"You're here to work, not to flirt, Kudou."
"Shove off, Aya." Yohji sent the man a withering look. The girls around him tittered nervously and exchanged glances. If Yohji's words had been spoken in the playful tone he'd used just months ago, they would have found his retort amusing. His hard edge, however, made them uneasy.
Ken ran a hand through his hair, forcefully expelling his breath. ~Jeez, do they have to fight during work hours too?~
"I do what I want," Yohji added.
"Not as long as you are under this roof, you won't."
The shop went completely silent. The shoppers froze as they noticed the obvious challenge in both florists' eyes. Omi sent Ken a frantic look before turning a concerned gaze on their customers. Yohji curled his lip back in a faint sneer. "Who died and made you boss, anyway?"
"Yohji, Aya, _not_ _now_," Ken hissed at them.
"I just want to know where he got off thinking he's in charge." One of the customers set down their bouquet with a half-apologetic look towards an alarmed Omi, then headed quickly for the door. "He was the last one to arrive, but he's the one who's always tossing out orders?" Yohji tossed his head in a gesture of absolute disdain. Other customers followed the first one's example until they were a steady stream out of the shop. Ken buried his face in his hands. Didn't they understand just how important it was to keep the shop going?
"Thanks for stopping by! Please come again!" Omi called after them, but his voice was strained. As soon as the door closed on the last customer he whirled around. "What is _wrong_ with you two?" he snapped. Yohji and Aya both jumped, unused to hearing such a fierce tone from the youngest member. They turned to face him. Omi raked frustrated hands through his hair, glaring at both of them. "I can't take this anymore. You're tearing us all apart with your squabbling. Don't ruin this shop too!"
Yohji snorted softly. "Well, if he-"
Omi made an incredulous sound, amazed and disgusted that Yohji was still pointing fingers. Ken broke in. "Do either of you even remember what you started this fight for?" he demanded, looking from one to the other. "It's been five months now that you've been fighting! If you have a problem, fix it! It's insane that it's lasted this long anyway!"
Aya scowled. Yohji gave Ken a blank look as he obviously tried to remember what the original fighting had begun over. Omi threw his hands into the air. "Either you figure out what's wrong, or I'm going to ask Manx to give me a different team to work with. I'm out of here." He whirled around.
"Me too." Ken followed him towards the door.
"You're on schedule to work today," Aya reminded them coldly.
Ken sent him a disdainful look, bold in his anger. "Why bother? You two chased all the customers away." He grabbed his jacket and he and Omi left, letting the door slam behind them.
They walked down the street in silence for several moments. Finally Omi shook his head. "They're...impossible," he told Ken. "I couldn't help it."
When Ken realized the boy was apologizing and feeling guilty for losing his temper at the other two, he hastened to assure the boy. "They deserved it, Omi. You've put up with them better than either of us. I would run away and you would always try to make them calm down. Anyone would have lost it." ~Maybe they'll realize just how straining their fights are if it made genki Omi yell at them,~ he thought hopefully.
Omi digested this as silence fell once more. As they reached the street corner where they always split up, the boy paused and looked up at him. "Where do you go?" he asked.
"To a coffee shop," Ken answered. "Why? Do you get lonely at the library?"
"Oh, no." Omi was quick to reassure him, eyes widening slightly. "I have- I have friends there." Something about his tone seemed a little off. "What about you? You have people to talk to, right?" Omi peered at him, concerned that he was leaving his teammate bereft of companionship.
~Someone to talk to?~ Ken reflected. It'd been two weeks since he and Nagi had agreed on a truce, and since then they'd met nine times at the coffee shop. They hadn't spoken at all the first three times. After that the silence had been trying for Ken, and he had attempted conversations with the other boy. The first two times all conversations had been cut off efficiently and calmly with Nagi saying no more than three words. The last four times had been a bit better, as he had been able to get Nagi to say full sentences. The Schwarz child had never initiated conversations, though. Ken had never figured out why the boy came so frequently, as he'd never gotten the courage to ask.
When he realized his prolonged silence worried Omi, Ken spoke up with a laugh. "Yes, Omi. There's someone there that I meet." He smiled and ruffled Omi's hair affectionately. "Don't worry."
