Chapter 29: Recovery
"I have a Code Trauma now, approximately 19 years old, sustained multiple fractures and traumatic pneumothorax-"
"-blood pressure is at 82/54, respiratory rate is 26-"
"I need an IV and PAP stat-"
"Tachibana Rin? Tachibana Rin, can you hear me?"
The young HOMRA member's lips twitched as if to speak, but her muscles didn't seem to want to cooperate. In fact, her entire body felt as if it had gone numb. There was a faint tingling sensation in her fingertips accompanied by a cold stiffness that seemed to creep through her limbs and into her very bones. Her hip continued to send sharp pulses up her side and her chest felt as if it had been crushed by steamroller, but, aside from that, the numbness seemed to have lessened the pain she had been suffering from before. A bright, frothy red liquid bubbled at the corner of her mouth every time she coughed, and Rin felt a latex-covered finger wipe it away before it could drip down the side of her chin.
Numerous voices muddled together, growing louder with each passing second until Rin's head swam. Nurses and EMTs shouted orders while the cries and complaints of various patients still waiting in the ER triage overlapped each other, adding to her disorientation. She could feel her body jerk left and right as nurses hurried her through the twisting corridors, the cold metal of the hospital stretcher raised goosebumps along her sides as her arms brushed against the frame. Bright lights passed overhead, causing her to squint and her vision to become even more distorted. A plastic mask was placed over her mouth and nose, pumping pure oxygen into her lungs, but Rin didn't even take notice.
Most of her senses seemed to have dulled, blocking out any pain and discomfort. She no longer smelled the harsh chemicals or heard the cacophony of voices passing by. Her body felt strangely empty and a cold stiffness slowly began to creep up her limbs.
Rin's head rocked slightly as her stretcher jerked to a halt, and then suddenly there were hands and fingers poking and prodding every inch of her skin.
She didn't mind. She couldn't even feel it.
All her concentration was focused on reminding herself to blink in hope that her vision would focus again, but that icy chill was spreading faster than Rin would have liked, distracting her from her task. The fluorescent bulb above her was blinding, but her limbs felt too heavy to move to block the intense light. Instead, she let her head fall limply to the side until her cheek brushed the paper sheet of the operating table and her eyes were shielded by the strands of hair that fell across her face. Once more, her vision slipped out of focus, and Rin realized with great dismay that she had forgotten to blink for a while.
Through a gap between the arms of the two doctors closest to her, Rin's gaze landed on the doorway of her operating room. It was easy to spot - a dark rectangle, outlined by the bright lights of the ER triage room shining from behind – but something about it all seemed off to her. The shadows were darker, thicker, as if there was a solid figure standing in front of it. She squinted a bit, hoping her vision would focus more, but to no avail. It wasn't until the shadow shifted slightly to the left that the light illuminated its silhouette.
A chuckle drifted over to her, and somewhere in the back of her muddled brain it registered that it sounded familiar.
It was difficult to make out any details since the room seemed to darken by the second, leaving the only source of light coming from behind the exit. Rin was happy to note that the doctors who had been hindering her view appeared to have disappeared. She could no longer feel their invasive touches. Squinting some more, Rin tried to focus on one spot, and it was then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a second figure approach the first.
It was much smaller in statue and looked as if it reached up to grasp the other figure's side. While she could make out no more distinct characteristics than she could on the first, other than they both were human shaped, Rin did feel as if her disorientation and confusion eased slightly at the arrival of the second figure.
The voice was quiet and yet it seemed to fill the space around her. A feeling of peacefulness settled on her mind, and her eyelids began to droop with weariness.
She was so very tired.
All was well.
At least, it was until her chest felt as if a fifty-pound weight had been placed upon it. Rin's eyes snapped open as her lungs constricted, and her throat felt raw as coughs clawed their way up her throat. The pressure on her chest began to steadily increase, as did her discomfort, and Rin could taste her pulse against her tongue as if it were a piece of hard candy. That ball of confusion that had all but disappeared flared once more as she felt strong hands gripping her tightly. Light rapidly began to fill the room, and Rin twisted her head to look back at the door.
She could just make out white-blonde hair trailing down a faded blue sundress and a small hand clasping a crisp, white, linen shirt. The first voice drifted back to her, warm and friendly –
"Not yet, Rin."
All of a sudden, it felt as if a breaker had been switched and all the electricity had been restored. White light blinded her again and the noise was deafening. For the first few seconds, everything was so muddled that Rin couldn't even identify a particular sound.
