Ladies and Gentlemen, children of all ages… Clarediva and Wingless present: Crimson Crow! What if Reven never fell on Inoue in that alley on that fateful night? What if their lives had branched into different directions? Here we have one tale for you; one possible outcome of their lives had they not met that night.

You don't have to read Blood and Soot for this story to make sense at all, though we would love it if you did ^_~

-Wing




CRIMSON CROW

{chapter one}


Bill for telephone, bill for cellular phone, bill for electricity, bill for gas, bill for credit card… Assignment.

Silent, slender fingers put the other envelopes aside and kept hold of the pale blue paper folded neatly and leafed with gold. The sheet was unfolded and held a good distance away from the man’s face as dark violet eyes flicked over what was written in faint gold lettering. The cigarette dangling between full lips flicked upwards slightly and the tip glowed bright as he inhaled and folded the paper once more, walking away from the door and ignoring the other mail entirely. Sure feet padded into the living room as the paper was folded seven more times and a silver lighter was lifted to the corner of it, the flame licking a few times at pale blue, singeing it black until it caught fire.

Placing the flaming message in an ash tray, the man flicked his lighter closed and thumbed it into the pocket of his tight black pants, the outline visible against his thigh as he walked away from the living room and into the kitchen. There, one last drag was taken from the cigarette before it was extinguished in another ashtray on the counter. The man exhaled slowly as he rifled through several bottles of pills that were labeled as common household remedies—aspirin, cold medicine, sinus medication. Opening the aspirin, he dropped two dark red caplets onto the counter, definitely not aspirin. Snapping the bottle shut, he grabbed the pills and put them in his mouth one at a time, swallowing quickly. When he was finished, he reached down to the loose neck of his tight black shirt, and pulled it up over nose and mouth, so that it became a mask that hid any of his features from his eyes down. He reached behind his head and pulled the long, loose ringlets of fire red hair into a tight pony tail at the base of his skull, then reached down to his thighs to make sure the knives were still strapped there securely.

Without a noise he moved back to the entrance, and pulled on a pair of soft-soled boots that reached his knees, lacing them up tight before turning back to the apartment. Walking through it briskly, he reached the large, sparsely decorated bedroom and picked up a set of black gloves that became a second skin over his hands, and finally removed a black leather jacket off the hook by the door, slipping it on and leaving it unbuttoned as the hem brushed against the backs of his calves and the cool sensation from the leather seeped through his clothes and against his skin. Moving swiftly to the window, he opened it and took a deep breath of fresh, crisp midnight air and leapt, disappearing into the night with only a shock of bright red hair visible.

Another night, another mission, he thought blandly as the pills began their magic and soothed his nerves. The man whose name had been so innocently written on that baby blue paper—hidden amongst the natural, plain text that cordially invited its recipient to a party in one of the high-class hotels—would be dead before the sun rose this day.



He sat upright in the deep, wide bed and stretched noisily. The silk sheets slipped away down his thighs as the muscles tensed, and he shivered pleasantly with the feeling. Yeah, he felt good tonight – it had been damned good fun, hadn’t it? He laughed aloud and shook out some tangles from his long dark hair. A glance at the open curtains of the hotel room showed that it was well into the night; he reckoned a couple of hours had passed, though no-one had been watching the clock. He slipped his feet over the side of the bed and wriggled his toes in the deep pile carpet. The sweat had cooled on his smooth, pale skin, and there were creases across his arms where he’d lain. There was something still a little sticky on his flat belly, and he scratched at it aimlessly. Otherwise he felt as fresh as when he’d woken that morning.

One of the other occupants of the bed stirred and groaned. “Get back here. There’s hours to go before your shift.”

He laughed again, and watched as other long, pale limbs stirred and tangled under the sheets. Must be about twelve more of ‘em. He couldn’t remember how many whores they’d invited back here all those hours ago. “Fuck you know about it, Lucas. I’ve never overslept on a shift in my life – never missed a call if I’m needed. You could learn something from that. Maybe the boss wouldn’t be so keen to chew you out like he does.”

