InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Purity 9: Subterfuge ❯ Bittersweet Memories ( Chapter 152 )

[ X - Adult: No readers under 18. Contains Graphic Adult Themes/Extreme violence. ]
~~Chapter One Hundred Fifty-Two~~
~Bittersweet Memories~


-OoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoO-

'Her daddy drank all day and mommy did drugs
'Never wanted to play or give kisses and hugs
'She'd watch the TV and sit there on the couch
'While her mom fell asleep ...
'And her daddy went out …'

-'The Little Girl' by John Michael Montgomery.


-Valerie-


'Ju st do it, Valerie.  It's not that difficult.  Just open it and read it . . .'

Biting her lip as she frowned at the deceptively harmless looking file in her lap, Valerie still made no move to do it.  One question had been twisting around in her brain, hadn't it?  Ever since she'd left Evan's house the night before . . . She'd gone to work, she'd done what she needed to do.  She'd sat through a progress meeting, met with a couple potential clients, and always, lingering in the back of her mind, that question loomed, unanswered.  It had followed her home as she'd checked her mail and changed her clothes, hanging the dress she'd worn to work back in the closet once more, and though it was still light outside, she'd still poured herself a glass of wine before making herself grab the file that still lay on the table beside the door . . .

Exactly what was in it . . .?  What was it about the information that it contained that had the power to make Evan look so very sad . . .?

"I can't tell you that, V.  No, that's not right . . . I won't tell you that.  None of this is about me; it's about you, and what I would do isn't necessarily what you should . . . Only you can decide what's best for you, and it doesn't matter if I agree or not.  You're the one they hurt over and over again.  Only you can decide what you need to do."

What she needed to do . . .?  Just what did she need to do?

"I can't make your decision for you . . . No matter what you choose, though, I got your back."

Rubbing her forehead, she rubbed her lips together, spreading out the lip balm she'd applied a few minutes ago—another attempt to put off opening the file, she supposed.

She didn't want to see what was in there, did she?  Didn't want to read it; didn't want to think about it; didn't want to know . . .

'Are you scared?'

Scared?  Valerie snorted, her frown deepening into more of a scowl.  Scared?  Damn, she hated to be perceived as being afraid of anything.  She always had, hadn't she?  Never in her life had she ever been all right with fear in any capacity.  Or maybe . . .

No, that wasn't it.  She wasn't scared of a few stupid slips of paper.  That'd be ridiculous, wouldn't it?  That'd be just like admitting that the shadows in her bedroom at night frightened her or the scratch of the leaves on the asphalt on a cold fall day made her feel afraid . . . Those things certainly held no fear for her.  But . . .

'No,' she told herself sternly.  'Afraid?  That's absurd!  They don't matter to me anymore, do they?  So what should it matter whether or not I read anything?  It doesn't, right?'

That was it, wasn't it?  She wasn't afraid of what that file contained as much as she couldn't stand the feeling that she was being forced into it: forced into reliving a part of her life that had done her no good at all.  That wasn't what Evan was trying to do, and she knew it.  The end result was the same, though.  Why was it that they had the power to make her think about them when she had never been afforded the same luxury?  It was crystal clear, wasn't it?  If they'd ever thought about her at all, then they would've tried, right?  They would have showed up once in a while instead of leaving her hanging time after time.  They would have tried harder to get her back, wouldn't they?  And now?  Why was she expected to give a great goddamn about them?

'Because,' a voice softly chided—a voice that sounded entirely too much like Evan, 'because you're better than that, V.  Because you owe it to yourself to know everything—even the things that aren't so pleasant.'

Heaving a sigh, Valerie set the file aside and stood up, reaching for her empty wine glass before she shuffled off to the kitchen.  She'd just finished refilling the glass when her phone rang, and for some reason, she knew who it was before she touched the receiver, and she smiled, albeit wanly.  "Thought you were supposed to be meeting with some video director or something," she said when she answered.

Evan snorted loudly.  "You have no idea just how fucking boring these meetings can be," he told her.  "Don't suppose you'd consider hacking an arm or leg off or something—anything—to get me the hell outta here . . ."

"Sorry, Roka.  I think I like my limbs right where they are," she said with a soft laugh.

He chuckled.  "Yeah, I kinda like your limbs, too," he allowed.  "I think I'd like them better if you had them wrapped around me . . ."

She snorted this time, taking the glass and heading back into the living room.  "You just had to go there, didn't you?"

She didn't have to see him to know that he had a goofy grin on his face.  "Keep on pitching 'em, woman, and I'll just keep smacking 'em right out of the ballpark . . .  Crack!  And the crowd goes wild!  Wo-o-o-o-o hah-h-h-h-h!"

