Gallows Manor, Death City
Each day after that became a war against the danger of routine.
Every morning when they awoke, there would be breakfast waiting for them on the table and fresh coffee brewing for Liz. Most days Kid would sit with them during breakfast, methodically perusing the eight newspapers which had arrived before sunrise from all over the world: four in English from various major cities, one apiece in Cyrillic, Arabic, Cantonese and the local Death Times. When one morning he discovered that his neat stack had been torn apart when Patty went looking for something to colour on, new ground rules were set and from then onward, all the comic pages were folded neatly next to Patty's plate and all the gossip columns and celebrity news ready beside Liz's.
"You can read those?" Liz asked one morning over her plate of toast. "How'd you learn Chinese?"
"I can speak and read all languages," Kid replied absently, as though that astounding ability were as common as having a certain eye colour. "I inherited them from Father."
Liz wasn't sure how someone could inherit a language, but the strangeness of the comment was something that she appreciated because it gave her a foothold. It was getting too easy to forget that this was just a scam and only temporary, lulled by the spacious and quiet manor, the worlds-improved diet from what she and Patty had lived on before, the easy bribery of letting someone else shoot them for a few hours a day — but they still weren't free. Rather than being shackled by their homelessness to streets of New York (for despite their bravado, they were not as gleeful with that life as they liked to portray), they were now tied to a scrawny boy with yellow eyes and textbook OCD, even if he did appear to cater to them.
There were still pitfalls, however.
On a whim Liz had decided to buy some nail polish — a scarlet red appropriately branded Harlot — and she and Patty spent the afternoon on the shaded back patio, dabbing it onto their fingers and toes, their enthusiasm exceeding their lack of practice. Kid had called through the open kitchen window to ask if they wanted lemonade and Liz had actually had the fleeting thought of what a perfect day until several moments later he had emerged and seen their artistry firsthand.
The tray he was carrying dropped to the ground, the cups (plastic, thankfully) bouncing on the concrete steps, spilling a sudden flood of lemonade toward them. "What are you—?" Kid said hoarsely, staring at the sisters in horror. "What... what have you done to your hands?"
"Excuse me?" Liz snapped, unconsciously putting herself between Kid and Patty. "No one asked your opinion, asshole."
As always, her epithets glided past his recognition without any visible impact. His eyes tracked spasmodically to the smears and smudges between the two of them, the small puddle where the bottle had tipped over between their giggles and showing off their splayed hands. "T-They're uneven! I demand that they be redone at once! I'll redo them for you, just—"
Liz was on her feet in an instant, grabbing Kid by the collar and smiling sweetly over her shoulder with, "Stay there Patty, we'll be right back!" before hauling him inside and shoving him into the wall as she'd done against the brick of a dirty Brooklyn alley.
"You and me are going to get something straight right this minute," she snarled, jabbing her knuckles into his windpipe so she wouldn't have to hear him correct it's you and I in that infuriating way he always did. "I don't know how you managed to miss this, but you have problems. Really serious, fucked-up-in-the-head problems! I don't care if you clean the whole house with a comb and a toothpick, or if you sneak into our room and organize our drawers and how did you think we wouldn't notice that but you will not push your issues on me and Patty. Especially Patty!"
His eyes were wide; the slight pigment of his complexion had deserted him completely. Liz felt the rise and fall of his throat against her hand as he swallowed. "The next time you act like my sister's done something wrong because it doesn't fit with your brain damaged worldview, we're out of here. Gone and you'll never see us again. Do I make myself clear?" She stared hard at him, secretly thrilled to be able to use such a dramatic line, half expecting monsters to rise up out of the shadows in his defense.
Instead he nodded — as best he could with her fist jammed under his chin — and managed, "I understand, Liz." When she released him, Kid forced himself to look away from her hands where the scarlet polish taunted him. "I-I won't say anything about Patty. I don't want you to leave, so... I'll make it right."
