AUTHOR'S NOTES: A man walks into a bar…no, actually, Norkia from LJ walks into a bar, sees me staring at my usual glass of cranberry juice, and requests another fanfic. And thank you, Emi Watanabe, for the inspiration (and for introducing me to Sublime and their song, "Date Rape").
The characters are mine, save Van, Wendy and Kameo. Yes, the turtle counts.
"Hey there, Rob. The usual?"
"Nope, not tonight, 'cause I'm gonna be doing a lot of driving. Just a glass of water. Don't forget the ice."
There was the rush of water pouring out of a spout, the clinks of ice cubes against glass, and the sliding sound of glass against wood. The bartender reached out for an immaculate rag and began polishing mugs as Rob sipped his water. At that time, they were the only ones in the bar.
When Rob had drained half his glass, the bartender spoke again.
"You know, this reminds me of a guy who walked in here not too long ago."
"You ordering water…it reminded me of that guy, except that he ordered milk, and of course, not a single drop of alcohol. Strange chap, really…he looked like he was from not around here. Did I mention that he was wearing a swallowtail suit?"
"Was he going to a wedding or something?" asked Rob, shaking his glass slightly and watching the ice slowly melt.
"Dunno," said the bartender, shrugging as he began wiping a tall goblet. "Never got to ask him…but listen, there's much more to the story than that."
"So, a man in a swallowtail suit walks into your bar…"
The bartender sighed. Business had been slow for quite a while now, and he wondered if everyone was suddenly going cold turkey and kicking their affinities for alcohol – it wasn't a bad thing, but it would hurt his business. Still, at least he still had his old patrons, those people who would come in, order a few rounds…
"Hey, have you seen a little girl about this tall, has pigtails, a pink turtle and carries a suitcase around?"
He blinked several times and turned to face the man who plopped himself into the nearest stool. This customer looked like someone the bartender had never seen before, and definitely looked like he didn't know his way around the place too much. The lanky man was spacing out his hands, as though trying to estimate the length of something and failing terribly at it, but to top it all off, he was wearing a black swallowtail suit with a matching hat…and was that a silver belt? But there was something that looked like a sword hilt where a gun holster should be…and where was the sword?
"No," said the bartender slowly. "So…um, is there anything you would like, sir?"
"Yeah…could I have a large glass of milk?"
"Are you sure?"
Before this stranger could answer, they heard a woman giggle not too far away; in fact, she was already perched on the stool beside the man in the tuxedo. She opened her lacy black fan and demurely covered her face, save her eyes, which were heavy with dark purple eye shadow and glitter, continuing to giggle.
"You know, if you're short on money, you could just say so," she said in a deep yet singsong voice, sidling up to her seatmate, who just leaned away. "I could buy you a drink."
"Really? Oh, suit yourself." Waving at the bartender, she said, "The usual; you know the drill!"
"Of course, Vanessa, it is always a pleasure to have you here," he answered, turning to fill their orders. Glancing over his shoulder, he asked again, "Are you sure you just want a tall glass of milk?"
"Yeah, I'm sure."
The one called Vanessa giggled again, but this time, she didn't even bother opening her fan. She smiled, twirling a lock of her long, unrestrained silver-blond hair, when the man in black turned to stare at her, holding out his hands some distance apart.
"Have you seen a little girl about this tall…with pigtails…with a turtle and a suitcase?"
She shook her head. "I'm sorry…is she your daughter?" Her smile flickered when she said the last word.
It was the man's turn to shake his head, and once again, Vanessa was grinning from ear to ear, especially when he answered, "No…she's just…"
"What's your name? You can call me Vanessa. I haven't seen you around here." She batted her long, obviously fake eyelashes. "I could give you a tour of the place, since I've lived here all my life…"
"Hmm…I have heard of one called Van of the Devil's Swallowtail Suit," Vanessa said, more to herself than to him. "There's another just called Pretty Van from the Dumpster. So, which one are you?"
"I'm neither. They call me…Van of the Dawn."
"I see. That's quite an interesting title. I must say…it really suits you. And speaking of suits…what is with the swallowtail suit?"
"Well…um, have you noticed that you can't spell Vanessa without Van?" she suddenly remarked, as though bringing up the weather. At first, she kept her unusually bright smile, waiting for an answer from him, but it took quite a Herculean effort to keep smiling when he just stared at her as though she had grown an extra head.
