl at your own apartment."
"You want to say that again, Tai?" Matt snapped suddenly. "You think that I would let that happen? That my brother would do something like that?"
"It wouldn't be the first time. You know I tried to come home once before? I stopped to pick Blondie up only to find him with his hands all over some ditzy blonde in the back of his school's gymnasium, and the best part was that he'd been out with not one, but two other girls that week, and it was only Friday afternoon." Familiar self-disgust flooded TK's chest, and his hold weakened a bit on Kari's hand, but she leaned into him, letting her hair brush the skin of his upper arm.
"TK told me about those girls, Tai. I already know."
"I'm sure he did. I'm sure he's got a wonderfully eloquent answer for the whole thing, but it still seems awfully convenient to keep a girl with low self-esteem at his brother's house, don't you think?"
"Y-You sound like…" TK could hear the pain in her voice, and he tried to pull her behind him.
"He told you, didn't He? He told you that Takaishi's just using you and you're too arrogant to realize that He's right about everything!" Everything, TK's jaw tightened as rage rushed through his chest. He opened his mouth to say something, but Kari burst into tears, and her hand pulled away from his as she hurried from the room. The rage broke free from his carefully sequestered emotions.
A pair of cracks split the room, and Tai landed on the floor. A pair. TK glanced up to find Matt on Tai's other side.
"A black eye, I think," he said.
"Bruised jaw," TK answered, "broken, if we're lucky." Matt's eyes remained on Tai, on the floor, holding his jaw.
"I think we're going to have a little talk about hurting other people's feelings. Take care of Hikari," he added seriously, glancing over at his brother, as though he might have forgotten the sound of her sobs as she rushed from the living room. "The balcony."
"Hey there, beautiful girl," he murmured as he opened door. She sat with her back against the rails, her knees drawn up to her chest, and her hands balled into fists. His chest ached as her cries reached him and her knuckles turned white. "I think we've talked about this before," he whispered as he settled onto his knees in front of her and took her hands in his own, slipped his fingers between her nails and her palms; her hands relaxed immediately, refusing to injure him, "but if you want to hurt anyone, you're welcome to hurt me." She choked on a sob.
"I-It doesn't work that way, 'Keru. I-It doesn't help unless it hurts." Tears burned his eyes, but he kept his voice steady.
"I know; I'm sorry." His eyes were drawn automatically to her scarred wrist for a second, to the most recent reminder of Him. Guilt pulled in his chest, though he knew she wouldn't like that it did. "Do you want…" She tugged weakly on his hand, and he took that as a yes. Quietly, he moved into the space beside her, wrapped her in his arms, and pulled her into his lap. Her tears worsened considerably as he did so. "Sh, sh, pretty girl. Tell me what you're thinking about," he whispered in her ear, finding her hands again and weaving her fingers together with his protectively.
"I-I'm thinking that he's right," she choked into his shoulder. "N-Not about y-you, b-but… a-about Him b-being right."
"You know I think that's ridiculous, beautiful girl." He held her closer and shut his eyes briefly when his voice wavered a bit. "And you have no idea how angry I am right now. I-I just want to go back in there a-and," he squeezed his eyes closed, trying to ease the fury in his veins, but it didn't work when she was lying trembling in his lap. "He damn well better have a broken jaw."
"Y-You didn't," she cried, panicked. He clenched and unclenched his teeth.
"I swear, Kari, you would defend anybody." He sighed when she stiffened. "I'm sorry, but Matt hit him, too." She cried harder against him, and he rushed to justify the anger. "He had it coming; it's not fair that you'd have to go through this again. What do you think He's right about?" he added gently.
"A-About e-everything, 'Keru. I-I j-just… I-I feel s-so horrible, about everything. A-About what I do, wh-what I do to you, and j-just m-me."
"You feel bad about making me fall madly in love every time I see you?" he smiled gently. A small sob escaped her throat in response.
"I feel bad that the girl you fell in love with falls apart all the time."
"I know how hard you work to feel better, Kari. You don't need to feel bad about anything. I don't feel bad about falling in love with you." She squeezed his hands tightly, and he held her closer.
