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Scarlet Mess

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Open, close. Open, close. Open, close. Open, close.

The pocket knife felt cold and heavy in his palm. No number of flicked openings or closings seemed to warm the dull metal, and every brush of it against Kano’s skin had him afraid his fingers would stick, afraid they would come away gnarled and frostbitten.

Open, close. Open, close.

He stepped up the staircase with a purposeful sort of air, trying to pretend the incessant thumping in his chest was from exertion and not fear. What did he have to be scared of, after all? He wasn’t a kid anymore. He wasn’t the victim. He was in control. 

The blade of the knife jammed as he tried to flick it open. Kano took a moment to pause and fix it, ignoring the way his fingers slipped over the handle clumsily, naïvely. He carried on. 

Would they even be here? The person who had informed Kano of their location had said they would be, but Kano trusted someone who sold information for money about as far as he could throw them- which would be a very short distance, all things considered. What if he arrived and realised there was no one there? Would he just leave?

The thought made Kano’s breath catch in his throat.

Open, close, open, close, open, close.

By the time the serpentine steps ended, his palm felt raw. He exchanged the knife to his left hand without a thought, pushing the door leading to the 22nd floor open with his right instead, and carried on down the corridor. 

As Kano’s pace slowed, his eyes burnt scarlet, and choppy locks of ash blond hair turned to curls in an instant. He plastered a coy smile on his smaller, pinker lips. The light caramel fabric of his shirt stretched to the form of a dress that just barely brushed the top of his thighs, and jeans disappeared in favour of smooth, bare legs that skipped along the corridor with ease. He didn’t bother to change his body shape too much, save for somewhat curvier hips and the slightest hint of a bust; he only needed this appearance until they let their guard down, after all.

Open, close, open, close, open, close, open, close, open, close.

He rapped against the peeling wood of the door with the hard of his knuckles. The sound echoed through the quiet corridor, but all Kano could hear was the thrum of blood rushing through his ears. 

Open, close, open, close.

The silence was deafening.

Open, close, open, close.

They must not be home. Maybe this isn’t even where they live. Hell, they probably aren’t even in this city anymore. Who did he think he was, trying to trace them down like this? He was only a kid- a stupid, powerless kid. The knife in his hand felt like it was made out of foam.

I should just go back. He had told Seto he wouldn’t be back until late, but he was sure that none of them would care if he just went back now. There would be a few curious questions, maybe, about where Kano had been, but after that it would all be forgotten. He would make some silly joke, Kido would hit him, Seto would chastise both of them and Mary would back-up Seto. Right. If he went back now, everything would be back to their ‘normal’. 

Open… close.

The door still hadn’t opened. They must not be here, Kano concluded, pushing down a pang of some emotion he couldn’t quite place. Of course they weren’t. How would anyone manage to find two mindless thieves based off of the little information Kano had? He had suspected foul play when he dealt with that informant, but Kano couldn’t deny there was something bitter about being tricked.

It was only when he had turned around, swallowing a sigh, that he heard the aching creak of the door.

"Oi, what do you want?"

Every muscle in Kano’s body turned to ice. His brain screamed at him to speak, to run, to do something, but all he could do was stare at the faded brown of the threadbare carpet.

"Hello? Did you want something or not?"

While Kano stood, completely and utterly frozen, his mask jumped into action. It turned around, carrying on with that coy little smile, and gave a nervous giggle. “Oh, sorry, I thought you weren’t home,” it said, voice so sickeningly saccharine that Kano felt bile rise up in his throat. “Um, it’s sort of embarrassing, but would you mind if I used your phone? My friends all left without me, and I don’t have any credit, so…”

The man fell for it like a fly to honey. “Heh, sure thing, sweetheart,” he said, chuckling. “Why don’t you just come inside and I’ll get it for you?”

Kano had turned around now, but the shaking in his fists was hidden by his mask. “Ah, thank you so much!” the illusion twittered, giggling as it stepped forward to pass through the doorway. The man’s eyes leered as ‘she’ walked past, lingering on the edge of the dress for a few seconds too long for comfort. 

Open close open close open close.

