“Hey Andy,” Walter began in a drawling tone, more amused than he probably should be concerned. “When were you going to tell me you were a pyromaniac?”
The young executioner exited their shared bathroom, rubbing at his visible eye tiredly. He had already stripped down to a white shirt and his underpants, and between his unruly hair and his lopsided eyepatch he couldn’t have looked more disheveled. “What does that mean…?”
He trailed off, vague surprise filling his normally blank expression. The fire dancing merrily atop what had once been his bed reflected off his face, almost giving his cheeks a more natural color. Walter briefly wondered if they didn’t both need a break, given that their only reaction to a mysteriously burning bed was to stare.
“Should we put it out?”
Andy didn’t answer; instead, he turned sharply on his heels, and headed for the other unblemished bed. Which already had Walter’s coffin-weapon leaning heavily against it, and his own red cloak sprawled carelessly over it. It couldn’t have been more obvious that it was Walter’s own bed.
Realizing what was his aim, Walter shot out a hand to grab the blond boy’s thin shoulder, an irritated grin on his face. “Hey, where do you think you’re going?”
“To sleep. I’m tired.”
The redhead teen made a little sound of indignant complaint. “And you think I’m not? We have walked the same distance, and I’m the one carrying a coffin around!”
“Not my fault.” Andy replied, still trying to squirm away from the older teen’s grasp. “Nobody told you to pick such a ridiculous weapon.”
“Andy, come on, help me put this out before we both burn to death.” Walter sighed, half-giving up, but still trying to distract him. This indeed gave the shorter executioner pause.
“We’re going to need buckets.”
"We don't have buckets."
Andy’s visible eye twitched.
“This is going to take forever.”
Around twenty bucketful of water later, Walter and Andy were sprawled on the former’s bed, exhausted out of their minds. Their day had begun before the sun even rose above the horizon, as they had finally zeroed in on their target, the unholy climb up a mountain to find said target gone – not to mention losing Andy in a crowd and finding him three hours later, because he has less sense of direction than a broken compass. And now spending close to an hour trying to put out a fire that refused to go out.
So yeah, they were very tired.
“This room smells godawful.” Walter complained, wrinkling his nose at the ceiling. His messy hair was in his eyes, but he didn’t have the energy to brush it away. “That bed is ruined, Andy, what are we gonna do?”
“Fight to the death for this bed.”
“Like hell we will.” Walter huffed, something niggling at the back of his mind. Maybe it was his exhaustion but was his voice a little… off? “Hey, Andy?”
“You feeling alright there, buddy?”
Walter struggled to sit up, turning his head to see his normally-pale friend with a vicious blush on his face, his breath coming off in puffs and huffs.
“Damn, just what we needed. You’re running a fever, Andy.” Walter said with a grimace, more worried than he was annoyed. “How long have you been feeling like this?”
“Not long. Maybe an hour.”
“So what now? Do I get you a doctor or something?” Walter asked, already knowing the answer before he finished asking. Andy tensed up, refusing to meet his eyes as he shot him down.
“No. We sleep.” He said, rolling onto his side, so he wouldn’t have to face Walter.
“You sure?” Walter asked, not completely sold and feeling responsible for his wellbeing, considering that he was the oldest, and the most sensible of the two of them (which, honestly wasn’t saying much).
“It’s just a fever. If something’s going to kill me, it’s not going to be this.”
“Alright then.” Walter said after a pensive pause. He had been sort of friends with Andy for a while now, and despite him not trusting to leave Andy’s health to himself– his words really did have some truth to it, especially with their line of work. He would keep an eye out for him, and if it seemed to get worse, he would personally chain him down and get him to a doctor if need be. “We still only have one bed though.”
“…I’m not moving.”
Walter rolled his eyes, rubbing his forehead tiredly. “We’ll have to share then.”
Andy shot him such an unimpressed glare that Walter drew the energy to smother him with a pillow before laying down beside him.
“Go to sleep, you annoying child.”
