Title: Blood Oaths
Author: Amethyst Hunter
Fandom/Pairing: Get Backers, Akabane/Himiko
Rating: R (violence, language, blood, all the happy fun things)
Warnings/Spoilers: See above. Minor spoilers for canonical events like the Voodoo Child arc.
Notes: I live! Still writing, just at a slower pace since things are shifting around in my life a lot lately. :) This is sort of an AU that uses elements from the manga/anime canon, except I skewer it off into my own alterna-verse timeline.
Disclaimer: I don't own GB or any of its glorious characters. Much like Akabane, I fic solely for my own enjoyment. Except I don't kill anybody. Well, only in print, that is. ;)
Summary: When Akabane loses his primary weapon, Himiko tries to protect him from all the glory-seekers wanting their whack at a declawed Jackal. In his weakest hour, will Akabane learn to trust in a power greater than his own?
Was he dying?
Probably. There was an awful lot of blood. The only reason he'd made it as far as he had was simple stubborn nature. He refused to drop, wouldn't give the bastard that satisfaction. Though it had been an interesting fight...at least, up until the end...
Drip. Drip. Don't mind the spatters. Keep moving. He might be badly wounded, but moving prey was still fighting prey, and therefore harder to bring down. So. One foot ahead of the other. Breathe. Carefully.
It hurt. A lot. But still. Breathe.
World tilting; colors fading in and out of his vision. Don't close eyes. Don't. Sleep was the little death, sister to the bigger void. He'd always known that his eventual destiny was the grave, but he'd be damned if he'd grant that trophy to a mere observer. The legacy of Doctor Jackal was not one to be coldly preserved in diamond. It would have been better forged in thunder and current, or set ablaze with serpent's venom.
Watch the steps. Tired. So tired. Not yet, no, don't lie down. All right, just...wait, for a moment. Coughing fit. Damned dust. Pain. Ignore it. Pain was a familiar friend. Pain was good, meant he was still alive. Get up, now, get going.
...get up now, damn you...!
But even as his mind gave the order, his body's will was stronger, and as his eyes shut for the last time a part of Kuroudo Akabane was rather vexed by the realization that he wasn't even bleeding to death where he had most wanted to go, in the middle of a glorious battle.
Himiko Kudou had learned in time to mentally blot out the eternal shadow of the building complex that stretched endlessly overhead, but she still felt as though the malevolence of the place was always watching her every time she had to venture near it. In a way this was to be expected - she was last in a cursed lineage, fated to struggle against a destiny that would have obliterated her in place of another. She'd bested that enemy, not without great cost, but she was always aware of the fact that another door could just as easily be opened when one was closed.
No one ever underestimated Babylon City. Not if they wanted to stay healthy. Anymore Himiko slept with a night light on and a bottle of flame perfume beneath her pillow.
This gray day found her running errands downtown. Markets were several of the places where she obtained some of the ingredients necessary for her poison perfumes, so she had made purchases. Now she was on her way back to the small warehouse loft she called home.
Something near one of the outer abandoned buildings caught her eye. A pattern. Her brother, Yamato, and later, Ban, had taught her how to analyze patterns, look for the clues. As a transporter she needed to pay attention to detail. Detail was what saved one's neck in the breathtaking seconds of a battle, particularly when one was also a sorceress hunted by others. It had not escaped her notice that the streaks painting the ground were red. Dark red.
Himiko's fingers tightened around the handlebars of her motorcycle. For a split second she debated just driving past the blood trail. Her reticence would have been understandable. Few outsiders wanted to get involved in any of Mugenjou's troubles. But spending time around the Get Backers - her chief rivals, as retrievers - and her own personal sense of honor held stronger sway over her choices. She turned the bike toward the spatters, fishing out a bottle of flame perfume in one hand to be prepared for anything that might prove dangerous.
She didn't have much further to go. The trail abruptly disappeared into an alley. Himiko drove her bike into it, slower now so she could scan her surroundings. Then she saw the unmistakable shape of a body ahead. The blood trail ended here.
Himiko didn't immediately rush to see what had become of the injured. From past experience, she knew that illusions could be carefully crafted to lead the wary right into a trap, and she was close enough to the great fortress that its manipulations could just as well affect pockets around it as they did the inner sanctums. Somewhere in that massive stronghold lived an observer who had a keen eye on her. She did not return the sentiment.
She parked the bike a distance from the body and approached on foot, at a cautious pace, with her perfume uncapped and ready. This close to the labyrinth there were barely any people; no one outside of it wanted to be caught venturing too near, and no one inside it - save for the malevolent City overhead - had much interest for the outer boundaries, though the threat of mugging was constant. Still, she was careful. Traps could be anywhere, and it was too easy to spring one without realizing the danger.
