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11 August 2010 @ 10:03 pm
Vanitas [Cross x Maria]  
Title: Vanitas
Pairing: Cross x Maria
Fandom: D.Gray-Man
Genre: Backstory
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 2,222

 

Vanitas

 

 

By the time you receive this message, I’ll be on my way. Don’t bother looking for a name ‘cause I’ll have set the town ablaze. But I want you to know: I’m killing you first.

 

There, perfect. Cross stabbed the envelope’s snowy heart with a dirty cigarette. He kissed it dry and blew black ash over the scarlet seal.

 

. . .

 

The year was – unimportant: like hell he cared.

 

The city was: Venice, because it was beautiful and the birthplace of eternal youth. And those were the two vanities he loved the most.

 

Everything else (greed, pride, and even lust) paled in charm over time and will scrupulously betray you in the end. He was a complicated man in many aspects. But when in matters of beauty, he preferred it plain and obvious.

 

And so (to placate his demonic demands), the Order give him a choice. A Bohemian village thrashing from the pricked pustules of Spanish gout or he can take the southward train for Venice. Cross weighted his options for a millisecond, grinned, and sent a bullet sailing through Santa Maria’s basilica. Bull’s eye, he aimed to kill a priest.

 

O clemens, o pia,
o dulcis Virgo María.

 

“I said shut up already.”

 

“General, mass is being conducted, so please be more respectful.”

 

“Look, lady, I’ve got two shots left here, and I ain’t wasting one on you.”

 

Our little holy father raised the chalice to his thin, white lips and daintily sipped. Stand to pray, heads bowed and chaste. Amen.

 

“I can get him dot-on, centre forehead. It’ll be so fast, he won’t even feel it.”

 

“General, you are not shooting the priest.”

 

“Wanna bet?”

 

Bang-bang
Sorry, you’re dead.

 

. . .

 

His assignment was simple. There was an akuma masquerading as a priest, smoke him out (less explosives and expletives than Prague, thanks), and bury him alive. If necessary, find contact with a portly, smelly, and entirely too shady circus freak named Yojimbo.

 

Down the canal, the scenic route, and in the back of a dingy, moss-decaying courtyard, here concluded the journey of ten million stops. (Booze, girls, dining and wining, hey, it took him a while to ditch the fee.)

 

Cross stopped in front of a bronze and rust door. He eyed the craftsmanship with borrowed expertise. The design would’ve been luxurious maybe two lifetimes ago. He knocked.

 

“Yeah, who is it?”

 

“Is Yojimbo available?”

 

“Who the fuck are you?”

 

“No one.”

 

“Then get lost. This ain’t no place for cheap-ass freebies. You want something, you gotta pay.”

 

Cross briefly considered his predicament. He didn’t like paying, liked fawning courtliness even less, but he was here for urgent business. Besides, the information came from a reliable source (French harlot with a jerk-knee and wide, willing smile).

 

“How much?”

 

“Five lire to get through me, but you should know,” doorkeeper grinned, revealing twin gold fangs, “Getting Yojimbo to talk is gonna cost you more. Lots more.”

 

He shrugged and dumped the change into gnarled hands. He wasn’t worried. He and Yojimbo had a natural affinity and understanding for these things. All facilitated with a healthy dose of vice. He tipped his hat and marched inside.

 

Piled on a mountain of cushions, lazy and swine-fed (piggish snout, whole nine yards), Yojimbo poured a carafe of fine wine down his throat. Liquid drip-drip-drooped over his chin (weak and weaselly, Cross snorted) and smeared rivulets into the white cravat. Fashion was not Yojimbo’s forte.

 

“General Cross, you’re still alive. Please, have a seat.”

 

Cross took the closest chair, lovely gold trimming,
 – incidentally, Oriental settees should never be placed in the same vicinity as Rococo cabinets –
and leaned back comfortably for an enlightening chat.

 

“Fifty lire upfront or get lost.”

 

“Coming from you, that sounds almost like a reprieve.”

 

“I’m a businessman. I can’t afford to lose my best customer. How’s Madame de Pompadour?”

 

“Thrifty and getting old. Yojimbo, I’m looking for someone. You can be of assistance or shit-feed for the fishies. There, I cut to the chase. You should be grateful.”

 

“Who you gunning now?”

 

“Don’t know his name.”

 

“That’s wonderful, just perfect. What he look like?”

 

“Don’t know that either. But he smells like roses. That should be enough. See you in a week.”

 

. . .

 

Well, he maimed a priest. That’ll guarantee him purgatory, minimum.  

 

Not as clean or impressive as an effusive head-wound sucking for oxygen and escaping infection, but it was better than nothing. These days, god, he was magnificent. Cross had a limited supply to work with, so relax.