"I'm sure you will," Liz smiled, but her blue eyes were still cold. It's amazing, she thought, that I can point Patty at him and he's not scared, but as soon as we threaten to leave... She let him go and straightened the collar of his shirt in a mockery of his usual fastidiousness. "So how about some more lemonade?"
Kid nodded again, so she turned and sauntered back outside. Neither of them noticed the curl of black shadow in the corner of the hallway mirror.
Three weeks later
Patty was laying on her stomach in front of the TV, legs kicking in the air and watching late night cartoons when Shinigami came gliding into the living room. "Hiya!" she exclaimed, sitting up with a grin. "Are you here for cookies? Sis said I could have a lot if I wanted! You want one?"
The god coiled himself down like a compressed spring. "Don't mind if I do!" he said, taking one from the plate she held, pinching it between his square fingertips. "Thank you Patty! Do you know where Kid is?"
"Ummm..." the blond girl chewed thoughtfully. "He's readin', I think. Kid really likes books, huh?"
His cookie had disappeared though she hadn't caught exactly where it'd gone. "He sure does," Shinigami said agreeably, standing again to his full height. "Don't eat so many cookies that you get a tummy ache!" he noted cheerfully. "Thanks again~ see you later."
What a sweet girl, Shinigami mused to himself as he glided up the master staircase. Both of them are, in their own way. I hope Kid recognizes it as well.
Liz bumped into Kid as he was exiting the library but rather than look annoyed at nearly being run over, he looked up at her with a beaming smile. "Liz, excellent timing," he enthused. "Father was just here; he's asked that we go to New Orleans. There's a report that a ghoul has been attacking people from the levees. We should leave immediately."
He said it with such an upbeat tone that she felt her skin crawl; logically she knew that he wasn't pleased at the situation he'd just described, that the good cheer was only due to (what he surely saw as) their partnership taking a developmental step, but...
A ghoul has been attacking people...
Liz's mind flashed back to the first night that she and Patty had met Kid, with blood staining his his shirt cuffs and the calm statement of it was a witch; I killed her; her soul is in my possession like there was nothing more normal in the whole world. She was about to put herself and - more importantly Patty - right in the thick of that. She realized that Kid was looking at her expectantly and before she knew it, she was shaking her head.
"No way," she said. "It's too dangerous. I won't allow Patty to get mixed up in scary shit like ghouls. You can go if you want, but we're staying here."
Kid stared, well and truly speechless at the declaration. "Liz..." he began but she cut him off with a vehement scowl. The clock in the main hall began to mark the hour, the low-toned knells reverberating through the long hallways . She silently counted them while she waited for his reaction, wondering which would come first.
"Very well," Kid said finally, just as the tenth chime sounded and lingered. His voice was flat, mechanical. "Then I will see you when I return." Turning on a heel, he strode for the stairs down to the entrance way.
"Be careful," she started to say, but the door closed behind him before she could get the words out. Feeling unsettled, Liz went to find her sister and settled down onto the plush white carpet now speckled with crumbs.
"Sis," Patty asked around a mouthful of cookie. "Do I gotta go to bed now?"
The elder Thompson smiled, though the expression didn't reach her eyes. "No, that's okay. Let's both stay up late, all right?"
In the small hours of the morning, Liz finally turned off the TV and picked Patty up, carrying her sister slowly up the stairs to their bedroom. Patty smelled of chocolate and orange pop, a combination of refined sugars that had ensured she crashed hard when the high wore off. The hallways seemed longer than usual; it had never before occurred to Liz to think of a place in terms of alive or not, but Gallows had ceased to breathe with only the two of them there.
For a long time she lay awake, listening to Patty's gentle snoring, straining her ears to hear the doors in the foyer open and signal that Kid had returned, but it never came and eventually, she too fell asleep.
For the first time since they'd come to Death City, the table was still clean and empty when they trod barefoot into the kitchen the next morning. No breakfast, no carefully folded newspapers... and no Kid. Patty looked up at her expectantly, so she forced a smile and took down two bowls from the cupboard. "How about cereal?" she offered lamely.
