Ch. 1
"Gloomy Morning"

"Ken-kun, will you hand me that vase?"
Ken peered over the heads of the tittering school girls, looking in the direction Omi was pointing with his clippers. The vase he wanted was on the other side of the room, and he glanced around until he spotted the familiar dark head of hair bent over as a slender boy worked carefully at arranging a bouquet for a blushing school girl. "Can't Nagi get it for you?" he asked, looking at Omi again.
Omi gave him a patient look, clipping the thorns from a rose. "Nagi can't use his Gift anymore, Ken-kun," he reminded him.
"Oh. Right." Ken started to edge around the girls flocked around him, smiling wanly at them. "Excuse me. 'Scuse me. I'll be right back."
The crowd was thicker than normal, and he was tempted to start pushing some of them aside; none of them seemed to want to move as he picked his way across the room.
Nagi looked up to watch his slow progress with his calm blue eyes, sliding a finger absently under his cast to scratch at an itch.
"Hurry, please, Ken-kun," Omi called to him.
"Yeah, yeah," Ken muttered under his breath. He finally reached the vase and picked it up, holding it over his head to keep from bumping any of the girls with it. As he made his way slowly towards Omi through the packed shop, he couldn't keep himself from saying irritably, "If Yohji had showed up instead of skipping out on his shift, this would be a lot easier."
"Oh, I forgot to tell you," Omi said, smacking his forehead with the palm of his hand and smiling apologetically. "Yohji can't come in today. He's dead."
Ken stumbled over a girl's foot. The vase slipped from his hands and shattered on the ground. He stared down at the scattered soil and the dozen black roses that had been inside. Slowly he looked up to stare at Omi.
All the girls were gone.
Omi continued to clip the thorns from his roses. Nagi was still calmly arranging his flowers. The only sound was the snip-snip-snip of Omi's clippers. Ken looked around quickly. How had all the girls left so suddenly, and without a noise?
"That's not funny, Omi," he said hoarsely, staring at the little blond. "Just say he's sick."
Omi frowned at him in slight puzzlement. "Of course it's not funny," he said. "Death is a serious thing. Isn't it, Nagi?" he looked towards his lover for agreement.
Nagi looked up and nodded sagely. But something was wrong with his face. His eyes seemed to be more sunken, his cheekbones more pronounced.
Ken shook his head sharply and looked quickly at Omi again. "Just a heads up so you're not swamped tomorrow," Omi was saying cheerfully as he put his rose in a pile and reached for another. The ones he'd already clipped were darkening and shriveling as Ken watched in numb silence. "Nagi and I won't be here for the next shift; you'll have to get Ran-kun to fill in for us."
"...Why not?" Ken finally managed to whisper.
Omi pricked himself on a thorn and raised his finger to his mouth to suck on it, glancing up at Ken with raised brows as if to say 'duh'. "Well, we're calling in dead, so..."
Ken almost laughed. Almost. Then he looked at Nagi again. The boy's face was gone, replaced by a grinning skull, and the flowers he'd been arranging were black and dead.
Ken stumbled back and opened his mouth to scream.

He hit the floor with a thud, thrashing wildly to free himself from the tangle of blankets wrapped around his body. A hoarse cry of horror tore itself from his throat belatedly as his voice finally awoke with the rest of him.
In an instant strong hands were yanking the sheets from his face and shoulders, then a calloused palm was against the side of his face, turning his head towards the face hovering over him.
"Ken." Farfarello's voice was loud and real, snapping him into full awareness. "Wake up."
Ken blinked hard several times, his chest heaving as he stared with wild eyes at the familiar scarred face of his lover crouching beside him. Slowly reality began to seep in as he glanced around. He had fallen out of bed. He was in the room he shared with Farfarello in the warehouse.
He looked back towards Farfarello, who was studying him sharply. "...Nightmare," he guessed.
Ken nodded mutely. It was not the first, and he doubted it would be the last.
Farfarello untangled him from the rest of the sheets in silence, then lifted him effortlessly, like he was carrying a child, and placed him back on the bed.
Ken blinked and sat up against the headboard, reaching up to cover his face with his hand. He drew in a shuddering breath, feeling the cold sweat on his brow. He cleared his throat, and his voice was a little shaken. "What time is it?"
"Almost seven."
"..Did I wake you up?"
"Iie." The bed creaked a little as Farfarello seated himself at his lover's side. Ken didn't have to look to know that single amber eye was peering at him intensely with badly masked anxiety. "I was getting dressed."
