A/N- Thank you so, so much for all of the positive feedback!! Seeing a new review in my inbox never fails to put a huge grin on my face!
Here's the moment you've all been waiting for! If you enjoy reading half as much as I enjoyed writing this chapter, I'll be thrilled. I think I enjoy writing dramatic scenes a little too much. The title of this chappy is from the song by the best band in the world, Three Days Grace, because I think it matches Kaoru's feeling fairly well. I also don't own the quote near the beginning, which is also by 3DG. And I'm not sure if I should just leave it here or if there should be an epilogue type thing. Let me know what you think.
Anyway... Happy reading! :D
-October 18th, 2010-
The day had been ridiculously busy. I barely had time to catch my breath from running around to care for what seemed like a million patients. The doctors had been demanding as always, and expected me to brief patients, check everyone's vitals, ensure that blood work was being processed, examine x-rays, and record everything on the charts. I had eagerly waited for my watch to display 6 o'clock but that was still over two hours away.
My cell phone vibrated in my pocket but I had a considerably large stack of papers and folders in my hands so picking it up was impossible. Whoever it was would have to wait. I adjusted my load and hurried so I could deposit everything at the front desk on the third floor.
The phone stopped but immediately throbbed again, and once more I couldn't answer. The third time sent a chill down my spine and I knew something was wrong. Luckily I only had to rush through one more hallway and I'd be able to see who had called.
"These are for Dr. Dessey," I said quickly to the nurse at the floor's main desk and rushed around the corner to pull out my phone. Yahiko's name appeared three times so I immediately called him back.
"Where the hell are you?" he asked in a rush.
That wasn't important. "What's wrong?"
"Tell me which floor you're on!" he all but shouted. No… it couldn't be…
I ducked into the nearest restroom, slammed the stall door and tried to steady my breathing as I focused on the ki around me.
"Answer me, damn it!" the voice yelled into the phone but I knew it didn't matter. There was no mistaking the suffocating pressure that was stalking around on the main floor. My heart spluttered uncomfortably.
"KAORU! TELL ME WHERE YOU ARE!"
There was no way I'd be able to make it down without him finding me. Going to Kenji was impossible… Kenshin was moving closer and I had no doubts that he already picked up on my ki.
Numb fingers fumbled with the door as I let myself out and mechanically walked to the elevator. "Yahiko," I breathed as the doors shut me in and I pushed the highest number, heart throbbing. If I could lure him away… "You know where the daycare is. Get Kenji- make sure he's covered up- and take him away. Take him to Misao if I don't call in three days."
The thought of never Kenji again made me sick to the stomach but if I couldn't convince Kenshin to leave, I'd just have to sacrifice myself. I'd never tell him about Kenji if it meant endangering my son's happiness.
"Don't be stupid!" Panic dripped from his tone and he was panting now- he was running around trying to find me first. He wasn't going to win the game of hide-and-seek and we both knew it. "I can get you out of here!"
Three floors from the top now. "Protect my son, Yahiko. Even if you could save my life I would die if Kenji was in danger. I've gotten away twice before; he won't let me do it again. It's too late to escape this time."
"DAMN IT! DON-"
"Thank you for everything," I said and hung up just as the elevator doors opened. I looked at Yahiko's number to memorize it and then deleted it, just to be safe. The door to the roof was unlocked so I let myself out and stumbled with useless quivering legs, stopping a dozen feet from the edge. I had to come up with some kind of plan…
The warm hues of the sunset looked beautiful. Tendrils of light danced on the leaves of the very tops of the trees in a park nearby and I watched the cool autumn breeze sway the branches lightly. Then I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, forcing myself to enjoy the last moments of freedom. I was completely alone but that changed in a heartbeat. I turned around.
The first thing I saw was the pair of gleaming eyes that were so familiar and terrifyingly beautiful that I was actually rendered half-paralyzed. Again. The amber hue was exactly as smoldering as I had remembered but even so there was something strangely different about them that I couldn't identify.
Even though Kenshin was wearing a dark outfit comprised of slacks and a trench coat (the same clothing he was wearing the last two times I saw him, I dully noted), the redness of the sun illuminated him and his slit amber eyes glowed even brighter, his hair literally aflame.
We stared at each other in silence- my voice would have failed me and I had no words to speak anyway, and I could understand everything he wanted to say in his piercing glare.
