Ch. 2
"A Changed Man"

The restaurant wasn't too busy on a Friday morning, aside from businessmen stopping by for breakfast on their way to work, so Ran was able to keep things running with just himself and a veteran waitress named Keiko he'd hired three weeks ago.
He was scooping scrambled eggs onto a plate next to some sausage and toast when the middle-aged woman popped her head into the kitchen. "Hey, honey, you got a visitor," she called out, then disappeared again.
Ran sighed to himself as he set the spatula aside and put the plate on the window counter for Keiko to pick up. He might be the owner and boss, but he couldn't get the older woman to stop calling him "honey" and Aya "sweetie". He'd given up the fight after a week. She meant well, and she was a good worker, so he let it slide.
Wiping his hands off on his apron, he stepped out of the warm kitchen and glanced around at the few occupied tables.
Two businessmen were seated by a window, talking animatedly about their work, their food mostly forgotten in front of them. There was an elderly couple at another table, sipping at steaming green tea and saying little. A businesswoman chattering away on a phone and a mother speaking sternly to her teenage son were the only others seated.
Keiko came over and picked up the plate he'd just prepared, nodding towards the back. "He went to the bathroom real quick, but he said he needs to talk to you when you've got a couple minutes."
Ran frowned slightly, looking towards the clock behind the register. It was almost nine thirty; it would be slow until lunch time. "Who is it?" he demanded.
"The kid with the scars," Keiko said, balancing the plate on one palm and nabbing a fresh pot of coffee. "Nice kid, real polite t'me. Always looks like he's only half there, though, y'know?"
"Ken," Ran reminded her, and then spotted the brunette as he came out of the bathroom. "Thanks." He stepped out from behind the register and went to meet his old friend.
Ken saw him coming and offered a slight smile of greeting. He looked tired-- but then, he always looked tired these days. Nightmares, Aya had said. Farfarello had told her. Ran couldn't help but be miffed that Ken hadn't told him himself, but since he himself wasn't one that asked for help, he couldn't really hold it against the younger boy.
Ran inclined his head in acknowledgement of the silent greeting, arching a brow. "Everything all right?"
"Yeah." Ken shoved his hands in the pockets of his baggy black jeans, glancing around distractedly. His face was calm, but his eyes were forever flicking away to take in the door and the other patrons. It was a habit born partly from years as an assassin, and partly from months of living with vicious Vampires. Ken wasn't what Ran would call a "jumpy" person, but he was certainly more alert. Schuldich called it "paranoid".
There were a lot of changes in Ken that were a result of life with Farfarello and the Vampires, actually. Ran didn't approve of a lot of them. He still wasn't sure what to think about the Necromancer's choice of dress.
Ken was wearing dark jeans, black army boots, and a tight navy blue shirt with a leather jacket. And of course, the customary black collar Farfarello had given to him. The ensemble, included with the face and throat scars Ken had received at the hands-- or fangs, rather --of Vampires gave him the desired effect. He looked tough and maybe a little dangerous. Ran knew Ken deliberately dressed the way he did because he was the lone human in the midst of a pack of Vampires, and couldn't afford to be taken lightly. He would never again be the simple boy next door type of person. Ran could feel eyes boring into him from some of the customers who were gawking openly at his solemn-eyed friend.
Ken had noticed, too, but he chose to ignore them. "We got a date," he said, looking back at Ran. He dug into his pocket and pulled out a rumpled piece of paper. "Here's the flight information."
Ran accepted the paper, looking over it quickly. "Tomorrow?" he asked, surprised. "I didn't know you were leaving that soon."
"Yeah, well..." Ken shrugged, running a hand through his hair-- an old, familiar habit that Ran was somehow relieved to see. "I can't take this shit much longer. Guess what followed me home last night?"
Ran looked into his friend's haunted eyes and shuddered inwardly. "I don't want to know," he said firmly.
"You're right. You don't." Ken sighed, gesturing towards the paper. "Anyway, it's a late morning flight. Farf is leaving Himeno in charge until we get back."
Ran pocketed the paper. "How long will you be gone?"
