It started out like any other mission.

                None of us had any idea it would become one of the worst (and strangest) experiences of our lives.

                I really, really hate it when things turn out that way.  Especially because I had to be in the center of it.


Dream of Crimson

A Weiss Kreuz fanfiction by Vikki

Disclaimer: The characters of Weiss Kreuz are owned by Takehito Koyasu, the luckiest seiyuu alive.  I am only borrowing them for temporary use, and will return them relatively unharmed in the near future.

Flame Policy: If you flame me, Schuldich will enter your brain and sing "This Is The Song That Never Ends" until you go crazy and ram your head into a wall so hard you die a painful death from a cracked skull.

Notes:  This fic is AU, meaning it takes place in a universe other than the familiar WK one we all know and love. To suit this created universe, I take certain liberties with the characters of Weiss Kreuz.  Please don't hurt me.


                wings of gold

                skies of blue

                dreams of crimson

                dark red hue;

                falling stars

                they land on me -

                steal my heart

                and flee.

*   *   *

                "Ke~en . . ."

                Something was tickling my ear.  I opened one eye and groaned, "Stoppit, Youji.  I want to sleep."

                Youji lifted the feather he was tickling me with and stroked his cheek with it, smirking at me.  "C'mon, sleepyhead, Manx is here.  You stayed up too late watching soccer, didn't you?"

                I just glared at him.  "Is there anything wrong with a nap?"  Sitting up and throwing my legs over the couch I had fallen asleep in, I stretched and yawned.  "At least I don't sleep in until one o'clock in the afternoon every single day, like someone I know."

                Youji placed his hands over his heart and sighed dramatically.  "Oh, Ken!  You have hurt me right here!  How could you insult me like that?"

                I stood up, performed a grunt worthy of Aya himself, and walked right by Youji.  "That wasn't an insult; it was just the truth.  C'mon.  You said Manx was here, right?"

                "Uh-huh." Youji jogged a few steps and followed me out of my apartment, which I locked behind us, and into the cool evening air.  "She says this mission is almost beneath our notice, it's so simple.  But it concerns Persia, so you know what that means . . ."

                "Right."  I yawned again.  Youji was right; I had stayed up too late watching soccer.  But there was no way I was going to miss a match between Argentina and Brazil; their games were so exciting!  "Persia's concerned by funny things, sometimes."

                Youji had come by my apartment to wake me up; I was on the floor above him, next to Aya.  The flower shop was a three-minute walk from my front door.  We all had keys to each other's apartments back then, because Bad Things sometimes happened, and it might have been necessary to get to each other without having to knock.

                Times like that day, having keys to all the apartments came in handy because I'm a deep sleeper.  "Thanks for waking me up, Youji," I said graciously as we entered the shop.

                "No problem," Youji grinned.

                "Hello, boys."

                We both looked up to see the buxom redhead we knew only as Manx.  Omi was standing behind her, smiling his typical genki smile, and Aya was leaning against the wall, looking annoyed as usual.  "Hello, Manx," I greeted.  Youji, on the other hand, slid by me like water and tried to wrap his arm around her shoulder.  "It's so good to see you again," he said in his sultry voice.  I recognized it from when he used it on the phone with one of his numerous dates.

                Manx smiled at him, slipped from his grip with subtle ease, and lifted a videotape in one slender hand with perfectly manicured fingernails, tapping it against her cheek.  "Shall we?"  Manx really does have a way of completely avoiding Youji's advances that's nothing short of incredible.

                Together we trooped down the spiral stairs to the basement of our shop, Manx leading the way and Aya bringing up the rear, until we reached the little lounge where our big screen TV allowed us to view each week's doomed criminals.  Omi took the tape from Manx and slid it into the VCR, informing me, "You should have stayed in the shop and helped, Ken-kun!  We were overrun by girls today.  Aya-kun had to scare them out."

                "Aya always has to scare them out," I pointed out, glancing at the silent redhead who had taken his customary place against the wall next to the stairs.  Aya gave me an icy glare, and I averted my eyes quickly and sat down on the big brown couch.  Youji sat on the other end, and Omi plopped comically into the big green easy chair next to me.  Manx stood next to the TV.

