All That's Left of Yesterday
Notes: Yay! The Doom bikers! ::glomps them all.:: Since I've gotten so obsessed with them the last few weeks, I had to write a story about them. Writing this (as well as doing some fascinating role-plays) has helped me a lot in giving me insight on their individual personalities and how they might react to different situations and each other. There is much friendship and sibling cuteness! The characters aren't mine (save for Alice, who is only briefly mentioned but who really had a key role in the plot), the story is, and this isn't yaoi or shounen-ai. ::smile.:: And there are spoiler warnings for the Doom saga! But if you either don't care or you already know what happens, then that shouldn't bother you. Oh yeah, one final notice for my amusement: Yes, Alister (or Amelda) really is a guy! LOL. ::doesn't get the gender confusion.::
The mansion was old and decrepit. It was one of those kind that are often depicted in Halloween movies and TV specials, rumored to be haunted because of an age-old crime once committed within its walls. Of course, no one had lived in this mansion for years, ever since the mysterious events surrounding the original owners' disappearance. But tonight there was once again life in the lonely edifice-and not foolish children merely looking for a scare. Someone else had gone missing, several days ago, and his friends had come looking for him-knowing that someone matching his description had been seen in the nearby area. Together the duo had gone over most all of the floors and had looked in almost every room. Now they had split up to search again, not wanting to leave any possible spot overlooked.
A short young man with a plethora of fluffy brown hair sticking out in all directions wandered down the first corridor by himself, still hearing his friend's instructions ringing in his mind.
"If you find him, Valon, yell as loud as you can and I'll come. If you don't find him within an hour, meet back here at the staircase."
And then his own response.
"Raphael . . . what if I find him and . . . he's dead?"
Raphael had narrowed his eyes and had given Valon such a deathglare that he was reminded of the expression If Looks Could Kill. "He won't be dead," he had retorted. "We'll find him before that happens." But in spite of that, both of them were well aware that it may have already happened. Alister had disappeared five days ago. Anyone who had possibly seen him had not seen him at any time after the first night he had gone missing. But haunting screams of pain had been heard coming from this mansion, which was only a block from where Alister had last been sighted by anyone. If he had been tortured that many days-and almost endlessly-there was no telling how much blood he had lost by now. There was a very high probability that he had perished long ago.
These were Valon's thoughts as he entered a darkened room that he didn't remember having checked before. The furniture, once elegant, was now faded and badly damaged from a roof that leaked when storms came. Only one of the floor-length drapes remained at the window-the other was crumpled on the floor. And when Valon thought about it, he realized that the room almost looked as if it had recently seen a treacherous scuffle.
Slowly he advanced, shining his flashlight over the stained and ripped chairs, sofas, and love seats. Some of the stains were obviously from rancid water, but some of the others looked red and fresh . . . like blood. Valon had seen many horrible sights in his short lifetime, but he didn't deny that seeing fresh blood in a supposedly abandoned house was disturbing-especially in light of the fact that Alister was missing. And the fallen curtain . . . it was splattered with crimson as well. Swallowing hard, Valon found himself calling softly for his friend, though he didn't receive any reply. But he hadn't been expecting one. He had long ago decided that Alister was either unconscious or dead, if he was in this wretched place.
Now he shoved the other curtain completely back from the window. He was over near the back corner now and most everything was veiled in shadow. But the blood dripping down the window sill was very clear and distinct, even in the dim light. Suddenly getting a horrible suspicion, Valon chanced to look down at the floor where the curtain had just been. As he had abruptly feared, a very still body was laying right at his feet, turned away from him. He let out a rare gasp of horror. The form was stripped to the waist, the slender yet well-chiseled limbs and torso covered in streams of blood flowing from wounds of varying severities. The slacks were all but torn away, leaving only enough material to be a pitiful and morbid imitation of cut-off jeans. Ribbons of blood dripped from the legs, mixing with the other, larger pools of crimson already gathering on the floor.
Immediately Valon knelt down, reaching out to touch the bare, bleeding shoulder as he did so. He would have liked to believe that what he was seeing wasn't actually real, but he knew it was. Though the person was turned away from him, he recognized the cropped magenta hair that was styled in a flip. He had found his friend, and though he had been bracing himself for the condition the other young man might be in, he realized he truly wasn't prepared for this sight. "Alister," he whispered in disbelief. The rivers of blood pooled underneath the lifeless form, causing Valon to grow all the more nervous. Was his friend still alive? If he wasn't . . . would Valon be able to forgive himself? Well . . . he knew this wasn't his fault. But in any case, his last words to Alister had been spoken in thoughtless anger. If Alister was dead, and Valon had been uncharacteristically cruel to one of the few friends he had, he didn't know that he could deal with that.
At one time, the two hadn't communicated much at all-Alister preferring to always remain alone and Valon insisting he was only out for himself. But of late they had actually resolved some of their differences and occasionally had real conversations with each other. Perhaps some of that had been due to Raphael's influence. (He had always been pushing for the three of them to be a family of sorts. None of them really had anywhere to go and they had no family to return to after Doom disbanded, so they had opted to stay together.) Or perhaps it was just that Alister had finally decided to lower his defenses after having been around Valon and Raphael for so long and that Valon had changed his mind about how he would go through life.
He gripped Alister's shoulder firmly, trying to ignore the feel of the sticky blood, and turned the young man onto his back. Instantly he recoiled in alarm. Alister's eyes were only half-open, vacantly staring at something nonexistent in the distance. Though the body was badly beaten and bruised, Valon had the feeling that physical torment wasn't the main thing haunting his friend. Swallowing hard, Valon leaned forward again, trying to ignore the eerie, empty stare. "Hey!" he cried, his accent thickening. "Say somethin', Alister! It's me, your chum Valon!"
Alister turned his head to the side, not seeming to really notice that Valon was there. He whispered low, so softly that Valon could barely catch it, speaking the name of his deceased younger brother. "Miruko. . . ." Then his eyes closed and he went still and slack under Valon's grip, the blood continuing to seep around them. Was all of it-all of the blood in the room-his? How could he even still be living if it was?
Valon narrowed his eyes, then leaned down to make certain Alister's heart was still beating. Upon hearing a soft, slowing thump, he knew there was no time to waste. Alister was dying-that much was obvious. If medical help couldn't be gotten to him before much more time passed, there wouldn't be any hope.
"Raphael!" Valon yelled, looking up and hoping desperately that the tough, blonde man would hear him. There was no telling where Raphael might be, but the chances of him being within hearing range weren't very great. This mansion was huge, with at least three main floors, an attic, and a basement. "I found him, Raphael, but he's almost dead! He needs help right now!" The only response he got was the sound of his voice echoing down the massive halls, so he turned his attention back to his wounded friend.
He was stunned as his gaze traveled over the many different types of injuries Alister had sustained. On his chest and sides alone there were endless lacerations, bruises, and welts-the latter having been inflicted by an especially harsh whip. Someone had obviously wanted Alister dead-but who and why? "What tore you up?" Valon murmured in shock, pressing a cloth against one of the worst wounds. Alister flinched at the sudden pressure, but then quickly went slack again, his eyelids fluttering but not ever fully opening.
It seemed an eternity later when Raphael at last heard Valon's frantic cries and made his way into the darkened room, glaring at the blood-stained walls and crumbling floor. As he made his way to the back corner and saw Alister's pale, bloodied body, he stopped short and clenched his fists. The other man looked dead already. The only indication that he was not and that he was still clinging to life was the slow rise and fall of his chest and the raspy breathing.
"Call an ambulance," Raphael growled at Valon, kneeling down next to their fallen comrade. "We're not letting him die. Do you understand me? He isn't going to die!" He knew it looked hopeless for Alister to ever recover, but Raphael had already lost one family. He wasn't about to lose part of another.
