A/N: So... here we are, folks. Chapter 10 & Epilogue all in one shot. Thanks very much for reading this far! For anyone wondering, I've decided against the omake, but only because I've an idea for a short sequel that might be fun to write later on. Now, on to the conclusion! ;)
Miranda wasn't sure if she'd given them enough time alone yet, but maybe it wouldn't hurt to check on how they were doing? When she stepped out of her room however, Allen was right at the door to his and Kanda's adjacent suite. "Oh!" He would probably know something. "Allen… umm… may I ask if there's anyone still at the dinner table?"
"Well if you're here, Miranda, I guess it's just Lenalee and Raphael—"
"Oh. I see…" No need to check up on them, then.
Even as she reentered her room, it occurred to Miranda that she hadn't thanked her kind young colleague. It wasn't more than a split-second before she hastily leaned back out against the doorjamb to add a cheery "Thanks, Allen!"
Embarrassed at her own awkwardness, she immediately disappeared into her room with a light slam.
"You're wel …come?" She just barely heard him stammer into the empty hall.
Oh what will I do with myself now? There are the flowers I collected from this afternoon, I suppose. I could take some from the vase and make another bracelet… or maybe garlands for me and Lenalee to wear tomorrow. Yes, that might be nice…
Trying her best to ignore the angry shouting between Allen in the hallway and Kanda in the neighbouring room (but still wincing a little), Miranda applied her craftswoman's sensibilities to sorting the variety of blooms and colours she and Lenalee had brought back from the teeming flower patches of the clearing that afternoon. (And it was a good thing Lenalee had offered to help on the way back, since Miranda dropped— and then lost or stepped on— about half of the burgeoning bouquets her own arms held.)
She laid the flowers out before her, and after several minutes of sorting, ordering, and sweeping up fragments of the vase she'd bought that day, Miranda came upon two winning coronet arrangements. However, much like her vase, the bright green stems were constantly slipping through her fingers. She wouldn't be able to weave a thing at this rate.
It seemed the room temperature hadn't started dropping as she'd hoped it would by this time, so she left the rings of flowers on her bed and went to open the window. It's a miracle they aren't wilting…
As Miranda struggled with the release to the casement window, the movements of two familiar figures caught her eye, causing her to focus her gaze outdoors.Oh, what's this? Kanda running into the woods? …And Allen following behind him?
This might be a mission-related activity or an Akuma-sighting, or something of the sort… but then why didn't someone notify her? And where was everyone else? Lenalee and Raphael, whom she'd last seen in the open tavern area near the front entrance to the Inn, must know something— they would have seen the two young men pass by, after all. Then now's a good time to check on that pair…
As she approached the stairway down from the end of the dull white-plaster hallway, Miranda's insecure mind dreamt up nightmare scenarios of everyone leaving her behind due to her incompetence— or how it must be too much of a downer to have her around. She had just barely managed to beat back her fears and anxieties when she was halfway down the stairway. It was then that she heard familiar voices from behind the closed door of the first room by the far stairway on the first floor:
"Yes, Georg!" a woman shouted in a language and dialect that Miranda just so happened to understand— as she'd been moved around a lot while she was little— but that no one else in the hotel could likely follow, "I want to know why! Because… because in four whole years' marriage we still haven't had a child!"
"Shhh, Ilinca!" and then Georg modulated to quieter tones: "Someone might hear…"
"People have been asking questions…"
"Yes, I know, I also—" Georg tried to interject without success.
"Mother wants to know why we haven't had a son to help mind the livestock…"
"Yes, at the market as well, they ask me—"
"And your mother and sister— don't you think I've noticed… how they look at me? They think it's my fault… and last week they were talking about me! They said that… that I'm—"
Miranda's heart went out to Ilinca. Carried on that voice were the distinctive signs of tears wept in abject despair— misery the timid lady Exorcist knew very well.
"Ilinca, that's enough, it's okay, we'll have a child! Very soon! I pro—"
"But it's you who can only get it up when we come all the way out HERE!"
Miranda nearly jumped and yelped in her shock at the heated outburst, but managed to remain still; one hand clutched over her rapidly pounding heart.
There was silence at Georg's end of the marital dispute, except Miranda thought she could hear the sound of him shushing Ilinca again. This time it wasn't to shut her up, but to offer comfort. She supposed the woman must be in his arms.
