InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Purity 9: Subterfuge ❯ Bitterness ( Chapter 64 )

[ X - Adult: No readers under 18. Contains Graphic Adult Themes/Extreme violence. ]
~~Chapter Sixty-Four~~

-Oo OoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoO-

'Has anyone ever written anything for you in all your darkest hours?
'Have you ever heard me sing?
'Listen to me now; you know I'd rather be alone
'Than be without you; don't you know?

'Has anyone ever given anything to you in your darkest hours?
'Did you ever give it back?
'Well, I have; I have given that to you
'If it's all I ever do, this is your song

'And the rain comes down
'There's no pain, and there's no doubt
'It was easy to say, I believed in you every day
'If not for me, then do it for the world …'

-'Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You' by Stevie Nicks.


"Tell me something, Roka . . ."

Evan didn't look away from the five dollar kaleidoscope that he'd begged Ollie to open the Met gift shop to acquire.  The guard hadn't been able to access the cash register so that he could use one of his many credit cards to pay for it—Valerie had almost had a heart attack when she saw how many he had in his wallet—so Evan had managed to bum a ten off her and left it with Ollie, who promised to pay for the toy once the shop opened in the morning.  "Uh?" he intoned in a reasonable facsimile of an answer.

Valerie smiled, her hand resting on Evan's arm as they wandered down the streets of New York City without a real destination in mind.  His disguise, as lame as it was, was actually working, much to her surprise.  Only two people had recognized him after they'd left the museum, but Evan was able to convince them that he wasn't Zel Roka, even though he admitted that folks often thought he was.  Playing it off with a smile and a bit of nervous fidgeting that was entirely put on for show, he'd really gotten away with it.  Not for the first time, however, she also realized that Zel Roka's chameleon-like persona helped a lot, too.  Having perfected the art of never appearing anywhere in public while looking the same twice, it wasn't unusual for him to slip past nearly unnoticed if he just kept his head down and his mouth closed . . . With the length of his hair hidden under the jacket and the baseball cap pulled down, half of his face was hidden in stark shadows, and that helped, too.  He'd teasingly said about a block ago that the darkness was one of his best friends.  She understood now what he was saying, she supposed.

That was all beside the point, though.  At the moment, she was busy trying to keep him from running into anything since he wasn't paying any attention at all to where they were going.  "How do you know so much about art?"

"I feel like I'm on a massive acid trip," he said, completely ignoring her question.  "You should check this out, V!"

Rolling her eyes, she couldn't help the soft little laugh that slipped from her.  There was something entirely childlike in his demeanor, a part of him that she'd never really seen before.  Sure, she'd seen glimpses of it here and there, but it was the first time—the true first time—that she'd seen it in its entirety . . . and it was sweet.

It had taken a couple hours of wandering through the Met for her to realize that he really hadn't made any sexual innuendos at all, hadn't actually tried to do more than hold her hand or guide her around with an arm slung around her shoulders, but those gestures had been more of a tool in order to keep her with him, to keep her moving, and all the while, he'd murmur little side notes about the art that they were seeing: things she hadn't known, but that she hadn't doubted was completely true.  He could have been a curator or a tour guide, and it had fascinated her.

And it also scared her—scared her more than she wanted to think about, because it was that Evan—the quiet and contemplative one—the one who spoke in hushed tones about anything and everything, who knew why having certain dogs in certain portraits from certain periods in time were meant to be a symbol of someone's unequivocal devotion to their king or that faceless woman in one of the most famous portraits of the twenty-first century was actually a mannequin from a Los Angeles department store window that the artist had seen one time during a business trip . . . That Evan didn't seem to realize just how sweet and charming he really was.  That Evan was the one who was the apple of his mama's eye—the darling little boy who just wanted someone to smile at him and tell him that he'd done a good job.  That Evan who thought that life could be innocent and so far removed from the nastiness that lingered just outside of his circle of light; the one who could pen a love song that sounded so sincere, so heartfelt, that she wondered who the song had been written for—those songs he wrote but sold to other people to sing.  That Evan would be so easy to fall in love with, wouldn't he?

