Author: Mostly Harmless
Summary: A serial killer is on the loose, one who leaves his victims in twisted configurations that have earned him the name "Picasso." Detective Nicholas D. Wolfwood is assigned the case, unaware that he's about to become part of the killer's dangerous game. When "Picasso" becomes obsessed with him, Wolfwood is pulled into his dark, diseased world and can feel his own mind slipping away into madness.
Pairings: Legato/Wolfwood with OC/Wolfwood and Wolfwood/Vash in later chapters.
Warnings: Violence, disturbing content, sexual themes (slash and het), graphic language. Alternate Universe. Not-beta-read. Re-organized for readability.
Part I: Kelly Morgan
Kelly Morgan lived in a small blue house that had been converted into even smaller apartments. She woke every morning in time to feed her cat, shower and get dressed. Then she packed her backpack, grabbed her keys and hustled to her blue two-door. This was done in the same way every day with only the clothes, hair, and contents of the backpack changing.
Kelly Morgan pulled out of her driveway every morning at 9:00 and arrived in her class promptly at 9:15 with enough time to eat a granola bar and drink a juice before her chemistry teacher began his lecture. Apple juice was her favorite though she also drank orange juice and the occasional soda. She wanted to be a veterinarian.
Her classes ended at 1:20. She always headed to the nearby gym and stayed there for an hour. After a shower, she came home and called her mother. She watched TV and sometimes read a book then napped on her couch, and only woke when her phone rang or the cat meowed. Then Kelly Morgan did homework until it got dark.
At 10:00 every night, you could catch Kelly heading to work unless she called off sick or switched shifts. Sometimes, if she was late, she ran to her car in full gear: slinky dress and high heels. Other times she packed a bag and dressed at the club.
Until 2:00 you could find Kelly dancing on a bar or stage, sliding down a pole and gyrating to loud music. What they did not give her in salary, she made up for in the tips that wealthy gentlemen and working class Joes slid into her thong strap.
She left the club and was home by 2:30 every night to sleep and repeat the pattern. Kelly was reliable, predictable. Kelly seemed very happy. You could tell in the way she cooed when she scratched her cat's overlarge belly, in the way she laughed to her mother on the phone. Yes, Kelly Morgan liked her life.
He liked Kelly's life too. He liked Kelly.
Part II: The Dance
He was watching her. For the half hour he followed her, he noticed the soft scuffing sound her cheap shoes made on the concrete. He could hear the jingling of her heavy earrings and smell her perfume. All these things were so familiar. These were the same earrings he had watched her place on her delicate lobes countless times. The fragrance was the same she wore every night when she worked. He had watched her buy a new bottle of it seven weeks ago. The purse was the same cheap material as the shoes, but the dress, ah! The dress was new.
Expensive fabric clinging to her curves and moving with her long strides. That was his favorite part: her movements, for truly she moved like a dancer. As if at any moment she would suddenly start swaying with music only she could hear. It gave him ideas. This one was interesting enough to hold his attention. Four months was a long time to wait, but he liked games and this one was lots of fun.
He did not want her to change, not really, but he liked watching her reaction when something unusual happened. Sometimes she would find dead animals on her doorstep. Sometimes her alarm did not go off even though she knew she set it. Her water heater mysteriously died. Her phone lines were severed once or twice. He never followed a pattern in the things he did to her. No, he was very careful. He couldn't give the game away by being careless. So he spaced these occurrences far apart, watching her react, watching her scoop the small creature into plastic bags with tears in her eyes. Kelly loved cats. He liked them too. Every time she disposed of one he recalled how their fur felt when he clutched their heads and snapped their necks. Games like this were a lot of fun.
Unfortunately, the game had to end sometime. He had known the exact moment she became suspicious. It was not carelessness on his part; it was something else, something primal. The same thing that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck when you know someone is there, watching you. The same thing that makes mice freeze and sniff the air, searching for the cat nearby.
It had been weeks since she last left the house while he was there, hidden and watching. Of course he couldn't be there all the time, but he had his ways, his little network. He had been disappointed at first; he had considered her a woman of such spirit. But she had gone into hiding the moment she knew something was not quite right. He screamed and destroyed his hotel room when she first deviated from her pattern, and the tantrums only got worse when he realized she was not going to return to it.