"I don't understand it." Her voice shook with misery, shrinking in volume while rising in pitch: "Is it me? Am I not… to your liking? Do I not… please you?"
"No, no, Ilinca, stop it. You know you're the only one who…" Miranda couldn't make out the rest. However, as she kept inching closer, absent and unawares, her ears picked up giggles, and Ilinca producing a surprised 'Whoop!' all of a sudden.
Could they be making up? Miranda barely had time to complete that thought before a monstrous creak issued from within the room. Something substantially heavy had hit the bed— two people embracing. The two really were 'making up.'
Oh my god! I shouldn't have heard that— I shouldn't have heard that! Lucky no one's found me here! Cringing, she hastily jogged the entire L-shaped first floor hallway.
The hotel tavern area mostly lay tucked behind the grand front entrance stairway, but contained a sizeable section jutting out around it and nearer the front desk. It was in this area that Miranda was able to spot her team's dinner table… which was deserted.
Oh no! So they really did leave me behind?
RING… RING… RING…
A telephone? Oh! Raphael's Finder equipment!
Rushing over to the table, she answered: "Hello, this is Miranda… ?"
"Miranda?" A masculine voice responded with surprise. "How wonderful to hear from you! It's Marie."
"Marie!" She smiled broadly. "But why are you calling us?"
"Komui asked me to get a status report from the new Finder," he sighed, "because his latest Komurin's going nuts again and he's the only one who can stop it of course. Exorcists are off the hook on this one, thankfully. But from what I can tell, the robot's on the fourth floor right now, and Komui's got the entire Science Department with him, searching for it on the first—"
He paused and waited politely for Miranda's brief giggle to pass. She wasn't certain, but she thought she might have heard a pleased sigh on the other end of the line. Her heart fluttered a little at that possibility; her smile brightened further.
"But anyway, why are you the one answering?" He sounded positively delighted to be asking this question.
"Oh, well, um…" I don't want to get Raphael in trouble on his first mission! But I can't lie to Marie… What should I say?
"Is young Raphael doing alright?"
"Oh yes," Marie read her as well as usual. He was clearly giving her a chance to sidestep the earlier question. Even over the phone, he was attentive and considerate as always. After all, he knew that if something was genuinely wrong, Miranda wouldn't hesitate to report it. "He and Lenalee were having a very animated conversation at dinner— about the mission."
"That's good. Anything to report yet?"
Some patrons entered the restaurant for a late dinner, carrying on loudly. Miranda suddenly remembered she was in public… and supposed to be undercover.
"Can I call you back, Marie?" she whispered; "From my room? There are… other people here."
Of course he assented and so Miranda bounded up the stairs with unusual energy, especially considering the weight of the Finder's pack she was carrying. But when she'd locked the door, settled in and tried to dial the Order, she realized she'd forgotten one digit of the phone number.
Oh no! How am I going to call him b—
RING… RING… R—
"It's ringing again!" she announced to an empty room, grasping the receiver. "Marie?"
"Hi. I hope you don't mind. I thought maybe I should call. It must be a long time since you've last called the Order. The number would be so easy to forget."
"Yes, I was just trying to remember the last number…" she blushed. He's so kind!
"That's it. Thank you!" she beamed into the phone.
"It's also hidden underneath every Finder's phone. So anything happening so far?"
"Well, we've witnessed the red rain. We believe there's a high chance of Innocence being involved since the rainwater seems to have a powerful healing effect."
"Yes— it seems to have destroyed two Akuma virus infections, and erased cuts and bruises received in battle. Also, we suspect Lenalee was poisoned by an Akuma at one point, yet there are no signs of venom remaining in her system."
"So there are even Akuma investigating the area. Yes, sounds like a high probability of Innocence being involved. Komui will be very pleased with the progress you've all made."
"Thank you!" Miranda wondered if Marie's super-perceptive hearing picked up on her face flushing again. "Also, I don't know if it's related and I haven't been able to share with the others yet, but this afternoon I heard a legend about an old stone well near the site where that rain falls. A couple we met there, who have been visiting the site for a long time, claim that although the locals won't talk about it easily, there's a well to the west of the flower patch where you can go to meet or see a past, present, or future lover. And if you're having bad luck in love, or trying to have children, you throw flowers or petals inside and pray for good luck."
