The sidewalk was barely visible under inches and inches of red and gold leaves. A chill ran down Angelino’s spine and he zipped up his jacket a little more; while he was grateful that the suffocating heat of summertime DMC was finally gone (no more gross, irritable old men sunbathing in front of the building, fuck yeah!), the next few months would apparently be colder than they had in almost twenty years.
The hybrid pursed his lips. Guess he’d finally have to invest in actual winter gear if he didn’t want to literally die.
Having reached his destination after a round of grumbling about the inflation and shopping and seriously fuck those greedy salesmen who shit all over retail workers, he pushed open the think red wood door and made his way into Hinode Restaurant. As usual, he was immediately assaulted by the obnoxious music (you know, the one that sounds so stereotypically asian it’s hard not to think White People™ own the place? Yeah, that one.), the harsh ringing of the opening bell and the dozen of sickly sweet smells mingling together.
So yeah, his workplace unnerved him to say the least. But the pay and the people were decent, so he wasn’t complaining. He spent most of his shifts delivering all over the place anyway. And he got to ride on a sweet-ass bike! Goodbye Vespa, hello Honda.
A booming voice shook him out of his thoughts; the owner was enthusiastically waving at him. “Hey there shortstuff!” he greeted, as a few staff members politely followed suit. “How’s that job treating you so far?”
Angelino resisted the use to roll his eyes at the middle aged man’s antics. Mr Hinode was nice enough, took his employee’s well being seriously (quite a rare quality in DMC), but god was he patronizing. Guess being a five feet tall, literal illegal alien didn’t help in his case. “Hi boss.” he nodded. “It’s fine, thanks for asking.”
Sitting in an armchair next to the counter was an old woman he didn’t recognize, though given the way Mr Hinode’s (cute) daughters were fussing over her, she was probably family. The owner followed Lino’s gaze and smacked his forehead. “Right, where are my manners! Angelino, this is my mother, Kyouko.”. He added something in japanese that Lino didn’t quite catch, but his name was definitely in there.
“Ah,” the old woman smiled warmly, turning to look at the delivery boy. Her pitch black eyes seemed to hold more knowledge than one could accumulate in a lifetime.“Kurobetta-kun.”
The hybrid blinked. There was that nickname again. He still didn’t know how to feel about people basically calling him a fish, but there wasn’t a hint of malice in Mrs Kyouko’s soft voice, so he’ll take it as a compliment. Bettas were good fighters after all. “Uh… hi. Nice to meet you… mam?” he tried. Was he supposed to use a specific honorific? God he sucked at social cues. His job could be on the line there!
But the elderly woman just chuckled and addressed his son joyfully. Something about heart and… cheese? No, he probably got that wrong. “She likes you.” his boss translated approvingly. “Says you’re a brave young man with a good heart.”
“Uh-huh.” Not sure how she could tell with just one glance, but okay. “Grandma powers.” Lino assumed.
“Anyway,” Mr Hinode stated before disappearing in a back room,“enough chit-chat, back to business! Kid, there’s a few orders already packed up and your bike’s good to go.”
The former pizza boy nodded and walked up to the counter to get his helmet. But just as he took a first step towards the kitchen-
“Your heart still beats for her. For them.”
He froze. Slowly turning around to face Mrs Kyouko, he saw her eyes twinkling with amusement. Fondness?
“Do not give up hope, my child.” she said softly. “You’ll find her someday.” An almost cheeky smile. “You are a lucky young man. They really care about you.”
Then she turned away and started knitting.
He… really didn’t know how to respond to that. Half his instincts were screaming at him to run. Because she just couldn’t know about him or Luna, she couldn’t, and why “them”, who else knew about him that he didn’t know about? But the other half was doing the opposite. Telling him that this person was not a danger to him. That she was trustworthy.
So he just stayed silent and still for a few seconds. When it was clear she wasn’t going to indulge him with any explanation (fuck that cryptic and mysterious shit old people liked to do so much), he took a careful step back and slowly made his way to the packages waiting in the kitchen. He’d deal with this later; for now, he had a job to do.
“And don’t forget to get some warm clothes!” the old lady sing-sang, knitting up a storm.
The half-alien jumped off the sleek dark grey bike and hanged his helmet on the handle. H stretched, letting out a strained grunt. “Okay”, he thought, “just one more delivery and I’m good to go. Hope I can make it home before nightfall.”
And by that he meant “before all the thugs in Rios Rosas suddenly decide it’s hunting season”.
The entrance bell chimed as he pushed Hinode’s door open for the last time this evening, yawning: huh, he was getting pretty tired. Maybe he’d actually get a few hours of sleep tonight. His boss’ youngest daughter Ayame was standing in the entrance. She waved at him, holding her uniform under one arm. “ ‘betta!” she chirped, “Hi! Did you just finish your shift?”
Lino couldn’t help but smile. With her petite physique and jet black pigtails, she kinda reminded him of Luna.
Icy cold and burning heat slashed through his chest at the thought. But that particular pain wasn’t an unwelcome one. He shrugged it off. “Almost. Just one trip left.”