How he imagined what was going on inside her pretty little head. How she told herself it was irrational, that she had no reason to feel this way, but the feeling did not disappear. In fact, it grew stronger everyday and she found herself growing cautious, fearful, paranoid.
There was no real limit to the times she checked the lock every night. And her neck was sore from craning it around behind her. Leaving the house was a nightmare, as was even going near the door, but she had to eat and that meant working.
How her grades were suffering! And her boss was furious! One more time and she was fired. To make matters worse, her usually efficient, reliable car had mysteriously died this morning. And no money for a cab, and no friends who knew her late night profession to call for a ride. She had to walk to work.
So she hurried, head swiveling in alertness in the hope that if she saw him first, she might have the chance to run and get away.
This was the best part: the final, fading moments before one game ended and another began.
Because they were never fast enough. Never strong enough.
When his hand clamped down over Kelly's mouth, he enjoyed the feeling of her teeth against his palm. She had such perfect teeth. And it was almost sexual, pressing her down into the pavement and ending it all, his body heavy on top of hers, her full breasts imprinting the fabric over his chest.
Her eyes were wide, leaking tears.
"Shhh," he whispered. He stroked the top of her head, her little face. Yes, here was his prey, trembling, eyes half mad with the kind of fear only those with one leg over a cliff can know. Those with a twitching finger on the trigger of a gun whose cold tip is pressed against their temple. Those who have met the means to their own end.
When hers came, her breath caught on a scream and then she jerked against him, limbs flailing, hips pushing against his own and all the little movements that proved to him that her body hadn't realized it was dead. There was a rhythm to her body as it pulsed and throbbed like a dance marking its own ending. He pushed down into it, loving the feel. And then she went limp, still and warm as if in afterglow.
"Kelly," he breathed against her neck and almost came when he felt it snap.
Part III: Picasso
Damn. It was just gruesome, he thought.
"Guess we know the cause of death," Detective Nicholas D. Wolfwood mumbled around the bent cigarette that dangled from his mouth. He was having another one of those days: the kind where he felt himself cringing frequently at the idea of his schedule torn asunder and his inability to do a thing about it. Only it was worse than that. Much worse. Today had brought him more pressing concerns. One in particular...
He had to crouch low over the body to see the girl's face; her head was turned the wrong way. The smell of decay lingered about her, stronger than the perfume he could still barely smell. He twisted this way and that, careful of the chalk line, and took in every detail from the strange blue tint of her skin, to the slinky outfit she wore, and the scuffing on the bottoms of her shoes.
A bum had found her about an hour ago, lying in an alley, twisted beyond the ability of a human body, neck snapped, body contorted. It was just past nine o'clock but ten seemed years away. Something about these crimes always messed with time, made him feel like a hamster on a wheel, running and running and getting nowhere.
"Picasso," he whispered as he stood hurriedly to get away from the mutilated girl. He backed away and stared down at her as if willing her to sit up and explain what had happened. Just behind the telltale yellow tape that read, "Police Line Do Not Cross," spectators ducked and bounced to catch sight of her, while efficient, blue-clad officers struggled to stop them. Why they wanted to see was beyond him. He'd never understood spectators.
Wolfwood was beginning to hate the summer. For the past four years, when the weather got warm, the bodies appeared with alarming regularity. No witnesses, no leads. And always this--the horrific remains of the killer's work: a body stripped of dignity, left to rot.
He glanced to the left and winced at the look on his partner's face. Vash wasn't equipped to handle things like this. His pale green eyes were wide and stricken. The tall blonde didn't understand cruelty and simply couldn't bear to see it. How he had come to be a cop at all was still a mystery to Wolfwood. But how he had come to be his partner was a pestering memory at the back of his brain. He regretted it most at times like this.
"Listen, why don't you go get started on the report, write down what we know. 'Kay?"
Wolfwood moved to stand next to his lanky partner and gave what he hoped was a comforting slap on the back.
Vash nodded, but didn't move; he stood transfixed by the horror of it all. A girl who used to be alive who had been murdered in the most inhumane way and left for the rats to eat and for a bum to find her. Vash's body gave the first trembling hint that he was going to be ill. He raised his hand to his mouth.
"Vash, go file the report," Wolfwood repeated, this time with a firmer voice. He punctuated it with a push to his partner's shoulder. That did the trick.