“Who’s a child?” Andy complained childishly, now hugging Walter’s pillow to his chest and refusing to give it back. “Also don’t you dare hog the blankets.”
“Excuse me, I’m not the one who set fire to my own.” The other teen said, even as he gave up on his pillow and decided to yank the blankets from under Andy instead. Andy’s limbs flopped haphazardly, their owner unwilling to move a single muscle and Walter just rolled his eyes, but dutifully let the blankets fall over his dead-weight of a partner before climbing in beside him.
“Wasn’t me either.”
Just to be an ass, Walter decided then to press his cold feet against Andy’s exposed calves and the younger teen hissed and jabbed a powerful elbow to his gut. Walter curled in on himself and Andy took this chance to hog the blankets as he had told Walter not to.
“That’s cheating,” Walter huffed, pulling at them weakly. “Also don’t you dare tell anyone that we had to share a bed.”
“Who would I even tell, dumbass.” Andy muttered, as always uncaring of revealing the fact that he didn’t exactly have friends. He had people that were kind to him, sure. He had people he talked to sometimes, but it said something that the closest thing he had to a friend was a robotic bird, and a fellow executioner.
Walter sighed, accepting the point. He kept pulling at the blankets with the feeble strength he had left– yet still when Andy released their hold on them, he pulled so hard he almost fell off the bed entirely.
He glowered at the uncaring blond (still sporting a rather vivid blush), retrieved his own pillow and settled in for a long night.
“Good night, Andy.” He muttered, as he turned off the lights by the bedside.
“Hmm,” was the reply.
When Walter woke up the following morning, he was a little confused.
For a brief moment he wasn’t sure where he was, what he was supposed to be doing, and he was petrified when he realized there was someone else in bed with him.
As memories of their fruitless mission began coming back to him, he tried moving cramped arms to push himself upright and face whoever was in his bed when he noticed…
There was a tail across his chest. A long, fluffy fail– the color of sand with a black tip.
Walter blinked his sleep-swollen eyes, trying to jump-start his brain.
A cat? Had a cat snuck his way inside?
But as he followed the tail to a body, he saw nothing but pale skin, and no less than three tails sticking out from Andy’s underpants.
Walter rubbed his eyes, blinked several times, shook his head and even hit himself, but to no avail, the tails did not disappear.
“What the hell.”
Waking Andy up had been worryingly difficult. The boy was still running on a high temperature, and even though the blotchy spots on his cheeks had disappeared, there were bags under his eyes and, well…
There were tails sticking out of his pasty-white butt.
He was so not prepared for this.
“Andy, what is the meaning of this?” Walter demanded, feeling a little cheated – they enough on their plate without having to add extra appendages to it.
Because he just loved being a little brat, Andy just sat up, rubbing at his eyes– making sure to keep his tattoed eye closed as he fetched his eyepatch. He put it on and then remembered Walter had been talking to him. “The meaning of what?”
“The- the tails, Andy. I’m talking about the tails; what else could I be talking about?”
“I don’t know.”
“God give me strength.”
Andy had seemed mighty unconcerned about the extra appendages on his person, so with a doubtful Walter trailing after him, they both headed out again a couple hours later.
Walter was still trying to breach the subject that these tails were a) not normal and b) somehow related to the human experimentation he had suffered through. While Andy had just tucked the three tails under his underpants, then his pants and then covered everything with his red uniform cloak. It looked a little lumpy in the general ass area, but other than that it was perfectly unnoticeable.
And it’s not like anyone would be asking questions about his tails anyway, when they had a hand-held guillotine blade to deal with. And crucifixes-daggers, if Walter had any say on it.
“I think this is not Sccagg’s fault.” Andy spoke out of the blue. As always with little regard to the possibly traumatic events he was discussing so flippantly. “I don’t remember having tails, but somehow this doesn’t feel… wrong.”
Walter assimilated the words, wanting to ask more. Does your eye feel wrong? Like it doesn’t belong to you anymore?
