Chapter 1: A Blackmailing Brat
“It is said that there are five stages of grief…”
“Denial is the first. We become numb in order to survive, because we are not yet strong enough to overcome it.”
“Anger is the second stage. Anger is like an anchor. Allow yourself to feel it. Allow it to cleanse you.”
“Bargaining is the third. You keep thinking “if onlys” and asking “what ifs”. And then−”
−An Akuma is born.
A Blackmailing Brat
“No… it can’t be…”
“W−why?! Why would Leo be an Akuma?”
“He’s my friend! We agreed to protect this city together!”
“How could he possibly−? How the hell could he possibly−?”
“What kind of proof do you have?!”
“You gotta save him! Aren’t you a hero?!”
Officially speaking, yes. Yes, he was a hero, and a hero with a proper licence at that; not that he had actually had a whole lot of choice in the matter, much like he did not seem to have a whole lot of choice as far as this was concerned.
And this, this was just what he didn’t need right now.
He sighed. “Really, Jan? Really?”
On the screen was a boy in an aviator hat, wearing a mischievous smile. “But it worked, didn’t it?” he boasted, pushing up his goggles to show off equally mischievous eyes. “How else was I supposed to get your attention, C2?”
Clutching a highly incriminating photograph in his hand, Allen supposed it was a fair point. Still− “You do realise this is blackmail, right?”
There was not even the slightest bit of hesitation. No shame either for that matter.
Allen supposed he should be proud. Still, those photos− “Fine. Are you home alone?”
No shame. None whatsoever.
It was perfectly reasonable to assume that the Russel family had to have quite a bit of money to its name; the well-kept garden was big enough to be mistaken for a park, and the large fountain in front of the absurdly large and symmetrical mansion did little to contradict such an impression.
Even so, the house itself had always struck him as empty; lacking as far as human presence went. Sure, there was the housekeeper that came by during the day, but other than that, it was empty save for Jan Russel, the boy’s research and a steadily growing number of prototypes.
As a result, certain parts of the mansion were starting to look remarkably much like the lair of a mad scientist, and it was likely not entirely unintentional, given how Jan’s face had lit up when Allen had first commented on it.
“Yeah, yeah, it’s cool, I know. Anyways, I’m gonna head to the kitchen and put on some coffee. You want anything, C2? I think I might have some teabags lying around here somewhere…”
Allen wanted a lot of things, really. The negatives to those photos, among other things. Even so, he declined and waited until Jan had left before stepping any further into the darkness of the lab.
The only illumination was the dim moonlight streaming in from the large windows. But it was no trouble, really, because Allen had excellent night vision, courtesy of years of practice. In fact, he very much preferred the darkness, because being suddenly exposed to the bright lights of Jan’s lab would likely only have added to his emerging migraine.
Migraine aside though, Allen was undeniably curious as to what Jan’s absentee father would have thought of his son converting the larger study into his own private lab. Not that Allen was planning on telling him or anything, but…
The cabinets lining one of the walls, which had previously housed a number of old tomes, now housed an impressive, not to mention alarming, assortment of chemicals.
“I sure hope there’s enough ventilation in here,” Allen muttered, stepping over a bunch of discarded wrenches and journals lying scattered on the floor.
The armchair over by the only remaining original bookshelf looked fairly comfy, but Allen stopped short of it, eyes drawn towards the single picture frame hung on the wall.
Even in the dim light, he easily recognised the people in the picture; two boys, making faces at the camera: the brown-haired and brown-eyed Jan, wearing his signature hat, and a fair-haired, grey-eyed boy in a blue jacket.
“Please… You gotta save him! Aren’t you a hero?!”
Allen reached out, his gloved fingertip almost brushing against the glass before he moved his hand to the side, plucking a notebook from the shelf instead.
The notebook contained neat writing along with sketches of what Allen recognised as a Talisman, a battery-powered barrier generator. It looked like one of the earlier versions, sure, but fact remained that the notebook had about as much business being here as Allen did. In fact, Allen should probably confiscate and destroy it. He wouldn’t though, not now, because like the rest of the books, it was covered in dust, and this fact alone made it very likely that Jan had indeed obeyed Allen’s instructions to stay the Hell away from the research that had put him into the danger that had brought them together in the first place.
And speaking of danger…
Allen shifted his gaze to the side. His faint reflection stared back at him, mask and cowl at all. “What are you doing?” it seemed to ask him, wasn’t that was an absolutely excellent question?
They sat across from one another by the table Jan had seemingly appropriated as his new desk. They could likely have made more comfortable arrangements, but Allen had not really come all this way to chat; he had come all this way to deal with a certain problem.
“Is this all of them?”
Jan grinned and pulled out a thick envelope. “Nope.”
Allen felt like rolling his eyes, but with the mask in the way and his eyes shielded by lenses, it wasn’t as though Jan could see it anyway, even in the light of the small desk lamp. “Is this really how you treat someone who’s saved your life… twice now, at the very least?” Allen asked instead, and the grin only widened.
“Only when they forget my birthday,” Jan responded, making himself more comfortable in the swivel chair. “It’s February 3rd, the same date as every year.”
Really. “I didn’t forget,” Allen explained. “I got caught up in something.”
Jan didn’t seem all too keen on listening though. “I must admit that I was a bit bummed out at first, but I got over it, really,” he said, fanning himself with a few of the photos. “Buuuut, if you really feel bad about it, then there is a good way to make it up to me.”
Really. Of all idiotic− Still− “Would it make these pictures, any copies, and all negatives disappear?”
The response was as delighted as it was quick. “Definitely!”
Right… “Is it illegal?”
There was a dismissive wave at that. “Nah, it’s just a small favour. Knowing you, it should be easy!”
And that sounded decidedly troubling. “Right…”
Jan was positively beaming now. On one hand, it was a great thing that the boy seemed to have made it safely though all five stages of grief, not just stage one, two and three. On the other hand, though− “But no testing.”
“No testing,” Jan affirmed with a nod. “Only a small delivery.”
A delivery. “It’s not some unstable chemical, I hope?” Or drugs for that matter.
“No, no.” Jan shook his head, still with a big smile on his face. “Wanna see?”
Not even waiting for a response, Jan scurried off to rummage through his things, excitement evident in his movements as he pulled out a pair of− “It’s my latest version. I’ve upgraded them a bit since last time.”
Upgraded. “They look small.”
“They’re not for you,” Jan snorted, turning them over in his hands. “They’re for…” he trailed off, looking briefly towards the envelope with the incriminating photographs before averting his eyes in a seemingly bashful manner.
It did not take a genius to connect the dots. Really. “Fine,” Allen agreed, getting to his feet. “I’ll deliver the goods, but only if we purge every single one of these plus negatives beforehand. Deal?”
Jan looked momentarily disappointed. He recovered nearly instantly though. “Deal! Let me just go and get my flamethrower!”
Allen was halfway through a nod by the time the words finally registered. Flamethrower. In the hands of a twelve− No, thirteen-year-old. “Jan, we’re doing it outside. And discreetly!”
“Aw, come on, C2! What’s the point of having a flamethrower if you can’t use it?”
Now wasn’t that a fair question. Still− “Not indoors. Remember that botched chili bomb of yours?”
Simply put, Jan and Allen had history. Or, to be specific, the people with a history were Jan and C2, Allen’s hero alter ego, seeing that they had never actually met outside of work. Mind you, neither Allen nor his alter ego was supposed to be here, but−
“It’s such a damned shame! I worked hard for those photos.”
Allen just hummed slightly in agreement, looking on as Jan crushed the ashes underneath his boot. “Be happy you get to keep a few.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m happy alright.” Jan gave a dismissive wave at that. “And you should be happy that I didn’t take them with a digital camera or anything.”
And Allen was, truly, because digitalised files could end up in dangerous places. “I am happy, especially since you’re not running around looking for trouble anymore.”
Then again, saying that the boy had stopped looking for trouble entirely might just be an exaggeration, because the boy still seemed keen on running around looking for trouble, even if he had stopped running around looking for Akuma.
“Honestly, I’ve learned my lesson; there’s no need to rub it in, because I’m not stupid or anything…” Flamethrower slung across his back, Jan put his hands behind his head, shooting Allen a pointed look. “Besides, considering how I, a thirteen-year-old civilian, managed to snap those pictures with you none the wiser, I’d say you’re the one who hasn’t learned your lessons yet. I mean, I’m a genius and all but still.”
That stung. Still− “If you agree to never bring it up again, then I promise to get you an autograph.”
Jan visibly perked up. “Really?!”
Allen nodded, nearly getting his breath stolen from him as he was tackled and pulled into an unreasonably enthusiastic and slightly awkward hug. Because flamethrower, that’s why.
“You’re my hero, C2! The best hero ever!”
The best? Eh…
Coming to think of it, what were heroes supposed to be anyway?
Even after meeting many and venturing down the path himself, Allen had no clear image of what a true hero really was. Or, to be completely honest, he had started out with a general idea in regards to what heroes were supposed to be and had been forced to adapt his definitions over time.
Heroes were supposed to save the day, defeat villains and always win at the very end. They were supposed to be the good guys, but−
But sometimes, they were arseholes; some were even arseholes more often than not.
Case in point: Judgement.
If Allen were to summarise his old mentor in a basic profile, then it would have gone something along the following lines:
Name: Cross Marian
Class: General (Pain in the Arse)
Nationality: Unknown (from Hell?)
Blood type: AB (allegedly)
Height: 195 cm (ridiculously tall)
Weight: 80 kilos (estimated)
Likes: women, Romanée-Conti, (overindulging, forcing other people to pay off his debts…)
Dislikes: dirty bastards, children (and playing fairly)
Status: AWOL (unconfirmed)
In Allen’s opinion, anyone who had spent more than maybe ten minutes with either Judgement or with his civilian persona ought to be able to tell that the man was a fucking bastard; a bastard with some redeeming qualities, granted, but a bastard nonetheless. But, for some utterly mystifying reason, a lot of people − most of the women, as a matter of fact − failed to see that.
Then again, Allen supposed it was not all that strange; people, especially civilians, seemed capable of turning a blind eye to just about anything. And as for the things they did notice, it was typically posted online in a snap, with little to no consideration of any future repercussions.
As such, Allen had to be very careful about what he said while out wearing the cowl. In fact, he had a habit of not speaking much at all, given how voice recognition software had evolved as of late. Then again, there usually wasn’t a lot of reason to talk, unless he was working with a team or trying to talk some sense into some reckless civilian. Still−
Fans and publicity could make or break a career, and as such, certain things just had to be endured.
“Crown Clown, please give us a comment!”
Technically, it was Crowned Clown, but someone had fucked up when they had put Allen’s personal data into the system and Allen was not the sort to stress over such small details.
What did stress him out a whole lot more however was having about five microphones shoved into his face as soon as he stepped out, because really, he had only just taken out a Level-Two, and reporters were already swarming the scene like sharks drawn in by the scent of blood.
At times like these, Allen was immensely thankful, not just for the cowl and the domino, but also for his poker face. Smiling broadly, he tried not to think about how close the lot had come to walking into lingering pockets of poison gas. It was almost as though these people had no sense of self-preservation whatsoever, really. “Yes?”
Logically, he realised he should humour them and all, but−
“Yes,” a female reporter immediately responded, thrusting her microphone even closer to his face. “Where is Judgement, your mentor? What is he doing these days?”
Ideally rotting, but probably just living life, racking up even larger debts. But yeah, that was no longer Allen’s problem, was it? “Sorry, but I cannot provide much information,” Allen said, managing to keep his smile from faltering, even if his eyebrow twitched underneath the mask. “Judgement is currently out on a long-term mission.”
“When will he return?” another reporter prompted while the rest listened intently.
Ideally never, but Allen was by no means naïve enough to believe that. Instead, he just shrugged mildly. “I don’t know,” he offered simply, and his cloak flared around him, causing them all to take a step back. In turn, this allowed him just enough room to make his escape. “Goodnight.”
Allen shot out his threads and then flew off, not really bothering to look back. They called after him, sure, demanding additional info and all that. But Allen had already humoured them about as much as he had to, which left him free to make his escape from their voices and prying eyes. Because really, Allen didn’t get paid enough to deal with this shit.
Taking down Akuma and villains was fine for the most part, but dealing with the public and dealing with journalists and all that bureaucracy was just− No, actually, dealing with all that would have been bearable, had it not been for that damned womanising debt-making bastard of a−
“Focus,” he quietly reminded himself as he got ready to leap from one rooftop to the next. “You’re still on call…”
Yes, but only for another two to three hours or so, and after that, he could head back home. Heck, if he was lucky, then he might even catch two or more hours of sleep, after eating and showering. But it was okay, as long as it was not too often. Or rather, it would have been okay, if not for one, tiny little detail.
“Honestly, I specifically asked for weekends, and where do they put me? Wednesdays! Freaking Wednesdays…”
Allen had a bunch of reasons to dislike his current schedule, even if he could technically understand why they had put him down for the Wednesday shift as opposed to the weekend; they likely wanted to allow him some additional time to recover after all the crap that had gone down. Because nothing major ever happened on Wednesdays; it had the only graveyard shift that was actually fairly dead. There was some Akuma activity, sure, but rarely anything that required more than one, maybe two people on duty.
They had obviously thought of him when they had set the schedule for the patrol; Allen knew that and he appreciated it. Still− “Have some bloody consideration for my economy next time, Chief…” he muttered to himself. “Those who don’t work don’t get to eat, but if I don’t get to eat, I can’t work either now, can I?”
Then there was rent of course, due Monday. But after tonight, Allen was fairly confident that he would make it because he had managed to take down five(!) Level-Twos in a single night and singlehandedly at that, which obviously meant that there was a slight bonus headed his way.
Besides, maybe that would show them that he was ready to resume the weekend shifts. Because really, Allen would much rather have been somewhere else, notwithstanding present company of course.
“Tim!” he called out. “We’ll be heading back soon, so don’t stray too far!”
His trusted companion Timcanpy, flying freely tonight, joined him up on the rooftop. The golem had a tendency to hide itself inside the folds of Allen’s cloak, hitching a ride when it felt like it. Allen didn’t exactly mind it though. In fact, he generally preferred it if Timcanpy stayed close, given the golem’s unfortunate habit of getting eaten by stray cats.