Vash closed his eyes to block the sight of her, nodded again and then turned swiftly to leave. His trench coat fluttered behind him from the speed of his retreat. Wolfwood gritted his teeth at the knowledge that Vash would probably spend the rest of the afternoon in the bathroom, vomiting and crying.
"Your partner should pick a different beat. He's not cut out for handling the Picasso case."
Wolfwood turned to face the silky voice of Midvalley, just a regular cop trying to earn a paycheck. It wasn't what Wolfwood wanted to hear right now. Mainly because Midvalley had a point.
"I know. He's a bit soft," Wolfwood shrugged and hoped Midvalley would let it drop. He had been thinking the exact same thing for over a year now but knew how badly Vash wanted to prove himself. Whenever he mentioned Vash moving on to something less violent, less gruesome, Vash defended his ability to cope, and repeated 'I'm okay' so many times that Wolfwood's head would spin. It felt like a betrayal to go above him, to go to the chief and ask for Vash to be moved.
Sadly, it was the one betrayal that he simply couldn't commit. He owed Vash a lot, after all. And if the idiot said he wanted to play detective, Wolfwood was obligated to let him.
"Soft?" Midvalley repeated, drawing Wolfwood back from his thoughts.
"Yeah, a bit."
"He's more than a bit soft," Midvalley snapped and it almost sounded like he was scolding Wolfwood. "He can't handle this. Every time I look at him at a scene like this it makes me feel sick and I've been doin' this for years. Take my advice: get him off this beat, get yourself a new partner who knows the ropes and stop trying to play the nice guy. You're no good at it."
Wolfwood only sighed and extinguished his cigarette on the bottom on his shoes. This was a lousy day. Rotten. It dragged along with excruciating slowness--overlarge feet scraping the pavement--as Wolfwood made sure everything was sent where it needed to be, asked all the right people the right questions, handed out assignments like candy at Halloween and realized that despite it all, his work was nowhere near finished.
He left the rookies behind to clean up the scene and get the body shipped to Old Man Cain for examination then hopped into his car, heading to the station to get back to work and to check on Vash. Some of the other guys on the force joked that Wolfwood treated his car better than they treated their wives. But it had cost him quite a lot of money and he had no intention of letting it fall into disrepair. He kept it waxed, washed, polished, and under cover whenever possible.
Sliding into the cool leather seat was a pleasure every time.
He adjusted his mirrors, turned on his CD player and hit play. Bach floated through the interior of his car. That was better. Tension fell away from him like rain off a roof. His mind cleared, his senses sharpened. Only then did he pull into traffic. Lulled by the music, Wolfwood was able to recall the details of this newest crime and wrestle with everything he had seen and heard in his year and a half on the Picasso case.
Young and cocky, he had taken it on with all the confidence of a prize-winning bull, unaware of the full history of the case and the bad luck that followed investigators and officers assigned to work it.
Picasso had been at large for three years before Wolfwood and his new partner, Vash, joined the team working to catch him. Just new to this force, having transferred from the east, Wolfwood hadn't known what he was up against. One look at the case folder and he realized that he had bitten off more than he could chew: four detectives before him had already come and gone and next to no progress had been made on solving anything.
It was to such dark thoughts that Wolfwood pulled into the parking garage and parked in the spot reserved for him. Inside, the station was a frenzy of activity, the noise enough to cause headaches.
Cops shouted back and forth to each other, men and women from all walks of life, handcuffs clinking together, were wrestled through the building. One started flailing wildly and injured two officers before he was finally subdued.
Wolfwood was too used to it all to pay it much attention, but the noise was...bothersome.
A quick word with one of the paper jockeys told him that his partner was indeed losing his breakfast and lunch in the bathroom. With thanks tossed over his shoulder, Wolfwood navigated his way through the cluster of desks, officers and criminals before he reached his own office. His sanctuary. Closing the door against the noise was like inventing his own Utopia daily. Everything here, at least, was under his control. The paperwork lined up evenly with the left corner of his desk, his mail delivered to a shelf on the far right, and his coffee mug sitting at just the perfect angle atop his coaster.
He settled into his chair, his gaze drifting, as it always did, to the wall ahead of him covered in photos and newspaper clippings arranged in chronological order.