The girl hummed. “Well, I’m starting mine soon, so I’ll just go and get changed. See you tomorrow?”
She bid him goodbye and disappeared into a back room while the hybrid entered the kitchen area. A few cardboard boxes wrapped in thin plastic bags were waiting for him on the counter. He checked the address in the package; neat, it wasn’t too far, he’d be home before he knew it. But before he could grab the cheap, lukewarm packs of food, he heard a weird sound coming from the left.
He turned around, and found himself staring into the empty eyes of a chicken.
Iit was surprisingly small for a slaughter animal. Inky black feathers, bright gold beak, wings tied to his body and legs bound by white cooking string.
Angelino frowned, confused. What was that scrawny-looking mess doing here? Was it emergency food supply? A pet? …No, a pet wouldn’t be tied up like this. He spotted the long, heavy kitchen knife just next to the bird. Yeah okay, that little guy was definitely meeting its maker tonight. But why would anyone bother to cook this thing?
The delivery boy scoffed and turned his back on the chicken, grabbing the first bag. Who cares, it’s just a dumb bird and I want to go home.
But then it made that noise again. A very low, slow cackle that holded way more meaning than a bird with a pin-sized brain should be able to express. “What?” Lino snapped, almost cracking his neck to glare at the dumb thing. Great, now he was arguing with a fucking chicken. He really needed some sleep.
The bird was staring at him, silent once more. It wasn’t moving, wasn’t struggling against its binds, but somehow Lino could begin to feel its raw panic, fear, confusion, so much confusion-
He was strapped to a cold metal chair, dangling above a gaping black void. Everything around him was dark except for the the dozens of giant screens around him, their harsh light making his head hurt.
He let go of the bag, letting it crash on the floor. Breathing fast, too fast. Why was he back there? Wasn’t he at Hinode’s a second ago?
The straps are too tight, his arms are numb. The electrodes on his head sting and burn as he fights against that voice, that liquid velvet voice, telling him a truth he doesn’t want to hear.
His vision is swarming. He was no idea what’s happening and his legs are trembling, he can’t run, he can’t even stay upright-
“Kill him.” it says, “Kill him and set yourself free.”. And he doesn’t want that, he doesn’t, but the voice is everywhere, it’s inside him and the r e
e s c a p e.
He drops to his knees, a keening sound escaping his throat. The music and the smells are too much, overwhelming. Blacks dots dance in his vision and all he can think about is Vinz, Vinz, where’s Vinz, I need to find Vinz, don’t want Vinz to die, must keep Vinz safe-
He can’t process the sensation of his arm being gently grabbed, nor the fact that he’s being led somewhere on wobbly legs.
And when the smells and the sound gradually disappear and a cold breeze make him shiver, his breathing slows down and the world stops spinning. He blinks. He’s outside now. He’s not at the compound, he’s not tied up, and the threat of imminent death isn’t hovering over his head. He’s just… there. In Hinode’s inner courtyard. Alone.
He lets out a shaky breath, leaning into the cold wall behind him. His whole body is sore, like he just run a marathon. Whatever that was, he’d completely black out from it. Someone could’ve easily killed him back there, and he wouldn’t have noticed. He was pretty sure someone had found him freaking out and brought him here (respected his privacy too apparently. Thanks, unknown person) and he couldn’t remember who. That’s how out of it he was.
Now, Angelino was familiar with nightmares. He had those often since the Incident. He was used to waking up in a cold sweat, gasping for air, praying he was quiet enough not to wake his roomate. Spending the rest of the night on the hotel’s roof until the first rays of sunlight hit his clammy skin, coming back down just in time before Vinz notices.
Nightmares he could deal with. But that shit right there? That was dangerous.
Guess the old lady earlier brought everything back to the surface. And he’d spent so much time burying all that shit under layers and layers of denial, what a waste. Maybe he’s take his best friend up on his offer about sigils and shit… He winced, rubbing his temples; great, he had a monster headache now. He’d have to get more painkillers on the way home.
Home. It was getting dark, Vinz was waiting for him and he had to get home. But first…
“SHIT, THE FOOD!”
Right, the delivery. Had to take care of that first. He left the courtyard and stomped down the hallway, entering the kitchen once more. He quickly gathered the now cold boxes (thank god the one he dropped hadn’t opened). The chicken was still there, still silent and still following his every move. Angelino groaned and prayed to whatever higher power was in charge today that he wouldn’t get caught doing this.
“You did what?”
“I freed it. You know that old ruin a few blocks away? It’s already overrun by weeds and ducks, so I brought it there after my shift.”
He kept his eyes on the match, munching on . Vinz was staring at him in disbelief. “So let me get this straight.” He pinched the bridge of his nasal bone. “You grew a sudden for animal welfare and decided to save that bird from certain death.”
“Just like that.”
“Yup.” That was totally what had happened. Nothing weird about liberating a being that looked suspiciously like you right after having the panic attack of the century. Nope.
Vinz rolled his eyes. He was gonna get himself stuck if he kept doing it so often. “You do know that thing will probably be eaten by a fox before long?”
Angelino shrugged. “At least now it has a fighting chance.” “I didn’t.”
That last part was left unsaid.