Author's Notes: I will let you guys read first before trying to dissuade y'all from throwing things at me out of anger at how late this update is…
…But please don't hurt me too bad! ;_;
Ivan placed the phone down and sighed, violet eyes staring downward as a small, troubled pout formed unknowingly on his lips.
There was a shuffle close by before a sweet, timid voice called out:
The Russian man sighed again, and turned around, a small smile wavering on his face.
"It's okay, Yekaterina. We should figure this out ourselves anyways, yes?"
Yekaterina, sitting attentively from her spot on the couch, hummed a little and nodded, though worry still darkened her pretty features.
She was a nervous young woman, and often got teary over little things. Looking at her now, Ivan was reminded of how much thinner and frailer she'd gotten, compared to what he remembered of her being before he left Russia. This made him sad because it showed just how long he had been away, and, despite of trying her best to be strong, how much she really needed him.
She was wearing hairclips, the ones he'd sent her from overseas as presents for her most recent birthday, which arrived by mail. They kept her hair, which framed her cheeks pleasantly, away from falling into her eyes, but he knew she wore them for much deeper reasons than just that. Dressed in a long, cotton sleeping gown with ruffles as collars and sleeves with lacy cuffs, her hands were wrapped around a cup of hot milk sitting on her lap on top of a small plate. As much as she tried to sit up straight, it was a little difficult due to the size of her breasts, which she tried to be humble about by curling her shoulders into herself.
She was currently eyeing the black suitcase on top of the dining table cautiously, as if expecting the thing to suddenly jump up and snap at people.
It remained still and harmless, though that didn't stop her staring.
And she had every right to; Ivan sighed again, looking over to it as well.
It was a suitcase full of stacks of cash weighing so much that Yekaterina could hardly lift it when she tried. They had only gotten a glimpse of the inside of it, but neither wanted to open the cover again to check if the cash was genuine.
Not that they really needed to.
They knew it was real…
The day had begun normally enough.
Ivan got up, showered, and had just finished making breakfast when his sister came out of her room, yawning and rubbing the sleep out of her eyes.
They ate together, conversing happily.
Afterwards the two got ready for the day, and left their apartment together, walking down the street before going separate ways towards different bus stops.
Work was fun, though pretty much the same as usual. Ivan arrived right on time, and started helping the shop owner get everything ready for the general public.
Customers came and went, some buying a handful of different assortments of sweets while some only wanted ice cream (though Ivan didn't know why they'd want ice cream when it's sub-zero outside). Before long it was his lunch break, which he spent munching on the food Yekaterina prepared for him from the previous evening. He finished eating faster than usual, and used the rest of his free time to wander about around the area. In the afternoon, mostly after school ended, it grew even busier as the little shop was quite famous around town and well-received by the locals, especially and not surprisingly by the youngsters. Time passed in a blur, and, in what felt like a blink of an eye, it was evening and the sun was setting.
Snow crunched under his feet as he hopped off the bus, waving at the bus driver, and walked down the road leading to his home. It was a little windy, and snow began to fall again. He nuzzled his cheeks against his scarf, which flapped behind him. With hurrying steps, he entered the door to his apartment complex, and immediately felt warmed.
Boarding the elevator, he took off his fur hat and gently patted away melting, fluffy snow flakes. Reaching his floor, he felt a small, content smile tug his lips upward.
He was quite hungry, and couldn't wait to see what Yekaterina was cooking for dinner.
Unlocking and opening the door, he was greeted by warmth and the delicious smell of hot, yummy food. Before he could even signal his return with a "good evening", his stomach gave a loud, churning growl, and his sister poked her head out from the kitchen.
She laughed good-naturedly, and he felt a blush darken his cheeks, trying to hide behind his scarf.
"Dinner is almost ready." She said, and, quite literally moments later, started to bring out dishes and began setting them out on the table.
He took off his outer coat, and went to help after washing his hands.
As soon as they were both seated, he dug into his food, stuffing it into his mouth before humming appreciatively and clapping happily.
"You're the best cook in the world, Katyusha!" He exclaimed, bright, violet eyes sparkling and beaming with affection.
It was Yekaterina's turn to blush. Muttering a "You're exaggerating…", she hid a small smile, and gave Ivan a small nudge to eat his vegetables.
The evening had gone on normally and peacefully, but took a strange turn after the siblings finished their dinner.
Ivan was washing the dishes when someone knocked on the door.
He couldn't quite see it from his position, but he heard his sister walking over.
Wondering who it was, he called out:
"Were you expecting company today?"
"No…I don't remember anyone saying they were going to visit…" Yekaterina answered, sounding confused, looking into the peephole.
There was a long pause, and Ivan, growing more curious by the second, wiped his hands dry with a towel and walked out of the kitchen.
"…Yekaterina…?" He blinked, concern rising alongside his curiosity as he noticed how tense his sister's expressions were.
"They…look a little…scary…" She whispered, still staring into the peephole.
A little alarmed by the shivering tone in her hushed voice, he approached the door as well.
"Let me have a look, yes?" He gently nudged Yekaterina on the arm.