Valon nodded shakily as he stood up, looking blankly at the blood coating his hands. He hadn't thought he would be affected this deeply, but he was absolutely horrified at the whole situation. "Right," he said quietly, reaching for his cell phone and painstakingly dialing nine-one-one. Behind him he heard Alister gasping for breath and he winced at the desperation of the sound. "Come on, mate," he whispered. "Hang in there just a little bit longer. . . ."
"A little bit longer may be too late," Raphael muttered pessimistically. He knew he could very well be speaking the truth.
But Alister did continue to survive. He survived until the paramedics came and until he was taken to the nearest hospital-which happened to be the Kaiba Corporation Infirmary. While in the Emergency room, his heart stopped for only the first of several alarming repeat incidents that night. No one really expected he would be able to last through morning.
While the doctors were trying to revive him, Valon paced around the waiting room, only making Raphael more nervous than he already was. "That's not going to bring him back, Valon," the man said quietly. "Maybe nothing will." Raphael wasn't especially known for being an optimist, though he absolutely didn't want to believe that Alister would die. Raphael wanted more than anything to help him, as anything else would be failing, but he knew there wasn't much he or Valon could do now. It was up to the doctors-and Alister himself.
Valon stopped and clenched his fists. "Be quiet, Raph," he retorted bitterly. "He . . . he's one of us. I'm not going to give up on him!" To his memory came the sickening image of that desolate room in which he had found their friend. There had been so much blood splattered around on the furniture, walls, and floor. . . . It really seemed that the only place where there hadn't been any was on the ceiling. How long had Alister been laying half-dead in that room? And what had happened to him before that . . . and why? Who would have wanted Alister dead? Was it just a random act of gang violence . . . or was there a purpose behind it? The thought made a cold chill run through Valon's blood.
Raphael grunted at the shorter young man's comments and turned to scrutinize him harshly. "You didn't use to feel that way," he reminded. "Remember when Alister was the first of us to lose during a duel using the Seal of Orichalcos? I wanted to avenge his soul being taken when you decided to duel against the Wheeler kid. But you said you only dueled for yourself. Did Alister mean nothing to you at that time?!" Overcome by the stress of all that had happened over the last few days, Raphael was taking it out on Valon. "You never liked him!"
Valon, momentarily stunned, glared at him with rage now. "Just a minute!" he yelled indignantly. "The feeling was mutual. He never liked me either!" He didn't appreciate Raphael suddenly accusing him right now, right while they were worrying over their friend at the hospital. What right did he have to bring these things up? This was hardly the time or the place. And besides . . . it was the past now. After Doom had disbanded, and even before that, when their spirits had all been trapped by the Seal, Valon had started to see Alister in a different light. They had all had time to think over their reasons for fighting and if, in the end, it would really help anything anyway. Alister eventually had lost his vengeful feelings toward Seto Kaiba and also some of his distrust for the other two bikers-though he was still as aloof as ever.
"He didn't dislike you! He distrusted you!" Raphael boomed now, his temper flaring. "He distrusted me as well. It was nothing personal-he distrusted everyone!" With that he reached out, grabbing Valon by the front of his shirt and lifting him into the air. Certainly Alister's distrust had annoyed Raphael, though he could understand it. But what had annoyed him more was Valon's attitude toward him, especially after the Seal of Orichalcos had taken his soul.
"Hey!" Valon cried in disbelief. "You're wacked, Raphael! Quit takin' your concern for Alister out on me!" He struggled desperately, getting frustrated. He didn't really believe Raphael would hurt him, but it was still unnerving to suddenly be raised almost up to the ceiling. Raphael was a strong man, capable of defeating almost anyone in a physical fight quite easily. Valon never wanted to get on his bad side.
Unseen to either of them was an exasperated, disembodied spirit hovering above them. While Alister's heart was stopped, his astral form had unwillingly started to wander-soon coming upon this scene. "Stop it!" he screamed for what seemed the umpteenth time, seeing what was behind Raphael's and Valon's outbursts. "You're both acting crazy. What happened to me wasn't your fault. Neither of you are to blame for it." He thumped on an invisible barrier, getting more frustrated by the minute. He had spent enough time out of his body in the past, after the Seal had worked its cursed magic. But what he was experiencing now was in some ways much worse than what had happened then. He was still in the normal dimension, but he couldn't communicate with anyone. What could be more hellish, he thought to himself as he finally gave up yelling for Valon and Raphael to forget their quarrel, than an existence like this?
But perhaps the other two had heard him, though they didn't entirely realize it. Slowly they quieted down and looked about in confusion, as if looking for the source of something heard. Upon seeing nothing, Raphael lowered Valon to the floor again and stepped back with a frown. Alister watched them, hoping that they would both settle down now and not argue anymore over foolish things, and then he felt himself being called back. Shimmering, he vanished from the room-deciding to make it a point to talk with Valon and Raphael about their argument when he recovered. If he recovered. . . .
As the hours dragged on, the doctors admitted to themselves that Alister's condition was serious and that he was not going to last the night. The physical torment had caused a horrifying loss of blood-perhaps too much even with a transfusion-and whatever had been done emotionally had seemed to render him without a will to live, or so one particularly critical doctor remarked dryly after they'd managed to bring him back after he flatlined the second time.
"You're wrong, Mister!" a soft voice chirped up from somewhere behind the cynical man. "My brother's strong. He's fighting hard to stay alive! And he's gonna make it!"
The doctor frowned in confusion and turned, attempting to find the source of the voice, but nothing was there. He wanted to believe that he was simply working too hard, but he could see that the others had all heard the voice as well, judging from their perplexed and confusion expressions.
"Where's the kid?" a young doctor finally asked. "And how did he get in?"
"There isn't one," a perceptive nurse remarked then, monitoring Alister's heart rate, "at least . . . not one we can see. But this boy definitely has someone watching over him." She had noticed that Alister's vital signs had increased to more normal speeds when the child's voice had been heard. Brother. . . . She made a note to ask his friends if he had a brother, perhaps one who had long ago died.
"That won't be enough to save his life," the first doctor muttered.
When they at last got Alister situated in a room, the nurse went to find Raphael and Valon, apprehensiveness tinging her heart and soul. Her name was Anita, and she had worked at many hospitals and care centers throughout the years. She had started work at a hospital in Domino City before being transferred to one almost an hour away. Now she had come back to Domino on the recommendation of a friend who worked in the KaibaCorporation Infirmary. Ironically, Seto Kaiba had once been a critical patient of hers, when he had once been found badly beaten and barely alive. But he had come through it.
It was never easy, Anita thought sadly to herself as she approached the waiting room and found the two who were Alister's friends, to deliver the news that a loved one was probably not going to make it. But Anita had firsthand witnessed several miraculous recoveries when the person had been expected to die. She was determined to keep hope that this young man would recover as well. He had his friends to live for-and possibly a younger brother.
"Excuse me?" she asked quietly as she came in. Gently she touched the tough blonde's arm and he started and turned from where he had been looking out the window and brooding. Another thing Anita had learned through experience was that those branded as "tough guys" often had the deepest and kindest of souls, even if they weren't willing to display it openly. This man, she could tell, was extremely worried about his friend. Behind the fierce appearance was an aching heart.
Raphael studied this newcomer for only a moment before asking if there was any news. His blue eyes pierced into her brown orbs and she knew she wouldn't be glossing over the truth with him, not that she ever usually did. Worried friends and families deserved to know the complete truth about their loved ones, though Anita was also a firm believer in telling them kindly and in not being blunt and unfeeling.
As Valon came over as well, Anita began quietly telling them of what had transpired and what the complications were. They both listened silently and seriously, their eyes grim. But they were willing to accept what Anita was telling them. It was only an extension of what they already knew. Alister was laying between this world and the next, almost, and there was a high chance that he would cross over within a few hours. But, Anita told them, that didn't mean that it was time to give up hope. He could still surprise them all and make a comeback.
