||Chapter 32||
"Prepared to Die"

Ash stood stiffly by the big bay windows, gazing out with unseeing eyes at the sight of the city below. Behind him, Park ran a hand idly through the pryo's crimson hair.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" he murmured. "Sunset. In just another hour or two it will be dark, and I will show you again the wonders of the night only one such as I can show you."
Ash swallowed back a rush of bile and didn't respond.
"Be sure to be back in time for tonight," Souma called from where he was seated in the large armchair, papers spread on the coffee table before him. "And I need that one in good enough condition to fight."
"Of course," Park murmured absently, lifting one of Ash's eartails and putting his lips close to the young man's ear. Ash's skin crawled at the faint touch, and he clenched his fists tightly as he struggled to keep his Gift in check.

Iragadachi frowned in their direction as he settled himself on the couch with a scotch. "How do you know he won't disregard our orders?" he murmured, barely audible. "What if he snaps and turns on Park? Or on us?"
"He won't," Souma murmured with a confident little smirk, rifling through the papers. "I made sure to instill in him and the other one the firm idea that we are unbeatable, and that it would be a futile gesture. Besides, Park will leave after this is over with."
"What if he wants to bring the redhead with him?"
"I doubt it," Souma snorted quietly, lifting a finance paper to peer at it more closely. "He can get anyone he wants, with his power. I've made it clear to him that a pyrokinetic is valuable to our team. The most I think he'll do is bed the boy at least once before he leaves. If it turns out that could destroy the boy's mind, simply Erase the memory."
Iragadachi gave a little grunt of acknowledgement, taking a gulp of his scotch.
Felix came striding into the room with a dark scowl on his face. "Where in the name of God is that little whore?" he snapped, stalking towards a side window. He twitched the curtains aside, glaring down at the streets as if she would appear any moment now just because he wished it. "This isn't the time to go tramping about looking for amusement!"
Iragadachi looked up with a stern face. "When she gets back, be sure to remind her of that," he said.
Felix nodded grimly, idly toying with a coin in his free hand.
"That girl is sometimes more trouble than she's worth," Souma said irritably, not bothering to keep his voice down.
"I agree with that," Felix muttered in a growl, tossing his dredlocks impatiently over his shoulder.
"Perhaps if the rest of her team would keep her 'entertained', she wouldn't have to keep running out to flirt and buy herself things," Iragadachi said with a slight note of warning to his tone.
Felix scowled. "No offense, sir, but I couldn't get it up for that bitch if someone gave me a million dollars for the act. And Hwang would rather choke on his own tongue."
Souma smirked, amused.
Birman came into the room, stockinged feet making hardly any noise as she moved towards the Alchemist, hands busy putting her hair up in a fancy but tight bun to keep it out of her way. She took the clip from her mouth and pinned her hair up firmly before coming to a halt beside the tall Englishman. She leaned against him slightly, running a hand up and down his chest teasingly as she, too, gazed out of the window. "Don't worry," she murmured. "It will all be over by tomorrow."
Hwang entered a second later, buckling his belt and leering in their direction. "Nice whore you got there, Felix," he drawled, looking smug.
Birman ignored him.
"She's not much good for anything else," Felix agreed in a deadpan, ignoring the woman pressed against him as he dug a slim cigar from the breast pocket of his gray Armani jacket.
Birman frowned darkly and pushed away. "See if you get any tonight," she said in a low, intense voice.
"There are plenty more where you come from, sweetcakes," Felix said dismissively, not even sparing her a glance as he lit his cigar, hand cupping the flame.
"Like Fujimiya Aya?" Birman snapped, cocking her hips and crossing her arms over her stomach. Ash glanced back towards her.
"That bitch is mine," Hwang growled, pulling a joint from behind his ear. "I'm going to make her suffer for what she did." He snapped his fingers at Ash. "Hey, skinny, gimmie a light."