"Tell me who taught you what you know," she pressed again though she doubted she'd get much more of an answer out of him than she already had.

"About what?" he asked, sparing a moment to cast her a quizzical glance before shaking the plastic bits in the kaleidoscope and lifting it to his eye again.

"About art, Roka," she reminded him, tugging on his arm to keep him from smacking right into a telephone booth.

"Oh, that," Evan said, waving a hand in a dismissive sort of way.  "Took a couple art history and theory classes in college . . . and Mama loved to take me to the Met when I was a pup."

She stopped mid-stride for a moment and stared at him, amused for some reason over his choice of words.  "When you were a pup?" she repeated, unable to hide the smile that came through in her tone.

"Uh . . ." he muttered then grinned.  Under the stark light of the lights lining the sidewalk, Valerie didn't miss the hint of a blush that rose to the surface of his skin, adding a vulnerability to him that she rarely saw—a vulnerability that was wholly endearing.  "It's a family thing," he went on, stowing the kaleidoscope in his pocket and ducking his head as he quickened his pace.

Valerie had to hurry to catch up with him, and she had to hide her lingering amusement.  "You'd better be careful," she said as she fell into step beside him.  "Otherwise, I'm going to start doubting that you're as dumb as you pretend to be."

Evan wrinkled his nose and scrunched up his shoulders.  "I'm dumb," he insisted, casting her a somewhat lopsided, entirely cocky sort of grin that she knew better: the grin that she knew how to deal with.  On some level, it relieved her.  On another?  She didn't want to think about that too long.  "Really, really dumb," he went on.

"No," she said slowly, shaking her head as she stared at the sidewalk under their feet. "You're really not, are you . . .?"

"There you go again: overanalyzing everything," he scoffed, digging his hands into the pockets of his jeans, bunching up the God-awful army coat around his hips.  "It's a really bad habit of yours, you know.  Why do you have to make sense out of everything and everyone?"

"Is that what I'm doing?" she challenged, quirking an eyebrow as she turned her face to look at him.  "Overanalyzing you?"

"All I'm saying," he replied, tilting his head to the side, keeping his gaze lowered as he considered everything, "is that it'd be easier, wouldn't it?  Write me off as dumb—the idiot rock star."

There was a hint of something else just beneath the almost teasing tone of his voice, something darker and sadder and even a little bitter—something that she didn't think he realized was there.  For some reason, she got the impression that those emotions were ones that he'd carried around for so long that they'd come to be second nature to him . . . but why?

"Why would I do that if you're not?" she asked quietly.

"Did you ever notice, V, that parents have a shitty habit of labeling their kids, whether they realize they're doing it or not?" he countered, answering her question with one of his own.  Flicking a hand as though he were trying to discount the importance of what he was saying, Evan grinned a little sardonically.  "I mean, I'd like to think that parents probably try not to do that, you know?  But they do.  They always do.  Just like when I have kids of my own one day, I'll probably do it, too—and my kids will hate me on some level for it.  It's a vicious cycle that can't be broken, and the more you tell yourself that you're not going to do it, the worse it is."

"How very cynical of you," she muttered.  She didn't entirely disagree with him, but . . . "So what was your label?"

He chuckled again, but this time, he actually sounded amused—entirely amused.  "I just told you," he replied with a rather saucy grin and accompanying wink.  "I'm the dumb one."


He nodded, grabbing her arm to stop her as they neared a street vendor selling hot dogs.  "Gimme two dogs and two Cokes," he said, digging into his pocket for his wallet.

Valerie rolled her eyes and started to open her purse.  He hadn't had the money to buy the stupid kaleidoscope; he certainly didn't have the money for two hot dogs, either.

"What do you want on those?"

"Everything," Evan replied.

Valerie snorted as she handed over a twenty dollar bill to pay for the food.  "One plain and one diet soda, please," she corrected, "and you now owe me thirty bucks."

"Yeah, yeah . . . You wanted one, too, V?"

