PART I: AMERICA
"Ken-kun, will you hand me that vase?"
Ken peered over the heads of the tittering school girls, looking in
the direction Omi was pointing with his clippers. The vase he wanted was
on the other side of the room, and he glanced around until he spotted
the familiar dark head of hair bent over as a slender boy worked
carefully at arranging a bouquet for a blushing school girl. "Can't Nagi get
it for you?" he asked, looking at Omi again.
Omi gave him a patient look, clipping the thorns from a rose. "Nagi
can't use his Gift anymore, Ken-kun," he reminded him.
"Oh. Right." Ken started to edge around the girls flocked around him,
smiling wanly at them. "Excuse me. 'Scuse me. I'll be right
The crowd was thicker than normal, and he was tempted to start pushing
some of them aside; none of them seemed to want to move as he picked
his way across the room.
Nagi looked up to watch his slow progress with his calm blue eyes,
sliding a finger absently under his cast to scratch at an itch.
"Hurry, please, Ken-kun," Omi called to him.
"Yeah, yeah," Ken muttered under his breath. He finally reached the
vase and picked it up, holding it over his head to keep from bumping any
of the girls with it. As he made his way slowly towards Omi through
the packed shop, he couldn't keep himself from saying irritably, "If
Yohji had showed up instead of skipping out on his shift, this would be a
"Oh, I forgot to tell you," Omi said, smacking his forehead with the
palm of his hand and smiling apologetically. "Yohji can't come in
today. He's dead."
Ken stumbled over a girl's foot. The vase slipped from his hands and
shattered on the ground. He stared down at the scattered soil and the
dozen black roses that had been inside. Slowly he looked up to stare
All the girls were gone.
Omi continued to clip the thorns from his roses. Nagi was still
calmly arranging his flowers. The only sound was the snip-snip-snip of
Omi's clippers. Ken looked around quickly. How had all the girls left so
suddenly, and without a noise?
"That's not funny, Omi," he said hoarsely, staring at the little
blond. "Just say he's sick."
Omi frowned at him in slight puzzlement. "Of course it's not funny,"
he said. "Death is a serious thing. Isn't it, Nagi?" he looked
towards his lover for agreement.
Nagi looked up and nodded sagely. But something was wrong with his
face. His eyes seemed to be more sunken, his cheekbones more
Ken shook his head sharply and looked quickly at Omi again. "Just a
heads up so you're not swamped tomorrow," Omi was saying cheerfully as
he put his rose in a pile and reached for another. The ones he'd
already clipped were darkening and shriveling as Ken watched in numb silence.
"Nagi and I won't be here for the next shift; you'll have to get
Ran-kun to fill in for us."
"...Why not?" Ken finally managed to whisper.
Omi pricked himself on a thorn and raised his finger to his mouth to
suck on it, glancing up at Ken with raised brows as if to say 'duh'.
"Well, we're calling in dead, so..."
Ken almost laughed. Almost. Then he looked at Nagi again. The boy's
face was gone, replaced by a grinning skull, and the flowers he'd been
arranging were black and dead.
Ken stumbled back and opened his mouth to scream.
He hit the floor with a thud, thrashing wildly to free himself from
the tangle of blankets wrapped around his body. A hoarse cry of horror
tore itself from his throat belatedly as his voice finally awoke with
the rest of him.
In an instant strong hands were yanking the sheets from his face and
shoulders, then a calloused palm was against the side of his face,
turning his head towards the face hovering over him.
"Ken." Farfarello's voice was loud and real, snapping him into full
awareness. "Wake up."
Ken blinked hard several times, his chest heaving as he stared with
wild eyes at the familiar scarred face of his lover crouching beside him.
Slowly reality began to seep in as he glanced around. He had fallen
out of bed. He was in the room he shared with Farfarello in the
He looked back towards Farfarello, who was studying him sharply.
"...Nightmare," he guessed.
Ken nodded mutely. It was not the first, and he doubted it would be
Farfarello untangled him from the rest of the sheets in silence, then
lifted him effortlessly, like he was carrying a child, and placed him
back on the bed.
Ken blinked and sat up against the headboard, reaching up to cover his
face with his hand. He drew in a shuddering breath, feeling the cold
sweat on his brow. He cleared his throat, and his voice was a little
shaken. "What time is it?"
"..Did I wake you up?"
