||Chapter 27||
"Shades of Red"

When Schuldich had called for Crawford to come and pick up himself and Aya, Crawford had stopped to do only one thing before hurrying off to meet his partner.
He'd alerted the Adir'avar.
Unfortunately, it was only midday, which left only Himeno, Raphael, and Yuusuke to respond to his order; Ryoko had been killed by Ash, and the remaining half-bloods could not bear the sunlight. Still, they were not known for lack of confidence, and headed out with all speed to intercept Nebel, hoping to catch them unawares as they departed the hotel. On the way they sought out Ken and Flint in the park, and informed him of what had happened. Ken dropped what he was doing and ordered Flint to follow as he raced towards the subway. The Adir'avar continued tirelessly on foot.

Luck must have been with them that day, because they spotted their quarry only a few blocks from the hotel, Hwang forcing their captive to walk in front of them with his Gift.
The three assassins crouched on a rooftop, making quick plans and studying the three below. There was no sign of Ken and Flint yet.
"Right," Raphael muttered, slipping a round into his shotgun. "We don't have a chance against the telekinetic, and there's no telling what the girl can do. Our best option is a surprise attack and a diversion. As soon as Hidaka shows up, we'll attack. While we keep them busy, he can get Farfarello-sama out of here."
The other two nodded in silent agreement. Yuusuke fidgeted with his two short swords, eager for a fight, while Himeno slipped her own weapon from a pouch in her belt. She gripped the two handles and pulled her garotte taut with a sharp hum of vibrating wire. She glanced up to offer her leader a small but fierce smile that showed a tip of fang. "Wakatta."
Ken and Flint arrived a few minutes later, having followed the tug of the former's Necromancy. Raphael quickly explained the plan; with nods of silent 'good luck' to each other, the team split apart to do their job.

Jenell and her partner were feeling confident that they'd succeeded. They weren't expecting any kind of retaliation so soon after their attack, and strolled without hurry towards the car they'd left a couple blocks away from the hotel.
Hwang sneered at Farfarello's stiff back as he forced the Irishman to walk in front of them. "You like that little girl?" he taunted, clenching his teeth as he limped painfully along. "She must think she's pretty tough. Well just you wait, Berserker. When I get my hands on her again, I'll tear her apart nice and slow right in front of you. You like that kind of thing, right?" He laughed harshly at the Vampire's snarl of fury.
"The Alchemist is eager to see you again, Farfarello," Jenell informed him with an evil little grin. "Do you remember the last time the two of you crossed blades? This time Rosenkreuz will not step in to save you." Farfarello bit out a few degrading words in Gaelic that only made her laugh merrily.
Hwang hissed air in through his teeth as his injured leg throbbed. "Fuck! I can't wait to get my hands around that bitch's throat-" His toe snagged in a crack in the sidewalk and he went down. The fall saved his life.
His curse was drowned out in the roar of a shotgun that missed his head by mere inches as he stumbled, and Jenell gave a screech of surprise and anger, whirling around to find their attacker.
She spotted Raphael darting into an alley, and pointed furiously. "I see him! You keep going, I will take care of it."
"Fuck," Hwang growled, urging Farfarello on faster. As he turned the corner, he glanced over his shoulder to see if Jenell had flushed out their attacker.
Something cold and thin slipped over his head from above, and before he could react, deadly wire tightened around his neck. He froze, bulging eyes darting upwards.
Himeno had her legs wrapped around a streetlight as she hung upside down from it, smiling at him in a condescending way, her garotte wrapped neatly around his throat. "Release the Berserker," she ordered. "Unless you want to be a head shorter."
Hwang bared his teeth at her, seizing her with his Gift and keeping her from pulling the wire any tighter. "Nice try, bitch." He forced her arms together, loosening the wire, and carefully slipped it off before slamming her against a brick wall with a vicious thought.
"Heads up!!"
He whirled at the cheerful shout to see Yuusuke leaping for him, swinging his double swords with lethal intent. Stumbling back, Hwang unthinkingly lashed out with a good part of his Gift, sending the half-blood clear across the street; in doing so, his grip on Farfarello was loosened considerably. Flint appeared from an alley, hissing, and went for him with bared fangs, only to be tossed aside with a glance.
"Jenell!" he shouted furiously, turning around belatedly to check on his prisoner.
Farfarello was gone.
Infuriated, he whirled around to find his attackers. Himeno and Flint had disappeared. He spotted Yuusuke darting for another street and lashed out angrily, seizing him and holding him motionless.
Jenell came running up, scowling. "The man with the gun got away.." Her eyes widened. "Where is the Berserker??"
"Fuck!" Hwang began cursing in Hongul as he nursed his hurt leg, dragging the snarling Adir'avar towards them with his Gift. "It was just a fucking distraction! They got him."
Jenell began screaming at him furiously, but he cut her off irritably. "Shut up, idiot! We'll find them. This is one of their men."
Jenell glared at the half-blood as he bared long fangs at them and hissed defiantly. "We do not need him," she snapped. "Kill him and let's get the Berserker back."
"My pleasure," Hwang growled. Yuusuke screamed as an invisible wind tore through him, ripping his body to shreds and killing him in seconds.
In the shadows of an alley, Curtis Riddle observed it all in horrified silence. The two assassins didn't notice him as they raced past in pursuit of their prey.

