||Chapter 29||

"Oi, I thought you wanted this Crawford person."
Felix dragged his eyes away from the TV from where he was slouched in the comfortable armchair. Hwang, sprawled on his stomach on the floor by the chair, continued to transfer chips to his mouth steadily, eyes glued to the television screen as he ignored the conversation.
Silk arched a brow at the Alchemist from where he stood by the open window, flicking cigarette ash onto the outer sill absently. "Didn't the guy kill your cousin or something?"
Felix shrugged carelessly, turning his eyes back to the TV. "Charles was an idiot to get killed by someone like that know-it-all American. Souma says Ash does it, so be it. It's up to him. As long as I get the Berserker." His lips parted in a slight, unpleasant smile, his eyes going unfocused as he visited old memories. "Ahh," he breathed, "I can already see the look on his face now..."
Silk recalled the pictures of the fearsome looking Vampire Lord and shuddered inwardly. Let Felix have the lunatic. Fine by him. That was one man he would hate to run into in a dark alley.
Silk looked around. "Where is Ash, anyway?" He figured the young man would be desperately enjoying the day, knowing that at night, Park would come for him once more. Just thinking about the American Vampire Lord made Silk's blood boil.
There was a crash and a shriek from one of the back rooms.
"That would be him now," Felix said with another little smirk, turning up the volume on the TV.
"Sounds like Jenell's in a fighting mood," Hwang observed absently, shoving another handful of chips in his mouth. He said something irritable in Hongul to the hero on the screen.
Silk flicked his cigarette out the window and hurried into the hall, looking around quickly. The temperature had shot up, almost enough to cause heat waves. "Shit," he hissed, running towards the large bathroom at the sound of a muffled thud against its door.
He heard the girl screeching in German as he reached for the knob. It was red-hot, and he yanked his hand back with a muttered curse. He settled for kicking the door repeatedly. "Jenell!" he shouted through the wood. "What's going on in there? Open the door!"
He heard a crack, like a bolt of lightening ripping the sky, and there was a loud shatter of glass. An answering roar that could only be flames came immediately afterwards.
"God damn it!" Silk kicked the door a few more times, but it was heavy, and opened outwards. He turned to shout over his shoulder. "Hwang! You'd better get over here and help me, or they're going to bring the apartment down around our ears!"
He kicked the door again. "Ash! Jenell! Knock it off! Open the damn door!"
He heard footsteps, and Hwang came up behind him, scowling in annoyance. "Get out of the way," he snapped. Silk just barely had time to step aside as the Korean blew the door clean off its hinges with an impatient wave of his hand. Jenell gave a shriek of surprise and anger from inside. Smoke billowed out, and Hwang and Silk were forced to retreat, coughing.
One of the bedroom doors slammed open, and Birman came marching out, face angry. "What the hell is going on?" she demanded, covering her mouth and nose to keep out some of the smoke.
Silk stepped forward cautiously, waving the slowly dissipating smoke away as he tried to see inside the bathroom.
It looked like a damned battlefield.
The mirror had been destroyed; pieces of glass littered the floor. The water in the bathtub was boiling, filling the room with hot steam that hurt Silk's skin. The throw rug and one of the towels were charred and smoking, and there were jagged burn marks all over the wall from the combination of electricity and fire.
Ash stood by the toilet, fists clenched as he glared murderously at his opponent, sweat rolling down his face from the heat. Jenell was doing a little dance of rage by the tub, little sparks still dancing between her fingers. She was wrapped in a towel. "He is a fucking peeping tom!" she screeched. "You fucking perverted, wash-out, faggot!"
Ash's arms erupted in flames. "I said it was a mistake!" he shouted furiously. "That isn't what this is about, you spoiled little brat!"
"Shut the hell up!" Birman barked over them. "Both of you! Knock it off!"
