windhover: (touhou ❧ okuu)
[personal profile] windhover
Title: Pathetic Fallacy
Word count: 3,042
Warnings: non-graphic violence
Summary: In Orion's older days, Auster and Konrad are assigned to exterminate a powerful Gray.
Notes: Not exactly a follow-up to C728K, but this concerns the same characters and is set some time afterwards.

By the time Auster and Konrad had portaled into the target location, dark clouds were moving overhead, and the air was heavy with the threat of rain.

Konrad glanced around while Auster inspected the lock on the wrought-iron gate. The area was incredibly secluded; the forest grew wild around them, while the cobblestone path that led to the mansion behind the gate was worn and overgrown with weeds. The mansion itself loomed over them, exuding a dark aura that seemed almost to challenge them.

Frankly, the whole place gave Konrad the creeps. “Hey, uh, Auster?”

The senior agent didn’t turn back to Konrad, instead keeping his focus on picking the lock. “What?”

“Is it really a good idea for me to be out here?” he asked uneasily. “I mean, that rookie—you know, Rowland—she just got placed into your division, right? Maybe—”

“You just answered your own question,” Auster interrupted. “She’s a rookie. This mission is far too dangerous for a new recruit like her.”

Konrad barely resisted rolling his eyes. “Auster, honestly. Just about every mission your division takes on could be considered ‘far too dangerous.’”

“This one is especially so.”

“Then wouldn’t it be good for—you know, experience?”

“Not on this mission.”

Konrad groaned; for some reason, the urge to get out his di-comm and fiddle with it was difficult to ignore. “But do we really have to do this now? I mean, couldn’t we at least come back when…you know, the weather looks a little better?”

“No time,” Auster said shortly. “The longer we wait, the longer we risk the King Gray coming to claim this one for itself.”

“Right, right.” Konrad tried to glance around again, but for some reason couldn’t tear his eyes away from the mansion. “Right. So, uh… Brief me again. What are we hunting here?”

The lock came undone in Auster’s hands, and with a sharp yank, the chain binding the gate, brittle with rust and age, came with it. “The Queen Gray,” he answered, starting to pull the gate open, “second only in power to the King Gray itself, having gained self-awareness of its condition.”

The gate swung open with a loud, ominous creak, and Auster began his approach. Konrad followed close behind, letting out a long whistle. “I thought you said Grays couldn’t just get self-awareness like that, though.”

“The King Gray did,” Auster replied simply. “It’s not unreasonable to assume that another Gray of similar age and power couldn’t do the same.”

The mansion continued to loom over them. The courtyard was just as overgrown as the path beyond the gate, and looked as though it hadn’t been tended in years. “So… How do we know this Gray has self-awareness, anyway?”

“We don’t.” The steps up to the door groaned under their weight, but luckily didn’t give way. “The report indicated that the Gray in this area had gained power roughly equivalent to that of the King Gray, and had done so at an alarmingly rapid rate.”

“But that doesn’t mean—”

“Furthermore,” Auster continued, shooting a warning look at his partner, “past reports have indicated close ties between this Gray and the King Gray.” He turned his gaze back to the large, ornately-detailed door. The brass knocker seemed to challenge them, as well. “If it isn’t self-aware now, it won’t be long before the King comes along and fixes that.”

Konrad remained silent then, instead taking one final chance to look himself over before they entered the mansion. Auster had insisted they wear period get-ups for this mission, despite the fact that the timeline they had entered appeared to be fairly modern, but Konrad couldn’t really complain; the suit jackets provided ample cover for their weapons, and the entire outfit wasn’t as uncomfortable as others in the past.

Auster, after checking himself as well, glanced over at Konrad. “Ready?”

Konrad nodded. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

Auster also nodded, took a deep breath, and heavily banged the knocker against the door.

A long silence followed. Thunder rolled overhead.

Konrad shifted uneasily from one foot to the other. “Is anyone even home, you think?”

