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Chapter 27

It had been 3 months since Ariel had gotten back to Taichung, living in that same dust filled, abandoned cabin she had called her sanctuary so many years ago. Those same creaky wooden floors, cobwebbed windows and dark walls welcomed a different little girl now; one who had bad been badly broken.

For quite some time Ariel had learned how to adapt in her old environment in absolute isolation but she had to also relinquish the ideas of what could have been. She had plunged head first into complete isolation, alone with her swords, and succumbed to the cabin’s darkness and silence; the idea of being alone would help her find peace and understanding the way monks found enlightenment.

But Ariel had failed miserably; she had become emotionally numb which made her indifferent and listless towards the moving world which she somehow could never catch up with. Once she found happiness, it was taken away immediately. Once she found serenity, she was forcefully given agony. Once she found her insatiable needs fulfilled, but then another hole would grow even deeper. So how, she asked herself, was life supposed to be worth living if all you live for is pain?

Occasionally, when she’s not swallowed up by her own self pity, she would wander the dark streets at night like a lone ranger; walking on the Taichung pavement, breathing the same air that killed her father and suffocated her mother. Somehow, after about 2 decades, the air had become sweeter and more relaxed, even with those two enigmas that stuck out of her back like scarlet letters. Ariel often enjoyed these quiet walks that would at times take about an hour; it was her own way of releasing her heart into the wind, letting it breathe.

However, this night was different…calm, like every other day, but to an absurd degree; almost eerie, in a sense. It rained a bit but not enough to drench her completely. She had walked up on her normal route, but felt like her paces were silently followed by ominous footsteps. Quickly, Ariel fastened her pace and tried to gain some advantage by turning a corner to a nearby alley.

Cloaked in darkness, Ariel calmed her apprehensive pulse and drew her swords just in case of an emergency. Nothing happened for a few minutes and she knew she was safe, for now. Suspended from fear, Ariel had become light headed from the excitement but started to head back no matter what. But slowly, her mysterious follower crept only closer and closer.

By the time she had reached the last alley which she would turn the corner to, an ambush of men had surrounded her. Quickly she reached for her swords, only to have them yanked out of her hands.

“Well what do we have here?” asked one of the men slyly, perhaps their leader. “A little toy to play with, I see.”

“Let’s have some fun,” laughed another.

Ariel said nothing but kept her guard. Constantly turning her head, she tried to watch every move these men had, hoping they weren’t armed.

“You know what happens to cute little kittens like you who wander so willingly into our hands?” the leader continued to question. “Let’s find out…”

Soon all the men slither towards her, squeezing their circle of men tighter and tighter together so Ariel would not be able to go through. Just then, the leader caught her from behind and wrapped his arms around her, letting her struggle so fiercely that she was able to kick a few of the men right on the chins.

“Slow down, kitten, we just wanna play,” he teased.

“Play with this!” Ariel yelled back, as she gave him a hard elbow to the stomach.

“URGH!” he yelled in pain.

One by one his men try to grab Ariel, whether it was a limb, her hair or a piece of clothing. But Ariel had grown to be tougher than any man can handle. Ruthless and compelled by anger, she fought back with every bit of resentment she had for pain, fear and loneliness. It was as if she was fighting her inner demons in human form. Each man played a different obstacle she had yet to defeat and with every blow, she grew closer and closer to doing so. That is until one had opened a pocket knife.

“Let’s see you purr with a bloody gash!” he yelled.

Quickly dodging the knife, Ariel was able to hit him back pretty hard but still got caught with the knife, as it slashes at her arm.

“AHHH!” she screamed in pain.

“She’s down! Grab her!” the leader ordered.

But just as one of the men got up from the ground, a dark figure rammed him into the wall, tackling him swiftly and hard. Awestruck from her savior, Ariel had let down her defenses and was suddenly strangled from behind with a chain.

“Stay down!!” the mysterious man ordered roughly with a gun at hand.

“What are you gonna do?” the leader smugly said, grasping onto the chain tighter.

“Argh!” Ariel screamed from the choke.

“Drop your weapon!” the man commanded.

“LOOK OUT!” Ariel managed to say to the man. Another one of the men from the floor had risen and pulled out his knife.

Drawing another gun, the man ordered again, “I said drop your weapons,” with a stern and low voice.

Slowly the gangster lowers his body to the floor and remains still like the rest of the crew. However, Ariel was still trapped under the leader’s control. Encasing the rest of the gang in a circle, the mysterious man refused to lower his weaponry.

