AUTHOR'S NOTE, PLEASE READ (More at the bottom): This is technically a fanfic of a fanfic- A possible prelude/ perhaps future chapter of the Purgatorio arc of the massive series The End of the Beginning by Superior Dimwit. Many people following the story expressed their wishes for Shiro & Mephisto to get along again (some really nasty happenings caused them to be in somewhat of a Cold War at this point in the fic), but it's gonna take some time before we get there... So enjoy this promise in the meantime. A bit late for a Christmas special, but better late than not at all, right? Right? ^.^'
Written by me, beta-read/corrected by Dimwit- It should more or less come to line up with the TEotB eventually.
IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THE END OF THE BEGINNING there might be some confusion. And even if you have, there might still be- Certain characters that are briefly named that haven't been introduced yet. Even so, it should be readable with these background settings in mind:
-Shiro is an orphan
-He used to have a summer job at True Cross Town as a janitor while he was studying to become an exorcist
-Becoming a priest wasn't his idea
-Neither was moving to Rome for a while
-Shiro's name is written as "lion son/man" (canon). Mephisto's nickname for him is "little lion".
-Golem & Inderpreet are characters he will meet in Rome
-Shiro has a magic key to Faust Mansion (and probably still his cram school key as well) from when he and Meph were still on good terms
-Mephisto has certain ways to spend his holidays- For more information, see TEotB Inferno arc, chapter 36 (88 if you ignore arcs and consider the story as a whole)
-Shiro has motion sickness, caused by Mephisto poofing him to random places so often
-we have Reasons to assume Meph hung around Strasbourg for a while in the early Renaissance.
I don't own Ao No Exorcist or any characters created by Kazue Kato.
I don't own any of the song lyrics (or the associated music) featured in this fic either.
So this is Christmas
and what have you done
another year over
a new one just begun
Shiro couldn't decide which was worse: the overly jolly Christmas songs that evoked images of big happy families enjoying a home-cooked dinner in a lavishly decorated house, or the ones that made you feel guilty for believing (wanting?) that fata morgana in the first place... and pointed you right back at the desert of your life.
Well, his life, at least.
Shiro didn't particularly care for Christmas – or any other holiday, for that matter. Ever since he became a priest, even the holidays weren't holidays anymore, but rather an evil scheme that forced him to try and cram even more hours of work into one day. While everybody else was enjoying some time off. Well, almost everybody. Of course there were others who got the heavy burden of care bestowed upon them. Doctors, in the first place. Firemen. Waitresses.
Maybe the hard workers didn't miss out on all that much, though.
Taking confessions had taught him there were a lot of people who only pretended their Christmas was merry. Like, a LOT. Of people. Weary voices through the netting of the confessional spoke of feelings of guilt and anxiety, not meeting everyone's expectations.
And these were just the previews. The real shitstorm wouldn't break loose until after the holidays, when the parishioners would come scurrying in, seeking forgiveness for what they said – or just thought – when their patience, so devoutly saved up for the occasion, had run out, and all their misguided anticipation exploded at that annoying uncle, that slow grandmother, that irresponsible sibling.
"Can we please put on another station?" He cast an urging glance at his colleague near the radio, but the young brown-haired priest on the ladder – what was his name again? Marco? Mario? – shook his head and shrugged.
"It's the same on every channel." He sent a somewhat apologising smile in Shiro's direction. "Might be better to just try and get into the spirit of things – unless you prefer a double dosage of choir music this year. I think I could find Rai Classica–"
He turned his back to Ma- Muh- ...whatever his name was, and stared at the floor tiles he was to mop. Get into the spirit of things, huh. Spirit of what, exactly? Cleaning? He frowned. Five years into my professional career and I'm still being used as a bloody janitor.
If this were the main hall of Saint Peter's basilica he could have understood – though he'd still wonder why they would ask an exorcist to do this kind of work. But no, the demons were keeping relatively quiet thus far and he had been asked to help out at one of the many monasteries of Rome, in light of the annual flood of pilgrims and tourists that liked to stay in an "appropriate" setting.
Like those people would even notice a sparkling floor when they'd come in, hauling luggage and arguing which room belonged to whom while planning the rest of the evening as they went, dribbling mud and dirt all over the place again in a matter of seconds. In any case, just a quick sweep should suffice... But try telling that to the elders. Apparently, not just the actual devotees but even the part-time Christians who would come to church only one night a year were a big priority to them, and the entire Vatican needed to be spotless.
Of course, there would also be plenty of high-ranking officials of all sorts of organizations overflowing the city. Religious leaders, politicians, generals, foreign royalty and all that jazz – everyone and anyone who had something to gain by keeping the image of a decent, diligent, and above all, God-fearing individual intact.
Himself not excluded.
The thought was as bitter on his tongue as it was to his mind; he would have spat on the floor if it wouldn't have been so counter-productive. And if he wouldn't have felt the eyes of that statue of the virgin Mary burning into his back as he continued his work.
And, so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong
You said it, John. You said it.
Ironically, the only other person not really hiding his dislike for the part he was forced to play, normally very much enjoyed Christmas. He just didn't really enjoy the whole Christ aspect of it. Nor the mass.
In fact, his preferred form of Christmas was that of decorating trees, eating sweets and making merry. Gathering around to listen to someone telling a story – fine. Singing songs – fine.
But all this sitting quietly, reminiscing the same old fairytale year after year... It's one thing to take the past into account when planning one's future, but another thing entirely to let it dull the present so much – a terrible waste of time, that's what it was. Especially with festivities going on in so many other parts of the world. Organ music and choir song, beautiful as they could be, weren't very suitable for dancing, and one needed more than just a sip of wine and a tiny cracker to throw a good party.
Silent night, holy night. Pfah! Bonfires and blood, meat and merry – Yule. Now that was a celebration worth the name.
Unfortunately, due to his role as a Branch Director, Mephisto often found himself in a position where he simply couldn't refuse a direct invitation to the midnight mass on Christmas Eve... And orchestrating a minor catastrophe to give himself a good excuse not to come wasn't something he could do every year. Not without rousing suspicion. Especially since the entire Order knew he loathed it: over time it had grown into a sport to immerse him in this lavish charade for as long as possible.
Of course, it could still be good fun to remind a bunch of rusty, straight-laced clerics how deliciously Pagan the origin of some of their traditions and decorations really where… But it didn't change the ceremonies he was forced to attend, and his glee usually evaporated once they began. One can only endure so much singalong fanfiction of his arch rival.
