||Chapter 6||

Rinata acted sympathetically towards Elsie, the American Lord's Feeder, so Ken left his advisor to deal with her and hurried on to the room he and Farfarello shared.
He shut the door firmly behind him and strode quickly to the closet. Yanking a clean shirt from its hanger, he tossed it onto the bed and struggled to undo the buttons on his bloodied, dirty dress shirt with shaking hands. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, and paused. He was a wreck.
He'd managed to make it back here in one piece by running off of pure adrenaline and anger. His shirt was torn and spattered with blood. Most of it was Farfarello's. The Irishman had used himself as a living shield to protect Ken- until finally he had been dragged down. Ken took in an unsteady breath, and felt tears of helpless fury and fear burn at the back of his eyes. He swallowed them back viciously and yanked the shirt from his body, scattering pearly white buttons across the room as the weakened material ripped. Dropping it from trembling fingers, he sank to his knees by the side of the bed and lay his head on the mattress, digging his fingers painfully into his scalp. He took deep, shuddering breaths in a desperate attempt to regain control of himself.
Ambushed. By Purebloods. He should have known. He'd seen them glaring at Farfarello in hatred. There had been attempts at the Berserker's life. They should have been prepared for this. He should have ignored Farfarello's stubborn pride and insisted on bringing bodyguards to the meeting. What was worse, the Lords from Ireland and America had been dragged into this mess. The Irish Vampire was dead. The American must have noticed by now- if he wasn't dead yet-that his captors were Japanese. This did not bode well politically. If they ever managed to get out of this mess, Farfarello was going to be doing some pretty fancy footwork to prevent a world war.
Unbidden, an image of Farfarello came to him- dangling helplessly unconscious in the grasp of sneering Vampires while the American Lord snarled at the whispering Purebloods surrounding him. Farfarello had done his best to protect Ken; in the end, it had been that Irish Feeder- the Jackal -who had saved his sorry ass and gotten him out of there.
Ken punched the mattress in a guilty fury. He should have been able to do something, god damn it!! He was a fucking assassin, for chrissakes. A little part of his mind was dryly reminding him that he'd never faced off against so many by himself. Even his silver-plated buknuts hadn't been able to keep them all at bay. He punched the mattress again, squashing the reasoning voice. It didn't matter. He should have been able to protect himself- to get Farfarello free. He should have known better, in the first place, and persuaded Farfarello to bring backup. If the Jackal hadn't appeared, mowing down the Purebloods with his silver sword, Ken would be dead right now.
For a wild instant, when he had seen that shadowed figure wading in to save him, sword flashing in the setting sunlight, he'd thought Ran and the others had come to help. But no. Only he, the Jackal, and Park's useless Feeder were left. They'd been lucky to escape at all.
A tentative knock on the door made him shoot to his feet. He scrubbed angrily at his face to clean off the dirt and tears that he hadn't been aware he'd been shedding. "Who is it?" he demanded harshly.
"It's me, Ken-dono," Rinata's voice was brusque. "May I come in?"
Ken nodded jerkily, realized belatedly that she couldn't see, and opened his mouth to answer.
The door opened and she walked in without waiting for an invitation. She shut the door behind her and looked Ken up and down with assessing eyes and an expressionless face. "You're a mess," she pointed out.
"No shit, sherlock," Ken snarled, reaching for his clean shirt. "Did Elsie fill you in?"
"A little." She stepped away from the door and crossed her arms over her stomach, watching Ken change dispassionately. "I'd like a few more details, however. Elsie was too frightened to see her attackers. Did you?" Sometimes she was a little too much like Manx for comfort.
Ken shook his head, striding over to the tub. He crouched and began splashing water over his smudged face. A memory of earlier invaded his mind at the feel of the warm water: Farfarello's mouth on his, his strong arms scooping Ken up and pressing him against the wall... He stood up quickly. He turned his dripping face to regard Rinata, clenching his jaw so hard it hurt. "Purebloods," he managed to get out. He reached up and wiped his face dry with his sleeve before remembering belatedly that it was a fresh shirt. "They've been trying to get to Farfarello for months, and they finally got their chance."