"Oh. Ok." Ken lowered his hand a little to peek at his lover, mentally checking his own state out. The night terrors that had been plaguing him since shortly after the fight against the Purebloods several months ago had not gone away, as he had hoped they would. But though the pain and the guilt that accompanied them was still there, making his eyes sting with repressed tears, it was not quite as sharp as it had been those first few times.
He had the childish urge to lay his head in Farfarello's lap and cling to the other man like a security blanket, but he shook off the longing with an internal sigh. They were both twenty now, no longer anything close to a teenager. Besides, he would have to figure out himself how to keep the nightmares at bay. Farfarello would always be there to comfort him in his own way, but there was little the Irishman could do once Ken was asleep.
Ken reached up and wiped hastily at his eyes. Grown men didn't cry. Not even after nightmares about friends who had given their lives four months ago so that others might live.
"Maybe we should stay," Farfarello said, still eyeballing him.
Ken straightened up and looked his partner straight in the eye, setting his jaw stubbornly. "No," he said firmly. "I'll be fine. This is something I have to do, Farf. The nightmares are bad enough. I don't need a haywire Gift on top of it."
Farfarello was obviously still a little worried, but he nodded silently. He knew as well as Ken did that they needed to seek some sort of help for this particular problem.
Ken scowled to himself, mentally cursing the Gift that was more like a curse. Four months ago during the war against the Purebloods, he'd assumed that he'd been able to raise so many zombies solely because of the influence of the Vampires around him. But after his sixth sense concerning death had been heightened-- getting to the point where he could sometimes sense unavoidable death just before it happened, and road kill was beginning to trail after him at night --he'd realized it was something else all together.
When he'd brought it up with Crawford, the other man had told both himself and Ran that Gifts were like any other part of a person's being: they got stronger with age and use. Ken had turned twenty, and he'd been practicing his Gift fairly regularly around the time of the war. He had to expect it to get stronger. Ran, too, would have to watch out for his own talent and practice more caution. No one wanted a rogue Pyro on their hands.
But while Ran was able to simply not use his Gift, or even snatch up the nearest fire extinguisher if he woke up from a nightmare that set off his Gift or some such thing, Ken was at a complete loss on how to control his own talent. How did one keep a flattened cat from dragging itself down the road after you, or pass a graveyard without knowing exactly how many bodies were buried there, and where? Ken needed the advice and guidance of someone with the same curse he had.
He needed to speak with another Necromancer.
Farfarello had done a lot of research, sending out messengers, letters, and calls behind Ken's back until his half-blood Advisor Himeno had triumphantly presented him with an option she'd uncovered:
Elijah Perry, an American Necromancer who was supposedly quite adept at his own powers.
The only problem was, even if he ever agreed to help Ken (he was supposed to be somewhat reclusive), Himeno was almost positive he wouldn't come all the way to Japan. He was a veteran of some kind-- some American war had left him without his left arm and a strong dislike of travel of any kind.
So they would have to go to him.

Ken pushed thoughts of Elijah Perry aside for the time being and forced a wan smile as he reached up to trace a familiar scar running across his lover's bicep. "You're up early," he said, changing the subject. "What are your plans for today?"
Farfarello gave a careless one-shouldered shrug. "Some newly Turned idiot left his midnight snack out for anyone to find. The Hunter called to threaten me." He was visibly unimpressed at whatever Kiki, the part-time cop, part-time Vampire Hunter, had said to him.
Ken sighed, running a hand through sleep-tangled hair. "Let me guess-- Yuki." Farfarello arched a brow. "I heard Flint bitching about him the other day," Ken explained. "Calling him a brown noser and a stupid kid who didn't think before acting."
Farfarello scowled slightly. "I will talk to him," he decided in an ominous tone.
"You take care of the body and the evidence," Ken corrected firmly. "I'll talk to Yuki."
Farfarello grunted, but didn't argue. In the past he would have frowned at the thought, knowing that Ken wouldn't make as much an impression as he would-- namely, scaring someone into good behavior. But a lot had changed in the last few months. Ever since the war against the Purebloods, Ken had been subtly different. His conscience didn't seem to stand in the way as often as it once had, and something about him told the other Vampires instinctively to respect him and watch their step around him. Farfarello hadn't really noticed the changes too much..