Frankly, Allen had a fair idea in regards as to why he had to save Timcanpy from the jaws of felines so damned often; Timcanpy’s tail and flapping wings made him look like a cross in-between golden golf ball and a fat canary, and the former aside, the latter simply begged to be eaten.
Still, Timcanpy was Allen’s friend, knew how to keep secrets and was just about the only good thing that had ever been created by Cross Marian. Well, in Allen’s humble opinion at least.
“Tim, still got the package?”
Timcanpy gave the golem equivalent of a thumbs-up. Allen nodded before turning his eyes to the surrounding landscape.
By now, he had dealt with all the Akuma within a five-kilometre radius of his current position; he had basically managed to clear out all the central parts of the town, which was not a bad result, not a bad result at all. Still−
A sudden ping brought his thoughts to a standstill, and he quickly stuck a hand inside his pocket. He retrieved his earring communicator and clipped it in place, cursing internally that he had forgotten about it again. “C2 reporting in. Five Level-Twos taken down, no Akuma within a five-kilometre radius of my current position.”
Some static followed his statement, but it was very brief. Still, it made Allen wonder whether or not he should find an alternate solution to letting Timcanpy eat the communicator whenever Allen needed to talk to people without the risk of someone listening in.
“Good work, C2. We expect your full report in the morning.”
Ugh. Paperwork. “Roger that. C2 out.”
A Sleepless Night
Allen woke up in a cold sweat, head and heart both pounding furiously. ‘Not this again,’ was the only thing he thought while making a beeline for the bathroom. Fortunately, he did manage to stave off the nausea just long enough. Once he had reached his goal though, there was little stopping it.
Allen stayed in there for a good number of minutes, way past the point where he had any food remaining in his stomach. It was such a waste, really. Such a damned−
His vision blurred, tears welling up in his eyes. He blinked them away, uncaring of how they ran down his cheeks. Then he closed his eyes, leaning his head back against the wall, willing the tears to stop, because he would rather not deal with a stuffy nose right now on top of everything else.
Distantly, he became aware of rapid wingbeats; they were irritated at first, then worried. “I’m fine, Tim,” he murmured, keeping his eyes closed and his head tilted back. “I’ll be fine in just a minute.”
Maybe five. Maybe ten. Maybe fifteen. Maybe twenty. Maybe−
His leaden head fell forward and he clutched his head, digging his fingers into sweaty and dishevelled white hair; he should probably go and take a shower or something, seeing that he was already in the bathroom and all. “Get a grip,” he urged himself. “Don’t forget why you became a hero. Don’t forget why you− Don’t−”
‘Destroy them,’ something inside of him urged. ‘Save them.’
The quiet voice kept insisting, even as he got up, washed his face, rinsed his mouth and dragged his arse back to bed. Some part of him wanted nothing more than to indulge it, to head back out into the night to hunt and hunt and hunt. Another, more sensible part of him realised that he would only wear himself out that way, and once he had crashed and burned, then he wouldn’t be able to help anyone. And then−
He closed his eyes, starting to fade back out again. It took a few minutes, sure, but he was finally beginning to doze off. But then− “Oh, for fuck’s sake!”
Allen flung his hand out, grabbing the buzzing phone from the nearby windowsill. The screen was much too bright, bright enough to be actively hurtful to his eyes. As such, Allen did not bother squinting at the screen to check the caller ID. Because this was his burner phone, so it could really only be a handful of people calling him anyway.
“Yo, off your shift yet, Cheating Boy A?”
And there was but a single guy who ever called him that. That guy. “For fuck’s sake, you’re not calling me at−” Allen squinted at the screen just long enough to make out the time. “−Five a.m. to ask about that.”
The response was entirely too cheerful, entirely too carefree. “You’re normally up around this time anyway. So, are you off your shift or what?”
Oh, for the love of− “I already told you that I wasn’t gonna show up.”
“You did? When?”
Having absolutely zero patience to deal with this kind of shit, Allen just scoffed and ended the call.
But obviously, the phone began buzzing again in a matter of seconds, because that guy didn’t know when to quit, really.
Allen found himself torn in-between a surfacing urge to 1) throw the phone across the room, 2) drop it into the glass of water or 3) politely ask Timcanpy to just suck on it for a while. Fortunately, a more sensible part of him argued that he should not intentionally damage his burner phone; lord knows he had already managed to do so by accident more than a few times already. Had it not been the old, sturdy type of phone, then it would likely not have survived that fall from a skyscraper back in March. That said, Allen should probably buy himself a new one. At some point. “Go fuck yourself, Tyki.”
Rude? Rude? “Die.”
“It sure sounds like someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed…”
Really. “I woke up on the wrong side of six a.m. The least you can do is make this worthwhile.”
Chapter 2: A Phantom Thief
Illustrations by Ennael.
A Phantom Thief
“You stole the crown jewels.”
“You stole. The crown jewels.”
“Are you insane?”
“But they looked so pretty and expensive and− I couldn’t help it!”
“Oh, for the love of−Put them back!”
“Huh?! Why would I put them back?! They weren’t that easy to steal!”
“They wouldn’t be that easy to sell either, even on the black market. Now, which part of ‘Lie low’ eludes you?”
“But I need the money!”
“Who doesn’t need money? That doesn’t mean I go around stealing people’s bodies to make it off with some country’s crown jewels!”
“That’s easy for you to say. You’ve got a steady income!”
“My income barely even covers half my living expenses! Don’t make it sound like I never have to struggle to make ends meet!”
“Look, I know you’ve got a lot of shit to deal with, but you’re not the only one who’s dealing with a lot of shit right now…”
“…Fine, it was stupid. But we really need the money! It’s a matter of life and death!”
“How much do you need?”
“…You’re gonna help me? But you’re a−?”
Phantom Thief G startled, panicking for a second before finally placing the voice. “Oh, it’s you. Fucking scared me, man!”
As per usual, Crown(ed) Clown wasted little time in getting to the point. “What did you steal this time around?”
G, or Timothy out of costume, did his best not to fidget nervously. “Nothing big, I promise!”
There was a disbelieving snort at that. “The last time I heard you say that, you−”
“−Stole those crown jewels. Yeah, big mistake. Won’t be doing that again.”
The mild exasperation turned to amusement, evident in the upturn of the lips. “Better not. You nearly got skewed last time around.”
Yeah that. Timothy kicked back and tilted his head back as well. “Ugh, don’t remind me. I still have nightmares about that.”
Yes, and fairly vivid ones at that. Heck, he was traumatised to the decree that he would freeze up in fear whenever certain heroes showed up in news segments. And it was especially bad, because Emilia was totally into that crazy swordsman.
“You do realise he’s supposed to be on duty tonight, right?” C2 offered, innocuously.
Shit. “Which district?”
There was an annoyingly casual shrug at that. “Dunno. Better be careful on your way home though.”
Ugh. “Things were so much easier before this.”
That got him a slight look, alongside an “Easier for you, maybe.”
Yeah… “Yeah, yeah, I get it! No more possessing unwitting victims. That was the deal, right?”
C2 quirked an eyebrow; even with the mask in place, Timothy could tell. “More or less. But I did tell you to choose your targets a bit more carefully, right?”
Well… “I’m trying, okay? But I’m pushed to my limits as is because I can’t go for targets outside of town. Or maybe I could, but it wouldn’t be easy…”
C2 let out a slight hum at that.
Their conversation lapsed into a brief period of silence. It was not uncomfortable per se, because while C2 did not necessarily approve of Timothy’s nightly escapades as the Phantom Thief G, the hero had always been willing to give Timothy pointers on which locations, people and organisations Timothy ought to avoid. On top of not arresting him, that is.
Heck, things went even farther than that; they even knew each other out of costume, given how C2 had managed to track Timothy down and decided not to inform his superiors about it. At first, Timothy had thought it was pretty weird. He had gotten over it fairly quickly though.
“What about M?”
M? Timothy raked his mind, trying to remember which of their acquaintances had been assigned the codename M. “Ah.” Emilia. Right. “She’d obviously kill me if she found out.”
“I don’t think she’d kill you,” C2 commented.
Timothy snorted. “You said the same thing about Dark Boots, and she very nearly−”
“DB is friendly, as long as you stay on her good side,” C2 interrupted, grinning now. “Copping a feel is not the way into her heart. If anything, I’d say it’s a pretty sure-fire way to get her to stomp on you.”
Well… “You could have told me that earlier!”
There was another shrug at that. “I assumed that you’d already been taught to respect other people’s bodily autonomy. Guess I shouldn’t have.”
Timothy scoffed. “Not that DB isn’t hot or anything, but I was just trying to possess her!”
C2 tilted his head slightly at that. “…I get what you mean, but you do realise how that sounds, right?” he said at last.
Timothy’s eyebrows furrowed slightly, and he raked his mind, trying to figure out what C2 could possibly mean.
“Never mind,” C2 said, giving Timothy’s head an affectionate pat. “As long as you don’t do it again.”
Tch, as if. “I don’t have a death wish.”
“Are you sure about that?”
Really. “I could ask the same of you, hero.”
Whatever reaction Timothy might have expected, the hero’s posture slumping definitely wasn’t it. The words that followed most certainly took the cake however.
“I’m starting to think that I might not be cut out for it, to be completely honest,” C2 sighed. “Heroics, that is.”
Bullshit. “That’s not true.”
“How so?” C2 sounded genuinely surprised. What the Hell?
“Because you’ve got a people saving complex the size of this entire city,” Timothy snapped, and he wasn’t done with only that. “You want to save everyone, even the bad guys, even if it means breaking the rules, or even yourself. If you aren’t cut out to be a hero, no one is.”
There was a surprised blink at that; even with the lenses and mask in the way, Timothy could tell.
“That wasn’t a damned compliment,” Timothy deadpanned, because really. “If you weren’t so damned busy saving people, I’d let you be my sidekick.”
“Your sidekick?” C2 repeated, sounding not just surprised but incredulous now. “Sidekick?” he repeated further, as if not truly believing his own ears.
And maybe Timothy’s offer had been just a tad too arrogant, all things considered. “Partner-in-crime, then. I mean, it’s not like your morals aren’t flexible as long as it’s only hurting the rich people’s pockets.”
“Fair point,” C2 agreed. “Still−”
Still, Timothy knew well that C2 wouldn’t rise to take the bait, because C2 was far too noble for that, and just like Timothy knew that, C2 knew that Timothy knew that. “So…”
“So?” C2 repeated, head tilted slightly.
“Are you here to steal back the goods or what?” Timothy asked at last, holding up his haul, because the question needed to be asked at some point.
C2’s gaze rested briefly on the ruby-studded necklace before turning back to the cityscape. “Did you take it from the Third District?” he asked at last, and as Timothy shook his head, added “Then no, I’m not going to ask.”
On one hand, Timothy wondered if there was something particular about the Third District. On the other though… Nah, it didn’t matter. Probably. “Why are you out here then?”
“I have something for you,” C2 said, retrieving the golem that had up until then been sitting quietly on top of his head. “Tim.”
Timothy stiffened voluntarily, even while knowing C2 was addressing the golem, not him. He said nothing about it though, much like he didn’t say anything when the golem, which had up until then been just slightly bigger than a golf ball, suddenly began expanding, doubling and then tripling in size.
Magic, Timothy thought as the golem opened up its mouth, revealing a maw that looked disturbingly much like an actual mouth; it had teeth, a tongue and everything, and from somewhere inside the void, it coughed up a box of all things.
“My birthday’s next week; you do know that, right?” His voice sounded strange, a lot quieter than intended. If C2 noticed though, then he did not comment on it.
“I know that, but your number one fan doesn’t,” C2 commented at last. “I considered giving you this next week, but the last time I attempted to give a birthday present on time, I was attacked by a villain and got hurt so bad I got hospitalised.”
Timothy didn’t ask or comment, but was it tempting? Sure.
Instead, he gingerly took the package, wondering what the heck C2 had meant by his number one fan; Timothy was a thief, a criminal, and− Then he saw the attached note. “I like your style. I hope these are the right size. Regards, Jr.?” he read aloud, looking up at C2 in confusion.
“Open it and see for yourself,” C2 offered with a shrug, putting the shrunken Timcanpy back onto his head.
Timothy didn’t need to be told twice.
It was a pair of roller skates, looking remarkably similar to the ones that had been wrecked earlier, back when that long-haired bastard had− “How?”
C2 gave a somewhat dismissive wave at that. “I know a mad scientist with resources and limited adult supervision. Tell me if you find something to complain about, and I’ll let him know what to work on. Also, he wanted an autograph, so…”
Timothy blinked, brain taking a few moments to catch up. “An autograph? My autograph? But I’m not a−”
“Jr. loves science and mischief and hates authority,” C2 noted, pulling out a pen and a piece of paper. “If you want more gadgets, then I’m sure he’d be more than happy to help you out.”
Huh? “C2, you do realise helping me out isn’t… you know?”
C2 gave a mild shrug at that. “You said it yourself, didn’t you? That I have a massive people saving complex and don’t mind bending a few rules here and there.”
Well, technically Timothy had said ‘breaking’, not ‘bending’, but sure, ‘bending’ did sound a lot better, even if it was likely that C2’s actions probably exceeded what could be considered ‘bending’.
“If you had been stealing only for the kicks, then I would have stopped you,” C2 commented, looking out over the cityscape while Timothy struggled to put down a cool-looking signature onto the paper. “But you’re not, so here we are. Besides−”
Timothy stilled, lifting his gaze as he picked up on the slight change in tone.
“−You’re running around all on your own, with little to no support, G,” C2 elaborated, shooting him a somewhat pointed look. “If something were to happen, I’d feel guilty.”
Months ago, Timothy would have likely bristled, because no one had asked C2 to become his minder. Now, a tiny bit wiser, he could definitely appreciate it, at least to a certain degree, because whereas he had people looking out for him during the daytime, there was no one looking out for him at night. No one except C2, and that was only from time to time. “You shouldn’t,” Timothy muttered. “But I do try to be careful because I don’t want to cause trouble. I mean, if I got caught−”
He didn’t finish the statement, because the scenario had certainly occurred to him, even if he generally preferred not to think of it, ever. But− He put the finishing touches on the signature and folded the paper. “C2, do you ever think about… about what would happen if you got−?”
