A/N: Small changes to note...a) chapter titles, b) Naito Tsukiakari's name changed to Naito Galatine.
Entombed in a White Mask
(Bewitched by the Hours Pt. 2)
They were in an elevator, one which Mirajane hadn't noticed when they first entered (broke into, more accurately) the building. Apparently it and the rest of the building were powered by huge lacrima separate from the city's lacrima grid. Something about wanting to avoid contact with the big corporations. This elevator apparently was the only way, as Kalan had explained on their way, to get to their destination.
"The entire ballroom's underground," he had said, looking smug as she had tried to keep from looking impressed, "It's the hottest club in the entire city." Here had given her a pointed look, and an equally pointed smirk. "You're lucky, usually no one get's in without an invite."
And with that he'd ushered her into the elevator, insisting again that she'd made them late, to which she retorted it was mostly his fault. But to call it an elevator was a little bit of a stretch; it was actually more of a cramped little steel lift in a cement shaft. Winding cables led them on their slow descent to the party.
It wouldn't have been bad, had she not tried to ignore how small it was, which only ended up making it seem smaller. She could smell Kalan, and she could smell her own scent both mixing in the air around them both fighting for dominance. She was up against the opposite wall, but every time the elevator shook, she brushed into Kalan. She'd throw him a glare, and he'd only raise an eyebrow and smirk at her.
Their progress was slow to say the least. "How much longer until we get there?"
"I dunno," he sighed. "I told them they needed to fix these old lifts…"
"We probably could've taken the stairs and been there by now," Mirajane said, crossing her arms.
"The stairs don't go down that far." He waved an arm around the shaft, "If you wanted a place to stay hidden, what would be more counter-productive and obvious than putting in stairs?"
Mirajane stared at him for a second and raised her eyebrows. "I don't know, maybe an elevator?"
"Ah, so you can think a little," Kalan said airily ignoring her noise of indignation, "Well, did you notice this elevator before I showed it to you?"
"…No, I didn't."
"Then there you have it, princess!"
Kalan was in a decidedly good mood. He was still grinning, but he seemed much more animated, which was certainly saying something. He could barely contain himself, Mirajane noted, like he was a kid just before his birthday. Mirajane couldn't decide whether this was a good or a bad sign for the events to come.
The steel cables began to whine, and Mirajane couldn't help but feel her stomach sink. That couldn't be good. There was a grinding noise now, like the cable had caught on something, Their descent had almost slowed to a stop.
"This doesn't seem safe," Mirajane sad bluntly, a hand on her hip as she glared up at Kalan. The lift jerked a little, and she involuntarily let out a noise of surprise. She hid her embarrassment with an exasperated sigh, even though she knew Kalan saw right through it, "See? What'll you do if this thing kills us before we get to your party?"
"First of all, it would take a hell of a lot more than an elevator to kill me," he said as he raked a hand through his hair, "And nothing's ever really safe by the way."
"What are you talking about? There are plenty of safe things out there," Mirajane said, rolling her eyes, "like friends and family, or your home. Or maybe even elevators not made out scrap metal."
"I'll give you the elevator one," Kalan said through a laugh, "But not those other ones. Your friends are only that until they see something worth more to them than you. And family's the same way. Besides everyone can die, and there ain't nothing special keeping your loved ones from the reaper."
"That's a sad way of looking at it," she said. Then there was surprise on Kalan's face, a look she hadn't expected, "What?"
"Nothing. I just thought you were going to say I was wrong," Kalan said, an unusual note of hesitation in his voice, "And that friends don't do that to each other, or that I was a bitter bastard for thinking like that."
"Well, you are a bitter bastard," she said cheekily, "But I used to think a lot like that, too. What's the point of being friends if they never get you, or even if they do it'll just make parting with them that much harder?"
This was weird. She was supposed to be gathering information, making the most of her unfortunate situation. She wasn't supposed to spilling her guts to some guy she barely knew, despite how strangely enchanting the idea seemed. But Mirajane continued, because she wasn't cynical. She continued because she hoped that Kalan could understand her, because if his pale eyes could look and tell so much about her in a glance, maybe he would actually see her.
