||Chapter 3||

A lean man with a long, filthy coat slid out from under a dark Toyota, rubbing at his nose to regain warmth. Scooting around, he noted the ticking minutes and seconds on the bomb and rose to his feet hastily. Brushing himself off, he glanced around and strolled casually out of the parking lot.

"Sorry we're late," Yohji offered with his most winning grin. "Mr. Vanity here was busy primping."
Schuldich elbowed his lover almost absently, smirking in Ken's direction. "So where's Farfie? Aren't you two connected to the hip nowadays?"
Flint sputtered. "Farfie??" he repeated incredulously. Himeno was having difficulty not laughing.
Ken rolled his eyes. "Farfarello couldn't come. He's busy. Just sit down, will you? I was just about to tell everyone why I called you all here."
Everyone scooted over to make room, and Ken made some hasty introdutions. Yohji flashed a killer smile at Himeno. She grinned archly at him and looked him up and down, but otherwise didn't speak. Since she had commented on every other guy at the table but Yohji, Ken drolly gave the blond points. Apparently flirts attracted flirts.
"So what's on your mind, Ken-ken?" Yohji asked, motioning for the waitress to come over.
Ken chose to ignore the nickname. He took his last sip of mocha and crossed his arms on the table, glancing around at them all with a serious expression. "Last week one of the Purebloods tried to assassinate Farfarello."
Crawford calmly pushed his glasses further up on his nose. "That comes as no surprise. Aren't the Purebloods against his reign anyway?"
"Yes," Ken affirmed. "But none of them have been stupid enough to try an actual assassination. Farfarello took care of him, of course, and confronted the others. They all denied knowing about the man's plans." He shrugged slightly. "Like you said, the Purebloods aren't very happy having him in charge, so we didn't think too much about it. But two days after that, one of the Turned in his council- Kil -also tried to kill him." He frowned, looking down at the table. "It was someone we thought we could trust. Someone who defended Farfarello's right as Lord and watched his back. Farfarello had to kill him, but it's made him pretty pissed, as you can guess. He can't trust anyone anymore."
"What does this have to do with us?" Ran demanded. "Vampire politics don't have anything to do with us."
Ken stared hard at him. "Maybe you wouldn't give a rat's ass if Farfarello was killed," he said with quiet heat, "but some of us would." He gave himself a small shake, as if to calm down. "But that's not why I called you here."
"Spit it out," Schuldich said, covering a yawn.
"First of all, if Farfarello is killed, the one most likely to step forward and claim his throne is Malachi."
"Who's that?" Nagi asked with a small frown.
"A Pureblood," Flint cut in drolly. "An arrogant SOB who looks down on the rest of us."
"Worse-- he was all gung-ho for Agammedo's idea of Vampire domination," Ken said somberly.
Yohji's eyebrows went up. "Lovely. So if this Malachi guy ends up in charge, we're going to have another incident like before?"
"He wants to wipe humans out," Omi said wearily. "Great."
Ran frowned. "Do you think he's the one who hired those other two to try and kill Farfarello?"
Ken shook his head slowly. "We thought that at first... but Kil hated Malachi with a passion." He tapped his knuckles on the table, mouth tight. "Here's the other reason I called you out: both of them were interrogated before they were taken care of. They were acting very strange- Kil especially. Their memories and views seemed warped somehow. Kil thought I was a Vampire."
Schuldich and Crawford exchanged a quick look.
Nagi looked sick. "You don't think..."
"Well, they never did find the bodies," Schuldich muttered with a dark scowl.
Yohji apologized to the waitress he'd waved over and sent her off. He'd lost his appetite. "Are you talking about those wackos from-"
"Rosenkreuz," Ran finished coldly. "Birman was never found, either."
"Who survived?" Omi asked nervously. "Wasn't one of them the telepath?"
Nagi nodded grimly. "The Telepath and the Eraser- Souma and Iragadachi. They could have done to those Vampires what they did to Schuldich."
"Isn't that jumping to conclusions?" Ran pointed out.
"You have a better idea?" Flint growled. Ran glared at him.
