For Kate. OMFG MIHO!


Sometimes it was easy for Miho to forget how old Amon was. She felt so old herself, so it didn't usually matter.

At Harry's, though, she always remembered. Amon was the only one of the Hunters who was legally old enough to drink, now that Kate was gone. Kate had been twenty-one; old enough to drink by just a smidge in her native United States. Japan was a year younger; twenty was the age that kids could drink their cares or problems away at.

Master didn't really care, though. He bent over backwards for them, the kids of the STN-J. He served everyone at any hour. It did not matter if it was early in the morning, before one should technically serve alcohol; it did not matter if he was already closing up shop and one of them came knocking on the door. Master kept them in the drink and the eats.

Speaking of Amon, she'd been running into him at Harry's a lot more since Kate had been Hunted. Miho's mind was starting to work, to put two and two together. Would she say anything?

Not a chance in hell. She knew that Amon, having known her for so long, would forgive her most anything in his quiet, gruff way. But she knew where to draw the line; knew where it was best not to tread at all. She'd met Amon at the tender age of fourteen in Europe, having been yanked from her home and her life because of her inability to function in society—she had not yet learned how to control her psychometry. Everything she touched left a burning welt of emotion in her mind, turning her into a hermit.

SOLOMON found her. SOLOMON stepped in. SOLOMON sent her to Europe to be trained. Apparently they had been experiencing a severe lack of psychometry Craft-users at that point in time.

As she walked up to the bar and sat down next to Amon, she looked over at him and smiled by way of greeting; a ghost of a smile marked his eyes and nothing else. She recalled him as a younger man, already far advanced in his Hunter training. He was so far along in his training that they'd delegated him to teaching novices part-time; he was the instructor for her Basic Romance Languages course. He'd been an excellent teacher but she had been a poor student. Her Japanese tongue, through and through, couldn't work its way around the utterances of French, Italian, Spanish, Romanian. He spoke them as if he had spoken them all his life; it was only later that she discovered that he was half European himself.

Her thin fingers rapped on the bar softly, a salty old bar dog's way of asking for a drink. She cycled through the same three drinks; she'd drink any one of them at any given time. Master mixed them up. She never knew what she would get—or which one of the three drinks she would get, anyway. Tonight it was the Alexander, something that always startled most people. That a girl like her would have a drink that was mostly gin always shocked people.

Miho had an iron gut; felt forty-five but looked nineteen.

"Hey, stranger." She offered another smile at Amon before taking a gulp from her glass. Amon looked over at her briefly, his arms folded on the bar, almost hunched.

"Back at you." Tonight it appeared he was drinking Old-Fashioneds, which was rather unusual for him because of all the frills that came with them. Usually it was only served with a lemon peel, but Master liked to go all out and throw in the orange slice and the cherry too. Amon always ate all three, even the lemon peel. The only way Miho knew that he was drinking Old-Fashioneds was because of the maraschino cherry stems lying on the bar, three of them.

Amon was going to need to switch to beer soon if he didn't want to become a very drunk mess. As it was, he'd probably end up sleeping in Harry's—which Master also let them do, if they got too drunk—or he'd walk home, which was quite a ways away.

Things had been different since Kate died. They'd all been different. Kate's Hunt had reminded them all just how close to the edge they skated. Psychometry was a relatively harmless Craft unless one made the mistake of touching the headboard of the boy they'd been dating at the time, feeling emotional and open, and picked up the rogue traces of another girl, another girl's hands splaying—

"You still talking to that ass you were dating?" Amon asked abruptly, and Miho stifled a small smile. Amon was nearly psychic at times; she wondered if perhaps that was his latent, secret Craft.

"No. We're through."

--but psychometry was relatively harmless, usually. It became so when she learned how to control it, how to deaden the sensing in her hands so that she wasn't such an open wound all the time; everything she touched pouring salt into the wound. That had been why she'd been partially mad at fourteen and pulled out of schooling, living in her room where she was surrounded only by her own emotions. Everything she came into contact with, every person—she was assaulted by their emotions and their thoughts, the impressions bleeding into her like ink spreading rapidly across a page with tiny little tendrils that were swallowed up in the larger stain. Doujima and Sakaki were as of yet lucky; their Crafts unawoken. Amon's Craft as well was latent, latent enough for it to be highly unlikely to awaken in his lifetime. With Kate gone—who had been a master of the Craft of electricity, in all its forms—Miho was the last Craft-user left at the STN-J.