The young woman paused a little, but nodded, glancing at him with nervousness bright in her eyes.
"Don't worry. If anything happens, I will protect you." Giving her a reassuring smile, he spoke softly, and bent over slightly in the midsection to peer into the peephole.
Three men stood outside their door, dressed in long, black winter coats over black suits. The one in the middle, more aged than the others, wore a hat that looked to be more of an accessory than actual protection from Russian winters, while the other two by his sides wore sunglasses despite of it being night time.
Ivan's usually childlike expression fell away as he watched them intently and carefully, eyes glinting and unblinking.
"…Katyusha, go to your room and lock your door…" His voice was barely above a breath.
"…Wh-What? Why? What's wrong?" Yekaterina questioned, whisper quiet but full of tension; Ivan didn't need to look to know that fearful tears now swam in her round, blue eyes.
"Please, do as I say, sister."
"I will be fine, yes~?" He tilted his head slightly and gave her a small smile, though, having his face in the shadow and eyes shining rather oddly brightly, he looked quite terrifying with his looming form. The shorter but older young woman was not afraid of him of course; however, she couldn't help but feel afraid for the men outside, especially with how intimidating her brother's expression was.
"…O-Okay…Be careful…" She said, standing on her toes briefly to give Ivan a small peck on the cheek. With fleeting, worried glances still tearful, she caught his eyes a few times, and disappeared from his view as the door to her room closed and locked.
For moments, only silence accompanied Ivan as he went back to watching the men outside, feeling a little apprehensive about how none of them moved at all, as if knowing he was peering out at them.
"…Who is it?" He finally called out, voice clear and distinct, all the while staring through the peephole.
"Mister Ivan Braginski, we come to you with a request for your services."
Violet eyes blinked in surprise; he did not anticipate hearing English, let along this particular accent.
It sounded similar to Arthur's, though it wasn't entirely the same.
How did they know about him…?
The man in the middle was the one that spoke, though his thin lips barely moved.
"Who are you?" Ivan asked in English, becoming more suspicious.
"I will not answer to a door; please open it and we will talk."
"We know of your ability," And that made the Russian extremely uneasy; "And only wish to ask for your help. We hold no hostility, and will never appear to you again if you do not want us to."
Silence lingered over them as Ivan pressed his lips together, conflicting thoughts bickering inside his mind.
After careful contemplation, the tall man finally sighed, and stepped back, but not without eyeing the nearby coat cupboard, where his water pipe was. Turning the lock knob but keeping the door chain secured, he slowly swung it open, only wide enough to allow half of his face to be shown.
The men outside simultaneously turned and gazed back at him, though he could not see the eyes of the ones wearing dark, shaded specs.
"Who do you work for?" Ivan asked, blinking his wide eyes with feigned innocent curiosity, childlike voice echoing slightly in the hallway.
"I did not say we worked for anyone, sir." The one in the middle answered.
"I know, but I can't possibly believe that the boss would come himself, especially all the way to Russia during its bitter winter." A wide grin of pretend-friendliness appeared on the tall Russian's face; with a small quirk of the head, he tilted it sideways in a coy manner. "That would be very silly of me, da~~?" All the warm emotions exhibited did not reach the glimmering violet eyes.
The two men with sunglasses looked uncomfortable; one of them, who held a large suitcase, shifted on his feet.
"Settle down!" A harsh whisper from the man in the middle stopped their fidgeting at once. Turning back to address Ivan, he gave a small nod and put on a polite face; "We come in the name of Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom, and all of those within the Commonwealth." He looked quite proud for speaking in such hushed voices; "Would you kindly allow me to elaborate more on the inside of your door instead of out here in this chilly hall? Or is the comfort of your home not part of Russian hospitality to foreigners." There was a biting, edged tone laced with sarcasm, and Ivan was suddenly reminded of a certain Brit he befriended.
Feeling rather sheepish, a small pout formed on the Russian man's face; grumbling out an apology, he closed the door just to release the chain latch, and quickly opened it to let his guests in.
The men walked in hastily; it was clear that they were cold standing outside, not used to the weather. They didn't exhibit any specific emotional reaction as they took in the small, homey place, sparing no lingering looks on the half-washed dishes, or the scattered pieces of a large sunflower picture puzzle on the coffee table in front of the couches, which Ivan had recently started to put together.
"Please, have a seat, da~?" Motioning to the general direction of the living room, the tall blonde stood stiffly, not quite knowing how to act around agents sent by "Her Majesty the Queen". "Do you…want something to drink?"
"We do not drink on the job, Mr. Braginski." The man who was standing in the middle while outside the door now sat in one of the single sofa seats, while the other two wearing sunglasses sat on the longer one.
It took Ivan a few seconds to understand the emphasis on the word "drink". When he did, he laughed, not knowing whether to feel humoured or offended.
"Vodka isn't the only thing Russians drink, da?" He said; "I can make you tea if you want."
The three men exchanged glances.
"…It will warm you up…?" Ivan suggested.
The three shared more looks before the one who was probably the leader of the group, the one not wearing sunglasses, nodded.
"That would be lovely; thank you."