They ignored her, still glaring fiercely at each other. Hwang pushed the woman aside impatiently and glanced at each of them in annoyance. Ash found himself pinned to the wall with a grunt, and Jenell flew into the air and was slammed into the wall above the tub's boiling contents, stuck to the wall like a fly to fly paper. She turned her rage on her teammate, screaming threats and curses at the man in both German and Hongul. Hwang began shouting right back, sliding her down a few inches closer to the boiling water. Her shrieks only intensified.
Silk stood numbly in the doorway, watching incredulously. This wasn't a team. No way could this be a functioning team. They were more like a pack of wolves or wild dogs, snapping at each other's throats constantly.
Felix finally came stomping up. He began shouting curses at all of them, cuffing whoever was in reach. Silk ducked instinctively, finally retreating from the bathroom. The shouting and screaming continued until finally some semblance of order seemed to be restored. Silk had flattened himself against the hall wall, and shot a look of disbelief towards Birman, who had also backed out and was clenching her teeth as she glared at the doorway in impatient anger.
Ash came out first, his strides long, his fists still clenched, and his face a mask of cold fury. The sleeves of his shirt had been burned away, but as always, the fire had had no effect on his skin. A jagged, ugly wound on his arm, burned and blistered, proved that Jenell had got a hit on him with her power.
Silk pushed himself off the wall to follow, but was shoved aside by Hwang, who stomped back towards the den, muttering to himself in his native tongue. Jenell hurried out after him and made a bee-line for her room, wailing angrily like a child who had been spanked. Finally Felix appeared in the bathroom doorway, hands on his hips, his face like a thundercloud. Silk beat a hasty retreat, hurrying after Ash, who had gone in the direction of the kitchen. He would have to tend to that wound; he doubted the other man had even noticed it in his rage.
He found himself wishing the final confrontation with Weiß and Schwarz would hurry up and come already, if only so Nebel would be able to return to whatever hellhole they had emerged from.
He found Ash pacing in the kitchen, muttering under his breath as he struggled without success to bring his temper back under control. Silk watched him for a minute, then retrieved the first aid kit from one of the kitchen drawers. "Ash," he said quietly. "Calm down. Sit down and let me take care of your arm."
The redhead didn't seem to hear him at first. After a moment he came to a halt and glared at his arm as if seeing the horrible burn for the first time. Grudgingly, he went over to the table and sat down heavily in one of the chairs, glowering at the tabletop.
Silk pulled a chair up alongside the pyro and opened the kit, digging through it for the things he would need. Ash flinched, hissing air through his clenched teeth in pain as his partner carefully began to clean his wound. The pain seemed to take the edge off his anger, so Silk figured it was safe for him to talk without getting his head bitten off.
"What happened?"
Ash scowled and winced at the same time. "I walked in on her," he grumbled at last. "I didn't know she was in there."
That explained the "peeping tom" accusations. Silk snorted in mild disbelief. "You accidentally walked in on her, and that caused a firefight?"
Ash wouldn't meet his gaze, glaring at the fridge, the muscles in his arm jerking in pain as Silk worked. "That's not what it was about. Not really," he said after a moment's hesitation. "That just triggered it."
Silk frowned, his eyes on his work as he gently applied burn cream. "What do you mean?"
Ash was silent for so long Silk was sure he wasn't going to answer. He had started to apply gauze and bandages when Ash finally muttered, "It's that stupid little crush she has on you."
Silk's hands paused in their work, and he looked up to stare at his friend in surprise. "What? Don't tell me she's..."
Ash scowled and still wouldn't look at him. Silk couldn't tell if the other man was blushing, or if he was red from his anger. He remembered Hwang's warning. This whole stupid fight had been because Jenell was jealous?
No wonder Ash didn't really want to talk about it. He still didn't know exactly what to make of Silk; saying Jenell had exploded out of jealousy would be jumping to conclusions in his mind.
Silk returned his eyes to his hands and quickly but carefully finished wrapping up the assassin's arm. His right arm, he noticed belatedly, and frowned slightly. It might affect his swordsmanship. Right before a big fight, too. Damn it. He felt a flash of impatient anger towards Jenell.
Ash was watching him work, and seemed to come to the same realization. His eyes narrowed, his jaw clenching as he fought to bury his anger.
