Well, at least the buzzing in my head's died down. The brat pushes the
door closed as I back into the living room and collapse into one of the chairs.
Has -? Nope, Miho still hasn't looked up yet. She must be
direly close to failing if all this has yet to disturb her. Hell, she
hasn't fallen asleep sitting up, has she? Nope, her eyes are moving and,
look, she just turned a page! I could probably go down on the Bossling
right now and she'd never notice. Not that I'm going to! I was speaking
figuratively, really. I promise, all my plans involving the Bossling feature
his death - and quite a few are rather messy. The brat and kitty would
not approve since they'd have to clean up the mess. Then again, maybe
if I kill him away from the apartment... Wouldn't want to risk messing
up Mahaado's protection spell, after all. Though if some of Mana's more
spectacular fuck-ups haven't killed it, maybe me killing Yami won't either.
And wow, I'm rambling worse than Ryou when he's around Malik's more psychotic
half. Not that Malik isn't psychotic enough on his own, but his other
half is enough to make even me shudder, much less the brat. And I'm still
rambling, aren't I? This happened last time I was around such a focused
ghost - and the last time I got a concussion, but I think it's the former this
time. I guess that explains her zipping around the store like she was
despite all the glass.
Whoops, looks like the brat's been trying to get my attention a while. "Yeah?"
"Who was it?"
I rub at my temples, halfway hoping it'll help, and answer absentmindedly, "Makiko."
"We left Makiko at the store."
The Bossling and the brat glance over at each other, realizing they spoke at the same time. Other circumstances, it might be hilarious, but right now... I can't hold back a snicker. Actually, it's still pretty damn funny right now. Not quite 'laughing till I freak everybody out'funny, but still amusing. Not 'picturing Oyaji's face when he found out we'd vanished' funny and more 'switching the salt and sugar on Ryou at breakfast' amusing. Not - Damn, I'm rambling again. Shit. I hate it when I do that. I really do. At least it wasn't too bad this second time around.
"Yeah, Makiko's dead," I answer Ryou, opting to ignore the Bossling for now. He can stand to learn the world doesn't revolve around him. I think it'd be fun to take him down a few pegs, and it sounds like a job I'd enjoy doing.
"Since when?" Hmm, keep ignoring him? Nah, this should be interesting.
"Since it started raining first-aide kits." The brat's giving me one of his looks he so likes to do when I'm being more of a sarcastic ass than normal. Like that's ever made a difference in my behavior, except to make it worse sometimes. And the brat knows it does that too, which is what makes it so amusing. "You didn't really think it came from heaven, did you?"
The look the Bossling's giving me could fry meat. Good thing looks can't kill, right? Otherwise, I'd be six feet under, pushing up daisies, right now, via His Highness. And the brat, he looks like if it was possible to die from embarrassment, he'd be kicking up flowers right now as well. By the way he's eyeing the couch, I think he's trying to will himself beneath it. "Niisan..." he groans, and I smirk, all too ready to make the situation worse when we hear the door open and close.
My smirk drops, and I give Ryou what I hope passes for an evil glare with me as out of it as I am now. "You didn't lock it?"
"I knew he'd be home soon too."
Times like this make me regret my promise to myself to never hurt the brat. He's just asking for a swift pop on the back of the head. Not even hard enough to really hurt, but just let him know he's getting on my nerves. Stupid promise.
Silence stretches a long moment before I feel myself start to crack. "Lock the fucking door!" I snap.
"Oh yeah! Thanks!" I hear all the locks slide home.
I heave out a sigh. We have such an absentminded housecat. Not that he's a real housecat, mind you, but he's as close to one as he can get and still be human - most of the time. Domino's such a strange town. We moved here to get away from all the weird and bad shit that was going down in Tokyo, and within a week, we had a wereleopard for a pet. But we did end up with him - and he's good company for the brat when I'm on jobs - and between the two of them, they manage to keep the place decently clean and feed us respectably tasty food - and no matter how absentminded he is, I can think or plan or just plain plot better with him around. If I didn't know the situation we got him out of, I'd think we got the better end of the deal.
