InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Purity Redux: Fruition ❯ Breathe ( Chapter 41 )

[ X - Adult: No readers under 18. Contains Graphic Adult Themes/Extreme violence. ]
~~Chapter Forty-One~~
~Breathe~

~o~

The pitch black night seemed to close in around him, the darkness groping at him, tugging at him, trying to pull him in a thousand directions . . . Relying on his senses, he could feel the malignant youki—the same feel from two different beings.  They were close, probably lurking in the shadows near the ten-feet-high, two-feet-thick stone wall that surrounded the property near the road . . . If he could just see them . . .

Stepping off of the porch, he moved in silence along the perimeter of the house, trying to stick to the deepest shadows, just in case the clouds decided to clear as he drew in his youki, trying to conceal his location, even though they had to know that he was outside . . .

And yet, he was completely unprepared when he heard it: the distinct 'snick-snick' of the gun being cocked to fire.  Abandoning his tactic, he tried to break into a sprint, but the white-hot flashes of fire ripped through his chest before he could get out of the way.  Struggling to hold onto the last bits of coherence, despite the blinding pain, he gasped when the second bullet struck in the same area as the first, and that one ripped away the light as his body sank into darkness . . .

He felt as though he were swimming, coming up to breathe after a long time under water.  Uttering a low, long moan, he struggled to hold onto the sleep that had cosseted him.  His chest hurt when he sought to draw air—felt like something was trying to tear him apart from the inside, and he tried to raise his hand, only to be stopped by a bunch of wires that seemed to be connected to way too many locations on his body.

"Nii-san!" Kyouhei exclaimed softly.

Ben groaned again as he slowly, carefully, opened his eyes.  "Where . . .?  Where am I?" he managed, wrinkling his nose to try to dislodge the oxygen line hooked to his nose.  Kyouhei's face swam into and out of focus.

"You were shot," Kyouhei explained calmly, almost soothingly.  "You're in the hospital."

"Ch-Charity . . ."

Kyouhei's chair screeched against the floor as he shot to his feet to gently push Ben back when he tried to sit up.  "Charity's here," he said.  "She's having a cup of coffee with her father.  You need to lay back down . . . She'll be back shortly."

Ben grimaced, fighting against the grogginess that beckoned him.  Maybe it was some kind of medicine that was making him feel so off-kilter, he didn't know . . . "Who . . .?"

"The Unkers," Kyouhei replied.  "Charity-san fought them back . . . She defeated one of them on her own and almost had the other one down, too, but Manami-san finished them off."

"Charity . . . did?"

Nodding slowly, Kyouhei broke into a tired and wan smile.  "She's a lot tougher than anyone gives her credit for," he admitted, "myself included . . ."

"I don't . . . want her . . . to have to be . . ." Ben grunted, grimacing again as another sharp pain erupted in his chest.  "Damn guns . . ."

"Yes, but at least you should be reassured that she won't easily let anyone mess with her or any of hers, if it came down to that again."

"Kyou-chan . . . Your . . .  jokes . . . suck . . ."

Kyouhei chuckled softly.  "I'll work on that.  Go on back to sleep for now.  You lost a hell of a lot of blood."

He sighed, his eyes closing on their own accord.  His final thoughts as sleep beckoned him was of Charity and of the warmth of her smile . . .

-==========-

"Thank you," Charity murmured as Toga slipped a cup of coffee into her still-trembling hands.  The girls were safe enough with Sierra, who had taken them home, but only after she'd hugged her daughter tight, kissing her on her face more often than Charity could count.

The doctor came in just after her parents had arrived to let her know that they'd finished cleaning Ben's wounds, which was about all they could do, given that Ben was a youkai, meaning his body could not be stitched.  All they could do was to monitor the heaviest bleeders, but they'd sealed themselves, thank kami, so they were cautiously optimistic that he was out of the danger zone.

They'd seen Sierra off, and then Toga had decided that they could both use some coffee, so, he'd ignored Charity's laundry list of reasons why she needed to be there when Ben woke up, and he dragged her down to the cafeteria, anyway.  Just now, however, they were seated outside in a small alcove out of the wind on a cold stone bench in a garden that would be gorgeous, come spring, but just now was dormant and almost tragic.

Toga sighed, taking his time as he sipped his steaming cup of coffee, his amber gaze slowly shifting over their surroundings, up to the sky . . . "Kyouhei-san said you did well, daughter of mine," he said at last, breaking the maddening silence.  "I'm proud of you."

