This story was written in response to the challenge criteria: "Ken meets a vampire."
Story has been cleaned up for language and sexuality requirements, which stripped out about 500 words. If you want the director's cut (grin), you can email me or visit adult fanfiction DOT net (remove all spaces) and read it there.
Ken shook his head at the waiter, thanking the man with a polite smile. At his elbow, Dr. Nambu accepted a glass of champagne before continuing his discussion with the dignitaries clustered around them.
Negotiations would start tomorrow, but tonight Ken, Joe, and Jun were expected to meet and mingle, ostensibly so they could advise the ISO. In actuality, Nambu wanted them to learn more about ISO politics, and provide security while they were at it.
The truth was, Ken was bored stupid by the solicitous speeches and endless declamations. And so was Joe. During the interminable palaver these people called a welcoming address, he'd seen Jun kick Joe to wake him up, and he'd wished he'd had the foresight to sit next to her.
Now he glanced across the room at Joe, who was sipping the mixed drink he'd gotten from the open bar. Even though they'd been able to drink legally for over a year, Joe was still gleeful about every glass he got without an argument. We've been fighting Galactor for half our lives, he told Ken, but we weren't allowed to drink because we were "too young." Who the hell makes these laws?
Joe was talking to a pretty blond woman in a dark green dress. She was laughing, and she touched his arm lightly, teasingly. Joe's teeth flashed, and he bent his head to speak more intimately to her. Probably a secretary or an aide; she didn't carry herself like one of the actual dignitaries, and besides, she was too young.
In spite of his wandering thoughts, Ken nodded politely each time Nambu introduced someone new, filing each person's name neatly into the back of his head and ignoring everything else that was said. Maybe Joe's idea wasn't such a bad one. Ken was pretty damn sure he and the blonde weren't discussing politics.
On the other hand, Nambu hadn't brought them here to flirt.
As if he felt Ken's glare, Joe glanced over. He arched his brows. I know, the look said. I'm aware. I'm working. But we're supposed to fit in.
And Joe did fit in. He actually cleaned up pretty well, for as much as he'd bitched about it. When he'd pulled up and gotten out of his car, Ken hadn't been able to resist telling him he that he looked like a penguin. Joe hadn't even blinked; he'd just retorted that Ken looked pretty stupid, too. Jun had only smiled, her cheeks glowing a bit as she looked back and forth between them.
Now she stood on Nambu's other side, her green eyes moving around the small circle as each person spoke, looking for all the world like she was actually interested in the discussion. She looked lovely in her floor-length pearl-colored gown, almost delicate, though of course she could kick the ass of damn near everyone in the room if she chose to do so.
"Aleksandra Demakova," Nambu said, raising his voice slightly over the others in the circle. "We were just wondering if you were going to make it."
The woman stepped into the circle, a glass of champagne already in hand, and Ken stopped breathing. Nearly his height in her heels, she was at least ten years younger than any of the other diplomats, and probably not much older than he. Her long velvet dress, the cloth such a dark red it was nearly black, clung to her slender curves and flared around her ankles. Her dark hair, touched with hints of auburn, was swept up, revealing a long, slender, elegant neck.
Nambu was making introductions, repeating the names of the other diplomats, presenting Jun as a technology specialist, and then Ken as a tactician. Ken was still staring at Demakova. Her skin was the flawless, nearly translucent white of alabaster, and her hand as she shook his was warm and firm.
Ken felt like he was falling, and it felt good.
"You seem young to be a diplomat," Jun said, and he remembered where he was.
He dropped Aleksandra Demakova's hand and hoped he hadn't held it too long. He glanced at Jun, feeling a little dazed. Jun looked annoyed.
Demakova smiled warmly. "I'm fortunate to have been awarded the position, despite my age." She gestured a bit at Jun. "You must be very accomplished yourself to be here tonight."
Jun blinked, and then faint color rose to her cheeks.
"When a young person shows as much promise as she has, we recruit her," Nambu interjected smoothly. "We certainly want her working for us."
Demakova's gaze slid back to Ken. "The same must be true for you, Mr. Washio."
Someone tapped a microphone, sending a series of dull thuds through the sound system, reminding Ken of helicopter rotors. Everyone else turned to look at the stage, but Ken held Demakova's gaze, and she held his.