"Shoes!" the brat calls out a second later. Really, we have this routine down a bit too well.
"Thanks, Ryou!" Two heavy thumps follow, his motorcycle boots hitting the floor.
And at that, Miho finally looks up. "Jounouchi-kun! You're finally home!" What? Was she using our living room as a stalking ground, a prey zone? Lying in wait for our kitty? And if I don't stop now, I'm going to get pissed on top of... woozy, whatever the hell it is that I am now.
Jounouchi looks distinctly uncomfortable, if the put-out expression on his face and the way he's edging towards the brat is any indication. Miho seems oblivious, the brat looks like he feels trapped, and the Bossling appears to be confused and thinking on something hard enough to, hopefully, break his brain. A guy can hope at least.
All in all, the situation in my living room is starting to resemble a bad anime, one of those horrid situational comedies Mana's always watching. And I swear to you, if she walks in that door right now, I'm swan-diving off the balcony with an anvil attached to my ankle, like something off those stupid cartoons that creep Pegasus watches - and has playing throughout his entire building, even after hours. I can personally attest for that one. Pegasus J. Crawford is a freaky, freaky man.
Somewhere behind me, I hear a loud, put-on sigh, and for once it's not Ryou's. "Nosaka-san, don't you have somewhere to be?" I'll be damned. The Bossling speaks. "Since you have to be at work at seven-thirty tomorrow?"
Miho looks away from Jounouchi and slowly goes white. I guess she really did miss the fact her boss' son (grandson? I need to find that part out.) was right in the room with her. "Mu- Mutou-san?" Please, someone, don't let her pass out. I don't want to have to wait long enough for her to wake up to get my apartment cleared out. She ducks into a quick bow and snaps back up before I can wonder if she's out for the count. "O- of course, Mutou-san. Bye, Jounouchi-kun, Ryou-kun, Bakura-san." And she's out the door like someone's shooting at her.
The second the door closes behind her, Jounouchi lets out a loud sigh of relief and comes out from hiding behind Ryou, which was actually rather amusing since Jounouchi-kitty's several inches taller and broader than the brat. Ryou's just not a good person to hide behind, unless you're Mini-Me and even that's a maybe. It's his scrawny chicken legs, really.
"What happened, Dorobou?" I blink over at Jounouchi. What? People always think I'm joking about him calling me 'thief'. He called me that the first time we met, and he's called me that ever since. I'm just surprised he called me that in front of the Bossling. Apparently, silence on my part in situations like these can be - and usually is - taken as a sign of a lack of understanding. "What happened to your hand?"
"Glass." I'm hoping to again avoid a long, drawn-out explanation this time. I really need to get to work on this problem Makiko's left me with.
A frown settles heavily on his face. "What'd you hit?" I swear, instead of a younger brother and a housecat, I have two mothers.
I return the frown in kind. "A door, and it hit me." I can see the next questions as his mouth starts to open. "Witches, and no, I don't know which coven."
Okay, damn it, I need to think, and I need to do it now. I squint my eyes closed and try to concentrate on the problem at hand. This would be a lot easier if they would quit moving around! Finally I hear someone settling on the couch, someone collapsing in the chair opposite mine, and a warm weight settling at my feet, a head in my lap. I barely think about it as I start going through what needs to be done. Now if I could just tune their talking out. At least Jounouchi-kitty's quiet, excepting a ragged-sounding purr. I hadn't noticed I'm petting his hair, but we've been doing stuff like this since he pretty much moved in two years ago. Okay, so what are the Bossling and the brat whispering about?
"When did Jounouchi-kun start wearing leather?"
Wait a minute! That was the Bossling talking! How the hell does he know our housecat?
I can hear the suspicion in Ryou's voice as he answers, "As long as I've known him, so at least two years." If I know my brother, his eyes are narrowing. Tree Up His Ass Seto call this his 'rabid bunny' expression. "Why?"
"Last time I saw him, he didn't."