Torn between his gentlemanly façade that forbade him to scoff, and the growing childish need to stick out his tongue to some of the cherubs, Mephisto clenched his jaw and tried to distract himself by imagining what other purposes a majestic hall of these proportions could have been used for – the more clashing with the current one, the better. The many scantily clad fresco figures on the ceiling and the fact that the famous baldacchino looked an awful lot like a giant four-poster bed helped.
In a way. In another way it caused him discomfort of a different kind, which he would rather not want the people next to him to notice... Better abandon that train of thought.
His eyes drifted to the Latin words written on the large gold band that wrapped the walls of the dome: Et tibi claves regni caelorum. And you I will give the keys to the kingdom of Heaven.
"And whatever you bind on Earth..." He sighed. Bound. That was the word.
The lines of people rose for the umpteenth time to participate in a hymn, and Mephisto stood up along with them – but remained quiet. There was a limit to how much he would be humiliated. Surely, no-one would blame him. And if they did, he would have the pleasure of arguing that a demon singing words he did not mean, lying in the very house of God, in the presence of the Pope, would be be far worse a sin than his lack of participation.
They sat down again.
Fighting the urge to tap his foot or drum his fingers, the demon cast a longing glance at the night sky visible through windows high up in the small cupolas. Just forty-eight more minutes. Thirty-three, if he managed to slip out when everybody else lined up for communion.
Sit, stand, sing, sit, stand, sing... Good boy, have a cookie. And people wondered why he assumed the form of a lap dog. No sense of humour. None of them.
Well... Almost none of them.
A tingle in the back of his mind spoke of a familiar soul, a small blip on his radar. A few rows behind him, all the way to the side. Of course. Strategic positioning for the chronically late – which he undoubtedly had been, even if he was ranked high enough to have a seat reserved for him. Strategic also in the sense of overview, just in case there actually would be a demon stupid enough to venture into the Church of churches of his own free will. Or if someone would call upon him to deal with whatever emergency had arisen elsewhere.
He had tried to reach out, tried to assert the state of the man's heart, scan and see if he was just as bored: but the reception was blurry, the image distorted due to all the euphoric spirits around them. Emotions were running high – and not in the useful sense. Hope, determination and devotion all around, with only minor specks of discomfort blotting the overall glow of the crowd. Unity. Ugh.
Just forty-five more minutes...
"Finally!" Mephisto breathed the moment they set foot on the plaza outside. Without saying a word, the exorcist next to him pulled a lighter and a pack of cigarettes out of his coat pocket, picked one out, stuck it in his mouth, and lit it up: a single, smooth move, as accustomed as drawing a gun and firing.
and heaved out a heavy waft of smoke, in a similar, silent gesture of relief.
Mephisto crinkled his nose. From one annoyance to another. But at least his companion was considerate enough to not blow any smoke in his direction.
He hooked his arm through the other's and tried to pull him towards the centre of the plaza. "Let's go look at the tree!"
No cooperation. "...Why? I can see it just fine from here – it's huge."
"It's the first year they put one up, and now that the masses are dispersing we can finally get close without too much trouble. Come on~"
Mephisto zig-zagged through the crowds, dragging along the sullen priest until they reached the rope fence set up around the gigantic fir. Swiss guards stood vigil in case anyone showed violent intent towards this piece of heathen Germanic tradition in the heart of Catholicism, but a few odd looks aside, no-one seemed to protest. On the contrary, many people, most of them with children, gathered around the novelty to admire the hundreds of lights that were draped around it.
Shiro had to admit that it was a good addition to all the stone that surrounded them: he always thought the city could use some more green. Actual green, not just flowers in pots hanging from window sills. Still, for Mephisto to get so disproportionally enthusiastic about a tree... It wasn't like there were presents for him underneath. Maybe this was the relapse of having to sit through two hours of Christian worship?
Force of habit made him turn to observe the people around them – and their reactions. There was always a throng of people gathered for mass, young and old and even older- Some so ancient you could call it a Christmas miracle that they could transport themselves all the way to Saint Peter's. The youngest had to be held up to see the tree, unless they were lucky enough to make it to the rope fence. Or they could do like one father who had hoisted his kid up to sit on his shoulders. Through the trail of smoke Shiro could see the electric lights reflected in the big, round eyes of the boy. He couldn't be older than six: mouth slightly open, cheeks rosy from the cold – they must have followed the entire ceremony from outside. The child's entire face radiated joy and wonder, and his father seemed tired, but satisfied with the heavy weight on top of him. Next to him was a woman, probably his wife, who tried to shush a fidgeting little girl in rapid Italian, telling her that no, she couldn't climb it, now behave young lady, or La Befana would not get her that skipping rope she wanted.
It seemed endearing. Should be endearing. Was endearing – or so Shiro's brain told him. Yet for some reason, the rest of his body seemed to disagree. It was an uneasy, slightly nauseating feeling that crept up from his stomach and into his throat; he turned his head before it could make its way to his eyes.
Mephisto was still staring at the lights. No- wait- was he? Shiro squinted. The principal also appeared to have some kind of communication issues between mind and chassis, judging by the way his pupils somehow seemed to have sunken deep into his skull, the radiant lime of his irises dimmed to a forest green as his gaze wandered somewhere far beyond the bright lights.
"Yo." Shiro nudged his shoulder. "I'm going home."
"-Hah?" The demon tore his attention away from the tree. "Already? We're finally off duty – I thought we could go have a drink?"
"You might be off-duty. They called me to be on support patrol until 3 am, and tomorrow I'm expected to help out with security during the Urbi et Orbi."
"How about lunch afterwards, then? We could go to the Christmas fair at Piazza Navona–"
"Mmyeah, I'd rather not."
The tips of his ears dropped instantly. At the same time, his irked-o-meter shot up all the way to the top of the Christmas tree.
"Is that so? And is there perhaps a reason why you are being even more insolent than usual?"
"Dunno, maybe because even after working my ass off for four weeks straight in preparation of all this bullshit, my boss is still expecting me to spend whatever tiny scrap of free time and energy I have left on him, and turns into a whining little brat the moment I don't immediately go along with his plans?"
"Ah, so now I'm suddenly your boss?"
"You mean you aren't?"
