Rain poured down on the city, a grey on grey pall, softening the hard
corners and lines of the buildings. Heero watched the water break on the
dirty windshield of the Volkswagen he huddled in, cutting trails through the
last of the summer dust. The inside of the derelict van smelled like stale
cigarette smoke and mildew, with something underneath that suggested decay,
but it was mostly dry.
He hardly registered the iron poisoning anymore; it was always there, a
relentless dull ache.
"You could search again," Heero said contemplatively, fumbling a cigarette
from the pack in his coat pocket. The sound of his voice was barely audible
over the rain tapping against the van's rusting shell. "She's here
somewhere. I can feel it."
A reproachfully cocked eye was his only response, but he was used to
interpreting body language by now. His mind supplied Duo's voice, "In this
weather? You've got to be kidding."
It was still odd, though, to be the one doing all the talking.
"Later," he clarified. "After the rain stops."
A harsh cough, almost laughter, and the gaping beak which, for a crow,
passed as a grin. There'd always been a grin. "The rain doesn't stop here.
It pauses to tease us. Briefly."
"We will find her," Heero said then, affirming both their thoughts, he was
sure. "Perhaps one of the others will have found something. You could
A shift of weight from one foot to the other as he plucked at his perch on
the passenger seat's headrest and mantled black feathers accompanied
another, sharper caw. Again, Heero's mind supplied the words that went with
the stance, "Do I look like a passenger pigeon to you?"
"Passenger pigeons are extinct," the young man answered.
Duo gave him a wary look. "You're losing your mind," it seemed to say.
"Probably," he agreed without inflection. "It wouldn't be the first time."
The chuckle that followed was as deadpan as his tone.
The crow shook his head.
_____ _____ _____
The bus stop awning, the buildings across the way, the lamp poles were all
marked with bits of graffiti. Most of them were nothing -- just street kids
marking their territory and strangers telling each other to fuck off, even
though how they could have offended each other would forever remain a
mystery. Some, however, Trowa knew. The small white scrawl that looked
like Cyrillic but wasn't; the rune hidden in the distorted lines of a
backward R; the phone number that probably didn't exist, and even if it did,
would not connect anyone to a good time. He recognized the polite
announcements of what Courts were passing through, the warnings from those
who already claimed the area.
Trowa held his flute case across his body, as though the instrument could
protect him from what he saw. And in a way, it could. Music could have
devastating power in that world.
He wasn't a part of that world anymore, though. Not for years.
Forcing himself to relax, Trowa looked for a place out of the rain to set
up. November seemed to hover in the grey light and red leaf-stained
sidewalks. He could feel it in his fingers, left bare by the gloves he
He chose a place near the bus stop, in front of a pizza parlor. The canopy
set up for the restaurant's outside diners would shelter him as well.
Breathing in deeply -- garlic and yeast, and the flat, bitter smell of
beer-- Trowa pulled out his flute. He left the case on the ground, open
invitation to ones and change.
Trowa lifted the keyless wooden flute, fingers gliding over the worn yew.
The wide holes were designed for a powerful sound for a master player. It
seemed to hum faintly in his hands, as though the music were already trapped
inside it. The faded ivory and brass capping was already warm.
Licking his lips, he raised the flute to his mouth. An air came to him
easily, though without the force it had once held. He hardly had to think
about it; his hands knew the fingering. He closed his eyes, letting the
music bring that particular focused blankness that nothing else could. When
he played, he forgot that he had once performed for a Queen's Court, forgot
the war, forgot what he had lost and what had been taken from him. It was
as though he'd always been this, here, and it was oddly comforting. He
could have been, maybe.
He could almost pretend that he couldn't play better than this, faster,
sweeter. Bigger. He could pretend he'd always lived busking on street
corners and in parks, or playing in bars.
He could tap out the time with his toe, and just play.
When he heard someone throwing loose coins into his flute case, Trowa
cracked his eyes open. A couple brave enough to eat outdoors despite the
weather watched him, and a passerby gave him a pitying look before tossing
down fifty cents. The first person who'd thrown him coins was already
The rain hadn't kept many people off the street. They carried umbrellas or
had their hoods up, or they just got wet, but they still came out. With the
holidays coming, some of them were probably getting an early start on buying
Trowa changed to a reel, faster and friendlier. More money accumulated, the
small pile growing slowly. Mostly whatever change people found in their
pockets. A forty-something woman danced a quick, rusty jig more or less in
time with the music, then fished a handful of ones from her pocket. The
couple eating lunch stood to leave and dropped him a five. A young man with
feathery black hair watched him hopefully for a few minutes, but left
without leaving anything behind. The reel was replaced by another, then
changed into a march, and after that he switched the tone to a lullaby. The
rain continued steadily, but the clouds brightened to an achingly bright
He had slowed to a dirge when a familiar figure appeared in the small crowd
he'd gathered; a tall, pale haired man whose face was half hidden by a pair
of mirrored aviator glasses, who leaned against the neighboring store front.
