Part One: Grudge
Ken left the kitchen, yawning and stretching as he did so. His apron had fallen off its hook and lay on the ground. Sighing, he snatched it up and fastened it around his neck and waist, padding towards the door. Behind him he could hear the sounds of chairs being scraped back and the sink running as the other Weiß cleaned off their dishes. He paused as he slid the key into the front door's knob. It had been two days since the Group had been beaten, and the Schwarz team was still gone. It was strange- even though the four men had only been in the shop for a few days, the shop seemed empty without them. He turned the key, unlocking the door, and reached up with his other hand to flip the hanging sign to OPEN. Through the glass on the door he could see the small crowd that was already gathered, ready to spend their few minutes before school flirting in the shop.
He stepped back as the door banged open, three girls racing in and immediately calling for Yohji. Omi's fans knew not to expect him in the morning, as he tried leaving early to get to school. Ken greeted the customers cheerfully, stepping back to let them all in. Yohji sauntered in and fastened the apron around himself. Aya had the morning off- the redhead was going to go run errands for them and then visit Aya-chan. Ken gave an internal sigh and moved to the first customer. Yohji had chosen to work the cash register so he wouldn't be doing as much work as putting bouquets together would require, but would still be able to flirt with all the customers. The lanky playboy soon had a good-sized group around him, all clamoring for dates.
Ken rolled his eyes. "Yohji," he warned the man, jerking his thumb towards the kitchen to remind him Aya was still home and would not appreciate what was going on.
Yohji merely raised an eyebrow at him and turned back to his chatting. "Ken-chan!" Ken obediently turned to the girl by her elbow. She bat her eyes at him, twirling a long lock of hair in her fingers. "I want to give someone I like roses, but I want to give them the most beautiful kind. Which kind would that be?"
Ken nibbled lightly on his thumb, thinking this over. "Well...I would say either the Betty Boop roses or Peace roses." He beckoned to her and headed over to where their collection of roses were, pointing out each one. "The Betty Boops are the ones that are bright yellow trimmed with red. The Peace are the pale yellow ones trimmed with pink over there."
"Ahh," the girl breathed. "Pretty! I'll take a dozen Peace roses, please."
"Sure thing!" Ken cut a piece of pink plastic wrapping and selected twelve roses, wrapping them and tying them carefully. "There you go!"
"Thank you!" She batted her eyes some more and carried it over to Yohji. Ken turned to his next customer.
"If they're not going to buy anything," Ken heard Aya's voice say, "they need to get out."
"Pah, Aya, you're not working today. Let me handle this." Yohji nudged his sunglasses further up onto his head, accepting the bouquet Ken's recent customer handed him. He rang it up and made change for her while Aya glowered. Some of the girls tittered nervously, playing with their hair and searching with their eyes for something to give them an excuse to stay. Omi passed by Aya, calling a happy farewell to them.
"Bye, guys! See you this afternoon!"
"Have fun, Omi!" Ken called back. The boy slipped out the back door. Ken gazed in the direction he'd gone for a moment more, slowing in the wrapping of the newest bunch of flowers he'd put together. Omi had been a bit quieter since the final battle. He still stung over the betrayal of his substitute friend, and it was obvious he missed Nagi's company. Schwarz had packed up and left only a few minutes after returning from the mission. Ken still wasn't entirely sure what happened. He'd been unconscious from the pain blast until some time on the way out of a strange building, finding himself being carried by Yohji. They'd gone back to the shop, where Crawford had had a few quiet words with Aya, then Schwarz had left. Omi wasn't the only one a little more subdued about the incident, though. Aya was quieter too, and Ken sometimes caught him rubbing at his wrists with a faint expression of revulsion in his eyes.
"Ken-chan?" the girl asked worriedly, and Ken jumped, startled out of his reverie. He accidentally dropped the flowers, and scrambled to catch the bundle before they hit the ground. "Eh...gomen! Lost in thought for a moment, there."
"That's all right." She gave him a wide smile, accepting the flowers. Ken berated himself mentally. A morning rush was no time to lose one's self in thought, especially not when he was the one doing all the work while Yohji just flirted.
"Graceful, Ken," Yohji drawled, and the girls around him tittered. Ken felt his cheeks heat.
"Oh, be quiet," he muttered under his breath, shooting a glare at the older boy.
Yohji snickered and turned to continue flirting with the girls, but they were staring at the door. Ken and Yohji looked in that direction to see what had disturbed them so. Lounging in the doorway, fingering a plant, was Schuldig. He was dressed in tight black jeans and a white silky shirt. The girls immediately transferred from Yohji to Schuldig. "Do you work here too?" one asked breathlessly, searching his hands for any rings.