 

After the confessional session and the damns – shit, he dropped a cigarette – he called headquarters (that’s a first) and sent someone for the aftermath. Blood and guts, he dealt with easily, but damage control was too problematic. There were gears and wheels pulling on levies, and the pandemonium only pissed him off more.

 

In the blink of an optical illusion, he was gone.

 

“Lime,” he suggested.

 

Lime worked better than acid when erasing mashed bones and mottled flesh.

 

. . .

 

Yojimbo was a slimy bastard covered in crystallized stickiness.

 

“One hundred lire.”

 

“I already paid you,” you asshole.

 

“That was for consultation. This is for the actual work. You want his name or what? ‘Cause you can just walk on outa here. I won’t hold a grudge.”

 

“Fine.”

 

“He goes by M. Jean Houdin, address is listed there.”

 

. . .

 

M. Jean Houdin was a French expatriate and (witch-)doctor extraordinaire. He charged exorbitant prices for paltry tricks. He popped-up shop a few streets past Piazza San Marco and hauled in profit by castle-loads.

 

Early one morning, Cross barged into his home, just because he could.

 

“Houdin,” declared Cross, “I want in.”

 

Houdin materialized in a poof of smoke, airily breezy and cheery. “You are in, without an invitation, might I add.” He dismissed the butler and gestured the general for a parlour retreat. “So, you found me. I expected you here a week ago. You’re losing your touch.”

 

Scanning the premises, Cross selected the plushest chair. “Blame Yojimbo.”

 

“Fat Man still in business?”

 

“Seems so. Mind if I smoke?”

 

“I don’t mind.”

 

“You know why I’m here.”

 

“Yes, but for the sake of humility, let’s pretend I don’t.”

 

“Clever. Yojimbo warned me of that. The Order ordered – imagine that – me to keep an eye on you. And your experiments.”

 

“You’re not here to eliminate me? I’m disappointed.”

 

“Don’t be. I might shoot you anyway.”

 

“I’m relieved. Let’s begin, General Cross. Maria, bring the poem.”

 

 

                sovra candido vel cinta d’uliva
donna m’apparve, sotto verde manto
vestita di color di fiamma viva.

 

 

A woman in apple green silk, laced chartreuse and powdered tits, appeared. There were streaks of fire in her heavy, black hair. She had a long, thrice-looped strand of pearls hanging from her neck. White and thin, Maria had bandages extending from right shoulder to left wrist. 

 

. . .

 

He accepted Maria’s invitation for a drink.

 

“I used to sing opera,” she explained.

 

“Yet you became an Exorcist,” the implied question being why.

 

“It’s not something you can easily decline. You, of all people, should know that.”

 

“You were a legend on stage.”

 

“A long time ago.”

 

. . .

 

Maria was a good person and a better woman. She served as Houdin’s part-time secretary and full-time nurse. She cooked for him (traditional dishes from her village) and drew his bath religiously every night, warmed his mug of milk. Sometimes, she sang him to sleep when his belly was achy and heart was silver-soared.

 

Maria was like a homeless ornament found and forgotten in a dusty corner. Gorgeous, perfidious, and insidious, Maria was constantly there. And he would’ve described her as a thorn or sore, but she was beautiful. So, Cross flirted with her, thinking she’ll eventually disclose her secret.

 

 – What’s what?

 

“That’s that.” Maria smiled smugly.

 

“Didn’t hear you, girly, tell me again.”

 

She whispered into his ear and licked a path along his grainy cheek. Her tongue was warm and abrasive like a storm of invasive, invisible blades.

 

. . .

 

He was there to accompany her, a feat gladly accomplished.

 

She was there to spy on the new soprano (possibly akuma, therefore evil).

 

Her arm was sprained, caught in a make-shift sling. And his neck was snapped back from stressed force and multi-lined tension. It hit deep in the tendons and crooks and crannies. They were entering aria territory now, and he needed a drink badly. Hard liquor, whiskey was the ideal, and none of that diluted, salt-on-rocks shit.

 

“You okay?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“I’m not actually Italian.”

 

“What?”

 

“You asked me last time which part of Italy I’m from. I’m not Italian. I was born on the border of Estonia and Russia. My uncle brought me to Rome when I was three.”

 

“Is that so.”

 

“Rome is old, outrageous in ruins. Venice is sinking.”

 

Waterlogged and trench-torched, it’s digging itself into the grave. Venice gonna be first to choke and call it quits.

 

He’ll be across the world when Venice drowns.

 

. . .

 

In Maria’s room was a table made of mahogany and trimmed with lacquer. It’s hideous, it’s kitschy, and she loved it dearly. On the table was a bowl of rotten, mouldy fruit (she didn’t love that quite as much). Above the bowl of fruit was a painting of fresh flowers trapped and woven in intricate glass. And on the centre flower (yellow chrysanthemum) was a petrified fly.

