"Drown My Sorrows"
Schuldich woke up with a pounding headache and a mouth dryer than the Sahara. As he stumbled towards the bathroom to brush his teeth and partially rid himself of the gross taste in his mouth from last night's drinking, he noted with satisfaction that he could hardly hear his own thoughts, much less anyone else's. They were just a low hum in the background, vague and jumbled.
He didn't want to think right now.
Teeth freshly brushed, he wandered back into his bedroom and picked up his pants from the floor, digging in the pockets for his cigarettes. He made a "ch" of annoyance upon finding only one cigarette left in the pack. "Damn it, Yohji," he started to complain aloud.
Wait. Oh yeah.
Scowling, he clamped the cigarette in between his lips and lit it with a nearly empty book of matches from his favorite night club. A quick glance towards the unoccupied bed confirmed his muddled memory of the previous day.
Now he remembered why he didn't want to think this morning.
He took a long drag from his cigarette as he padded into his den. His apartment was much larger than Yohji's, simply because he liked to spoil himself.
Stop it, he ordered himself angrily, then wondered irritably why it should bother him to dwell on the blond assassin. Fuck him, he thought fiercely to himself. He should have known better than to mix emotions into the mess.
Getting angry only made his head hurt worse, so he swallowed a few painkillers dry and dropped himself on the leather sofa to catch the morning news. He hoped morbidly that the news anchor would be excitedly babbling about a horrendeous plane crash or terrorist attack. It would occupy his mind for the next half hour.
He flipped idly through the channels for about an hour or so, wishing for more cigarettes but too lazy to go out and buy some.
The phone rang as he was debating between watching anime or corny soap operas, and he glanced over his shoulder with hooded eyes at it in annoyance. He let it ring six times before pulling himself up, grumbling. He snatched up the phone and growled, "What?"
"Hung over, I take it?" Crawford's dry voice was unsympathetic.
Schuldich sighed and wandered back to the couch with the phone. He draped himself over the creaking leather, squinting at the TV. "This better be good," he grunted.
"We need you to read someone." That was Crawford, right to the point. Schuldich's frown turned into a scowl as the American quickly filled him in on what had happened while he'd been out drinking himself stupid last night.
"Gee, ambushes, Vampire politics, and a guy who calls himself The Jackass-"
"Whatever. A guy with a stupid name who might or might not be on Farfie's side. Lovely. Any other good news?" Schuldich demanded sarcastically.
"The flower shop got a couple anonymous calls this morning. One was a threat on Abyssinian's life."
Schuldich smirked to himself. Crawford was pathetic in his attempts to act like he saw Fujimiya as purely a coworker. The man's next words wiped the smirk off his face.
"There was another one- male. Asking if Kudou works at the shop. Hung up when he couldn't get a straight answer. It could be nothing, but he should be on his guard. Is he with you?"
"No," Schuldich said shortly, refusing to elaborate.
Crawford didn't push him. "We'll be bringing the Jackal over in a couple hours, once we get ahold of Hidaka. You're supposed to impress this kid, so attempt not to look like a drunken slob when we arrive."
Schuldich sneered. "I'll even take a shower," he promised.
Crawford hung up, and the dialtone buzzed annoyingly in Schuldich's ear. He pressed 'off' and tossed the phone carelessly aside. "Another day in paradise," he grumbled, stretching lazily.
The phone rang again. Spitting a curse, Schuldich leaned over, half on the couch, half off, and nabbed the phone from the floor. "Yes, master?" he asked mockingly.
"Is this Schuldich?"
Schuldich's smirk dropped from his face. The voice was warped- as if through a recorder or some voice mixer. "Who is this?"
"I suggest you distance yourself from Farfarello and his little pet," the mechanical voice said ominously. "Unless you want to end up missing something valuable."
Schuldich sat up, eyes narrowing. "Who the fuck is this?" he snapped.
"That doesn't matter."
"Tell you what," Schuldich said in a voice dripping with false sincerity. "We'll play a game instead. It's called 'hide and go fuck yourself'."
"This is your only warning," the strange voice said shortly. Then the line went dead.
Schuldich sat staring at the phone for a long moment before hanging it up and putting it down on the coffee table. He rose to his feet and stalked towards the bathroom to shower. On the way he pulled his spare gun out from under the fake tree by the door and set it on the sink where he could reach it from the tub.
God help the Jackal if he was behind this somehow.
Contrary to his teammates' beliefs, Kudou Yohji was not one to get shitfaced on a regular basis.
In fact, the last time he'd drank himself into oblivion was when he'd seen her again. When he'd had to kill the woman he loved for a second time. Yohji could hold his alcohol better than some, and so any attempt to get trashed was expensive to say the least. So it was that having had only ten dollars worth of drinks the night prior, he was up and headache-free at 8 AM- two hours earlier than his lover across town.