"My parents left us when my sister was born, and she and my brother were really the only ones I cared about. We had each other, and that was really all that mattered." She paused. "I thought my parents were worthless for leaving us. I mean, what kind of parents do that, right?"
"It cut me up the most, because I'm the only one who remembered them. Elfman was just a toddler, and Lisanna was barely out of the womb." She hadn't told anyone about this, ever. It was a secret so acrid she'd learned to live with it. She was a demon after all, and if anyone should swallow poison it should be her. "I didn't want them to know, not like how I knew, so I told them they were dead."
"And the worst part is that somewhere in me I started to believe it. Who cares about anything that's not going to last, anyway? Our parents left us for no goddamn reason, and I gave my friends plenty of reason to leave. Maybe I wanted tha—"
Kalan had called her by name. That shut her up.
He wasn't looking at her. He said his next words lowly, almost at a whisper. "Stop, please. I can't…please, stop."
He sounded guilty, Mirajane thought. A line had been drawn, a line that had been pretty ambiguous until this moment. What it signified, or why it had been drawn, Mirajane couldn't know, because Kalan refused to look at her. And then he was turning to her, a grin stretching his scar, "You shouldn't go around saying such dark things, princess, there's a party tonight, remember?"
The moment was gone.
All such moments with Kalan were fleeting, so infuriatingly so that Mirajane sometimes questioned if they had really happened. The moment at the refrigerator. The one at the table. That moment on the roof in the rain. The first time she'd seen those strange pale eyes. They came and went like the wind. She glanced at Kalan, and for a second she'd caught him staring at her intently, as though she was a problem he was having a tough time solving. But in a second the grin was back, "You look good in that dress."
"I know," Mirajane said blankly. Kalan laughed, and looked away, then was silent.
There had been a stretch of time where the elevator shaft had gotten cold, but now it was quickly warming. Mirajane could hear the thump of music now, and a few staccato notes here and there. They were almost there, and Mirajane felt her heart begin to accelerate, until the excitement and anticipation had blended into one seamlessly sweaty emotion.
Kalan closed his eyes, and took in a long breath from his nose. "I really missed this, you know."
"Missed what?" Mirajane asked using a hand to fan herself. It was really starting to get hot.
Then the lift hit ground with a creaking thump, and the doors opened letting in darkness, colored lights and a blast of music. Kalan sighed, and his mouth blossomed into his dark, enchanting grin. His pale eyes reflected everything before them.
The room was something of an underground cavern, softly lit by huge luminescent lacrima, with huge vaulted ceilings and many pocket rooms, all carved into the rock itself. They had arrived one of four raised stone platforms that were scattered about the room, each one with an elevator shaft of its own.
Below them, a sprawling dance floor contained hundreds of dancing bodies. On a slightly lower platform that jutted out from the wall, a band was a playing, the sound carrying through the caver with the aid of some amplification lacrima. Their lead singer was a pretty blonde girl.
"This is incredible," Mirajane said breathlessly, forgetting momentarily that this was probably the den of Spectre, and subsequently one of the most dangerous places for her to be.
"Isn't it?" Kalan said with a laugh, easily making himself heard above the music, "This entire place used to be a theatre hundreds of years ago, then when Artisan took over, it was abandoned. It was just sitting here until we got a hold of it."
Mirajane nodded. There was so much going on, so much information she felt overwhelmed, quashed by the loud music and the smell of greasy food and the heat of hundreds of moving bodies. Kalan lightly touched her arm, his fingertips blazing against her skin. And strangely this grounded her; this man she was with was Kalan Baade, a member of Spectre she was Mirajane Strauss, a member of Fairy Tail, the guild who was supposed to help destroy them. That was the beginning and end of it. Yes, the very end of it; he wasn't anything special and neither was she. "Are you ready, princess?"
"Let's go," Mirajane said with an assurance that that she hadn't had in her voice in a long while.
