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16


"He said you weren't supposed to tell us. He said that's why he made you pay."

Kai, his expression a weird mask of indifferent, surprised me with the utter blatancy of his words—his first words as he entered the room much later in the evening, hair dripping with water as if he'd just stepped out of a shower. Tala had left soon as he'd heard everyone arrive, clearly bored with my inattentive and distracted presence all afternoon, and right now, it was only me and Kai and a dreadful confrontation that I've been fearing having all along.

Something that just has to get out of the way already. No point delaying.

"He said you deserved what you got." Kai continued with apathy and I could only watch him in silence from my seat on the bed. "He told me what he did. Said he slammed you up against the wall and then he tried to mess you up."

His words seemed robotic, repetitive and it was that tone—and the actual words that I was hearing—that made me cringe. Leaning against the door frame, half way across the room, with hands crossed in his usual pose, Kai didn't even look in my direction before continuing.

"He told me to remind you that you have a thing of his that needs returning." I clutched the sheets out of sheer nervousness, and he finally looked up before ending his part of the deal with a, "And that's all there is to it."

I looked away, down at my lap, out of sheer embarrassment. Breathing in deeply, I wondered to myself how I was going to keep hold of myself all through this conversation—and one more, with the others—if it meant highlighting my uselessness, or pain, or helplessness or whatever, over and over and over again. It was freaking embarrassing.

I opened my mouth to speak, but was cut off. Maybe I was just so Goddamn readable to him, but Kai, apparently, was pretty much aware of exactly what I was going to say.
"He was asking for it." His eyes were wild with a rage, the reasons of which were completely unknown to me. "He was asking to be fought with. And don't you dare say, after all that he's said and done to you, that he didn't deserve every bit of the pain that he got."

I remained silent. He was obviously right. Drew deserved everything he might have gotten, but that didn't mean that—by going on and picking a fight with him—had made the situation any less stickier than it actually had been.

Well, what was done was done, I guess. My mind, in the entire last few days, had completely recovered from the shock and abruptness of the entire situation. There was no point dwelling on what had happened, and how deep in I—and everyone else now that they'd gotten involved—were in this situation. Now that I was slightly calmer than I had been in the past few days, much better physically even—at least enough to walk properly without people watching my steps—I was slightly more hopeful, for some strange reason, too. Despite the direness of it all, we were still larger in number stacked against Drew. He was physically beat after Kai was done with him, so there wasn't much harm he could cause anyone. I was, in no way, nearing him again. Even if I wanted to, it would be hard because someone was with me at all times.

The situation didn't seem as hopeless as it did to me a few days back, and given that, I had the sense to remain calm and silent and not burst out into an array of emotions so much that I had been the past few days.

I felt….protected. And I knew who I had to owe for that.

It didn't seem right to yell and make a scene of this situation, because not only did Kai not deserve it, but I guess he had more than proper justifications for it all. Right now, it was best to just exclude who did what, and why, and focus on bettering the mess.

And arguing with Kai at the severe intensity he seemed to be ready to, and with the vigor that I had this morning, wouldn't solve anything.

"I get why you did it." I finally spoke, my voice quiet. "The only reason I reacted the way I did this morning was, well, I just really didn't want you to get involved."

I could see that I'd said the very wrong thing, for his eyes sparked with a fight when I was finished and before I could even think of rephrasing my sentence, he was already retorting.

"I hate it when you do this!" He exclaimed, pushing himself off the door frame, as if out of fury, and moved to stand in the middle of the room. His voice was a tone of slight irritation more than anger, though, when he continued, "Why can't you forget about everyone else for a Goddamn second, and think for your own self!"

My eyes narrowed at the display, but I took a deep breath and stayed put in my place on the bed. He continued, unseeing my efforts and taking them to be encouraging instead. "Your life would be so much simpler, you wouldn't even be in this mess if it weren't for the fact that all you ever do in a situation, in any situation, is put others before your own self!"

True as that fact was, why was he saying it again?

I just stared at him, surprised and his voice lowered at my expression. "Stop trying to protect everyone else, Hils. Your mother, the guys or me—I know he's been threatening you." He hesitated to take note of my expression. I wondered what he saw there, because I wasn't even sure myself what I was reflecting. Neither did I care.