                "I told Abyssinian, Balinese, and Bombay earlier that this mission looks . . . unusually easy," Manx announced.  I felt my mind shift into 'Siberian' mode; when Manx started using our code names, I knew she was down to business.  "However, it's also creating unusual circumstances.  Let's start the video."  She pressed the 'play' button on the VCR, and our next mission was announced.

                A silhouette appeared on the screen.  "Weiss, hunters of the dark night!  Something is killing college students in an unusual fashion!"  The scene switched to a picture of the Tokyo University campus.  "Ten students have been found on the Tokyo campus in this condition."

                Again the scene changed, but this time I felt my bile churning. "Ugh!"  The image on the TV was of a shriveled body, skin stretched and dry.  The clothes that hung loosely on the . . . thing . . . identified it as once female.  It looked as if it had been mummified.  Next to me I heard Omi swallowing heavily.

                "No blood was left in the bodies.  Puncture wounds were also found on the necks of each victim."

                "Ha, a vampire wannabe," Youji joked weakly.

                I glared at him, and Omi scolded, "Youji-kun!  People are dying in this horrible fashion!"

                "Shhhh!"  Manx reprimanded us.  We obediently turned our attention back to the video.

                "Five more students were found mauled as if by a beast."  Again the scene switched to the carnage so briefly described by Persia; I looked away to keep from throwing up.  The short glimpse I got told me the body was unrecognizable, a bloody mess.  "Each body was covered with claw slashes and bite marks.  Your job is to eliminate the killers of these innocent students.

                "White Hunters!  Hunt the future of these dark beasts!"  I jerked my head back up in time to see the silhouette of Persia on the screen again before Manx pressed 'stop' and ejected the tape.

                "Well?  Despite the carnage, the fact that bodies have been left with so many signatures indicates amateurs.  This should be a simple job for you.  Are you in?"

                "I'm in," Omi answered immediately.

                "So am I," I said.

                "Of course I'm in.  The bastards are killing girls of ideal dating age!"  Youji smiled nonchalantly while Omi frowned and said warningly, "Youji-kun . . ."  I silently appreciated his indifference; the video was giving me the heebie-jeebies.  I don't appreciate bodies so ripped to shreds or dried up you can't recognize them.

                "I'm not," said Aya behind us.  I jumped slightly, having completely forgotten that he was back there.

                Aya's refusing a mission?  But . . . why?

                Manx looked at Aya sharply, her warm appearance giving way to a shrewd gaze, before she shrugged slightly and nodded.  "Very well."  She produced a handful of manila folders and tossed them to Omi.  "These are the college records of the fifteen dead students.  Use them wisely."

                "Manx-san, the information in the video is sort of vague," Omi opened the first manila folder and handed me the rest.  "Is there any other information on the killers besides their victims?"

                Manx shook her head, but smiled.  "I trust you three can handle it.  Like I said, I think this should be easy for you."  Again she glanced at Aya with a tiny frown.

                I opened the first manila folder in the stack that had been dumped in my lap.  A college girl - the same age as me - smiled out of the first page.  She had been majoring in physics until something had sucked her dry.  "We'll get them," I said, gritting my teeth.

                I have a short temper.  Knowing people like this innocent girl were dying for no reason really pissed me off almost more than it sickened me.

                "Excellent.  I'll notify Persia that you are all in.  ¥500,000 per dead body will be deposited in your bank accounts upon completion of the job."  Manx lifted her wrist and looked a thin watch.  "I have to be going now.  You boys take care." She passed between Omi and me on her way to the stairs.

                "You too, Manx-san," Omi nodded, polite to the end.  "Good night."

                "Good night," Youji and I echoed him.  Manx smiled that all-knowing smile at all of us, and then disappeared up the spiral steps.

                Youji leaned back on the sofa and examined the contents of one of the manila folders.  "Hmph.  She was really pretty, too."


                "Maa, Omicchi," Youji soothed.  "There's no harm in looking."  But then his green, catlike eyes slid to where Aya was still brooding by the base of the stairs.  "Aya, you've managed to be more sullen than usual!  What's up?"

                Youji had a point.  Even Aya wasn't this quiet, usually.  Of course, Aya took Youji's innocent question entirely the wrong way.  "Stop poking your nose where it doesn't belong, Kudou."

