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musings of a clover, part one.

Chapter Text

The bumps pattern the small of his back like thick white paint splattered across canvas, like a grassy plain dotted with rolling hills, like braille spelling out a secret message only she can read but in a language she can’t understand. Her finger traces around them, connecting the dots that splay around that one darkened central point, the single mar on her otherwise flawless masterpiece of a man.

“You’re touching it again, aren’t you.” He speaks in a low tone, not a whisper or a question but a simple statement, the way it’s phrased only serving as an unnecessary reminder to her lover’s ... current condition, as blind to her touch against his skin as one who’s stared into the sun (and sometimes she feels the same way, that when she looks at him now she’s really observing some distant cold-heat brilliance from a million miles away).

“You know I just can’t keep my hands off you.” There’s an undercurrent of a chuckle, she tries to keep her tone light even as she’s struck with the sudden thought that his slow breaths match her own exactly, far too close for chance, and she wonders if he consciously mirrors her own breathing because it’s like an unspoken way for them to be even closer spiritually in the small hotel bed, or if it’s because his muscle memory’s forgotten what falling-asleep breathing feels like and if they weren’t together he wouldn’t even be breathing at a—

No. Stop that. She mentally commands herself to go no further in that direction before she spirals down into a quivering mess again. She’s been good about that all this week, time healing — ha, okay, but at least scabbing over the wound, anyway. No point in losing that streak now.

(He’s only cried once, since, and that was the moment he first saw her again, that evening with her staring down the open bottle of pills and him throwing the door back against its hinges like a madman. With all the emotions of that night, reflecting back on that singular space in time, where his tears stained her shoulder for the first and only time since she’s known him, she — a part of her hates herself for it at the same time, because after all it’s wrong to feel grateful for something that showed how much he hurt — but she feels a sort of warm relief. Because it proves he can cry; he’s a little less alien, just that much more human.

She wonders how much he considers thoughts along the same lines, and stops herself again.)

They lie in silence for some minutes more before she speaks up again. “So. … The paper.”

“Yeah.”

She had coughed up her cereal when she saw the article — not even an article, barely more than a couple of paragraphs next to the police blotter — the lede proclaiming Genius Programmer Posthumously Exonerated. A few quotes from a detective whose name she didn’t recognize talking up “new leads in the fight against cyberterrorism”, a line from the medical examiner saying how the body “went missing from the morgue, assumed stolen”, and that was that. (Not a word about her, not that she should have expected one.)

She blinks her lashes against his shoulder blade in the darkness. “Have you thought about … going back home? Now that … that?”

It’s like she can hear him rolling his eyes — not in derision of her, just a little mocking of the idea. “I’m still known as dead. What if they saw me on the street, in the supermarket? Hard to explain it away when they’ve had me on a slab—”

“Okay!” She cuts him off quickly, then angles her face harder into the pillow. “Okay,” she muffles out. “I … you’re right. Sorry I asked.”

He swallows and takes a deeper breath than usual, and she can’t help but match him (now who’s mirroring who, she thinks, but it doesn’t really matter, does it). “Look…” and he shifts ever so slightly towards the edge of the hotel bed, still facing away from her, “listen, if you want… I’ll understand. If you want to go back.”

She scoffs, nearly wanting to laugh at the thought but as soon as she lets herself emote that much she’ll cry for sure and she’s been doing so well this week. “You’ve got to be joking. No, Yomiel.” She runs her hand down his shoulder across his elbow to his fingers and interlocks them at his waist. “No, I’m not leaving you, not ever.” Her thumb plays with the gold band around his fourth finger, a silent promise to go with the verbal one. “I almost lost you once. That’ll never happen again.”

Quiet. She notes he’s stopped breathing with a near-clinical, forcibly-depersonalized state of mind. Her eyelids droop against her cheek and she reprimands herself to stay conscious until he gives a response.

After a time, he does. His thumb runs against her own ring, feeling the diamonds carefully like they’re telling him a message of their own. “Yeah,” he breathes out oh so casually. “Yeah. I know. It won’t.” He starts breathing regularly again, and their language is touch and thoughts and silent love. “It won’t.” An oath, a covenant, they’re saying their vows together just like she’s always dreamed.

At the foot of the bed, a small black cat yawns once into the darkness, then returns to slumber.

Chapter Text

It wasn't just skill with inventing; Kamila had a knack for all sorts of handiwork. So when the game of catch at her friend's got a bit unruly, she knew not to cry over the shattered vase. "Listen, you've got some superglue around, right?" she said to the sniffling acolyte, who nodded and quickly returned with a tube. "I can't spell very well either, but look, see how all the pieces fit together perfectly?"

"But what about Mystic Ami's soul?"

"Hey, my dad says superglue can fix anything."

---

Her senior in the detective department's mentoring program had a long history with serving on lots of his station's most high-profile cases! She knows she's privileged to be learning anything directly from someone so experienced and knowledgeable. So maybe it's not her place to talk back, but sometime into the second hour of instruction like 'see, pal, it's important to match up the timing of his head tilt to the swinging of his truncheon, most novices trip up there,' well, she has to wonder.

---

After his success at the concert, the plan was to control a nationally-acclaimed actor on a popular children's program, to have him replace his stage prop with a real weapon and take out his costar. But the moment he transferred his spirit to the actor's body, he felt something was wrong -- and scarily enough, so did his host. "Uh, dude, I dunno who you are or what you want," the man said, and then seemed to transform inside his own skin, "but I've already got enough of me for one body, thanks."

---

The girl shrieks and sobs into her mother's shoulder from the surprise of the noise, the shock of the sight of blood pooling out and staining the carpet and her father's coat. "It wasn't supposed to do that!" she wails, and Alma nods and coos reassuring whispers into her ear and tells her to wait in her room until she tells her it's safe to come out. As the doting mother takes down the still-warm gun from off the wall, she wonders what might have happened if she hadn't opened the door for him.

---

It wasn't that Memry didn't ~appreciate~ the 'hmm, extra-personal private care, hoh hoh' that the director of the clinic lavished upon her as she recuperated in the hospital bed (life lesson: spilt drinks and rollerskates make a bad combination), but when she later recounted her experience with the man who claimed she'd 'make an excellent candidate for surgery, yes' to the restaurant bartender, she felt she had to remark, "You know, I don't believe that man has ever been to medical school."

---

The flannel-wearing boy took the proffered leaflet with a smile, nodded thoughtfully to all of his explanations, and seemed to deeply ponder over his philosophy more insightfully than most who visited the park, but when the boy remarked, "What if it's ~not~ the rock of the gods ... but the rock of the funyarinpa?", the reckless youth knew it was a lost cause. There was simply no rationalising with people who believed in nonsense like the funyarinpa.

---

He might not be able to help think of a way out -- despite everything that had happened that night, he really was only a sheltered apartment dog -- but he did at least have one thing he could do to help. When the ocean began to find its way in, his young mistresses embraced in fear and panic, he flipped frequencies to the ghost world and brought them both with them. If he couldn't save their lives at this point, he'd at least make every moment count.

They spent years together in that green world.

---

(this one only makes sense after reading Verne's trickstuck fic.)

MM: hi there, sissel. B)
MM: bet you didn't know i could talk with you online like this. B)
FS: Oh, is that you, Yomi?? I didn't know you could talk with--
FS: Hey, hehe, how did you do that??
MM: fifth time. B|
FS: Huh??
MM: never mind. not important. BI
MM: listen. this will sound strange, but i have to tell you now. B|
MM: i love you, sissel. i would do anything for you. B)
FS: Oh, Yomiel, you know I feel the same!!
MM: you would die for me. B(
FS: I would d--
FS: .. How....
MM: fifth time. B(

---

Detective Jowd is about to shoot at an armed escapee holding a little girl hostage, thereby completely screwing over all of their lives for the next ten years. This fate could have been avoided if he'd had a sassy gay Yomiel.

"What are you doing? What, what, what are you doing."

"I'm going to shoot you! Drop your weapon!!"

"Oh, honey, sweetie, no. Listen, why don't we both put these bad little guns down, you introduce me to your 'lanky and loose' cop buddy, and we all go out for a froyo! Hm?"

---

It's been over two years. She berates herself on her foolishness. You're not a little kid anymore. You have to stop doing this. Cold tears drip down her nose as she ekes out quiet hiccoughing sobs in the darkness. Get back out there. Now. But she doesn't, and she can hear their voices from outside:

"What happened to Kamila?"

