The overhead fluorescent tubes were dark, unlit for a couple of hours already. A lone desk within the department remained lit underneath an incandescent desk lamp, the young man who owned the desk sat frozen in the worn polyester-upholstered chair, his forearms lying upon the cleared desk with a piece of paper within his hands. The single scrap of paper held only one name, the once thick sheet worn thin from the regular handling by the yellow-haired man.
The pale complexion of the young man accentuated the haggard look upon his face—countless late nights in his line of work were slowly catching up to him, though he refused to acknowledge the fact. Yet, despite the clear signs of fatigue, he never once felt the exhaustion that would cause others to become bedridden for hours, even days.
That single piece of paper held so much meaning for him; yet ironically, the name written upon the paper in dark black Sharpie also meant nothing to him. There was no memory he could recall of the name, only the day when he woke up with the piece of scrap paper held tightly within a clenched fist, the day when he was "born".
"Still here, Ven?" came the cool voice of the department head.
Ventus Avers broke out of the empty darkness within his mind to regard the light pink-haired woman that was his commander. Lieutenant Claire Farron was an impressive woman, serious the majority of the time with a side of deviousness that was necessary for her to deal with the heads of other departments. There was little to nothing that she couldn't get for her department's investigations; whether it was cooperation from other departments or access to classified information, she was able to cut through the bureaucratic tape every single time.
Claire scrutinized the detective in front of her, her keen eyes seeing not the obvious signs of fatigue upon the pallid face but the distant look within the man's blue eyes that was so common with the yellow-haired man. Though she's known him for well over three years, there was always a mystery about Ventus Avers that not even a sharp-minded detective such as herself could unravel. She knew that the enigma will never be solved until he spoke about his past.
Ventus smiled at the older woman, folding the piece of paper in his hands along the frayed edges and replacing it in the top right drawer. "You should know better than to ask me that, Light," he responded, leaning back in his swivel chair to face her. "I thought you'd have gone home already. Haven't you gotten an earful from Serah this week already?"
The woman nicknamed "Lightning" rolled her eyes and scoffed, leaning against the desk next to Ventus's own. "Villiers's with her. I should be fine tonight." The displeasure within her voice was not lost on the blonde, who laughed heartedly. An icy glare from the woman quickly stopped the laughter.
"Still not enamored with the reality that Snow is going to be your brother-in-law?" he queried with a hint of a smile. Claire had crossed her arms as a telltale sign that she was annoyed by the situation with her sister and Snow Villiers, the owner of a mechanic shop near where Claire and her sister lived. The man seemed to have a penchant for being entangled in practically every single case that Claire has had to deal with for the past two years since the two Farron sisters had taken Serah's car to the shop. There were rumors that Snow was a former spy, but Ventus never dealt with the man during a case; he had ever only met the man once during the last New Year's Eve party.
"Don't remind me," she said tersely. She stepped away from the desk and looked down at the still lounging man. "Ven, go home."
"Ah," the blonde replied absent-mindedly, semi-swiveling in his chair while staring at the polished desk that gleamed underneath the orange-yellow light of the incandescent bulb. He made no motion to get up and actually follow Claire's advice, causing the woman to sigh once again.
"Come on," she said, grabbing his nearest arm and pulling him up.
"W-what?" he uttered, startled by her action. He winced as she turned off his desk lamp and pulled him along behind her.
"I'm taking you home."
Ventus sputtered indignantly. "I'm not a kid!" he exclaimed, attempting to free his arm, but he'd forgotten how strong Claire was, particularly when she's got something set in her mind.
"Now you're acting like one," she replied, a smirk on her heart-shaped face.
"I can go home just fine on my own, Light," frowned Ventus, giving up when the woman shook her head.
"Don't lie, Ven," she said softly. They had entered into the men's locker room and stopped in front of a large locker. "I know you have your clothes here." She pointed at the locker. "What was the problem with your last apartment?"
Ventus sighed and unlocked the locker, pulling out the black duffle bag that held pretty much all of his belongings—his clothes. He wasn't even sure why he had bothered packing up all the clothes he had when he could just get new ones.