"Then we're off," he said, guiding her by the shoulders through the crowd. They had started as soon as the two of them had stepped off the elevator, but now as they made their way down the platform, Mirajane could hear the whispers. At first she paid them no mind but soon she could hear the clear mutterings of Baade.
They were had reached the dance floor, and the ripple of whispers had quickly grown into a wave of turning and heads and excited shouts. Kalan's back? That Baade kid, here? Where the fuck has he been?
Kalan himself ignored it all, his place-holding grin not wavering in the slightest. Any look his way, he refused to return. His eyes were dead set on their destination which seemed to another raised platform across the room, all the while keeping Mirajane close to him. Occasionally, there would be someone who would call his name, but he refused to acknowledge them.
When they were nearly to their destination, the music cut off abruptly, and over the lacrima the lead singer apologized and said she had some business to attend to, and that everyone could enjoy some pre-recorded songs in the interim. Around this time, they were stopped.
"Kal! Is that you?" there was a high voice, and before Mirajane could register what was going on, Kalan was jerked away from her by some brunette. She had passable looks; curly hair with muddy eyes, and a mini-skirt that was much too short, and barely anything covering her top. She quickly pulled Kalan into an embrace then continued to hang on him, "Kal, why didn't you tell me you were back in town?"
"I'm sorry, who are you?" Kalan said his grin almost slipping for a second. He gave Mirajane a pointed glance, probably wanting help. Maybe he wanted her to come in and say she was his date. But to be frank, Mirajane was enjoying Kalan's obvious discomfort so much she only folded her arms and smiled sweetly at him. His next look promised murder.
But the brunette girl, oblivious to their mini-exchange gave an equally oblivious laugh, "I'm Marie, remember?"
"No. Not in the slightest," Kalan said, his grin growing wider as hers fell, "Now if you'll excuse me, Marie, I got things to do."
As he finished, he grabbed Mirajane by the hand and plowed on towards their destination. Mirajane looked back, only to find that Marie girl staring after them with that same disgustingly hopeful look Tamara had given Kalan earlier. Kalan didn't seem disturbed by it at all, but it twisted Mirajane's gut.
"So I kind of lied, when I said you were here as my date," Kalan whispered, pulling her a little closer so she could hear, "You're supposed to be my shield."
"And what exactly am I protecting you from?" Mirajane asked, already knowing the answer. Maybe it was because of that exchange Kalan and that girl had just had, but she thought she noticed more girls staring at them now. Some were quickly fixing their makeup, others whispering frantically to their friends, and still others openly stared, ignoring the group of men that were vying for their attention.
"Them," Kalan said, following her gaze. "Don't worry all you need to do is follow me and look pretty."
Mirajane raised an eyebrow and gave Kalan her own smirk, "Was that just a compliment, perhaps?"
"I think so," he responded, then continued pulling her towards their destination. The platform had a little spiraling staircase that led up to it, and once they'd ascended, Kalan announced with a strange bit of pride, "We're here."
The platform had a few people dancing, but the dominating feature was a large structure that looked like a booth, and inside was a a large round table. The people dancing went still when they noticed them. To them however, Kalan gave a general nod, then led Mirajane into the booth.
All their faces turned to him. Kalan took a deep breath and his grin dropped clean off his face, "Sorry for the wait, everyone, but I'm back."
As Mirajane looked around the room, she saw some the faces from the photograph in Rudy Vill's room. There was the man with the spiky black hair, but his goatee now had slivers of grey in it. He was dressed in a plain tux with a black bow-tie. Tamara was there, sitting farthest from the door, a pitch black hair tied up in a bun, matching her minidress. She only spared them a glance of her crystal blue eyes before she decided that looking at the dance floor was infinitely more interesting. Rudy himself was lounging on the table, dressed in a surprisingly stylish red and brown suit.
"Well I'll be damned," the black haired man said rubbing his temples and letting out a huge breath. He had a clean unaccented voice, "You still have quite the sense of drama, Kalan."
Rudy laughed at this, "I'll say. Though this is a bit underwhelming for what I expected, to be honest." He leaned over to the black haired man, "Thought he was gonna come back in a huge ball of fire, you know, with like an army of wizards or something."