He continued no matter. "And I know the weapons he's been using. Look where worrying about everyone else has gotten you! Look at how he's had you under his control from the very start, using us!"

It slightly tinged, his words. Despite the fact that I was well aware of them. Of course my friends and family were my weaknesses. And he knew it. Why wouldn't he use it against me?But—

"My mother's messed up." I spoke for the second time, voice a lot calmer than I expected it to be, and gaze holding directly with his. "She's divorced. She's…not in a right state to protect herself. And I couldn't risk—"

"Your mother wouldn't have approved of that decision." He retorted and I almost scoffed. Right, I thought to myself. If she still cared that is. Kai saw the expression in my face and I recalled the conversation we had about my mother that night in the Dojo. If he knows what the situation's like, why does he keep bringing up all my should've-been's anyways? Hillary, you shouldn't have done this. You should've done that. You should've said this. You should've acted out.

"Whatever, man." I muttered, not wanting to explain myself. "What's done is done. Let's just focus on the task at hand, can we?"

Even to myself, I sounded annoyed. But Kai wasn't hearing it. Oh no, his face went rigid at my tone and he firmly stated, "No." He continued when I looked up, "We're not moving forward, or going anywhere, till you acknowledge the fact that you have to stop trying to protect everyone else and do what's best for you."

And then I was pissed. Getting up off the bed, and forgetting all rational thoughts of staying calm and steady through this conversation, I challenged, "And what would you have done, Mr. Picture Perfect? In my place, with threats of your only family member getting hurt, and of your own experiences of actually getting hurt—" I saw him cringe, eyes unconsciously falling at my wrists, "—what would you have done, huh?"

"Told someone!"
"Exactly what I was threatened not to do!"
"We could've helped!"
"You could've delayed it, that's it." I lowered my voice. "Look what he did when he found out I told someone—and I didn't even tell anybody!"

Kai cursed vehemently at my answer. "Then what did you plan to do, huh? Tell no-one? Endure in silence? Let him control you like that forever?" He scoffed. "Stupid! Did you plan on getting any help at all?"

I had no answer for that. So, gingerly, I looked away. Did I? Plan to get any help at all, that is. I hadn't thought that far, actually, so I didn't know. All I knew was that I had to steer clear of boiling his wrath up—and telling someone would do exactly that—by much incase he actually went out of his way to hurt the people I love. Or even me, I didn't want his anger to be raised up a few notches for the next time I came across his sorry presence.

"You were just skittering around him out of fear of people getting hurt." I heard Kai speak, his voice dull over my thoughts. "You weren't doing anything, nor did you plan to. You were just enduring in silence, letting him have his way with you, behind the stupid illusion that he created that you were protecting everyone else."

I bit my lips out of bitter resentment. Did he have to point my flaws out like that all throughout? As if I wasn't embarrassed about the situation enough already. As if I wasn't aware….

"There was nothing else that I could've done, Kai." I raised my head to look at him. "There's no point dwelling over what might have happened and didn't. Can we please just leave it at that?"

Maybe it was my words, or he must've noticed the slight tears that were prickling my vision; either way, he gave a little sigh and went silent. None of us said anything for a while, just stood there in the middle of the room with me staring down at my feet, trying to hold myself together. And him doing only Godknowswhat because I wasn't looking at him.

It took longer than I thought it would to compose myself. I went over the conversation again and again in my head, recalling what Kai had said Drew had told him. Everything, I thought bitterly. And that was good. It had, just as I'd thought, saved me from many unpleasantness. What I don't get is-

"How long have you known, Kai?" I muttered, meeting his gaze but barely. Was I really that revealing or was he simply much cunning than I give him credit for?

He seemed to be contemplating, on exactly what I meant by the question, before saying, "About you and him?" I nodded, and he continued, "A while. The day of the rain, back in Bakuten. You left your phone out and I looked through it before returning it to you."

So blatantly straight forward he was, it'd be amusing had he not been so serious. I sighed unceremoniously. Now it all made sense. Reflecting further more, I realized that—if he'd known from the very beginning, then—all this time, he'd just been pretending not to know? That all the times he would come rushing at nights, and ask if I was okay and if I wanted to tell him what was going on, he already knew?