I had run from the terrifying man for years. I'd done everything in my power to hide and fall off the face of the earth and put as much distance between us as possible- I put the biggest ocean on the planet between us- all in vain. I'd spent the past five years of my life cowering from the man in front of me… and still I loved him just as much as ever. I was a fighter- both physically and mentally- but I could never have entertained the hope of lasting in a fight against him and I could have had the emotional strength to fight the fear for a lifetime but what good would that have done in the end, aside from making me regret not truly living?
What do we stand for if we live in fear?
I'd naively believed that I could run from him long enough to make him give up. I'd made myself believe that eventually he would realize he hated me and never wanted to see me again. I had convinced myself that if I put thousands of miles between us no trail would be able to lead him back to me.
What a fool…
I couldn't run anymore and I knew it. Could I actually manage to argue my way to freedom?
"I have to admit- this is a bit anticlimactic." The cold voice echoed slightly through the crisp air.
"Would you prefer me to kick and scream as you sling me over your shoulder and whisk me away back to Japan?" The steadiness of my voice surprised me.
He stepped closer in a human-like pace until he was a couple of feet from me. "The most stubborn woman I've ever met wouldn't give up so easily." Mockery.
I narrowed my eyes at him. "What ever made you believe that I was giving up?"
A dark grin spread on his lips and he reached out to cup my cheek softly. "That's my Kaoru." My heart skipped a beat at the way he said it. His calloused hand was cold but it still burned my skin. The touch felt so familiar, so comfortable, so right... and so deadly.
"What do you want from me?" I breathed, forcing myself not to crumble.
"I want you," he said bluntly. "I told you that you were mine forever and that you couldn't escape me. I don't lie."
At this I snorted. Right… because honesty was all about not telling the most important person in your life that you're a murderer. "I thought by now it would be a bit obvious that I'm not interested in you anymore. I want nothing to do with you."
I expected the comment to anger him but he was unfazed. "No?" His thumb stroked my cheek and the tips of his fingers ghosted across my neck, finally coming back up to entangle themselves in my hair.
My breath died but still I glared defiantly.
He brought his other hand up and placed it delicately on my waist. It rested there for a moment before moving to the small of my back and finally tugged my rigid body closer to him until I was pressed against him tightly. All of the movements were agonizingly slow and I refused to show that his plan was working like a charm. "You don't want me, koi?" he breathed in my ear.
"I'm fairly certain you heard me say that I don't." I think I managed it without stuttering.
By now his lips were floating across my neck and I felt him grin. My mind swam, recalling just how attracted to him I was. "You don't seem to be putting up much of a fight."
Of course I wasn't; I was paralyzed. But though I might not have been able to pull away, my frozen limbs were thankfully unable to reach for him.
Don't think about it. Don't think about it. Don't think-
His hungry lips made a trail back up to the crook underneath my jaw- my weak spot- and my knees quivered slightly.
No! Think about the weather! It's cold because I couldn't get my coat and it's freezing and it's windy because we're in Chicago which is a city known for being windy and therefore cold and particularly so in the winter, even though it's really not winter yet and only autumn, but yeah- it's still cold and that's the reason I'm trembling right now and not because of the ridiculously attractive man pressing me against him!
And in a blink he had pulled away, leaving me in a daze and trying to catch my balance. I angrily cursed my weak knees that only functioned when he caught me once more.
"Tell me again."
I glared defiantly at his scarlet hair. "I don't want you."
He put his hand under my chin and lifted my head. "Look me in the eyes and say it," he demanded.
I screamed in my mind. I don't want you. I shouted the words over and over, shrieking until the words pounded in my head. I don't want you. I don't want you. But even after countless tries, I couldn't vocalize it. My glower faltered by the slightest degree but he noticed and it was all he needed.
"You can't even force yourself to fight me, koi. I told you that you were mine."
Instant fury burned through me and I managed to rip myself away. "I'm not a dog, Kenshin! My life is my own!" My fists were clenched so tightly that the blood pulsated through my knuckles.
"Have I ever treated you like a beast?"
"This might come as news to you but you don't hunt down human beings!" And then I laughed bitterly, running my fingers through my hair, so angry that I was unable to stop the following words. "Oh, that's right. You do…"
He was livid now and his eyes seemed to even sparkle in fury; but at the same time there was a twinge of something else there. I was probably the only one in the world that would have caught the hollowness reflected in his features. "So that's what this is all about?"
I laughed again, this time in disbelief. He said it as if I was somehow overreacting to the fact that he had killed people. "Forgive me for not taking the news too well- especially when the man that I trusted my life with couldn't even tell me himself."