"Well the impressive part is coming later," Kalan said through a laugh as he went to clap Rudy on the shoulder. So they really were best friends, Mirajane thought. "So, princess, this is Rudy Vill."
"We've already met," Rudy said throwing a lazy grin and wave at Mirajane, "Though I wouldn't have asked if I'd known Kalan was your date."
Mirajane tried not to look at him, but she knew Kalan had noted that. But to his credit he didn't pause, "This man here is William Cole, but everyone just calls him Cole." He waved his hand towards the corner where Tamara still hadn't acknowledged them. "I think you've already met, but that's Tamara Rowland."
"Merlin, I was wondering why Tam was so gloomy today," Rudy whispered to Kalan just loud enough for Tamara to hear, a goofy smile adorning his face, "Should've guessed you weren't far behind."
Mirajane saw Tamara's carefully composed indifference crack and fall in one fluid motion. She was a flash of movement as she stood, and stalked out the door, muttering under her breath, "I need some air."
Kalan sighed before he flicked Rudy in the forehead, "That was so unnecessary."
Then the door was almost ripped off it hinges, and Mirajane half expected it to be Tamara returning, but instead it was the lead singer of the band. Up close, Mirajane saw she was actually the blonde girl from Rudy's picture. Not only that, but she was insanely pretty, in an manner so effortless it made Mirajane jealous; long straight blonde hair, a splattering of freckles and huge blue green eyes framed by long lashes. Even her modest dress was bursting with sex appeal.
"Guys is it true?" she was sweating and frantic, but it did nothing to mar her appearance, "I heard he w—" Then she caught sight of Kalan, and stopped dead in tracks. She stared at him for a second, and faster than Mirajane could register, she had wrapped him in what looked like a bone crushing hug. Kalan himself was almost lifted off the ground by the hysterical blonde.
"Where the hell have you been?" she sobbed into his shoulder, "You fucking idiot, we didn't even know if you were even coming back. Some people thought you died and—and…you never wrote us, all we fucking needed was some sign from you that you were—all right… "
"I'm sorry, Tia," Kalan whispered, rubbing her back in a small circle, "I'm sorry."
"You think just an apology is going to cut it?" she untangled herself from Kalan, and dabbed at her eyes. She punched him hard in the arm. "You're gonna have to do something to make up for it or I swear to Merlin—who's that…and how come she's wearing my dress?"
It took Mirajane a a second to register that the attention of everyone in the room had fallen on her. Her cheeks began to warm and she gave a hopeful smile.
"This is Mirajane," Kalan said, gesturing towards the startled girl. "Mirajane, this is Tiara Alves. And I can explain about the dress, Tia."
"Uh huh," the woman said skeptically. She walked up to Mirajane, as if appraising her. Tiara looked her up and down before she looked back to Kalan, "Figures though, you're gone for nearly a year and you show back up with a new pretty girly."
"Um, I am not his girly," Mirajane interjected indignantly. This earned her the surprised looks of everyone in the room, save Kalan, whose expression could only be described as intrigued.
Tiara was the first to recover with a laugh, and she poked Kalan in the ribs, "A girl who doesn't follow everything you say? Wow, you're losing your touch, Kalan." He muttered something to her that Mirajane couldn't quite catch, and the blonde laughed even more. "I like her."
Mirajane smiled, thankful at least one person in the room had taken to her. "Um, Tiara—"
"Call me Tia."
"—-Tia, thanks for the dress, I guess."
"Anytime, hun," the blonde said amiably. She sat down in one of the stone chairs and gracefully crossed her legs, "So Kalan, you going to tell us about what you've been up to for the past eight months?"
"Maybe another time," he said, and his grin seemed to flicker, "We all know there's something more important and pressing."
William Cole's eyes widened, "You're going to…?"
"So I assume you've got a plan, right?" Rudy asked, looking excited. "A really, really cool one, right?"
