AN: Hummm. This took three attempts before I got a beginning I liked. It was not that I struggled, per se, but I had two scenarios I tried to write for separate stories... and then realized I could combine them into one. And then suddenly the words were just there. I like this piece. It is not my brain-child like Sortarius is, but it is fun to write. It may be a little fast paced, but I think it flows well. I don't quite call this a dark fic, but it is definitely darker than a lot of what I seem to churn out these days. Although this has the potential to go on for several chapters, I do not intend for it to. I'm thinking four to five, tops.
I've had this chapter done for a while now, but not had the time to get it beta'd and posted. But here it is, as I struggle to finish the next chapter of Sortiarius before impending finals. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I did writing.
Warnings: Violence, and later, citrus. (grin)
Scotch. He always ordered scotch. In fact, she no longer had to ask. The color red now triggered an automatic response to grab the bottle sitting on the third shelf and to her left. He had his preferred table. And usually after about three glasses nursed over an hour to two hour period, he would pay, tip well and leave.
He was not much for words, and she truly did not mind. In fact, she liked the mystery. He had been coming nearly twice a week for months now, always by himself, and always in the same manner—quiet, isolated, aloof. Cold.
Some of her coworkers who had originally waited on him had tried to approach him with more personal interests in mind. She honestly could not blame them from a physical standpoint. He was handsome—no, scratch that. He was beautiful. However, his lack of interest, and even borderline hostility had quickly scared most of them off. There were a few more persistent, and Kaoru saw the potential disaster budding. Typically, she stayed behind the bar. She did not like serving, and she was a good bartender.
However, one night a couple of months ago he had come in, and she could feel the anger radiating off of him. It barely showed outwardly, but he seemed more rigid than normal, lips pressed into a tight line. Cindy had been working that night, and from across the pub Kaoru had seen her planning to take his table.
Kaoru had the distinct feeling if she had let the blonde go on with her plan, she would have been dead before the night was over with.
And so she found herself placing a glass of scotch in front of him, the base clinking softly on the table. She said nothing, having filled the order enough times to know it was what he preferred. He had lifted his gaze to her, with eyes a strange color of antique gold that seemed almost unnatural, and yet utterly fitting for him. They watched her with sharp calculation, as if assessing her and her motives, much like she had seen him do every other woman who worked there and had waited on him.
She tilted her head at him with cool regard and gave him a singular, sharp nod. No words left her lips, and she returned to the bar. Through sheer luck, Cindy had been unable to weave over to his side of the tables due to a burst of customers. He had left after one refill, and had tipped her handsomely.
The next time, Kaoru had been preoccupied before Cindy could approach. Two minutes later, the blonde came over, irritated, and stated angrily that the man had requested Kaoru to wait on him and would not have anyone else.
She had tried really hard to not be amused as she brought his drink to him. There was a quiet, mutual exchange—an understanding. He did not want to be bothered, and she did not care to bother him.
From then on out she was the only one who waited on him, and he was making her wallet a little happier than normal with his generous tipping.
Truly, she could not complain.
Still, she found herself curious about him. How could she not? She was not immune to his physical appearance. He was slight, barely taller than herself, but there was a grace about him that suggested a lot of power in his form. She took kendo; she could recognize it for what it was easily. His red hair was long, with the majority of it pulled back into a ponytail that ended half-way down his back. The rest covered his face in messy layers, hiding a scar she had gotten a glimpse of once or twice. It was thin, cross shaped, stretching across his left cheek and covering part of his nose. It looked almost... deliberate.
And yet, she still did not ask. She did not have a name, either. He always paid in cash, and the girl who had carded him originally (he certain looked young) before he became a regular had quit some time ago. He was quite the mystery.
She liked mystery.
It let her imagination have fun. She had already begun to wildly speculate he did something secretive and exciting for a living. Maybe a spy or an assassin, something ridiculously unrealistic, and yet dark enough to humor her. She supposed it was entirely possible, even if it was unlikely. Words and whispers of dark, underground things going on in alleyways and behind closed doors hinted at much beyond what she knew, though they were only rumors. He did fit in with those ideas, though. He always dressed in dark clothes, and had never offered much to identify himself. She had barely heard him speak a dozen words since she had started waiting on him. Half of them were likely no's and yes's to whether or not he wanted a refill. And yet, his voice, quiet and soft, had a rich timbre that made her wish he would speak more. That way she could think about it later, when she was alone and free to do such things.