Until he'd walked in on the tail-end of a conference between Ken and a rebellious Vampire and watched with a raised brow as the once arrogant Turned hurried from the room with a nervous glance over his shoulder at the stone-faced Necromancer. Ken didn't have to look frightening or use horrible threats to get the Vampires he lived with to respect his authority.(1) He seemed to radiate a very faint but very real sense of danger just waiting to be tipped off. Farfarello, who was used to inspiring fear and respect in those around him, didn't think too much about it. Being partially insane himself, it didn't occur to the Irishman that the slight changes in his lover were the hint of an impending if milder case of a whole other type of insanity.
Ken slid out of the bed after giving his partner a quick kiss, and wandered over to the Jacuzzi for a bath. Farfarello watched him undress, half tempted to join his lover, then shook himself and strode towards the door.
"See you later," Ken called as he started up the water.
Farfarello lifted a hand in farewell, then was gone.
Ken sighed as he slid into the tub and wriggled his toes in the warm water as it slowly filled the large tub. With the distraction of his lover gone, the memory of his nightmare was starting to creep up on him. He shuddered, closing his eyes tight and digging his fingers into his hair as if he could will the images away.
Even though he missed him terribly, there was nothing he could have done about Yohji-- the man had made a willing sacrifice, throwing himself in the path of harm in order to save "Ash", the man he'd had feelings for. But Omi and Nagi...
Them, he'd known about. Somehow. Crawford had warned him about a vision, and though it had been vague and Ken hadn't understood it until too late, it had still left him with a choice. A large part of his subconscious told him he'd made the right choice, because if he had gone after the two young boys, Farfarello would have been killed by the mass of Purebloods that had piled on top of him. Staying behind and ordering his zombies to wade in and help had saved the Irishman, but left Omi and Nagi at Jenell's mercy. Or lack thereof, rather.
He gritted his teeth so hard his head began to ache. Belatedly he realized his cheeks were hot and wet with tears of grief. If only there'd been another choice... another way. If only Nagi hadn't taken that special medication prescribed by Rosenkreuz that had temporarily disabled his Gift as well as made him weak. If only he could go back in time and change things somehow, and tear that German bitch apart with his bare hands.
He'd been torturing himself with the same "what if" and "if only" thoughts for months now, and he knew deep inside that it was only going to destroy him. But he couldn't seem to stop, couldn't abandon the horrible guilt he felt, and the grief. He tried to keep it inside, now, fought to keep it off his face when he was around his friends and his lover. They would only worry about him.
The water had reached his waist, now, and Ken slowly sank down until it was just above his chin, plagued by visions of death and sorrow that would not go away no matter how loudly he screamed inside.


Several miles away from the warehouse where Ken was attempting to drown his sorrows in a tub of hot water, Ran Fujimiya was just waking up.
His alarm wasn't set to go off for another half hour, but he'd had a restless sleep anyhow, and was already wide awake. Carefully he reached out and switched it off so that it wouldn't start blaring and wake up the other man in his bed. Rolling over onto his back, he turned his head on the pillow and stared in silence at the face on the other pillow less than a foot from his own: the reason for his interrupted sleep.
It was going to take him awhile to get used to going to bed with Brad Crawford.
In sleep, without his glasses, his hair all mussed, and his face smoothed out, the precog looked at least five years younger than he actually was. Ran observed that absently as he scanned the older man's face with cautious amethyst eyes, musing to himself.
It had been a little over a month since he had first agreed- hesitantly -to let the other man sleep in his bed. He owed Crawford that much, at least, he told himself. Crawford was being surprisingly patient with him, and they were taking things slow. After such a struggle to get past the redhead's defenses, Crawford wasn't about to let Ran slip through his fingers. He had been very careful so far not to push things too far. They slept in the same bed, now, but they had still not done... that. Ran was secretly proud that he didn't blush at the thought this time.
Still, having someone else in his bed, so close, made him jumpy. After years of living on the edge with an assassin's touchy reflexes and instincts, he found it difficult to let his guard down in the presence of another. Especially one who had been his enemy up until a little less than a year ago.
He sat up- carefully, so as not to awaken his partner -and looked towards the door as he heard water running down the hall. Aya must be getting ready for school. He glanced at the clock again and sighed internally. She was going to be late if she didn't hurry. He checked himself. No-- she was going to be late, even if she skipped breakfast and raced to school. He would have to drive her.
He pushed the covers aside and slid carefully off the bed. He glanced constantly towards the man in the bed as he dressed quietly, making sure not to wake him. Scooping up his keys in one hand and his shoes in the other, he slipped out of the room and closed the door softly behind him.