"But you trusted me," he growled. "Was it so wrong of me to want to keep you blissfully ignorant? Why would I ever willingly burden you with that knowledge? You knew I never would have put you in danger!"
"Do you really think me to be the kind of person who likes to be ignorant?! How do you think I would have taken it if I had gotten kidnapped and your enemy was the one to tell me?"
He lowered his voice slightly, and I knew he felt guilty. "So you found out and I don't doubt that it scared you but was it honestly necessary to take off that night? You couldn't even give me a chance to explain."
"I didn't-" I began, mystified, but stopped. How many times had I begged him to tell me what was bothering him? "What could I have possibly said? Was I supposed to wait patiently until the morning until you curled up in bed with me, fresh from killing someone?! I can't believe that I was stupid enough to think that you were actually out fighting crime during all those late nights!"
"So I'm just a mindless killer to you? You think a higher up just gives me a name and I blindly follow orders and kill innocent people?" I felt as if his eyes were literally electrifying me and his venomous tone was back but I refused to cave in.
"Innocent or not, you're not supposed to kill! Murder is a crime! The Oniwaban track down criminals, too, and they don't find the need to shed blood. Isn't it enough to throw them in jail?"
"Right. The great and noble Oniwaban," he said as if the word was a foul taste on his tongue.
I cut him off furiously. "Don't you dare talk shit about them."
"Because your sister is the leader?"
I opened my mouth but he continued before I could retort. It shouldn't have come as a surprise that he knew everything. How else would I have been able to hide from him for so long?
"Don't get me wrong- they're exceptional at what they do. I doubt there's another organization on the planet that's as perfect at their jobs. But sometimes locking people up isn't enough, koi. The criminals that I go after are the ones that have raped little girls and slit old women's throats and stolen millions of dollars from orphanages all over Japan and are able to roam the streets again within a month. I hunt down the highest corrupt politicians and terrorist leaders who plot to kill countless people! These are the people who deserve no mercy. Of course we can lock them away in the darkest, most remote prison cells but these are the people that are so influential that they can pull the strings even in the most unfavorable situations and be set free within hours! Try as you will to deny it, even the strongest bars can be opened with enough money. Would you like me to stop and let these monsters roam the streets again?"
I'd known that he would never hurt an innocent, let alone kill one. He was dangerous but he would never have taken a life without a -just- reason. None of what he said was news to me but his small tirade still had a strange cooling effect on me. Maybe all I had needed was to hear the words come from his mouth. There was no way that a mere confession was really going to satisfy me… was there?
I ran my fingers through my hair and opened my eyes after taking a deep breath. "I don't care what you do, Kenshin. All I want is for you to stay out of my life." The words came out so easily but left me feeling pained hollowness. It felt like my stomach had caved in just at the thought of never seeing him again and I wondered if I actually regretted saying it. Why? That's what I've been wanting for the past five years…
"You don't mean that."
"Suddenly you're the expert on me? You're NOT. You would have known to leave me the hell alone after the first few years of making me move all over Japan. If you knew me so well then you would have told me the truth about yourself. No- I wouldn't have taken it well but at least the pain of having my heart ripped out would have been dulled a little bit; I trusted you but you obviously didn't trust me! Don't you dare assume that you know anything about me."
His anger had dissipated and left his features looking nearly exactly as I felt. "I know you don't want me out of your life because I can recognize the look on your face! It's the same exact look I've carried on mine every single day for the past four years and two hundred and forty-four days I've had to live without you. It's the look of wanting something more than anything and the pain of knowing that you can't have it eats you alive! That look is one that screams what your heart is telling you but your mind is too damn stubborn to accept! You love me almost as much as I do you and you want me but you can't have me for some damned reason. And don't even try to say that it's me killing people, because it's not!"
The bridge of my nose tingled a bit and my eyes felt heavier by the second. I turned around angrily and marched towards the western edge of the building, just catching the last of the sun's rays before they melted over the horizon. I couldn't do this anymore. Something in me had cracked and the resolve that kept me going for so long had dissipated. I wanted to be alone.
I made it six steps before he flitted in front of me, hands holding my shoulders tightly. "Don't walk away from me," he ordered. I was certain that he hadn't meant for it to come out as a whisper. "I promised you that I would protect you whether you want me to or not. I'm not sure if you've realized by now but the protection that I offer has no boundaries." He cupped my chin and gently made me look up at him again. "I want to shield you from the emotional pain, as well, koi." His thumb stroked a stray tear away from my cheek.
