A/N: Heh.

WOW, way to let another almost-year go by before another update. Another FaS birthday for that matter, LOL.

So if things go decently, there should be one or two more chapters after this, followed by an epilogue. …Hopefully. And for a while now, I've been wanting to go back and fix this story up. Not change the story or plot or anything, mind you, but I would love to go back and fix typos and errors and maybe reword a few things so that it all flows/sounds better. (So if people are fretting something along the lines of "oh god if you change it does that mean I have to go back and re-read everything?" Nope, you're good. But A LOT of things are bothering me about previous chapters and I just want to give it a little spit shine.) I'll be doing that after the last chapter and before the epilogue.

Side rant: People, please stop getting on my case about how long the review replies are. More than once I've gotten message/reviews telling me that it's disappointing to see a small scroll bar only to see that a chunk of the page is actually replies and not story. Regardless of if I reply to reviews or not, the length of the chapter isn't going to change. And the beautiful thing about scroll bars is the fact that they… scroll xD Skip on down to the chapter if it makes you feel better. Thank you~

As always, I'll be impressed if some of the FaS readers are still around and my heart goes out to you if you are. I truly apologize for the space between updates, and for how long this story has been gasping for air. I don't want anyone to think I've forgotten about the story or them – Really I appreciate every reader and reviewer so, so much!

I don't know if any of you have taken a glance at the new OVA but it is amazingly done! Oh what I wouldn't give to have seen the anime series animated like the OVA. From now on, when I visualize Ikki in my head, I'm sure it'll look like the OVA version D: You guys should check it out if you haven't seen it. It's a bit fan service heavy at the start (It IS Air Gear) but it dims down enough that you actually ENJOY the battle.

http:/www. / air-gear/air-gear-kuro-no-hane-to-nemuri-no-mori-episode-1/#sources

(hope that works)

With that, I give you another unworthy, omg-I-really-struggled-like-hell-on-this-stupid-thing chapter!

I couldn't think of a good title (SOB)

Oh! Also! I'm going to Ohayocon in January. Anyone else going? Review or PM me if you are! I'd love to meet you.

Warnings: The usual. Swearing and possible errors that I will be doing my best to catch and fix. LOTS OF STRANGLING Dx This chapter was SO amazingly difficult to write but without it the story cannot move on! I'm very aware of this chapter lacking quality but I hate leaving you guys hanging for as long as I do.

Disclaimer: Fanfiction = I do not own. This should be a given. Don't rub it in.

Again as usual, if I forget or misspell, my apologies!

Now let's all pretend that we remember what we wrote months ago and get to replies!

Thank you!

jeritadorito: That's good! I really love action scenes but sometimes I fret about writing them. Thank you so much for reviewing – I'm so glad you felt it was worthy, ha ha! It really means a lot to know that readers are able to see things clearly in a story/chapter. Thanks!

shoxxic: Hey hun! Haha, I appreciate it! I myself really enjoy reading a good action scene, but 'good' ones are often difficult to find. Often times I either get confused about what's going on or it's vaguely skipped over, so I really tried not to cop out and keep things clear. I don't have a lot of a faith in myself when doing it well, lol, but I tried and I'm very happy it did something for you! Also yey, I was worried because I was trying to develop characters personalities that aren't technically mine to alter, so I'm happy that's working out too. I fully agree with you about the end of the chapter, I'll be fixing that as I post this one.

Sleeping-Willow: Aww thank you! I'm flattered by your comments, haha. I really do wish there was more selection on the air gear page here, but I'm happy to provide what I can. Sorry about the lengthy wait, and thanks for reviewing!

Illusion-Factory: Why sankyu! I don't normally enjoy swapping POV's in stories but sometimes things just work out that way. At the very least I do enjoy writing both Ikki and Kazu's POV and it's really nice to know I'm not completely screwing either of them up. Thank you so much!

SpaztasticPsycho: To this day I can still not fathom how people can stand to read this entire thing more than one time, or in large doses for that matter, so I take it as a huge compliment when people do. I'll admit even for myself, some chapters more interesting than others, but I'm so glad the last chapter stuck out for you so much! I'm a sick person lol and love getting inside character's heads if possible. Don't worry, I'm going to struggle (do my best) to wrap things up with the other characters as well.

Rufux: YAY! BUT! Sorry you had to wait so long for this one. Thanks for reading!

Daisuke Kazamatsuri: LOL Ikki calling the police feels like a major easy-way-out to me, to be honest. Even after this story being so old, it IS my first lengthy story that has gotten this far and I refuse to let it die. I just hope people still remember that I don't claim to be a pro writer and that this IS fanfiction (crosses fingers).

Sandy11-1990: lol Kazu needs all the cheering and support he can get! Would you like to be the official Kazu cheer squad? I'm very happy you enjoy FaS, in spite of its old age.

Seiji Kagurazaka Nakatsu Yu: Maww, even if you got that excited over the last update, even though I'm sure it took forever, I hope waiting just as long if not LONGER for this one doesn't deter you too much. But man, thanks so much for always reading.

Endy: ahah, oh love, even without your name on the review, I can tell by the way you speak that it was you! It's always very nice getting reviews from you because you not only have nice things to say, you are helpful! I'm really hoping that Ikki and Kazu have, in a sense, grown up over the life of FaS, but not so much that they aren't IC anymore. I have to say, your inner musing of Riffle WANTING KAZU IN HIS BED make me lawl xD You almost tempted me to cave into that temptation BUT I RESISTED. Your reactions/commentary to everything always makes me smile. I love how you take the time to read this even after YEARS have passed xD and thank you for all of your continuous support!

fyrinichi: Aw my gosh, thank you for taking the time to come on over and review this dirty piece of rock! Aha, I guess I always picture 'bridal style' as something secure and sweet and MAYBE I'M SECRETLY A SAP. DX haha but I'm glad the rest served you well! Making people excited is a good sign, yes it is indeed. Your English is fine, haha! I'm just grateful you took the time to hit the review button. So thank you!