As the song wound down to its last, melancholy note, he pushed away from the
wall. Trowa lowered his flute, gave a quick bow to his audience, then
dropped to his heels to pick up what he'd made, shoving the money into the
pockets of his jacket. He'd make more if people passing him by didn't know
how much he'd already gotten. By the time he'd collected the last nickel,
Zechs's boots were in front of him.
They were really quite nice boots, Trowa decided as he looked at them.
Elegant without being feminine, with an even black polish and a good, slim
He followed the line of a boot up a tailored pant leg and over the arms that
crossed the chest, until he reached the mirrored lenses that hid Zechs's
face. "Can I buy you a beer?" the blonde asked.
Trowa searched his own eyes reflected in the glasses for a long moment
before shrugging. "Who am I to turn down free beer?" he answered, putting
his flute away gently.
Zechs nodded, waiting silently while Trowa closed his flute case and
straightened, then led the way into the pizza parlor. The flautist followed
after, checking the impulse to curiosity. Whatever Zechs wanted, it was
part of that other world. He took a seat opposite the other when he chose a
booth, made no comment when Zechs ordered a vegetarian combo and a pitcher
of the house's medium brown malt, and watched while he unfolded his napkin
and laid it neatly in his lap.
"Aren't you going to ask me something?" Zechs said at last.
"I thought you said beer?" Trowa leaned one elbow on the table casually as
he spoke. "Not that I'm gonna complain if you want to feed me, too."
If Zechs was at all put off by the response, he kept it carefully hidden
behind his glasses. In the dim, he was a little too bright; not glowing,
but as though the light was stronger on him than on his surroundings. The
power in the air around him was restrained, but it made the hairs on the
back of Trowa's arms stand up, like lightning about to strike.
"So you don't want to know why I'm here?"
Trowa shrugged. Pouring himself a glass of beer, he replied, "I assumed
you'd tell me eventually. Either that, or the reason would become
self-evident..." He trailed off, shrugging again.
A ghost of a smile turned up the edges of Zechs's mouth. "Fair enough." He
took the pitcher and poured for himself. "I didn't think I would find you
playing on a street corner, I must say. It's a long way to fall."
"I've been lower," Trowa commented, sipping his drink. He would have
preferred something darker, but he wasn't about to complain about free beer.
"As long as I am playing, that's all that matters."
"Is it?" Zechs's glasses masked his expression. "I'd think--"
"You'd have thought wrong," the musician cut him off without heat,
effectively ending the line of conversation. He didn't want the other's
sympathy, or his pity. They'd been at war; this was the price of losing
when Courts fought. Trowa didn't need to reopen old wounds to commiserate.
Their pizza arrived, carried by a young woman whose apron was longer than
her miniskirt. She asked if they needed anything else, then left when both
men shook their heads in polite negative. Trowa helped himself to a slice,
picking off the mushrooms and the onions. Zechs served himself
fastidiously, carrying two pieces of pizza to his plate and dabbing the
excess grease and water off the top with his napkin. He ate his pizza with
a fork and knife, the fork's tines turned down. Almost smiling, Trowa folded
his pizza and took a bite.
Half way through his second piece, Zechs spoke again. "I wanted to talk to
Heero originally, but I found his state less than I'd hoped."
Nodding both acknowledgement and agreement, Trowa didn't bother looking up.
"So was I the second choice or did you try someone else first?"
Zechs snorted. "The others and I were never close."
"And you and I were?" he asked. "Or you and Heero, for that matter?"
"I suppose not," the blonde answered, smirking wryly. "I thought you would
be more likely to listen to me."
Trowa spread his hands, ceding his point. "You have my undivided
"It's not that easy, I'm afraid." Zechs carefully lifted another slice of
pizza from the pan and carried it to his plate.
It rarely is, Trowa thought, waiting for the other to continue. The
pizza was good. He liked the roma tomatoes with the peppers. It would have
been better with pepperoni, but it wasn't bad. The beer turned out to be a
good choice, too; anything darker would have overpowered the vegetables.
"The war isn't over," Zechs announced, surprising him. His eyes shot up,
but could still only see the distorted reflection of the pizza parlor in
those glasses, and the vague green shadow of his own eyes.
"For us it is," Trowa told the man across from him firmly. "It's been over
Cutting his pizza, Zechs said, "That's not so long."
