Title: Blood Oaths (ch. 6)
Author: Amethyst Hunter
Rating: R (violence, language, blood, all the happy fun things)
Warnings/Spoilers: See above. Also minor bits for the Venus de Milo/Voodoo Child/Lost Time arcs.
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?
"You're sure you can walk all right."
Himiko was not inclined to think so. As with any recovery from traumatic physical impairment, there were good days and bad days. Today was one of the latter. Just getting from the bedroom to the kitchen had left Akabane with a paleness not natural to his usual coloring, and his legs still trembled as he moved at a slower pace than his regular sinuous stride. She wondered if he'd slept about as well as she had, after last night's discussion of old and fresh wounds. But he was determined, even as he stiffly pulled on the dress shirt and trousers she'd bought for him, saving his infamous coat, hat, and gloves for last.
"Leave it," he said when she tried again to offer him the cane after he'd finished knotting his tie. "It's too obvious."
"You mean to walk on your own all the way from here to downtown, when you can't even keep from breaking a sweat just moving from room to room?" Himiko shook her head. "I think you should take it. Dangle it off your arm for show, the contact will never know the difference."
"And then what? Twirl it about like some sort of circus performer?" Akabane scowled. "No. It's not something Jackal normally carries and the contact will know this. I refuse to ruin an important meeting over one ridiculous detail."
Himiko tightened her lips, but hooked the cane's handle over the back of a chair. She reached into her harness and pulled out a small bottle, which she pressed into Akabane's hand.
He peered at it with a frown, then looked at her. "What's this for?"
"Antidote scent. You'll need it after today. It's mostly for canceling out the effects of my other poisons, but it can also be used as a mild healing aid. I used it to keep you alive when I found you."
Akabane was about to reject that offer too, thought better of it, and reconsidered. Today was going to be a trying time, and if he were to be candid with himself about it, he was going to need all the assistance he could get.
He pocketed the little bottle in his coat and nodded. "Thank you."
"I'm ready whenever you are."
"Good. If you'll kindly bring me my hat, we can leave any time then."
Himiko went to get the infamous object of much scrutiny by both foes and fen alike, from where it was perched atop the wall hook. On her way she passed by one of the kitchen windows, and as she glanced up, letting her fingers tip apart a few of the blinds from habit, she was greeted with an unwelcome sight. "Great. My fan club is here again."
She turned around to make another remark about it to Akabane, and her smile dropped at about the same time his did. Himiko instantly knew the appearance of the surveillance team that had been following her for some time was a very ill omen, if the frigid tension snapping Akabane's body into stillness was any indication. But she'd sensed this all along, hadn't she? Now it seemed payment had come due...
He spoke, his voice quiet but chilled. "How many?"
Himiko ventured closer at an angle to the window, glad that the shading there helped to spoil any view indoors for the outsiders. She counted. "Two that I can see, but they're driving a van, so there could be more inside it." She heard the ominous rustle of coat fabric behind her. "They're from the City," she said, making it a statement as Akabane padded up to the window to have a look. She didn't miss the way his lips thinned at the sight of their stalkers, and the bad pangs she was feeling grew.
"What kind of threat are they?" she said, flipping a bottle of perfume into her fingers, thumb poised to pop the cork.
Akabane studied the imposition and their transport. Not top quality, but not cheap muscle either, just as Himiko had told him. Definitely a problem in any case. "None, for now. Sentinels don't act unless directed to. Their function is merely to report on our movements."
"So we can't leave the apartment," Himiko guessed sourly.
"Not without an audience knowing what we plan to do." Akabane tracked the first man's steps. He was strolling around the other side of the van now, toking on a half-dwindled cigarette. "At least we can thank our lucky stars that worse hasn't shown up yet."
"They have worse?"
Akabane took his fingers away and let the blinds fall closed. He turned away from the window and looked at her. "As of this moment there are exactly two people alive who know what's become of Doctor Jackal. How long do you think that peace will last once confirmation of my existence reaches those streets out there?"
He let her digest that for a minute while they focused again on the spies outside. "What can we do, then?" Himiko finally asked.
Akabane didn't answer. He stepped away from the window and paced through the kitchen, brows furrowed in thought. "Do you have someone you trust to watch your place?"
Himiko was confused. "Ban probably would, freeloader that he is. I'll call him right now - "
He grasped her arm before she could reach for her phone. "No, don't. They'll have tapped your line." His face darkened then. "For all we know, they may even have us miked."
"Rifle microphones. They can be fitted onto anything weaponized, usually a firearm," Akabane said. "All the sentinels have to do is point them at a structure that isn't reinforced and they can listen in on whatever they want. It's possible to block them somewhat, but with these windows whatever concrete your building is made out of won't be enough to obscure conversation entirely."
