.X.X.X.

"So?" a man's voice chimed, a slight chuckle invading his speech. "A couple of lovebirds, eh?"

My heart thumped, pounding in my ears.

My throat went dry, sensation clouding my judgment.

Why the hell was there a gun to my head?

Cold metal pressed aggressively against my forehead, the man's finger stroking the trigger, ready to kill at a moment's notice. Even if I wouldn't really be dying, the entire concept of it was enough to set off my nerves.

"Ah, we're not really like that," Ain replied with his usual grin.

"You sure? You two look a little lovey dovey there, holding hands and all," the man said, scraping back his greasy black hair with his free hand.

He was prepared to kill me while casually brushing back his hair and holding a conversation? With my partner, no less?

What the hell was Ain doing? And what was this guy's problem?

"Is this really the key issue here?" I spat out bitterly. "Ain, there's a gun pointed at me. Or do you just not see it?"

"Wait, wait," he hushed, immediately locking his eyes on the assailant. "So we look like a couple to you?"

"Ain!"

The man laughed lightly. "Yes, yes. I'm sorry to be the one to separate you two." Apparently, the blood had drained from my face, because the man continued, "Your girl here looks pale. Has she ever even fought before?"

Slowly and stealthily, just beneath my cloak, I began to undo the fastening over the holster.

I would teach that bastard for being so stuck up.

Ain, noticing my movements, carried on casually, "Not too much."

"Oh, so I guess I'll be the first to take her life. How does it feel, girlie? You know, to be—"

"Taken out by a rookie?" I hissed, lifting my elbow and forcefully striking the bottom of his fist. The revolver was dislodged from his fingers and slid across the ground as I directed my own barrel at him. Ain wagged his finger at me.

"Ah, ah. Don't lock your arms, Alice."

Grumbling, I fixed my stance and reaffirmed my grip.

"Whoa, whoa," the man laughed, throwing his arms above his head and backing up just slightly.

"Surprised?" I smirked haughtily.

"Oh, you're asking me that?" He snickered. The bastard snickered. Agitated, I took off the slack on my gun. "Oh, you two are so cute," he continued, "thinking you can actually catch me off guard."

I clenched my teeth. "Don't be so damn cocky—"

"Maia?" he called abruptly.

"Already on it," a sultry voice replied into the shell of my ear.

Startling shivers crawled up my back. Not those beautiful, pleasurable shivers I felt sometimes, but shivers of fear, fueled by that unpleasant rush of adrenaline.

Damn.

I felt my attacker's full breasts pressing flush against my back, just at that spot between my shoulder blades. Before I could even move, she ensured that I was disarmed.

Puck.

She had thrown her leg against the side of my body and adeptly kicked my revolver out of my grasp.

Well, shit. So much for that.

Startled and annoyed, I was about to grab one of my knives and figure out some way to counter, but she had already put a rusted blade to my neck and locked my hands behind my back with a vice-like grip around my wrists. I could feel her sharp nails, pointed at the ends like tiny knives, digging into my skin and slowly tearing away at it.

Was that even possible?

And even scarier than that was the fact that this whole incident happened in a matter of three seconds.

I couldn't even rise to a standing position in three seconds, let alone disarm someone and hold a person hostage.

"So," the man began his taunt, "how ya feeling now, rookie?"

"Shut your mouth," I hissed.

Damn my own mouth. I was probably going to be killed for speaking my mind.

Oh. And right I was.

"Maia," he stated simply, and she instantly seemed to get the message.

"Agh…" I grumbled, feeling that rusty knife slide back and forth across the sensitive layer over my neck and tear just enough to draw a few droplets of blood along the edges of the laceration. Tears welled in my eyes when I sensed the blood trickling down to my collarbone, pooling in the recess before continuing a path down my chest.

Blood. My blood.

Instantly, Ain's eyes darkened.

Before I even realized it, he was at the other man's throat with a gun.

"Fun and games are over now. Let her go," Ain demanded, jamming the barrel deeper into his mandible.

The man had that unnerved chuckle that exhibited his fear even better than the perspiration forming at his shiny forehead and the quivering of his chapped lips.

"H-Hey, j-just—"

"Get your assistant off her. Now!" Ain barked as he removed the gun and mercilessly slammed it back against the man's jaw. The sound of his bone cracking rushed to my ears and sent paralyzing chills across my body.

Why was Ain doing this?

Suddenly, I felt the woman behind me remove her knife and instead switch it out for a firearm, the cold metal directly at the side of my trapped arm.

She was going to shoot Ain?

She was going to shoot Ain.

My God.

