Chapter 16: Ruka
I awoke from my nightmare breathing heavily. As I tried to catch my breath I looked at my clock. It was only 2 p.m. I normally wouldn't have been up for about two more hours, but I did have to get ready anyway, so I figured I might as well start now. Not that I minded.
Tonight was my 16th birthnight. I had been waiting for this night for months. I didn't necessarily care about the fact that I was older by a vampire year as much as the fact that because of this a traditional night party was being hosted at our mansion in my honor.
Lately my parents had been so adamant about me staying indoors and virtually closing me off from the rest of the world, including my friends. But tonight, both Hanabusa and Akatsuki were joining us for a celebration at 7 p.m., and the official soiree would be taking place around 11 tonight.
I smiled. It was going to be a good night.
A few hours later, I stood by the door with my parents, waiting for the boys to arrive.
"Thank you so much…for allowing me to see them," I thanked my parents gratefully. I didn't get to see them very often, and truth be told I hadn't been expecting that they would allow me to see them tonight before the big event either.
"Well, it is your birthnight, dear. We can certainly allow you to see your friends for a little while," my mother told me. A knock on the door halted our conversation.
I opened the door, and before I could move Hanabusa pounced on me, wrapping me in a hug.
"Happy birthnight Ruka!" he chirped. I was a bit stunned, since he almost never showed me this side of him, but happy nonetheless.
"Uh, thanks…" I said, peering around him to see Akatsuki standing awkwardly in the doorway, holding about a dozen bags.
"Uh…what—?" I started, raising an eyebrow at him.
"They're Hanabusa's," he responded flatly, making me giggle. "Happy birthnight Ruka," he said sincerely, his face softening after he had heard me laugh. "And thank you, Lord and Lady Souen, for allowing us to celebrate with you," he said respectfully.
"Yes, of course, young Lord Kain," my mother responded. My father, however, said nothing.
"First order of business, please follow me! Akatsuki will be overseeing the setup here, so we are going out to eat at a wonderful restaurant in town for breakfast!" Hanabusa said randomly, catching us all off guard, except apparently Akatsuki.
"Breakfast?" my mother asked him skeptically.
"Of course! The carriage awaits outside!" he said. I was slightly impressed; it seemed he and Akatsuki had actually put some thought into this.
"Well, I suppose that would be fine," my father said, but not before giving Akatsuki a long glare. "We will return after we are finished."
"Akatsuki…you're okay with this?" I asked, a little surprised that he had agreed to stay home while his cousin had all the fun.
"Yes, go. Trust me," he said with the tiniest of smiles, and I couldn't help but do just that.
"Er…thanks, Hanabusa…" I said awkwardly, having just opened about the 20th gift from him, which was a horridly ugly antique lawn gnome complete with pointy red cap and fluffy white beard. Whatever was that boy thinking?
My parents and I had come back from breakfast with Hanabusa to find the entire ball room decorated beautifully, compliments of Akatsuki, and had eaten some of the unnecessarily large 6-layer cake Hanabusa had bought for the occasion, and now I was just finishing up opening the gifts.
"And there's more! Don't be sad because you already opened all of my wonderful gifts, because there's another on the way in the mail! It's—" he started.
"If you tell her, she won't be as surprised by…your wonderful gift," Akatsuki cut in, and I had to suppress my laughter. It appeared I wasn't the only one who found Hanabusa's gift choices ridiculous.
"Well it's perfect timing, it looks like the guests are here," my mother chimed in as we heard a whinny from a horse belonging to one of the guests outside. We waited as the servants ushered in the guests and tied the horses outside.
One by one, the guests came in. Each one was beautifully poised and elegant, and each one stopped in front of me to congratulate me before heading off to mingle with others. The whole procession of people seemed to take hours. Finally, the last guests walked through our door. I saw that it was Akatsuki's parents and found a genuine smile lighting my face.
"Ruka, dear, so good to see you again! It has been so long," his mother said genuinely, calling me affectionately without a title and even leaning in to give me a quick hug. Even his father congratulated me and gave me a friendly pat on the shoulder, his eyes, the same color as Akatsuki's, lighting up.
"Oh, there you are Akatsuki!" his mother said, and I turned to see him walking up to stand beside me.
"Hi, mom, dad," he said, and for some reason, my heart hurt a little, watching the easy way this family conversed with each other. "Actually, I'm here to give Ruka her gift from me," he said, turning to me now and smiling.
"My—wait, I thought you staying here to decorate everything so that I could go out to eat with my parents was your gift?" I said, confused.