Finally, she heard, "Alright, we've got her."
Machines beeped, raised voices weaved in and out beside her. That pressure on her chest still remained, but she noticed another gripping her hands. Rin blinked, trying to see past the sticky wetness that coated her lashes. Amidst the chaos, she was able to catch the sound of her name, but she closed her eyes and sank back into unconsciousness before she could hear whatever followed.
The quiet darkness welcomed her with open arms.
The next time Rin opened her eyes she was lying facedown on a table, nude from the waist up, with her entire back exposed. Tears quickly sprang from her eyes as doctors tried to salvage what was left of her upper shoulders and spine. Carefully, they stitched the shredded bits of skin back together; stripping away sections that were beyond repair. No thoughts of embarrassment flitted through her head at her lack of clothing or of the salty tracks that traced their way down her cheeks. Her brain couldn't entertain any other thoughts than that of the flesh along her spine slowly peeling away from the muscle and bone. Her mouth was already open, but even emitting a scream of agony was out of the question due to the plastic tube shoved down her throat, forcing her lungs to continue breathing.
A nurse must have noticed she was awake because Rin knew the minute the painkillers entered her bloodstream. She thanked the heavens that it didn't take long for the effect to take hold, and closed her eyes to wait out the last few seconds before unconsciousness. Her last thoughts were of flaming red hair before she gratefully descended into the cool, quiet recess of her mind.
Rin woke lying on her right side. Her back remained exposed, though loose hospital gown covered her front and rear, and Rin noticed there was a strange tension pulling across her shoulder blades where the stitches held large flaps of skin in place. She was happy to note, however, through the fogginess of her brain that the drugs were doing their job of shielding her from any pain. In fact, she was surprised she had been able to surface through the drugs into consciousness at all. They tugged at her brain, willing her to rest, but Rin fought it as best she could. The tube down her throat was still a mild annoyance, but her mind was too murky from painkillers to care. Every inch of her felt drowsy and heavy, but after some difficulty, Rin's eyelids finally managed to flutter open.
The lights were much dimmer than she remembered. Glancing at the small window near her bed, she judged it to be some time during the middle of the night. Rin blinked lazily, too exhausted to do much of anything else.
Her gaze traveled across the room, over the bouquets of flowers and balloons, past the television – a news anchor describing the new firework regulations, muted – and landed on a large form hunched beside her, large hand loosely clutching her own. Rin eyes softened at the sight of Izumo, fast asleep at her bedside. Her fingers twitched involuntarily, but the slight movement was enough to rouse him from his slumber. He blinked a few times and rubbed his eyes beneath his glasses before finally focusing on her face.
The corners of her mouth managed to quick up despite the breathing tube. She would have responded, but she knew it would be useless until they removed the damn thing. Besides, sleep was tugging at her eyelids. The painkillers had allowed her a five-minute reprieve, but she could no longer hold off the darkness that wished to swallow her.
Rin's smile stayed in place as her eyes fluttered shut and she drifted off to sleep.
An argument was going on just outside her room. Their voices drifted through the cracked door like a draft through an open window. A willowy, older nurse was by her bedside, fiddling with various tubes and adjusting her painkillers.
Finding her awake, the kindly woman bent low and whispered near her ear, "Next time you wake you won't have that troublesome tube blocking your throat anymore."
Rin hoped her eyes sparkled with the appreciation she felt. It seemed the message was understood, because the woman gently patted her hand and smiled before gathering her things.
Misaki's voice was clearly understandable from outside the room, but it took her a few moments to recognize the other two voices as Izumo's and Kamamoto's.
"He was found dead in an upper loft. Kusanagi-san, there were people downstairs. Someone had seen her leave."
"There was a window upstairs. She could have climbed out of that and-"
Misaki's voice was heavy with sarcasm, "And what? Scaled a tree?"
"It's possible," Rikio mumbled. Rin could sense his surliness at Misaki's attitude from her bed.
Izumo had stayed quiet during this exchange, but spoke up after their noise had died down. "How on earth had she managed to get so close to him?"
Nobody seemed to have an answer for that.
The nurse had gathered her supplies and waited as long as she could for the conversation outside to finish without interrupting. Rin guessed the woman had recognized the insignia on the back her neck as well as on the men huddled outside her door, and knew exactly whom she was dealing with. Her lips were sealed on whatever she heard.