Farfarello was not a happy camper.
He kept trying to stop and return to the fight; he was not one to run from a confrontation. Ken had to keep grabbing him and dragging him as he ran, shouting at him desperately to let the Adir'avar take care of it.
Finally Farfarello succumbed sulkily and ran in silence alongside his lover. They raced through the streets, never slowing. As they got to the main streets, pedestrians mostly leapt out of their way with cries of surprise; those that didn't move were elbowed impatiently aside.
Ken stumbled at one point, his breath ragged in his lungs. He'd raced to the subway, then to meet up with Raphael, and couldn't keep up the grueling pace much longer. Farfarello caught his arm when he staggered. Taking in his partner's condition in a glance, he pulled the startled boy up against him with one strong arm and- ignoring the shocked exclamations of the people around them -leapt up onto a low rooftop with a powerful bound. Ken wrapped his arms around the man's neck and held on tight as the Vampire leapt from rooftop to rooftop, running tirelessly until they spotted a dark car following them below at breakneck speed.
It screeched to a halt at an intersection ahead of them, and the passenger door slid open.
"Ken! Farfarello!" Manx's head popped out of the window as she shouted up to them. "Get in!"
Farfarello darted to the roof's edge and leapt without hesitation; Ken's stomach lurched in protest as they fell before the Irishman landed with a squeal of suspensions on the car's hood.
Ken slid from his lover's tight grip and ducked into the car; Farfarello slid in behind him, yanking the door shut, and Manx slammed on the gas, roaring down the road and ignoring the blaring horns of other drivers.
"Wait! What about the Adir'avar?" Ken panted, leaning forward and clutching the front seat as the car swerved, threatening to throw him against the door.
"They can take care of themselves," Farfarello grunted, and Ken remembered how fast the half-bloods had ran, seemingly without getting tired.
He slumped back in the seat to lean against his lover, catching his breath and letting his eyes slide closed in exhaustion. "Arigato, Manx," he breathed. "How did you know?"
"Luckily I wasn't that far away from Shinjuku," Manx said over her shoulder, eyes on the road. "Crawford called the shop from a hospital, and Bombay called me to fill me in. I just had to pick up your thoughts to pinpoint your location. Aya is safe, by the way," she added. "They got her to a hospital; the worst of it is a cracked rib."
Ken felt some of the tension in his partner's body fade, and reached out to wrap his tanned hand around the pale one by his. He offered his lover a weary smile when a single amber eye turned his way.
"Yokatta," he murmured, letting his head fall against a strong scarred shoulder and closing his eyes. "I was so afraid we wouldn't get to you in time..." He opened his eyes again to meet Manx's glance in the rearview mirror. "Manx, can you contact Crawford and let him know we got Farfarello?"
There was a pause, then the woman shook her head. "Sorry, he's a little too far away, and there are a lot of minds in between us. Finding you was hard enough, even when I got to the right streets. My telepathy just isn't as strong as Schuldich's."
Ken sighed. "I wish he hadn't taken down the bond."
"You can bitch him out when we get to the hospital."
"If he's still there," Ken sighed, looking out the window. "He acts like he doesn't want anything to do with us anymore."
Farfarello's lips curved in a slight, secret smile. He said nothing.