"Come with me," he said, and with a flourish, he offered me his arm.
"What's that for?" I asked, looking down at his outstretched arm skeptically. I heard a soft chuckle from his parents beside me.
"Well, you're 16. You're a lady now, aren't you? So let me be a gentleman," he told me simply. I obliged, though it was a little weird, and we began walking before I was stopped by a hand on my shoulder.
"Don't be long," my father told me, looking into my eyes. There was a subtle warning in their depths, and I knew he wasn't happy about this. I nodded obediently and turned away, continuing to wherever Akatsuki was taking me.
"Where are we going?" I asked as soon as we were out of ear shot.
"To your room," he answered easily.
"My room? It's in my room?" I asked again, my curiosity starting to boil over.
"Well…I'm guessing you put a little more thought into this than Hanabusa did…" I said, trailing off and rolling my eyes.
"Don't be rude. I was there when he picked them out, and though it may be a little difficult to see, he tried very hard to find something that you would like…and instead ended up buying just about anything he thought you might remotely like," he told me seriously.
"His gifts are always…interesting…" I said carefully.
"You don't know the half of it. He almost got you a chinchilla, but I convinced him not to," he said, rolling his eyes. And then we were both laughing, thinking about our ridiculous, extravagant cousin.
"Here we are," Akatsuki said unnecessarily, as I could see just as well as he could that we were standing in front of the door to my room. Opening the door for me, he ushered me in.
"So…what is it?" I asked, having glanced around the room and not seen anything new.
"Check your window," he said cryptically. I looked over at the shades that had once covered a window, but hadn't ever since my father had had the window sealed years ago when I was young.
"That's not even a window, remember? My father took it out, but I left the shades because without it the room was just…dull," I reminded him. He had seen it a million times. He and Hanabusa had even laughed at me when I told them why I still had the curtain even though there was no window.
"Just do it," he told me, smiling a little and pushing my lower back gently to send me in that direction. I sighed, but did as he asked. I stepped up to the thick velvet curtains and opened them, expecting to see a wall as I always had.
There was a door. A simple, wooden door set in tracks in the floor. A sliding door. Mystified, I slid it open easily.
A tiny, but beautiful stone balcony jutted out into the cool night air. Slipping out of my heels, I walked carefully onto it. The smooth stone felt cold under my feet, and when I reached out a hand to feel the thick stone railing, it felt just as smooth. I looked upward at the beautiful night sky, the moon an orb in the sky and the stars like tiny twinkling lights. A light summer breeze caressed my long hair and for the first time in years, I felt free as I was allowed to enjoy the night sky as I wished. Below the balcony the dark forest and the simple stable that housed our horses sat, bathed in moonlight. I felt sudden tears welling in my eyes as I turned around, looking back at Akatsuki who stood, patient as ever, waiting for me.
I ran to him, wrapping my arms tightly around him and taking him by surprise.
"Akatsuki. This is…" I trailed off, not able to put into words what his gift meant to me.
"I'm glad," he said, simply knowing what I was trying to say, wrapping his own arms around me now.
"How did you ever…think of this?" I asked in wonder, my voice muffled against his chest. He leaned down and put his forehead on mine, and I looked up into his tender eyes.
"It's not in my power to give you what you want most, Ruka," he whispered, and without a conscious thought I knew what he was talking about. Freedom. He continued, "At least not fully. But this way, you get a taste of it, a taste of what it feels like. And so my true gift to you is this: I swear to you that I will do whatever it takes, no matter what it is, to grant you what you want most," he told me, his dark eyes on fire with his promise.
"Akatsuki…" I said his name softly, overcome with emotion. It was true that we had always been the closest of friends, but when had this boy grown into a man that cared for me so much? It was like he could see into me. He knew my desires, and truly wanted to fulfill them. I couldn't think of another person who had ever shown me this depth of caring for me. My happiness fell from my eyes in the patter of tears.
"And here I thought all this would make you happy," he joked quietly, wiping a tear from my eye with his thumb, causing me to laugh.
As I was about to respond, he picked me up. Just scooped me off the ground like I weighed nothing. I squealed, having not been expecting it, and gripped his shirt in a panic before I realized he was heading for my bed.
He set me down gently, and then plopped down next to me so we were lying with our backs against the pillows, our faces at the same height. I looked over at him expectantly. Clearly there was something he wanted to tell me.
"What is it?" I prodded when he saw me looking at him and raised an eyebrow.