"I dunno," he muttered. "I just didn't like the place."
"That's the fifth apartment you've gone through this year and it's not even April!" she exclaimed, eying him with concern. "It's been the same for the last, what, three years?"
"I'm better off living in a hotel than in my own apartment I guess," he said sheepishly, running a hand through his hair. He winced at the greasy feeling that met his fingers, wondering how long it had been since he actually had a proper shower.
"That's it, you're coming with me."
"What?" blurted Ventus with surprise.
"I'm taking you home with me," she said firmly, giving him no chance of arguing back. "I'm sure Serah would love to have you around too."
"No 'but's," she said, smiling at him as she pulled him along. "You're staying with me until you can get over this phase of yours."
Ventus sighed in resignation, his shoulders slumping as sign of acquiescing to Claire's wishes. "Oh, alright."
Though Ventus has been to Claire's place before, a homely two-storied house that was the site of the said woman's birthday party just two months prior, he wasn't entirely sure what he should expect if he started living with the Farrons, knowing perfectly well that they had lived by themselves ever since their parents died seven years ago, shortly after Claire had become a detective.
"You sure Serah will be fine with me staying with you guys?" the uncharacteristically fidgety man asked. Claire dared a glance over at the blonde, stifling a girlish giggle at his shyness. He was 25 years old! Yet he is surprisingly shy when it came to dealing with the opposite sex outside of his work.
"Don't worry," reassured the strawberry blonde. "You've known her for a couple of years now. You should know how she is when it comes to guests."
"But never someone who's going to live with her for weeks," murmured the younger man.
The sergeant scoffed. "What, have I not been living with her for years now?" she retorted in jest.
"You're…" he looked away, stopping himself from finishing the stupid sentence.
They stopped at a traffic light that had just turned red. She looked over to him, interested in what the man had wanted to say. "I'm what?" she asked.
"You're a woman," he muttered.
For a few brief seconds, Claire said nothing, and the detective feared that he had offended her with his stupid remark. But when he heard her laugh, he turned to look at her with slight suspicion, as though he was waiting for her to abruptly stop and glower at him with one of her trademark glares.
"That has got to be the stupidest thing I've ever heard you say," she said once her laughter finally subsided. Ventus could only look away with his face as red as a tomato.
"It's true though!" he replied defensively. "You're not a guy and you're her sister. I'm just an acquaintance."
"I'll bet she knows more about you than you think she does," Claire giggled.
"How would she know?" he asked skeptically before answering his own question. "Wait, don't answer that. I forgot. She's your sister."
"What's that supposed to mean?" she accused, her lips twitching into yet another smile. "Are you saying that I'm nosy?"
Ventus wisely chose not to comment further, only replying with "Light's green."
Claire huffed with annoyance at his evasiveness and continued driving back to her house. "Don't think you're going to get off the hook that easily," she quipped.
"I wouldn't dare think about it," he muttered underneath his breath. His companion only smiled silently.
Serah Farron stirred in her sleep as the sound of her alarm clock rang on the nightstand next to her bed. With a groan, she reached out and slapped the off button, murmuring incoherently. She yawned and got up, the smell of coffee wafting into her room from the kitchen downstairs.
Unlike her older sister, the younger strawberry blonde was not a morning person. However, once she was truly awake, she was a bundle of energy—a natural foil to Claire's usual stoicism.
In her sleepy stupor, she hadn't noticed that the door to the nearest bathroom was closed. In fact, she had completely forgotten the fact that there was a guest in the house
She stared with half-lidded eyes at the half-naked man who had stopped to stare back with his own half-lidded eyes. She blinked slowly and deliberately, uncomprehending the sight that met her eyes. And he, not completely awake as well, blinked back. She yawned once, letting the oversized top fall to bare her right shoulder.
The comedic moment continued on for several seconds.
"Eek!" Serah's high-pitched yelp startled Ventus, whose face flushed red in embarrassment. It was a good thing the towel around his waist was secured tightly. Claire would surely have his head if he had been caught naked by Serah.
"Serah!" Claire's concerned voice came before the lieutenant ran up the steps with one hand resting on the pistol that was in its holster on her lower back.