"When was that?" Thank you, Ryou, for asking for me.
"About three years ago. He and Aibou used to hang out."
Beneath my hand, I can feel Jounouchi-kitty stiffen slightly, and I know one of my eyebrows has shot up to my hairline, but I force myself to tune them out and work out something vaguely resembling a plan. Only thing is, I'll need a vampire's opinion. I'm not on good terms with the ones in the building ever since the Toaster Incident, and the only other vamp I know is Treeboy. Oh well, I guess I know where I'm headed next.
So why am I standing outside Kaiba Mansion half an hour till dawn? Okay,
scratch that. I know why I'm here. I'm just not quite sure why I'm
not here alone. Scratch that too. I know why Jounouchi-kitty's here:
(1) there's only one of me and all Treeboy's guards are vamps, so a Were should
even the odds, and (2) he has a bit of a crush on Tree Up His Ass Seto for reasons
I'm sure I don't understand. And it's not like this is the first time
he's snuck into Treeboy's house.
But why the hell is the Bossling here?! Apparently, he refuses to cotton on to the fact we're trying to ditch him. Is he bored or something? Didn't I read once that spoiled little rich boys like to hang out with the bad elements (and the kitty and I definitely fit that bill) for fun and thrills? Maybe breaking into another little rich boy's house with us fits that bill for His Highness.
Of course, even with the Bossling here, breaking in is a piece of cake. What else was it supposed to be with a master thief and a wereleopard working together? I hope he's enjoying his grand adventure at our expense. Still, he's not too much of a hindrance, and it makes up for one of my hands being out of commission. It's a good thing I'm not left-handed is all I have to say, because His Highness is not convenient to have around. Though, watching him walk between Kitty and me, I have to admit he's not exactly hard on the eyes. He does nice things for all that leather...
It's a good thing Kitty knows where we're going because I think I got a little distracted there. Then again, like I said, he's been here before. How many times? Five or six dozen, I think. He gets bored easily, and if it's close to morning or already day, he zips over here. Security's pitiful during the day.
It makes me wonder, though, just how old Treeboy is. Usually only really old vamps are elitists like this, only having vamp guards, not to mention he'd have had to have been grandfathered into the legal system since he looks about our age. But, at the same time, I know he was in the brat's school till about fifteen months ago - and I always make damn sure Ryou goes to day classes. I guess I don't know as much about Tree Up His Ass Seto as I should. Most of what I do know is secondhand knowledge from the brat and Kitty, and I just found out enough to steal from him and left it at that. Why do I have a feeling I'm going to regret that some time soon? I really don't like that feeling, mind you. It's right up there with guilt for Most Hated Emotion.
Kitty circles us around to the back of the house and leads us a back door. If it weren't so close to daybreak, I'd say this is too damn easy. Any sensible vamp would already be tucking themselves away from the light after all. Kitty's already assured me, though, we've got half an hour to forty-five minutes before Treeboy's unconscious though. Sounds like Domino's favorite prick likes to try to outlast the dawn. I thought he's supposed to be intelligent. Maybe stubbornness counteracts brains. I don't know. I do know if I don't start concentrating, I'm going to start nicking Treeboy's stuff and we'll lose his help before we even gain it. I can't help it. I chose to become a professional thief because I'm a bit of a kleptomaniac. Just a bit. I can control it if I have to. Really. Promise.
Finally, Jounouchi-kitty stops outside a door and speaks so softly that I almost don't hear him. "He's usually in here working till he's just about to pass out." Yeah, and even I can hear keys clacking on the other side of the door.
"I hope you have some idea what you're going to say to him," His Highness murmurs.
I hope I do too. I push the doors open and stride in the room like I own the place, though. Confidence is everything in this business, after all, and I have an abundance of that. The clack of the keys stops immediately, and exhausted blue eyes glare at us. "What the hell do you want?" he snarls, not even a hint of fang. Impressive. I'm told it usually takes years, even decades, for most of them to learn that trick; it's even more impressive if my guess is right and he was only turned a bit over a year ago or so. Then again, Tree Up His Ass Seto's always been a paragon of control. And he's still waiting on one of us to answer, and I guess it'll have to be me.