"Ain! Move!" I cried out as I lifted my leg and jammed it back into her stomach.

The gun discharged.

Fire seared my skin.

Ain stepped back.

And the man fell.

He… He was shot. He immediately screamed out in agony, tears rolling down his cheeks as his hands clutched at the wound in his stomach. I was hardly aware of anything but his cries, broken and desperate and earthshattering. He couldn't form words. He couldn't curse out his pain. He just kept screaming.

It was pure torment to listen to it, and no matter what happened, I couldn't get that scene out of my mind. Even in that moment, I knew I would never forget it.

As I struggled to let the cries continue, Ain slowly drew his revolver and placed it gracefully at the man's forehead.

He was going to kill him? Right then and there? Ain would… eliminate that scream?

But before Ain even had the chance to pull back the trigger, the man unexpectedly just… stopped. He completely and utterly stopped. I didn't understand why. Why? It was impossible for the pain to have disappeared, so then… what?

Tranquility passed over his face just before Ain ended it completely, blood bursting out the back of the man's head as his body slumped lifelessly to the ground. His eyes were shut peacefully.

Somehow in that moment, death seemed more merciful than to let him continue living.

Ain was like the angel of death, with all the poise and elegance of a true killer, where murder was his art form and his gun was his tool.

How was it possible for me to be accepting of Ain killing others when I cringed upon that very same fact when it applied to others? That man… Our enemy. He had done his count of murders, but then again, how had he gone about them? Just as he had gone about this very attempt—catching us off guard and attempting to exact an "easy kill," all while holding up that pretentious attitude of his.

Pride… He had too much pride—his sin. And he went through the scorch of hell for that.

Murder.

It suddenly became apparent to me as an act that brought salvation to those who had wronged others. That could have explained the peace over his face just before his death. Maybe there was more to their work than I once believed.

But yet… I couldn't shake this feeling. Death somehow… seemed to absolve these people of their sins, only for them to be reborn and repeat the same mistakes from before. And then, for those same mistakes, they would die again. And again. And again.

It was an everlasting cycle of sin and repentance.

Sin and repentance…

Sin and repentance…

There was no greater contradiction than dying for mistakes they knew they would never fix.

.X.X.X.

Almost immediately after, his assistant flew into a blind rage, rising from the ground and flailing her arms as hot tears burned down her cheeks.

But, before she could even near Ain, the revolver snapped once more and ended it all.

I dismissed the sound of her falling body and instead stared at Ain. Not the kind of stare that was judgmental so much as it was stunned.

Ain had the most terrifying expression I had ever seen. His violet eyes were inundated with suffocating darkness, his skin pallid and ghost-like, his lips parted just enough to reveal his clenched teeth, teeth that looked almost like fangs at this point.

This was not the Ain I was used to seeing.

Was this what battle did to him? Or was it something more?

"A-Alice?" he asked, and immediately his visage softened as he approached me.

I… That. That face. Something was different about it. I leaned back on my feet, backing away slightly.

"W-What's… wrong?" he whispered hesitantly.

"A-Ain. Don't lie to me. What happened back there?"

"W-What are you talking about? Alice, I'm—"

"Tell me!" I demanded furiously. "Damn it. That wasn't you. Something's wrong."

"What? No, nothing's wrong. I was just… I said I would… protect you, didn't I? I…"

Suddenly, his eyes were drawn to my forearm, and before I could even whisper a word of protest, he was at my side and cradling a wound I didn't realize I had.

"Y-You're burned," he stated, his voice cracked.

"I… I am?"

"Look!"

He lifted my arm into my line of vision, although for a moment, I really wished I hadn't seen it. My heart had momentarily stopped, tightening constantly in my chest as my eyes dilated. The top layer of my upper forearm had peeled clean off, leaving behind moist, crimson flesh and some patches of scraped skin coated with my own blood. I couldn't sense the pain. It should have hurt, but it didn't. In fact, I couldn't feel anything at that moment. Just… complete and utter nothingness. I wasn't even scared of Ain anymore. Everything was just… empty.

"A-Are you okay? D-Does it hurt?" Ain stammered in a panic.

"No… It feels fine," I replied calmly.

"Y-You're in shock. L-Let's take you to Sirius. He can fix it. I know he can. Come on. Hurry."

"Take the hearts first," I whispered, dazed as I glanced upon their mutilated forms. "That's what we're here for, right?"

"That's not important right now!"

"Don't forget… what we have to do."

I didn't have the energy to truly argue with him, but I wanted to make sure that after all this, we were actually able to get the numbers we needed. Besides, if I didn't feel the pain, what was the point of rushing?

"A-Are you sure?"