"Elsie says the Irish Lord was slain," Rinata said, her eyes piercing. "Is this true?"
Ken took a steadying breath and nodded. "Hai. I felt her life leave her. Ireland isn't going to be happy. Neither is America if we don't get their Lord back for them. If he's still alive, that is."
"He'd better be." Rinata's freckled face was pinched. "I was here when Hiroshima was hit," she said quietly. "We could be facing another war if we don't fix this."
"I know that," Ken snapped impatiently, glaring at her. "But in case you hadn't noticed, Farfarello isn't here-"
"Is he dead?" she asked quickly.
Ken swallowed. "No. I would have felt him die, even from this distance. They're keeping him alive for some reason."
A little of the tension went out of Rinata's shoulders. "All right. So we still might have a chance. However, the fact remains that he is captive." She eyed him with a mixture of resignation and doubt. "That leaves us with you."
"With Farfarello gone, how much weight can I possibly throw around here?" Ken demanded, beginning to pace in agitation. "I can't tell the Vampires to start a search for Farfarello. I might not even be alive by this time tomorrow. There are Purebloods here that hate me."
"Order them out."
"The Purebloods??" Ken gave a bark of mirthless laughter. "Why should they listen to me?"
"Because they're outnumbered," Rinata said shortly. "There are more Turned in these caverns than Purebloods. It's why they watch their step as much as they do. They may be stronger individually, but we do outnumber them." She bared her fangs slightly. "Order them to leave. I will make sure the rest of the Vampires back you up."
Ken started to nod, then hesitated. "Wait. Why should I order them to leave?"
Rinata blinked. "You just said yourself that it was Purebloods that ambushed the meeting," she said. "If you let our Purebloods stay here, there's no telling whose side they're on. They could try something."
"Yes, but you just said that because the Turned in these tunnels outnumber them, they're careful not to start anything," Ken pointed out. "Why order them to leave, where they can join up with whoever captured Farfarello? Maybe they're expecting me to make them leave." He shook his head, frowning. "No. 'Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer'. I want them where I can watch them. They stay here."
Rinata looked like she disagreed, but finally she shrugged. "If you think so," she agreed reluctantly. "Keep them here if you wish. But watch your back. They'll be going after you, next."
Ken ignored that last warning. He wanted to say he could look after himself, but he was afraid she'd refer to the Jackal's rescue of him. He adjusted his shirt and glanced in the mirror to make sure his face was clean. He took a deep breath. "Call everyone to the throne cavern. I'm going to tell them what's going on. Make sure you post loyal guards at the exits once everyone is in. Anyone who tries to sneak out after hearing about what's happened is to be killed or contained."
Rinata inclined her head in acquisence. "I will send Himeno and Flint to escort you."
Ken shook his head. "They only watched my back because Farfarello would have killed them otherwise- Flint especially."
"Your bodyguards will be here to escort you momentarily," Rinata said firmly. She left, closing the door quietly behind herself.
Ken sat down on the bed with a little shaky sigh. It would take her a few minutes to round up a pair willing to watch him without Farfarello's express orders. She couldn't lie to them and say Farfarello had said to do it; they could turn on him after his announcement. He just hoped she would take into consideration his lack of faith in Flint. That was one man he most definitely did not want behind him.

About fifteen minutes later there was a smart rap on the door, and once again it opened before he could answer.
Rinata stepped in. "These two will escort you," she told him with a significant look that meant she'd found a pair willing to put themselves in harm's way for him.
So he was more than a little surprised when Himeno and the Jackal stepped inside and bowed their heads slightly in greeting. He got along all right with Himeno, but she had always seemed so distant; he'd assumed she, like Flint, would have dropped guard duty if at all possible. Especially after Farfarello's violent treatment of the two of them after that car bomb. More importantly, she was so old, Ken had no idea if she was Turned or Pureblood. He didn't think anyone in the caverns knew. And the Jackal hardly even knew him.
"Wait, what are you doing here?" Ken demanded, looking at the Jackal sharply. "I told you to guard Aya-chan."
The Irishman spoke in choppy, accented Japanese. "Ran, Crawford- they send me back. Ran is.." he searched for the right word. "Suspicious. I go see telepath tomorrow." He said "telepath" in English, but Ken understood. He sighed, rubbing at his brow wearily. Trust Ran to go anal on him at a time like this.