Joe had talked more than once about having chemistry with women, but it had never occurred to Ken that chemistry might be more than a quixotic delusion, that it could hit you as hard as a well-placed punch.
"If everyone would please take their seats, we're going to begin serving dinner," the man on the stage said. "Thanks."
Demakova extended her hand to Ken again. "It was a pleasure to meet you," she said.
"Yes," was all he could manage.
Demakova turned then to Jun and Nambu, and Ken went to find his seat.
Joe reached the table at the same time. "This is killing me," he muttered under his breath. "I've started hoping Galactor will pull something, just so we have an excuse to get out of here."
Ten minutes ago, Ken would have agreed with him. He looked over his shoulder, but Demakova had gone to her own table, and Jun was heading their way.
"At least we're not expected to sit in on the actual negotiations," Ken replied.
"I wish we were." Jun rested her hand on the back of a chair and laid her purse on the table.
"You're actually enjoying this, aren't you?" Joe said.
She lifted one bare shoulder in a shrug. "It's fascinating. These are some of the smartest people in the world. When else are we going to meet people from all over, important people who run enormous corporations and entire countries?"
Ken thought that they met people like this all the time, usually when Katse had taken them captive or kidnapped their children or destroyed their administrative buildings. But Jun was right; they never got to talk with them, only save them. These people were leaders for a reason, and there was probably a lot he could learn from them.
Other people were arriving at the table, smiling and introducing themselves and sitting in the chairs, so Jun retrieved her purse. "I'll see you after the dinner."
As one of the hosts, Nambu was seated at a table up close to the stage. His "advisors" had been strategically assigned seats throughout the room. Jun greeted the people at her table, where she'd set her little engraved placard earlier. Ken fingered his, in his pocket, and wondered if he should have done the same. Joe had probably written his cell number on his and handed it to the secretary.
He glanced at Joe. "Aren't you supposed to be somewhere else?"
Joe grinned. "I traded with someone. I hate this stuff. I don't want to sit with a bunch of old politicians." He pulled out the chair beside Ken's.
Ken knew he should reprimand him -- they'd been arranged around the room for a reason -- but in truth, he was glad for an ally. Several times throughout the evening he'd thought the monotonous, affected formality might actually kill him. Or maybe he'd just been hoping it would, so he could quit suffering.
He listened to the clink of silverware and the murmur of voices as everyone started on their salads, still thinking about Aleksandra Demakova. Who had Nambu said she represented? He pulled out his mental file and thumbed through it. The Walachia Medical Alliance. Hmm. Ken retrieved another mental file, one he'd created during the briefings Nambu had subjected them to prior to the diplomats' arrival.
The WMA had started out as a collective that drew on various medical research facilities, eventually uniting them under a single corporate head. Now they functioned much like the ISO, in a neutral federal district in southeast Europe.
In the years since the WMA had formed, it had become the single most important driving force in medicine. Its researchers had developed the current treatment for HIV/AIDS, which was sending the illness into remission and allowing formerly terminal patients to live much longer lives. The Alliance was still searching for a true cure, but in the meantime it had developed revolutionary approaches to sickle cell anemia and hemophilia, and several innovative cancer treatments were currently in the human testing stage.
Ken turned in his chair, scanning the room, and found Demakova five tables away. He was struck again by her beauty, by her sculpted, regal features, by her sophisticated bearing. She was, by coincidence, seated at the same table as the blond woman to whom Joe had been talking. The woman with whom Ken suspected Joe had traded seats. He felt strangely relieved that Joe was sitting beside him, instead of over there, chatting up the WMA diplomat.
Demakova glanced up, as if she sensed his interest, and smiled at him. He found himself smiling in return.
"Who is that?" Joe murmured in his ear.
Ken turned back around in his chair. "Her name is Aleksandra Demakova, and she's the diplomat sent by the WMA."
"You sure?" Joe was still watching her. "She's really young to be a diplomat."
"We're young to be here, too. Stop staring at her."
Joe's brows arched, and a smile played across his lips. "Hard not to. She's really hot."
Ken kicked him under the table. "The guy on the stage is going to speak. Pay attention."
- - -
An hour of mind-numbingly boring speeches later, the guests were invited to mingle again, and the band started a waltz. Joe slapped Ken on the back on his way past, and crossed the room to Jun's table.