                Youji lifted his eyebrows at Aya, then pursed his lips and matched his cold tone.  "Maybe you should stop assuming the worst, Fujimiya.  I'm just trying to help."  Sometimes Aya's attitude gets to all of us.

                "Then mind your own business."

                "Maa, Aya-kun!"  Omi was on his feet and between the two before I even thought to stop them.  "Youji-kun is just trying to be friendly."

                "Hn."  Aya turned away and stomped up the steps, and the tension in the room relaxed almost tangibly.  Youji and Aya often clashed; Youji is the epitome of laziness and indifference in every issue except missions, while Aya seems to have obsessive-compulsive disorder.

                "Well," Omi broke the silence, drawing our attention away from the steps, "we don't even know what we're looking for, much less where to look."

                "Always start with what you know, and we've got everything you could hope to know about the victims," Youji directed immediately, relaxing into the research that always preceded a mission.  When we didn't know much about a target, Youji's detective instincts kicked in.  After all, that's what he says he used to be.  "We can hopefully establish a pattern outside of them being college students at the University of Tokyo."

                "Good plan," Omi agreed, splitting the folders between the three of us.  "Look at these folders, Ken-kun."  He handed me five of them.

                I stared at the folders in my hand. "Oi! Right now?"

                Omi has this way of looking at people.  It's both commanding and pleading at the same time.  And dammit, he was doing it right then.  "Of course, Ken-kun!  We have to establish a pattern before I can search online for information!  It's not that bad . . ."

                "But the US is playing France . . . oh, whatever," I gave up when Omi's look pinned me again.

                "Thank you, Ken-kun!"  Omi grinned, and I decided he was probably thinking, Haha!  Got you again, Ken-kun, you wimp!  Omi knows exactly how much power he wields in Weiss, and it's not fair at all.  "Then let's get started!"

                Looking for one last chance at escape, I quickly looked at Youji, who was already flipping through the folders Omi had dumped in his lap.  "What's this, Youji?  No date tonight?"  Maybe, just maybe, if he was gone we could put off the search until tomorrow . . .

                "Is that sarcasm I detect in your voice, Kenken?"  Youji smirked at me.  "No, not tonight.  What, are you propositioning me?"

                I felt my face turn crimson.  "Youji, you - you - . . . don't call me Kenken!"  I exclaimed when no snappy comeback sprang to mind.  I can never come up with a good insult when I need to.

                But Youji just winked at me.  "Whatever you say, Kenken."

                "'che!" I swore, glaring at the face smiling at me from the folders in my lap.  "Let's just get this over with."

                That was a long night.

*   *   *

                Next morning found me bright and early - too bright and early.  When my alarm clock went off at 7:00 AM sharp, I threw it at the wall.  Unfortunately, the alarm clock didn't take that so well and continued beeping at me despite repeated attempts to make it stop by the perfectly sane method of depressing the 'Snooze' button.  I ended up taking out the batteries and dumping the alarm clock.  ¥3,000 down the drain.  Damn.

                After a glass of milk and two slices of toast, I took a quick shower, changed into some old khakis and a T-shirt, and headed to the Koneko no Sumu Ie to open shop.  I make an effort to be there a few minutes before 8 o'clock, because at 8'oclock sharp -

                *CLONG CLONG*

                "Hai hai, I'm coming, Aya!"  I called, finding the key to the steel cage doors on our giant master key ring.  Unlocking the cage, I lifted it high enough for Aya to stoop in, and then closed it, not bothering to lock the cage behind us.  The crime rate in Tokyo is low at any rate, outside of the corruption in the high offices (which we help to clear out, of course), and even if someone came to cause any trouble, it wasn't likely we'd have any trouble dispatching the troublemaker.  Turning to Aya, I offered, "Want a rice cake?  Omi made some again."

                Aya turned and looked at me, and I raised my eyebrows.  Aya was caustic.  It looked like the bad mood he'd been in the night before hadn't blown over yet.  "No, thank you."  He turned to the apron rack and snatched his apron off of it, than disappeared into one of the back rooms, pruning shears in hand.

                I decided that as long as Aya had a pointy object nearby, I didn't want to be near him.  Instead I unwrapped the watering hose and filled a sprinkling can to refresh the potted flowers around the shop.