“Then?” He said instead, deciding to focus on the problem at hand. “Also how come you have lived your life without tails, and the bam! They appear one night.”
Andy stopped walking. He looked at the sky, thoughtfully before shrugging. “I don’t know. Maybe that is Sccaggs fault.”
“Is it their fault or not?” Walter kicked him in the shins to make him keep walking. Andy looked miffed but at least did not retaliate and they continued on their trek.
“I don’t know.” He said in the end. His voice sounded distant enough that made his partner look over his shoulder at him. “But something tells me I’m too young to have three.”
“Three? You mean your tails? And too young? What does that even mean?”
Andy actually raised a hand to muss his chin-length hair. “I don’t know, Walter. Stop asking.”
And Walter listened.
Because there was nothing else he could do for the tired child by his side.
Three hours later, Walter found himself standing above his younger companion, Andy was pressing fingers against his eyes, as if that could stave off the tears, the fear. Walter had lowered his heavy coffin, using the wall of the building Andy had collapsed against to form a sort of protective barrier against meddlesome onlookers.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, he would see how a fourth tail had been magicked into existence. This one was the same sandy-color of the rest, but the tip seemed to be drenched in blood, rather than the innocent black end of the rest.
“Four tails, Andy. What the hell.” He whispered, trying not to look at his tears, trying to give him the pretense of privacy.
“I’m remembering things I didn’t remember.” Andy mumbled, apathy still on his voice, despite the tears– despite the lines of grief on his face. “I think something did happen to me.”
“You mean, besides the whole human experimentation?” Walter couldn’t help but ask, in an incredulous tone. Something inside of him relaxed, nonetheless when this made Andy throw him an unimpressed look.
“The tails… they should have appeared when these things happened. Not now. Not now that I am free.”
(Walter very pointedly didn’t remind him that they were Red Raven.
They were raptors trapped in a gilded cage.
There was no freedom to be had.)
“Hey,” He said instead, deciding to take things in stride. “Now that you’re pulling knowledge from your ass... Is there anyone you could ask about this?”
Andy cocked his head, as if somehow Walter’s words weren’t complete bull. “I should have a mentor.”
Andy stared at him, eyes distant, as he revealed, as casually as breathing,
“Kitsune should have a mentor for the first few decades of their lives.”
Walter blinked several times, “I’m sorry, a what.”
Walter had already run out of new prayers to mumble under his breath, as they stopped for the fifth time that day, this time for Andy to set himself on fire.
With a sneeze.
“Look man,” Walter mumbled, crouching on the floor, as if that could somehow help him conserve strength. Or the will to complete this cursed mission. “I don’t know anything about kitsune or whatever. But do you think we could hold off more mythical, magical bullshit until we kill our missing capo?”
Andy pouted at the little fire dancing merrily on his pants that refused to go out. “It’s not like I’m trying to slow us down.”
“I know. I’m still asking you to try. My legs are killing me. Okay? Killing me.”
Andy glanced at him, before using his bare palm to put out the happy fire. It didn’t sizzle, there was no smell of burning flesh, but the fire went out.
Walter opened his mouth to ask, but thought better of it.
When they finally managed to reach the building in which the capo was supposed to be, Walter fell to his knees and mock-screamed at the skies.
“Can’t you cut me some slack, God?! Oh my God– I’m exhausted.”
As uncaring as always, Andy just watched his melodrama without any expression on his face. Then he looked away again, almost as if embarrassed. “Maybe it would be better if we split.”
“Andy, Andy, if we split, I would lose you.” Walter said, even as he struggled back to his feet. “Charles is not with you, and you would be in another freaking country next thing I know.”
“I wouldn’t end up in another country if I got lost.”
“…Anyway, what if I wait for you back at the inn?” He proposed instead, now looking at the ground and still not looking at him. “I’m clearly useless right now.”
Walter rubbed the back of his head. “Maybe that is for the best. You still feeling weird?”
“Not really. Although…”
“Which was the way to the inn again?”
“Oh my God, you’re staying with me.”