As Rin's eyelids drooped, she caught a glimpse of the stoutly woman shooing the young men away from her closing door.
Anna, Dewa, and Chitose were sprawled in various places around her room – Dewa leaned against the window ledge, Chitose took up booth chairs as if they were a makeshift recliner, and Anna was curled as close as she could beside Rin in the hospital bed. Rin's skin had healed enough to allow her to rest her back against the pillows. It still stung, but it was a heck of a lot more comfortable than being trapped on her side.
They were all watching Anna's favorite program to keep their mind off the previously discussed topic. Izumo had returned to the bar a few hours before to meet with his insurance agent. Nobody had wanted to intrude on the bartender's final moments with the shell of his beloved bar. When he had stood to leave, he looked as if he were still grieving, mourning over the loss.
The damage had been great and they had not been able to save his prized imported English bartop, however, many of the upper bedrooms hadn't suffered heavy damage and the HOMRA members had been able to salvage many of their belongings. Izumo had been a savy saver when he was younger and, combined with the insurance money he was receiving, he had enough money left to restore the bar to its original glory. The bartender was already searching for another iconic bartop to replace the previous.
Rin's insides still twisted with guilt. It was her fault the bar had been destroyed, her fault that Izumo had to start over from scratch.
It must have shown on her face because Chitose swung his legs over the hospital chair's arms and moved to kneel beside her. His fingers laced with hers, warming her cool fingers, and Rin felt him squeeze her palm gently.
"Hey," He said in a low voice. "Thanks for not quittin' on us."
Chitose had grown up in the past few weeks. His hair was trimmed a bit shorter, his clothes a little less battered, and the look in his eyes was that of someone who had seen too much.
Rin let out a chuckle, one she regretted as soon as it began. Coughing fits wracked her body, but they weren't nearly as painful as they had been before. It was an improvement. She squeezed back, letting him know she understood.
"Wouldn't have dreamed of it."
A week had gone by before she finally saw the Red King. She hadn't heard what had kept him away, and none of the boys were about to spill the beans. Needless to say her eyes had lit up when the nurse had passed by with a knowing smile, and said in a sing-song voice, "A lucky someone has a very special visitor today!"
Which was why it was a shame the smile had already slid off her face before he had even entered her room.
She could feel his anger as he stepped out of the elevator onto her floor. It was like one of those super-cell storm clouds you could sense from miles away. By the time he was four doors away, Rin had hunkered down into her blankets to await the fast-approaching storm.
He still stole her breath when he entered the room. Was it her imagination, or had he grown even more handsome while she had been slipping in and out of consciousness? Flaming crimson hair, eyes of liquid gold, broad shoulders that paired nicely with the smooth span of his chest. She didn't dare let her eyes drift lower. A cigarette was tucked behind his ear, a habit he had clearly picked up from the bartender. Or perhaps it was simply a way to follow hospital rules without parting from his favorite accessory?
"You know," Rin grinned, testing the waters. "The doctors told me I should quit smoking now that I've had a hole in my lung. You really aren't the best influence."
Mikoto remained quiet, and after a few moments the smile slid from Rin's face.
A scrap of gold landed near her fingertips. Her Seventh Heaven bikini top.
"What?" Mikoto's voice was tight with anger, his words coming out a hiss between his teeth. "No jokes?"
Rin stayed silent. Now was not the time to be a smartass.
"We had been moving any of the remains that hadn't been destroyed out of the bar. These were found in your room last night."
It was one of those horrible moments where everything seemed to snap in to focus all at once. Mikoto had found her bikini tops. He now knew exactly how she had gotten close to Niaka, just how far she had gone to get her shot. He now knew of her deceit, of the depravity she had put herself through, and how the Niaka members had been able to recognize her to track her down.
And he was livid.
"You are not some piece of meat to be passed around for other men's enjoyment." His jaw clenched tightly and only his lips moved, but each word was punctuated clearly and was laced with barely-controlled rage.
Rin was hesitant to even breathe. She understood his fury, but that didn't mean she wanted it directed at her any more than it already was.
"They put you in a hospital, Rin-" His voice cut off, rough and full of emotion. His hands gripped the hospital bed tightly, his fingers digging in deep enough that the knuckles turned white.
"Yeah, but look at the information we got." The words tumbled out of her mouth before she could even think of taking them back, and they didn't seem to want to stop. Idiotidiotidiot. "And with the regional boss out of the way, you can take it all to the Blue King and demand a full investigation of their ranks."