"Fine," he sighed. He looked at them both solemnly. "Thank you," he said simply.
If Himeno understood his thanks, she gave no indication. She gave him a vague, lazy smile that could have meant anything from blank politeness to secrecy. The Jackal nodded grimly.
Ken made sure his sleeves covered his buknuts and motioned to the two guards. "Let's go, then."


Aya slept in the next day. She padded downstairs silently, following her brother's voice coming from the kitchen. He was talking to Crawford-san.
"I called Yohji. Schuldich's not there, and Yohji didn't want to talk about him, much less pass on the message."
"I should've seen this coming, of all things," Crawford remarked dryly. "Kudou puts a lot more feeling into a relationship than Schuldich ever will. It was bound to go sour."
Aya frowned. Had Schuldich and Yohji broken up? She felt sad for them- but also resigned in a way. Both of them- Yohji in particular -were going to be royal pains in the ass for a little while. She stepped into the kitchen. "Ohayo," she greeted, making a beeline for the fridge.
They murmured greetings. Ran looked over his shoulder at her from where he was chopping up fruit. "Did you want a belgian waffle?"
"Un!" She pulled the juice from the fridge and seated herself at the table eagerly. Her brother was a better cook than she was by far. She loved it when he spoiled her with his cooking.
Crawford-san's plate was already empty, and he was sipping at his coffee as he leaned back in his chair. Aya noticed with relief that the two of them were much more relaxed around each other than they had first been. Things had been so tense between them for awhile; past animosities, Omi had told her. But it was also mainly because Ran didn't trust Crawford at all. Back then Crawford certainly wouldn't have lounged in their kitchen after breakfast. Ran wouldn't have made breakfast for him in the first place, much less looked so at ease with the other man seated behind him, out of immediate sight. She was grateful for this timid step in their strange relationship, not only for their happiness, but for hers. She'd always felt awkward when finding the two of them in a room buzzing with tension and distrust.
"Schuldich isn't answering mentally, either," Ran continued with a slight scowl as he cooked.
"He's probably off sulking somewhere," Crawford said calmly. "Or suffering a hangover. He forgets his problems by getting trashed- the buzz also muffles his Gift, which he appreciates."
The phone rang jarringly. Aya jumped. Ran wiped his hands off on his apron and picked up the receiver, pressing the Talk button. Crawford looked up with an expectant look on his face. "Moshi Moshi."
Someone had turned the volume all the way up. Ran winced instinctively, pulling the receiver away from his ear. Loud and clear came the voice on the other end: "Yes, is there a.." a pause as if the man on the other end was reading off a name, "Kudou Yohji there?"
"We're closed on Sundays," Ran said shortly. His thumb moved to the volume button to turn it down, but out of the corner of his eye he caught Crawford shaking his head sharply, once.
"But he works there, correct?"
Ran frowned, still holding the receiver slightly away from his ear. "Is this about an order?"
"Uh.. no. Thank you." The click and buzz of the dial tone echoed in the silent kitchen.
Ran hung the phone up and turned to Crawford abruptly with a dark scowl. "You turned up the volume," he guessed. "Why?"
Crawford removed his glasses and calmly polished them on the front of his dress shirt. "I knew someone was supposed to call. Someone important." He replaced the glasses carefully before continuing. "I don't know why they were important, so I wanted us all to hear the voice."
"Did you recognize it?" Ran demanded.
"Iie. Aya-chan?"
She shook her head, one eye on her cooking waffle. "Nope, never heard him. Prob'ly just a nervous customer."
Crawford arched a brow at her. Ran made a "ch" noise, as if it had all been a waste of his time. He turned the volume back down on the phone and returned to his cooking.
Crawford rose to his feet with a glance at his watch. Aya handed him his cane helpfully from where it had been leaning against the wall nearby. He accepted it graciously, leaning on it with as much dignity as a half-cripple could, and Aya could see the tension humming in her brother's shoulders at the tap of the cane against the floor.