She laughed.  She couldn't help herself . . . "So, why are you calling?  You know, other than trying to get me to maim myself."

"Keh!" he grunted.  "Do I have to have a reason to call my best girl?"

"You?  Yes," she replied dryly despite the smile that lingered on her features.

"Figures," he scoffed then chuckled again.  His amusement trailed off a moment later, though, and she didn't miss his quiet sigh.  "Listen, V . . . Are you okay?  I mean, if you need me to, I can ditch this shit and come by . . ."

"I'm fine," she insisted, "but thanks."

"All right," he said though he sounded a little dubious.  "If you need me . . ."

"I'll call you," she said, finishing his sentence when he trailed off.

"I'll be home later if you want to come by," he offered.  "Shouldn't take more than an hour or so to finish up here, anyway."

"You're becoming quite a homebody, aren't you?" she asked.

He snorted.  "A homebody?  Me?  Hell!"  Then he sighed.  "I've just had this idea for a song floating around my head all day.  I want to go home and get it hammered out before it drives me crazy.  Anyway, I'll talk to you later."

"Okay," she said, staring at the receiver after the call ended.  What was it about him that made her smile, even when she wasn't feeling particularly happy?  Shaking her head as she set it back in the charge stand on the counter, Valerie headed back into the living room again.  She'd have to tell him one of these days, wouldn't she?  She'd have to thank him for somehow knowing just when she needed someone to give her that precious moment of reprieve . . .

Her smile dimmed then faded, however, when her gaze fell on the unopened file as she sank down on the sofa again.

He wanted her to read it.  He didn't have to say it for her to know it was true.  Maybe he said that he just thought she should make up her own mind, and maybe he believed that, but the truth of it was that he honestly thought that she should read the file.

Setting the glass of wine on the table, she drew a deep breath and picked up the folder, yanking it open before she could talk herself out of it.

She didn't know what she'd honestly expected to see, but for some reason, the police report on top made her wince.  She didn't recognize the date, but when she scanned over it, she understood.  It was the night she was taken from them—and that night was as bright and garishly vivid now as it was at the time . . . the lazy flash of the patrol car's lights that cast hideous and misshapen shadows all around in the falling twilight . . . the ugliness of her father's anger as he lashed out at the officers on the scene . . . her mother, being dragged to the ground as she tried to fend off the police with an old baseball bat . . . and Valerie had stood there screaming for her mama, for her daddy, crying because there was nothing else she could do; because it was all her fault . . .

Pages and pages of various reports—mental assessments, police records, memos from foster parents to her social workers . . . She didn't try to read through those.  She didn't really need to.  It was shocking to see so many of them, wasn't it?  Her entire life, condensed down into a stack of papers in a manila folder . . .

Leafing through them as she tried not to think about the barrage of painful memories that the chain of documents dredged up, she wasn't sure what she was looking for.  Later documentation on her parents mentioned the births of her brother and sister, and she winced when she saw the printed out picture of the family.  It wasn't a great picture, obviously a scan, and not a good one, at that.  Her father was sitting on a park bench beside her mother, who was holding her sister in a faded but very clean little pink jumper dress while her brother was standing between her parents with a little blue plastic toy guitar hanging limply from his hand.  They were smiling, and they looked like a happy enough family . . . and there wasn't really any room in that picture for a big sister, was there . . .?

Rubbing her forehead, Valerie flipped through more of the pages.  The things that were the most telling weren't the things that were in there.  The most telling were the things that were missing: reports on visitations, petitions to regain custody—anything that might convince her that her parents really had cared.  They hadn't, and she knew that.  It didn't make her stop wishing somewhere deep down that maybe—maybe they did . . .

The bottom of the stack of papers was different.  A report on the current family, complete with what looked to be satellite images of the old trailer where she'd lived for the first seven years of her life; reports on the siblings she'd only met a handful of times—if that many . . . No more police reports, no more reports from the welfare department, but the doctor's reports started, instead, from the first trip to the emergency room where her father had reported chest pains and some dizziness and excruciating pain in his lower back and stomach.  They'd run a battery of tests then but hadn't found a lot.  Ultimately, they'd told him that he would be fine and had sent him home without a real diagnosis.