Schuldig smirked, eyes moving from the eager girls to a very put-out looking Yohji. "Possibly," he drawled. Aya paused from where he'd been heading towards the back door, turning to face the telepath. Behind Schuldig the bell tinkled and Crawford entered. He and Aya met gazes, and the pre-cog calmly waded his way through the crowd. Aya moved into the den and Crawford followed.
Schuldig sauntered towards Yohji, the girls trailing behind him with large, shiny eyes, and leaned against the counter. He propped his elbows on the surface and perched his chin on his palms, jade eyes glinting up at Yohji with amusement. "My, Kudou, are you jealous?"
Yohji waved a hand in dismissal. "Now why would _I_ be jealous? I don't mind sharing, I suppose. It's probably been forever since you've gotten any."
"Any female, you mean." Now why, Ken wondered, did Yohji's eyes flicker at that? "Care to get a drink and swap stories?"
"To quote my fellow florist," and Yohji placed his hands on the counter, leaning towards Schuldig, "If you're not going to buy anything, get out."
"Oh, I'm buying, all right." Schuldig's eyes slid up Yohji slowly until their gazes met. Yohji's eyes widened slightly and he tore his gaze away.
"Any of you beautiful ladies need flowers rung up?" he asked.
Ken blinked. ~Huh? What'd Schuldig say that made Yohji so nervous?~ "Did you say you wanted flowers?" he asked the Schwarz blankly. ~What's so wrong about that?~
Schuldig sent him a glance through half-lidded eyes. "My, what a naive little boy." Ken bristled at the insult, but Schuldig gave him no time to retaliate, stretching and yawning loudly before padding off towards the kitchen. Ken watched him go before turning back towards Yohji.
"I thought he said he was going to buy something..." He trailed off uncertainly.
"Forget it," Yohji mumbled.
"Oh. Okay." Although he still didn't understand, Ken turned towards the girls that were staring towards the kitchen. "Anyone else need flowers?"
"Omi left already?" Crawford asked as he seated himself on the couch. Aya sat on the couch, eyes closed off as he gazed at the clairvoyant. The redhead gave a slight nod. "I thought perhaps to tell him that Nagi's implant was removed easily, and that he should be released this afternoon."
"Omi will be happy to hear that."
Silence stretched between them for several moments. It was Aya's turn to speak, and Crawford could tell that the katana-wielding man was reluctant to do so. Before Schwarz had left a few days ago they had made an agreement- Crawford, for Omi's sake, would make sure Nagi was taken care of and would keep up the truce; and Aya would speak to Manx about what had happened. Crawford had foreseen the results of Aya's meeting before even asking Aya to have it, but he wanted to hear the words from Aya's mouth. It made victory sweeter.
Aya finally spoke up. "I did manage to speak to Manx."
"How thoughtful of you."
Aya gave him a warning look. "If I call her, she and Birman will come over and speak to both Weiß and Schwarz. However, all eight members must be present. This meeting should be as soon as possible."
~So you can get rid of us, hm?~ Crawford thought, amused. "The earliest can be arranged by seven. By then Farfarello will have stabilized." He thought back towards Schuldig, the one who should have been in the hospital right now. The German had gotten bored easily after the first five hours of manipulating surgeons into cutting out unneccessary organs from patients and prescribing the wrong medicines. It had been too easy, he'd complained, but Crawford had refused to let him go unless the doctors gave him a clean bill of health. It had taken only two mind scramblings in five seconds to have one of the nurses deliver it. Crawford had dryly informed Schuldig that if the German keeled over he was going to keep walking and ignore him.
Schuldig should not have gotten out. After suffering so many of Meirth's blasts it was hard to tell what shape his body- and mind- was in. But the telepath would have to make his own decisions, and as always, suffer the consequences of them. Schuldig would sometimes complain about the way Crawford wanted things done, only to get injured when he did things his way. But Schuldig was stubborn, and would continue to tread along the fine line of rebellion and loyalty, swaying from one side to the other as the mood hit him.
/You think so highly of me. I'm touched./
/What's Fujimiya thinking about?/ Crawford gave the redhead an assessing look. Aya was glowering towards the television screen.
Schuldig sniggered. /Lets just say that you shouldn't expect flowers from _him_ anytime soon./
"Do you four have a place to stay?" Aya asked.
"We haven't looked yet."
Aya turned an expressionless face on Crawford. "You can stay here temporarily."
"A kind offer."
/One only made for Omi's sake and so he can keep an eye on us,/ Schuldig pointed out.
"Don't push your luck," Aya said shortly, standing. "I'm leaving." He padded on almost silent footsteps out of the room. Crawford remained where he was for a few moments before following. Aya was in the kitchen on the phone. Schuldig had already made himself comfortable at the table, jaded eyes blank as he sifted through minds. The look was one he acquired when searching for someone. Probably a partner to keep him occupied, someone he could easily seduce for a few hours of pleasure.