When she was close enough to the form Himiko's dread spiked. She knew that black coat, that long, thin shape and the dark mane that topped it. She also knew that for him to be downed in the outcome of a battle meant grave danger indeed.
She knelt beside him and carefully touched his shoulder. "Jackal?"
He didn't answer. For a moment she wondered if he was even still alive, then she saw the labored movement of his chest and heard the heavy breathing. Had he taken a direct hit? "Jackal?" She put her perfume back in its harness and grasped Akabane's shoulders, trying to turn him over, and when she saw the extent of the damage a low cry escaped her.
He was bleeding badly, the front of his coat soggy with blood. It was matted in his hair, dripping from his lips, and his gloves were more red than white. His eyes were shut and he didn't seem to know she was there; all his remaining energy was concentrated on drawing raspy, gurgling breaths.
"Oh God. Jackal? Akabane?" Himiko patted his face a few times trying to get him to look at her. His eyelids fluttered partially open but his gaze was foggy at best, as he looked past her into some unfathomable void awaiting its claim on him, the same void to which, no doubt, his victims likewise entered upon passing beneath his unforgiving scythe.
"Akabane! It's me, Lady Poison! Himiko!" She slapped his face harder, without much success. His eyes struggled open again and then rolled back in his head, which sagged against her shoulder as she supported his upper body.
Himiko fumbled in her harness for the antidote scent. It couldn't heal his wounds, but it might buy him some time. Its formula was designed to cancel out the harmful effects of an attack; she had no idea what had been powerful enough to take Akabane down and didn't think that her skill would fare much better, but she had to try. She uncorked the bottle and held it under his nose, willing him to draw in the salts.
"Akabane, we need to go. Can you move at all?" The antidote must have done some good, for his legs slowly began to twitch, as though he were trying to get up. Himiko put the perfume away. She managed to get one arm of his over her shoulders; ignoring the stench of fresh blood - and the sticky-smooth feel of it against her fingers - she braced her footing as she put her arms around his waist and crouched to help him stand.
She was strong and on a good day could make even Ban wince from a punch, and Akabane was probably no heavier than he was. Even so, Himiko found that the dead weight from her sometime cohort leaning so far over on her was difficult to bear, despite his thin build. Their trek toward the bike was slower than she would have preferred. Several times she had to stop and grab Akabane and hold him in place to keep him from toppling over. He swayed like a newborn fawn struggling out its first few steps, except that if he went down a second time there would be no more rising. Himiko was determined that neither of them would fall here, in these shadows.
They made it to the bike. Himiko had to lean Akabane against the sidecar while she contemplated how to get him in it. As she was thinking a wheeze of air grew louder before she realized that he was trying to speak. Himiko leaned closer to hear him.
She wanted to say forget it, they were in enough trouble as it was without going back for the stupid thing. But she ran back into the alley and grabbed the big black covering anyway. Akabane always had been particular about his favorite adornment and somehow it seemed wrong to deprive him of its presence, as though it were a familiar piece of armor that if restored to its rightful crown would assure his continued existence. An existence that currently was very much in doubt, if the blood seeping down the front of his coat was any indication.
When Himiko returned to the bike she found that he'd gotten himself into the sidecar, albeit with great difficulty. Blood was smeared liberally, marking the spots where he'd half-fallen-half-rolled and folded his lanky form into the passenger seat. She stuffed the hat into the sidecar's trunk compartment after making sure its owner wasn't about to bounce out of his seat at the first jarring rut she ran over. Himiko wiped her bloody hands on her vest - she could worry about laundry later - and jumped on the bike, gunning the engine.
Instinct told her that a hospital would do no good here. Whatever had affected Akabane so terribly was not necessarily of this world. He was powerful enough that very few beings could do any real damage to him - which of course was his entire focus in life. He was always seeking that next challenge, always eager to press his limits beyond their known capabilities that he might achieve an even greater level of skill. Had he finally tangled with something powerful enough to crush even him?
The possibility chilled Himiko, and she brushed it away, not wanting to dwell on the implications. She had seen Jackal's power, worked with him for several years. If he would be felled, Akabane would inflict plenty of savagery before the deathstrike. Whatever - whoever - had done this to him was deadly opposition indeed.