And then I understood it- the reason I suddenly felt so broken. I hadn't allowed myself to feel the guilt of hiding his son because I was always too angry about him doing unthinkable things and lying to me. But when I unexpectedly forgave him for keeping the secret, I realized that I had done just what he had and my heart splintered. Guilt and regret- the two worst feelings to feel- blended together and leaving me feeling something that I would never wish on any enemy.
And what was somehow even worse was that this whole time I had envisioned an assassin with bloodstained hands looking on his son in contempt, but now that had all fallen apart; he was a different person. Yes, he was still the terrifying, gorgeous, dominant, headstrong, ever-stealthy Himura Kenshin I had always known, but even his ki was less overpowering, his eyes slightly duller. I had noticed it earlier but didn't understand until that moment; he had suffered greatly from my decision to leave and his pain from being without me had humanized him and as hard as I tried, I couldn't see the murderer in him. He was an -ordinary- man.
As I stared into the golden pools, I realized that this man truly did love me as much as I loved him. I had thought countless times that I would have gone to any corner of the earth for him… but Kenshin had actually done it! If he didn't love me so much, he would have forgotten about me after the first year and would never have tried so hard to find me again.
He hadn't wanted to reprimand me for leaving or to make sure I was going to keep quiet about him or even make me pay for smashing a carton of milk on his head. He followed me because he simply couldn't live without me. And, I realized with a gut-wrenching, heart-twisting stab, that a man who was capable of such tender love could absolutely be a great father…
Had I been wrong this whole time? Was it possible for someone to be THAT big a fool? Had I really turned out to be the monster in the end?
Oh, how the tables had turned…
I ripped myself away again, now unable to bear the look of concern that marred his features. I couldn't think, I was hyperventilating, and I felt like vomiting. I felt more horrible emotions than I had ever felt in my life, all combined into one big, agonizing feeling that had no equal. I wanted to throw myself on the ground and just cry until I couldn't move anymore. I repressed the urge to do so and just stalked off in the opposite direction, completely unsure of where I was planning on going, and cursing how much my body was trembling and shivering.
A shadow darted in front of me again and before I knew it, Kenshin's coat was pulled over my shoulders and I was enveloped me in a hug before I could escape. In any other circumstance the embrace would have served as the most powerful healing imaginable. Hugs from Kenji and Misao always eased the pain but a hug from a lover had the power to completely mend all wounds. I felt it working its magic and like a wild animal suddenly captured, I tried with all of my might to shove away; how could I let him heal me?
"Please…" I sobbed, realizing just how futile my struggle was.
Instead, Kenshin pulled me even closer. "It was excruciating not being able to hold you and protect you; how could you possibly expect me to let you go when you're so broken?"
The words burned the very last of my resolve and I couldn't fight the breakdown anymore. Tears that were brimming in my eyes cascaded down my cheeks and into his coat, and I tried in vain to suppress the hollow sobs that ripped through me.
"You don't understand!" I cried.
"Then explain it, koi," he whispered softly.
How can you tell someone that you've been hiding his child from him? All the words that I could have used swam in my mind but even if I could figure out how to piece them together, I felt that I wouldn't have had the courage to say them aloud. I'd forgiven him and I felt the unbearable need to be forgiven as well. But because at that point I had felt such a twist of emotions, all I could manage to do was mumble incoherently as I cried, thinking of how pathetic and weak I'd become just because of a few sweet words.
Without warning, the door at the far end of the roof burst open and out walked a tall man with spiked hair, dragging a younger man who was thrashing about angrily. I looked at both of them and when I saw who came next my heart stopped beating altogether, tears forgotten.
Behind them walked a little boy bundled in multiple layers of jackets and a hat covering all of his scarlet hair. Kenji's lilac eyes were terrified.
The older men both stopped in their tracks the instant they saw me and all of us opened our mouths to say something but the smallest reacted first.
"Mommy!" Kenji cried as he ran to me as quickly as he could. I was running to him before I could even process the action, my motherly instinct to comfort my son overpowering everything else. I'd been so terrified that I'd never see him again so holding him felt almost magical.
"Shh, baby. Everything will be alright. I promise." I squeezed him tightly but when I opened my eyes again, I remembered that three pairs of eyes were fixed on us.
Yahiko was the first to come to his senses. He forcefully pulled away from the taller man who finally released him, no longer concerned. Yahiko couldn't possibly pose a threat when it was two against one anyway. He bit his lip, calculating how to free us but realized that it would be impossible for us to escape.
