Chapter 20: Akatsuki
"Whoever is responsible for this, you will be severely—Akatsuki?!" Ruka yelled down in surprise, dropping the small stone she had been about to throw at me. "What on earth are you doing?"
"Sorry, I had to get your attention. We need to talk, Ruka," I said sheepishly.
"And I suppose knocking on the front door was just too obvious?" she yelled down at me, hands on her hips.
"No, I…we can't talk here. I need you to come with me. Please?" I hastily added when she crossed her arms.
She studied me for a moment, and then with a sigh she placed a hand on the walls of the balcony, launching herself over the edge, only to land gracefully in front of me, her long hair settling around her once again.
"I know I've said this before…but my parents are going to kill you," she said wryly.
"Not if I can help it," I told her with a small smile. "Come on, let's go."
"Go? Where, exactly?" she questioned me.
"To the pond," I replied easily. "We can talk freely there."
"Talk about what?" she asked, still not sounding the least bit concerned.
Good question. I was back to square one, having no idea what exactly it was I was going to say; I just felt that there were some things I should share with her. Maybe it came from all the years that I had told her everything, or maybe I felt guilty about the deal I had made. Whatever it was, there were things she needed to know.
However, there was still a part of me that wanted to keep everything a secret from her. I couldn't shake the nagging feeling that maybe I just shouldn't tell her anything. I desperately wanted to protect her from all of it. Would it be so wrong to keep everything from her? Maybe she didn't have to know.
I would take care of her. I could keep her in the dark. It would be better for her that way anyway, wouldn't it? That was what I had always truly wanted, to protect her from the entire world, wasn't it? I toyed with the idea in my head. If she could depend on me, then she would never need to worry about anything again.
Well, I couldn't tell her about her father forming a blood bond or being on the side of the senate anyway, according to the Pureblood. I couldn't tell her about my talk with him. I definitely couldn't tell her about his condition for her entrance to the academy. What could I even tell her?
"I decided that I'm officially going to attend Cross Academy with you and Hanabusa," I said, breaking the silence as we walked together to the pond.
"Really? I'm so glad!" she told me, her face lighting up. I felt my heart skip a beat. It wasn't often I saw her look so happy.
I knew it wasn't much farther now to the pond; we were moving at a relatively quick pace through the underbrush, and I was getting more and more concerned. When we got there, she would expect a reason for dragging her all the way out here. But was telling her the best thing to do? I had ended up at her house almost by accident, having not had time to decide what I should really do.
"So why the pond, Akatsuki? I know we can talk freely there, but it certainly isn't the only place," Ruka asked me.
"I thought maybe you would like to go back there after all these years," I told her honestly.
"It has been awhile…" she mused.
It really had. It had been years since any of us had gone there, even Hanabusa. It seemed to me that it was like a relic of our childhood, permeating so many of our memories of our youth. However, we were considered adults now, and adults had no time to play.
"Incredible…" Ruka murmured beside me as she halted. I stopped as well to look at the breathtaking sight before us.
The trees and plants surrounding the pond were overgrown, their crooked branches interlocking in a thick canopy that blocked out the bright moon glow. There were twisted vines like wooden chains entangling the plants and winding through the canopy. Some hint of our presence had met with the night creatures and we were greeted by silence; not even a breeze rustled through the leaves.
The pond itself was still and dark. What in years before had reflected the pale orb in the sky now looked as if it simply swallowed up all light that came across it. Yet somehow, this ancient memory of our past was even lovelier now as Ruka stepped forward, lightly dipping her toes into the water. She turned around, her waist-length hair flowing behind her and smiled a small, sad smile, and I was drawn in.
She was so beautiful. It was a simple statement, and one that I felt could never truly grasp all that she was. Beauty didn't account for her strength and her determination, nor did it consider her guarded and burdened heart, not unlike this wild and overgrown clearing. Beauty did not account for her flaws. But there she was, standing before me, and the only word I could think was that she was beautiful; all of her. Maybe what was truly beautiful to me was that she existed at all, or perhaps it was that no word actually existed to encompass what she was to me.