Omi smiled, relieved. "I'm glad."
"Tell your friends I said hi."
A quick grin crossed Omi's lips, a wry and amused one, so quick that Ken wasn't sure it had really been there or if he had imagined it. "I will, Ken-kun," Omi promised. "Tell your friend the same."
~I don't think Nagi would care.~ "I will."
~This does get old after a while,~ Ken mused. "Hot chocolate and cream puffs, please, Reiko."
"Of course!" She beamed and turned away. Ken waited until he was served before heading towards the booth where he and Nagi always sat. As usual, Nagi was there already, sipping his hot chocolate. Ken slipped into the bench opposite the boy and began devouring his snack. When he was finished he leaned back, stretching his legs and propping his arms under his head. He gazed up at the ceiling, running his mind slowly over the events that had transpired at the shop. Perhaps now that Aya and Yohji had been faced with Omi's anger, they would try to work things out. Even he had been shocked at the ferocity with which Omi had spoken- and the ultimatum the boy had laid down. He didn't blame Omi, though. If Weiß was unable to take on missions because of inner tensions, what use were they to anyone? Innocents died while those two bickered.
"You come here a lot."
Ken blinked, startled out of his reverie, and turned his gaze on Nagi. Nagi had spoken to him? Now _that_ was surprising. "Yes," he answered. "So do you."
"Why do you come here?"
~Gods be damned. He's starting a conversation.~ Ken blinked, wondering why the realization made him so happy. Nagi was speaking to him. So what? Nagi was an enemy. And yet, with all the trouble at home, Nagi was as much a friend as Omi was. He did have to keep in mind, however, that Nagi still belonged to Schwarz. He would be careful not to say anything to jeapordize the team, even if it was dysfunctional at the moment. He gave the child a wry grin. "It's a place to escape. What about you?"
The boy lifted one shoulder in a slight shrug. "I suppose it's the same for me."
"I mean, it's not exactly paradise," Ken went on, feeling compelled to continue because Nagi was actually in a talking mood, "but it's not like home, either. Here I don't have to worry about missions, or killing, or who is right or wrong. I don't have to put up with arguments."
Nagi gave a short laugh, a bitter sound. Ken had never heard the boy make a sound like that before. "I wasn't aware Weiß had problems like arguments."
Ken sighed, raking a hand through his hair. "That's all they ever do, these days. It just...never stops. Aya and Yohji are always at each other's throats, and all Omi and I can do is get as far away from them as we can before we go crazy."
In a very quiet voice, Nagi said, "I understand. Schuldich and Farfarello...They're like that." The boy stood, signalling the conversation to be at an end. He headed towards the counter to drop off his mug. Ken watched him go. The boy didn't look back. Ken sighed, gathering his own things to go.
They were doing it again. Nagi paused right inside the door, trying to decide whether to go in or back out. Finally he stepped in. After all, there was no place else to go. He'd just returned from the coffee shop, and there was no point in retreating back there. He would just have to listen to the other two for a few hours. Shaking his head slowly, he shut the door silently behind him with his gift. It wouldn't have mattered if he had slammed it, though, as the other two wouldn't have been able to hear.
He couldn't make out their words from this distance, but the anger in their tones was very clear. It was strange. Nagi had never heard Farfarello ever get into yelling arguments with anyone before, until recently, though it was usually Schuldich making most of the noise. The yelling didn't last for very long before the two would get into full-out fights. Schuldich may win the yelling, but it was always Farfarello that won the fights, and the next day Schuldich would be seen sporting several new wounds and limping.
Nagi raised his hands to his ears to block out the noise, leaning back against the door. He could see the hall from here- Schuldich's room, where the two were fighting; his own room- once a haven, now too close to the action; Crawford's room- with its door slightly open, a sign the man was still out. Crawford had tried several times to stop the bickering between them, but with Estet gone there wasn't the threat of turning the two in to help. Oh, they would listen to him, of course...But only for a few seconds. Neither of the two were of the strain that would stop fighting just because it was driving Crawford and Nagi crazy. Schuldich had always been rebellious, and Farfarello would not listen when he was still being goaded by Schuldich.
