Phantom Pain: Chapter 3

Bags packed, supplies gathered, weapons sheathed, the apartment door closed on the backs of the two gladiators as they headed up to the roof for the final phase. This time, they wouldn’t be back until noon.

Smiling, her older cousin locked the door and sealed the wards, then shooed Ruby into her room with a determined expression. The bedroom door closed with a click and several other wards sprang up into place while others fell away.

“So.”

“So?”

“Where’s the rock?”

Bright red eyes slid sideways as bronze brows drew down. “There isn’t one.”

“What?! You’ve been seeing him for years!” Eyes, twins to the first, flashed as low hisses filled the air. Her cousin flopped down onto a large round couch by the corner and patted the spot beside her.

“It doesn’t work that way,” the small woman hedged. Her scalp ached and she brought a hand up to caress the blunt tip of a nose. A tiny tongue came up and tasted her finger, then curled away.

The other female threw a pillow at her. It hit high and rocked her head to the side; a full choir of offended reptiles voiced their opinion. “Bull!” her attacker stated.

Ruby glared at her cousin. “It’s not that simple! It isn’t! You think I don’t want to make this permanent? To make him mine?” She walked over, picking up the cushion along the way and shoving it back into Sydney’s arms. “If you think it’s so easy, why aren’t you married yet?”

“Me?” Their natural complexion didn’t allow for much of a blush, but the way the lips parted and the signature red eyes widened, they were enough for translation. “We-we’ve only been dating. Nothing that serious.”

For a moment, Ngai Mun sat down next to Syd and gaped at her. “Nothing serious? The fuck–He knows what you are! What we are! That’s a few miles past casual.”

Her cousin stuck a tongue out and several other tongues joined in on the juvenile gesture.

“I’m seeing my gladiator,” Ruby stated. “He’s trained since childhood knowing what and who he would be guarding. However, you are seeing a witch. For what? A year? Two? Let me say this again: he knows what you are. Oh, and another thing. He isn’t leaving you.”

“Yeah… I know!” Sydney slumped back into the rounded back of the huge seat. “You and Wolf trust each other right? Tell each other everything?”

Cringing back from the memory of Li, the sniper nodded. “Even things I’d rather not tell him.”

She got a wave at that. “Yeah, I thought so.”

“Xia?”

“Sometimes,” her cousin wrapped her arms around a body pillow, “Kai doesn’t tell me things. I find out later from Gary or maybe his mom.”

Ruby blinked. “His mom?”

A wry smile flitted across copper lips. “Yeah. She would call asking if he was with me. Emiko has bets with one of his friends from time to time. Remember Erik?” She snorted. “Somehow so many of them depend on where I am in comparison to her son. And when he’s not with me, she gets puzzled. And not happy. She gets worried.”

“Guys do go off on their own from time to time.”

“Not Kai. It’s not a group thing or else Erik would know and either claim or lose the bet.” Syd constricted around the pillow, sounding utterly miserable. “Emiko is worried that he’s hanging out with a bad crowd or something.”

Ruby rolled her eyes. “He’s probably just using his magic to spy on you just to keep in practice.” Wait. Is that… “Kai’s been asking a lot of questions about Arana.” From Syd’s confused blink, the other woman hadn’t gotten it. Yet. “Arana is a witch too, Syd.”

“Oh!”

“He’s probably trying to learn from her, what with her knowing so much.”

Xia Fu tilted her head in thought. “Is she teaching him?”

“In a way.”

xXx

The bouncy platinum blonde walking down the street stopped suddenly, and turned.  She looked down an alleyway, and then wandered down it.  Her fingers wrapped around the edge of the dumpster, and she lifted herself up on her toes.  No people there.

Kai heaved a sigh and released the possession spell.  The actress stepped away from the dumpster, face twisting into a look of horror, before the picture in the bowl of water faded away.

He sat back, fingers tap, tap, tapping against the table.  Sydney had banned him from coming over today.  Or calling.  Something about quality girl time.  Since he’d needed to check the tracking spell, he had shrugged it off and decided to leave her be.

Now, he was a bit worried.  Arana had apparently diverted the tracking spell, not that he’d expected anything less from her.  She wasobviously more experienced than him, and more powerful.  Odd, given how young she was.

Still, that just meant that she’d devoted more of her life to her magic, and learning it.  Not unusual, since he would have too, if it weren’t for his family.  And Sydney.