BlackKatt13: EVER! I wouldn't say that, lol, but maw thank you all the same! As I've stated before, I actually really enjoy actions scenes but I often find them a terror to write. Hearing they did well and served their purpose (and came across CLEARLY) is a relief. As always I apologize for leaving it at such an annoying cliffhanger and just leaving you all to DANGLE for months.

Blade-kun: Oh my, thank you so much hun! Visualization is important to me with scenes like that, so thanks! And I really wanted to show readers that while Kazu can be a lovely little victim, he isn't a helpless damsel who always needs to be saved. I really wanted to show that he can be the one to do the saving, and make Ikki and Kazu seem a little more equal rather that "Kazu you are weak and Ikki will rescue your ass from all this shit you got yourself into" SO! I'm VERY happy to see you grasp it so well!

AnonyMouse: Anony… I have to say, since the very beginning your reviews have always been so gorgeous and always mean so much to me. You always say the most lovely things and if it doesn't make me sound really stupid and pathetic, when I first read your last review, I felt very, very moved. Your kindness has no end and I really appreciate your readership and your reviews. You seem to dig into details and pick up on emotions and the growth of characters/story in the way that I only DREAMED I can convey in writing. Your way with words is stunning and it encourages me to keep trying. Thank you thank you THANK you for all the sweet things you have to say, and for taking the time to say them. I don't know if you are still reading FaS, but whether you are or are not, you words mean a lot to me.

Senka Sitara: Do you have kids NOW? Haha, I know I leave things hanging for a long time and I'm just HORRIBLE for it. I'm fully aware that fandoms come and go and people go in and out of them, so I'm always shocked and amazed and GRATEFUL that people still come back and click on Folly and Sin. Tension building is something I actually find rather enjoyable to do. It doesn't matter if you don't sign in, lol, the fact that you bothered to review means enough. Thank you!

PheonixShadow: The last chapter, with Kazu being the one to carry Ikki in a time of need, is actually the scene that inspired the entire story of Folly and Sin. The whole thing is more or less built around that one moment, so seeing how it stuck out to you so much feels fantastic! I wanted to keep them slightly joking and enjoying certain things even in dire situations because Ikki always seems (to me) to be the type to point out things like that even when it isn't entirely appropriate.

Slifer: Thank you! I wanted to give Ikki the spotlight as well as Kazu since they're in this thing together now. While the true main character of this entire thing is Kazu, Ikki is an important part of it and his personality isn't the kind to let him sit by idly. Aw god, thank you so much Slifer; when I write fanfiction I try so hard to make it clear that it takes place in their world because sometimes I feel things like that can be lost if not occasionally touched on. Depending, of course.

Forgetfull: Happy to have made your day! Action is nice now and again, huh? And man, I know I mentioned the Mary Sue thing last update months ago but not much has changed since then. I know this is shamelessly biased sounding, but the air gear section is starved of fanfiction that isn't about Ak/gito or an OC/MarySue. I check the AG section often and I can't actually remember the last time I've felt the urge to read anything. Omg that makes me sound like a bitch. To each their own, I guess. Everyone seems to enjoy the role switch in the last chapter – I must be doing something right. LOL yes, I am a girl :D

Dubya See: Heyy what's up! IM SO LATE IN THIS, MUH. ARE WE STILL FRIENDS? I'm glad the race is everything it should be. Lol nothing would be worse than writing a vital scene like that and having it be dull and boring and confusing and LAME. Aw thank you so, so much for the kind words Dubya!

geebabbie: LOL punch some trees? RRARRGH! I'm so unbelievably happy that people were that into the last chapter, thank you! Kazu really is amazing, haha, and he is seriously under loved and underestimated in a LOT of ways (in story and in the fanbase) so I kinda dig making people see he isn't the pathetic little wimp a lot of people seem to think he is. HUFF!

TheaBlackthorn: Thanks! I'm so glad! Here's hoping for another successful chapter! ..Dx

Christophe The Mercenary: God, you and me both. These days getting a chapter out is a rare miracle. I'm very sorry for the long wait, and thank you for your comments!

Payce99: Yeah IKR! Come now, did you honestly expect it to be a fair deal? Lol cheering, you say? How cute! I'm glad it was exciting for you! Ha I can't help but be hard on myself. It's a horrible habit.

Chubby-King-Chocobo: lol. Dude. I'm glad dude. Seriously xD I'm putting Kazu through absolute, relentless hell, I know. And I know he should be falling into a coma right about now but HELLO FANFICTION I'm not done with his sorry ass just yet. Fufuf, enjoy, and THANKS!

Peachi Bunni: Maw, sorry for the wait hun, but now you can finally see how it all goes down. I just hope it works out the way I see it, lol. Yap, Ikki made the call to the police like a wuss, lol because I'm a horrible author and made him do it Dx Police are usually worthless in anime and manga but we'll see how it goes. Thank you for the review!

Lokir: tbh it's sometimes tempting. There have been times when writing that my head goes "LOL what if" but I have to shake it off because it either doesn't work or fit the moment/character. I try to fit in little laughables where and when I can, however. Thanks for reading!

Nightshade47: Glad it was worth the wait and I hope that the same can be said for this one. Don't worry, I just tend to dislike most things I do. As long as you guys like it, it doesn't matter though. Lol aww your poor confused dog! I'm glad you enjoyed that line and the chapter!