Crawford had finally decided to let them fight, let them burn their angers out. For the past two weeks, he had said nothing to them, merely continued to leave home and head off to wherever he wanted to spend time. Nagi had been abandoning the home long before that, heading towards the small coffee shop.
He hadn't expected to meet Ken there.
Nagi did not feel threatened by the Weiß's presence. After all, he had a power that could crumble buildings. He did not fear any of Weiß, same as he did not really feel afraid of Schwarz. He had considered killing Ken the first day, had thought about finding a way to lead Ken away and kill him- a way to vent some of the stress from home.
He hadn't expected Ken to apologize, either.
No one had ever told Nagi they were sorry, except Schuldig in a sarcastic tone. Ken...Ken had meant it. The sincerity in his tone had been what had stopped Nagi in his tracks, had stopped the thoughts of murder. Ken was naive, in apologizing to an enemy, and yet...
It had been nice.
He sighed and shook his head, but that didn't change anything. He had liked that Ken had apologized to him, so he had returned the jacket. And when Ken had asked for a truce while in the coffee shop, it had probably been foolish of him to accept, but still...The idea of being around someone who wouldn't be arguing had been very welcome.
Schuldich's voice rose, harsh German curses spilling from his lips, and Nagi could hear something crashing and breaking. It seemed the fight had begun.
Nagi sighed and headed to his room, locking the door behind him. He sprawled out on his bed, burying his head under the pillow. ~Don't think about them,~ he instructed himself. ~Think of something else. Think of Tot...~ He pictured her in his mind, smiling brightly and holding her toy close to her. He imagined himself reaching out and touching her soft blue hair.
He could still sense about her that faint naive innocence that would never leave, and in his mind he drew her up against him, holding her to him and trying to cling to the source that had once promised a normal life. He could smell the scent of her shampoo in her locks, imagining himself stroking a hand through her hair. She was everything he wanted, everything he needed. No, not her. What she presented. The life. The innocence. The naivete.
Her brown hair was soft under his fingers- it had been brown, right?- and the smell of fresh cut grass and the underlying scent of chocolate filled his nose. His lips parted and the name left him on a breath of air. Only it wasn't her name. "Ken..."
Nagi's eyes flew open and he shot into a sitting position with a startled jerk, eyes wide as he gazed at his pillow. What??
~Ahh...~ He sighed, raking a hand through his hair. Ken offered the same thing Tot did- that open naivete and innocence that even murdering would never take away. Perhaps that was why even now Nagi could feel himself longing for the older boy's presence.
~Once again, Nagi, yearning for something you can never have.~ He could feel his lips twitch in the beginnings of a self-mocking smile, burying his face in his pillow. The sounds of battle in the other room faded, and he was left with just silence.
Nagi moved along the path. He wasn't sure why he was here today. He'd left the apartment of his own free will. Schuldich and Farfarello weren't fighting, for once. The four of them had been sitting down at breakfast, a tense silence over them, when Nagi had suddenly longed to be away from the apartment. He had put his dishes up and quietly left. His steps took him over the city, finally to a small park. As he walked he could hear children's laughter around the bend, along with shouting. He turned the corner and paused, taking in the sight before him.
A multitude of kids of various shapes, sizes, and ages were racing back and forth, kicking a soccer ball around. Standing off to one side, close by Nagi with his back to the boy, was Ken, calling encouragements and tips. Nagi watched them for a long moment, watching the innocent happiness on their faces. One boy, older than the others, gave the ball a wild, fierce kick. It went flying over Ken's head. The assassin whirled around, watching it with his eyes, not noticing Nagi. The ball bounced off a nearby tree and Nagi used his powers to make it careen towards him, catching it easily.
Ken's gaze fell on Nagi. A surprised grin lit up his face. "Nagi! Hi!"
"Good morning." He moved as if he was tossing the ball, using his power to carry it towards Ken. The kids clumped up behind Ken. Nagi's eyes dropped warily to them. As if sensing Nagi's discomfort, Ken tossed them the ball and sent them off. They immediately took to kicking it around. Ken moved towards Nagi. Nagi couldn't help but notice how..._alive_ Ken seemed at that moment.
"Want to come play?" Ken invited, jerking his thumb over his shoulder.