Ken reached out and touched Ran's arm to calm him, shaking his head. "Kil was a friend of Flint's," he said quietly. "Maybe we're wrong. I hope we are. But it is possible."
"Better safe than sorry and all that," Yohji muttered, rubbing at his eyes wearily.
"I'll let Manx know," Omi sighed. "She might be able to find something out." He exchanged a glance with Nagi. "Nagi and I will look for information, as well."
Ken smiled slightly. "Thanks."
"Is that all?" Schludich asked, glancing at his watch.
"Yes." Ken rose. "Thanks for coming."
"Didn't you have a message for Farfarello?" Crawford asked Ran meaningfully as they all stood.
Ran scowled at him darkly.
Ken raised his eyebrows as he pulled out his wallet. "Nani?"
Ran muttered to himself before saying irritably, "Aya-chan wants to see him again."
Ken smiled. "Aa. I'll tell him."
They said their goodbyes and separated. As Ran and Crawford walked to the car, the American gave Ran a pensive look. "How many people know how attached the two of them are to each other?" he asked suddenly.
Ran opened the driver's side door and scowled. "Farfarello and Ken? Every idiot on the planet, most likely."
"No." Crawford slid into the passenger seat and reached for his seatbelt. "I meant your sister and Farfarello."
Ran twisted the keys in the ignition before reaching for his own belt. "What are you babbling about?" he demanded impatiently.
Crawford pushed his glasses up with an index finger. "If someone's out to get Farfarello," he pointed out, "they'll probably do anything to hurt him. He's put bodyguards on Hidaka, hasn't he?"
Ran turned his head sharply to stare at him.
Crawford nodded in answer to his unspoken question. "I think, just to be safe, we should keep an eye on Aya-chan. If it is Rosenkreuz, they saw Agammedo use her and Elizabeth as leverage against Farfarello. They know he cares for her."
Ran cursed and slammed the car into gear.
Ken stepped out of the coffee shop and watched the car peel off with a frown. "They sure are in a hurry," he noted.
Himeno stepped up beside him, checking her makeup in a tiny mirror she'd dug from her purse. "Maybe they didn't like your news," she chuckled.
Flint stuffed his hands in his coat pockets, glancing up at the cloudy sky with a dark scowl. "It's cold out here," he complained. "Hurry up, I'm ready to get home."
Ken rolled his eyes as they headed for the parking lot across the street. "It's not like you two can die of the weather," he pointed out.
Flint ignored him in favor of bugging his team mate. "I can't believe someone your age can't even parallel park," he sneered. "If you'd learn how to frigging drive properly, you wouldn't have to keep parking in weird places."
Himeno dropped her mirror back into her purse, reaching up to pat her hair as they walked. "Piss off, Flint," she sniffed airily. "It's not my fault they didn't have cars in my day."
Flint cast an appreciative eye on a sports car they passed. "Now that's the kind of car we need. Something flashier than that damn Toyota of yours."
"Oh shut up. Give me the keys," she commanded, extending an arm.
"What are you asking me for?" Flint snorted. "You've got them."
"I do not," she snapped.
Ken halted and faced her. "They aren't in your purse?"
She dug through them, shaking her head. "I gave them to Flint."
"You did not," he said irritably. "YOU drove, and YOU wanted to drive back. Why would you give the bloody keys to me?"
Ken sighed, scratching his nose. "Maybe you left them in the cafe..? Flint, check your pockets."
Flint scowled. "I don't have them," he snapped, but dug in his pockets.
Ken patted his own pockets, and blew a sigh. He pulled them out of his left pocket. "Here they are. I forgot- you put them on the table and I picked them up."
"Jeez." Himeno plucked them from his hand.
"Sorry." Ken shrugged and walked over to the car. "Open the door."
Flint hesitated and sniffed the air with a frown. "Since when did you switch to Newports?" he asked Himeno.
She looked at him blankly. "I don't smoke menthol," she snorted. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"It's cold," Ken reminded her loudly. "Are we gonna stand here and argue all day, or can we please go?"
Himeno pressed the button to unlock the doors, and Flint climbed into the back seat.

