Boom double update, for those still reading... nothing for what 5 years, then two chapters?! This is madness...

"Shit..." Cross grumbled around his cigarette, aiming Judgment at the next Akuma. He was down to his last two coffin nails and there was almost too many of them still out there. Almost. A lesser skilled man would be worried. A lesser skilled man would be, but the Great General Cross was not a lesser skilled man. Still, he was a little stressed.

The attack had seemingly come from nowhere, but Cross had his suspicions. It was disturbingly well coordinated. He would not be surprised to see some member of the Noah clan drifting through on their way to Edo. Things were starting to move more quickly. If he wasn't careful, he was going to run out of time.

Allen darted in front of him, effortlessly dodging attacks from both the Akuma horde before him and Cross behind him. Watching the Idiot flip through the muggy Indian air and use the force of one Akuma's destruction to launch himself into the next target, Cross was seized with an overwhelming and unfamiliar emotion. Pride? Could that be it? Possibly, Allen was everywhere and attacking fearlessly. The brat was really close to earning his name back today.

Or not.

The Idiot collided hard with the wall behind him. Coughing and sputtering, he crawled to Cross' side. "Where are they all coming from?" he wheezed. "There are so many..."

Cross grunted and fired again. "There's a factory..." Another shot. "Somewhere out east..." one more shot. "I..." shot. "Need..." shot. "To..." three rapid shots. "Go find it."

Allen's hand suddenly blocked his view. The boy screaming as he took the hit from the Akuma that Cross never saw coming. "Please..." he grit out. "Please Master..." His transformed arm trembled as he absorbed another strike and he growled. "Please Master! Go ahead! Take your sweet time!"

Cross took the opportunity to lean back against the wall and light his last cigarette. "How many shots do you think you can take before you die on me?"

"Not too many more! Just gotta keep them hitting my Innocence and not me..!"

"Try to count. It'll be good to know for future battles." It felt good to be able to take a break during a fight. "Don't let them kill you..." he mumbled, pulling smoke deep into his lungs and releasing it in lazy rings.

The boy glared at him, dropping to one knee with the strain.

"Can you see how many are left?"

The boy shifted, peering out from the cover of his Innocence. "Ten, Master...ten that we need to worry about, but more are behind them." he took a deep shaking breath. "They're too close together to count... but its a lot. They're gonna kill the whole city, aren't they?"

"I wish..." Cross pulled his rosary from his shirt and fingered the tiny coffin at the end. I don't have much choice here now, do I? He was hesitant to call out Maria; the corpse had yet to be tested in battle. "No, Idiot... I think they're after us. I'm calling in backup." The General began the Words.

The boy snorted. "You sure you can control her? I don't think I can fight both her and them at the same time..."

"Won't have to..." Cross mumbled between summoning words. "I'll kill you myself for your poor attitude when this is over..." The Grave of Maria materialized with a blast of air. "I need a break..."

"Wait, what do you call this again? This thing you're doing right now?" Allen glared at him. "Oh yeah..."

Cross took a longing look at his half finished cigarette, before taking two quick steps forward and stubbing it out on his useless apprentice's transformed wrist. The brat groaned, still feeling the burn through the hardened skin of his weapon. It was worth losing the last few puffs. "How are you even still standing, Idiot?" Cross could see that nearly half of the incoming horde of Akuma were Level Two. Had the kid progressed so much? "Last time we saw a Level Two, you were puking your guts out..."

The boy made a weird sound. It was almost a laugh. "I don't have anything left in me to throw up... I was empty before we even got here." He glanced up and smiled weakly. "I'm too scared to do anything but keep fighting... I'll die if I stop... we... we have to save them. All of them, right?"

Cross finished unchaining Maria from her shackles and was about to answer him back with something inspiring, but the left side of the boy's head exploded first.

"Oh shit." The boy's arm returned to normal, leaving them both abruptly exposed. "Shit..." Cross grabbed the thin twitching body off the ground and, tossing him over his shoulder, began a quick but strategic retreat. He better not bleed all over me... "Maria!" he ordered. "Magdala Curtain! Hide me. You are my shield. Give me a perimeter. Don't let any of them within a hundred yards of me. Kill as many as you can. Do not hesitate. Show no mercy. Protect me."

