Rating: M (overall rating)
Warnings: Violence, gore, sex - all the fun things!
Summary: For Konnichipuu . Steampunk AU: Civil war has torn the country of Nihon apart. On an abandoned battlefield, a scrap-scavenger stumbles upon the sole survivor buried amongst the wreckage. Why this man, why now, after everything that has gone before?
A/N: Did you know konnichipuu is a goddess? She really is! She drew the most wickedly darling Tomoyo for this chapter... I am the most wonderfully spoiled ficcer, EVAR!
When he opened his eyes next, it was to find a long-haired girl leaning over him, blocking most of the dim light flickering about the room from his eyes, and swiping gently at some of the lesser wounds on his face and neck with a damp washcloth. He started, jerked backward, but remembered the restraints from earlier and collapsed resignedly, turning his face toward the wall.
He huffed and turned his face just enough to stare at her from the corner of his eye. "What?" he growled, or tried to growl – it was difficult to sound properly threatening when his vocal chords were dry and refused to produce the guttural roar his brain insisted they were capable of.
"Everyone has been saying that Fay brought home some sort of superhuman beast," the girl managed through her laughter, "You broke all of the restraints we put on you in your sleep! They're all terrified of you, and yet…" she broke off as the laughter turned to hysterical sobs and turned away from him to dip the cloth in a porcelain bowl resting on a bedside table.
He grumbled low in his throat (this seemed to work better than growling). Brought home…apparently he hadn't been taken as a prisoner of war, still… "Well…?" he prompted, growing tired of whatever game this was.
"You roll over and huff like a grumpy puppy!" she finally finished, leaning back over him and pulling his face to meet hers once again before dabbing at his cheek.
The cloth reeked of sterile alcohol, which was surprising enough, as most readily available alcohols had been reduced to little more than watered-down swill with rationing; the concentrated sting of the solution against his skin made him hiss and squirm. She gripped his chin tightly with her free hand and squeezed some excess liquid from the washcloth. It dribbled across his cheek and burned as it met open wounds, wrenching forth a steady stream of curses that only made her lift her eyebrows and chuckle again. "It's an antiseptic," she assured him with a steady smile, removing the washcloth and depositing it once again in the porcelain bowl, "You're so full of holes at the moment that you'd be a real mess if one of them got infected."
He didn't care. He'd survived plenty of infections, and plenty more wounds; he'd survive this as well. What he wanted to know now was where he had ended up – where that damned fool had taken him – and what kind of people he suddenly found himself in the unwitting care of. He was sure he'd be lectured on just how close to death he'd managed to drag himself this time later. "Where the hell am I?" he sputtered, "Who are you?"
This wasn't a military hospital – of that much he was certain. The rich, blue curtains draping the bed gave that much away almost instantly; peering beyond their lengths he could make out an ornate, cast iron bed frame, too twisted and artistically woven to belong even to a civilian hospital. The walls were paneled with intricately carved, dark wood, which sprayed the small amount of light offered by the flickering gas lantern in odd directions about its surface and generally broadcast the incredible wealth of whoever had covered an entire room with its extravagance. He eyed the girl more closely; she seemed out of place amongst all this finery, dressed in only a simple cotton dress with a drab leather corset and brightly dyed red calico overcoat, turned up at the elbows. Her dark hair was twisted and braided back from her face, but fell loosely around her shoulders and down to her waist, odd stands beaded and tied with expensive-looking bits of glass and jewels – a bizarre contrast to her humble clothing that he found he did not appreciate in the least.
"You can call me Tomoyo. And, you're safe," she assured him, eyes narrowing playfully as he began to complain, "For now. How do you feel?" The warmth returned to her eyes as she asked this last, and reached forward to stroke the pad of her thumb against his cheek.
"Horrible," he answered truthfully, deciding that there was little harm in letting that little bit of honesty slip though. His entire body felt like it was on fire – the familiar sting of the antiseptic, he realized with a bit of embarrassment – and his shoulder…well, that much he knew already. He pinched his eyes closed. "What the hell happened to me? Where the hell did that guy go? Where is-" he lost his train of thought along with his stream of air as dry, rollicking coughs broke free from his chest and sent his mind reeling once again, this time in a desperate fight for oxygen.
"Drink this," she held a mug to his lips, tilting it back slightly as she encouraged him. "It's just water," she chided when he refused and the liquid splashed against his tightly pressed mouth, "I promise."
He quirked an eyebrow suspiciously, but allowed a small amount of the mug's contents to slip past his lips. He was immediately grateful – through the filter of pain and general frustration with his incapacitation (and probable incarceration) in this place he hadn't realized just how parched he had become. After several moments passed with no ill effects, he accepted more of the water.
