Chapter 2

Preparations

Cold is an interesting word. Not so much the word itself, but the feeling it describes. A piercing freeze of subzero temperatures and the refreshing cool that comes from iced lemonade on a summer day, both contained within the same four letter sequence.

But neither of those extremes are what we're describing here today, though it is precariously close to one of them.

The bitter chill that permeated Toronto was a cold that teetered on the side of perturbing. That annoying kind of cold that makes it too cold to go out without a jacket, but makes you feel overheated if you wear one. It's the kind of cold that nips at your nose and makes a light snow that soaks through your hoodie. Why a hoodie? Because the jacket was too heavy, and now you're kind of regretting the decision to leave it at home.

If you weren't regretting that decision about now, one person was.

"Hate… Winter… Weather…"

Aeris grumbled quietly as she traversed the frigid cityscape. The sidewalk had an annoying slant and just the right amount of ice to make it a pain in the ass to traverse. The treads on her sneakers were worn near flat as it was, and their quality was degrading with every dug-in step she took. Her foot found an icy patch and she slipped, landing hard on her back. She gave an uncharacteristically girly and painful sounding yelp when she landed, and proceeded to gasp for air.

Rolling on to her side, she clutched at her stomach and tried to control her breathing. She'd landed on something, she knew that. Shortly regaining her composure, as well as her footing, she stooped over and sorted through the small snow drift she'd landed upon, and uncovered a small, purple bag made out of a felt-like material.

Opening the bag, her nose was immediately assaulted by the overpowering scent of sweat, salt, and shame. She thrust out the bag to arm's length and turned her head away almost as quickly as she'd opened the bag.

Against her better judgment, she tightened the bag's string back up and continued on her way with it in hand.

'May as well clean it up; keep others from falling victim to Johnny's vile wares. On that note,' she wondered to herself, 'why does Johnny even sell these things?'

Her thoughts were cut short when her gaze fell across the street to the local market vendors and their booths, set up in rows across the street. On their shelves were hearts and shields, potions of all colors that were rumored to have healing potential, dangerous weapons and delicacies of every kind, and even the occasional jar of souls.

Her mind stopped trying to rationalize Johnny's wares as soon as she remembered exactly where she lived.

In Crazyville.

She let out a long, exasperated sigh and tossed the vile bag into the nearest trashcan. It hit the bottom with a solid "Thunk", and she continued on her way, hands stuffed into the thinned pockets of her ratty winter wear.

It wasn't a long walk back to the apartment, fifteen minutes at the most. Her walk up the concrete stairs was quiet, as was her welcome back into her living space.

When she looked at it, the place really was a dump. It was a dark, dingy little hole in the wall that barely looked like it was able to sustain life. Pieces of insulation were sticking out of walls that the paint was peeling off of, the carpet was so dirty and stained that it looked like a mosaic of trash, the couch was overused and almost useless, the TV was an old tube television they'd found on the side of the road and cleaned up. The only signs that anybody was actually living here were the two rooms full of anime and videogame paraphernalia and the gray cat passed out on the couch. Aeris sighed and smiled softly. She pushed the door to her room open with a small and solemn squeaking that denoted the crappy piece of hardware. The door shut with the same, solid squeak it had before, and she flopped down onto her mattress, which creaked in protest to the sudden addition of her weight. She glanced over at her clock. Five-thirty P.M., two and a half hours until her date.

She turned over and hugged a Lagann plushy to her chest as sleep slowly took her hostage in warm weightlessness.

'Thump.'

Leo's eye cracked open, and let a groan slip past his lips as he rose to a sitting position. He raised one arm and reached the other over and grabbed his triceps, and gave a solid pull. His back cracked pleasantly with the stretch, and he managed himself up off of the couch. He turned his neck to the source of the noise and found Aeris' door slightly ajar. He pushed open the door slowly, and found her sleeping like a baby, clinging to her Lagann and purring pleasantly in her sleep.

He smiled and closed the door slowly, avoiding any unpleasant noises the old drywall plank might have made. His exit into the main room wasn't quite as silent, however. On his way back to the couch, his foot caught on the cord of a game-cube controller wedged in between the leg of the couch and the console itself. Oblivious to the cord's existence in the first place, he actually swung into the floor, face first, with a large 'Clunk' and an unpleasant sounding snap.

A muffled "Ouch…" was all he could manage from his position. He tries, partially because she could get up at any moment and stomp the living crap out of him, to get back up, and fails, falling solidly back upon the dirtied carpet. Defeated, he rolled over into yet another problem. Seems he was closer to the couch than he thought he was, because now he was wedged, diagonally between the couch and the floor, staring up at the corner of the room. The T.V. Screen that displayed a paused game of Modern Warfare 2 taunted him. He struggled against the hold of the combined hold of the couch and the floor futilely, finding his arms trapped in a peculiar position that afforded him no leverage whatsoever. He sighed and narrowed his eyes. There had to be some way out of this.