"I-I'm sorry!" the younger Farron sputtered, equally embarrassed as Ventus at the mishap. Claire raised an eyebrow and peeked through the open doorway to find her subordinate also blushing furiously and seemingly at a loss of what to do. She stifled her laughter and cleared her throat to hide the snicker.
"Come on, Serah. Let's go before we see something far too revealing for our tastes." She laid her hands on her sister's shoulders, steering her to the other bathroom when the younger woman was still in shock at the sight of the half-naked Ventus in her usual bathroom.
The yellow-haired man sputtered indignantly at his commander's suggestion, unused to such teasing from the usually serious woman. He spat out the excess toothpaste foam in his mouth and protested rather loudly. "Hey! I'm not that kind of guy!"
Whether Claire heard his response or not, Ventus didn't know; he heard nothing from the two Farron women who had disappeared to another part of the house.
Muttering under his breath, the yellow-haired man closed the bathroom door again and finished up his preparations for the day.
It wasn't long before he joined the older of the two Farron sisters at the kitchen counter where three plates had been set. A pot of coffee sat in the coffee maker, its contents staying heated from the hot plate underneath the glass carafe. A box of multigrain cereal and an open carton of milk sat in the middle of the counter next to a plate of toast. Claire had just finished making eggs and bacon on the stovetop and had turned the stove fan off, letting the hot skillet cool before she washed it.
"Help yourself to some coffee," she said. "I hope you like your eggs sunny side up."
"That's fine," Ventus replied, pouring himself a mug of black coffee. He took a sip of the dark liquid and breathed a sigh of relief; the familiar taste of fresh coffee made him feel complete.
"Sit," Claire gestured at the table, helping herself to a bowl of cold cereal. Her own mug of coffee had already been filled and refilled like the caffeine addict that she was—one attribute of the hard-working lieutenant that Serah picked on day in and day out.
"Good morning!" Serah greeted cheerfully, bouncing into the kitchen like a little kid. Claire didn't miss a beat as she passed the box of cereal to her younger sister when she sat on the stool opposite of herself.
"Morning," Claire replied in a much more subdued manner, as though she was only answering because Ventus was there.
"Morning," smiled the yellow-haired man. "Sorry about this morning. I should've locked the door."
"Uh uh," Serah shook her head. "I forgot that you're staying with us. I should've remembered."
"Please don't make this into a petty argument," grumbled Claire. Ventus raised an eyebrow at the sudden change in the older Farron's demeanor. If it wasn't his imagination, she seemed annoyed at how cheery Serah was in the morning, and perhaps even at how easily she was speaking to him.
"Claire, you need to get a boyfriend," pouted Serah in between bites of her breakfast sandwich made from the toast, eggs, and bacon. "I'd hate to see you grow old as a spinster."
The lieutenant choked on her coffee and glared at her little sister, but Serah was unfazed by the reaction. "You're supposed to get married before I am!"
The yellow-haired man chuckled at the traditional thought in Serah's statement. "I don't think she has the time to have a relationship, Serah," he said, coming to his superior's aid. "You know how police work is."
The younger strawberry-blonde scoffed. "Aqua has a boyfriend," she pointed out immediately.
"Yeah, but Terra's a forensic scientist."
"Hmm," Serah hummed thoughtfully, swallowing a mouthful of cold cereal before waving her spoon at the yellow-haired man. "What about you, V? Don't you have a girlfriend?"
Ventus's face flushed red; his attempt to hide it behind his mug of coffee was ineffective. Serah giggled at his embarrassment.
"Come on, you can tell me," she tried to wheedle out of him. The man mumbled softly under his breath, too soft for Serah to hear.
"What?" she said with a smile on her face, leaning closer to him in a playful manner.
"I've never had a girlfriend," he answered, this time louder. The answer earned him a surprised gasp from the younger Farron and raised eyebrows from the older Farron.
"How is that possible?" Serah asked for the both of them. "You're so handsome!"
Ventus simply shrugged in silence.
"Oh, I know!" she exclaimed happily. "You should ask Claire out!"