“No reason for it not to be,” Auster said quietly, eyes narrowing. He waited another moment, and knocked again.

Still, there was no response. This entire situation didn’t bode well to Konrad. “Well?”

“Just a bit more,” he responded, though already his hand was moving to the gun concealed beneath his jacket. “One more knock, and we’ll—”

However, it turned out they wouldn’t have to wait. At that moment, the door suddenly swung open.

“Oh, I am so, so sorry—these servants, sometimes I wonder why I even pay them…”

The two were startled by the response, but Auster managed to regain composure quickly enough to act for both of them. “The apologies are all ours, madame,” he said smoothly, adding a small bow. “Please, do forgive us for calling on you at such an unusual hour.”

“My, no, that’s quite all right.” The woman appeared flattered by Auster’s refined overtures, and opened the door a bit wider. “Any hour is an acceptable hour to come calling on this house—though I do hope that you will forgive me for not knowing either of you fine sirs.”

“Perhaps introductions will be easier inside,” Auster said with an easy smile—charming enough to win the woman over, but to Konrad, the sight of such an expression on the normally stoic Auster’s face was nothing short of unsettling. “The weather looks like it could be turning ugly soon.”

“Oh, yes, of course.” The woman stepped back from the door, beckoning them inside. “Do come in, won’t you?”

“Yes, thank you.”

Auster glanced at Konrad before stepping inside; if he hadn’t, Konrad might well have missed the icy flash of warning in his eyes. Despite the woman’s welcome, they could not afford to let their guard down for even an instant.



The entire house’s interior was in just as much disrepair as the surrounding exterior, as was readily apparent when the two were led into the drawing room. Cobwebs, tarnish, and thick layers of dust covered every surface that didn’t look oft-traveled or well-used; rain pattered heavily against the large window, though it was clouded and nearly impossible to see through. Konrad was hesitant even to sit on the divan, but did so at the woman’s behest (and only after Auster had already sat down).

“Please, sirs, do make yourselves comfortable. I’ll go put the tea on; those servants, good for nothing, I tell you…”

Konrad gave the darkened room another thorough look once the woman had left the room again, bustling into the kitchen, and leaned over to Auster. “Is that our mark?”

“Yes.”

He felt something like a chill, though he couldn’t quite figure out why. Having been partnered with Auster for so long, this was hardly the first time he’d ever faced a Gray—but there was something about this one…

“It’s still too dangerous to attempt extermination, if that’s what you’re wondering. Wait for my signal.”

“Er—right. I figured that,” Konrad said, trying to shake off that strange feeling. “You think she’s really got servants here?”

“There is no one else here, nor has there been for decades.” Auster’s tone remained as cool as it had ever been, though he also looked over the room with a wary eye. “Her condition has led to her delusion.”

By the time Konrad realized he was now referring to the Gray as her instead of it, it was too late to question why; the woman soon bustled back in with a sweep of her arms and a dramatic sigh. “You have my sincerest apologies,” she said to them both, smoothing out her skirts as she sat opposite them. “This must be so terribly rude of me, having to put the kettle on when I should be entertaining the two of you.”

“It’s quite all right, Madame Bell,” Auster said smoothly, with a short incline of his head. “Inattentive servants are truly a tragic thing.”

However, the woman seemed to stop paying attention herself as soon as Auster said her name. “Madame Bell,” she repeated, with a slight titter. “Madama Bell, yes. Yes.” She tittered again. “And—I’m so sorry, but I don’t believe I caught your names?”

Auster glanced at Konrad, and he took that as his cue to take over. “This is my associate, Auster,” he said with a quick gesture in the other man’s direction, “and my name is Konrad Sharpless.”

“Sharpless?” Her eyes slightly widened. “Sharpless, you say? The consul, the baritone?”

“Er—” He looked again to Auster for help, who gave him the tiniest of nods. “Yes, that’s right.”

But at that, she laughed. “Oh, how strange—how rich! And I don’t suppose your name is Pinkerton, is it?” she asked, turning to Auster.

