InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Purity Redux: Fruition ❯ Secrecy ( Chapter 24 )
Charity leaned against the archway with her arms crossed over her chest, watching with a vague little smile as Ben paced the living room floor, reading through a slim-file with the sleeping babies tied to him in two bright pink wraps. Biting her lip, she stifled a sigh. Her original intent was to go in and cuddle the girls before putting them in bed for the night. Somehow, standing there, watching the three of them, the idea wasn't nearly as appealing.
'They . . . Do they really need me?'
Why did the image of them together hurt?
'It does, doesn't it?' her youkai-voice spoke up. Even in her mind, the voice sounded infinitely sad, infinitely weary, and she winced.
'I don't . . . I don't know what to do . . .'
'I . . . I don't know, either.'
That was the problem, wasn't it? It would have been so much easier if there weren't babies involved, so much simpler to just cut her losses and walk away. Of course, if it weren't for the babies, she wouldn't actually be here, in the first place, would she? As much as it hurt to admit it, she knew deep down that the only reason she was here at all, was pure dumb luck. If Chelsea hadn't called him that afternoon . . . If she had just called and canceled and apologized for her twin's idea of intervention . . . If she'd never laid eyes on the twins . . .
And yet, that thought was enough to bring a stinging behind her eyelids, a pain in her heart so vast, so deep, that she nearly gasped out loud as she closed her eyes for a moment and tried to gather her tattered composure.
'That's . . . I . . . I can't regret them,' she told herself. 'I don't!'
'No, not that,' her youkai agreed. 'But I don't know what to think of anything anymore, either.'
She had no idea what to do, and that was the most painful part, wasn't it? Bad enough to feel as though she was little more than a foolish child, but the idea of having to stay, having to watch as Ben reconnected with his childhood friend? A friend who, very obviously, didn't want to be just friends any longer . . .? A friend who was drop-dead gorgeous and who shared a history with Ben that Charity would never, ever have . . .?
'How am I going to do that? How can I . . .?'
Swallowing down the rising edge of hysteria, she slowly shook her head, her ears flattening for a moment. She'd find a way. She'd have to, if only for the sake of the twins . . .
'Well, it's not like they'll be babies forever, you know? Even if we are here, it'll all be okay. They're worth it, right? They're worth it . . .'
Yes, they were.
"How was your . . . date?" Ben asked quietly without breaking his stride and without looking up from the file in his hands.
Charity grimaced, thankful that he didn't see the expression, shouldering herself away from the archway as she made herself step forward into the room. "It . . . It wasn't a date," she muttered, ears flicking at the defensiveness she could hear in her own voice. "Just dinner and a movie, and it was fine."
"Isn't that the classic definition of a date?" he parried mildly.
Rubbing her forehead, she moved past him to retrieve a bottle of water out of the small refrigerator under the wet bar. "I do that sort of thing with Chelsea, too, and I'd hardly call that a date, either."
Snapping the file closed, he set it aside in favor of turning to face her. She couldn't read his expression past the very obvious irritation that furrowed his brow, that hardened the line of his mouth . But why on earth would he be irritated, anyway . . .?
Brushing aside that weird question, Charity took her time, downing a good portion of the bottle. "Why does it matter to you, who I do or don't date, anyway?"
Her question seemed to throw him for the proverbial loop, and he scowled back at her. "Because," he replied evenly despite the harsh spiking of his youki, "I care about you, and—"
"And I'll say this to you one time, Ben: I don't owe you any explanations about what I do or with whom I choose to spend time."
"All right," he ground out, and she could tell that it took him some effort to keep from shouting at her. "Just not my brother."
She sighed, rubbing her temple as she shifted her gaze away from him, focusing instead on the painting that hung over the fireplace mantle. "You gave up the right to say a thing to me when you kissed that woman. I didn't question you about it, and—"
"And I told you that it was an accident," he growled, losing the battle to keep his emotions in check.
"I'm going to go to bed," she said abruptly, deciding that the last thing she wanted or needed was to have this discussion right now, and she screwed the cap back down on the bottle in her hand. "Do you want me to take them up?"
"No," he growled, then shook his head with an exasperated sigh. "I'll put them to bed. Just . . . Wait here . . . Please . . ."
Against her better judgment, she nodded tersely, settling down on the edge of the sofa as she watched him stride out of the living room. No, what she ought to have done was to hightail it up to her room and shut the door. She didn't know what he wanted to talk about, but she had the feeling that it wasn't anything she wanted to hear or deal with, not now . . .
Too bad she never had been one to run away from her problems. Maybe that was a foolish notion, anyway, and even so, it really wasn't Ben's fault, was it? It wasn't like she could force anyone to feel something that just wasn't there, and, to be honest, she'd known that from the start. There had been way too many times over the years, way too many opportunities, and he'd made his feelings blatantly clear. She was the one who never seemed to get the message. Oh, she thought she had, sure, but she really didn't.
Now, she did. The thing was, she simply wasn't ready to hear him apologize, to hear him say that he was sorry for what he did or didn't feel, and that was the crux of it.
'But . . . But why did he kiss me? If he didn't care, then why . . .?'
