InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Purity Redux: Fruition ❯ Baby Steps ( Chapter 26 )
Sitting in the shade of the short but thick palm tree, Charity smiled as the girls lay on the blanket beside her. Their eyes were busy, taking in the new surroundings as their mother carefully slipped new silicone covers onto their tiny claws. Emmeline's were pink, Nadia's were pale purple. Charity had taken to using them just after she'd discovered that, as infants and therefore having very little control over tiny fists and fingers, they'd inadvertently scratch themselves, sometimes fairly badly. It was true that she could easily have clipped the tips of them off, but she'd have to do it daily, and even then, the edges could still be fairly sharp.
"Here," Ben said, handing her a glass of iced tea before settling down on the other side of the babies. "Are you tired?"
She shook her head and sipped the drink before setting it carefully in the sand. "It's beautiful here," she said, her gaze roaming out over the Gulf of Mexico. Then she giggled. "Other than Evan, you're the only person I've ever met who owns an entire island."
He chuckled. "It's not that big," he explained. Only about a mile off the mainland shore, the island didn't really have a name, though locals tended to call it La Diminuta Isla—quite literally, the tiny island, which was wholly accurate, given that the island only measured about half a mile in pretty much any possible diameter. He'd owned it for a very long time, but he only decided to build a small house here about forty years ago, and the entire thing was powered by the solar panels installed on the roof and a large backup generator hidden in a small outbuilding, though Ben couldn’t recall actually having need of it, ever.
The house itself, though, was designed to meld into the island as much as possible with a lot of windows and even rolling walls. If he wanted, he could actually open up all the sides of the house to expose it all to the outdoors, and Charity had gasped softly when she saw it, her eyes glowing, giggling softly as she had held onto the rail of the speed boat that Ben kept docked in a small, private boathouse on the mainland shore.
In fact, the only real downside to the house was that there were only two bedrooms—something that they hadn't actually discussed yet. He wasn't even sure if she realized that he'd set her suitcase in the master bedroom, but he hadn't gotten around to furnishing the second bedroom, anyway, mostly because he'd never actually thought to bring anyone here with him before. Even so, it would make a beautiful nursery, and since he really didn't know how long they'd be staying here, he figured he could suggest a shopping trip later on to take care of the gross oversight.
'I can't believe she bought your line about needing to meet with Vasquez . . . and that kind of means that we should probably give him a call soon.'
'It worked, didn't it? I'll call him tomorrow and set something up.'
'We could always go fishing. Steve lives for that shit, you know.'
That was true enough, too. Steve Vasquez, the general in charge of the Mexican region, loved all things out-of-doors and most especially anything that had to do with water—not surprising, given that Steve was also a Mexican axolotl-youkai.
'I was wondering something.'
Staring at the woman's profile as she leaned on her hands, arms stretched out behind her, and let her head fall back, eyes closed, content to breathe in the fresh, crisp air, Ben wasn't really paying a lot of attention to his youkai-voice. 'Hmm?'
'Aren't you the one who was all up in arms about telling Charity the truth about everything you've ever, ever done, ever?'
'Yeah . . . so . . .?'
His youkai grunted. 'So why aren't we telling her the truth about the Unkers?'
'She . . . Does she really need to know about that? What should I tell her? That the twins' so-called 'family' wants them back so they can auction them off to the highest bidder? Besides, it's not going to happen, anyway, and we're safe enough out here until Zelig's able to find them and put a stop to their nonsense. Right now, telling her wouldn't serve any purpose other than to freak her out and scare her.'
"Come on, Ben," Charity said, sitting up straight hopping up as she reached for one of the baby wraps and tied it on like a pro before lifting the closest baby—Nadia—and settling her securely in the sling. "I feel like going for a walk."
He chuckled, shoving aside the darker thoughts, and got to his feet before picking up Emmeline, who screeched happily when he kissed her cheek, and she swatted her hands at her father's face. "Oh, is that how it is?" he asked, arching an eyebrow at the giggly baby. "Beating on your daddy? Is that how it works?"
Charity laughed and stepped around Ben to tie the other wrap around him while he adjusted Emmeline carefully, then took the cotton and lace white baby bonnet Charity handed to him. "There," he said, adjusting the bonnet after tying it under her chin. "You know she hates the hat, don't you?"