Both Claire and Ventus choked simultaneously, their faces as red as tomatoes.
"Serah!" scolded the older Farron, but her sister simply giggled.
"You guys are so similar. It's perfect!"
"Workplace romance never works," Claire muttered.
"And what do you call Aqua and Terra, hmm?" Serah responded easily. Her sister said nothing else.
"Well," Ventus began, clearing his throat. "I think it's best that we set off for work. It's getting late."
"Oh phooey," pouted Serah. "Way to spoil a girl's fun."
"Serah…" Claire said with a withered look.
"Yeah, yeah," her sister waved flippantly with her spoon. "I'll do the dishes. Just go."
"Thanks, Serah," the older woman said with a smile.
"Later, Serah," waved Ventus, picking up his coat on his way out. Serah only waved back silently, continuing her breakfast.
The two detectives exited the house and got into Claire's car—the clock said 7:14 AM.
"Sorry about Serah," she said as they pulled out of the driveway and headed off in the direction of the freeway. "She's too nosy for her own good sometimes."
Ventus shook his head. "Don't worry about it. She put you on the spot too."
"And you diverted her attention to you." The man simply shrugged silently.
"But what she said, it's true? You've never had a boyfriend?"
Claire chuckled with amusement before shaking her head. "Our parents died when we were young. We had no other relatives. I had to take care of Serah."
"So you chose to become such a work-a-holic?"
She snorted in response. "Yeah. Besides, I doubt anyone would want to date someone like me. I'm far too headstrong."
"Oh, I wouldn't know about that," Ventus replied teasingly.
"Are you trying to hit on me, Ventus Avers?" she turned the table on him. For the umpteenth time that day, the blonde blushed.
"I wouldn't think about it," he muttered. Much to his chagrin, Claire openly laughed.
"And what about you?" she asked, pulling onto the freeway after the on-ramp meter turned green. "You've never had a relationship?"
"Not really," he said with a shrug. The strawberry-blonde took that as a sign that she shouldn't pry further; not until the man was ready to speak.
"Maybe Serah was right to be nosy," Claire said softly. "It might do you some good to talk about your past."
"Ah," the blonde answered in reflex, not really giving it much thought once again.
"Well, if you want to talk, you know where my office is," the lieutenant offered.
But what is there to talk about when he has no past?
The dubbed bullpen was milling with activity an hour after the two detectives had arrived at the station. While Claire went to her office, Ventus had become the center of attention amongst his co-workers in his team due to his simultaneous arrival with his superior.
"So, it's true then?" a pale yellow-haired woman asked inquisitively with a smile as she sat on her desk, which happened to be right next to Ventus's own. "You're living with Lieutenant Farron?"
Larxene Williams was one year Ventus's senior and another brilliant detective under Claire's command. There have always been rumors that the pale-haired woman was prone to be cruel in her interrogations; however, their team leader, Aqua Landon, have always kept an eye on the clinically insane woman, only letting her conduct her interrogations on actual wrongdoers to get them to confess even in the presence of their lawyers.
"Where'd you hear that?" the blonde answered with his own question, neither denying nor confirming the rumors.
"So it's true then?" Larxene asked eagerly, parroting her initial question.
"No comment," Ventus replied. He knew better than to provoke the yellow-haired woman, however, giving her a smile and a silent nod to answer her question.
"What happened to the last apartment you had?" Aqua cut in, having just finished answering an internal memo on the computer. "I thought we agreed it was perfect." The blue-haired woman who was their team leader was a few months older than the lieutenant, but Sergeant Aqua Landon had no intentions of being the manager of tens of teams like her own. She'd much rather go out and do field work investigating crime scenes than stay stuck behind a desk.
The blonde simply shrugged.
"At least he'll have two lovely ladies to take care after him," grinned Olette McGregor, the last member of their team, a sienna-haired junior detective.
"I dare you to say that in Lieutenant Farron's presence," the blue-haired woman pointed out, picking up the phone that had rung. "Landon."
"As if I need more females fawning over me," grumbled Ventus, referring to the four-member team that he was in with three of them being women.
Larxene laughed at his complaint.