*   *   *

                An hour later Aya seemed less deadly, so I dared to approach him.  Putting down the daffodil I had been repotting, I stood and walked over to him. "Oi, Aya . . . is something bothering you?"

                Aya gave me the same withering look he'd given Youji the night before.  "None of your damn business, Hidaka."  He turned away and continued to set up our fresh display for the day.

                I swallowed, frowned, and crossed my arms.  "Hey!  We're teammates!  If you're pissed it concerns me, too!"

                Aya put down the pot he was holding and faced me.  There's only about a nine-centimeter height difference between him and me, but Aya sure made it feel a lot bigger as he glared down at me.  "You're all going to get killed by this mission."

                I stared at him.  Had the great Fujimiya Aya, king of ice and master of indifference to his partners, admitted that, just maybe, he cared about whether or not his fellow assassins survived?  Naturally, I made this point in a dignified manner: "Huh?"

                "Hn."  Aya didn't condescend to repeat himself, so I picked up where he left off.

                "Why do you think we're all going to die?  You heard Manx; this should be a cinch.  Besides, I'm kinda hurting for the cash."  Thinking about the money I'd spent on the soccer balls I'd bought for all the kids I coached, I continued, "If you know something we don't, and it's gonna kill us, why don't you tell us?  Or contact Kritiker and get us kicked off this mission?  Sulking isn't gonna save us."  That earned me another glare, but now I was annoyed.  If he cared so much about our safety, why couldn't he stop just moping around and do something about it?  "I never thought you were someone to sit on your ass and do nothing, Aya."

                At that Aya's violet eyes flashed.  I'd never seen such cold eyes.  "Would you listen if I told you to back off?"  He hissed.  I stared at him in annoyed shock.  "I didn't think so.  So instead you're all going to be stubborn and get yourselves killed.  I won't stop you."

                I opened my mouth to reply, came up with a 'blank' for one agonizing moment, than said hotly, "Like you can talk about being stubborn!"

                "And you can?"  Aya raised a cool eyebrow at me and took the wind completely out of my sails, as the saying goes.  I think I did an excellent imitation of a fish just then.

                Finally in my rather heated temper I managed to find something to say.  "We signed to the risks when we took this job, just like you, Aya!  I'm not backing out of this, because innocent people are dying.  I'm going to protect them!  And if I die doing it, well . . . I'll have a clear conscience!"  I finished righteously, nodding my determination.

                "Fine."  Aya looked hard at me for what seemed a long moment, then pursed his lips and turned back to the display.  "Whatever.  I didn't say I was going to stop you, did I?"

                I glared holes into Aya's back, but he took no notice and I began to cool down.  Stupid Aya.  Since when did he care if we lived or died, anyway?  With a released breath, I deserted my cause with Aya and went back to repotting daffodils.

*   *   *

                That afternoon, once Omi was home from school and Youji was up and functional, Omi gave us directions for the finding of our targets. "You and Youji-kun are going to stake out the Tokyo University Library, Ken-kun, from opening at 10 o'clock in the morning until closing time at 6 o'clock at night.  Aya-kun will run the shop, and I'll help him once I get back from school."

                "Sounds like a plan," agreed Youji.

                "Sure you can get up that early?" I joked, elbowing Youji and smirking.

                Youji shot me a glare.  "Watch me, Ken!  I'll be up before you!"

                I grinned.  "Good luck!"

                "Maa," Omi jumped for our attention.  "Do you understand?"

                "Sure," I nodded.  "Get to University Library at 10 o'clock.  Got it."

                Omi grinned and gave me the thumbs-up sign.  "It's a shame, though, that the victims only have the Library in common," he sighed, smile faltering.  "It's such a broad horizon."

                Youji leaned on my shoulder and grinned lopsidedly, winking at me and showing pearly-white teeth.  "Don't forget their ages!  All of the victims are between 19 and 20.  Kenken here will be perfect bait."

                "Hey!  Don't make me bait!"  I protested, sliding my shoulder out from under his elbow.  "I'm the Hunter, not the Hunted!"  I paused, then added, "And stop calling me Kenken!"

                Youji grinned again and produced a cigarette, which I snatched from his fingers.  "Hey!  Give that back!"