"….Yes," Kalan said. He pointed at Tia, "Make sure that the music stops and your band clears the stage at midnight exactly." He then waved his hand to Cole, "Stop serving drinks right now, and throw out anyone who's plastered. If anyone asks, say it was a problem with the supplier." The hand fell to Rudy, "I think you know what to do, Rudy."
"So just the usual?" Rudy asked, rolling up his sleeves. Kalan nodded again.
Everyone with their strange orders left, filing out of the room. After they left, Kalan fell heavily into one of the stone chairs, and let out a huge sigh. He held up his hands, to the light. They were shaking.
"I don't think I've ever been this nervous, princess," he said as he let loose another shuddering sigh.
"What are you going to do?" Mirajane asked, but she really didn't want to know.
"Something long overdue," was his cryptic response. He stood, and clenched his shaking hands, before stuffing them in his pockets, "Speaking of, I need to prepare." He began to leave, but stopped in front of Mirajane, with a full on grin. But when he clasped her shoulder, his hand was still shaking "Enjoy the party, princess, but make sure you get a good seat for the show."
Then he was gone, leaving Mirajane standing alone in the stone booth with a fearsome apprehension tearing away at her.
The East Side of Caerleon is home to a large population of Islanders, a minority who immigrated from the Scale Isles ages ago to avoid getting trapped on the sinking island. While they founded the city, once Artisan and the ethnic majority of Fiore settled in, they were treated as second class citizens.
There were no stars in the sky of Caerleon, and this fact perplexed and revolted Beau Underwood so much so that for the duration of their in the damned stay he'd refused to look at the sky at night. Now, long after sunset he kept his head down, his crimson scarf wrapped securely around his right eye. It was a good thing he didn't see to know where he was going.
It had been child's play to lose Katrina; a few lefts and rights, and the girl had completely lost sight of him, and with his degree of magical control, she couldn't have found him even if she was good at sensing magic. She was a powerful mage, but she needed tempering. That would come with time, but it was beyond him why Naito had stuck her with him, especially as patience wasn't quite his strong suit.
But without realizing it he had arrived. Looking around though, he didn't see his quarry. He glanced up to the rooftops.
"Obviously," he murmured. He did a quick check around him to make sure no one was looking to closely at him, then with a little effort he coiled his legs and jumped up to the closest roof. He touched down softly, and scanned around for the magic he was sure he'd felt.
"Mr. Underwood what brings you here?"
The deep baritone belonged to none other than the one he'd come to see; a cat. His body was small and covered in black fur, with white stripes on his back. His eyes were large, blood red, and fiercely intelligent. He was almost a typical cat, save for an small ivory horn that protruded from the bridge of his nose.
"Pandora," Beau beamed, reaching down to pet the black cat, who dodged effortlessly, jumping up onto a chimney out of his reach.
"You know I abhor being pet, Mr. Underwood," the cat said calmly.
"Ah, I can't help it," Beau said, "You look so cute in that form."
"Would you prefer I take a different one?" Pandora almost growled, and Beau didn't doubt which one he was referring to. He still hadn't forgotten the last time he had witnessed this little cat angry.
"That's all right, I just came here to talk."
"About what, pray tell?" the cat stretched and sat back on his haunches, inclining his head at Beau, "As I recall there is no way for you to know I'd arrived in the city."
"Come one, Pandora, don't sell me short," Beau leaned against the chimney, but didn't look up to the starless night that framed Pandora, "I could sense you the moment you came within ten miles of me."
"You overestimate that skill of yours, Mr. Underwood. Regardless, you have yet to explain why you've come to see me."
He chuckled lowly, "Well, as I recall you find these missions Naito takes distasteful."
"To say the least."
"So then why I'm here, is because I'm wondering why you're here." Beau said, not that Pandora didn't know this. More often than not, Pandora knew the route of a conversation, but insisted on following it from start to finish; talking to him was more of a ritual, necessary if you wanted to get any information from the cat. "And that seemed infinitely more interesting than grilling some thugs."
"It sounds to me as though you are once again skipping the tasks Naito assigned you, Mr. Underwood."
"Naito Galatine is not my master," Beau said.