For some reason, her father's words cut her deep, opened up an ache far, far down as she grimaced and couldn't meet his eyes.  "I . . . I didn't," she rasped out, furiously shaking her head as the cup in her hand quaked precariously.  If it weren't for the flimsy plastic lid, she'd have spilled it all over herself . . . "Papa . . ."

Toga set his cup aside, then reached for hers to do the same.  Then he drew her into his arms, against his chest, and the sense of familiarity broke her, she could feel it, as a deluge of tears rattled out of her despite her resolve not to give in to any such thing.  "Shh," he murmured, holding her close, stroking her hair back off of her face, cuddling her in the same way that he had when she was little more than a child, awakened in the night by a bad dream.  "Charity, sweetie . . . It's okay . . . Ben's going to be okay . . . You fought well . . . I'm . . . I'm sorry Papa wasn't there to fight for you . . ."

"No-o-o," she whimpered, choking on her sobs as she vehemently shook her head, and yet, the words would not come, and the misery—the consuming misery—rose higher and higher, spiraling out of control, and the harder she fought to rein it in, the more it festered and spread . . .

She didn't know how long she cried, didn't recall Toga pulling her into his lap—entirely ridiculous, given that she was a forty-five year old woman—but as the tears slowly ebbed away, she huddled against his chest, breathing stunted, punctuated by hiccups, as he carefully dabbed at her cheeks with a tear-dampened tissue.  She felt oddly empty, entirely void of emotion—numb—clumsy—lost . . .

"Fighting isn't easy," he said as he gently kissed her forehead.  "We always thought it was better to train you and then hope that you never needed to use what you learned . . . So I am proud of you—really, really proud."

She winced.  He didn't see it.  "Don't be," she whispered, squeezing her eyes closed in silent rebuttal.  His quiet proclamation only served to make her feel that much worse.  "You shouldn't be pr-roud . . . I . . ."

"You did what you had to do, Charity.  If not for you . . ."

She shook her head a little more vehemently, leaning away from her father and still unable to meet his compassionate gaze.  "I wanted to . . . to kill them," she admitted.  "I-I was so . . . so angry, and . . . and this hatred . . ."

She felt his sigh instead of hearing it, and he pulled her gently against his shoulder once more.  "And you're afraid," he concluded.  Why did it sound so logical coming from him . . .? "You frightened yourself, didn't you?  It's okay, you know . . . We've all felt that way, and it's ugly, and it's scary, and it's . . . It's also very, very normal.  They hurt your mate, and you knew it, didn't you?  That's what Ben is to you, right?"

She gave a grudging nod, but still refused to look at him.

"That's your youkai, Charity.  You protected Ben because you had to.  You didn't do anything wrong."

"But—"

"Not . . . one . . . thing."

She heaved a sigh and shook her head, but she didn't know if she was arguing with her father or agreeing with him . . .

-==========-

Ben groaned, long and low, as he slowly opened his eyes and blinked in an entirely disoriented sort of way.

"Ah, nice to see you alive and kicking."

He blinked slowly, dully staring at Toga.  "You're not Charity," he muttered, closing his eyes once more.

Toga chuckled.  "I sent her home to clean up and get dressed . . . She was wearing her pajamas . . ."

"So, you got your ass kicked, did you?"

Ben sighed and grimaced when he tried to readjust himself.  "Shut up, Zelig," he grumbled.

"And by some lesser-cats, no less."

Ben snorted.  "That's not shutting up," he pointed out.

"Panthers are supposed to be tough, aren't they?" Cain added.  Then he chuckled.  "Guess you have something in common with Toga now . . . Both of you, brought low by glorified kitty-cats . . ."

"Oi," Toga muttered at the low-blow.

"They were cougars, and they had guns . . . Toga's the only one who was brought down by housecats, thanks," Ben grumbled.

"That was entirely unnecessary, and I defeated them just fine—I just got a cut that got infected, is all," Toga replied haughtily.

"That's not how I heard it," Cain said.  "I heard that you went out there, ready to die as you fought the good fight, all because you thought Sierra didn't want you."

Toga snorted and rolled his eyes.  "Who told you that?"

Cain shrugged.  "Gin's father."

This time, Toga sighed and rubbed his forehead.  "Figures."