"Do you know if he has any family members who should be informed about his condition?" she asked the two now, studying them closely.
Raphael shook his head wearily. "He has no living family members. There's only us." And what a mismatched "family" we are, he thought dryly. He was tough and fiercely loyal, Valon was streetwise and sometimes quite naive around women, it seemed, and Alister . . . Alister was aloof and stubborn. Yeah . . . that's right. Alister's stubborn. He'll come through this.
"Can we see him?" Valon spoke up quietly, stepping forward.
Anita smiled gently, the sound of the brunette's Australian accent soothing to her. "Of course," she assured him, leading him and Raphael down the hall.
Even though it was the middle of the night, the hospital was full of activity, with doctors and nurses hurrying to tend to various tients. The KaibaCorp Infirmary, though originally not intended for the general public, still managed to be quite busy all hours of the day and night. Seto had the most knowledgeable doctors in his employ, causing complaints from other hospitals in the city. But Seto didn't pay much heed to complaints anymore. The way he figured it, there would always be someone who didn't like what he did with his money or how he chose to run KaibaCorp. They could rant all they liked, but Seto wouldn't back down for anyone.
Valon leaned over the bed, looking down at his friend with a mixture of horror and disbelief. Though now Alister's wounds had been treated and bound and his body was no longer covered in blood, he looked no less deathlike than before. His skin was pale and only barely warm to the touch. Though he had always been quite lean and lanky, now he appeared malnourished and starved. He had barely eaten while he was missing, if he had eaten at all. His gray eyes were closed, the dark lashes brushing against the ghostly flesh. Valon wasn't sure those eyes would open again.
"Alister," he whispered in shock. "How could this have happened to you?" This wasn't the way it was supposed to be. Alister was supposed to be standing in the room's corner, studying things over the edge of his shades and being as aloof as always. He was supposed to be getting into an argument with Valon over some ridiculous thing or another, while Raphael was stuck in the middle of it and finally would yell for them to both knock it off.
A pang went through Valon's soul as he remembered that it had been an argument with Alister that had set them at odds right before Valon had stormed out in anger. That time it had been so bad that he had started trying to physically fight with the redhead, having lost control of his temper as he had many times in the past. Alister, not having wanted to fight, had restrained Valon until Raphael had come in and forcefully separated them. Some time after Valon had left was when Alister had gone out as well, presumably to look for him. He hadn't come back.
"He's still breathing on his own," Anita said softly from the doorway. "That's one thing in his favor." She bit her lip, seeing the alarm that had manifested in the Australian's eyes. She had seen many people who regretted their final words to their loved ones, and it appeared that Valon just might be in that category as well. Her heart broke for him. If Alister never regained consciousness and passed away, it was likely that Valon would carry those regrets with him the rest of his life.
"If he wakes up . . . would that mean that he's no longer in danger of dying?" Raphael asked quietly, looking at Anita and demanding a straight answer. He was disturbed by Alister's motionless body as well, but he didn't carry the weight that Valon was obviously bearing now. Though Valon said nothing about it, Raphael knew Valon was remembering the fight. He had warned Valon when he had pulled him away from Alister that he would regret it someday. Valon's retort had been less than desirable. Alister hadn't really been affected by Valon's words or actions-at least not outwardly-but Raphael knew that Valon still felt horrible about it all anyway. Valon had acted and spoken in anger; he hadn't truly wished to hurt his friend. Now he was emotionally paying the price for his blind behavior.
Anita paused, looking down and away from Raphael's penetrating gaze. "It could," she said slowly as she raised her eyes to meet his again. "Or it could mean that he was being allowed to speak with you both before passing on." She had seen many such cases, none of them easy to witness without feeling the immense pain and sadness of the family and other loved ones who had thought the patient was going to be alright only to have him or her die several minutes later. She felt that she needed to warn these two incase such a thing were to happen with their friend.
Raphael clenched his fists and Valon gripped at the rail of the bed. Yes, they had considered that possibility. But they wouldn't dwell on it. That wouldn't happen with Alister. He would get better.
Anita moved into the hall. "I'll leave you alone with him," she said softly, shutting the door behind her.
As soon as she was gone, Valon slumped into a chair. "Raph," he said shakily, studying his hands, "you were right, mate. I regret it. . . ." He looked over at Alister morosely. "I regret every bloomin' bit of it. I let my temper get ahead of me again, even though I vowed it wouldn't happen."
Raphael stood over him with arms crossed, watching Alister in silent concern. "No one can control their temper all the time," he retorted flatly, remembering his own outburst from earlier. It did seem strange, though, to see Valon genuinely concerned about their friend when he really hadn't seemed to care one way or the other during their years with Doom. Truly, their experiences there-especially at the last-had changed all of them-and mostly, he hoped, for the better.
"If I hadn't left, Raph, Alister wouldn't have decided he had to come looking for me!" Valon burst out, standing up again. "That's why he's torn up like this-because of me!"
Raphael sighed. Alister hadn't told him why he was leaving the house-as he rarely did-but the blonde knew as well as Valon did that the reason most likely was because he was going to look for the angry brunette. Alister was good at heart and truly did care about the other two, even if he didn't say so out loud.
"Mulling over the past won't help him now," Raphael spoke. "He wouldn't want you to be like this."
Valon's shoulders slumped and he looked back at Alister's limp form. Maybe mulling over the past wouldn't help, but he was doing it anyway. He and Alister had almost always been at odds, ever since they had first met back at Doom. He had to smirk shakily as he remembered how that meeting had gone. They had both wound up completely exasperated with each other, and just within a minute. . . .
Valon looked around the temple curiously. Dartz had been privately training him for quite some time now, getting him acquainted with all of Doom's philosophies, goals, and beliefs, and now had told him that the time had come for him to meet the other two top Doom soldiers. The three of them would work together from then on, Dartz had decided. Valon wasn't so sure he was going to like it, as he preferred working alone, but he had made up his mind to make the best of the situation, since there wasn't any way to change it. Spotting a tall, skinny redhead across the room, leaning against the wall boredly, Valon deduced that this must be one of his new associates.
"G'day!" he called with a wave as he walked over. The redhead was studying him, but made no reply. Valon tried again. "I'm Valon. Dartz sent me here to work with a couple of other blokes. Are you one of them?" Now he studied this quiet person in return. The lanky young man was wearing a dark trenchcoat, which was hanging open to reveal one of the strangest attires Valon had ever seen on a male-a midriff-baring tank top. His black trousers were much more normal and accompanied by two red belts. He looked at Valon calmly from behind a pair of dark sunglasses, which he lowered slightly as the brunette came closer.
"It would appear that way, wouldn't it," he said calmly. Obviously he wasn't much of a conversationalist. He didn't bother to introduce himself, either.
Valon found himself getting irritated. "Do you wear those sunnies all the time?" he asked, finding it odd to wear them at all in the temple. He made a grab for the shades, which the redhead halted by moving away.
"What's it to you?" he retorted. "We're supposed to work together. How we each prefer to dress is not the other's business."
Valon was about to make an angry reply when they were both interrupted.
"It looks like the two of you are getting along just fine, Alister," a deep, dry voice spoke up from behind them. Both turned to see a tough blonde standing there with arms crossed, not looking extremely impressed or pleased.
"Alister?" Valon repeated. "Is that his name?" He nodded toward the redhead.
"Yeah," the blonde replied. "And I'm Raphael." He looked from one to the other. "And I hope I won't have to be breaking up any pointless arguments the two of you start having." For he had this feeling that Alister, whom he had met earlier, and this new person, Valon, were not going to get along well.
"You won't," Alister grunted. He got along fine with Raphael. Quiet people attract quiet friends, as a wise person once observed, and those two weren't an exception. Valon, who was more outspoken and open-most of the time-was not the kind of person Alister usually associated with or felt particularly comfortable being around.
