This takes place at the very end of episode 13 and is a what-if scenario, as will likely become apparent. How these changes would affect the rest of the plotline is not for me to suppose for the purpose of this particular narrative, and for that I apologize. Mainly to Clair, because if things had been like this during the takeover...poor guy wouldn't have made it.
I don't own Heat Guy J or its characters. Just in case I needed to clear that up.
Accidentally by fetch-thranduilion
"Giovanni...it's a party!"
Some party, the man groused to himself, amused nonetheless by the situation in which he'd found himself. Like his employer, the man enjoyed a fight with a worthy opponent--but unlike the youth, he also enjoyed losing to such an opponent. Granted, a definitive win without retreat on his part would have been preferable, but the old metal man had proven too strong for that. Time to take the only way left out, then.
"I can't compete with your toughness," he told the man trapped but undefeated by his fighting machine; in the cockpit a counter began ticking down. "See you!" Waving a casual hand, he turned away, glancing back slightly to gauge his time. Then, he froze in his tracks. The counter should have given him at least a good three minutes in which to escape. Yet instead...
Oh damn. The man began to run, cursing his colleague, who had last worked on the machine. The counter must have been reset by accident...
His captive faced fate with a steely determination, grizzled jowls set in a blankly focused face, but the man possessed no such self-control. Sweating and gasping, he rounded a corner with his heart pounding three beats for every footstep. He wasn't going to make it, but he had to, had to...was going to...
Hitting a snag in the carpet, he stumbled and fell. Too close! He was still too close...
"Vampire, I'm sorry," the man said with clenched teeth, clamped-shut eyes, not even bothering to stand again. But his words were lost in the sound of the explosion, and the world fell in around him and on him.
Ever since he was a small child afraid of his father's footsteps outside his door, Clair Leonelli's hearing had been better than most--which had led to much of his general cynicism about the human race, having heard from a young age what he was not meant to hear. He got particularly upset about lower classes with the indecency to gossip about their betters within his earshot; yet it was with a peculiar sense of detached impatience that the nurses' words slid over his brain.
"He's still there? Visiting hours were over half an hour ago..."
"But are you going to be the one to tell him?"
"Of course not! I'd get shot!"
"Anybody! He's got to have men everywhere!"
"The surgery intern wants his autograph. Do you believe that?"
"I actually think it's almost sweet of him to stay..."
"Yet he's still going to shoot you?"
"Isn't that what those types do?"
The irony made his white-knuckled fists clench even tighter, body hunched over in his chair. Next to him, the unresponsive man lay stiller than the young man had thought possible for those who yet lived; his badly concussed head was wrapped in bandages, and both legs and an arm had been broken by falling debris. Add to the equation burn wounds from the explosion...Clair didn't know what was keeping the man alive.
Extracting the bodyguard from the damaged building had been a delicate and time-consuming operation, but in retrospect the young don was glad the medics from the Vita-sponsored hospital had been so cautious: several ribs had broken and were in danger of puncturing the man's lungs. As the situation currently stood, however, the doctor had reported, the victim would live. Probably.
"If he wakes up shortly, it's almost certain he'll make it. But if the damage to the brain is too severe..." The doctor hadn't finished the sentence, interrupted by a violent flash in the young man's lilac eyes, and had instead nervously backed to the door, saying something about visiting hours ending in forty-five minutes. Clair Leonelli didn't give a damn about visiting hours or dumbed-down prognoses. Only one thing mattered.
"This isn't my fault," he growled to the other spectators, his remaining two bodyguards and advisor, choking on the words. "I see you all looking at me. But it's not. It's his own fault for not running fast enough. It's Giovanni's fault..." His head sank even lower, then snapped back up in rage. "So stop staring!"
"Vampire..." Nervously the shorter bodyguard ventured towards him. "You're not feeling well. Why don't we go back to the waiting area and you can lie--"
"Do you think I'm a baby, Ian?!" Clair snarled, causing the young man to halt. "Do you think I need to be looked after?! And the rest of you...is that what you think of me?" His eyes took in, angrily yet with an almost melancholic pleading note, the tall redhead and short, wizened man. "Let me set you all straight. I know what I'm doing. And I'm staying right here!"
"I wasn't going to suggest we leave altogether." Now reconciling, Ian couldn't keep a note of pity Clair detested out of his voice. "But you've got a lot to think about and it might do you good to rest a bit."
"And what do I need to think about?" Clair grumbled. In his opinion, he was done thinking for the day. Thinking sounded too much like work, and the ability to work had abandoned him. "Isn't the thinking your job?"