Trouble with his kidneys, liver, lungs, and he'd developed a heart murmur, too, somewhere along the way.  In those early days when he might've had a better chance of getting the appropriate medical care to give him a better overall prognosis, he stubbornly refused to go get checked, it would seem.  By the time he'd collapsed at the job he'd held for the last ten years, it was too late: the downward spiral had already been chosen.  Early stage renal failure, cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease, asthma . . . The life he'd lived had led him down this path, and at this point, the damage was irreversible.  About the only hope for him, the various doctors seemed to agree, was organ transplants, and he wasn't eligible to be put on the national waiting list.  Because his illnesses were a direct result of the abuse he'd heaped upon his own body over the years, he wasn't even a consideration . . . No one in the immediate family had tested out to be compatible, so the option of getting the much-needed organ was slim and none—closer to none, with no real hope at all . . .

Swallowing hard, Valerie reached for her wine glass and sighed.  The logical part of her could understand that.  Why should someone who had gone out of his way to wreck himself be given a chance over someone who had not done anything of the sort?  And yet, another part of her had to wonder.  Sipping the wine, she breathed a quiet sigh as a sense of hopelessness washed over her, and in her head, she could hear a little girl's laughter as her daddy chased her through the trailer, intent on catching and tickling her . . . He'd caught her many times, hadn't he?  Tickled her until she couldn't breathe, as his own laughter mingled with hers . . . His arms, closing around her as he pulled her back against his chest, as he positioned her tiny hands on the guitar to teach her how to play . . .

"Your daddy's gonna be a rock star," her mother had said to her.  On those nights when her father hadn't come home, when he was out playing at one club or another in the area, her mother had told her that her daddy was going to be famous one day, and then he'd buy them a big house in the city with a maid and a cook and pretty new clothes . . .

Valerie flinched as the sound of her mother's voice echoed in her head.  How many years had it been since that voice had first gone away?  She couldn't remember the last time she'd heard it, and the memory was enough to make her bite down hard, to clench her teeth until her jaws ached.  So many times during her childhood, she'd ached to hear that voice, hadn't she?  The faraway whispers of a time and place where she'd felt like she belonged . . .

'You can't go back home, Valerie.  You can't go back because it wasn't really your home at all . . .'

She couldn't go back . . .?  Was that true?  How could she, really?  Even if she wanted to, how the hell could she?  To go back to that place where she had been nothing but an afterthought for so long—if she'd even been that . . .?  The image of the happy family in that scanned picture made her wince.  They'd looked . . . perfect . . . Didn't they?  Father, mother, brother, sister . . . the perfect balance . . . There wasn't any room for her, was there?  There . . . She blinked quickly as the unwelcome sting of tears prickled behind her eyelids.  'There never was . . .'

"Stop it," she told herself sternly, pinching the bridge of her nose as she squeezed her eyes closed for a moment then popped them open wide again.  "Just stop it."

She didn't belong there.  That's what she knew.  If they'd ever wanted her to, they'd have tried harder, wouldn't they?  It wasn't like she'd ever gone out of her way to avoid them.  Over the years, they'd developed a whole different life, hadn't they?  They'd managed to pull it together when her brother was born, punctuated a couple years later by the birth of her sister, and in that new family, there wasn't room for Valerie.  It had become painfully clear to her, hadn't it?  And now . . .

With a sigh, Valerie set the glass down and scooped up the stack of papers to tap the bottoms before she put them away once more, and she blinked when a thick bit of paper under all the others flipped loose and fluttered to the floor.

Reaching down, she picked it up, her frown deepening when her mind registered that it wasn't just as slip of paper.  It was a picture.

Turning it over in her hands as she stood up, as she wandered over to the window, holding the picture so that it would better catch the last light of the fading afternoon, Valerie scowled in confusion.  It took her brain a moment to figure out exactly what she was looking at, and when she did, she gasped softly . . .


-Evan-


It was late.

Nearly two in the morning, he realized as he glanced at the clock on the wall.  He'd lost track of time again . . .

He yawned, stumbling out of the music room as he scratched the back of his head.

Valerie hadn't returned his phone calls.

"What do you think, Munchies?  Should I go over there and check on her?" he asked, scratching the dog behind the ears.

Munchies uttered a low growly-type sound as his tail thumped heavily against the floor.

He sighed.  He was worried about her; no doubt about it.  As strong as she was, as strong as she tried to be, she still hadn't figured out yet that it was okay to be weak sometimes . . . or maybe that wasn't it.  Maybe she just didn't want to show that weakness to anyone, even him . . .

And it wasn't the first time that he had to wonder if he had done the right thing.  Telling her about her father . . . was that really the right thing to have done?  Knowing, as he did, just how painful her childhood had been, how hard she'd struggled to become someone better than the little girl who had been forgotten for so long . . . Had telling her everything undermined it all?  And if it had, how the hell would he ever convince her that she was so much better than she was when she'd started out in life?