Schuldich ignored the familiar voice, striding determinedly through the parking lot of the hospital and glancing around for a taxi. He could hear Crawford's expensive shoes clicking on the asphalt as he followed.
"Beat it, Crawford," Schuldich snapped over his shoulder.
"I said wait."
Schuldich whirled, glaring furiously at the solemn-faced American. "And I said scram! God damn it, do you want to finish this right here and now? I'll put you in a hospital bed right next to Fujimiya's precious sister."
Crawford stood before him, looking suitably unimpressed. "Is that why you're going to leave? Because of the tension between you and me?"
Schuldich's eyes narrowed. "Why the fuck did you tell her?" he demanded in a low, intense voice. "That shit is nobody's fucking business. Now I've got her crying after me, worried I'm going to sink into depression or some shit. Good going, asshole."
Crawford shrugged. "She had to know."
"Don't give me that!" Schuldich raged, fists shaking with the urge to hit the other man.
"Schuldich." Crawford's voice was stern, his eyes hard. "If you think to settle this we're going to have to fight, so be it. But this is not the time. We need to take care of Rosenkreuz and Nebel, and we've already lost enough people as it is without you running off with your tail between your legs. There is no way to take back the things I did in the past, Schuldich."
Schuldich laughed harshly. "If that's your idea of an apology, you really need some practice. Besides, a fight won't settle this."
Schuldich stepped closer, invading the taller man's personal space, and jabbed his finger into the solid chest as he glared into the other's cool gaze. "For this to be over- for us to be even..." his breath came out a hiss, "I'd have to kill you."
Crawford frowned at him for a few tense moments before giving a faint smirk. "It won't be you who kills me by the time this is over with."
Schuldich opened his mouth for a sharp retort before the sentence fully registered. He stared at the American, mouth pulling downwards in a scowl. "Wait- what?"
Crawford turned away, regaining his personal space and reaching up to push his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. "Are you really going to leave? The Schuldich I know wouldn't run off like a beaten dog."
Schuldich's temper stirred, but he recognized the other man's deliberate taunting. He seized Crawford by the shoulder and wrenched him around to face him, glaring into his unreadable face. "Oi, teme! Are you insinuating that you saw your death in a vision or some shit? You're going to die in this?"
Crawford batted Schuldich's hand away coolly and ignored his question. "Are you coming or not?" He turned without waiting for a response and headed back for the hospital.
Schuldich watched him go in silence for a little while, frowning to himself. He glanced over his shoulder, then back to the man's retreating form. "...Ch'!" Brushing his bangs out of his face irritably, he shoved his hands in his pockets and strolled after his teammate.