I shifted on my feet at the newfound apprehension in mind, and stared directly at Kai, beguiled.

All this time, that he's been asking me about it….his apprehensions during our flight from Bakuten…his unconditional care afterwards, particularly when he had more important things at hand…his secret battle with Drew, when he had asked me why Drew had thrown me into the conversation…his telling Tala (yeah, he'd been the one to tell Tala, I'd found out from the redhead himself) to keep an eye on me when he couldn't…all this time that he'd been continuously probing and poking at the surface, and I wouldn't let him in…he's known all along….

Drew had been right when he said that Kai knew.

"Why would you keep asking me to tell you, if you knew all along?" I couldn't help but voice out, and saw him shrug. I could've cared about a lot of things. The fact that Kai knew, lead to Drew getting so Goddamn mad to cause such an extent of damage in the first place. The fact that Kai'd been plotting against Drew about me, behind my back. The fact that Kai told Tala, and Mr. Dickenson and the rest of the Blitzkrieg Boys. The fact that he had invaded my privacy, or whatever it was, to go against Drew…a lot of things could be pointed out, but really….did it matter? Every one of those steps were taken just to keep me out of harm. Just to ensure I was safe. Kai had best of intentions at heart. And, right then, as I voiced my last question, that was all that mattered to me.

"I don't know." He muttered, looking away as if he was nervous—how ridiculous a thought! "I wanted you to tell me on your own terms, I guess. I wanted you to know that you always had me to turn to…"

I couldn't help the small smile that crept up my face. And I couldn't help but admire Kai more than I already did. And I really couldn't help but fall a little more in love with him than I already was.

"Thanks. For everything that you did." He looked a little embarrassed at my gratefulness, "I know I haven't been easy. Thank you."

He merely nodded, looking back down. It was a new sight, a bit weird, the slight tinge of red that tinted his skin; it made my smile widen, and a blush of my own crept up to my face in response to his. Unconsciously, the small kiss from a few days back crept to my mind and made me redden even more.

Push it back. Push it back, I tried suppressing the memory but—was it just me or did Kai smell really good? And what was up with the dripping-wet hair? God, it was getting really hot in here—

Oh, what the hell!
"You look really nice when you smile, you know that?" I heard myself say, internally horrified at the pathetic attempts at flirting. This was so not the time! I didn't even care.
"Really, now?" Kai merely raised his eyebrow at me, all traces of embarrassment gone and replaced with amusement.

He inched closer and I recalled the last time he'd been this up close without me having an utter breakdown of one sort or the other…the day I'd come in from the rain, back at the Dojo, before the entire mess had become so complicated. I remembered Kai sitting too close to me…so close that I could feel his breath. So close that I could touch the fabric of his shirt…so close that I could see a little dimple on his jaw when he smiled, and wondered…was it to the left, or right?

I couldn't recall.

"Yes." I answered sheepishly, boldly inching close enough to dangle an arm on one of his shoulders. His eyes widened at the gesture, surprised my peculiar and completely random…confession. Though, that didn't stop him from grabbing my waist and pulling me closer. There was a small, genuine smile on his face. A slight look of childish mischief in his eyes as he touched our foreheads together and it was then that I noticed…

"You get a dimple on the left side of your jaw when you smile." I said more to myself, than to him. I wasn't giving a second thought to whatever it was that kept slipping passed my mouth. And from the laugh that followed, I inferred that Kai knew it.

"I know." His hair was still wet, albeit not dripping now, I noticed, "But please don't say that in front of everyone else."

It was my turn to laugh.

"Oh, yeah! I forgot." I teased, remembering yet another incident, involving milk and the likes, "The great Hiwatari has a pride to protect."
"No." He almost snapped, "People would think you're flirting with me. That's all."

My smile widened into a smirk, and rolling my eyes, I raised myself upto his level. It didn't take much effort, considering I was only a few inches shorter—two, last time I checked. His gaze remained steadfast, following my movement along with. We were almost on eye level, my arms around his neck and his around my waist, in immature and rather mutual attempts at teasing, when I spoke next.

"So, what if I am?" He raised a brow. "Flirting. So what if I am?"
"My fangirls would kill you."

I laughed at the tedious tone of his voice.