He still felt guilty about it, after all, she realized sympathetically. But it had been Crawford's choice. At least Manx still kept him around for missions where his knee wouldn't be too much of a handicap. It would have been a blow to the American's pride, and Ran would be swimming in even more guilt than he already was if Crawford had been kicked off the team. Manx may be harsh and intimidating, but she wasn't stupid.
The phone rang again.
Ran muttered something rude and snatched it up. His voice was less than civil as he answered. "Fujimiya."
He was silent for a long moment, his face getting darker- settling into Abysinnian mode even as his sister watched anxiously. Crawford stepped forward as if to take the phone from him, knowing instinctively something was wrong. Ran evaded his reach, warding him off with the spatula he'd been using. If he hadn't looked so serious, Aya would have laughed at the sight of the indignant American and the stubborn redhead weilding a spatula like a sword.
"Go to hell," Ran snarled suddenly, and hung up.
Aya's eyebrows shot up.
Crawford growled angrily. "Idiot," he snapped. "That was the call we were waiting for. Who was it?"
Ran's eyes flicked towards his sister- the barest movement of the eyes, but she caught it. "Nothing," he muttered. "Just a rude customer."
Crawford started to say something, then composed himself and turned to Aya. "Aya-chan, will you get my jacket? I think I left it in the basement."
If her brother's sorry-ass lie hadn't been evidence enough, Crawford's hint at his own weakness was definitely proof that something was going on that they didn't think she needed to hear.
She smiled sweetly, seething with indignation inside. "Hai~" She hurried off.
No sooner had she left the kitchen, however, then she whirled right around and pressed her ear to the door, holding her breath as she eavesdropped shamelessly.
"Rude customer my ass," Crawford said, and Aya's mouth opened in a little "oh" of surprise. She'd never heard Crawford-san cuss before. "Who was that?"
"I don't know," Ran snapped.
"Quit pussyfooting around it," Crawford snapped right back. He was actually angry, Aya realized, and it scared her just a little. She was glad she couldn't see his face. "What did they say?"
There was a pause, and Aya could almost see her brother taking in a deep breath to cool his hot temper. He'd done it often when she'd first moved in, as he painfully rearranged his life and his attitude, trying once more to become Ran for her. He was doing it with Crawford-san, now, and she doubted either of them caught it and realized the significance of it- that he was trying not to fly off the handle. That he didn't want to fight with Crawford. "The message was for me. It had nothing to do with you," he said with quiet heat.
"Did they threaten to kill you?" Crawford's voice was low as he, too, kept his temper in check.
There was another moment of silence, which was more of an answer than anything. Ran didn't like to accept help or pity. Which meant Crawford must be pretty close to the truth. Aya bit her lip hard, feeling a great fear well in her. Was somebody after her brother?
"They said," Ran finally said in emotionless tones, "that if I didn't cut off my alliance with Farfarello and Ken, they would make sure I was crucified alongside them." Aya could hear the sneer of derision in his voice, and even in her fear admired his scorn and bravado.
Crawford was not amused. "So that has nothing to do with me." His voice was cold.
There was a thread of honest confusion under the irritation in Ran's voice. "Why should it?"
"You- idiot-" Crawford sounded like he wanted to strangle Aya's poor naive brother. Turning, she rushed downstairs, snatched up the man's coat, and walked back up slowly to get her breath back so they wouldn't know she'd run.
She entered the kitchen with a bright smile on her face that would have made Omi proud. Crawford had been about to stalk out, forgetting his coat in his frustration. Ran looked angry and baffled. Aya pretended she didn't notice the tension, and held out the coat. "Here it is," she said cheerfully.
Crawford forced his face quickly into smooth lines, and offered a tiny smile. "Arigato."
"Hai~" She held the door open for him as her brother returned to his cooking, grumbling. As Crawford paused just outside to button his coat, she leaned out and whispered with an arched brow, "He's a little slow, but please don't give up on him."
She shut the door hastily and hurried to her seat as Ran served her breakfast. The look on Crawford's face had been priceless.
She would have laughed outloud, if her heart wasn't so heavy within her.
Somebody wanted Farfarello and Ran dead- crucified and killed in the most painful manner. Well she'd be damned if she was going to let that happen.
She'd rather die than watch someone do that to her brothers.


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