"You're welcome~" A little while later, Ivan reappeared from the kitchen with a tray of cups and a small tea pot.
There was an awkward silence as the men sipped their tea. After a few quiet moments, the leader spoke up, setting his cup down onto the small coffee table.
"Mr. Braginski, I apologize for arriving unannounced, but I must insist that you hear everything I have to say before making your decision on whether or not to take our request."
Ivan nodded, frowning a little; "…What does England's queen want with someone like me, Mr.…?"
"You may address me as Mr. Harris; I am responsible for the case I am about to introduce to you." Came the quick answer; "And the request was not personally made by the royal family, of course, only by title. We are agents from a separate branch of national defense, dealing with…things that you will find to be familiar with."
Ivan did not speak at first, eyes narrowing in suspicion and lips unconsciously pursing into a pout. "…Does Mother Russia know you are here?"
"Yes," Mr. Harris wore no particular expression; "We are being observed as we speak. It is expected of course, since we arrived as common tourists. After we leave, you shouldn't be surprised to find someone from your government knocking on your door, or perhaps a shadow tailing after you for the next few days."
"What do I tell them if they question me?"
"The truth," The man simply said; "The only reason I decided not to contact your government is to avoid the tedious procedures of arriving as personnel of a department that does not exist."
"…I can't really say you came here to ask me to investigate superstitions, da?" Ivan looked unconvinced, lips still pursed together.
"You'd be surprised at what they'd believe, especially from an interesting individual such as yourself," Mr. Harris replied in a dry tone; "Every nation has a department that doesn't exist, Mr. Braginski, but I digress." Without further delay, he took out an envelope from an inside pocket of his winter coat. Opening it and taking out a thin stack of papers, he continued in a professional manner:
"There have been an abnormally large number of reported disappearances in a small, remote village. At first only the police was contacted, and investigation followed, but after a while, when the ones who disappeared started reappearing, it became apparent that something outside of their jurisdiction is at work." A few photos clipped to some of the papers in the little stack were pulled out and spread out on the coffee table. Ivan leaned forward, trying to look, though it was a little hard since he was a little far from them.
"Please, feel free to have a closer inspection." Mr. Harris gave a small wave, and the Russian nodded, picking up the photos, round eyes sparkling with curiosity.
He took one look at the first photo, and immediately grimaced.
The body was hardly recognizable as being once human, and was mutilated to nothing but a pile of blood and gore. The chest and stomach cavity of the…person was completely pried open and exposed, organs splattered out around as if thrown out carelessly.
If that were all, anyone would've guessed that this was the work of a serial killer of some sort reminiscent of Jack the Ripper.
However, it was obviously not, as on all of the torn out body parts were burnt marks – complicated symbols and lines making up small sigils of unknown meanings.
The rest of the pictures were similar, and Ivan threw them down, glancing at them cautiously, rubbing his hands together as if trying to disinfect them.
This was unlike anything he had ever seen, and he'd seen some pretty messed up things since his first encounter with the supernatural when his parents were murdered.
"I…I'm not too…well-learned in this type of things, so I think you should ask someone else, da…?" He looked back at Mr. Harris, slightly apologetic.
The man held up a hand; "Please, allow me to finish first before deciding." Seeing Ivan's attentive gaze, he went on:
"Within relative proximity of the village, there is an abandoned castle. It was previously in the possession of an aristocrat who liked to keep to himself, who was engrossed in his research, though his studies remain unknown to this day. He died many decades ago of course; it isn't clear who the land now belongs to, hence why it has been left unattended.
"So, naturally, much local folklore spawned, suggesting that the place is haunted despite of there being no legitimate cases supporting such suggestion. That is, until now. None of the officers had gone to the castle to find information as the few who ventured close all ended up dead. But, from what little clues the police and detective team managed to find around the area, my colleagues and I have concluded that it is not your everyday apparitions that dwell there.
"Normally we would not seek help from those outside of our department, not even within our own country, but this situation is far too dangerous to send in agents, many of which are only humans educated in the supernatural with appropriate equipments, meaning they are extremely vulnerable to paranormal attacks. We learnt that the hard way – all of those we sent in have not returned. However," The man's gaze grew in intensity, and he suddenly smiled, though it was not friendly or kind, "…The same cannot be said about you, Mr. Braginski; you are, quite literally, one of a kind."
Ivan held the gaze. It made him uncomfortable, as if being examined like a lab animal, but he didn't like the idea of backing down, so he met it evenly with a hard look of his own.
Though the effect of his gaze was lessened to some extent by the small, thoughtful pout that never left his expressions; he was never aware of it ever being there.
"So…you want me to go into the castle and try to find your missing agents and clues?" He asked.
"More or less, yes," Thankfully, Mr. Harris' expression returned to that of polite professionalism as he gave a curt nod; "You will not be asked to do any more than that if you do not feel comfortable doing so."
"But how will I know what to look for? And how to look for them? I'm not very familiar with the Occult, da…"
"You will be accompanied, of course, by others who are more involved and well-learnt in such things."