"I have no idea," Ken admitted. "I'm hoping it will be less than a week. But first we have to find the guy. Then convince him to help me. Then he has to help me, train me, whatever. I don't know how long that will last. I'll call and let you know when I have an idea, though. In the meantime, do me a favor." His eyes had been roaming again, but now he met Ran's gaze with a serious expression. "Don't let Aya go to the warehouse while we're gone. And don't any of you stay out too late at night."
Ran's eyes narrowed slightly. "You think they're going to get out of control when Farfarello leaves?" he asked sharply.
Ken waved his hand to warn the redhead to lower his voice. "I don't know. Better safe than sorry, right? Seriously, I doubt they're stupid enough to go too crazy while we're gone. But there's always a few bad apples. And a couple new guys who aren't too bright. I just don't want any accidents while we're gone. Himeno should be able to handle things, though. She's the oldest of all of us, and she's got her reputation as an Adir'avar. She can always call in the rest of her team if she needs to get them under control."
Ran nodded. "Did you want to come over and have dinner before you go?" he asked. "On the house. We can call the others over."
Ken blinked, unable to mask his surprise. Ran wasn't exactly the most social of guys; the offer of a going-away dinner/party was the last thing he'd expected from the straight-faced redhead. Aside from a hug, of course. He offered a smile. "I'll ask Farfarello," he promised. "That'd be nice. It's been awhile since we've all gotten together for anything but a war council."
Ran nodded. Too long for some, not long enough for others. He realized belatedly that that meant inviting Schuldich, and winced internally. Too late to take it back now, he told himself grimly. Besides, he consoled himself, he would rather have the German where he could keep an eye on him. Schuldich wasn't the womanizer Yohji had been-- he bit back the inevitable pain at the thought of his dead friend --but he was still flirty and sensual. Poor Aya, who wanted to be friends with almost everyone she met, would never see it coming, he thought anxiously. Yes. Best to keep them both where he could watch them.

Ken hadn't even gotten a block from the restaurant when he came to a halt and called over his shoulder without even looking, "What is it?"
There was silence for a moment, then the scrape of a shoe against pavement. From the shadows of an alley emerged a slightly sheepish-looking Vampire. The wary respect in his eyes proved that he had not believed the rumors that Farfarello's Feeder could sense their kind's presence. Ken turned to look at him, and gave an internal sigh as he recognized his silent pursuer.
"Himeno said you wanted to talk to me," Yuki said with a touch of defensiveness. He tried a charming grin.
Ken stared at him in silence for a long moment, his face expressionless, until the smile weakened and eventually faded altogether. The young man looked nervous and sullen at the same time, as if wishing he didn't have to defer to a human, but somehow sensing that a show of respect was in order. He was one of the newest of them, Turned just a week ago. He was still in the inevitable stage of awe and self-importance at his newfound strengths and vitality, and it was not surprising that he would be cocky and see himself as invincible and superior. It was almost always like this with the new ones. The older ones would watch for a time, unimpressed, until the newbie had had their fun and risked exposing them. Then it was time for them to step in and put a stop to foolish antics and inform them that being one of the immortal was not all just fun and games.
Usually another Vampire had this talk with a new one, but Flint had already spoken to Yuki in his blunt and somewhat harsh way. If the body found last night was any indication, Yuki had paid him no heed. He had no idea how lucky he was that it was Ken facing him this day. If Farfarello had confronted him, it would not have been pretty.
"Walk with me," Ken said at last, turning away. He strode down the street, not even checking to see if the older man followed. Yuki hesitated, then trotted to keep up, walking beside Ken and radiating nerves and arrogant irritation. Ken didn't have to be a telepath like Schuldich to know what the Vampire was thinking. Ken may be the Lord's Feeder and a Necromancer in training, but he was still human. Plus, Yuki had been Turned when he was twenty-one, and he was a good head taller. He was good-looking to boot, with nicely trimmed ebony hair, a pleasant smile, slender built, and youthful dark eyes. A real lady killer, no pun intended. His pride was pricked at the thought of getting a lecture from one he saw as inferior to him in many ways.
In the past this would have irritated the hell out of Ken, but he had been finding it easier and easier in the past few months to sink his anger into a deep, terrible calm that helped him keep his head. It creeped people out a lot more, too, but he wasn't aware of that.