"Yes my love..." it began to sing. Cross watched as one fat bloated parody of a monster drifted too close. It hit the wall of sound created by Maria's song and popped into a disgusting cloud of dust. They would be safe for a little while.

With one heavy boot, he kicked down the door of the nearest building and ducked in. Most of the people had run at the first sign of attack. It was lucky; there would be massive amounts of structural damage, but only a few hundred human casualties.

Thank God for small miracles... Cross looked around and breathed a quick sigh of relief. It was a bar. He plopped the body down across the counter and found a full bottle behind it. Cross popped the cork and drank gratefully. Needed this... "Oi... brat, you still alive?"

He gripped the Idiot's chin. His left eye was slowly drifting to the side, but the right squinted and managed to stay focused on him. Pale lips mouthed words without sound. His hair lay dark and matted across a face streaked with gore. Cross felt along his hairline and found the track the bullet had taken. The boy had just been grazed. He parted the soaked hair along the source of the blood and could see a hint of bone. When all this was over, he would need stitches. "You're alright..." he pronounced.

"Master...?" he slurred. Once more, black stars were emerging on his skin as the Akuma's poison worked through his system.

"You missed one." He offered the boy the bottle. Allen could barely swallow but he tried. "It got you good."

"I'm hit, huh?" His right eye lost focus; the left drifted lazily in its socket.

"Yes. Don't panic... take another drink. You've done this before, remember? You need to keep fighting; drink up and die quickly so you can get back out there. Relax and let it run its course..."

Allen shivered, trying hard to stay alert against the poison. Cross tipped he bottle again against his lips. He gagged, but willingly drank the alcohol down with deep gulps. "It hurts...Mm... gonna be ok right...?"

"I don't see why not."

"Ok." he pushed the bottle away as his skin blackened completely. "I... I think... I should take a break too. I'll be right back..."

The General let his head thump back on the bar and went to retrieve a new bottle for sampling; uncertain if the poison would linger on the last one. He wasn't about to find out. The boy had stopped moving, but his head was still bleeding and forming a small puddle on the counter.

He drank and rummaged around for a clean rag or something to bandage the brat with. Just because he could process the poison didn't mean his head wound would close up quickly. He assured himself that he didn't care. He wasn't doing it for him. It was simply in his own best interest to keep the Idiot from bleeding out and becoming completely useless. Who could know how much longer he needed to hold off the horde; he would need him to be ready to take another bullet for him. Cross paused when he heard laughter. "... the hell?" he mumbled under his breath.

"Someone in here?" he asked loudly, Judgement in his hand, cocked and ready. Of course, Maria was keeping the horde out, but what if there was one already inside? His apprentice was too far gone to alert him. "If this is your bar, then payment is on the bloody Idiot on the counter. He'll cover the damage too." he listened closely, well practiced eyes scanning the room.

No one was there. Cross glanced back to the door and heard it again. A low rich chuckle echoing to him from the bar. Horrified, he turned to the familiar sound.

Allen had rolled to his side, pressing his wounded head against the counter and smearing red everywhere. In the dim light of the bar and soaked in blood, he looked wrong. The poison had darkened his skin; he still twitched with its effects. The blood had darkened his hair. Cross' stomach flipped and a disturbing thought settled in the back of his mind. This is not Allen... shit. The boy's left eye had rolled back completely; the right was staring at him. A smile spread across the boy's face.

"Drinking, fighting... Just like old times..." it spoke through the boy's mouth. "Isn't it Marian?"

Cross carefully kept his face blank. Inside he screamed every curse he knew and then invented new ones.

"Are you taking good care of my Timcanpy?"

Cross would not let himself react. He knew that voice. He was furious. The 14th was in Allen. His suspicions crashed suddenly, firmly into place and with all the finality of a headstone. Dammit... sometimes I hate being right...

"You shouldn't make our poor Allen drink so much." The smile deepened. "Especially when he's hurt... he's going to throw up when he gets back."

"Thanks for the warning."

With a hoarse shout, Allen returned. The dark color that was mostly poison and partly something else faded quickly back to his usual pallor. He gasped, lurching sideways and rolling right off the counter to land behind it with a painful thud.