Ahhh…so he was to act as, more or less, a shield for protection, though he was not sure what the presence of "others" meant…
Ivan glanced at the pictures again, looking rather reluctant, but spoke up anyways:
"What's in it for me?"
"I'm glad you asked," The middle-aged man gave a tiny quirk of a smile and waved a hand towards one of the men in sunglasses. Without delay, the one holding the black suitcase lifted the rather heavy-looking object, placing it on top of his thighs, and opened the latches holding it closed.
The cover of the suitcase fell open, and Ivan couldn't help but feel his eyes widen in surprise.
Inside it were stacks and stacks of cash in neat piles, its sum possibly reaching above hundreds of thousands.
Catching his look of amazement, Mr. Harris' smile grew; "You will be paid handsomely, and this is only half of the payment. Should you complete the mission, another half will be given to you."
Ivan remained silent, eyeing the money rather apprehensively.
He took another moment to get over his mild shock before turning away. He hummed a small sigh, and shook his head.
"You are very generous, but…while my sister and I are not wealthy, we are happy with what we have, da? I cannot leave her here by herself; I will not."
"She is more than welcomed to come with you."
"It will be dangerous, no?"
"You will be with her, and, if you insist to not have her accompany you into the castle, she can always stay at somewhere close, but definitely safe." Mr. Harris definitely expected Ivan's concerns and had already prepared answers.
"…But…" The Russian was running out of excuses, "…What about our jobs?"
"I can assure you that after your participation in the case, you won't have to worry about money for a very long time." The man answered with absolute certainty; "After all, we have to pay enough to make sure you won't talk about any details regarding the case after you finish."
"That's not the problem…" Ivan was hesitant, voice in a soft murmur.
"Ahh, I understand now; this must be overwhelming to you, Mr. Braginski," Mr. Harris suddenly stood up; "I understand completely, and will leave you a few days to make up your mind."
"Well actually I—"
"I will leave the suitcase with you as a greeting present—"
"-I—No! You really don't—" Ivan shook his head quickly, getting up from his seat, but the older man interrupted as though he hadn't spoken at all, walking towards the door.
"-And thank you for your time. We will be taking our leave now, and return in at most a week."
The suitcase was closed and carefully put down onto the coffee table. The men in sunglasses stood up, following after their leader in brisk steps.
"Нет! I can't take—" The Russian, with large strides, tried to block the men's way to the door, feeling rather annoyed with how they insisted to leave the money to him.
He knew it was hardly a "present" as Mr. Harris pretentiously claimed it to be.
It was more of a threat than anything, or, at the very least, an eyesore to the tall blonde.
The middle-aged man pushed him aside with a strength he did not expect, and took a hold of the door knob. Ivan felt a rush of indignation rise inside him. With a dark growl of displeasure, he reached out without a second thought and grabbed the older man's arm in a tight clench.
Not a split of a second after, he felt the cold barrel of a gun pressed against his temple.
For moments, they all remained still.
Mr. Harris' hand was still on the door knob, Ivan's larger one around his arm. The man in sunglasses holding a gun to the Russian's head was completely motionless, posture tense, while his partner paused in reaching into the inside of his coat, looking ready to pull out his own pistol at any second.
"…Now, gentlemen, there is no need for hostility." Mr. Harris sounded strangely irritated with his subordinates, shooting them each a glare.
The one holding his gun out pursed his lips, clearly displeased about his leader's decision, but slowly withdrew it, though not without giving a last warning nudge.
Ivan did not move, lips pressed tightly together and jaws set. He wore a harsh expression unfitting his rather childish features, a dark shadow overcastting his face. Violet eyes shined madly under the dim light, staring at the man who threatened fatal harm.
He felt his fingers tingle, itching for the pipe they loved to clutch.
The one who had the nerve to press a gun at his temple actually took a small step back, looking horribly flustered, and turned his face away.
Slowly, he released Mr. Harris from his tight hold.
He felt a small sense of respect for the old man, since he knew it probably hurt.
The said old man gave him a small nod in an appreciative manner, and turned the door knob.
"Good night, Mr. Braginski; we will see you soon."
With the men in sunglasses tailing after him like faithful shadows, Mr. Harris walked down the hall, giving a tiny wave.
Ivan watched, standing in the doorway, until the three turned the corner and disappeared.
"…What do you suppose we do?" Yekaterina's voice roused Ivan out of his thoughts.
The Russian man sighed, rubbing his face with his hands and trying to ease the ongoing conflicts inside his mind, which never stopped weighing pros and cons of the situation. He really hated the fact that Mr. Harris simply left the suitcase full of cash behind without a second thought. It made him feel bad about refusing the request, especially since everything was well thought of, such as how he was allowed to bring his sister along, and keep her close but safe…
…and the money wouldn't hurt either, since he could use it to purchase a small but permanent home, not only in Russia, but probably in New York as well, so he could take Yekaterina with him to America and see Yao and his friends.
And all he had to do was to help find clues around an abandoned, old castle.
It was perfect really, but he couldn't shake off a feeling of unease.
