It was a rainy day in New York April 15th, 1931, only three days after the terrorist known as Mickey Donahue had conducted one of the largest bombings in New York City history. Buildings were still smoking, the police were out en masse and the vampires were flocking outside to take advantage of the day’s magnificent cloud cover. And if you paid close attention, maybe you’d see something that day many people never get to see. A homunculus, out and about on the town carrying a pink umbrella. She was hard to spot, so don’t feel bad if you weren’t able to catch her that day. Most people mistook her for some breed of lycan, though no lycan’s ears were as exaggerated as hers. Some people thought she was a wandering showgirl, though no showgirl had a figure quite as athletic and well-defined. All of them thought she was lost for where she was walking in New York City, though in that regard… they were right.
Theo stared at the wet piece of paper she held in her hand, the one Alfonso had given her. The address pressed into it prevailed even though the ink had washed away in the rain, but it didn’t matter. No one had answered the door at the tiny apartment when she’d gone to visit. They were, both of them, gone.
“Maybe I should have asked which hospital they were taking him to…” she said to no one in particular. She had no others options now. Her only remaining recourse was to track down his sister and hope she could be of some help in getting her settled. Something had been eating at her lately, and she felt like she wouldn’t be able to stand another night out on the streets. What only served to compound this issue was…
Theo looked around and spotted at least three or five conspicuous-looking men in fedoras and trenchcoats watching her. The Marquis’ men. For the past three days they had refused to leave her alone, not taking their eyes off of her for a second. Presumably the Marquis was trying to protect his investment, but she did not like the feeling she had of being constantly stalked. She’d tried to confront them numerous times, but she’d merely been ignored, even when she tried her best to make them talk. They had simply feigned ignorance and pretended to be people they were not.
This feeling of being watched without being acknowledged, just waiting for something, anything to happen, even if it was bad. It was the same feeling she had…
She shivered, and not from the cold. It was the same feeling she’d had during her months with Mickey. She thought once she was free she’d be able to forget about him, but that wasn’t the case. Now, even in death he haunted her. Not in the literal sense, of course. His remains had been destroyed so thoroughly after the Marquis’ dragon had boiled and slow-roasted him that there was no chance of Mickey’s psychic imprint attaching itself to anything in this world. But… should she be thankful for that? A poltergeist would be easier to kill than the memories she had of her time spent with that man. Worst of all…
She reached for the small plastic baggy she kept tucked between her breasts. It was pitifully empty. Only a fistful of the crushed leaves remained, less than that even. It wouldn’t be long before she needed more, and now that Mickey was dead he couldn’t even do the one thing he was good for and get her more. She was on her own, and without the sticky sweetness of the nepenthe leaves she wouldn’t be able to silence Mickey’s voice in her head telling her to bend over and…
She reached for a fingerful of the leaves and inhaled deeply before chewing them to a thin paste. Her muscles instantly relaxed and she let the high wash over her. She closed her eyes and saw only comforting darkness surrounding her and enveloping her, making her feel safe again.
Theo opened her eyes, her thoughts of Mickey forgotten. Taking a step back into the stream of people that had parted around her like a rock, she resumed her steady march towards the soup kitchen, eager to receive that day’s meal.
“I hope they’re serving the wild rice soup again today…” she said airily as she entered the line with a bowl in hand. Looking around, she saw mostly demihumans waiting in line, and more than one magus. So these were the ones hit hardest by the depression; the second-class citizens and the working men. They were the ones forgotten by society, the ones living between the cracks, just like her. That’s when Theo spotted something that threw her off-guard.
Standing behind the counter with an apron, a soup ladle and a smile was the demigoddess that she’d “fought” (in the general sense of the term) in Central Park. Theo cocked her hide to the side to make sure she was looking at the right person. It was odd seeing her like this. When they’d met before she seemed much more ferocious, blind to all emotions that weren’t anger or simmering contempt. Here though, she seemed calm, relaxed… happy. Happier than Theo had ever seen her anyway. Was this what she did when she was not working for the Marquis?
Theo waved at her. The gesture was not a friendly one. Rather, she was trying to catch her attention. It seemed to work, as the demigoddess’ smile turned into a scowl that scared away a few of the customers the moment she noticed her. Theo approached her with her bowl in hand. She shoved it in the demigoddess’ face.
“Hrmph,” she growled.
“That was not it then. Hmmm… Normandy?”
“My apologies, it would appear I cannot remember your name.”
“Yeah, how about that?” she griped sarcastically, ladling up some soup. “What the fu-”
The demigoddess received a stern look from the head cook, who pointed at his five year-old son.
“-uuuuuudge are you doing here? I thought you were gonna start living with Al.”
“Good. Then get out of my-”
“But he’s not at home, and he hasn’t been for the past few days. I fear his injuries may be more extensive than I first thought and that he will not be discharged from the hospital for quite some time.”
She snorted. “No loss there.”
Theo raised an eyebrow. “Are you not grateful to him for keeping his promise?”