"Damn it," he muttered.  The last thing he'd ever wanted to do was to shake Valerie's already fragile glass world.  Maybe in some respects, it would have been all right, but not in this.  The stakes were high already.  Somehow, he couldn't help but wonder if he hadn't pushed her just a little too far this time . . .

She wasn't ready to face the subject of her parents.  Evan didn't have to be brilliant in order to have realized that.  And he couldn't say that he could blame her for that, either, all things considered.  Telling himself that she needed to know, that she had a right to know really was nothing but an excuse to make it okay for him to have told her, wasn't it, especially when he knew what kind of damage it could potentially do to her.

'Stop second guessing yourself, rockstar,' his youkai chided.  'The beginning and the end of all of it is that you did have to tell her.  Think about it.  If you hadn't and her father had died before she was 'ready' to face him?  If she found out that you'd known when she still had the time to confront him, what do you think that'd do to her?  Don't you think that it might be worse?  You're underestimating her, you know.  Valerie is stronger than you think.  Hell, for that matter, she's a helluva lot stronger than we are . . .'

Heaving a sigh, Evan slowly shook his head.  Wasn't that no better than still making excuses for having told her, in the first place?  What the hell right did they have to hurt her again, anyway?  What right did anyone have to do that?  None, that was what.  Why in the world did she have to suffer?  Why was it all right to remind her of a not-so-pleasant childhood over and over again?

Not that it mattered.  It didn't, did it?  The damage was already done.  He couldn't take back what he'd already told her.  The only thing he could do was to offer her whatever support she'd take from him—and for him to hope to God she didn't end up hating him completely . . .

'Damn . . . Why didn't she call me back . . .?'

If it wasn't so late, he'd go right over there to check on her.  He hadn't meant to spend so much time in the music room, but he'd gotten caught up in the song he was trying to get down on paper—not an uncommon thing to happen, but annoying, all the same.

But it was late, and he had very little doubt that she'd already be in bed.  Whether or not she was sleeping was debatable, but in bed, certainly.  He sighed.  No, she knew, didn't she?  If she needed him, she'd call, and as much as he hated it, he also knew that sometimes, you had to think things through in your own head before you could try to sum up your feelings for someone else . . . She needed the time by herself, maybe, and even if he couldn't stand being completely and utterly helpless to do anything really for her, it didn't matter.  He'd realized long ago that it wasn't about him.  It was about her, about what she needed, even if she didn't know that she really needed anything at all . . .

No, the best thing he could do for her now was to just go on to bed and keep his phone nearby, just in case . . .

Shuffling through the living room, he headed over to the control panel to make sure that everything was locked up for the night.  It didn't take him long to check the windows.  They were already locked, and given that it was still winter, that wasn't surprising.  Still, he checked them anyway then flipped over to the cameras stationed around the perimeter of the house, only to stop short when he noticed something.

The small, huddled form, sitting on the porch steps: shoulders slumped, head ducked, looking so lonely, so lost . . .

Hitting the panel as a muffled curse escaped him, Evan dashed around the wall that separated the living room and the foyer and didn't stop as he grabbed the door handle and jerked it open with an impatient yank.

"V," he said, skidding to a stop on the frigid stone porch.  "How long have you been out here?"

She didn't really answer him other than an almost imperceptible shrug of her shoulders.  He let out a deep breath and ran down the steps, grabbing her icy hand to pull her to her feet.  "Come on," he coaxed gently.  "Come inside before you freeze."

She still said nothing as he tugged her into the house.  After a moment of consideration, he left her in the foyer and hurried off to the kitchen to get her something hot to drink.  His first thought was coffee, but somehow, that seemed wrong.  As much as she loved the stuff, something a little more comforting seemed to be a better choice . . .

He was almost finished mixing up a steamy mug of cocoa when she shuffled into the kitchen.  Her eyes were darkened, shadowed by demons that only she could see, and her skin was pale, almost sallow.  When she reached for the mug he held out to her, her hands were shaking, and whether it was because of the cold or not, he wasn't entirely sure . . . "You should have called me," he told her gently.  "I would have come over.  You know that."

She didn't speak until after she'd sipped the cocoa a few times.  She looked a little more like herself, though the shadows in her gaze had yet to recede.  "I never knew what I looked like," she ventured at last, her voice low, raw, almost harsh in the quiet, "when I was a baby . . ."

He took her cup and refilled it, and when he turned back to give it to her again, he blinked when he saw the picture clenched tightly in her hand.  "You were just as gorgeous then as you are now," he said softly, offering her the barest hint of a smile in an attempt to make her feel a little better.