"Let's—…Let's think about this…tomorrow…please…?" He murmured, suddenly feeling rather tired and sleepy, voice small and childish in timber. Despite of the fact that he often took care of his older sister instead of the other way around, being in the same room with the rather motherly young woman made him feel whiney at times.
"Oh Vanya…" Yekaterina cooed, rising from her spot and approaching the now pouting tall man. Gently tilting his face upwards, she gave his forehead a kiss; "We'll figure things out like we always do, yes? Don't worry yourself."
"Okay…" Ivan gave a small nod, looking up with a sheepishly troubled expression, round eyes meeting his sibling's. "But whatever happens, I will never leave you again, sister."
The young woman blinked, and, for several moments, could not speak. Tears began to surface, and made her already sparkling blue eyes appear as though shimmering crystals in the dark.
Giving Ivan a teary smile, she nodded, and held onto his hands.
"…Come; I'll tuck you in to bed."
The two walked slowly towards the direction of the bedrooms, fingers wrapped snuggly around each other's.
It was warm, and nice, though they couldn't help but feel a loss throbbing in their hearts – a hole that dug too deep to be healed overtime.
It remained unspoken, even as they caught each other's eyes in understanding.
Natalia was never coming back, and they would simply have to live on without her.
"…Wh—…What did you just say?" Matthew broke the shocked silence in the hallway, gasping in dismay and eyes wide.
Kiku nodded, posture tense and expression dark; "He was found outside of the main gates by the gardening staff. A periodic grooming was scheduled today for the gardens, and they begin early in the morning." He motioned to the small crowd of employees, and, amongst them, a few men and women dressed in proper gardening wear could be seen, all looking extremely pale and shaken. "They came to the side house to report to me as soon as they could."
The heavy silence that settled over the group prior to Matthew's question resumed.
The same person who broke it spoke up once again:
"…What does—What does this mean, eh…?" The Canadian gave a weak, shaky laugh; "That he's—…he's found outside, I mean…
"…The spirit, he's-he's confined to the mansion grounds, isn't he? How could he have—"
"-We should go check things out as soon as possible, aru," Yao cut in, nodding at Kiku and his team mates; when his eyes met Matthew's, the same question and worry could be seen shinning in the dark orbs. "Get dressed; we will head to the mansion right away."
"I understand the urgency, mon ami, but shouldn't we contact the police? A man has been murdered." Francis' voice was even and smooth, but the frown he wore told that what he felt was far from what his tone suggested. "While our intuition points to our warlord spirit, the possibility of someone else committing the crime still exists, non?"
"That's right, aru," Yao nodded, "But we won't be able to investigate once the police gets here. We will have to hurry." The Chinese man sighed, shoulders sagging a little and looking slightly worn-out; "…What do we do, aru? We can't attempt an exorcism with the police here, and they will no doubt leave officers to stay the grounds on watch out for anyone suspicious. And once the sun sets—…there will definitely be bloodshed…"
Matthew glanced back and forth between Yao, Kiku, and Francis, who still stood behind him with an arm wrapped loosely around his waist.
Just as they figured out a way to solve the problem at hand, this happens…
It seemed that luck was not on their side.
"Let us concentrate on what we should do for now instead of worrying about the future," Kiku straightened his back and spoke, voice rather flat and emotionless; "Leave the problems regarding the police force to me. As much as I hate to do this, I am certain I can find a solution by pulling a few strings."
Sometimes Matthew wondered why he just had to go see things he knew would upset him.
He could blame nothing but his curiosity as he leaned closer into Francis' arms, face pressed against the taller man's chest, and tried his best to stop his pathetic shivering.
One look at the body on the ground caused a train-wreck of memories to come forth in unending waves, which almost triggered a nervous breakdown, but, luckily, his lover was quick to notice the sudden change in his behaviour and immediately shielded his eyes by pulling him into a tight hug.
He sighed, hating how much the sight frightened him, despite of it being nothing worse than what he'd seen before, especially compared to how poor Natalia was…
Francis, sensing his sigh, patted his head gently in a soothing manner, tilting his face down to give him a kiss on the cheek.
He felt much better, though he was still shaken, but that was expected since the image of the severed body was burnt into his mind with too much clarity for his liking.
In truth, despite it being bloody, the manner in which the man was killed was quite precise and clean, meaning the body was not mutilated or torn. Limbs were cut off with a single slice, as was the head, which was a little further away from the rest of the body parts, no doubt having bounced and rolled away after it was chopped off. Blood soaked quite an impressively large area, and that was what mainly upset the Canadian the most.
The man was dressed in all black, and had a lean frame. He wore a woolen hat on his head that probably could've been worn as a mask, though no one touched the body to check if that was the case. A few steps away there was a large, black bag with its contents unknown; no one touched that either, since the police definitely would not appreciate nosy bystanders.
Due to the way he was killed, the man's facial features could be seen quite clearly, bloodied or not. Kiku, standing beside a crouched down Yao, hummed a little under his breath in a thoughtful manner:
"…I don't recognize him, neither do the gardeners nor the household staff," Speaking of the employees, a few had come by Kiku's request to check if they knew the man, since they were from nearby towns; they were now huddled together several steps away, glancing over at the scene fearfully. "I think it is safe to make the assumption that the victim was not from around here."
