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Cutthroat Puppets: Redux

Chapter One

Raven was aware, on some vague level of the noise of the fighting going on in the background. Macus, Erika and Jouichirou were all attempting to defeat the VIRUS-possessed Shigiludo Armoured Gear. They were having limited success and he was aware on some level that he should be more concerned about this.

But somehow, he could not bring himself to focus on the battle, and thus the sounds of it faded into the background, along with the hesitant pleas of Kijima and the security staff that he ought to depart while they still could. The latter, of course, he would have ignored even if he had heard. He had never been able to stand that kind of commander, the one who led from a secure location far to the rear, and far removed from any danger.

Donna had never understood this distaste, had found it ridiculous. She had claimed that a good commander had to remove himself from the fighting in order to orchestrate it more effectively. But he had understood, had known immediately why Raven found this distance distasteful. He had attempted to claim the same reasons for why he never left his lab assistances to do the more tedious side of experiments. Raven had ignored this excuse and blamed it on the older man's control-freakish tendencies.

Damn it. And that was really why he was concentrating neither on the battle nor his own safety. Serge had not come. And he had placed himself deliberately as bait the older…younger man would not be able to ignore, had even attended one of these tedious events he hated so much. All to bring Serge to him, to STAND. And yet the younger man had not come.

He considered for a moment that Serge had not found out about the presentation of the Shigiludo Armoured Gear, a presentation at which he had made it known that he would be attending. And yet he dismissed that possibility almost immediately. For Serge not to know about this event…the idea was ridiculous.

But maybe Serge hadn't known. Maybe he was thinking about Serge like he was the same person as he had been. He thought about him, about himself as a young ensign, uncertain about his purpose, meeting the confident older man, the scientist and philosopher who had seemed to know all the answers that Raven had lacked. And he had taken Raven under his wing, gently guiding him, and then taking up another role in the younger man's life, revealing yet another side to his infinitely complex character, the demanding and passionate lover, who had somehow managed to be tender and giving with his inexperienced younger lover at the same time.

And it was this man that Raven had been devoted to, then and now. He had made STAND into what it was because he had thought that that was what he would have wanted, before at least. It was what he would have really wanted, not the obsessed man he had become on that satellite, tormented by his own creations.

But maybe he was confusing Serge with this man. Maybe the similarities between the two were only physical, maybe Serge would be nothing like him. And yet that thought filled him with an immediate revulsion, a bone-deep denial of that possibility. Serge would not be him, but he would not be a stranger either.

And yet he had not come. The perfect opportunity to gain revenge for his murder, and Serge had not taken it.

And with this thought, another theory presented itself. Maybe Serge had found out about the presentation, maybe he had known that Raven would be there, yet he did not remember anything, or, worse yet, did not care. This last possibility was the worst one in Raven's mind, the idea that what had happened was so unimportant as to be forgotten, or to be remembered and yet discounted as irrelevant.

Serge would come. He had to come.

There was a noise behind Raven and he whirled around, ready to declare his unwillingness to leave his people behind to fight while he fled to safety, ready also to receive the accusations of being too emotionally involved in his engagements.

But it was not Kijima or the myopic excuses for security guards that had made the noise. Or rather, they had made the noise, but in response to the actions of someone else. Standing there, dressed all in black, with a smirk twisting his lips, was Serge.

And he looked so much like him. Not just the physical resemblance, Raven had been prepared for that, had known that, as a clone, Serge would look just like him. But everything about him was the same. The way he held himself, the way he observed everything around him while still keeping his attention focussed on Raven, even the smirk twisting his lips, that was all his. And for a moment Raven hated him for looking so like him.

Raven was uncertain how to proceed, though he was vaguely aware of Kijima and the security guards demanding to know who Serge was and what was going on. None of his plans for meeting Serge had gone like this. He had been certain Serge would attack him, would be full of rage at Raven having killed him. This though, this was different, and he was uncertain what to do. Serge however, took the decision out of his hands.

"Sorry I'm late."

And Raven didn't know what to say to that, couldn't know what to say to that, not when Serge's voice was just the same as his, pitched low and smooth enough to wash over him, a voice that suggested a hundred sexual things with every word.


And it amazed him that Serge could do this to him, could make him lose his grasp on the self-control that he thought he had perfected. But then again, he had always done this to him. Then Serge answered the question he hadn't really meant to ask, and Raven's whole world fell apart for the second time.