Charity nodded. "Of course, she does, but she needs the protection from the sun."
"She's youkai. She's tough."
She shook her head. "She's also an infant, and infants can still get a sunburn, youkai or not."
He opened his mouth to argue with her then snapped it closed again. "Is that right?"
She laughed. "Yes, Isabelle-chan said so."
Letting out a deep breath, he tugged the bonnet up a little further around the baby's face. "I'm sorry about the lack of snow," Ben remarked as they ambled down to the water's edge. Charity stepped into the path of the ebbing water, giggling softly as the gentle waves rolled over her toes, up to her ankles, only to wash back out to sea again.
"Well, this is pretty spectacular, I'm not going to lie," she admitted.
Closing his eyes for a moment as the crisp breeze rippled over her, carrying her scent to him, as warm and inviting as the woman herself, and Ben smiled. It was the most comfortable she'd been around him since the ill-fated party on Halloween night, and, while he didn't even try to convince himself that everything was back on track again, he couldn't help but to feel a little encouraged by the overall upswing.
"So, you have the house here, the one in New York City, and the one in Maine . . . Any others I should know about?" she asked as they wandered along the water's edge.
Ben shrugged. "I have one in every region," he said. "Guess I should hire people to outfit the other places with nurseries so it's not an issue if we have to travel more."
"Yeah, though we can't always go with you," she mused, shaking her head, leaning it to the side as she captured the bulk of it and held on to keep it from flying into her face. "You know, though, I was wondering . . . Would you be interested in moving to one of your other homes?" She sighed. "I mean, I like the city. It's just . . . I'd rather raise the girls in a less convoluted environment, somewhere where they have the space to explore and to grow . . ." She shot him an almost bashful sort of smile, one that brought out the adorable dimple in her cheek and added that certain sparkle to her gaze. Ears alert and shifting ever-so-slightly, taking in every single sound around her in such a way that Ben had to wonder if she weren't more attuned to their surroundings than he was.
"When I was small," she went on, oblivious to Ben's train of thought, "we were always free to run, to explore . . . We had oji-chan's forest . . . The forest behind ojii-san's mansion . . . And even though it was right on the outskirts of Tokyo, the air was cleaner, and there was this sense that we were the first ones to discover the area, even though we knew that it wasn't really true . . ." She sighed at the memory, her gaze shifting out to sea once more. "Mama wasn't afraid to let us wander, and Papa . . ." She giggled suddenly. "Well, sometimes he'd come after us if we were out too late . . ."
"That's how it was," he agreed, adjusting Emmeline while she drowsed against him. "Some of my earliest memories were exploring the forests around home: playing in streams, hiding in caves . . . Chasing down small animals—I always let them go again, of course . . ."
"And family? Were you close to anyone? Aunts, uncles, cousins . . .?"
Ben shook his head. "I don't have any," he told her. "Just me, and later, Keijizen."
"Must have been lonely," she ventured, her brow drawing into a marked frown. "I was lucky, I guess—lots of pups around to play with, and Chelsea . . . I guess I never was that lonely. I was just thinking, you know? The twins . . . I'd like them to have that, too . . ."
"Somewhere closer to family, especially when they have other children around the same age?" Ben concluded with a nod. It made perfect sense, of course. It was definitely something they could and probably should do, at least, once everything was taken care of, anyway.
"Unless you have to be in the city," she allowed with an offhanded shrug.
"I don't; not really," he said. "I mean, it's something I've considered, anyway, but," he made a face. "It may take a few months or so to arrange things."
"I'm okay with that," she said with a laugh. "But your house there is pretty far away from everyone else."
"We could look for something else," he allowed. "Something in Bevelle, you mean?"
"Well, sure. Maybe something close to oji-san's house?"
"Whatever you want, Charity," he told her.
"For now, though," he said with a sigh, "we'd better head back." She shot him a questioning glance, and he smiled at her. "We should probably head back to the mainland and see what we can find in the way of cribs or at least a playpen . . ."
"A beer, please."
Slipping into the booth opposite Gunnar in the small pub that that the two of them tended to favor, Bas shoved his jacket onto the bench beside him. "How'd your trip go?"
