Fifth Business


. o .

Her nails are chipped and ragged as she drums them on the table. It is an observation barely worthy of note, but her nails for the moment are less dangerous than her eyes. He should have guessed that had she survived, he would be one of the first people who her curiosity would pull her towards.

. o .

There were moments when Yuan hated his old friend for abandoning the both of them (like the moment a year ago, when he'd opened his door to a flurry of rain and an armful of Raine as she'd stumbled over his doorstop, silver hair and robes sopping wet.) Kratos had made a very effective buffer between him and the world at large, but Yuan supposed that everyone was allowed their breaking points. What everyone was not allowed, Yuan hissed under his breath as he took Raine's arm and her whimsically, uncharacteristically pink umbrella, was the brunet swordsman's idiocy that had accompanied Kratos's brilliant decision to take off on a bloody comet for, oh, the next four thousand years.

"So you came for my side of the story," Yuan sneered.

Blue eyes flickered, but Raine held her ground as he slipped behind her and removed her coat, hanging it gingerly over a coat rack and sighing as the coat dripped water across the floor. "I have," she answered.

"And what," he asked, "pray tell, do you intend to exchange for my cooperation? I have money. Notoriety I do not wish for. You I do not want."

Raine bristled at the last insinuation, crossing her legs at the ankles after he guided her to an armchair in his front room. "People deserve to know the truth about their land and its past," she said, looking over at him.

He steepled his fingers under his chin and returned her gaze with distinct, deliberate apathy. "People –" he scoffed, "were just fine about lied to. People are ungrateful, selfish brats. I would think, Miss Sage, you would know this better than most. In fact, I would be willing to bet that your oh-so-heroic deeds barely balance out your half-elven blood. If at all."

"That's none of your business," she snapped, twirling a pen between her fingers.

"Ah, ah," he smirked. "Don't play dumb. You made it my business the minute you stumbled through my door."

"Fine." Managing to restrain her glare, she relented. "It's not easy. And you're right for the most part – you know you are – but Lloyd and everyone really, they did make a difference. Luin wasn't built in a day, after all; it will take time to let people change."

"So why not leave changing things to the idealist and his angel-girl?" he asked. "Frankly, I'm surprised you're not buried under a stack of books in… oh, say, Sybak or Palmacosta by now. Why seek me out?"

She shifted in her chair, not daring to close her eyes in his presence, but feeling the beginnings of a very familiar headache nonetheless. "I want to do what I can," she replied, resisting the urge to let healing energy slip through her fingers and ease the pain. From what she knew of Yuan, the man was a walking headache, and if she showed weakness now, any chance of him helping her would disappear. "If that means I must tell the story from the very beginning so that this – this idiocy – cannot be repeated, then that is what I will do."

Yuan's lips stretched into an amused smile. "So that's it, then. They won't allow you into the libraries, and you intend to harass the only remaining primary source instead." Standing, he moved to a small cabinet against the wall. Removing a tall glass bottle from within it, Yuan paused, running a careless hand through his long blue hair. Turning, his smile grew. "But I forget my manners – I have so little company these days, after all. Would you care for a drink?"

Steeling her spine – she would not wince at the subtle menace in his tone, the poisonous smile that said he hadn't forgiven or forgotten what she had done to his renegade empire – she matched his gaze. "Thank you. I would." Watching him pour, she continued, unable to keep surprise from brightening her voice. "So you'll help me?"

"'Help' is such an altruistic word," he purred, passing her a short tumbler half-filled with amber and ice. "I would have thought you would know better by now, Raine. You're such a child sometimes."

Fire slipped through her lips and over her tongue as she drank, lending her courage. "I am hardly a –"

"Survive – no, more than that; try to live – for three thousand more years," he interrupted, barely raising his voice. It was enough. She froze. "It's easy for you now, to look at me and accuse me of selfishness, but a girl who cannot sneak past sleepy guardians of dusty history texts could not shoulder the weight of these memories, no matter how highly she may think of herself." Curled in his armchair, Yuan's pale blue eyes watched her over the rim of his glass. "Prove to me you're serious."

Her glass plunked down on the table between them. "I can't afford three thousand years. You know as well as I do that I may not have them, Yuan."

"That's why," he said, his eyes searching the sky and the rain clouds sweeping out to the east, "I'm giving you one year. If you come back within that time with these three texts and an understanding of their contents, I shall do my best to answer your questions, of which, no doubt, there will be more than a few. If not, I shall assume you have come to your few senses and thought better of this fool's errand."

As he scribbled the names of the books down and passed her the list, her eyes widened. "Some of these are under lock and key, not to mention at least three separate spells of protection. There's no way – "

"Giving in already?" he asked, amused. "No true scholarship is ever entirely above board, Miss Sage."

"I accept your terms," she said primly. Standing, she walked over to his armchair and extended her hand. "Thank you. I'll see you in a year."

Shaking her hand carefully, as if the gesture was alien (and maybe it was, she thought with a jolt of surprise) he stood as well. "Let me see you to the door, then."