"That's right," Valon agreed, "you won't, because I ain't going to be talkin' to him any more than I have to!" He crossed his arms defiantly and half-turned away.
Raphael only sighed.
Of course, Raphael wound up having to intercede in many of their ensuing arguments.
Valon came back to the present, hearing the heart monitor having slowed down a bit. He frowned, looking down at his nearly dead friend. "Come on, Alister," he found himself pleading. "I don't want you to kick the bucket. You've always been so bloody stubborn. Be stubborn now and keep on living!" It was strange and eerie to find the gray-eyed man being silent in this way. Usually when he was silent, he was still conscious and quite aware of everything that the other person had said, even if he didn't make it immediately apparent. Valon had never seen him laying so near death. It just didn't seem right.
Raphael stood over him again, not offering any comments of his own. Valon, he had decided, was saying enough for the both of them. And Alister seemed to be struggling, trying hard to keep on living. He shuddered, drawing another rasping breath, and then fell still again as the heart monitor slowed even more. With a frown Raphael now walked around Valon and bent over the bed, listening to Alister's now-quiet breathing. He closed his eyes in frustration, knowing that the redhead was dying.
"What's the matter with you?" he demanded in a low tone. He agreed with Valon's remarks that Alister was stubborn and that he had to not give up. But though he was fighting hard, another part of him seemed to be almost surrendering to oblivion-something that Raphael was decidedly not happy about.
It would help if we knew who attacked him and why, the blonde thought grimly. The more they knew, the more they'd be able to help their friend. As it was, they barely knew anything at all aside from what was done physically. Raphael was starting to be more concerned about what had been done mentally, but there was no way to find out what that was unless they could find the one responsible . . . or unless Alister could awaken and tell them. And that wasn't likely to happen.
He looked over at the sound of Valon's upset voice.
"He's dying, isn't he." It wasn't a question.
Raphael narrowed his eyes. "Not if I can help it," he retorted.
Alister choked, moaning weakly, and then opened his eyes, but they were glassy and unfocused. Immediately Valon was bending over him, desperate to get a response.
"Alister!? Come on, mate, you've gotta acknowledge us!" he cried, gripping the other young man's shoulders and almost giving him a gentle shake before he thought better of it. "You're dyin' on us and I . . . I . . ." He trailed off, not finishing.
Raphael laid a hand on Valon's shoulder. "He doesn't know we're here, Valon," he said quietly. "He's not aware of much of anything." He's too far gone. The tough man frowned, watching Alister look blankly through the both of them before closing his eyes again in weariness.
Valon clenched his fists bitterly. "It isn't fair," he muttered, "that Alister had to get hurt because I was ticked off."
Raphael drew the quilt over Alister's bare arms. "Life isn't fair," he growled, "but blaming yourself for this is ridiculous." Alister had chosen to leave the house. He wouldn't have had to have done it. Of course, in Valon's mind, he was thinking that if it hadn't been for him being angry and leaving first, Alister never would have made the decision to go out. And that was most likely true. But Valon couldn't have known that Alister would disappear and not be found for nearly a week. He couldn't have known that Alister would probably die and that the last thing he would have said to him would have been in blind anger. Raphael felt that it was pointless to blame oneself for something not even known, but the fact that Valon was doing just that proved that he really had a caring heart.
Valon looked down and away, thinking back to the sentence he hadn't completed. I don't want to lose a friend. That was what he had been going to say. Why hadn't he? He wasn't certain. Pride, perhaps? But he didn't want to think it was that. Maybe he had been so caught up in his emotions that he just hadn't been able to say anything more. It wasn't as if Alister could hear him anyway. . . .
Or could he?
Again in astral form, Alister sighed to himself as he cupped his chin in his hand and leaned against the chair's arm. He watched Valon with a sort of surprised awe that he didn't usually possess. "You do care about me," he muttered low, as if the thought had never really occurred to him. He had believed Valon when the brunette had said that he only fought for himself and had never given it a second thought. It was rare to find anyone who genuinely cared about another human life-especially Alister's . . . or Valon's or Raphael's, for that matter. It was true what Raphael had told Anita. They only had each other. And it seemed that they would each do whatever he could to help the others. Valon was right that Alister had gone out looking for him, but he was wrong in blaming himself.
"I'm sorry for all the trouble," Alister spoke again, feeling his spirit shimmering and fading once more. He wondered if this vicious cycle would ever end.
Valon sighed sadly, leaning back. "Raph . . . do you remember when we were at Doom?" Now that was a ridiculous question. Of course he would remember. None of them could forget that time.
Raphael grunted. "What's your point?" he asked. Why would Valon suddenly bring up Doom now? There were enough problems to deal with in the present without digging into their pasts.
"After I got taken by the Orichalcos," Valon said slowly, "I had some of the only conversations with Alister that didn't end up with us screaming our lungs out."
The pain of having his spirit forcefully separate from his body caused Valon to plunge into a temporary unconsciousness. For all he knew, he wouldn't ever awaken again. His spirit would be given to the beast while his body remained in a coma and eventually would die. Valon had accepted his fate. If he was to die now, he wouldn't complain. The only person he really cared for, Mai, would be taken care of by Joey Wheeler. Yes, Valon had grown to respect Joey during the long duel they had engaged in. He had come to decide that perhaps Joey did understand Mai after all. They would be good together. And as long as Mai was happy, that was all Valon cared about. He was willing to sink into the darkness now.
He could hear a voice calling to him, a familiar voice, but at first he was too deep in his mostly senseless state to really understand what was going on. "Don't bother me," he mumbled. "I was having a nice dream." He smiled a bit to himself. He had been dreaming of being with Mai himself and that Mai loved him as much as he did her. Whatever was trying to wake him up was not welcome at this point.
But he felt a light cuff at his back anyway. "Get up."
Immediately irritated, his eyes flew open."Hey!" he cried. "Just who do you think you are?!" As he focused on the skinny, trenchcoat-clad redhead in front of him, he gasped involuntarily and went a bit pale. "Alister? Is it really you, mate?" But Alister had been taken by the Orichalcos. Valon had never thought he'd see him again. If Alister was still here, then that must mean . . . it must mean that the human souls hadn't been fed to the beast yet. Unless Alister had escaped somehow, but even with his clever ways Valon doubted that he could.
Alister crossed his arms and looked down at Valon over the edge of those seemingly ever-present shades, something he had done many times in the past. "Yeah, it's me," he assured him. "I wasn't expecting company."
"You don't like company anyway," Valon retorted, trying to sit up and finding that he had a bad headache. This was all so strange. He was out of his body, but yet he felt the same as ever. No . . . that wasn't quite accurate. His senses were even more heightened than before. But with him and Alister, it seemed as if nothing had changed between them.
Alister grunted and didn't reply. Without speaking, he reached out his hand to help Valon up.
Valon blinked in surprise, looking up at him. "What happened to us, Alister?" he asked, slowly accepting the help and wondering why Alister was offering it. Somehow he felt more calm and mellow here, though he was still the same person. This dimension seemed so quiet, it must be a good place to just ponder over things. "Where are we?"
"It's a holding area, I think," Alister replied, confirming Valon's suspicions. "It's for all the captured spirits." But he didn't associate with any of them. That just wasn't his nature and never would be. He always went to see who was arriving when the familiar green light of the Orichalcos penetrated the borders of this prison, though he then left the confused spirits to their own devices. But when he had seen Valon being plunged into the dimension, he had gone over to talk to him. He wasn't sure why and he doubted they would talk much without yelling at each other. He wouldn't admit it, even to himself, but some part of him was glad for the company of one of his "associates," though he knew it meant that Valon had been defeated in the real world. He wondered what would happen to Raphael.