His cell-phone buzzed, and he picked it up.  Erik.  ‘Won’t be home tonight.  Don’t masturbate on the couch.’

Dick.

He closed out the text after replying just that.  And stared at the phone.  Should he text her?  Make sure she was okay?  She would be irritated, but… at least he’d know.

But a tiny voice in the back of his mind, a different part of himself, was whispering another idea.  Scry her, search for her.  Then she would never know.

“No,” he said softly, the sound loud in the silence of his altar-room.

No, Sydney was fine.  She was with her cousin, and more than likely Wolf and Gary.  If nothing else, they would protect her.  She would be safe.

Well then.  He drew a slow breath, and exhaled.  He should look into preparations for the next phase of contact.  He had expected a rebuttal, at first, but eventually Arana would capitulate.  It only made sense, after all.  She was a master, one without children, and unlikely to have any.

Not in her line of work, at least.  Not without retiring.

Teaching someone with potential made sense.  He needed a master.  She needed a student with similar magicks and interests.

Rising, Kai smiled faintly.  He wanted the power, too.  This was true.  But when Arana accused him of being power-hungry, she was wrong.

All of his reasoning these days spiraled down to one thing.

Sydney.

xXx

A couple hours later, after her tiny cousin had drifted off to sleep in the big pile of pillows and duvets, Sydney hissed a curse and glared at the tiny little snake that had chomped down on her thumb.

“Clorl!”

Retracting her fangs, the small viper lifted her tiny chin, an even tinier tongue flicking out. The young woman sucked on the wound, narrowing her eyes as the belligerent feeling of a dare echoed through their connection.

“What was that for?” she mumbled, as soon as the stinging faded away.

For a creature that was reptilian, Clorl could emote a fair range. ‘Mate’ fizzled into Sydney’s mind in warm tones. ‘Loneliness’ faded in and out, leaving an ache behind. ‘Impatience’ scratched and itched.

Trying to argue with a snake never got anyone anywhere, so Syd didn’t bother. Besides, she had been thinking of him. Popping her thumb from her mouth, the woman sighed and rolled over on her side, bringing the viper close. “Yeah, yeah. You’re right. We haven’t seen him for awhole long day,” she drawled, peering over at her cousin who slumbered on. Sydney grinned.

It was just before midnight on a Friday. He might be up.

“Wanna call him?” she asked and grinned at the firm flush of ‘triumph’ that swarmed into her mind. The charming little snake wrapped around her wrist and flicked a tongue.

Shaking her head, Sydney slipped from the blankets, grabbed her phone, and silently left the room. As she passed through the door, her own private wards snapped into place and she drifted over to the large bay windows by the kitchen.

Clorl watched in curious silence as she tapped a message out on her phone. ‘Hey luv, you up?’

Nearly five minutes passed before she got a reply.  ‘Yeah.  Is everything alright?  You’re okay?

Showing the text to her little companion, Syd grinned. ‘All good. Miss you.’ Clorl flicked a tongue at the screen. ‘Clorl says hi.’

The next response came more quickly.  ‘XD Hi Clorl.  Can I call, Sydney-chan?

Her little peep of a giggle made the viper flinch and stare reproachfully. Syd smiled and touched her lips to the little reptile’s head. “Sorry!” she whispered, then texted: ‘We were hoping you’d say that!

The next time the phone rang, it was with a call.  As soon as she picked up, he was talking.  “Moshimoshi, koi.”

Moshimoshi, to you too, love.” Syd padded over to the couch and curled up in the pillows. “So… What are you wearing?”

Uh…”  A pause.  “Jeans.  And underwear.”  Another pause.  “And a towel.  I just got out of the shower.

Grinning at the ceiling, she felt the viper slide off her wrist and curl up in a bundle at the hollow of her throat. “Mmm… Steamy boyfriend. Topless. Yeah, I can work with that.”

He chuckled.  “Yeah.  What are you wearing?  Pajamas?

A navy blue eyebrow rose. “You know me, anything I wear could be pure illusion. Could be wrapped in nothing but a thought right now.”

I can work with that,” he replied, tone slightly teasing.  “No problem with naked.

