Collab with @Atrophy
It usually takes time for things to get screwed up: Marital issues usually simmer for a couple of months, at least, before somebody cheats and thus starts down the long, long road paved with deception, resentment and 'Brian fucked a WHORE' spray-painted on a windshield; a political affair might take a few weeks to unfold in full, enough time for journalists to reveal the stupid lies this senator or that congressman reacted with and ending a career. But in Santa Somabra, things went from the usual 'bad' to 'fucking terrible' in under 36 hours.
When Cain had dropped off Concetto Nyctari's daughter, the Vampire boss had regarded him with an expression he didn't quite expect: The usual impassive look was mingled with the faintest hint of... no, not gratitude - Cain wasn't sure if a creature like Concetto Nyctari was even capable of feeling grateful - but respect. He had handed him a box with DVDs - literally every scrap footage from any and all security camera in the general vicinity of the Somabra Slayer murders - and a folder with what later turned out to be a summary of all that. Before the private investigator left, Nyctari had warned him not to work for Nyxvira Bloodbloom anymore. The suppressed anger in the vampire's voice told Cain unmistakeably what the words couldn't: The truce was broken.
The city was going to war.
It didn't take him long to work through the file: Nyctari assumed that the semen found at the Calhoun/Blackwood crime scene and in Calhoun and Blackwood was planted, perhaps to throw off the police. He concluded that the modus operandi didn't fit a spreekiller mindset and the Slayer knew how to cover his or her tracks.
Then there was a bit on Calhoun and Blackwood themselves, notes under the data compiled on them which not only confirmed that they were undercover SSPD agents but that Nyctari had had trouble getting rid of them, despite his considerable resources and contacts; nothing really suggested what they were investigating specifically - Concetto knew better than to just hand Cain information like that - but he felt threatened.
The last part discussed some connections between the SSPD and the Forlorn Disciples, a ponderous remark regarding the arrival of the MRB in the city and then something that really caught Cain's attention, something he had only come across once or twice in his investigation: The Great Obstacle, a secret organization of sorts.
Despite a few fragments of new information here and there, most of what the file contained was merely a summary of what everybody seemed to know about the Slayer. He worked his way through the SSPD files, courtesy of Kennedy's network access, to cross-check information and at the end of the night, Cain put the file down and shut his computer of in the knowledge that, really, both the Nyctari and the SSPD were a long way from finding, let alone capturing the Somabra Slayer.
He wanted nothing more than to sleep for a couple of hours but he had to pay somebody a visit since he hadn't been able to the day before, so grabbed his coat and left in the early hours of the day.
He returned to the apartment, just as Valorie closed the door, hand clutched to his side and pressing a semi-clean rag on a gushing wound, his shirt, jacket and coat all stained with blood, the smell of ash and singed hair clinging to him like a perfume.
The pain and exertion deepened the wrinkles on his face and made him look his true age but when he finally noticed Valorie, about two steps away from bumping into her, he managed a crooked smile that made him look youthful again, at least to some degree.
"I was wondering if you'd be here."
Back turned to him as she locked the door, she started at the sound of his voice and instantly forgot any of the tiny stories she had created to cover what had happened last night. For a split second Valorie was overwhelmed with the urge to just bolt towards the stairs without saying a word. She'd come back later, of course, but then she'd have both an excuse for her strange behavior and for the goddamn bloody and dirty dress she had shoved into his kitchen wastebin without even thinking to take it out. Valorie, you idiot, she thought as she turned around, a little smile on her face that even with all of her (admittedly little) willpower she could not make it appear as anything but guilty. Without any makeup and her hair left down she felt as if she'd look like the child who had just gotten caught drawing on the walls in permanent marker.
"And I was wondering where the hell you've..."
Her smile quickly faded as she turned and saw the bedraggled Cain, her words trailing off. He looked about as bad as she had the other night, minus a bleeding wound and about half a century of age. In a flash she unlocked the door, grabbed the man by his hand, and dragged him inside before slamming the door behind them.
"What the fuck, Francis?" she asked in a whisper mixed with anger and concern as she batted away his arm, grabbed his shirt, and less-than-gently hiked it up to get a better look at the seeping wound. Cursing under her breath, she dabbed her fingers in some of his blood and began to draw a ward on his side, not caring if her sleeve got stained in blood. The ward was one that quickly congealed blood and was the same one she had used back at Kurtz's office to prevent herself from bleeding out. It was also the same one this idiot had taught her, at least she believed in her jumble mind that he had taught her, but was too fucking stupid to practice it himself. Or maybe he'd just wanted somebody to play doctor with him.
"There," she said, sealing the wound temporarily. He'd still probably need to actually get it patched up, but at least he wouldn't be staining the carpet. "Are you okay?" she asked, glaring up at him with a rather angry stare. "What happened?"