The sound of glass on wood made them turn back to the bartender, who had brought them their drinks. But while Van already started on his, draining half his glass instantly, Vanessa simply stared at her drink and shot furtive glances at the one who called himself Van of the Dawn...
"Wait…there's a fly!" she suddenly burst out, causing the rest of the customers to crane their necks towards them.
The bartender gasped, diving for a flyswatter. "Not if I have anything to say about it!" he declared, waving it about. "Where is it?"
Vanessa waved her hand over Van's glass frantically, while the bartender raised his flyswatter, ready to bring it down. But despite the two people making a fuss over a fly, Van didn't seem at all affected and simply stared at them – though for a few seconds, he gazed up at the ceiling, as though looking for the pest as well.
"Damn, you shooed it away! Where'd it go? It's mine!"
"Never mind, never mind," she sighed, sitting back down as though nothing had happened. "Whatever…" Vanessa resumed looking at her drink, raising it off the counter for a while before putting it back down again, as if she couldn't decide whether it was tainted or not. Looking highly affronted, the bartender walked over to her after putting his weapon away.
"What's wrong now, Vanessa? Another fly?" he added with an almost maniacal gleam in his eye.
"Oh…I was just thinking…"
"Thinking of what? You haven't touched your – what the hell?!"
At the very moment Van put down his empty glass on the counter, he slumped, his head resting on Vanessa's silken lap. She could feel him breathing, though he barely moved, let alone spoke, and she rounded on the bartender.
"What do you mean, 'what the hell'? Can't you see what just happened? There was probably something in the milk you gave him!" she complained.
"I've been working at this bar for thirty-five years, and we have never been accused of spiking anyone's drink, not even once!" he declared proudly, thumping his chest. "He looked really sleepy when he came in here, anyway…"
His voice trailed off. Everyone else at the bar was staring at them, most especially at the man sound asleep on Vanessa, totally oblivious to everything and everyone around him. She looked extremely surprised, and kept her hands a few inches away from Van's hat, her expression clueless and concerned. The bartender simply stared at her, scratching at his receding hairline, and at the rest of the people.
After what felt like an eternity and a couple of days, she finally said, as though admitting defeat, "I'll take him to the nearest doctor – you know, the one at Creek and Sleek. Maybe they can figure out what happened…and when they did, you better watch out. They could close you down."
Narrowing his eyes, the bartender retorted, "Close me down, after thirty-five years? Do I look like I'd let them do that? Besides, like I said, I'm innocent!"
"Say what you like," said Vanessa, supporting Van and standing up on her stiletto heels. "But you know, we can just keep this all hush-hush, and nobody gets hurt. Don't worry, I'll take care of him," she added, adjusting Van's hat and grinning a bit too much like a little girl who had just been given all the candy she could eat.
"You two go on," he said. "Thanks Vanessa, it really is always a pleasure to serve you. Do let us know if he gets better."
The woman tossed back her hair and adjusted Van's hat before it could slip off his head. "Of course…of course…"
"So, do you suspect it was Vanessa who did it?" asked Rob curiously.
"Aye, the way she was waving her hand…it looked as though she really did slip something into his drink that night. Pity we never saw them again after that…I would really like to pick a bone with her."
"What happened next?"
"You could say it was a coincidence, but…"
The bartender sighed, staring at Vanessa's untouched drink. To swig or not to swig – that was the question. At least she had paid for it…but would she return for it? Would she even remember what she had ordered?
"Excuse me, sir…"
He blinked several times, and saw a young girl, who was probably teetering on the fine line between childhood and adolescence. She was quite cute, with her pigtails and her bright green eyes…wait a minute, how did someone like her get into his bar? First, it was the tuxedo man, and now this…
"Look, little girl – "
"Don't call me a little girl," she interrupted.
"All right, miss, what will it be – juice, water, or milk – "
"No thanks," said the girl. "Have you seen a man wearing a black tuxedo and a hat? He's tall, and he has a sword…"
The bartender blinked again. Wait a minute…was this the girl he – the stranger in the swallowtail suit – had been looking for? She had the pigtails, she was lugging a suitcase around, but the turtle…he almost considered asking her if she had a pet turtle…
"Get the mousetraps!" he yelled at no one in particular. But he instantly understood once he surveyed the large pink pendant the girl was wearing…there was a head sticking out of it, and it squeaked again.
"We'll find him, Kameo," said the girl to her pendant – which was actually not exactly a pendant, even if it was worn like one. Turning back to the bartender, she asked, "So, have you seen him?"