She doubted it was Ban - one of only two people she knew who could ever say that they had done battle with the lethal Jackal and lived to tell of it. Ban was powerful and had no qualms about inflicting his own bloodbath, but he didn't do it on a whim and certainly not if it could be avoided. But she didn't think it was Ginji - or, more accurately, his merciless counterpart - either. Raitei's presence was always visible in some way or another, and at no time had she smelled a thickening of ozone or felt a pressure from the skies.
Himiko pushed the question to the back of her mind and concentrated on the fastest route to her apartment. With Akabane leaning against her so much steering was trickier, as her own weight was thrown off balance by his taller stature. She had to put an arm around him and support his upper body the best that she could, while keeping the motorcycle under control. This meant she couldn't push the engine to the speed she would have preferred, but she made do, burning the gas wide open when she could in less crowded streets.
Akabane was in no position to comment, favorably or not, on her erratic driving. His head was slumped beneath her arm, his eyes closed while the wind whipped his bloodied hair about. Himiko kept checking the pulse under his jaw; it was distressingly weak. "Hold on, Jackal, just stay with me," she muttered, more a prayer than an admonition.
The route she'd picked to her place was not very long, but it felt as though it took forever to get there. A too-brief sensation of relief flooded Himiko when the building complex came within sight. They had made it, but would her erstwhile partner survive?
He was still breathing - ragged, raspy sounds - but he was alive. Himiko pulled the bike to a stop around the back side and eyed the staircase leading to the second floor, where her loft was. Shit. Well, there was no help for it. She wasn't about to break down now.
"Come on, Akabane. One - " she gritted her teeth as she got off the bike, went around to the sidecar and prepared to help him up - "damn - " she wrapped her arms around him, easing his upper body over her shoulder while securing one arm around his waist and pulling him up out of the sidecar - "bloody - " she rolled his hips up and over the edge of the sidecar's front end, dragging his legs behind - "step - " now she was balancing his feet on the ground, rolling with him in an awkward attempt to stand him back up again - "at a time!"
The stairs weren't as bad as she'd thought. Deciding that Akabane wouldn't much care at this point Himiko maneuvered him to sit on one of the bottom steps and leaned him back against them. She stepped above him and hooked her hands under his armpits, grunting quietly as step by step she dragged him upstairs, making a mental note to wash away the bloodstains in their wake as soon as she could.
She leaned Akabane against the wall once they'd gotten to the upper floor. He looked worse than she'd thought. A gurgle in his throat, and he coughed, a wet, disgusting noise that yielded more blood down the front of his chin.
"Don't say anything! Save your strength." Himiko fumbled in her harness for the keys. She unlocked her door and hauled him inside, laying him on the floor in the foyer. She ran past him into the kitchen, going through the dishes in the sink and throwing aside loose cups and pots for a bowl, which she filled with water. This she took back outside and tossed over the stairs, rinsing away the worst of the bloodstains left behind. A more thorough scrubbing would have to wait, but for now she wouldn't have to worry about anyone spotting their trail from a distance.
She came back inside and set the bowl on a counter, then turned to attend to Akabane. He was gone.
Himiko forced herself to take a deep breath, hold it, and exhale. Now. She looked at the floor and saw the blood trail. She stumbled after it, calling out his name.
The sight that greeted her in the bathroom twisted her gut in a knot. Somehow Akabane had managed to shed his coat and was crawling towards the bathtub. He was covered in so much blood that at first she thought he was actually wearing a red shirt instead of a white one. He reached the tub, hooked his bloodied hands over the side of it - she noticed he'd ripped off his gloves, too - and heaved his upper body over, torso shuddering from the effort.
"Jackal - " She ran to help him.
He snarled something unintelligible and swiped at her with claws; Himiko dodged the blow and stared as the scalpels melted into a puddle of blood that pushed itself from his palm in a gooey blob and landed on the tiled floor with a wet smack. Again she stooped to help; again Akabane rebuffed her. "Leave...me!"
She ignored him and grabbed his arm when he would have shoved her away. "Jackal - Akabane - what happened!"
He couldn't, or wouldn't, answer her, for the next moment had him coughing and hacking in great hoarse fits. He threw himself over the edge of the tub again and was consumed by wracking spasms as he vomited up a thick mass of blood. Himiko watched in horror as more blood followed that, and then red-flecked spittle as he dribbled out the last of it and lay, wheezing, shaking, over the side of the tub.
She knelt beside him and carefully brushed back his hair, gasping when he slowly turned his face up at her. It was painted in blood. Rivers of it oozed from his nose and streaked from his eyes, poured from his lips. It was seeping from his ears and scalp - that was why his hair felt so sticky. It even dappled his exposed skin in tiny drops of ruby as the pores sought to expel it.