"It can be when you spend it right." Trowa finished his glass in one long,
quick drink, his other hand moving unconsciously to collect his flute.
"Treize is looking for my sister." He said it liked he'd say it was
raining, or that it was Thursday.
She's not your sister anymore, Zechs, the musician thought, but held
back the acerbic words. Instead, he stood, wiped his mouth a last time with
his napkin, and thanked him for lunch. When he left the restaurant, he went
to the bus stop instead of setting up again, head bent into the soft rain.
Bits of spray paint and neon moved through the edges of his vision, wards
and seals and charms.
His flute was a comforting weight, but it was a part of that world too, as
was the skill he played it with. He couldn't be part of it anymore, but he
couldn't leave either.
_____ _____ _____
Wufei felt the bed shift as she got up, heard the water run as she took her
shower, heard her lock the door as she left. She didn't even try to talk to
him in the mornings anymore. She didn't ask him when he was going to get a
job, or where he was when he stayed out late. She'd kick him out soon, if
he was any judge. She'd already put up with him longer than most of them
Stretching slowly, he listened to the rain rattle the window. Three or four
days, he guessed. Certainly within the week. And the more fool her for
waiting that long. She should have left him a month ago when he'd come home
with lipstick on his collar and rum on his breath, or when he blew off the
job interview she'd gotten him, but she didn't have the spine to end it when
she should have. He might have had some respect for her if she had.
The sort of women that would have done that wouldn't have been involved with
him in the first place, though.
He groped around on the floor for the television remote and turned on a
random channel. Some old kung fu movie was half over. He flipped to another
and got golf. A third was showing a gardening program. The local stations
were news, and he stopped there briefly. The five day forecast showed only
rain, lows in the mid forties and highs in the fifties. There'd been a car
accident on the freeway, some idiot who couldn't merge, two people were in
critical condition, but no one was dead. He changed again.
He might have laughed at her, or at the whole situation, if it weren't so
stupid. He was banished, his powers were sealed, the glamour that he'd worn
was broken, but his nature was still the same. He seduced them, and more
often than not, they still fell for it.
They still killed themselves for him.
He might have laughed at it, but it wasn't funny.
He left the TV on a hockey game. He didn't normally watch hockey, but there
might be a fight, or some blood, and the chatter of the announcers tempered
the sounds of the weather, providing background noise. Picking a book up
off the nightstand, he opened to a dog-eared page, then decided he wasn't in
the mood to read and threw the book in the direction of a nearby chair.
Half way through the third period of the game, there still hadn't been any
notable violence, and Wufei was sick of hearing the announcers prattle on
statistics he didn't care about.
He turned off the TV, rolling out of bed in disgust. The wind picked up a
little, whispering through the branches outside in a weird sort of quiet.
He could hear the neighbor's car struggling to turn over.
I could take her credit card, he thought suddenly, but not for the
first time. I could buy a bus ticket and go someplace warm, where it
doesn't rain nine months of the year. But if he did, he'd just find
another girl, with another apartment, and do the same thing he was doing
Sighing, Wufei went to take a shower.
_____ _____ _____
"Vanilla vodka and coke," a short, narrow-faced man ordered, flashing his
driver's license. Quatre took in the lines around his eyes and judged it
wishful thinking that he'd been ready to get carded, but he put on a smile
and checked the birth date before he made the drink.
His eyes were already on the door as he took the man's money, scanning the
girl who shook off the rain, noting her tall, polished boots and her short,
purple pleather skirt. Either she was meeting someone, or she was hoping
to. Cocktail, he guessed. But she wasn't planning on paying for it
There was an order for another shot of tequila down the bar, from a guy who
was going to drink himself unconscious if he could. Quatre didn't know why,
but there was a good chance that after another round or two, the man would
Quatre didn't need any Sight to see what was in these people's minds. They
wore it on their faces, along with their make up and their five o' clock
shadows, their wrinkles and the rings under their eyes; they wore it with
their faux fur jackets, their knock-off designer handbags, their souvenir
shark's teeth, and their second hand polyester shirts. He could see who was
a big tipper and who was going to try to run on their bill. He could see
who wanted someone to listen to them -- innocent smile and wide, sympathetic
eyes -- and who wanted to be ignored.
They were all transparent. Maybe more than they'd been when he could See.
Pouring the shot, he watched as the girl in the short skirt attached herself
to a man with a long black ponytail who ordered her a Black Opal. Whether
he chose that because it was expensive and he wanted to impress her, or
because it was strong and he wanted to get as much alcohol in her system as
quickly was possible was a fifty-fifty call, Quatre figured, and either way
it was just what she wanted.