And so, an episode of trial and error began.

Wriggle as he might, the couch's hold was tight, and the sticky state of the floor allowed for no sliding. Another sigh of defeat. This time, he relied on his tail to push himself forward, and as expected, did not budge an inch. His tongue found its way out of the corner of his mouth, and, after much of the turning of gears and daydreams involving Duke Nukem, he tried an unprecedented concept.

He pushed off of the couch with his legs.

A single use of this experimental technique, and the un-wedging was complete. Never in his life had Leo been so happy to be in face-to-face contact with a disgustingly grimy carpet. Well, maybe once. He stood up and commenced celebration.

After a quick 'Aah!' By the crowd and a victory dance, Leo sat back on the couch. The Xbox controller he picked up was scuffed, and one of the thumb-pads had worn away from overuse. It still functioned as if it were brand new, though. Leo proved that much at least as he wasted wave after wave of incoming enemies. His cycle was a simplistic, if not efficient method. Kill an enemy, pick up their weapon, and kill the next enemy with it, then pick up their weapon, and killed the next enemy with that.

Thus Leo's game was ended with the nuclear countdown from five. Leo's end k/d ratio was through the roof, forty kills to three deaths. He set down the controller and was satisfied… after four more rounds of wasting newbies. He pressed the power button on the 360 and watched it power down, and switched the input to the television. The Eight O'clock news was the default channel.

"Course it is…" He grumbled. "Aeris is the only person I know who watches that crap."

"That's because the rest of the people you know are idiots."

Leo froze. His head slowly ratcheted to the side as he fought the instinct to run and jump out of the window. Aeris' eyes were half open, a grumpier-than-usual look on her face and a serious case of bed-head. Leo gave a nervous laugh.

"H-hey, Aeris. Good to see you up." He was shaking and sweating, shivering as he could feel the holes she was burning into him for disturbing her sleep. She brought a fist over her head, and Leo closed his eyes, waiting for the deadly blow to come.

'Bonk.'

Her fist was brought down softly, no more power than a whiffle ball falling from a bookshelf. She ruffled a hand through his short hair, and turned back toward her room.

"You're lucky I have a date in a few minutes, or else you'd have suffered the same fate you did when you peeked at my computer." Leo shivered at the memory of his cranial fluids leaking out onto the carpet. Her door shut behind her with a soft click, and Leo let out a huge breath and melted back into the couch. Wait… a date?

"You WHAT!"
"I've told you ten times already," Her voice came muffled from behind the bathroom door as she brushed her pink hair into something finer looking than the wraith-like tangles that she'd awoken with. "I met a guy at work, stuff happened, and we're going to the movies tonight."

"That's not what I'm asking. I'm asking you how you could ask a guy out after knowing him for a whole fifteen minutes." Leo deadpanned.

She sighed exasperatedly, continuing to brush. She could hear his own sigh, though much of a sadder tone, through the door.

Truth was, they were both tired, and they were discussing a subject that had long since passed as over. The first time he'd tried to take her to the movies, it was a bust. He'd forgotten his wallet, much to his chagrin, and tried to turn it into a bit about Bison-Dollars. It was a street fighter movie, after all. He sighed from his post against the bathroom door. The bit was a bust, and Aeris had ended up paying for the date. Other things had happened, multiple incidents at conventions and in the wilderness, all of which she'd had to bail him out of. You can't blame a guy for trying…

You can blame him for failing, though.

"Listen, Leo…"

She was interrupted by a sharp rapping that emanated from the vicinity of the living room, and Leo lost his backing and, in effect, his balance when Aeris opened the door to the bathroom. As he fell backward, he also felt the cold hand of death laying its hand upon his throat as he stared upward, through the darkness of a skirt, at pink colored undergarments. Aeris' flustered gasp and the pained cries of Leo could be heard through the door to their apartment, at which was a stranger.

To Leo, at the very least.

The same white-haired cat was standing in front of the apartment door, a small bundle of flowers in his left hand, the other poised to knock again. Though, considering the noises coming from inside, he was having second thoughts. With a steady breath inward, he gave another knock once the noises of pain had stopped. The door swung open almost immediately, and he was greeted by a deceivingly sweet face, acting as if stomping the life out of a cat's face was exactly what she hadn't finished doing.

"Hi, Pro." She smiled sweetly at him and stepped out of the doorway.

"Would you like to come in? I'm almost ready."

Jesus H. Christ, this took me forever and a day!

But, alas, after the F**kton of editing I did to it, I'm pretty pleased with how this turned out.

Next chapter will be up in the next few weeks.