It was almost dawn by the time we got home, but I wasn't in the least bit tired. I'd scared myself so many times during the night that it was going to take a long time for the adrenaline to drain out of my blood. Wufei didn't look like he was ready to sleep either - he only stopped moving long enough to pop a couple of aspirin and drink three glasses of water. All I could say was that he must have had a pretty awesome headache going.
Probably if I'd asked, he would have said he'd named it after me. Everyone's a fucking comedian, after all.
"We've still got today and tomorrow before the mission," I said, rubbing at my hair with a towel. I'd decided to take a shower, under the theory that it would let me scrub the smells of blood and sickness out of my skin. It hadn't helped. I could still smell Angelo's death scene every time I inhaled, and I'd already asked Wufei if my hands still smelled like latex. He'd looked at me like I'd just grown a second, evil head.
Wufei finished folding a shirt before he replied, "That's correct." Apparently, he'd decided to deal with his headache and nervous energy by reorganizing all of his clothes. To each his own, I guess.
"So I was thinking while I was shampooing, and this is what I came up with. We've talked to Johannes. We've talked to Noin. So we got both sides there, and that pretty much covers the vampire and werewolf angle on this one. So, who else do we know that might have a clue about what's going on, huh?"
Wufei set the shirt in the top dresser drawer. "The witches." He didn't bother to hide the disgust in his voice.
We hadn't had too many dealings with the witches, beyond the unfortunate encounter with one that had happened to be the servant of a vampire and plotting our collective untimely demise. But what little we'd seen sure hadn't impressed Wufei, or at least not in a good way. Bitchy women working in porn shops apparently just didn't do it for him.
"Yeah, I know you're not crazy about them. I'm sure as hell not either, considering their track record when it comes to trying to cause my death. But it's as good of a stab to take in the dark as any. I sure don't have any better ideas."
"Admittedly, I don't either," Wufei said. "And let's not tempt fate with too many 'stab' references."
"So it has to be the witches, and that means we go to Carmelita's. Sure, the scary old lady that we ran in to before might still be working at the department store, but she didn't seem too happy to see me. I'm not interested in talking with people that are trying to punish me for God-knows-what. Besides, Hara seemed to like us. She helped the paramedics find us, after all."
"I don't trust her motivations."
"Well, duh," I said. "I don't trust her either. We don't trust anyone. All in all, we're mistrustful little bastards. It's good for keeping us alive." I dropped the sodden towel on the floor and began the hunt for my hairbrush.
Wufei looked at it like it was some kind of dead rodent. "You're going to pick that up, right?"
"Of course I am, as soon as I'm done sorting this mess pretending to be my hair out." The hairbrush was hiding in a desk drawer. I had no idea how it got there.
"You know, Wufei, you and me need to work on this roommate thing." I started brushing at the ends of my hair. Thank God for conditioner was all I could say.
"I'm used to living alone."
I laughed. "Yeah, it shows. You twitch every time I put my feet up on the furniture or miss the trash can when I'm tossing papers. It's kind of endearing, actually."
Wufei dropped the rest of his clothes back into the dresser, apparently giving up on getting stuff sorted out. "Obstreperous brat," he muttered.
"Curmudgeonly old fart."
"I'm six weeks younger than you," he informed me. "That would make you the old fart."
"Unless I've been lying about my birthday."
"Dishonorable American cur."
"You know you can't resist my roguish good looks and charm. Give us a kiss." I puckered my lips and made several exaggerated smacking sounds.
"I'd rather kiss Relena."
"Ooooooh...someone's getting nasty. You're just jealous because your Gundam makes your butt look fat."
It took him a moment to sort that little non-sequitor out. Then he snorted, collapsing back against the wall before going into full blown laughter. I managed to keep it together long enough to finish brushing my hair, then I, too, had to lean against the wall while I laughed until my ribs hurt.
It was dumb, yeah, but it made me glad that laughter was the only thing on the planet more virulent than Ebola. It was nice to pretend to be normal on occasion.
We had to take the train out to the little shop o' horrors known as Carmelita's. We'd moved, and it was on the opposite end of town now. It hadn't been intentional, but it was sure a fringe benefit. We ended up wandering around for about fifteen minutes while I tried to remember how the hell to get to it from the train station. Wufei was absolutely no help - it was amazing how well the guy could forget things he didn't want to know.