"Akabane," Himiko whispered. "What happened to you?"
His eyes, their lashes matted by the blood clinging to them, slipped shut as he slumped against the tub. "Go," he rasped quietly between pants for breath.
"Tell me what to do. What I can do. Let me be your strength right now."
"Need...ride it...out." He hacked and spat up another splotch of red. "Nothing else...have to - have...to wait..."
It proved to be too long and frightening a wait. Himiko spent the next several hours watching in stomach-twisting distress while Akabane heaved up, choked on and spat out alarming amounts of blood, at ever-increasing frequencies. At one point he lay bent nearly all the way upside down into the tub, his hips cantered against the edge with his head touching the bottom inside. Himiko sat straddling the tub side and held his shoulders up, supporting him so that he wouldn't drown in the flood of ruby pouring from his extremities. She finally decided that it would just be easier to get him all the way into the tub and turn on the shower stream to wash away the revolting mess. How she kept from vomiting herself - the stink of hot copper hung in her nostrils and stung on her lips and tongue - she didn't know and didn't care to think on, lest the very idea trigger an overwhelming wave of nausea she knew she'd be unable to hold back.
Akabane lay huddled on the floor of the tub, curled into a fetal position. He had finally ceased throwing up blood but streams of it were still seeping from parts of his skin, ebbing and flowing as the spray from the shower rinsed them away. Himiko noticed the relentless shivers that coursed through his body; bit by bit she had removed pieces of his clothing when it had been soaked enough to purge all but the worst stains. He was down to his underwear - even that had been mired in blood - and she was shocked at how haggard he looked. It was as if losing that much blood had robbed him of almost as much flesh, the sharp blades of his bones stuck out so. With his wet hair plastered to his skull, in his wretched state, he looked downright skeletal.
A thin, hoarse moan issued from his lips. Himiko leaned closer to hear what he might be saying, but if there were words, she couldn't discern them above the shower's noise. It might have been simply an expression of the misery he was going through. She realized that the pelting of the water on his sensitized skin seemed to be causing him almost as much pain as the expulsion of blood itself. She cupped some of the cascading water in her hands and carefully poured it over his mouth, across his teeth, to get rid of the lingering blood there.
"Just a little bit more, okay, and then we're done," she murmured to him, having rinsed her hands of blood and now carding her fingers through his sopping hair to clean it. She reached for a bottle of shampoo on the ledge and squirted a few drops of it into her palm. While she worked her sudsy fingers through Akabane's hair she kept watch on the stream of red running down the drain. Slowly but surely the water was losing its red tint, and fading into pink, and that dissolving into perfect clear.
The shower had turned cold by then. Himiko worked as fast as she could to rinse Akabane's hair of the shampoo and then shut the faucet off. In the sudden silence the only other sound besides the dripping from the wet nozzle was his erratic panting.
Himiko grabbed two of the bigger towels dangling from the wall bar and threw them over Akabane's trembling form. His pose - arms crossed protectively over his chest, knees drawn up tightly - reminded her of Egyptian mummies preserved by the drying sands in which they had long been forgotten. Even his hair appeared dull, grayed, as if the very color had been leeched from it along with his lifeblood. She feared he wouldn't last the night.
"Hang on. I'll be right back."
She was soaking wet herself, probably leaving a trail of red from where her own clothes had absorbed blood and water, but Himiko paid this little notice as she tore through her bedroom and searched her closet. She'd kept some of her brother's clothes stored in the back, as a way of keeping his presence close to her. If memory served her right a few of Yamato's things should fit Akabane since they were of roughly similar builds. She located an old blue and green plaid flannel bathrobe and yanked it from the plastic garment bag. It would do for now. En route to the bathroom she stopped by the linen closet and took from that a folded bedsheet.
She went back to Akabane and was relieved to see he hadn't moved from his spot. He was too weak for that now and if he'd attempted it probably would have fallen and broken his neck in the deal. She kicked the stained bath rugs out of the way and unfolded the sheet across the floor in front of the tub. Then she draped the robe over the sink's counter and did her best to towel him dry, pulling off her perfume harness and shirt before she started so she wouldn't get any more goop on him. Her pants were spattered with some stains too but not nearly as many, and could wait. She shoved up a bra strap that was threatening to slide down her arm and finished toweling Akabane off.
