I wake up to someone dabbing my forehead gently. They've put too much water on the sponge, so some trickles down either side of my head, dribbling into my hair. I open my eyes, and find myself looking straight into the blank eyes of an akuma in its human disguise.
It blinks at me. "Master David."
"Get off me."
"I am merely - "
"Get off me."
It obediently lifts the sponge and moves back. I sit up, and stare around. The floor is tiled black and white, and the walls are panelled in pale wood. Light blue curtains hang in front of the windows, blocking out what little daylight is left.
To my right, Jasdero lies very still in his bed, white sheets drawn right up to his chin so that he looks like a mummy someone forgot to finish wrapping.
"Ugh…" I rub my eyes with one hand, and sit up a bit straighter. Someone's taken my clothes off and put me in a pair of light grey pyjamas.
The akuma watches me. I glare at it through my hair, which is even untidier than usual. "Oi, where are we?"
It bows. "Home, Master David."
"Our new home, dearest Debitto," says a familiar voice from across the room. The Earl is standing there, fat and grinning like he always is, but I yelp at the sight of him and pull the covers over my head. "It wasn't my fault! Nothing's my fault! Tyki's lying! He lied to you!"
"Shhh," he soothes. "You aren't in trouble. Now you just sit there and get better for me, yes?"
I peep over the edge of the bed sheet. The Earl takes a seat with his back to me next to another bed. Someone with dark curly hair is lying in it, fast asleep.
The Earl reaches a hand out and plumps the pillow gently. "Poor, poor little Tyki-pon. He's been quite badly hurt, you know." He glances over his shoulder at me. "As have you, David."
I hesitate, and then slide out of bed. I grab the covers and wrap them around myself like a cloak, because it's cold. Quietly I pad over to the Earl. He doesn't move.
"She left the infirmary two hours ago. She's better."
"Why…" I stop, and start again. "I remember a bomb."
"Well done, Debitto."
"But…it was made of Innocence. It…blew up, right in our faces."
There are tears streaming down the Earl's still-grinning face. "My poor children."
"H-how long have I - "
"Only one night," he says, answering my unfinished question. "I arrived yesterday and took you two and Lulubelle here with Tyki and Road."
"He's on his way now."
An akuma drifts over with a bowl of water and starts sponging Tyki's forehead, smoothing his hair away. He has a huge bandage over one eye, and I can see a horrible bruise spread over the other cheek. "What happened to him?"
"He got on the wrong side of one of the generals," says the Earl, but that's all he says, and I dance from one foot to other, 'cuz I want to ask some more, but what if I piss him off?
"Why - "
"Go back to bed, Debitto."
I stare at his back for a moment, and then I do as he says. That's always the best thing to do when the Earl's concerned. The akuma tries to follow me with its sponge, but I wave it away. "Leave me alone, dammit."
"I can see your manners haven't improved," says the Earl. "I thought those girls would have at least some positive influence on you."
I sit up. "You know about - "
"Don't insult my intelligence, please," he says cheerfully, but with a slight chill to his voice that sends a shiver down my back. I huddle against my pillow and draw the duvet up to my chin, just in case.
"What…what have you done with them?"
There's a long silence. It annoys me, but I know better than to bug the Earl. He sits for a long time without saying anything, and then he giggles softly to himself.
My heart goes slightly colder. What happened to Liz and Patty?
The Earl gets up and shuffles over to my bedside. His big grinning face scares me, and I'm still not entirely sure that I'm not in trouble ('cuz it seems like I'm always getting scolded for something) so I pull the covers up even further until just my eyes and the top of my head are showing, and I watch the Earl carefully.
He raises his hand above my head and I flinch and screw my eyes shut -
I open them again. The Earl's resting his hand on my forehead, and he strokes it gently, brushing the hair away from my eyes. I stare up at him, into the cold shiny circles that he looks out onto the world with.
"They've disappeared, David. No sign of them."
"Oh." Next to me, Jasdero mumbles slightly in his sleep and then turns over, sighing.
The Earl pats my hair. "You poor boy."
I swallow nervously. Carefully he pulls the duvet up, tucking me in. "Now get some sleep."
"But I want to know what - "
"Do as I say, Debitto."
The door shuts very firmly behind him.
Two days later
Jasdero sniffs hard and wipes his runny nose on his coat sleeve furiously. His hair dances madly in the wind, and the red pompom sitting on top of his woollen hat wobbles slightly.
"Yeah, Jas." I'm wearing my coat as usual, but the Earl made me wear two really thick sweaters and do the buttons up and he made me wear a scarf, which is covering my chin and my nose.
Jasdero refused to wear his scarf, so his nose is slowly turning pink and raw in the cold winter weather. He sniffs again. The garden is bare and cold, and I shiver slightly as we walk down the path.
But this isn't the old garden, there's not a forest at the end waiting for us, and there's no Liz, and no Patty waiting to be found alone in the trees.
I stop at the six-foot high stone wall that marks the end of the lawn, and turn around. I stare up at our new home. I don't know how the Earl got a place like this so damned quick, it's best not to ask, but the fact of the matter is that we're now living in what looks like some sort of massive country house.
I like it. It's comfortable. And the roof's red.
Jasdero blinks at me from under his hat. "And the door's black."