                With great pleasure I ground the unlit cigarette under my foot.  "You're not allowed to smoke in the Library, Youji.  Can you go that long without a cigarette?"  Omi snickered.  He shares my view about cigarettes - namely, that they're disgusting and the equivalent of a slow death.

                "Kuso," Youji griped, giving us both a dirty look before pulling his apron over his head. "Well, are you guys working in the shop today or not?"

                I grinned at Omi, who called cheerfully, "Of course, Youji-kun," and tied his own apron on.  We knew when we won an argument.

                But one thing still nagged at me.  "Omi . . . am I bait?"  I asked.

                Omi just smiled at me.  "Only if you have to be, Ken-kun.  Watch your back, ne?"

                Shrugging, I stepped out of the storage room and back into the shop.  "Aa . . . always watch your back," I murmured.

                Sometimes being part of the point team really sucks.

*   *   *   

Amazingly, Youji did wake up before me, and he happily announced the fact by ringing my doorbell at 6:30 AM relentlessly.  I struggled awake, opened the door and told him to piss off, then took a shower.  I'm not a morning person until I've taken my shower.

                Youji enjoyed teasing me about my failure to get up before him as we strolled to the library, and I suppose it was fair; after all, Omi and I had pretty well crushed him with the news about cigarettes.  I did get in a parting shot by making a big show of checking him for the damned things.

                Tokyo University is a sea of tranquil calm in the bustle of a huge city.  Even though exams are a big deal, the students don't seem quite as wound up as businessmen.  Of course, I never went to college, so what do I know?  I've tried asking Aya what it's like (he attended one for a year, or at least that's what Manx says), but that's something like asking a brick wall to talk to you.  So, I found myself walking into the largest library within 20 blocks of my apartment feeling like a total idiot.

                "Youji?  Don't you think we'll look silly just loitering around?"  I asked as we sauntered towards the nonfiction section, glancing around nervously.

                "So?  Find something to do," Youji grinned at me.  "I've already got an idea."

                "Youji, no.  You are not flirting with every girl in the library!"  I hissed, feeling it necessary to take over Omi's role in his absence.

                Youji gave me a hurt look. "I wasn't even thinking of it!"  he said indignantly, though his eye twinkled when he said it.  "I'm researching psychology.  Why don't you research Japanese History?"

                I huffed annoyance I didn't feel anymore and raked a hand through my bangs.  "Oh, whatever.  Just call if you see anything funny."

                Youji tapped his ear in response; we were wearing short-range mikes in our ears that allowed us to communicate from distances no greater than 500 meters.  "Will do, Siberian," he told me with a gentler smile before twisting slender hips to face the shelves.  "Hmmm.  Erotica sounds like a good topic."

                "Youji!"  I cried, scandalized. Youji watched me from the corner of his eye; I practically fled to the children's section.  He can be so . . . so frustrating!  I thought furiously as I sat in a chair far too small for my own good.  He just likes seeing me lose my cool.  I spent the next several minutes wishing either that I had better control over my emotions, or that Youji didn't have such a weird sense of humor.

                I was brought out of my pit of self-despair by a tugging at my sleeve.  "Oji-san?"  I looked down at a little boy.  He smiled at me and plaintively held out a book.  "Will you read this to me?"  I blinked and took the book from him, reading the title to myself: The Tale of Fisherman Taro.

                A young woman's voice made me look up.  "Oh, Uji, leave the poor boy alone!"  The woman grabbed the boy's arm and began to pull him away, apologizing profusely.  "I'm sorry.  He's still so rude.  He ought to know better than to ask complete strangers things like -"

                "Oh, no, it's fine," I protested, interrupting her.  "I'd love to read it to him."  And I did want to read it.  The mother of Uji needn't know that it was perfect cover for my stakeout.  "Here.  Want to sit in Uncle Ken's lap?"  I offered, patting my thighs for emphasis.

                Uji looked overjoyed by the offer.  He jumped up into my arms before his mother could protest, and in a few minutes he was completely wrapped in the life of a fisherman taken to a mythical underwater palace.  I was not so absorbed and surreptitiously scanned the library for strange vampire wannabes as I read.