"Dunno. We started singing, then someone's balloon popped, then she just shouted 'Mom!' and ran into the closet."

"What a weirdo. Hey, let's go get some cake."

---

He's been able to give her little occasional gifts while he's been -- indisposed, she calls it. Mostly portraits and sketches; an amusing but heartfelt poem one Valentine's. But today he'd grinned throughout the whole visitation, and made her promise not to open the small wooden box he gave until she got home. When she cracks open the lid, mechanisms that seem to be made out of spare computer parts tinnily chime 'I'll Be Home for Christmas', and she cries because yes, this year, he finally will.

---

They're finishing off a bottle of post-fourth-date dessert wine and the mood is light, when Yomiel's laughter tapers off with a somber expression. "Listen, Sissel, if this is going to get serious... There's something you ought to know. About me."

She frowns in confusion, but allows her boyfriend to take her hand in his. With florid cheeks he guides her palm under his shirt to brush against the rough texture of the binder, traces down a figure drawn more with curves than blocks, and she says "oh."

Chapter Text

“No! It can’t … end like this!”

Sissel stepped back from the white-coated man warily, his fingers still twitching from the use of the psychokinesis pins that were his specialty. They’d just beaten him in his true white-panther Noise form — why were all the officer Reapers secretly cats? — and that was after taking him out in the fishpad, when he’d tried to manipulate Lynne. But it looked like he wasn’t about to go down as easily as Beauty had at the river. … Or Jowd, found mysteriously crunched under a huge concrete sweet-potato-looking thing on their way here.

“Give it up,” Lynne shouted from Sissel’s side, fists clenched and eyes gleaming — partly from determination, partly from unshed tears. “I … I don’t want to erase you, Cabanela, but I will if you force me to!”

The white-coated man stumbled a step back, as if her words cut sharper than the bullets fired from her pistol, her weapon against the Noise. “B-Baby…”

“Well, I do want to erase him!” The pomeranian barked loudly from Sissel’s other side, though the volume was nothing compared to the sound attacks he could barrage on the Noise realm. Tied around his neck was the yellow ribbon his first Partner had been known for wearing in her hair — it made for a useful surface to attach her newly-won squirrel-Noise pin to. “Then I can have the power to bring back Miss Kamila! Miss Kamilaaa!”

Sissel looked through his sunglasses to each of them in turn. Three weeks ago, he wouldn’t have believed he would ever consider either of them as friends. He had only been chasing after his own lost memories: who was he? Why had he been killed? Now … even though he thought he knew how, from his attempts at reading Yomiel’s mind (and it still hurt to think of his name, of his second Partner, that black cat with the red bandana who had sacrificed himself to Paint-Face in order to save him), there were still too many holes. A park, a girl, a noise, and — it had been Jowd. Paint-Face had shot him dead. … Right?

Sissel shook his head. Now was the time for action. They would end this together, with the help of his friends — through the efforts of all of his friends, even the ones who couldn’t be here: Ray, the soul trapped in the Hachiko statue who helped him out that second day; the justice minister and his wife, erased at the end of the second week to the Taboo Noise; Spiky, who had given him and Missile his desperately-needed keypin before being taken down by Drilldeylocks; even Jeego and Tengo, a pair of Reapers who weren’t actually all that bad, after you got past the fact that, you know, the two of them were nearly entirely responsible for Kamila’s near-erasure. All of them, everyone he had met on his journey, were here with him. Counting on him to finish this.

“I want to stop you,” Sissel stated. Not coming down on one side of erase or don’t erase, because he felt that White Coat really thought he was doing what was best, in the end. Trouble was, that was the stuff the road to hell was paved with. But stop him. This had to be stopped. “And I want my memories back, and our lives back. I won’t let Yomiel’s sacrifice be in vain.”

White Coat had been staring at the trio with sweat running down his forehead, clutching at his side. But when he heard Sissel’s words, his eyes practically boggled for a second, before he jumped back, one hand on his forehead, and let out a sharp bark of a laugh.

Sissel frowned and arched an eyebrow. That … hadn’t exactly been the reaction he’d been hoping for.

“‘Yomiel’s sacrifice’? ‘Yomiel’s sacrifice’?! Oh, baby…” The man pulled off some crazy moves with his arms and legs that were entirely commonplace to them by now, before looking up and meeting Sissel’s shaded eyes with a sober smile on his face. “You really don’t have a cluuue who you’re dealing with here, do you?”

“… Huh?”

A voice echoed out from behind him, from the direction of the ominous structure behind the huge throne. A familiar voice. “Please, Conductor. Won’t you leave the pleasure of the big reveal to me?”

Out of the darkness, nearly invisible against the black decor were it not for reflective topaz eyes and a red bandana, a sleek black cat delicately padded up to White Coat’s side. “Hello, everyone. Nice to meet you, ‘brave little warrior.’” There was somehow the impression of a sneer behind the whiskers. “And it’s a pleasure to see you two again.” The cat’s ears flicked towards Lynne. “Brat.” And towards him, and now his tone and expression seemed to soften. “… Partner.”

Now it was Sissel’s turn to boggle. “Buh— buh buh wha huh?” fell eloquently out of his lips.

“Sir!” Cabanela bowed deeply, letting nearly all of his lengthy red muffler fall to the ground, before hopping back up with a solemn expression.

“W-Wait, what?” Lynne managed, looking nearly as taken aback as Sissel felt. “The Composer is a cat?” She held her head in confused despair. “A-And what do you mean, again? I don’t remember ever seeing you before!”

The cat’s tail flicked to and fro in the air. “Oh, but even in this form, we’ve seen each other before, brat. But here. Maybe this will jog your memory.” And in a flash of light like that of an officer Reaper shifting to Noise form before a battle, Yomiel transformed from the black housecat into … Sissel. A mirror image of Sissel’s body, red suit, sunglasses, blond hair spike and all.

This was too much for Sissel. Just too much. “Huh?!”

Lynne took a step back. “W-What do you mean by turning into Sissel? What are you saying; I don’t understand! Who are you?”

The man in red before them laughed coldly, crossing his arms in front of him. “Turning into Sissel? That’s cute. You mean to say that you still don’t remember the day you helped ruin my life?” He shrugged and shook his head. “Well, I suppose memories are fickle things.” He turned his head to Sissel, one hand on his hip and a warm smile on his face. “Wouldn’t you agree … old friend?” 

Chapter Text

brog4life asked: yom yoms and cabanela

All Jowd has to hear is “Y’see, Yomibaby, it’s a little something called the Leeeonids—” and he’s on his feet dashing to his partner’s desk and slamming his palm down on the base of the telephone before the inspector can dig himself any deeper.

(because.)

---

wizardgaga asked: yomiel and sissel @u@ pick a sissel

He pads silently over snow-chilled concrete and under dim streetlamps. The only man (or whatever it is he may be) to show a care for him at all in his short life walks swiftly ahead, his resolute gait showing no sign of the bitter wind biting at his nose. Wherever it is he’s going, they’ll get there together.

---

1stepaheadofyou asked: Jeego/Alcohol

“What?” he says when Tengo gives him — specifically his holey, dubiously-stained t-shirt reading ‘Niebieski University Beer Pong Champs of 2000’ — a Significant Look like he’s trying to raise his eyebrow past his forehead and into his fedora. “It’s laundry day; gimme a break!”

---

athenacat asked: Yomiel/fiancée!Sissel

She puts down the phone after leaving her fifth voicemail of the day, sighing while wrapping up the cold lasagna and glaring at the ruckus coming from outside. There’s sure been a lot of sirens off in the distance this evening — something about an escapee from a police station? Hopefully he hasn’t got caught in traffic, she thinks idly. She’ll have to ask him about it in the morning.

Chapter Text

Fanart of a bloody Cabanela with a cockatiel on his hand.

(Drawn by Fungii.)

 

“Wake up. You’re drooling on the spreadsheets.”