Nudging Evan with her elbow, Valerie took her change and dropped it into her purse, then took the hotdog that the vendor held out—plain—before grabbing a few napkins and slowly shaking her head.  A hot dog in one hand and a soda in the other?  She was starting to feel distinctly like a cave man, no thanks to Evan Zelig . . . "You're such a hog," she pointed out.

Evan grinned at her and accepted his dog.  "Have a good one," he called over his shoulder as he started away.

"Thanks," Valerie hurriedly said, grimacing as her shoes unpleasantly pinched her toes.  Why she'd chosen to wear wool slacks and pumps was entirely beyond her.  The wool slacks were fine since the evening was slightly chilly despite the marked dampness hanging in the air, but the pumps?  Not the best decision on her part, but then, she hadn't expected that Evan was going to want to trot all over the city, either . . .

"Over here," Evan said, veering to the right, down a quieter street—if there was such a thing in New York City—that ran along the edge of the river.  The streetlamps were a little farther apart, and the throngs of people crowding the sidewalks were sparser.  It was a street that Valerie would probably have avoided if she were alone.  For some reason, though, she wasn't nearly as worried as she might have otherwise been when she was with Evan . . . "Anyway, where were we?" he asked.

Valerie blinked and shook her head, momentarily lost as to what, exactly, he was asking her.  Then it dawned on her, and she sighed, giving up on the idea of trying to eat the hot dog while they were walking—not really a horrible thing since she normally avoided food like that, anyway, since it didn't really have any actual nutritional value to speak of.  But there weren't any trash cans to be seen, either, and in the end, she just held the sandwich and kept walking, wondering absently if she could talk him into helping her out so that she could open her soda at least.  "You're the dumb one," she reminded him, "which, by the way, I don't really believe."

"I am; I am," he insisted around a mouthful of hot dog.  He, apparently, didn't have any trouble with walking and eating at the same time.

"Oh?" she challenged mildly.  "Then what are your siblings?"

He laughed and almost choked but managed to swallow before he ended up coughing food all over himself—and her.  "That's easy," he said without stopping or faltering.  "Bella—my big sister—she's the princess, of course."

"Does she have a princess complex?" Valerie couldn't help asking.

Evan chuckled, stuffing the rest of the sandwich in his mouth and swallowing it right down without chewing more than once or twice.  "Not really, but her husband wouldn't care if she did."

Valerie rolled her eyes but smiled.  Evan's understated playfulness was back in spades, it seemed . . . "And Bubby—you met him—he's the smart one—the serious one—the dependable one: the triad of terrific—the troika of tantamount . . . the apple of my father's thighs, don't you think?"

Snapping her mouth closed at Evan's rather colorful choice of words, Valerie shook her head and shot him a warning look that was completely lost in the filmy darkness.  "Aren't you being a little harsh?" she asked pointedly.

Evan tossed the cardboard hot dog wrapper into a trash can next to a stone bench.  Valerie took the opportunity to sit down, glad to have a moment off of her feet since the last thing she wanted to do was to tell Evan Zelig that she needed to take a break.  He seemed to realize, though, that she hadn't even touched her food yet, and he sat beside her: silent indication that he was going to allow her to eat at last.  "You aren't hungry?" he asked, gesturing at her untouched sandwich.

"You can eat and walk at the same time," she said, breaking the foot long hot dog in half and handing him part of it.  "I can't."

Evan took it, setting his soda on the bench between them next to hers.  "But yours was plain!  There wasn't anything to spill!"

"You're not supposed to eat while you're moving.  It's bad for digestion," she said, turning the hot dog from side to side, frowning as she tried to figure out the best way to go about eating it.

"That's swimming right after you eat that's bad for digestion," he corrected.  "Anyway, no, if you want to know.  I'm not being overly harsh on poor ol' Bubby; trust me."

She really didn't know what to say to that.  Sure, she had thought that Evan's brother seemed nice enough the one time she'd met him, but then, she wasn't raised with him, either, and she knew better than anyone that first impressions could be deceiving, didn't she?  After nibbling off a couple bites of mostly bun, she gave up on the hot dog and handed the rest of it to Evan, glad to be rid of it.  I didn't take him long to devour it, too, which didn't really surprise her, either.

