Yay, look, another one of my 'oops look what my sleep-deprived brain came up with' pieces.
I STILL hate the fact that you can't put more than four characters on this site. -_- Literally five would be perfect. I wasn't even going to include Yuliy in the summary this time.
The doors fly open seconds after Professor Willard knocks.
"Welcome back!" Ryouko greets, beaming widely.
The Jaegers smile and grin, and Dorothea responds teasingly, "Long time no see, ojou-sama."
It's cute to see that Ryouko is just as unconventional as always, greeting them at the door personally and with so much energy. She said in her letters that college might've tempered her more impulsive tendencies, but it certainly hasn't dampened her spirit.
"Long time no see," the new head of the Naoe family echoes cheerfully, shaking their hands one by one. Her grip is strong, with subtle callouses from clenching the grip of a practice katana on a regular basis. "Come in, come in."
It's good to see everyone, Ryouko decides. Just as she remembers, their Japanese is impossibly impeccable.
Philip, who was only fifteen when she last saw him, is the only one who's changed significantly with a few centimeters of a growth spurt, but he's still carrying a violin case around. Fallon and Dorothea look much the same, just a little bit older, with the same smiles. The professor has a few more lines on his face and looks a little tired—probably from having to wrangle his team while worrying about their wayward wolf at the same time.
Getting settled in takes not long at all, since the Jaegers all have the same rooms that they did several years ago. While Ryouko and Dorothea are chatting about Ryouko's continued kendo practice, Philip glances absently at the door between his and Fallon's. It was Yuliy's the last time.
"I'm glad they sent you guys," Ryouko is saying as they make their way to somewhere they can all chat. "If it were a stuffy-looking person in a suit or something, I think I'd be so nervous I'd totally make a fool of myself…"
The Jaegers exchange a glance behind her back, and Dorothea bites back a chuckle as Ryouko continues chattering on. If it were the flighty girl that they met years ago, maybe that would be true. But she carries herself with a sort of confidence now that wasn't there before. She shoulders the weight of her family company, and it's a heavy burden in this world, given her age and gender, but it's made her stronger. Ryouko would definitely be able to deal with any stuffed-shirt bureaucrat that tried to walk over her.
People who've faced vampires take crap from no one, after all.
After a maid comes in and pours them all tea, she claps her hands together and states, "Okay, let's talk business!"
When Ryouko took over the family company a year ago, give or take a month, she decided to officially align the company with V Shipping. Naturally, it was a long process, and some parts of it couldn't be discussed over phone and letter.
It just so happens that there have been rumors of a strange young man with an eyepatch floating around Japan. The Jaegers casually volunteered to check it out, and hammer the last details out with the Naoe family, therefore hitting two birds with one stone.
The latter takes almost no time at all, and then they're just chatting. The Jaegers fill her in on some of their latest adventures, often talking over one another in trying to correct each other and indignantly exclaiming that that's not how it went (mostly when someone recounts an embarrassing mishap that happened to someone else).
"Have you...heard any word?"
"From Yuliy? Not a peep," Philip scoffs, reaching for another slice of cake, but there's only loneliness in his expression to match the half-hearted snap in his voice.
"Do they really think he's in Japan?" she asks, knitting her fingers together in her lap.
Willard exhales a soft puff of smoke and lowers his pipe.
"We're not sure," he admits. One eye is hidden behind the glare bouncing off his monocle, but the other is contemplative, and worried. She recalls seeing that look when he woke up after washing up on the shores of Odomari, and she bets that he hasn't stopped worrying for even a second since then.
Even now, she doesn't fully understand what happened that night—only that Yuliy now has the power to become a god or a devil, in the professor's words four days later. She hasn't asked for more details, as she has enough to get on with already, but that doesn't mean she can't worry. All over the place, the most powerful people in the world are whispering about the Ark, the Ark, where's the Ark, capture the Ark.
It makes her a little mad, honestly. That Yuliy is in such danger and they can't help him, that they're all treating him as a thing and not a person who's just trying to make the world a better place.