The illusion of Kano was faltering in the doorway now, hissing at his real self to hurry up. You’re the one who wanted this, aren’t you? it asked. These are the ones that did it, you know. It smirked. Or is it that you are just too cowardly to avenge your poor mother?

As he passed through the doorway, Kano’s jacket only barely brushed the door closing behind him.

The apartment was about as shoddy as he had expected, although Kano had imagined it somewhat smaller. Empty cans were piled in an absurd sort of pyramid on the table, and the ashtrays dotted around the room begged to be emptied. There was a mountain of dirty laundry in the corner of the room. The walls were the darkened yellow of mustard, while the carpet was a somewhat more pale cream, but for all Kano could tell they might have been white once. The TV in the corner had been paused in the middle of some action movie, frozen on the close-up of a curvy woman’s chest with the light of an explosion illuminating behind her.

How tasteful.

"So…" The man was speaking again. Kano glanced over at him, brushing over his features without actually seeing them. Looks meant nothing, anyway. He could tell this was the person without- his voice dripped with the casual sort of cruelty that only humanity, in its finest hour, seemed able to produce, and no amount of perfume could disguise the heavy odour of cigarettes and beer emanating from him. The way his eyes ogled over Kano’s false image was enough to make him gag.

Open close, open close, open-

"Do you want a drink, babe?"

Kano twirled round to properly face the man, forcing the grimace on his face into a smile. “Oh, if you wouldn’t mind terribly,” he cooed. 

The man nodded, letting his hand lay on Kano’s shoulder for far too long before wandering off into what must have been the kitchen. As soon as he was out of eyesight, Kano exhaled.

"Who are you?"

He spun around again, mask almost flickering in his surprise at hearing the new voice. There was another man, skinnier and shorter than the other one, standing in the doorway with a phone in one hand and a beer can in the other. He didn’t look particularly amused at the intrusion into his apartment. Still, Kano couldn’t help but take note of the way this one’s eyes didn’t look at the illusion like it was a piece of meat. 

What, are you trying to humanise them now? The snake’s voice burnt in his mind, as painfully raw as a knife wound. They’re murderers. They killed her. They would have killed you too, if I hadn’t helped you. Don’t become weak now.

Open, close, open, close.

"Hey, are you even listening? Who are you and why the hell are you in our apartment?"

Even though the sight of the knife was hidden with his eyes, Kano felt the urge to slip it away into his pocket. Something about the guy’s eyes seemed to peer straight through him, like the mask was made out of nothing more than tissue paper. He swallowed.

"Would yo-"

"For fuck’s sake, would you leave the poor thing alone?" The first man had come strolling out of the kitchen now, hammy fingers clutching two glasses of some sort of drink Kano knew he wouldn’t dare touch. Your knight in shining armour, the snake giggled. “She just came to use our phone ‘cause her friends abandoned her. Stop being such a dick.”

The shorter man grumbled at the insult, but gave a brief nod to Kano anyway. “Sorry,” he muttered gruffly.

"It’s alright," his mask said, "I totally understand. This must seem kinda weird, huh?"

"Mm…" Kano gave a quick wave to the other, smiling so widely he thought his lips were going to split, then turned to accept his drink. "Wait."

The air turned brittle.

“What is it?” Kano asked, titling his head in a gesture of innocence. The man just stared back at him, eyes wide with something Kano couldn’t quite place that made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

"If you just needed to use someone’s phone…" 

Open, close, open, close. Open, close, open, close.

"… why didn’t you just go to one of the rooms on the first floor?"

Open.

By the time the man had realised what was happening, Kano was already halfway across the room. His curls and dress had been abandoned at the first movement, and by the time he had stepped around the man and held his knife to his throat, the entire image was gone. Kano stood in its place, scarlet eyes projecting a mask of cool indifference as he held the blade of the pocket knife against the man’s skin. He could feel their heartbeat fluttering underneath, like a caged bird desperate to escape its confines. 

"Aha, you found me out, didn’t you?" Something in the back of his mind registered that Kano was the one speaking, but the voice sounded so entirely separate from his self that it could have well been anyone. "I suppose you think a bit more with your head than your friend over here, hm? That’s good."