"Iie." The bed creaked a little as Farfarello seated himself at his
lover's side. Ken didn't have to look to know that single amber eye was
peering at him intensely with badly masked anxiety. "I was getting
"Oh. Ok." Ken lowered his hand a little to peek at his lover,
mentally checking his own state out. The night terrors that had been
plaguing him since shortly after the fight against the Purebloods several
months ago had not gone away, as he had hoped they would. But though the
pain and the guilt that accompanied them was still there, making his
eyes sting with repressed tears, it was not quite as sharp as it had been
those first few times.
He had the childish urge to lay his head in Farfarello's lap and cling
to the other man like a security blanket, but he shook off the longing
with an internal sigh. They were both twenty now, no longer anything
close to a teenager. Besides, he would have to figure out himself how
to keep the nightmares at bay. Farfarello would always be there to
comfort him in his own way, but there was little the Irishman could do once
Ken was asleep.
Ken reached up and wiped hastily at his eyes. Grown men didn't cry.
Not even after nightmares about friends who had given their lives four
months ago so that others might live.
"Maybe we should stay," Farfarello said, still eyeballing him.
Ken straightened up and looked his partner straight in the eye,
setting his jaw stubbornly. "No," he said firmly. "I'll be fine. This is
something I have to do, Farf. The nightmares are bad enough. I don't
need a haywire Gift on top of it."
Farfarello was obviously still a little worried, but he nodded
silently. He knew as well as Ken did that they needed to seek some sort of
help for this particular problem.
Ken scowled to himself, mentally cursing the Gift that was more like a
curse. Four months ago during the war against the Purebloods, he'd
assumed that he'd been able to raise so many zombies solely because of the
influence of the Vampires around him. But after his sixth sense
concerning death had been heightened-- getting to the point where he could
sometimes sense unavoidable death just before it happened, and road kill
was beginning to trail after him at night --he'd realized it was
something else all together.
When he'd brought it up with Crawford, the other man had told both
himself and Ran that Gifts were like any other part of a person's being:
they got stronger with age and use. Ken had turned twenty, and he'd
been practicing his Gift fairly regularly around the time of the war. He
had to expect it to get stronger. Ran, too, would have to watch out
for his own talent and practice more caution. No one wanted a rogue Pyro
on their hands.
But while Ran was able to simply not use his Gift, or even snatch up
the nearest fire extinguisher if he woke up from a nightmare that set
off his Gift or some such thing, Ken was at a complete loss on how to
control his own talent. How did one keep a flattened cat from dragging
itself down the road after you, or pass a graveyard without knowing
exactly how many bodies were buried there, and where? Ken needed the advice
and guidance of someone with the same curse he had.
He needed to speak with another Necromancer.
Farfarello had done a lot of research, sending out messengers,
letters, and calls behind Ken's back until his half-blood Advisor Himeno had
triumphantly presented him with an option she'd uncovered:
Elijah Perry, an American Necromancer who was supposedly quite adept
at his own powers.
The only problem was, even if he ever agreed to help Ken (he was
supposed to be somewhat reclusive), Himeno was almost positive he wouldn't
come all the way to Japan. He was a veteran of some kind-- some
American war had left him without his left arm and a strong dislike of travel
of any kind.
So they would have to go to him.
Ken pushed thoughts of Elijah Perry aside for the time being and
forced a wan smile as he reached up to trace a familiar scar running across
his lover's bicep. "You're up early," he said, changing the subject.
"What are your plans for today?"
Farfarello gave a careless one-shouldered shrug. "Some newly Turned
idiot left his midnight snack out for anyone to find. The Hunter called
to threaten me." He was visibly unimpressed at whatever Kiki, the
part-time cop, part-time Vampire Hunter, had said to him.
Ken sighed, running a hand through sleep-tangled hair. "Let me
guess-- Yuki." Farfarello arched a brow. "I heard Flint bitching about him
the other day," Ken explained. "Calling him a brown noser and a stupid
kid who didn't think before acting."
Farfarello scowled slightly. "I will talk to him," he decided in an
"You take care of the body and the evidence," Ken corrected firmly.
"I'll talk to Yuki."
Farfarello grunted, but didn't argue. In the past he would have
frowned at the thought, knowing that Ken wouldn't make as much an impression
as he would-- namely, scaring someone into good behavior. But a lot
had changed in the last few months. Ever since the war against the
Purebloods, Ken had been subtly different. His conscience didn't seem to
stand in the way as often as it once had, and something about him told
the other Vampires instinctively to respect him and watch their step
around him. Farfarello hadn't really noticed the changes too much..