Gunnar flicked a micro-corder across the table top in response. "That's the call," he said without preamble. "How's your mother?"
"Doing well," Bas replied, a small smile quirking his lips. "It was a little shocking, though . . . Triplets," he explained when Gunnar raised an eyebrow. "Two boys and a girl."
"Damn," Gunnar said with a grimace. "That's a hell of a lot of babies."
Bas chuckled, not at all surprised by the show of horror evident on his cousin's face. "Relax, Gun. No one's going to ask you to babysit." Accepting the beer from the waitress, Bas handed her a ten dollar bill. "Thanks . . . Uh, keep the change . . ."
Gunnar snorted and shook his head as he lazily lifted the glass of whiskey to his lips. "Did they name them yet?"
"Hayden and Connor," Bas supplied. "And Daniella."
"Daniella? I thought that they were considering Heather or something like that."
Bas shrugged. "They were. Then Ben saw her, and he said she looks just like Dad's mother, so they decided to name the baby after her."
"Is that right?"
"Tiny little things," Bas mused, tipping his beer and downing a good half of it in a series of long swallows. "The boys seem identical—and identical to Dad. Daniella, though . . . Red-brown hair and these, like, pale purple eyes . . ." Bas shrugged. "Wonder if she'll be water-elemental. Dad said that his mother held command over the rain . . ."
"Rain? Interesting . . . They can't tell if they're inu-youkai yet?"
"The boys appear to be," Bas said. "Daniella . . . might be . . ." Then he chuckled. "Cute as hell, though . . ."
Gunnar rolled his eyes but smiled. "I'll take your word for it," he said. "They all look weird to me."
"That's because you're an ass," Bas commented.
Gunnar didn't deny it. "Anyway, the one who made the 911 call—it was a woman," he said, effectively changing the subject as he leaned back against the bench and crossed his arms over his chest. "There's no mention anywhere in any of the reports of the woman, though, so we're kind of back to square one."
"Figures," Bas grumbled, all traces of his previous good mood fading fast. "Between this and the Unker business . . ."
Gunnar nodded. "Otou-san said that Cain's pulling us off our investigations until he's found."
Bas shrugged. "Then I don't have to brief you on that stuff. Did Toga tell you anything else?"
Gunnar snorted—an unusual sound, coming from him. "He did," he acknowledged. "He also said that Ben took Charity and the twins to his place down in Mexico. Is he sure that it's safe enough down there?"
"As safe as anywhere," Bas allowed. "Probably safer than staying in the city at the moment."
"Did Grey follow them?"
Bas nodded, draining his beer and lifting the bottle to ask the waitress to bring him another. "Not yet, and not sure if he's going to be sent. From what I understand, it should be relatively safe. Ben owns a small island down there, so if anyone comes out there, it's not like they'll be able to sneak up on them."
Gunnar considered that as he slowly shook his head. "They need to put a rush on the adoption," he said. "There's nothing that Unker can do once it's official."
"Yeah, well, he could still try," Bas insisted. "It's not like they're too concerned about going against the tai-youkai—or the human authorities, for that matter."
"They won't touch Charity's pups," Gunnar replied, a steely glint entering his gaze. "Not if I have anything to say about it, anyway . . ."
Charity frowned as she stepped out of the master bathroom and into the bright and airy bedroom that Ben had insisted that she use, even though she'd tried to argue with him. Given that it was his house, it seemed wrong to take over the room, and yet, she couldn’t quite bring herself to tell him that he ought to at sleep there, too. She'd offer to sleep on the sofa if she thought for even a moment that he'd agree to it. He wouldn't, and she knew it. He was too upstanding for it to be a viable option.
'What do you want, Cherry? Really?'
Biting her lip at her youkai's softly uttered question, she absently squeezed the ends of her hair in the towel. 'I don't know what you mean.'
'You do, too, and lying to yourself isn't really going to help anything, don't you think?'
'Just what am I supposed to say? That I . . . What?'
'You can say it, you know. It's not that bad, but if you can't admit to yourself what you really do want, how are you ever going to be able to fight for it?'
'Fight for what?' she shot back, glaring at nothing in particular as she tossed the towel toward the bathroom and dug her fingers into her hair to finger-comb the strands. 'There has to be something there to fight for, and there isn't . . .'