Then we turned a corner, and there it was, just like I'd remembered it. Ah, the tattered black window drapes. Ah, the peeling paint. Ah, the flickering red neon. And of course, the men furtively coming and going with their collars turned up and their hats pulled love over their eyes. What a sight. What a place.
"Well," I said, "Nice to know that some things just never change."
Wufei made a sour noise, keeping a wary eye on the men in trench coats. I couldn't blame him - his cute little ass had gotten grabbed by a total stranger on our last adventure here. He hadn't taken it to well. I just figured the groper was lucky he'd only ended up with a snapped wrist instead of a snapped neck.
I strolled up to the shop with practiced cool that I'd learned by watching cats. My walk said I belonged, and no one even bothered to look at me because if it. I'd learned a long time ago that the best way to get anywhere, be it a porn shop or a military base, is to walk it casual and confident, and people would normally assume you were where you were supposed to be.
The moment I opened the door, we were engulfed in a wave of noise. It was heavy metal up to ear bleeding levels, with singers that screamed and guitarists that seemed to be torturing their instruments to death. The base was so high that it rumbled in the floor, tickling my feet. I dragged Wufei inside and the door slammed shut behind us, leaving us in the dim little den on iniquity. The musky incense they always used made me sneeze.
A woman came slinking up quickly. I was pretty sure the only real thing on her body was her nose. Her boobs were bigger than my head, her hair was blonde - not normally a natural color for Japanese women, and it was also eye-hurting televangelist girlfriend platinum - and her lips... scared me. It took a moment for it to register that we were kids.
I waved my hands disarmingly, smiling. "Hey, I know, we're too young to be in here. We're just looking for a friend of our...mom's. Her name's Hara. She's got the spare key to our house, and my brother and I just locked ourselves out..."
It said a lot about her mental capacity that she accepted the lame, spur-of-the-moment story without so much as the blink of any eye. There was also the fact that she squeaked when she talked, setting my teeth on edge. "Hara? She's not here."
"She's not? Mom said she was working today."
The girl frowned. "Your mom needs to talk to her more often, I think. She hasn't been here in a while. I think she got fired."
"Shit." I rubbed my forehead and did my best to look piteous. "Can you tell us where she lives? Because otherwise we're going to be locked out for a long, long time. Mom works really late."
"Doesn't your mom know where she lives?"
"She moved recently, I think. Something like that. Maybe you could just check where her last paycheck got sent or something? Please, lady, we're depending on you."
I reached out and touched her hand. Half of it was to go with the act. The other half was because I was curious. When I touched her, there was no electric tingle, no reaction when I poked at her very lightly with my power. She was mundane, through and through. After the last couple days, it was something of a relief, even if the timing was damn inconvenient.
"Ummm... let me go talk to the manager. You boys stay right here, and don't touch anything. Try not to look at anything either. You're too young." She went jiggling off. And I had to say, fake as it might have been, she had a nice butt.
Wufei leaned forward so he could speak in my ear. I could feel heat practically radiating off of him - he had to be blushing something fierce. "Our...mother?"
"Hey, she bought it, didn't she? I guess we look alike after all."
We had to wait for about five minutes before she came back, but it felt a lot longer. I snitched a lollipop that was shaped like a penis off of a display and ate it, figuring hey, candy is candy no matter what shape it's in. It was cherry flavored, which I found amusing to no end.
After jiggling her way back to us, the girl handed me a piece of paper, smiling vapidly. I could almost feel my IQ being sucked away. "Okay, the manager wrote it down for you. But she says you'd better not come back here again, ever."
I smiled at her, bowing a couple times for good measure. "Thank you so much! We're sorry to be so much trouble."
"It's okay. Just run along and play. Don't get in trouble," she said, waving.
We didn't need any more encouragement to get the hell out. I glanced down at the paper once we were out and blinking in the natural light. There was an address written on it in black ink, nothing else. "This isn't too far. We can walk it." I said.
And we did.
Hara's apartment building was actually pretty nice, though not to the point of being swanky. It was tall, but had a pretty granite facade and mirrored windows with just enough tint to set off the color of the rock. Not too shabby. We took an elevator with plush blue carpet up to the twenty-first floor. Her apartment was at the end of the hallway. The door was stained dark mahogany, and there was a little gold knocker shaped like a bird on it, which I used.