                After The Tale of Fisherman Taro Uji pulled out another fairy tale for me to read, then another.  Pretty soon I'd gathered a collection of about 7 kids all listening raptly to Yosaku and the Goddess, while delighted parents looked on or moved to areas of their own interest.  For my own part, I was having a blast.  I love kids; I love making them happy.

                Of course, it couldn't last.

                In the middle of my sixth book I glanced around the library in time to see Youji across the room, leaning over a seated busty woman with big eyes and dark hair.  At first I dismissed it; not even the embarrassing topic of 'erotica' could hold his interest for long, not when he could have the real thing.  But each time I glanced at Youji to make sure it didn't go too far, it looked less and less like Youji was doing the flirting and more and more like the woman was enticing him.  She gave him smoldering looks while Youji grinned and rubbed the back of his neck.  Looks like Youji's finally met his match, I thought with a grin, returning my attention to the book.  When I looked up again, though, Youji was walking out of the library arm-in-arm with the woman!

                Now Youji is a jerk that likes teasing me and who can't be serious about a damn thing, but he would never just desert a job like that.  Something was seriously wrong.  Hastily I put down the book and lifted Uji off of my lap, making up an excuse about missing classes or something like that before I speed-walked out of the library, following Youji's footsteps.

                By the time I was out of the library Youji and the girl were sauntering away in the direction of some close-set brick buildings on the campus.  I followed, running as fast as my legs would take me.

                My first inclination was to run up to Youji, punch him, then drag him back to the library, but something pulled me up short when I neared the couple.  I slowed my steps and stared at the girl Youji was with.  She looked perfectly normal, if impossibly perfect; she had beautiful dark brown eyes and silky black hair, smooth Japanese features, an ideal figure, and little height.  But as soon as I got within 30 meters of her, she felt wrong.  It was like some indefinable intention of evil hovered around her.

                I thought I was going nuts.  I'd never felt somebody before.  Sensed them, yes, but that's really just hearing or seeing something so slight it doesn't quite register.  Anyone can train themselves to sense others.  This feeling was like an entirely new sixth sense, and whatever it was, it made me recoil and try to find a hiding place until the danger had safely passed.  I scuttled behind a tree – an unarguably silly hiding place – and waited until Youji and the girl had slipped into the alley between two campus buildings.

                My sense of foreboding increased.  I sneaked towards the alley and whispered, "Youji?"  I hoped he would answer me; after all, the earpieces were still operating.  No response.  "Come on, Youji!  Answer me!"  I whispered more harshly.  Still no response.  I pursed my lips, swallowing a curse word, and huddled at the entrance of the alley, poking my head around the corner just far enough to see who was in there with one eye.

                Before I even looked I could feel more people than Youji and his companion.  Sure enough, I saw two others.  One was a tall blonde man with sharp blue eyes.  He was muscled, well built, and perfectly proportioned.  The other was a European woman: pale, tall, and busty.  Her brown hair floated in loose curls around her face, and her eyes were green orbs much like Youji's own.

                Youji was standing next to the Japanese woman, looking as if he were in a trance.  His eyes were unfocused and a silly smile creased his face.  "Youji?"  I whispered again.  There was no response.

                I held my breath when the Japanese girl scanned the area, her eyes sweeping past the alleyway entrance.  I pulled back before she saw me, then peered in again.  She was holding Youji's arm possessively and glancing from the blonde man to the European woman.  "How's this one, Stacey?" she asked in a sultry voice.

                Stacey?  It was such a normal name.

                Stacey - the European girl, of course - stepped forward and ran her finger down Youji's cheek and under his chin in a possessive manner.  I shuddered.

                Youji giggled like a schoolgirl.  I cringed.

                "He's pretty, Miki."  Stacey smiled.  "I like him.  Can I have a taste?"

                A what!?!

                "Just a little one. He's mine."  Miki grinned, showing her teeth.  And - I swear I'm telling the truth - she had fangs.  My throat went dry as Stacey chuckled, revealing similar fangs, then bent her head to Youji's neck as if to kiss him there.

                At that moment I knew that these were the targets, and they were about to make Youji one of those dried husks I'd seen two nights before.  Jumping up, I shouted, "Youji!  Run!"