Konrad expected him to look annoyed, perhaps even flustered, but he only responded with another small, polite smile. “Unfortunately, no.”

“Now there is a tragedy.” Her laugh trailed into a sigh, though she still looked immensely amused. “My apologies, Mr. Sharpless. I sang in that opera, you know.”

Though what Auster had said regarding her delusion did not leave his mind, Konrad couldn’t keep a tone of genuine surprise from his voice. “Madama Butterfly? Which role?”

“The very lead, of course.” Her smile gained a smug edge as she got up from her seat, making another sweep with her arms. “I played in all sorts of operas, you know. I was a star.

She did a dramatic twirl, and once again Konrad could only think of Auster’s warning. She was certainly beautiful for her apparent middle age, and the way she moved, spoke and carried herself held the obvious air of someone accustomed to the spotlight. But despite all that—despite her beauty, the aura of decay surrounded her, clung to her, far more thickly than with any other Gray he had ever encountered before.

Before he could speak again, Auster quickly cut him off. “So we’ve heard.”

“Yes, surely.” Her smile faded into a tight frown. “But no longer—patrons are so fickle, you know, and I have a family to support.”

His expression did not change. “How tragic.”

“Not so much,” she said with another titter. “My son is my everything, after all… He brings so much joy into my life.”

Auster did not speak this time, so Konrad took that as another cue. “You must be very fortunate to have him, then.”

“I am,” she said lightly, smiling again. “Though he is already of that age… Handling him has become rather difficult, you see.”

“Ahh,” said Konrad, doing his best to feign a sympathetic tone. “A teenager, then?”

“Yes, yes—oh.” She was interrupted by the loud whistle of the tea kettle. “Pardon—I don’t believe the servants will see to that, either… Alphonse!

Konrad flinched at the sudden shout, though Auster (unsurprisingly) didn’t look fazed in the slightest. “Er—”

“Oh—my apologies again,” she said with a cluck of her tongue. “See, this is precisely what I mean; that boy never comes when I call him…”

She continued to mutter to herself as she exited back into the kitchen. Konrad was left feeling somewhat bewildered, and he turned to Auster again. “Alphonse—?”

“The name of her son, clearly,” he answered calmly, getting to his feet. “Don’t think too much of it. With the age of this Gray, he’d be dead or otherwise long gone by now.”

“But…” Something about this was incredibly unsettling, and Konrad couldn’t figure out why. “Auster, hold on—are you sure there’s no one else here?”

“Absolutely sure. She is nothing more than delusional.”

“But what if there’s more to it than that?” he insisted. “I mean, I’m not saying she’s not deluded, just—what if, maybe, her ‘son’ is just some kid she grabbed off the street? What if he’s in danger because of all this—?”

“There is no one else here,” Auster repeated firmly, “and I assure you, that is absolutely not the case.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Because she is a Gray,” he snapped, very nearly glaring at Konrad—but his expression quickly returned to its usual stoic mask. “Grays aren’t… A Gray in her state wouldn’t make that sort of mistake. Deluded as she is, she would not confuse another for her true son.”

“But that doesn’t—”

“Besides,” Auster continued, “our mission precludes rescue.”

Precludes?” Dumbfounded, Konrad followed Auster to his feet. “Then what about the mission from last week? You saved that girl, didn’t you? What makes this any different?”

This time, Auster did glare. “Do not compare this to that,” he said icily. “For one, had she not proven to be a capable recruit, Rigel would have my head on a pike by now—and for another, the situation here is wholly different.”

Konrad would have argued further, but Auster reached into his jacket as he spoke and carefully drew out his gun. What little light there was in the room gleamed off its silver finish, catching in the three stars etched into its long barrel.

Auster gave him another icy look and a short nod, then silently started towards the kitchen. Recognizing the signal, Konrad paled, pulled out his own weapon, and followed.