Ash, grateful for the distraction from Park, pointed in Hwang's direction. A tiny flame shot forth and lit the end of the joint. Hwang gave a little smirk and took a long drag. "See? He's good for something." He draped himself over the back of the couch, a respectful distance between himself and Iragadachi. "If you're bored of us already, honey, you can always try that one," Hwang suggested, tilting his head towards Ash. "He's pretty enough for you, ain't he?"
Ash stared at him, then at Birman.
Birman studied him thoughtfully for a moment, her lips twisted in scorn. Finally she turned a heated look on Felix. "I just might. Maybe he can show me what a real man can do."
Hwang barked with harsh laughter. "Oh, I'm hurt," he mocked.
"Get out of my face, bitch," Felix snapped impatiently.
Ash did not look amused.
Hwang didn't miss the frown, and leered at the younger man. "Hey, you might as well live it up," he suggested. "Never know-- this could be your last night alive. Get yourself some ass before you die."
"Twenty dollars says he's a virgin," Felix said.
Ash glowered at them all, then almost jumped when Park's hand began to carress his shoulder. "Maybe we can change that tonight," he murmured.
Hwang looked disgusted. Felix sneered and turned his back. Souma flicked Iragadachi an "I told you so" look.
Ash stood rooted to the spot, his heart pounding in his ears.
There was a knock at the door. Souma glanced up, studying the mind behind it before nodding at Hwang. The door opened with a flick of the telekinetic's fingers, revealing the woman standing in the doorway, looking defiant and uneasy at the same time.
"Well, if it isn't our little spy," Iragadachi drawled, getting to his feet. He extended an arm. "Please, come in, Rinata."
The Vampire hestiated before entering the room, glancing around at them all warily. Ash could have hugged her, because Park released him and turned towards their guest.
"What is it?" he demanded.
"Sir, Malachi-sama will be awake in about an hour," she said, inclining her head respectfully towards him. "He requested that you be there to help him divide the troops for tonight. It should not take long."
Park frowned. "Very well," he said at last. He turned partially to grip Ash's jaw in a strong hold, staring into his eyes. "I'll be back for you later," he purred, lips turning up in a lecherous smile. Releasing him, he strode out the door after Rinata.
Ash almost sagged to the ground in relief, then mentally reprimanded himself for his weakness. He caught Souma watching him with a slight smirk and turned on his heel, hurrying from the room.

He found Silk in their room, carefully oiling his wired watch. He glanced up with a guarded look when the door opened.
He took in Ash's expression, his own carefully blank. "Are you about to leave, then?" he asked. "With Park?"
Ash shut the door and leaned back against it heavily, closing his eyes in heartfelt relief. "No," he breathed. "He has to go see Malachi. But he'll be back."
Silk set aside his weapon and rose to his feet, crossing the room in quick strides. He stood before the younger man, his face creased with concern. Anger flashed in his jade eyes. "You can't let him do this to you," he said fiercely.
Ash stared up at him in silence for a few heartbeats. "What else am I supposed to do?" he demanded, his voice sounding strained to his own ears.
"I don't care! Kill-" Silk hastily lowered his voice. "Kill him if you have to," he hissed. "He's tearing you apart and he hasn't even done his worst yet!"
"Be quiet!" Ash whispered harshly. "Souma will hear your thoughts. Are you mad? We can't do anything to him; Rosenkreuz forbid it." He swallowed hard. "Besides, he'll be gone in a few days."
"So that's it? You're just going to let him have his way with you?" Ash had never seen the other man look so angry. His voice was low but intense. "Ash, he's going to-" he stopped himself and retreated a step. He drew in a slow breath, running his hand through his hair in an attempt to calm down. "Then let me take care of it," he finally said again, voice more steady. "I'll do it. I'll take him out."
"No!" Ash pushed away from the door, horror-stricken at the idea. "Don't be an idiot! They'll kill you!"
"A telepath and a man with no Gift will kill me?" Silk snorted. "Why should we fear Rosenkreuz?"
"If you don't fear them, then fear Nebel," Ash snapped. His heart was pounding with fear on thinking what would happen to the other man if he was to go through with his crazy idea. "They're completely loyal to Rosenkreuz. They could kill us!"
