It's already late in the morning, but the gardeners' shears are still loud in his ears as Shido strides out on the drive. They've usually done with the front by now, but everyone is running late today, it seems. The driver of the delivery truck is a new guy, a foreigner. He catches Shido's eye and tugs his cap down. His cheeks go red as he mumbles something about trouble finding the place. He smells nervous.
Shido isn't interested. He walks past and pulls himself into the back of the truck. The driver comes around. Together they unload the van onto the stones of the drive.
They're almost done when a long whistle strips over the over sounds of the morning. The driver looks over sharply. Shido doesn't. He isn't the least surprised. He knows exactly who it is - that damn reporter again - and how long she's been standing there watching. His only response is to grit his teeth together a little harder than the bags of feed - heavy, but nothing much to him - warrant.
"This sure is a lot of food;" she says, bending at the waist to peer at one of the labels. "What are you keeping, elephants in there?"
The driver snorts. She gives him a blank look like she's noticing him for the first time and steps back as Shido dumps the last bag at her feet, her attention back on the Otowa security at once.
Shido signs the clipboard at the end of a wavering hand without looking at the paper. He waves the driver away.
The reporter is less easy. She circles behind him as he goes to move the food into the house. It's not that he's worried about a woman like that, but he can't help but bristle. It's rude, hovering behind a person like that. Shido straightens and stares at her.
She steps closer, smiling. "I think we got off on the wrong foot, yesterday. It's my assignment, you know. Even if Ms. Otowa is out of town, it shouldn't be such a big deal to write a color piece."
The butler comes out to help. There's not as many people on the staff here as Shido had thought before he'd become one of their number. The butler is one of the good ones. Shido bends to help and together they work, ignoring the reporter, who gets more strident as they pass her with every trip until its a relief to close the door and shut her out.
He doesn't stay in the house for long; he makes the rounds and heads outside. Shido has already fed his friends today; they seldom really get low on anything. The feed delivery's lateness is nothing but a minor inconvenience. But he checks up on everyone and especially Tonton; the old lion is only moping, but it bothers Shido and bothers him more that it bothers him. If Tonton wants to sulk when Mozart is gone.... But maybe it's that he sympathizes with him, Shido thinks as he sits under the tree next to Tonton and closes his eyes. He can mope a little too. But Tonton clambers to his feet and stalks into the house as soon as Shido has settled in.
Shido watches him go and suppresses a thundercloud of temper. It's a lovely day. He's hardly closed his eyes again when there's a rush of wings over his head; he smiles without opening his eyes and then something drops a twig on his nose; he opens his eyes to see a blackbird worrying at the branch directly over his head. The bird ruffles her feathers. Someone at the wall. Shido sits up. It's vague as such things go and the bird doesn't appear alarmed. He has the idea that it's probably nothing, but then he hears the branches rustle. There's no one he knows that size he hasn't accounted for. Human sized.
Pierre knows he has to be quick and efficient, but he has to stop to curl his lip at the vista unfolding in front of him, he just has to. It looks even more impressive here than from the top of the wall. Leave it to the decadent rich. His hands sweat on the stock of the gun and he looks about nervously, resisting the urge to back up into the deceptive safety of the hedge. He's not one of those idealists. He's aware of the danger, even if he wants to help the animal trapped here, forced to live a lonely life outside its natural habitat. Lions may not be endangered, but Pierre doesn't care about that. He's not one of those types-
Wham! The world goes dark and light. The gun slips from his fingers as he stumbles, clutching at his stomach and trying to put a hand out to stop his fall at the same time; but it seems like the ground floats up to meet him. He tries to make sense of what is happening; he has confused impressions of something like an animal, but he manages to catch a glimpse in the in-and-out wavering of reality of what has to be the distinctive hair of Otowa's man from earlier. He moves his mouth; he wants this guy to know; but the more he tries - the pulses of light and dark speed up, waver, and smooth together entirely.