"So what were you?" Evan asked, stifling a belch with a balled-up fist as he tossed the trash into the can behind Valerie.

"I didn't have a label," she replied, deliberately striving for a brighter tone than the question actually warranted.

"None?" he replied.

She couldn't quite see his face, and she reached over, tugging the hat off his head so that she could at least make out something in the shadows.  "Nope, none."

"Oh, I get it," he finally said as though he'd made sense of it all in his head.  "You're like my younger sister, right?  The baby?  And you just don't want to admit it."

"No," she stated flatly and in a tone that she could only hope he understood meant she didn't want to talk about it anymore.

"Come to think of it, I think that Maddy was the princess, too," Evan mused.  She wasn't sure if he had got the message or simply gotten sidetracked.  Either worked for her, and that was fine.  "Considering how her daddy is, I don't think that 'princess' is the right word, exactly, but . . . well, maybe . . . Did you know that when she was little, she was kind of a tomboy?  I don't think I saw her in a dress till she made the cheerleading squad in middle school . . . 'Course, she got busted, giving the quarterback on the football team head, and she was stripped of her spot on the squad . . ."

Valerie sighed and shook her head.  Madison never had told her that story, but considering her friend's propensity toward all things deviant in nature, she wasn't entirely surprised by it, either.

Evan trailed off, silent as the somewhat distant sounds of the city played out in the background.  His mood had shifted again, hadn't it?  What she couldn't see on his face, she could feel in the air around him: a slight melancholy that she'd sensed when she'd first found him inside the museum.

She frowned as the question repeated itself in her head: the one that she'd heard all evening—the one that he'd never actually answered.  She'd witnessed some of Evan and Mike's disagreements before, of course, but . . . but this one had to be different, didn't it?  Why in the world would Mike have hit Evan?  No, it didn't make sense to her, and as infuriating as Evan could be at times, she just could not—could not—wrap her brain around the idea that his own manager had actually struck him.

"Will you tell me what you and Mike were fighting about?" she finally asked, her voice low, almost soothing.

He seemed surprised by her question, but he sighed.  "I told you, V—"

"Yeah, that you popped off, and he got mad about it.  I want the truth, Evan," she insisted.

He wasn't going to answer her.  She could feel him silently pulling away from her, closing his feelings deep down inside himself.

"It's because you don't want to replace Dieter," she blurted suddenly, unsure exactly where her words were coming from, but even as they spilled over, she knew that they were true.  "That's what you were fighting about, wasn't it?  Evan . . ."

"I don't want to talk about this," he muttered, burying his face in his hands as he hunched forward, elbows on his knees, shaking his head slowly, so slowly.

"Because it hurts?" she challenged softly.  "Of course it does, Evan!  Dieter was your friend.  You think that I didn't realize that the two of you were close?  There was just something about you when you were together—this unspoken thing that I didn't understand, but you did, right?  And Dieter did, too . . ." Trailing off, Valerie sighed, wishing that she could make him understand, wishing that she could say something that could make him feel even a little bit better, and knowing all too well that she simply couldn't.  "He was your friend," she whispered again sadly, miserably.

And just what did she really know or understand about any of it really?  The truth of it was that she hadn't had any real, true friends, at least, until she'd met Marvin and later, Madison.  Always afraid to let anyone get too close, she would have rather been alone than to let anyone near enough to hurt her, to let anyone close enough to know the things about her that she was too embarrassed of to deal with.  She'd had friends, sure, but not in the way that Dieter and Evan were friends; not at all, and if she were truly honest with herself now, she knew damn well that as much as she adored Madison, there was and probably always would be a certain fear down deep that if Madison ever, ever found out about her past that she'd turn her back on Valerie, too . . .

The thing was, she'd also managed to convince herself over time that she didn't want anyone that close to her, didn't need to confide everything to anyone because, really, what good could possibly come of it?  Disappointment and misunderstanding were all that lingered . . . and that was all right, wasn't it?