Cabanela stirred quickly, lifting his face from the desk. A piece of paper stuck briefly to his cheek, and a twisting line from a spiral notebook streaked across his chin, making him look nothing less than a teen caught napping in math class. “Whaaat. Huuuh. I’m awaaake, baby.” He knocked the page off and flicked grains of sleep away. “Just resting the eyes for a sec…”

Sitting up straighter, he realized the futility of the excuse before even looking at the morning sun streaking through the window or smelling the fresh tea from his companion’s mug. Draped across his shoulders was the familiar green coat that usually hung from the nearby bookshelf, but served as a makeshift blanket during the chilly autumn, when Cabanela pulled accidental all-nighters at the junkyard office. Which had become more and more frequently as of late.

(The first time he saw the coat, he stared at it for a full minute, buried his nose in its collar, then told the man to stick it in a closet so he could never see it again. That lasted a week. Now he kept it out, and when his eyes fell on it, he told himself: “That’s why.”)

The shorter man behind him sighed and shook his head, the dove perched on his head mirroring his movements. “You need help, White Coat.”

A hand ran through his hair to check just how much damage he’d done to his style. “Funny, I thought that’s what you were here for, my oddball friend.”

“You need a hobby. Companionship. A pet, preferably — any girl who’d stick with you right now you wouldn’t deserve.”

He rolled his eyes with a patient smile, letting the jab pass. An interesting dynamic had formed between the two in their months of research together. Nothing like brotherhood, but something stronger than coworkers. A bond that came with a shared history and a shared goal. “Whaaat would you suggest, then? I’m not much of a cat person.”

The man gave a small smirk that revealed an amount of enthusiasm equivalent to a wide grin on anyone else. “Straighten that scarf. We’re taking a trip to the pet store.”

Chapter Text

“They never get my nose right,” Ol’ One-Step mutters into his glass of sarsaparilla. The heel of one cowskin boot is kicked up on the saloon’s barstool, one leather-covered elbow rests on the wooden counter, and the eyes behind those spectacles are sneering half in jest, half in truth at the torn-down poster in his hand.

The noise calls Nearly-Sighted J’s attention from the seat next to his. The man’s eyes flick from the lass playing piano in the corner to his partner in crime, and he snatches the dust-mottled page from his hands to get a closer look at the two-inch-high headline. “Aw, a wanted poster. How flattering.”

Ol’ One-Step shakes his head in mock derision, crossing his arms in front of his tasseled vest. “Flattering?” he asks, tone tinged with the affront of the ‘more dignified than thou’. “This picture makes me look terrible!”

The corners of J’s lips curl up in a way that deepens the creases of his face even more. “Then you should be grateful the sketch artist captured the real you.”

He grins with wicked amusement, and strokes one of his black sideburns with his thumb — the closest he’s yet been able to come to growing a real mustache he could twist the ends of at times like this. “Precisely.”

---

Step one, two; step one, two… Twirl and bring the arms in and Helve dances in her glass heels like she’s been training for it her whole life, feeling the rhythm of the orchestra moving at a much slower tempo than the rhythm of her heart.

Princess Immel cups one arm behind her back, the other clenched with hers out to the side, and pulls her close to whisper in her ear, breath warm on her exposed shoulder: “You’re a marvelous dancer, miss.”

She isn’t, she’s not, not at all; it must be a combination of the princess’s skill in leading her and the magic coursing through her dress, her hair, everything. It still nearly feels like a dream, all that happened earlier — a fairy godmother who called herself Quaintrelle, picked her up from washing the floors of her wicked stepmother Beauty’s home, turned her rags into a royal gown, and transformed some spare gadgets and broken devices into a robot unicorn to ride to the castle because their country’s use of technology was just plain amazing.

Over at midnight, she reminds herself. She needs to be away before midnight. The hour is coming far too quickly.

She closes her eyes so as not to see the people staring, the whole village wondering who this girl thinks she is, to be privileged with the princess’s first dance of the ball. Helve imagines she caught a glance of her stepbrothers in the crowd, not recognizing her (or not being able to make out her face, in the case of one of them) but gaping slackjawed anyway, and the thought makes her smile in a stifled giggle. All of the bachelors in the country with even slightly honorable reputation had arrived here tonight to win the heart of the princess and the approval of her father, King Sith — and wouldn’t you know it, she chooses the one untaken woman who showed up.

Helve’s not sure why she wanted to come in the first place, why she felt like she needed to. Maybe she was just looking for the chance to finally feel … special. Worthy. Loved.

She cards her fingers through Immel’s locks, and the music quiets to move on to the next song, but the princess stays with her. Whatever she was looking for, Helve’s found it tonight in her arms.

Chapter Text

It hurts, it hurts, across your shoulders, down your sides, it’s the most pain you’ve ever been in in your life. The man standing behind you — you’ve been ordered not to look at him — he’s striking you again, again, torrential ocean waves against stone; because, he’s quick to remind, you deserve it, you little whore. Worthless bitch.

The beatings stop when you’ve numbered forty-seven in your head — did you miscount? forget some? maybe he just aims to torment you by leaving it so close to an even number — and before your kneeled body gets the chance to ache (for more [but no]), he runs the switch gently up your bare spine (and oh, those fucking shivers coursing through every which way) and he speaks with controlled authority when he says, “Now, for these next three, you are not going to flinch. You will not cry out. If I see the smallest reaction out of you…”

The sentence is left unfinished, but you both know what would happen: you will have failed him. Disrespected him. Disappointed him, and that would be worse, uncountable times worse than any sort of corporeal punishment he could give — do to you. “Promise me,” he says, commands, mandates. Swear it to me, is what you hear. Give me your oath, give me your vow, and that’s all you want to do all you’ve wanted to do for months now — but.

But. “I can’t,” you say softly, words squeezed past the lump in your throat that means you’re so close to crying. (Your cheeks are tear-streaked, but you haven’t really cried, not yet.) “I can’t, it’s too much, I’ll…” break, or close to it, and then you’ll be damaged and then what good will you be. “No,” a whisper.

He makes a low sound, and you long to see what sort of expression he’s wearing — is his mouth a terse line of stoic solemnity? or is it twisted up into that grin, the one you only seem to catch in scenes like this, never at all given to anyone else outside the walls of their bedroom (so every time you pretend it’s a secret christmas present just for you). Then he says, “You have to, so you will,” and that emphasis the barely-there snickering lilt on the last word tells you oh yes, it’s that grin, and you inhale deep through your nostrils and close your eyes as you let the breath go.

A shallow sigh, then another, until you run your tongue across your lips and grasp the nearby bedframe like it’s your lifesaver in this storm. “Okay,” and you nod your head but keep it there, “yes, I promise, yes,” hair shadowing your face and you on your knees next to the bed looking for all the world the part of the child saying her prayers 

and then the first strike comes with more force than any before and turns the part you’re playing into reality.

Twice. And thrice. You keep your word. Just barely. No jerks, no shrieks.

He touches the switch to you again, this time gliding down your left side, and now it feels like a loving caress. “Good,” he says pleasantly, and it’s the word of release, of the break in the dam; you cry out loud, you sob and let the tears wet the carpet before your knees and bury your loudest screams in the side of the mattress. Good, you’ve pleased him, made him proud, here is your divine recognition that for once, you’ve managed to do something right.

A few seconds pass before you feel the switch fall against your ankle. He takes a knee between your legs, grabs a fistful of your hair by the nape of your neck, pulls your head back up forcefully (you catch your gasp back in your throat and keep your focus straight at the opposite wall to avoid unwanted side-glances). And when he places his lips just behind your right ear, you can feel his breath hot and damp and you swear you can hear his heart pumping out a rhythm, the harmony to your melody, when he mumbles huskily, “Red, yellow, green.”

The check-in is without a doubt the most unequivocally sexy thing he’s done all night (and fuck if he hasn’t done a hell of a lot of sexy things tonight). Your lashes flutter against your salt-stained cheeks as you breathe out in a sotto-voce to match his, “green, green” — a cough racks your lungs to drive out the last of the lump in your throat — “fuck, yes, green, fu—

The rest is lost when his teeth find a place between your shoulder and collarbone, and you feel about to faint from ecstasy.

{It’s the most pain you’ve ever been in in your life. The manipulator standing behind you, as you trudge step by step up the hollow basement stairs through an inhuman mixture of both your willpowers, he mumbles in a voice just loud enough to reach your ears, “Red, yellow, green?”

If you had sufficient curiosity and breath to form the question, you might ask him for gods’ sake what the fuck was that supposed to mean. But you don’t, so you stay silent, and so does he.}

Chapter Text

“You’re going to die,” the manipulator says. “How does that feel?”