MisterWriter: Hi hun how're you! Omigosh you are too sweet, honestly. I know I'm not a master and I have lots of errors and mistakes but you liking it all still, and so much, means a lot to me! I know I haven't been providing much lately but you've always been very supportive and loyal (and I do have a few 8059 bits laying around unfinished or horribly done somewhere I think) and bahhh thank you so much for all of it! Thanks also for your patience and shushhh you are GREAT at reviewing! People don't have to review in the first place, but you take the time to let me know you read and everything so YEY.

QuesoPwnz: Aw thanks! Another crazy reader who read it all in one go? I am, as always, impressed at your dedication. Non-stop FaS sounds difficult, lol. Gosh, thank you just so much! I'm sorry about having to wait so long for this chapter, however. I hope you enjoy.

krystal-of-hope: She's a very sweet, one of kind person, she is. And her art is just as lovely as she is. She's amazingly kind to link people to my stories and I don't even feel worthy of it, but thank you so so much for all your kind words and your readership and your review. I hope you enjoy the rest just as much.

zook: Dear zook! I want to thank you for always reading even when you haven't actually invested in the series! And thank you for your little observations and reviewing through MSN even when I keep telling you there's no need. Your continuous support means a lot to me!

Kitten-chan: DEAR GOD its been so long that I don't even know what name I should use on here anymore Dx Kitten seems strange to call you, lol. Anyway, I know its been a while for you and FaS but I don't like leaving you out of the replied because I still adore you so much. ILU!

I hope that's everyone!

Air Gear

a fiction by Crimson Vixen


Kazu's entire body went slack in a tremendous sigh of relief and joy, but it was short-lived. Ikki was shaking him and telling him to get up. The race was over but their predicament was anything but. Riffle did not look happy, and behind his mask, Ikki knew the Devil was probably ten times as furious. If it wasn't for Riffle's selfish desire to be the best, after all, he and Kazu would already be dead. Ikki tangled his fists into Kazu's clothes, felt the lungs under his hands expand and shrink. Guilt nibbled at him; Ikki would have loved to let him stay there, for hours if need be (and surely Kazu felt the same), but Riffle was already looking in their direction with eyes of absolute fury.

"Come on, Kazu," Ikki whispered sharply, tugging at Kazu's shirt to give him the beginning motions of sitting up. Kazu seemed conscious of the idea and tried to push himself to do just that, succeeding with the consequence of lightheadedness. He pressed a palm to his temple and willed away the fuzzy feeling it left him, pulled back into the real world only when Ikki said his name again.

He blinked into further awareness, blue orbs landing on Ikki's dark ones, then looking just behind that spiky head of his to see Riffle coming at him with the Devil bringing up the rear. As they approached, something deep within the furthest corner of Kazu's belly squirmed enough to make him clutch at it with both hands. He'd been in predicaments like this before, where he was surrounded or cornered, but it felt so different when Ikki was there with him. It felt so much worse.

Ikki reached at the adjacent building and pulled himself up, extending a hand down for Kazu to take. He helped him to his feet and was thankful to see he needed little to no help maintaining his balance once he was standing. It downright astounded him. In fact, it was Kazu who stepped forward and ushered Ikki to stand behind him.

The whir of AT's reached both their ears, making them both turn – Riffle's face had never looked as vicious as it did right at that moment. Kazu was almost shocked the veins weren't popping out of his neck, but he could see the thoughts shifting within his head; thoughts of pure malice and spite and all the things he wanted to do to them. Things that would eventually make Kazu wish they'd just beaten them to death with the lead pipe.

What he wouldn't give to have that with them right now.

On that thought, Kazu's eyes glanced around for any useful debris. He'd feel a lot safer if Ikki had another blunt object at hand. But there was nothing he could see, or at least nothing within reach, and nothing he could think of. Next to him Ikki was flexing his fingers as if having similar thoughts.

He tried to hush his breathing so it wouldn't show just how out of breath he still was, and he could see Riffle attempting to do the same. Neither of them were hiding it well.

"You lost," Ikki was the first to speak. For a moment it looked as though he wanted to add more. Perhaps a spiteful 'fair and square' at the end but he refrained because really, the fact that Kazu had won was really all that mattered. Still, his words caused Riffle to stiffen, and that in turn made Kazu tense as well. Winning the race didn't mean they were free to walk away – that would be too easy and was never actually promised. That and Kazu simply knew better. Slowly he backed up until he could easily reach for Ikki's hand, feeling far more secure when he tightened his fingers around the crow's knuckles.

"You cheated!" Riffle angrily shouted, pointing a crooked finger at Kazu's chest and jabbing it harshly. Kazu scowled at the accusation, brows lowering, eyes pointed just as angrily back at his accuser and then off to the side, where he saw Weaver and Mantis crawl out of the woodwork, coming in to complete the semi-circle around Ikki and himself. Blocking them in.

Kazu only gathered that Riffle wasn't making eye contact with him, but rather with Ikki, when the speeding bullet tore through the distance in a startled heartbeat, taking Kazu by the shoulder and shoving him violently to the ground to get to him. And Ikki, upon seeing this, was only able to get the first syllable of Kazu's name out before a hand suddenly was clutching at his throat.

With scrapped palms, Kazu pushed himself from the concrete and twisted to look back. Ikki was pressed hard against the building, trapped between the rough brick surface and Riffle's unrelenting hand, with fingers squeezing and willing the life to leave his best friend's body.

"I-Ikki!" Kazu called, thrusting himself to his feet and throwing himself at Riffle's extended arm, pulling at the elbow and digging his nails in.

"Riffle," the darkest of voices interrupted, making Riffle's hold falter just enough for Ikki and Kazu to pry the fingers loose and reopen his airways. He slid back to his feet coughing thickly, not clutching at his throat but blindly reaching out for Kazu instead. As soon as he felt the fabric of his sleeve at the tips of his fingers, he squeezed. When he bothered to look he could see the beads of sweat starting to speckle the back of Kazu's neck.