It was okay to dream a little; it was not like he knew, after all, and she was not so flaky and obvious as to act on anything as simple as an attraction based solely on appearance and what she speculated he was like. Though sometimes... when she suspected he thought she was not looking, she would see his head angled in a way that made it seem like he might be looking in her direction. She suspected, though, she was only wishing that were the case.
It was a slow night when he came in next. Rain was falling outside, and it was already late. He was late as far as his usual time went, but she wordlessly put down her cleaning cloth and poured his glass. His body language suggested he was feeling more withdrawn than normal. He was curled in against himself, and it almost looked like he was not feeling well. His face was otherwise its normal stoicism, so she thought little of it outside of filing it away in her memory. His jacket was wet from outside, and his hair clung to the material and around his face. He barely acknowledged the glass in front of him, and she moved away to tend to other duties.
It took her a little while to realize he had not touched his glass. The place was dead, and Tina was busy closing down the far section of the pub since it was obvious they would not be needing it. Kaoru was putting away glasses when she looked up, expecting to need to go over and inquire about a refill. Her brows rose to find the drink looked as full as when she brought it over. Exhaling through her nose, she put up what she had in her hands and walked over, her footfalls alerting him of her approach. He shifted slightly, acknowledging her presence and she stared down at him. She was quiet for a moment, before she offered, "What else can I get for you?"
"Nothing." His voice was gruff, more so than usual.
She arched a brow. "Drink's on me, then."
She left him alone, and he left not too long after that. The tip on the table was more than enough to cover the drink and tip her. She cursed softly, and went to wipe the table off when she noted something on the leather of the booth. Frowning, she swiped at it with her wash towel, and was surprised to see the dingy white stained dark red.
Tentatively, she lifted the soiled cloth to her nose. It was hard to tell amidst the other smells, but she was fairly certain it was blood.
Her brow furrowed. It was not like she could do anything. She did not even have his name. Sighing, she cleaned the mess up, and it was only in doing so did she start to get a little worried.
That was a... suspiciously large amount of blood.
It had been two weeks since she had last seen him. She cursed herself for being worried. What was she to do, though? Even if he were in serious need of help, she had no way of identifying him. What was she supposed to do? Go to the police and say "There is a regular at my bar. He has red hair and a cross-shaped scar. I think he might have bled to death two weeks ago." Right, yeah. They would totally take her seriously.
Her agitation was staring to show through, especially when she kept jerking her head up at the door anytime someone walked in, hoping to see the familiar head of red hair. She was cursing herself, frustrated at her worrying over someone she hardly knew when he finally did walk in. She stopped what she was doing, blue eyes narrowing in on his form. He slipped into his usual seat with that usual grace, and none of the tenseness from last time was visible in his posture. Crossing his arms over his chest, he glanced out the window and waited.
She pursed her lips and stood, grabbing a glass off the rack and filling it. She knew he heard her approaching, and she placed the glass down in front of him. She felt almost satisfied when he gave pause to the drink, staring at it before lifting his gaze up to her. One red brow was arched coolly, and she canted her head in response, regarding him with a neutral expression.
"Water?" He inquired softly.
She shrugged. "I'll get you your usual if you're not bleeding out this time."
He stiffened, and she had to refrain from rolling her eyes. Did he seriously think he did not leave a trail behind with that much blood? She shifted her weight, placing a hand on her hip. "Well?"
After a moment, he relaxed, glancing back out the window. "I'm not bleeding." A smirk threatened to pull at her lips at the unspoken 'now' that hung after. She left to retrieve his usual drink.
The night played on pretty normally until the end. Kaoru bit back her frustration at the man in front of her. He had been in a few times and was an obnoxious drunk. Loud, uncouth, and overbearing in his attempts at getting her to come back to his place. She chewed on the inside of her cheek as he waved her over, once again suggesting that she should come back to his apartment for some fun once she was done with her shift. She politely declined, and when he stated he wanted another round, she also told him she was cutting him off.
