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"You'll never be cold again"

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Keith never fully understood what 'love' was.

No, he knew what it meant to love, of course. He loved his family, his little brothers; he had warm feelings to children in general because they were innocent, and they still had a lot of different life choices. He loved his best friend who had helped him to come out of the deadly danger countless times, whom he trusted as much as himself. However, all those things were different from the feeling that was supposed to bind the two intended to create their own family in the future. That was ‘love between a man and a woman’.

He couldn’t understand such appetencies at all, and he considered that men swayed by them so easily were fools. His friend wasn’t any better in that regard. No matter how many stories Alan told him about his marvelous dates with Yuki, they never made any impression on him. Perhaps, he even wanted to understand those feelings, especially when he saw that expression on Alan’s face – stupid, but incredibly happy. Still, he apparently wasn’t meant to experience it – at least, he thought so those days.

However, his life changed a lot very soon, and a start on those changes was made the day he met Stella.
He knew very well who she was but had never talked to her before. Meanwhile, she turned out to be quite a nice woman – he became aware of that after meeting up with her a couple more times. All of them included one more important element – that adorable child that she raised, the one who Keith got attached to too fast. Let alone the fact that he was secretly hoping for ‘chance’ encounter with consigliere all that time.

But the truth was also that he liked Stella more and more after every next meetup. No, it wasn’t about ‘the very same feeling’ – not in that moment. The thing was, when he was completely disappointed in adults, he was lucky to meet someone, apart from Alan, who far from sickening him was even quite a pleasant person. While spending regularly his free time with her and Yuuji, Keith started thinking unwittingly about what he had been trying to turn a blind eye to for so long.
If he considered it so important to have family and children, then it was strange for him to ignore the thing that led to it. Yes, that was ‘the very same type of love’. He thought he wasn’t able to love that way, but maybe he was wrong. Perhaps, all he needed was to let himself try it at least.

As soon as he decided that for himself, Stella told him something that really shocked him. People around them began to take them for a couple, and she didn’t deny it. Only when she said so, Keith realized that, as strange as it sounded, Stella actually fancied him. Despite the fact that he was short, not all that handsome, stingy, and simply didn’t resemble her ideal man.
He didn’t know how to react, mumbling confusedly that he should have a say in whether or not he was in a relationship but… What on earth was he talking about? He knew exactly that he got the opportunity he couldn’t miss. So when Stella invited him to her place, he said yes without a second thought.

Her room, however, was a complete mess full of scattered items – in fact, Keith always thought it was typical for women to clean their house before inviting a man. Stella just brushed his remark aside, obviously being quite indifferent to something like that.

She should have cared about it a bit more. Such thought flashed through Keith’s mind when Stella spilled the contents of a bucket all over him.

Motionless, he froze on the spot as he felt that very cold he was so afraid of. Horrible memories of war came back to him at once, all those images flashed before his eyes as they were replacing one with another so awfully fast, and it reminded him of those feelings that had still been chasing after him in his dreams sometimes – cold, pain, fear, hatred, despair. He was shivering and hugging himself with his teeth chattering – just like it had been back then. It was indeed like he was back in Siberia being hardly able to stand, dying slowly from absolutely unbearable cold and pain. If it wasn’t true, then why was he saying those words?

“I’m cold, Aramaki.”

Aramaki wasn’t there though – it took Keith a while to realize this fact. The whole situation seemed weird, unreal; he couldn’t understand what was going on until…

Until he was locked in a soothing, warm embrace.

Finally, he came back to reality. There was no Siberia, no war anymore – that had been left in the past, behind. Right here and now Stella was beside him, she was holding him close and trying to console, as if he were a frightened child – at least, that was what it felt like to Keith at that moment. Stella was still trying to calm him down, promising that she would keep him warm until they bring a new spring to their country, and Keith relaxed. He buried his face against her shoulder as he whispered.

“So warm, Stella…”

He was warm, definitely – such a feeling was almost forgotten, it was something he hadn’t experienced for so long. While seeking escape from the cold that had been constantly pursuing him, he was always dressed as if winter had already come – that loathsome psychological trauma he couldn’t get rid of. Who would have thought that such type of embrace might be helpful to solve his problem? He wished he had understood it sooner.

Keith hugged Stella as he buried his face in her soft hair, smelling its scent, and she gave a quiet laugh while holding him tighter. He felt so warm, so good, the feeling was so unbelievable – he didn’t want it to end. Then Stella pulled away and looked at his face, taking his head in her hands.