"I've had enough of this bull," Riffle growled darkly at his leader, able to sense the disappointment in his voice and wanting to avoid any direct accusation. He balled his hands into fists and disappeared in a whir. A powerful gust of wind picked up and Ikki had time to blink once before he realized Kazu was gone too, shirt suddenly missing from his grip and nowhere in his sight. A moment of panic rose in his still burning throat when his eyes caught sight of a slight blur of colors a good distance away.

Riffle's forearm was like a rock when it hit Kazu across the chest. The wind rushed from his body and the next intake of air was sharp and almost impossible to take. Kazu held it, shielding his face with his arms up as he ran alongside Riffle, away from the others. The guilt was swarming in the pit of his stomach like an underwater tornado; leaving Ikki to fend for himself against three possible offenders was not something he thought highly of, but Riffle was the one he didn't want anywhere near the crow. Kazu's less than perfect history with the man was bound to land Ikki at the receiving end of Riffle's resulting hostility.

"Do you really think that after all of this bullshit," Riffle screamed over the wind rushing in both their ears, catching Kazu's thin wrist when Kazu shot an impulsive punch at his jaw. It was hardly his fault he couldn't stand that voice. "You're gonna just run away?"

He was frothing at the mouth as if summoning venom, grasping hard enough for his nails to cut into Kazu's flesh, but the jet refused to wince. His eyes never left Riffle's. What happened in the past wasn't important anymore. And the phrase 'run away' was starting to rub Kazu the wrong way whenever he heard it. He didn't want to be associated with a cowardly thing like that anymore. Running away and running were two completely different things.

"That's the plan!" he hollered back without thinking, feeling a little stupid for it but then using his captured hand to clutch at Riffle's wrist as well so they were locked together. When Kazu used that security to his advantage and tugged Riffle closer, there was little room for Riffle to avoid the white fisted knuckles of Kazu's free hand when it shot at his temple.

The contact was hard and left Kazu's hand feeling temporarily numb. But Riffle's grip and balance were lost altogether and he fell, speed and grace non-existent. Kazu didn't feel the least bit compelled to leave him there as he was – he didn't want him to get back up. He didn't want to give him a chance to retaliate. But he also wanted to help Ikki.

Flames spat from his heels when he turned sharply, leaning his weight to steer and help him pull the 180. He flew back towards Riffle, who was still gliding ungracefully along the asphalt. Kazu threw his hands out, grabbing fistfuls of Riffle's hair as he passed him by, erupting a curse from the man's mouth as he was violently tugged along and forced to stumble on wheels. Kazu didn't waste much time swinging his arms around and flinging Riffle towards a pile of trash bags abandoned on the side of the road. The clatter that sounded out upon impact was extremely satisfying. Even more-so when Riffle laid there and didn't get up right away. Kazu didn't try to convince himself that Riffle was down for the count, but he seemed to have bought himself decent time so he took the opportunity given to him to get back to Ikki.

He was easy to find. All the movement and chaos pulled at his eyes like magnets. He narrowed in on it, earnestly eating up the distance, heart hammering and back of his legs heated from the flames, mind racing with thoughts of him and Ikki and Ikki and him and them as an us and everything that could go right after all of this was over if he could just play his cards right. He remembered Ikki calling the police not too long back, so all he really felt inclined to do was stall for time. Not the bravest and most heroic method, he knew, but he'd take it. Knocking them around or disabling them felt fine – but bloodshed wasn't on his agenda.

Ikki was just in the process of plummeting to the ground after a solid punch to the chest. Kazu pushed his weight forward, arms extended to scoop Ikki up in midair before he could complete his fall. For a moment he was reminded of their first kiss; Ikki diving towards him, plucking him out of the air like a starved bird. He looked down to Ikki in his arms, watched his eyes squint and then open sharply. He rubbed at his upper ribcage but everything seemed to be okay, giving a firm nod as a thank you and gripping firmly at Kazu's arms to say he was ready to be put down. Kazu skidded to a halt and started to do just that but Ikki shook his head.

"No man, put me down with you, over there," he nodded over to the distance. He grinned wildly. "That's where all the action is."

On any other given day perhaps, Kazu would have smiled as well. Maybe even crack something back at him. But things felt dire and heavy. Bringing Ikki back towards the very things threatening to harm him, and with Ikki not having anything on his feet past his socks, Kazu didn't feel good about the idea at all. He flexed his toes from inside Ikki's AT's guiltily, biting at his lower lip as he readjusted Ikki in his arms.

"You better not make me regret this," he warned.

He rushed back to the fray with Ikki, setting him down close enough to be a part of it but far enough away that he wasn't in any immediate danger. As soon as Ikki was out of his hold, Kazu followed his sudden urge to lean in and steal a kiss from the crow's unsuspecting lips. It was true he didn't want this to be their final moment together nor did he truly want to believe that they were going to die and he'd never see Ikki again (after all, with Ikki on his side, the chances of losing are shaved away), but kissing him helped deflect any possible regret before it could happen. There was nothing wrong with a little reassurance.

When he pulled away and turned to part from him, Ikki, urged by different purposes, yanked him back and kissed him longer and deeper. Kazu's legs already pulsed heavily, but Ikki successfully made them go weak.

"I have an idea," he said carefully when he pulled back.

Kazu blinked, heart thudding viciously. Ikki had that glint in his eye, the one that rendered him hopelessly devoted and willing to do anything he asked before even knowing what it was. He gazed wide eyed at Ikki, waiting.

"You gotta let me take on that guy," Ikki huffed, gesturing towards Weaver. Just the very thought of Ikki wanting to fight him put Kazu's nerves on edge. He didn't know if his hands were shaking or if he just felt really, really uneasy. God what he would give to just sleep all of this off in a nice warm bed right now.