Wasn't it . . .?

"It's like they're trying to forget about him," Evan whispered, his voice startling her out of her reverie.    "Frankie . . . Tay . . . Mike . . . Especially Mike . . ." Heaving a deep breath—a weary breath—Evan shook his head.  "Just because someone can copy a riff or carry a line doesn't mean shit, you know?"  Hand reaching out in front of him, opening slowly, grasping at nothing, only to close around a fistful of air . . . "There was this . . . I don't know . . . chemistry, I guess . . . It sounds stupid, right?  I mean, it's just the backup band . . ."

"It doesn't sound stupid," she countered, touch his hand hesitantly, gently.  "It was your dream, wasn't it?  To play onstage together?"

"Yeah," he rasped out.  "Yeah . . ."

His fingers were cold as he curled them over hers, gave them a little squeeze—a gesture of thanks . . . maybe.  A group of boys wandered past, laughing and joking and shoving each other in a playful sort of way.  Valerie doubted that any of them was over fifteen or sixteen, and they acted as though they didn't have a care in the world.  Evan watched them in silence.  They took no notice of the two figures sitting on the bench.  Teenagers having a good time on a school night, possibly out later than they should be, and what did it matter when the years would pass quickly enough, and maybe the memories that they each retained of this night in particular would live on in their minds long after everything else had changed . . .?

"You don't realize a damn thing when you're that age," Evan murmured as he watched the boys turn the corner and disappear into the night.  "Deet never did.  Neither did I . . ."

"So what are you going to do, Zel Roka?" she asked.

Letting go of her hand, he stood up suddenly, shuffled over to the metal railing that ran the length of the sidewalk as far as Valerie could see.  "I don't know," he muttered, his voice thick with emotion.  "I'm just going to leave it to them, I guess.  I can't be objective right now, even if my life depended on it."

"But you want to do the tour, right?" she ventured at length.  Though he didn't sound any less confused, the anger that had been so thick around him had slowly started to dissipate.

"Yeah . . . No . . . Yeah . . ."

She smiled to herself.  As vague as his answer was, she thought that maybe she understood what he meant.  He did want to go out and do the tour; of course he did, and he knew deep down that Dieter would want him to do it, too, and maybe it was all right to be just a little afraid, wasn't it?  She didn't even try to delude herself into believing that Evan was okay.  He wasn't, but he would be in time . . .

"Tell me something, V," Evan finally said, his voice as quiet as the breeze that lifted the fringe of Valerie's bangs, pushed them back off her face with infinitely gentle, albeit invisible, fingers.

"What's that?"

He let his head fall back, stared at the murky, darkened sky like he was trying to see stars where there were none to see.  His profile in the hazy light of the city on the far side of the river captivated her, and she knew somewhere deep down that the image of him, standing alone, leaning on the railing as he gazed up into the night, wrapped in the sadness and vulnerability that he'd tried so hard to hide, would stay with her forever along with the innate understanding that the painful throb deep in her chest that made her eyes sting with unshed tears hurt her more than she ever wanted to admit.

"Who do you feel sorrier for?" he finally asked, his voice soft, whispering, almost pleading.

"Feel sorry for?" she echoed, not fully grasping his question.

He turned to face her slowly, a smile touching the corner of his lips despite the seriousness in his gaze.  "Yeah," he said, shrugging offhandedly.  "Who do you think is more pathetic: the bastard who writes that one song that breaks your heart . . . or the person who can't do anything but listen to it?"

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'Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You' by Stevie Nicks first appeared on her 1985 release, Rock a Little.  Song written by and copyrighted to Stevie Nicks and Keith Olsen.
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Thought from Valerie:
Blanket disclaimer for this fanfic (will apply to this and all other chapters in Subterfuge):  I do not claim any rights to InuYasha or the characters associated with the anime/manga.  Those rights belong to Rumiko Takahashi, et al.  I do offer my thanks to her for creating such vivid characters for me to terrorize.