Until he'd walked in on the tail-end of a conference between Ken and a
rebellious Vampire and watched with a raised brow as the once arrogant
Turned hurried from the room with a nervous glance over his shoulder at
the stone-faced Necromancer. Ken didn't have to look frightening or
use horrible threats to get the Vampires he lived with to respect his
authority.(1) He seemed to radiate a very faint but very real sense of
danger just waiting to be tipped off. Farfarello, who was used to
inspiring fear and respect in those around him, didn't think too much about
it. Being partially insane himself, it didn't occur to the Irishman
that the slight changes in his lover were the hint of an impending if
milder case of a whole other type of insanity.
Ken slid out of the bed after giving his partner a quick kiss, and
wandered over to the Jacuzzi for a bath. Farfarello watched him undress,
half tempted to join his lover, then shook himself and strode towards
"See you later," Ken called as he started up the water.
Farfarello lifted a hand in farewell, then was gone.
Ken sighed as he slid into the tub and wriggled his toes in the warm
water as it slowly filled the large tub. With the distraction of his
lover gone, the memory of his nightmare was starting to creep up on him.
He shuddered, closing his eyes tight and digging his fingers into his
hair as if he could will the images away.
Even though he missed him terribly, there was nothing he could have
done about Yohji-- the man had made a willing sacrifice, throwing himself
in the path of harm in order to save "Ash", the man he'd had feelings
for. But Omi and Nagi...
Them, he'd known about. Somehow. Crawford had warned him about a
vision, and though it had been vague and Ken hadn't understood it until
too late, it had still left him with a choice. A large part of his
subconscious told him he'd made the right choice, because if he had gone
after the two young boys, Farfarello would have been killed by the mass of
Purebloods that had piled on top of him. Staying behind and ordering
his zombies to wade in and help had saved the Irishman, but left Omi and
Nagi at Jenell's mercy. Or lack thereof, rather.
He gritted his teeth so hard his head began to ache. Belatedly he
realized his cheeks were hot and wet with tears of grief. If only there'd
been another choice... another way. If only Nagi hadn't taken that
special medication prescribed by Rosenkreuz that had temporarily disabled
his Gift as well as made him weak. If only he could go back in time
and change things somehow, and tear that German bitch apart with his bare
He'd been torturing himself with the same "what if" and "if only"
thoughts for months now, and he knew deep inside that it was only going to
destroy him. But he couldn't seem to stop, couldn't abandon the
horrible guilt he felt, and the grief. He tried to keep it inside, now,
fought to keep it off his face when he was around his friends and his
lover. They would only worry about him.
The water had reached his waist, now, and Ken slowly sank down until
it was just above his chin, plagued by visions of death and sorrow that
would not go away no matter how loudly he screamed inside.
Several miles away from the warehouse where Ken was attempting to
drown his sorrows in a tub of hot water, Ran Fujimiya was just waking
His alarm wasn't set to go off for another half hour, but he'd had a
restless sleep anyhow, and was already wide awake. Carefully he reached
out and switched it off so that it wouldn't start blaring and wake up
the other man in his bed. Rolling over onto his back, he turned his
head on the pillow and stared in silence at the face on the other pillow
less than a foot from his own: the reason for his interrupted
It was going to take him awhile to get used to going to bed with Brad
In sleep, without his glasses, his hair all mussed, and his face
smoothed out, the precog looked at least five years younger than he actually
was. Ran observed that absently as he scanned the older man's face
with cautious amethyst eyes, musing to himself.
It had been a little over a month since he had first agreed-
hesitantly -to let the other man sleep in his bed. He owed Crawford that much,
at least, he told himself. Crawford was being surprisingly patient
with him, and they were taking things slow. After such a struggle to get
past the redhead's defenses, Crawford wasn't about to let Ran slip
through his fingers. He had been very careful so far not to push things
too far. They slept in the same bed, now, but they had still not done...
that. Ran was secretly proud that he didn't blush at the thought this
Still, having someone else in his bed, so close, made him jumpy.
After years of living on the edge with an assassin's touchy reflexes and
instincts, he found it difficult to let his guard down in the presence of
another. Especially one who had been his enemy up until a little less
than a year ago.
He sat up- carefully, so as not to awaken his partner -and looked
towards the door as he heard water running down the hall. Aya must be
getting ready for school. He glanced at the clock again and sighed
internally. She was going to be late if she didn't hurry. He checked
himself. No-- she was going to be late, even if she skipped breakfast
and raced to school. He would have to drive her.
He pushed the covers aside and slid carefully off the bed. He glanced
constantly towards the man in the bed as he dressed quietly, making
sure not to wake him. Scooping up his keys in one hand and his shoes in
the other, he slipped out of the room and closed the door softly behind
He almost collided with Aya as she hurried by, still braiding her hair
and doing a funny hop-skip to get her right shoe on. There was a piece
of toast clenched in her teeth, and she smiled ruefully around it at
her older brother.