Jowd takes a bite of supper.

“You’re going to die, and you’re going to know when it will happen, and where, and how — will that make it easier?”

Tonight’s meal is chicken tortilla soup.

“Or will it be torture? Counting down the weeks, days, hours you have left. Each grain of sand falling through your hourglass like a drop of water on your forehead.” The manipulator has never considered himself a wordsmith, but something about the subject matter — life and the lack thereof, et cetera — lends itself to a certain poetry.

“Any minute now the guards will be coming around with the big announcement. The justice minister’s just turned in his decision, you see, and it’s not looking good for you.” He sneers. “Sometimes the pen can be just as mighty as the sword. Or the pistol.”

Jowd is careful not to spill on his beard as he eats.

The manipulator sets his mouth in a thin line. He’s slouching on the bunk, leaving no trace of an imprint on the paper-thin blanket. “What will it be like, knowing you’ve only weeks to live? Knowing your final moments will be spent in this suffocating building of metal and cinderblock?” He chuckles without smiling. “We’ll both be getting free from our prisons on the same day, if all goes as planned.”

The former detective just keeps putting spoon to mouth, entirely oblivious to the manipulator’s monologuing, and it’s near enough to get him … not angry, but at least impatient.

“How will it feel,” and he rises from the bunk (flips to the ghost world, possesses the photo album on the other side of him) and puts his hand on the man’s left shoulder, leaning to speak right into his ear, “how will it feel, Detective, knowing you’ll never get to see your daughter grow up? How will it feel to come to terms with all the milestones in her life you’ll never see? She’ll graduate. Without you. Get married—” his phantom fingers clench “— and no father will be there to walk her down the aisle. Grandchildren without a grandfather.”

A spectral blink, and he’s on the opposite side of the card-turned-dining table, hands gripping the edges as best they can. “How will it feel knowing that in what will seem like just a few short moments, you’re going to meet with the same sad fate as your beloved wife,” he hisses through his teeth, “your beloved, devoted wife, who died and you could do nothing! Bastard!

His fists pound against the table, and through either some accidental use of his power or just the raw buildup of spiritual energy it shows in the world of the living. The thin table legs rattle and a half-eaten bowl of soup leaps up and overturns onto the lap of the wide-eyed prisoner. Unfortunately, the manipulator observes, it wasn’t still hot enough to leave any lasting damage.

“But you’ll be sharing her fate,” he says calmly, staring from behind (his pretense of) dark lenses at the man working hastily to clean himself up. “She’ll be gone, and you’ll be gone. Who knows; you win the karmic lottery, you might even get to see her again.”

The sound of marching footsteps echoes down the corridor, and Yomiel moves back to the internal phone line. He lingers on the telephone for a moment to hear the news the guard brings, just the news he expected, then makes his exit.

“Bastard. Death’s too good for you.”

Chapter Text

A click of her lighter, the sharp smell of butane, and the wick of the candle softly sputters alight, throwing harsh shadows on every dusty surface and broken cupboard in the room. She gives the room a once-over before carefully threading her way around the myriad mess of junk on the floor, setting down the tape recorder next to the phone, and taking a seat.

The light switch would have done just as well, but there’s something to be said about the dim ambiance. She tries and fails to remember whether she paid nearly as much attention to the amount of illumination in a place before he came around.

… Speak of the devil. (‘And he will appear’, the phrase goes.)

Granted, this place certainly has its own share of ghosts in its history, figuratively speaking. A cursory glance could tell her that much. But she knows, she recognises this spirit, like a birdwatcher can recognise a wren from a half-second blur in the corner of his eye.

(Beauty’s sixth sense is very strong.)

“So. You’re dead.” She pulls out a half-empty pack of menthols and shakes one into her hand. The thin cigarette flips between her gloved fingers, a little habit, before she touches the paper to the candle flame and takes a drag.

The fire seems to dance slightly, like a breeze from someone walking by, but the windows are boarded up and she’s the only body in the room.

“I can’t say I’m terribly surprised,” she says, because the sound of her voice resounding off the dirty walls and decrepit furniture is like a lifesaver in this ocean of silence, giving her something to hold on to.

(That’s the one benefit to being stuck with that nitwit of a partner for tonight’s mission. He honestly never shuts up, and — she’d never tell him, but — she likes that about him. Keeps the spectral murmurs quieter.)

She taps off ash straight onto the table, hardly caring if it leaves a mark; why should she. Why should she care if this miserable excuse for a house goes up in flames.

“So what’s it like, being dead?” No answer is received, or expected. Her ability (gift, curse, she’s heard all the terms for it) stretches to sensing, to feeling nearby presences, not to communing with them. Of course, just because she can’t hear them doesn’t mean they’re not listening.

But what is there to say? ‘Sorry you kicked it, hope it didn’t hurt too long, you should probably be getting up there to the big sweets shop in the sky’? She purses her lips, rests her chin on the back of her hand. “Looks like you finally managed to get one step ahead of me in something. One step closer to the pearly gates.” Or maybe he’d be reincarnated. As a bat, probably — terrible eyesight, loves the dark. It’d fit him.

The candle flickers.

She can’t be too upset over his death. Like she said, it’s not all that surprising, with the kind of work they’re in. And it’s not like they were ever even close, she tells herself. They’d seen each other around the office back at home, got to know each other better when they were teamed up for this special overseas op, and really got to know each other after the first few weeks on that blasted submarine.

He was pretty good, she remembers. But a little furtive foreplay in the boiler room didn’t make him a friend or anything.

Still. The last thing he’d said to her echoes in her head; they had been at the port, before they’d split into separate pairs for the mission. ‘I’ll be looking forward to seeing you again, once all this is through.’

She takes a long drag off her cigarette, blows the smoke into the darkness, and imagines the cloud coalescing into features (his coke-bottle lenses, his comical sideburns, his wry smile) before falling away into the aether.

“I guess that’s why you’re here, then,” she says quietly. “To keep your word.”

Another stick of tobacco falls out of the box. She lights the end with the stub of her first, then stands it on its filter on the edge of the table. One’s supposed to light incense for the departed, she thinks, but this will have to do for now.

“… Thanks.” It’s acknowledgement of a favour and his eulogy all in one. She checks her pocketwatch by the candlelight. It’s time. “Now go on, get out of here. I still have a job to do, and you’ll only distract me.”

A wisp, a whisper of a dry chuckle, and Beauty feels her hair ruffle away from her cheek and a chill hint of a kiss touch her skin. Wide-eyed, she touches her fingertips to the spot, then softens into a slight smile. “… Goodbye, Tengo. I’ll be looking forward to seeing you again … once all this is through.”

The candle flame burns brightly for a few seconds … and the presence is gone.

She tamps out the butt of her cigarette on the table. The phone receiver is picked up, the dial spun to a memorised number. “Forgive me for calling so late, Mr Minister.”

Chapter Text

It’s five days after the funeral when he shows up on your doorstep. An aluminium foil-wrapped peace offering in his hand, like half the others who’ve been in his place since… Since.

You peek past the curtain, open the door, put on the best smile you can pull together. No makeup (to run down your cheeks within the hour, no point), but you did (remember to, manage to) shower this morning. It’s muscle memory by this point: hello sir, won’t you come in; thank you sir, looks delicious; suppose you’re here because of what happened, appreciate your kindness; pardon, don’t believe we’ve met, did you know him from his work?

No ma’am, he says (though surely five years your senior). Inspector Cabanela, he says, reaching inside his longcoat (brief fleeting moment of primal panic) to pull out a badge, an identification card. Special Investigation Unit.

I met your fiancé … the day he passed on, he says.

You say oh. You pause, blink, lick your lips. You whisper oh.

An awkward pause follows. You set the casserole dish down on the counter and wonder what you should be feeling towards this man in your kitchen. Emotions have been drained from you for the past few days, all replaced with the same grey fog. You ask the man why he came.

He darts his eyes down, takes a breath, looks you in the eye. I come representing the department, ma’am, he replies, formal syntax stiff on his tongue. The chief’s already talked with you about your legal recompense, but I …

Hesitates, then bows, low and solemn, scarf the colour of (his blood) his favourite suit trailing on the linoleum. I wanted to personally apologise to you, ma’am, he says to the ground. The department’s actions that day were hasty and foolish. I and Detective Jowd both take complete responsibility for what occurred. The words have the tone of the mentally rehearsed a hundred times over. And though I know it’s no place for me to ask for your forgiveness, he continues, I — we — offer our sincerest regrets and sympathies.