Each victim was a freakish monument to cruelty and the sick warped mind of the killer. Human form and shape was stripped away leaving the broken sculptures that earned the murderer the nickname "Picasso." It was the only parallel they could find: Picasso the artist had painted the human form in the most abstract way, breaking the figure into simple, overlapping shapes. And this murderer, this butcher, he broke his victims into unrecognizable versions of bodies and left them to be found, his masterpieces.
Wolfwood added this victim to the growing list. Yet another one they couldn't help, another one they couldn't save. At least doing paperwork would make him feel like he had some value since he obviously wasn't much of a detective. He sat forward in his chair, pulled out one of over a dozen identical pens and got to work.
It was hours before Old Man Cain sent up his initial report. Her name was Kelly Morgan and the cause of death was quite unusual considering how obvious it had seemed with her head facing the wrong way: her heart had burst inside her chest. The blue tint to her skin was quite simply lack of oxygen and the pooled blood in her limbs.
There were no incisions, no punctures, no signs of intrusion at all. And no drugs in her system that could cause this type of violent reaction. Kelly Morgan's heart had simply decided to explode. He flipped through the hastily written report and closed it with a frown. If it weren't for the odd placement of her head in relation to the rest of her body, Wolfwood would doubt Picasso's involvement entirely. She was hardly the worse example of what he could do.
Wolfwood stood to examine the other photos on the wall more closely. The first murder in their files was a woman named Elise Carter. They had found her in the parking lot of her apartment. Her legs had been tied together and her head shoved between them, making her look something like a human pretzel. They had attributed the final cause of death to internal bleeding. Wolfwood cringed, remembering his phone conversation with that first coroner. Internal Bleeding, they had said with a shudder. Which meant that she had been alive when her legs were broken, had felt it, or most of it until she passed out. He couldn't imagine what it would be like, how it would feel to have your legs broken in dozens of places so that they could tie together like thick, fleshy ribbons.
Why was Kelly Morgan's death so simple? In comparison to the times when they had found hands trapped inside bodies and necks stretched until heads met backs, Kelly Morgan seemed like a whisper next to a waterfall.
What was most infuriating was that the victims were textbook similar: single females living alone, all of them with regular, predictable habits. From interviewing their friends and family, he knew you could set your watch by them. Or could have, anyway. They should have been able to predict Picasso's movements and strategy based on that alone, to figure his next mark. But they hadn't.
He was sure that Kelly Morgan would have a near identical profile to the other women. How many warnings could they issue through the news and the papers before people started to alter their behavior?
Wolfwood sat down heavily and sighed. It was wrong to blame the victims--he knew that. Perhaps it wouldn't have mattered if they had heeded the warnings and taken precautions. If they had stopped taking the same way home everyday, stopped shopping at the same store every Wednesday. They may have ended up just as dead despite it all. With someone like Picasso, it was difficult to say anything for certain.
They knew nothing about him. The information he had gotten from the previous detectives would fit on a half sheet of paper. Most of it was a psychological profile assembled by their Profiler downstairs and Wolfwood knew that no matter how good a shrink was, when it came to figuring out the brain of someone you'd never met before, there were too many ways to get it wrong. Which left him back at square one with a trail of bodies forming the perimeter.
If Picasso had fingerprints, he didn't leave them behind. If he had hair, he kept it shaved or in a cap of some kind so that they never found any. No traces of skin, no fingernails, no torn bits of fabric. He was disgustingly meticulous.
Still, Wolfwood got the feeling that he was missing something simple. Or perhaps he was waiting: waiting for Picasso to make a mistake. Perhaps one day he'd pick the wrong victim. Maybe he'd pick a fighter, someone who would live, get away, or leave some kind of clue. One day, Picasso might just slip up. And then, he'd get the bastard.
To Be Continued...
Hello, welcome to one of my many WIP fics, "needful." According to the document properties, this one has been sitting on my computer for over two years. Scary. I really want to try my best to finish it, but...well, I have a bad reputation for never finishing fics...
This is a slower moving story so bear with it. The sex, slash, etc. happens much, much later.
I owe a lot to the following for inspiration for this one:
"The Watcher" (the film starring Keanu Reeves...it's not very good, but the idea was nice)
"Prayers for Rain" (the novel by Dennis LeHane)
"The Magician's Tale" (the novel by David Hunt (William Bayer))
And, of course, I own neither these, nor Trigun.