Smoke got into her eyes. Amon had lit a cigarette. Master carried a cup of miso to a man at the other end of the bar, who nodded with appreciation.

She looked over at Amon, recalling a time when his hair had been shorter and hers longer, both of them younger. Miho recalled walking outside of one of the ancient buildings in Italy, still sweaty, having come straight from one of her combat classes. Walking around the edge of the building, she'd found him there, smoking a cigarette with a folder of papers in his other hand; the tests they'd taken earlier in the day. Miho knew she had failed miserably, unable to grasp the Spanish they were studying under him.

He'd nodded at her by way of greeting, much as he was nodding at her currently.

"It's nothing." She looked back to her drink, smiling faintly. "Memories."

He'd asked for her specifically when they'd sent him to Japan to become the head Hunter under the newly formed Japan branch. She was sixteen, he was twenty-two. Apparently SOLOMON had decided it was time to move into the East fully, and had been opening branches all over Eastern Asia. As soon as her training was finished and her duty assignment was pending, she was semi-startled to learn that she was being sent back to Japan to work for the STN-J under Amon. She'd felt so capable, so independent, so strong. She'd come into her own. She was a requested Hunter, someone worthy enough of working under Amon—something she never fully understood, since she'd been a perfectly rotten student of his. Over the years she'd convinced herself that he must have seen some sort of talent in her despite the fact that she'd failed the language class; despite the fact that whenever he had asked her a question in another language besides Japanese or English she'd looked at him blankly, stammering.

They'd watched one another grow into what they were now. She'd watched Amon accidentally botch Hunts through ill-laid plans; he'd watched her become the reason of botched Hunts because of her vulnerability. It was camaraderie in the truest sense. You could only truly trust someone after you'd seen all their faults, all their worst moments. Three years later they were where they were, old before their time and only getting older.

His glass was empty. Miho knocked her knuckles on the bar again, pointing at Amon when Master appeared, eyebrows raised with a question. Master mixed up another drink and placed it in front of Amon, who looked at it momentarily before poking at the maraschino floating in it, listlessly. His hands dropped back down to the bar, uselessly.

Reaching over, Miho grabbed the stem of the cherry and plucked it from the glass, eating it with well-practiced calm; the torrent of emotions she'd picked up from the simple stem was enough to put more two and twos together in her mind. Overwhelming disgust, guilt, repentance, uncertainty and feelings of violence.

Amon had killed Kate. Miho had no doubt. Feeling guilt of her own, she was not as disturbed by this as she thought she should have been. Kate had been the odd-end of the group; a snarky American girl who was too loud, too opinionated. She and Amon butted heads like wild mountain goats, and in the final days of her life it had become apparent to everyone in the office that all was not well. Kate was restless, rambling, her eyes and her words as incoherent as the thoughts in her head likely were. Computers in the office short-circuited, the power in the office went off altogether for several hours on the last day of Kate's life. Kate and Amon bickered about a Hunt proposed for the next day.

Miho hadn't liked her. Kate hadn't liked anyone. Amon had killed her; not just a Hunt with Orbo, but a long drawn out battle that resulted in injuries on both sides and ended with two bullets; one in Kate's lower back and another in the back of her head.

Life had gone on.

But it had been rather suspicious that Amon had come into the office the day after with a large gash across his throat and some burns on his hands. No one said a word.

How could they have not said a word?

She laid the stem down on the bar and chewed thoughtfully. "They're sending a replacement," Miho said, carefully. "To take Kate's place. They say it should be a month."

Silence laid over the two like a blanket before Amon made a sound like a chuckle and picked up his glass, taking a rather large drink from it. "All that from a cherry stem?" he asked, his voice dry and sour and bitter and sad all at the same time.

"All from a cherry stem," she affirmed, nodding. She was old and wise, Miho was; at nineteen, her hands had seen more of the world than people three times her age had. She had seen more of him in a cherry stem than he ever would have told anyone.

She saw herself in the bottom of her glass as she lifted it up and drained it, her reflection looking back at her like a curious doppelganger.