"Yes."

"Alice…"

Finally, I lowered my gaze and once again met Ain's soft, loving eyes.

He was back to normal now. Ain was back. Despite the sorrow in his voice and on his face, he was himself again. That vicious beast, the one who was prepared for war, was gone now.

Suddenly, remorse swept through my body and my heart felt unnaturally heavy. How could I have been like that to Ain? And now…

"Alice," he started once more. "I'm sorry."

"Why are you apologizing?"

He knelt down by one of the bodies and drew a knife from his waist belt. "I… I failed… to protect you. I was too careless… and I couldn't protect you. I'm sorry."

A teardrop fell to the dirt, but for a moment, I couldn't tell whether it was mine or his.

.X.X.X.

"God, what the hell happened out there?"

Sirius, who originally had been busily tending to his hearts, rushed from his work station to help me inside. I was led to his bed and instructed to wait as he left to gather some of his medicines. It was times like this I felt actually quite blessed to have a doctor around, and especially in this moment, his presence was more than comforting. Despite my slight discomfort with the whole situation back there, I was feeling much better and nearly back to my usual self. But not Ain… He was even more dazed than I was earlier. He just sat there beside me, his usually exuberant eyes now listless and downcast.

"Ain?" I whispered gently.

My eyes apprehensively wandered to Sirius, but he was still busily putting together his kit as I hoped. With a temporary sigh of relief, I brought my gaze back to Ain, who had refused to speak or even open his mouth.

"Ain?" I repeated. "I'm… I'm sorry about that earlier. I don't know what got into me. Everything felt… weird, but I think it was just the shock… but I'm just… I'm really sorry."

"Don't apologize. You didn't do anything wrong. It's… It's not you. It's me."

I playfully nudged him with my shoulder and giggled lightly, trying to brighten the mood. "That's one of those old clichés when you break up with someone. Are you telling me if we dated, you would break up with me like that? That's not nice, Ain."

He couldn't necessarily laugh, but I did manage to bring a smile to his face. "You're too cute, Alice."

My heart immediately lifted, and I felt myself wanting to reassure Ain more, but Sirius had returned with a kit of medicines. Setting it on the bed beside me, he undid the latching and removed a syringe from the top compartment. I gulped. A needle? Into this wound?

"It might hurt a little, okay? I'm surprised you can actually handle it right now. That burn looks rather deep from the surface," Sirius said as he filled the syringe with a strange, emerald liquid. "You must be in shock. Well, don't be concerned if this needle touches you and you start to feel the pain, okay?"

"Yes…" I mumbled, bracing myself for the pain.

"Ready?"

"Go."

Sirius gradually poked the needle at my burn and administered the serum. It was calm at first, but then…

"God! Damn it!" I cried out, biting down on my lip as tears flooded my eyes.

White hot pain seared across my forearm.

God damn, it hurt so badly. I grit my teeth, hoping to force down my anguished yells.

When he injected roughly half the serum, I screamed again, reaching for Ain's hand in a panic. After finding it, I squeezed it tight, and slowly tighter and tighter until Sirius had finally finished it off. Even as he removed the needle from my skin, the fire-like pain burned in my arm.

"Sorry, Alice," Sirius told me as he reached for a pack of white bandages. "I'll just tape you up, and it should feel better soon, okay?"

Panting, I replied with a breathy, "Okay."

After Sirius calmly bandaged up my arm, he grabbed a damp towel to wipe off the dried blood across my neck and collarbone and chest, quickly and effectively taping up the wound afterwards. As Sirius moved across the room, I sank down into the mattress and glanced over at Ain, who had been stagnant the entire time.

"Are you feeling okay?" I questioned.

"Are you?"

I chuckled. "Yeah, I'm fine."

Then, without warning, in through the front door, a man appeared, tall and heroic, as though he'd slain a dragon just before he arrived. I didn't understand. How the hell did he always know when to show up? He was like some sort of spirit, floating in from place to place whenever he wanted. Well, I didn't appreciate it.

"What the hell are you doing here?" I hissed at the hero.

"Stopping in after all the screaming I heard out there. I had to finish up a guy, but I figured I should check out what was going on." Cane tapped his mahogany cane against the hardwood, smirking as he approached the two of us. "What's going on here?"

"What do you mean?"

"What was all the screaming for earlier? You got hurt?"

"No shit. Don't you see the bandaging?"

Cane rolled his eyes. "You're too emotional to talk right now. Ain, tell me what happened."

"Don't talk to me like I'm some kind of—"

"Damn, you're noisy, too. Ain, come outside with me. Let's talk there."