Wincing at the capriciousness of her own thoughts, Charity rolled the bottle between her palms. Caught up in the moment, maybe? Maybe he was simply absorbed in the momentary dream—the idea of a family, and maybe . . .
Maybe she was the part that could easily be replaced in that dream.
"I don't suppose you have a minute for a brief bit of brotherly advice, nii-san?"
Ben turned around to face his brother. Silhouetted by the brighter light in the hallway behind him, Kyouhei lounged in the doorway, arms crossed over his chest, ankles crossed in a deceptively nonchalant sort of stance. "I'm a little busy at the moment," he said, unsure exactly how long he had before Charity bolted to her room and locked the door, which had become commonplace in the days since the Halloween fiasco. "Can it wait?"
Kyouhei shrugged. "It won't take long. Humor me."
Heaving a sigh as he rubbed his hands over his face, Ben pushed past his brother and headed toward his room. "You have until I'm done getting ready for bed," Ben said in a tone that pulled no punches. "Start talking."
"Tell me, Ben . . . Just what is going on between you and Charity?"
"What do you mean?" Ben asked, dragging off his shirt and reaching for a tee-shirt.
"I mean that the other day, you gave me the impression that your arrangement with her was little more than convenience for the sake of the twins," Kyouhei remarked, digging his hands into his pockets and affecting the careful slouch he had mastered long ago as he leaned in the doorway of the walk-in closet.
Ben sighed. "It's . . . It's complicated," he muttered.
"Nothing is complicated," Kyouhei scoffed. "Things are only as complicated as you make them . . . At least, that's been my experience."
"Look, Kyouhei, things happened. There's a lot of stuff you know nothing about, so I'd appreciate it if you'd keep your opinions to yourself."
"So, you don't want to know how our date went . . .?"
Ben snorted as he yanked on a pair of sleeping pants and gave the string tie a good, hard yank. "She said it wasn't a date," he replied, painfully aware of the argument he'd used against her just minutes ago.
Kyouhei chuckled. "Dinner and a movie? I'd guess that would constitute a date."
Ben grunted, mostly because he'd said the same damn thing . . . "Did you kiss her?" he asked, unable to keep the sharpness, the hint of irritation, out of his voice.
"Would you care if I did?" he countered smoothly.
Grinding his teeth together before he erupted into a menacing growl since he knew damn well that Kyouhei was just baiting him, Ben stubbornly refused to answer.
"How long have you known her?"
"Why do you care?" Ben demanded, rapidly losing what little composure he had, at least, at the moment. "What does any of it matter to you?"
Kyouhei met Ben's furious gaze, his expression entirely serious, a flicker of emotion darkening the blue of his eyes. "Because I like her," he said quietly, evenly, as his youki spiked in harsh and jagged waves. "I've never met a sweeter girl anywhere . . . Or one who is as miserable as she is. I just want to know why—and I think you have the answer."
For some reason, Kyouhei's statement cut him deep, and Ben sat down hard on the edge of the bed. Leaning forward, elbows on knees, he raked his hands through his hair and scowled at the floor. "Manami showed up on Halloween," he admitted, unsure why he was saying as much to Kyouhei, of all people.
"Manami? The one okaa-san's mentioned . . .?"
"Yeah," Ben muttered, shaking his head but not looking up . "I was shocked to see her after so long, and before I knew what she was doing, she . . . She kissed me, and Charity . . ." He grimaced.
Kyouhei nodded slowly. "Charity saw it."
"Something like that."
Slowly walking the length of the room and back, Kyouhei sighed. "Tell me something, Ben, because my options will be dictated by your answer."
"How do you mean?" Ben demanded sharply.
Kyouhei rolled his eyes. "Isn't it obvious? If you don't hold any feelings for her, then I'd guess it wouldn't matter to you if I continued to pursue her, right?"
He gritted his teeth at the very idea of his brother chasing after Charity. "What's that?" he asked, lifting his head though he didn't straighten his back.
"Is she your mate?"
He opened his mouth to tell Kyouhei to mind his own business, but snapped it closed and forced himself to draw a deep breath, instead. Giving flip answers and refusing to own up to his part in the disagreement wasn't going to help him; not at all . . . He closed his eyes for several moments before finally jerking his head once in a nod. "Y-Yeah," he said. "Yeah, she . . . She is."
Ben strode back into the living room, and Charity frowned. He'd asked her to wait here for him, but had taken the time to change clothes? And just why that bothered her, she didn't know.
"Sorry it took me a little longer than I meant to," he said, crossing the floor and sitting down beside her—not right next to her, but close enough that, when he turned to the side, his knee was less than an inch from hers. He sighed. "I just wanted to tell you that I'm sorry."
"I told you, there's nothing to apologize for," she said, her voice barely above a whisper as she let her gaze slip to the side, staring at the floor, the table, the fireplace—anywhere but directly at him.
"I didn't mean to kiss her—I didn't want to kiss her," he blurted, as though he had to hurry and get it out before she cut him off. "You're the only woman I've wanted to kiss in a very long time . . . I want you to believe that."
