A/N: ...How the hell am I so slow at updating this when it's pre-written? And, to my two reviewers who I don't know from ushi, thank you!
icy perfection: Thank you! This is actually an older story, and I'm currently writing a longer RF2 fanfiction. I might begin to post that one as well.
Smash Genius: Thank you! As for the sudden-Zavier-kiss...yeah. Um. I've actually asked myself the same question; remember, I wrote this a year ago. I was going to change things in editing, but I decided to go ahead and post the fic as it is in order to get some good feedback. Thanks for pointing it out, because I agree that the transition is way too sudden to be healthy. If you see any more things that make no sense (and there will be more, I'm sure), please tell me!
Disclaimer: I own nothing; maybe that will change if I figure out what I'm on and get off it.
In an instant, Raguna had pulled away from Zavier like he was on fire, leaping out of his chair with a surprising lack of agility. "Mist! I didn't, um, expect to see you here." Was he blushing? He'd never done a thing like that before, not manly-man Raguna. If, however, he was planning to start, he'd chosen a good time.
Mist sneered, glancing over at Zavier, who's heart was heart still beating like an unsteady hammer. "Obviously not."
"This...is my house, after all."
"I have a key," she said flatly, the usual lilt gone from her voice. "It's my, house remember? Everything here is mine."
Raguna swallowed, sensing the impending doom. "You gave it to me, when I collapsed helplessly on your doorstep. Remember? You said I had potential."
"Potential as an earthmate, not a convict." Mist tossed her cascading blond hair over her shoulder, looking good when she was angry. "I'm not going to kick you out, not yet, anyway, but I'm going to have to ask you to pay rent. I'll expect November's check by the end of the week." Zavier couldn't help but be impressed. For someone who seemed like such an airhead, Mist sure knew where to hit a man and really make it sting: his wallet.
"Fine," Raguna grunted, his face developing that all-too-familiar look of hopelessness. "How much to I owe you?"
Mist paused, considering. "A thousand."
"Hey, I could charge you for the ten other months, if you'd like. In case you've forgotten your math along with your morals, that's ten-"
Raguna cut her off. "I'll pay you the bloody money," he snapped, clearly swinging into one of his more sour moods. "Just get out of my house."
Zavier could've sworn he saw a look of hurt pass over Mist's ivory face, but it was gone so quickly he was sure he'd imagined it. "Alright, then," she said. "You too go back to doing...whatever it was you were doing when I came in." With that, she left, no doubt to go spread around the latest gossip: cute little Zavier was gay for the town homicidal maniac.
Not that he was. Whatever had happened the minute before was nothing, Zavier decided. A misunderstanding, that's all. The only thing he could possibly feel for Raguna was a grudging friendliness.
Maybe, just maybe, if he repeated this until it echoed in the depths of his being, it would become the truth.
For whatever reason, Zavier broke down and decided to take his weekly bath several days early. As he walked out of the sharp cold of the outdoors and into the steamy bathhouse, his lungs grateful for the moisture in the air, he tried to reassure himself. He was trying to wash away the actual grime, not the dirty feeling he'd had since lunchtime. Ridiculous. Nothing had happened. Well, not anything more then had happened when Raguna had fished him out of the river. That's different said the half of his mind he preferred to ignore. The rest of his mind retorted with something rather rude, so of course the other half had to top it.
Zavier was so busy cussing himself out that he didn't notice Tabatha standing beside him until she spoke. "Good afternoon, Mr. Zavier."
"Huh?" he said, though some would say it was a lot more like a scream.
"Sorry if I frightened you," she said, her words sounding foreign in Zavier's ears. "I only wanted to say hello."
"Yes, well," he mumbled, as embarrassed as if she could read his thoughts. "Hello to you too."
"I also wanted to apologize."
"For...what?" Suddenly, realization dawned. "I don't know what you heard, but it isn't-"
"I don't pay attention to gossip, Mr. Zavier. I only wanted to say how sorry I am for Mr. Jasper's behavior earlier today."