“If I got unmasked?” C2 sighed, vanishing the pen and piece of paper back into his pockets. “Sure.”
Timothy sensed that there was a whole lot contained in that statement but was unsure of whether or not he should pry. On the other hand, he was still a kid, and being nosy was− “Has any villain ever−?”
C2 gave a dismissive wave at that, seemingly unconcerned. Even so, because Timothy had spent so much time in C2’s presence, he could tell that it was forced.
“I’ve had a few close calls,” C2 finally admitted, getting back to his feet. “But enough about that. Stay safe and out of the Third District. And, if you happen to spot someone with greyish skin and yellow eyes walking around at night, keep your head down. Unless they’re walking towards you of course, because then you should run like Hell and hope they don’t follow.”
C2’s smile was stiff, obviously forced, and Timothy swallowed, knowing there had to be a good reason for such a warning. “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.”
Encounter in the Laundry Room
It was Thursday morning, roughly one week after the whole blackmailing incident and six days post-delivery.
Allen Walker, aged sixteen, was not having a good day.
As things were, the company certainly didn’t help.
“You bombed your history exam? For reals?”
Allen didn’t feel like dignifying that with a response. It seemed highly redundant after all.
“Gee, if you needed help, then you should’ve just called me. I know I’ve been busy and all, but I haven’t been that busy.”
Allen supposed not. Still− “I had a shift last night. It’s not like I could’ve brought my textbook along.” And he had managed to forget about the exam too, up until the very end of his shift.
“Ouch,” said his companion.
“Yeah, ouch,” Allen agreed, because ouch was just the beginning of it.
“Have you started on your report yet?”
The question gave him a slight pause. “What report?”
A single green eye flickered towards him. “You know… your report?”
Mission report then. “Submitted it last night.”
There was a slight hum at that. “Diligent.”
Allen snorted. “It was three sentences long and I sent it as a text.”
“You’re definitely gonna get chewed out for that,” his companion informed him, as if he was not far beyond the point of giving a damn already.
That said however− “It’s still better than me submitting it on an actual post-it. I mean, have you seen my handwriting?”
“…No, but if it’s anything like your drawings, I can sort of imagine.”
Fair enough. Still− “Like yours is any better.”
“Hey, I can write neatly when I need to. I just generally don’t.”
Yeah. Whatever. “Did you need anything, Lavi? I’m trying to do laundry here.”
The redhead grinned, making no move to make himself less of a hindrance. And he was most certainly a hindrance, because the tumble drier was meant to dry clothes, not serve as a place to sit when there was a number of chairs and stools available. “What? Can’t I just show up for a friendly chat?”
Allen closed his eyes for a brief moment, feeling a headache coming on. “Lavi, I’ve been this close to stabbing someone all day, and at this rate, it’s gonna be you.”
“I don’t think that’d go down so well with the Agency,” Lavi noted, but removed himself nonetheless. “Not to mention the landlord.”
Yeah, right. “I’m sure Kanda would put in a good word for me.”
Yeah, as if, but was it an amusing thought? Sure.
“Threats of violence aside,” Lavi commented, straightening from his slouch. “Chief’s specifically instructed me to bring you back to HQ. Kicking and screaming if needed.”
Allen did not like the sound of that. “Why would he ask you?” he muttered, loading up the drier. “He could have just texted me.”
There was a mild shrug at that. “Isn’t it because we know each other out of costume? Also, because we live in the same apartment building?”
That was fair. Still− “He could have just texted me, or called, instead of sending someone to hunt me down on my day off.”
Lavi Bookman, alias Iron Hammer, let out a slight snort at that. “He has texted you and repeatedly made calls asking you to come in for another check-up about five times already. Even Chief’s patience has its limits.”
Check-ups. Ugh. “It’s a waste of time. I’m healed, I’m working and I’m sure as heck not going back after what happened last time.”
Lavi paused briefly, taking a moment to process the statement before his grin returned with full force. “I’m sure DB wouldn’t mind playing your knight in shining armour again, you know? According to my info, she spent at least two minutes staring at your sleeping face.”
Yeah, and that was part of the problem, really. A significant part of it, as a matter of fact.
Allen might have had a lot of opinions as far as his “mentor” was concerned, many of them negative. However, in time, he had actually come to regard his years under Cross’ tutelage in a somewhat new light. Sure, the training had been harsh and dangerous, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and all that. Besides, being with Cross had taught Allen much about the profession; the ins and outs, the ups and downs, and in addition to that, the fact that hero identities were kept secret for a reason; several reasons, as a matter of fact.
This was the reason as to why Allen, when registering with the Agency, had put such effort into them leaving his civilian name off the record.
Many others hadn’t, and recent events had shown what a bad idea that could be.
Having your name and face on record was bad, especially if said record also included your hero identity and all that.
Up until the last eight months or so, heroes getting killed had been a fairly rare occurrence. Sure, a few had gotten unlucky while fighting Akuma and others had managed to get themselves killed in surprisingly normal ways, but overall, deaths, especially on duty, had been close to non-existent.
So, the events of the last couple of months had certainly shaken things up a bit, starting with the Agency’s information and registration policies.
They had also made Allen a whole lot more aware of the hazards of working as a hero. Because sometimes, if you were unlucky, you might get attacked by a murderous superpowered villain. And, if you were really unlucky, said villain, who could now also be titled the Hero Killer, might become fixated upon you.
Luckily, the Hero Killer had scarcely made an appearance since that rather close call back in February. Of course, that was not to say that there had been no activity whatsoever; the Agency had a nasty habit of covering things up for fear that it might spread panic amongst the general public.
One of those heavily restricted pieces of info that the Agency refused to part with was on the creation of Akuma. Thus, Allen had been and was still breaking quite a number of rules in not reporting Jan to his superiors. However, to be fair, Allen had his reasons; proper protocol demanded that civilians who had gained access to restricted information had to have their memories wiped, and Allen scarcely dared to think about what kind of mental damage that could potentially cause, especially to someone that young.
“So?” Lavi said, looking at him expectantly. “Are you coming or what?”
Allen heaved a heavy sigh. “Yeah, yeah, might as well get it over with. Let me just go up and fetch my jacket.”
CBA: Something came up. Shouldn’t take too long, but I won’t bring my phone. I’ll text you when I get back.
TM: ＼（＠ ￣ ∇ ￣ ＠） ／
CBA: Fucking stop that.
Chapter 3: A Freaking Fandom
Illustration by Ennael.
A Freaking Fandom
As previously mentioned, Allen did not particularly like being saddled with the Wednesday night shift. Sure, it was fairly calm and as long as you did not fuck up, there was but a minimal risk to life and limb. But, as previously established, the lack of incidents to resolve caused an entirely different type of stress from the type experienced by those running the weekend shift. The latter sometimes had to struggle to destroy all Akuma in their assigned area, whereas Allen, on the Wednesday shift, sometimes had to struggle to even fill even his basic quota. And that was really saying something, because Allen was better equipped to track down Akuma than a lot of his fellow heroes.
That said of course, even with his skill at tracking, Allen had to struggle more than many others, because the pay-out per Akuma was only so-so and though Allen’s rent was moderately cheap, his food expenses was another matter altogether.
As a result, Allen had been forced to find alternative means of making ends meet. And, partly due to the low pay, Allen had opted out of finding a part-time job at some restaurant, gas station or fast-food joint in favour of pursuing alternate, not entirely legal alternatives.
Allen had first stumbled into the Devil’s Nest, a bar in the Third District, back when he had only just arrived in town. And since he had liked it enough, he had kept coming back, sporadically at first and then more regularly.
As a result, Allen had come to develop a fairly civil and at times even amiable relationship with a few of the bar’s patrons.
Developing this kind of relationship with mobsters and other criminals had never been part of the plan, but Allen had never seen it as very much of a hindrance either; combatting regular criminal activity fell under the police’s jurisdiction, not the Agency’s.
Granted, the Agency could dispatch people if needed, but from what Allen had come to understand, the higherups within the police force preferred minimal contact between the police and heroes. One of them, Inspector Galmar, if Allen was not completely mistaken, had uttered something to the nature of leaving the freaks to the freaks and the regular criminals to the police. Sensible, albeit a tad hypocritical, considering just how fiercely the man and his underlings had hunted for Phantom Thief G instead of just asking the Agency for assistance.
If they had, then G would no doubt have been caught, possibly even before Allen ever got to him.
At times, Allen wondered if it would not have been for the best, seeing as to how it would have prevented young Timothy from putting himself at risk the way he did now. Still−
It was way too late to second-guess his own decisions at this point. What was done had been done, and Allen was not about to sell Timothy out at this point. But anyways−
“C2 reporting in. I’m detecting an unusually high concentration of Akuma over at the Central Station. Ten−No, fifteen Level Twos. Permission to engage?”
“Denied. Wait for backup.”
Yeah, maybe fifteen was a bit too excessive, even for him. “Okay. Permission to relocate to the Central Station roof?”
−Still, it seemed as though Allen might actually have another bonus headed his way.
Backup proved to be none other than DB, Dark Boots.
Allen saw no problem with that; the two of them worked reasonably well together. There was but a single drawback however.
“Oh my God! It’s Dark Boots!”
“I love you, DB! Give them Hell!”
“Aaaah, I can’t believe this! We have to stream this!”
“Who’s that other guy? Some newbie?”
“Idiot! That’s C2, Crown Freaking Clown! Aaaah, I can’t believe I get to see this with my own two−”
Focus, Allen reminded himself. Think about the bonus.
See, Allen had yet another problem with overeager spectators, be they reporters or fans; they often got way too close, simply because they wanted a better shot. Nevertheless− “Are you all right, miss?”
The teenage girl he had just saved from being mauled just blinked up at him and his extended hand, far too dazed to experience any fear. Then, her eyes widened, her face reddened and her mouth fell open, and her lower lip trembled. For a moment, Allen believed she was about to start wailing, but then− she reached out, grabbed his hand and shook it vigorously.
“Oh, my God! C2, I’m−”
Allen tore his hand from her grip just in time to strike down the Akuma sneaking up on him. Then, with no immediate threats coming his way and DB dealing with the situation on her end, Allen turned back to the girl, holding out his hand again. “Could I have my glove back, please?”
She gave it back, albeit somewhat reluctantly, and as their fingertips brushed briefly against one another in the exchange, she actually squealed. “I’m never washing my hands again!” she professed just as Allen took off to deal with the remaining Akuma.
Gross, Allen thought, because that would be seriously unhygienic.
“Oh my God!” someone else shouted from farther away. “It’s Mugen!”
Well, that was just fucking great. Just fan-fucking-tastic.
While Allen retained an amiable, or at the very least civil, relationship with most of his colleagues at the Agency, there were a few exceptions. Mugen, or Kanda, was among them.
One might say that the two of them had started off on the wrong foot − or to be specific, with Kanda opting to go ‘attack first, ask questions never’ on Allen, who had only really jumped into the fray to save a policewoman from being skewered after she had tried to shield her partner, who was in fact an Akuma wearing said partner’s skin.
Yeah, that whole incident had held a great deal of potential to escalate into a public disaster, and it likely would have, had there not been a very suitable scapegoat available.
In the end, the Agency had erased some memories and blamed it all on an errant vigilante (aka Claw, aka Allen Walker) and put him down for an extended probation period, which was the Agency equivalent of an unpaid internship.
So yeah, it was fair to say that Kanda and Allen did not exactly see eye to eye. For one thing, Kanda was the taller one, and even if he hadn’t been, Allen had no doubt that the guy would still be looking down upon him, him alongside just about everyone else.
That said, their working relationship (to the extent that it could even be called such) had improved over time, once Kanda had been forced to admit that maybe, just maybe, the hero newbie had graduated from the point of ‘not quite useless’ to ‘an actual asset’.
Of course, a lot of things had happened since that point in time, and their relationship, working or personal, had never quite been the same since that point around Christmas, when a gleeful Lavi had shown up bearing that.
Allen had only really had a quick look at it, but even to this day, he could recall the images, the illustrations, in such vivid detail that he still wondered if it would not be worth drinking that memory-erasing potion in order to wipe away all his memories of that.
“They’re calling it ‘Clownight’,” Lavi had said, winking. “The fan club has tripled in size since those pics got out. The people over at the publicity department are considering making official posters.”
After that, Allen had made a conscious effort to minimise, even completely avoid contact with Kanda, in costume or outside of it, and the man had obviously had no issues in doing the same. It was debatable which of them actually had it worse though; Kanda was the rare sort of hero that did not bother wearing a mask, seeing that it was his full-time job and that he seemed to have next to no life outside of it. Well, no social life at any rate. Thus, Kanda could never know when he would be confronted by someone bearing one of these fanzines, or for that matter fangirls (and -boys) who desperately wanted to know intimate details about their (mostly non-existent) relationship.
Initially, they had both lived under the delusion that it would all die down eventually, especially so after Kanda had been sent out on some long-term mission abroad. But alas, they had been naïve enough to believe that something as trivial as reality would stand in the way of those shipping ‘Clownight’.
Allegedly, the fanzines were now full of stories of secret rendezvous in various settings and with various… ratings. Lavi had even offered to put in a subscription for him, to which Allen had, equally generously, offered to let it slip to some reporter that Iron Hammer was totally into bondage… among other things.
Granted, things had cooled down after that. Well, more or less. Allen might not have been paying attention; there had been a bloody serial killer after him and all that.
Now, Allen feared that there would be yet another surge in fan productions, simply because Kanda did not have the sense to continue staying away.
“Oy, Moyashi! Stop spacing out!”
Allen resisted a sudden urge to flip him the bird, because Allen would rather not explain that picture to the branch chief in the morning if he could avoid it. That said− “Mugen, you dumped me, remember? Besides, calling people pet names on the job isn’t exactly professional, so…”
Allen took exactly one moment to marvel at the absolutely gobsmacked look on Kanda’s face before making his getaway, flying over an equally gobsmacked crowd. It felt good to be alive, but for now, Allen had to move very quickly if he wanted to stay that way.