/You should try it sometime./ Schuldig remarked, a smirk clear in his voice as he continued to prod whoever he'd chosen as his victim this time. Crawford didn't lower himself to replying. Aya hung up the phone and left without another word, /Off to shop,/ Schuldig supplied absently, finishing whatever he was doing and standing to rummage through the fridge for a drink as if he owned the place. /They definitely need new food around here./
"You need to go lie down somewhere," Crawford told Schuldig calmly, seating himself at the table where a newspaper lay.
Schuldig paused in what he was doing, then slowly turned around. The smirk on his face was a mix of amusement and pure evil. "That sounds like a good idea." With Crawford watching warily, Schuldig sauntered out of the room.
Crawford sighed quietly and opened the newspaper. Instead of concentrating on the words before him, however, he felt his mind sifting back towards the Group. The Agents were gone, killed by Weiß and one of their own. Schwarz now had no enemies that came to mind, none that were serious enough to worry about. They were now just a drifter group, but Crawford had no intention of holding them together. There was no reason for Schwarz anymore, that he could see. They all deserved a chance to rest and try life instead of death. However, if Weiß continued to exist, the four would remain as assassins. The future of the four gifted men rested upon Aya's stubbornness. It was up to Aya to lay down his reign as Weiß and drop his grudges and blade. Aya would be very reluctant to do so, Crawford knew, and would probably fight it.
Crawford didn't care how much Aya fought. He was determined to give his team mates the release they needed, and would struggle with Aya every step of the way if that was what it took. He turned the page of the newspaper, trying to focus on his reading. There would be time to worry about all of this later, when Manx and Birman showed up tonight. He glanced at the clock. It was still early morning, only about 10:30. Nagi would not be ready to be picked up until at least two.
It was going to be a long day.
Aya let the window down as he drove, letting the cool breeze wash through the car and brush against him. It was relaxing, and helped melt alway some of his tension. Some, but not all. He slowed to a stop at a red light, gazing out the windshield. He had known Crawford and Schwarz would return to the flower shop, since it was part of the deal. He hadn't realized how seeing Crawford again would affect him, and send that spark of indignant anger curling through his stomach and mind. He wished Schwarz would have just stayed away. He wished he could just kill Crawford, the man who had taken away his revenge on Taketori at Ninjin Chess, the man who had dared to try and tell him Weiß and Schwarz were the same thing.
They were _not_ the same thing.
Weiß were the hunters of dark, the assassins that sought out and destroyed corrupt minds before innocents could get killed, before the darkness of night could leak into the sunlight of day. They fought for right, they determined justice. Schwarz...Schwarz was just Schwarz. Assassins of the night that killed both innocents and evil alike, toying with everyone in their paths as they brought them to a slow death. They were the ones who had dared to try and take his sister away from him, the ones who had hurt Omi. And Crawford tried to tell him the two groups were the same?
The light turned green and he continued on until he reached the grocery store, letting himself out of the car. He wasn't usually the one stuck with shopping, but since he had the day off and the cabinets were bare, it was left to him. He selected a cart and started off through the store, mind slipping ahead towards his visit with his sister. He'd have to stop by the house first, to drop off the groceries, and there were a few other errands to do, but then...Then he could spend a few hours by Aya-chan's side.
If only she would wake up. A flash of pain stabbed through his heart. How it hurt, to love someone so much but to see them like that. She had been that way for so long. When would she wake up? When would he get to see her eyes sparkle again, see her smile spread on her face so sweet and tender? When would he again get the chance to hear her laugh, to listen to the way it rippled through the air so pure and gay? Aya's hands clenched on the handle of the cart. No matter how long he waited, no matter how much it hurt, she never responded to him, she never got better.
Why not? Hadn't he suffered long enough?
He shoved such thoughts fiercely away. He wouldn't- couldn't- dwell on them now. He occupied his mind with other thoughts, such as the flower shop and how much he disliked Schwarz, and the rest of the grocery trip went easier. He glanced at a clock as he tagged onto the end of a line for a register. 11:56. The line slowly crept forward. Aya calmly warded off the cashier's flirting when it was his turn, speaking little in reply to her questions and comments. He paid and pushed the cart out towards the car, unloading the bags into the back. He deposited the cart where it belonged and settled himself into the driver's seat.
As he started away he mentally checked off grocery shopping on his list of things to do. What was next? Oh yes. The car had to be dropped off at an auto shop to get the brakes worked on after the groceries were safely put away at home. Aya pulled into the garage in back of the flower shop, collecting a few bags to carry in. Before he could open the back door it slammed open. Yohji was standing there, his face dark red and looking ruffled. Aya blinked.
"Nothing," Yohji muttered, moving past Aya to the car.