She tried to smile.  It looked more like a grimace.  "I don't want to go back there," she said just as softly, eyes brightening suspiciously as she slowly shook her head.  "The last thing I want to do is to go back there . . . and I keep telling myself that . . ." She swallowed hard and winced.  "That I don't have to, but . . . but I do, you know?"  Uttering a terse laugh that was twisted by a half-sob, she smashed the knuckles of the hand holding onto the picture against her lips for a moment like she was trying to shove down the emotions that were threatening to overcome her.  "Of course you know," she said once she'd gotten herself back under control.  "You knew from the start, didn't you?"

There was no accusation in her words; nothing but a sense of hopeless resignation—and a loneliness in her gaze that made him want to cry . . . "You don't have to," he countered gently, taking her hand and pulling her into the living room.

She sank down on the couch, her shoulders sagging under the weight of her thoughts, and her fingers were still shaking as she tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear.  "If I don't do it now, I never will," she said in that same throaty tone.  "If I don't do it now, it might . . . might be too late . . ."

"I'm sorry, V," he replied, hating the sound of the hollow apology; hating the impotence in not being able to do a damn thing to help her, after all.

"They . . . They stopped caring about me a long time ago, didn't they?" she asked suddenly, the probing look she shot him making him wince inside.  "They didn't care enough to try to get me back, so they turned around and started another family instead, and in that new family, there was no room for me . . ."

Evan blinked fast as the sound of her quaking voice shook something loose inside him.  Setting the cocoa on the table, he reached for her, pulled her against him, cuddled her to him, even as he wished that he could staunch the wash of pain that reached out from her, straight to him, leaving him raw and torn and bleeding.

"All I wanted," she said as the first of her tears started to fall, "I just . . . wanted to go home . . ."

"V . . ."

"They threw me away," she choked out between breaths as she struggled not to let her sadness get the better of her.  As if she had no idea what else to do, she balled up her fists, beat them pathetically against his chest.  "They threw me away . . ."

"No, baby, no," he insisted, tightening his grip on her unconsciously.  "They didn't throw you away . . . No one could ever throw you away . . ."

She didn't say anything for a long while, simply allowing him to hold her, to comfort her as she cried in silence.  With every tear that fell from her eyes, Evan could feel a part of him falling away, too, and the pain that lingered was excruciating.  The desolation that she had felt so often in her past was there, eating away at her, gnawing away at him, and no matter how powerless he felt, he couldn't help but to hope that she could feel him there with her, too.

He wasn't sure how long he sat there, how long he held her, how long she sobbed in silence.  It could have been minutes, it could have been hours, but the tears she'd shed were long dried when she finally spoke to him again.  "Evan?" she whispered, as though she were afraid that she'd somehow hurt him if she raised her voice at all.

He kissed the top of her head.  "Hmm?"

She sighed.  It was an infinitely weary kind of sound.  "I . . . I have to go see them, don't I?"

He sighed, too, closing his eyes for a long moment, struggling to control his own tone of voice.  "Is that what you want to do?"

She shook her head.  "No . . . But I think I need to . . ."

Swallowing hard, hoping that she couldn't see how sad her words really made him, he nodded.  "Then that's what you should do," he allowed in as neutral a tone as he could muster.

"Evan?"

"Hmm?"

Sucking in a deep breath, she pushed against his chest, leaned back so that she could slowly, hesitantly meet his gaze.  "Would you . . .?  I mean, I know you're busy and everything, but . . . if you . . . if you had a couple of days?  Do you think . . .?"

Gritting his teeth against the fear that she was struggling to hide, he forced a smile that he was far from feeling because she needed to see it.  "You want me to go with you?" he asked, trying to make it all a little easier for her.

She winced but smiled just the tiniest bit—a weak and wavering attempt that seemed somehow completely heartfelt, just the same.  "Would you?"

This time, his smile was a little brighter, a little more genuine, as he pulled her against his side once more.  "You don't have to ask, V," he chided gently.  "You know I will."

"Thank you," she breathed.  He could feel the tension flow out of her, as if she only needed his word to reassure her.  He only wished that he could reassure himself as easily, too . . .


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A/N:
'The Little Girl' first appeared on John Michael Montgomery's 2000 release, Brand New Me.  Song written by and copyrighted to Harley Allen.
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Final
Thought from Evan:
Damn ...
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Blanket disclaimer for this fanfic (will apply to this and all other chapters in Subterfuge):  I do not claim any rights to InuYasha or the characters associated with the anime/manga.  Those rights belong to Rumiko Takahashi, et al.  I do offer my thanks to her for creating such vivid characters for me to terrorize.
~Sue~
Chapter 151
Chapter 153
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