'Don't be silly! Of course, there is . . . So, Manami's appearance was a brief distraction—'
'Brief distraction?' she echoed incredulously as she stalked over to the dresser and yanked up her hairbrush. 'Way to put a nice face on it . . .'
'And yet, Ben said that he didn't want to kiss her—he wants to kiss you—so you tell me, what does that mean to you?'
That was the problem, wasn't it? She didn't know what it meant, not really . . .
Stepping out of the sliding glass doors onto the sandstone patio, she let out a deep breath and stared up at the moon, absently tugging the brush through her hair as she wandered off the patio and down toward the water's edge and sank down in the sand, feeling the slight chill of the night breeze coming off the water and ignoring it, just the same.
It looked so lonely, didn't it? The moon, so high in the sky, that was faded just slightly on the one side . . . The stars weren't near enough to touch it, hanging there, glimmering, shining, beckoning, yet so very far away . . . She understood that, didn't she? That feeling of being so close, but not nearly close enough, knowing deep down that there really was no way that she could breach that distance, either . . .
It was painful—horribly painful—and she knew deep down that it was a pain that she'd taught herself how to cope with a long time ago, that somehow, it had become a part of her—that ache so deep, so vast, so unyielding, and always, always right there, below the surface . . .
From the first moment she saw him at the fundraising benefit soiree that Gin-oba-chan had hosted so long ago, she'd felt compelled to be near him. That was it was, wasn't it? A compulsion—something she just couldn't bring herself to ignore, and she'd hoped so wildly, so ridiculously back then? Even when a part of her had realized at the time that she was little more than a silly child, had known that he probably thought that she was utterly stupid . . . And she hadn't been able to convince herself that her heart didn't need to start racing whenever she felt the brush of his youki, that she really didn't need to take that time, to look around in hopes that he'd miraculously show up, whenever she went out . . . That she didn't need to spend hours at a time, trying to come up with this reason or that one—reasons that might make sense for her to find him, to talk to him . . .
To just be near him . . .
The brush fell out of her slack hand as she wrapped her arms around her bent knees.
She was stupid, wasn't she? Stupid, pathetic . . . 'Baka . . . baka, baka, baka . . .'
A single star streaked across the heavens, growing brighter with every passing moment until it flashed once then sputtered in the darkness: the last gasp of a dying star . . . The beauty, the sadness, was a palpable thing to her—that same swelling deep down, the same vain hope that she would burn brilliantly once again; that maybe, just maybe . . .
She felt a single tear slip down her cheek, felt the acute pain in the very core of her, so staggering, so encompassing, so helpless . . . The dying star . . . How long had it fought to stay? How hard had it tried to retain the dignity and glory that it once held so easily . . .? Losing that battle, it streaked across the heavens . . . As horrifying as it was beautiful, as sad as it was poetic, and yet . . .
And yet, she understood, didn't she?
She knew how that star felt, too . . .
Guys, thanks for the sweet encouragement … I just want to explain that I really am not trying to hold chapters for reviews or anything dumb like that because that's not right, and I won't do that. I just wanted to say that sometimes, it's hard, especially when you get no feedback at all, and it makes me wonder if anyone got out of the chapter what I tried to convey. Remember, please, that I exist in kind of a vacuum, you could say. I sit here, often for hours at a time, to write, and that's my choice. It just gets kind of disheartening to never know whether or not what I wrote reached anyone, if that makes sense. I cannot read anyone's minds, and on sites like Ao3, I don't believe that hits are ever counted per chapter. I am pretty sure that they're only counted by story hits (so, one time), so read numbers there don't mean a thing to me … And I know that I've been away for awhile. It was a long story, and one I won't bore you with, other than to say that all of it culminates in the reason why it's so difficult for me to continue P10 and onward … Right now, I'm trying desperately to get my groove back, and your words of encouragement DO help.
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Riker ——— oblivion-bringr ——— CatLover260 ——— sutlesarcasm ——— xSerenityx020 ——— Silent Reader
Athena_Evarinya ——— WhisperingWolf ——— minthegreen
lovesthedogs ——— lianned88 ——— cutechick18
Final Thought from Charity:
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.