"Your meal from last night was found and reported," Ken said quietly, getting right to the point. His eyes were straight ahead as he walked without hurry down the streets. They were leaving Osaka behind, heading back towards the train station and Tokyo. When Ran had decided to start over, he'd meant it. New restaurant, new life, new city. "A Hunter found the body."
Yuki bit his lip slightly. "I didn't think anyone would find it for awhile," he muttered a little defensively. "Um... is the Hunter going to retaliate?"
"It was Kiki," Ken told him. "Luckily for you and for Farfarello. Especially for you." He flicked the taller man a sideways glance. "That was careless of you. You do not just drink and then leave a body for anyone to find. You didn't even try to make the kill look like something else. I know your Sire took you out and taught you at least something, didn't they? The least you could have done was slit the woman's throat and taken her purse to hide the bite marks. The police would have assumed it was a brutal robbery."
Yuki was looking more and more put-out the more Ken spoke. He looked as if he was struggling not to argue.
They were nearing the station, so Ken stopped and faced the Vampire fully, gazing up at him with a solemn face. "Don't let it happen again," he said softly, an undeniable threat to his tone.
A smart man, even one who didn't know of Ken's reputation, would have taken the barely-veiled threat to heart, or at least agreed somewhat respectfully. But Yuki was more arrogant than most, used to getting his way and scornful of those who tried to boss him around when he saw them as less than he. He had probably been some rich man's brat, Ken thought tiredly as he saw the light of rebellion light Yuki's eyes. He would have to talk to the man's Sire.
"Look, I said it was a mistake," Yuki said a little sharply, eyes narrowing a little. His face was an open book, and all his emotions and thoughts were there for all to see. Not a good trait for a Vampire, but he would learn, like all the others. "You don't need to jump all over me about it. I'll be careful, jeez." He turned and strode off towards the station entrance, fuming, hands crammed in his pockets. Ken watched him go for a moment, then followed.
He waited until they were in the station before he seized the back of the startled man's jacket and hauled him off to the side, into an empty hall that lead towards the janitor's closet and the emergency exit.
"Hey-" Yuki yelped, "hands off the jacket! You don't have to be so damn rough; besides, you have no idea how much this cost--"
Ken spun him around and shoved him against the wall, seizing a fistful of the man's shirt and glaring up at him furiously. This was a trick he could only use on newbies, and only once. As always, it had the desired effect.
The instincts and habits of his life were still too fresh; Yuki cringed against the wall, eyes wide, and held up his hands defensively. "Hey, hey," he said quickly, "chill out, will ya? Look, I'm sorry, OK? I won't do it again. I'll be more careful. I'm new to this, all right?"
Of course you're new to this, Ken thought scornfully. If you were just a little older, if you'd had this immortality just a little longer, you'd have sent me flying across the room for touching you like this. It was why it was a show of force he could only use on newbies. The Vampires may hold some sort of respect for him-- sometimes grudgingly --but he was not so arrogant as to try and pull rank or anything stupid like that on them. He was an assassin, a Necromancer, and a survivor, but he was only human in the end, and even Yuki could have knocked him across the hallway with a swat.
"Listen to me, you jerk-off," Ken said in a low, intense voice. He had Yuki's full attention now. Farfarello had once told him that fear was often the best motivator. It hadn't taken Ken long to learn that harsh lesson for himself, and he used it now, noting with satisfaction the way the taller man swallowed visibly. "You had better thank your lucky stars I'm the one talking to you today. Farfarello was going to deal with this, but I told him I would." Yuki paled at that, but Ken didn't give him a chance to speak. "You know the law. Kill when you're hungry-- kill to eat. Start a war and you deal with Farfarello. Leaving random bite-riddled bodies all over the city could start a war. Are you catching my drift?"
Yuki gave a jerky nod, perhaps not quite trusting himself to speak yet.
"Good." Ken released him and stepped back. Yuki pulled himself from the wall and straightened his jacket indignantly, though he wouldn't meet the Necromancer's piercing stare. It gave him the creeps, he admitted to himself with a small shudder. They said Hidaka Ken got more and more like his fierce lover every day.