Willard is still deep in thought, smoke rising from his pipe. Philip is half-heartedly nibbling on another piece of sponge cake, fingers leaving indentations in the sugary treat. Fallon crosses his burly arms across his chest, brow furrowed. Dorothea appears the most collected and unworried of them all, but she's still the oldest besides Willard, and Ryouko knows she's as worried as the rest of them.
"Do you guys have anywhere to be for today?" she asks, deliberately changing the subject. "If not, we can catch up over drinks."
"Sure, if you know a good bar nearby." Dorothea grins. "I don't think you want your house burning to the ground because of us again."
"We're not that bad," Fallon protests, looking mildly offended.
"Face it, you guys are pretty bad when you can't hold your liquor."
Ryouko knows she's just kidding. Hopefully.
"Well, there's a bar a few blocks away.," she suggests. "The one with no name, just a mockingbird sign. It's still in good business...Not too good, though, like the bartender says."
"Yes! Let's go!" Philip declares, finishing off the sponge cake in a few bites. "I'm legal drinking age now!"
"And also a lightweight," Dorothea teases, her teal eyes mischievous.
He scowls, face reddening. "Just because you can drink Fallon under the table-"
"Hey, she has an unnatural alcohol tolerance. That is not my fault!"
Now that, Ryouko would pay to see.
"We are not getting drunk," Willard warns them all, though he sounds more resigned than stern. "We still have to get up early tomorrow morning."
"Come on, Professor, you're the only one who can outdrink Dorothea. You have to avenge me after that bar in San Francisco."
"I will do no such thing."
Ryouko, meanwhile, is wondering just how exactly they know that the professor can outdrink Dorothea, because that, she would also pay to see.
"It might be good to just stop by and see if he has any new information for us," the female Jaeger suggests, a little more seriously. "Besides, it's already getting late. We won't be there for too long."
When they leave the mansion, Ryouko decides not to comment on how they all bring their weapon cases anyways. They truly do live in a different world, just like she and Dorothea talked about on the train back then.
There's a closed sign on the bar, but they walk in anyways. The bartender looks up, ready to tell them to leave, but smiles when he recognizes them and just gets out the glasses.
"That's the sixth time, are you kidding me?!"
Ryouko nearly chokes on her drink laughing as Philip practically screams at the foosball table, red in the face from a mixture of alcohol and frustration. Fallon's face is as red as his hair, and Dorothea puts her drink down and leans her forehead on her arms on the table, shoulders shaking with laughter. Ryouko's sure she hasn't laughed this hard in a really long time, but these wildly quirky foreigners just make it so easy. Oh, sure, her ears are going to be ringing for hours later, but will she regret it? Not at all.
It's boys versus girls, and it's not so much that the girls are winning as it is the boys are losing. Badly. Mostly because Philip keeps hitting the ball into his and Fallon's own goal.
The funny thing is, Fallon's not even upset; he is literally rolling on the floor laughing himself to tears.
"Did you guys spike my drink or something?!" Philip accuses no one in particular, glaring at the cheerful faces of the foosball people as if they have personally wronged him. "Ugh, I'm probably just more drunk than I thought."
"You had," Dorothea snickers, looking up for a second, "one glass of wine."
Philip glares at her for a second before reaching down to try and pull Fallon to his feet by the collar (he fails, dismally). "Come on, you big oaf, we have to reclaim our honor! We can't let the girls win without getting a single point!"
"Why don't you do that?" Fallon's voice wheezes from the floor. "I'm getting an ab workout right now."
He reaches up to ruffle Philip's hair with a drunken giggle. Philip jumps back, patting down his hair with an indignant exclamation, even though Fallon is so drunk that he missed by at least a meter. Trying to straighten out his hair is probably just a reflex by now.
"Let's just watch," Ryouko suggests to Dorothea, still giggling. She hasn't stopped grinning since they walked into the bar, and her cheeks are starting to really hurt, but she couldn't care less. "We'll win without even touching the table."
Approximately ten minutes later (five to get Fallon to stop laughing, five more to get him to stand up without falling back over), Philip is finally put out of his misery after the girls shut the boys out ten to zero. Perhaps his one saving grace is that the girls actually scored the last point themselves, instead of Philip accidentally shooting the ball into his own goal, again.