"Technically, no. You may still be a member of the Japanese branch by nationality, but currently, all your missions are being coordinated by the Italian director."
"This is one of those technicalities that you'd turn the other way around in an instant if it supported your argument, isn't it?"
"It would make no sense to argue against myself, would it? Your point being?"
"That you're never satisfied, and arguing is useless anyway." He plucked the cigarette butt from the corner of his mouth, and flicked it past Mephisto. "I'm gonna go home, pick up my stuff, and get back out. You can do whatever the hell you want." He turned around and stuffed his hands down his pockets.
Don't look back. Don't say anything. Simply take off. Keep walking. Be as stone-faced, stone-hearted and just as plain dumb boring as possible, and Prissy Longstocking would lose interest.
...Maybe that would work for that other bothering thing too, gnawing at his chest.
And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young
"This is Bravo Alpha Kilo Alpha, calling Yankee Alpha Bravo Oscar. Come in, Yankee. Over."
Oh for the love of God.
"Yankee here. Still no sign of agent Red Nose? Over."
Just how long was he going to keep this up?
"Negative. How long until Elf Force One was supposed to land? Over."
Honestly, how juvenile can you be...
"Red Nose might have been compromised. Keep an eye out for agent Prancer."
"WOULD YOU STOP MESSING WITH MY WALKIE-TALKIES ALREADY?!" Shiro tried to swat the devices out of Mephisto's claws, but the demon vanished in a cloud of pink smoke, couch and all, and re-appeared on his other side, steering around the walkie-talkies to float above his head like paper air planes. Asshole. Just look at that smug face.
Should have taken the time to clear out his bag and just bring one communicator, instead of dragging along those for the whole team.
Trying to shrug off his irritation, the exorcist re-assumed his observing position. Not that laying flat on his belly would really help him not to get noticed, now that there was a horrible, pink-and-purple baroque couch with an equally horrible demon on it hovering next to him.
Whatever. When you couldn't get rid of him you had to opt for the second best option – which would have been to put a bullet in his knee, but since that wasn't possible either Shiro had to make do with denying him the satisfaction of getting a rise out of him. Let him be a cunt, and just ignore him.
In hindsight, it was his own fault. Kinda. Telling any demon they could do whatever the hell they wanted was a tremendously bad idea: telling Mephisto was something you only did when four weeks of intense work had hollowed out your brain like Swiss cheese. Still, why on Earth he chose to camp out on a freezing hilltop instead of just curling up in his cushion nest at home, watching anime, was beyond Shiro.
One of the walkie-talkies made a looping in front of his binoculars, and started a dog fight with the other one around his head.
"Why are you even here?"
"The question is, why are you?" the demon countered easily, gesturing with his hand – and the walkie-talkies – at the scenery. "There's nothing worth hunting here – nothing that would pose a threat to that precious ceremony tomorrow. Nothing but some very low-level apparitions within a ten mile radius. These hills have been combed through for weeks: what's left is no more troublesome than coal tar." He cast a bored glance at the man below him. "Surely even you can sense it."
Of course he was right – these past few days had been nothing but pointless, repetitive tasks that only served to soothe the nerves of the higher-ups. Only when everything was being double, triple, quadruple checked could they convince themselves they had everything under control. Understandable, given the amount of people they felt responsible for. Understandable, but unnecessary. And un-wise. It would be far better if the crew taking care of it all was well-rested, rather than cranked up on coffee because they had to do rounds until a few hours before the big event.
Not that he was going to admit to that pink-clad pest above him that he was right. Contrary to popular belief, he had some sense of self-preservation.
"So you're suggesting I just abandon post? If I were to do that on a mission you sent me on, you'd have my hide the second you found out. Also, you're avoiding the question. Why. Are. You here." He turned over, leaning on one elbow so he could look the demon in the eye. "I know you hate cold. Why do you even care if I'm out here or not – do you really not have anything better to do?"
"I loathe stupidity, for one thing, and would rather not see one of my exorcists die of hypothermia when it's completely avoidable."
"So now I'm your exorcist again?" Shiro grinned. "Turning technicalities around when it pleases you, just like I said."
"That you did, and I thought it would be a shame to disappoint you." The demon smiled with venomous politeness.
Shiro studied the smile. Mephisto seemed... off. Angry? Not really... Frustrated, more like. Not getting what he wanted. But what he actually wanted, he didn't make clear. As always. Shiro tilted his head. Straight-out asking would only cause the demon to avoid the subject even further. How to deal with this... Well there were only two options, really. Carrot or stick. Teasing it out of him could work; it could also blow up in his face. Mephisto was piqued, and, as such, unpredictable.
But life had been a bitch to him all day, and what better person to dump a surplus of bitchiness on?
"How about you get us some hot cocoa, then? Since you're such a concerned employer?"
Hah. Now there was a nice expression. Shiro tried his darnedest to keep his own features straight. The befuddlement on Mephisto's face was just too good. He had suggested they'd go out for a drink. He had voiced his opinion about the temperature. He had called the exorcist his employee. But now said employee treated him like some kind of errand boy. Was this a win or not?
Thin eyebrows knotted together above the reptilian eyes. Cheeky little lion. But a lion that was still playing. Hmm~ to sacrifice a turn in the hope the game would continue? Or could he make it last, even if he didn't go along?
A glint in the eyes behind the glasses. A glint a bit too similar to some of the other ones he had seen today, being told to sit, stand, sing... fetch?
His eyes flared up like fireflies on steroids.
"Splendid idea. I'll go get some." And with that, he was gone. And so was the magic keeping the walkie-talkies in place above Shiro's head.
Shiro hadn't really expected Mephisto to return after his exit last night. Still, he had lingered on that hilltop just a little longer than he normally would have done. Just because he couldn't get the binoculars to fit into his bag properly, of course.
Saint Peter's square was packed to the brim.
From his seat in the high window, he idly scanned the masses like one would do with a garden: See if there are any weeds growing where they shouldn't, ready to take them out if one popped up. A few times his hands had gripped the rifle on his lap a bit more tightly, but they were only camera flashes, nothing demonic. He rolled his shoulders. The long hours, lack of sleep and the cold were beginning to catch up with him, and stiffness would jeopardize his aim. Not that it really seemed anything would happen. He yawned. Bits and pieces of the speech of pope John Paul the second ricochetted between the colonnades and drifted in his direction.