God help them.


"Would you like a ride home, Laura?" Aya asked as they walked down the front steps of the school, the afternoon bell tolling overhead. Chattering students rushed past, eager to get home. Aya felt a pang of homesickness as she spotted a group of girls giggling around the bike rack. She'd had to transfer schools when they moved, and missed her old friends. If she hadn't missed so much school during the war, she wouldn't even be attending this year. At least it was her final year, and Laura seemed friendly enough, even if she was rather shy for her age.
"Oh, that's all right," Laura said quickly, clutching her books to her chest a little tighter as she gave a handful of boys a wide berth. Aya noted this in silence. Laura had gone out of her way not to speak to any boys in class. She was shyer than Aya had first deduced. "I probably live too far from your home. I'll just take the train."
"No, it's all right, really," Aya insisted with a smile as they headed towards the teacher's parking lot. She could see Schuldich's familiar car pulled up by the sidewalk. He was leaning against the door, smoking and ignoring the girls that tittered shyly as they went by. Some of the boys were casting him envious and admiring glances. Some just stared. Schuldich tended to stand out with that gaudy green trench coat he insisted on wearing, and of course his long fiery hair. Aya felt a familiar flutter in her chest on seeing him, and shoved it aside impatiently. To keep her mind off her romantic problems, she turned to Laura to take some of her books, nodding towards the bored looking German. "See, there's my friend. He looks tough, but it's OK, he can be a nice guy. He's a gaijin like you."
Laura looked in that direction and spotted the lounging German. He glanced towards them, and her face went white. "Oh-" She snatched her books out of reach, shaking her head quickly. "No no, that's all right," she said quickly. "I'll take the train. Really. Thank you." And she hurried off before Aya could get in a protest.
Aya watched her go in surprise, then sighed and headed slowly towards the car. Schuldich didn't miss much, and had seen the girl fleeing. He arched a brow at Aya as he stepped aside to let her get to the door. "What the hell was that all about?"
"That was a new student," Aya said, opening the door and tossing her book bag in the back. "She's really nice, but she's really really shy around guys." She got in, and Schuldich slid into the driver's side, starting the engine and ignoring the seatbelt. Aya was too distracted to badger him about it like she usually did. "I guess she really freaked at the thought of a guy driving her home, even with me here."
Schuldich gave a slight shrug as he peeled out of the parking lot and onto the main road towards the restaurant, but didn't speak.
Aya could guess what he was thinking, because the same thing had occurred to her. "Something probably happened to her," she said quietly, gazing out at the passing scenery of buildings. It was still strange not seeing the familiar sights of Tokyo as they drove. She felt grateful for the umpteenth time that Schuldich, who had lived near the edges of the city, was close enough to Osaka to be able to hang out with her so often. "It would explain why she seems so skittish." With an inner shiver, she recalled her own experience directly after her stay in the hospital with her broken rib, and the punks who had accosted her on the way home.
The haunting images dissipated abruptly, and she found herself viewing instead a memory of dozing against her brother's shoulder while watching a movie, content and happy to be safe and with the ones she loved as in the background Schuldich and Himeno argued hotly about the actor's secret sexuality.
She couldn't hold back a small smile, and glanced gratefully towards her companion. She thought of thanking him, then thought better of it. He would only deny it. It was something he'd been doing for her since shortly after the war. Sometimes when they were hanging out and the horrors from the war crept up on her, flooding her mind with images and words she wished desperately to forget, she would find herself suddenly viewing a much more comforting or amusing memory.
It was also a sharp reminder that Schuldich could drop in her mind at any time without her knowledge. Sometimes it was simply that she projected her thoughts loud enough for him to pick up without trying-- like when she was afraid or angry. But there were some things she didn't want him to see. Carefully she tucked away all her previous musings on her feelings for the German and pulled up a mental wall around those thoughts. She knew what he would think. He would tell her it was just a stupid little girl crush, and that she didn't know what she felt. He would most likely laugh at her-- or worse, avoid her.
"Fujimiya called," Schuldich said, sounding bored as he barely missed a car.
"Ran," Aya corrected absently, rummaging for her own cell phone to see if he'd left her a voice message. She glanced towards Schuldich apprehensively. "Was it about you giving me rides?"