"No, you—"

Before I could say anything else, Cane had pulled Ain up from the mattress and dragged him out the front door.

Damn him.

.X.X.X.

Finally, Cane walked back into the room after roughly ten minutes, but he came back without Ain. That in of itself made me suspicious, not to mention that Sirius had also stepped outside.

"Where is he?" I peered around Cane's body in search of Ain, but he was nowhere to be seen.

But… Just for a moment, I didn't care. Cane's body. Damn it for being so distracting. I quickly stifled a wanting whimper from my lips. How could I ever let him know I was attracted to him? Even if it was purely physical… I still couldn't accept it.

"He's outside with Sirius. Something about the hearts today."

"I see," I mumbled.

He stared down at me from the corners of his eyes, those damnable blue irises setting my heart offbeat. Why was his gaze so penetrating, so enfeebling? I just couldn't take it sometimes, and especially right now. I certainly wasn't in the mood to handle him.

God, couldn't he just leave me alone?

"Is it okay?"

My eyebrows furrowed slightly. "What?"

"Your arm. Is it okay?"

I paused a moment, taken aback by the sudden care. "O-Oh. Yeah, it's fine… I guess. It just hurts a little."

"I see." He reached out and grazed his fingertips over the tight, white bandaging. I nearly shirked away were it not for the brevity of his contact. "Burns are a nuisance, but we have medicine at home, so be sure to use it. I'll show you where it is when we get back. Oh, and Sirius handed me the syringe on his way out, so I'll help you inject that. He said it has to be done in the next fifteen hours."

"A-Ah?" I wasn't sure if I would ever get used to Cane being nice. He was just so damn emotional; I could never figure out what to make of him.

"Do I really need to repeat it? There's medicine. Use it."

"Are you worried?"

"No more than I would be for anyone else in the mansion."

I smirked. "So you are worried about me?"

"Think what you want. If that makes you happy, then go ahead and believe it," he responded nonchalantly.

For some reason, whenever Cane put up that solid, defensive wall, I wanted to go in and break it down. I wanted to see if I could do what Ain did, just push all Cane's little buttons until he was completely flustered. It was just such an interesting sight to see.

"So you want me to be happy?" I continued teasingly.

Oddly enough, he didn't turn away with that soft pink dusted on his cheeks.

He… He smiled back at me.

I failed.

What in the hell was happening?

"Interesting conclusion. Maybe not happy, but I wouldn't want to see you upset. For some reason, it brings down everyone else's moods, too. And then the house is just too damn quiet, and I can't stand that."

"You like their noise?" I asked incredulously.

"No, but it's become routine at this point." He threw a chuckle in between, and I was completely dumbfounded. Since when did Cane smile, or even laugh?

"Is something wrong?" I spoke up quickly.

"No, why?"

"Y-You're just… You're smiling."

"Am I not allowed to?"

"No, but you just… don't. You're Cane."

"Cane likes to smile sometimes, you know."

"Since when?" I nearly screeched at him.

"Since always. There're just things that happen to prevent smiling around here. If you knew…" He plastered on a wry smile that transformed our lighthearted banter into something much… darker. I couldn't explain the mood change, but it was abrupt, and it was uncomfortably heavy. "You wouldn't be able to smile so easily either."

I gulped nervously. "Why not?"

"Because…" He smirked, somewhat amused. "Hm. You really are different. I thought they were exaggerating, but maybe you really are."

"Why the hell does everyone keep telling me that?" I spat bitterly. I still didn't get it, even after all this time; it was just a strange statement. Of course I was different. Everyone was.

"Because there's something that really does seem different." Then, slowly, he murmured under his breath, "Maybe I misjudged you."

"You think?" I said provocatively. It wasn't like Cane to say something like that. He should have been arguing with me; what the hell was he doing, breaking the cycle?

Again, he smirked. "Maybe so."

"What brought this on? This change in attitude?"

"Your incompetence amuses me."

"You bastard," I slid through my teeth.

To that, he gave no reply. He simply pivoted on his feet, the gloss of his loafers reflecting under the natural light, and coolly strode out of the room.

.X.X.X.

So... Who hates me for my slow update? Haha. Really, I can't express how sorry I am. I was just nervous about posting this chapter... Very nervous, actually. Plus, my GC (a whole ordeal of a project) and my finals ate so much time, it wasn't even funny. But hey, first semester's over. Just got to do it all over again and take four AP exams at the end of the year... Oh joy. Well, thanks for those of you who are reading and putting up with all my... erm... complaints (to say the least). I'll see you all next time! Please review-it'll ease my worries about people being angry or my writing being awful. Haha. Thank you again, everyone! :)