Of course, he didn't know Schuldich had gone and drank himself stupid last night; he didn't know about the mysterious phonecalls Ran had gotten, and he didn't know anything about the Jackal or the ambush that had stolen Farfarello from Ken and caused the death of Ireland's Vampire Lord.
He was still irritated about Schuldich's behavior yesterday. So when the phone rang, he stubbornly ignored it and left his apartment to go shopping for a new bed set. He had had his eye on some midnight blue silk sheets, with matching pillow cases and comforter. Schuldich had argued with him about the color and the design; he preferred the emerald set with the dragon pattern. He said it brought out the color of his eyes, and besides, orange hair clashed with dark blue.
Blond hair, however, looked great against it. So Yohji was going to get the damn blue sheets. It didn't matter anymore, after all- Schuldich wouldn't be there to complain about it because he wouldn't be sleeping on them.
He shrugged into his leather jacket as he trotted down the stairs, singing loudly. He was in the strange, fiercely cheerful mood that often besets people who find themselves suddenly free of a problem, and unhappy to be free of it. His cheerfulness was a result of a fierce determination to be happy about his new freedom, and an equal willingness to ignore the fact that Schuldich's absence and the lingering memory of yesterday's argument made him sick to his stomach.
His voice echoed in the stairwell, but his singing voice was not half bad, so he wasn't self conscious about it.
He was digging for his cigarettes out of his back pocket when he reached the bottom floor, and caught a glimpse of someone out of the corner of his eye as he turned. He looked up, and had a moment of confused recognition. The man standing by the vending machines watching him with narrowed, suspicious eyes- hadn't he seen him before?
Schuldich's nasal voice came unbidden to his mind in sudden recollection of yesterday morning. Bible beater at ten o' clock...
The man's clothes were cheap, but at least they looked clean, which was more than Yohji could say for the man's hair, which hung in limp, greasy dark strands. He had dark circles under his eyes that suggested his sleep was poor, and he had a haunted look about him. He couldn't seem to keep still, either. He shifted his weight every few seconds, and kept alternating between rubbing his hands together, fiddling with the gold cross around his neck, and shoving his fists in his pockets. His agitation increased upon Yohji's entrance, his eyes lighting up with fervor.
Yohji took this all in at a glance. Being a private detective and an assassin had made him pretty proficient at getting details quickly, and at reading body language. So he realized that for some reason this strange missionary had been waiting for him, and paused before the door. He raised his brows in question, cigarette halfway to his mouth.
"May I help you?" he asked with all the courtesy that came from a couple of years behind a register.
"Yes-" the man said hastily, taking a step forward. Some of his nervousness seemed to disappear, leaving him with a manic glint to his eye that instantly made Yohji resigned and wary. He was already formulating an escape plan as the man continued to speak. He really wasn't in the mood for a sermon.
"I couldn't help but see you and the other.. gentleman.. yesterday," the man said with obvious reluctance at the word 'gentleman'. Secretly Yohji was amused. Schuldich was certainly no gentleman, so he wouldn't begrudge the man's obvious dislike of the reference. "My name is Curtis Riddle. I am.. well, it doesn't matter what I am. But I work for the Lord."
Yohji pasted on a smile and began to edge sideways towards the door. "Really?" he said with fake interest. "You come from America?" He certainly wasn't Japanese in looks or name, and his accent was atrocious.
"Yes, that's right." Curtis Riddle shuffled towards him, eyes alight with purpose and self-importance. "I have come to save God's Asian children. I have come here to open their eyes to the way of the Lord. I saw in you yesterday such a need to see. To be saved."
Yohji's smile quirked with dry humor. You have no idea, he wanted to say, but wisely held his tongue. "Well.."
"Do you believe in God, Mr. Kudou?"
Yohji stopped trying to sneak away. "How did you know my name?" he asked a little sharply.
Curtis Riddle faltered for a moment, then said quickly, "You work at that flower shop, don't you? The one that's so popular with the young women."
A little of the tension went out of Yohji's body, and he glanced inconspicuously at his watch. He wanted to be able to grab a McMuffin on the way to the mall, but breakfast wasn't served after ten. It was already a quarter till. He wanted the damn McMuffin. "Look, Riddle-san, I really have to be-"
"Please, Mr. Kudou, I only ask for a few minutes of your time," Riddle said hastily. "I can see that you have strayed very far from the path of God, and are in desperate need of His help and His forgiveness. Satan's shadow falls behind you, and I can help you to break free."