Silk sighed, pushing his own irritation aside with difficulty. He forced a confident grin on his face as he put his supplies away and closed the kit with a little click. "There. All done. I'll dig you up some painkillers and antibiotics from the bathroom after it's all cleaned up."
Ash glanced up at him from under hooded lids. "They won't clean it," he pointed out.
Silk frowned. "Jenell should have to clean it. I'll try to get Felix to talk her into it." He hesitated. "You should, too, actually," he added. "You both made the mess."
Silk rose to his feet and put the first aid kit away. He turned and leaned his back against the counter, watching as his partner flexed his arm experimentally, wincing with pain.
Ash looked up at him after a moment, the anger finally tucked away behind a calm, unreadable expression. "Thanks," he said simply.
Silk flashed a smile, pulling his cigarettes from his back pocket and sliding one in between his teeth as he spoke around it. "No problem. Just try to stay out of her way from now on. Though I doubt she'll be so quick to try anything again too soon."
"Don't smoke in here," Ash protested with a little frown. "People have to eat in here."
Silk rolled his eyes good-humoredly, and took the cigarette from his mouth, sliding it behind his ear for later.
They heard one of the bedroom doors slam and looked up in time to see Jenell stomp past, seething, dressed in some of her gaudiest clothes. Felix's irritated voice came from the den. "Where the hell are you going?"
"Out," she snapped back. The front door slammed behind her.
The two partners exchanged a glance, but decided not to mention the younger Gifted.
"Where'd you learn how to do that, anyway?" Ash asked curiously, looking at his bandaged arm again. "It was a good job," he added a little hesitantly.
Silk opened his mouth, then shut it again, feeling his mouth tug into a frown. He stared at the neatly bandaged wound, feeling a trickle of unease in his gut.
He couldn't think of a answer. He had simply reached into the kit and found what he knew he would need for the wound. There had been no thought to it, only action. Grab the necessary equipment, bind the wound, done. All instinct.
As if he had done it numerous times before.
Ash looked up and saw the look on his face and waved his left hand in a dismissive gesture. "Don't worry about it. You were an assassin for Rosenkreuz before Schwarz caused your amnesia, right? I guess assassins get a lot of wounds."
"Yeah... that's probably it," Silk said, forcing another grin. "Come on. I'll take you out to lunch."
But he couldn't dispel the uneasy feeling in his gut.


Ken was still waiting for the night to come so he could practice his Necromancy at full power, and so he and his lover had returned to the caves to rest.
Flint was waiting for them.
There was a scowl on his face that gave Ken a feeling of dread; his news caused fear to twist in his gut.
The Vampires were nervous.
They had been whispering to each other in the darkness of the tunnels, speaking of the enormous army of Purebloods they were sure to face. Malachi and his little army were not much cause for concern. But somehow news of Park had been leaked. They realized that the man could call an army of his own to their land- one that could crush Japan's Vampires into the dirt.
What could they possibly do against such a force, with only the aid of a small band of assassins and half-bloods, led by a young Turned that had once hunted them down for sport?
Morale was wavering. The shadow of mutiny hung over the tunnels like a dark cloud. Farfarello, his amber eye cold, ordered Flint to call all the Vampires to the main cavern.
As he trotted alongside Farfarello, Ken could sense the underlying anger in his lover. This was not what they needed right now. This could ruin everything. Farfarello had no patience for this; instinctively Ken knew that his partner's harsh way of dealing with things might have the undesired effect of turning the Vampires away for good.
The Vampires were already filing into the main cavern when Farfarello strode in, with Ken at his side. The Irishman ascended the dais and slouched in his throne, glowering at his nervous followers. Ken took up his place on his lover's right, watching the Turned fill the cave as his mind worked frantically. He had to think of a way to keep the Vampires from committing mutiny without their ferocious leader angering them.
Finally they were all grouped in the large cave, shuffling their feet nervously and whispering among each other. Farfarello's lips lifted in something between a sneer and a snarl. He wasn't one for speeches. The next thing out of his mouth would be a threat-- Ken was willing to bet money on it.
