"Growing up is losing some illusions, in order to acquire others."
— Virginia Woolf
In the dark of the night, under the silvery stream of the full moon, a man and a woman stood side by side. The man clenched his fist, drawing back as if he meant to strike at his companion. She stood there unflinchingly. The wind moved bits of sand around them, and the ocean rippled lazily behind them. "This," he said, shaking strands of ink black hair out of his face, "is the way to do it. No second-guessing yourself, or you'll have them all over you."
"Them?" the woman asked. "Who's them?" She brought a cigarette to her puffy lips.
"Oh, those drifters, you know. In the bar, one minute you're enjoying a soul-burning shot of whiskey and the next, you're flat on your back because you haven't got a notion of how to defend yourself."
She nodded slowly, taking another drag, the smoke drifting into the stars. She didn't believe him, but she knew men like him well. He was trying to impress her. Big talk and big gestures, and maybe she'd be up for a round of fun. "I see," she said.
"I used to be like that, you know," he said. His gaze paused a little too long on her lithe legs and her stomach barely covered by the tank top. "I used to fight."
"Oh," she said.
"Aren't you wondering why I don't anymore?"
"I think you're going to tell me."
"Back at my boarding school, with all the rich kids and shit—"
She gasped. "Behind you!" she shrieked. Her hair flew out in a mass of shining embers and flares, and she pointed. "Look behind you!"
"What?" He turned around, mouth wide open, arrogance fading rapidly. A figure advanced towards them, dark smoke blowing clumsily out of its hair, in little puffs, as if it didn't know how to get out of its owner's head. As it came closer, he could see that the entire face had an eerie blank quality. The mouth was a closed line, and the eyes, those eyes that he'd never thought he'd see again.
"Well?" Lily cried. "Aren't you going to do something?" She swung her own bag at the figure. "Who the fuck are you? Go away!"
The figure advanced, though at this point, he knew it was not a human, rather a spectre. "Leave," he shouted at her roughly. "Go while you can."
The last thing he saw that set of frightening eyes in the soft glow of the moonshine as the woman screamed, over and over again as he fell into silence.
At last, XANA had gotten him.
"I've tasted shit better than this coffee."
Yumi Ishiyama sighed, rubbing her at her forehead. She picked up the newspaper again, in an attempt to block out her surroundings, but Odd Della Robbia was not one to be deterred.
"Did you hear me? Because I'm telling you, your coffee needs some major work."
"I heard you the first time." She glared at him. "And I'm tired, irritable, and sick of your company, so I would advise you to shut up right about now."
"Feisty." He stirred his coffee, and took the newspaper from her.
"Looking at it won't do any good," she said. "The ad's awful, but there's nothing we can do about it now. We've already paid for it."
"And what a waste of five hundred euros it was." He slumped on the used desk they'd picked up at a garage sale, cracking one lazy eye open at her.
There was nothing rational she could say to that. She took another sip of her coffee, secretly agreeing that the coffee she'd made was less than edible. It really hadn't been her fault though. It wasn't her who'd skimped out on her share of the paperwork, forcing the both of them to stay up till two in the morning with shit coffee to finish it. It wasn't her who'd been irresponsible enough to waste their hard-earned savings on two hundred lottery tickets. It wasn't her who'd taken out a useless ad, leaving them to have to work double the time just to pay rent on their house the size of a postage stamp.
So really, it was a certain someone's fault, a certain someone who was this close to getting whacked upside the head.
"This sucks," Odd whined, apparently having gotten tired of hunching on the desk. "I regret growing up."
"Well, I regret starting a business with you, no less a detective agency. So, I guess that makes us even."
"But at least you get someone fun. I get you. All work, no play."
"Just finish your paperwork." She sighed. "I'll make us some more coffee." She pushed her chair back, and took a resentful glance at Odd's cushioned chair. They'd traded off sometime around midnight, since she'd complained about having to take the lamp side of the table.
"No sugar this time!" Odd called as she walked to the tiny kitchen. "I'm looking to wake up, not death by sugar."
Yumi rolled her eyes. On long nights like these, it was always best to ignore him.
The first rays of sunlight found them sprawled across the desk, Odd slumped in an upside-down U shape, and Yumi with her knees on the floor and arms crossed on the edges of the desk. They often found themselves in strange positions, what with Odd being a hog for space and the late hours they had to keep. If they weren't doing paperwork, one could usually find them sneaking about the slums of Marseille. Life as private investigators didn't always prove to be the most interesting, but at least Yumi could be secure in the knowledge that she knew the dumpsters and back alleys of the city as well as any lowlife criminal worth his salt.