"Yes, I hadn't intended to take this long to find you, but coming back from the dead takes more time than I had anticipated."

And, looking into Serge's eyes, Raven's world spun around him and he murmured,


The formerly dead man nodded at him and Raven felt the floor slide out from beneath his feet as it rose to meet him. However, before collision with the remarkably solid-looking floor could dispatch him into blessed oblivion, Raven felt strong arms come to support him and then a very solid hand slapped him hard across the face.

Rubbing his reddening cheek he glared up into the crimson eyes of the man supporting him,

"What was that for?"

Milan smirked at him,

"You were hysterical."

Raven frowned,

"I most certainly was not."

The other man was unperturbed,

"Well, you could have been, I thought it best to strike early, before the hysteria could set in."

Raven felt himself rolling his eyes and muttering,

"You always were full of shit."

Milan affected a mock-hurt expression,

"Back from the dead and this is the kind of greeting I get. Sometimes I wonder why I bother."

And with that comment, that reminder of what had happened, Raven felt himself rushing to greet the floor once again. But Milan held him firmly and shook him by the shoulders. When he spoke, his voice was gentle,

"See, you're hysterical."

Raven felt petulant and scowled,

"You're dead."

Milan smiled at him,

"I was, but I came back."

And the world was fluid, but Raven still managed to ask,


Milan frowned at this, suddenly uncertain,

"I'm not entirely sure. One minute I'm floating around, dead, the next I'm in this younger and very much alive body that you were kind enough to provide."

And something about that statement aggravated Raven and he muttered,

"I didn't make it for you."

Milan smiled ruefully,

"I know. You thought that just because I had died I was never coming back. You never were one for dreams, Raven."

And he accepted the criticism because it was true, of the two of them, Milan had always been the one for impossible dreams and visions. Raven had always been the one to remind him of reality. And in the end it had destroyed them both, because something in Raven had died in the Black Valentine incident, and had remained dead, like Milan, for the last seven years.

Before Raven could say anything else, a loud explosion and a feminine scream interrupted the exchange. Raven looked up to see the VIRUS-possessed Shigiludo making its way towards them, glittering crimson eyes fixed on Milan. The younger…older man sighed, his expression more annoyed than anything else, especially when he saw the gunblade wedged in the creature's head. He turned to Raven and asked,

"Where's my gear?"

Raven blinked,


Milan sighed,

"Halcyon Scarlet. I suppose it's too much to hope that it's actually anywhere around."

Raven blinked again, Milan rolled his eyes,

"Something has to be done about this creature, it lacks the intelligence to function properly and you might get hurt if it's allowed to continue in this way. You're in no condition to fight and your people are exhausted, not to mention lacking in the ability to defeat this creature. So, where is it?"

Finally regaining his senses and his voice, Raven replied,

"It's in the EX Driver, in the Razorback."

Milan sighed in relief and then turned to the pale-faced and trembling security guard, who had managed to summon up the courage to approach. His voice harsh as he addressed the man, Milan spoke,

"If anything happens to him, I'll see that they'll still be picking up pieces of you when the sun goes nova."

And with that, Milan helped Raven to his feet, pressed a swift but passionate kiss against his lips, holding him close for a moment, flush against his own body. Then, as swiftly as he had come he was gone, running off faster than Raven's eyes could follow. The petrified security guard reached out to touch Raven's arm, but he brushed the man off. Kijima approached him and asked, curiously,

"Who was that?"

Raven noticed that his hand was still pressed against his lips, feeling the remnants of the kiss burning against his skin. He cursed himself for a romantic fool. Things had changed since he and Milan had been lovers. The situation was entirely different now and he could not think their relationship could continue on as it had done seven years previously. Shoving these thoughts aside, he turned to Kijima and answered his question as thoroughly as he thought he could,

"He's a friend."

Kijima scowled and replied,

"That much is obvious, but whose friend is he, Raven?"

Kijima's expression was too knowing, and Raven cursed himself for forgetting that, despite being a politician, Kijima was, in fact, one of the few who was not a brainless moron. But whose friend was Milan? There was only one answer that Raven felt confident to give,

"STAND's. He's a friend of STAND."

With that, Raven turned and hurried towards the sounds of the continuing battle, constantly reminding himself that he was going to monitor Milan's abilities, not do anything else. He wasn't worried about the other man. He just wasn't.