"A simple matter of syntax," the cat said with a thunder like purr that was his laugh. "Your frantic need for a distinct self is most amusing."
"It's even more amusing how you dodged my question," he chuckled, ignoring the snip, "Not a very wise move for you. Only makes me even more interested."
"Your keen intellect is astounding, Mr. Underwood," Pandora drawled, leaping down from the chimney. He landed easily on the edge of the building. "Very well, I will oblige you, if only because I am in a hurry."
This was news to Beau—he hadn't ever once seen, or even dreamed of Pandora being in a hurry.
"Did you not think it strange when Naito decided to take this job? So far away from our base, and we are not in need of jewels…there should be no reason for him to accept this job, let alone bring all of you here." The cat was pacing back and forth now, his tail flicking anxiously. "Normally I don't question his decisions, but when I confronted him with these questions, he refused to answer."
"So that's why you're here," Beau said dejectedly, "just to check up on Naito?"
"You overestimate me, Mr. Underwood. I would've let him reap what he would sow, but his reasons for undertaking this task are misguided. This morning I overheard a message between some of our old friends and it became clear to me why Naito wishes to catch this Ghost. But in his eagerness he has forgotten that he is not the only one seeking this prize."
"Old friends…" Beau felt his stomach drop, "Why are they h—"
"I don't know you dolt!" Pandora snapped. "Now if you're quite done holding me up, I must go ensure that Naito does not bring harm to himself, or to the rest of you."
And with that, the cat leapt off the building and became seamlessly a black hawk with a white beak streaking off into that murky soup of a night. Beau looked after him for a second, and shook his head. Naito had a knack for making things complicated, but this changed things. This changed things a whole fucking lot.
"Old friends, huh…" he murmured under his breath.
After their diaspora from the Scale Isles, and being annexed by Artisan, the Islanders found their home in the South Side. The art of theatre, and later storytelling played an important role in the preservation of culture, and it was so effective all modern Islanders can recount the tales of Merlin and his wizards, stories completely untouched by time.
Kalan Baade was touched with such a strange fit of nervousness, he couldn't bring himself to feel worried. He knew what he had to do, what he was going to do. The only thing he didn't know was what he was going to do with his hands; they wouldn't stop shaking.
He didn't know what do with his expression, either; he wouldn't stop grinning.
The elevator up had taken less time up than it had down—that Mirajane always seemed to make things move slower—and he stepped off into an empty. This elevator only took him was to the first floor of the building, hidden in room 104. He opened the door, only to find himself lifted off the ground by a giant of a man. Damnit, he'd forgotten there would be someone guarding the elevators.
The man was bald, with the Spectre tattoos running vertically along his head, dressed in a black suit with white pinstripes that struggled to contain his mass. He had a cohort standing next to him, identical to him except his suit was white with black pinstripes. Both wore sunglasses, but Kalan could practically feel their eyes bugging as they realized who he was.
"Eh? That you Kalan?" the hulking man holding him said in wonder.
"No doubt, that his mug all right," the other one confirmed.
"Raul, Paul, good to see you," Kalan said as he was set down. He brushed some wrinkles out of his suit and grinned, almost glad for the distraction. Paul and Raul were twins, and shared everything from favorite drinks, to which magical steroid improved muscle mass the fastest.
"Good to see you, too," Raul said, giving a slight bow, "T'wasn't sure if you was gonna come back at all."
His twin punched him, "You wasn't supposed to say that, idiot."
"No, it's fine Paul." Kalan said, reaching up to put his hand on each of their shoulders, "I'm sorry I was gone for so long, but I'm back now. To stay."
The two blubbered something incoherent, then went into matching three fingered salutes. Kalan gave them one last smile before he left. He hadn't expected to miss them quite as much as he had. He hadn't expected to miss anything, really, but he had.
This whole place, Kalan had realized was a part of him.
Before he knew it has already at that familiar peeling red door. He traced the name on the door—his name—and admired the golden letters. He reached for his key, only to remember that it had been among the things he'd tossed into the river when he'd left. But the door wasn't shut completely.