I flop down in a chair opposite him, making myself as comfortable as possible before answering. "I need to know how to find the Master of the City." Never let it be said I beat around the bush... and I think His Highness is going to hurt himself if he hits himself in the face like that too often.
I think I just managed to throw Treeboy for a bit of a loop. Yep, I'm definitely on a roll tonight. He recovers quickly, though. "The Master of the City died three months ago. He took a dive out a skyscraper window at dawn if you'll recall."
What did I tell you? Definitely in the realm of a spectacular end, don't you think? "That's the previous Master," I counter. "I'm looking for the current one. You know: the one who's MIA? I need to know how to find him."
Wow, and I thought he looked suspicious before. "Why are you looking for him?"
Damn. I hate 'why' questions, especially when they're directed at me. If I'm not completely honest, though, he won't help, if he's willing to at all. "Everyone's going completely apeshit without the Master keeping order. They're going to war in the streets."
He rolls his eyes. "Everyone knows that. There's been some injuries, but it's not like a bystander's been killed."
Ah, an opening! "Tonight one was. It'll just get worse from here on out."
Jounouchi-kitty leans his arms down on the desk. "We're all older brothers here." Wait... we are? I definitely need some more intel on Kaiba Seto, and I need it yesterday. "Don't you want to make the city safer for Mokuba?"
So there is a chink in Treeboy's emotional armor. I should have known Kitty'd be the one to know it too. "It wasn't particularly safe for him under the previous Master." I'm missing something here, and I do not like it. "What makes you think a new Master will make any difference?"
Kitty shrugs. "Make him make a difference." Like it's the simplest thing in the world. Maybe to him, it is. He tends to take the bald-faced approach to everything and make it work for him. Well, for him it works. The rest of us, however, have to complicate our lives.
Treeboy lets out a soft sigh, steepling his fingers and resting his forehead against them a moment. "I'll ask around tomorrow - tonight and see if anyone knows anything."
"There has to be some kind of rite of succession." I didn't... Kitty didn't... Holy shit, that was the Bossling! "There must be some sort of standardized way of choosing. Otherwise, someone would have seized control by now." Okay, maybe, maybe, it'll be worth keeping the Bossling around. I hadn't even considered that. Perhaps he's smarter than he looks, not that that's a stretch or anything.
Guess he got Treeboy's attention too. He looks mildly surprised, which would be a 'What the fuck?!' expression on a normal person, before clicking a few things on his laptop and typing something down. Apparently, he's not one for a pen and paper list. Then again, this is the head of Kaiba Corp, one of the biggest technology and gaming businesses in the world today; pen and paper is probably Stone Age for him. "So we're probably looking for someone the previous Master tapped to be his successor," he thinks aloud.
His Highness drops in the seat next to mine. "It might even be someone he turned himself especially for that purpose."
A cold chill runs through me. It's a feeling I definitely recognize. If you're around something enough, you definitely will remember it, and I damn well know spirits. Until tonight, it may have been two years since I've been around them - let alone have one go through me again - but I recall the sensation well. It's not exactly something one forgets. Usually, though, it's not nearly this cold: a November breeze, maybe, not an Artic chill. And since the spirit in question seems to quite content to hover somewhere over Seto's right shoulder and hum some kind of happy buzzing noise, all I can guess is it's a vampire's soul - and not Kaiba's. So it's true then, and they do die at dawn.
Yami's hand feels hot on my arm as he pushes me back into my chair. I hadn't even realized I'm shivering hard enough to start curling up on myself. It's getting better though. I'm starting to feel warmer already. Definitely odd.
At the edge of my attention, what little of it isn't worrying on how cold I am or how warm His Highness is or how strange it is for a spirit to be hovering around a vampire, I can hear Treeboy demanding, "What the hell's his problem?"