Nagi eyed the children. "...I don't know how."
Ken grinned. "I can teach you. If you want me to, that is," he added quickly, glancing away to watch the progress of his students. "I have an extra ball..." His gaze returned to Nagi.
Nagi eyed him in silence for several long moments. "Yes," he finally said. "Teach me."
~I want to know why you like this game so much.~
Thirty minutes later found Ken and Nagi booting the soccer ball back and forth. Ken was talking as they moved, telling Nagi all about the sport, all about his time as a J-leaguer. He wasn't sure why he was telling the younger assassin this. For some reason, though, Ken felt like he had to explain to Nagi what it was about the game that was so intoxicating. Nagi, for his part, was listening- actually listening. After telling soccer stories to all of his team mates, he'd come to recognize the dull glazed look that meant they were ignoring him, or just letting his words bounce off. Nagi was _listening_, and that meant more to Ken at the moment that anything had in a long time.
The sun was beating down on them harshly, and Ken bent down to scoop up the ball when Nagi passed it to him. He grinned. "Want to get a drink?" he asked. "We have a cooler with some drinks." Nagi considered it, then nodded. They headed towards it side by side. Ken flopped down on the grass beside it, pulling out two bottles of juice and passing one to Nagi. Nagi sat down close beside him and they sipped at their drinks in silence for a moment. Ken's heart was thundering in his chest, but he didn't feel like it was from working out.
"So...How are things with Schuldich and Farfarello?"
Nagi gave a delicate shrug. "They weren't fighting when I woke up this morning, which is new." He took another drink, peering up at Ken. "What about your teammates?"
Ken grinned at the boy. "Omi gave them a piece of his mind yesterday morning, gave them something to think about. They've been treading quietly ever since." He laughed softly.
"Looks like Reiko will be losing some business, then."
Ken paused, digesting that. There was more to Nagi's seemingly casual comment than one would think upon first hearing it. It was a statement, it was a calm accusation, it was a question. Ken turned, studying Nagi. He might as well be honest. "I like meeting you there, Nagi. I like your company. If you keep going, I'll keep going...If you don't mind _my_ company."
Was that a faint wisp of a smile on Nagi's face? "Why would I deprive you of Reiko's cream puffs? We both know that's why you really go."
Ken grinned. "And you go for the hot chocolate," he teased.
"I go for chocolate, yes," Nagi replied, tone musing, "but not the drink."
Ken blinked. "What?"
"Nothing." Nagi closed the lid on his juice. He set it aside and laid down on the grass, gazing up at the sky. "It's...strange," he said. "I don't usually have the chance to just sit out and look at the world around me."
Ken laid down as well. "What's the point of being alive if you won't stop to look around at life?"
"We're still human." Nagi didn't reply. Ken waved a hand around. "Sometimes, Nagi, stop focusing on death and focus on life. Look at the trees. Just trees. But if you look closer you'll see that not all the leaves are the same color, and beneath the leaves live birds. And the clouds! Have you ever just looked for shapes in the clouds?"
Ken shook his head in wonder at Nagi's ignorance. "Look at them. Do they remind you of anything?"
"Frozen water molecules."
"This isn't the time for sarcasm." Ken rolled his eyes and pointed to one cloud. "Look at that one over there. If you look at it and use your imagination, can't you see a horse?"
"That takes quite a stretch of the imagination," Nagi replied dryly.
Ken laughed and pointed to another. "That one looks like an umbrella." He glanced over at Nagi. The boy was studying the cloud in question. Finally the boy nodded slightly. "What do you see in that one?" Ken chose another cloud.
Nagi studied it. Ken watched his face. He knew this was a new step for the child assassin, a boy who'd been given a shot at life but not living, who had only dealt with practical things and never the imagination. "It looks...like a cat's head."
Ken laughed in delight. "Yes, it does. Oh, and look at that big one!" He rolled onto his side in his excitment, stretching to point. "It looks like-" He looked down at Nagi and froze, realizing he'd practically rolled on top of the younger boy. Nagi was gazing up at him, their faces mere inches apart. "A heart..." Ken finished absently.
"So it does."
And Nagi tilted his head up slightly to catch Ken's lips in a kiss.
Continue to Part 3