Bullets rocketed through the dusty air, clanging off the sides of buildings and the stone-cobbled street. The shouts and cries of both demon and human rang through the night sky. The men and women who possessed the ancient power of Innocence desperately put their abilities to use, battling the never-ending hordes of Akuma intent on ripping them limb from limb. But in the middle of this heated battle, a small sanctuary stood, surrounded by the glow of the Time Record's power. Inside this bubble of safety, the battle seemed almost to be a dream. A calm glow permeated the air, and a faint ticking sound almost drowned out the terrible noises coming from outside. Still, the small group of Finders crouched inside couldn't help but flinch every time a new wave of fire hit the side of the shield.
Almost every man within the range of the Innocence's activation was focused on one thing: the tiny figure slumped in the center of the Time Zone. Her wavy black hair hung over her bent head. Shaky, deep breaths wracked her lungs, and her right arm, with the Time Record clipped to it as always, was held close to her chest. Worried glances were exchanged between the Finders; could this weak-looking woman really protect them for much longer? And with more and more wounded men crawling through the barrier, their bodies instantly surrounded by circles of golden light, the Finders knew the pressure placed on the poor girl would only increase.
Miranda tried to ignore the stares of the terrified men and instead focused on keeping her Innocence at full strength. 'Only a few hours into the battle, and already so many wounded…'she knew she would need to reserve some energy to make it through the night but these men already had such terrible wounds. She would never forgive herself if she slipped up and allowed their injuries, along with the pain that came with their inflictions, to return. The Exorcist swallowed hard. 'Just…bear with it.' She urged herself. 'This is the one thing you can do to help, so you better do it right!'
The sound of gunshot so close to her barrier made her wearily lift her head. Usually, by this time in the battle, the Akuma would've learned their bullets had no effect on the Time Zone, and would instead train their attack on the more exposed Innocence users. Her confused musings ended when a tall man leapt past the Akuma and through the barrier, two Finders clutched under each arm. He carefully deposited the men on the floor before running a hand across his forehead, wiping at the sweat that had accumulated there. Whispers of "Exorcist-sama" echoed in the sphere, and a small, close-lipped smile formed on the man's face. Suddenly, he stood straight up, his long cape billowing about him. He nodded curtly at the gathered Finders, and then turned to face Miranda. She stared at his gaunt face and almost feral-looking eyes as he spoke. "Keep it up, Miss Lotto." He said. "We'll try to finish this quickly." Miranda stared unblinkingly at the thin, sharp points of the fangs filling his mouth. He hesitated, almost as if waiting for a reply, then spun on his heels to leave. Shaking her head Miranda quickly replied, "O-oh! Thank you! And…good luck to you, Krory-san."
But Krory was gone. Miranda sighed dejectedly. No matter how hard she tried to make friends with the other Exorcists, her people skills, or rather, lack thereof, kept her from her goals. Allen and Lenalee were the only people she felt even remotely comfortable talking with, but it was rare for them all to be at the Order's Headquarters at the same time, and even more unusual for the three to be deployed on the same mission, as they were now. Somehow, the thought of her comrades fighting just outside strengthened her resolve, and she sat up a little taller. 'If they can fight the Akuma all night, then so can I!"
Five hours later, Miranda could barely remain upright, much less keep up her spirits. The battle had really taken a toll on the group of Finders that were assigned to this mission, and the men were taking turns leaving the safety of the Time Zone to aid the Exorcists fighting outside, stumbling back inside minutes later to let their wounds heal. Miranda wondered if there were actually any Finders left that didn't have injuries. Looking around at the large number of the cloaked men inside, she somehow doubted it. She closed her eyes for the briefest of moments, trying not to fall asleep but failing miserably. Shaking her head determinedly, she forced herself to open her eyes. The face of Allen Walker stared straight back at her. Barely containing a scream, Miranda scurried backward, bumping into a laughing Finder.
"Oh, excuse me Miranda. I didn't mean to startle you." The boy apologized. Miranda, still recovering from being scared out of her wits, nodded jerkily. "But I thought you should know we've pretty much defeated the Akuma here. Well, a few escaped, but Lavi and Krory are chasing them down, so that shouldn't take long. A-anyway, you can deactivate your Innocence now." He explained. Miranda looked down at the Time Record in her lap, then back up at the white-haired boy. "Are you sure? What about...," here she trailed off, eyes darting nervously at the huddles of Finders inside the protective circle. Allen, noticing her worried look, smiled in assurance. "Oh don't worry about that. There's a hospital a few blocks away, and they're all prepared for our arrival. Not to mention a fresh batch of Finders arrived a few minutes ago, so they'll transport the wounded right away. Really, Miranda, you ought to rest too." The reassuring tone of Allen's voice convinced Miranda easily, and she whispered "Innocence, deactivate," under her breath.
Allen watched as the clocks lining the walls of the bubble disappeared back into the Time Record, cringing as muffled whimpers and hisses of pain escaped the lips of the wounded Finders. He smiled sympathetically at the men, and then turned to aid Miranda to the hospital. Before he could help her to her feet, though, she slumped forward, forehead smacking on the ground. "M-Miranda!" Allen raced towards his friend, heaving a relieved sigh when he saw her chest moving slowly with each breath she took. 'I guess her body just couldn't take it anymore…' Bending down, he lifted the girl's unconscious form into his arms and, surrounded by Finders supporting, and in some cases dragging, their teammates, he limped down the street to the town's hospital.