Sanosuke's eyes were wide and I realized that it was the first time I'd ever seen him speechless. I had no idea what to think of the man who used to be such a close friend but that wasn't the time to decide.
In a blink Kenshin was in front of Yahiko, clutching his jacket in an iron grip. "Who the hell are you?" The tone was venomous though it lacked the fury from before. He sounded so… hollow…
"Stop!" I screeched, realizing what Kenshin was thinking. How could he have possibly thought otherwise? I let go of Kenji and stood up, running until I was a few feet from Kenshin. "You've got it all wrong!"
Even if Kenshin hadn't said those sweet words earlier, he had just proved again how much he loved me. Though Kenshin believed Yahiko posed a threat to his only chance at happiness, he still didn't hurt the boy just because he thought Yahiko was important to me.
Obediently, Kenshin released Yahiko and turned back around. He looked at me and my breath caught in my throat, what I was about to say forgotten. His eyes were oceans of anguish, hopelessness, and defeat, but what pained me the most was what I didn't see there- accusation. He didn't even blame me for 'moving on'.
I was speechless, and for a moment, everything else in the world disappeared. All I saw were shattering amber eyes that begged me not to sear his heart any more, pleading for any kind of cure to stop the torment. There must have been a gust of wind because crimson strands danced around him, bringing me back out of my trance just in time to hear a gasp from behind me.
"Your hair really is longer than mine!" Kenji sounded afraid because he didn't understand what was happening but it was quickly fading into excitement. "Mommy, you were right! It really is the same color, too!"
Kenshin stared uncomprehendingly at the bundle of clothes that peered back at him and hobbled closer.
Kenji was thrilled now and tugged his hat off, releasing a scarlet wave. "See, Daddy! We match!"
Kenshin ripped his eyes away from the boy and looked at me again, confusion and doubt marring his features. "My… son…?" he choked, voice so low that as close as we were, even I struggled to hear it. I'd never seen him lose his composure before and my heart somehow raced even faster.
I saw him calculating everything- the only real reason I would be so terrified of him, the reason there was a child's bed at one of the houses we had to abandon quickly, the reason every hospital I had worked at had to have a high quality day care, the reason I was so in love with him but still tried to deny him. He no doubt assumed that the bed belonged to Misao and Aoshi's child. They had, after all, gotten married not too long before. Why would he have ever thought otherwise? Why would he have ever thought I had been pregnant?
As the news soaked in, I saw his body tremble and for the first time ever our roles were reversed and I had to hold onto him to steady his balance.
"Kenshin?" I cried, tears refusing to stop flowing. "I'm sorry! I wish it had never turned out this way but I was so scared and I couldn-"
His dazed whisper interrupted me. "I'm a father?" The only expression I could read was that of shock, and drowning in worry, I threw my arms around his neck and clutched him tighter than I ever had in my life.
"I'm sorry!" I sobbed and kept hiccupping apologies into his hair.
Finally his arms found their strength again and they wrapped around my waist securely. The action was so simple, but it signified his acceptance and nothing in the world could have meant more to me. It was more than I could have hoped for and my pained tears leaked into grateful ones.
"He's beautiful…" he murmured, still stunned, looking back at the child who had stepped even closer. Kenji's violet eyes were scared again, not understanding why I was crying, but he tried to smile, remembering that his smiles were always contagious. I'd never been prouder of my son than at that moment.
Kenshin released me and bent down so he was eye level with the boy and as he drunk in the sight the broken look faded. It was just like when dark clouds that cover the sun suddenly vanish- Kenshin's shock burned into the most heartwarming smile I'd ever seen.
Thrilled that his plan had worked, Kenji giggled and ran into his father's open arms, which closed securely around him.
"My son…" he whispered faintly.
Blissful tears leaked from my eyes and for the first time in minutes, I remembered that we had two spectators. Yahiko was misty eyed, though he tried to hide it, while Sanosuke was positively dumbfounded.
"Are you telling me that I'm an uncle?!" Excitement caked his tone. "Oh, the fox is going to absolutely kill you for not telling her!"
"No one is going to touch my koi," Kenshin said simply, suddenly beside me again with our son in his arms. Our son… Kami, those words could never have sounded more amazing…
"Are you finished working now?" Kenji asked. "'Cause I don't want you to leave us again."
The elated smile was still stuck on Kenshin's features and I realized I'd never seen him so happy. "Of course I won't leave you. Nothing in the world could take me away from either of you again."