"I'm sure it can't mean anything much, but I thought maybe it might be worth checking out tomorrow."
"Oh? Will you be tossing some flowers in, yourself, then?" he teased gently.
Blushing yet again, Miranda laughed shyly, and changed the subject: "Umm… we talked about you today…"
"Kanda and I did, this afternoon. He only has good things to say about you, you know." When he chooses to actually say something, that is. "I think he must respect you a lot."
"Well I owe Kanda a lot, myself. I'm honoured if he thinks so highly of me…"
"I think he does." Though I did most of the talking. Oh no, I must have talked his ear off about Marie, and then he ran off into the woods! I'll have to apologize later…
Without realizing it, the two stayed up quite late chatting with each other. Neither noticed the time ticking by as they waited for Lenalee and her brother, neither of whom actually returned until the next morning. And Miranda had long since forgotten about the two boys who had disappeared into the forest.
In the end, it turned out there was in fact Innocence present, just as everyone suspected; living Innocence in the form of a bright red bird. Circling in the sky above the clearing, it caused red rain to fall from within its flight path, yet moved so fast it could not be seen without special equipment built by the Black Order Science Department.
The healing rain endued such vitality that wherever it touched, plants grew vigorous, and wounds and ailments miraculously disappeared. Until recently, it also significantly boosted fertility for creatures happening to be in their mating season. In humans, carnal desires deepened— but as it was an enhancing effect, it could not 'create' something that wasn't there in the first place. It merely emboldened people's feelings for persons to whom they were already or would have anyways become attracted. Although in their own way, each Exorcist on the mission came to recognize this exact effect was occurring, it would not figure into any of their mission reports.
Instead, they would focus on the discovery of that Innocence's Compatible User.
Kanda and Allen reported they had been 'investigating' the forest when they heard a 'distinctive' birdsong they recognized from earlier in the day— even though night was falling. Following the direction from which the song originated, they spotted something perched on the shattered structure around the well mentioned earlier in their reports as the first site where Akuma were discovered. (Allen footnoted his recollection that there was a birds' nest inside the ruined shelter as well.) Yet no sooner had they been able to make out its feathered profile than it took flight, gliding toward town. Unable to see it so clearly, the boys pursued the avian crooner's aerial serenade.
By Lenalee's account, she 'accompanied' the Finder that evening to 'stop by' his long-term lodgings in town and 'pick up some tools' that might be of use. She stated they hadn't been at his hostel all that long before a noisy blood-red bird zipped in through the window and landed on Raphael's automatically outstretched arm. The teen later explained that the atypical avifauna was his first 'friend' in the region, visiting frequently ever since he came to town. Strikingly, it ceased its musical twittering the instant it touched his bare skin. Lenalee was then able to 'rendezvous' with Allen and Kanda, who soon arrived to chase the bird through the window of his third floor flat. (She left out the argument the two of them immediately launched into about how 'impolite' their entry was… It was the Finder's residence anyways— We should have taken the stairs— 'Tch! YOU take the stairs!' and so on.)
Putting two and two together, Lenalee asked Allen to try helping Raphael activate the parasitic type Innocence, and soon transparent red fluid rained down upon them right within that room. Kanda periodically offered "Tch!" sounds as Lenalee gushed over the 'new' Exorcist that was right under the Order's collective nose. Allen too was cheerful, but this was tempered by displeasure at his clothes getting soaked… again. Still, Lenalee was incredibly giddy, frequently 'encouraging' young Raphael with a friendly rub of his back or squeeze of his arm.
As the carriage transports for the rural village allowed only four people to ride together at a time, alternate arrangements had to be made to carry an extra person back. Kanda quickly volunteered to ride back alone on the next available transport, but due to his and Allen's eternal bickering, both were left behind. Lenalee assured a sleepy Miranda (who suspiciously failed to bother asking where Lenalee had slept, the previous night), and a jittery, red-faced, shyly-smiling-at-the-floor Raphael that the two boys needed to "grow up and learn to get along."
And so Allen and Kanda did just that. There was plenty of time for it, after all. Alone for another night in the hotel; the day-long covered wagon ride back to the closest town with a station; and the several days' train ride in a first class sleeper compartment, the two young Exorcists were set to get a lot of practice in.