His gasping had subsided but not his shivers. Himiko put one foot inside the tub and left one foot out, crouching while bracing herself as she prepared to help him up. "Jackal. Jackal. Come on. I've got you." It took three tries before she was able to get him to struggle to his knees, and then he wobbled on unsteady limbs, twice nearly collapsing before she could get a good hold on him to ease him over the side of the tub, one painstaking inch at a time, her fixing his hands to the floor for support while she moved him. His arms gave out before she could lift his lower body and he tumble-rolled onto the sheet-covered floor, his legs flopping like a pair of awkwardly-placed rakes tangling together. With the bulk of his weight now on the floor, Himiko had only to turn and move his legs so that he was now completely out of the tub, lying on his side.
"Almost done, Akabane, I swear." She huffed another gulp of air and grabbed the robe, spreading it over him. She maneuvered one arm through a sleeve, turned him onto his stomach, pulled the robe over him, and managed to get his other arm through the second sleeve. By now he lay limp, silent, a living rag doll that she had to wrestle and work with to finish dressing. She rolled him onto his back and tugged at the folds of robe stuck underneath him, wrapping it shut and tying the belt securely around his waist.
For a few seconds she debated whether to strip off his wet underwear or leave it be, hesitant to deprive him of the last vestiges of dignity. She decided that the risk of him catching a chill from being in wet clothing outweighed the chances of his displeasure if - no, when - when he awoke and discovered the humiliating state she'd left him in. She told herself he probably wouldn't remember it anyway.
"Sorry about this. You can J me later."
She reached under the robe, felt for the sides of his hips and gripped the waistband of his underwear, dragging it down his thighs and legs to his ankles. After she'd gotten it off him she tossed it into the pile of wet clothing on the floor that was puddling in the corner. Already the water there - not all of it clear - was leaking into the edges of the bedsheet.
Himiko tucked the bottom flaps of the robe around Akabane's knees, making sure he was decently covered, and then took both far corners of the top half of the sheet and wound them around in her hands. She stood up and dragged the sheet, occupant and all, out of the bathroom and down the hall to her bedroom.
"One more and that's it. Ready?" Not expecting any answer Himiko knelt one more time to lift Akabane and help him into the bed. She rolled him over, got one arm around his torso and pulled him as best she could over her shoulder, managing to raise him up so that he was halfway supported by the mattress. She pushed-pulled-dragged his upper body onto the bed and, when she was sure he wouldn't suddenly slide off it, got the rest of him up there as well.
She leaned against the bed herself, gathering her breath for a moment. Then she straightened Akabane's body out, setting a pillow beneath his head and arranging his limbs into a more comfortable position. She pulled the covers up over him, adding on an extra blanket once she saw how pale his skin had become. She'd seen milk with more color in it than his face. He was still breathing, she could tell by the slow rise and fall of his chest, and it wasn't as labored as it had been before. But the sunken shadows beneath his eyes and the stark angles of his face spoke volumes to how much he'd endured.
Himiko felt a strange anxiety at the likelihood that he could really die. Despite having learned his origins, of spending years working side by side with him in the transporting business, she realized that a part of her had come to hold him in the same regard as everyone else, an ethereal, formidable force of nature that was as eternal as the cycling of seasons. It was, in a way, to be expected - the Babylon City history notwithstanding, Akabane's power and ever-calm presence were a peculiar consistency she'd found somehow both comforting and unnerving. The idea of Doctor Jackal succumbing to the very scythe he wielded with lethal precision seemed as foreign and untenable to her mind as had once the thought that Ban Midou might not have killed Yamato out of malice.
Maybe it was because of their associations that she'd grown to feel like he was someone important to her, a trusted advisor if not a friend. She knew precious little about him as a person and yet he remained a significant influence in her life. Not because of his role in the machinations behind the alternating universes and the plan to harness the Get Backers' separate forces towards those ends. Nor had it been because of his guidance during the time of the Voodoo Child and the threat of the false Queen. Although those experiences were no small fodder...
Perhaps it was in the way they worked together. Seldom did they need to explain their plans to one another. It was as if they operated within a secret realm where they instinctively sensed the other's intent. On the occasions they did trade words, their conversation was almost evenly matched, a spirited and elegant verbal fencing between equals attuned to one another on a plane accessible to few others. There was an...awareness, a subtle but intense communication that was surprisingly meaningful, if either of them had cared to examine this facet of their relationship more closely.
For the moment, Himiko was more concerned with the fight-or-flight impulse that had prompted these feelings of disturbance over the possibility that Akabane might not make it through his ordeal. Action was the best way she knew how to handle uncomfortable situations, so she gave herself a mental shake and got up to begin the decidedly time-consuming task of cleaning up the blood left in the wake of their chance encounter.
She would worry about the implications of her reaction later.