The jab, as it turned out, was a mistake. Ian's turn came to add a steely tone to his voice, lending his words clipped precision. "There remains the small matter of your last orders to him, sir. You sent him in that deathtrap on what would likely be a suicide mission. You were willing to sacrifice the prestige of the company to satisfy your own grudges. And you sounded happy about it."
Ian's cheek flushed bright red and the smack resonated through Mitchal and Mauro's eardrums a good two seconds before either realized Clair had struck the man across the face, so quickly did the young don move. Stunned, the bodyguard climbed to his feet and stared down the gun barrel his employer had pointed between his eyebrows.
"Out of my sight," Clair breathed, so full of tension he couldn't even give full voice to the command. "And if either of you have a problem with me...you get out too."
"He's just upset, Vampire," Mitchal pleaded, looping an arm around Ian's shoulders. "Let it go. He shouldn't have said it."
"He shouldn't have felt it. Now get out before I kill two more of my--before I--" Realizing what he'd said, Clair froze with his mouth open, grappling. "J-just go."
They went, even Mauro. And Clair, putting away the gun, couldn't stop shivering. The room suddenly seemed so empty, so cold. It smelled bad--like nothing at all, and yet like all the squalid filth of man gathered under the roof of a healing house. He wanted someone to comfort him--yet his pride wouldn't allow it. He wanted to run to a pair of supporting arms like he had as a child--but those arms lay next to him, shattered by a flippant order from his own mouth. He wanted Giovanni, all the man was and had been all of his lonely life. But like everything else in his life, he had proven inadequate of the blessing, and now it had been taken away. Maybe never to return.
He wanted to laugh at how pathetic everything was. But halfway out of his mouth, the bastardized sound turned into a sob.
"That was a very bad move," Mitchal observed with a small, humorless smile as Ian applied an icepack to his still-throbbing cheek. "I see we must work on your timing."
"How can you still be making jokes?" Ian asked crossly, wincing. "If anyone has a timing problem..."
The smile vanished. "You really blame him?" Mitchal asked, sitting next to his colleague on the waiting-room couch, Mauro having left to order dinner for his unbudging Young Master. "He didn't mean for this to happen."
For a long moment, Ian was silent. "...I know," he finally admitted. "But I didn't even know how angry I was until I said it."
"Really?" Mitchal mused, taking his lucky dice out of his pocket and fiddling with them abstractedly. "Convincing him will be difficult. So, now, will be snapping him out of it."
Sighing, Ian adjusted himself on the couch. "I don't think we can," he replied sadly. "We haven't got that power. The only one who does is..." He remained staring at the door.
Mitchal swallowed nervously, blue eyes blinking. "True," he said shakily; at Ian's puzzled expression he pocketed the dice and ran a nervous hand through his wavy sheet of chestnut hair. "Actually, I...oh, but what's the use in wondering that sort of thing?" He laid back. "Are you hungry? I've got some change and there's got to be a machine somewhere."
"Mauro's bringing something," Ian pointed out. "Mitchal...you're not all right either. You can't be. Stop it."
"Stop what?" The man's confusion seemed genuine, but Mitchal was a professional gambler and so Ian knew better than to trust his expressions. "It's nothing, really. Not very interesting or profitable."
"Mitchal." A tinge crept back into Ian's cheeks. "We are not in a position where keeping secrets, no matter what they may be, is profitable either. Why can't you face facts? Vampire's not feeling well, Mauro's useless like always, the only person who ever has been able to talk sense to Vampire is--not available--all that's left is us!"
"Says the man who alienated said Vampire."
"I said I didn't know I was angry!" Ian fumed. "What's more, I think I have every right to be mad. You were there too, you saw him. You joked with Giovanni about it too!"
"I know." Mitchal blanched, and Ian started; though meant to wound, he hadn't expected his words to totally deflate the normally cheerful man.
Mitchal smiled helplessly. "The truth is, I..." he started. "You have no right to be angry with Vampire--don't say anything yet--because it's not his fault the suit was set wrong. It's mine." Leaning over and resting his forehead on his hands, his long hair obscured his face from view. "I was the last one to touch it--just giving it a once-over, cleaning it, standard routine, and...I must have bumped the panel to reset it to the standard ten-second countdown..." He let the rest of the sentence hang. "I didn't know. But how else could this have happened?"
"Mitchal..." Ian rested a hand on the man's shoulder; the latter shrugged it off and smiled again.
