A/N: Well, here we are again, back in my habits of starting new stories even while I'm writing others. This one was just begging to be written and inspiration hit me. It's the right time of year for it, given the nature of the story.
Despite my usual dislike for AU 'fics this one is nevertheless an AU 'fic. It also touches on a few things that normally put me off reading AU 'fics, because I decided. I'm the damn writer, I said so.
The exact details of where this is based have yet to be decided mostly because I'm making this up as I go along (like usual) and for the moment I'm more interested in how this story is going to be received. It's also marked under Mature because this story, unlike the others, is going to hit on some fairly dark and violent themes - and maybe more besides later on.
As usual, KH et co are not mine. Just what I add and write. So turn the lights down and read this decidedly darker tale...
It was raining. It was always raining when the sun sets in Aqua district, but tonight seemed excessively so. Thick sheets of rain lashed down, seeking any exposed skin, any cloth not already bedraggled, even soaking through most coats worn to ward it off.
The gleaming beacons of the street-lights were reflected and distorted in the pools of water that shimmered with every new drop, reflecting the nimbus high above them which showed the lashings of rainfall.
No one was out this late. These days in the Elemental Metropolis, city of millions, people seldom were after nightfall. Only the pristine Central district remained untainted by the dangers of the night.
Yet in spite of the weather there was one who wore a long coat, dark but glistening with wetness, moving steadily up the street. They did not look at the signs of closed stores, nor acknowledge the rare car that passed down the street, except only when they passed an intersection, pausing only as long as necessary to assure it was safe.
The figure did not seem in any haste, but moved along somewhere between a stalk and a stride. There was no haste to the movement, only a confidence that seemed strangely reluctant. Reluctant, and apparently indifferent to everything, being concerned only with whatever destination was in mind.
They paused before another intersection, glancing up at the larger sign hung over it. Left would lead to neighbouring Thunder district, right to the oft-maligned Nox district. Ahead would, of course, lead him to the city limits eventually – or to Central if he had been going the other way.
Not far behind there was a furtive rustle of material, and the figure glanced back sharply, only just in time to see a foot dart into an alleyway. They stared there for a time, as if daring the foot's owner to show himself, then threw up his hands and turned toward Thunder district.
"Fuck it, not again," the figure muttered to himself, but said no more until, "If they try anything there's gonna be some questions to answer again."
He didn't turn when he heard the sounds of someone trying inexpertly to mask their approach along the sodden pavement, but he did sigh once and glance at a watch hidden beneath the coat's sleeve, showing it was some time past ten.
The would-be assailant continued to approach him, unaware the quarry knew of his approach. Unlike the figure he held clothes better suited for summer weather, plastered to his wiry frame, dripping with water the material could no longer hold. He reached for one pocket, loosening a dagger from its concealed sheath.
For a moment it seemed that the man in the coat would be struck in the small of the back by the smaller man, but when the dagger was poised to strike he turned quickly and slapped it out of the other man's hand, sending it clattering off a building and down on to the grating of the overflowing gutters, where it rocked in the water's current.
The wiry man was wary and not completely unafraid of this unexpected reaction, starting to back away, clearly intending to run. The man in the coat allowed for no flight however, bearing down on the assailant, now victim, snapping his hand around the thin, wet wrist.
"You thought to mug me, didn't you," he growled at the wiry man.
"No! No, of course not!" he squeaked in protest. "Mistaken identity! Honest mistake!"
"Honest!" he spat. "If you were honest we wouldn't be here."
"It's honest business! I don't have a choice!"
At these words he was pulled hard, yanked close enough to make out some few features under the hood of the coat, the mouth twisted in hate and the eyes, piercing icy blue eyes that seemed to stare into his very soul.
"There is always a choice," he told the wiry man in a cold, low voice. "Always."
Now the minimal expression changed. The eyes turned dark, then black, vanishing into the darkness of the hood. The mouth, no longer hateful, seemed almost like the maw of a shark. A realization of sorts dawned on the hapless man as he struggled in terror, trying to free himself.
He was flung with seemingly no effort down the street and then into the first alleyway that presented itself, a short cul-de-sac with nowhere to run or hide. He was freed from the man's grasp, but there was no escape, not with him stood in the mouth of the alleyway. He ran all the same, trying to somewhere to escape only to end up cringing in terror in one corner.
No one saw what happened next. There was no sound, no apparent movement. After a short time, the water running out of the alleyway became stained with the rich red of fresh blood. The man in the coat had remained exactly where he'd stood.
"Always a choice," he echoed, this time sounding more numb than angered. "Twelve now. Twelve. Always a choice..." he trailed off, then finally tore himself away from the alley and continued as if nothing had happened, stepping over the bloody water. "Why me though?" he wondered aloud as he strode on. "Why not him? What made me special, and not him?"
He carried on in silence for a time, crossing the unseen, unmarked boundary between Aqua and Thunder districts. The only discernible difference was that the rain outside Aqua district was far less than inside. But then, it always rained in Aqua district, and when the rest of the Elemental Metropolis had rain, Aqua always ended up with far more.