“I was more grateful to him for taking you off our hands so I’d never have to see your stinking snitch face ever again, but I guess that was just a happy fantasy,” Nayeli said, minding her language. “So no, I’m not feeling all that grateful right now.”
“I see. I saw you working the soup kitchen and thought there might have been more to you than I first thought, but it appears you truly are an undesirable person after all.”
Nayeli blinked as the homunculus calmly and straight-facedly insulted her without malice before jumping back with, “Why you-”
“Do you know the location of King’s County Hospital?” Theo interrupted. “I am hoping I can track down Alfonso with the help of his sister, or at least find a temporary place to rest. I do not wish to spend another night on the streets.”
“451 Clarkson Ave, Brooklyn.” She dumped a ladleful of thick soup into Theo’s dish. “Now get the fudge out of my fudging soup kitchen or I’ll fudging shove a dump truck up your fudging fudge hole, got it? Motherfudging bitch…”
Theo cocked her head to the side. “Why?”
Nayeli thumbed at the crowd of angry demihumans that had gathered behind Theo. “You’re holding up the line.”
The looked behind her. “Oh.”
Anastasia folded the August 1930 edition of the New York Times into a crisp square, unfolded it, turned it inside out, and then folded it back up again. She sighed.
A tall man in a white coat entered the room mere seconds after she called. He was a plain-ish man in his mid-twenties whose features were handsome yet nondescript, and slowly winding down into middle age and true adulthood. He seemed younger than his position implied, but in fact he was already twenty-seven. Almost ten years older than his impatient patient.
“Yes, Anastasia?” he asked, standing in the doorway.
“Please tell me you’ve got something else for me to read.”
He sighed. “I told you the new edition of the Times hasn’t been printed yet.”
“Then get me an old one.”
“You’ve read all the old ones!”
“Have not! I’ve only read eight of them!”
“How many old editions of the monthly news do you think the hospital holds on to?”
The seventeen year old groaned, and plopped back down on her bed. Dr. Evans smiled. For someone in her condition you’d never be able to tell she was sick, that’s how full of life she seemed to be. She was like a flower in mid-bloom, always as bright and beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside. It was one of the things he liked the most about her. If he was a younger man, he would’ve fallen for her right then and there
If you keep thinking about your underage patients like that, maybe you will fall for her, you sicko, he chastised himself.
It was hard not to feel something for her though. She truly was an exemplary girl. Which made it all the more mind-boggling she emerged from the same gene pool as that thug she called her brother. Dr. Evans sighed. He had been against it when the hospital agreed to comply with the Marquis’ demands. His father, in his finite wisdom and passing knowledge of back-alley medicine, may have not have taught him much besides how to be both a doctor and a functioning alcoholic, but there was one important thing Junior learned from him, whether he knew it or not. Associate with the five families at your own risk. A deal with them is like making a deal with the devil, except even demons had more honor.
Besides, the Marquis’ demands for Alfonso’s employment were simply too much. Paid vacation, an absurd number of sick days, and a benefits plan that fit a senior physician more than a lowly nurse’s assistant. But ultimately the hospital had no choice but to acquiesce. They were strong-armed into it. There was nothing people in this town feared more than seeing one of those black cars pull up outside to give your house an impromptu ventilation, or your office a new fireplace.
He was a thug, plain and simple. Using power and connections to get what he wanted instead of working hard like everyone else. He would never be a suitable caregiver for Anastasia, and he could never give her the life she deserved. And for that, Dr. Evans hated the man. Found him absolutely disgusting, and a disgrace to his lovely little sister, who his love for was his only redeeming quality. But to Anastasia, no one was more important to her than Alfonso.
To her, he was just her dear older brother who was always there for her when she needed it. To clothe her, feed her, give her a place to stay and a roof over her head, pay her hospital bills, and love her unconditionally like family should. In Anastasia’s mind, that was an unassailable truth. That’s why it hurt him so much when he had to lie to her face about what was really going on here. He could only wonder what she’d think if she knew the truth. About what kind of person her brother really was.
“Hey Dr. Evans?” Anastasia asked. “When do you think they’re going to discharge me? It’s been three days since the gas attack, and I wanna go home and see Al.”
Dr. Evans sighed. “If I’ve told you once Anastasia I’ve told you a thousand times. You’ve been gassed and you’re lucky to be alive. We all are. We’ll let you all go once we feel like we’re sure there won’t be any lasting side effects to any of our patients so we can begin rebuilding the damaged parts of the hospital. Why are you so eager to see your brother again anyway? It’s only been a few days. You’re seventeen, aren’t you embarrassed that you’re still so attached to him?”
“Because he’s my brother!” she said. “Why wouldn’t I want to see him? He’s my only family. And…”
Dr. Evans raised an eyebrow. “And?”
“And I get worried about what he gets up to when I’m not around.”