He almost collided with Aya as she hurried by, still braiding her hair and doing a funny hop-skip to get her right shoe on. There was a piece of toast clenched in her teeth, and she smiled ruefully around it at her older brother.
"Ogh-ay-oh," she said, voice muffled by the bread.
Ran reached out and plucked the toast away, giving her a stern look. "You should be on your way already," he scolded. "You've already been late twice this semester. I'm going to buy you a louder alarm clock."
"I can make it if I run," Aya insisted, finishing her braid and reaching down to tug her shoe firmly in place. She reached out and retrieved her half-eaten toast. "Sorry I woke you up."
Ran shook his head in resignation. "I was already up. Come on. I'll drive you."
"Oh- that's all right," Aya said quickly. She crammed the rest of her toast in her mouth and hurried past him, swallowing her makeshift breakfast hastily. "I'll be fine, really."
"No you won't," Ran retorted, following her down the stairs to the restaurant below. He glanced at the clock behind the register. "It's Friday; I don't have to open until eight. I have enough time to take you. I'm not going to listen to your principal squawking at me over the phone again because you're late."
"I promise I won't be late," Aya wheedled, shouldering her book bag. "Really! I left this time the other day, and I made it."
"You left earlier than this yesterday, and were still late," Ran reminded her with a warning scowl. "Now get in the car."
Aya knew when she was beaten. She sighed and trudged towards the door. On the way she pulled out her cell phone and dialed a number by memory.
Ran frowned at her as they exited the building and headed for his car. "Who are you calling this early in the morning?" he demanded.
"Oh.." she hesitated, looking from him to the phone. Then she smiled charmingly. "Well, sometimes I run into Umi-chan on the way to school, and she gives me a lift. I just wanted to tell her I've got a ride this morning, that's all."
Ran nodded and opened the passenger door for his sister. She slid in, pulling the door shut behind her, and Ran walked around to his side. As he did, he glanced sideways through the windshield, watching as Aya spoke into her phone.
By the time he'd gotten to his side and slid in, slamming the door shut, she had just finished the quick call and was slipping her phone back in the pocket of her skirt.
Ran started the engine, but didn't pull out right away. He turned his head to stare at her, and after one look at his Fujimiya glare, she scrunched down in her seat and stared straight ahead, twisting her braid in her fingers nervously.
"That was a private conversation," she muttered irritably. But her voice was subdued.
"Then cover your mouth next time," Ran snapped, "if you don't want me to read your lips after a lame excuse like that." He glared at her. "Why were you calling Schuldich?"
Aya sighed, still not looking at him. "I couldn't get Umi-chan," she said meekly. "And... sometimes I run into Schuldich on the way to school and-"
"Nice try," Ran growled. "Umi never picks you up, does she? Are you trying to tell me Schuldich picks you up on the way to school every morning and takes you there??"
"...Not every morning," Aya muttered. Then immediately wished she'd kept her mouth shut.
Ran's face was a thundercloud. But thankfully he pressed his lips together and fell into dark silence, backing the car out and heading down the road towards the high school.
They spent the trip in silence until he'd pulled up in front of the school. Aya had unbuckled in record-breaking time and actually had one foot out of the door when her brother's voice stopped her.
"Schuldich lives nowhere near the school. How does he just 'happen' to run across you in the mornings?" he demanded.
Aya sighed, closing her eyes for patience and a silent prayer for quick-thinking. "That coffee shop he and Crawford usually go to is just down the street," she pointed out. "He still goes there sometimes. He doesn't mind giving me a ride." She interrupted her brother as he opened his mouth again. "And before you ask why I'm 'hiding' it from you, this is why. I knew you'd react like this." She glowered at him rebelliously. "Just because you think Schuldich is a jackass Nazi doesn't mean I do. He's my friend. You got over Farfarello being my friend; what makes Schuldich any different?"
"Schuldich has no conscience," Ran growled, glaring at her irritably. "He's a selfish bastard who learned not to let his feelings get in the way a long time ago."
"I'll be friends with who I want," Aya shot back. "Quit being so overprotective."
It was a stare-down even Farfarello would have hesitated to interrupt. They glared at each other, their inherited tempers stirred, before at last Ran looked away and scowled furiously at the steering wheel. "Go to school," he said shortly. "Before you're late. Again."
Aya got out with a huff and slammed the door behind her. She marched up the steps to the school while Ran watched her go, struggling with his mixed anxiety and anger. When she was inside and out of sight, he lowered his head, leaning his forehead against the steering wheel and sighing in frustration.