Your stare passes through him without seeing him, ending somewhere a thousand meters below the earth. He remains in his keeled position, waiting for your word or a sign or a frying pan thrown at his head or something, anything.

You say okay.

He lifts his chin, brow slightly quirked.

You say is that all?

He stands, brushes down his coat, coughs quietly. You’ve gone off-script.

You say thank you for coming. Your reflection in his pupils show eyes glassy as a doll’s. You should go now.

Ah. Yeah, he stammers, turns to leave. Right. Well. Back on the doorstep. You have a good day, ma’am. You watch as he steps into a marked police sedan on the curb and pulls away.

You shut the door and return to the living room, where you sit in his armchair and stare at the wall for seven hours until you fall asleep.

Chapter Text

“You know, rumour haaas it that the upper ranks are thinkin’ of letting me into their little clubhouse soon.” He twirls and toe-steps along the low concrete wall to her left, never once giving a hint of faltering. “By next week, you two might have to start calling me Inspector Cabanela.”

“Any more cocky and you’d be running a chicken coop.” Her tone is as deadpan as ever, but she can’t help the corners of her lips from twitching up. The man’s so much childlike enthusiasm wrapped up in a candy-cane-coloured package. Some days he even beats Kamila in pure energy level; like today, the infant tuckered out in the stroller she pushes down the sidewalk.

Her husband gives a little scoff from her side. “Besides, there’s no reason to rush yourself up the ladder. Keep in mind the story of the boy who flew too close to the sun.” He rolls his eyes as he speaks, but Alma can tell he’s gauging the distance between the top of the wall and the ground, and if Cabanela were to fall Jowd would catch him, always.

Work and play, push and pull, sea and sky. All of it a balancing act, their whole relationship a constant game of trying not to tip the scales — but for now, with each of Alma’s most treasured lives surrounding her, she’s at peace.

Chapter Text

For as long as she can remember, Kamila always gets a story before she falls asleep. But what she remembers is rarely the story at all.

Once upon a time, there lived a miller and his daughter, her mother's would begin, tales of lavender-haired girls 'just about your age' finding themselves in sticky situations, but in the end saving the kingdom through their sharp wits and ingenuity. (She noticed that the heroines -- never princesses themselves, simply ordinary girls -- hardly ever needed to be with a prince in the end.)

The tale of the dragon cannot be true, went her father's (he preferred the ones with animals in them), and though he was poor when it came to spinning yarns on the spot like Mama did, her papa did the best voices, from the tinny falsetto of villagers in distress to such great huffs of fury for the giants and dragons that she imagined she could see the smoke billowing out from above his moustache.

You're too biiig to huddle and cuddle, he said, and Uncle Cabanela's inflections rolled and swayed, pitched and swung like a boat out on stormy seas. His stories invariably rhymed, and even if they were usually written for a younger audience than her parents', they were also some of her favourites at night.

(After all, what she enjoyed was rarely the story itself at all.)

...

Finally, with the help of her loyal steed and beautiful knight, the princess rescued the king from the wizard's prison once and for all. The white wizard begged for forgiveness, and the gentle and merciful princess invited him back to the palace as well. When they returned to the castle, she threw a feast for the entire kingdom, saying that this day would be celebrated and remembered throughout the lands as the day the king returned to his rightful home. All the peasants rejoiced and ate as much chicken and spaghetti as their stomachs could hold.

Lynne doesn't have any storybooks. She never needs one.

After every story, Kamila slumbers and dreams of common conflicts with simple solutions, dreams of a better world where all is resolved and made right, where she causes nothing and fixes everything. Where everyone always lives happily ever after.

Chapter Text

"Thought you might like to see him, so here he is!" Cabanela smiles at the minister and sets his jaw firm and tries to burn his true intentions into the man's head through his stare. Look at him, Minister. The pink-smocked man approaches the desk. I don't know why you signed that death warrant, but you look at this man and you try to understand the person behind the paper and ink. He is not Prisoner D99. His name is Jowd, and he is a painter, a mentor, a father. A partner. My partner.

--

(after I ran across a fic suggesting fianSissel was the daughter of a mafia family, laughs)

When he had agreed to meet her family, he hadn't the slightest idea she meant visiting a manor in the middle of the city. Now she was introducing him to her 'baby brother', who was a full head shorter than Yomiel and giving him a gawking stare like he was either about to swing at him or laugh at him. Finally, the boy folded his arms and eloquently stated, "Awright, G, I guess you cool wi' me for now, but I hear you make one wrong move wi' my sis, an' we gon have trouble; you get me, bizzoooy?"

--

He never slept. He looked after that stray cat more than her. She didn't think he even owned a hat. And still... She set down the mug and saucer next to his laptop, where he continued typing away oblivious to her presence. "Mister Yomiel, I've made your favourite coffee and a turkey sandwich." "Huh?" He looked up to the food, then to her. "Oh... Thanks, kid. Appreciate it." And even still, Flora reflected, he made a far better caretaker than the professor ever did.

--

An hour after Amelie is introduced to the funny dancing man in Kamila's apartment, the girl privately explains to her sleepover partner that "see, Uncle Cabanela and Papa and Mama all like each other lots, and I'm lucky, 'cause they all love me too!"

The next day, listening to her mama jabber on about some old guy who loves some old lady but they're both married to other people, Amelie rolls her eyes and asks, "Why don't they all love each other?" Her mother spits out her special grape juice.

--

The baby's asleep, the husband at work, and this man is winding her scarf off her shoulders like an antsy child unwrapping his birthday gift. He tosses it to where his long black coat already lies crumpled on the floor, and as he pins her back against her bedroom wall, lays kisses on her collarbone passionately, carnally, Alma glances away from his shadowed face and asks herself for neither the first nor last time whether this is really what she wants.

--

"(I... I just wish there was something I could do to help.)"

From his hospice bed, Yomiel chuckled and wheezed as he stroked the kitten's fur with frail, wrinkled fingers. "My cat's developed a savior complex." (Even now, he was always 'his cat'.) "You're used to changing lives, Sissel. But this is the end of my fate." He drew a breath. "Now, if you could hop off the bed? I don't want any more trouble from that damned fragment." As Sissel's paws met the floor, he heard the weak voice behind him murmur, "I'm coming for you, Sissel."

--

When presented with his coat, Jowd didn't even bother ducking into another room to pull off his stained smock, stripping down to his prison garb right in front of Lynne and Cabanela. He had changed quite a bit in the five years since he'd seen him last, the man thought. Seemed to be keeping quite fit behind bars, quite... toned...

It wasn't until after he and Lynne had left that the inspector turned to the superintendent and asked, "Liiike what you saw~?", and he flushed as red as Lovey-Dove was blue.

--

"Look, I don't care if he is your magic kitten from when you were a kid, or if he doesn't even eat anything, or..." Amelie looks at the black furball in her roommate's hands, two pairs of eyes seeming to wear identical pleading expressions. "... Or if he's still cute as heck, or if I always wanted a cat myself but Mom would never let--" She shakes her head, curls falling in her face. "I mean, come on, Kamila! You know what the RAs will say when they catch him!"

"You mean 'if'," is all she says.

--

Too close, Yomiel thinks at the exact moment he pulls the trigger, too damn close, and just to be sure he flips to the Ghost World for a fraction of a second. There's him, the two flames he already knows of, and now one weak ember of an unconscious Temsik spirit possessing the inspector's body. But he barely has time to regret it before he feels himself being pulled back through time again, and he thanks all the gods he doesn't believe in for the redo. This time, he'll stand back.

--

The two women chat -- there's not much else to do. The older talks about her husband, her daughter, her Cabanela. The younger's eyes light up during every story, every tiny memory she shares of herself and her fiancé. Except for the one time the topic of Alma's death comes up. Sissel looks down and says she watched every minute of it, she begged him to stop every step of the way but he wouldn't listen, she's sorry she's sorry it's all her fault; Alma strokes her hair and whispers reassurances.

Chapter Text

“Inspector! C’mon, stay with me, Inspector!”

The man stared at the body in front of him, surrounded by the putrid decomposing flesh of the formerly human. Godsdammit… He should have sent the notice to empty the prison earlier. He should have told him his plans. He should have let him see his daughter once more. Should have, should have, should have.