"To redeem means to restore at the same time, from man to God and from God to man. Redeem also means to restore man to himself – for what is man but the image and likeness of God, and for precisely this reason, he is man."
Redemption, huh. I can name you one dude that has some redeeming to do.
He rubbed the bump on his head where the walkie-talkies had landed. Caused by what looked like a man. If you squinted. And ignored the stockings. He smirked. A likeness of a likeness – like Chinese whispers, each imitation moving further away from the original.
"To all our brethren, with whom we aspire unity of faith in the church of Christ–"
He didn't feel particularly brotherly with the other priests. Well, at least he had some brothers in arms. Kind of. He looked across the square, where a beam of sunlight had broken through the cloud and reflected off the weapon of one of the other members in Golem's bunch of renegades.
"In this mystery we are united to every man, and to all men, because the Redemption was accomplished for all, and embraces all without distinction-"
If we're all redeemed anyway, than what's the point of confessing? Or apologising? Shiro sighed. Mystery indeed.
"We wish that the light of this night may come, particularly, to those who suffer, wherever they are on this earth, and whatever their misfortune–"
Did annoying demon bosses count?
"God takes human suffering with the birth of Christ–"
Seriously, what the hell was up with the guy – first he gets all doe-eyed at a stupid tree, then he wouldn't leave him alone... What happened to his usual business attitude?
"-which is the beginning of his Cross and glorification."
A well-behaved applause briefly echoed over the plaza. Still no weeds. None.
...He hadn't shown himself all day. Shiro would have welcomed that as a blessing if not for the nagging feeling that something was off. He had half-expected the demon to give that lunch proposal another go. Heavens knew why he was so keen on spending time together, today of all days. If he needed him for some clandestine mission he wouldn't have beat around the bush so much. And visiting a Christmas fair? You'd expect a demon to hiss at anything Jesus-related, and it wasn't like he couldn't get candy or entertainment elsewhere – hell, he had a theme park in his own back yard! Completely Jesus-free!
Shiro's attention was drawn back to the speech when the Pope started the usual list of well-wishes in different languages, and German passed by.
"...Ihnen allen ein gnadenreiches, schönes und frohes Weihnachtsfest."
The Pope closed with a more personal note to the people of Poland, his homeland behind the Wall, and the hardships of being separated from loved ones and homestead, before the usual end of ceremony was set in.
Swiss guard, ensemble playing, waving and applause... Shiro didn't really register any of it anymore. The plaza, the sounds... They all faded away into an unfocused blob. A blob that warped and transformed and presented him with a different crowd, different season, different traditions. A festival he never got to partake in, didn't even get caught up the preparations for. Where the processions where much less formal, the colours much brighter and the people much merrier. Lanterns, and balloons! And food and music and friends and–
Somewhere in the far depths of his mind, something stirred. Similar to the uneasy feeling under the tree, yesterday, but not quite. There was an addition to it. Something new. Like trying to recall a word. You know you know it, but still it somehow stays just outside of reach, hiding behind the curtains in the back of your head like a little yōsei, giggling at you while you keep searching for it.
He rubbed his knuckles over his forehead, lightly knocking in the hope the thought would fall out. But the cold seemed to have frozen it stuck to his skull, leaving only little parts that came off ringing in his ears while he removed the ammunition from his rifle, packed up his gear and started walking home on auto-pilot.
Leave room. Accept thanks from cleric. Say he's welcome. Yes. Merry Christmas to you too.
Stairs. Go down. Find exit. Go home.
Open door. Person. Step aside. Say hi.
Cross road. Wait for green light.
Walk. People. Noise. Bar.
Foreign language. Tourists.
He stopped. Slapped his forehead. And with that last hit the thought finally came out in its entirety. Like an avalanche.
Every bit as forced to play a part as he was. Every bit as cut off. Stranded in an environment that didn't fit him. No-one to connect with. But it couldn't be– And even if it was– But he was a demon – and an asshole – why should he even care–
Shiro gritted his teeth. Not fair. Bloody Christian morals, bloody Pope and his bloody speech.
Do you really not have anything better to do~ Now his own words turned against him. Great. Just great.
He did have something better to do – go home and sleep. Alone. And let Mephisto mope. Also alone.
He stared blindly at the bar. Fragments of talk, laughter and melody creeped through the framework of the door.
And the windy winter avenues
Just don't seem the same,
And the Christmas carols sound like blues,
But the choir is not to blame
He dug into his pockets. Key. Door. Now. Before common sense could catch up with his actions.
The one who opened the door was Belial, of course. He seemed mildly surprised at the sight of the exorcist – even if that was hard to tell. It appeared not a single muscle had moved in his face for the past five years.
"Fujimoto-san. It's been a whi–"
"Yeahyeah cut the crap: is he home?"
"I'm afraid his highness doesn't want to be disturbed–"
"Well that's rich, when he's the one that started the disturbing." He shoved the butler aside and marched in. "Bedroom, I take it?" He halted. Hadn't considered that possibility. It was unlikely, but you never knew. Holidays. Maybe, after he pissed the demon off last night... Sheepishly, he looked at Belial. "He doesn't have... guests... over, does he?"
One eyebrow rose maybe a millimetre in response. "Not to my knowledge, but–"
"Good." He turned around and strode down the hallway. "Oh, and for the record, he sort of invited me. So you can quit fussing and if he starts nagging you, you can just blame me." That's what everybody always does, anyways.
He still knocked. Just in case.
Silence – but he was definitely in there. Shiro could feel his presence through the wood, as well as the tiny twitch in the wavelength when he knocked – just like the ones that would ripple through his ears or hair curl when he picked up on something. Which meant Mephisto knew it was him, and was just being a twat for theatrics' sake. Shiro wondered if the demon could sense him rolling his eyes. Fine. He'd wait. Let the princess be petty if he needs it so much.
"...Come in." At last. He pushed the door open.
"Hi. Does the offer for drinks still stand?"
No reaction. Shiro stayed in the door opening, leaning one arm against the frame, waiting for the demon to make up his mind. Cuddled up in his cushion nest with a bunch of snacks and not even granting the exorcist a look. Diva. He already started to regret his decision of coming here.
"A bit early for you, isn't it?" Still not looking, but Shiro's watch detached itself from his wrist and hovered in front of his face, showing him the time in Italy.
"It's past noon. Good enough." He snatched the watch out of the air and put it back on. "And if not: You also suggested lunch."
