“What is that?” Himiko peered curiously at Ban, leaning in close. Irritated, he leaned away.

“An earring,” he said. “What the hell’s it look like?”

“An earring? Really? What for?” She reached out to brush the thick shaggy hair aside. Before she could get close, he grabbed her wrist and firmly set it down.

“No reason,” he said. “It’s cool.”

Himiko put her chin on the couch and frowned at him. “It can’t be ‘nothing’ if it’s ‘cool,'” she said. “Come on, tell me! An earring? What for?”

Ban picked up the newspaper again, held it up between them and gave it a decisive shake. “Go harass your brother, brat,” he said from behind the paper. “Let me read in peace.”

She swatted his shoulder, hard, and left him. When he heard the door close, he lowered his paper with a sigh.

Cute kid, but damn annoying, when she set her mind to it.

Ban tugged absently at his pierced ear, then caught himself and smacked his own hand down with an irritated huff. Thinking about it was like worrying an old scab.

He flexed the fingers of his right hand, feeling how the muscles tightened with the movement. The small stud in his ear burned like a coal, a deep-smoldering itch that made his fingers restless.

It was nothing. It was cool. He’d been tricked into getting it by Maria, who’d laughed at his scrunched expression of pain and bought him ice cream as a reward for “being brave.”

Bravery had nothing to do with it. He’d just wanted something cool to go with the glasses.

Ban gave up and fiddled with his ear again. Though his skin was hot all around it, the small stud itself felt like ice. He was fairly certain that it was just his imagination.

Voices hissed in his ear, too low-pitched to be anything but sibilant implications, and it sent a chill down his spine. His arm ached with old memories that did not belong to him alone. The presence of cursed blood unrelated to his own made the snake impatient, hungry; he’d caught Yamato giving him several odd looks, whenever Himiko was too occupied with something else to notice.

Ban tightened his fingers, then hissed as the stud’s stem jabbed into the pad of his thumb. He popped it into his mouth to suck away the sting. The faintest taste of copper spread over his tongue, and he made a face.

He’d get rid of it, someday. Maybe he’d give the stud to Himiko, because she’d finally begun expressing an interest in more feminine things.


He tilted his head back and looked up into Yamato’s face. His friend seemed oddly pale under the natural dusky color of his skin, sweat beading his forehead. Those narrow, usually keen eyes focused on the blood-red point in Ban’s ear, and something flashed through them too fast to be translated. He clutched at his chest with one heavy hand.


“I need to talk to you,” Yamato gritted out, and his voice sounded like gravel and broken glass. “It’s important. Himiko’s talking a client, she won’t hear–”

Ban blinked, nonplussed, and got to his feet. Once he was standing, Yamato’s hand shot out and closed hard on Ban’s arm. When he looked into his friend’s face, he felt a cold fission move through him–because whatever Yamato saw, it certainly was not Midou Ban.


“Ban.” Yamato’s eyes focused with an obvious struggle, and his breath caught in his chest with a painful rasp. “Ban.” He tried to smile, and it only looked pained and sickly.

Like a death-grin.

Ban stared, and willed the coming words to not happen, even as the premonition of them echoed like gunshots in his ears. The snake purred satisfaction in his veins, and the stud in his ear seemed to radiate pain in a twisting outward circle. Yamato didn’t notice, losing his coherency fast. In a moment, he’d be on his knees.

“I want you to kill me.”

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