Nearly on automatic, he picked up the pistol from the man’s loose grip — the guards must have armed them with anything they had on hand. It felt light, and a glance at the clip confirmed it was empty.

Gods above… Using your last bullet on yourself? You always were one to take the easy way out. Damned fool.

“Inspector Cabanela…” Lynne’s tone spoke of tears and barely-controlled desperation. “I know. I know, okay?!” She sniffed back a sob and laid a bloodied hand on his shoulder. (His coat hadn’t been spotless for a long time, now.) “But we need to get back to the safe house before dark. Kamila, Missile, the superintendent… They’re all waiting for us.”

“Kamila…” The name stirred something within him, and he blinked and nodded. “Yeah… Yeah. You’re right.” He pocketed the gun in his coat and turned solemnly from the prison entrance. “We better head back.”

As they walked away, the man kept silent for a moment before saying, “You can drooop the ‘Inspector’, by the by. Just ‘Cabanela’ is fine with me. What use are fancy titles at the end of the world, eh, baby?”

Chapter Text

"Now, child. Are you ready to renounce this foooolish quest to release the criminal from his sentence?"

Lynne raises her head, meeting the duke's eyes from her genuflection. "Duke Jowd was my mentor, and shared with you a close fraternity. You mean to say you hold no remorse? He is to be hanged tomorrow!"

"It was a decision of the courts, none of my own. You knooow that, squire."

"I... I cannot abjure my fealty."

"Very well." He snaps to the royal guard. "Take her to the stocks."

---

She boots in under two seconds -- it's a selling point for her brand. Her optical ports open, and she waits for her scripted instruction.

"Speak," a voice says from her side.

"I am an XK19 model gyndroid from Azzura Laboratories, producing top-quality technologies throughout the country. I am here to serve you in every capacity. As we interact, I will adapt to best suit your preferences." A pause. "Will you give me a name?"

"Yeah." The man moves in front of her. "Your name is Sissel."

---

After a particularly brutal incident during a chase (lesson learned: strutting through traffic, even quickly, is not the best of plans), Cabanela lay on the hospital bed after surgery, looking to the knee that wasn't there and sighing. His ever-present partner sitting nearby tried to cheer him up in his own way, passing him a magazine folded open to an article on foreign prosthetics. He scanned the page and chuckled dryly. "Robots, eh? Thaaanks, but blue's just not my color."

---

"There used to be this girl who came around a lot," Alma mentions to her husband that night as she pulls off her uniform and shakes out her hair. "A regular; always had a big stack of new books every couple of weeks. Bright young woman, too -- friendly, as far as I could tell from our conversations over the counter. But she just... stopped showing up a little while back. And I was looking forward to telling her about your big adventure in the park!"

---

At first, Missile darts all across town like each core is a tennis ball thrown just for him. But as the years pass, he finds himself more and more drawn to his two mistresses he remembers caring for so well, and often quietly occupies a place in Miss Kamila's home, then Miss Lynne's apartment. It's been eight years since he returned when he feels his powers begin to wane. As a final farewell, he goes with the two to the pound one day and manipulates the latch of a certain Pomeranian pup's cage.

---

Yomiel wanted him to feel the same pain he felt. If he lost his love for the rest of his life, then so would Mr ~Detective~. But he keeps an eye on him while it happens, and after, until it's years later and the end result is nothing at all. 'The prisoner asked to be executed,' the guards say, and it's so terribly boring. The man ran away from his pain, straight into the arms of the executioner. It doesn't hit him until later: he expected Jowd to be like him. Instead, he's acting like her.

---

"Thaaanks again for inviting me over, guys. Birthdays are meant to be celebrated with friends and loved ones, that's what I say! And you know I wouldn't miss my sweet Alma's for all the paperwork in the world. Wait 'til you see the present I've got in store for you; yeaaah, there's nothin' like it, baby! Oh, letting me in first? Hey, don't mind if I do! Geez, man, you always keep it this dark in here? Let's shed a little light on the situation, shaaall we?"

---

They trail off the last refrains of "to yooou~", and her young daughter eggs her on, "Make a wish, Mama!" Alma claps her hands together in delight, stands to lean in towards the candles, takes a deep breath -- and gets the wind knocked out of her. Her body crumples to the floor, narrowly missing the cat in her fall. She gives a shout of mixed pain, shock, and fear, and clutches at her chest. "Am I -- having a heart attack!?" she gasps, and hears her husband whisper a stunned "no."

***

She's eight pounds five ounces, twenty inches long, and a warm bundle swaddled in pink cradled in her arms. Lacking any particular familial loyalties, they picked her name out of a baby book -- Kamila, f. Arabic, derived from Kamilah. Meaning: 'complete'. And lying here in the hospital, her daughter resting quietly in her lap and her proud husband by her shoulder counting fingers and toes, Jowd sighs contentedly and agrees. At this perfect moment, her family truly feels complete.

---

She needs so much time for everything, after. Her life's stopped but the world spins entirely too fast: there's a funeral and investigation and drying her child's tears while the gunshot is still echoing off the walls. The inspector (her partner, a part of her says; former partner, another part replies) comes around the house uninvited. Jowd nearly shuts the door in her face -- except Cabanela quickly embraces her before she can think. The echo fades away, and she stands there struck dumb.

---

The combination of light chat over post-supper coffee and heavy storms around Kamila's bedtime has Cabanela taking the couch for the night, after a swift flurry of "a little raaain never hurt anyone, darling" "it's awfully tough to dry-clean out lightning" protests and ripostes. It's half one when she stirs from under her coat-turned-blanket to the sound of soft crying from the master bedroom. A thin peek inside reveals a weary wife half-consciously clutching the air above a too-empty bed.

---

At first sight, he's both entirely recognisable and honestly rather little like what she expected (and she surprises herself to learn that she had expectations). Considering their similarities and the redundancy of introductions, she cuts straight to the heart of their differences, straight to the only thing she knows about him that really matters: "You left her."

The man at least has the decency to look away, acknowledging the few words and the thousands unsaid, and answers, "I know."

***

"Yo-chan~! Oh, Yo-chan~~!"

"... I thought I said never to call me that. ... Sir."

"Aw, Yo-chan, you're so ~cute~ when you think you have freedom! Now, I know you're hard at work with all those computer whatsits, but this is a very important matter. Yo-chan. ... We are out of marshmallows."

"All right, that's it! I can't stand your goddamn bullshit for one more second! I'm--"

"You're what? 'Out of here'? Just remember who brought your fiancée back to you, Yo-chan. Remember who can undo that."

---

"There are footprints -- female, no older than seven -- that run from the dining table down these boxes here, indicating someone stood on them to construct something, something likely involving this birthday cake. There are clear traces of flash string residue along the wall and around the ceiling fan. And this picture frame was hung up very recently. You know it's not often I say this, but the detective inspector was right, John. There's more to this case than meets the eye."

---

His own outfit is the same unmarked red as the day he began his journey, though he feels he's been wandering for years. The figure beside him wears a white cloak -- a sign he has learned marks experience and wisdom -- and yet their lengthy scarf remains as red as the one he wears himself. The two move together for a time, each with the singular goal of reaching the top. But he holds no bond with this other, who chirps and dawdles around like a child, and he soon takes his leave for his own path.

Chapter Text

The first thing she thinks is, if Nick could see the hair on this guy, he'd never make fun of her topknot again. In fact, what Nick should do is keep this picture with him, so whenever he gets someone calling him 'Spikes', he can pull it out and say, "Better 'Spikes' than 'Yikes'", or something like that. Yeah, that's just the kind of terrible pun he would make. She nearly gets the urge to laugh, but catches herself just in time. Her client is still watching, after all, and anyway it's really a bad idea to laugh at spirits, no matter how ... original their hair is. Oops.

(Besides, maybe Nick's never called 'Spikes' anymore. She hasn't seen him in too long. Might be time to make the trip down there ... ah, but right now, focus on the job ahead of you, Maya! Sheesh!)

She gives the photo another cursory lookover. Hair aside, it's the sort of headshot she'd seen probably hundreds of times while she was with Nick -- full-profile against a white background, probably with eyes staring straight ahead if she could see past the frames. The sort of photo that would show up in a court record... Or an autopsy report, she supposes.

