XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE

Six months later

"What was it like?" Shane asked, pensive, arms encircling her knees, staring at the river in front of them, "When you had a mom and dad?"

Surprised, Keetan looked over, sitting beside her, his arm resting behind on the bench, "It's…I only had that for three years."

"But that's a long time."

"Yeah….but…I don't remember it. Any of it. I remember—I remember after, when I was with my dad in Europe." Keetan admitted, "I remember some of that."

"What do you remember?" She asked, quiet, eyes solemn.

"I remember…my dad moved around a lot. But some people—some people were the same. There was an old lady…and a little girl. She had dark hair, we played together. I remember that." He grinned faintly.

Studying him, seeing a far-off look, Shane noted, "You loved them."

"My dad?"

"No. The old lady and that little girl. You loved them."

"I guess…I don't know…they were all I had, I suppose. Didn't have my mom or Alex. Kimberly was only two when—when I left."

"When your dad took you…"

"Yeah…"

"I'm sorry." Shane whispered, her hand encircling his, a slight squeeze. "I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"For having a family and losing them. For being a child when that happened."

"I'm not so different from you."

"Yes, you are…my dad is the reason Court is dead now. And if he had chosen me—I'd be the one dead now. You had a mother…at least. And you had that old lady and little girl. I had an idea."

Leaning over, he gently brushed a strand of hair behind her ear, his fingers lingering on her cheek, cupping her chin. Resting his forehead against hers, Keetan said, gruffly, "You had hope."

"No." Shane said strongly, calmly.

Keetan frowned, pulling back slightly.

Haunted, she merely said, "I never had hope. Not for me…not ever."

Keetan remained silent. Intent.

"You and I are different. It was never about me, never been about me…you still have hope. You're the Guardian now and…there's still hope inside for you yet. I know that. It's why we're different. You had a family to instill that hope."

"You had hope." Keetan said again.

"I had hope…for Michael. And for Court. But those are the only two. I've protected, guarded, whatever…but I never had hope for anyone else. Not even you, Jing. Grandfather Santucci. Only for Michael and Court."

"I'm sorry." Keetan whispered, hoarse.

"He's gone."

"Yeah…" Keetan breathed out. "…yeah…"

"I lost my hope…for Michael and Court."

"Yeah…"

"I think you started your life better, you had a mom, you had a family. You've always been—different than me. Like you're whole and I'm…fragmented. But I think…I think I was broke—before I was even born. I think my father did that to me."

"I think you were shattered." Keetan confided, hushed.

Standing slowly, she rested on the porch railing behind her, back to the river, gazing in Keetan's eyes. Watching him, she murmured, breathlessly, "You're beautiful."

"So are you."

"No…you're really beautiful, like on the inside beautiful. I'm just…broken inside. And…Court glued me together—I don't know how, I don't know why…but he did. Somehow. And…," taking a small breath, she said, "I'm done."

"What?" Keetan said quickly, sitting up.

"I'm done—with everything. Being the Guardian. Being the newest member of the Santucci family. Being—even being the protective sister. I'm done. I don't want to even hunt my father down—I'm done being that killer. Of being the one who has to kill. It's over."

"And us?" Keetan asked, his breath held, standing slowly before her.

"You don't deserve someone who's broken on the inside." She said simply, biting her lip, a single tear trailing a second later. "I want to be whole…for you…for us. I want to have hope…for me."

"And us?" He persisted, a yearning note appearing inside.

"I don't know." Shane whispered, hugging herself. "I just know," wiping a tear, "that I can't be anything for you…not right now. And I want too…someday."

"One of us is always walking away." Keetan said, folding her in his arms. Tucking his chin in the crook of her shoulder and neck, he added, "We keep growing apart when…I need you, Shane. You give me hope, that's where it comes from, not from the fact that I had a mom for the first three years of my life. I need you, broken or whole, I'll take you anyway I can get."

"How can I do this? I don't know what to do."

Kissing her shoulder, her forehead, he sighed, "Go to China, to the Northlands. Just be there with your sensei. Don't train, don't do anything. I'll come to you at night, we can have the nights together."

Pulling away, she shook her head, tears streaming steadily, "I have to do this alone. And I have to do this somewhere that's…away." Standing, moving around, she paused, her hand resting on the door-handle, "This is just me now. I can't go half-ass on it. Not even you…I'm sorry…"

"Shane."

"I'm going to leave in the morning."

"For where?"

"I don't know." Shane whispered, truthfully, shaking her head. "I don't know."

"And Michael?"

She looked away. Remembering that alley, Michael had been rushing out. Court was on the ground…that was when she had gone inside of herself. She had come back out a month later—when it was safe. When she finally heard Keetan's voice break through, that's when she came out.

Taking a deep breath, she said, "I need to see Court before I see Michael…and that's not going to be awhile." Drawing a deep breath, she exhaled, "That's not going to be for long while."

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The next morning I left. Keetan and I had that night, we showed each other how much we loved each other. We've always been good at that, we've always been able to say the words too. That's the easy part. We used to be good at actually loving each other, but that had been broken along time ago. Everything was broken.

But with Keetan, I think that happened when I told him about my rape. I think that's when it got too much, he looked at me different. It's like he saw me, underneath my wrapping that was taped together. I don't know. Keetan would undoubtedly say that we grew apart when I thought he had died, that those two months had cemented my heart in.

Maybe he's right. I don't know.

All I know is that I'm tired of it.

I'm tired of being who everyone else wants me to Be. The Guardian. A Shaolin. A Chen. A Santucci. A granddaughter, a sister, a girlfriend. A best friend. The hated brother's girlfriend even.

I killed my brother. It was something that I knew. I'd live with that for the rest of my life. Every day. Possibly every minute. Right now it felt like every second—all overlapping each other, just—just crushing me. That's what it felt like right now.

When I came back—or came out of my shock-induced coma, when I heard Keetan's voice talking to me, I had no idea where I was. How I got there. I knew Keetan had taken me there. He had taken care of everything. He and Michael…I hadn't asked. To tell the truth, I hadn't cared. But I didn't know how I got there. Things used to make sense to me. I used to always know what to do, but now…I feel like I'm flying, twisting upside down. I have no idea which way is up or down. I don't even know if I'm standing half the time when I'm actually sitting. Over the past few months, I'd wake up in the middle of the night and not even realize it was nighttime. Even with Keetan sleeping next to me. I just…I'd find myself in the bathroom all the sudden, not remember walking in there. One morning I found myself outside, standing in the river. Barefoot. Keetan told me later he had found me there—he had woken up one night and I had been gone.

That was common.

But that lasted a few months.

The past two…I've been better. I know when it's night. I know how I got somewhere.

I remember the very instant when I decided. I had been washing dishes, watching out the window. The wind was blowing pretty hard and the grass was swaying in a hypnotizing movement. Back and forth. Gracefully. And I just made the decision then. I stopped washing the dishes and I kept watching the grass.

I didn't know where, I didn't know how, or what…but I knew that I was going to leave. On my own. For no reason. No duty. No obligation. No responsibility. I was just going to…leave.

I had left Keetan in bed. It was four in the morning. He had fallen asleep after our last lovemaking, but I stayed awake. I knew I was going to leave. As I left, I kissed his forehead a last time. Then his eyelids. Silken. Beautiful. And his lips. One last time. And then I slipped out the door, leaving my note behind, propped up on the nightstand.

It wasn't a Dear John letter. Anything but. It was just…until our future letter. Until I saw him again.

And I left.

I was done.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The next book won't be done for awhile.

Read and Review, please. I know there's a ton of grammatical errors...anyone want to edit it for me?