As it turned out, they were able to communicate without getting into an argument-when they communicated at all. Alister was still silent by nature and Valon was concentrating on looking at their surroundings and seeing if there was a way they could possibly get out (which he doubted). But they did talk every now and then, wondering what their eventual fate would be and if they still believed in Doom's goals (or if they ever had).
"It was more of a way for me to get at Kaiba," Alister admitted, staring into the endless depths of the realm. He wondered if they were still on earth even or if they were somewhere in space. There was stars speckled throughout parts of the "sky," though in other parts there was nothing but dull colors. And there was an invisible barrier preventing anyone from leaving, of course. "Rebuilding the earth as it once was sounded like a good enough plan, though." He remembered having told Seto that he wanted to rebuild the earth without wars, as it should be. He sighed to himself. While that would be wonderful, it was idealistic. And perhaps . . . perhaps Dartz was going about everything in the wrong way.
"I suppose so," Valon agreed, "but me . . . I just wanted a good fight, mostly. Dartz helped me get out of prison, but I didn't really think I owed him anything. I don't want to owe anything to anyone." He glared off into the distance. "Debts only bring trouble and I have enough of it already without adding to it." He remembered refusing to duel in Alister's behalf when Raphael had wanted him to. He'd say the same thing if he had the chance to do it over, he was certain. Alister wasn't close to him-they each most likely considered the other an "associate," nothing more-so he didn't see why he should duel to avenge the redhead having fallen. If their roles had been reversed, he was certain Alister would have behaved in the same way.
"Everyone has too much trouble," Alister grunted.
An indeterminable amount of time passed by. Eventually Raphael did join the other two-bringing the appalling news with him that it had been Dartz who had engineered their misfortunes just so he could then entrap them in Doom with his lies. That was why Raphael had been taken by the Orichalcos-he had lunged at Dartz in anger upon hearing the news, attempting to duel him, but the Orichalcos had backfired and claimed him.
"We were all being used," Raphael told them bitterly. All of this . . . all of what had happened to them. . . . It wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for Dartz. They might still have their loved ones alive, but they had all been murdered in cold blood by Dartz. And now they themselves were no longer useful to Dartz, so they were all being discarded. Raphael felt a mixture of feelings about this development-hatred being the most prominent, along with outrage, disbelief, anger, and the feeling of being let down.
"Why that little snake!" Valon cried furiously, clenching his fists. His eyes flashed as he spouted off a stream of words telling exactly what he thought of Dartz, peppered with a lot of his colorful Australian expressions. Alister's eyes narrowed darkly and an expression of true hatred came over him, though he said nothing.
Another long stretch of time passed by, during which all three of them each had to step back and consider everything that had happened and their true motives for doing the things they had. None of them were guiltless, they knew, as they had helped Dartz in his plans to capture souls in order to eventually rebuild the world, but they had honestly believed that they were doing something that was right. Did that make some sort of a difference? they wondered. Would they still be condemned? Perhaps it was only justice that they all had been taken.
Or maybe . . . maybe it wasn't over for them. Now that their minds were clearer and they knew all of the facts, their outlooks had shifted a bit from their views of earlier. Alister realized that he had been accusing an innocent person of being involved with his family's death. Valon, likewise, was thinking about how he had attacked the street punks who had supposedly burned the church down. Had they really done it, had it been Dartz all along-in disguise-or had Dartz convinced them to do it? He frowned, confused. In any case, Dartz had claimed responsibility. Did that mean Valon had attacked innocents in his rage? But, no, they couldn't have been entirely innocent. His eyes narrowed as he remembered how they had come into the church and pushed the nun around.
Raphael, though he hadn't really been blaming any one person, knew that he had actually been putting the blame on all of humanity. He had been the one most into Dartz's plans to rebuild the world and the one most convinced that it was all for the greater good of the world in the end, no matter what happened in the process. Perhaps the world did need rebuilding to free it from the evil that encompassed it all about, but Dartz's methods of playing God was the wrong way to go about it. And also . . . maybe not all of humanity was wicked. . . . The Pharaoh had freed Raphael's mind from the darkness that had clouded his thoughts. Now the Pharaoh and his friends were working to defeat Dartz and restore peace to the world. Raphael had tried to help them before Dartz's confession had caused him to become understandably incensed.
Of course, the Pharaoh triumphed over Dartz, freeing all of the captured souls-including the three bikers. They regained consciousness in three separate locations and then strived to find each other again, which they eventually managed to do. That was when they determined to stay together, since none of them had anyone else.
Raphael glanced out the window at the harshly falling rain as Valon stopped talking. "Yeah," he said finally, "I remember all of that." He often thought back on those events, and on the time when he and Alister had experienced being able to see their families once more. We will always be with you, they had said. Then he finally had the comfort and the peace he had in vain desired for so long. That was when he was finally able to let go of all the pain and anger he had carried with him.
Valon sighed sadly, looking back at Alister. In just the few minutes it had taken him to tell Raphael of his meeting with Alister in the lost souls' realm, and to remind him of some of the things that had happened after he, Raphael, had joined them, Alister's condition had grown even worse. Yes, Valon admitted to himself, Alister was indeed dying. And nothing short of a miracle would save him. Valon wasn't really sure he believed in miracles, though the nun he had loved as a mother had talked of them often. When times grew so desperate, as now, Valon found himself thinking back to the nun's words and wondering-hoping, even-that they were true.
"Hey, Raph?" he spoke up abruptly.
Raphael didn't turn away from the window. "What."
"Do you believe in God?"
Raphael wasn't really surprised at the question the way Valon thought he might be. "I don't know," he replied after a bit of silence. It would be nice if there was a Supreme Being, Someone who watched over the entire earth and kept track of the people on it, loving them all. Actually, when he thought about it, maybe that was partially why he had followed Dartz so intently-he saw him as a sort of all-knowing, all-powerful entity who knew the world needed to be changed and was ready to go about it just the way he saw fit. Raphael, starved for meaning in this cruel world, had accepted Dartz as his charismatic leader. But in the end, Dartz was only a man, a misguided man, just as his soldiers had been. "When I was a kid, my brother and sister and I were all taught about God and the Bible. After the shipwreck, though, I started having thoughts of 'Why would God let this happen?'" He gripped his arms, remembering endless days and nights spent alone on that deserted island, with only the Guardian cards that represented his family to keep him company.
Valon nodded slowly. That was an understandable thing to wonder after experiencing such a horrible tragedy. "I was taught all that sort of thing as well," he said, "but I didn't pay all that much attention. I was young and rebellious and it didn't really seem to me like there could be a God when there was so much suffering and so many people on the streets. And I was a wild child." He smiled slightly at that and then sobered again as he looked down at Alister. "I guess now . . . I figure I still don't know if any of that talk about God is true, but when Alister's so torn up, it couldn't hurt to pray for him. . . ."
Raphael looked at Alister as well, his eyes narrowing grimly. "I have been," he muttered. "But if there is a God, He's probably too busy to bother with us." After all, right now there were probably countless catastrophes all over the world and millions of people's lives in danger. How much could the life of one young man be worth in comparison? Raphael wondered.
It wasn't long after this when the heart monitor flatlined again.
The third time Alister's heart stopped, the doctors were unable to revive him. After trying unsuccessfully for several long moments, they finally had to accept defeat. The body was cold and still, moving when the electricity was charged into it, but otherwise remaining completely motionless. "He fought hard," one of the nurses said quietly, "but I guess . . . I guess it wasn't hard enough." She sighed sadly, shaking her head as the doctors tried one final time in vain. Alister was dead.
Valon and Raphael, who had insisted on remaining in the room instead of being ousted away, both glared at the nurse. "It wasn't like he wanted to die," Raphael growled. He wasn't sure he even believed what had just occurred. It was one thing to know that your friend was laying at death's door and quite another to then witness his death. It had all been too quick, too sudden, even though he had known it was likely going to happen.