"Tomoyo, huh?" he gulped, resting his head back into the pillow.
"Yes," she smiled again. It was infuriatingly disarming, and he wrenched his head to the side, lest he accidentally lower his guard any further. "And what can we call you?"
He hissed the last of his air reserves through his teeth, silently castigating himself for not having thought this far ahead. Like hell he was about to give her his real name, but then… "Kurogane," he growled finally. It wasn't the best cover he'd ever concocted – it was only his father's name and easily recognizable to the right people – but it would have to do for the moment. He was suddenly exhausted just by the effort of remaining awake.
"Kurogane," she repeated, as if trying out the word for the first time. "Like the general," she added after a moment had passed.
"I-" Shit. "Yeah…"
"It's a lovely name," she assured him, "Kurogane. To answer your questions…" she paused and scanned the room with a frown, "You are in our home – the exact location of which you may come to know in time, if you're deemed trustworthy. Fay is working, and as for what happened to you…well, we had hoped you would be able to tell us. When Fay found you, you were mangled and half-buried beneath a canon – barely conscious – yet somehow you managed to hold down the arm of his vehicle." Her eyes widened inquisitively as she revealed this, clearly hoping he would provide some sort of answer.
In truth, he remembered nothing beyond deafening explosions and screams of terror. He'd been stationed just outside of Takayama – a backwater village so tiny that none of his men had expected to see much action – but when he'd awoken that morning, the raid sirens had already been blaring. There had been precious little time to scrape together the few canons and Gatling guns they had at their disposal. Hauling the mini-tanks out of their tightly locked storage had been completely out of the question given the immediacy of the threat. Fuck. The best weapons they had they'd been caught so far off their guard that they hadn't even been able to employ them…
"Don't strain yourself," Tomoyo insisted, smoothing the blankets back over him and tucking them around his sides, "It should come back in time." She bit her lip and averted her eyes guiltily, "We've been keeping you under some heavy sedatives, to be sure you didn't reopen your wounds. I'm sure they're not helping your memory."
Kurogane scoffed. Of course they had. It only made sense if they viewed him as some sort of inhuman brute – which she had plainly stated they did – prisoner or no.
"Speaking of which," Tomoyo frowned, producing a large copper syringe filled with a startlingly green solution from the side table where it had been carefully hidden behind the bowl. "I'd like you to go back to sleep for awhile. Just for the night," she added, almost as an afterthought.
"I suppose you're not going to give me a choice," Kurogane growled, knowing full well he was defeated.
"I'm sorry," she whispered as she slipped the needle into the flesh of his remaining arm and depressed the plunger fully.
He winced as the burning liquid seeped into his muscle and quickly worked its way into his veins, but was quickly overcome by sleep, even as he attempted to curse this devil's nursemaid.
He was dying. Or possibly he was already dead, done in by any number of the horrible, screeching explosions dancing around him in a twisted ballet. The latter seemed the more likely option, what with the vultures pecking away at the inside of his thigh. If he were merely dying, he might be able to swat them away and spare himself the terrific pain of having his flesh torn away, bit by bit, by the starving carrion birds. Ahead of him, he could make out a bright white light that undulated and beckoned him forward. Yes, this was surely death.
Of course, if he was dead, he shouldn't be feeling any pain – especially not from these vultures and their blatantly corporeal beaks. Or so he had been lead to beli-
"What the fuck are you doing to me?"
The woman straddling his leg at the foot of the bed looked up in surprise, long, dark hair fluttering forward to frame her face. Bright morning light spilled in through the window, illuminating the room beyond any measure he'd yet seen, and casting an oddly ethereal glow over the woman…which only ensured that Kurogane lost even less time in branding her a witch than he otherwise would have. The magnifying goggles over her eyes, framed by thick metal with an obnoxious number of twists and dials splaying out from their sides, lent her an insidiously comic look which was only further exacerbated by the toothy grin she wore beneath them.
"Don't worry!" she exclaimed proudly, straightening her back and waving a long pair of jointed silver tweezers in front of his face, "I'm a doctor!"
Somehow this little admission seemed to make the entire situation that much worse, and he struggled to sit up, cross his legs, anything to make himself less vulnerable to this apparently insane woman with sharp objects pointed at his groin, only to find neither his arm nor his legs would cooperate. It took several moments of twisting and pulling to realize that his limbs had been securely fastened to the iron bed frame by thick leather belts.
"You'll want to stop struggling," she continued, sliding back to her original position and providing him with more of a view of her ample cleavage than he cared to take in under these circumstances, "Or this will just hurt more." With a flourish, she snapped the tweezers forward, clamped the handles together on an unseen target, and ripped them backward.
