Ryo and Kaori both stared at Maiko for a couple of seconds, stunned to see her standing there.
“You’re the one Tremwell-san is in love with,” Kaori said. “The one he did all this for.”
“Yes, and again, I am sorry,” Maiko said sadly. “I never wanted any of this to happen. I know that the both of you have good reason to be angry at him, but I ask that you not hate Bruce for what he did.”
Maiko walked slowly toward the side of the room and eventually knelt down beside a body on the floor. Ryo and Kaori were shocked to see that it was the corpse of an elderly man with numerous wrinkles and white hair on his head. The outfit he was wearing, however, told both of them who it was.
“Tremwell-san?” Kaori said, pointing at the body. “Ryo, is that….?”
“I think so,” Ryo said, awe filling his tone as well.
“You are both correct,” Maiko nodded, looking back up at them. “You see, while your brother was protecting you, Makimura-san, and while your father was protecting you, Saeba-san, I was the one who intervened.” Maiko then looked back down at the body on the floor.
“A long time ago, I lived all alone here in Tokyo,” she continued. “My parents died when I was very young, and I was raised in an orphanage. Growing up in an environment like that, I saw firsthand how easy it was for people to forget about and neglect children without parents. As I got older, I wanted to do more to help other children. I worked for a charity whose purpose was to raise money for orphans. One day, Bruce came to our office to offer his support, and it was then that I met him.”
Maiko looked back over at Ryo and Kaori, a smile on her face.
“Bruce…he was so kind, so handsome, and such a gentleman. He was genuinely interested in the work that I did and we spent many happy afternoons meeting for tea which soon turned into romantic evenings where we had dinner together. The more I got to know him, the more I realized that he was actually a lot like me: alone in the world and searching for a soul mate. I fell in love with him and I suspected that at some point, he might ask me to marry him.”
“Might?” Kaori said. “You didn’t know for sure if he would propose?”
“Even though we had shared many happy times together and I told him that I was in love with him, Bruce never told me about his feelings,” Maiko answered. “I suspected that he loved me, but I never knew for sure. Also, I knew that if he were to marry me, he might encounter some difficulties. Bruce had associates and distant family members who disapproved of his courting a Japanese woman. I knew that he might suffer some consequences if he were to say that he loved me.”
“So he never told you?” Kaori said, her voice sad. “He never told you how he felt?”
“He only told me once…and that was on the day I died. I was supposed to meet him at our favorite restaurant to celebrate his birthday. On the way there, however, a car veered off the road and it hit me. Bruce…he showed up just as I was breathing my last breath. He begged me to live because he loved me and needed me. It was in that moment that I knew how much he loved me.”
Maiko’s hands hovered over Tremwell’s withered body, tracing her fingers along the lines on his face.
“Bruce…his sorrow was so great. He could not move past his grief. He became obsessed with finding some way for us to be together again. I could only watch as he continued to spiral downward into darkness and loneliness. I longed for a chance to comfort him, to beg him to abandon his ambitions, but I could do nothing.”
Maiko let her hands fall back to her sides and she raised her head. When she looked at Ryo and Kaori, they could see tears in her eyes.
“When I saw what he planned to do to you, Makimura-san and to you Saeba-san, I felt my heart break. It was as if the sweet, gentle man I knew before had vanished, leaving behind this shell that was filled with evil. And then…when I saw the love that you two have for each other, I knew that I had to do something. I did not want either of you to suffer the same sad fate that Bruce and I did.”
Tears slid out of Maiko’s eyes and Kaori felt her own eyes well up in response.
“I used all of my power to push the knife into Bruce’s hand,” she cried. “That is why he is dead and why appears to you as he does now. Death took away all of his supernatural powers and he became as he would have been without such supports.”
Maiko’s tears increased and her head drooped down.
“Please believe me, I did not want to hurt him…but I did not want him to continue to suffer either. I loved him. With all my heart, I loved him, but I….”
“I understand,” Ryo nodded. “You loved him so you ended his suffering by taking his life; because that was the only way to release the person you loved from the evil that had enveloped him. Still…even though you know that you acted out of love, you still feel grief and guilt over taking his life.” Maiko raised her head and gazed into Ryo’s eyes.
“Saeba-san….you do understand. You really do,” she said. “And a part of me is sad about that because it is a pain I would not wish upon anyone.”