"Why?" Silk demanded, leaning in to glare into Ash's startled eyes. "Why do you think they're so god damn loyal, Ash? Something's not right about this. Any one of them could take the two of them out. Why haven't they? Why do they act so scornful of people without a Gift when Iragadachi has none? You tell me that."
"How should I know?" Ash gritted his teeth. "I have fucking amnesia, remember??"
"So do I," Silk said quietly. "Kind of convenient, don't you think?"
"What is that supposed to mean?"
Silk studied his face for a long moment before heaving a sigh and covering his eyes with his hand as if warding off a headache. "I don't know," he admitted hoarsely. "I don't know what to think anymore."
He composed himself and lowered his hand, looking helplessly at his teammate. He frowned slightly at the scrutiny Ash was submitting him to. "What? Do I have something on my face?" He reached up to scratch his cheek self-consciously. "What are you thinking about?"
"Nothing," Ash muttered, averting his eyes, his cheeks burning. "Just something... something stupid Hwang said."
"Eh? Nani?"
Ash shook his head quickly, still studying the floor. Abruptly he looked back up, meeting the older man's eyes. "Silk, tell me the truth," he said quietly. "You think the same thing I do, don't you? You think.. Park isn't just after my blood." He swallowed. "He's going to... to r-"
Silk's face was pained, his eyes full of sympathy and anger. "Yes," he murmured. "If someone doesn't stop him... yes, I think that's what he's after."
Silk watched helplessly as the last shred of desperate hope fled from the younger man's face, violet eyes lowering once more. He wanted to put his arms around the other assassin, to comfort him with lies and tell him nothing was going to happen to him. But he couldn't make himself do it. He wouldn't dare test the other boy's trust, or have him misconstrue his motives.
Ash's shoulders heaved in a sudden sigh. Silk suddenly realized the man was trembling slightly. He dared to touch his shoulder hesitantly, trying to duck his head enough to catch the other's gaze. "Hey... Ash," he said softly. "It's OK. Don't let them break you like this."
Ash slowly lifted his gaze, staring at him. He swallowed a few times, trying to find his voice. "Silk..."
"If.." Ash's fingers twisted at the hem of his shirt nervously, and Silk could tell it was a struggle not to look away. "If it's going to happen anyway... and if there's a possibility we could die on this mission..." he took a deep breath, his voice barely audible. "I don't want Park to be my... I don't want it to be him."
"Your..." Silk repeated, lost. Then he got it, and his heart did a little trip. "Your first?" his voice sounded a little breathless. "You don't want him to be your..first?"
Ash nodded silently, unable to keep the blond's gaze any longer. His cheeks were stained with a furious blush. He opened his mouth, then snapped it shut again, unable to make himself say what he wanted to say.
Silk stared at the bowed head, his mind running in frantic circles, his heart pounding. He hesitated, his throat going a little dry.
What if he was mistaken? What if Ash simply wanted a comforting word or hug? Was that a plea, or a simple confession? He fought an internal war, trying frantically to decide whether to back away or take the other man in his arms.
He almost jumped when Ash reached out slowly and put his hand against Silk's chest. Slender fingers, calloused from the use of a sword, curled, clutching the thin cloth in a trembling grip. Ash's whole body was stiff yet trembling, waiting to see what Silk would do.
Slowly, cautiously, Silk reached up with the hand not on Ash's shoulder to cover the hand on his chest in a light, reassuring grip. He ducked his head a little, trying to catch Ash's eyes. When the redhead hesitantly looked up, eyes full of fear and uncertainty, Silk leaned in and pressed his mouth against his partner's in a soft, lingering kiss.
Ash gave a little sigh against his mouth, leaning a little into the gentle touch. Silk swallowed, withdrawing a few inches and studying the flushed face, his heart beating in his ears so loud he was sure the pyro could hear it. "Ash," he murmured, "are you sure?"