"Already had dinner, thank you."
The exorcist suppressed a sigh. He had a nagging feeling his guardian angel – if that slacker even existed – was raising his hands to Heaven and asking him why, why had he ever thought this was a good idea. Shiro ignored it. He was here now, better make something of it. Or he'd go home feeling even worse. He assumed a comfortable slouch against the door frame, and studied the back of the principal's head. There was no movement, except his ears were perked up. He was paying attention, waiting for his next move – while maintaining a poker face, as usual.
Carrot approach this time. Definitely.
"How about hot chocolate?" He hesitated. Too much, or..? Fuck it. He was too worn out to let the play drag on any longer. "...My treat."
That did the trick. Mephisto's silhouette was no longer a straight line of defence. Instead, everything twisted: He turned around in his bean bag to face the exorcist, dragging his knees up to his chest and sliding his elbow over the back of his seat, bringing his hands together and slowly folding his fingers. The corners of his mouth curled upwards, revealing the tips of his fangs, and Shiro could swear the ahoge coiled in on itself.
Shiro huffed. "Wipe that smug grin off your face. Just one drink, and then I'll go home. I'm way too tired." He pointed an index finger at the demon, who elegantly rose from his nest and poofed himself from a baby blue yukata into a white suit. "And I get to decide where. I'm not paying for some fancy-ass five-star cocoa when you can get a perfectly good one at any café."
Easier said than done. Shiro didn't care much for sweet stuff, and had to admit he had no clue where in True Cross Town they'd serve good hot chocolate. With whipped cream – the demon had been adamant about that. Most lunch rooms were closed by now, and the only spots he could think of were some fancy restaurants, the kinds where you'd go on a date. To be spotted there with Mephisto was– No.
With the demon's suggestion for the Piazza Navona in mind, they went back to Rome with the aid of one of his magic keys. But the market was closed on Christmas Day, and every bar, café or restaurant they passed was either not open yet, or completely full. Even the ice cream shops. Shiro had a vivid mental image of his guardian angel sarcastically applauding him as they sauntered through the empty streets. An odd role-reversal, since the demon next to him had remained in high spirits this whole time... Making the exorcist feel weirdly guilty. He told himself he didn't have to, moreover, that it didn't make a lick of sense- probably the only reason Mephisto was so happy, was because he won their stupid bantering.
They made a turn at Via del Mascherino, passing under the massive wall and ended up facing the colonnades of Saint Peter's square again- and Shiro threw his arms in the air before sitting down on the steps surrounding the plaza, like depressing serpentines following his descent of defeat.
"I give up." He let his hands slap down onto his upper legs. "I tried. I'm sorry." He turned his head towards the massive tree, next to the obelisk. If only to avoid Mephisto's eyes.
And here comes the sulk... any second now...
But the sulk didn't come, and he turned back.
The demon was staring straight ahead, also at the tree. And yet not at the tree.
That look again. So far away. But a bit different this time: below the surface, an Idea welled up, filling his head, brightening his entire face. And when the eyes moved to Shiro, the green irises were anything but dull.
"How is your stomach right now?"
"Excellent!" The demon hoisted him up, grabbed his shoulders and held him at arm's length with a maniacal grin that grew wider by the second. "I know just where to go."
One hand let go, three fingers lifted–
Like being turned inside out, dissolved, re-assembled and squeezed through a tube at the same time. Shiro swayed and instinctively grabbed onto the nearest object to stay on his feet.
Unfortunately, the nearest object was the end of Mephisto's horrid scarf – which not only utterly failed to serve as a solid anchoring point for the dizzy exorcist, but almost pulled the demon over as well.
White. Lots of white. Not Mephisto. Freezing cold. ...Moist. Shiro pushed himself up and scurried to his feet, took off his glasses and shook himself like a wet dog. "Pfuah! What the– I asked you time and time again not to DO that! At least not without warning!" He rubbed a hand over his face and started brushing snow off his glasses.
"And that makes it acceptable to strangle me?!" The principal tugged at his tightly-wound accessory, twisting and bending his neck in order to make room.
"I didn't do it on purpose!" This time.
Patting the snow off his coat, he looked around. They stood in the middle of a small square, right in front of a small statue of a boy with a flute, and two high trees. Surrounded by weird, crooked houses that looked like someone with a tangram obsession built them. The walls were all assembled of dark, wooden bars with square and triangular bits of plaster in between. "Where are we?"
"France – currently, at least. The ownership of this region has shifted many times, so I can't really reprimand your lack of geographical knowledge." The irritation had slid off his features, and a forlorn smile took its place. "It certainly still feels Germanic to me."
Surprised, Shiro turned his head. "You've been here before?"
"A long time ago." The demon looked ahead. Again – that gaze. But not as far away. And slightly... happier? Softer, somehow. Shiro stared. It was many years since he'd last seen that expression on his face. Perhaps Mephisto realised it himself, or just noticed his staring... because the next instant, it was gone – and replaced with the toothy grin from before.
"Now then, shall we?" He held out an arm for the exorcist to take.
"Yeah, no." Shiro gently pushed back the elbow. "I've found my balance now, thanks. And why are we here?"
"Why, for heiße Schokolade, of course!"
The demon cast his eyes to the darkening sky. "Hot chocolate. Cocoa, sugar, and heated milk. And whipped cream." The eyes returned to earth with an extra spark in them. "And Kugelhopf! Or maybe Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte–"
"Are we still talking about drinks? Or are those some weird sex positions?" Knowing Mephisto it could be either; Mephisto himself, however, was giving him a most reprimanding look. "What? I'm supposed to think you're this excited about something completely harmless?"
A groan, but not without the hint of a chuckle to it. "...Cake. Let's get some hot chocolate, and cake."
Hooking one gloved finger through the gap between his coat buttons, he started pulling the exorcist to one of the narrow streets.
Shiro was forced to assume somewhat of a trot to keep up with the long legs stalking ahead. And not slip on the snowy cobblestones again.
"Won't we run into the same issue here? I mean, everything being full and all? And if you haven't been here for I-don't-know-how-long, would you even know where to find it?"
"It's Christmas – have some faith, father Fujimoto!" The demon winked over his shoulder. "The order in which the stalls are placed may have changed, but they all have remained in the same location for centuries~"
"Of the Weihnachtsmarkt!"
"Of the wha–? You know, I'm just gonna stop asking..."