Her purring stirred the viper from her doze and Clorl twisted up to lick Sydney’s chin before curling back down. “Hm, I bet–Hey, I have favour to ask.” The young woman cupped the snake at her throat as she sat up, an idea forming. “I can’t be out of here until noon tomorrow, but I’m going straight to work. One of our waiting staff is still on vacation; wanna fill in? You’ll have to behave for eight hours though.”

I shouldn’t,” he said slowly.  “You’re too tempting.”  He paused for a beat, amused, then continued.  “But I will anyway.  Noon, you say?

Flashing a bright smile at the tiny snake that had twined around her fingers, Syd let out a quiet cheer. “Yes! Noon is when I can leave, so that means I’ll get to work by about half past. Am I meeting you downstairs or at work?”

Downstairs, and I can give you a ride,” he replied.

“You’re fantastic,” she told him. “Just wonderful and gorgeous and perfect! Don’t ever change!”

For almost a minute, he didn’t respond.  Then, “Thank you, Sydney-chan…  You’re the loveliest woman I will ever know.”  The words were heartbreakingly sincere.

Blinking and blushing, Syd bit her lip. “Hey, you forgot something.”

There was a smile to his next words.  “I love you.  Is that what I forgot?

“Yeah,” she breathed out, “and I love you too. Best thing ever, huh?”

Yeah,” he echoed softly.  “Sydney, I-”  There was a thunk from the other end, and he sighed.  “Shimatta.  I gotta go.  I’ll see you tomorrow?

Syd giggled. “That was Erik wasn’t it? Alright, I’ll let you go. Tomorrow! Noon! I love you!” she said as rapidly and quietly as she could.

And I, you.  Sayonara, koi.”  He made a kiss into the phone before hanging up with another sigh.

“There, are you happy now?” Syd asked her little viper. Clorl flicked out a tongue. Smug satisfaction coiled into her mind and emanated happiness. “You’re such a little sucker for him.”

As the young woman made her way back to bed, she had to smile at the faint feeling of ruffled dignity that came from the vicinity of her wrist.

xXx

The next afternoon, like promised, Kai was waiting for her when she came down the stairs.  Of course he’d called to say he was there.  He stood leaning against the driver’s side door, face slack with vague boredom, texting on his phone.

“Hey Sexy,” Syd purred as she walked up to the car opposite him. When Kai glanced up, she smoothed a finger up and down the chrome on her side of the Mazda. “Missed you.” And she rested her cheek on the car roof.

Lips quirking into a smile, he straightened and shoved his phone back in his pocket.  “Don’t I get a greeting too?  I mean… I know you like the car, but…”  He shrugged helplessly.

Lifting her head, she smirked and crooked a finger at him. “Come and get your ‘hello’ then.”

Kai grinned and walked around the car, stepping up to her and holding out his arms invitingly.

Not that she needed much in the way of prompting. Syd sighed as she felt Kai wrap around her. Really, it was a little ridiculous, how much she had missed him over such a short period of time.

And his kiss was even better than his hug.  And deeper.  A lot deeper.  Finally, though, they had to part, and he rested his forehead against hers.  “I missed you,” he murmured.

Blinking and gasping, she giggled from where she had nuzzled in under his chin. “Really? I couldn’t tell.” She drew back with a grin at his expression. “Wait, let me check again.”

Kai grinned and gave her a peck on the forehead, then stepped back.  “We’re going to be late.”

xXx

Watching from the window, Gary snorted as the pair drove away. Nearby in the kitchen, the small sniper was smearing antiseptic over cuts and slapping bandages on the worst of the wounds that covered the younger gladiator.

They both looked up as Gary approached, Simon’s eyes were bright with pain, but still very aware.

It was a simple procedure, movements so natural for a man who ran a bar. The big man pulled open the fridge door, took out what he needed and returned to the small dining table that was littered with medical supplies. Despite his battered appearance, Wolf smiled wide as he and his petite partner clinked beer glasses with the older man.

“Congratulations, Simon.”

“Thank you, sir.”

xXx

Sharing an amused look with the serving staff who passed him in the hall, Christoph sighed and once again checked his stride.

His partner was somewhere down in the courtyard, putting the younger guards through their drills. There were shouts and cursing coming from the yard while the head groundskeeper twitched and scowled. Apparently, running on the grass was discouraged on a regular day. However, the CEO Andrew Masters, who was signing all their paychecks this week, had shrugged and told the ex-soldier he had free rein, much to the horror of both the guards and landscapers.