Ash's eyes flicked back and forth, taking in the taller man's face. Finally he nodded once, his grip on Silk's shirt tightening slightly. "Yes."
Silk lifted his hand from Ash's shoulder and instead wrapped it around the slender waist in a careful, loose grip that the other man could easily break out of if he wished to. He lifted his other hand to touch the flushed cheek by his own, tilting Ash's head to the side. When he leaned in for another kiss, Ash's eyes slid closed, and he relaxed in the light grip. His hands stole up almost shyly, arms twining about Silk's neck in a nervous embrace.
Something instinctive and barely noticeable in Ash's subconscious was screaming betrayal! at his actions, and he pushed the feeling aside uneasily.
Ash's last truly coherent thought for several minutes was, Jesus, he can kiss..

Souma glanced up from where he was stacking his paperwork into a neat little pile, a slight frown gracing his features.
He turned and waved his hand to get Felix's attention. "Hey. Go in there and stop the two love birds before they get any farther. Bring them out here."
Felix did not look happy at the thought of interrupting two men making out, but wisely kept his comments to himself as he headed towards the bedrooms.
Iragadachi lifted a brow at his old partner. "What does it matter? It could relax them for the fight."
Souma shook his head stubbornly, tapping the stack of papers on the table to align the edges. "First of all, we've got tactics to discuss. Second of all, I think that lech Park has his black little heart set on taking Ash's virginity for himself. Those two can go at it like weasels, for all I care-- after this is finished with and Park is out of here."
Iragadachi shrugged, unconcerned. "Very well."
"Fuckin' faggots," Hwang grumbled from where he was still draped over the back of the couch, smoking his weed.
"Put that out," Souma snapped, setting the papers aside, his face grim. "It's time to discuss war." He reached out with his powerful mind and gave a demanding jolt to the one he was searching for. A small smirk turned up one side of his mouth. "Jenell will be here shortly. I think she will want aspirin."


Crawford had handed over the transmitter to Omi to keep an eye on. The assembly of assassins turned as the young boy held up his hand for attention, eyes glued to the tiny green screen. "She's moving."
"About fucking time," Schuldich grumbled, draped in an impossible pose over half the couch. He was chain smoking again, but for once no one bitched about him smoking inside.
Himeno was seated on the small portion of the couch Schuldich wasn't taking up, idly picking out dirt from under her nails. She seemed unconcerned, but her scrutiny with her hands was an excuse not to directly meet the accusing stares of her employers. Only Ken's interference had been what saved her from death when the Berserker arrived and found his "sister" in her current state. That and Aya's quick intervention-- her confirmation that she had not, in fact, been raped. Taka's rough fingers twisting and pushing into her had caused the bleeding; his fingernails and his ring had cut her enough to make the small wounds sting whenever she walked.
Raphael was behind the couch, running his hand idly over his shotgun's muzzle as he scowled down at Himeno for her failure.
Omi was standing by his computer desk. He'd given the desk chair to Nagi because the boy still seemed a little sickly from his medicine.
The Jackal was leaning against the wall near the stairs, ever the outsider, his arms crossed defensively over his chest as he watched them all, mostly in silence unless he was spoken to directly.
Manx stood nearby, listening intently and giving what little intel she had, her lips pursed in consternation.
Crawford and Ken had the floor for the most part. Farfarello was not one for group meetings; he preferred to give orders or keep silent, so Ken spoke on his behalf. The Vampire in question was leaning over the back of the old stuffed armchair, paying more attention to the girl seated in it than the rest of the room.
Aya had insisted on being a part of the meeting. She'd come all the way from the hospital, and said she had a right to at least sit in and listen. So- with some reluctance -they'd arranged her comfortably in the chair after she'd been patched up, with firm orders not to exert herself or speak up unless she had something important to say. Schuldich was pointedly ignoring her.
Mostly everyone kept glancing towards their guest, uneasy at having an outsider listening in on their private talks of war in their sanctuary.