He bent over her and extended his hand, and Jun smiled up at him. She really was beautiful, Ken thought, though he rarely noticed. She rose, allowing Joe to tuck her hand into the crook of his arm. They walked together toward the dance floor, stopping often as Jun spoke to the various diplomats.
Ken considered walking over to the dance floor to watch his friends or maybe even dance with Jun, just to make a good show of things. Then he considered the ocean of distance between him and the floor, and all the diplomats milling through it, about as appealing as alligators in a swimming hole. How many more people would he have to speak to if he walked over there? How many more bland lies would he have to tell? When Nambu had said he wanted them here, but quietly, not in birdstyle, it had seemed like a good idea. Now Ken wished he had pressed to be a glorified security guard, standing quietly on the balcony or near the doors.
"Mr. Washio, isn't it?"
He started a bit. It was unusual for anyone to be able to sneak up on him, but he was tired, and he had been distracted by his thoughts. Demakova stood beside him, a glass of red wine cradled in her hand.
"Yes," he said finally. "Ms. Demakova, right?" He was impressed with himself, acting like he didn't know exactly what her name was.
But before he could return the courtesy, she leaned closer. The smooth, milky perfection of her skin was real, rather than a cosmetic illusion. He saw no freckles, moles, or scars, other than the tiny line that bisected her upper lip, and that was nearly invisible beneath her lipstick. She wore no perfume that he could detect, but her skin and hair bore a faint, appealing scent that he assumed was her own.
"You have the bearing of one who is older than his appearance might suggest," she said.
He opened his mouth, closed it, and then managed, "How so?"
She gazed at him for a beat before straightening, and he realized that his response had been as unexpected as her question had been to him.
His eyes narrowed. A code phrase of some kind, and he had not returned the expected response.
"I meant no offense," she said. "Just that you carry yourself well. But I suppose that is not so unusual, considering the maturity we must have to do the jobs we do."
He nodded, still turning her initial phrase over in his head.
"Tell me again what you do, exactly?" Small talk, now; he'd blown whatever chance he might have had to play her confidant, her contact. "You work with the Gatchaman team?"
He froze, then realized that she was asking whether his work was related to the Gatchaman team, not if he was on the team. Back to his bland lies. "Yes. I help assess risk when they're out on missions."
He expected her to press him; any good Galactor agent would, with a young intelligence agent on her hands.
"I suppose I should say that sounds interesting," she responded instead, "but to be honest, I bet it's pretty boring most of the time. But I guess they probably keep you busy. I know Galactor's been hitting us hard lately. We really need the ISO's support."
Ken thought for a moment. He and the others had been spending an inordinate amount of time fighting Galactor away from the WMA's lands and facilities, both in Europe and domestically. "Why do you think you've become such a target?" He hoped he sounded conversational.
She shrugged. "Terrorism is about destroying hope. Our work provides a lot of people with hope." Her eyes were a rich whiskey-warm color, nearly golden.
"Would you like to dance?" he blurted. The urge to clap his hand over his mouth immediately afterward was nearly overwhelming. Where had that come from?
She smiled, the first really genuine smile he'd seen all night. "I would, thank you."
They made their way across the long room to the dance floor. Ken considered tripping over his own feet, faking an injury, anything to get out of what his big mouth had gotten him into. But he accidentally touched her hand, tucked against his elbow, and she hooked her fingers through his. He glanced over and felt a fresh jolt of attraction.
Whatever else she might be, he wanted her. Maybe he could stand one dance.
Ken was standing outside on the balcony, leaning against the balustrade, when the evening finally ended. He turned his head slightly to listen to the short reminder that the summit began at 7:30 the following morning with a brunch, and that the actual negotiations would begin at 8 and run as late as they needed to.
Aleksandra Demakova appeared, framed in the golden glow of the hall. She walked out to him and leaned her elbows on the balustrade beside him. "Will you be at the actual summit tomorrow?"
He shook his head. "I was just part of tonight's festivities." That wasn't entirely true -- he would be there, but as Gatchaman, not as Ken Washio.
She glanced at him, her mouth curving at his faint sarcasm. "Will I see you again?"
Her question threw him a bit. There were plenty of people here who had more power, influence, access than the part he was playing had. Why would she care to see him again -- unless she really was interested in him? The idea wedged in his chest and ached a little. It didn't happen often, but once in a while he mourned the normal life he might have had if the world had been a different place.