Across the street, a man in a dirty coat grinned as he lit himself a victory cigarette. Too easy.

Ken was already seated and struggling with his twisted seatbelt when Schuldich's voice exploded in his head.
"FUCK!" Ken doubled over, clutching his pounding head. "Schuldich?? What the fu-"
Shut up and get out, Schuldich snarled. NOW
The urgency to the German's voice sent a thrill of fear through Ken. He kicked his door open and leapt out. "Get out!" he shouted when Flint and Himeno stared at him blankly. "Something's wrong!"
Flint cursed and reluctantly started to unbuckle. Himeno was out of the car with typical Vampiric speed. She skipped backwards, shooting a wary glance from Ken to the car. "What's--"
Get away from it! Schuldich ordered sharply.
"Get out of the car, Flint!" Ken cried. He turned and ran for the sidewalk. If this was all a joke on Schuldich's part, he was going to be beyond humiliated, he thought with detachment. "Get away from the car!"
Crawford had a premonition- Schuldich started.
Flint had gotten out of the car, but was only a few steps away from it. He stood with hands on his hips, giving Ken a disgusted look. He opened his mouth for a scathing comment, but never got it out.
A defeaning explosion ripped the car apart, flames and dark smoke shooting into the air and flipping the car itself. The blast hurled Flint far across the parking lot, where he landed with a horrible crunch of metal and glass on the hood of a buick.
Himeno shrieked, and Ken staggered, almost falling to his knees. He gasped for air, staring wildly at the burning car. His ears were ringing.
"FUCK!" He sat down hard, panting. "Schuldich--"
Crawford had a premonition a minute ago, Schuldich informed him. Something about an explosion. He couldn't get to you cuz you're not on the bond anymore. What happened?
Ken reached up to wipe away smarting tears caused by the oily smoke. Faintly he could her sirens. The car- it- we're- He shook his head sharply to calm himself. Car bomb. I'm all right, and I think Himeno got clear, but Flint was right by the car when it happened. He scrambled to his feet and dashed towards the Vampire. He got thrown. I'm going to check on him.
I'm coming back to see if the bomber's still there, Schuldich said shortly, then his presence was gone from Ken's mind.
"Flint!" Ken skidded to a halt by the crushed buick and reached out hesitantly to touch the man's shoulder. "Flint!"
"Nnggghh.." The Vampire shifted slightly, glass tinkling at his movement. His bloodied face twisted with pain, his eyes screwed shut. "Wh' th' hell.." he mumbled.
"What the FUCK was that??" Himeno was by Ken's side in a flash, wild-eyed and bruised. Her left arm was twisted hideously. Almost negilently she seized the broken limb and snapped it back into place with only a grunt of pain. Ken looked away quickly, swallowing back bile. He would never get used to the casual way the really old Vampires treated such horrible wounds.
"Someone was trying to kill us," Ken answered her.
"No shit, sherlock," she snapped, rubbing soot from her face and glancing around warily. "They're dead when I find them." Her fangs flashed in the light, and Ken shook his head.
"Schuldich is coming back to see if he can pick up the bomber's thoughts. Help me with Flint."
Flint sat up slowly with their help, then slid from the hood to land hard on his knees on the pavement. Himeno brushed glass from him with her purse, muttering to herself darkly. When she was finished, she shook her bag out and leveled the dazed Vampire with a no nonsense look. "Someone will have to pull the rest of the glass out as soon as we get home," she informed him. "Before you heal over it."
"Yeah yeah..."
Ken sighed, rubbing at itchy eyes before sitting down wearily on the ground beside the thin Vampire. "Not much we can do now but wait," he grumbled. "I'll see if Yohji can get us a ride home."
Himeno glanced towards the burning car. "Well we can't wait here," she pointed out. "The cops are going to ask some pretty awkward questions. Besides, that wacko could still be around, and Farfarello-sama's going to be mad enough about all this. Best not to leave you out in the open where someone could take you out with a bullet."
They helped Flint to his feet, and Himeno, stoutly ignoring his furious protests, lifted him effortlessly into her arms and walked stiffly towards the nearest alley. Ken was dusting himself off and preparing to follow them when the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Someone was watching him.
He turned his head slowly, looking over his shoulder, but there was only a gathering crowd of murmuring spectators. Feeling uneasy, he hurried to catch up to his two reluctant bodyguards.