The other man grunted, and raised himself on an arm. A thin, naked blonde girl moaned a little and tried to keep her hand clasped over his waist. He pushed it off carelessly. “He chews me out because he’s my uncle and because he knows he can’t fire me. But you, Reven… seems sometimes you can’t do anything wrong. I’ve never known a guy so young and so cocky to get on with him.”

Reven shrugged. He was used to the other man going on like this; it wasn’t of interest to him. He just got on with the job, didn’t he? It was challenging for him, and he was intrigued enough by the organization for it to keep his commitment. He was looked after well, despite the fact he was one of the younger staff, and most of the time he just kept his mouth shut and concentrated on watching and learning what else was going on.

Well – most of the time! He grinned to himself. Truth was, he liked to talk back – he couldn’t resist provoking – he stepped pretty close to the mark, time and again. But something had always kept him this side of trouble. He had his own small place and enough money to do what he wanted in his leisure time. He didn’t ask for anything else, though it was always good if the boss liked your work. Anyway, it’d do him for a while… he had no other place to go, no other plans at the moment.

He reached for his pants and started to pull them on. This had all been a very pleasant distraction, but he had work to do now. They had the use of these hotel suites as part of the 24/7 cover that they provided for the boss. When he got invited to a gala occasion like this, so did they. What they did in their off-duty time was up to them, so long as it didn’t interfere with the job. But then the entertainment was over, and it was time to be at the man’s beck and call again. Reven knew the score. Reven welcomed it. It was the best job he’d had since the night he’d tumbled into a wet gutter and been offered an unanticipated career change.

He felt the bed move as the other man leant over, pushing the naked, protesting girls aside where an hour ago the same guy had been writhing happily amongst them and demanding their attention between his legs and around his cock. Reven’s eyes narrowed. A strong hand slipped round his waist and gripped at the bare skin. Hard. He tensed, fighting down the instinctive anger.

“Come back here soon. But next time, just you and me. Right, Reven? That’s what I want. You do guys too, I know you do. The whores are just toys. But you…I want you for yourself.”

Reven bit his lip and softened the scowl. Wouldn’t do for the boss’s nephew to see the flash of disgust in his eyes. He did guys too, sure he did. Just not some of them. “Leave me be, Lucas. You don’t tell me what to do.” He pushed the other guy’s hand away easily, and heard a growl of startled annoyance. People were often surprised at his strength. His slim build was deceptive; his pretty, boyish features misleading. He straightened up and pulled the vest on over his head. He strapped his gun on under his arm, checking first that it was properly loaded.

“What is it, kid?” Lucas’ voice was petulant and sharp. “I doubt the girls know how to lift the thing, let alone tamper with it. Don’t understand why you’re always checking it out, wasting time, acting so paranoid…”

Reven shrugged. The man was older than him, but so very much younger in temperament that he came over as a spoiled child. He had no idea of thoroughness – of care, of the need to be ready and alert, all the time. A good body was all he had going for him. No, Reven wouldn’t have wanted him beside him if there was trouble – he was glad they were on different shifts this night. He’d be more of a liability than a help. Pity he kept so close to Reven, whenever he could…

Gotta go. I’m on the midnight shift, and the party’s due to go on until the small hours. People are drunk, people are making out. It’s not the time to lower the guard, whatever the guests might think.” He shook his head a little, as if to clear it. There was a prickling at the back of his neck, but he didn’t know what had disturbed him. As if something was wrong tonight – some implicit danger that he couldn’t yet identify. But the hotel was well secured – and the boss had his own men with him.

Lucas groaned and allowed himself to be pulled back into the bed by a couple of the whores. Reven shook his hair out again, and smoothed his hands down his hips, feeling the flow of adrenalin in his veins. Such a different feel from the rush of lust and energy he’d felt under the expensive silk sheets, earlier on.