"Ogh-ay-oh," she said, voice muffled by the bread.
Ran reached out and plucked the toast away, giving her a stern look.
"You should be on your way already," he scolded. "You've already been
late twice this semester. I'm going to buy you a louder alarm
"I can make it if I run," Aya insisted, finishing her braid and
reaching down to tug her shoe firmly in place. She reached out and retrieved
her half-eaten toast. "Sorry I woke you up."
Ran shook his head in resignation. "I was already up. Come on. I'll
"Oh- that's all right," Aya said quickly. She crammed the rest of her
toast in her mouth and hurried past him, swallowing her makeshift
breakfast hastily. "I'll be fine, really."
"No you won't," Ran retorted, following her down the stairs to the
restaurant below. He glanced at the clock behind the register. "It's
Friday; I don't have to open until eight. I have enough time to take you.
I'm not going to listen to your principal squawking at me over the
phone again because you're late."
"I promise I won't be late," Aya wheedled, shouldering her book bag.
"Really! I left this time the other day, and I made it."
"You left earlier than this yesterday, and were still late," Ran
reminded her with a warning scowl. "Now get in the car."
Aya knew when she was beaten. She sighed and trudged towards the
door. On the way she pulled out her cell phone and dialed a number by
Ran frowned at her as they exited the building and headed for his car.
"Who are you calling this early in the morning?" he demanded.
"Oh.." she hesitated, looking from him to the phone. Then she smiled
charmingly. "Well, sometimes I run into Umi-chan on the way to school,
and she gives me a lift. I just wanted to tell her I've got a ride
this morning, that's all."
Ran nodded and opened the passenger door for his sister. She slid in,
pulling the door shut behind her, and Ran walked around to his side.
As he did, he glanced sideways through the windshield, watching as Aya
spoke into her phone.
By the time he'd gotten to his side and slid in, slamming the door
shut, she had just finished the quick call and was slipping her phone back
in the pocket of her skirt.
Ran started the engine, but didn't pull out right away. He turned his
head to stare at her, and after one look at his Fujimiya glare, she
scrunched down in her seat and stared straight ahead, twisting her braid
in her fingers nervously.
"That was a private conversation," she muttered irritably. But her
voice was subdued.
"Then cover your mouth next time," Ran snapped, "if you don't want me
to read your lips after a lame excuse like that." He glared at her.
"Why were you calling Schuldich?"
Aya sighed, still not looking at him. "I couldn't get Umi-chan," she
said meekly. "And... sometimes I run into Schuldich on the way to
"Nice try," Ran growled. "Umi never picks you up, does she? Are you
trying to tell me Schuldich picks you up on the way to school every
morning and takes you there??"
"...Not every morning," Aya muttered. Then immediately wished she'd
kept her mouth shut.
Ran's face was a thundercloud. But thankfully he pressed his lips
together and fell into dark silence, backing the car out and heading down
the road towards the high school.
They spent the trip in silence until he'd pulled up in front of the
school. Aya had unbuckled in record-breaking time and actually had one
foot out of the door when her brother's voice stopped her.
"Schuldich lives nowhere near the school. How does he just 'happen'
to run across you in the mornings?" he demanded.
Aya sighed, closing her eyes for patience and a silent prayer for
quick-thinking. "That coffee shop he and Crawford usually go to is just
down the street," she pointed out. "He still goes there sometimes. He
doesn't mind giving me a ride." She interrupted her brother as he opened
his mouth again. "And before you ask why I'm 'hiding' it from you,
this is why. I knew you'd react like this." She glowered at him
rebelliously. "Just because you think Schuldich is a jackass Nazi doesn't mean
I do. He's my friend. You got over Farfarello being my friend; what
makes Schuldich any different?"
"Schuldich has no conscience," Ran growled, glaring at her irritably.
"He's a selfish bastard who learned not to let his feelings get in the
way a long time ago."
"I'll be friends with who I want," Aya shot back. "Quit being so
It was a stare-down even Farfarello would have hesitated to interrupt.
They glared at each other, their inherited tempers stirred, before at
last Ran looked away and scowled furiously at the steering wheel. "Go
to school," he said shortly. "Before you're late. Again."
Aya got out with a huff and slammed the door behind her. She marched
up the steps to the school while Ran watched her go, struggling with
his mixed anxiety and anger. When she was inside and out of sight, he
lowered his head, leaning his forehead against the steering wheel and
sighing in frustration.