The woman was still in the kitchen by the time they entered. The stove was near another door, one that led outside to the back of the property; she stood with her back to them, silent, and looked oddly absorbed with the tea kettle, not even turning her head as they both drew closer. Auster turned back to give another glance to Konrad, who moved to his side, and took aim, cocking the hammer—

“I knew you’d come eventually,” she said quietly, without turning, though the mere fact that she had spoken was enough to startle Konrad. “Such an unruly child, Alphonse… Didn’t your mother raise you right?”

Konrad spied the sudden tense in the Gray’s arm, and knew what it meant before Auster had time to react. He gave a shout and pushed his partner out of the way, just in time to catch the full brunt of the thrown kettle and the boiling water it contained.

The phenomenal pain that followed blocked out nearly everything else, save the sound of his own scream, a single gunshot, and the door banging shut. He dropped to the floor, gun falling from his hand, and was only barely aware of Auster shouting his name—

Go after her,” he shouted right back. He didn’t know if there was anywhere out there for the Gray to flee to, but she was definitely trying, and he would be damned if they let this one get away after pulling this stunt.

With no small effort, Konrad pulled himself back up, staggered to the sink, and cranked the tap as hard as he could. The water that came out was an unsettling shade of orange, stained with rust from the plumbing’s years of disrepair, but it was ice cold, and that was all he needed; he quickly splashed himself with it, managing to alleviate at least enough of the pain for him to refocus on his surroundings. Neither Auster nor the Gray were inside, and the door was still swinging open. It was still raining, more heavily than before, and he couldn't easily see what was going on outside.

He swore loudly, grabbed his gun from the floor, and ran out to catch up with Auster.

But as it turned out, it wouldn’t take him long. The Gray lay crumpled on the ground, one leg twisted out from under her and bleeding; Auster must have made the shot to disable her. As for Auster himself, he stood over her, his gun aimed squarely at the Gray’s head.

Konrad approached carefully, lowering his own gun. Only Auster’s gun had the power to permanently destroy Grays; any other weapon or method used would only ensure that the death was temporary. Only Auster could deal with this now, yet it looked as though he was hesitating.

As Konrad drew nearer, despite the haze of the rain, he could clearly see that Auster’s hand was shaking—and despite the sound of the rain, he could make out the woman’s desperate pleas…

“Alphonse, please, my dear Alphonse, don’t do this—don’t you recognize your own mother? Alphonse, please, I beg you, don’t do this—”

Auster pulled the trigger.

Konrad couldn’t keep from flinching at the suddenness of it, but he didn’t let his eyes leave the scene. Auster’s hand was trembling more violently than before; he didn’t lower his gun until after the Gray’s body had already slumped to the ground, and he remained standing, staring at the slain Gray, for some time.

By now, the pain from his burns was far from Konrad’s mind. A memory returned to him, a moment that hadn’t seemed the least bit important to him at the time—listening to the soaring soprano of Madama Butterfly with Auster in his apartment, being entrusted with his lover’s true name, before he had taken up that of the southern wind…

“Auster?” Konrad kept his tone cautious and maintained his distance. Not once in the many years he’d known this man had he ever seen him like this; he had no idea what to do.

Auster took a deep, unsteady breath, then tilted his head up to the sky, eyes tightly shut. It seemed almost like an eternity had passed before he spoke again.

“The mission is complete. We should report back to Orion now.”

He had clearly tried to keep his voice level, but Konrad wasn’t fooled; he swallowed, choosing his next words carefully. “Well… Maybe we should go home first. I mean, this rain’s got us soaked to the bone.”

Auster hesitated for another moment before he lowered his gaze to Konrad, and slowly nodded; by the look in his eyes, he understood what Konrad truly meant. “Maybe you’re right.”

Konrad slid his gun back into its holster, pulled out his di-comm, and used it to open a portal back to Auster’s apartment in Anchor. Auster stepped through after him, leaving behind the Bell mansion for the last time.

who?

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Valya

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