"That is none of your concern." Mikoto's voice seemed to fill the tiny room, or perhaps it just seemed tiny with him standing beside her. It was the second time in her life where she felt the true weight of his power, reminding her of where they ranked. He was her King, first and foremost. Something must have shown on her face because he let out a breath of steam, releasing some of the pent up energy. "You almost died, Rin. I felt it, you, slipping away."
It was damn near poetic for Mikoto, but she sensed her scolding was not quite finished.
"I'm sorry I scared you," She whispered.
And just like when a strong wind rouses the dying embers of a fire, Mikoto's anger sparked once more.
"There are no words for how fucking stupid this entire charade was."
"I will not apologize to you for anything more."
Rin's own words surprised her, and must have surprised Mikoto as well. The Red King's power flared out across the room, raising the temperature at least fifteen degrees and causing sweat to bead on her forehead and upper lip. His eyes were molten gold, but Rin stared unflinchingly back. She'd already apologized for putting Anna in danger, but she would never apologize for her decision to go undercover. Her moral dilemma was something she would keep to herself, for now.
He must have sensed her resoluteness and realized he was going to get nowhere tonight. Gnashing his teeth in frustration, Mikoto ran a hand through his flaming hair before turning towards the door. Neither of them were in any place to be near each other in that moment. Besides, Mikoto had started to feel like a bully from scolding an injured girl in a hospital. He reached for the door.
"Mikoto," She should have let it go, but sometimes Rin was too damn stubborn to make smart decisions. "What did you do with…the rest of them?"
She knew not to say the word 'bikini' out loud. See? Still smart.
Mikoto's eyes seemed to go flat, as if the fire that permanently burned in his eyes went out, leaving nothing but a terrifying emptiness behind.
"I burned them."
Author's Note: Wow! Over 400 reviews! Thank you guys so much for all the support you've given this story. I'm just… in awe, especially after your last batch of reviews! Many of you said that "Retaliation" was you favorite chapter, and I'm so happy to read you're all just as attached to Rin as I am. Can't believe we're reaching the back end of this story. I'm guessing there won't be too many more chapters left to go!
I'm sorry it took so long to update. I was studying abroad in Russia for the past four months and every day we had been kept very busy by our program coordinator. I've now returned to the USA, so hopefully I'll have a little more time to write! Please forgive me and understand the hiatus! I don't want to put out a chapter unless I'm completely satisfied with it. I hope this was worth the wait. XOXO
To My Guest Reviewers:
Guest: I know! I am evil for leaving that a cliffhanger. I hope you enjoyed this next chapter! Don't worry, she didn't leave him for good!
Tanaka: This review really made me so happy! You said everything that I had been crossing my fingers for! It was absolutely heart-wrenching to write this chapter because I had read about Tatara's death in the last chapter of the manga and rewatch it in the anime. However, it really makes me happy to see that you all are just as interested in Rin's own story as you are in my rewrite of the canon plotline. Thank you so much for such compliments!
Mirei-chan: Ahhhh, don't worry, love! She's not going anywhere yet! *gives all ze hugs* I hope this chapter comforted you!
Leigha: Hahaha well I cannot make any promises, but I hope you'll stick around to find out!
AevalPantheraaa: *pets* It's okay, she's safe! I'm glad you cared for her safety!
Akarui: Oh my gosh, wow, thank you so much! Honestly, that is the best compliment you can give me to hear that Rin is able to stand out from other OCs. And I really appreciate your compliment on my writing. There are so many talented fanfiction writers on here, so it really means a lot to me to hear that! I wish this were tumblr because right now I don't have enough words to describe how happy you made me. I just want tackle hug your right now. ^.^
Sleepyreader319: (unfortunately your PM-ing was disabled, so I'm sending you a message here!) Don't worry! She made it out alive. Couldn't leave Mikoto alone at a time like this!
Guest (2): I'm so happy to hear you've fallen in love with Rin and her back-story! She's very near and dear to my heart, so I'm glad others like to follow her story as well.
Just a guest: Sorry to have kept you waiting so long! Yes, I have been very busy in Russia. It's an intensive program, so I do not have much time to myself! Hope this was worth waiting for!
Ehri: Yay! Thanks so much for the support!
K: Thank you for the review! I will definitely be finishing this story. Don't worry!