“Let go of the girl and get down,” he said firmly.

“Or else what?” the leader quipped. “You’ll shoot?”

Ariel could feel the grip of the chain loosen as the arrogance of the leader grew more and more.

“All you’ll be hitting is this little kitten…right…here…” the leader said boldly leaning in to kiss Ariel.

As the grip loosened enough for her, she raised the chain above her head, just before his lips could even graze her skin, and wrapped the chain tight around his arms as she gives several blows just barely above the belt to his haughty demeanor.

“UGH!” he yelled in pain as he fell to his knees.

Suddenly as she turned around, all Ariel could see was the barrel of a gun pointed right in her face, but the one who held it trembled with fear.

“I said drop it.”

One of the men had risen and tried to save the leader but instead had a gun pointed at the back of his head by the mysterious man. As she saw him slink lower and lower, Ariel could see the aggrieved expression on him when dropped his gun and flattened his face on the concrete pavement.

“Take his gun,” the man told Ariel.

As she bent down to grab the gun, she caught a glimpse of the mysterious man’s face which shone a little bit from the dim street lighting. It became all too familiar; the scene, the gang…his face. This had happened before. The SWAT team came swiftly and the sirens rang in her head as if she was anticipating it. Quietly she shakes her head while emotions too cruel for her body caved in.

“HEY MAGGOTS!!!!” screamed an officer in the back. “Too late to apologize now,” he joked.

“Take them all in boys,” cried the SWAT leader. “HEY…where did Joe go?”

Running away as fast as she can, Ariel could only think of the impossible. How could he be here like this? Like an idiot!

Looking closely at the foreign surrounding, Joe could only keep his gun low but cautious. Swerving in between corners and dark alleys, he tried to keep a steady pace for the one he was looking for. The rain had gotten heavier and stronger than before which sounded the creaky metals from the abandoned apartments with unnatural noises and the broken glass were no help either, creating a more threatening atmosphere. But sooner than he could blink another eye, he was prompted to point his gun as he stared at another familiar gun; the same gun he gave to Ariel which she held in front of his face.

Anticipation grew more and more as neither of them were eager to lower their weapons so willingly. They had once loved each other so much, but now faced a stronger feeling between criminal and authority. They had been through this as well. She was still the Twin Sword Warrior and he was still the Lieutenant of the Taipei police force.

Joe quickly took his eyes off her face to look at the arm she was holding the gun with and saw her open wound, drenched by the rain. He looks back at her, effortlessly lowering his firearm.

“Doesn’t it hurt…” he began to ask but was diverted.

Ariel still had gun pointed straight in his face, unlikely to be so easily removed. He moved a little to her right to examine the wound, but she kept her stance. He moved to the left to get out of the way, but she stood still. She remained so silent but he could see her emotions clearly written all over her position.

Instead of reasoning with her, he looked at her not as sternly as she did to him, but with the same amount of intensity. He came closer and she lowered it towards his chest. She could feel the pressure of his chest pushing against the cold metal while her eyes pierced through his. She wasn’t going to shoot but she wasn’t going to let him control the situation either; he had to let her go.

Without taking his eyes off her face, he quickly lifts her arm high up to the sky and rings of bullets flew into the sky. The pressure he was putting on her arm had hurt even more because of her gash and all she could do fire. Holding her from behind, he kept her arm high and squeezed as hard as he could so she would let go of the gun. As the gun came clacking down on the cold wet floor, he finally pulls her in to face him. For the first time in 3 months, she had felt the warmth of another.

“What do you want from me?” she asked coldly as the rain pierces their skin.

“Is that all you have to say?” he responded in a soft low voice.

“Get out of here…” she whispered roughly, as she loosened his grip. “You don’t know anything.”

“Then why don’t you just tell me?!” he shouted back. “Why did you leave!?”

“What was I supposed to do, let you follow after me for the rest of your life?!” she yelled back. “You become a cop only because you followed Mike’s pursuit of finding me. You delved into my life for the most part of your career. You let me visit your family and have gotten to know who the famous Twin Sword Warrior really is. Now what?”

“And you think I don’t know anything…” he said shaking his head.

“YOU KNOW EVERYTHING!!!” she screamed back. “It’s all been said, done, made, turned upside-down, flipped inside out and now you have nothing! And for what? Me?”

“You’re pathetic…” he said turning around.

Ariel caught him by the arm and continued ranting.

“You’re the one who fell in love with me,” she lied. “Not the other way around”.