"Sorry," Liz said, thinking the apology was too small in the pristine white and chrome kitchen. She gave Patty the pitcher of milk and drummed her fingers on the counter. "I'm going to bring in those newspapers from the step. I'll be right back."
She was just coming around the corner when morning sunlight spilled across the entranceway as the doors opened. Kid slid inside, using his back to push the tall portal closed behind him and leaned against the polished wood, oblivious to his audience of one. Liz's breath caught as she saw blood drip from his sleeve and speckle the tile.
"Oh my god," she gaped. "Are you okay?"
Kid's head jerked up as he realized he was not alone, yellow eyes narrowed so that they looked out of place on the still-rounded face of a child. The vulnerability lasted only an instant however and he immediately he drew himself up to his normal straight posture, lifting his chin to answer, "I'm fine."
"Bulls—" Liz began, but he cut her off.
"I've already told you that type of language isn't necessary, Liz. Is Patty already awake? Did you two sleep well?" He began walking past her, either blind to or blithely ignoring the bloody spots he left behind him and leaving her to follow, staring and aghast at just how much of an ass one person could be.
"What the hell is with you?" she finally found her voice again, burying her initial flash of concern under aggravation at his haughty attitude. "Why are you all beat up? Aren't you like... a god or something? Were you lying?" When her barbs didn't cause him to slow his steps, Liz's anger sharpened. "Hey! Don't you fucking ignore me! You see why I didn't want Patty mixed up in that? You're like some kind of defective—"
He stopped so suddenly that she ran into him, thinking at first that she'd scored by finally finding an insult that affected him. Then she realized he was staring through the doorway into the living room, which was still a mess from their late night activities. He swallowed hard, hands clenched and bent to pick up one of the empty plastic bowls she vaguely remembered kicking aside as she carried Patty upstairs.
"Hey," Liz said again, but with an altogether different inflection. "Yeah, we, uhh... made a bit of a mess, that's all. It's not a big deal. You should like... wash up or... stop bleeding or something before you worry about this." When he knelt to begin gathering the empty pop cans, she added lamely, "Do you want some help?"
"I'll do it," Kid said. "It's not your responsibility. You're guests."
Guests. The impersonal term was a slap in the face, but watching him move so stiffly — and obviously in pain — she couldn't find it in her to continue her slander. "Kid..."
"I apologize for not being back in time to prepare breakfast."
"If you and Patty would like, I'll make brunch instead?" He tilted his head consideringly. "Then we'll need to have an early dinner, so perhaps we should put the meal off until noon if you two have already eaten."
Liz threw up her hands in exasperation and left the room.
"Sis," Patty said, sounding unusually subdued. "Kid's sleeping."
"That's what happens when you stay out all night, Patty." Liz refused to let any worry creep into her words. She had gone back to her room and began flipping through magazines she had already read. When that had failed to distract her, she'd started brushing her hair, selfishly enjoying the vanity of it. "But what were you doing in Kid's room?"
"I wasn't. He's sleepin' in the hallway."
The elder Thompson's hands stopped mid-stroke and she lowered the brush. "What?"
Patty beckoned and led her to where Kid was slumped against the wall. A flash of panic as Liz wondered if her sister had been mistaken and sleeping was actually dead (was that supposed to be a cosmic pun? had he really been that injured?) but then she saw that his chest was rising and falling in a steady motion. A bucket of soapy water was next to him, and one of his hands was curled loosely around a rag. He didn't so much as stir when Patty leaned down and poked his cheek with one finger.
"Wow," she giggled. "He's out of it real good, Sis! Is he being a dummy for sleepin' sitting up?"
"Yeah, he's a dummy," Liz responded. "Oh for... Patty, help me lift him up, okay?"
Together they maneuvered him down the hallways and opened the door to his room. Neither of them had been in here before and Liz wasn't sure if she'd been expecting bats roosting on the rafters or a coffin instead of a bed. Instead it looked like a normal bedroom, with bookcases and lamps and a striped blanket on the perfectly made bed. They hooked their arms under his to get his head in the vicinity of the pillows and through the whole thing, he never twitched.