An unusually thick morning newspaper landed in front of him, dropped there by Branch Chief Komui Lee himself. “Allen,” he said, in a tone that clearly asked ‘why?’.
Allen really did not see the point of the newspaper though, not for anything beyond dramatic effect at least. Besides, the medium really did not do the events justice; there was social media for that.
And, while Allen himself had no such accounts, Lavi most certainly did, and Allen had scarcely even had time to roll out of bed before the guy had tumbled inside his apartment with the look of a child who had just been told Christmas had come early.
As such, Allen had munched on some cereal while Lavi had excitedly shown him just what the Internet, alongside the fandom, was making of the previous night’s events.
There had been edited gifs, wailing fans, cheering fans, and for some reason, tonnes of captioned imagery.
And, to make matters even better (or worse, depending on the perspective), social media had it that someone dressed up in a clown costume had actually, legit, managed to smack Kanda in the face with an actual cream pie just fifteen minutes prior to Allen stepping through the doors to the Agency’s HQ. Allen only really knew that because he had passed by some Finders on the way in and they had been more than eager to share the latest developments with just about anyone willing to listen.
In any case, Kanda must really be losing his touch, and Lavi would never ever let him live this down. In turn, Kanda was unlikely to let the culprit live at all if he ever caught them; in the clip, Noel Organon, a fellow hero, had obviously been the only person standing in-between Kanda’s temper and a public disaster of unimaginable proportions.
In hindsight, Allen might actually feel a tiny bit bad about it all, but still. “Did you really call me here just so you could yell at me for that?”
Komui actually heaved a sigh. “Hardly. I called you here to discuss something.”
That could mean very good things or very bad ones. “Okay…?”
Komui opened one of the drawers on his desk and retrieved a clipboard. “The final results are in,” he said, levelling him with a serious look. “With the addition of my signature, you’d be considered fit enough to be reinstated to the weekend shift.”
Allen sensed a catch, or a few. “Buuuut?”
“But I wanted to have a chat with you first to hear what you think about the matter,” Komui finished, continuing to level him with a decidedly serious look. “Barring your latest check-up, you have not exactly been around much.”
Yeah, and they both knew that there were excellent reasons for that. In any case− “Weekend shifts are great.”
“Financially speaking or otherwise as well?” Komui questioned, a hint of amusement in his voice.
“Take your pick.” Allen shrugged, not bothering to elaborate. Because his reasons weren’t the Agency’s business anyhow.
“Well,” Komui commented, fingers steepled. “It is true that your grades have dropped since we put you down for Wednesdays.”
Allen made a slight face at that. On the other hand, what the heck had they been expecting? While the Wednesday shift was typically pretty dead, it still meant that Allen had to stay awake for almost the entire night and still get up for school in the morning.
By normal standards, such arrangements were hardly legal. Heck, Allen knew for a fact that they probably weren’t.
Allen looked up, catching a glimpse of a frown before it was smoothed out and replaced by a much friendlier look. “What?” Allen simply asked, because unlike some, Komui did not take offence to a somewhat casual response.
Komui’s expression remained open but morphed into something sombre. “Allen, you’ve had a rough couple of months, and you’re only sixteen. I know what you want and I know that we need all the helping hands we can get for the weekend shifts, but I don’t want you to feel pressured to take on more than you can handle. If you would just agree to take Friday nights, that would be plenty.”
“If you’d let me drop out of school, then I could easily do four nights a week, maybe even five,” Allen immediately countered, because he could handle the shifts; it was everything else that was the problem. Well, almost everything. Heck, Allen could probably handle seven nights a week, provided he had no other obligations to deal with.
Komui let out a heavy sigh. “Allen, I’m not saying that you’re bad at what you do; you’re one of our best operatives, and I think that you should know that. But…”
“Are you sure you’re doing okay? You look like you haven’t slept well lately.”
Really. “Chief, have you looked in a mirror lately? I could say the same thing about you.”
“I’ve had a rough night,” Komui smiled, in a way that clearly omitted ‘thanks to you’.
“Right,” Allen said. “I apologise for adding to your workload, but in my defence, Kanda should really stop calling me ‘Moyashi’ and stuff in public. I’d say people might get ideas, but they already have them.”
Again, Komui sighed. “I will talk to him,” he promised, picking up a pen to sign off on the document attached to the clipboard before holding it out to Allen. “In the meantime, my advice is for you to lie low, especially this weekend.”
Allen accepted the clipboard, quickly skimming through the report. “I can try,” he said. “But I also have to eat.”
“You do realise that you could come and eat in the cafeteria, right? I’m fairly sure you’d only need to ask to get a massive discount.”
Yes, because the head chef liked him. Still− “Kanda likes to eat in the cafeteria,” Allen pointed out.
Komui blinked. “Right, I forgot,” he said at last. “Let’s do it like this then−” He pulled a paper from the pile on his desk, checking to see if it contained anything important before pushing it over to Allen. “Make a list. I’ll have J make a week’s worth of food for you, so that you can just take it home. Strictly off the record, of course. If anyone asks, tell them I’m having you do food deliveries as a punishment for last night’s events. How does that sound?”
It sounded like an offer that was just a bit too charitable not to contain at least one catch. “It sounds great,” Allen commented, already scribbling a few things down. “But who’s paying for it?”
“I’ll put it down on Cross’ tab,” Komui answered easily.
Allen looked up at him, and for a moment, it was as though a faint halo of light had manifested around the man’s head.
Then he blinked and it was gone, so he just shrugged it off and continued working on the list. “As long as it isn’t mine.”
Chapter 4: A Mixed Bag of Chaos
A Mixed Bag of Chaos
Hey, Red. I heard from Mikk that you’re working weekends again. Hope you’re doing better now. // Boris
Hey, Red. Haven’t seen you around lately. Come down next time. // Darius
Hey, Red. It’s poker night tonight. Don’t miss out. // Carlos
TM: Hey, you coming down or what?
“Oh, Red? Long time, no see.”
Allen just shrugged, keeping his hood up. It had all started out as a bit of a joke, really, from way back when he had first stumbled into the Devil’s Nest, wearing a well-worn and fairly soggy red hoodie.
It had been raining heavily then, much like it did now. But unlike that time, Allen had actually managed to make it here without getting drenched, which was a definite plus.
“Yeah, had to do some overtime, but at least I’m back on my usual shift,” Allen responded, sliding into his usual seat. “My manager likes me, while the rest of the managers and their underlings don’t… But really, they’ve got nothing on the higher-ups, or the customers for that matter.”
“Amen to that,” the bartender said, continuing to clean some glasses. “Just the usual?”
“I need it,” Allen mumbled, leaning heavily unto the table. “I nearly hit my head on the door frame when I came in.”
“So, I noticed,” the bartender commented, voice perfectly bland. “Long weekend?”
Allen buried his face in his hands, vocalising his feelings on the matter with a distinct ‘ugh’. “These two girls kept showing up, taking pictures and shit, and I just had to take it, because customer service and all that.”
For a while, the bartender said nothing, simply bending down to retrieve something from behind the counter. “If they did that much, then you should press charges,” he said at last, looking at Allen from over the counter. “Are you sure you want your usual? That shit isn’t healthy.”
Lifting himself up a bit, Allen gave a somewhat dismissive wave. “It’s that or an espresso, or like three; I feel like I’m gonna drop any minute now. Besides, pressing charges? I’d definitely get fired for that.”
The bartender immediately set to work on grinding some beans. “So, quit then. There are other jobs.”
Allen could not help but quirk an eyebrow at that. “Where? And I’m not gonna take some delivery gig, just so you know. Got bad experiences with that.”
“But Red, you’re still in high school, right?” the bartender commented, not really looking at him. “If you’d just say the word, then I’m sure someone would be happy to sponsor you.”
Someone, possibly even several of them. “I don’t like debts,” Allen said, and that much was true. “And nothing’s ever for free.”
The bartender had nothing to say to that.
For a while, there were no sounds other than those of the rain and of the bartender working. The bar really was dead at this time of the day, which was not really all that strange, seeing as to how it was a really early Sunday morning, and Allen had barely scraped together four solid hours of sleep in-between now and Friday.
Allen’s night shift had ended roughly an hour ago, but he was still too low on energy to take the high route. And since Allen barely even had pocket change on him, this meant that he would have to walk all the way back home in this kind of weather.
Thus, when it had started raining harder and Allen had just so happened to pass by, and seeing that the bar was still open, he had simply decided to go along with it. The fact that this place was apparently open at this odd hour did not scare him away; the odd opening hours was just another fact of life.
But, in hindsight, maybe heading inside had not been his smartest move as of late. Because now that he was in a dry, warm, familiar and relatively comfortable environment, Allen found himself struggling to keep his eyes open.
Heck, Allen had even sent Timcanpy ahead, and−
I’ll just rest for a bit, he thought. Just five more…
His eyes flew back open and he sat up straight, staring first at the glass and then at the one who had brought it along.
“It’s on the house,” the bartender said. “Try it.”
Allen just stared, trying to determine the man’s motives.
It reached the point when the man just heaved a sigh, glancing at the clock. “Time is money, and I was supposed to close up shop more than half an hour ago. Do you need me to call anyone to come and pick you up, Little Red?”
Allen’s eyebrow twitched at the nickname. Little Red Riding Hood; except he had worn a red hoodie, not a riding hood, and he had not been on his way to visit grandma or anything. But yeah, using the name they had given him was better than giving them his own, really. “No need,” he said, reaching for the glass.
In summary, being reinstated to the weekend shift was great. The prospect of having a surplus in his bank account was great. The rest though? Not so much.
Friday had been hectic but all right. Now Saturday on the other hand? Freaking chaos.
“C2! Where are you, C2?! Come on out! C2!”
In hindsight, that stunt he had pulled the other day had been a seriously bad idea.
Because it had brought Crowned Clown’s fans out of the woodwork, and presumably a few vengeful Mugen fans as well.
And fans like these were typically the fanatical kind.
Thus, Allen had sought refuge behind some bulky air-conditioning unit, shrinking down his cloak until it was basically just the cowl covering his head and a bit of his shoulders, before vanishing it altogether and pulling up his hood, putting away both Crowned Clown’s ethereal light and his fairly eye-catching white hair.
Allen still kept his claws though, alongside the mask, because while there did not appear to be any Akuma in the immediate vicinity, they were hardly the only thing to be concerned about.
“C2! Come on! C2!”
In hindsight, Allen had severely underestimated the fandom; his own at any rate.
He must have been really distracted by those multiple assassination attempts.
“Hey, did you check behind the air conditioning unit? I think I heard something!”
Yeah, and that was Allen’s cue to get up and fucking jump, so he did, re-summoning his cloak as soon as he had fallen past the ledge.
“Ah! Oh my God! He’s here! He’s really here!”
And now he’s gone, Allen thought, already mid-swing, headed towards the next building.
“No! C2! Please come back!”
“Come back or I’ll−”
Nope, nope, nope, nope.
With some speed and acrobatic manoeuvres, Allen managed to vanish from their line of sight while still staying close just in case that crazy fan really did decide to jump.
Because those things did happen on occasion.
Fortunately, this Saturday was not been one of them, but whether or not his luck would hold up for the rest of the weekend, or for the rest of his career for that matter, remained to be seen.
Sunday… was a mixed bag of chaos. Some of it was good, because Allen had more than filled his quota. Some of it was bad though, because there were even more crazies than usual out tonight, and unfortunately, they were not the kind that could be vanquished or even arrested for that matter. Not by him at any rate.
“I can’t keep working like this,” Allen muttered to Timcanpy while checking the time. “These people are crazy.”
The only good thing about all of this was that his shift was almost over. Almost.
His phone started buzzing suddenly, startling him so much that he nearly dropped it. “So. Fucking. Close,” he hissed, putting it to the side just long enough to hand Timcanpy his communicator.
He took the call without bothering to say anything, seeing as to how he was well aware of just who was on the other end.
“Yo, done with your shift yet? Are you gonna turn up or what?”
Wordlessly, Allen reached up, about to pinch the bridge of his nose before stopping midway through the motion. Because one: There was a mask in the way. Because two: The hand not holding the phone was still adorned with long razor-sharp claws, and Allen had just come astoundingly close to poking himself in the eye with one of them.
“Tyki,” he hissed. “Read your damned texts.”
There was a slight noise of surprise from the other end. “But I don’t recall seeing any…”
Allen frowned, because he was pretty certain he’d− Well, it didn’t matter now, did it? “Right… okay, so maybe I didn’t text you, but no, my shift hasn’t ended yet. And no, after that, I’m heading straight home, because I’ve got classes in the morning.”
There was a noise of disagreement from the other end, but Allen hung up without waiting for the continuation. He had heard it all before after all, because for a bad guy, Tyki was surprisingly insistent upon talking about labour laws, especially those pertaining to minors.
On one hand, Allen could most certainly appreciate the concern. On the other hand, beggars could not be choosers and all that, because even with waived tuition and waived medical fees due to his contract, there was still rent and food expenses and−
With a sigh, Allen slipped the phone back inside his pocket and plucked the earring communicator from Timcanpy’s mouth, clipping it back in place. Then he sat down, willing his hands not to shake as he undid the wrapper of his only remaining energy bar.
Hopefully, there would be no further interruptions, because he was running low on energy as it was.
His phone buzzed again, this time around with a couple of texts, but Allen very pointedly did not check them. Well, not for another five to ten minutes anyway.
‘Look,’ he finally replied. ‘I’m a wreck, and I don’t make good company right now. I’ll text you when I feel a bit more like a human again. OK?’
He pressed send and waited.
About ten seconds later, he received a simple response. “OK.”
No emoticons, ergo it was fair to assume that Tyki was not in such a good mood.
That made two of them.
Unfortunately, the next week showed little sign of being better than the last. In fact, it started out so badly that Allen had to struggle not to give in to the urge to just call Tyki and vent about it. But no, for now, Allen simply had to exercise restraint, and not just in regards to that but also in regards to a whole lot of other things. Because Tyki was a bad guy, and Allen knew for a fact that the Agency would pay close attention to Allen’s performance for the upcoming weeks. Thus, Allen would have to be even more careful than usual, even when he was not on active duty.