Silk frowned disapprovingly as he trailed after the Alchemist and Ash to an empty parking lot by their hotel.
Ash had recovered fairly quickly, but had been moody and quiet all morning. He refused to talk about last night, and would scowl darkly whenever Park was mentioned. Silk had eventually given up on it, leaving the younger man to his own thoughts.
Jenell and Hwang had left earlier on an errand of some sort about an hour ago, and Felix had turned to Ash abruptly and told him it was time for practice. Ash had agreed readily enough; he had some pent-up aggresion he needed to work out. Silk privately thought the redhead shouldn't exert himself so soon after losing so much blood, but wisely kept his mouth shut.
Felix had brought a few things with him: a pocketknife, a short metal pipe, and a silver platter. He stood several yards away from Ash and arranged his "weapons" to his liking; the pipe in hand, his pocketknife thrust in his belt loop, and the platter on a stoop nearby. Ash watched him with a dangerous glint to his eye, his face a cold mask. An assassin's face.
Silk settled himself on the stoop by the silver platter and prepared to watch, hoping his partners wouldn't go overboard.
"No killing blows," Felix said loudly, "and no crippling blows, either. We still need to be ready to fight when Rosenkreuz gives the word." Ash nodded silently to show he understood, and Felix pushed his sunglasses further up the bridge of his nose, grinning. "Yosh'..." He darted forward without another word, his grip tightening around the pole as he lifted it like a baseball bat. Silk's eyes widened as sparks suddenly flew up the length of the pipe and it shot to twice its original length before his eyes.
The Alchemist was able to manipulate metal at will.
He swung his pipe at Ash's head; the younger man ducked and rolled to avoid the blow, throwing out his hand. Streams of fire shot from his fingertips; Felix rolled across the ground to avoid them, leaping nimbly to his feet an instant later. They whirled to face each other, and Felix pointed the pole at Ash; it shot out even longer, tapering to a point as it grew, and Ash barely managed to dodge in time. The metal sliced his left arm, and Silk straightened, holding his breath. Felix darted over to the stoop and snatched up the platter.
Ash didn't even seem to notice his cut. He swung his arm, and a wave of flames roared through the air towards his opponent. Felix held up the platter- it expanded at an alarming rate, becoming a shield. He deflected the fire, but staggered under the force of it. He hissed, dropping his "shield" as the heat became too much for him to hold it; he looked up in time to see Ash dashing towards him, drawing his katana.
Felix grinned madly, tossing his pole aside. He pulled out his pocketknife, and warped it into a saber just in time to counter the crashing blow Ash aimed at his head. Silk watched in numb silence as the two danced across the parking lot, battering at each other fiercely. If he hadn't known it was merely training, he would have thought the two were mortal enemies. Ash was taking his frustration and rage at Park out on Felix, and the other man seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the fight. He continued to grin as he blocked and swung his heavier sword, searching for an opening.
Felix soon proved to be too fast and strong; Ash gritted his teeth as he was forced to block more and more often. He hissed in anger as the British assassin's sword flicked by his face, cutting his cheek. Snarling in rage, he lunged.
Abruptly, his katana blade erupted in flames.
Felix's eyes widened slightly, and he hastily blocked the sudden furious blows that came at him. He flinched, unable to bear the heat so close to his face, and jumped back a pace to give his saber room to grow again and keep the flaming sword at bay. Before he could come forward again, Ash swung his sword downwards. The fire rolled off his sword and shot for the Alchemist.
Felix snarled a curse as the fire caught on his coat. He shrugged out of it hurriedly, but some of it was on his shirt and pants. He dropped to the ground, rolling to put the fire out. As the last of the flames went out, he started to push himself quickly to his feet, only to find a hot katana blade hovering by his throat. He froze, eyes darting upwards to meet Ash's hard glare.
The pyro's voice was as sharp and unyielding as the edge of his blade. "Yield."
Felix glanced towards the sword below his chin, then back up at Ash. His face twisted into a scowl of anger.
Silk twisted, startled, at the sudden applause behind him.
Souma stood behind him, a slight smile curving the corner of his mouth. "Bravo," he drawled. "It seems, Alchemist, that while you can beat a Berserker, you have met your match in the Pyro."
Felix's eyes flashed as he glared silently at his superior. Ash gazed over at the man solemnly before finally taking his sword from the Alchemist's throat and sheathing it. He stepped back as the older man got to his feet, and tilted his chin to meet Felix's angry glare.
"Don't get cocky, firestarter," Felix growled quietly. He turned sharply on his heel and headed towards Souma, collecting his weapons as he went. Silk jumped to his feet and hurried past the muttering Englishman, grinning widely at Ash.
"Shit, that was awesome," he said with honest admiration in his voice as the younger man turned plum eyes his way. "Jackson needed to be brought down a peg anyway. He thinks he's such a badass." (1)
Some of the anger drained from Ash's face, and he glanced away in mild embarrassment.
They turned as Souma raised his voice for all three of them to hear. "Jenell and Hwang are on their way back. They were intercepted on their way back with the Berserker." The telepath crossed his arms over his chest, looking at each of them. "The time is nearing when we will go at them with full force. They are an annoyance that cannot be allowed to keep getting in our way."
Felix sneered, pocketing his knife- it was small again. "I'll finish what I started with the Berserker. Who would you like to deal with Crawford?" His eyes drifted towards Ash.
Souma followed his gaze, and his smile was borderline malicious. "Ash, would you like to deal with the Oracle?"
Ash blinked, exchanging a quick glance with Silk. He'd been planning to focus mostly on Weiß; Schwarz had been responsible for Silk's amnesia, and he'd thought the blond would want them for himself. Silk shrugged to show it didn't matter to him, though he, too, seemed puzzled as to why the two men seemed so amused at the idea of Ash taking out Crawford.
Ash returned his gaze to Souma, inclining his head. "Hai."
"What about the Mastermind?" Felix inquired as they all headed back across the street towards their hotel.
Souma's smile sent an involuntary shiver up Silk's spine. "Leave the Prince of Lies to me."

Author's Notes: (1) Jackson is Felix's last name, for those who forgot; it was only mentioned like.. once, so I don't blame anyone for forgetting. I had to look it up.. lol
And in response to many inquiries about ash and silk... yes, there's a good reason I'm keeping things btw them slow/subtle

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