"You two yak more than women," Ben complained.  "Tell the nurse I need something to knock me out until you both leave . . ."

"Yeah, well, I'm glad to see that you're going to make it, Ben," Cain remarked.  "Since you are going to live, I'm going to get out of here.  Everyone sends their best wishes for a speedy recovery, except for Gin, who said to give you a kiss for her, which I absolutely am not doing.  You understand."

Ben grunted and flicked a hand to move Cain along.  "Get out of here, Zelig . . . Go enjoy your Christmas—Well, what's left of it, anyway . . ."

Cain nodded and shuffled toward the door, but stopped on the threshold, only to look back over his shoulder at Ben once more.  "Take it easy, all right?"  He grimaced.  "I should have issued a hunt for Jeet Unker before it came to this."

"You didn't know, Zelig.  Leave it behind."

He stared at Ben for a long moment, but finally nodded.  "I'll call in a few days.  Hopefully you'll be back home by then."

Ben nodded as he carefully shifted, wincing when his back stuck to the sterile pad beneath him.  "How's Charity?" he asked after Cain walked away.

Toga sighed and rubbed his eyes.  He looked tired, no doubt about it . . . "She's . . . I'm not going to lie.  She's pretty upset."

"At me?"

The tai-youkai shook his head.  "Of course not.  She's just never had to fight before, and it shook her pretty badly."

Ben frowned.  "Kyouhei said she did well . . . He seemed really impressed with her fighting skills, actually . . ."

Toga shook his head.  "No, it's not about that.  From all accounts, she held her own and then some . . . She's, um . . ."

"What?" he prompted when Toga trailed off, brushing aside the trace irritation that rose with the perceived hesitation.

Toga's frown was entirely thoughtful, more like he was trying to figure out exactly how to explain what was in his head.  "She's scared," he said simply, which seemed rather anticlimactic, all things considered.

"Of what?" Ben asked with a shake of his head, unsure if the inability to comprehend just what Toga was talking about was because of his meds or just due to the complexities of a woman, period.

Standing up, Toga wandered over to the windows, staring outside at the gently falling snow.  "Of her own anger—the rage she felt when she fought them . . . The fear she felt for you . . . All of it."  He grimaced as he turned away from the window to frown at Ben.  "They don't know it, but . . . But we all sat down, talked about it . . . We didn't know," he admitted, shaking his head slowly.  "I mean, we all agreed that the girls all needed to know how to defend themselves, but we . . . We didn't know if we should teach them how to fight.  You know—you understand—the world of difference between the two.  In the end, we decided that, given who I was as well as how notorious the rest of the extended family was . . . We thought that it was something they should know, even if their training wasn't as extensive as that of the boys.  Kichiro's girls, with the exception of Samantha because she wanted to continue . . . Well, they stopped training when they were about fourteen.  My daughters trained until they were almost eighteen . . ."

"Okay . . ."

Toga sighed, raking his hands through his hair, his gaze taking on a wearied edge.  "We taught her how to fight, and we taught her how to move and how to  . . ." he sighed again, and this time, he looked like he might well be close to tears.  "We—I—never told her what kinds of emotions she might have if she ever had to use her skills, and how to deal with those . . ."

Ben shook his head.  "That's not something you can explain to someone, Toga.  It's only something you learn to understand after the fact."

That didn't seem to comfort him in the least, and he didn't even try to smile when he looked at Ben once more, his eyes suspiciously bright.  "I think she might also be a little afraid of what you might think of her," he said.

Ben grimaced.

He kind of thought it might be something like that . . .

-==========-

Charity listened to the steady hum of the machines that were monitoring Ben's vitals.   It was almost enough to make her want to scream.  She stood up, wrapping her sweater-clad arms over her stomach in a wholly protective kind of way, stepping forward to look at his sleeping face.  Despite the smudges of black under his eyes, the way his cheeks seemed a little more sunken-in, the growth of stubble on his face, his coloring didn't look terrible—a sure sign that he was healing, she supposed . . . She started to reach out, to brush his long bangs back, but she stopped, hesitated, and finally, pulled her hand back in a tight fist.

Did she even have a right to touch him now?

Licking her lips, pressing them together in a tight, thin line, she forced herself to turn away, busied herself in fussing with the flower arrangement she'd brought back with her after she'd gone home to shower and change.

'You're beating yourself up over nothing, you know.'