Was he hearing correctly. "You mean...you believe me-ah, Raguna?"
Tabatha nodded. She wasn't wearing her hat, Zavier noticed, and you could see that her ears were pointed at the top. "He yelled at you an awful lot. Mr. Jasper he..." she paused, biting her lip, "he's not a bad person, not at all, just a little...forceful. And he loved M-miss Bianca very much."
As the elf's lower lip, which was now decorated with a freshly bloody gash, began to quiver ever so slightly, Zavier couldn't help but feel a bit of sympathy. Even for the man who'd tried to turn him into squashed piece of brunch. "I know this is going to sound kind of weird, but...why?"
"Pardon?" Tabatha had pushed her tears away successfully enough to wonder what Zavier was talking about.
"Why are you sorry?"
"Because." Tabatha's eyes, which were a a piercing shade of blue so unnatural they never could've belonged to a human, seemed to gaze into his soul. "I believe you."
Zavier wasn't sure how to react to this good, but rather unexpected, piece of news. "Uh...why, exactly, do you believe me?"
She bit her lip again, hesitating awhile before she answered. "I just do." As they approached the counter, a bored-looking Melody help out her right hand for their money, fanning her face with the other. She had the best job in town, really, in the wintertime. Just as they were about to go separate ways, Tabatha started up again. "Tell your friend not to worry," she said, soft enough that Melody couldn't overhear. "They can't really do anything to him yet."
Melody yawned. "Other people want to bathe too, you know." She gestured to the gaggle of women that'd just walked in, tucking Zavier's money into her pocket.
After an incoherent attempt at 'sorry', Zavier entered the men's side of the bathhouse. Feeling rather self-conscious, he slid into the water. It was pleasantly warm after the cruel outdoors, even for somebody who hated baths as much as he. Normally, he would've gone over to talk to some of the other guys, but he didn't. Considering the rumors that were no doubt circulating at this very moment on the other side of the bathhouse wall, they might've gotten the wrong idea.
Zavier silenced the one ever-persistent half of his mind before it could make any more sarcastic comments.
In a way, his self-imposed isolation was a good thing, since after years and years in Kardia, Zavier finally noticed something. If you sat really close to the divider between the men and women's sections, you could hear what they were saying quite clearly.
They were talking about him.
It was every man's dream-the prettiest girls around, devoting their precious gossip time to none other than him. Most men would rather they weren't, however, debating whether or not he was into other guys.
"I'm right and you know it. I mean, has he ever had a girlfriend?" Zavier recognized the voice as Rosetta, a blond with a razor-sharp tongue who Zavier had practically grown up with.
"Well...no," admitted Lara, the stereotypical pretty nurse. "But I'm still not convinced."
"Me neither." That was Felicity, none other than Godwin's daughter. With her flowing brown hair and large chestnut eyes, she was often considered the prettiest girl in town. "I mean, sure I'll buy Zavier, but Raguna? She paused, no doubt allowing time for the audience to swoon. "Mist probably exaggerated the whole thing-you know how she is. 'Cause I don't think he's really capable of being...you know..."
"Apparently, he's capable of a lot of things we didn't know about," remarked Rosetta darkly. There were a few murmurs of agreement, and they began to move on to the topic of Camus and Melody who were, apparently, the couple of the moment.
"You know," Tabatha's accent rang out, so loud that even the men could hear it, "we're all so wrapped up in the cause of her death...I, for one, doubt Miss Bianca would want us to forget her life so easily."
Nobody said anything. Really, what could they have said? For the first time that evening, the bathhouse fell wondrously silent as everybody began to contemplate what the quiet maid had said. It sounded almost cryptic, like there was a secret message, a clue hidden inside her words.
Zavier sighed contentedly, leaning against the wall as tendrils of steam wove around him, wrapping him in a protective fog. Somebody was on their side. If only he could figure out why.