He left the reawakening moans behind him, and let himself out of the room into the corridor, ready to report to the function room floor below.




Drunken men and women lolled about the room, slovenly draped across each other and laughing or kissing. The redhead remained standing on the windowsill, looking in through the panes of glass, silent and unseen. There was a cool wind picking up; smelled like rain. Good for cover, bad for the moment—rain drew people’s attention towards the outside, and rain brought lightning that would illuminate the windows where a dark silhouette would surely stick out.

Violet eyes darted over the insects crawling around and scrounging for more food or alcohol or sex—the one he was to squash was not here. However, one of his relatives was; Inoue recognized Hellman without any trouble at all. That was a strike in the positive column; he could capture and beat the information out of Hellman as to the location of his nephew. Inoue’s gaze flicked over to the main hall doors as they opened, and he narrowed his eyes. A new body in the room; a young male, athletic build though lean, long black hair, knowing brown eyes. Tainted, older on the inside than the outside led on—this was the type of human who made for a good bodyguard or hit man.

As the boy made a beeline for Hellman, Inoue decided it was more likely the dark-haired one was a hit man over bodyguard; there was too much anger and darkness in his gaze for a simple, mindless human shield. Well; one deathbringer less in the world was no sleep lost on Inoue’s part. He’d take care of the both of them and then Lucas Hellman.

Opening the window soundlessly, Inoue slipped inside and into the shadows, working his way around the room. He didn’t have to create much of a diversion this time; everyone was really either passed out or on their way. Finally, he stood behind Hellman’s table, staring right at the black-haired boy and his master. The hit man seemed uneasy—he kept looking around the room as if expecting something.

Too bad neither of them would get very far beyond suspicion of something ill coming their way. Inoue reached forward and cracked the kid across the back of the head with the knife edge of his hand; enough to force the kid out of consciousness but not enough to harm him more than a mild headache when he woke, for now. The old man himself wasn’t too hard to knock out, as lightning struck outside and the lights went out at exactly the instant he’d timed the electricity fuse box to be disrupted.

With practiced ease he picked up both bodies and hoisted them over his shoulders, hurrying out of the dining hall and into the stairwell as panic swept through the hotel and people searched for candles, wallets and loved ones. Inoue made it to the top floor and had barely broken a sweat as he headed up the last flight of stairs to the roof.

The easiest way to make a man talk—also one of the fastest—was to dangle him over the edge of a multiple-story building by one ankle. Not only did they get the message right away that there was no kidding here, but they also tended to divulge in even further information that wasn’t even asked of them. Maybe the kid had some useful information as well? Time and a tall hotel building would tell.



The first thing he was aware of was the pain in his head. Then the wetness of rain against his face, telling him he was now outside the building. Not as heavy as earlier – the storm was abating. He blinked his eyes, trying to focus in the darkness of night.

And then he realized he was being held upside down.

Panic! A sharp rush of fear as his body reacted, forcing himself to stay still until he knew the true situation. He tried to remember what had happened. The boss, he searched his mind. Just left Lucas upstairs, I came to cover the party. Some kind of party it was, too. Too much drink, too much indulgence. A nightmare to protect him in that kind of mess. Then there was… was there? ...something – someone – behind me – fuck - The fear returned to him, blocking his desperate attempt to find sense. He was on the roof of the hotel, he guessed – though his body was leant perilously over the parapet, only his lower calves and feet against solid brick. And they were being held there by –

Someone.

He pressed his hands back and touched at the cold, damp wall. Nothing to grasp – nothing to help him pull himself up again. His heart was beating very fast. Up above, he couldn’t see anything but a dark shadowy figure. He tried to hang still, afraid of dislodging himself, and he cleared his painfully tight throat.

“So what is it you want? I don’t have a wallet on me – presumably you’ve got my gun. So what else are you after?” He was pleased his voice sounded clear, though the words were whipped away against the building, against the night wind. He could taste the terror of being dropped, a bitter saliva in his mouth. Some madman up here with him – some lunatic.