While Wufei kept me covered, I picked the lock. It was like child's play - funny how nice places normally had crappy security. The door swung open on well-oiled hinges, and I stepped cautiously inside. "Excuse me!" I called.
Silence. The air in the apartment was slightly stale, like the door had been closed for a long time. I sniffed a little more deeply, but couldn't catch anything more worrying.
I had to hand it to Hara, she had taste. Her furniture was all wood and simple fabrics. Everything matched. She had massive bookshelves full of leather bound volumes that had to have cost more than I cared to think about. Wufei and I padded silently in on the plush carpet. That was when I noticed that there was a layer of dust, on everything.
"Not good," I said, "not good at all."
We moved through her living room and into the bedroom. There was a roll-top desk there, open, with papers scattered across the floor. Even stranger, there was a perfect circle, maybe half a meter across, burned into the carpet. I bent down to touch it cautiously. The burned carpet fibers fell to ash. It didn't smell like anything more interesting than burnt carpet, and I couldn't tell what could have caused it, just that it wasn't natural. "Check the desk, 'Fei." I said. "I'm going to poke my head into the bathroom."
I'd been half expecting to find the bathroom mirror shattered, but this time, I was disappointed. Everything was as neat and clean and covered with dust, like the rest of the apartment. The theme color was a light sort of coral, with gold fixtures. I noted idly that Hara and I used the same sort of shampoo, and the same brand of toothpaste, of all things. She'd pasted pictures of flowers onto the glass of the door that separated her bathtub from the rest of the room. This was pretty much the last place in the apartment to look. I opened the door cautiously, every nerve on the alert.
It says a lot when you get more nervous when nothing jumps out at you.
Nothing. Sponges, various scrubby pads and bath gels, most of them quite nice and a bit expensive. Everything wasn't neat here, however. The bottles had been knocked down and scattered, the little shower head hung limp and broken. I stepped cautiously in. I could smell nothing but flowery bath soap.
There was a strange, rusty stain in the tub. If I'd been in a single guy's apartment, I wouldn't have batted an eyelash at it. But considering the state the rest of the place had been in, this definitely didn't belong. I reached down to touch it, wondering if it would flake off...
My power stirred, and an impression slammed into my mind, nearly knocking me over. I had to grab the edge of the tub for support, and my entire hand flattened against the stain.
Memory invaded my mind. There was no other way to describe it; suddenly I saw Hara, smelled her shampoo. She spoke in hurried tones, words that I couldn't make out. She was angry, upset, and frightened. Then she spoke clearly, her voice cold with rage: "Never! I won't join!" Then a blur, then a scream, and blood trickling into the bathtub...
I dropped back onto my ass, trying to remember how to breathe. Two plastic facial scrub bottles fell off the edge of the tub, the clatter echoing in the little stall.
"Duo? Are you alright?" Wufei hurried into the bathroom. "You shouted..."
I shook my head, rubbing my arms. Every hair on my body was standing on end. The power within me subsided, satisfied that it'd shown me a new trick. "Hara's dead, Wufei. I don't know how, or when, or even really why, but she's dead. Something killed her, here, because she wouldn't do something." I rubbed my eyes. "It dropped into my head."
"How do you know?" He asked.
I pointed at the tub. "I think that's blood. It has to be. I touched it, and got the impression of her death downloaded into my brain. Fuck, I hate this shit!" I scrubbed at my eyes with my hands.
Wufei frowned, his brow furrowing. He didn't seem to really know what to say, so he moved on. That was probably the best plan. "I didn't find anything of direct interest in her desk. The only thing is that one drawer had a false bottom. Whatever was in there is gone now." He offered me a hand up, which I took.
"Let's get out of here. I don't think we're going to find anything else." And I wanted to get away from this place. I guess it should have been a relief that I was able to feel something of her death, because it meant whatever horrible thing was out there, destroying people's souls, hadn't come here. Strange, but that didn't make me feel any better.
As we walked from the bathroom, I thought I saw a ragged edge of black out of the corner of my eye, just the tiniest hint of movement. When I turned to look at it, though, there was nothing - just the bathroom mirror, and my reflection. I shook my head and hurried to catch up with Wufei, feeling like someone had just walked over my grave.
Everyone that could possibly give us help was turning up dead. No wonder I was getting jumpy.