"I think so," he replied. "Does he…look a bit sleepy? A man like that walked into my bar not too long ago, and all he asked for was a large glass of milk…"
"Yes, that's him! Where did he go?"
"Er…well…it's pretty hard to explain, but he left with a woman. She has long blond hair that looks more silver than blond, and was wearing this lacy green dress. You see…he – uh – fell asleep. And she took him away to the nearest doctor to see what was wrong with him. He's at this inn at the corner of Creek and Sleek; you can't miss it. Then you can look for them there, all right, little girl?"
At those words, she glared at him.
"I mean…young lady. Yes…are you sure you don't want anything?"
"No thanks," said the girl politely, turning away and pulling her luggage along. "But thank you, we'll be going now."
As she walked away, the bartender got a good look at what was strapped to her back – a gun.
"Wow…she had a gun? Seriously?"
"Seriously," said the bartender, wiping the counter. "Listen, are you done with your water? You're just swishing the ice cubes around…or what's left of them…"
"Nah…not yet. So, what's next?"
"Sadly, I don't really know. I never saw that girl with the gun, or Vanessa and the guy in black, ever since then. I guess the story will have to end here…"
Rob scowled. "Aw, and it was a nice story, too…I have to hand it to you, you really know how to tell a good one…"
They heard the tinkling of the bell over the front door, and the two men whipped around to see a cloaked figure step in, hood and head down. This enigmatic customer chose the seat next to Rob, and plunked several coins on the counter.
"What'll it be…?"
"Some beer would be nice…and yeah, the regular kind; no light, no dry…" The customer's husky voice was undoubtedly female.
"I get it…ma'am?" The bartender walked off, but not before sweeping the coins into a pouch in his apron, and tossing out a copper piece. After a few quiet moments, he returned, and the woman greedily grabbed the mug out of his hand before he could even set it down, and Rob watched with a raised eyebrow as she downed three-quarters of it in one gulp.
"Anyway," Rob began, tearing his eyes away from the almost pathetic sight, "you really do tell the best stories about the people who walk into your bar…"
The woman put down her mug and repeated, "Stories? How interesting..."
"Yeah, and he just finished a really good one…pity he never knew what happened to the tuxedo man, or the gun girl, or even Vanessa…he stopped at the part where she decided to go find the two adults, after the man fell asleep on Vanessa's lap, and he suspects that she was the one who spiked his milk…"
"The strangest people walk into my bar," said the bartender, leaning against the counter. "Though I wish I knew what became of them."
"You do?" asked the woman, gazing intently at the last of her beer. "You know, I have a friend who works at the Creek and Sleek inn, and she told me about this woman who walked in once and asked for a room. She had with her a guy who was fast asleep, wearing a swallowtail – "
The bartender and Rob stared at her, but it was the latter who spoke first.
"Did she know anything else?"
"Well…there have been some rumors about what happened to them. But here's what most people think happened that night…"
"Why hello there, Vanessa," said the innkeeper, drumming her fingers nonchalantly on the reception desk. "And…who's that strapping young man with you?" She leaned forward, trying to catch a glimpse of his face.
"Oh, his name is Van…and we'd like a room for the night. In fact, he looks like he really needs it."
"Apparently so…you'll be sharing the same room?"
Veiling her glittering eyes with her lashes, Vanessa answered, "But of course."
The innkeeper couldn't help giggling as she braided some of her reddish-brown hair. "I see. Anyway, I think room two-oh-one is free…it's upstairs, and here are the keys." With one hand keeping her braid in place, she reached out and tossed the ring over to Vanessa, who paid up. Despite the ringing of dropped coins, the chime of dangling keys, and the constant hustle and bustle around the two women, Van never once stirred, not even as he was carried up the stairs, and the innkeeper yelled after them, "Hope you enjoy the new double bed; we can't wait to break it in!"
And that was the last thing Vanessa heard before she shut the door and locked it, unloading her precious – and extremely light – cargo onto the large bed, where he continued to doze. She plopped down beside him on the overly bouncy mattress, and stretched out, gazing fondly at him.
"Van of the Dawn, has anyone ever told you that you look so handsome when you are asleep?" she drawled, waving a hand as though deciding whether to touch any part of him or not. Rolling over on her back, she shifted her attention to the ceiling, where their only source of light glared down on them. A couple of moths were flying quite close to it – in fact, one of them was already banging against the bulb.