"Probably not, aru," Yao sighed, inspecting the numerous fatal wounds, "With clothes like these, I'd think he was trying to break into the mansion and steal things."
"Hai…" Kiku had the same suspicion, and couldn't help but feel a little sorry for the thief.
After a while of silence, the Japanese man asked:
"What can you see?"
"It is obvious that each strike was aimed to kill, aru," Yao tucked a few fallen strands of long, dark hair behind his ears as he leaned down further to check the exposed wounds, eyebrows furrowed; "One strike per limb…possibly in quick succession of each other judging from the way the body parts are scattered."
"What do you mean?"
"Say, if this man was cut up after he'd fallen and died, they wouldn't be where they are unless the different body parts were moved, aru." The Chinese man answered, pointing at the torso, arms, and legs; "However, if it were in fact the killer's intentions to move the body parts, wouldn't they usually scatter them far away from each other? Usually they wouldn't kill the man, cut off his limps and head, and then just nudge them around, aru…"
"I see…" Kiku murmured; "Speaking of the way they fell…it looks as if—…as if—"
"-The victim was running as he was cut into pieces?" Yao finished Kiku's statement, nodding with a grim expression; "That is what I believe as well, aru…It's definitely someone extremely skillful and experienced with blades that did this." Sighing, he caught Kiku's eyes; "I think we all have the same suspicion, but it's always best to confirm first…" Getting up, he turned to address Francis, who still held Matthew in his arms.
"Francis, aru…if you are feeling alright, can you…see what happened?"
The Frenchman gave a small nod; "Certainement. I am feeling a lot better."
"…Are you-Are you sure?" At that, Matthew shifted a little in his position and looked up, worry swimming in his watery blue eyes; "I mean…what happened the last time…back at the well…"
"I will be careful, mon chéri," The taller man smiled appreciatively; "I must admit, I am recuperating far faster than what I initially expected," Placing his gloved hands on his little Matthieu's shoulders, he leaned down a little and pressed their foreheads together, voice warm and reassuring; "This is different than the well, and I won't take long."
"…Okay…" The Canadian still didn't look like he fancied the idea, though he chose not to be a hindrance and merely watched as Francis gave him a smile, followed by a small peck, before walking towards Yao, Kiku, and the body.
Matthew tried not to look at the gaping wounds or the semi-wet blood stains, and concentrated on the Frenchman's movements instead.
"Just one concern, eh?" He murmured, walking a few steps closer to the rest of the group, but keeping a safe distance from the body; "If Francis were to touch him, wouldn't that leave finger prints? I mean, having your finger prints found on someone who's been murdered is never a good thing…"
"Don't worry, Matthew-san; I will explain to the police inspector." Kiku said, nodding in acknowledgement.
Though he wasn't sure how exactly the Japanese man was going to explain to the police (he was pretty certain that the excuse "psychic investigation" wouldn't work well with most people involved in enforcing the law), the Canadian chose not to question as Francis knelt down beside the body.
The Frenchman seemed to hesitate for a moment as to which of the parts to touch (he didn't look like he wanted to have contact with any actually), but quickly decided that an arm would suffice. Holding back a grimace at the blood and gaping flesh, he carefully took out a ribbon from his pocket, and tied back his shimmering golden hair, before taking off one of his gloves and reaching forward.
The sheer absurdity and strangeness of what he was about to do made the hair on the back of his neck rise, but, like a true professional, he was careful to not let that uneasiness show on his face.
Fingers curling, he grasped onto the dead man's hand connecting to a severed arm, and was instantly thrown into a swirl of memories.
Not wanting to dwell on much and skipping many events, he shuffled through much like how most would flip through a book to the desired chapter, and only paused for a closer look as a familiar mansion came into view.
"…He had been watching the mansion for some time, it seems…" He murmured, eyes shut and brows furrowed in concentration.
"What do you mean?" Matthew asked, scooting a few little steps closer to hear better.
"He was…a thief of some sort," Francis answered, skimming over what wasn't useful to their investigation; "He must've thought that a mansion this size would definitely contain things of great worth." Through the quickly flashing moving images and sounds, he could physically feel the leaves tickling his arms and legs as he saw familiar figures a distance away, standing at the entrance to the garden gates. He heard a loud protest from one of them, and almost chuckled as he clearly remembered the same event happening – a long haired, slender Asian man hollering out spluttered words of shock and embarrassment at an amused, taller blonde after a friendly butt-smack.
Quickly chiding himself for getting distracted and resuming back on track, he found what he was looking for.
"…After hiding close-by at times and watching for days, he snuck into the mansion last night by climbing over the wall."
"Oh no!" A small exclaim could be heard from his little Matthieu.
Oh no indeed…The Frenchman gave a small sigh; had the man not seen what happened when all of them went into the mansion at night that one time?
Scanning through just out of curiosity, he found that the man was unfortunately somewhere else during that little episode. It probably would've saved the man's life had he seen it, but it's too late now…
He reverted back to the night of the robber's demise.