When Crawford had regained his temper upon finding out Aya's condition, he'd gone upstairs to fetch someone he and Schuldich had left waiting in the kitchen: Nigawa Kiki, policewoman and undercover Vampire Hunter.
"Let me know when she stops," Crawford told Omi, who nodded absently, still absorbed with the transmitter. Crawford glanced around, noticing that most of them kept looking warily towards the blond hanging in the shadows. He pointed his cane at her, and the woman hesitated before striding boldly forward to stand beside him, her eyes roving the room, no doubt memorizing their faces. "Tell them what you told Schuldich and me," he ordered.
Kiki nodded.
"I like a woman who knows how to do what she's told," Schuldich interrupted lazily, shooting an accusing look towards Aya. "Unlike some brats I know." Aya blithely ignored him, looking intently at the cop to show she wouldn't rise to the bait.
"Schuldich," Nagi sighed. The German sneered, but fell silent.
Kiki took a deep breath and began to speak in a clear, professional voice. "I questioned some of the people in the lobby at Kudou's hotel who were there when he was abducted. One old woman said she'd seen a man there speaking with him just before he left and was caught. Apparently Kudou held the door for her, and she heard the tail end of the conversation. She said the man looked like an American. Not too tall, with an unkempt appearance, and acted preachy. She said she'd never seen him before, and it turned out he didn't live there. Actually, he's a drifter. It took me awhile to track him down." She paused, gathering her thoughts as she allowed the others to consider her words. "Since he'd done nothing wrong, and wasn't actually out in the parking lot- the scene of the crime -when Kudou was kidnapped, I couldn't bring him in for anything. I found him in a coffee shop today and questioned him, but he wasn't very helpful. He calls himself Mr. Riddle, but wouldn't give me his full name. He says he's a man from America doing God's work-" Schuldich rolled his eyes, "-and that he's here to clean up the streets of Japan. More specifially, to seek out the 'minions of Satan' and 'deal them justice'. When I asked about Kudou, he said he was only trying to talk to him, and bring him to the light of God." Kiki gave a little shrug. "There's nothing wrong with talking to people, and witnesses said he didn't harrass Kudou, so there wasn't much I could do."
"But it was the same man, right?" Aya asked, looking distraught. "The one who came into the shop that time?" She reached up unconsciously to touch the slight bump under her shirt-- the cross Farfarello had given her. The one that strange man had reacted to so badly.
"Satan! Satan himself has touched that cross!"
Aya's fingers dug into her shirt at the memory, and she was careful not to turn and look at Farfarello. Sometimes she felt as if he could tell what she was thinking just by looking at her.
She remembered with a sort of sick satisfaction the crunch of Riddle's nose under her hand when she'd broken it.
Crawford was nodding in response to her question.
"Well, I didn't find out about that until Crawford-san and Schuldich-san spoke to me outside the cafe," Kiki said. "When I went back in to apprehend him, he was gone. Must have slipped out a back door. We couldn't find him."
"He's just a loose cannon. A religious nut," Schuldich said dismissively, his lip curling in a disgusted sneer. "Leave that roach to the cops-- for later."
"We need to take care of Rosenkreuz and the Vampires first," Crawford agreed solemnly, clasping his hands on the top of his dark cane. The silver tip that had killed so many undead at Tatiana's hands dug into the floorboard as if to emphasize his point.
Kiki lifted her chin. "What do you want me to do?"
"Do?" Schuldich laughed, an unpleasant sound. "You, missy, aren't doing anything. Just stay the fuck out of our way. You just make sure you call the cops or something and make sure they stay the hell out of our way."
Her blue eyes blazed. "Look, smartass, in case you forgot, I'm a Vampire Hunter, too-- not just a cop. Now how about shutting the hell up and letting me do my job?"
Aya shot a sideways look towards Schuldich, checking her grin at the last second.
Schuldich started to scowl, then abruptly relaxed, the expression wiped from his face to be replaced by one of casual disregard. "How many kills do you have under your belt, oh great and powerful Hunter?" he murmured.