Normally the African and the European came as a pair, working within sight of each other when on the bodyguard shift. Only, this time there had been a hiccup. Andrew’s tiny little daughter, Michele, had taken one look at Svorak, whimpered, and dove behind Christoph’s legs.

Her father had raised both eyebrows, glanced at the one-eyed merc who was rolling that one eye, and magnanimously told the man he wouldn’t have to babysit. Svorak had shrugged, asked about the security on site, and was essentially told to go play. The expression his lover had given the chemist as the darker man left was both relieved and just a little bemused.

Guess being black and patched made for a scary sight to small children.

And from behind the blond was the soft sound of following footsteps.  The little girl, whom had initially used him as a shield, had somehow taken a liking to him.  And begun to follow him.  Her nurse, an old woman who checked on her every few hours, found it obnoxious.  Her nanny, whom tended to her needs, found it adorable.  Her father found it hilarious and told him that he had work before walking off with a soft laugh.

“Hey, hey, Mister Baba?” came the child’s soft, clear, high voice.

Christoph looked down, far down. “Yes, Miss Michele?”

She beamed; apparently she liked it when he called her that.  She had told him as much.  “How’d you get so tall?  James said people grow because they eat their spinach.  Is that true?”

“That’s partially true, yes.” Blaming a kid’s nutritional intake for their lack of height was Medic’s gig though. “But it also depends on whether the parents have been eating their vegetables as well.”

The pint-sized brunette blinked up at him bemusedly, and skipped a few steps to get ahead of him before walking backwards.  In front of her chest, she clutched a broken-and-mended wooden carving of a horse.  “That makes no sense,” she told him authoritatively.  “That’s like saying I’ll get tall cause daddy is!  But we’re not the same!  He’s a boy.”

“Hm, the way I see it, the parents need to eat well to have a healthy child. That is important, yes? That way the child will have a better chance of being tall.” The blond tilted his head at the girl. “That makes sense right? If you don’t eat well, then you get sick. If you get sick, you don’t grow as fast.”

She tilted her head and slowed to a stop.  “Oh…”  Her face screwed up in thought.  “Yes!  It does.  Can we go get a snack now?”

Blowing out a sigh, the very tall man uttered a very silent prayer of thanks that the child had not asked why the parents’ eating habits had anything to do with a healthy child. He was not up for educating such a tiny slip of a female on reproduction. “That is an excellent idea. I believe it’s time for tea.”

“Tea?  Ohhh, only if it has no caffeine!  Mommy doesn’t like it when I have caffeine!”  She beamed sweetly, spun around and trotted off down the hall in search of the kitchen.

Amused, Christoph smiled slightly as he followed the girl, her two steps for each one of his longer strides. Ah, the cares of the young.

xXx

Seeing Kai’s face when she had shown him the store’s uniform had been priceless, but probably no less so than her own when he had stepped out of the backroom wearing it. From the evident smirk on his smug lips, the witch had witnessed the way heat had crawled up her neck as Syd took in the sight of her boyfriend in pressed cotton and the vibrant colours of the café. Maybe Lyd’s wouldn’t notice a missing uniform. Yeah right.

“I take it I have approval?” the Japanese male said, twisting slightly to show off.

“Mm, definitely.” She smiled and reached over, folding down the back of his bright red collar. Her hands drifted to his muscled shoulders with the long black sleeves. “Thanks again for doing this.”

He nodded and stole a quick kiss.  “Any time.”

Behind him from the depths of the break room, the afternoon manager came out grumbling, “No time for smooching, get going!”

They broke apart, Syd laughing and ducking from Lydia’s wrath, fleeing for the cashier.  Kai, blushing, endured a lecture on employee relations.  Oh boy.

xXx

The trio – Christoph, Michele and her nanny, Sara – peeked through the window at the group of guards down in the front yard.  “Are yousure?” the tiny brunette asked skeptically, looking at her bodyguard.  “He doesn’t look nice.”

The man in question chose that moment to fling a careless young guard into the prickly side of the hedge maze. Christoph winced. “Svorak is nice to… a few people only,” he admitted.

She looked at the merc in an odd mixture of awe and horror.  “He just… but he just did that!” she yelped, and ducked when a few people down on the lawn over heard and turned slightly.

Frowning slightly, the chemist looked at the nanny. “How do the guards usually train?”