Valon slumped back in the chair, watching blankly as the doctors wheeled the equipment back out. "Maybe he did at that," he whispered. "Maybe he decided there wasn't anything worth living for and that if he died, he could be with his brother again. . . ." He shook his head, the fluffy brown hair flying with the motion. For him, the weight of the guilt he had placed upon himself had only increased now. Alister was dead, and in Valon's mind, he was just as guilty of murder as if he had been the one beating the redhead to death.
"Don't talk like that!" Raphael yelled, finding himself angry over Valon's remarks. "Alister wasn't the kind of person who would just give up. He wouldn't have felt that way."
Valon didn't answer. He looked back at Alister's body morosely, sadness in his blue eyes. "I killed him, Raph," he said in disbelief. "And I know you're just gonna say that's all wacked, but I did it. That quarrel we had. . . . If I'd just kept hold of my temper and not left, Alister wouldn't have gone out. He wouldn't have been caught by some madman who wanted to torture him till he kicked the bucket! He'd probably still be alive. . . ." He trailed off, looking down gloomily, the argument as fresh on his mind as if it had just happened that day.
Alister frowned as he watched the woman's car drive away. "I don't trust her," he muttered, really speaking only to himself but not caring whether Valon heard him or not. All the better if Valon heard him. He shouldn't be getting involved with her in the first place. She would bring him nothing but trouble.
Valon shot the redhead a glare. "What did you say?" he demanded, though he knew very well what Alister had said. "Are you ticked because she likes me and not you?" He and Alister had argued over this woman before, always ending with Valon making some angry comment before reassuring Alister that he would soon see that this woman wasn't anything like he was thinking she was.
"Hardly," Alister retorted, rolling his eyes. "But can't you see that she's fake, Valon? She has this look in her eyes when she's around you, like she's hoping to make your heart the next trophy on her wall. And the lines she feeds you she's probably said to a million others before you." He turned away from the window, looking at Valon firmly.
"Hey, I don't love her that way, anyway," Valon retorted. "Mai's the only girl for me." But nevertheless, his defenses and his pride were going up. He didn't appreciate being criticized on any of the things he did, such as having this other woman around at times. She was harmless, he was certain, and Alister had no right to be suspicious of her.
"I guess that's why she tried to flirt with me last night then," Alister said flatly. "She knew she didn't have you where she wanted-yet-so she thought she'd see if anyone else was weak enough to fall all over her. I guess she wasn't counting on me rejecting her."
Valon just glared at him. "You're making it up," he spat.
"Give it a rest, Valon!" Alister shot back, tired of their constant arguing over this creature who had entered their lives. "She came by yesterday when you weren't here and made a pass at me. I slapped her."
Valon just crossed his arms, looking irritated. "And I guess Raph wasn't here, either," he said dryly.
"You mean so you could ask him if I'm telling the truth?" Alister retorted.
"Hey, you said it, I didn't!" Valon glared daggers at the taller man.
Alister's lip curled in exasperation. "I was here alone," he admitted, "but you should know that I'm not a liar."
"What I know is that you usually never say anything at all unless you're going to start a row with me again!"
"That's not true!"
"It is too!"
Alister turned away, crossing his own arms. "You just don't want to admit that I could be right, even if you don't really like the woman yourself," he remarked. "I'm not blind. I know you don't like me."
"You're the one who doesn't like me!" Valon yelled. "You never have!"
"What I don't like," Alister said calmly as he turned to face Valon again, "is your naivete when it comes to women. It surprises me a bit, since you're supposed to be so streetwise. But then a femme fatale comes along and you're completely smitten." He was speaking of Mai now. Neither he or Raph particularly liked the blonde woman, especially not as Valon's love interest.
Valon knew the topic had changed to Mai. "She's not a femme fatale!" he cried indignantly, feeling his anger rise. "I'm tired of you and Raph always putting her down! You just don't see her like I do."
"You're right, I don't," Alister agreed. "And that's fine with me. I don't want to be in the same lovesick shape you're in. I have better things to do with my time." He knew this argument was going nowhere. He had known it since Valon had acknowledged his first comment about not trusting the woman who had just left, the woman who was claiming to merely want to be Valon's friend and who seemed too obsessed with asking him questions about the lost city of Atlantis. There was no reason why she should realize Valon knew about Atlantis! Alister was certain she had ulterior motives in mind.
"Oh yeah, sure you do," Valon said sardonically. "Like put me down all the time. I know what I'm doing, Alister! It's not like you're the only one with brains!"
"I didn't say you weren't intelligent. But about this particular thing, you don't seem to be. You could be putting all of us in danger, Valon! Not only does that woman want to nail your heart on her wall, she wants you to tell her everything you know about Atlantis. There's no reason why she should think you know anything about it, unless she's really been spying on us for a long time. Face it, we barely know anything about her. You just met her at the store one night and started talking with her and somehow wound up as 'friends.'" He regarded Valon with disbelief and disgust. Usually the brunette wasn't so quick to trust. But around females he certainly seemed to be.
"I know a lot about her!" Valon snapped. "But I'm not telling you any of that." He clenched his fists, starting to get angry. "And I haven't told her anything about Atlantis! You should know I wouldn't."
"Maybe you wouldn't," Alister agreed, "but she could have ways of wringing the information out of you anyway." If she wanted to badly enough, she could get Valon drugged up some evening when they were alone and then probe him for information once the truth serum had loosened his tongue. Alister didn't think such a thing was below her. When she had come to him on the previous night, making her inappropriate remarks, he had seen the hidden evil emanating from her being. Frankly, he was concerned for all of their safety, especially Valon's. But Valon didn't see that.
"You don't trust me, do you?!" Valon's voice was rising and he was seeing red. "You think I'm going to betray you and Raphael to this girl! Well, I've got news for you, Alister-I have no intention of it! I don't like you, but I won't say anything to her that could get you in trouble!" He stepped forward, poking Alister in the chest and glaring at him harshly.
"You just don't get it!" Alister yelled in exasperation.
"Oh, I get it, alright, mate!" Valon retorted, "and I've had enough!" Abruptly he lunged, bringing the redhead to the floor, and Alister immediately reached out and grabbed at his wrists, trying to restrain him.
"I don't want to fight you, Valon," he said firmly. "This isn't going to solve anything."
"It'll make me feel good!" Valon retorted, struggling wildly to free himself.
That was when Raphael grabbed Valon around the waist, forcefully pulling him back. He had come down several minutes ago, yelling at the two of them to stop it, but he had been ignored. He could see that things had gone much too far this time, however. This was no simple quarrel that was amusing when thought of later on-this was serious. "That's enough," he growled. "I'm tired of listening to the two of you always yelling at each other! Try getting along for once." He tightened his grip around Valon as Alister got up off the floor. "Someday you're going to regret what you tried to do, Valon." He couldn't believe what he had witnessed! Valon had actually tackled Alister to the floor and had been intending to give him a beating. After the way Valon had attacked the thugs who had burned down the church, Raphael had thought that the brunette had learned to better control his temper!
As soon as Raphael let the smaller man go, Valon stormed to the door and gripped the knob. "The only thing I regret is that I didn't land one blow on him!" he said darkly as he walked out into the night.
"That was the last time I even said anything to him before he turned up in that mansion, half-dead," Valon said regretfully, staring glumly at the floor now. "I told myself that I wasn't going to let my anger get control of me again, the way it did when I attacked those thugs. But it did, Raph, and over something so stupid!" Valon clenched his fists tightly. "For that . . . Alister died. And you can't tell me anything different."
Raphael narrowed his eyes. Valon wasn't going to get over this. That much was obvious. And suddenly the tough blonde was afraid that he might lose the other of his friends soon as well. If Valon was going to keep saying that he was responsible for Alister's murder, there was no telling what he might wind up doing to himself.