The good doctor’s eyes widened in surprise. This could be the breakthrough I’ve been waiting for…
He moved his chair closer to her bed. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“I get worried about him. I know he’s probably not always on the up and up. He’s gotta be borrowing money from somebody. Even on a nurse assistant’s salary, there’s no way he should be making enough money to pay off my hospital bills. And I keep trying to get angry at him, but…” She sighed. “You know how a cat brings you dead birds as a gift because it thinks you’re having trouble hunting on your own? And no matter how much you scold it or show it how you don’t need its help it just keeps bringing you more birds? It’s like that with Al. He’ll listen to everything I have to say, nod, promise not to do it again and then he’ll be right back out there the next day catching birds.”
Dr. Evans crinkled his brow. She was more perceptive than he or her brother gave her credit for. Then again, she was getting to be that age. Should he tell her? Tell her how her brother was doing a little more than just getting into trouble, how he was actively looking for it instead? Or should he keep her in the dark like he promised? Like he was being paid to do?
Anastasia stared absentmindedly out the window, twirling her hair. Dr. Evans sighed. No, he shouldn’t. She was close enough to the truth as it was. Telling her exactly how far her brother had fallen down the rabbit hole would only weigh on her mind more. Besides, it was his neck on the chopping block if he did.
Anastasia was a nice girl, but her brother and the people he worked with? Not so much. How would he react if he ever found out poor Wally had spilled big brother’s secret to his little sister? Dr. Evans didn’t have very high opinions of the man despite being paid to say otherwise, and he didn’t want to give him any excuse to validate his suspicions on just how ruthless he could be. That being said, he supposed this conversation had shown him a different side of the boy he hadn’t considered before.
“This probably all sounds pretty silly, huh?”
The doctor shook his head. “No, not at all. You’re worried about him. It sounds like he’s getting into trouble because he’s trying to do his best to look out for you, like a good brother should.”
Anastasia frowned. “A good brother doesn’t hang out with Marquis Allesandri, get in trouble with the police and make his little sister worry about him.”
“He does if he thinks he’s doing what’s right.” Doctor Evans laid a hand on his young patient’s shoulder to comfort her. “Listen to me, Anastasia. I think… he’s just got more love in his heart than he knows what to do with and its taking him down some scary paths. Whether he’s ignorant or just stubborn, you have to be the one to set him straight.”
“And how do I do that? This chair’s all I’ve got, remember? I can’t do anything to stop him.”
“On the contrary. You said it yourself, scolding him does nothing. So try something else. Start cooking dinner, cleaning, being more self-sufficient. Act instead of react, and show him you can take care of yourself. Maybe try finding a job. I’m sure there’s some kind of occupation that could accommodate a young woman like yourself. Look out for him the same way he looks out for you, and maybe he’ll realize you’re not as helpless as he thinks. That way he won’t have to bear the burden alone, and maybe he’ll consider listening to you when you tell him you don’t want him getting into trouble for your sake.”
Anastasia’s smile brightened.
“You’re right,” she said nodding. “Do you… do you know where I could start? Maybe I could-”
The loud sounds of grunting, squeaky floors and frustrated pleading interrupted Anastasia as what sounded like at least ten people all came up the stairs at once, dragging something behind them. Or perhaps being dragged by something.
“Ma’am, you can’t be back here! Please stop! Cease and desist!”
“I have business with one of your patients. You will let me see her.”
Anastasia jumped in her cot as a buxom bunny girl pushed open the door to her room trailing at least ten hospital employees, all of them trying to restrain her and failing. With a casual shrug she knocked them all off, and strutted towards Anastasia’s bed nonchalantly, not minding the doctor.
Anastasia took a good look at her. She was really pretty, but the way she was dressed was… indecent. Her clothes clung far too tightly to her body, and her breasts were outrageously large for how low-cut her dress was.
If I had boobs like that, I’d be in show business, Anastasia couldn’t help but think.
But the thing that set Anastasia on edge somewhat was her husky, erotic tone of voice and the ears on her head. The large bunny ears covered in white hair that couldn’t be natural. Had she had some work done? She’d heard of people using magic to to change their appearance or perform sex reassignment therapy (a new thing people were still in an uproar about, by all rights), but someone who wanted to look like a demihuman bad enough to have this kind of work done? Who would want that? She didn’t want to judge but she couldn’t help but wonder where this woman had been and where she was coming from.
“Ummm, excuse me…” she said meekly. “Why… are you here?”
“Because the people at the reception desk said it was your room,” the woman said as if that explained things.
“No, I mean why are you here?”
The woman cocked her head to the side, confused.
“Do you mean at this hospital?” Anastasia nodded. “I’m here because I was told this was where I could find Alfonso’s sister. Are you her?”
She nodded, and the woman’s stoney face was set into a smile.
“Good. My name is Philippa Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim. Your brother and I met a few days ago and now I am indebted to him, so-”
“You’ve seen Al?!” Anastasia exclaimed. “Do you know where he is?”
“In the hospital.”
The young girl paled. “Whaaaaaaat!?!”
“… Was I not supposed to say that?” Theo said, confused. “Anyway, that doesn’t matter.”
“How does that not matter?!”
“Because I’m here to inform you that as of now I will be staying with you and your brother as your live-in maid,” she said, bowing. “If you could kindly take me home, I would appreciate it.”