"Don't piss them off, Farf," Ken murmured.
"I'm not planning on pissing them off," Farfarello muttered darkly, glaring at his people. "I'm going to scare the shit out of them."
Ken gave an internal sigh. While both Agammedo and Farfarello had proven that fear could be the best motivator for obedience, too much of it would only make the current situation worse. "If you frighten them too badly," Ken whispered patiently, "they'll leap at the chance to join Malachi. That's what we're trying to prevent, remember?" He put a hand on his partner's shoulder. "Let me handle it."
Farfarello sulked, but kept his silence.
Ken stepped forward and cleared his throat. All eyes turned his way. A lot of the looks were unfriendly. He looked around at the assembled undead, absently soothing his power as it bubbled up in him at their presence. "Listen to me," he said above the whispers. "Listen to what I have to say before you do something stupid."
"Now he has his human whore speak for him?" someone in the crowd muttered derisively. Snickers greeted these words. Ken gritted his teeth to control his temper. Farfarello sat unmoving. He'd said he would let Ken handle it; so be it.
"Better a 'human whore' than a coward," Ken said loudly, crossing his arms over his chest. He glared out at the sea of suddenly hostile faces. "That's right. I said coward. That's what the lot of you are acting like."
"How dare you-" one of the closer Vampires sputtered.
Ken looked right at him, lifting his chin in challenge. "No? I'm wrong? Abandoning your rightful Lord for a pompous Pureblood and his pack? Purebloods that scorn you for being born human, who see you as inferior? Yet you would rather run to him than risk losing?" He shook his head slowly. "That sounds like cowardice to me."
"There's no way we could beat them if the American Lord calls in his people," another Vampire shouted. They were growing bold at Farfarello's lack of response. "Park commands thousands of both Turned and Purebloods who could crush us as easily as we could you, human. The Barons will split up Park's Vampires until we have nowhere to turn."
Ken frowned slightly. Barons? A twinge of uneasiness touched his gut. He had never heard of any "Barons" before. He knew better than to display his ignorance to this crowd, however. He pushed his questions aside for later. "If that's what you're so worried about, let me ask you something," he called over the mutters of the crowd. "Park commands a great and powerful enemy- supposedly." He leaned forward slightly, arching his brows. "So where are they?"
"In America, you nit," someone called. One of his companions cuffed him irritably.
"And where are we?" Ken asked with exaggerated patience, looking at the one who had spoken.
Rubbing the back of his head from the light blow, the dull man scowled up at Ken. "Japan, stupid."
Ken straightened, his face calm. "Brilliant deduction, Watson." He glared fiercely around at them all, as if their stupidity offended him. His voice rose. "Why hasn't Park sent for them to crush us?"
They shifted uneasily, exchanging frowns of mixed irritation and confusion.
Ken allowed the corner of his mouth to twist up in a humorless little grin. "Because," he said slowly, "they do not see us as a threat."
Some of the more stubborn Vampires continued to glare at him. Others began whispering angrily at Ken's words.
"You should know well enough the arrogance of the Purebloods," Ken said. "And you should be damn well aware of just how full of his own importance Malachi is."
"But Park is a Turned," another Vampire pointed out. "He's one of us."
"Park is overlord of all the Vampires of the U.S.," Ken countered with a quirked brow. "And he is old- very old. He is confident in his immortality. You are nothing but a disorganized rabble to him. I'm sure Malachi has been downgrading us all enough in his presence that Park feels no need to bring in reinforcements as of yet. If they can crush us in the first battle- which they're sure is possible -so much the better, they figure." Ken paused, looking around the room at the angry faces, and curved his mouth in a cold smile. "They underestimate us all," he said quietly.
That got their attention. A vote of confidence was not what they had been expecting today.
"Your own master is Turned, like you," Ken said, turning slightly to gesture at his blank-faced lover. "Turned. And young. The very characteristics that make Malachi and his followers scorn you all." The cold smile played on his mouth again. "Who of you has the courage to come forward and challenge him?"