"Akatsuki?" she said, stepping towards me with a look of concern on her face, probably due to the vacant look on mine.
Without thinking, I reached to push a strand of hair back from her neck. She flinched noticeably and I froze as we stared at each other for a tense moment. I could feel my anger rising; at her father who I now knew had done this to her and the Pureblood who planned to do this again to her, at her for trying all these years to keep this from me, and at myself for being so powerless against what she had to endure.
"Please don't, Akatsuki," she interrupted me, her eyes pleading.
"Don't what?" I asked, deathly quiet, as I hid my burning eyes beneath my hair. "Don't what, Ruka?"
Her silence was the trigger.
"Don't notice how you flinch every time anyone so much as touches you? Don't ask you what's wrong? Don't care about you?! I can't do that Ruka! As much as you want me to I can't ignore this. I can see the hurt and betrayal in your eyes. What did he do to you?!" I yelled at her, unable to reign in my anger anymore, finally saying out loud what we both knew to be the truth.
"Don't make this real," she whispered, her eyes downcast. I stared at her incredulously.
"It is real Ruka! Whether you talk about it or not! The difference is that if you don't tell me about it then I can't save you!" I blurted out untactfully, wanting only to shield her from everything that could ever hurt her, as I had tried to do her entire life.
"Save me? Is that what this is about? You think I'm a damsel in distress and it's your duty to rescue me? You're no different than anyone else. You all think I'm weak and helpless!" she lashed out at me, getting closer and closer to my face.
"That's not what I meant Ruka…I'm sorry I said that—" I backtracked, but it was no use. She could easily sense that what I had said was what I really believed, though not for the reasons she was thinking.
"Then why did you?! All this time here I was thinking that even if everyone else thought I was utterly useless, at least I had you. At least if no one else saw me for who I was, you could. But I guess I was wrong," she hissed at me before turning on her heel to leave. I stepped in front of her, blocking her with my arms. I couldn't let her leave thinking that was what I felt.
"Please. Listen to me. I…I didn't say that I had to save you because I believe you're weak and helpless. It was because…well, I wanted you to be," I said, too ashamed to look at her, finally admitting what I had been thinking.
"W-what? You…want me to be helpless?" she said, voice dangerously soft, brimming with barely contained anger.
"…Yes. Because…if you were helpless…then you would always need me," I admitted, my voice soft. "You see…I just…wanted to make it even." I forced out the selfish truth.
How was I to explain this to her? I was saying whatever came to my mind, but telling her all of this was what was making me realize and understand it myself. I had been so confused before. However, since I was just realizing what I was truly feeling, I hadn't planned to tell her any of this, and thus I had virtually no filter. I didn't want to say something untactful that hurt her or made her angry again.
"Yes. Because…well, I thought if you needed me…then I could need you too. Then, it would be ok if I needed you."
"You…need me?...Whatever for, Akatsuki? I can't do anything on my own. I've been coddled and taken care of my entire life. What use could you possibly have for me?" she said, disbelief in her voice, the anger seemingly forgotten through her shock.
It hit me then. How had I been so wrong this entire time? How could I have thought that what she wanted was to be kept in the dark and guarded, like a prized doll, to be "useless"? How could I have believed that trying to keep her from everything that might remotely hurt her was right? I was no better than her mother, her father, or even Kuran.
But no. Even if I had ultimately ended up doing the same thing to her, putting her on some sort of pedestal, my motives had been different. Though I knew that didn't excuse my actions, I knew that my reasons for doing what I did had been because of how much she meant to me.
"No Ruka, you don't understand. I don't need your skills or your talents. I don't need to use you for something. I need you," I told her, watching as her eyes widened a little and a light blush came to her cheeks as her open palm came to rest over her heart.
"No one…has ever said that to me…" she said quietly, eyes shining with unshed tears. "I guess…no one has really ever needed me. To my mother, I'm a doll she can dress up. To my father…" she trailed off.