They let him sleep. Brunch never happened, and Liz spent part of the afternoon cleaning up spots of blood from the front hall so they wouldn't stain.
Kid slept for some eighteen hours, and it was almost lunchtime on the second day when they heard his footsteps upstairs from the living room where they were watching TV. Liz passed Patty the remote and murmured a be right back and headed upstairs, determined to at least set some things straight between them.
Kid's voice reached her before she cleared the first landing but Liz knew he wasn't talking to her. She tried to keep her tread light as she came up the last few steps, listening to the conversation. "-as you, Father," he was saying. "The ghoul was being supported by someone, but I sensed no other corrupt souls in the vicinity. It could have been a witch wearing Soul Protect, however the support was active and everything we know about them says that they cannot cast spells while shielding their souls like that."
"True," Shinigami said, his voice distorted slightly where it came through the mirror they used to communicate, the same massive one that Kid had taken them through to reach the Death Room. "Not good, not good at all! I hope they're not evolving some more. Too few technicians have reliable Soul Perception as of yet. But you did a good job, Kid! One less pre-kishin out there. Are you sure you don't want to hang onto this soul? You've got Weapons now."
Kid's voice dropped slightly. "I'm sure," he answered. "Please take it, Father. I believe... I believe that I may have misjudged the situation. With your permission, may I make some calls on Shibusen's behalf to remedy it?"
The elder god's voice was kindly. "Of course you can, Kid. I hope you get it all sorted out."
They didn't see Kid for the rest of the day, although they heard him pacing occasionally in the large office which they'd never seen him use until now. "Is that like the principal's office?" Patty asked innocently, for though she'd never been to school she'd somehow linked that phrase with being in trouble. There were a sea of crayons, an open book spread on the table in front of her and the younger sister was happily working on a cartoonish depiction of what she guessed had to be Noah's Ark, given the boat.
"More like the President's office," Liz mumbled. I believe I may have misjudged the situation, Kid had said. Her hands itched as she tried to recall them folded around the wad of money they'd stashed. Was it enough? Should they run now? What had Kid meant when he said that? She got up and paced, noting with more than a little irony that it was such a Kid-like thing to do! but it helped her think and helped to burn off a little of the stressful energy that filled her like a buzz of bees. She needed to make a decision, knew with a gut-clenching certainty that it would be coming soon and she hoped that she and her sister would be ready for it.
"Liz," Kid's voice startled her and she realized he was standing in the doorway. She hadn't even realized that the muted conversation from the office had stopped. "Would it be all right if I spoke to you privately for a few moments?"
"Yeah," she said. "Patty, you stay in here and keep colouring, okay?"
Patty rolled her crayon between her fingers, but finally nodded. "'Kay Sis," she replied. "But don't take too long, you gotta colour the tiger."
"Save me some orange crayon then," Liz answered, though the last part of her sentence nearly faltered when she realized that the outcome of this meeting might decide whether Patty would ever get to worry about such a carefree thing as crayons and colouring books again.
Once in the office, Kid pulled out the chair on the near side of the desk, holding it politely as she sat down with all the gingerness of someone about to step on a landmine, before settling himself into the high-backed chair across from her. His expression was serious and with a jolt, she realized that she'd really only seen him smile when they were all working together on their daily shooting practices. There were times when he seemed more relaxed or content, but only the satisfaction of a demanding workout seemed to break through that hyper-reserved shell and wring actual emotion from him.
"I've been in contact with the State Board of New York," Kid began and Liz's heart rate picked up immediately. "I've arranged an apartment for yourself and Patty just inside of Queens. I know you're more familiar with Brooklyn but I didn't want to put you back into the questionable end of town after you'd finally gotten out of it. A weekly allowance will be deposited into an autonomous bank account to be set up for you both and its funds will be entirely at your disposal and discretion. I've also spoken with the New York State Educational Conference Board who have agreed to offer Patty a chance to attend private schooling, to bring her skills up to par with others her age. You are, of course, welcome to sit in on any classes you wish. Furthermore-"
"Wait wait wait," Liz interjected, putting a hand to her head. "You're kicking us out? Just like that, we're back on the fucking street again?"