But in any case, Tyki Mikk was a bad guy; Allen was not entirely sure how bad, but he was positive that the man was into some shady shit. Some drugs too, probably. At the same time though, Allen was also fairly sure that Tyki was not a bad guy, because while Allen was positive that Tyki was some sort of criminal, the man had always tried to look out for him in his own special kind of way.
A few of the other regulars at the Devil’s Nest were similar, but Tyki had always been just a tad more interested that most. The other patrons had a more standoffish demeanour; satisfied as long as Allen bothered responding to their texts every now and then. Tyki meanwhile texted at least every other day, usually about relatively mundane things or to ask if Allen was coming down to the bar or willing to meet up somewhere else.
It was a strange companionship, to say the very least. But Allen was not about to say no to receiving discount coupons to various restaurants around town. Or to being treated to lunch in exchange for lending a sympathetic ear, especially so when his funds were running low.
In hindsight, a whole lot of their so called ‘relationship’ had been founded upon food; mostly cheap, greasy junk food, but food nonetheless, and it was pretty damned hard not to develop some partiality to a person who kept offering it to you.
That said of course, Allen had definitely been wary at first. Heck, he was still kind of wary of the guy, but it was fairly low-key these days.
Of course, Allen was not about to tell the guy anything truly private about himself, but he could still talk about his life in general terms. The only real lie was that he was working part-time at some fast-food joint; Allen had actually done this at one point, so it was not very hard to fake it, whether he was speaking with Tyki or with the others.
And they were all faking it too, so it was only fair. Or at least they had been faking it at first. These days, Allen was fairly certain that the displays of concern and affection were actually more genuine than the opposite.
The turning point must have been around the time of murder attempt number nine, when Allen had shown up for the weekly poker night with bruises and noticeable limp.
One of the patrons had pulled him aside, putting rough, heavy hands upon his shoulders. It had been kind of cute, really; an unwitting middle-ranked mobster offering to protect and avenge him, as if he could not fight his own battles. It had been quite cute, but futile, because Allen had not been about to point the guy in the Hero Killer’s general direction.
It had also been pretty cute how the lot had effectively forced Allen to input their numbers into his burner phone, and how a few of them had later on taken to sending concerned texts and voice messages whenever Allen failed to show up for the weekly gathering.
But really, Tyki was definitely the most tenacious as far as that was concerned and had become increasingly persistent in recent months. Allen figured that he might have given them all a bit of a scare back in February. Of course, they knew little about his encounter with the Hero Killer; they knew only what Allen had told them, which wasn’t much.
Speaking of which−
“Not this shit again,” Allen thought out loud, because he was so over this, honestly.
He was so over it, personally, but apparently, his subconscious thought differently.
“Just let me sleep, goddammit!” he hissed, clutching his aching head. “Give me nightmares? Fine. But let me sleep first, goddammit!”
Nights, or excruciatingly early mornings like this one, Allen seriously contemplated calling someone, maybe Komui, and telling him to turn up and either knock him out or take him out permanently. Because Komui was the one who had restricted the number of medicines Allen was allowed to take, limiting him to a single brand of painkillers, because none of the others had mixed well with the experimental drugs Allen had been forced to take while recovering from that incident back in February.
February. Yeah. So far, Allen had been dealing with it. And by dealing with it, he had in fact not dealt with it. Or well, he had dealt with the physical aspects of it, but the mental ones? Well, Allen had humoured Komui and the others and talked to some therapist at one point, but he had not found it particularly helpful, so…
So, Allen shuddered, burrowing deeper inside his makeshift cocoon of the covers and extra blankets. It had been about an hour and a half since he had returned from his shift, and he had classes in just a couple of hours. Unfortunately, it seemed as though he would not be able to catch much sleep in-between, because whenever Allen closed his eyes, he saw flashes of that night; the night in-between February 2nd and February 3rd. So, he stared up into the ceiling instead, at the darkness gathered up there.
Gritting his teeth, Allen steeled himself, determined not to lapse into another panic attack. Because he had already had one tonight, and fairly out of the blue at that. He would not report it though, obviously, because if he did, then he would no doubt get pulled from the weekend shift, possibly even from working altogether. And Allen honestly could not take that, financially or mentally; he needed the money to live and if he could not hunt Akuma at all, then he would go stir-crazy in less than a week. Allen knew that for certain; he had already experienced it once after all.
“Tim,” he gasped. “Do you think you could−?”
Knowing what to do, Timcanpy darted off in direction of the bathroom while Allen just lay there, struggling to retain control. And to think positively, because you were supposed to do that, right?
TM: You know…
TM: It’s not a good sign to be forgetting things…
CBA: Tyki, which part of ‘ I’ll text you when I feel a bit more like a human again’ eludes you?
CBA: It means ‘Don’t contact me. I’ll contact you.’ As in ‘Leave me the fuck alone.’ Got it?
TM: Someone’s irritable today.
CBA: Someone hasn’t slept since Monday.
Chapter 5: The Intervention
Illustration by Ennael
And suddenly, it was Wednesday, late evening, and Allen’s head hurt entirely too much to recall much beyond that.
Not the most articulate response, perhaps, but with the situation at hand, and with the head injury, could he really be blamed?
“This is an intervention,” repeated the villain; the freaking Hero Killer was peering down at him from above, because the villain was pretty damned tall and crowding him into the corner of a deserted alleyway.
Allen blinked, but his eyes were hidden by the domino, so his bafflement was only betrayed by the questioning head tilt. After all, this was a villain talking about interventions, shortly after inflicting what was likely a minor concussion at the very least.
“Dude, what kind of drugs are you on? You’ve tried to kill me eighteen times over the last six months.” Yeah, remind the villain about their original mission; not such a bright idea, coming to think of it. In any case− “Look: I don’t know what your deal is, but I have a terrible headache, thanks to you, and−”
A hand slammed against the brick wall, alarmingly close to Allen’s head, and the villain leaned in. “Why are you out here, boy? It’s a weeknight.”
It was, yes, but Allen really failed to see the point. “Who gives a shit if it’s a weeknight? I mean, you’re out here robbing a bank!”
“And you’re barely old enough to drive,” the villain snapped, and Allen’s eyes immediately snapped from the hand next to his head to the villain’s face.
Words spilled over his lips before he could reconsider. Because head injury, that’s why. “How the Hell did you know that?”
For a brief moment, the villain just stared, eyeing him in seeming confusion. Then, the villain produced a card, seemingly out of thin air, and although it was dark, curtesy of the smashed streetlight nearby, Allen saw it just well enough to recognise it; his student ID card. It must’ve fallen out at some point, because he’d been headed back from a long studying session at the library and hadn’t been home in-between that and school. Even so− “It’s not mine,” he blurted out.
The villain gave him another long, considering look. “Boy, I might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I’m nowhere near stupid enough to fall for that. Besides, even without the card, I got a good enough look at your face before to recognise you outside of costume.”
That sounded very bad. Still, fake it until you make it and whatnot. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, really.”
Still, this was bad. Really bad. Really, really−
A gloved fingertip brushed against the side of his face; too close, too close!
“You don’t remember?”
It was difficult to pinpoint the exact point of the Hero Killer’s arrival. In fact, it had been theorised that the Hero Killer might have been around all along.
The only thing that was relatively certain was the kill count, at least as far as heroes went.
The Agency was good at covering things up, but they were not that good. Granted, they had managed to keep most of it from reaching the ears of the public, but as for the people active in the circuit? No.
Besides, information had a tendency to leak, and the Agency could hardly control what the villains themselves said on the matter, could they?
But the villain, the Hero Killer, had never really said anything. Perhaps a few words here and there to the people he killed, but nothing addressed to either the public or the Agency. He had spoken directly to Allen too, back when Allen had come close to being his ninth victim.
Kevin Yeegar, alias Pendulum, had been the first known victim; the first but by no means the last. Three more had followed in quick succession; an entire team of heroes had been taken out, and so quickly that none of them had managed to call for reinforcements.
Allen might not have known the three of them, but he had known Yeegar, having met the man once or twice.
The ageing hero had been nearing ninety years of age and been expected to retire that year, not die in the aftermath of being tortured into madness. Allen had been horrified to learn about it, because even if Yeegar had held the same rank as Allen’s own mentor, Yeegar had been decent, even kind. A teacher, and allegedly a good one at that.
As for victims two, three and four, Allen might not have known them personally, but he was familiar with the mentor of the three; Klaud Nine, alias Tamer. Allegedly, the woman had taken the loss pretty hard. Word had it that she had even cried, and Allen believed it, even if he found it difficult to imagine such a stern-faced woman crying her eyes out. Still, seeing as to how she was also among the women who had not only rejected Cross’ advances but actually called him ‘useless’ to his face, Allen could hardly do anything but respect her, could he?
Then again, there was stern and then there was harsh, and ‘harsh’ was a word that Allen use for Winters Sokalo, another high-ranking hero at the Agency. The man was commonly known as Madness, and it would be pretty safe to say that the name wasn’t for nothing; the guy was not crazy per se, but certainly bloodthirsty and violent enough to have committed many heinous crimes, had he not ended up on the hero side. Then again, if Cross’ pointed insinuations served as any kind of indication, then Winters had probably committed at least a few heinous crimes already.
Hearing about Madness’ words at the funerals of victims five, six and seven, Allen had actually been thankful, almost, that Cross had been his mentor as opposed to some other top-ranking hero, and he had felt a fair bit of sympathy for Claymore, Crossbow and Wind-Bringer for having far worse luck than him.
Allen might not have been around to witness the funeral for himself, but word has it that Madness had actually spat on the coffins and called the trio a bunch of losers. Allen would likely have gone to give the man a piece of his mind, had he not been recovering from open heart surgery at the time.
Just thinking about it made his chest ache; Allen had been lucky, very lucky, to escape with his life and with his limbs (mostly) intact. Daisya Barry, alias Charity Bell, had not been so lucky.
But then, after that fateful night in February, the Hero Killer had begun appearing less and less. Sure, the Hero Killer still appeared, but now, the villain seemed to have zeroed in on Allen in particular, which had brought about the theory that the Hero Killer would resume his regular pattern only after Allen, or rather his hero persona, had been dealt with.
Allen meanwhile had already reconciled himself with the fact that it was probably the latter. And, once his wounds had healed up and all limbs had become reasonably functional again, Allen had mostly reconciled himself with the fact that he was likely being stalked by a superpowered serial killer that possessed a taste for tearing out inner organs. Still−
Still, there was no real guarantee that the villain had opted not to kill anyone else until he had taken out the Crowned Clown, and people who assumed it were lulling themselves into a false sense of security.
Still, the same could probably be said for Allen, given his previous assumption that nothing major, murder attempts included, ever happened on Wednesdays.
In hindsight, it would also seem as though Allen’s feeble hopes that the killer might have been taken out by someone else or choked on a piece of meat or whatever had been awfully optimistic. Any chances that the villain had taken up a hobby or found some alternate ways of satisfying any killing urges also seemed rather slim, but−
There was a sudden bright light shining into his eyes, and it hurt like−
“Hey, hey,” the villain said, using one hand to keep his head still while the other directed the light – the flashlight of a smartphone? – from one eye to the next. “I’m trying to check your pupils here.”
Allen was just about to snap that his pupils were fine when the situation finally occurred to him. He immediately lashed out and managed to slap the phone out of the villain’s hand, barely registering the mildly irritated “Hey!” as he took off.
And he had nearly made it too; Allen made it to the mouth of the alleyway before something shifted around him and everything went completely black.
Allen woke up lying on his side. Going by the feel and the smell, he was still in the alleyway, but he didn’t open his eyes or give any other indication that he had regained consciousness. Because playing dead – or at the very least unconscious – seemed to be the best option, at least for now, until he managed to figure out just how to get the Hell out of this situation.
“Yo, Road. Yeah, it’s me. Yeah, I know, I know, but I’ve been busy. Really.”
The villain was there, crouching down beside him while chatting with someone on the phone.
“If I’m avoiding you? Nah, not you. Sheril maybe…” There was a brief pause at that. Then two fingers came to press against the side of Allen’s throat; Allen felt like he was about to pass out again there for a sec. “Yeah, yeah, but when isn’t he complaining about that? I could’ve gone there yesterday and he’d be complaining just as much.”
The villain was likely just making sure that he hadn’t killed Allen by accident or something. But that wasn’t reassuring; it wasn’t reassuring in the slightest.
“Yeah, separation anxiety; that’s the word. Well, a word for it at any rate. Really though, could you get him to chill? I’m my own man and I still show up for most family reunions. Yeah, most of them; I’ve been keeping count.”
Somehow, Allen managed to pick up on the voice on the other end – young, female, and vaguely familiar somehow – before the villain spoke up once more. “You think I’m that bad at math? Well, maybe you should stop making me do your homework for you then.”
The Hero Killer doing homework. Surreal.
“How I graduated? Take a wild guess.” The fingers retreated, and Allen breathed an inner sigh of relief. “…You know what? Close enough. Still, you better not use those words while he’s around, because as usual, it’d be my fault… Yeah, yeah, whatever. Anyways, I need a favour: Could you open up a Gate for me?”
“Nothing big. Well, not much bigger than usual at any rate. But it’s a bit too big to haul around town, and you’re on Ark duty, so I figured I might as well ask.”
Ark duty? Wait.
“Hey, don’t be like that. It’s not like I’m asking you to help me out for free…”
Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.
Allen opened his eyes, just enough to determine the exact position of his opponent, hoping the other wouldn’t notice.
“Right,” he heard the villain say and knew his time was running out. “We need to cut this short. If you don’t want anything in particular, how about some candy? I just robbed a bank, so… Yeah, twenty should be enough. Yeah−”
Yeah, making a last-minute getaway just about now sounded very good. And, somehow, Allen did manage to not just get to his feet but also move in time to avoid getting caught up in the strange well of darkness that suddenly erupted from beneath the Hero Killer’s feet.
Dodging put his back flat up against the wall, but that was probably for the best, because his balance was fucked. Besides, looking up, there was a roof that he could probably reach.