Cautiously he pushed the door open, flicked on the lights and took a quick scan of the apartment. Everything looked just how he'd left it. A strange smell, like overly sweet fruit wafted over him, but that was the only thing abnormal.
"Nerves must be getting to me," Kalan mumbled, rubbing his brow with a shaking hand.
He walked over to the fridge, to maybe get some champagne, but was startled on the way by the state of his couch—blankets, makeup—that's right, there was someone else here with him now. The princess. Mirajane. It had been a long time since Kalan had let someone into his space.
Giving up on the champagne, Kalan decided he'd just do what he came here to do. Stalked over to his room. The sweet smell was growing not only stronger, but more familiar. He couldn't exactly place it, but he knew he'd dreamt of this scent. Into the black of his room, he let loose a long breath, "So this is where you got to, Tam."
He could tell she was in there, even in the darkness.
"I was wonderin' when you'd come by." she whispered, and he heard a rustle as she reached over to turn on the bedside lamp.
What greeted Kalan was a familiar image; Tamara Rowland sprawled on his bed.
Her black dress was riding up and slipping off her shoulders, her hair had fallen out of its bun and hung around her like a corona. The image was so familiar he almost began to pull off his shirt, thinking of nothing but those enticing lips. But he resisted the impulse, and those same lips quirked into a strange smile. "Remind you of old times?"
"A little," Kalan said, sitting down on the edge of the bed. She didn't move closer, and she didn't shy away.
"You're not sleeping with that girl, are you?"
"Do you want to?"
"I don't know."
Kalan felt her sit up. She reached out, and ran her fingertip along his scar, "You've really changed you know?"
"How so?" He asked. He closed his eyes for a moment, then carefully grabbed her hand, and returned it to her side.
"Like that," she said, giving his hand a little squeeze before she let go. She smiled that strange little smile. "You used to never take me serious, but you'd let me touch you. Now, you won't let me touch you, but you're taking me serious."
Kalan was silent, a swell of guilt causing him to work his jaw. He opened his mouth once, then finally said it, "I'm sorry for all of it, Tam."
She looked at him for a long time with that strange smile, before she began to laugh. It was a tumultuous laugh that fell out of her mouth and washed over Kalan and curled her into a ball clutching her sides.
"Don't think I ever heard you say sorry like that." she said, wiping a few tears from her eyes.
Kalan scoffed, "All I'm doing is apologizing tonight."
"That's 'cause you're an asshole."
"Maybe," he admitted with a small grin, "But I'm going to make up for it tonight."
"See, you really did change," she said, her crystalline eyes still wet, but with different tears this time, "I a-always hoped you could be more than what you were, and look at you now. Merlin, you're almost too bright to look at."
By the time she had finished there were tears streaming down her face, but she wasn't sobbing. Tamara wasn't one for hysterics, but she could cry. Maybe that had been what had first drawn him to her, the fact she wasn't afraid to cry. And, Merlin, he'd made her cry.
"Whats wrong, Tam?" he asked, the question he never had before because he had always been what was wrong. He reached out on instinct to take her hand, but she gasped and recoiled from his touch like he'd burned her.
She stood and shook her head, "No—this, s-stupid—fine, I'm—"
She was backing away, turning, trying to run. And maybe, eight months ago, he would've let her. But Kalan surge to his feet and caught her by he waist, pulling her back against him. He tucked the crown of her head underneath his chin, and murmured soothing nonsense. Like he should've done all those times. But she only cried harder, and fought with him for a second then went limp.
After a long while he felt her hand brush his arm, "Let me go, Kalan. Please.."
"I'm sorry," he said finally.
But as soon as he loosened his grip on her she spun quickly, and on her tiptoes she kissed him on the cheek, then leaned into him to whisper in his ear, "I'm the one who should be saying sorry."
Without another word she spun again and left, leaving Kalan in his dimly lit room, feeling as though the closure he'd just gotten with Tamara had opened up a whole other, much larger something. But he didn't have the time to worry about that.
He reached over an unlatched a trick door in his bedside dresser, and pulled out what he had came here for; a blank white mask.