"But it's still –"

"It stopped raining three minutes ago, Miss Sage."

"Oh," she blushed, but recovered quickly. "That's fortunate; I dislike the rain. Although it is a fascinating element," she said in afterthought. "In fact, would you believe that rain damage on various archaeological sites has…mmmrehgh?"

Yuan sighed from where he stood behind her, one hand on the small of her back, the other covering her mouth, which was gawking in surprise. "Time's a-wasting, Miss Sage."

Before she knew it, Raine found herself outside his door, coat around her shoulders and umbrella in one hand. "Now see here - " she began in her scariest teaching voice.

Yuan was unperturbed by it, leaning casually against the door frame. "I'm not one of your ducklings, Raine," he said, accenting her given name to prove that point. "And I would wish you good luck, but… Well. I'm sure you understand why I don't."

"Oh, I do," she replied. "And I maintain what I said. I will see you within the year, Yuan." With that, she turned, setting her feet back towards the town and wishing that his words had not managed to slip so far under her skin.

He watched her until she turned a corner and disappeared behind a patch of trees. Foolish woman… With any luck, the spells or the scholars would do their job, and this would be the last time that the Sage scholar would bother him. But, he admitted grudgingly, he had made the error of underestimating her perseverance and ingenuity in the past.

Either way, he thought, I will have at least one year of peace and quiet.

. o .

And it is peace and quiet that he has, until he wakes up three hundred and sixty-three days later to the din of a thunderstorm. Walking over to close the window, he notices a nauseatingly pink umbrella that is weaving its way up the hill. With a jolt, Yuan realizes he knows the woman under it. The rain seems to follow her around, and he smirks at the irony for a second before sighing and starting to make himself presentable.

He should not have been surprised as she plunks her rucksack on his table, slipping three books out with care and no small amount of pride – so even if he is surprised, he will not show it.

And although he tries, she has always been observant. "You're wondering how I obtained the Rivella text, aren't you?"

"Hmph." Damn the woman and her superior smirk, but he is curious. He'd had Botta try to access this exact text three hundred years ago, and although Botta had returned safely, the lieutenant had also been empty-handed.

Yuan couldn't help but smile at the memory of how Botta's hair had never entirely recovered from the lightning spells that had guarded the book that was resting innocently on his table at present. "As you're going to tell me regardless… pray tell, how did you do it?"

Her smile is that of a cat who has just dined on the proverbial canary. "I asked Zelos to pick it up for me. It seems like Meltokians have a fortunately flexible take on forgiveness if that idiot can run about carte-blanche even now. I threatened him with my curry after Sheena had pinned him with one of her seals – he'd said something he shouldn't have to the daughter of the Flanoir representative the week prior, I think it was; either way, the Lady Fujibayashi makes a dangerous foe, as long as there are no trap doors within ten feet of her." Settling into his chair, Raine smiles up at Yuan, perfectly aware of what she is doing.

Settling into the other chair (he will not make a scene over something so trivial), he looks over at her with one eyebrow cocked in curiosity. "Cruel, and you hardly played by the rules. I had meant that you were to have been the one to obtain the book." Yuan restrains a shiver - he has always carried the highest disdain for the flamboyant ex-Chosen, but not even Zelos deserves the divine punishment that disguises itself as Raine Sage's cooking.

She is unfazed by his reply. "You should have told me as much, then. Besides, like someone once told me, no true scholarship goes entirely by the books."

Her eyes have turned to twin points of blue fire, and although he hates himself for the metaphor, he knows that she knows she's won. Looking from her eyes to her nails – they are chipped and ragged as she drums them on the table – they are barely worthy of note, but her nails for the moment are less dangerous than her eyes. Still, he has faced down far more intimidating sights than she, and perhaps her fire can temper the weight of memory he carries.

Taking a deep breath, Yuan's gaze is even as he looks back at Raine. "So," he says, slowly. "Just where do I begin…"

. o .


"But you cannot make a plot work without another man, and he is usually a baritone, and he is called in the profession Fifth Business, because he is the odd man out…

And you must have Fifth Business because he is the one who knows the secret of the hero's birth, or comes to the assistance of the heroine when she thinks all is lost, or keeps the hermitess in her cell, or may even be the cause of somebody's death... The prima donna and the tenor, the contralto and the basso, get all the best music and do all the spectacular things, but you cannot manage the plot without Fifth Business!

It is not spectacular, but it is a good line of work, I can tell you, and those who play it sometimes have a career that outlasts the golden voices."


. o .

finis.

. o .

Sabe's Scribbles: The quote and title are from Robertson Davies' Fifth Business, probably my favourite novel. (...pretentious? me? what? ...but the idea fits both Yuan and Raine very well.) This was written as a Christmas gift-fic for pearlgemstone over on LJ – I'd meant to post it sooner, but… Also, I should disclaim the characters; they're not mine, either.

That said, any general comments and/or concrit are always welcomed!