"Feh." Schuldich rolled his eyes. "Fuck that. It's about some stupid going away party for Farf and Hidaka."
"Oh? When?"
"Tonight!" Aya stared at him. "What? When are they leaving?"
"Tomorrow, o quick-witted one. They just got the flight information today."
"...Oh." Aya stared at her phone, forgetting why she had pulled it out. Farfarello and Ken were leaving for America tomorrow to find the elusive Necromancer Elijah Perry. She had known they would have to leave sooner or later, but she had been hoping it would be awhile. She would miss her brothers.
"Chill, chibi," Schuldich drawled, fiddling with the radio, one eye on the road. "It's not like the lovebirds are going to be gone that long."
"How long?" Aya asked hopefully.
"How the hell should I know? Prob'ly just a few weeks. A month." He abandoned the radio in disgust and slipped in one of his German CD's. "It's not the end of the world."
Aya sighed, tucking her phone away and staring out the window again. "I know." She cleared her throat. "So are you coming to the dinner?"
He shrugged, seeming not to care one way or the other. "If I'm not busy. I'm not too keen on passing up free food. You'd better keep your brother off my back-- I'm not going to sit there and listen to him rant and rave about preserving the purity of his precious sister and blah blah blah."
"I'll talk to him," Aya promised quietly, wincing internally at the thought. "He was really mad, though. I wish you two could just settle your differences. It would help if you weren't such a wiseass to him." She gave him a pointed look that he chose to ignore.


Crawford got home shortly after Aya. She had finished helping her brother wash the dishes and clean up the restaurant and was upstairs doing her homework as Ran perched on the stool behind the register, flipping through his cookbooks and planning the going-away dinner.
He glanced up as the key turned in the lock and Crawford entered, not a hair out of place, calm and composed as ever. Some men might come from work every day looking bushed and grateful to be home. Not Crawford. If he was tired, he never let it show. Ran could only tell when they went to bed and he noted how quickly it took the American to drop off. If he retired early, he would know it had been a long day. If he stayed up late and they talked, the day had gone well. The other man worked for a top corporation as personal bodyguard and sometimes advisor to the president. It was what he did best, and he seemed to be content enough with it, though he had taken Ran's advice and gotten some stock. His clairvoyance was usually good enough for him to tell when to buy or sell, if he concentrated, but it gave him headaches to focus so much on seeing the future of something so specific, and it didn't always work. Still, it was going well so far, and if things kept up, he would make quite a substantial amount of money. He had bought himself a small apartment and furnished it nicely, but he didn't bother to go out and buy himself a more expensive place. He was rarely even in his own apartment, spending most of his days and nights with the Fujimiyas.
"Okaeri," Ran greeted absently, returning to his cookbook.
Crawford set his briefcase on a nearby table and came over to see what he was doing, reaching up to loosen his tie. "I got your message," he said, looking over the redhead's shoulder to see which recipes he was looking at. "What time is it going to be?"
Ran glanced towards the clock as a large hand settled on his shoulder, an eartail caught between a thumb and forefinger that fondled the lock absently. The older man's body heat behind him felt good, and he gave into the instinct to lean back slightly against the man. He knew Crawford was being slow and patient for him, and could not begrudge him these small responses. "I'm going to start cooking in about an hour," he said. "So they should probably head over here around seven. Dinner will almost be done by then."
"Mm. Where is Aya?"
Ran answered automatically, even though he knew the real reason behind the polite inquiry. "Doing her homework in her room."
The hand abandoned his hair in favor of his jaw, strong fingers tilting his chin up. He let his head fall back so that he was looking up at the other man; when Crawford leaned down to steal a kiss, he accepted it readily enough. Kissing Brad Crawford, he'd discovered long ago, was definitely not a bad experience, and to hell with his reservations and past pride.
Crawford pulled away after a few moments, a little more confident and relaxed now that he had gotten what he wanted with no opposition. His fingers drifted down the pyro's slender throat as he studied the cookbook in Ran's lap. "Chirashi," he read with approval. "What about Schuldich and Farfarello?" For neither of them was particularly fond of fish, though Farfarello would eat it if it was all there was (food did little for the Vampire, but he would see it as impolite to not eat something at such a dinner), and Schuldich would rather starve then eat sushi.