Usually, he was disgruntled. Sometimes would curse under his breath or storm off. This time he got really angry. She hissed when he slapped his glass off the bar and onto the floor, and was displeased at the fact she was not behind the bar as she normally preferred to be. She just had to go set the silverware. He reached out, grabbing her wrist, which she pulled back with a sharp flick. She was not a helpless woman, and if he suspected her to just cower before him, he was sorely mistaken.
He lunged at her again, and she briefly wondered where the hell her manager was before a hand clamped down tightly on the man's wrist. Kaoru sucked in a breath through her teeth, and she wondered how she could have forgotten he was there. Somewhere, in the back of her mind, she realized these two had never been in on the same night, and she shifted her gaze over to the slight man who stood to the side, his hand like a vice on the much larger man. He tried to pull back, angrily gurgling something obscene and Kaoru watched with morbid fascination as the redhead simply twisted the man's arm at an unnatural way. He made a pained noise, bending to accommodate the strain, until he was down on his knees. Kaoru was convinced she could hear his bones creaking in protest.
"Leave her alone."
The words were quiet, but the threat laced through them had even Kaoru worried. She shifted uneasily and turned her attention to where her manager was hurriedly coming out from the office. Her eyes cut over to the the two men and they widened to see her redheaded patron was already back at his booth, calmly sitting down and returning to his drink. The bigger man was holding onto his wrist, half-coherent words escaping him.
How had he moved so fast and with so little a sound? She had no answer, even after spending all night thinking about it later.
Their routine continued after that, falling back into its normal swing. The only difference Kaoru could recall was that a few nights after that incident, he asked if she had been bothered anymore. She was surprised, before she shook her head. They left the exchange at that.
He plagued her thoughts more than what she considered to be healthy. She was not what she would call obsessed, but infatuated was sounding close to accurate. The thought irritated her on many levels. She did not like thinking about some man she hardly knew, and seemed to have psychopathic tendencies.
And yet, here she was, interested, intrigued, and attracted. Damn her preferences in men.
Sighing, she picked up her pace. It was wet and somewhat chilly out. The rain was relentless, and she was irritated by the fact the bus system had been delayed. Her car was at the shop, and after much deliberation, she had decided walking home in the rain was likely faster than standing at the bus stop waiting for a bus delayed by an accident at one of the major intersections. She was glad for the news update on her phone. As Misao always loved to say, "There's an app for that."
Still, she wondered if perhaps she would have been better off waiting in the poor shelter of the stop. She was soaked to the bone, and it was dark out. The street lamps offered little lighting, and she felt more than a little vulnerable out here by herself. Scowling, she fingered the pepper spray in her coat pocket, and wished it was not so cumbersome to carry around a bokken. She had traversed this path from work before, and it was not exactly unsafe, but being a woman out late at night in the city was still a bad thing.
She was glad her house was not much further away, and could make out the lights of the residential area in the near distance. She crossed the street and rounded the corner when something splattered across her face. She jerked her head back in surprise, before her eyes focused in on the scene before here. It was steely resolve that kept her from screaming or losing her lunch as she stared at the bodies strewn out before her like some sort of bad horror film. Blood swirled with rainwater on the concrete, and standing amidst it all was a very familiar figure. The streetlamp illuminated red hair that looked much darker, and she half wondered if it was because he was covered in blood. He staggered briefly before he jerked straight at realizing she was there. Their eyes met, and she could not promise herself it was bravery that kept her rooted in place.
He shifted, and she saw a reflection of light in his hands. A knife? No...a sword. Good gods, he was carrying a sword.
She made a noise when he moved toward her, and her eyes widened when he stumbled forward. They were mere feet apart, and she was certain he was going to kill her.
Instead, he swayed and dropped to his knees, his blade clattering loudly to the sidewalk.
She cursed herself when her hands caught him before he hit the ground.
This officially pushed her into the realms of obsession, she was pretty damned sure.