"What did he do, Ruka?" I asked her again, softly, taking the opportunity that she had offered up to me to listen to her.
"He…he drinks from me…" she said after a pause, finally telling me what I had longed to understand for so long. Looking away from me, she tried to hide her eyes. I put my finger under her chin, lifting her face to look at me.
For a moment she watched me, the tears slowly rolling down her face. Then, she put her arms around me and fell to her knees, broken sobs ripping from her chest.
I sunk to the ground with her, pulling her close against me. Each cry she uttered seemed to rip my heart open.
"He grabs me roughly and he pushes me…he makes me feel like I'm nothing…and that I belong to him…" she sobbed, letting everything out now. Maybe for the first time ever.
I sat and listened to her for a long time, stroking her hair. I waited for her to calm down. When the sobbing had subsided somewhat, I pulled back so that I could look her in the eyes.
"Do you remember my promise?" I asked her.
"Of course I do. I've thought of nothing else since you made it this evening," she replied, voice coming out a little hoarse.
"That promise is why I decided to attend Cross Academy."
"What do you mean?" she questioned.
"This is your chance, Ruka. This is your opportunity to be free. I want to give that to you, and I also want to be there with you when you're finally free," I told her. Though I didn't want to watch her with the Pureblood, it was a price I was willing to pay to free her. "I will serve Lord Kuran alongside you."
"Thank you for helping me serve him. Though I can't fathom why you care about me so much…it means a lot to me that you will devote yourself to his safety and his plans, Akatsuki."
Why did I care about her so much, she wanted to know? Because there was not anything else in this world that I would want to live for. From the time that I had met her she had been the center of my life. I could never explain it but it was as if all of my thoughts and my reasons revolved around her, even if I didn't immediately realize it. Everything about her provoked some kind of emotion; whether it was anger, fear, happiness, sorrow, or anything else, only she could make me feel such a depth of emotion. I would follow her anywhere.
I was going to tell her everything.
In a torrent, it was like every memory of her that I had replayed in a matter of seconds. She consumed me. It was so obvious. Though I had not realized it until this very moment it had been there since the beginning. There was never a time when it wasn't so. As it hit me everything seemed to fall into place. This was it, the true reason why I cared so much about her.
I was in love with her.
"It's because I'm—"
"I'm in love with him, Akatsuki," Ruka interrupted my own revelation with one of her own, shattering everything I had been about to say. "I'm in love with Lord Kaname."
Of course she was. It was something Hanabusa and I had guessed at for years. However, hearing her say it now hurt me in a manner I had never experienced before as my chest felt empty and heavy. It was as if I could physically feel that my heart hurt as the truth was halted on my lips once again.
It didn't matter if she knew of the Pureblood's mission or not, I realized. She was in love with him. And he could protect her through a blood bond.
And if somehow the truth did alter what she felt for him, then she would not allow him to break the old blood bond with a new one. She would right back to being a prisoner in her own home.
"What were you about to say?" she asked innocently, not knowing that the words sent knives into me. And so, I did the most difficult thing I had ever done in my life: I held back the truth from her.
"Ruka," I started, and I could tell by her expression that my tone had worried her. "Do you love him…enough to give him your blood?"
She stared at me, blushing madly and gawking at me for a couple seconds before she responded.
"Yes," she said softly as she avoided my gaze. I had known a question that personal would embarrass her, but I needed to know. I felt I couldn't possibly withhold the truth without knowing for sure that what Kuran wanted was also what she wanted. That simple answer made my decision final for me.
I would not stand in her way. I would do as the Pureblood asked, but not because of his request.
I would step aside because that was what she wanted, whether or not she knew the implications, and because I had no right to try to keep her from what she wanted.
"Let's go, it'll be light out soon," I told her. And as we walked away from a relic of our youth, I couldn't help but hope that somehow this growing pain concealed in my heart could be forgotten as well.