 

Maria told him the painting was a gift from some anonymous, famous Florentine artist, a treasure to be cherished and horded in the attic. He acted like he believed her. It’s a special genre of art the northern masters perfected (she continued). The overarching theme was rudimentary, symbolize this: an analysis of beauty on the verge of eradication. It didn’t take a genius to appreciate the works.

 

As for Maria – he paused to poke the Cangiante glaze (canary darkening to teal) and accidentally lifted a smudge of residual oil – she kept Leyster’s floras in focus of nowhere. Surrounded by a moth and several flies, the petals cried sere in the heat of wilt.

 

Look, Cross tapped out the ashes, that beasty bugger is eating the bud. (Chloric pincers in pumice puce and tiny flakes of vinegary tagmata oozing garlic) he delicately peeled back the chrysalis edge.        

 

. . .

 

“I’d like to die when I’m young.”

 

“Why’s that?”

 

“So I can be remembered as beautiful. What’s the point of living if you’re sickly and frail? Ugliness is the single sin which you can’t repent.”

 

. . .

 

Maria was absent that evening. She had an engagement at the theatre, scheduled for murder between scenes four and five. And he was keeping Professeur Houdin (appointed that morning) company. Over philosophy and postprandial coffee, they discussed the future of Signorina Maria.

 

“I guess congratulations are in order, professeur.”

 

“You flatter me. But I am a little curious why you’re agreeing to everything without hesitation, or even question, for that matter.”

 

Cross exhaled three trailing rings of smoke. “Your methods aren’t my concern. As long as you yield decent results, I don’t care how you achieve them.”

 

Houdin coughed and narrowed his eyes. “General, you were the one who recommended signorina.”

 

“It’s convenient.”

 

“I admit when the Order first told me it was you they were sending, I was suspicious. You never know when the poppies are pushing. I should warn you, the procedure is extremely dangerous. You might die too.”

 

“Is it painful?”

 

Houdin scoffed. “Brutal.”

 

“All the better.”

 

“Before you interrupt my stream of brilliance, I’m a scientist. There, that’s my disclaimer. It’s in my nature to be mad.”

 

“You’d be hunted down.”

 

“General, risks are to be embraced, not feared. Now, did you procure the sodium thiopental I asked for?”

 

“It’s in the kitchen.”

 

“Good boy. I do believe I hear Maria entering.”

 

. . .

 

She stretched out her arms and unwrapped the bandages. The burn was healing nicely and won’t leave a scar. The water was drawn, soap churned into suds, and she was ready for heaven.

 

Maria untied her sash and stepped into the tub. Ceramic cool and steaming water – sigh – she was satisfied. She uncorked the bottle and gulped full. Balanced precariously next to the luffa and on a chrome-plated salver was a letter. To be opened (by her, she supposed). Cheers, here’s to

 

By the time you recieve this message...

 

He misspelled “receive.”

 

Smirking, Maria crumpled the note and submerged into foamy paradise.

 

. . .

 

She’s dead. That’s too bad, terribly sad. He’ll get to mourning in the morning.

 

“At least it worked.”

 

Cross massaged his neck. Yeah. “You’re leaving for the Sorbonne.”

 

“Midnight train. What’s your next destination, General?”

 

“Japan. They’ve got young girls and aged sake.”

 

“Best of luck then. It’s been a pleasure working with you. And, uhh, thank you for your generous donation.”

 

M. Houdin picked up his suitcase and winked goodbye. His assignment was finished and so was he.

 

Cross glanced at his leading lady, said:
“Don’t worry, Maria, I’ll take care of you,”

(he wasn’t renowned for his wit)
and folded her limbs neatly in place.

 

She was prepared for transport. He had a weaponry crate monogrammed just for her. She’d appreciate the exquisite engraving. He gave her a kiss and patted her marble arm affectionately.

 


 
 
 
(Deleted comment)
Y U no auto-translate?lye_tea on August 12th, 2010 05:45 am (UTC)
You know I wrote this for you. Punishment for getting me into D.Gray again.

.....Well, herm, great minds do think alike. *extracts mind-reading device*
(Deleted comment)
Y U no auto-translate?lye_tea on August 12th, 2010 05:51 am (UTC)
Lol. I'm just happy it didn't stink.

TIN HATS WILL NOT STOP MAH POWAHSSS. I like a snake, with infrared!
(Deleted comment)
Y U no auto-translate?lye_tea on August 12th, 2010 06:14 am (UTC)
Green tea and no sleep.

Haha. Just realized I'm still using my Cartesian snake icon. :3
songs of the cynical: lucid lullabiesrosael on January 3rd, 2011 05:20 am (UTC)
I knew I came back to Livejournal for a reason.

You have no idea how much you inspire me to write. Thank you for being amazing.