"If Alister could see you right now, he would tell you to stop it," he said finally. "You're not being realistic. And continually blaming yourself isn't healthy, either." He had no time to sort out his own feelings of grief in the midst of trying to comfort Valon. But he was extremely upset over this development. He had known Alister for years. For him to suddenly be gone was a stunning blow. And for it to have been cold-blooded murder was even worse. "What we should be doing is concentrating on finding the one who did this to Alister," he said now, clenching his fists. "Whoever it was needs to pay for this."
"Alister can't see me now, Raph," Valon said darkly, ignoring the rest of what was said. "He's dead."
Above them a translucent figure rolled his eyes. "I can see you, Valon," he said, shaking his head. "But you and Raphael can't see me. Or hear me."
He muttered as he looked at his transparent hand. "I'm getting tired of this." He could tell all too well that his spirit had separated from his body, just as it had after he had lost the duel with Seto Kaiba and the Seal of Orichalcos inflicted its punishment upon him-and just as it had twice before on this night. And he wasn't especially pleased at the development. This time, he knew it had happened because his body had simply given out. He was dead.
He didn't know what to do now. Shouldn't he have passed over into the afterlife, if it existed, since he was dead? Why was he being forced to remain in the room, watching the other two berate what had happened? That wasn't helping anything and it was only making him upset and confused. He wanted to tell Valon that it wasn't his fault, as Raphael had said he would, but Valon couldn't hear him. Alister felt quite useless.
He started at the voice, his eyes widening in disbelief. Was it possible . . . conceivable? He had seen his brother once before when his spirit had wandered. . . . Maybe now Miruko was coming to tell him that they could finally be together once more! He watched as the child materialized out of thin air and ran forward, hugging Alister tightly. Immediately Alister enfolded him in an awed embrace. Miruko . . . he looked just as Alister remembered, with the same red hair and gray eyes that his older brother had. He was the same sweet, innocent child he had always been. Alister felt a certain awe as he held his brother close. If this was death, it wasn't so bad. Alister would be content with it if he could be with his brother again.
They remained that way for what seemed an eternity, but still not near long enough, just enjoying each other's company. They spoke without speaking, as siblings as close as they were didn't need words to communicate.
"I've missed you so much," Alister whispered at last, his voice cracking a bit. He loved his younger brother more than words could say. It was because of him that he had joined Doom those many years back, hoping to avenge the cruelty dealt to his family by Gozaburo Kaiba. He had always held a soft spot for children, mostly because they reminded him of little Miruko-young and innocent and trusting.
"I've always been with you," Miruko said, smiling a bit as he looked up into Alister's eyes. "I'm your guardian angel, Alister! I'm always watching over you, and so is Mama." Alister noticed that Miruko was wearing the locket with their mother's picture, the one Alister had given him right before that horrible, nightmarish incident with the tanks.
"Guardian angel, huh?" Alister brushed the long bangs away from Miruko's eyes. "I can believe that." He smiled fondly. There had been times when he had sensed Miruko's presence close beside him. Those were the times when he missed his brother so much his heart ached, or times when he had been in possible danger, or even simply times when he had been pondering and wondering what Miruko was doing.
"I was with you when those awful people were hurting you," Miruko said softly. "I couldn't stop them, but I was right there, trying to give you the strength to keep living." The drugs Alister had been given between harsh beatings had dulled his senses, causing him to hallucinate and see his worst fears made manifest. Over and over he had been forced to watch Miruko being killed and forced to admit to his worst fear-that it had been his fault. He had told Miruko to get in the tank, hoping it would protect him. Instead, it had become his tomb. Alister had blamed himself all throughout the years, even when he had been blaming the Kaiba family as well.
Alister looked away. Now that his mind was clear, he remembered it all. He had been taken by a mad scientist, Alice Portman, who had wanted to use him in one of her experiments to get into the human mind and soul and see what could completely break down a seemingly strong person. While searching for Valon, he had been run off the road by Portman's lackeys and then jumped on before he could get up. He had fought them viciously, of course, but they had still managed to overpower him. He remembered feeling a prick in his neck. Then everything had gone black. He had regained consciousness in Portman's temporary laboratory, which was in a secret room of the mansion he had been found in. And she had tortured him to his death in her insane quest for knowledge.
"Alister. . . ." Miruko gripped at the young man's shoulders, causing him to look back again. "It wasn't your fault," he said gently. "You were only trying to protect me." He hugged his brother tightly. "I didn't feel any pain," he whispered. "I just woke up in Mama's arms, in Heaven."
Alister was speechless. He felt a weight being lifted from his shoulders as Miruko spoke. Then he smiled, overcome with his emotions, and held Miruko close to his heart. Again there was a gentle silence.
At last Alister spoke again. "What happens now?" he asked quietly. "Can I . . . can I come back with you now, Miruko? Can I be with you and Mom?" It was all he wanted. He wanted to stay with his family again, never to be separated from them.
Miruko bit his lip, looking down. "No, Alister . . ." he whispered, his voice soft and regretful. "You're going to have to go back. . . ."
Alister pulled back, stunned beyond belief, and stared at him. "Go back?!" he repeated indignantly. "Miruko . . . what do you mean?" He couldn't have to go back! He finally had his brother with him. He didn't want to give him up again. That couldn't be what he was supposed to do.
Miruko looked at him with a sad smile. "I know that . . . before I died, we had each other, but now you have someone else, Alister. A couple of them." He looked over at Valon, who was punching the wall, and Raphael, who looked overwhelmed by everything. "Those guys . . . they're your friends. They're worried about you and they don't want you to die. And . . . they're just like you-they don't have anyone else on Earth. All they have is each other-and you. You guys are a family."
Alister frowned, turning to look back at them as well. "They'll get over it," he retorted, his stubborn streak showing through. He didn't want to leave Miruko again. . . . He didn't! "It's not like we were really close." And yet he remembered the many things they had been through together and the things he had seen during the times his spirit had been wandering. They both did care about him. . . .
Miruko frowned now. "They've been looking for you ever since you disappeared!" he cried. "It was Valon who found you first. Then Raphael came and said that he wasn't going to let you die." He looked down. "I know, because I was there." He hated the thought of Alister going back as well, but he knew it was the best for all concerned-even Alister himself. Alister wasn't supposed to die yet. "Raphael . . . he always wanted you guys to be a family. And Valon . . . he's blaming himself for what happened to you. What if he doesn't get over it?" He looked back up at Alister with his young, sad eyes.
Alister froze, considering this. He honestly had believed that he wasn't that important to the others and vice versa. He never communicated with them very much in the past and when he did it was usually just to get their tasks done with Doom. Since they had not been a part of Doom, it almost seemed as if in some ways they had grown even further apart. The argument with Valon from a few nights ago seemed to prove that well enough, he thought. But yet in still other ways, they had seemed to become some sort of a ragtag family. Alister knew now that both Valon and Raphael cared about him and that, even if he wouldn't admit it, he considered them his friends now-not just his associates.
"Alister . . . you've gotta cherish the ties you still have on Earth." Miruko smiled at him now. "Someday we're gonna see each other again and everything will be just like old times. But right now isn't that time." A tear slipped from the boy's eye and trickled down his face. "We've gotta say goodbye again."
Slowly Alister brushed the tear away from Miruko's cheek, struggling within himself. He didn't want to leave his brother, not again . . . but what if Miruko was right about Valon and Raphael? What if it was true that they would miss him, and also that Valon would continue to blame himself? He looked over at them again. Now it seemed that Valon had gotten into a heated argument with Raphael over what had happened to Alister and why. He winced.
"All of that . . . over me," he muttered, feeling a bit stunned. "Now they're at odds with each other." He frowned, watching them, and then looked back at Miruko, who smiled up at him shakily as tears gathered in the bright, innocent gray eyes.