Funny how quickly they switched roles: Only a few days before, he had been the one taking care of her wounds; now, she was drawing a ward over his wound to stop the bloodflow - he had used it right after the fight was over but the wound reopened about halfway home and the shirt had wiped off most of his first circle. He needed to properly stitch it but in this moment, he felt an odd sense of pride in Valorie that shone down at her in his smile, despite her angry looks.
"War. The Nyctari are going to war against the Bloodbloom Syndicate. I guess those two bloodsuckers thought I was with Bloodbloom, so they shot me. They underestimated what I could do, though." His smile wouldn't fade. No, it wasn't just pride, it was also a strange high: He was glad to be alive. He was glad to be home. He was glad that she cared - she tried so hard to drown her concern in anger but it was still unmistakeable. "But I'm fine, Valorie. Thanks to you... and this."
He reached into his front pocket and revealed... a rabbit's foot. Among magic wielders, luck charms were generally treated with disdain and those who considered them a 'proper' form of magic usually laughed at. And yet Cain stood there, smiling like a little boy who had just caught the biggest frog in the pond.
"You should keep one of those around. A bullet out of nowhere like that can really ruin your day. I guess I deserved to be grazed after yesterday", he wondered out loud, then groaned as he laboriously tried to take off his coat. "Speaking of which, did you have a fun night out?"
Valorie cocked an eyebrow at the rabbit's foot, saw his smile, and gave what she assumed was the appropriate chuckle. He was joking, right? Did he also have a horseshoe hiding in his closet or a bunch of four-leaf clovers pressed in a book somewhere? Of course, he could have embedded some ward into the rabbit's foot that would protect him from physical harm, but she couldn't detect anything from it. Not to say that she was really good at detecting magic in the first place, but to her the charm seemed to be nothing more than the foot of a rather unlucky bunny.
She almost hopped like a rabbit when he asked her about her night, but managed to change it into a sort of laugh as she sheepishly scratched her head.
"Oh, you know, nothing too crazy," she said, glancing to the side. There was no way in hell that she was going to tell Cain that she had almost been murdered by some demon bitch who, under the pay of some Rats, had interrupted what would have been a drug binge so big that Tony Montana would have backed down, only for Valorie to be rescued by a werewolf who she then resurrected his long lost friend before ditching him crying in the graveyard so she could go find a Rat and, despite the fact that they may or may not be out to kill her, get some drugs from him so that she could spend the rest of the night high as a fucking kite, alone, in a city full of killers. Yeah, no way in hell she'd tell him that. She looked back at Cain.
"It was kinda lame, actually. Really lame. You think pretending to be some asshole rock star getting absolutely wasted and tearing up a hotel room would be fun, but I just ended up spending the rest of the morning with a splitting hangover and agreeing with the hotel manager to pay for all of the damages so that he didn't involve the cops," she said with a sigh. "I get why they never mention that part. The prick talked to me for nearly three hours and I can hardly remember a thing of it."
She was right about the protective spell, though the rabbit's foot really was just what it seemed to be. Most of the time, Cain carried a small clay trinket with him that looked like it would fall apart any second; in truth, it was quite sturdy and could deflect or slow a large-calibre bullet - but only one before it broke. Still, it was preferable to your clothes going up in flames: A metal trinket might be able to deflect more but it would also heat up with every projectile until you'd have a pocket full of white-hot liquid steel - Conservation of Energy be damned. At least the clay trinkets were easily replaceable; but since that still left a lot of room for error, Cain was at least partially serious about the rabbit's foot.
More pressing than how he survived, however, was a simple question: Was Valorie telling the truth? He didn't know her well enough to be sure that she had the inner strength to kick her bad habbits from one day to the other... but she had spoken of starting over, had made a good case about wanting to learn before she went to see Kurtz; what she described did sound like her. And really, he wanted to believe her and was too tired to give her the third degree.
"Good girl", he smiled which turned into a pained expression when he leaned back on the couch. "Glad you didn't murder anyone. Rockstars do that too and you wouldn't believe the mess that makes for the manager."
He felt the lack of sleep weighing on his eyelids, his forehead, his limbs. God, he was exhausted. He had to fight mental tooth and nail to stay semi-focused.
"Valorie, could you fetch me the first-aid kit from the bathroom? I'm starting to feel the last two days... I ought to send you in my stead to find scraps of information on the Somabra Slayer."
"Oh, yeah, ha, that'd be a great idea," she said, her eyes darting away. Swallowing as if she could store her shame in her belly, she looked back at him and flashed him a cocky half-smile as she walked towards the bathroom. "Serious, man. I watched a gross amount of Scooby-Doo as a kid. I once one a game of Clue on the first fucking turn. I'm like a real-life Nancy Drew."
More like Sherlock Holmes with all of the drugs in her body. Her strained voice was echoing now from the bathroom alongside noises of her rummaging through whatever Cain kept in his medicine cabinet as she continued: "Pretty much any time there's a murder mystery it's always the guy you first meet and then completely forget about. Have you met any new middle-aged white guys with mommy issues lately? Because that would totally be your man."