"I don't see what that has to do with-"
"One? Two?" Schuldich arched a brow. "Five?"
Kiki straightened, looking towards him haughtily. "Eleven," she said coolly.
"Try a couple thousand."
She blinked, confused.
"If Park calls in his people from America," Manx informed her, "that's how many we'll be dealing with. Hundreds- maybe thousands. And even if he doesn't bring them over- if he hasn't yet -Malachi has almost a hundred Purebloods at his beck and call."
Kiki put her hands on her hips, but Schuldich didn't let her get a word in edgewise. "This is War, little girl," he said, looking at her with hooded eyes. "You get mixed in this shit, and you're going to die. Is that blunt enough for you?"
Kiki looked at him for a long, still moment, then glanced around the room. Everyone looked back solemnly and silently, and her resolve visibly quavered.
"Then why bother to drag me into this?" she demanded at last, eyes narrowing.
Farfarello pointed downward, his fingertips touching Aya's head. "Watch her," he intoned.
Kiki stared. "What?"
"Farfarello-!" Aya protested.
"Aya-chan isn't a part of this," Omi said sadly. "She never should have gotten involved or gotten hurt. The Adir'avar are going with us. We need you and Manx-san to watch her while we're gone, and.. 'hold down the fort', as it were."
"Like hell-!" Aya sputtered. Farfarello calmly reached over her shoulder and covered her mouth with a calloused hand, muffling her indignant outburst.
"Chill, pussy cat," Schuldich drawled. "Pull your claws back in. What did you think you could do with no Gift, a busted rib, and no experience? You want to tag along so we can babysit you and try to watch our own backs at the same time?" He turned narrowed eyes her way, his face uncharacteristically serious. "You're staying here even if we have to tie you to that chair. Get over it."
"If you come with us, you're going to die," Crawford said quietly, interrupting Aya's muffled ranting. She froze, darting a glance towards him over Farfarello's hand. The Irishman's own amber eye slid dangerously towards the American.
"Listen to four-eyes, sweetheart," Schuldich advised almost carelessly, inspecting a lock of hair for split ends. "He's mister all-knowing, remember?"
Aya strained her eyes upwards and chanced a peek at Farfarello's hard face. Any slim hopes Aya had had of convincing them to let her come along vanished. No way would any of them let her come, now-- not after the Oracle had made such a prediction. Farfarello himself would cuff her to the sink pipes if he had to, for her own good.
The fight went out of her, and she slumped in the chair in defeat, tears welling in her eyes. Farfarello lowered his hand, and she reached up and clasped it like a drowning woman. "But.." she had to take a deep breath to keep back the sob in the back of her throat. "But what if I never see any of you again?" She blinked hard, looking around at them all desperately, knowing she'd lost but unable to voice her worst fears. "What if they kill you?"
"This is a war, fraulein," Schuldich murmured, still not meeting her gaze as he plucked a strand of hair from his shirt. "People are supposed to die."
Ken took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair, his face grim. "The sun is going to set in about an hour," he said quietly. "Let's go."
Aya forced herself to her feet and met each of them as they went out the door, giving each of them a fierce hug. For once Farfarello wasn't stiff in her grasp, though Schuldich tried to shy away, and seemed decidedly uncomfortable at the show of affection.
"Daijabou, Aya-chan," Omi whispered in her ear, drawing back to smile at her. "We'll be back." His smile said Tsukiyono Omi, adorable flower boy. But his eyes were hard and sad at the same time-- the eyes of Bombay. Of an assassin.
As they drifted up the stairs, handling their weapons, Aya could not keep back the wail beating against her throat. It echoed off the basement walls and rang in their minds for hours afterwards.

Back to Amiko's Fics
Back to Vermilion
Ch. 1
Ch. 2
Ch. 3
Ch. 4
Ch. 5
Ch. 6
Ch. 7
Ch. 8
Ch. 9
Ch. 10
Ch. 11
Ch. 12
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
Ch. 27
Ch. 28
Ch. 29
Ch. 30
Ch. 31
Ch. 33