She stiffened at the sound of his words, her mind slowing to a crawl, her breath stilled somewhere between her lips and her lungs as she slowly shook her head, as her ability to comprehend just what he was saying ground to a complete standstill. "But . . ."
He shook his head stubbornly, rubbing his chin with a slightly trembling hand. "Charity . . . I'll tell you anything you want to know about . . ." he grimaced, ". . . about her and me . . . about us . . ."
She considered that as she sipped her water. Did she? Did she really want to know about the two of them? And even if she did, would it matter? There really was only one question that swirled around her brain, but the trouble was, even if he did answer her, just what could she hope to accomplish in getting answers?
'You'd at least know where you stand—really stand . . . That has to be worth something, right?'
"Were you . . .? Were the two of you lovers?" she asked quietly, unable to look at him, unwilling to try to interpret whatever emotions surfaced.
Ben sighed. "Y . . . Yes . . . At least, as far as things could . . . could go," he admitted.
Pressing her lips together in a thin line as she tried not to think too hard about that, she nodded slowly. "And she's not your mate."
Again, it took him a long time to answer—seconds marked by the uncannily loud ticking of the clock and nothing else. The absolute silence rang in her ears as she waited for his response. "There was a time when I thought that she might have been, but . . . Well, it's obvious to me that she isn't. Charity—"
Rising abruptly, Charity stepped past him without touching him and without looking at him, either. "I . . . I'm going to bed, Ben," she said as she moved toward the archway. "It's just . . . Just a lot to think about . . ."
He stood and watched her go, but he didn't try to stop her, either. Charity didn't stop moving until she'd reached the sanctity of her bedroom and closed the door behind her, only to lean on the cool surface as she closed her eyes.
"You're the only woman I've wanted to kiss in a very long time . . . I want you to believe that."
Those words ought to have thrilled her, and they did. Still . . .
Maybe . . . Maybe she shouldn't have asked those other questions, either . . .
'That . . . Didn't go very well, did it?'
'Shut up,' Ben thought with a long, loud sigh.
'Are we going to go after her?'
'And do what? There's nothing we can possibly do to make the situation better—or worse, for that matter. Maybe I shouldn't have told her . . .'
'Except that you and I both know that she deserves to be told everything so that it can't come back to bite us later. Look at the bright side, though: at least you finally got her to listen, and okay, so she's not comfortable with the extent of your relationship with Manami, but that doesn't mean she won't understand that you can't do a thing to change the past.'
'Yeah, but I . . . I miss her . . .'
'Just give her some time to make sense of the things that you told her; a couple days to sort it all out. You know yourself that she's most certainly a modern woman, but you also know that she has a tendency to be a hopeless romantic, too, so things like that are going to mean more to her than they would to someone else—and you love that about her, you know.'
He did know. That didn't really make it any easier to deal with when it felt as though the distance between them was growing wider and broader with every passing day. But there were no good answers, either, and that was the thing that he hated the most. If he told her everything or if he told her only the barest parts, what did it matter when the real issue was that he simply didn't know how to fix things, to make them better for her . . .?
And that was the hell of it all, too. There were no good answers, nothing that he could possibly say that could fix the damage that had already been done.
Yet the images that were still all too vivid in his head were the ones that really hurt: the memory of Charity, so sweet, so vibrant, and so very close . . . The feel of her lips against his, the intoxicating sound of her sighs, the acceptance of everything she thought that he was, and he . . .
He grimaced. He'd ruined all of that, hadn't he? In her mind, he wasn't the same man—hadn't been the same—since Halloween night, but damned if he had any idea what he could do to restore that feeling for her.
And who would have believed that things he'd done so long ago, back in a time and a place where the name, 'Charity' hadn't even been whispered on the breeze . . . Who would have believed that those things—seemingly insignificant now, even if they weren't back then—would have such a far-reaching impact on him now?
Even the idea that it was all out on the table now, so to speak, didn't do much to offer him any semblance of comfort; not really—not when the memory of her face—of the shock and the hurt that she tried so hard to hide from him—was so fresh in his mind, and he knew, didn't he? If he lived another thousand years, two thousand years—ten thousand years—he would never, ever forget that image, never forget those tears that stood in her eyes that she stubbornly refused to let fall, the darkness of the pain that deepened her eyes from that amber hue he knew so well to something far more clouded.
Would it even matter in the end? Would a couple days be enough to soothe the edges of the pain enough for Ben to try to start repairing the damage that was already done? He had told her everything, and now . . . Now, he realized with an inward grimace, it was entirely up to her, and whatever came next, one way or the other, was going to make or break them . . .
Striding out of the living room as though he were trying to put some measure of distance between the emotions that he just couldn't control and the painful truths that he'd given voice, he took the stairs, two at a time. Maybe what he needed was a good night's sleep, though he rather doubted that it would happen. As the old saying went, things always looked different in the bright light of day, and at this point, it had to, didn't it?
After all, things really couldn't possibly get much worse, now could they . . .?
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Athena_Evarinya ——— Monsterkittie
< /b> lianned88 ——— lovethedogs
Final Thought from Charity:
He wants to kiss … me …?
Blanket disclaimer for this fanfic (will apply to this and all other chapters in Fruition): 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.