"I feel bad that I w-want to hurt myself, a-and I feel bad if I-I don't want to hurt myself, th-that I c-could live with how h-horrible I am," she whispered.
"You're not horrible," he answered simply, his voice too weak to get above a whisper, and she choked on fresh tears.
"I-I feel bad about the sc-scars; I-I know that y-you-" A sharp pang rung in his chest.
"Hikari," he breathed. "How could you feel bad about…?" You must've done something.
"They b-bother you. Y-You… I-I c-could try to use m-make-up i-if-"
"No. No, no, no. Pretty girl…" He leaned his forehead down against hers and paused for a moment before beginning, slowly. "It will always bother me, that that happened to you, that someone could hurt you like that, but I don't… The scars aren't what hurt, it's what happened to you that does, but we can't erase that, and we shouldn't try to. It happened. It shouldn't have, but it did. The scars are just reminders that you made it through – that the cuts and bruises are over and that you can have time to heal, that you have healed so much over the past few months. A-And you're beautiful, if that what you're worried about. The scars aren't imperfections; they're reminders that you're a miracle. If I've done or said anything that made you think otherwise, I'm sorry, but it isn't true." He could tell that she was trying to hold back her tears, squeezing her eyes shut and taking deep, labored breaths. "You're allowed to-" She burst into tears before he could finish, releasing too much emotion and burying herself against him for a long time, until her breathing eased. He pressed his nose into her hair as she sobbed, letting the scent calm him, and closed his eyes.
"Y-You're too wonderful," she whispered, shaking her head against him, her voice still teary. He kissed her forehead softly and rolled his eyes.
"You're too wonderful." A tentative knock sounded at the door; Tai stood nervously in the doorway. His brown eyes met TK's blue ones. The anger rushed back.
"Hey, I was wondering if I could try to apologize to you," he said, voice low, shifting an ice pack on his swollen jaw.
"I'm really not the one you need to apologize to," TK answered, jaw tightening, arms drawing around the girl in his arms.
"Yeah, but you're not going to let me anywhere near her right now, are you?"
"Has it crossed your mind that I might just tell you to go to hell right now and be done with it?"
"'Keru," Kari whispered.
"I deserve it, Kar," Tai answered, shaking his head, but TK glared at him.
"Don't talk to her." Tai's eyes returned to his, and he nodded submissively.
"TK, go." He looked down at the girl in his lap, met those awful chocolate eyes. Her hands, though… He rubbed her fingers with his thumb and looked at her questioningly. She understood. "I won't. I'll be fine, really, Takeru." She sat up to touch her lips to his as proof, but he tightened arms around her waist when she did, pulling her into him. He could feel the heat in her face, but he still kissed her, hard, for a few long moments, trying fit in all of the emotion he had built up in his chest. He hoped it drove her brother crazy.
"I love you," he told her firmly, his eyes fixed on hers. She blushed brilliantly but still leaned into him, resting the bridge of her nose on his jaw, and whispered back a quiet "Iloveyou." "We'll go into the hall, okay? So if you feel cold, or you start to feel sad again, you can go inside and sit with Matt." She nodded, and he let her move off of his lap, squeezing her hand briefly before he let go.
(A/N: There should be a break here, the editor is being spazzy.)
They stepped into the short hall adjacent to the kitchen. Tai leaned back into the grey wall, and TK stood across from him. He was taller than Tai now, by a several inches.
"I didn't know what I was saying," Tai began, his voice quieter than TK had ever heard it. He rolled his eyes.
"Yeah, well maybe you would have if you had bothered to visit now and again." Tai kept going, as if he hadn't heard him.
"I only knew what I had seen a couple of years ago, and I was angry, but I shouldn't have said anything until I knew what was going on. And I should have been thanking you, for what you did."
"It isn't like you didn't have excuses; I mean, most people do show up for their own mother's funeral."
"I'm sorry." Tai answered, voice still low, but TK could see the tears in his eyes. Still, he didn't stop.