"W-What the fuck are you!?" Both of them yelled at the same time, although the one being held at knifepoint sounded significantly more distressed. The other just stared at the scene, eyes wide, clearly unwilling to move from his spot.

Kano let his mask chuckle. He didn’t trust himself to laugh without choking on it. “Me? Oh, I’m sure you can work it out if you put your minds to it. Or do you forget the faces of the kids you try to murder that easily?”

The room went silent, save for the tick-tock of the clock and the two men’s startled breathing. Then: “Y-You’re that kid from that place we robbed. That was fucking- God, that was fucking years ago. How did you-“

"Why did you do it?"

The two seemed completely baffled by the question. “Do what?” the larger asked, staring at Kano as though he had asked something absurd.

Kano inhaled. “Why,” he said, the words slipping through clenched teeth, “did you choose our home? It’s not like we had anything expensive or precious, was it? We didn’t have diamonds or anything like that. So why- why would you…” 

His question trailed off, dissolving into the shaking of his hand as he pressed the dull side of the pocket knife against the man’s throat. 

"L-Look, kid, we know we shouldn’t have done that stuff," the same man stuttered, anxiously trying to pull away from the blade while being held by Kano’s arm. "We don’t do that kind of stuff no more. I mean, we’re t-trying to make people out of ourselves, you know? I mean, w-we can give you some money, if you want, you know, as an apology-"

Before Kano could even spit out his reply to that, the older man had started shouting. “Fuck that! I don’t care who the fuck you are, brat, I’m not giving anything to some snot-nosed kid who thinks he’s big just because he’s got a knife!”

Now!  Whether the voice ushering the command was himself of the snake- he didn’t know anymore, but when the man lunged forward, broken beer bottle in hand, Kano was already moving. He kicked the man he had been holding to the floor and darted around him, knife clasped in his hand as he slipped under the other one’s arm. The man moved fast to turn around and make up for the evasion, but Kano was quicker. The blade of the pocket knife sunk into the man’s side like it was nothing more than butter.

He fell almost instantly, scrabbling for the knife in his side like a bear trying to catch a fish. Kano yanked it out before he could reach it, fingers struggling with the slippery red on the handle, then bent back down and jammed it into the man’s back, again and again and again.

Tick-tock, the clock sounded, tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock

The man had stopped twitching beneath him, but Kano kept on going anyway. Images of shouts and cries and his mother pleading for help screamed in his mind, exploding in red behind his eyes. The entire world had turned bright, bright crimson. It slipped over his fingers as he forced the knife into the other’s back; it burnt his eyes as he covered up his tears with a twisted smile; it stank as it reached the back of his throat and almost made him gag. The snake was laughing. 

Finally, he dropped the knife onto the man’s soaking body and stood up. His vision blurred with the tears dripping down his cheeks, hot as burning oil on flushed skin. 

"Y-You…" 

Kano turned his head round to the voice. He blinked over at the man left, who was still cowering on the floor where he had been left, and let the corner of his lips curl up in a mockery of a smile.

"You didn’t answer my question, you know," he drawled, reaching down to pick the knife back up. The blood clung to the palm of his hand greedily. "That’s rude."

"N-no, please, we didn’t mean for any of that to happen, we were stupid and, and drunk and just- you know, we needed money. I-I’m so sorry for what happened, please don’t-"

The rest of the man’s protests were drowned out in a spray of blood from his throat. For one long, halted moment in time, he just stared up at Kano with his brown, brown eyes. Then the light in them was snuffed and he fell to the floor. 

Close.

The silence snarled.

My, my, you made a bit of a mess, didn’t you? The snake’s teasing voice rang in the back of his head, grinning as it observed the scarlet coating of blood that had carelessly made its way around the room. Oh well. You got your revenge, didn’t you? Do you feel pleased? Successful? Satisfied?

When his knees gave in and Kano collapsed, letting the knife tumble from his hand carelessly, the snake paid no mind to it. Copper sang on his taste buds, but he couldn’t bring himself to even gag. He held up a hand and watched the blood run down his fingers, over his wrists and under his stained sleeves. The snake observed it all with cool amusement.

Better get to cleaning up, hm?

The blood splattered on his neck felt like a noose.