Mind made up, Allen steeled himself and re-summoned his Innocence. He succeeded, but going by the bout of vertigo that followed, he wouldn’t last long. Hence, all the more reason to hurry the fuck up.
Allen threw his hand out, sending his threads skywards, but then− They were sliced off, and Allen was forced to dodge an oncoming attack from the right. Belatedly, he remembered the strange pool of darkness on the alley’s floor. He remembered it just as he stepped foot in it, and it swallowed him right up.
Falling in was akin to plunging into an icy lake; shockingly cold yet at the same time numbing.
Chapter 6: The Morning After
A Bad Premonition
“…Lenalee? What’s up?”
“I need you to check something for me.”
“You know C2, right? Outside of costume.”
“Yeah, sure. What about it?”
“Could you maybe check and see if he’s okay?”
“…You do realise that he might have just crashed somewhere? Last weekend was apparently pretty hard on him…”
“I know, but I can’t shake this bad feeling I got.”
“…I’ll go get the spare key. Do you wanna stay on the line or should I hang up and call you back later?”
“Iron Hammer. What−?”
“We have a problem. Big problem.”
“C2 never made it home last night.”
“…C2 wasn’t on duty last night.”
“Yeah, but I’m with Timcanpy right now, and he’s led me to this back alley near… yeah, just track my phone, okay? There’s sign of a struggle. A bit of blood too, I’m afraid.”
“Seal off the area. I’ll be down in person.”
The Morning After
There was something wrong, something very wrong. Allen could tell, before he even opened his eyes.
For one thing, he was in a bed, clutching unfamiliar sheets; they felt smooth and cool, like actual silk, entirely unlike the cheap cotton ones at his apartment.
Another thing that put him on edge was the faint smell of tobacco clinging to them.
Yet another matter was the fact that Allen had no idea as to how he had gotten from point A, a darkened alleyway in close proximity to one of the city’s larger banks, to point B, someone else’s bed. And it was worrying, very worrying. Still−
With a tremendous amount of effort, Allen sat himself up and was awarded a fair amount of pain. He was sore, to say the very least. His ribs had definitely seen better days, but they were already on the mend. His wrist meanwhile felt sprained, and given that it was wrapped up in bandages, it was fair to assume that someone had treated his injuries. Then there was his head, which was pounding, and his brain, which proved decidedly uncooperative.
The headache felt like a mix of dehydration, sleep deprivation and poor life decisions; nothing too unusual per se, if not for the situation at hand. There was also a bump on the back of his head, hidden underneath a compress that was in turn held in place by a bandage. Ouch.
Cradling his aching head, Allen surveyed his surroundings.
Now, Allen might not be the most organised person in existence, but even he thought that the room was cluttered. The same could be said about the apartment, at least from what he could see from his current position.
Still, there were no clues as to how he had ended up there in the first place, and there was really only one way to find out.
Swinging his feet over the edge of the bed, Allen noticed that he was barefoot, which was weird, for obvious reasons. Still, his shoes were likely around here somewhere, and Allen thought it would be a good idea to go look for them now while trying to figure things out, and to look for an exit while he was at it.
Allen soon found both the exit and his shoes, thrown haphazardly on the floor. They were also the only ones there, which meant that it was high time to get out.
That said, on one hand, Allen did feel slightly bad about it; someone had evidently made an effort to treat his injuries and put him to a bed instead of leaving him out on the street or dumping him at the nearest hospital, but− there were still a bunch of unanswered questions and Allen was not entirely keen on answering any from whoever had found him and brought him here in the first place.
A glance at the digital clock on the microwave in the kitchen only heightened his sense of urgency.
He put his shoes on and started looking around for his jacket. It wasn’t over by the door and he hadn’t seen it in the bedroom. Following his instincts, he entered the bathroom.
The jacket was in the sink, partially submerged, and beside the faucet, there was− “Shit.”
Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.
−There was his student ID and his−
The domino mask stared up at him, its blank lenses full of accusation, and Allen suddenly felt as though he was going to be violently sick.
Luckily enough though, the toilet was right there.
Allen probably lost track of things for a while there, because by the time he was mostly just dry heaving, trying to stave off an imminent panic attack, there was the sound of someone clearing their throat.
There was a man in the doorway. Tall, with unkempt dark hair and ugly coke-bottle glasses. “Hey, you okay down there?”
Allen shook his head. In hindsight, he probably shouldn’t have done that, because it made him dizzy as fu−
“Hey… Slow, deep breaths, okay?”
Oh God, it really was−
“Tell you what,” Tyki said at last, giving his shoulder a light squeeze. “I’m just gonna leave you here for a bit to sort yourself out while I go and see if I’ve got anything that might pass for breakfast, ‘kay? Just don’t go around breaking any of my shit in the meantime, got it?”
Now that sounded like a fairly decent deal, even to Allen’s fried nerves. “Got it.”
Tyki got up and left, and once he was gone, Allen finally managed to get up.
His reflection looked much like Allen felt, and it was only his re-emerging self-control that kept him from throwing up again. Because with his student ID on display along with his mask, there was really only one conclusion at hand; he had been compromised, and that was so, so, so not good.
Still, even in such a state, Allen recognised the futility in wallowing in it. What was done was done, and now, there was no time for panic. Now was the time for running preliminary damage control, whereas panic attacks and general wallowing were to be saved for once he was safely back at his apartment. Because fucking Hell, this so wasn’t how Allen had planned on spending his Wedn−Wait… Thursday?
“What day is it?”
The guy looked up at Allen from atop his cup of coffee. “Thursday. Late morning. Coffee?”
As a general rule, Allen preferred tea, but beggars couldn’t be choosers and an influx of caffeine might just help him deal with the situation at hand.
As such, Allen found himself having coffee at the cluttered kitchen table, seated opposite Tyki, who had put his coffee cup aside to light up a cigarette.
Technically, yes, but− “I had a rough night,” Allen finally said, paying close attention to the man while trying not to be obvious about it. “Sorry about hogging the bed.”
“No problem, Boy.” Tyki seemed decidedly more amused than inconvenienced. “I’m sure you needed it more than I did.”
The man was a weirdo. That much was perfectly obvious. Not that Allen himself was in any position to be pointing fingers, but still.
Allen tried to drink his coffee as quickly as he could without scalding his tongue. “Sorry about the trouble. And thanks. Really. I know I’ve been a bit−”
Allen glanced up and promptly froze. Because the eyes looking back at him from behind those ugly glasses were definitely−Oh shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.
Only strong self-control kept his hand reasonably steady. Because this was bad, really, really, really bad.
On one hand, there were guidelines on how to deal with one’s identity being compromised and all, but−
“Aren’t you a bit too old for this kind of thing?”
“Too old?” Allen had never been accused of being too old for this gig before. If anything, then it was really the opposite and−
“You know,” Tyki – the Hero Killer? – said, exhaling slowly. “For cosplay and all that, I mean.”
Allen really couldn’t help but stare dumbly at him for a second or two. Was this guy for real? Or was he just playing dumb for some reason? In any case, Allen could probably work with this. “Uh, maybe?”
“You do realise that there are only three events when it’s okay for unlicensed people to wear costumes, right?” Tyki said, holding up three fingers before ticking them off one by one. “And those are Halloween, masquerades and fan conventions, no?”
Uh… “I guess…?”
“Halloween is still a couple of months away, you know? If you’re out cosplaying this early, people might mistake you for the real thing, you know?”
Was this guy… for real? Seriously? “…I guess?”
“Also, you should let someone have a good look at you. Some who knows medical stuff…”
Now that was an interesting way of putting it. “If you were that worried, why didn’t you get me to a hospital?”
There was a mild shrug at that. “Because hospital stays, especially without health insurance, are expensive. Surely you know that?”
Uh… “I guess?”
That got him a somewhat stern look. “Do you even have coverage?”
It would suffice to say that this was not the direction Allen had expected this conversation would go. “I… think so?”
Actually, he probably did. Everyone who worked for the Agency had coverage, but that was mainly for… well, work-related incidents, and− this particular event probably fell firmly in that category, because− Wait… “Uh, I don’t know if it covers getting mugged though…”
Yeah, getting mugged sounded like a decent excuse. Especially if the guy hadn’t looked too closely at−
“Did you get a decent look at your assailant?”
Uh… “I don’t think so? Everything’s kind of fuzzy…”
Actually, it wasn’t, but seated opposite the guy, what else could you do?
“Do you… want me to call someone?”
Allen startled, surprised by the sudden proximity of a hand presenting a cell phone. He looked up at Tyki, who was looking away.
“Here. In case you want to call someone to come and pick you up.”
How awfully considerate. Or sneaky in case the guy was gathering information. Then again, the guy had already seen Allen’s student ID card and− “Thanks, but no thanks. I’m rubbish at remembering phone numbers anyway. Or any number sequence longer than four digits that doesn’t have anything to do with money.”
Why was Allen telling him this? Why was he disclosing this info? Why? And why did the guy’s expression suddenly brighten up like that?
“How about arithmetic? Algebra? Geometry? Calculus?”
Tyki finally leaned back, taking the phone with him. “That’s good to know,” he said, putting out his cigarette. “Because I suck at math. For reals.”
Allen blinked, wondering what part mathematics could possibly play in all of this. Whatever this was supposed to be.
Emptying his cup, Allen moved to stand. “I should get going.”
The man hummed slightly at that. “You do realise you have a head injury, right?” he said, standing up himself.
Yeah, and Allen just so happened to be intimately aware of that. Still− “I’ve had worse.”
In fact, Allen had had worse from this guy back when he had fucking attempted to−
−Attempted to grab his−
Allen acted upon instinct and had his cloak and claws out in mere moments. The game was up anyway, for both of them.
For a fleeting moment, there was stillness. Allen resumed a ready position while Tyki just kind of looked at the scratch running across his underarm for a second and then looked up, skin turning grey.
Allen did not stop to think. He merely acted, but the villain – Tyki? – was quicker. An arm caught him around the middle, so, so, so close to precious internal organs, and fingers caught his left wrist in a vicelike grip.
Allen must have made a sound, because there was one, and it sounded like a mixture of a gasp and a whimper. Whatever it was, it caused the arm around his middle to loosen.
“Shit, I forgot about that! Are your ribs okay?”
Allen didn’t think about it; he simply had to get away. But−
The villain caught his other hand, and moments thereafter, Allen found himself with his back pressed up against a wall.
It was not a very good position to be in, and Allen wanted out of it.
Unfortunately, the villain seemed to have other ideas. “Hey, hey, you’re okay, see?” Tyki’s voice, gentle but firm. “Just focus, okay? Focus on breathing.”
Yeah, that was easy for him to say. Still, Allen tried, he really tried to regain some semblance of control in this situation that was completely out of control. And then−
Then his knees gave way. He must have blacked out for a bit, because when he forced his eyes back open, he was sitting on the floor, his pulled-up knees serving as the only real barrier in-between him and the villain now that his invocation had fucking cancelled out on him. Again. Fuck.
More frustrated than panicked now, Allen attempted to re-summon his Innocence and strike out. Keyword: attempted.
“Hey, hey, none of that now, Boy,” the villain admonished, easily capturing the errant limb. “Now get rid of these or I’ll get rid of them for you.”
Yeah, and that was− “And let you kill me with minimal fuss?! I’d rather die fighting!”
Well, he would much rather not die at all, but−
“Who said anything about killing or dying?!” the villain snapped in return.
“Maiming then!” Allen snapped right back, still struggling. “It’d certainly fit with your−!”
Then there was pressure on his forehead – a hand – and then− “You’re burning up,” the villain noted in seeming disapproval. “Is that normal?”
Allen stilled momentarily, caught off-guard by not just the words but the tone. He opened his mouth to say something, to demand a freaking explanation or something, but then− “I think I’m gonna be sick again.”
“C2… do you think he’s…?”
“If he was, then there’d be a body and someone bragging about it for certain.”
“But wouldn’t someone have heard something if they’d only…?”
“If it was just a low-level villain, then certainly. But if it wasn’t?”
“But, the Hero Killer−!”
Name: Allen Walker
Blood type: O
Height: 174 cm
Weight: 56 kilos
Alias: Crown(ed) Clown
Chapter 7: The Aftermath
Allen’s eyes flew back open and he sat up so suddenly that he had to spend a few moments waiting for the black spots to fade from his vision.
They eventually did, but the accompanying migraine seemed determined to hang around.
And nothing really got better from knowing that…
1) Allen was trapped in a villain’s lair,
2) said villain was none other than Tyki Mikk,
3) Tyki Mikk was in fact the Hero Killer, and
4) Allen had vague recollections of the villain holding his hair up while he clutched the toilet seat like a lifeline, overcome with nausea.
Mortification did not even begin to describe it. At this rate, Allen would die from embarrassment before anything else. No. His head would definitely kill him before all that.
“Hey, you don’t look too good…”
Allen did not feel too good, because the light was stabbing him in the eyes and his head felt like it was going to burst any minute now. And Tyki’s presence was not helping in the least, so− “Go away,” he muttered, burying his head in the pillow.
The villain did not seem to care though. “Do you need anything? Aspirin maybe?”
Allen cracked an eye back open and immediately regretted it. “Doesn’t work on migraines…”
“It doesn’t?” Tyki said; he sounded surprised. “Huh, I guess you learn something new every day.”
Yeah, and sometimes, you learned that one of your poker pals was in fact the same guy that had been trying and nearly succeeding to kill you on numerous occasions.
Ugh. “Contains paracetamol. No.”
There was a brief pause at that. “Paraceta−okay… what do you need?” Tyki finally asked.
Allen needed a lot of things. Still− “…Ketoprofen, but ibuprofen might work…”
Upon hearing retreating footsteps, Allen breathed a quiet sigh of relief. As it turned out, the relief was fairly short-lived though.
“…I’m not sure I should be giving you these,” Tyki commented, voice accompanied by a rattle of pills. “It says here they might cause heart problems…”
What. The. Hell? “…I didn’t have to worry about my heart until you came along, you fucking hypocrite…”
There was an exasperated sigh at that. “Right, well, it can’t be helped now, can it?”
Yes, it could. Tyki could just let him leave and then they could both pretend all of this never happened.