The mob visibly balked. They glanced towards Farfarello's glittering amber eye, at the restrained violence in young, corded muscles, and stared blankly back at Ken. None spoke or moved, terrified that anything they might do could be construed as a challenge.
"Did any of you notice that no matter how much Malachi preached about pure Vampire blood and how Farfarello was not fit to rule, that he never confronted Farfarello face-to-face?" His eyes narrowed. "Not once. He would make his little speeches when his Lord was absent. He did not have the courage to challenge for the throne. Despite being an 'all powerful' Pureblood." He frowned at them. "That is the type of man you would follow? A coward and a bully who won't even stand up to one Turned by himself?" He looked around at them. "What kind of man do you think he is? Do you honestly think that if you fight with him in this fight, he will consider you equal to the Purebloods when this is all over?" He took a deep breath, relaxing his features. "We need to strike soon- before Park decides to bring his army over. That leaves us a little less than a hundred Purebloods to deal with."
"What about the others?" a woman demanded. "Those freaks that came in from England- the humans with powers?"
Evidently the Vampire spies had done their homework. "Leave them to me and my friends," Ken answered with more confidence than he felt. "You will also have the Adir'avar fighting with you." He held up a hand to forestall the rude comments. "Now you sound as prejudice as Malachi and his Purebloods," he pointed out. "Whatever your personal feelings for the Adir'avar, remember that they're infamous for their skills, and will be fighting to the death along with you. Believe it or not, this has become personal for them as well. They are on your side. And you won't even have to worry about the team of Gifted. We can win this."
He watched them carefully for a long moment as his words sank in. He felt almost weak-kneed with relief to see their vicious, cocky smiles, hear the hissed vows of death to Malachi's army. He had given them back their confidence and their will to fight. He glanced over his shoulder as Farfarello stirred, following the golden gaze to a few Vampires who continued to scowl rebelliously.
He had given them the willingness to fight. Now it was time to give them another reason to fight- a grimmer reason.
All eyes turned upwards once more, every voice falling silent as Farfarello stepped to the edge of the dais and glared around at them all with a mad eye. Those closest to the stand shrank back instinctively.
The Berserker's voice was eerily calm. "Those who don't fight are traitors. Our enemy. You will be treated the same as Malachi and his vermin." He bared his teeth in a horrible smile that sent a shiver through the crowd. "I will bleed you dry."
Silence reigned in the cavern. No one spoke. Ken drew in a silent breath of relief. The Vampires were theirs.
He only hoped they would achieve the victory he'd promised them.


Crawford had summoned Himeno to the hospital to be Aya's bodyguard, giving her instructions to call in one of the night Adir'avar to relieve her once the sun set. He left with Schuldich to return to the flower shop, neither man heeding the young girl's protests.
Once they were gone, she found herself alone with Himeno, who was studying her with an expression of tolerance and mild amusement-- at her expense, no doubt. Aya heaved a frustrated sigh, then winced when her ribs protested painfully.
"I have gone from assassin to babysitter in the space of an hour," Himeno observed with an arched brow as she studied the girl in the hospital bed with resignation.
Aya glowered at her. "Hey, don't blame me," she said irritably. "It was Crawford's brilliant idea. I'd much rather be back at the shop."
"The doctors should let you leave tomorrow morning as long as you're able to walk," Himeno informed her, looking around for entertainment. "So don't do anything to aggravate your wounds. I'll not do this again-- not when the fighting could start as soon as dawn."
"Dawn?" Aya straightened in sudden alarm. "So soon??"
"Soon?" Himeno sniffed. "Both sides have danced around this long enough. I say it's about damn time. I'm being paid to kill, not baby-sit little girls."
Aya bristled a little. "I'm not a little girl," she snapped. "And like I said, I don't want this anymore than you do." She paused, frowning a little. "If you're all so eager to fight, why are you waiting for tomorrow, anyway? I'm surprised you'd rather not do it tonight and get it over with."
"The light is our only advantage, chibi," Himeno pointed out with a small little smile, her eyes hooded. "The Purebloods cannot tolerate the touch of the sun."