“You’re crying,” she said with a faint smile, and Keith ran his fingers over the corners of his eyes. The skin was wet. Where did those tears come from? He shrugged and returned a smile.

“I’m okay.”

They bent towards each other at once and their lips touched – no more than for a few seconds. After breaking the kiss, they met each other’s eyes and couldn’t help smiling happily.
That was when Keith realized something: the feeling he experienced that moment, so warm and extremely thrilling at the same time, was exactly ‘the very same type of love’ he couldn’t accept for so long.

The end of the evening came when Stella, having lost control after the first glass, literally started begging Keith to marry her. While trying to calm her down and put her to bed, he heard her mumbling indistinctly that they ‘could make it work’. With a smile on his face Keith touched her hand gently and promised that he would ask her that question once she would sober up.

In fact, he didn’t know what to say. The only thought that occurred to him was about things being developed so incredibly hastily. On the other hand, it was probably the way it should be. He was too inexperienced to know it for sure.

When he came to her the next day, neither of them recalled what had happened last night. Keith thought they had enough time for that.

But everything ended too fast.

 

At Stella’s funeral Keith couldn’t hold back his tears. Richard tried to calm him down but he hardly managed to do that – the thing was that he needed support for himself. From that moment, both of them shared that pain of loss, as well as care about the child who was still alive. They would do anything to make sure that his future would be bright and promising.

She was dead but still so beautiful. Keith leaned over to her and kissed her cold lips before pulling away a few moments later. His tears fell to her pallid face and flowed down her cheeks, making her look like she was crying. Keith squeezed his eyes shut for a second, and then he looked at her again. There were no tears on her face anymore. The pictures created by imagination could be pretty strange sometimes.

I loved you, Stella.

Later he came to her apartment which suddenly became so empty. Everything was in its place there, exactly the same way it had been that evening when she had invited him. When had that happened? Oh, right… the day before yesterday.

He knelt beside her bed, squeezing her mantle in his hands, bringing it closer to his face – and he felt like Stella was there. He knew very well that the feeling was deceptive, so he didn’t even try to turn around. All the things they had said to each other so recently on that very spot revived in his memory, making his eyes well up with tears again. My words will never reach you now.

He would never forget what she asked him for that day. “If I die, please look out for Yuuji.” Keith knew he would never abandon that child. He would look after him for the rest of his life if need be, he would stay with him. And he would definitely protect him from every possible threat.

He kept holding on for Yuuji’s sake, he assisted Richard as much as he could – and still he felt his soul dying slowly, breaking into pieces as he began to realize that he had lost two that damn day. After all that time they still had no information about Alan. He didn’t come back home, no hospital received any messages about him – Keith checked it by himself. There wasn’t any confirmation or contradiction, but Keith wasn’t naïve enough to believe that his best friend was still alive.

It hurt, it hurt like hell, so much that he lost the will to live at a certain moment, but he quickly pulled himself together. It was too soon to surrender – he was still able to fight, and he would continue to struggle. He was still needed there; he had no right to give it all up.
I’ll avenge you too, Alan.

All his hopes for the future, all his world – everything was completely destroyed when he saw Yuuji’s dead body in the puddle of his own blood.
There was almost nothing left of who he had been before. He thought that his soul was burned to ashes, and that body of his was nothing more than empty shell containing the only wish which overshadowed anything else – that was revenge. They wouldn’t be left unpunished, no – they would have to pay for what they had done giving their own lives.

He saw that Richard felt the same. Yes, consigliere was turning into the monster very similar to his own, but both of them didn’t mind it. Grand boss tried to bring them to reason from time to time, but they didn’t listen to his words. So what if major Kaburaya supported them so eagerly? He had experienced the same pain of loss as they; he understood them better than anyone else. No wonder.

The day when they were going to implement their plan finally came, and Keith was waiting for his victims on the rooftop of one of the buildings near the appointed meeting place. He had to do that work alone for the first time, and the only thought of it made him feel like freezing cold was pinning his entire body down. It was all because the sun wasn’t there anymore.

“I’m cold, Alan.”

He tried to pull himself together. Yes, he was alone now, but his determination wouldn’t falter. He would do what he must.

He would definitely avenge Stella, as well as Yuuji – their child whom he hadn’t been able to protect as well. He would kill Golden Dragon leaders with his own hands. He wouldn’t let anyone intervene in implementation of Richard’s ideas. He would help consigliere to create that society without foreigners – the society where their countrymen would live in peace. The elimination of Chinese who had no moral values was of vital importance. That was the only way to achieve their goal.

Watch me, Stella. I’ll do everything I can to make this world real for the future generations. I promise.