The first thing he was aware of when his body started to return to consciousness was the sincere amount of pain he was in. He was not unfamiliar with pain, but rarely did he have moments like these. The serotonin still dripping through his system was making him sleepy enough that he could not yet focus, and it was only by sheer willpower (and quite possibly discomfort) that he forced himself to not fall back into sleep's embrace. The second thing he was aware of was a soft, warm weight on his legs. The third was the fact he did not know where he was. The atmosphere, even as he had yet to open his eyes, was completely different than his usual haunts.
Carefully, cautiously, he opened his eyes just a fraction. Warm light greeted him first, and as blurred lines became less distorted, he realized he was in someone's house, propped up by a large amount of pillows on a sofa. The walls were painted a pale yellow, and the blanket covering him was black and lavender. There was a lived-in feel to the room brought on by knickknacks, picture frames, and a few articles casually tossed in random places they otherwise should not have been. His gaze leveled on the weight on his legs, and had he not felt like he did, he would have arched a brow at the cat curled up atop him without a care in the world. Her tortoiseshell pattern shifted with her soft breathing, and he could make out the blue of a collar around her neck.
His eyes drifted over to a familiar-looking uniform draped over a chair and as things slowly began to piece together, his world faded back to black.
When he regained consciousness again, the light in the room was much dimmer. He was not sure if it was the evening of the same day or another day, but there was a pounding in his head that he could attribute to dehydration and he knew he needed to get water in his system. He lifted his head to look around and heard a soft noise not far away. Carefully, he rotated his gaze to the armchair across from him, and the figure sitting in it. She sat there, wrapped in too-large cotton pants and a camisole, with her hair wrapped up in a towel. She was staring at him, and his eyes fell to her lap, where both a book and a bokken lay. He did arch a brow at that before he returned his gaze to her face.
This was interesting.
He stared at her quietly, calculating thoughts running through his head. Memories came back as to what he had been doing and how she came into the picture. He did remember seeing her before he blacked out. He honestly had not expected this when he came-to, however. He broke eye contact with her to assess his physical condition. He did not get much further past the metal linking his wrists together. He stared at the handcuffs. They were enough to be inhibiting, but not enough to keep him uncomfortable, and he almost smiled.
This was very interesting.
He heard her shift and his eyes quickly cut back to her, and she slowly put her book down and stood. Watching her like a hawk, he tracked her movements as she walked across the room to the kitchen, and he recognized the sound of running water. When she returned, she was carrying that wooden sword of hers and a tall glass of water. There was a nervousness in her presence but it was, all considering, very well-masked. Her hands did not shake, but she was tense as she helped him drink. He suspected she was not sure if he would attack her, and he approved of that concern. He relaxed against the pillows once he was finished and she pulled back, returning to her perch in her chair. He could go on with the silence forever, but he could tell it was making her uncomfortable.
He ignored that fact and let his eyes drift back down to his body. There were some bandages on his chest, probably more elsewhere under the blankets. He suspected he did not have much in the way of clothing on. Everything hurt, but she had apparently done a decent job patching him up for someone who obviously was not a doctor. He wondered about that. Perhaps she had help.
He hoped not. The body count was already high.
His musings were interrupted when the cat from before jumped up at his feet. He saw her stiffen, hissing a name underneath her breath—"Mango!"—and the cat pointedly ignored her, kneading herself a little spot on the blankets at his lap and curling up into a ball. He saw her breath catch as he moved, and did not release it until his bound hand began petting the creature between the ears. The feline began to purr and she relaxed slightly.
He broke the silence first. "Do you work tonight?"
She was caught off guard and it showed, quiet for a long time before she opted to answer him. Slowly, she shook her head. "Called out," She murmured quietly.
"How long have I slept?"
"Not quite two days."
"I am sorry I made you miss work."
He watched her process this unexpected apology, her brows tucking low and her gaze pensive. "You killed an entire group of people and you choose to apologize to me because I missed work?" Her voice was soft, but incredulous.
He said nothing, staring at her through messy bangs that needed washing. She swallowed hard, eyes flickering to her cat then back to him. Finally, the tension left her and she slumped into her chair. "Just be sure to tip extra next time and we'll call it even, mmk?"