Occasionally Quatre wondered if motives were this clear among the Courts,
too, and he'd just never seen it. His mind conjured images of the sidhe, of
the UnSeelie Queen superimposed over the sagging figure of one of his
regulars -- a woman whose years as a barfly were quickly running down--and
wasn't shocked to find that the picture that made wasn't hard to believe in.
He could replace the Navy boys that came in on leave with Knights he'd
known, and it didn't really make a difference.
Tequila Guy was already ordering another, and Quatre made a mental note to
slow him down, suggesting a beer instead. The man gave him a blurry look,
"Thanks, man," he said, taking the brown bottle Quatre offered him, and
Quatre knew from the way he spoke, the way he drew himself up and hunched
forward in the same motion, that there was a story coming, and that the
story involved his girlfriend.
Or, he revised as he absorbed the glances Tequila Guy was sending his way,
possibly his boyfriend.
"I can cover you for ten, if you want to take your break," Nick offered, and
Quatre waved him off.
"In a bit," he said, and the other nodded, catching his meaning.
"The bitch," Tequila Guy continued vehemently, taking a drink. "I was with
him for two and a half fucking years, then I just came home and found him in
bed with some slacker friend of his."
Quatre nodded, making a show of listening to what the guy said as he filled
a few orders, taking longer than necessary making a career woman's Tokyo
Tea. He could feel her glaring at him, but she wasn't going to leave a tip
"Shows what I get, eh? I paid for the asshole's last year at school, too.
But I should have known. It's not like it's even the first time."
Why didn't you leave the shit the first time? Quatre didn't ask it
though; just let his smile slip sad and kept eye contact. He didn't really
pay attention as Tequila Guy started giving him the details of how he'd
found his partner -- though he caught that he'd found them in his bed, to which
he made the appropriate responses about the shamelessness of it all.
"He told me they've been sleeping together for a month before he left," the
story wound down and Tequila guy finished his beer.
"You're better off without him," Quatre said.
The man barked a quick laugh and nodded unconvincingly. "You're right, but
you know, the least he could have done was break up with me before he
started nailing some other poor bastard. One more for the road?"
Quatre poured a last shot as the man examined the contents of his wallet.
"Do you need me to call you a cab?"
"No, I'm covered," Tequila Guy told him, pulling out a couple of bills.
"Thanks for listening. Keep the change." He left immediately after handing
over the cash, leaving Quatre to do the math in his head.
About a thirty-five percent tip.
"Nick," he called down the bar, "I'll take my break now."
_____ _____ _____
Heero had fallen asleep slumped over in the back seat of the van, chin on
chest, the filter from his last cigarette still balanced between two
fingers. His breathing was deep and regular, and it fogged the windows.
From his perch on the passenger seat's headrest, Duo watched him sleep and
watched the inky rain outside. He could smell meat, sweet with rot, and it
called to his stomach. Just road-kill, but Duo preferred meat to garbage.
It had been ages since he'd visited a battlefield, he mourned to himself.
Grumbling, he jumped to the open window, then took off.
He followed the smell to the source, the carcass of some poor stray dog near
the curb. Crows were starting to congregate on it; the eyes were already
gone and the stomach was opened. Most of them were just dirty-mouthed trash
birds, though, not real carrion eaters. Duo felt a sort of contempt for
them. None of them had ever stolen rings from a king's corpse, or pecked at
a soldier. He landed, feathers ruffling in display, and screamed a hoarse
claim. The other birds turned jaded eyes on him, unimpressed.
Picking the nearest, he lunged, pecking the irreverent crow's head and
clawing at its breast. It went down squabbling, and the rest of the crows
scattered, croaking catcalls at the fight. Within instants, the crow under
him stopped trying to fight him off and started struggling to get away.
Pulling out a last beakful of feathers, Duo let him go.
The crows gave him room this time, though they still crowded each other
forward. Duo ignored them, satisfied that they'd stay back for the time
being, and began rooting under the dog's skin for soft bits. The body
wasn't fresh, but in the cool weather, it wasn't rancid either. He stabbed
at the organs happily, ripping out chunks of meat. As he ate, the other
birds pushed in closer, growing bolder and greedier, but none of them tried
to steal his place, and it wasn't long before he'd had his fill.
An old scavenger like him knew better than to eat too much to take off
again. Hopping back, he preened.
The fairer sidhe had never been fond of Duo's habits; when Duo's joined
Relena's knights, Heero had openly disapproved, though less vocally than
some, of their Queen welcoming one of the UnSeelie. Duo had won him over
eventually -- Heero could appreciate a competent knight, even if he went back
after the battle was over to pick over the corpses -- but he'd never really
become comfortable with the evidence of it.
When all of his feathers laid flat again, Duo launched himself into the air
and back toward Heero's Volkswagen.