“Um, independently,” she admitted, frowning.  “We don’t run their lives…”

“Momma said they ran around like idiots,” Michele reported.  “But I don’t get it.  They don’t run a lot.”

Blond brows arched up. “That explains a few things though,” Christoph muttered. “Well, if they can survive Svorak, they will be stronger for it. See? The fellow is getting up. He’s fine… He’s also an idiot.”

They all watched as the guard struggled out of the bushes, screamed out a few words that had the nanny covering Michele’s ears, and charged the smirking black merc. Christoph winced again. The man’s voice had cracked mid-way. Oh, to be young and stupid.

“Hey, Mister Baba?” Michele asked.  “What does ‘dick’ mean?”

“A male person who you want to hurt very badly,” he answered absently as Svorak leaned to the side to evade the uppercut and smoothly took the legs out from under the raging guard. There was a collective groan when the boy attempted to kick the merc in between the legs without success and Svorak returned the sentiment. With predictable results.

Sara was getting up, a bit red in the face.  “Alright, come now, let’s go!” she said furiously.

“Shhh, I’m watching,” Michele said, watching with fascination as the defeated man rolled on the ground.  “The scary looking guy is cool!”  The nanny squeaked.

“Hm.” Christoph blinked and looked down at the tiny girl. Rising to his feet, he sighed. “Next thing we know, she’ll be asking for defence classes.”

The slim nanny gave him a scathing look.

“Or are they called etiquette lessons now?” he asked grinning.

“Uhg,” the woman growled, and grabbed Michele’s hand.  “Come on, Michele, let’s go find a nice snack.”

“Cookies?” she asked hopefully.

“Carrots.”

“Dummy,” the child muttered.

The nanny paused and frowned.  “What?”

“Nothing!”  She beamed widely.  “Can I talk to the scary-looking guy later?”

“No!”

xXx

The stream of customers had slowed to a crawl, eventually trickling down to only a few individuals in an hour. Sydney checked the clock and blinked. It was already half-way through her shift. Which meant…

Right on cue, the door chimed and Mr. Dollars walked in.

Kai glanced toward the door and blinked, brows furrowing slightly.  Still, he didn’t stop the man from approaching the cash register, and continued wiping down the table.  However, when he’d finished that one, the next table he attacked was significantly closer to Sydney.

As part of their now regular routine, the Chinese man smiled as he removed his sunglasses. “Hello gorgeous. How has your day been?”

In the background, Kai fumbled a saltshaker and nearly dropped it, turning bright red at Lydia’s glare.

The old traditional tea pot came out of hiding as Syd rolled her eyes. “Same as always, sir?”

Pouting, Mr. Dollars raised his eyebrows. “I can’t even get an answer for such an innocuous question? And yes.”

Syd laughed. “Good, I’ve been good!” There was a brief pause as she rang up the bill for Oolong tea and a single blueberry muffin. She didn’t miss the quiet ‘I’m sure you have’ from the customer, but she was used to it.

Kai frowned faintly as he cleaned up his mess, ignoring Lydia’s glower from the other side of the store.  But he told himself that the man was just being flirtatious, and Syd was returning it for an extra tip.  That was all.  It was okay that she kept giving him interesting looks.  It was okay.

… but the man was acting awfully familiar with Sydney.  Too familiar.  Frowning, he edged over to the next table.

“Will this be for here or to go?” she asked, openly amused.

“Will you sit with me?” he countered, smirk in place.

Kai scrubbed the table harder, It’s okay a mantra in his head.

Holding out a hand, Syd wiggled her fingers. “No, so pay up.”

“Any word on that birthday?” the flirter asked, a five dollar bill held vertically in two fingers.

Birthday?  Kai cast a furious look toward the customer.  “Sydney-chan?” he called softly.  “Sydney-chan wa tasuke o hitsuyo to shite imasu ka?

Slipping him a bright smile in answer, the blonde Sydney shook her head at both men. “She doesn’t take presents from strangers.”

A chime of the door interrupted them just as Mr. Dollars seemed to think of an answer. Looking rather resigned, he handed over the money just as the new customer walked up behind him.

The new guy was older, but just as richly dressed. The black goatee added to the look of older, wiser, and impatient. Surprising both of them, he addressed Mr. Dollars. “Li, sir, we need to leave.”

The fresh roll of quarters hit the floor with a sharp clack as Sydney gaped. “Li?”