Kid's brow furrowed, his distaste split equally between her cursing and her accusation. "No Liz," he said patiently. "I just said that I've arranged housing for you. And I resent the implication that I am 'kicking you out'. You said yourself on the trip to Death City, that you only intended this to be temporary."
"On my terms!"
The young reaper shrugged slightly, as though that had been considered and summarily dismissed. Liz felt a spike of anger and gripped the arms of the cushioned chair, staring hard at him. "So this is payback? Because we wouldn't go with you the other night and you got your ass kicked by some ghoul, now you're just dumping us off? This is just fucking great, Death the Kid, I am so tired of being used! Don't you get that I have to protect Patty, that she is my goddamn sister and that I'm not going to-"
"Elizabeth," Kid cut her off, his golden eyes turning fierce. The use of her full name was enough to interrupt her tirade and she stared as he continued quietly, "Please stop swearing. I'm only trying to help you and your sister by making sure you're both taken care of in the future. I don't want you going back to the life you were living before. That would be... you should have better. You deserve better than that life."
The plain statement made the elder Thompson's verbal lashing wither; the last person to tell her that had been her mother and the sudden clench of loneliness made her ache. "In exchange for what?" she asked, voice low and flat. "What are the rules?"
"There's only one provision," Kid answered. "And that is that you do not get into trouble with the law again. Shibusen has put a hold on the outstanding warrants for you and your sister's previous transgressions, but any other criminal offenses will be charged to their fullest extent. However you'll no longer have to worry about your basic necessities being taken care of... you can begin living the way that you want to."
Liz tugged her hand through her hair, hoping to defray some of the stress that had been building since she'd sat down in this office. "But we can't stay here," she said, making the question into a statement.
"I won't ask you to when it's obvious that you don't trust me."
"You scrawny asshole, I have to protect Patty before I worry about-!"
"Not once have I ever implied that I chose you two to be my bodyguards," Kid flared, standing and placing his hands flat on the table to keep them from clenching. "I'm a reaper, I don't need that kind of protection. I wanted to be equals... partners. I see now that isn't possible, so I wish to do as much as I can for you and your sister before we part ways. Now if you'll please gather your things tonight, I'd like to get an early start for New York in the morning."
Liz stood as well, her hair hiding her expression. "Fine," she said coldly, stalking out of the office and slamming the door behind her with enough force to splinter the heavy oak frame. After she was gone Kid sat down, his heart hammering in his chest. It took several moments before his slim fingers stopped trembling against the wood grain of the desk.
Patty sat on her bed, arms and legs wrapped around an oversize stuffed giraffe that she had gleefully chosen during one of their first shopping trips, silently watching Liz angrily yank their clothes from the closet hangers and shove them into a suitcase. "Sis..." she began.
"Everything's fine Patty," the older weapon snapped, fighting with the zipper which refused to close. Almost immediately she realized her error and rose, wrapping her arms around her sister apologetically. "I'm sorry, that was mean of me. We're gonna go back to New York, isn't that great? And no matter what he says, we're leaving on our own terms 'cause we're the badass Thompson sisters, right?"
"Right!" Patty answered automatically, pumping an excited fist in the air. "So stick 'em up, bang bang, we're gonna getcha!"
"Yes—no," Liz corrected herself. "No, we're not gonna do that anymore, we're not going to need to. We'll have a real home and we can buy our own things. That'll be nice," she added, hoping her false cheer would be convincing.
The younger blonde's face puckered in thought, her fingers absently stroking the giraffe's felt spots. "Is Kid gonna come with us and live in New York?" she asked.
"No," Liz answered, too quickly and too forcefully. "He's going to stay here and do, uh... you know, stuff that he does. Whatever he does, but without us." She prayed that Patty wouldn't press the matter any further, holding her breath until her sister started to giggle and rolled back on the bed, stuffed animal and all, the issue practically forgotten already.
to be concluded in part 5...