And where was the boss?




Inoue leaned forward when the boy seemed to have woken; he lifted him up higher in the air so he was being held away from the building but still over the edge, and reached into the pocket of his leather jacket, removing a small picture he’d taken months ago when researching Hellman as an up and coming threat to the city’s ‘peace’. He still waited for the day that he’d receive a letter requesting Hellman’s death, too.

Holding the image out, it was clearly cropped so that Lucas was visible. In oil pencil there was a circle round Lucas’ head, and written beside it was ‘where?’ in plain text. Inoue held it before the boy’s face silently, violet eyes narrowing.



Reven felt his muscles complaining as he was hauled upwards. Fucking amazing strength this guy must have, holding him with one hand alone! For a horrified second he thought he was being cast off - then the fingers gripped tighter round his ankles, and instead he found himself nearer his captor. He tried to focus on the man's face, but his eyes were watering in the damp air and from the strain. He saw black clothing - a pale face, dark eyes. The rest of his face was covered. He was too far to reach, even if by some miracle he could have swung a fist at him...

The man's other hand outstretched and some kind of photo was being pressed into Reven's sight.

"Kinda difficult to see your holiday snaps when I'm upside down," he snapped, the joke a little shaky. Reven could feel hysteria rising inside him, but he couldn't keep his mouth shut. "Let me up and perhaps I can help you out. You're looking for a particular kind of girl, maybe..." He narrowed his eyes, focusing on the picture. He felt his heart thud so loudly he was sure the man would hear it, but he kept his expression as still as he could. "So it's guys you like, then. I know plenty of party animals that look like that. It's a typical look - always popular. Like I said, let me up and maybe we can talk about this without my guts swilling round in my throat."



Without another moment wasted Inoue released three of his fingers so that he was holding the boy by only index finger and thumb, and by only one ankle now.



Reven thought he might vomit. All the blood had rushed to his head. He waited to see if his whole life would rush past him, but all he could see was a bright light around the edge of his sight, and all he could feel was an overwhelming anger.

He swallowed it down as best he could. This guy didn't do 'negotiation', obviously.

Fuck.

"Ok," he said, once his voice had steadied again. "I know him. The guy in the photo. I'll take you to him. Whatever you want, just let me up. Give me a chance to help you out."
He drew a ragged breath; closed his eyes a little. The guy stood like stone, his fingers a vice round Reven's ankle.

Reven knew he was gonna die. Fucked if he was gonna go out without a last burst of resistance. But he wondered whose resistance would give way first - his, or the strength in the guy's hand.

Fuck, he thought again.



This was mildly pleasurable because of the distraction from the job this kid gave, but it was also rather annoying. Kid had balls, that was for certain. Hadn't even pissed himself yet, and was still trying to throw out bargain chips. But, Inoue had no time for those who were just going to jerk him around. Without a word he swung the kid back, cracking his head against the building hard enough to render him unconscious once more.

Tossing the little fish aside, he went for the big fish who was just groggily waking up. Inoue grabbed him by both ankles and dangled him over the edge of the hotel in the same fashion as the kid, and waited.

......


An hour later, Inoue stood silently at the foot of the bed in Lucas' room, his knife slipping cleanly through the throat of the last whore as Lucas, Hellman and the kid lay in a heap on the floor. Lucas was bound and gagged for now as Inoue had been taking care of the women who had seen him, but he was awake; the other two seemed still fast asleep, though Inoue had bound and gagged the kid and merely bound Hellman-- that money-fattened cow of a man could blather on about whatever he liked. Most of what he seemed to say around Inoue was pretty damn useful for the future.

When he was finished with the last girl, his gloves bloody, he turned to Lucas, whose gaze became horrified once more.

Crouching down, the redhead grabbed hold of thick hair atop Lucas' head and wrenched it back, exposing the over-tanned, soft throat and lifting his bloody knife.