"Just let me do it," Ikki said, glancing over Kazu's shoulder and indicating that time was too short to waste with more discussing. When Kazu spun around he saw Weaver and Mantis both closing in on them and fast. The Devil had yet to move terribly close, content to just watch everything unfold from the sidelines. Kazu honestly might have felt a little better seeing him take part. Having him stay in one place and observe so casually was much more unsettling.

"Fine," Kazu spat, a little angry but knowing there was nothing more to be done. Ikki was going to go through with his plan even if Kazu turned the idea down.

He could feel Mantis close the distance just behind him, and with one last look to Ikki, Kazu gave an adrenaline pumped twist of his torso, arm held out in an attempt to elbow the older man's jugular. He surprised himself with how well he connected, and he threw himself at Mantis right after, hands going for the neck. Kazu wasn't sure what he was going to do; he definitely wasn't out to kill the man when he squeezed, but he had to put up a fight. And even if it wasn't Mantis who had tried to do the same thing to Ikki moments before, something about doing the same thing back to one of them just felt good.

They both fell to the ground. One of Mantis' hands flew to his pockets when they landed, digging for something easily even while being halfheartedly strangled. For just that one passing second Kazu wished he had it in him to summon all his strength into his hands and clench with an iron grip, but the thought of making someone's eyes roll up and into the back of their head put chills down his spine. He was sure Mantis could feel the weak willed attempt.

Mantis' hand pulled out of his pocket armed with something looking dangerously close to a needle. No, no. Another dart. Kazu's mind quickly filled in the blanks; a concoction of drugs or something equally threatening capable of knocking people like Sano for six. He didn't know if it was the same stuff as that night or not but Kazu didn't waste any time jumping away from him. Whatever was in that thing, he wanted to avoid it at all costs.

Mantis coughed only once and rubbed at his neck with his free hand as if it was only mildly irritated. Kazu by all means didn't feel like he was a weakling entirely and wondered if he even actually possessed the power to kill someone by strangulation if he put his heart into it. He took another step back as Mantis stood menacingly, armed with a new threat that Kazu couldn't seem to take his eyes off of. One little prick from that tip and Kazu knew he would be rendered completely useless. The thought makes him go cold. He didn't want to think about what would happen if Ikki was left to fight all of them on his own.

He could hear Ikki and Weaver shuffling not too far behind him and it took a lot for him not to sneak a peek, not wanting Mantis to lunge at that fraction of a second. The fact that his name was Mantis made him wary – those creatures were quick and precise.

The taller rider attacked, dart wielding hand raised high and already swiping down at him. Kazu knew a mantis was fast, but so were trains and bullets, and so were jets. Just as quick as Mantis' swipe, if not quicker, Kazu ducked low and to the side, snatching Mantis' arm in the process and twisting it as much as he could with the motion. Mantis growled, furious, and threw himself to the ground to keep the bone from snapping or dislocating.

It felt really wrong to do, but Kazu went through with throwing his heel into Mantis' head when he went down, his chest knotting and fluttering at the sight of blood sprinkling on the ground and sticking on his wheels. Ikki's wheels. It was enough to make Mantis guard his face, groaning at the critical hit and rolling to the side. In mere seconds he was already slowly rising back to his feet, dart abandoned and off to the side. Kazu took the opportunity to dispose of it by stomping down on it and breaking it in half, then kicking the pointed end further away in case Mantis made a grab for it. Instead, however, he grabbed for Kazu's ankle and gave a giant tug. It was so quick and so violent, Kazu's head hit the concrete with intense heat, and his vision left him for a frightening moment. He lay there, palms flat and cheek pressed to the cold, grainy surface, hissing with Mantis pulled to drag him closer.

When Mantis uncurled his fingers from Kazu's leg, Kazu rolled miserably onto his back, willing the stars to stop bursting and for the pain to dim away faster, and as he looked up he saw Mantis was already standing and glowering down at him. Kazu opened his mouth to say something but it came out as an uncomfortable grunt. He couldn't really see what Mantis was about to do but he could see the blur above him move in what he could only assume was something aimed to hurt him, and Kazu pinched his eyes shut to brace for it.

But the sound that followed did not come with pain, however painful it may have sounded. Kazu cracked his eyes open to find Ikki wrestling with the man on the ground, a strange looking object clasped in his hand and poised high above his head. He brought it down repeatedly with much more fervor than Kazu had earlier, aiming carefully and avoiding anything fatal, but didn't seem to have a problem with crippling. He aimed for the legs, an intense fire to his eyes that longed for survival and dared to get a little extra violent to achieve it. This wasn't as simple as something that could be settled with a race or anything else AT related. It was a life or death situation outside of that world now, and Ikki was trying to stay on top of it.

Curiosity or instinct (Kazu didn't know), made him crane his neck to educate himself on Weaver's situation. He wasn't down but he was certainly occupied. The machine strapped to his back with all the eerie tendons was sparking and flailing madly. The extensions bent and waved and curled at frandom, making it difficult for Weaver to control them. As he knelt to the ground and tried to tweak the machinery, Kazu turned his attention back to Ikki and Mantis.

Mantis' body was still moving but his energy had died down enough for Kazu to take hold of Ikki's shoulders and pull him away, allowing Mantis to breathe. It felt strange to see the man go down with a few well aimed blows from Ikki – somehow they all seemed invincible. And in spite of everything going on around him, Kazu smiled when Ikki gripped his new weapon with both hands.


The sound of his name made Kazu jump. Ikki's eyes were wide and wild and somehow extremely alluring. They looked good with that kind of intensity.