"You're apparently capable of locating a phone number. You could have called. You know, checked in, made sure that the stepfather you'd never met wasn't beating her half to death every night." He had gone too far, but he didn't care; he'd wanted Tai to snap.
"You think I'm not killing myself over this?" he yelled suddenly. "You think you're the only one who loves her? She's my little sister! You think you're the only one who's angry about what happened? I want to kill that idiot right now! B-But I-I was just trying to do what she wanted! I-I didn't think she'd want to see me after what happened." The brown-eyed boy's voice broke, and a single tear rolled down his face. TK furrowed his brow.
"After what happened?" he snapped.
"After our dad…" TK's jaw tightened again, and he shoved the brunette roughly into the wall.
"Why the hell wouldn't she want to see you? Why the hell wouldn't she want her brother to be there for her after her father died?" Tai answered him too calmly, tears still shining in his chocolate eyes. They looked too much like Kari's, and TK's fist clenched.
"She didn't tell you about that night?"
"Of course she did. It was raining; the roads were bad, but the only thing she's told me about you is that she misses her brother, terribly. At two in the morning, after waking up from some awful nightmare, crying her heart out. She wants her brother." TK ran a hand through his hair as desperation crept into his voice. The pain in Tai's eyes tripled.
"I was driving the car."
"In our dad's accident. It was raining, and I lost control of the car." TK blinked as his heart dropped. No. No, no, no.
"She… Did Matt know that?"
"A-And that's why you…" Tai was silent, and TK hit him in the shoulder, hard. "That's what this is about?" he shouted.
"Jeez," Tai answered, holding his shoulder.
"Have you even met your sister? You-" Words failed him, and he shoved the brunette back into the wall again. "She can't even get that upset with-"
"She gets angry, Takaishi."
"Not now; not about… And she's just going to eat that up!" TK pushed him again, harder. "She won't even have to think about forgiving you, you idiot! Damn it!" He hit the wall this time.
"Are you guys all right?" Matt said as he appeared from around the corner. TK tore past him. "TK!"
"Tell him to talk to his sister," he snapped bitterly. "Stay in the room with them in case he says anything else stupid. Don't look happy about this!" he added when he saw the relief on Tai's face. "You're an idiot, and I'm going to have to listen to her talk about you like you're a martyr."
"TK, where're you going?"
"To get the cheese we're missing for dinner. Kari needs to eat sometime today."
Despite his lingering anger, Matt couldn't help but smirk at the competition between Hikari's brother and his own. He didn't often see Takeru this thrown by another guy's presence, and the result was amusing.
Tai and Hikari sat across from each other at the counter, just talking over old sibling-related memories and jokes, but TK watched the brunette like a hawk, as though the boy could suddenly break out into cruel insults at any moment. He became almost aggressively affectionate, stealing glances and touches and kisses with Kari at every possible moment. Thankfully, Tai was smart enough to let the behavior go for that night, patiently and silently enduring each pause in conversation as TK snuck up behind Kari and whispered something blush-worthy in her ear.
Finally, at nearly seven thirty, dinner was on the table and ready to be served, and Matt had his own revenge to be had.
"Great, where should I sit?" Tai asked brightly.
"You're not eating here," Matt answered calmly.
A pair of "What?"s and one inappropriately cheerful "Really?" chorused from around the room.
"And you're not staying here tonight." TK was trying to hide his smile, but not very hard.
"You have someone else to talk to. Here," Matt handed the boy a slip of paper. "I've been told you can comprehend addresses. It's Sora's. Try not to screw it up as badly as you did this." Tai opened his mouth, but Matt cut him off again, his voice hard. "She was a mess after you left; you're not coming back until you talk to her." Tai's eyes turned from annoyed to very, very serious.
"Thank you, Matt," he answered softly. Matt ignored the pull of emotion in his chest and rolled his eyes at the boy. TK was right, he thought, he is kind of an idiot.
So I hope that satisfied some of the questions you guys had! I'm sorry that it took me so long to get it up, but I really wanted to do this one first, in case I don't get to the others, and I've been busy updating my new story. Thanks to anybody who was interested enough in the story to read this! And Happy Easter!