"Don't feign sympathy, Ian. You're angry this happened. You want someone to blame. Now you've got somebody. Go ahead and be mad at me. I've got a pretty thick skin; I can take it." He stood, faced the younger man. "Go ahead. Hit me."
Standing as well, Ian raised a trembling fist; but it fell to his side. "Are you going to tell him?" he asked softly. "It might help."
"He wouldn't believe me." Mitchal's mouth was drawn. "He wants to blame himself. He wants to be unhappy right now, and he's used to everything being his fault."
"But in reality--"
"Reality? There's a word I don't here often in this job. Clair lives in Clair's world, which means everything that goes wrong is Clair's fault!" Gesturing broadly to make his point, the redhead began to pace. "There you have it. That's your reality."
"...Then what do we do...God, if I knew I'd be in there doing it!" Ian grit his teeth. "We're in a circle; we keep coming back to this!"
Removing his coat, Mitchal stretched his lanky frame out on the couch. "Well, I for one am going to bed," he replied, propping his head up on his arms. "If Vampire wants something, he'll call. Until then..." He closed his eyes. "Good night, Ian."
Ian was about to accuse his companion of cowardice until he saw, as the man rolled over, the way his shoulders were shaking. In his preoccupation with how Clair had felt, Mitchal had for the most part overlooked his own feelings. He'd blamed himself for Giovanni's injuries but hadn't yet been able to grieve that his friend was hurt.
Leaving the other bodyguard to silently vent his own sadness, Ian dared to peek into the hospital room. Clair sat silently in the darkness, head bowed, holding one of the wounded man's cast-wrapped hands in his own.
Knocking fearfully, Ian dared to enter. "Vampire?" he asked softly, still not certain what he would say. That Mitchal was willing to take the blame, should blame be necessary? That he was sorry for accusing the boy? That he was sorry the whole damn situation had happened? No, that was stupid, that went without saying.
"Where's Mauro?" Clair asked dully, lips hardly moving.
"Out somewhere," replied Ian, slightly unnerved by the unexpected question. "He's getting food. In the meantime, do you want...?"
"I'm not hungry. I don't want anything. Go away."
"I understand." Turning, Ian looked back as he stood in the doorway. "Vampire...what I said earlier...I should not have...please forgive me."
Clair didn't answer; only the gentle rise and fall of his chest betrayed that he still lived. Silently, with only one more glance backwards, Ian slipped away.
"No, wait, come back," the boy whispered five minutes later. But of course the bodyguard could not hear him.
A soft voice above his head and a gentle hand stroking his hair woke Clair the next morning; blinking and frowning, he opened his eyes to see Mitchal scurry back almost immediately. "G-good morning, Vampire," the flustered man said. "How are you feeling?"
As he sat up, it took Clair a moment to realize he'd somehow ended up on top of the waiting area couch, though he could have sworn he hadn't budged from Giovanni's bedside; two tuxedo coats, one dark blue and one green, slid off his body and he began to understand. "When did I fall asleep?" he asked, frowning even deeper. "Why did you even move me..."
"You'll have to ask Ian. He checked on you every fifteen minutes, or so I understand." Retrieving the coats, Mitchal slung them over the arm of a nearby chair. "I was...preoccupied...Vampire, I was cleaning the suit just before he used it and must have--"
Clair held up a hand to stop the outpour. "I don't want to hear it, Mitchal. Where's Ian?"
"In with Giovanni. They've been talking for half an--"
"Giovanni's awake??" Clair leapt to his feet, glared at the bodyguard. "Why didn't you tell me? When did he wake up??"
"About fifteen minutes after Ian moved you out here to sleep better. He's been asking for you all morning--"
But once again, his thought remained unfinished. Clair had already left. Sitting down in the chair where he'd slung the coats, Mitchal smiled to himself and rooted in his coat for the lucky dice.
"Turns out I couldn't do anything," he admitted ruefully to himself. "Yet somehow...was that enough?"
Two heads swiveled to greet him as Clair barged into the room. "Giovanni!" He ran to the man's side, ignoring Ian for the moment. "What were you thinking? Why didn't you get away? I don't have room for men who might die on me any minute due to incompetence."
The wounded man tried to smile, but the pregnant expression was checked by a pain-filled grimace; his face wasn't ready for emotions yet. "Glad to know you're alright," he said hoarsely, fondness obvious in his voice. "Sorry I'll be out of commission for awhile."