"Everything's gonna be alright, Alister," the child whispered, carefully taking the locket off and clasping it around Alister's neck. "Don't worry! We are gonna get to be together again, like this. But until that time comes, I'll still be your guardian angel."
Alister pulled him close, still struggling with his feelings. But he knew Miruko was right-he had to go back. He couldn't leave this emotional chaos behind him. Valon might even end his own life if he continued to blame himself. And he and Raphael might drift apart when they should be sticking together. Alister did care about them, as they did him, and he knew he couldn't abandon them now.
"I love you, big brother," Miruko declared, locking eyes with him one final time.
"Yeah," Alister replied shakily, feeling that again he was shimmering and about to be pulled back. He clasped Miruko's hand tightly. "I love you too. Say hi to Mom for me." Then he felt darkness eclipse his senses.
Raphael looked at Valon as the Australian screamed his grief-stricken, guilt-ridden feelings over Alister's death. The blonde shook his head, feeling the ripple of tension in the air as Valon at last quieted and stood, shaking with emotional upheaval. "If you're going to continue blaming yourself, I can't stop you or convince you otherwise," he said, trying to keep his voice down. They had both been yelling a moment earlier. But that wouldn't help anything. He gripped Valon's shoulders firmly. "But listen to me, Valon! That means that Alister died in vain. Do you understand? If he was looking for you and that's when he got into trouble, then your blaming yourself makes his sacrifice pointless. You know he would tell you to live your life. He wouldn't want you to be feeling this unhealthy guilt. You were angry. You said things you didn't mean. He knows that now."
Valon, instead of yelling again, simply turned away. He had been shaken by Raphael's words. The tough man was speaking the truth, he knew. But how could he stop from blaming himself when he did? He had never felt so acutely sickened by anything he had done before. Alister hadn't deserved his harsh words and almost being beaten up by him. And now that Valon really thought about it, he knew Alister must have been telling him the truth about that woman. He made a silent vow to ask her about it the next time he saw her.
They were both startled out of their minds by a weak, barely discernible moan. Frowning, the two looked at each other in confusion and then at the body laying limp in the bed. Alister hadn't moved. But Valon and Raphael both knew they'd heard the moan. Or maybe they were both going crazy. Their friend was dead.
But Valon opted to walk over anyway, bending over the pale form cautiously. Raphael stood by, arms crossed, wondering what on earth the moan actually had been. It couldn't have really been Alister. . . . He was dead. . . . They had witnessed his death.
Valon was still studying Alister, trying to figure out if somehow, some way, the redhead had moaned, when abruptly the gray eyes snapped open. If Valon had been startled before, now he was positively bowled over. He stumbled back against Raphael, all color draining from his face as he stared at Alister. "Holy. . . ." He trailed off.
Raphael was stunned as well, though he was silent at first as he looked at the badly injured young man. Had the eyes opening merely been a reflex, maybe from something Valon had done . . . or had they opened voluntarily? Could Alister possibly be . . .
"Surprise." Alister chuckled weakly, a quiet smirk gracing his features as he watched their astonishment and disbelief.
Finally recovering from his shock, Valon ran forward and pointed his forefinger at Alister. "You're s'pposed to be dead!" he cried. "You just scared me half to death, waltzin' back to life like that!" But he wasn't upset, only confused, relieved, and joyous. And Alister could see that. Though Valon still blamed himself for the injuries Alister had sustained, he was no longer weighed down by an immense guilt of having inadvertently brought about his friend's death. Suddenly, he didn't have to worry about that now.
Raphael came forward as well, looking down at Alister with a mixture of emotions. "We did think we'd lost you," he said finally, laying a hand on the rail of the bed. Alister was alive and alert, obviously remembering them both. Though outwardly Raphael was appearing quite calm, he was actually quite shaken up. People didn't just die and then return to life! How had Alister done so?
"I know," Alister said, sobering now. He attempted to sit up but soon abandoned the idea as dizziness overwhelmed him. He would have to rest now, for though he had come back, his body was still very weak and would need time to recover. But he still wanted to talk to them both briefly and he was determined to do so. "I saw you talking about it."
Valon gave him a puzzled look. "You . . . saw us, chum?" he repeated, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
Alister nodded. "I was over there," he said, waving vaguely at the corner of the ceiling. "But I've been watching you both off and on all night." He proceeded to explain, albeit in brief, about the times his spirit had been wandering and what he had witnessed. Raphael and Valon listened in amazement. When Alister came to the part after he had actually died, he didn't say very much about Miruko. That, he felt, was personal and not to be shared with anyone. He told them only of when Miruko had told him that he needed to go back.
Raphael shook his head, not quite sure what to say. He realized it must have been hard for Alister to come back if he had been with his brother. He looked into the gray eyes questioningly, searching for answers. Had Alister returned only because he had to or had he wanted to? Alister looked back at him, only calmness and peace reflected in the orbs.
"You came back to be with us?" Valon said quietly, also serious by now. "Why?"
Alister was silent, considering over his response. Being the aloof person he is, he didn't want to say too much-but at the same time, he was very honest. They had never known him to lie. "I couldn't let you keep thinking you were responsible for what happened," he said finally. "I chose to leave the house. You weren't at fault."
Valon opened his mouth to speak. "But . . ."
Alister cut him off. "Don't worry about it," he said firmly.
Valon sighed, not sure that he would ever completely not blame himself, but deciding to attempt to put it out of his mind for now. He rubbed the back of his neck. Making an apology wasn't going to be easy, but he would do it anyway. It was something he needed to do to feel at peace with himself. "Alister . . . look, I'm sorry about . . . about that row we had the other night. I shouldn't have acted like that. Raph was right-I do regret it now." He paused, pondering over things, and then held his hand out. "Let's call a truce, alright?"
Alister watched him, sensing that this was hard for Valon to say. Slowly he reached out with his own, bandaged hand, clasping Valon's. "Alright," he agreed. "A truce." He allowed himself to smile slightly.
Raphael did as well. Things were going to settle down and go back to normal-he hoped. It was such a wonderful relief that Alister had came back to life. In a way, Raphael felt that, being the oldest of the three, he had a certain responsibility to look out for the other two. There was a protectiveness in his personality that probably stemmed from growing up with his siblings and then eventually losing them and his parents as well. Alister and Valon were his family now. Raphael wanted to look out for them and protect them.
"Hey," Valon spoke up suddenly, "what's that around your neck?" He blinked at the shiny gold oval locket, certain that Alister hadn't had it before.
Alister looked down at it as well and then his eyes widened. He clicked it open, gazing at the picture of his mother on the one side. The other side, which had previously been blank, now had a picture of Miruko pasted in it. He smiled softly, forgetting that the other two bikers were there, and whispered his brother's name.
Raphael, who could tell that the locket was obviously something personal, didn't comment on it. "It's good to have you back," he said gruffly as Alister closed the locket again. "You were missed."
Alister nodded slowly, feeling tired now from just the little bit he'd been talking. But now that the emotional turmoil wasn't weighing him down as well, he was certain that he would recover quickly. He was weak and dizzy, mostly from the blood loss, but with some rest he would be alright.
"You'd better rest now, mate," Valon observed, standing up from where he'd been sitting on the bed.
"I'm going to," Alister replied, rolling carefully onto his side.
Raphael was stepping back slightly when he felt a soft breeze go past. He frowned in confusion, looking for the source of it, but he saw nothing. He did hear a gentle, young, childlike voice speaking to him. When it did, he froze.
"You were wrong, Raphael. God wasn't too busy to help you. And the life of that 'one young man' means a whole lot, especially to me. He's my brother."
For a split second, Raphael was certain he saw the form of a small boy hurrying past to scramble onto the bed beside Alister. He watched in awe before the vision faded almost as soon as it had begun. But Alister smiled softly, looking at something that only he could see now. Miruko was here, just as he'd promised.
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