"How's Serah?" Olette asked. "She still the same?"
"I wasn't aware that she's that nosy," Ventus commented offhandedly.
"Oh?" Intrigued by his statement, the younger woman leaned forward with an elbow on her knees, waiting for the blonde to elaborate.
"Hate to cut the conversation short," Aqua said, picking up her coat from the back of her chair. "Homicide in the Second District."
"And?" Olette tried drawing out more information from the sergeant.
"There was a calling card." The simple words immediately dispelled any easiness the team had felt. Quietly, the other three picked up their gears and followed Aqua out of the station.
Since New Year's Eve, the four detectives had been following a series of homicides that occurred throughout the Bodhum metropolis. Each time, a calling card the size of playing cards was left with a fleur-de-lis symbol printed upon it. It was the most frustrating case the team has ever taken on. Even with all of their forensic expertise, they were unable to track down the culprit.
The sound of camera snapping up pictures was a familiar constant at a crime scene; this time, in the back alley of the Second District behind a tenement that was due for demolition that very week. Had the workers not discovered the body, they might've missed the murder entirely.
"Victim's name is Ienzo Cavalieri," a scarred man reported with a mumble. Aqua scowled at the man, ripping the lit cigarette from the man's lips and smashing the tobacco stick underneath her shoes, much to the older man's chagrin.
"Don't smoke while you're reporting," the sergeant scolded, ignoring the lower ranked man for the rest of her time there.
Ventus watched the entire exchange with wariness. He knew that Braig Dreyfus was a man who held on to grudges. It was his inability to change for the better that prevented him from even reaching the rank of junior detective despite being much older than the rest of them. The policeman grumbled under his breath before leaving the scene and out of the blue-eyed man's sight.
"Anyway," Olette continued once Braig had left the area. "Age 28. Worked as a pharmacist at the Eden Pharmaceuticals on Main and Fifth." She handed the ID card over to the sergeant, who inspected the plastic card.
"Well, I can say for sure that the time of death is over three days," commented Bartholomew Estheim, chief medical examiner of the police department. "The body is far too cold for death to have occurred within the last three hours and the body's not in full rigor already."
"That or the killer decided to crank up a heater to speed up rigor," suggested Larxene, pausing in her picture taking as she looked for another angle and other clues.
"Unlikely, Miss Williams," the medical examiner answered with a finger. "Even if the killer did use heat to speed up rigor, the body wouldn't be as cold as it were. That said, I'll know more when I get him on the table."
"Card looks different," Ventus commented, picking up the calling card with a gloved hand and handing it over to his team leader.
Aqua turned the card around and back, sniffing the card when she smelled a whiff of something strange from the card.
"Need to have Terra do some tests on this card," she murmured, placing it in an evidence bag.
"Gunshot wound in the abdomen," the older man observed aloud. "Help me with the body, Mr. Avers?" The blonde nodded and gladly assisted the medical examiner, who hummed in slight confusion.
"No exit wound," he observed aloud. "Definitely need more examinations with him."
"He didn't die here," said Aqua. "Not enough blood here."
"And no rain in the past three days," added Olette. Aqua nodded quietly.
"That explains why no one noticed the dead body," Ventus pointed out.
"Everything's bagged up," Larxene said. "We're done here."
"Right," nodded the blue-haired sergeant. "Let's head back."
As Ventus helped Dr. Estheim lift the body up onto the gurney, his eyes focused on a piece of paper that was underneath the dead body on the ground.
"What's that there, Mr. Avers?" the doctor asked, watching the blonde pick up with folded piece of paper.
He unfolded the sheet to find a profile page typical of those found in police personnel files. His own portrait stared back at him.
"What on Earth?" Ventus blurted in alarm.
"It's a copy of the first page of your file," gasped Olette.
The five investigators all looked at the corpse that was in the black body bag on the gurney; each one of them bewildered by the unknown connection between the dead man and one of their own.
"I don't get it," Olette said, picking at the fried noodles that Larxene had ordered for her that evening. She leaned back in her chair as she ate, her eyes looking from the flat screen with the profile of the victim on it. "Why would a small time pharmacist from one of Eden Pharmaceutical's stores have a file on Ven?"