He turned again to the window, nudging back a few of the blinds. The action, what there was of it, didn't seem to have changed any. The visible man was still strolling, still puffing on his cigarette, which was now a stub. He flicked it to the ground and stepped on it, twisting his foot to grind out the embers. Conscientious sort, Akabane thought derisively.
The second man was now in view. He had been sitting in the driver's seat; he exited the vehicle and ambled over to chat with his partner. They seemed jovial enough, trading commentary as the first man lit up another cigarette. They didn't appear to be in any rush.
Akabane took note of their van. Plain white, large but not overly so, without any outstanding features. It looked like a regular delivery van, which was likely why they'd chosen it. They could pass as just another business outfit dropping off goods or servicing neighborhoods.
Akabane thought it over some more. He decided that they probably weren't outfitted with rifle mikes, or other surveillance equipment. For all its high-tech capability the City often liked to utilize traditional methods. Technology was so rampant anymore that people were more aware of it while becoming less aware of the tangible world around them. Such distraction could make it easier for an enemy to approach undetected. Paranoia could be a useful weapon as well.
Either way, they had to move before the sentinels – or their superiors – did.
Akabane pulled back from the window. Himiko was looking at him, but she didn't say anything right away, and for this he was grateful. They looked at each other for several minutes, each sorting out their dilemma.
Then Himiko plucked out one of her perfume bottles. "Wait. I have an idea."
She uncapped the vial and prepared the spell, sealing it carefully inside. "Stay here. I'll be back as soon as I can."
"Where are you going? You can't leave with those men out there - "
"I'm not going anywhere." Himiko held up the perfume bottle. "But this is. Watch."
Akabane hobbled after her. Himiko stuck the perfume back in her harness and went around to her bedroom, on the other side of the building, where the sentinels presumably couldn't have full sight of their targets. She unlatched the window and opened it, pulling on the tabs that kept the screen in place, and removed this, laying it aside. "Stay put in case they sneak around the back," she told Akabane as she climbed out onto the fire escape. "If they spot just me they won't be as suspicious."
It was his turn to be confused. "What do you think you're doing? You can't ambush them, they'll be prepared for such an attack!"
"I'm not attacking them. I'm going behind their backs," Himiko replied as she clambered down the metal ladder. When she touched the ground she pulled out her bottle again – the message scent. She uncapped it and spewed the perfume along as wide a trajectory as she could. There was a light breeze in the air. Good.
She stood back and waited. Not more than a few minutes passed while the scent dispersed, and suddenly a bedraggled mutt came trotting out of the alley. Himiko let it come up to her and sniff her hand. The dog sat without her having to tell it, and waited while she prepared a new message perfume. This one she sealed and offered to the dog. The animal gently took the little bottle between its teeth, chuffed agreeably at her, and jogged back into the shadows from where it had materialized.
"Mind telling me what the devil that was all about?" Akabane demanded once Himiko had climbed back up the fire escape.
She looked decidedly smug as she crawled through the open window. "Message perfume works on animals too, just not the same way as humans. But it'll do for our purposes. I basically told him to get Shido Fuyuki. He can watch my place while we're gone."
Akabane stared at her, duly impressed with her subterfuge. "Bloody brilliant of you, I must admit."
"Thanks." She shut the window without replacing the screen and dusted off her palms on her thighs. "Now what do we do?"
"Pack an overnight bag. You may not wish to return here for a while."
She looked at him, but he didn't elaborate further, so she went to do as he said. On a hunch, she made sure that some of her most powerful perfumes – and the recipe book she used to make them – were tucked securely in the small backpack she put together.
When she was done ten minutes later she went looking for Akabane. She found him sitting hunched over on her couch, head bowed as if in meditation – or exhaustion. "Should we call Maguruma and get him to help us escape?"
"No. Call emergency and report a fire in the building."
"But there's no fire - "
Akabane looked up with a pointed gleam in his eye, aimed at Himiko's perfume harness. "There will be."
Not long after this discussion the Babylonians keeping watch outside were finally pleased to see some activity at the building they had been assigned to stake out. Their interest was short-lived, however, when the fire trucks and ambulances screaming into the yard proved to have nothing to do with their quarry and instead went after the large plume of smoke billowing from the backside of one of the empty offices.
The sentinels fell back to a side street, having been herded off by several arriving police cruisers as law enforcement quickly corralled the scene from any gawking bystanders. While the firefighters determined that no human lives were endangered and set about dousing the flames – arson investigators would later find that the blaze originated from some sort of incendiary chemicals – the sentinels hired to stalk Doctor Jackal and Lady Poison, in the guise of detectives, entertained themselves chatting up a few of the local residents in an effort to learn what little they could about certain people who lived in the affected building.
In all the commotion of sirens and spraying hydrant water, voices barking orders through bullhorns and radios, personnel racing back and forth from their respective jobs to the scene, or to convey messages from their bosses to officials awaiting word, no one noticed a young woman with a backpack and a tall man in black slip as phantoms through the haze of smoke-filled sunlight.