She held the tweezers over the edge of the bed and loosened her grip on the handles, sending a sharp metallic ping reverberating through the room as whatever had been clasped in their teeth clattered into a container, and stared meaningfully at him. "You've got quite a mouth on you. I'd say you swear like a sailor, but you're clearly an infantryman, Lieutenant Youou Suwa of the 109th Regiment."
His blood ran cold at the mention of his full name and rank. Even Fay – the only person here who ostensibly knew him – couldn't have known his rank and he wasn't certain he'd ever mentioned his family name, at that. He gaped, his jaw flapping uselessly as his brain sought the words to push past his lips. "How do you-"
"Of course," she laughed, "You wanted to be called Kurogane. How silly of me." She positioned the tweezers back at his inner thigh before continuing, "Kurogane, you have five staples remaining in your leg here that need to be removed. Now, I grant you they're in a bit of a delicate area," she waved the tweezers haphazardly toward his crotch – and oh dear God, he was lying here naked and bound to the bed with this woman wielding her instruments of torture where even the most seasoned of interrogators didn't dare to tread – "But, I should mention that you have a massive artery and vein sitting right about here-" she paused to run the cold metal across his skin, evidently pleased at the bristling this provoked, "And it would be a tragedy if one of these staples should slip and nick either one. Do I make myself clear?"
Kurogane nodded quickly and bit down on his lip as he felt the prongs clamp down and tug gently at his skin.
"Good." And without further warning, she wrenched another bit of metal free from his flesh and deposited it with its brethren.
It was all he could do to count the cracks in the ceiling through the hot mess of water welling up in his eyes as she pulled the remaining staples free. He wanted the devil nurse back, with her horrible syringe and disturbingly sweet smile and bowl of stinging antiseptic-
How long had he been out this time? He wiggled his cheeks and blinked his eyes; his face felt surprisingly mobile – not at all like the swollen, raw mess it had been, last he remembered…
"Two weeks," the answer came from the foot of the bed, "Altogether, that is. Usually you only sleep for a day or two at a time before waking and causing all sorts of grief for poor Tomoyo."
Kurogane shuddered. How had she…?
"You ask the same thing every time you wake up," she continued before he could ask, "And it always comes right after that little face dance." She removed the goggles from her face, retrieved the metal bowl holding the removed staples from the floor, and took several deliberate steps toward the head of the bed. "You may call me Yuuko," she said sweetly as she deposited the bowl and goggles on the bedside table.
"Witch," Kurogane growled as she set the large tweezers into a large vase filled with blue liquid and quickly dipped her hands into a steaming basin.
"Yuuko. Don't move," she directed – Kurogane quickly decided that this would not be a problem, considering the belts and the sharp, pointy tools still within her reach – and stepped around the bed toward the door. "Watanuki!" she called through the open frame, "Send Mokona in here with the antiseptic rinse!"
There was a loud clatter from the hallway seconds later followed by a long string of cursing and less well articulated shouting. Yuuko sighed and chuckled in a manner that, from anyone else, might have conveyed embarrassment. "We've been doing our best to keep your room clean," she explained, "Since you had so many open wounds and there is no limit to the clutter and dirt that tend to fly around this place. The only people allowed in or out have been Tomoyo and myself."
This rang false and Kurogane's impetuous nature claimed the better of him before his brain caught up. "What about him?" he demanded.
"Fay?" she frowned, "He hasn't actually taken much of an interest in you since he hauled you back." She shook her head, "Scavenging strange people from death's doorway seems to be becoming a hobby of his…ah!" She clasped her hands together as small pile of scrap, complete with long, rabbit-like ears and a red glass knob set between them stamp-plonked its way through the doorway. "Why hello there, my little darling!" She quickly scooped the metallic creature into an embrace and waltzed gracefully back to the bedside.
Kurogane stared. "What in the name of-"
"It's Mokona!" she exclaimed, a terrifically huge smile stretching across her face, and held the contraption out for closer inspection.
Kurogane felt his eyebrows make a break for his hairline, even as the rest of his face fell in defeat. "What the hell is a Mokona?"
Yuuko looked positively scandalized by this question and pulled the "Mokona" back toward her chest with a suspicious glare. "Mokona is Mokona! She's only the most useful invention to come out of our workshops, ever!" she exclaimed, stroking its metallic ears, "Aren't you, darling?"
Kurogane could have sworn he saw the little creeper nod, but quickly wrote this off as some sort of pain-killer induced delusion. It was just an automaton – probably a wind-up, at that. Its ears certainly looked mobile enough… "It's a tik-tok," he said flatly.
Yuuko hmphed indignantly. "She most certainly is not a tik-tok! She's a fully functioning, compact mobile storage unit and she runs on steam!"