"Before we begin, sir, could you give me some more information about the departed and what you're looking to get out of our session today?" Oh yeah, listen to her, sounding all professional-like. Took her ages to memorise that line through Pearly's diligent training. Channelling was as much a business as it was a public service, after all, and she couldn't just say 'so who's this dweeb and how'd he croak?' Not after what happened with that old lady, anyway. She'd learnt her lesson -- lack of tact equalled stunned gasps and purse slaps equalled pain. After that, it was straight to reciting lines by the book.

Her potential client stretches his lips thin and glances to the side when he answers. "This maaan... He was a suspect in a case." A hard blink and he dips his head so his eyes are cast in shadow, and she can't help but wonder what it is he's reimagining in his mind.

It is a bit surprising to hear that the spirit was a suspect -- when she heard her client was a cop, her presumption was obviously that the spirit was a victim, and he wanted to find out if he had any information about who had killed him. "And... You want him to confess to his crime?" she guesses. It wouldn't be the first time for such a scenario -- though she winces internally at the memory and tries not to draw too many more parallels between this case and her first solo channelling, lest she jinx something or another.

But to her surprise, the inspector shakes his head. "No, nooo, baby, nothing like that. That case was closed a long time back, and the man was found totally --" despite his smooth charm, she notes him swallowing back some sort of emotion with his words "-- toootally innocent of those charges."

Maya puts on her best 'then I don't understand' face in a hopeful attempt to save herself from looking foolish and saying the words. The man in white reads her well. "Mostlyyy..." A light shrug. "There were some ... extenuating circumstances surrounding his death. Mostlyyy... I want to make sure he is ... wherever it is his soul's meant to be, gods bless."

That sets off all kinds of warning bells in her head. Bells in the sound of her experience with perhaps-not-quite-passed-on spirits with strong spiritual powers, and what can happen when they're channelled. This spirit is a man, so she would be surprised -- but anything's possible, and she has to ask.

"Inspector," and she looks at him levelly as he raises an easy eyebrow. "I am an experienced medium, but this is very important. In your honest opinion, do you believe this spirit may be willing and capable of inflicting physical or psychic harm on either yourself or myself during this channelling?"

(God, she sounded so cool and grown-up. But shut up Maya that's not the point.)

The question registers on his face with surprise, then careful thought. "No..." Cabanela runs his hand through his (impressively styled) hair. "Probably. Maybe." He catches Maya's narrow glare, frustrated with his indecisiveness, and chuckles weakly in an attempt to lighten the mood. "Looook... Willing, probably yes, but just for meee, baby, I promise he wouldn't hurt ya. And b'sides, the guy wouldn't be ~caaapable~ of anything without weapons -- he was some paper pusher, and I've got --" he pulls off a truncated version of the dance with which he twirled into the manor "-- detective's training, baby."

Maya looks the man up and down judgingly. He remains in his position with a grin on his face that makes him look ten years younger and just as reckless.

She rolls her eyes and smiles back. "Can you promise me no one's going to get hurt here?"

"I sweaaar on my muffler," he responds. It is a really snazzy muffler.

She claps her hands, nods once, and smiles. "All right, then. Inspector Cabanela, if you'll please come with me to the Channelling Chamber, we'll begin our session immediately." She glances to his waist. "And no weapons of any kind allowed." She'd learnt that lesson very quickly.

Chapter Text

The rice showers her veil, streaming down her train like so many drops of water in a storm. She laughs and tugs the man’s wrist away from the reception, to rest under the thick wooden doorway of the chapel.

“Finally,” he says, the one word meaning so much. Finally away from them; he never liked crowds. Finally alone. Finally together.

Sissel blushes, looks down, intertwines their fingers. She rubs at his golden band with her thumb. “Would you like to kiss the bride?” she asks shyly. “… Again?”

Her husband beams. “Darling, I never want to stop.” As they move in closer, lips nearly touching, the chapel bells begin to ring out…

to the melodious noise of squeaking brakes.

She opens her eyes, bats the drapes off the window with the back of her hand. School bus, garbage truck, something. The house echoes with emptiness as she falls back into bed. That was a good one, she thinks. Blue pills rattle out of a near-empty bottle from her nightstand; she washes down however many fell into her hand with a swig from a bottle of wine. Let’s see if we can bring that one back.

The last thing she sees before her eyes flutter shut again is the lone engagement ring on her left hand.

Chapter Text

Talking with Jowd is like riding a bike after five years of disuse — he remembers how, but it’s slow to start, everything feels two sizes too small, and the possibility of a major crash is never far from his mind.

He initiates, because despite the gun at his side and the overt reason for this little trip, Cabanela is the one at the tactical disadvantage, and the both of them know it. “So,” he begins. “Hooow’s the little lady doing?”

Five words, five careful, innocuous words, and from the fleeting expression on Jowd’s face — a wrinkle around the eyes, a tension in his jaw — the inspector knows it tells him everything.

His priorities: the first words out of his mouth are asking about Kamila. Not anything about Jowd’s health, or how he managed to escape, or why. Or anything regarding the events of the past. All important subjects, to be sure. But first and foremost, his daughter. Their Kamila. The last fragile link to happier times. You remember those days, don’t you, my old friend? Sometimes I worry that you wear that smile so much you’ve forgotten what it’s like to have it mean something. To have it not mean anything, and do it anyway.

Moreover, the words tell Jowd the relative strength of relationship links. ‘You should know better than me’ is an obvious answer, and thus the wrong one. And thus Cabanela, free to go as he likes and do as he pleases — Cabanela, in such close quarters with Lynne, Kamila’s guardian, each day — knows less of how she’s faring than this prisoner, with nothing stronger than the thin thread of a weekly phone call.

And why? Why would he choose to sever those ties? That answer’s not so self-evident. Jowd could form suppositions and guesses and get nowhere fast, so he leaves that aside for now. Next point: Cabanela knows Jowd knows more than him. Again, if the inspector kept in touch with Kamila, the answer would be obvious, and he wouldn’t have asked. If he knows the answer is obvious, he knows Jowd communicates with Kamila regularly.

(It could have been a guess. Only neither of them do guesses. ‘Hunches’ are just a shortcut word for “the logic is transparent to me, and if you don’t understand why should I bother explaining it to you”.

Lynne could have told him, but that would simply be far too easy.)

Cabanela knows of the phone calls, and yet has never shown his face around the prison, as far as Jowd has seen. Therefore he’s been keeping tabs on him, closer tabs than he gave the man credit for. Years ago, when he and the other two transferred facilities, he heard whispers of rumours from the guards, ‘Inspector Cabanela’s orders.’ It intrigued him at the time, to be sure — but nothing more ever came of it, and so the matter faded away. Now he’s left with re-evaluating the past five years through this new filter, this idea that Cabanela acted behind the scenes, observing and orchestrating everything.

He can’t help but be impressed. And not only is the man not through yet, but the two of them are right in the middle of one of his schemes. That much was made clear with the gift. A ‘pocket watch’ with one hand always pointing towards the inspector, the other minutely teetering based on their distance… Cabanela has spent years keeping an eye on him. Now it seems, for whatever reason, he wants Jowd to return the favour.

Well, of course. Anything for a partner.

“As bright as ever,” Jowd replies. “I’m told she’s looking more like her mother each day.”

The ball’s in your court. Partner.

Chapter Text

He paints. So many things have changed since that day, since his return from the hospital, and yet it's the painting that nags at Alma the most. Before, he didn't know the difference between oil and acrylic, but now he's got brushes and canvases filling up the spare room. (She worries for young Kamila's safety.)

She peeks in on him once to see him busy on a portrait of a girl, beautiful and smiling. Given the eyes, the hair, it could almost be a photo of their daughter in a decade or so.

---

He likes to program at this one café, because it’s quiet and the coffee is the perfect cheap swill at magma temperatures. He takes a seat with his laptop and... tries to ignore that girl who keeps glancing his way. What’s she doing, writing something?

The two leave simultaneously, not by coincidence; he takes his chance to casually bump into her outside. She gives a surprised shout, her sketchbook flying from her arms. “Sorry about that,” he says, swiftly picking it up and taking a look. The pages are covered with beautiful sketches of a pointy-haired man at his computer.