"And our room's bigger now."
There's a long silence. Slowly Jasdero wanders back down the path, towards a little pond that the Earl says he put in the garden specially for Road, 'cuz she likes looking at the fish. I watch him. He's walking funny, funnier than usual, putting most of his weight on his left foot. He's been walking like that ever since we were let out of bed, because he's not quite better yet.
Neither am I. My left arm's in a sling, just like Jasdero's was when -
I shake my head and follow him.
At first I couldn't remember a lot after I woke up, but Lulubelle turned up again, and she told us that she watched the bomb go off from the sky, and then went and fetched the Earl, and he saved us. I asked her how come me and Jas were still alive, and she just shrugged.
"I think the bomb malfunctioned," she'd said. "It sort of collapsed in itself instead of exploding."
Then I asked her what happened to Liz and Patty, and she shrugged again.
Jasdero's been real quiet ever since he woke up. Once or twice I've tried to cheer him up, to get him back to normal, like when I shoved Tyki down the stairs in front of him, but all that happened was that Tyki got hurt 'cuz he's still on crutches and I got into trouble with the Earl.
I crouch next to the pond with Jasdero, and he reaches out and runs his finger along the frozen surface of the water. There are koi somewhere under that ice sheet, I think. Waiting for the thaw.
"David," says Jasdero real quietly.
"Do you…think they're - still alive, hee?"
"I don't know, Jasdero."
I look up at him, and he suddenly grins at me. "I know they are." He wobbles slightly where he's crouching and I grip his elbow to stop him from falling into the pond.
"Do you miss them, Debi?"
"No." But I glance up at him, and he's staring hard at me, and of course there's no point lying to Jasdero, there never is.
"I hope we see them again soon, hee."
"Huh." My ears are fucking freezing. I press my gloved hands on them hard and wish I'd worn my hat too.
Jasdero stands up, and flicks a pebble across the ice. "I liked Patty. She made me laugh."
I remember her short hair and huge blue eyes, and that smile.
"Liz was pretty, too."
I hug my knees to my chest and think about that. Liz was…Liz. She was tall, and blonde, and easily frightened, and that was about it. "Hey, Jasdero."
"You said that you think she's pretty."
"But you also said you learned that word off Patty." I throw a pebble over to join his, and they bounce a few feet before skidding to a halt. "Remember? You acted like you'd never heard it before."
"Did I?" He stares up at the sky, which is grey today. "I must have forgotten what it meant." He looks down at me, and suddenly I feel really weird, because his eyes are wider than I've ever seen them, and there's…something in them that's not quite Jasdero. He stares at me for a moment. "I must have forgotten." Then he blinks, and that expression is gone. "I forget a lot of things, don't I, Debi?"
His words make me shiver. "Yeah, you do, Jas."
After a minute, I get up. "I'm cold, let's go back inside."
"But…" He hesitates, and glances wistfully over his shoulder at the wall, and the unknown world beyond it.
I know exactly what he's thinking. I grip his arm with my one good hand and gently pull him back towards the house. "They're not out there, Jas."
Sighing, he lets me lead him back inside.
The back hallway is narrow, but in a cosy sort of way, with pale green wallpaper patterned with leaves. Me and Jas kick our boots off, 'cuz the Earl insists on that now, and plod into the new sitting room, which is already lit by a warm fire.
Tyki looks up from his armchair as we come in, and then goes back to reading the paper. "Heya Jasdevi."
"Hey Tyki, hee."
We sit down on the hearthrug, and Jasdero pulls his hat off, which makes his hair stick up with static on the top of his head.
Tyki turns a page in his paper. "Feeling any better?"
"At least you can walk about properly again." He nudges the crutches leaning against his chair as he says this.
"In a bad mood, David?"
"Leave me alone."
Me and Jas both stare into the fire. After a minute, Jasdero starts rocking from side to side, and hums a little tune. I glance sideways at him in surprise.
That's Patty's song.
I can't believe he's remembered it. I can't believe I recognise it, come to think of it.
"You two should get to bed," says Tyki presently.
"Don't swear, David. It's rude." I blink at that, because his words stir memories in my mind that I don't want to remember.
Somewhere in my head Liz's face surfaces, stern and pale, and I hear her scolding me again. 'You really need to learn how to keep your temper.'
Like hell I do.
And you can shut up, Patty.
You're thinking crazy thoughts, Debi.
I look at Jasdero. He smiles at me and taps his forehead. After a second, I grin back at him. Yeah, aren't I?
He nods slowly and then sticks his thumb in his mouth. I've told him so many times that he's too old to still be doing that, but sometimes talking to Jasdero is like arguing with a brick wall. Only the brick wall makes more sense.
He leans against me and half closes his eyes. "Tired, Debi."
There's a long pause.
He smiles contentedly around his thumb. "Her real name's Patricia."
"What did you say?" asks Tyki, lowering the paper slightly.
"None of your business," I tell him without turning around.
I sit there and stare into the fire with my crazy brother, and think crazy thoughts about the first crazy people we ever met who called themselves normal.
[Heya everyone, thanks so much for reading! Wow, all this positive feedback made me really happy, seriously, thanks so much guys.
Can I just say...sequel, anyone? -w- ]