Kai perked at the name.  Li?  The guy that was harassing Sydney’s cousin?  Then his eyes narrowed.  If the man started harassing Sydney…

Mr. Dollars, or Li, growled at the man beside him. “Dammit Jin. Wait at the car.” The older man gave him a doubtful look, but left.

“Why do you want her birthday.”

Li turned back around with a scowl. “To send her a gift, why not?”

Syd took a step back. “Why did you ask–How did you know she was my cousin?” Kai knew her family relations weren’t exactly a secret, but they didn’t advertise either.

Waving his hand negligently, the Triad man smirked. “Good sources are wonderful things to cultivate. You get all kinds of information out of people.”

Posture perfectly straight, Syd dug money out of the till and shoved it at him. “Go away, Li.”

To her visible alarm, he grabbed her wrist and pulled her forward. “Her birthday, Xia Fu. Then I will leave.”

“Mr. Li,” a soft voice murmured beside him.  Kai stepped up, a hand brushing the man’s shoulder almost as if in concern.  When the man’s gaze flickered toward the Japanese witch, Kai caught it, and held.  “Release Sydney-chan now.”

Pressing her lips in a thin line, Syd yanked herself from the Triad’s loosening grip. She gave Kai a single frightened glance before Lydia appeared at her elbow and whisked her away to the backroom.

The man who had frightened her did not even acknowledge her departure. Lowering his outstretched hand, Li tilted his head at Kai and waited.

Satisfied that he’d gotten the control he needed (though he had known he would), Kai’s almost polite expression melted into ice, eyes darkening.  “In two minutes, you will walk out the entrance door you came through.  After you have, you will decide that you do not wish to bother Sydney-chan again, and you will never return.  Never return here.  And while you’re at it, make sure your guards go with you.  Understood?  Take your money and leave.”

“Understood.”

With slow precise movements, Li bent down and picked up the discarded money, taking out his wallet and slipping the bill inside. His flat brown eyes swept past the deserted counter, over the seething Kai, and past the empty tables of the cafe to the door where the sign said ‘On Break’. Absently, he pocketed his wallet and strode to the door. The chime seemed to wake him from his daze, but he only signalled to his men and drove off without looking back.

Kai walked up to the door and clicked the lock into place, then spun on his heel and stalked into the back.  By the time he reached the room Lydia had dragged Sydney to, the black had receded from his eyes and he’d stuffed his fury far down inside him.  “Sydney-chan?” he asked worriedly, stepping inside.  “Are you okay?”  His eyes were wide and face pale.

Inside the room, Sydney was pacing between the microwave and the closet, muttering darkly to herself. She flashed him a tight smile for a second as he called out to her, but shook her head and resumed her angry pacing. Lydia was standing off to side by the fridge, a glass of water in her hand and an exasperated expression on her dark face.

“Here,” the manager huffed, dodging past her co-worker and shoving the water in Kai’s hands. “She won’t tell me anything. You talk to her. Take her out or something.”

“Uh, okay,” Kai said, and set the glass down as soon as she was gone.  He stepped into Sydney’s path and grabbed her arms gently.  “Sydney-chan?  What’s wrong?”

Brown eyes blinked at him as her half-uttered words died down. “He knew I was related to Ruby.” A pale hand brushed over her hair. “He’s a Triad heir.” Syd shook her head and bit her lip, letting out a weak laugh. “I wonder if I should ask Ruby to take him out.”

“I could do it,” he murmured, searching her face.  “If he bothers you that much… but he won’t ever bother you again.  Ever.”

“No.” She shook her head again, stepping forward to wrap her arms around him tight. “I can’t ask you to. He’s after Ruby, not me after all.” Syd breathed in deep, face pressed his neck above his collar, lips brushing warm against his skin. “He just caught me off guard, that’s all. I’m fine. It’s okay. I’ll just tell her, and Ruby can go kick his ass.”

Holding her tighter, he nodded and pressed a kiss to her forehead.  “Alright.  If you’re sure.  C’mon.  Let’s go somewhere else.  Take advantage of Lydia’s generosity.”

Squeezing once more before letting go, Syd nodded and smiled even as her brow furrowed slightly in worry. And it wasn’t hard to imagine what she was thinking: Li knew who she was and knew she was related to Ruby. There was a reason why her cousin’s mercenary group did not have last names. Family ties made things… risky. The only reason why Ruby stayed in touch was because of what they were.