The soft noise of exhale could almost be considered amused as he closed his eyes and allowed sleep to take him once again.
He was gone.
She had left for the store needing a few supplies. She had been contemplating on just how much she needed to not skip a third night of work when she stepped through the door and had been met with an empty house. The blankets were folded on the sofa, and the sword of his was gone from her kitchen table. His clothes had been too soiled to salvage, so he must have taken something of hers to wear. She had some unisex clothing she did not doubt would have fit him. She also noted with sincere concern that the handcuffs sat atop the blankets, unlocked. ...As if to make a point.
There was something else that bothered her. Surely, she did not dress wounds like that often, but he should not have been able to really move around much yet. On that note, when she had checked his dressings that morning, they had looked remarkably well considering the amount of time since his injuries. He had said nothing as she had assessed him, and had remained perfectly still. His eyes had never once left her form, sharp and calculating. They put her on edge. Scratch that, his whole presence had put her on edge.
An edge still lingering now that she was staring at her empty house. Was he around the corner, waiting to kill her? Would he come back to off her as a witness? Worry ate at her, and she quietly put her things down. Mango came up and headbutted her legs.
She had surprised him yet again. On so many levels. Simply waking up to find she had taken him in and cared for him had been something he had not expected, but in hindsight he realized he should not have been surprised. He could see that sort of protective nature in the way she interacted with other people. She had stepped in that first night when that vapid waitress had intended to approach him. He had been in foul spirits that day, and his control had been not as strong as he would have liked. He could tell by the blonde's body language that she was going to try; he had not been certain she would have escaped unharmed, either.
And then he noticed how this woman had intervened. Not out of interest in him, but because she had sensed the danger and had put herself in harm's way to protect the blonde from her own foolishness. That kind of person was rare in these times, and that kind of virtue caught his interest. Beyond that, she had acknowledged that he was dangerous; she boldly, albeit silently, indicated she was not concerned and that she would leave him be. It pleased him, much to his own surprise.
He gleaned a lot about her from listening. She got along fairly well with her co-workers, and so it was easy to just listen and sift through the voices to find out what information he wanted. Her name was Kaoru. She lived nearby. She was not allowed in the kitchen under any pretense of cooking. She made a mean Long Island Iced Tea. The list went on.
It took him some time to realize he was no longer coming to this bar because it was habitual. He was starting to enjoy seeing her. He never really spoke to her, but when she was not looking, he was watching her. She was animated and sharp-witted. She moved with grace acquired from practice (which he now realized was kendo after seeing that bokken in her lap), and he had to appreciate that movement. She was pretty, too. Slightly tomboyish, with feminine features that made her cutesy. He was not sure it appealed to him on its own, but coupled with her personality he found he liked it.
But not enough to risk actually letting her know him. It was simply something to get his mind off of everything else. He kept telling himself that. That resolution shattered three nights ago when she stumbled upon that stupid ambush. He had not immediately realized she was there, but when he did his breath caught. Blood was splattered across her cheeks—did he do that?—and she was staring at him with a mixture of shock and apprehension. She did not run, though.
He remembered moving toward her, but truthfully he was so close to passing out he did not recall his reasoning why. Certainly, he was drilled to not allow witnesses, and he wondered if he was acting on instinct and had intended to kill her. He did not remember anything until he woke up in her house. He doubted he had even managed to raise his weapon at her.
She had cared for him, tended to his wounds. She had not ever let her guard down while he had been awake; though truthfully her attempts would have been in vain if he had really wanted to kill her at that point. He did not. He was certain it would cause him hell later, but he did not have it to kill the one thing in his life that was constant and welcome and right.
He glanced down at his katana. She had cleaned the blood from it. He had taken an old t-shirt and some sweats of hers, admittedly grateful for being a small man. He would have to return those later. Tossing the garments aside, he stripped down so he could properly shower. As he walked past the mirror in his condo, he noted the bright pink lines that had just healed. How much had she picked up on that, he wondered.
He would see.
AN: I would greatly appreciate your thoughts, likes, dislikes and constructive criticisms. Review, please. -Phoe-chan