Ryo nodded in response, and Kaori slipped her arms around his waist. After thinking for a moment, she had realized that she also knew that Ryo knew much about what Maiko had gone through because it was similar to what he had faced with Kaibara. Kaori still remembered the desolate look in Ryo’s eyes after he had shot his father and the brief moment when he appeared to give up on his own life. Kaori had never seen Ryo endure so much sorrow and pain, and she hoped to never see him in that state again.
“I…I only hope Bruce will understand why I had to act as I did,” Maiko said mournfully. “I hope that his spirit can forgive me.”
“He will understand,” Ryo assured her. “And he will forgive you. In fact, I imagine that he still loves you.”
“Saeba-san…thank you,” Maiko said. “Thank you both for your kindness.”
The three of them turned their heads to see another figure walk out of the shadows. They all gasped when the saw that it was Tremwell. This time, however, he appeared to be even younger than he was before, and his eyes sparkled with happiness instead of malice.
“Bruce,” Maiko wept. “I’m sorry. I am so sorry for what I did. I….”
“Maiko, don’t cry,” Tremwell said, holding out his arms to her. “Do you not see? You saved me. I had become a twisted, embittered, lonely man, too wrapped up in my own pain to even realize what I had become. You saved me from that, and I cannot thank you enough for your courage and your willingness to give me this release.”
“Bruce,” Maiko said as she stood and walked toward him. She then threw himself into his open arms, and he responded by wrapping his arms around her.
“Maiko, I’ve missed you so much,” Tremwell said, his voice cracking. “How I’ve longed for even one moment in your arms.” They held each other silently for several moments before Tremwell finally raised his head.
“Mister Saeba, Miss Makimura,” he said. “I am truly sorry for what I did and for what I tried to do to the both of you. I have no right to ask for your forgiveness, so let me just say again that I deeply regret my actions against you.”
“It’s all right,” Kaori said. “I think we both understand.”
“Miss Makimura….you are indeed a beautiful woman,” Tremwell said. “In every sense. Mister Saeba, you are very fortunate to have a woman like her in your life. I know of what I speak because I also was very fortunate to find a woman like Maiko. But I was afraid and hesitant to give my heart to her and by the time I found my courage, it was too late. Mister Saeba, do not make the same mistakes I did.”
Maiko and Bruce gazed into each other’s eyes and held each other even closer together. As they did so, their forms began to fade.
“Farewell, Mister Saeba, Miss Makimura,” Tremwell said.
“And please, be happy,” Maiko added.
Ryo and Kaori then watched as Tremwell and Maiko disappeared. The two of them continued to sit there silently, gazing at the spot where they had last seen Tremwell and Maiko.
“Ryo…I need to tell you something,” Kaori said. Ryo looked down at her and was surprised to see a tense, serious expression on his partner’s face.
“I…I wanted to tell you…” Kaori murmured. “I want to tell you that I admire you.” Ryo blinked in surprise and Kaori began to blush.
“I know,” she said. “I know that I don’t usually say things like this, but I…Ryo, you are strong, one of the strongest people I have ever met…and brave and kind. And I….”
“Kaori, you don’t have to….” Kaori put a finger to Ryo’s lips to silence him.
“Please, let me say this,” she said. “I know that aniki was always proud to have you as his partner and his friend, and I just wanted to say that I am too. I am proud to be your partner.”
Kaori continued to blush, but then she beamed at him as she embraced him again. Ryo returned the embrace, stunned at the things that she said. As he held her, he thought again about the things that both Kaibara and Tremwell had said to him. He then thought about the moment when he had thought that he had lost her, and he realized that he could not afford to hold back any longer.
Ryo reached down and put his hand under Kaori’s chin, tilting her face toward his.
Ryo swallowed hard. His mind was filled with things he wanted to say, feelings he wanted to express, but he could not find the words for any of them.
Instead he leaned down and kissed her.
It started as a gentle kiss, hesitant and questioning, but then Kaori began to respond to it and it grew into something far more intense. Soon the two of them were embracing each other tightly, their single kiss turning into a series of kisses that were enflamed by a long suppressed passion and a long realized love.
Eventually they both pulled back, the two of them resting their foreheads together with their eyes still closed.
“Ryo,” Kaori whispered.
“I…I…What happens now?”
“What happens?” Ryo asked, his eyes opening.