The deeper they moved into what was probably the city's centre, the more energy the demon seemed to gain. Smoothly navigating through the increasing amount of people, he dragged the exorcist along like a hyper-active puppy pulling his owner by the leash. By the time Shiro started to wonder if there was actually an end to the long, old street, Mephisto's enthusiasm was almost tangible. Any moment now he'd start glowing. They had to slow down just a little bit when the masses suddenly became much more dense. Shiro, who until then had mainly focused on not tripping or bumping into anyone, finally got the chance to look around a bit more, and saw they had reached a much bigger square, next to an enormous church. No, not church. Cathedral.
He might not have been the most religious priest to walk the earth, but even he felt his jaw slightly drop before he could catch it. It wasn't the size – Rome was full of big buildings, and the Academy was more mountain than building. But the sheer amount of decorations... Contrary to the massive, bulky shapes and smooth surfaces he was used to, Strasbourg's cathedral seemed like... Well, nothing he had seen in person, but he could chance a guess that the Hindu temples Inderpreet had told him about looked something like this. Or maybe if you crammed the whole of True Cross Town into the shape of just one big church, rather than letting it be a hill of its own…
The snow made it look like the cathedral had lace draped over the large, spiky crystals reaching into the sky... Skeletal and eroded. He had seen smaller parishes in that style, but this... This was gigantic. And contrary to the ones he'd seen... This was old. Genuinely old, not just made to look like it.
Old, just like the last time he had seen that look cross Mephisto's features.
Shiro took a chance leaning backwards – the demon was still holding on to his coat, and his scarf prevented him from bending his neck all the way to look up at the tower. It might have even been higher than the dome of Saint Peter's. And nearly every single centimetre was covered in tiny statues, ornamental curls and bas-reliefs. And then there were those immense doors and huge stained glass windows...
"Quite something, yes?" Mephisto's voice made him snap back. The demon's glimmering eyes were observing his admiration with approval. "But I found something else that might be of interest: that stand over there sells hot beverages." He pointed to a spot a few metres away, over a few heads. It was only now that Shiro realised this must be the Whynag– Wideneck– that German thing with stalls the demon had been yapping about. Because of the crowds and the cathedral he hadn't noticed they had somehow ventured into what he imagined Disneyland to look like. At Christmas.
Lights. So many lights. Really, every single little thing you could possibly get some electric lights or candles in, on, between or around seemed to have been given just that. And everything else was covered in pine branches, straw, ribbons and bows. So many bows. And glitter. So much glitter. Under any other circumstances, Shiro would have cringed. But in the current quantities it was simply so overwhelming, the only response his brain could come up with was laugh.
Laugh at the insane amount of utterly useless trinkets being sold everywhere, laugh at his tiredness, laugh at the fact that he didn't bring a hat when it started snowing, laugh at the various terrible Christmas songs that sounded from the speakers in the stalls, laugh at Mephisto who was almost skipping when the vendor handed him his chocolate. With whipped cream, of course.
His laughter died down when the vendor kept staring at him. Shiro frowned. Okay, maybe they didn't see a lot of Asian people around here either, but staring was still rude. The man gave him a puzzled look, said something in an encouraging tone, gestured... And a sudden, silent panic hit Shiro.
He'd said he'd pay for the chocolate, back in Faust mansion. With every intention of doing so – in True Cross Town or Rome. In coin he had on him. Lire and yen. He had never even seen a franc with his own two eyes, let alone had any in his wallet.
Run, the first voice in his head said – one that sounded an awful lot like his teenage self. Don't: you'll be stuck in fucking France, said his slower, but much smarter voice. His fault, a third voice added.
He caught Mephisto's eyes over the cup he was clasping with both hands. Seeing his alarm, the demon lowered his drink, and bounced his glance back and forth between the vendor and the priest, like following a tennis match, before understanding the situation. When he did, his shoulders dropped and he tilted his head with an unimpressed eyebrow raised. His dear employee seemed equal parts embarrassed and annoyed, stuffing his hands in his pockets and avoiding his gaze... Trying to disappear into his scarf.
He looked like a child forced to apologise for bad behaviour... and adorable.
A helpless snickering bubbled up from his stomach, and he had to put the cup on the counter in order not to spill anything.
"Ha ha, really funny! Don't just stand there – do something!" Shiro growled at the hiccuping demon.
"Fufufu – some host you are, inviting someone only to treat you to a round of drinks~"
"Oi, it was you who suddenly decided to drag me over here! That wasn't part of the deal!"
"Heeheehee~" Mephisto wiped the corners of his eyes. "My bad, my bad – perhaps I should have put up a contract detailing the agreement…?"
He shot a sly grin at the exorcist, who grew increasingly furious – and increasingly funny, with shoulders tensing up until only his nose peeked out from over the scarf.
"Listen here, you–" Shiro started, clenching his left hand into a fist, when his vision suddenly turned white a second time. Cold glasses, hot breath – scarf. Shiro instantly froze in his engaging position, and the demon lost it. Hanging over the counter, hooting with laughter, while Shiro felt his entire face heat up to the point his hair could have caught fire. Oh you bloody- fucking- little-!
He roughly snagged off his glasses and opened his mouth for a second attempt of giving the bastard a piece of his mind... But then he saw the chuckling, now blurry figure reach into his pocket and pull out a square... thing.
Still trembling, Mephisto reached into his space-bent wallet and dug out some foreign paper notes that he giddily handed over to the discontented vendor, who grunted something of a thank you before stomping over to the cash register.
Shiro's anger slid off his back as he watched Mephisto accept his change back, slightly giggling.
"...How come you just happen to have the right currency on you? I thought you hadn't been here for a while?"
The demon cast him a sideways smirk. "I'm always prepared." He picked up his drink, superbly unbothered. The grin grew wider. "Eons of experience in spontaneous travel."
Shiro felt his cheek twitch.
All the tension left his shoulders, and he snorted. "Should have fuckin' known..."
"Language, priest-san." But there was amusement in his voice.
Shiro grinned as he turned to the counter, putting his glasses back on to study the menu. "My sincerest apologies." Couldn't be more insincere.
"Can I borrow some off you? If they have something besides liquid candy I'd like a drink as well."
"Hmm~" The demon looked around, then nodded to a stand a few lines away. "Have you ever tried Glühwein?"