I'd growl, but I think Kitty just beat me to it. Then again, I don't think I can snarl like that. I don't think it's possible to snarl like that unless you spend part of every month in a four-legged shape. "Dorobou can feel spirits, ghosts as you'll have it. That's probably what it is."
"I thought cats were supposed to be able to sense stuff like that."
"Well, I'm not a cat right now, am I?"
Treeboy shrugs. "Tomcats will be tomcats, no matter what form they're in."
I wonder if they realize they have an audience for their little drama. This is one of the most entertaining things I've seen in a while, and, if I'm judging correctly how rapt he seems to be, the Bossling appears to concur.
Kitty looks spitting mad for a second before grinning broadly, fishing his cell phone from God knows where, and flopping down to sit on the desk. He shakes it in front of Treeboy's face, still with that demonic grin of his, and singsongs five words, "I have Ryou on speed-dial."
And how incredibly weird is it for the Bossling and me to smack ourselves in the face at the same time? Must make a mental note: avoid doing that again at all costs.
Treeboy pushes himself to his feet. I don't think any of us misses the fact he's holding on to the desk to keep upright. "As fun as it's been, it's time for me to retire now. I trust you can show yourselves out?"
I stand as well, trying not to notice His Highness still has his hand on my arm. I'm failing miserably, mind you. "Consider us gone. We'll be back tonight and see if you've found out anything."
"You'd better be planning on looking some yourselves." Even exhausted, this man can put out nastiness like nobody's business. He's still an asshole though.
"We'll see what can be found out from people who are alive during the day." Snarky princeling there. I guess they really don't get along worth a damn.
The Bossling and I are at the office door before I notice Kitty's not with us. Glancing over my shoulder, I can see he's still half-sitting on the desk. "Staying, Kitty?"
"A little while."
I nod. "Be careful coming home then."
We leave him there and let ourselves out. It's remarkably easy now that the sun's clearing the horizon. With the exceptions of Jounouchi-kitty and maybe Seto, everyone in Kaiba Mansion is unconscious. I think I like thinking of it that way better than considering we just left a house full of corpses. It's not possible for me to completely hold back a shudder at that thought.
"Still cold?" Huh? Oh, His Highness. What's with him tonight? Does keeping him out late make him nicer or something? If so, someone needs to hire a night staff to keep him up after hours. It's definitely a change for the better. "Was Jounouchi-kun right about it being a ghost?"
I shake my head. "A spirit, yes. A ghost, no. There's a difference. It's just hard to explain. But it was a spirit, yes."
"Does that make you one of those animators, like they call them in America?"
"Nope. I can talk to spirits and ghosts, but I couldn't raise a zombie if my life depended on it." Hell, even if the brat's life depended on it, I probably couldn't, but I'm not admitting to that, especially not to him. "Don't you need to get home to your Mini-Me?"
He looks at his watch and winces sharply. "Yeah, Aibou will be getting worried. Can you make it home okay?"
I'd resent that implication if I didn't know I've been about to fall over all night. "I'll make it."
"I'll come by your apartment a little after one. That should give us long enough to turn up something before dark." I guess he really doesn't get we were trying to ditch him. Wait a minute. 'Were trying to ditch him'? We're not anymore? He's somewhat useful, though, so I guess I can stand to keep him around a little longer.
"All right. Sure. Whatever. Go home before Mini-Me starts getting worried." I turn on my heel and start stalking away. I just have to make it home then I'm going to sleep. See? I do make plans other than to murder His Highness.
First draft: 11 January 2005
Revision: 03 December 2005
Wow, sorry it took me so long to get this chapter out. Working 40 to 50 hours a week in a shopping mall is just not conducive for getting much writing done. However, I finished - and it only took a little over a month. Again, I am very sorry about how long the update took.
I had a little soapbox moment to put in here, but I'm lazy now and don't feel like typing it up. Therefore, please consider me to have ranted on 'Bakura beating Ryou' fics.
I'd appreciate any reviews you guys can leave me. They are the lifeblood of this story.
Thanks a lot!