"Hmm?" he questioned feigning innocence.
"Well you must have brought me all the way over here for a reason."
"You were getting heavy, leaning on me like that, so I figured we should sit down," he told me, smiling playfully. I shoved at his chest, unable to hide my smile at his jesting.
"So tell me. When did you manage to add a balcony to my room? And how did you get my parents to agree to this?" I asked curiously.
"Why do you think Hanabusa took you all out for breakfast this morning?" he asked me, smirking.
"What?! That was the reason?!" I asked, shocked. "So that's why you had to stay here! That was done pretty quickly though. I'm impressed," I told him, thinking about how the he had only had about three hours once we left the house.
"Well, I didn't do it on my own. I'm too much of an amateur at building things. So I hired a team to help me when you left so it would be done in time. And about your parents…well, they don't exactly know…" he told me, smiling again.
"Wh—what? They're going to kill you—!"
"No they're not. You see, they definitely haven't noticed yet, because the balcony faces out towards the back of your home. No one can see it from the front. And in theory, they won't ever see it at all."
"How could you possibly think they'll never notice—"
"Your gift, Ruka. Illusions. You can hide it from the sight of anyone you don't want to see it," he told me. Of course! It was so obvious. This had been his plan from the start. I couldn't help but marvel at the depth of thought he had put into this.
"That's…brilliant," I told him honestly.
"I thought so," he said, sticking his nose in the air, copying the way Hanabusa always acted. I shoved him again, laughing.
As my hands had connected with him, his shirt was pushed up, and my eye caught on a small splash of color just peeking out from the hem of his pants.
"What's that?" I asked, leaning down to get a closer look.
"It's a tattoo."
"A—you have a tattoo?! Since when?! What is it?!" I blurted out, unable to contain my surprise. "I can't believe your parents let you get an earring and a tattoo!"
"I got them both around the same time," he told me, chuckling a little at my outburst. "It's a flame."
"A flame?" I echoed, intrigued.
"Yes. To remind me of what you told me," he said, looking into my eyes intensely.
"What I told you?" I said, starting to sound like a broken record.
"Yes. When I was at my worst, after I had burned you with my fire, I was ashamed that I hadn't been able to control it. I had already gotten my limiter from a deal with a hunter when I went to see you, intending to put you at ease, but you forgave me without a second thought, and you told me that there was no one you would trust more with the power that comes with fire. Your faith in me was what made me want to be worthy of my gift. So I got this tattoo, to remind myself of what you said and my goal to be worthy of your trust," he said quietly, watching me the whole time. I could tell by the way he was looking at me that this had not been easy for him to tell me.
I reached over to run my fingers through his coppery locks. He blinked in surprise, but didn't move away from my touch as I continued to rub his hair.
"I do trust you, Akatsuki," I told him. And I did. More than almost anyone, besides perhaps Lord Kaname.
"Thank you for saying that, Ruka," he said sincerely. And then he closed his eyes, seeming to relax as I played with his hair.
We were silent for a while, simply enjoying each other's company, until I remembered my conversation with Hanabusa the other night about the letters sent to him by Lord Kaname.
"So did Hanabusa talk to you about the academy?" I asked, eager to know if he was planning on attending or not.
"Oh yeah, that," he said dryly.
"You can't mean—" I started, wondering what Hanabusa and I would do if he didn't come with us.
"No, that's not it," he reassured me, knowing what I had been thinking. "I'm not overly fond of the idea of Cross Academy, but I suppose I'll most likely end up going there anyway," he said with a sigh.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means if I don't go, there will be nothing holding you and Hanabusa back from killing each other," he told me, smirking again. I reached over to shove at him once again but this time he saw it coming and restrained my wrist, smiling at me mischievously. Caught off guard, I yelped as he unknowingly grabbed me the same way my father often did. He let go immediately.
"Did I hurt you?" he asked me, alarmed, as he searched my eyes for an answer.
"No, no, I'm fine. You just surprised me," I lied, looking away from his eyes that saw right through me.
"There you are! Do you have any idea how long you've been gone?! People were starting to wonder where you two were!" Hanabusa said as he barged in to my room. Relieved that I had once again avoided the topic I wanted to talk about the least, I stood up, turning to Akatsuki.
"Coming?" I asked him, aiming to make him forget whatever it was that he had been about to say.
"Let's go," he said in answer, and then the three of us headed out of my room as I quickly used my gift to put an illusion on the moonlit balcony so that no one could see it from either the inside or the outside. Now it was our secret.