Aya glanced back at him, then shrugged it off and entered the shop. Crawford was settled comfortably at the kitchen table, reading the last section of the newspaper. Aya deposited the bags on top of the pages he was reading, turning to get more. Behind him Crawford calmly moved the bags. Aya glanced in the shop. He had good timing; there were no customers right then. Schuldig was lounging against the base of the stairs, a robe tied around him and smirking.
"Ken, groceries," Aya said, returning to the car and passing Yohji on the way. The soccer player followed behind him.
"I love school days," Ken sighed happily as he collected bags. "There haven't been but three customers since the morning crush. It makes up for the mayhem we'll have later. And Schwarz has been staying out of our way. Crawford's been reading since you left, and Schuldig was upstairs for most of the time." Here Ken blinked and scratched his head. "Though you missed something weird. Yohji went upstairs recently to grab his comb and straighten his hair. I heard a few strange noises and he came practically tearing downstairs."
"He's just being an idiot," Aya replied simply, closing the car door with a foot. They brought the bags inside and set them down, then began to rummage around for things to put away. Crawford had moved from the table with his paper when it had gotten too crowded with bags. Yohji was putting cans of soup away in the cabinets as if he was trying to break them. Aya glared at him when the green eyes briefly met his, clearly showing his disapproval of the noise. Yohji tore his gaze away and continued working, quieter.
Aya fished out a few boxes of noodles, moving to the correct cabinet and opening it. "Crawford, would you move so I can get to the fridge?" Ken asked behind Aya. Aya stretched up onto his toes to put the noodles away. Satisfied that they were where they belonged, he turned and bumped into Crawford as the man was trying to move past him. They were only separated by two inches of air between their chests. Aya lowered himself to the flats of his feet, giving Crawford a warning glare before moving past him.
Why did Crawford always stand that close to him? It was annoying. Unbidden, his mind called up the incident from the battle with the Group, when he'd turned and practically bonked noses with the American. Their faces had been too close for comfort then. It had been unnerving and Aya hated thinking of it. Thinking about the Group and the events of that night only reminded him of his run-in with Taketori. Of their own accord his right hand's fingers brushed over his left wrist lightly, and he felt a sliver of revulsion crawl through him. His wrists and ankles were still healing from where he'd torn them on the handcuffs. He had taken an hour long shower that night, trying to wash himself clean from the feel of Taketori's mouth on his, his tongue on Aya's chest, the cold bite of the shackles against his skin and the feeling of hopeless fury. He shivered and hurriedly dug through another bag, hoping none of the others had seen. But one had.
"Cold?" It was Crawford, and the man sounded amused.
Aya ignored him, handing vegetables to Ken to put away. The younger boy did so, cheerily humming. "Did you get my stuff for tonight?" he asked hopefully.
Aya flicked his fingers towards a small brown bag. "It's all in there."
"Stuff?" Yohji asked blankly.
"There's a game tonight!" Ken informed him. "It's Italy versus France, and it's supposed to be really good!"
"Every game is good, in your opinion," Yohji said with a sigh, grinning and shaking his head.
"Did Manx call back?" Aya asked as he began to collect the empty bags.
"Aa." Aya looked over at Crawford when the American answered. "She scheduled the meeting for nine o' clock."
"After the shop closes," Yohji muttered thoughtfully. "Looks like I will not be lonely of female company tonight." He grinned wolfishly.
"How unfortunate that would be," Schuldig drawled from the doorway.
Yohji's cheeks darkened slightly with both embarrassment and anger. Ken looked back and forth between him and Schuldig blankly. Aya ignored all of them, stuffing the plastic bags into a recycle bin. He still had a few errands to run. "I'll be back at four," he told Yohji curtly, disappearing briefly into the shop to gather a small bouquet of pretty flowers. He let himself out the back door without another glance towards the other four. If he found a car shop close enough to the hospital, he could visit Aya-chan while the car was being worked on.
The trip to the auto shop was passed easily with thoughts about his sister, and he dropped the car off at a small shop. The estimated time until he got it back was three and a half hours, and that was fine with him. He walked the rest of the way to the hospital. The nurse at the front desk recognized him and smiled, lifting a hand to wave. He nodded slightly in return, making his way to the stairs, flowers in hand.
Dr. Havi was just leaving Aya-chan's room. The doctor smiled. "She's looking pretty today, Fujimiya-san," the older man offered, holding the door open for Aya.
"Thank you, doctor." Aya moved past him, hearing the door shut quietly behind him. He headed towards the bed, where his sister lay, sleeping peacefully. The machines around her blipped quietly. Aya exchanged the slightly wilted flowers from the vase beside her bed with the fresh ones, then sat down beside her bed. He reached out with a pale hand, long slender fingers curling around his sister's smaller hand.
Like it always did, the guilt and self-loathing came back to him. He closed his eyes, allowing himself to sift through them now, through the painful memories that haunted him day and night.
~One day, Aya-chan, you will wake up. I will wait until that day.~
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