'Nothing?  You call all of that, 'nothing'?'

Her youkai-voice sighed.  'You wouldn't even go in and hold your babies, even just for a moment, Cherry.'

She grimaced.  No, she hadn't.  She'd leaned in the doorway, watching as her mother put them down for a nap, but she couldn’t bring herself to step forward, to touch the girls.  How could she when . . .?

"Charity . . ."

She smothered a gasp as she whipped around, only to find Ben staring at her through heavy-lidded eyes.  The doctor had told her that they were keeping him fairly heavily sedated to allow his body to mend itself.  He'd also said that Ben was healing remarkably quickly, given the massive amount of damage that was done.

He held up a hand toward her.  "I hear you saved my life," he said.  She could tell he was trying to make a joke.  For some reason, it brought tears to her eyes instead, though she bit them back rather admirably, all things considered.  Still, she hesitated before stepping over to him, wincing inwardly as the crazy-mad rage that anyone would dare to be so dishonorable as to use a gun in a youkai fight, that they would dare to try to ambush Ben at all, surged through her, shocking her—frightening her—all over again, and she quickly shook her head.

He grasped the safety rails and tried to pull himself up.  She choked out a half-whine and skittered over to him, gently pressing against his shoulders to get him to lay back down again.  "What are you doing?  You're going to hurt yourself more!" she scolded, frowning at him as she fussed with the plain gray hospital gown.  "You should be resting."

"I can't rest when you won't even come near me," he replied, catching her hand, lest she try to step back again.  "Why are you scared?"

She blinked quickly, shaking her head again as she tugged on her hand, but he held on tight. "Ben . . ."

"Fighting . . . Fighting is hard.  Dealing with that much anger, that much hate, is hard," he said.  "I'm sorry I put you in that kind of a position, but . . . But I'm glad you fought for me—for us."  He managed a wan smile.  "For our girls."

"But I . . ."

He gave her hand a little squeeze.  "Would you think less of me had I been the one to fight them?"

"Of course not!"

"Then why would I think less of you?"

She blinked, stared at him, opening and closing her mouth a few times as a slow sense of understanding dawned on her.  His question had seemed silly, hadn't it?  And her answer was absolutely understood, and yet . . . "I was . . . so angry," she admitted quietly, her gaze falling away from his.  "I was . . ."

"You were a person, just like everyone else," he told her gently.  "Do you think that you shouldn't ever feel those kinds of emotions?  Because it's normal.  Even if you hadn't fought, you still would have felt that way, wouldn't you?  You can't just turn your feelings off and on, Cherry."

"You don't understand," she blurted, tugging her hand away as she stepped back and crossed her arms over her stomach once more.  "I . . . I wanted to . . . to hurt them—maybe even kill them . . . I . . . I wanted . . ." Smashing her hands over her face, she drew a few deep breaths to keep herself from falling apart completely.

"If you're trying to convince me to think less of you, it's not working," he told her.  "I know who you are: you're the same woman you were yesterday . . ." He sighed.  "You did what you needed to do because you had to.  You don't have to make excuses, especially for me.  Just be the Charity you are because that's the Charity that I . . ." Trailing off for a moment, he smiled again, and despite the weariness, it was a genuine thing.  "The Charity that I love."

She gasped, her eyes flashing up to meet his as she went stone still and stared at him.  "You . . . You love . . . me?"

He started to laugh, but it turned rapidly into a groan and a grimace.  "Of course, I do," he mumbled, his words starting to slur together as sleepiness kicked in once more.  "I don't suppose you'd crawl up here and take a nap with me . . .?

She shook her head since that would not be advisable, given his wounds.  But she did pull over the chair before lowering the safety rail.  Then she sat down, leaning on the side of the bed as she grasped his hand in hers.  "I . . ." She swallowed hard, forcing down the lump that suddenly rose in her throat to choke her.  "I love you, too . . ."

He smiled vaguely as he let his eyes drift closed again.  Charity let go of him, slipping her hand up under his arm, carefully avoiding the IV line, content to touch him as she slowly lowered her head onto her upper arm, as her eyes slipped shut, too, and this time, the repetitive sounds of the various monitors were comforting.

They reminded her of his heartbeat, and that was enough for her . . .

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A/N:
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Goldeninugoddess ——— Silent Reader
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Final Thought from Charity:
He doesn't … hate me …?
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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.

~Sue~