"Got another idea. Pick me up," he rushed. Kazu wasted no time and didn't even hesitate before doing as he was told, gathering Ikki to his chest. Ikki kept the blunt object in his hands and as he settled into Kazu's arms, and it was then that Kazu realized it was one of the limbs from Weaver's contraption. "Go."

Kazu bolted from the scene, making a wide, carefully controlled turn as he tried to listen to Ikki over the rush of the wind.

"When we loop back around I need you to throw me at that guy as fast as you can!"

Ikki didn't know their names by heart and had no intention of learning them either, but Kazu followed the gesture to Weaver, who was still down low and messing with the mechanics of his machine. Kazu didn't see the objective and wasn't going to pretend to understand his reasoning, but he didn't ask questions. Surely if Ikki wanted to be flung straight into Weaver, he had some sort of plan sorted in his head, right?

His legwork was quick and flawless. Although his calves were burning and his lungs were screaming, he picked up the pace and positioned Ikki in his arms in a way that would easily allow for an effective launch. The idea of tossing Ikki in like that made him nervous, but it also made him more determined not to fuck it all up.

As they got closer, Kazu gripped firmly at Ikki, spinning as he ran and getting good momentum to fling the crow and watch him soar through the air towards Weaver. Ikki arched his arm back, inky metallic appendage pointed directly in front of him. Kazu was able to figure out what Ikki was doing just as he was doing it; Ikki collided with the box attached to Weaver's back, driving the sharp piece of metal straight through the center of it.

Sparks flew like misguided fireworks, limbs writhing uncontrollably like a panicking insect. They creaked and clawed at their owner, completely out of his hands. Kazu found himself smirking as the device turned on it's owner, at the way Weaver cursed over and over tried desperately to unstrap himself. Ikki leapt away and landed a few feet away before running back to Kazu, teeth bared in a proud smile.

"You alright?" he asked, winded, grasping his shoulders. With Mantis rolling on the ground and Weaver struggling to control his own apparatus, Kazu scanned the area for the remaining two, knowing that they wouldn't stay down for long and they had to do what they could in the meantime. And damn, how he wished for the cry of sirens to break through the air already.

"Yeah, I'm fine. I-"

His voice was completely cut off when something slammed into his head and sent him straight down. His back cracked against the pavement and Ikki was on his knees next to him instantly. When he felt Ikki's hand slip under his back, he looked up and saw Riffle and the Devil standing just over Ikki. Something caught in his throat as he forced himself to stand, pushing Ikki behind him as he did so. Slowly the two of them backed up until they were forced against one of the tallest buildings in the area. Kazu was getting sick and tired of feeling cornered, of actually being cornered, of history repeating itself and not being able to find an end to it all, and he met Riffle's eyes dangerously. Then the Devil's. He honestly couldn't remember the last time the Devil had spoken more than a few short, carefully selected words.

They were all silent. Kazu hesitated to make the first move, unable to envision any satisfying result if he did so irrationally. The sound of the Devil stepping forward on the tiny pebbles and broken up dirt snapped Kazu's attention there, and he wasn't able to predict or stop Ikki from shouting wildly and running forward with a fist held tight and aimed straight at the man's face.

"No!" It was Kazu who shouted when Ikki's fist landed. He supposed he had become so accustomed to that man of mystery, to never knowing what truly resided behind that shield of red and black, that he could hardly imagine a world where he knew. Ikki's fist had struck sharply and accurately on the mask, slicing it in two with a massive, instant crack. The Devil stepped back and clutched at it, unable to stop smaller pieces from crumbling like bits of sand through his fingers, down to his feet. Even Riffle stared, frozen in time as if he couldn't believe it either.

When the Devil pulled his hand away the mask was in it. Dark locks dangled for a moment before he lifted his head and stared darkly into Kazu's blue eyes. Kazu froze.

His hair was well kept. Anything but messy. His skin was smooth and his face was round. Kazu had expected something amazing. A scar running across the length of his face perhaps, or some horrible, hideously disturbing blemish or unexplainable marking. Maybe missing an eye or some type of deformity of his nose. Or even a tattoo or something to mark him as someone worth of the title of a Devil. Sometimes he'd imagine his lips being twisted into a permanent, dark smile because of an accident that happened years ago. At the very least he thought there would be deep lines by his brow or around his mouth from heavy scowling.

But his eyes were a shade of brown so sharp and dark that they resembled the bark of a red oak, matching his dark hair and dark, thick eyebrows. His cheeks were strong and defined. There was hardly an imperfection on him and to Kazu's surprise and dismay, and perhaps a tiny bit of disappointment, his face was completely… normal.

In fact, there was hardly anything memorable about his face at all. The kind of face that just blends into the crowd and falls out of memories. Without the mask, the Devil looked like a nobody.

"How disappointing," Ikki remarked smartly.

"You should have just let me kill him the first time," Riffle spat angrily, seemingly unfazed by his Boss' face now that he'd gotten a decent look at him. Kazu couldn't help but wonder if Riffle was speaking as such to his leader because the intimidation had been lessened. Now that Kazu had gotten a good look at the face behind the mask, he tried to figure what a guy like that could have over a guy as short tempered and violent as Riffle. He knew he shouldn't judge by the plain appearance because he'd seen first-hand what he was truly capable of, but it was difficult not to after living in suspense over it. What kind of controlling power or hold could he have on the speeding bullet to make him follow his every word and drive the man to want to please him so much? And the others as well.

The Devil, though Kazu found it difficult to refer to him as such anymore, looked grim but calm, eyes slightly downcast and hands folded neatly behind his back. He sighed quietly but visibly.

"No," he says, eying Kazu up and down but speaking to his subordinate. "I shouldn't have allowed you to fulfill such an foolish request."

Riffle, seeing that his boss was severely disappointed, stepped up. The boiling rage in his voice was enough to send Kazu's heartbeat to his ears. He spoke insanely. Darkly. He'd had enough.