"Too true." I trailed off, smiling and continued to stare at him, almost mockingly. It felt like a competition, because neither of us was looking away, but it really wasn't. His expression was soft, mine, amused. I was only staring because I really didn't want to turn away….

"Ironic, though." He finally muttered after a while of looking at me, "Now I'm thinking about how nice a smile looks on you."
"Careful, Hiwatari. It sounds as if you're flirting with me."

"Well, maybe I am." He whispered, cockily raising an eyebrow. I leaned back, intimidated, trying hard to come up with a witty retort, but failing miserably. I gulped when he inched closer, gingerly raising one hand of to the back of my head, running over the bandages carefully before settling for an uncovered part, just around my nape. My arms reflexively pulled themselves away from his neck, to rest in between his, pushing him away a bit in attempts to maintain a bit space.

He was intimidating me.

Kai didn't seem to like what I did, and unceremoniously, he pushed at my waist again. I had already leaned back so far that there was no capacity to do any more. I wanted to tell him to move, but I think I lost my voice at that moment. He was way too close for comfort.

"Your fangirls will kill me." I finally muttered, barely moving my lips. His breath tickled my skin when he laughed, and the motion made him lean back a bit. In the small time gap, I pressed both my palms to his chest—momentarily unsettling my balance— in attempts at pushing him away.

"Get off me, you jerk!" I gasped, and Kai moved back to glare at me, his hands still gripping my waist tightly. I would have said something, I was about to, but I guess Kai saw it all in my face. Instantly, at the nervous and slightly uncomfortable expression that I knew would be on my features, he pulled back, his grip around me loosening—but not letting go—and I breathed an involuntary sigh of relief.

I saw worry in his face, accompanied by guilt, and I had to look away. It wasn't his fault I didn't like anyone to be forceful with me, no matter the genuine reasons, but my pride kept me from admitting it out loud to make him feel better. Some damn after effects of almost—I shuddered. They would get better with time, I hoped.

Slowly, as I freed myself out of Kai's grasp—and he hesitatingly let go— I heard him say in a slightly dull tone, as if more to himself than to me. "It's over now."

Not completely, but I nodded anyways, more unconsciously than anything else. And then I wondered to myself, even if it completely was over, everything that has happened up till now will take a lot getting over with.


And it was nights that I was the most vulnerable. Because it was when I was alone to my thoughts and in the dark, where no-one could see my carefully hidden expression. Today's encounter with Kai –albeit the fact that it was nothing that needed much pondering or discourse over—had triggered something in me. The need to protect myself, the unconscious push at everyone that tried to get a little bit close against my permission….There was no need for that instinct to resurface again in the past few days, because not only had I been provided with unconditional protection ever since I had waken up in that hospital bed, but I was treated gently with. Vulnerable as that might make me sound, no-one had been forceful—physically at least—with me at all. And even verbally, everyone keeps saying that they want me to tell but no-one was forcing me to.

So, naturally, I had no reason to feel triggered. But the smallest run in with Kai, in which he was a little bit physical—and in a way that would have thrilled me otherwise—I had shunned away. That little mishap had me on the edge, had triggered in me the reflex to hold steady and to push anyone that came close. It had me on the brink of utter restlessness. My reflexes were hay wiring, my brain was as if on the lookout for something to go terribly wrong all over again.

And that night, when the lights went off and I was under the covers, waiting for Mariah to come through the door already—she never did—I found myself awake for a long time, adrenaline pumping in my veins as if my body was preparing itself for a sudden attack—it probably was. And I wasn't surprised that, when I did sleep, I woke up almost instantly to muffled cries and half-held-back screams.

By the time I realized that they were my own, I was distracted by another yelp that escaped my throat when I saw the faintly familiar and vaguely recognizable silhouette standing far too close for comfort, dangerously near my bed.

Unwillingly, out of fear or helplessness, I tore up.


Author's note:

This was...well, whateve. Lol. This is moving at an awfully slow rate, I feel as if I'm dragging it. But I'm going with the flow, I guess. And I negated the Goddamn eight documents of scenes written down already and wrote this chapter from scratch. It's going to be a loooonnnnggg fic. I don't really mind that, I guess.

Halfway through the next chapter. Does anyone have any suggestions? Drop a review and let me know! Toodles :P