She allowed Kai to pull her from the room, Lyd waved them off as Kai approached her. “Out,” was all her manager said. So they left.

xXx

Later that night, well after dark, when most of the guards had moved on to positions around the manor, or rounds in the grounds and maze, silence was almost complete.

Except the soft click of a door being closed, and tiny feet padding away from their room in the darkness.

“Ahem,” said one deep and foreboding voice.

“Oh dear,” said a friendly one.

The footsteps stopped for a beat, then moved closer to the wall.  She didn’t say anything, likely trying to blend in with the darkened hallway.

At the large doors that opened to the hall leading to the master suite, one tall pale shadow turned to the other. “I’m blaming you.”

“Me?” The darker shadow further from the window muttered. “She’s fixated on you, Blondie.”

“Not that. The hiding in plain sight part.”

The one with the scary voice shrugged. “She’ll get better.”

“Not the point.”

Michele, seeming to realize she’d been caught, giggled softly.  “Hey, hey, Mister Baba?” she whispered.

There was a snort from the darker side of the wall. The blond shook his head. “Miss Michele, you should be in bed.”

“I can’t sleep!” she protested.  “I think there’s a monster in my closet…”  She huffed.

This time the darker shadow let loose a chuckle before trying to muffle it. There was a very quiet, “There’s an easy fix for that,” before a “You are not using that inside the house,” followed by a “What’s wrong? It’ll be easy to teach her. All ya do is pull the pin out, roll it, and run like he–OW!”

“You’re useless,” the tall one sighed, walking towards the waiting girl.

Staying behind, the other shrugged and replied, “Kids.”

The lamps from the grounds shone through the large windows onto pale hair as Christoph smiled down at her. “Alright Miss Michele, let’s see to the monster,” he said quietly.

Giving him a timid smile, she lead him to her room, her steps growing lighter once inside.  “There,” she whispered very softly, pointing toward the slightly open doorway in the corner.

Giving the innocent storage unit an amused once-over, the blond pursed his lips and looked down at the tiny heiress. “Why do you think the monster is in there?”

“I heard it,” she replied, blinking up at him.  “It was whispering!”

The tall merc hummed. “I’m going to take a look. Do you want to stay here or go with me?”

Hesitating, she glanced back toward the door.  Then she gulped.  “I’ll go with you,” she decided.

Smiling faintly, Christoph gently ruffled her hair, rewarding her for her show of courage. “Then off we go.” Taking slow steps, he advanced upon the closet, tiny girl hand in hand.

Pausing on the threshold, he glanced down. “Ready?”

Her lips pressed together and her jaw firmed, and she gave him a brave nod.

The wooden door swung open on silent hinges and the light clicked on automatically.  Inside… was a pink, pink land.  Pink shoes scattered on the floor (with some red thrown in), pink dresses and coats and shirts hung up.  A pink hamper for dirty clothing.  A small pink dresser holding pants and skirts.

It was like cotton candy had thrown up in her closet.

Tilting his head, Christoph blinked. “Is the monster a boy or a girl?” he asked little Miss Michele.

“I didn’t ask it,” was the terse reply.  “How should I know?”

“Just wondering,” he answered, stepping forward and marvelling at the inconceivable number of shades light red could exist in. Turning, he raised his eyebrows at her. “Doesn’t look like the monster is in anymore.”

She relaxed at that, smiling at him.  “Thank you!” she said.  “I’ll go back to bed now.  Night night, Mr. Baba!”

Shaking his head and chuckling, Christoph let himself be herded out of the little lady’s room. “G’night Miss Michele,” he said and stepped out.

When he resumed his station at the door, Svorak gave him a wide smile.

“What?” Someday he would learn not to ask that.

The one-eyed merc snickered. “Wait till Lady hears about this…”

Chapter 2 | Table of Contents | Chapter 4

A/N: We have just started a tumblr account dedicated to geeking out about our writing.
twinmoment.tumblr.com
It’s rather narcissistic.
Until you realize that the draft clips you see now won’t be posted for months.
And then it’s just sad.

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About azhwi

An editing student, graduated Feb 2012. An avid fan of video games, fanfiction, anime, writing, and the serial comma.
This entry was posted in Fiction, Phantom Pain, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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