She cursed and there was a clattering noise, followed by a louder curse and a splashing noise, and then a nearly silent curse as she turned the faucet on. A moment later and Valorie emerged from the bathroom with a first aid box and streaks of water on her sweatshirt from where she had clearly dried her hands. She gave Cain a sheepish grin and sat next to him on the couch. Popping the kit open, her brow knitted as she stared at the case's contents. She knew enough about needles and veins that she would probably excel at administering IVs, but beyond that her trying to play nurse would do more harm than good. She slid the case over towards him and caught his eye.
"You were joking about me being your little informant, right?" she asked.
"Unless you want to start in my PI agency. 'Cain & Pierce' has a nice ring to it", Cain grinned. He gave Valorie a grateful nod as his hands reached for gloves, disinfectant, needle and thread, and anesthetic - he wasn't exactly squeamish but why subject yourself to the excruciating pain of stitching your skin and muscle tissue back together when you could just not.
"'You pay, we find that unfaithful son-of-a-bitch.' Come to think of it, it's been a while since I-", he paused as the disinfectant set every nerve-end in his side on fire, "-since I had a simple 'photograph somebody in the act' job. Maybe romance is dead after all - gone are the good ol' times when a married man could find true love inside the DD-cups of his secretary."
The anesthetic hadn't quite numbed every sensation but it dulled the pain enough so he could stitch the wound without his hands getting sweaty inside the gloves. It was hard enough to stitch the wound as is, given that he could barely see what he was doing.
"Seriously though... Maybe you'd have the right instinct for helping me out. Thing is, after what I had to do to even get that handful of notes", Cain gestured to the folders on his workdesk, "I'm not sure I'd want you going out there. If that bitch I met yesterday had been a little more trigger happy before I got her, you'd have this apartment to yourself. Here", he said suddenly, offering Valorie the needle, its thread keeping about half of his wound shut, "you can finish it. I can hardly see what I'm stitching together at this angle. Plus, a necromancer's gotta know how to do proper needlework."
"Come on, really? A proper necromancer would just raise up some seamstress from the grave than actually do any real work herself," she said in mock protest as she fit on a pair of gloves and took the needle. She slid back to get a better view of Cain's wound and began threading the needle through his torn flesh. The last time she had sewn up flesh had been years ago with Sammy, and dead dog skin was a bit different than living human. Still, by the time she was done it wasn't too shitty of a stitch job; at the very least she thought it should hold nicely until the wound healed. Valorie slipped her knife out of her hoodie's pocket and trimmed the excess thread with a quick flick of the wrist. Grabbing some gauze and tape she wrapped his wound and snapped off her gloves.
"There," she said, bouncing up to her feet and grabbing a cigarette. Her lighter ignited the tip of her cigarette; smoke plumed from her mouth as she opened it to speak. "Now, don't go tugging at it or getting shot again or anything like that. Doctor's orders. Seriously, you're setting a bad example for your young, impressionable student." The playfulness dropped from her now muttering voice. She looked down. "Seriously. I..."
I don't want to think about it.
"You should get some rest, old man," she said, her smile returning. "I'll pick up something for us to eat—my treat. I still got a wad of dough burning a hole in my pocket. Chinese good?"
"Yeah, sounds good enough."
Strange, how vulnerable that moment in between, that unfinished thought had made her look. There was still an entire young woman he didn't know behind that mask of a headstrong necromancer-to-be. For a second, he considered telling her to stay in, but he couldn't treat her like a kid - that was part of their deal, after all.
"Don't go waving around too much money at once or they'll think you're buying them and the entire restaurant - twenty Chinese are a big responsibility; and you really don't wanna mess with the FSIS. Food-crazed pyromancers all."
He reached to his unwounded side and held out his pistol to her.
"Undo the safety, aim, shoot - that's all there is to it. Take it. The streets are dangerous right now."
Valorie said nothing as she reached out and grabbed the gun, keeping her quips to herself about how the streets were always dangerous anyway. Well, now I don't have to buy bullets at least, she thought as she grabbed her purse and set the pistol inside next to the one she had stolen weeks earlier. Her hair, frizzed from the heat of the shower, fell in front of her face. Grabbing for her ribbon, she caught a glance of the dark red vials. Valorie quickly zipped the bag back up, somehow feeling worse that Cain had believed her story instead of calling her out. The bag felt heavy on her shoulders; the weight of guilt, perhaps, or maybe it was just the extra gun. She sighed out a cloud of smoke.
"I think I can handle picking up some lo mein," she said, flipping her hair back and tying it up into a loose ponytail. She turned and began to head for the door. "I'll be back soon."
"I'm counting on it", Cain replied with a tired smile. "I don't think I could stand another lonely night, so don't go talking to strangers who look shiftier than me."
She looked over her shoulder, back at him, and he could see her rolling her eyes, but as she turned to exit the apartment, he thought he could see a bit of a smile curl her lips. But he may have just aswell been imagining it because another wave of exhaustion washed over him about the same time as the door snapped shut and maybe a minute later, Francis was fast asleep.