The General's legs gave out. He sank gratefully into the nearest chair and ran a shaking hand through his hair. The 14th … he's in Allen. That was him. He took control and spoke through him. Shit. The third side of this war... the gray faction, as he had once called it, in the black and white war of Order vs Earl... Innocence vs Dark Matter... He almost laughed. How oddly appropriate... for it to be Allen. Shit. I was starting to like him...

Allen was screaming something in between harsh coughs and wet splashes of vomit. No... still annoying. Hate him. He forced the new information to the back of his mind; he would deal with it when the situation forced him to and no sooner. There really wasn't time to dwell on it right now.

"Master!" The building rocked on its foundation, ceiling tiles and plaster rained down. High and clear, the boy screamed again. "The barrier is breaking! They circled around... too many!"

"Stay calm." Cross dusted loose plaster off his hat and his coat and made his way to the bar. Gonna ruin my clothes one way or another today... "It'll hold for a couple more minutes." He found a clean enough rag and tossed it to the brat. "Mop yourself up a bit... tie that in place and keep the blood out of your eyes. You need stitches, remind me when this is over. We'll get that cute dancer to fix you up."

"My head hurts..." Allen wobbled, shuddering as he activated his Innocence. "I can see them. The Level Twos are still holding back. Sending the Level Ones first..."

"Think you can handle them?" Cross asked, boots thumping across the floor and to the door. Despite the situation, or maybe because of it, he was having fun. It had been ages since he had fought together with someone. Not two individuals that happen to be fighting in proximity, but truly fighting together as a team. Trusting in them to have your back. He glanced back to the boy and again felt a burst of pride. He was waiting for orders, ready to fight. Pale face smeared with blood like warpaint and set with determination.

For a moment, Cross imagined keeping him with him rather than sending him along to the Order. The pair of them, fighting together all the way through the Orient. The kid training and getting stronger every day. They could do it; really give the Earl one hell of a fight. He shook his head again, clearing out the foolishness. If I kept him secret, the Order will end up hunting him down just based on rumors. They would hunt us both. Best chance is to hide him right under their damn noses. Their heads are so far up their own asses, they won't see what they have until its too late... The General frowned at his sudden softness. And the Idiot will be safe there... at least for a little bit. At least until I can come up with a better plan.

"Level Ones?" Allen's gaze was focused on the window, watching the barrier shrink smaller and smaller. "I can save them."

"Good." Another fierce burst of pride. He could get used to this.

"Judgment is a long range weapon, right?" The boy was smirking. "You can get them without leaving the safety of the door, huh?"

Cross smacked him with the butt of his weapon. "Brat." The kid kept his footing but a fresh stain of red began spreading along his bandage. "Pick your first target. I'm calling back Maria."

The second the barrier went down, the boy was racing past him. Tearing out the door at top speed and launching himself into the nearest Akuma. No hesitation, no fear. Cross took a moment to watch him fight. The monsters were tightly packed, giving the boy plenty of footholds to work with. A number he had struck glowed with bright elegant crosses, as if the sun itself was shining through them. Allen landed, eyes scanning the wounded. "Eleven, twelve, thirteen..." he counted them aloud, before rushing back to claw at one more. "Fourteen!" he shouted. Smiling now, watching the marks glow brighter. "Cross Grave!" he shouted triumphantly.

As one, the fourteen Akuma exploded.

"You have a multi target attack..." Cross leaned against the door frame and found himself smiling now too. Allen was doing a little celebratory dance. "First time using it huh?" he called. The boy nodded happily and batted another Akuma out of existence. "Don't think naming your attack after me is going to get you out of debt."

The kid skidded to a stop and flashed him such a death stare that the General's sides ached from laughing. His transformed arm shot upwards, taking out another Level One overhead. He kept one finger raised at Cross and stuck out his tongue for good measure.

"Still saving more of them than you!" he rejoined the battle in earnest.

Better get busy... damn show off, brat. He raised Judgment and sighted his first target in the distance. His Innocence buzzing through him, doubling over and mixing with his love of violence and the cheap booze he had stolen. It was incredible. He fired and hoped that cute dancer would be available tonight. Maybe her brother too. Maybe the Idiot as well. He fired again and reveled in the sensation. Maybe all three together.

"Nineteen!" Allen shouted.

"Level Twos count double!" Cross yelled back.

"Still more than you!"

Cross grit his teeth, but despite his best effort it still turned into a smile. I'm going to kill him.