"Who the hell are you with, you stinking fucking wizard? Artisan?"
The man was of average height, with coarse hair that spilled onto his back. His hands were workers hands, bruised and worn from a young age. In those worn hands he held a knife, with a streak of red dripping from it.
The blood was fresh but cold. Everything that spilled from him was.
Naito hadn't expected the man to put up much of a fight, so it was only with shock that he noticed that this man had managed to cut him, a feat that should have been nigh impossible. He looked down, to try and find the wound; it was on his hand, stretching across his pale palm. It was already sealing itself, the skin knitting itself back together and the blood receding.
But there was still blood, his own ice cold blood on this man's blade.
"I am indeed with Artisan," Naito said offhandedly, his gaze locked on his own blood, which was falling to the pavement. He couldn't for the life of him remember how this man had cut him, "And you are with Spectre. That makes us enemies, does it not?"
"Damn straight it does," the coarse man growled, "and 'cause you're my enemy, I'm gonna gut you like one."
"I doubt it," Naito said airily raising his hand and summoning a bit of magic, "Sorry about this, but circumstances demand it."
A whisper of air, and magic old, old magic stopped him.
"Adding another body to your name? Where will it end, Naito?" The voice was impossibly deep, and rung like thunder through the alley. The coarse man threw up his hands in fear, but Naito only let out a noise of exasperation.
"How unexpected of you, Pandora," Naito said, turning around to see the cat silhouetted in the entrance of the alley. As many gripes as he had about that form, he sure was fond of it. Exerting his own magic slightly, Naito broke the restraining spell.
"You couldn't have thought I wouldn't notice, could you?" The cat shook his tiny head, "A man of your intelligence, yet you still insist on acting the fool."
Seeing his opportunity to escape amidst the strange turn of events the coarse man bolted from the alley. Naito didn't stop him. Forgotten was the blood on his knife, and the cut on his hand had already healed.
"I am far too old for your lectures, Pandora."
"You say so, yet you still take risk after needless risk!" Pandora boomed, "Did you honestly think for a second that you were the only one who took notice of the boy? They will see your actions not as defiance, but a declaration of war!"
"Of course I did," Naito said, waving a hand at the sky, "Of course they noticed him! But how could I pass up an opportunity like this, Pandora? This is the chance we've been waiting for all these years, to finally disrupt this sodding equilibrium we're trapped in. And maybe a war is what needs to happen."
"But the equilibrium was already disrupted seven years ago," Pandora said quietly his red eyes gleaming. "The disruption you seek may finally snap the pendulum, but then what? And don't think I failed to notice what was missing from the vault."
"So you've figured it out then." Naito reached into his cloak and pulled out the item in question. It looked like a gem made of glass, all jagged angles that took in and refracted light. He could see himself, and the black night splayed jaggedly together. He could see that in the core of the gem, there was a tiny white light, pulsating like a heartbeat. "What else could I do with the Glass Heart, but break it?"
"I hope you won't, because if you're planning what I believe you are, then I cannot abide by it. I am bound to you, but my duty is to help you fix this world. I will not stand by and let you become the engine of its destruction."
"You say those things like they're different," Naito let a small gout of black flame gush from his fingertips. It spiraled off and dissipated, leaving behind only cold. "Iredomi. It's an Islander word that means 'the something of nothing'. A void and a whole aren't different at all. They are the same point on a circle, one seamlessly intrinsic to the other. They only look different, if you stretch it out into a line."
"You may hide behind them, but can your philosophies justify what you're planning do to this boy?" Pandora shook his head in disappointment. "Have you become so bitter you think he deserves your fate?"
"On the contrary, my ages old friend," Naito drawled, giving Pandora a silvery eyed wink, "It is because I am bitter that I plan on giving him a much better fate than has been lined up for him."
A/N: So the story is kind of going slow now, I get it, but things will heat up and move faster once Naito and Kalan finally meet.
So, er, what exactly is Tam sorry for? Hint, it'll be a while before you find out for sure...
Review if ya liked!