"Hey, ojou-sama, you know how to play pool?"
The nickname is more of an endearment now than anything, a remnant of earlier days.
She opens her mouth to agree before glancing around. "Where's the professor?"
The Jaegers exchange a glance, then look around, confused. It's the bartender that saves the day.
"He went upstairs," he explains, gesturing at the stairs with a damp cloth. "Said he wanted to look at some old files or something."
"I'll go get him," Ryouko volunteers, already heading towards the stairs. "I'm not that good at pool anyways. You guys get started."
Ryouko has been in this bar a few times, but never in this loft area. She looks around curiously as she climbs the last few steps, running a hand over the dark wooden railing. To her surprise, the walls are lined with bookshelves and cabinets, and there's an old transceiver sitting on the floor.
The professor is standing by the window, surrounded by vague wisps of smoke drifting here and there, and he turns when she steps onto the landing. He looks worn out. Tired.
"I take it the game is over?" he asks dryly. "I don't hear screaming anymore."
She clears her throat. It's a little hoarse from laughing so much earlier. "We're playing pool now, if you want to join us."
From his brief wince, she can assume that the Jaegers playing pool is not a novel experience, or one he wants to repeat.
"I'll pass, thank you," he demurs politely. "I need my eardrums intact."
A rueful smile curls at her lips. She's about to respond when they hear muffled shouting and swearing in various different languages, in which each Jaeger's home cultures are showing through very colorfully, followed by dramatic sobbing from Fallon, who can get emotional enough without alcohol, and laughter that undoubtedly belongs to Dorothea.
"Did Yuliy ever join in these kinds of games with them?"
Willard looks a bit surprised by her question before he thinks about it for a second.
"If he did, it was usually because the others insisted on having a round quartet for most games, or if Philip was egging him on," he says finally. "He'd make a run for it when they weren't looking. Not because he didn't like them, it was just…"
"They're a bit much sometimes," Ryouko supplies with a smile, and he tips his head in agreement.
The silence stretches out before them.
"He'd make a run for it when they weren't looking. Not because he didn't like them, it was just…"
"He had great teachers and teammates, you know. I'm sure he's doing alright."
The professor glances at her briefly, surprised again. Then he sighs, shoulders slumping slightly, his typical poised calm fading. He must've had a few drinks tonight as well. There's an empty glass sitting on the windowsill, she notices, with a trace of green at the bottom.
"I hope he is," he says, closing his eyes for a moment. "I just wish he could bring himself to rely on his teammates from time to time."
Ryouko didn't understand back then, when her own father tried to keep her close. And even though Willard and Yuliy aren't related by blood, the concern etched constantly into the professor's worn expression is the same as the concern her father showed, beneath the stern words and frustrated countenance.
She thinks back several years to when she went out to the balcony to watch the sunset with the boy she'd followed across the sea. Her teenage brain thought it'd be romantic and cute, and maybe she could offer her undying support and affection for the troubled 'Sirius', or whatever they were talking about. She honestly hadn't had a clue at all.
Yuliy was surprisingly open and sincere. They ended up talking honestly, just not about anything Ryouko expected.
"You know," she says aloud, "I got to talk to Yuliy a few times in Sakhalin. He asked me what having a father was like."
Willard looks up sharply at her, and she offers a small smile. "Something tells me he already had an idea of an answer." She places a hand on her chest. "I've only been able to come this far because of everything my father taught me. So I'm sure Yuliy's fine. Because he had you and the Jaegers to guide him. And he'll come home one day."
Ryouko holds the professor's gaze steadily. Because she has no way of knowing if Yuliy is really fine. She has even less of a clue than the Jaegers do. But he would never abandon his family, and one day, he will come home to them. He's out there, fighting for a better world, so the least they can do is believe in him.
And if he can't come home, his family will find him, and bring home to him.
I was tempted to write like another omake or epilogue where they walk into the bar ten or twenty years later and Yuliy's just there, like 'oh hai'. XD