"I'll take care of it right now!"

Using momentum from his sudden burst of speed, Riffle rammed into Ikki, knocking him down and back a few feet. Ikki turned to his side when he landed and coughed, ignoring the sting and spitting out a lovely pink concoction of saliva and blood before jumping right back up to his feet. But he was too late and too far away to stop Riffle from growling something at Kazu in a voice that rumbled from the deepest part of his throat and making a fast and wild grab for the smaller rider's feet. In an impressive maneuver, Riffle tore the slightly too big AT's right off of Kazu's feet, making him topple over. But Riffle caught him in his arms (the sight made Ikki's spine so rigid) in the same beat. The look Riffle then shot at Ikki was chilling and malicious.

"This won't take long," he swore. "I'm coming back for you."

And he shot up the building, fast like the bullet he undoubtedly was, and all Ikki heard before a gust of wind ripped past him and pushed him a little further away, was Kazu rushing his name past his lips. He gazed upwards - why did everything suddenly feel so real and final?

His lips tightened when he whirled around and fisted his hands into the Devil's shirt, though without the mask he felt more like he was threatening a harmless stranger. His eyes were amazingly gentle looking. He needed that stupid mask in order to look remotely threatening. It did nothing to sooth Ikki's raging thoughts, though.

"Where they hell is he taking him!" he demanded, shaking the larger man best he could.

He only received a tiny smirk, which was oddly enough to bring the evil out in his otherwise sober expression, and a hand clutching mercilessly at one of his biceps, squeezing tightly – tighter than Ikki knew a man like that could.

"It should be obvious," he said calmly. "You may want to take a few steps back. Could get messy."

Ikki let out a short howl as pain shot through his wrist and up his arm when the Devil clutched. Then it turned into a gasp as it hit him; the memory of days just before discovering and falling in love with Storm Riding. A particular encounter with the Skull Saders that ended with him pissing his pants because he swore he was going to be canon balled into the ground and splattered all over the pavement. But while the leader of the Skull Saders was content with Ikki wetting his jeans and shaking like a damn leaf when he stopped just short of the ground, he was certain that Riffle had every intention of letting Kazu's head split.

Ikki looked up, gaging how tall the building was and gulped thickly when he realized it was far, far too high. It was a huge drop, even for Storm Riders. Then Ikki looked down to distract himself from the thought just enough to keep the contents of his stomach at bay. But it only made things worse when he saw his AT's there. Not with Kazu.

Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!

Even at such a speed, even though it was a pace he'd been long adjusted to by now, everything seemed to move in slow motion for Kazu. That was the part of it all that made him feel so sick – he knew what was happening, he knew where they were going and how fast, and he knew that he wasn't the one doing the running. It made his stomach continuously flip.

It was the fear of being dropped at any moment that made Kazu throttle Riffle with his arms for security and dig his fingers into his clothes. Kazu tensed, curling into himself and into Riffle, not wanting to look down and see Ikki looking up at him for the last time, or to see how high they really were. He wasn't afraid of heights or anything like that, but his feet were cold and reminding him no wheels rested beneath them. Even if there were, however, Kazu wasn't sure that his wall riding skills were good enough to save him. Being up high was a lot more terrifying when he was stripped of anything that could save his life should he fall.

"This is a good thing," Riffle said when he passed the highest window and gracefully leapt over the top, landing on the roof and setting Kazu down. The air felt thinner here. The clouds bigger and whiter. It made his heart go faster. They both understood there was nowhere for him to run and nothing to grab to defend himself. And trying to outrun a bullet without AT's was just as suicidal as slipping over the edge.

Moments after being set down Kazu felt his legs start to wobble. But he refused to collapse on them now. Not here like this.

"How so?" Kazu dared.

"The world isn't big enough for two riders as fast as us," he explained. He waved his hand between the two of them in a perplexingly civilized manner. "And besides, you piss me off."

"Feelings mutual," Kazu growled bitterly, resisting temptation still to collapse to his knees. He wasn't sure if it was the adrenaline pumping through his veins or pure insanity at this point that was keeping him standing. He wondered how precise he'd have to be, and just how much strength he'd have to use, to push Riffle over the edge. Even if killing someone felt out of the question, the image was terribly tempting.

Kazu wished for just one day he could be a horrible person.

"What the hell kind of game is this to you? You can't stand a little competition so you just knock them off the map? And what's with that guy?" Kazu glared deeply, gesturing towards the streets below where the Devil (and god, Ikki) were waiting.

"Shut it."

"I'm right, aren't I? You have nothing else going for you so he bosses you around like a little errand boy and you let him."

"I said shut up, runt."

"You guys aren't Storm Riders."

"You little…"

"You're just a pack of cowards using cheap tricks and killing off every spec of competition you see."

Riffle growled loudly and threw his hand out to collect the front of Kazu's shirt, lifting him up into the air.

"We hate Storm Riders."

Somehow, Kazu didn't buy it. The Devil himself may have hated the sport but someone like Riffle, who was not only able to do it, but was impressively good at it, couldn't possibly hate a sport that was so annoyingly perfect for him. But Riffle wasn't going to let him argue any longer.

"I'm going to drive you into the ground so hard they're going to find pieces of your brain all the way on the outskirts of the city."

Kazu's breath was completely ripped out of him when Riffle wasted no more time, and hopped over the side of the building with him in tow.

Wind rushed past him like a hurricane, so fast that it burned and Kazu had to swallow whatever tried to crawl up his throat. Running this fast and falling this fast gave him two opposing feelings. Riffle's grip on him was firm and unrelenting, determined to throw him down with as much force as possible. So Kazu didn't have much time to think, which was just as well since all of his thought struck him all at once.