And with that last remark, he only gave he a cold dead look that only he could reveal from his normally perfectly happy demeanor. Only his hurt soul could have managed to pull off what he was about to say…

“I don’t love you…and I don’t forgive you.”

Her hand lost her grip from his rain drenched arm and she had let him slip away, with a cold dagger through her heart. She had never meant to have carried it this far, and now the truth stung her too rigidly… it was too late for a lot of things to take back. She couldn’t take back her past, the reasons why Joe chose to be a cop, the reasons why she actually did fall for him, and why she couldn’t turn around. The damage was too severe for apologies.

From the side of the street, she could see Joe’s body slowly disappear from her memory as he steps into the street. A very bright inviting light shone in front of her, like heaven was ready to take him away from the darkness that seemed to have shrouded her. But was she really ready to let go of him? He came back…but was that really enough?

The light had somehow gotten a rhythmic horn that sounded her to make a decision. With every blast, her breath would quicken. Could she really live without him, without Kris, without Mike, Rainie…everyone? The beating horn got louder as her beating heart cried for mercy. For once, could she be selfish and have the world be OK with it? The light got brighter and stung her focus which was already clouded with newly born tears. Was it possible for her to choose her own fate and win her own happiness? The beat sounded as the light grew larger, rushing her nerves up and down her frozen body. Could she let heaven take back what it chose to give to her? Without a fight? Without a bit of repentance, regret and remorse!!!

“NO!!!” she screamed as she rushed to Joe in the street pulling him from one side of the street to the next.

Reality struck her fiercely as the 18 wheeler went pass the street. She was lying close to Joe who remained stationary.

“Oh…damn!” he manages to say, completely in a state of fear. “Ariel, are you alright?”

He picks her up in a sit up position and all he could feel is her shivering hard in the pouring rain. She was crying hard and did not let go of his shirt, which she buried her head in.

“Hey…it’s over,” he said trying to relieve her stress.

“No…no…please don’t say it’s over!!” she cried as she clung tighter. “Don’t leave me! Don’t leave me…”

He remembered the way she cried when he first held her in her sleep; a heartbreaking cry that only happens when you lose someone close…this was exactly the same.

“Ari…”

“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I didn’t…mean…anything I …said,” she manages to say in between each whimper. “Please, forgive me! PLEASE! Please say it’s not over! Please!”

“Why did you leave?” he asked quietly. “Was it really because you didn’t want me to follow your past anymore?”

“I-I didn’t want you to take any part of me,” she revealed. “It’s my own mistakes…it’s my burden…my problems…you shouldn’t have to go through it. You didn’t deserve it.”

“So you think you do?!” he tried to understand. “Why would you want to take it all by yourself?”

“What other choice did I have?” she continued to bawl.

“I really don’t understand you…” he sighed. “After everything…I still know nothing about you.”

He rubbed his tired eyes, which only hurt more because of the heavy rain. As he looked back at Ariel, he realized he was not confronting the person he met so long ago. Before, she was socially awkward, tormented by the unknown and fragile like a child. But now he stared at someone completely different. She had regrets, hints of selfishness and complete empathy…like an adult.

“So now what?” she asked quietly.

“…I don’t know,” she answered in the same fashion. “Let me see that cut.”

“Hmm?” she asked bewildered.

“Your cut…on your arm?” he tried to explain.

“Oh…” she said completely dazed.

As he examines the arm, she could feel the pain of stretching her newly ripped skin.

“ah….it hurts, Joe!” she whimpered.

“Just stand it for a little bit longer,” he said calmly looking carefully at the wound.

He pulls a familiar ripped shirt from his pocket and bandages up the cut.

“Does that hurt much?” he asked as he tightens the bandage.

“Ooh…yes,” she winced.

“Never mind, you’re still a child…” he whispered a laugh to himself.

“Hmm?” she asked.

“Nothing…hold still.”

Looking at his focused eyes bandage her up felt nice to Ariel. Once again it was him who tried to heal her pain, pacifying her from the world that brought her so much grief. Why was it that he could be so caring towards someone who had given him nothing in return? Not until now, she had never saved him, never treated him differently from anyone else off the street. She never even said she loved him…so why?

“You fool…” she thought out loud as she continued to stare at him in disbelief.

“W-what?” he asked.

Not letting him finish up bandaging up her arm, she pressed her lips against his and once again she could feel the blood rush through her body. She put her arms around his neck even though it hurt so badly to move her wounded arm, but it could never hurt as bad as it did when she left him. Emotionally or physically, the pain was not going to stop her from kissing him.

 

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