"Oh! Zavier, you look positively awful!" Sabrina put a hand up to her temple, squinting. "All three of you..."
"Hangover?" he guessed, ignoring the fact that she'd noticed his dark circles and messy hair, which was trying to liberate itself from his hat. Sabrina was drunk most of the time; she spent the remainder of her days paying the price.
She nodded, wincing. "A bastard of a hangover. Don't you ever start drinking. It's just not worth it."
"Right." Zavier decided not to ask why, then, did she keep doing it. "Anyway...I wanted to talk to you."
"Talk. Sure. Come in, but leave that damned light outside."
Sabrina lived at the beach, in a quaint little shack on the water. It must've been quite charming in the summer, but the ocean view just didn't have the same effect in late November. Zavier'd dragged himself out of bed early, just so he could catch her before her son Nicholas woke up. Knowing Sabrina, she'd probably been so plastered when she heard about Zavier's supposed sexual orientation that she'd forgotten all about it. Which was precisely why he'd selected her as his next victim-he wanted an opinion as unbiased as possible.
"Coffee?" asked Sabrina, motioning for Zavier to sit beside her at the kitchen table.
"Suit yourself," she shrugged, taking a sip from her ivory mug. Zavier had never understood adults' obsession with caffeine-he'd never needed to stay up all night, and besides, coffee was revolting. Something that would make you want to go to sleep-now, for that he would've endured a disgusting drink. It was hard enough to to anything right when he was alert, much less functioning on three hours of sleep. He'd tossed and turned for hours, replaying what'd happened with Raguna over and over in his mind, which made him start to argue with himself all over again. When he finally drifted off, his dream had been a particularly detailed replay, only Mist hadn't interrupted.
Zavier got so embarrassed that he wished he could disappear through the floorboards just thinking about it.
"So, about...what I came to talk to you about..."
"What?" Sabrina, too, had spent the past minute spaced out. "Oh, yeah. That. What is it?"
Sabrina's face darkened; she'd never looked more serious (or sober) in all the years Zavier'd known her. "That poor thing," she murmured.
"Do you think Ra-" Zavier hesitated, not wanting to give away what side he was on just yet, "do you think her boyfriend did it?"
"I don't know." Her eyes narrowed. "Why?"
"Um..." Damn. As Sabrina'd been the first person who bothered to ask him that, he didn't exactly have an answer prepared. "I'm curious."
"I'd advise you take your curiosity elsewhere," she warned, taking another sip of coffee as she spoke. "Murder-and murderers-is not something a kid like you should be dabbling in. How old are you, anyway?"
"Twenty-two. That's not exactly a kid!" Zavier protested, indignant.
"Look, I'm as sorry about Raguna as you are. But it's not my place-or yours-to go out looking for the real killer. These things work themselves out in the end."
"What if the way it works out is Raguna hanging from a noose?" snapped Zavier, his worst fears finally becoming concrete. What if he failed?
Sabrina was silent for a moment, so silent that Zavier thought she'd entered another world again. That is, until she looked up, eyes brimming with some unreadable emotion. "Do what you have to do," she sighed. "Just...be careful. The last thing we need is somebody else dying while their still young."
Feeling the mood get awkward, Zavier dismissed himself with a nod. But it didn't matter. Sabrina was already somewhere else, somewhere far away from Kardia.
As he walked across the snow-covered beach, his boots making an odd crunchy squishing sound, Zavier tried to look at the positive. Sabrina was just one more person he could scratch off the guilty list, even if she hadn't quite given him the reassurance he'd been hoping for.
As he climbed the stone stairs that led away from the beach, he couldn't manage to shake his own words from his mind. What if Raguna was found guilty? What if he did hang?
It would hurt, realized a small part of him. It would hurt more than anything he'd ever felt before. It would be just as though he was Raguna, discovering Bianca's bloody body lying crumpled on the floor.
The saddest part of all was that, even then, when it was far too late, Zavier didn't think he'd be able to admit it.