The man was sneaking around the garden, listening keenly for sounds.
All was silent, deadly silent.
The man was pleased, though Francis felt a chill shiver down his spine.
The thief crept along the side of the mansion, hopping quietly into the hallway after sliding open a door. His footsteps were light, and left no disturbances. It was obvious that this man was an expert at what he did.
Rounding a corner, he peeked into the first room, and smiled as he spotted a beautiful ceramic vase. Stepping into the room and opening his bag, he barely even fully crossed the threshold when a shadow swept down and descended upon him.
Francis nearly jumped out of his skin when the spirit, true to warrior fashion, suddenly came out of nowhere and took out his katana in one, abrupt movement.
"He ran, abandoning all thoughts of keeping silence and raced towards the garden gates, the spirit barely steps behind him," Francis' voice remained low in volume, but was tight-strung with tension as he felt every bit of heart-pounding fear the poor victim was experiencing; "There were attacks; the spirit never stopped. The blade flashed in the dark, and he almost could not avoid its strike on numerous occasions. Tumbling down the stairs, he cried out in fear as the deadly metal caught his sleeve…
"…He reached the gates…
"…He could almost—
"-He could almost touch them with his hands now—!
"…He stumbled out through the gates…"
Silence followed his statement – a silence of disbelief and shock.
Yao shared a flicker of a dreadful glance with Kiku. "…Are-Are you sure, aru? If he left the gates then—"
Francis wasn't listening.
His eyebrows were in a deep frown of concentration as a tremour overtook his body. Cold sweat made his skin gleam under the morning light, and his voice wavered.
He was completely engulfed in the memories of the dead man.
"-He managed to get back onto his feet—"
Francis' whisper was harsh and hissed.
"He pushed himself upright—"
His voice shook, gaining an anxious edge.
"He turned to look—"
-A flash of glinting metal—
The sound of air being split open by the sword had not even reached his ears when sheer agony erupted everywhere in his body, mostly concentrated around the joints of his shoulders and hips. Crying out in pain, he tore his hand away from the dead man's. The last sensation he felt was the cold, biting edge of the blade striking down and slicing into the flesh and bone of his neck.
He screamed, terror and panic shooting through his body in violent spasms as his hands flew up to grab around his neck, where he could still feel the fatal attack from the deadly weapon.
It pierced through. He could almost see it, his body in pieces and chunks falling around him. He could almost taste it, the bitterness of fresh blood overflowing into his mouth.
…And it took him many frantic moments to snap out of it and realize that his limbs and head were still in fact connected to his body.
It took him another second to notice that his little Matthieu had knelt down right beside him during his frenzied stupor and pulled him into a half-embrace, watching him with wide, frightful eyes.
Taking deep, shaky breaths, Francis closed his own, and leaned closer into the hug, arms wrapping tightly around the Canadian's slender waist as his bare hand grasped around his gloved one to prevent accidental offenses of privacy.
"Oh Matthieu…Oh mon petit…I was so certain I was being slaughtered…" Sighing shakily, he buried his face into the curve of where the smaller man's neck met slim shoulders; "…Sometimes it only takes a moment for me to become caught up in the current…Mon Dieu…" Tilting his head slightly, he gave Matthew's cheek a firm kiss; "Forgive me; I should've been more careful to not startle you…"
"Don't say that," The Canadian spoke in a soft, comforting voice, though worry was also apparent; "It's okay, just—…You're safe…You're safe…with me." He gave Francis gentle pats on the head much like what the older male did for him when he was upset or scared.
After a while, the Frenchman gave a deep sigh, finally calming down. He stayed in the younger man's arms as long as he could, before duty made him lean back reluctantly.
"Merci, mon ange." He said, a small but warm smile on his lips.
The strawberry blonde shook his head slightly; "No need to thank me, Francis. But—…Are you—…Are you alright…?" His voice was soft, and it gave a tiny quaver, almost unnoticeable; he might've looked embarrassed from it, but concern was too strong for any other emotion to show on his face.
Francis blinked, taking the expression in. He paused, before he answered; "…Oui, mon coeur."
They shared a long look, blue gazing into blue.
"I'm glad." Matthew said, placing a hand around Francis' cheek, and the Frenchman pulled him into a kiss.
There was nothing sexual about it, but it was intimate, and full of affection.
Lips moved slowly, perfectly in sync with each other.
Francis slid out his tongue, giving the Canadian's a gentle flick, and the younger man moaned.
"…Aru…" Yao's voice made the two jump back, though one was a lot more flustered than the other.
Matthew cleared his throat and, hiding his blush by guiding his lover back onto his feet, went straight to business; "R-Right! So…Um…Not to rush or anything, Francis, but…what happened exactly? You kind of…stopped after you said the man turned…?"
"Ahhh…Oui…" The Frenchman, sliding his bare hand back into his glove, gave him another smile of love and thanks before continuing, expression darkening a little; "I'm afraid that what I'm about to say will upset you…" With a sigh, he continued in an even tone of voice; "The man turned, and the last thing he saw while running away was flashes of a blade before his limbs were severed almost simultaneously, as was his head. His death was immediate and painful, but that isn't what is most alarming."