When he wakes up it can't be that much later, because he's still being dragged through the house. It's a big house, a mansion even, but it's not that big. He watches the floor tiles slide away beneath his heels and is unable to convince himself that they might not really go on for ever. "Fair cop." He hears himself say, which wasn't what he meant at all. His mouth seems disconnected from his thoughts, though his thoughts aren't connected to very much at all, let alone each other. He wants to - he confesses he's there to save the animals.
Shido drags his catch by the collar to the front door, passing Tonton, who's lying in the study under the piano with his chin on his paws. You could have at least helped Shido tells him with a reproachful look. Tonton rumbles.
Shido reaches the front door at last - animal rights activists are heavier than feed bags, but it's still not too much for Shido. He opens it to find the reporter standing there. She steps back, but ruins it by stepping forward again and asking him for a minute of his time. "She's not in." He tells her.
"Look, what are you failing to understand, here?" She stops and wrinkles her nose. "Is that smoke?"
It is smoke. Shido has smelled it for some time, but only now does he notice the oddness about it. There is too much, and more than that.... Shido is already in action before he really knows himself. He yanks back the door enough to reveal the delivery boy dangling from his fist. The reporter gasps as Shido shoves him into her arms. He slams the door and runs for the east wing as fast as he can. Very fast. He passes Tonton with his eyes closed under the piano and the cook in the kitchen peering out the window and doing nothing.
Shido thinks the cook ought to be more worried. Smells like she'd go up in flames if she touches so much as a spark. Who can understand people?
Once he's outside right off he can tell what's happened. He doesn't have to be a detective, anyway. The gardeners have piled up a lot of branches and such and started a fire. That's not unusual. That's what Shido had expected, smelling the scent. What is unusual is that today the fire has spread to the lawn and is licking at the ornamental trees and the flower boxes against the east wall. There are three groundsmen; one is standing sensibly by and the other two are dancing around trying to beat out the fire and not doing more than fanning the flames. They look like something out of a story.
The sane man of the three tells him fire department is on the way. Shido hardly has time to rescue Wanda's kittens from behind a planter before they come and they tramp everything down and snake their hoses everywhere.
It feels a little lonely in the yard with no one there but strangers. The fire is going out very quickly. Madoka's house will survive with nothing more than a little smoke. It feels like he should be remembering something, but mostly he's put out. He's gotten used to this place. Standing here in the noise and confusion with just the kittens....
Shido counts the kittens at his feet again. There's one missing. They're all crying; he has no hope of soothing them enough to quiet them, considering, but - there! Threatened by the hoses and fire! Shido moves to the rescue; but someone else gets there first.
It's too fast and too smokey to really made any details, but Shido doesn't need them. He'd know that way of moving anywhere. He's not in the least surprised when Mido Ban pops out of the smoke posing with the kitten in one hand and his cigarette in the other. But Shido feels his hackles rise - the arrogance of the bastard; and then arms wrap around his shoulders from behind.
"Awesome, Ban-chan!" Amano Ginji barks in Shido's ear. Mido smirks and flicks his cigarette into the smoldering muck and ashes. He swaggers forward, pushing the kitten up onto his shoulder. Shido squares his shoulders, settles into his stance despite Ginji making what seem to be meant to be soothing noises at him.
But it's the firemen's turn to pop up. They want to give him a lecture, and they have one for Ban too. Shido stares at them and says nothing. It's not his fault nearly every other person here is an idiot. That annoying snake keeps trying to get his attention. He stares determinedly at the fireman. He doesn't care what the man is saying, but he can practically smell the irritation beginning to roll off that bastard's skin.
The fireman starts to sweat and wraps up quickly. He looks more pissed off than intimidated when he finally stomps away, though.
Mido lifts a hand to wave at the retreating figures.
"So," he says. There's ash all down his face; Ginji's slipped away from Shido and is hovering at his partner, trying to wipe it away and getting batted away for the trouble. Mido is very intent on his message; Shido can't fathom why he bothers. The man is supposed to be reasonably intelligent. Any reasonably intelligent person ought to know the outcome of the situation.
"Maybe now you can do me a favor. Tit-for-tat. Your girlfriend is out of town on business, right? And we need the house - just for today."