---

"It was a clean shot, straight through his heart. Honestly, it was likely less painful than his original fate, sir." The guard's words are cool indifference betrayed by white knuckles around his chair's arm, but all Cabanela wants to know is why. Why would the guards shoot to kill? Why would he try to escape now of all times? It's the same end result, only by a different hand, and Cabanela feels cheated, somehow. Just like him, to cause trouble by simply not being around any more. Just like him.

---

[blackcoat AU]

They join the detective's division the very same day, and find they share... similar occupational goals. Jowd thoroughly examines the crime scene, and incriminating photos mysteriously erase themselves from evidence logs after discreet alley-way meetings. Cabanela has a natural genius for investigating, including turning up all kinds of background on the chief commissioner, and well, says Jowd, congratulations on the promotion, partner. The two personalities match as well as one's black coat and the other's black tie.

---

[blackcoat AU]

"If I let him have his way, you wouldn't have graced our doorstep for years!" The woman laughs and makes a move to take his dark coat, but he waves her off. She rests an arm on her round stomach and glances kindly towards her husband. "He's worried for me and the little one, I know. But like I keep telling him..." And suddenly Cabanela's looking down the barrel of his own revolver the moment he notices it's missing. "I can take care of myself." Alma's warm smile reflects white off her onyx brooch.

---

[sexswap AU]

He is gone, but he remains.

Unconsciousness breaks and he sees a woman— his wife, his love kneeling over him, blood-stained fingers caressing his own cooling hand and mumbling tearful pleas into his shoulder like a prayer. Kamila can’t— It was me; he hears the half-formed plans like a web of threads connecting one thought to the next, and no, that won’t do, he can’t let her. Without a voice of his own, he does what he can to break some tenuous bonds it wasn’t you, don’t even think it and strengthen others stay with our daughter, call Cabanela, keep them both close. Fitting a lifetime’s worth of love and advice into a few minutes of silence.

He remains, and he is gone.

---

[sexswap AU]

“Oh, and by the way, you did an excellent job today, counsellor.” The sedan putters down as she shuts off the engine. “Another win for justice, or so I heard.”

“Ah, it was a win for the truth!” He picks up his briefcase in one hand and leans to unbuckle with the other. “Keen distinction there.” The man winks, grins. “And of course, it would never have been possible without that decisive evidence found by my two favourite ladies.”

“Flatterer.” Jowd shakes her head, and the two share a kiss over the gearshift. “Now come on. Let’s go in and have some cake to celebrate. I think Kamila even said she had something special planned, to make it up for you having to work on your own birthday!”

---

[rp.. AU.... revised-timeline alma thinking of game-timeline sexswap AU]

She never thinks about it, until she does. It’s never an issue, until she’s out buying bread and milk and she passes the florist and wonders what kind of flowers lay at her gravestone. No. Stop it. Don’t worry about it. Kamila needs bigger shoes and what size was her Kamila wearing as she walked up to her father lined out in a wooden box and paler than (she traces her own blue under white on her wrist) paler than this.

Forget it. It’s nothing. Nothing to do with you.

She swallows and it goes down like bread baked with crushed glass and she asks honey, sweetheart, when was the last time we went over our wills? oh, just in case. wouldn’t want… you know, with kamila. what about, you, you have a decent life insurance policy, right? no reason. just thinking. i scheduled us all for health examinations next week, all right?

He mumbles an assent and she turns in their bed and has dreams of how wrong it is, to be haunted by yourself.

---

[rp AU, yomiel & apollo justice after sexswap AU bad end]

There’s no one left.

“And a sugar-coated happy ending to everyone,” she’d said to him once. He should have known it could never be that simple. Did know. Didn’t believe.

The thick metal of the bracelet is suffocating. He blinks to blue for a nothing of a second before returning with a spectral shiver — he can see them, he can see them under the ground, coloured forms with bright cores of soul carved out. Apollo clutches his arms to his chest against the cold.

Terrible, tragic, group murder, took the daughter too, and that inspector, just promoted a few months ago, can you believe it, just terrible. Suspect still on the loose. Or they caught the suspect. Or there is no suspect. Rumours feeding on rumours and Yomiel knows the truth and how many times, how many lives does he have to live how many times does he have to kill everyone everyone just to disappear himself. How many rounds does this record have to spin before it breaks.

Apollo sighs, heads towards the entrance. It was a quiet ceremony. There was no one left to grieve.

---

[dangan ronpa crossover]

Yomiel swears these interns are getting younger and younger, but he’s got to admit the chick can change an inkjet cartridge as easily as a coffee filter. One lazy Thursday he catches her behind a keyboard in the facility library, and, mildly impressed with her speed, asks what she’s working on; school project? “Something like that,” she replies, and tilts the screen to show holy shit is that a full-fledged graphical AI. “Alty and I are trying to streamline the project’s multidimensional data model logic by reducing the number of superfluous hierarchies in support of a greater range of…” Fujisaki looks up to him with a smile and giggles. “You know, stuff.”

Chapter Text

It’s not... as bad as it might sound. For the longest time, I could only talk back to Yomiel, through his core. It’s a funny thing, you know? I had known him for ten years, and couldn’t talk to anyone coherently back then, and I was fine with that. More than fine. Those ten years were very happy for me.

But ‘living’ that one night as a person... Things were different, after. I acted the role of the perfect housecat for a long while. Watching, observing, learning. But slowly, I realised it was important to me to know more. To be more.

It wasn’t enough to know “that sound of crinkling metal in the kitchen means food”. Now it was, “why does that sound mean food? Why is there food in the metal? Why do the humans put the food in the metal if they’re only going to take it out again?” Maybe it was because I couldn’t taste it any more anyway.

It started with Detective Lynne, no surprises there. Oh— She wasn’t my first, don’t get me wrong; she fell into it all by herself. I wasn’t there when it happened, but Detective Jowd knew what to do. I hopped along to the scene, back into her body just like old times. Spooked the armed crook into falling down some stairs. (A few broken bones, nothing permanent.)

It felt great being able to talk to Lynne again. Being able to talk to someone, anyone, honestly, with a different perspective from Yomiel. I don’t think Jowd ever explained the whole story to her (or to anyone), but she knew enough to keep quiet about her mentor’s supernatural immortal talking cat. And she knew enough to help answer some of my questions.

It had been some time since I’d changed someone’s fate like that. It brought back all those questions Missile had thought to ask so long ago. Why do people die when they hear that loud noise? (You should have seen me on my first New Year’s celebration. I was a real mess, heh heh...) Why do people die when the bullet hits them, if they’re so big and a bullet’s so small? Why do people die when they need medicine? I thought of the old Yomiel, cradling her body in his arms; why do people die when they have too much medicine?

I didn’t ask all of them at once, of course. Still, it seemed fascinating to me as I was, so divorced from the concept. People died so easily. At first, I wanted to know why.

Later, I wanted to know how.

Chapter Text

They’ve just made it off the creaking metal stairs when Lynne darts left, a step closer to the basement of the office before Jowd can stop her and ask what she’s doing, the man in red’s surely left the junkyard by now, they don’t have time for detours.

“I—” She looks at Jowd with a hint of an expression he’s seen uncountable times before, if never from her. Questioning his memory, his ability, possibly his sanity. “I was going to use the phone to call an ambulance.” Lynne’s eyes turn from him to the visible corner of the office building. “You saw the inspector, didn’t you, Detective Jowd? He looked like he could barely breathe...!”

It’s been five years, and Jowd’s talent at thorough investigation has gotten rusty but hardly disappeared. He could read the grey down his temples, the lines across his forehead easier than reading the writing on the wall over this past month (because that turned out to be fiction, and this, he can trust, is biography).

“He’ll be fine,” Jowd says, and adds, to stave off further argument, “He’s managed to get along for five years without anyone’s help. I’m sure he and the professor can handle themselves.”

The young woman bites her lip in a wince at his remark, and Jowd wonders how she really sees the inspector, as a boss or a mentor or a headache. Or some combination. For all Lynne’s strengths, bless her heart, she wouldn’t (couldn’t) understand Jowd’s true intentions, so let her think he’s still cross at the man. It’s easier that way.

“Come on,” Jowd says, taking a decisive step away. “We’ve got a criminal to catch, Detective.”

That did it. The moonlight catches her eye in a gleam that brings him ten years back, mirroring the sunset glint off a brand-new toy badge. She nods resolutely, and the two set off at a swift pace.

For if Jowd’s learned anything these past five years, it’s that it’s far easier to run from his troubles than to face them.