Okay so he'd won the race and he impressed Ikki. And now he was letting the likes of Riffle rip it all away from him? All the things he'd worked so hard for and waited so long to earn? After he and Ikki had finally, finallyestablished something irreplaceable between them beyond the levels of friendship. After he was able to freely say that he had feelings for Ikki?

That he loved Ikki.

And he sure as hell didn't want to die before he had a chance to hear Ikki say it. He didn't want to lose that chance or Ikki himself. He was afraid of death.

He was able to fly through all of these thoughts in the time it took to blink, and they snapped him into action. Riffle was trying to grind down the building to double the speed of normal freefalling. Kazu flailed, fighting the wind to bring his legs in and knee Riffle in the ear but they continued to fall at an alarming rate, the bullet's feet marking up the side of the building and sending out wide sparks like a ricocheting gun pellet. Kazu stretched his hands and grabbed at Riffle's waist, hoping for the best when he kicked out with his feet and hit Riffle's legs from behind. Anything to stop that speed.

"Fucking shit!" Riffle spat as his footing slipped out from under him and the two of them started falling with gravity. The pace in which they were plummeting was nothing reassuring but Kazu noticed the considerable difference. At the very least, Kazu prolonged his death by a few mere seconds. And he intended to use every last one.

Riffle swung his feet around, trying to catch the side of the building again. It was then that Kazu realized speed seemed to be all Riffle had – he didn't know any airborne tricks to save himself or alter his momentum or direction. Not like Ikki could. Riffle was so busy trying to stretch his legs out towards the building's surface that he didn't notice how Kazu was reaching for something else with his hands.

The AT's on Riffle's feet.

But he grasped at them desperately, one in each hand, and yanked with every ounce of strength he could summon. He didn't know if Riffle was just poor at securing his AT's or if the fear of dying compelled him to do it right the first time, but when he felt them slide off, he moved as quickly as he could.

As if Riffle were not even there, Kazu attempted to shove his own feet into Riffle's AT's, all the while trying to convince himself that there was no way all of that had just happened in just a few quick seconds. Slipping into AT's was made difficult by falling, but he managed to get one on.

But as half expected, Riffle was anything but happy with the little stunt and pounced, blindly head-butting and making Kazu's head snap to the side, positive that he'd lost a single, precious second by recovering from it. In angry retaliation, Kazu swung back, AT still in hand, smacking Riffle's skull with his own wheels.

That dazed the other rider long enough to Kazu to slip the other AT on. And while Kazu's attention instantly slipped to surviving, Riffle's was narrowed in on revenge, arms outstretched and a crazy look in his eyes. His longer arms allowed for him to throw his fingers around Kazu's neck, nestling under his jaw and thumbs pressing up into his pulse. Kazu felt he should have expected as much.

In the heat of the moment, Kazu knew there was hardly anymore time to be wasted fighting back. Kazu strained to ignore the pressure, using all of his weight to give one more mighty kick to Riffle's gut.

Winded, eyes bugging out, Riffle wheezed and let up on his hold. The force of the kick moved them slightly apart, to where Kazu's back scrapped briefly against the building, ripping at his clothes and marring his skin. Riffle was pushed the opposite direction, giving him nothing to grab onto as he fell to his death.

Kazu acted. Past the buzzing rush in his ears he could have sworn he heard Ikki screaming his name just as he moved his feet to touch the building. He cringed; Riffle's AT's were too big and loose for his feet and part of the struggle of riding in them was not losing them. It was difficult to maneuver in. That coupled with his not-so-perfected art of wall riding didn't do much for him.

Yet when he heard the scream of wheels pushing past their limits, the very instant he understood that he was sloppily but successfully grinding horizontally, he grabbed Riffle by the arms, straining his back trying to carry the man with him. In spite of his deed, Riffle squirmed and cursed and tried to tear out of Kazu's hold, which made Kazu curl his fingers even tighter around him. He couldn't stand being near him, but he wasn't going to let him hit the ground at such a fatal speed.

"Damnit!" he hissed through his teeth at the pain, unable to fully control the direction his feet rocketed in oversized ATs. He allowed himself a moment of rocky, temporary grinding before he pulled his feet in and descended again. Just a little bit closer, Kazu knew, just a little bit closer to the ground and he could do this. He just had to time it right.

He let himself fall a little further, Riffle still in his hold, watching the ground rush up at him.

"Now!" he screamed to himself harshly, to keep from second guessing himself. He threw his legs towards the building once more, forcing the wheels to kiss something solid, trying desperately to balance with the burden in his arms. He skidded along the side at a slight downward slant, until they were at a height that was safe enough to fall from. Gravity held him still for a beautiful second and then it was like falling all over again.

Kazu kicked off of the building, releasing Riffle as he did so, sending them both tumbling to the waiting ground. Kazu knew Ikki was there, ready to race to his side, ask if he was okay and be genuinely furious and concerned and unable to contain himself. He closed his eyes.

Hot agony tore into his skin as he skidded and bounced, almost clawing at the ground to slow the landing and finally go still.

One of Riffle's ATs flew off of his foot. The fabrics of his shirt suffered more wear and tear, threading apart and sporting holes all throughout. He could feel parts of his exposed skin burning to the point where it felt as it was peeling off in layers. Nothing felt broken, but he couldn't be sure.

When his body registered that he'd come to a complete stop, Kazu held his breath for a long, unbelieving minute before he released it. He kept his eyes shut. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. He felt thickly wet and he smelled copper. It was impossible for him to tell where he was bleeding from, or if he just thought he was bleeding because his skin was grazed and hot. Only the sound of Ikki running to reach him compelled Kazu to pry an eye open. And he couldn't wait for Ikki to get there and hold him because it wasn't until he was falling to his death that Kazu realized how vital things like that were.