“What happens to us?” Kaori said. “Between us? What happens now, Ryo?” Ryo sighed and embraced her again as she laid her head against his chest and caressed him.
“What happens…I don’t know,” Ryo said. “Honestly, I have no idea, Kaori. This is all new to me. I don’t really know what to do now.”
“That’s all right,” Kaori said. “It’s new to me too. I just…I just don’t want this moment to pass us by and then we go back to how it was before.”
“No,” Ryo said, squeezing her close to him. “I promise that we are not going to go back to that.”
“Then I am happy with whatever comes next,” Kaori said.
“Are you sure?” Ryo asked. “As I said, I am new at this…this having one and only love. I am sure that I will make plenty of mistakes and there will be times when you’ll regret having this kind of a relationship with me. Not to mention the fact that I can’t see myself ever becoming some kind of prince who will sweep you off your feet and give you a beautiful life.”
“I was never looking for a prince from a fairy-tale who would whisk me off to his castle,” Kaori said. “That is not the life I pined for. And mistakes, regrets and flaws are part of every partnership. I understand that and accept it. Ryo, all I wanted, all I ever wanted, was your heart, your love and the chance to give you mine. If I have that, I am happy.”
Ryo smiled and kissed her again and then the two of them held each other close, savoring each other’s presence. Their peace was soon interrupted, however, by the faint sound of voices.
“Kaori-san, Saeba-san, are you down there?”
“Maybe they can’t answer us. Maybe they need help.”
“Hmph, I’m not going down there. There are probably even more cats down there and I am not dealing with any more of them.”
Both Ryo and Kaori smiled and laughed as they loosened their embrace.
“We’re down here,” Ryo shouted back. “We will meet you up there.”
“Ryo, is Kaori all right?”
“She’s fine, Mick,” Ryo answered. “We’re coming up now.”
Ryo and Kaori got to their feet and each of them put an arm around each other as they ascended the stairs.
“There’s no way you’re going to be able to return that costume,” Kaori smirked. “You’ve ruined it. It’s just as well though. The world did not need another Casanova.”
“Oh, and what about your costume?” Ryo smirked. “I’m pretty sure that you didn’t come here as Yukionna.”
“Ah, my Joan of Arc costume!”Kaori gasped. “Tremwell must have taken it away somewhere. Ryo, we have to find it.”
“And spend more time wandering around this mansion?” Ryo replied. “Forget it. You will just have to pay for yours too…And at least now you won’t be able to stab me with that sword.”
“Don’t forget that I can still use my hammer,” Kaori frowned. “And now I don’t need to worry about ruining your costume since you’ve already destroyed it.”
“Kaori, you are a cruel woman,” Ryo pouted.
Kaori stuck out her tongue at him, and then the two of them burst into laughter and tightened their hold on each other.
“Ryo, just like with Ami-san and Mami-san, this all feels like a dream,” Kaori said. “But I am glad it’s not. Not just because of this, with us, but because I got to see aniki again. I still miss him, but I’m also grateful that I was able to get a chance to say some things I needed to say to him. And now I know for sure that he’s still with me...and with you….” Kaori watched Ryo smile and nod in agreement, and she was ready to let the matter go, but found that she had one last thing she needed to ask him.
“Ryo…I was thinking about what Maiko-san said,” she said. “And then I remembered that aniki said that someone was protecting you from Tremwell-san. Ryo…was it him? Was it Kaibara?” Ryo let out a long sigh.
“It was,” Ryo said. “I guess he felt that he had some unfinished business with me.”
“Ryo, I’m sorry. I know that you….”
“It’s all right,” Ryo interrupted. “Just like you with your brother, we were also given another chance. And I am also very grateful for it and do not regret it in the least.”
Kaori saw Ryo’s eyes glow with happiness as he said this, and she was certain that Ryo had been able to mend his relationship with his father to some extent. She soon found that she even more thankful that Ryo had been given this opportunity and that she was happy for the serenity it clearly had given him.
As they drew close to the top, Ryo and Kaori let each other go, both of them silently deciding to not alert their friends for now about the change in their relationship. The lack of physical contact, however, did not change the fact that they both knew that their minds and hearts were still focused on each other and on what had just happened. Neither of them was sure about where they would go from here.
But both of them were secure in the knowledge that, whatever happened next, they would be together.