The man certainly had a mouth on him, that was for damn sure, Yohji thought with fresh irritation. Schuldich would have laughed at the man, perhaps even played along to have a little fun. Schwarz's view on religion was decidedly and understandably skewed. But Yohji had once been somewhat religious- a long time ago. Before Asuka had been taken away from him. He used to argue with her, used to get so annoyed when she would laugh at him, would tell him that there couldn't possibly be a God, and if there was, he certainly wasn't merciful. But that was before her death, and before the nightmare that his life had become upon joining Weiß. His hands were soaked with the blood of those he had killed, his soul hollow with the guilt of failure, murder, and secrecy. He had no room for God any longer. Let God take care of the innocent and leave him alone.
"Sir," he said with cool politeness, "you don't know enough about me to say those things, and being a 'man of God' certainly doesn't give you the right to preach to me." He turned his back and strode towards the door. "I'm late for an appointment."
"Liar." Riddle's voice was a hiss of anger and reproach.
Yohji ignored him, sticking the cigarette between his lips and pulling open the door. He stepped aside, allowing the old grandmother from the second floor to enter the building at a slow shuffle. She offered him a wrinkled smile of silent gratitude, and he felt his own lips curve into an answering smile.
"Go to your friends, then," Riddle said contemptuously. "Let them lead you to Hell. I will save those who are more willing to listen."
Yohji rolled his eyes and didn't bother to respond. He stepped outside and let the door swing shut behind him.
"Jeez," he muttered irritably as he hurried towards his car, pulling out his lighter and lighting his cigarette. "Damn crazy American..."
"Such a low opinion of those who strive to save you, Kudou," a voice chuckled behind him.
Yohji's heart thudded in a sudden rush of adrenaline. 'Go to your friends', Riddle had said. The bastard had known there were people waiting for him outside. But the voice, though it took him a few moments to place, was not one he associated with his friends.
Something heavy struck him on the temple as he whirled around, and his vision exploded in a burst of bright stars at the agonizing pain.
Then it went dark, and there was nothing.
Aya felt triumphant and on edge as she sat in the passenger seat beside Crawford-san.
She had won the argument with her brother to bring her along. After all, she'd pointed out, wouldn't she be safer with them than alone in the flower shop? So he'd conceded. He was in the backseat now, scowling with distrust at the Jackal, who was ignoring them all as he gazed out of the window with dead eyes. Ken sat between the two of them. Aya had been glad to see him again, but hadn't had the heart to hold much of a conversation with him. He looked as emotionally worn out as the Jackal did. Both of them had lost someone they loved. She'd embraced him comfortingly when he'd arrived at the shop with the Jackal in tow, and he had given her a slight smile, but that was it.
They reached Schuldich's apartment and Crawford found an empty parking slot. They all got out, and Ran's hand went to rest instinctively on the hilt of his katana, hidden by his trenchcoat. It was the first time Aya had seen him wear both trenchcoat and sword with "civilian" clothes, which only proved how dangerous things were getting. Ran leveled the Jackal with a cold look. "This is your last chance to speak up if you've been hiding anything," he growled.
Ken glanced at him sideways, but didn't protest his partner's brusque manner. He wasn't sure who he could believe in the Vampire community anymore. He may owe the strange Irishman his life, but that didn't mean he had to trust him yet.
The Jackal turned his brilliant azure eyes on Ran. There was no fear in his gaze. "Let's get this over with," he said quietly.
Ran nodded. Crawford led the way inside and up the stairs, followed by the Jackal, then Ken, then Aya, with Ran taking up the rear, hand still resting on his concealed sword.
Aya couldn't help but spare an anxious moment for Yohji. Crawford had tried to call him earlier, but there had been no answer. He'd left the playboy a message, but there was no telling if or when they'd get a call back. She hoped he was being careful, wherever he was, and that she would see his dazzling smile later. She'd give ten dollars just to hear his smooth player's voice trying to woo her.
She wondered suddenly why she was so worried about the blond, and shrugged it off uneasily. Yohji could take care of himself. Besides, her brother was the one who had received the death threat. Not Yohji.
Schuldich's apartment complex was nicer than the one Yohji lived in. His room was bigger, and he had a balcony. Crawford's place was admittedly larger, but Schuldich's was the one more suited for large gatherings. He wasn't the neat freak Crawford was, and he didn't have breakables everywhere you turned. They'd celebrated Aya's birthday at Schuldich's place, and she could still remember standing out on the balcony that night, gazing up at the stars. She smiled a little sadly as she climbed the stairs slowly. The night had been a little chilly, and she had been out there alone in just her thin sundress, sneaking away from the others to bask in the glow of the joy of being back with her brother, and the love she felt for all the men in the room, despite their dark secrets and their painful pasts. Her memory of that night was a fond one, and she visited it now in an attempt to calm her nerves in the face of this new tragedy.