Here were are as in olden days
happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
gather near to us once more
"You look ridiculous."
"That's what you say of my everyday garb as well."
"Because it's true."
Shiro eyed the demon with a grin from ear to ear. When they had passed by a booth selling winter accessories, Mephisto, in his never-ending concern for his employee's well-being, had insisted the exorcist needed something to protect his head from the cold, and pushed him to buy a knitted hat. "Pushed" meaning using him as his personal dress-up doll, forcing on one hat after the other until static electricity almost fried his ears, whereupon Shiro had decided the demon could do with another scarf. Or ten. Each more tightly wound than its predecessor, until he became so top-heavy he almost keeled over, and the old lady that owned the store began to give them very chastising looks.
They had since then moved on to her neighbour, who sold more modern, festive headgear. Shiro now sported felted reindeer antlers, and Mephisto was equipped with the fluffiest, pinkest ear-warmers the world had ever seen. Half the faux fur consisted out of silver tinsel, but that wasn't enough glitter for his majesty – he had tied some silver hair ribbons into two little bows on each side, and Shiro had helpfully put one of the matching mittens over his hair curl so it wouldn't get cold. The furry monstrosity flopped its empty thumb from side to side as the demon modelled, making slow pirouettes in front of the exorcist.
Shiro hid his face in his palm, snickering giddily.
They had started out normal enough – chocolate, mulled wine, Mephisto giving history lessons about the house on the corner (apparently it was built in 1427), Mephisto fangirling at the astronomical clock inside the Cathedral (which, admittedly, was really cool)... Mephisto musing about stealing the mechanical rooster on top to use as an alarm clock.
Actually, now that he thought about it, that was probably when things started to go overboard and the original plan of just one drink before going home was completely abandoned. Though maybe it already was when they teleported here in the first place.
They were now three drinks and a various array of snacks further, and the vendors started packing up.
Shiro took off the antlers – despite Mephisto's whiny noises to keep them – and looked around the plaza. The dark had fully set in a few hours ago, and the snowfall was becoming more steady. He wrapped his arms around himself and shivered, while Mephisto handed over some money for the ear warmers to the woman behind the counter. Looking ridiculous had never stopped him from wearing what he liked – though he had discarded the mitten.
"So, where would you like to go now?" The demon came prancing over to him.
"Actually... it's about time to go home, don't you think?" He cautiously glanced up. "Everybody else seems to do so – and frankly, I'm getting kind of cold."
"You wouldn't be if you had bought that hat I recommended." Mephisto frowned, and Shiro sighed.
"Like I was ever gonna wear that. Can you just picture me going on missions, sneaking through the bushes with that stupid pom-pom on my head?"
"It was cute!"
"It was impractical."
Shiro crossed his arms. "Come on – haven't you had enough already?"
Dipped ears and a pouting face. Nope, clearly not. Stupid question. When has that guy ever had enough of anything?
Shiro pinched the bridge of his nose. "Look – I get it, really. But I'm tired, and cold, and I just wanna go home, eat some dinner, take a shower, and sleep."
He sounded surprised. Shiro looked up.
"Well yeah. I've only had some cake and half a brizzle–"
"Yeah, that. I could do with an actual meal. I've been working and walking all day, you know."
The demon stroked his beard in thought, and Considered.
"How about that, then." He looked down at the exorcist, and smiled. An actual smile, not a grin. "A proper meal. My treat."
Shiro gawked. Mephisto offering to pay for something. Now there was something you didn't see every day. Sure, he had paid for the snacks and drinks thus far, but made very clear it was an advance that would be subtracted from his pay check.
Warily, he shifted back his weight on one leg. "An actual meal? Meat and vegetables? Not the French or German equivalent of monja?"
"Absolutely not!" The demon straightened up with glimmering eyes. "I haven't had a good plate of Sauerkraut in quite a while – and it's still early enough to avoid the real Christmas dinner rush. If we hurry, we might be able to find a spot that hasn't been reserved yet~"
"I've been wondering– do you... like, space-bend your stomach?" Shiro folded his hands behind his head and leaned back on the wooden bench, seriously considering to unbuckle his belt. "Because I have no idea how else you'd fit this on top of all the stuff you ate at the market."
"What a question... Of course not. I told you, I have a very fast metabolism." The demon absent-mindedly sipped the last bit of his wine while staring at the painted figures on the wall.
"Okay, time-bending then. Gotcha." The priest followed suit and grinned at the ceiling. "Man, I'm gonna explode. Good stuff, though."
"One for the road?" Mephisto studied the bottom of his glass. "Would you like another beer?"
"Depends. Is it part of the dinner?"
"I beg your pardon?"
Shiro leered down at his table-mate. "Are you still paying, 's what I mean."
"My, my~ taking full advantage of my generosity, I see?"
Shiro's grin grew wider. The demon didn't exactly seem to mind, with that lecherous smirk. He shrugged.
"Gotta seize the opportunity, and such... What did you say again... I'm sure you had some nice words about Chance and shit at some point..."
He scratched his chin. Couldn't remember exactly.
Mephisto snickered and shook his head, flipping through the menu. "I suppose I could consider it dessert~"
"As long as it's not that kind of dessert." Mephisto gave him a quizzical look that only made him smile wider. "You know – the kugelhopping kind."
A mischievous grin skimmed his face as he returned his eyes to the menu. "Are you sure? Kugelhopf is quite pleasant. Now, for an appropriate dessert drink... Ah!" Perfect. He signed a waiter over, and ordered–
"An entire bottle?" Shiro's eyes darted suspiciously over the label. "Are you trying to get me drunk?"
"The thing with mead is that it's very hard to have just one glass. You'll understand. And it's of fairly light alcohol percentage, no stronger than wine – certainly less than that rubbish you carry in your hip flask." Casting him a knowing look, the demon poured them two glasses of yellow, sweet-smelling liquid.
Shiro sceptically held it up against the ceiling lights. Sugary stuff usually wasn't his thing. Then again, this didn't look like it was supposed to come with a tiny umbrella.
Apparently, the demon could read his thoughts.
"Try it." Mephisto clinked his glass against Shiro's, and winked. "It's a warrior's drink. I promise."
Shiro snorted. "Fine, fine – but just so you know: I've seen you look, and I promise it's gonna take more than a bottle of wine to get this warrior to agree to whatever it is you have in mind."