“You know, there’s naproxen,” Tyki commented after a while. “It says here that it works best on migraines. I could head down to the drugstore and get you some if you want.”
Allen briefly contemplated telling Tyki that not having to hear his voice would also be pretty good, but ultimately opted against it. “…Suit yourself, you fucking bastard,” he muttered instead, because as things were, it was not as though Allen could actually do much to stop him now, could he?
“I could just let you suffer, you know?” Tyki commented, his voice closer now and his tone back to exasperated. “It’s not like I haven’t done that before.”
Yeah. How many times again? Allen tried to recall, but his head just hurt so damned much, so he settled for an alternative. “Sadist.”
There was an amused snort at that. “Me? Sadist? No, that’d Sheril.”
“Right…” Tyki finally said, picking up on his confusion. “I meant that my brother’s the sadistic one. Really. Just trust me on that one.”
Tyki having a brother was old news, given how the man had spent a fair amount of time complaining about the man’s overbearing and at times even perverse tendencies. But there had never been any names involved nor any other info that could be easily attributed to a specific individual; Allen had done the same when talking about his own life. But maybe Tyki did not see the need to dial down on the personal info now that Allen knew about him.
“…Is he also a villain?” Allen finally asked, cracking an eye open again, just enough to see Tyki give a dismissive wave of sorts.
“Nah,” the villain commented. “He’s a politician, but that’s basically the same thing anyway.”
Really. “You shouldn’t talk about your brother like that.”
“Trust me,” Tyki said. “You would say the same thing if you ever met him.”
Maybe, but− “…I meant, you shouldn’t reveal such private information.”
The villain looked somewhat surprised at that, and that made two of them, because why was Allen giving tips to this villain again?
“Right,” Tyki said after a while, averting his gaze a bit while scratching his head. “Black Order policies.”
Tyki looked to him then, really looked. “Oh right, I guess they call it the Agency these days.”
To the extent of Allen’s knowledge, the Agency had only been established some thirty-odd years ago, and he had never−
“Well,” Tyki said, interrupting his ongoing line of thought. “I’m not the best person around here to give out history lessons, but I guess I could fill you in on a few things. Not now though…”
Allen wondered what any of that even meant.
“I’ll be back soon, okay? Don’t go anywhere.”
The thing is, Allen did not take orders from a villain, not even in the aftermath of a head injury and concussion or in the throes of what was probably one of the worst migraines he had ever had. Okay, so maybe not the absolute worst migraine, but it had to be at least in the top five.
In any case, Allen did not take orders from villains. Unfortunately, it seemed as though his body was equally unwilling to listen to him.
Sure, he eventually managed to get out of bed. And sure, he managed to stand up and not immediately fall back down again. But really, leaving proved a lot more difficult than it should have. Sure, there was the window, but without being able to invoke and being this unsteady, he realised he could not take the window route. Or sure, he could technically try to call for help and all, but−
But he would rather try his luck with the door, because even if it was locked, the lock could be picked or the door could be broken down, and Allen did not have to consider property damages at this point.
“O-kay,” he said to himself. “Let’s do this.”
A short while later, the villain returned to find him defeated, or more specifically, to him keeping his aching and bleeding knuckles submerged in the sink in the attached bathroom.
“Well,” the villain said. “Guess I should’ve expected that.”
Allen could have killed him really, or at the very least punched him; his knuckles were fucked up anyway, and he had reached the point where he didn’t care anymore. “Either knock me out or let me out, because I’m not dealing with any more of this bullshit today.”
Tyki held up a paper bag. “Painkillers. Medical supplies.”
He held up another. “Takeout.”
On cue, Allen’s stomach growled.
“So,” Allen said at last, struggling a bit with his chopsticks. “Why am I here?”
Allen had considered asking ‘Why am I still alive?’ and ‘What made you stop trying to kill me?’ and all that, but for now, he would not think about any stomach-churning things if he could avoid it. Because he was eating, and he would rather not start throwing up all over again.
On a separate note, Allen did feel a whole lot better now. He mostly had the painkillers to thank for that, but Allen wondered if he had not accidentally overdosed on something, because he did feel a bit− off? No, he felt eerily calm now, fairly tired, sure, but far cry from the panic he had experienced at the beginning.
Now that he could actually think without hurting his brain all that much, Allen wondered whether or not the Stockholm syndrome was beginning to set in. Because Allen did not hate Tyki, even knowing about the man’s other side and knowing what the man had done as the Hero Killer. Then again, fact remained that they had still known each other before this, at least in a manner of speaking, so maybe−
Allen looked up.
Tyki was watching him, his odd almost amber-coloured eyes completely devoid of anything that could be labelled killing intent. It was different from earlier, and extremely different from what Allen had experienced prior to all of this.
Just a short while ago, Tyki had patched up Allen’s knuckles and bandaged them with a kind of tenderness that did not belong with someone who tore out people’s inner organs, supposedly for funsies.
Signs definitely pointed to that something had changed in-between them; the Hero Killer had only aimed to kill. Tyki meanwhile?
“I had orders,” the villain said at last, putting out his cigarette. “Find and eliminate the people named on the list.”
List? “A hit list?”
“Of sorts.” Sighing, Tyki pulled out another cigarette and lit it. “A magical hit list, I guess, because the names on it won’t disappear until the people are dead. And it’s supposed to detect when one of the people on the list is nearby.”
That… sounded awfully convenient, but also really bad. “Where is it now?”
Tyki shrugged. “Beats me. I think I lost it back in February,” he said. “But it’s all the same, really. I’ve only seen the card react to one person, and that’s you. Well, your hero persona at any rate.”
Allen bit his lip. “So, you knew? All this time…”
Allen frowned. “But if you already had my name, so you could have easily just−”
“No,” Tyki intoned, taking the cigarette in-between his fingers. “Because that’s bad form. Going after people while they are in their civvies is a big no-no.”
Well, that was a definite first, because Allen had always had the impression that a lot of villains would jump at the chance to strike heroes when they were the most vulnerable. Heck, the Agency had overhauled its information and registration policies almost solely because of the suspicion that the villain had gotten their hands on a list containing personal info on a bunch of heroes enlisted with the Agency. “…Why?”
For a while, Tyki said nothing, simply staring up into the ceiling. “Well,” he said at last, looking back down. “…I didn’t make the rules to this game, and neither did you; We’re merely stuck playing it.”
“…Like I said,” Tyki reinitiated, leaning forward now. “I’m not the best person to talk about history, so let’s not talk about it. Let’s talk about what happens from here.”
Allen just watched him warily.
“Your name is on my hit list, which I lost, but knowing the person who compiled it, it’s probably some mistake,” Tyki deadpanned. “My boss might be fucked up in the head, but he has an admitted soft spot for kids. And knowing you’re just a kid, it’s not like I’m gonna kill you anyway. Besides, we’re poker pals and all, and poker pals shouldn’t go around trying to kill each other over nongame-related matters…”
Allen could not help but think of Charity Bell, who did not live to see his twentieth birthday. He quickly discarded the thought though, because now was not the time. “…I guess.”
If Tyki noticed his discomfort, then he made no note of it. “And as for the answer to your question or demand back there: I’m not planning on keeping you locked up in here forever. This place can be crowded enough for a single person.”
Allen lifted his gaze, narrowing his eyes just a fraction. “So… what are you planning then?”
Because that was an excellent question, and it needed answers, preferably imminently.
“Well,” Tyki said after a brief pause. “I was planning on letting you join the weekly Monopoly game later tonight, but with the state of those hands of yours, maybe−”
“I want to go.”
Tyki levelled him with a look. Then he smiled. “I thought you might say that.”
It felt strange, returning to the Devil’s Nest after everything that had gone down. But it felt almost normal after that strange walk from Tyki’s apartment. It was evening, so it was getting darker, and while Allen was very familiar with the cityscape at night, he had seldom viewed it from the ground, and he had most definitely not experienced it like this.
Had Allen had any sense, then he should have taken one of the numerous opportunities to get away. Unfortunately, Tyki’s words had kept him right where he was, sticking close.
“Yo, started without me already, you bastards,” Tyki commented without much spite as he entered.
“Well if it isn’t Mikk,” one of them, Boris, answered. “We were wondering if you’d show up at all, you slippery bastard.”
“Got delayed,” Tyki responded, putting a hand behind Allen’s back and pushing him forward.
The rest of the patrons let out various exclamations of surprise and appreciation.
“Well aren’t you a sight for sore eyes, Little Red. Been really busy as of late, I take it?” Carlos said, and yeah, kind of.
“What about those bruises?” Darius commented, and Allen felt a sudden urge to hide them. “Hey, Mikk, you bastard, did you−?!”
Surprisingly, Tyki did not deny the allegation. Equally surprising, Allen decided to divert their attention. “I bombed my history exam and took out my frustration on a wall,” he said, before thinking better of it.
His efforts seemed to pay off though, because the rest immediately turned their attention towards him.
“Little Red,” Darius commented. “There are better ways to deal with that kind of thing, like comfort eating or−”
Yeah, but− “Do I look like I have the money to do that kind of thing?”
“Hey, did the wall hit back or what?” Boris asked, getting up. “Those are finger-shaped bruises.”
“Uh…” Allen tried to step back, only to crash into Tyki. Tyki in turn grabbed him by the shoulders, and stood behind him, keeping him in place as the mobster stepped up, putting a hand underneath his chin.
“Who hurt you, little Red?” Boris asked, leaning in close. “We’d like to have a word with them.”
There were several nods and hums of agreement at that.
“I’m fine,” Allen said at the same time as Tyki said “It won’t happen again. Not on my watch.”, to which Allen simply had to turn his head and look because what the fuck?
“Better keep a closer eye on him then, Mikk,” Boris said, stepping back at last, and again, there were nods and noises of agreement all around.
Allen felt a bit offended actually. “Guys, I’m not a child.”
This time around, there were hums and looks of ‘yeah, sure’.
“Seriously,” Allen said. “This is not up to debate.”
Cue five looks of ‘yeah, sure’. And a smile. Tyki’s. “Wanna bet?”
The night ended with Allen, or Red, being informally adopted. By a bunch of mobsters.
“We’re honorary uncles now,” they congratulated one another, all while Allen resisted a surfacing urge to hide his head in his hands, because what? What the Hell? How the Hell? Why the Hell?
Even Tyki had become an honorary relative of sorts. And his self-appointed guardian.
Allen was fairly ready to call it quits on things making any lick of sense from this point onward.
“O-kay, I’ve had enough. Tyki, can I…?” he trailed off, wondering if he even dared to finish the question.
“Sure,” Tyki said, rising to his feet. “Let’s go.”
Allen did not protest.
The walk was quiet, at least at first.
“So,” Allen said at last. “What happens now?”
For a while, Tyki said nothing, exhaling some smoke. Then he steered them into a somewhat secluded narrow alleyway “Nothing much,” he said. “The Game continues.”
Allen frowned. “What about explaining all this shit?”
Tyki just sighed. “Like I said, not a history expert. But really, if you want to know how things string together, then you shouldn’t talk to me; you should talk to Bookman.”
Allen’s thoughts, and steps, ground to a sudden standstill. “…Bookman?”
“You know that old bookshop, Bookman’s Lair, over in the Fifth?” Tyki said.
Sure, Allen knew it. It would be pretty damned hard not to, seeing as to how he freaking lived above it and the owner was his freaking landlord. Bookman, Lavi’s mentor, the ‘Old (Panda) Geezer’. “Is he a villain?” Allen asked.
Tyki gave a somewhat dismissive wave at that. “Nah. Bookmen don’t really take sides. It’s not their style. But yeah, the Game continues,” he said, and with those words, Tyki just kind of saluted and vanished into a wall, with a casual “See you around, Boy.”
For a moment, Allen just stood there, blinking, still processing the fact. Actually, he might have been standing there for several moments, maybe even minutes, wondering what the Hell just happened. He only really snapped out of it when he sensed danger closing in on his position.
Allen spun around just in time to see someone skid to a halt at the alleyway’s entrance.
And it was Kanda, dressed up as Mugen. And he looked even more pissed off than usual.
And then Kanda was fast approaching, stalking closer, and Allen realised that he might actually end up dying after all.
Chapter 8: Epilogue
Illustration by Ennael.
Dying would have been better. Anything would have been better than this, because this was mortifying.
And this was most definitely Kanda’s revenge for that thing back at the Central Station. Because why else would Kanda decide to scoop him up and then carry him – bridal style – out into the open and just calmly stand there, waiting, not bothered in the slightest by the bright searchlights of a nearby news helicopter as it zeroed in on them.
But Allen had been very bothered, because he had been unmasked and thus forced to burrow his face into the crook of Kanda’s neck in order to hide it and been forced to remain that way until the coast was clear, unwittingly giving ample opportunity for witnesses to not just snap pictures but also record the event.
Predictably, the fandom had gone wild. #Clownight had been the top-trending topic for more than a week now.
“Congrats on making up with your boyfriend, C2.”
G was pushing his luck. Seriously. “Should I introduce you? I’m sure he’d love to meet you in person.”
Predictably, that did the trick. “No, no, no, no. There’s no need. Besides, I know you’ve got better taste than that.”
That was nice to hear that G understood. But it was a damned shame so few others did. “Thanks. Also, I see you’ve made a new friend.”
“Yup!” G showed off his new equipment with obvious pride. “Jr.’s awesome, and he’s got resources. We’re gonna rob ‘em blind!”
Yeah, and if Allen’s involvement in bringing these two together ever came to light− “I’m just gonna go ahead and pretend I didn’t hear that.”
Because… plausible deniability and all that.
TM: Hey, off your shift yet? We’re playing Jenga if you wanna join?
CBA: Maybe next time. Gotta study. I have a test coming up… :´(
TM: Ah. ヘ ( ￣ー￣ヘ )
TM: Good luck!
Timcanpy beat his wings, inquisitive. Allen absentmindedly wondered if the golem could read. But in any case… “It’s nothing, Tim. Let’s go home.”
The End… for now?
Chapter 9: Tyki's Dilemma
Extra chapter, for those of you wondering what Tyki could possibly be thinking…
Also, not the greatest of endings, but then again, this is just part one of the series. For more, see the Intervention, part II ^^
Tyki Mikk’s Dilemma
Unknown number: Hey.