"No luck." Schuldich scowled as he looked around, hands shoved in his pockets. "Whoever did this took off when their plan didn't work out."
Yohji was putting a bandaid carefully over a cut on Ken's forehead. "Stop moving," he snapped when Ken winced. "Jesus, Ken, only a clutz like you would get in a mess like this."
Ken knew Yohji was only bitching at him because he was relieved and scared for his friend, so he kept his mouth shut and let Yohji clean him up. Flint had recovered significantly enough to howl English curses as Himeno grimly pulled the remaining glass from his back with a pair of tweezers she'd found in her handbag.
"Stop blubbering," she said pitilessly. "Or do you want your skin to heal over all the glass? Hold still, damn it!"
Yohji sighed, leaning back on his heels as he finished his task. He shook his head ruefully at his friend. "Damn, Ken," he muttered. "That was a close one. You got lucky this time."
"Some bodyguards," Schuldich sneered sarcastically.
Flint opened his mouth for an acid retort.
"My thoughts exactly."
Schuldich turned quickly at the icy tone. "Farf," he greeted. "I thought that was y-"
Out of the corner of his eye Ken saw Flint and Himeno visibly shrink back. Gazing up at his Vampiric lover, he couldn't blame them.
Farfarello's entire body was tense, his mouth a tight white line. His single golden eye was full of fury and devoid of mercy as he stared at the two he had appointed to guard his partner.
"Farfarello," Ken said hastily, scrambling to his feet. His head swam a little at the quick movement, and Yohji reached out to steady him. "What are you doing h-"
"Your job is to protect Ken," Farfarello said in a deadly quiet voice, ignoring him. "Not to get him blown up."
Flint was trying to look flippant, but his face was pale- even for a Vampire. "There was no way of knowing someone had planted the car," he protested. "It's not our fault--"
Farfarello was in front of him in a flash. He seized the startled man by the throat in one powerful hand and began to squeeze brutally. Flint's eyes bulged, and he began to gurgle and thrash. Farfarello's free hand shot out, seizing Himeno's wrist, and she winced violently as he began to crush the delicate bones in his steel grip. She half-sunk to her knees, but refused to make a noise of pain.
Farfarello's voice was like a whip. "You're useless. I don't need useless idiots like you."
"Farfarello!" Ken hurried to his lover's side and grabbed his arm as he appealed to the pale man. "Flint's right, there was no way they could've known someone put a bomb on the car. It isn't their fault. Anyway, nothing happened, I'm fine. Crawford and Schuldich told me in time."
Farfarello's golden eye flicked towards him, full of anger. "Crawford and Schuldich won't always be there," he pointed out in a growl.
Ken swallowed hard. He wasn't sure which Farfarello was scarier: the insane butcher from Rosenkreuz, or the sane, merciless executioner he was now. At least before he had been able to lie to himself and blame the homicidal urges on the insanity.
"Farfarello, I'm tired," he said heavily. "I just want to go home. Can't you cut them some slack? They're just as shaken up as I am."
Farfarello gazed at him stonily for a long moment, reading the honest weariness there, and how shaken his lover was from the incident. A little reluctantly, he released his two gasping followers. He fixed them with an unreadable look, then turned his back on them dismissively. "Don't disappoint me again." He said it almost absently, but there was a deadly warning underneath those simple words. Flint and Himeno, nursing their wounds, nodded mutely.
Ken caught Flint's eyes, and was a little surprised to see the muffled fury flashing in them. Fury at him. He wasn't grateful that Ken had saved his life. He was furious that a mere human had begged the Berserker to spare his life. His pride was wounded. Ken gave an internal sigh. There was just no dealing with some people.
Farfarello cupped Ken's elbow in a light grip, and steered him towards a waiting car. "Let's go."
Ken pulled his arm free and took Farfarello's hand instead, giving it a squeeze and leaning slightly on his lover. A little of the tension slid out of Farfarello's body, and when he glanced down at him, his eye was not the hard amber of a killer, but a softer shade of gold that very few people had been witness to. Ken smiled tiredly at him. "I could use a bath," he said only half jokingly.
Farfarello snorted, and though his mouth was solemn, there was a hint of humor and promise to his eye. "Aa. Me too."
Ken felt a little thrill of desire in his gut and shivered slightly.
"You're welcome," Schuldich shouted after them.
"Arigato," Ken called over his shoulder.
Farfarello ignored him, but a moment later Schuldich laughed and turned away. Ken wondered what Farfarello had told the telepath, but decided a second later not to ask. He didn't want to embarass the stoic man; thank you's weren't the Berserker's strong point.

Yohji frowned, arms folded as he watched the two get into their car. "I don't know what he sees in that freak," he said to his own lover. "It's like he's more angry that his orders weren't carried out, not that Ken almost died."
Schuldich glanced at him sideways. "That's what he wants people to think, I guess," he said with a careless shrug.
Himeno and Flint were already walking painfully away, so Yohji arched a brow at the German and asked, "What did he say to you just then when Ken thanked you?"
"He said he owed me," Schuldich said, looking at him straight on. His grin was cocky, but his eyes were grave. "That coming from Farfarello, you'd think I'd just saved his own life."
Yohji frowned slightly, considering that, but Schuldich was already turning away towards his car. "Don't think too hard, Kudou," he taunted. "You might hurt yourself. Farfarello feels something for the kid. Deal with it."
"Does he?" Yohji murmured, unconvinced. Pulling his cigarettes from his pocket, he trailed after his flame-haired lover, his head full of questions and doubt.


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Back to Vermilion
Ch. 1
Ch. 2
Ch. 4
Ch. 5
Ch. 6
Ch. 7
Ch. 8
Ch. 9
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Ch. 13
Ch. 14
Ch. 15
Ch. 16
Ch. 17
Ch. 18
Ch. 19
Ch. 20
Ch. 21
Ch. 22
Ch. 23
Ch. 24
Ch. 25
Ch. 26