She looked around the room, it being a habit she'd acquired in her teenage, XANA years, and a habit she'd continued in her later, post-university years. It was as sparse as always, filled with a solitary couch, the desk she and Odd were currently occupying, and a single laptop on said couch.
The curtains were slightly peeked open in front of them, but she vaguely remembered either her or Odd talking about the lack of natural light in the living room, so she brushed it off and pushed the curtains open, kicking Odd's shin in the progress. She was good at multitasking.
"Ow!" Odd yelped. He rubbed his eyes and frowned. "What time is it?"
"Time for you to get up." Yumi walked over to the other window and pushed the curtains wide open.
"We don't..." He yawned. "We don't have a case today, do we?"
"As a matter of fact, we do have a case today. Second drawer on your left."
He rummaged through their desk sleepily, following her instructions. "Oh. Marsh and Kintz. I thought we were done with them."
"You might be thinking of Mme Marchez and her missing cat."
He moaned. "Maybe, but it's really too early to be thinking about cases right now."
"More coffee?" she asked.
"No!" He shot up and brushed imaginary dust off dirty hair. "I'll go shower and get dressed and, um, do stuff that civilised people do. Now that I'm awake enough to really taste your coffee..." He sent her a dark glare before heading off towards the bathroom.
She set to work on making breakfast. Their kitchen, like their living room, looked as empty as it had been the day they'd signed the down payment and moved their meager suitcases in. The drawers held exactly one set of utensils each, and the cabinets held two jars of peanut butter, a loaf of bread, ground coffee, and sugar. In the fridge, one could find a carton of milk and a carton of eggs. There were a couple old pots and plates stacked on the stove, and a wooden spoon and a coffee maker lay beside them on the white countertop.
She set to work frying the eggs, noting that they'd have to buy more today. She slathered a generous helping of peanut butter on four slices of bread and poured two cups of milk. Not long after, Odd wandered in, sniffing at the air.
"Your cooking is a lot better than your coffee, I have to admit."
"My coffee isn't always so bad. I used too much water by accident, that's all." She grabbed the wooden spoon and made to smack him, but he jumped out of the way.
"You wound me so, Yumi-chan!"
"Stop insulting my coffee." She rolled her eyes at his antics.
"But seriously, you used too much water, and you thought the solution was to add sugar? You're in France. You just can't do that."
"But you live in France. And you have for the past million years. And you live with an Italian."
"An Italian who can't cook to save his life."
Odd took the glasses of milk from her as she brought their plates to the table. "At least...the milk's not mouldy."
She didn't reply, taking a gulp of her own milk. They spent the rest of their breakfast in silence. It wasn't until they were both out the door on their walk to the supermarket, taking in the fresh morning air, that she spoke. "So, since you've appeared to have forgotten, Monsieur Sanchez wants to know how what, if anything, his mistress is hiding. His mistress," she clarified, "being Mme Kintz."
"Oh, is this the cheating English couple?"
"Well, I wouldn't have put it in those terms, but yes, this is."
"Wait," he said, a glimmer of recognition sparking in his eyes. "This is the woman we followed to the coffee shop, isn't it? And we saw her meeting with that man. The pictures! That's it."
"Yes, the pictures. And I'm going to talk to her today, while you dig around her friends."
Odd sighed."How boring. When we first started, I thought we were going to solve murder mysteries! But no, we're tracking down some lady's whereabouts. She's probably not even the one hiding something. How much do you wanna bet that he's hiding something?"
"You're probably right," she said. "But we're not being paid to investigate him."
"Ah, money sweet money."
"And if you dare buy a lottery ticket ever again, I'm calling your sisters and telling them where you hid their old dolls."
"You wouldn't dare!"
She turned to him with a glint in her eye, something she'd found she'd developed after the post-uni independence had set in. "Oh, I would." She grinned while he pouted.
And so they went down the street, squabbling as any regular pair of friends might do, without a clue as to exactly what had happened at 10:21 PM last night under the full Normandy moon.
edited and replaced April 4, 2013
A/N: I've added a bit more, hopefully it flows more smoothly, and is a better reflection of my writing. I'd like to think I've progressed a bit in the last few months. Thanks for reading!