Shido can hardly collect himself enough to respond to this. Tonton appears in the doorway, looking around comically. Shido has started to wonder whether the fire isn't Mido's fault, one way or the other, and he's half-way to angry when the delivery boy leaps out of the bushes again.
At last! Pierre steps out of the bushes. Miss Tanabe is clinging to his arm; Miss Tanabe believes in his work and is willing to provide media exposure to the plight of mistreated animals. He stops one step into the yard, taking in the full effect once more. The yard is trampled and muddy. Acrid smoke still hovers in the motionless air. There are tire tracks and torn up turf, scorched patio furniture. Everything that isn't soaked is smeared with ash. It's like a twisted nightmare plopped right in the middle of the grounds of Eden. Pierre stares at the scene of devastation. As he thought, this is no place for animals. The reporter's hands tighten around his arm; it makes him feel confident.
And, like a reflection of his inner strength, there's the lion coming into view now. He looks unhappy. Pierre can tell these things; ever since he was young, he'd had a special connection with animals. In fact, the lion is looking right at him. What had he done with his gun? How had he not noticed it missing - he'd been explaining himself to Miss Tanabe, who really was so understanding. And then there was the fact that he'd been hit on the head, but--
As if reading his mind, the security grunt lifts his hand. There it is. Pierre's tranq gun.
Pierre swallows. The lion roars and he runs.
For a wonder Mido had actually shut up as he watched Tonton as he chase the delivery boy with and unsympathetic grin.
Of course, it couldn't last long. "Who was-" He makes it no further than that. He'd missed Shido raising the gun to show the guy. Whatever Mido was playing at like that didn't really matter. What mattered was that Shido has the chance to take advantage of it. He levels the gun in his hand and fires; three darts, and Ban falls down. It's incredibly satisfying; Ginji is crouched over his partner's body with his mouth opening to reproach him, but it's not his voice that breaks through the air.
Tanabe had frozen in fear at the lion's charge and been saved somehow. She'd started back to life at the other spike-heads flop into the mud. The muck is so dark that she can't even see the blood; in a way that's the most horrible part. It seems so unreal. The kitten the man had been holding had jumped clear as he fell and as she watches it high-steps its way from the mud as as the blond scrambles his way in. It's weirdly quiet.
She presses the back of her hand to her mouth. She came to write about a violinist, that's all. An artist.
"Murderer!" Tanabe's heart feels like to beat out of her chest. Maybe Otowa isn't in Europe after all. Maybe this man has her trapped somewhere in the house! She never wanted to be a crime reporter. The man turned and looked at her with cold eyes.
Shido shoots the reporter too. He's not up to hysterics. He only uses one dart for her.
That bastard. Even when he's sleeping he's giving people illusions. The more he thinks about it, the more it really is annoying. When she and Mido wake up they can explain things to each other.
Shido looks over at Mido. Ginji is hauling the limp form out of the mud.
He's mostly sure that this is real.
The most annoying thing is that he's almost never completely sure, any more. But if it's real that snake bastard is going to be pissed when he wakes up. It's the high point of Shido's day so far.
He fires the groundskeeper, leaves the rest to Ginji, and goes to take a shower; he can't smell anything but smoke and he doesn't need anything compromising his work anymore than it's already been compromised. He's worried, slightly. But no one comes to him with an emergency in the short time he takes to scrub himself back into calm.
When he turns off the water he hears the soft strains of music waiting for him. For a moment he almost doesn't believe the evidence of his own senses. Bax. He recognizes Bax. He wouldn't make something like that up in his head.
He goes quickly.
Madoka smiles, lifting her head and lowering her instrument. "There wasn't any trouble, was there?"
He makes sound that means no. "It's always quiet when you're not here," he tells her.
He goes to her and embraces her. She turns her head into his shoulder and laughs.
"Shido! You forgot your clothes."
In the kitchen, Ban and Tanabe the reporter lie peacefully curled together on the floor. Ginji sits at the counter and eats his sandwich while the cook snores next to him. He has a platter for the lion and Mozart, who are busy licking each other's face at the moment. Ginji is licking his fingers instead. Ban's plan didn't work, but they're in the house for now and he can decide what to do when he wakes up. And Ginji will be even happier than he is now.