                I didn't exactly plan my entrance too well, and I paid for it.  Youji didn't respond, but Miki, Stacey, and the scary buff guy - I wasn't quite ready to admit that they might be real, live vampires - all reacted pretty quickly.  Miki drew Youji to her chest, causing him to collapse unceremoniously to his knees; Stacey put two long, sharp nails to his neck.  The man rushed me, his large frame bearing down on me insanely fast.  He cocked a fist, and I panicked and ducked.

                Luckily I avoided the fist.  Unfortunately I didn't avoid his knee, which drove itself firmly into my gut.  Seeing stars, I collapsed on the ground and groaned before being seized by a coughing fit.

                "Well, well, Miki.  Looks like your new pet had a friend," said a deep, honeyed voice over my head.  It had to be the guy.

                "Oh, dear.  More for us, then," Stacey said cheerfully.  Slender fingers fisted in my hair and dragged my head back, forcing me to look up.  "Look at me."

                Automatically I locked gazes with Stacey, intending to give her an Aya-worthy glare, but as soon as I looked into her eyes I could feel myself slipping away from reality.  It was bizarre and terrifying.  I struggled to keep contact with my life, my situation, my body, but I was flying away as if my brain was no longer attached to the rest of me.

                I was floating in a dream, devoid of feeling.  Here there was no pleasure, no pain.  Nothing.  It was a great nothingness, or maybe everything at once.  There was only one thing tangible - Stacey's voice.  She stroked me with it, and I was drawn to her.

                It's okay . . . let me have you, just for a little while . . . Just be happy.  Relax.  Here you are safe.  You won't have pain.  I can save you from that.

                Nobody can save me from pain.  It was the first coherent thought I had and I clung to it desperately, somehow feeling that it was a lifeline to unknown safety.  I drew up all the horribly painful things I could think of - Kase, leaving the J-league, becoming an assassin.  I wanted the pain; I welcomed it as a stark contrast to the nothingness that had enveloped me.

                Suddenly I was in my body again, staring into a pair of beautiful green eyes.  I tore my eyes from Stacey's instantly, breathing hard.  Was that what Miki had done to Youji . . .?

                Stacey made a fierce feral sound deep in her throat.  "I can't roll him under.  What is this!?"

                "Never mind that.  There's more than one way to skin a cat," Miki stepped into my line of vision, one hand on her hips and a look of superiority on her face.  "Besides, we need to hurry this up - as much as I like to play with my food."

                I couldn't believe I was listening to this conversation.  Desperately I tried to think of a way to escape and save Youji at the same time, but strategy was never my strong point.  To top it off, I was panicky and trembling after my recent out-of-body experience.

                "There's something wrong with this one, though," observed the man, poking me as if I was some meat for sale in the grocery store.

                "Either eat him or kill him, it doesn't matter," Miki hissed.  She tugged Youji back to his feet and attached herself to his arm again.  "I've already got a meal."  Youji grinned ecstatically.

                "Very well," Stacey sighed and looked down at me.  I was careful to keep my eyes off of hers.  "It's a shame to ruin such a pretty boy."

                She didn't seem very ashamed, though, because next she grabbed me by the neck, hauled me back to my feet with inhuman strength, and slammed my head against the brick wall of the alleyway.  I saw stars.  Again she slammed my head against the wall, and again; my vision blackened and bursts of blinding pain paralyzed me.  I was vaguely aware that I was clutching Stacey's arm in a death grip with both hands and Miki was chuckling.  As my skull struck the wall a fifth time, I could feel myself losing my grip on consciousness.  Feeling that if I let myself go something terrible would happen, I struggled against the blackness.  It was to no avail; I was slipping away.

                "Fuuka no Ken!"

                Suddenly wind cut through the air like knives; Stacey and Miki cried out in pain, and the grip on my throat loosened.  I collapsed to the ground, clutching the back of my head. My hands became sticky with blood.  As the sounds of battle crashed in my ears, I finally could hold on no longer and slipped into the blessed void of unconsciousness.  My last coherent thought was, Aya's voice . . .?

*   *   *

Author's notes:  Well … this story isn't actually divided into chapters.  This is part one.  Part two is finished, and so is a section of part three.  There will probably be many parts, though.  It's quite involved, and maybe I'll convert it from a fanfiction and make it into a stand-alone story so I can publish it.

Do you like it?  Hate it?  Tell me!  I love reviews.  ^^x