How could she not expect him to worry about her? Especially with the disreputable company she kept. Farfarello had been bad enough, but at least Ran had finally seen that the Irishman actually had the capacity to love people in his own strange way. Farfarello loved Ken and Aya, as far as Ran could (reluctantly) tell. But Schuldich...
He cringed. That was a man he did not want befriending his baby sister. The man was an arrogant, cruel bastard who thought playing with people's emotions was the best thing since sliced bread. Ran had known that the two of them had clicked on some level during the war, but he'd assumed nothing would come of it afterwards. They'd mostly argued, anyway. But now...
Ran cursed under his breath and put the car into drive, pulling away from the school and heading back towards the restaurant. His first instinct was to track the German down and have a Talk with him, but he knew it would do no good. It might even make things worse. Schuldich would just hang around Aya more to piss him off. And if Aya found out about the conversation, she would be irritated with her brother and accuse him of being "overprotective" and "nosey".
If this was even remotely what it felt like to be a father, then he was never getting married, he decided firmly.

Aya was annoyed with her brother, but at the same time she understood why he was so upset at the thought of her and Schuldich being friends. He hadn't been far off the mark in his description of the cocky telepath. That didn't mean there wasn't something else to him, and she'd unearthed a part of that other Schuldich during the war.
Her brothers didn't know about it-- though she had the morbid suspicion that it would not be long before they found out --but she and Schuldich met up almost every day. He would run into her on the way to school and drive them by McDonald's for breakfast. They would lose track of time, talking, eating, and throwing hashbrowns at each other, and she would end up being late for class, but she didn't mind. Or she would wheedle him into getting ice cream after class, or get him to run her to the store for some shopping. He would grumble and sulk while she tried on clothes, or give her scathing fashion "tips", which in truth amused her more than it angered her. She enjoyed her time with the German-- perhaps more than she should.
A day didn't go by when she didn't think fleetingly of that one kiss he'd given her the day Tomas Hannigan had returned to Ireland. One kiss, no more. They were back to bickering and getting along more like siblings than friends. Any morsel of romance she might have hoped for seemed to be nonexistent. She was secretly upset by this, and her depression about that only made her more disgusted with herself. It made her feel like a stupid love-sick puppy. And anyway, where had those feelings come from? She could do much better. Ran would tell her so himself. Schuldich was everything Ran said he was: arrogant, cruel, mocking...
She shook off thoughts of the green-eyed assassin as she made her way through the crowded hallway towards her first class. Too wrapped up in her musings of crushes and exasperation, she didn't see the girl until too late.
She came stepping timidly from the principal's office, staring at a piece of paper, and Aya barrelled right into her. The girl gave a squeal of surprise, papers and books flying everywhere, and Aya almost fell on her ass.
"G-gomen!" she stammered, embarrassed. She squatted hastily and began snatching up the spilled papers. "My head's not with me today. Here, let me help..."
"It's okay," the girl said shyly, crouching down and picking up her books. "I wasn't looking."
They straightened, and Aya handed the books over with a rueful grin. "Hey, I don't recognize you. Are you new?"
The girl bobbed her head in a nervous nod, clutching her books to her chest with one arm and reaching up with her free hand to tuck her shortly-cropped brown hair behind her ear. She was a gaijin, Aya realized belatedly.
"Ohh, are you from America?" she asked in surprise.
"Y-yes." The girl's eyes shied away, and she shifted her weight uncomfortably. "I'm an exchange student."
"Your Japanese is very good," Aya complimented with a friendly smile.
The girl's mouth twitched into the hint of a smile. "I'm afraid I'm not very good at reading it," she admitted.
"Here, let me see your schedule," Aya offered, holding out her hand. "I can help you find your first class."
"Arigato," the girl said with obvious relief, handing over the creased paper.
"Hey, lucky us," Aya said as the bell rang. She pointed to the top line on the schedule. "We share first period and gym. Come on, I'll take you." She smiled over her shoulder as the thin girl hurried after her. "I'm Aya, by the way."
The girl looked at her with big hazel eyes and managed another shy smile. "I'm Laura," she murmured. "Laura Hall."

(1) If anyone laughed at this, you watch too much South Park. XD;;
Author's Notes: *laughs* I'm sorry, I can never resist twitching the boys over into overprotective mode. It amuses me. I think it's cute XD; I have a few guy friends who have taken it upon themselves to become my older brothers, and it gets tiresome sometimes, but sweet. ^^

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