Clair dismissed the apology. "Report back to duty when you're ready. Giovanni..." His brows quirked, and his lower lip wobbled slightly. "I'm--I'm really g-glad you're all right." Stuttering? Why was he stuttering? This would never do. He had to have more self-control, be sterner.
With that in mind, he faced Ian, who at first appeared to back down slightly. "You moved me," Clair accused. "Giovanni woke up, and I wasn't there."
"Hey, don't get mad at--" Giovanni started to say, but it was apparently a morning for interruptions. Ian gave an apologetic bow and met his master's eyes.
"Forgive me, Vampire. But...lacking a superior, I acted how I believed best, and I judged your own health and well-being to be more important."
"Thanks," Giovanni said, and winced; he'd attempted a grin again. "Dammit."
Clair stared at Ian, not comprehending, so the man was forced to explain. "To me," Ian began, feeling somehow inadequate, "and to Mitchal, too...you are the most important person in this city, and I intend to look out for you even if you do not desire assistance, should I deem it necessary. Sir."
"So you were lying through your teeth last night?" Clair scowled. "Or are you lying now? Either way, it's not a funny joke."
"I would not joke about this, sir." He bowed. "My life is in your hands, and I give it to you freely, with all my trust. What happened last night...it wasn't your fault. Accidents happen. What's important is to dust ourselves off and keep going."
"Anytime you want to help with that, stop by," Giovanni remarked dryly, lifting one cast cynically, but neither Vampire nor bodyguard was listening to his commentary.
"Do you really mean that?" Clair asked softly, disbelief and hope woven around the words. "You can't. I don't believe you."
A second later he found himself clutching the side of his face in shock and pain, and Ian dropped a still-stinging palm to his side. "I'm in earnest, sir," the young man insisted. "And though it appalls me to breach decorum in such a fashion, say you doubt me one more time and I'll slap you again. I'm not...I don't have Mitchal's optimism or Giovanni's ease with people. I get uncomfortable, and I get uptight, and I get angry. But I make a point to always be perfectly honest, a trait I believed you admired and appreciated.
"To my knowledge, I have never given you reason to doubt me. Even if you were at fault, which you were not, that would not alter my esteem for you in the slightest. My respect is not lost just because someone makes a mistake."
Clair was still hung up on one crucial point. "You hit me."
"Yet I still respect you more than any other being in Judoh. You may believe me, or you may not. But if it is the latter...then, effective immediately, I withdraw my services from the Company." Drawing himself up stiffly, Ian met Clair's eyes with a warmth that dissolved his cold tone. "Do I make myself clear?"
"You hit me," Clair accused again, and Giovanni squeezed his eyes shut.
"If you're going to keep saying that, Vampire, and if Ian's going to keep up that fancypants chivalric stuff, move out into the hall. You're both killing me. Oh, God, Ian..."
"What?" Concentration broken, the young man looked up with an embarrassed blush spreading across his cheeks. "I'm perfectly serious! Don't make fun of me--"
"That's more like it." Smirking, Clair sat down next to Giovanni's bed. "You go check on Mitchal, Ian. He didn't seem too well. I'll stay here for a while. Awake."
Blinking, Ian slowly realized something important had happened, but the nature and the impetus were beyond his comprehension. "Y-yes, Vampire," he agreed shakily, permitting himself a small smile. "We have an agreement, then?"
Clair gave him a dry, withering look. "Must I repeat myself constantly to you, Ian? If so, I might get bored very quickly."
"No, sir. I'll go, then." Bowing, Ian turned to leave.
It was Clair's turn to smile--a bleak, pathetic affair, but a smile nonetheless. "Thank you."
"It was nothing, sir."
"Oh, and another thing..."
"Stop calling me sir."
"That's it! Get out!" Giovanni's bed rocked as he convulsed in suppressed laughter. "What, do you want to finish the damn job?"
Ian turned away, grinning sheepishly, as Clair turned his barbed tongue on the wounded man. Everything he'd said was true: he didn't have Giovanni's way with people, and especially not with the young don; the awkwardness of their conversation had proved as much. Besides, no one could form a bond like that unless they'd spent as much time together as those two had.
Yet in his own small way, Ian felt like he'd given the boy something Giovanni could never bestow, in part because its very nature was expected in the other man. No one besides Giovanni had ever been unconditional with Clair before, even the boy's own father. Every now and then, Vampire deserved to hear some words of kindness where none were anticipated.
Of course, Ian reflected as the sounds of his employer yelling at the wounded man over some trivial issue or another drifted out to him, every now and then Vampire also deserved a good slap across the face. But that was another matter entirely.