Reven wondered whether he was gonna have this blinding headache for the rest of his fucking life. Sure felt like it. He couldn't move - his mouth was gagged. He opened an eye carefully, knowing he'd see the guy from the roof. He could feel him around; he could feel the shudder of horror that seemed to emanate from him - the tendrils of fear that crept round the back of neck and threatened to paralyze what mobility he still had.

Still alive, then, he thought, and felt the ridiculous rush of pleasure.

The man's back was turned to him, and all Reven could smell was the thick cloying stench of blood. He let his half closed eyes skim quickly round the room, seeing nothing but carnage. Hellman lay slumped beside him, snoring from what seemed like a broken nose. He tried to bite down on his gag, but only succeeded in loosening an edge. The knots round his wrists weren't coming free this side of the next millennium, that was obvious.

Looked like he'd been saved from the roof just to face butchery here.

The guy turned slightly and he saw him holding Lucas, his knife at his throat. Reven knew this guy didn't miss - he didn't hesitate. The job he was about to do would be done.

Efficiently and perfectly. Reven felt a chill like he'd been plunged into ice.

Play dead,he thought, wildly. Play dead and he may leave when he's finished with his target.

But then, when had he ever listened to his own advice?

It was decided in a second - he bunched his sore, strained muscles, and swallowed down the bile from his fear. He took a deep breath and then rolled at the guy's legs, a tumbling mess of bound limbs and clumsy body weight. At the same time he bit down on the gag again and roared what sound he could make. Anything to distract him for a second - anything to bring help from somewhere.




This kid was interesting to say the least. Inoue didn't move away from his task even as he felt the useless bumping against his legs and heard the kid's little mewl of displeasure. So, what, Lucas meant something to the kid? Too bad. When Inoue accepted a job, he followed through. Tomorrow morning there would me a significant payment in his account, which would disappear three minutes after it had been made, drained at random into one of his other multiple accounts that his clients knew nothing about; just that they always paid to the same account that always seemed empty.

The knife slipped into flesh as Lucas screamed, and it slid across the throat ear to ear, the scream becoming thick with blood and watery, until it died off with a soft, wet sigh from the man's lungs and in just those few moments, he was gone. Inoue stood, and turned slowly.

He looked down at the kid on the floor so that their gazes met. Violet eyes stared harshly at the horrified, dark chocolate gaze. His fingers opened and closed on the hilt of his best knife slowly as he debated killing the kid now. It had, he admitted, been amusing to have him around; he was a change from the bland everyday mission. And as for Hellman himself... there hadn't been any orders to kill him yet, and doing so had the potential of ruining ties with his clients. Hells, there was even a chance it was Hellman himself who had put the hit on his nephew, though really Inoue doubted that-- the man was shit for an actor and it became clear that he didn't want his relative to die as he was being dangled several dozen feet off the ground.

Standing up straight, Inoue sheathed his knife and kicked the kid towards his master before turning to the window and opening it, getting on the sill and looking down. There were several overhangs and statues to grab onto or use as handholds in his gymnastic trek down to the ground; good, an easy escape this time.



Reven could feel the nausea rising. It has been one of the most stupid fucking things he'd ever done, and all out of misplaced loyalty to his employer. Now he lay curled up beside his unconscious boss, his bruised body only a couple of feet from the half severed head of a man he'd been in bed with an hour ago. His ankles and wrists ached from the bindings. All around him were slashed bodies; all he could hear was the rushing of his own blood in his ears, as he waited for a final blow to his head - a white hot slice of a knife at his own throat.

It never came.

There was the sudden gust of cold air as a window was opened - for a moment, he thought he heard the gasp of a voice that he didn't know. Maybe it had just been the wind. He turned his body, wincing with pain and a growing shock, and all he saw was the flight of black cloth and sinewy limbs from the window sill.

Then he was left alone, lying in a room decorated with a hideous pattern of blood and massacre, with no idea of what had really been going on, or what his part had been in it all. The nausea slapped him with its own fury and greed - his head swam one last time and he passed out.


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[end chapter one]