Unknown number: Is this the Perm Guy?
TM: Uh… I guess?
Unknown number: You still haven’t paid your tab.
TM: Oh. It’s you.
Unknown number: Yep.
TM: You could have just told me that next time I came in. No need to harass me outside of hours, right?
TM: Unlike some, I usually turn up.
Unknown number: …
TM: Hey, this isn’t really about my unpaid tab, is it?
Unknown number: Little Red’s over here right now.
TM: Aren’t you supposed to be closed right now?
Unknown number: Yes.
Unknown number: Little Red.
Unknown number: What should I do with him?
TM: Why are you asking me?
Unknown number: He willingly hangs out with you.
TM: …Is he injured or anything?
Unknown number: Sleeping.
TM: …Are you sure?
Unknown number: …
Unknown number: Okay, you’re officially useless.
Unknown number: Forget it.
TM: I’m coming down, okay!
Unknown number: Never mind. I already sent him on his way.
To be perfectly honest, Tyki Mikk felt like a bit of a stalker. Mind you, this was not the first time, but someone obviously needed to look out for the kid and with no responsible adults in sight, that someone might as well be Tyki.
It felt weird though, because Tyki had never really fancied himself a responsible adult. Vaguely functional adult perhaps, but responsible? No. And sure, he was the usually the voice of reason at any family event, but it was not as though they listened to him anyway, so…
“Yo, done with your shift yet? Are you gonna turn up or what?”
He asked mostly out of habit, but also to keep up the façade.
“Tyki,” the boy hissed at last, after an unusually long silence. “Read your damned texts.”
Texts? “But I don’t recall seeing any…”
More silence. “Right… okay, so maybe I didn’t text you, but no, my shift hasn’t ended yet. And no, after that, I’m heading straight home, because I’ve got classes in the morning.”
Classes, huh? Well, education was supposedly important and all, even if Tyki himself had never had much use of it. That said, Tyki would like to have a talk with whoever decided on having the boy work nights if he had classes in the morning. And−
The boy hung up. How awfully mature of him.
Well, two could play that game.
So, texting it was.
Finally, ten minutes later, Tyki was rewarded for his efforts.
CBA: Look, I’m a wreck, and I don’t make good company right now. I’ll text you when I feel a bit more like a human again. OK?
Tyki responded with a simple ‘OK’.
He was not really planning on letting it go though, not this time around.
Frankly, he had been thinking about it for a while; nothing really concrete, of course, but he had still thought about it. Because, while neither Tyki nor any of the other regulars at the bar would regard themselves as geniuses, they were hardly blind.
A few scrapes and bruises were one thing and a noticeable limp could be explained by sheer clumsiness. But repeated instances?
You could get away with ‘I fell down a staircase’, sure, but only once.
Getting mugged though? Tyki for one was positive that the boy would be able to deal with any would-be mugger, and the same really went for picking fights.
That really left only a few alternatives, at least in Tyki’s mind, but only one or two that seemed really viable out of the bunch.
First of all, Tyki rather doubted that it was abuse; not physical abuse at any rate, because the boy lacked the skittish look Tyki had come to associate with kids of that sort.
Second of all, while Tyki had a feeling the boy would make an absolute killing if he ever got into cage fighting, they would have been aware if he had, considering the contacts others had within the illegal fighting and betting rings.
This really only left two options, both of which involved the criminal element.
In other words: Cheating Boy A was likely active within the same circuit as Tyki himself, and since the villain community was fairly small and tight-knit, that only really left… well, common criminals, uncommon phantom thieves, and, well… that.
Coming to think of it, that nickname…
‘Cheating Boy A’ had been a ruse, and Tyki had only really kept using it because he enjoyed watching the boy stiffen up, and considering how the boy took few issues with being accused of cheating and only seemed annoyed when someone called him ‘boy’, the ‘A’ part seemed to be what triggered the reaction, and wasn’t that interesting?
Tyki had a sneaking suspicion, and he was not entirely sure that he liked the implications.
As it turned out, Cheating Boy A was in fact none other than Tyki’s mark, Allen Walker. He was also the one behind the mask of the hero Tyki had tried – and failed – to kill how many times now? Ten? Fifteen? – and the very same hero that bore the main responsibility for that thing back in February.
To be perfectly honest, Tyki himself didn’t recall much of the event, at least not beyond the point when a certain someone had rammed him through with a freaking sword they’d just pulled out of nowhere.
Not that Tyki was nursing a grudge or anything; not a huge one at any rate. Sure, he had been a bit miffed about it all. No, miffed might not be strong enough of a word to describe it. But yeah, Tyki had been stuck in the Ark, trying to regain some sense of equilibrium in-between himself and his Inner Noah. It had been an agonising and time-consuming task that Tyki would rather not repeat, even if he had come out a whole lot stronger and better balanced at the end of it.
The same really couldn’t be said about his opponent however.
Tyki had him cornered, which was an accomplishment in itself, to be perfectly honest. Since February, Tyki had put a fair bit of effort into trying to do just that, wanting to confirm whether that thing back in February was just a fluke or something else completely. But the hero had proven surprisingly slippery, and Tyki hadn’t been willing to put that much effort into chasing him, especially not on Wednesdays, because Tyki would much rather play poker on Wednesdays.
But… whatever. It seemed as though Tyki did not have to watch out for that odd sword tonight either, which was good, because unlike with previous attempts, he was not actively trying to push his quarry into performing a reprise of their secret finishing move.
No, this was something different. This was an intervention, and the fact bore repeating.
The hero, Allen Walker, did not seem to get it though. “Dude, what kind of drugs are you on? You’ve tried to kill me eighteen times over the last six months.”
“−Look: I don’t know what your deal is, but I have a terrible headache, thanks to you, and like zero patience for dealing with this right now, and−”
A terrible headache and like zero patience. That made two of them. “Why are you out here, boy? It’s a weeknight.”
Actually, Tyki had been the one to provoke this. Sort of. Robbing the bank had been a ruse, a trap of sorts, to see if he would be able to lure the hero in. If it hadn’t worked as well as it had, then Tyki would simply have tried again, during the weekend. But it had worked, and since it was Wednesday, this meant that there was little risk of outside interference.
Unfortunately, Tyki’s makeshift plan to confront the boy had gone a bit off the rails; he had grown a bit too eager and neglected to consider that, while definitely made out of sturdier material than most, the hero was still human and humans simply did not have the same healing capabilities as− Well, they weren’t supposed to at any rate, but…
But the weight of the unseen eyes underneath that mask and that messy fringe clearly begged to differ with anything Tyki might’ve assumed previously.
It looked like Tyki hadn’t been imagining things after all.
Mind you, Tyki’s recollection of that night back in February might have been a bit lacking, but he definitely recalled this; the weight of those previously unseen eyes.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, really.”
Hm… “Really?” Tyki challenged. “You don’t remember?”
In hindsight, Tyki should probably have been a bit more careful. No, maybe more than a bit. But old habits were hard to break and−
Instead of answering, the hero chose that exact moment to lose consciousness.
Tyki crouched down, pulling out his smartphone with one hand while using the other to dislodge the mask.
Tyki put on the flashlight to get a better look, and going by the sharp hiss and movement, it seemed as though the hero was not completely out for the count just yet. Nevertheless− “Hey, hey,” Tyki said, because− “I’m trying to check your pupils here.”
What he saw nearly made him drop the phone though, and that was probably why it was so easy for the hero to slap it away and− Tyki couldn’t have cared less about the phone really.
Instinctively, he used his ability, Choose, to reject the oxygen in the immediate area.
It was more than just a bit underhanded, really, but the deed was already done by the time Tyki had time to think it over. He dispelled it just as quickly though, because it had only taken that much.
“You’re really full of surprises, you know?” Tyki commented, eyes resting briefly on the crumpled form of his opponent before moving to retrieve his phone; the screen had a new crack in it, but otherwise, it was perfectly fine. It was a lot like Tyki’s sanity, but there was no point in thinking about that at this point in time.
Instead, there was this: “Yo, Road. Yeah, it’s me.”
Asking Road for help was a definite risk, but…
Tyki would rather not be out in the open, should things go even farther south.
In the end though, it appeared as though Tyki’s precautions had been unneeded, because the eyes staring back at him now were both silver-grey − not even a flicker of amber in sight – and the pupils were round now as opposed to−
“−And let you kill me with minimal fuss?! I’d rather die fighting!”
Huh? “Who said anything about killing or dying?!”
“Maiming then!” the hero snapped right back, still struggling. “It’d certainly fit with your−!”
It would’ve, but that was before all this.
Tyki put his hand against the boy’s forehead; even with the bandage in place, Tyki could clearly feel the heat radiating from beneath it. “You’re burning up,” he noted. There hadn’t been a fever before; Tyki had checked. “Is that normal?”
The wide-eyed look provided no answers, but− “I think I’m gonna be sick again.”
Had Tyki not already felt queasy before, then he would certainly have become queasy at this point. Thankfully, the boy seemed to have forgotten about panicking somewhere in-between throwing up, passing out, and waking up again. That said, he did not look good. At all.
If Tyki had been sure that this was just the concussion talking, then he could have easily just let this go and dumped the boy somewhere reasonably public or in an alleyway close to a hospital, but…
Tyki definitely hadn’t imagined the eyes, and if these symptoms were what Tyki thought they might be, then a hospital would not be a very good place to take him; the Order – Agency, whatever – would no doubt be watching them, and if the boy were truly in the early stages of Awakening, then−
Tyki scratched his head, wondering what the wisest move would be at this stage. Sure, he could make contact with Road again, seeing as to how she, youthful looks aside, was the expert on matters pertaining to the Noah family. Of course, if Tyki was wrong about this, then−
He sighed. ‘Let’s try painkillers first,’ he reminded himself. ‘Painkillers don’t work on Memory-induced migraines.’
Tyki of all people should know, not just because of that shit back in February but because certain people never failed to complain about it.
“Ketoprofen? I’m sorry, sir, but do you have a prescription?”
“It’s not available over the counter?” Tyki asked, tilting his head in question.
“It was, but it’s been discontinued. In other countries, it’s sold over the counter,” the pharmacist helpfully informed him.
Tyki momentarily considered doing the villainous thing and stealing it, but he would rather not call any unnecessary attention to himself at this stage; not in this particular city. Hm.
Tyki: Hey, is Gate 32 still connected to Barcelona?
Road: Yes. Why?
In case anyone questioned his impromptu trip to Spain, then Tyki would simply shrug and utter some line about doing one of his poker buddies a favour. While by no means a perfect excuse, it was close enough to the truth that Tyki could probably get away with it even if some part of this situation ever came to light. And it likely would, because certain people could read minds and weren’t smart enough to shut up about it.
And speaking of stupid decisions−
“So,” the boy said at last, struggling a bit with his chopsticks. “Why am I here?”
The painkillers seemed to have worked. But going by the somewhat dazed look in his eyes, they might have worked a bit too well.
And Tyki was probably staring, but what else could he do, really? Well, he could answer the question, probably, but should he?
The painkillers had worked; in other words, not a Memory-induced migraine. But on the other hand, those eyes− Well, in any case, whether Tyki was dealing with just his poker pal – who just happened to moonlight as a hero – or a future member of the family, there was a need to establish a… dialogue or something?
“I had orders,” Tyki said at last, putting out his cigarette. “Find and eliminate the people named on the list.”
“A hit list?”
“Of sorts.” Yeah, Tyki definitely needed more nicotine to deal with this. “A magical hit list, I guess, because the names on it won’t disappear until the people are dead. And it’s supposed to detect when one of the people on the list is nearby.”
Key phrase: supposed to, because up until a certain point, Tyki had been fairly convinced that it didn’t fucking work.
“Where is it now?”
Tyki shrugged. “Beats me. I think I lost it back in February.” Along with his mind, no doubt. “But it’s all the same, really. I’ve only seen the card react to one person, and that’s you. Well, your hero persona at any rate.”
“So, you knew? All this time…”
Uh… “Not really.” Because he hadn’t brought the damned card along everywhere, because the Prisoner of the List Cage was such a nagging little−
The boy frowned. “But if you already had my name, so you could have easily just−”
Looking back at it, maybe Tyki should’ve just− “No. Because that’s bad form. Going after people while they are in their civvies is a big no-no.”
This was one of the few rules the family abided by, because it had come directly from the Duke’s mouth. Of course, in a typical villainous fashion, certain family members had still found ways to get around this particular rule; they allegedly did so by launching allegedly random attacks in areas where off duty heroes might just happen to be at the time.
Tyki just shrugged, because who was he to pretend to know what was going on inside of the Duke’s head. Heck, the family patriarch was pretty damned off his rocker at times, even if the rest of the family seemed determined to ignore this. Hence, the reason as to why Tyki was so damned keen on hanging out with people who were not direct members of the villain circuit; it was the only thing that kept him sane, really, and he would rather not lose it if he could help it.
“Well,” he said at last. “…I didn’t make the rules to this game, and neither did you; We’re merely stuck playing it.”
Yeah… “…Like I said, I’m not the best person to talk about history, so let’s not talk about it. Let’s talk about what happens from here.”
Yeah, the important stuff.
“Your name is on my hit list, which I lost, but knowing the person who compiled it, it’s probably some mistake,” Tyki deadpanned. “My boss might be fucked up in the head, but he has an admitted soft spot for kids. And knowing you’re just a kid, it’s not like I’m gonna kill you anyway. Besides, we’re poker pals and all, and poker pals shouldn’t go around trying to kill each other over nongame-related matters…”
It was all true. Well, mostly true at any rate, and the bullshit blended seamlessly into the rest of it.
“And,” Tyki added. “I’m not planning on keeping you locked up in here forever. This place can be crowded enough for a single person.”
Well, him and his Inner Noah.
“So… what are you planning then?”
Now wasn’t that an absolutely excellent question?
Well, the Duke had yet to return from his extended vacation, and Road had yet to confront him on this issue, and so far, Sheril appeared to be none the wiser, so…
Tyki would direct the boy towards a useful source of information, then step back and watch what happened, because something undoubtedly would.
But first, in the meantime− “Where did I put UNO again?”