Blinking slowly, Miranda's eyes opened to the sterile white of the small town's hospital. She tried to sit up, but clutched her head, gasping softly at the sharp pang she felt behind her eyes. Gently, she used her fingertips to probe at her forehead, wincing at the large bump she felt there. 'I don't remember getting hurt…What happened?' Slower this time, she sat up and rested her torso against the back of the cot, examining her surroundings. A large white hallway ran for many yards in both directions, rows of beds lining the walls. Miranda frowned in dismay as she noticed that almost every bed contained a fitfully slumbering Finder. A loud cough brought her attention to the pallet directly to her left. Lenalee, covers pulled up to her chin, coughed once more, than shivered. She looked so pale, so weak. Miranda thought she saw the outline of a cast on one of her arms beneath the thin sheet. "Can we get some water over here please?" a male voice questioned. Turning to her right, Miranda saw Lavi propped up on one elbow, a gauze bandage stuck on his cheek. He managed a smile at Miranda, and then called again. "Please, Lenalee needs water. Nurse?" Wincing suddenly, he gripped his side and collapsed onto the mattress. "Da-damn. I thought this had closed already…" he muttered. Sitting up in her bed, Miranda felt very ashamed. She had no right to be in this hospital, taking up valuable space that a more seriously wounded person might need. Her eyes welled with tears as she thought of how just seconds earlier she had been selfishly complaining of her own minor injury. "I can't believe I had the nerve to think of my own wounds first, before tending to these poor people…I don't even deserve to lay next to these two!"
Lavi chuckled softly. "Don't beat yourself up about it, Miranda. From what I heard from Allen, you took quite a fall." Miranda stared at him quizzically. "Wh-what? Did…did I just say that out loud!" she whimpered in embarrassment and brought her sheets up to her eyes. Lavi's eye crinkled in laughter before he hissed and seized his stomach again. "Shit Miranda! Stop making me laugh!" he groaned dramatically. "Sorry! I'm sorry!" she apologized desperately. Lavi smiled a toothy grin, quelling Miranda's barrage of sorrys. "Seriously, Miranda. You worked just as hard as any of us last night. You deserve this. And besides, lying next to such a beautiful woman greatly improves my recovery time." Miranda, mouth gaping like a fish, couldn't think of anything to say, though Lavi burst into another fit of laughter.
This time, it was not the pain from the gashes on his stomach that stopped his laughter, but from the slap Allen gave to his forehead. "Stop hassling her Lavi. And keep your weird thoughts to yourself." he scolded. Lavi gave him what he thought was a sincerely contrite look. "Sorry Allen. Won't happen again Allen. I just don't know what got into me…must be my injuries making me talk crazy." He smiled innocently up at Allen, not noticing the pale boy's eyes rolling up towards the ceiling.
Turning to Miranda, Allen tilted his head and lifted up the corners of his lips kindly. "Miranda, I'm sorry you have to rest next to this…cretin." The distraught young woman wrung her hands in dismay. "Oh no, Lavi is very kind. I don't mind. But…I am wondering…" she trailed off into silence. "Yes?" Allen asked. Miranda's head jolted up in surprise. "Oh. I mean I was wondering how I got this bump on my head." She tentatively poked the aforementioned spot and grimaced slightly. Allen took a seat on the edge of her cot, taking great care not to disturb the bed too much. His gloved hand smoothed a section of the sheet almost unconsciously before he spoke again. "After the battle ended, I went into the Time Zone to tell you to deactivate your Innocence. But when you did, you passed out so suddenly, I didn't have time to catch you before you hit the ground. I guess your head took most of the force of the impact."
Miranda blushed furiously. How could she have hurt herself in such a ridiculous manner? Embarrassed, she desperately fished for a new topic. "Uh-uhm…where's Krory-san?" she asked quickly. Noticng her awkward attempt to change the subject, Allen answered immediately. "He wasn't injured too badly. The Akuma blood he ingested took care of most of his injuries anyway." The Time Exorcist shuddered unthinkingly, the image of the pale man sinking his teeth into the skin of an Akuma almost too much for her to bear. "I-I'm glad…" she managed to stammer. She just couldn't understand how these people were so comfortable around that scary man. He was so tall, and pale, and…vampiric. After voicing her thoughts, Lavi quickly came to Krory's defense. "That's just in his Innocence mode. If you ever met Krory when he's not on a mission…wow you'd change your mind pretty quickly." Allen nodded emphatically.
"Speak of the dev-, uh…man; I think I hear Krory coming now." Lavi nodded towards the cloaked figure approaching their beds, holding a tray with a glass of water balanced carefully on the top. Miranda lowered her eyes as he stopped at the foot of her bed. "U-uh, one of the nurses said someone wanted water over here?" he asked, looking from Lavi to Allen. Lavi gestured toward Lenalee's bed. "She was coughing pretty badly a while ago. I think some water would help." As if on cue, Lenalee started convulsing with coughs, her entire body twitching with the effort. Krory's face instantly became scrunched in a frown, and he hurried the water over to Lenalee. Helping her sit up, he held the cup to her lips and gently poured the water down her throat. Lenalee's hands scratched at the cup and she leaned her head back to let the last few drops trickle into her mouth.
Krory almost had to pry the glass out of Lenalee's hands, but she relinquished her hold once she realized the cup was empty. "Please…," she whispered hoarsely, "more…"Krory nodded firmly, his white bangs whipping his face, and bid farewell to his friends before dashing back to the nurse's station in search of more water. Miranda's forehead wrinkled in confusion as she watched his running form receding into the distance. "He's…he's so kind. And polite. And gentle. Not like a vampire at all." Allen and Lavi laughed simultaneously. "And you haven't even seen him cry yet!" Lavi exclaimed. Allen raised his hand as if to smack Lavi again, but lowered it after seeing his mock cowering. "See, Krory's not a bad guy, Miranda. Just a little…different when Akuma are near." Miranda nodded slowly. "I suppose he isn't too scary now…"