White. Again. Not snow. And he wasn't wearing glasses. As far as he could tell. Things seemed foggy, though. Did he fall? Would explain the headache. But not why the ground was soft.
Bouncy. Boing. There was a word for it. Something with a B. He groaned. Thinking hurt.
His entire body twitched, and he sat bolt upright before his sluggish brain could inform him that was a Bad Idea. He was punished relentlessly for it.
"Holy mother of-! Aaahh..." He slapped his hands over his ears and squeezed his eyes shut in the hopes of stopping the baoding balls in his head from rolling back and forth through his skull, slamming into the back of his eye sockets. Stop fucking ringing!
"In case you were wondering..."
Where was that other annoying sound coming from? He opened his eyes just a sliver and waited for the fog to clear up.
"One bottle of mead..."
There was a pinkish blob next to him. It talked.
"Two shots of Jägermeister..."
It grew out of the bed? No, wait, it was just wearing a robe in the same colour.
"One glass of Kirsch..."
It gained spikes as it talked. No, not spikes – fingers. With claws. It was counting.
"A double whiskey..."
Mephisto's triumphant, fanged grin slowly came into focus.
"...And some Kugelhopf."
Shiro grabbed the nearest pillow.
So here it is, Merry Christmas
Everybody's having fun
Look to the future now
It's only just begun
AUTHOR'S NOTES (continued)
Did they...? Or is Mephisto just being a tease? You decide~ ;)
-Rai Classica is Rome's classic music channel.
-John Lennon, that is.
Happy Christmas (war is over) - John Lennon & Yoko Ono, 1971
It doesn't have to be that way - Jim Croce, 1973
Have yourself a merry little Christmas - Frank Sinatra, 1948
Merry Xmas Everybody - Slade, 1973
-Meat and merry: Catholics traditionally do not eat meat at Christmas. Yule used to be a lot more blood thirsty, with sacrifices being made an all. Shiro isn't so devout- or he just got so caught up in the festivities and outlandish food that he forgot about it.
-Et tibi tabo claves regni caelorum: The entire text reads "Tu es Petrus et super hanc Petram aedificabo ecclesiam et tibi dabo claves regni caelorum". This is a passage from Matthew 16:19 and is found on the inside of the dome of Saint Peter's Basilica. "You are Peter and on this rock I shall build my church, and to you I give the keys to the kingdom of Heaven". The passage continues (and so does the Latin phrase, on one of the side arches of the church) with "and whatever you bind on Earth shall be bound in Heaven, and what shall be released on Earth shall be released in Heaven."
-1982 is the first year the Vatican put up a tree. Surprisingly, there were no protests against it at all.
-La Befana is fairytale figure, a good witch who brings presents on the 6th of January, Epiphany, the day of the three kings. She was invited to come along to greet baby Jesus and bring him presents, but was too busy cleaning (yes, really). Later she regretted it and followed them, but was too late- since then she has been wandering the Earth giving presents to all good children and coal to the naughty ones. You know, just in case one of them is Jesus.
-The military alphabet: Mephisto is spelling "baka" and "yabo"- meaning "idiot" and "slob" in Japanese.
-Chinese whispers is a game where you take a sentence or short story and pass it on to the person next to you by whispering it in his ear. That person tells whatever he understood from you to the person next to him, and so on. You usually end up with something vastly different than what you started out with.
-John Paul II's speech: Yup that is the actual speech, though I can't be held accounted for small translation errors from Italian to English.
-A Yōsei is the Japanese equivalent of a fairy, or pixie.
-Christmas fairs are a Big Thing in Europe, and especially in Germany. Strasbourg's market is the oldest, first held in 1570. The Italian fair is closed on Christmas day, but the one in Strasbourg (at least the one near the cathedral- there are several throughout the city, actually) remains open. Or so it has been for the past few years- I can't be certain of 1982. Took some creative liberty there. I didn't do that with the snow, that ain't mere sentimentality for decoration's sake. I looked it up and weather reports from the time say they really did have a White Christmas in that area. Italy, as usual, was just grey.
-Tangram: A Chinese puzzle game with geometric shapes. I briefly considered origami since that's more Japanese, but it isn't flat.
-The square they're on is called Place St. Etienne and has a fountain/ statue of a tit catcher. Yeah yeah, giggle if you like. I mean the bird species.
-Kugelhopf & Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte: Look 'em up. Not tricking you, they really are cakes.
-Shiro is right: The tower of the Strasbourg Cathedral is 144 metres high, while Saint Peter's is 137.
-The old house on the corner is Kammerzell house and was built in 1427. It's still in use as a hotel & restaurant
-Prague's clock might be more famous, but Strasbourg also has an astronomical clock, displaying date, hour, stand of the moon and sun, zodiac signs... Figures of the apostles passing by the figure of a blessing Jesus, the figure of Death striking the hour, and an amazing mechanical rooster that cries three times with astonishing realism. Look it up on youtube or something, if you can.
-Brezel: Also known as pretzel.
-Sauerkraut (or choucroute) with different pork meat products is a local speciality. Bacheofe is what Shiro probably would have picked: a hearty stew of pork, lamb, beef, and vegetables.
-They're having dinner & drinks at Aux Armes Des Strasbourg - I picked it because it had mead and a nice, old-fashioned, very German interior.
-Shiro underestimated the alcohol level of German beer- and probably also that of Glühwein. Japanese beer is usually significantly lower. Mephisto has very poor alcohol tolerance in Dimwit's fic (and this is probably canon if we go by the manga, where he mentions being worried Shura might attack him if he gets drunk. While Shura has a rather poor alcohol tolerance herself). However, going by how he's always snacking yet really skinny, he must have a very fast metabolism. Which also means that while it's easy to get him tipsy, you'd have to continuously pour alcohol into him to keep him drunk- And he won't have hangovers.
-Mead is sweet, but a true Viking drink.
-Shiro's hip flask: I headcanon him as the kind of guy who carries a little nip to use during stake-outs and hikes. My main reason for that is a) he's got a stressful job and b) later in life he seemed to be bribing/ bonding with Kuro with alcohol. A lot.
-Baoding balls are heavy cast iron balls with a little bell inside, used to rotate in one's hand for meditation purposes as well as medical (dexterity, motor skills & muscle strength).
-Jägermeister is a herb liquor, and Kirsch is distilled from cherries. Both pack a punch (35-40%).
Happy New Year! =^.^=