Vanessa turned again, reaching out for his tie. But before she could pull, there was a knock on the door. She drew her hand back and sat up, glancing into the full-length mirror beside the bed before standing up.
"Who is it?"
There was no response. Crossing the room, she unbolted the door and was rather surprised to see a girl standing there, parking her luggage casually beside her. A gust of wind blew in through the only open window, gently easing the door shut. Vanessa eyed this newcomer – she was probably not yet even a teenager, her red hair was pulled back into two pigtails, and her eyes were glaring daggers at her. She fit the description Van had given back at the bar, except for the turtle, and yet…
"Who are you?"
"I'd like to ask you the same question, little girl," said Vanessa, tossing back her hair.
"I asked you first, and don't call me a little girl," was the cold reply, reaching for something strapped to her back. The woman stepped back when she heard the familiar click of a gun drawn out of its holster and aimed at its target.
But Vanessa tried to keep her cool. "You're not really going to shoot me with that thing, are you?"
"You kidnapped Van."
"Did I?" she said, feigning surprise. "No, I simply took him here after he had one too many drinks at the bar…"
"I went to the bar, and the man told me he only ordered a glass of milk."
"Then perhaps someone decided to slip him a little something tonight."
"And that someone is most probably you," the girl pressed on, still clutching her gun. Her fingers quavered slightly, but she stood her ground. "Sorry, but he already has someone he loves!"
"Really," said Vanessa, addressing the gun. "And, pray tell, who might that be?"
This time, the girl had no time for arguments. She stepped forward, but Vanessa stayed rooted to the spot, ready to strike again.
"How is your aim, little girl? A gun can only have so many bullets…"
"Even if I shoot only once, people will hear it and they'll all come rushing here, and they wouldn't suspect me, because they'll think I'm just a defenseless little kid. So it doesn't matter whether I miss…or not."
"Then let's just put down the gun and talk this over, all right? You look tired…maybe you would like to take a nap?"
And with that, Vanessa used the only weapon she had – a pillow. She threw it across the room, but the girl was quick, side-stepping in time to see it collide noiselessly with the door. The gun remained up, and the second pillow sailed bootlessly towards her right.
All the while, Van had no idea that a woman and a girl were fighting over him at that moment.
"You don't understand…you're just a kid!"
"I'm not a kid, and I understand just fine!"
"Tell me, what would you want with this man? I'm quite sure he's not related to you in any way, since you're nothing alike, so what is it then?"
"I'm coming with him so I can find my brother, is that wrong?"
"You should have stayed at home!"
"What about your parents?"
"I don't have any!"
The girl's finger was still on the trigger, and it moved ever so slightly. Vanessa shrank back against the wall, suddenly out of rebuttals. Her opponent's face was set, as though she had finally decided to shoot, and she was right; whether she missed or not, people would hear it…
Glancing out the second-floor window, Vanessa perched herself onto the sill and jumped, landing on a low branch of a tree, but not without a last look at Van. And she was out of the tree and well on her way by the time the girl peeked out the window.
Meanwhile, one of the flitting moths just fell onto the floor after rubbing against the light bulb one last time.
Rob and the bartender were in hysterics, laughing and clapping each other on the back as the woman finished her story.
"That was a hoot – the girl really got her, that's for sure!"
"I can't believe it; she was outsmarted by a girl probably half her age!" Clearing his throat, the bartender added, "I mean…if that really happened and if those aren't just random rumors and fantasies made up just for the heck of creating such a tale…that was quite an interesting addition, ma'am. Next time anyone asks for the story, I'm adding what you've given me."
"I'm flattered," she said, combing her fingers through some of her bright red hair under her hood. "It was also nice being around you two…good company, really, but I'm afraid I must get going now."
Rob grinned and winked. "It was our pleasure, miss. Hope you come back soon!"
The woman stood up, and strode over to the door, not looking back. When she was outside, she drew her cloak closer to her, and walked away, weaving through the dark streets and alleys of the town. A chilly breeze whipped past her, exposing her face and upsetting her wig of red hair, revealing a head of silver-blond that rippled in the air like a banner.
And somewhere else, on the Endless Illusion, two weary travelers – three if you counted the turtle – were booking a couple of rooms for the night, at an inn almost a universe away from the one at the corner of Creek and Sleek.
"Two rooms, please…as long as both of them don't have a double bed."