"Neither can some of your team," Aya pointed out quickly.
Himeno shrugged. "Raphael will send the twins and Hikaru with Hidaka. They can help with these 'Nebel' scum and avenge our teammates."
Aya's eyes widened. "Farfarello already told you all this? He's already made a plan?" She mentally cursed Hwang for putting her in a hospital, away from her brothers.
Himeno shrugged again. "He has mentioned nothing concrete. It is simply something I would do if I were in charge. Raphael is to speak to him later. We will see then if the famous Berserker is as a good a tactician as he is a butcher."
Aya shuddered. "Don't call him that. He's not a butcher."
Himeno gave an indulgent smile and didn't reply.
Aya sought to change the subject. With a twinge of guilt, she realized there was one thing none of her brothers had bothered to say. "I'm sorry," she said quietly. At Himeno's blank look, she went on. "I'm sorry your friends were killed. One of them died trying to protect me-- the other died to help Farfarello escape Nebel."
Himeno's face was carefully expressionless. It was a mask Aya knew well. She'd watched Schuldich and Nagi retreat behind it often when they would rather not put their emotions on display. "We all knew the risks when we accepted this job," Himeno said shortly.
"Are you really so ready to throw your lives away for people you barely know?" Aya asked, astounded.
Himeno gave a humorless chuckle. "Neither was expecting to die at the time, if you want the truth. They underestimated their enemies and their Gifts. We will not make the same mistake."
Aya fell silent, and for a long time neither woman spoke. Aya shifted in her bed, trying to get more comfortable and wincing at the pain in her ribs. She was considering turning on the TV above her bed when Himeno spoke again.
Her voice was quiet and carefully neutral as she stared unseeing out the window. "He always used to laugh when he went into battle. As if... it was all some kind of fun game to him. He's been like that since he was a kid. Nothing fazes that nut." She was quiet for a few seconds. "Baka," she whispered at last, speaking to a man who could no longer hear her.
Aya could remember with surprising clarity wild auburn hair and a splitting grin; eager green eyes and an attention span even shorter than Farfarello's.
She found herself wishing suddenly she could have known the man better- known all of the Adir'avar a little more. A second later she was grateful for her ignorance. The deaths of Yuusuke and Ryoko would only have hurt her if she'd taken the time to get to know them. She wondered how long Himeno had known the two half-bloods, but didn't dare ask.
Himeno seemed to get ahold of herself, shaking herself briskly out of her ponderings. She fixed a lazy smile on her charge. "I'm going to get some water. I suppose you'll be wanting something?"
Aya's heart gave a little leap in her chest, and she strove to keep her face blank. It was the perfect opening for something she'd been absently plotting since Himeno had hinted at the upcoming battle. "Can you get me a chocolate bar, please? Schuldich ate the one the nurses gave me." A lie. The hospital staff had been shoving broth and nasty hospital food down her throat since she'd arrived. Hopefully, Himeno would not know that candy was usually frowned upon by the nurses. She had probably never been in a hospital before. Why pay a doctor to set your bones when you could do it yourself? Why pay for them to stitch a wound that would heal itself in a matter of hours? Aya held her breath and waited.
Himeno gave a careless shrug. "Fine. You got money?"
Aya picked her purse up from the table by her bed and dug out a hundred yen piece. She handed it over, her heart beginning to thump with anticipation and the onset of adrenaline.
Himeno sauntered out without a backward glance. Aya lay still, listening to the retreating footsteps with bated breath. Finally she let out all the air in her lungs to take the pressure off her ribs, sliding her feet to the floor. She carefully made her way to the closet and found her clothes.
The candy bar machines were a floor above them. By the time Himeno discovered this and retrieved the coveted chocolate, Aya planned on being long gone.

Author's Notes: Had absolutely nothing to do at work today, so I wrote the Ken and Aya scenes on some loose printer paper while I just sat there doing diddly squat.
Was a pain in the ass to type it all again, though. >< Me, lazy?

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