"That thing can't run on steam!" Kurogane sputtered, "It's not even big enough to house a combustion chamber." Of all the stupid…
"Ohoho! Really?" she turned the contraption around in her arms just enough to reveal a small hole in its back through which the tiniest wisps of steam escaped. "She's light enough to only need a few pounds of pressure to move. Just be careful not to put your hand near the exhaust port – it'll still scald you."
"I couldn't give less of a fu-"
"There's that temper again," she chided, pressing in the large red knob on the Mokona's forehead. A split-second later, its mouth opened wide and spat out a roll of bandages and a suspiciously large bottle.
"See," Yuuko grinned, "Useful!" She set the Mokona down on the floor and moved back around to the foot of the bed, where she paused. "I'm going to release your foot," she said seriously, "And in return, I'm going to expect you not to kick me or otherwise try to move. Understood?"
He huffed but nodded his assent and was relieved to feel the belt loosened from his ankle. She splashed some of the contents of the bottle over her hands before gripping his lower leg and bending his knee up into a sharp angle. "This just needs to be bandaged," she informed him, "And then I'll be through with you. For now."
"Yes," she positioned the bottle spout just above his thigh where she had, only moments ago, plucked the staples from. "I should warn you," she continued, "This is going to sting."
Kurogane grit his teeth and hissed his displeasure as the warm liquid splashed against his skin. It was nothing, really – not compared to the blatant ripping of his flesh earlier – just an annoying burn that fizzled out as it crept into the punctures and deadened the nerves there. Yuuko clucked her tongue approvingly as he held his leg firmly in position and stooped to pick up the roll of bandages from the mattress.
"I imagine you'll want to be on your feet as soon as possible," she said conversationally. Kurogane nodded. "And that you'll want to be heading back to your unit." He nodded again; she shook her head. "That, I'm afraid, is impossible. We can't have the military knowing our location, you see." She winked, "Top secret."
Kurogane's head sank back into the pillow as an exasperated sigh broke though his lips. "What the hell is this place?" he wondered aloud, fully not expecting a reasonable answer.
"A den thieves," she chuckled ominously, winding the bandage around his thigh, "Draft-dodgers, scavengers – standard, run-of-the-mill cowards and refuse." She grinned up at him as she tucked the end of the roll into the folds. "That aside, you owe us."
"Yes," she collected the empty metal bandage roll and bottle from the bed, "We did save your life, after all. I would say that means you owe us a pretty large debt."
"Debt?" Kurogane roared, "Just how much did you have in mind?" Fantastic. Now it was to be extortion as well as humiliation…
"Oh, about three years…"
"Of course, it's really Fay that you owe," she continued, not paying him the least of mind, "He did drag your bloodied half-corpse all the way back there from Takayama." She paused, screwing her face up in thought as she scrutinized him, "But, with your shoulder in the state that it is, I don't think you'll be fit for shop work for awhile. No, for now I think it's best if we put you to work with Tomoyo, in the house. She could use a hand, and she did so much to care for you as well."
"Yeah, she was great at knocking me out," Kurogane scoffed, "Look, I don't have time-"
"I think you'll find that you have all the time in the world," she said, amused, as she unlatched his other ankle from the bed frame, "Considering you're officially a dead man in the eyes of the state. Even if you did leave here, where would you go? How would you explain how you lived while the rest of your unit died?" She lifted her eyebrows, waiting for an answer.
There was none forthcoming. Kurogane only tugged at his tethered wrist in frustration and growled.
"Just hold on," she soothed, moving quickly to unstrap the belt. "There. Now you can get some rest before going to work tomorrow." She pulled the sheets and blankets up around him and gently tucked them around him. "Warm enough?"
"Good! Then I'll leave Mokona here to keep you company." She picked up the automaton in question and twisted one of the ears forward, opening the mouth once again. "Drink up, little one," she murmured, dumping the remainder of the bottle's contents down its throat. It released a loud, mechanical belch before the mouth slammed closed. Yuuko set the Mokona down on the bedside table and turned back to Kurogane, who was staring at her with furrowed brows. "What?"
"Don't be silly," she socked him playfully on the shoulder, making him wince and shirk further away, "She runs on alcohol. How else could she function with such a small engine? Now-" she held up a hand to silence the rumbling complaints issuing from her patient, "Get some rest. And don't even think about trying to sneak out of here." She looked thoughtfully at the Mokona for a moment, then turned the knob on its forehead a quarter turn and waved her hand quickly in front of it.
A small, but steady, stream of flame burst from its mouth.
Yuuko grinned and clasped her hands together. "Useful!" With a final wave to Kurogane, she waltzed back toward the door, pausing only to wish him a good afternoon before closing it behind her and slipping a number of bolts into place from the opposite side.
Kurogane stared, wide-eyed, at the ceiling and wondered what the hell he'd gotten himself into.