"Ken?" she said softly.
"No, you won't see me again."
She laid a hand on his arm. "What if I want to see you again?"
He gazed at her hand. Why couldn't he see her again? She didn't know who he was.
He pulled away from her. Because he was attracted to her. Very attracted to her. And if she was a Galactor spy…well, Joe had made that mistake enough times. Ken had no intention of doing the same thing. And if, somehow, she wasn't a Galactor spy…then she could only get killed.
"I don't think that would be a good idea," he said finally.
"I'm not asking you for forever," she said. "Just for tonight."
Her words whispered over his skin like a caress. Why not tonight? He wasn't a virgin, and he wasn't a saint, in spite of what the tabloids printed. And he did want her. He lifted a hand to touch her cheek, as soft and smooth as it looked, and she turned her face into his palm and pressed her lips there.
But she was also a diplomat, here to negotiate with the ISO and the other assembled nations and corporations for resources to fight Galactor. She was not someone to be treated dishonorably. And even if she had been, he didn't want to treat her that way.
"I'm sorry," he said again.
"You are more than you seem to be, aren't you?" she said.
He answered as honestly as he could. "Aren't we all?"
She drew a deep breath, glancing back toward the dissolving party, as if remembering herself. "You're right." She took a step back, so his hand fell away from her face. "You're right." She smiled. "Thank you." She unwrapped the narrow ribbon of strap she'd coiled around her purse and draped it across her shoulder. "It was really nice to meet you."
He nodded, and she turned away.
But the madness that had possessed him half the night carried him after her. "Aleksandra," he said.
She turned back, and he didn't know what to say to keep her a little longer. After a moment she leaned up on her toes, her hands falling gently on his forearms, and kissed him, and need crackled between them like electricity. She tasted like red wine and strawberries, and her arms wrapped around his neck, drawing him up against that soft velvet dress and her even softer curves. He touched the naked skin of her back, something he had been careful not to do when they were dancing, letting his fingers slide under the edges of the fabric falling from her shoulders. Everything about her was smooth, white, flawless, beautiful, perfect.
He ended the kiss, drawing back to gaze at her. "I wish things were different," he said, meaning it.
"So do I," she whispered, and he wondered what secrets lay between them that he would never know.
- - -
Fifteen minutes later, after his head had cleared, he realized that it was his job to know. His job to protect the summit, the ISO, the whole damn world from Galactor. If she was an agent or a mole, he had to know what she was up to.
He followed her chauffeured car through the darkened streets, moving as invisibly as any shadow at night. The driver stopped not at either of the hotels that had been reserved and placed under constant security detail for the summit, but at one of WMA's local research facilities.
The chauffeur went around the back of the car and retrieved Aleksandra's bags before opening her door. She nodded to him and preceded him through the doors, which responded to a swipe card she carried. Ken slipped through behind them.
They walked through the silent corridors, carpeted in a tasteful, tawny sand color. Gilded sconces adorned the walls and provided light. Aleksandra did not speak, and the chauffeur trailed a few paces behind her.
They passed through two more swipe-card activated doors and stepped into an elevator. Ken waited until he heard the car began to move before prying apart the doors and dropping silently onto the top of the car. Going down was always easier than going up; he'd just gotten lucky.
He counted the bells that announced each floor; when they reached the fourth sublevel, the elevator stopped and its passengers exited into a corridor cut short by the kind of heavy steel door he associated with bank vaults and priceless museum treasures. There Aleksandra paused to place her hand upon a backlit blue panel. The system responded by greeting her in a language Ken didn't speak, and revealing a second backlit panel. This one completed a retinal scan, and then the door sighed, the internal locking mechanism audibly shifted, and the door hissed open.
Ken slipped out of the elevator shaft and reached for the door before it could close. Just as he touched it, he felt the telltale hum of his comm against his skin. He glanced down, and it was flashing at him. He mouthed a curse, glancing one final time at the door before turning back.
- - -
"You called me back here so we could review the plan for tomorrow?"
"You usually like making sure everything is in place, Ken," Ryu said.
Ken sighed. Usually. Usually he didn't have to sit through hours of painfully boring political bombast. Usually he wasn't expected to deal with fifty different security forces, all demanding their diplomat be covered by Gatchaman himself. Usually he wasn't crazy attracted to strange women. Usually.