How could she not expect him to worry about her? Especially
with the disreputable company she kept. Farfarello had been bad enough,
but at least Ran had finally seen that the Irishman actually had the
capacity to love people in his own strange way. Farfarello loved Ken and
Aya, as far as Ran could (reluctantly) tell. But Schuldich...
He cringed. That was a man he did not want befriending his baby
sister. The man was an arrogant, cruel bastard who thought playing with
people's emotions was the best thing since sliced bread. Ran had known
that the two of them had clicked on some level during the war, but he'd
assumed nothing would come of it afterwards. They'd mostly argued,
anyway. But now...
Ran cursed under his breath and put the car into drive, pulling away
from the school and heading back towards the restaurant. His first
instinct was to track the German down and have a Talk with him, but he knew
it would do no good. It might even make things worse. Schuldich would
just hang around Aya more to piss him off. And if Aya found out about
the conversation, she would be irritated with her brother and accuse
him of being "overprotective" and "nosey".
If this was even remotely what it felt like to be a father, then he
was never getting married, he decided firmly.
Aya was annoyed with her brother, but at the same time she understood
why he was so upset at the thought of her and Schuldich being friends.
He hadn't been far off the mark in his description of the cocky
telepath. That didn't mean there wasn't something else to him, and she'd
unearthed a part of that other Schuldich during the war.
Her brothers didn't know about it-- though she had the morbid
suspicion that it would not be long before they found out --but she and
Schuldich met up almost every day. He would run into her on the way to school
and drive them by McDonald's for breakfast. They would lose track of
time, talking, eating, and throwing hashbrowns at each other, and she
would end up being late for class, but she didn't mind. Or she would
wheedle him into getting ice cream after class, or get him to run her to
the store for some shopping. He would grumble and sulk while she tried
on clothes, or give her scathing fashion "tips", which in truth amused
her more than it angered her. She enjoyed her time with the German--
perhaps more than she should.
A day didn't go by when she didn't think fleetingly of that one kiss
he'd given her the day Tomas Hannigan had returned to Ireland. One
kiss, no more. They were back to bickering and getting along more like
siblings than friends. Any morsel of romance she might have hoped for
seemed to be nonexistent. She was secretly upset by this, and her
depression about that only made her more disgusted with herself. It made her
feel like a stupid love-sick puppy. And anyway, where had those
feelings come from? She could do much better. Ran would tell her so
himself. Schuldich was everything Ran said he was: arrogant, cruel,
She shook off thoughts of the green-eyed assassin as she made her way
through the crowded hallway towards her first class. Too wrapped up in
her musings of crushes and exasperation, she didn't see the girl until
She came stepping timidly from the principal's office, staring at a
piece of paper, and Aya barrelled right into her. The girl gave a squeal
of surprise, papers and books flying everywhere, and Aya almost fell on
"G-gomen!" she stammered, embarrassed. She squatted hastily and began
snatching up the spilled papers. "My head's not with me today. Here,
let me help..."
"It's okay," the girl said shyly, crouching down and picking up her
books. "I wasn't looking."
They straightened, and Aya handed the books over with a rueful grin.
"Hey, I don't recognize you. Are you new?"
The girl bobbed her head in a nervous nod, clutching her books to her
chest with one arm and reaching up with her free hand to tuck her
shortly-cropped brown hair behind her ear. She was a gaijin, Aya realized
"Ohh, are you from America?" she asked in surprise.
"Y-yes." The girl's eyes shied away, and she shifted her weight
uncomfortably. "I'm an exchange student."
"Your Japanese is very good," Aya complimented with a friendly
The girl's mouth twitched into the hint of a smile. "I'm afraid I'm
not very good at reading it," she admitted.
"Here, let me see your schedule," Aya offered, holding out her hand.
"I can help you find your first class."
"Arigato," the girl said with obvious relief, handing over the creased
"Hey, lucky us," Aya said as the bell rang. She pointed to the top
line on the schedule. "We share first period and gym. Come on, I'll
take you." She smiled over her shoulder as the thin girl hurried after
her. "I'm Aya, by the way."
The girl looked at her with big hazel eyes and managed another shy
smile. "I'm Laura," she murmured. "Laura Hall."
(1) If anyone laughed at this, you watch too much South Park. XD;;
Author's Notes: *laughs* I'm sorry, I can never resist twitching
the boys over into overprotective mode. It amuses me. I think it's
cute XD; I have a few guy friends who have taken it upon themselves to
become my older brothers, and it gets tiresome sometimes, but sweet.
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