"Aya offered to make them niku jyaga. She says she's made it for them before, and they liked it. Schuldich especially." He scowled at the German's name.
Crawford didn't miss the expression, arching a brow in question.
Ran turned a little to glare up at him accusingly. Crawford prudently moved his wandering hand safely out of harm's way. "Did you know that Nazi has been driving my sister around?"
"No," Crawford admitted truthfully. "Though I am not surprised. You know Aya has always wanted to be friends with him, and he did look after her during the war a surprising amount of times. He is just another of her brothers, Ran; there's no need to get so upset."
"I don't trust him," Ran said bluntly. "And I don't want him spending so much time with Aya. What if he gets ideas? What if he tries something? Aya's too innocent, she won't know what to do.."
"Ran." Crawford eyed him sternly. "I know the two of you aren't on good terms, but you should know Schuldich better than that. He wouldn't pressure Aya into anything. And Aya is not a stupid girl. You're going to have to trust them, or you'll only make them both angry with you. Relax."
Ran scowled, but inwardly he knew there was some truth to what his suitor was saying. When he didn't argue, Crawford acknowledged his victory with a quick but gentle tweak at the redhead's eartail before walking across the room to retrieve his briefcase. "I'm going to shower," he said as he headed for the stairs. "Try not to burn down the kitchen."
Ran made a face at his back, then rose with a quiet sigh and carried his cookbook to the kitchen. He turned on the radio and crushed his irritation and thoughts of the German. Crawford's last jab had only been half in jest.
Fujimiya temper and cooking did not mix.
Not when you were a pyro.


Laura slipped off her shoes more for silence than any attempt to follow the strange cultural habits of the Japanese as she stepped into the hotel suite she and her team were staying at, shutting the door softly behind her.
She set her shoes down silently and crept on socked feet down the small entry hall, peeking around the corner. The TV room was empty and silent, and she strained her ears for any noise, hoping to discern where her teammates were. One of them, notoriously silent as the grave, would be impossible to pinpoint unless he was in the kitchen moving dishes, but she was hoping to at least hear some indication of where her leader was.
Clutching her books to her chest, she hurried across the carpet and to her bedroom. She was actually pulling the door shut with relief when she heard the door across from hers open.
She froze at the harsh voice, catching her breath. After a long moment, she turned around reluctantly and reopened the door. "Yes?"
As she gazed up at her leader, scowling slightly and obviously in one of his more sour moods, she cursed the fates for the millionth time for setting her with this team. Of all the sleazebags, back-stabbers, and creeps in Rosenkreuz's school for the Gifted, why had she been chosen by the Nobles to be put on this man's team?
Felix Jackson had obviously just rose from one of his many naps, and was grumpy as he usually was after just waking. He was bare-chested, his numerous scars on display. Laura was smart enough not to stare at them. He spoke in their native language. "What did you find out?"
"I asked around," Laura said quietly. "It's the same as that school in Tokyo they used to attend. If Tsukiyono and Naoe transferred, it wasn't to this school. No one's heard of them. It's like they disappeared. Maybe.. maybe they are dead, like you thought." At the thought, she felt a tiny bit of unexplained regret. She hadn't known Naoe well-- she'd spoken to him perhaps once --but he didn't seem like most of those she had met in the school. He was quiet, like her, and had never teased her.
"They'd better be," Felix grumbled, scratching irritably at his scalp before flicking his dreadlocks over his shoulder and wandering off towards the kitchen. "Go ahead and start dinner, and stop creeping around like a fucking mouse," he snapped.
"All right," Laura murmured, grateful that he was leaving. She hurried into her room and set her books on her bed. She was glad now that she hadn't unpacked much from her small suitcase. If they had no luck finding Schwarz here, they would be moving again, bouncing all around Japan until they were found. There wasn't even any proof that they had remained on the island, but there were other teams spread over the globe searching as well. They had nowhere to hide. The Nobles had given their orders.
The manhunt for the traitors of Schwarz was under way.

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