"Could be the killer that had the file," Larxene pointed out.
"That still doesn't explain why though," the sienna-haired detective retorted.
"Maybe Ven's that guy's next target," a man's voice joined in.
"That has got to be the worst hypothesis ever," Larxene retorted derisively.
"Enough," Aqua said forcefully, stopping the potential spat that would undoubtedly occur between her boyfriend and her subordinate. "You found something, Terra?"
"Sure did," grinned the red-haired man, handing the manila folder containing his findings to the sergeant. "Ethylene glycol."
"Antifreeze?" asked Olette with a raised eyebrow. "But isn't it odorless?"
"What Aqua smelled was propylene glycol," explained the forensic scientist. "It's also antifreeze, but used mainly for machines involved with food, drugs, and cosmetics."
"So it could possibly have come from the victim," suggested Larxene.
"Perhaps," agreed Terra, "But I also found traces of terpen esters on that card, which is the sap inside Euphorbia. That stuff is deadly."
"Poinsettias?" Aqua asked, but the man shook his head.
"Poison tree," she said.
"Yeah. Whoever this killer is, he knows his stuff."
"Don't you think it's strange though?" Ventus mused aloud. "Why would the killer leave such traces on the card? All of his previous cards have been spotless save for the dirt and grime that stuck on from where the card was left."
"You think it's a copycat?" questioned Olette, but Terra disagreed.
"No. The ink on that card is the same as the other ones. This is the same killer."
"So we're dealing with a serial killer who's gotten cockier." Olette sighed with annoyance; the longer this case dragged out, the most frustrations they all felt, the testier they all got.
"Well, I'm going to go check on Batty. See if you can come up with any connections between the victims," said Aqua.
"Will do," said Ven, looking through the various case files they had compiled on the Fleur-de-lis killer. The team leader and her boyfriend silently left the bullpen to autopsy together.
"I'm surprised the media hasn't gotten a hold of this case," the sienna-haired junior detective remarked as she stared at the large monitor where portraits of the victims were slapped on.
"The higher ups are probably clamping down on releasing our knowledge of the connection between all the victims," Larxene answered, searching for any place in Bodhum that might have a poison tree. It was their best lead thus far; poison trees certainly aren't indigenous to the Bodhum area. They could rightly assume that the killer must have some access to one of the three locations that housed a poison tree: the municipal arboretum, a private laboratory owned by Sanctum Holdings, and University of Bodhum.
"One thing's for sure," she continued after jotting down the addresses of the places they should investigate. "It's a good thing no one's come to pester us about not finding the killer thus far or we might have another death on our hands. Well, I'm going to go check out the places that have poison trees."
"I'll come with you," Olette said, quickly grabbing her jacket off of the back of her chair and the black backpack that held some of her crime scene tools.
Ventus waited until the two were gone before he looked up from the files and at the monitor. Though Larxene's statement seemed blatantly obvious, it got the blonde thinking. She wasn't just right, but the fact that all of the victims had left no ties with their own families was a possible connection between them, even if this "connection" seemed rather farfetched.
Why had all of them lost or estranged their own loved ones? Was there something they were all involved in to cause this deliberate severance of ties?
Filing the farfetched ideas away in the back of his mind, the lone detective continued his search for another connection, unaware of just how correct his theory was.
Disclaimer: Both Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy XIII are copyrighted by Square Enix and Tetsuya Nomura. This is a fan production and is in no way, shape, or form to be construed as an official publication.
A/N: I thought I would venture into a more "adult-based" fanfic compared to before where the characters stayed around their ages as based in their individual games. This will be my first true crossover fanfic with characters from both games playing major roles in the fanfic rather than just taking the characters from one game and putting them in the storyline of another (which is the reason why I filed the two stories in The Universe of Sora Kazano project under KH proper instead of KH crossovers).
This will also be my first KH fanfic where the main pairing will not be Sora/Roxas or Axel/Roxas. The pairings will get further developed as the story progresses.
Hope you enjoyed this first chapter. And as usual, comments and questions are more than welcome.