"I…remember you said—" Yao began carefully, but trailed off as the long-haired blonde gave him a brisk nod.
"When he was killed, he was already paces outside of the gates," The look in Francis' eyes hardened, and a small, dismayed gasp followed from Matthew; "The spirit is no longer confined to the mansion grounds anymore, it seems…"
Yao heaved a deep sigh, rubbing his face, troubled; "…I was afraid this would happen, aru…"
"…Wait…Wh-…What do you mean?" Matthew asked, eyes searching the Chinese man's for answers, urgency clear in his words; "How's that possible? The enchantment—I thought it was—"
"-I thought it was going to hold, aru," Yao's eyes did not meet his, but was downcast to the ground in a thoughtful manner; he nibbled on his lips as the dark orbs flickered back and forth in front of him; "While this occurrence is not—…entirely unexpected, I was certain we had more time…I honestly didn't think it was necessary to worry you since I was extremely sure that an enchantment this strong was going to give us plentiful of time, but apparently that's…that's not the case, aru…"
"So you—you knew?" Matthew voiced out all the other team members' question of surprise.
Yao looked a little sheepish, and rubbed the back of his head awkwardly; "Well…Yes, aru…I knew that the spell had been…damaged somewhat, around the time after we found out that the warrior spirit became active again from being docile in the well, but because he was still confined to the mansion I thought—…" The Chinese man paused, biting his lips and making small gestures with his hands as if not knowing how to properly explain; "…It's-It's complicated, aru, how rituals work. There are many mechanisms in place to ensure safety in case something happens – something like the stone turtle lid being taken off and releasing the spirit. So I thought, despite of having a weak spot, the spell was going to hold, but I guess…I guess it's crumbling faster than I expected…"
There was a dreadful silence as the revelation slowly sunk in. Yao, looking around at the ashen faces of his team mates, felt bad for keeping this information from them.
"...I'm really sorry, aru…I shouldn't have kept this from you…I sometimes forget that you really can't be too careful with these things…" Head hanging low, he fiddled with his long sleeves, heart heavy with guilt.
"We never blamed you, mon ami," Francis spoke with a small flair of a wrist, voice smooth and comforting.
"Francis-san is right; what we need to do is find out what our new course of action is," Kiku nodded, and spoke in a rather professional manner, but his lips held a kind smile.
"Thanks, aru…" Yao tilted his head up and gave grateful smiles in return.
"Is there anything else you would like to investigate?" The Japanese man asked, looking around at the remaining members of the agency.
"No, I think we're done here, aru." Catching nods, Yao answered for the team.
"I will give the police department a phone call then." Kiku gave a small bow and excused himself, walking a little further away and taking out his phone.
"So…What are we going to do, eh?" Matthew asked, voice barely above a whisper.
No one replied right away.
Yao gave him fleeting glances as if hesitant in speaking, sharing knowing looks with Francis.
"…What is it?" The Canadian inquired, confused, head quirking to the side and sparkling blue eyes curious.
"Well, I have a solution, but…" The Chinese man turned to fully face him and tucked a few strands of fallen hair back behind his ear nervously, "…I know you won't like it, aru…"
Certainement – Certainly; of course
Merci, mon ange – Thank you, my angel
Oui, mon coeur – Yes, my heart
Ending Notes: Ok, so, the reason this update came so late...
Well, it's just that, after getting back from my grandparents', I got really sick, and the worst part is, no one could figure out what was wrong with me! ;_; I just felt so tired and weak all the time. I pretty much stayed in bed for the rest of my precious summer and did nothing but sleep...
I feel like I've been robbed of my vacation time. T-T
Oh well, enough moping. I feel much better now, and…if you guys really want to throw things at me go ahead, but please don't throw anything hard! –grovels–
Regarding the next update, I have no idea when it's gonna happen. Stupid school started, and I still don't have my own computer. However, good news is, my aunt said she plans to get me a new laptop by the end of September! I'm looking forward to that so much! I'm really kinda gettin' sick of writing in that notebook.
Anyways, yeah, Ivan returned! :D Man I miss writing him, but yeah, uhh, surprise? I bet none of you expected those agents from Her Majesty the Queen! AAAAAHAHAHA! –shot–
To be honest I don't really have anything else to say, except that I'm really, really sorry about how late this new chapter is. I feel horrible, but I was too out of it to write anything while I was half-dead lying in bed. I doubt you guys would wanna read anything I write during that time anyways. XD
I'm still not entirely satisfied with how this chapter turned out, but I thought that I made you guys wait long enough, so I decided to post it. –loves all of you–
And also, another thing to everyone: Seriously, thank you, thank you so, so much for all the reviews, favourites, subscriptions, and just…being overall so epically awesome and sweet to me! –teary eyes– I feel very ashamed that I haven't been answering to any of your reviews, but I promise, as soon as I get my own computer again, I'll start answering them again!
Ok I gotta run, but before I do that, big tackle-hugs and smothering kisses for everyone along with sparkly rainbows of love! –squishes everybody–
Remember, I love you always! :D