She didn't hear the slight step behind her, and gave a little start of surprise when cloth whispered against her bare shoulders. She turned halfway, and met a dispassionate, one-eyed stare.
"Onii-- Farfarello." The hasty correction sent a flurry of confused feelings through her, and she winced. Ran was furious about Farfarello's cruel plot to twist her affections and memories, and she supposed that a part of her felt betrayed and resentful that he would trick her, and use her against her real brother. But she couldn't find it in herself to stay mad at him. Despite what her brother said and thought about him, she believed that Farfarello had cared about her in his own strange, subtle way. He had tried to protect her, after all. He had leapt amidst a horde of Vampires out for his blood, just to save her from them. He had told her to escape if she could, and to leave him behind. And there were other little things- like eating her cooking even though he didn't require it (she hadn't known about the blood back then, of course). And snapping at Schuldich for saying things he didn't think she would like.
And then, of course, he had been so obviously heartbroken at his sister's death, that her anger and distrust had faded to pity and honest affection. She'd found herself treating him as she had when she'd believed him to be her real brother. Ran resented it, she could tell. But she wasn't about to turn her back on a man who- despite his outward lack of emotion -was hurting so badly inside.
Farfarello had put a jacket over her shoulders- it looked like Ken's. She smiled at him in thanks, tugging it a little closer. "Farfarello," she greeted with more warmth, making up for her blunder.
He grunted and set his strong hands against the balcony rail, staring up in silence at the night sky.
She turned with him and lifted her chin to gaze at the stars once more. Nineteen. She was nineteen today. Now she was Farfarello's age. She smiled a little whimsically. No longer her "older brother". "Thank you for coming to my party," she said softly, turning her smile on him.
His eye flicked sideways to regard her silently. After a moment he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box, unwrapped. He handed it to her without a change in expression.
She accepted it with a bit of happy surprise. She hadn't really expected one. He shouldn't feel obligated to get her anything, since she wasn't his sister after all, and he certainly didn't seem like the type to give presents. She opened the small box eagerly, while Farfarello watched out of the corner of his eye for her reaction- the closest to nervous he got.
It was a cross.
She couldn't keep the surprise from her face as she hooked a finger under the thin chain and held it up to the light coming from inside, letting it spin and glint under the stars. A silver cross, almost two inches tall. Of all the things for him to give her, a symbol of the God he hated so much was the last thing she would expect. Her eyes darted up to find his face, full of surprise and puzzlement.
"Silver," he grunted, pointing without touching it. His eye shied away from the necklace as if he couldn't bear to look at it. "It's a myth that crosses hurt Vampires," he said in his typical monotone. "They won't be afraid of it. Use that." Use it to her advantage, he meant, and Aya immediately knew what he was saying. She had her brother, the rest of the assassins, and her new skill with knives to keep her from harm as far as men or Vampires were concerned. But she wouldn't always have those to back her up. The cross was to be a last resort- a backup, as it were. If ever a Vampire managed to get close enough where her friends or a lack of knives could mean a threat to her life, her attacker wouldn't be expecting her cross to cause them physical harm.
Trust Farfarello to always have a backup plan.
She cupped the cross carefully in her fist and threw her arms around the stoic Irishman in an impulsive embrace. He predictably stiffened in shock, but she didn't care. "Arigato," she murmured by his ear. She felt a hand tentatively touch her between her shoulderblades in an awkward attempt at affection on Farfarello's part, and a laugh of happiness bubbled in her throat.
"I'll never take it off," she promised, and a bit of tension she hadn't even realized was there seeped out of him.
Aya lifted her eyes to regard Ken's back in front of her with sympathy and a sudden resolve. Farfarello had protected her often enough. Now it was her turn. She would help in any way she could to get Farfarello back in the arms of the only other person in the world the Berserker might actually love. Even if her brother and the others thought she should stay hidden, stay safe. She didn't care what they thought. She wasn't going to leave Farfarello in the clutches of those who meant to kill him. She would find him. She would get him back.
And she would hurt the ones who had taken him away from her.
Author's Notes: Yeesh, two chapters ending with Aya-chan and her sudden bloodthirsty manner.. lol ^.^; That was not deliberate. o_O; But since her role in the story is a little more important than in WADtD, I guess I might as well make sure she's very much focused on. Oh yeah, and the cross was mentioned briefly back in ch. 4.. I just didn't have a chance to explain where it came from until this chapter.
Sorry this one took so long to get out.. I've been reading other peoples' fics, working on a few others of my own (GW), and trying not to lose my damn mind at work.
[*cough* More liberties taken with Aya's birthday and age... ]
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