By the time they finally located their target, Walter was not above tossing his enigmatic, dangerous presentation aside, to weep in joy at finally being at the journey’s end.
But despite knowing there would not be any witnesses, Walter just pulled up his hood, letting everyone tremble in fear as they read the letters at their back.
Executioner II and IV. Betrayal’s Final Director and the One-Eyed Head Hunter were here.
(Because when the Raven starts to sing…)
Andy produced the execution letter from his cloak, as Walter ensured nobody would be leaving with help up his throwing knives– shaped like crucifixes.
“As is written in your execution letter,” Andy began, voice monotonous and blade still safely tucked inside his briefcase– the image of innocence. “For the direness of your sins, I, the fourth Executioner-”
Movement, the capo’s bodyguards pulled out a machine gun each and rained fire on them.
Walter hurried to hide behind his coffin to block out the barrage, but Andy did not bother with such.
He ripped out his eyepatch, letting his right eye open – the Sccagg’s crest emblazoned it, marking him as property, marking him as cursed– and began to dance with the bullets. He ducked, dodged and finally used his guillotine blade to slice both machine guns in half – metal screeching against metal.
“…pronounce your execution.” He finished, barely a hitch in his words, as metal met flesh and their lives were extinguished in a bloody second.
Meanwhile Walter was silencing the rest of the onlookers, with a dagger to the chest, throat– even as he continued explaining to those who still could listen. “We have evidence to believe that you are part of the human trafficking chain, the Red Raven has been called. Thus, based on investigating results, taking into consideration that the peace may be disturbed- ugh!”
A desperate man ran to him, one of his own throwing blades –dripping with blood, probably stolen from a comrades’ body– on his hands. Walter parried with the chain that kept his knives together, then wrapped it around the man’s hands before he could react and he was dead, a blade through his heart.
Walter let his body fall, cleared his throat and with blood splatters on his face he grinned at the remaining men. “An immediate execution is required.”
(When the Raven starts to sing… people die.)
After the massacre, a job well done, Walter sat atop his fallen coffin, cheek leaning into his propped fist. “Andy,” he called his friend, who was still trying to put out tinier fires on his clothes. “You’re not human, are you?”
The teen actually looked surprised. His clothes were ripped, his Reverse Number tattoo visible, his right Sccagg’s eye still unhidden, and still, somehow, the image of innocence. “Maybe?”
“You were born a kitsune?”
“I think so?”
“What is a kitsune?” Walter finally asked, rolling the foreign word in his tongue.
“I don’t know.”
“Right.” Walter wondered why he had ever expected otherwise. Instead, he just sighed and decided to try again. “What can you tell me about them?”
Andy put out the last fire on his broken eyepatch, and began making a knot so he could wear it until he found a replacement. “I should have a mentor. They would explain things to me. I should have… I think I was kidnapped. I was born with a human body, so I’m maybe not a full kitsune? I don’t know.”
Walter mused the words, somehow incredulous. “This is all just… coming into your brain? At random?”
The older teen sighed yet again. It wasn’t like he could tell if he was affected by this new information. But Andy’s body had gone through enough unwanted transformations to last a lifetime and now this was happening all over again. “That must suck.”
Andy actually stared at him, then turned around and mumbled. “Yeah, a little.”
“And are you like… is there anything different now that you know you’re not human?”
“I wonder how this plays into me being a Reverse Number.” He said, a hand going up to touch the inverted “003” imprinted on his skin. Marking him as an experiment – a human made for weapons.
“Do you think the Sccaggs had no idea what they were messing with?”
“Would they care if they knew?”
Walter hummed, averting his eyes to allow Andy to recompose himself. After a moment, he simply asked to the ground. “Hey, wanna go back home?”
“You’re done getting tired?”
“Oh as if you weren’t resting as well.” Walter grumbled under his breath like an old man before standing up. His back cracked, and his limbs ached, but he wanted nothing else than to go home. And maybe, hopefully help Andy discover who he really was.
“Yeah, let’s go.”