Something beeped out a short tune from one pocket. He took out a mobile phone, sheltering it from the rain. A message from Riku, opened to reveal the message he suspected it'd read.
'Were r u?' it read. He winced at the text shorthand even as he read it. 'If ur not back soon, gonna eat ur pizza'
He sighed again, quickly tapping out a short reply.
'Little trouble. Just reached Thunder. Will be back soon.'
As soon as it was sent he was on his way again, though before he'd gotten far another message came back. This time he didn't stop while he retrieved the phone again to read it.
'Trouble? Tell me not that kind of trouble again. How many?'
Riku was concerned again. The lack of even an attempt at shorthand made that clear. He stared at the message for a time before replying with just: 'One'
There was no quick response this time. He kept on walking, starting to take note of the surroundings, picking his route more clearly now. The heavy built-up urban structures gradually became more spaced out, lower down, then eventually become yards and houses set back from the roads. In only a few were the lights still on and signs of movement.
He turned down on to a side road, making his way for a tall block of flats that were usually set aside for student accommodation this far out from the city centre. Riku finally answered as he fumbled in his pockets for the keys.
Only once he'd got in out of the rain and pushed the hood back, revealing the blue eyes and dark hair, slicked down by the rain despite the hood, did he take out the phone and read the message.
'Will be trouble if found out. Get back now in case'.
"As if I hadn't already," he muttered, shoving it back in its place and making the long trek up the stairs, a trek he could have made in his sleep. Three floors up, down the left side corridor, room three-twelve. It'd been the room he and Riku had shared as room-mates since they'd joined the prestigious Elemental University, the place the entire city had grown up around. The only place in the world that still taught magic, along with any other subject the rest of the world couldn't or wouldn't study.
Riku was waiting for him at the door, already holding it open, his face showing the clear concern that had been lost in the text messages. Wordlessly he took the coat and hung it up to dry, while his room-mate headed on in, picking up a plate of now cold pizza, sinking into his usual chair and starting to eat. His expression seemed calm, but also haunted.
"You should never have taken up those night classes, Sora," Riku told him, leaning on the door frame, arms folded. "Especially after what happened."
"If I'd known it was going to happen, I'd never have done it," Sora replied. "But I can't just quit them. I need them, otherwise I'm never gonna make the grade."
"To hell with the grades, Sora, if this keeps happening they'll find you out and you'll be locked up! What good will it do you then?"
"I need these extra classes, Riku," he said insistently, wolfing down another slice accompanied by cola. "Think about it. You'n I are the only ones who know what happened. I'm already behind, I drop out of these too and the teachers are gonna wonder why – and probably put me right back on them again once I slip too far behind."
"So what, you're just gonna let this happen? Let that... thing kill again?"
"I can't stop it," Sora shrugged. "The fucking thing does what it wants, when it wants, and every time it does it's like pounding my fists on a brick wall. But..." he hesitated.
"But what?" Riku pressed.
"I dunno. It's like... it knows. Every time it goes for someone, it always seems like they're trying to get me. It was a mugger tonight, or at least I think it was. I didn't get enough time to find out before it got him. It's like its trying to protect me."
"By killing people and nearly getting you done for murder?" he demanded.
"Maybe it's just doing it however it can, okay?" Sora burst out angrily. "You think I want this... this dark child in me? You think I had a choice? I could have been one of its damn victims, but instead it killed the last host and took up residence in me instead. Did I get asked? No! It just moved in like it already owned me! It probably never bothered to ask the last host either, or the one before that – it just keeps on doing whatever it wants. Maybe it's killing people to protect itself, to protect the victim its hiding inside."
Riku remained unmoved by the outburst, continuing to watch with concern as Sora devoured the last of his pizza and washing it down with more of the cola, staring at the floor with the same haunted expression Riku had seen since it had first happened – even if he hadn't known until the third time it killed.
"I don't know what I can do, Riku," Sora said eventually, once again sounding numb and distant. "I don't know if there's anything I can do. I can't make it leave, I can't make it stop. I don't even know what it's thinking. It's just... there."
"You could tell someone," Riku suggested. "Besides me, I mean. There's gotta be someone who can help. This is the Elemental Metropolis for fuck sake, there's always someone who knows."
"And then what? Let it kill them instead of letting them get rid of it?"
"We don't know that's what it'll do. Maybe if you'd let me try and do something to help you..."
"Then it might go for you next," Sora said. "I don't want it to start going for my friends."
"If I don't tell you what I find out, it won't know either. I'm not gonna just let this keep happening to you, Sora. The Library's gotta have something."
Sora shook his head, "I already looked. Just before I told you. If there is, it's not on the normal shelves."
"I'll find something, even if I have to raid the library of the principal herself," Riku declared. "Now go wash and get some sleep, and leave the worrying to me. Things will look better in the morning."
"Yeah," Sora said absently. "Maybe."