Part Nine: Gray

   Crawford couldn't explain the way his heart leapt into his throat when Aya picked Taketori up, watching a purely malicious smirk cross the redhead's face as they both tilted, off-balance, off the side of the roof. As soon as they were far back enough that Aya knew there was no chance of regaining balance, he let go of Taketori. In the back of his mind, Crawford heard the man's scream. The rest of him was focused entirely on Aya, on that body as it fell the rest of the way backwards.

    He'd been running towards the two since he'd arrived on the roof, and now he urged himself to go faster, wishing for just one moment that he'd have Schuldig's speedy gifts. He didn't slow as he reached the railing, one arm locking around the bar as the rest of him dropped to his knees, lurching over the side to grab at Aya. His hand hit Aya's knee and slipped. His heart skipped a beat before he realized he'd regained his hold- on Aya's ankle. Crawford didn't notice the man's weight, letting the reality set in to calm his erratically beating heart.

    He had Aya!

    "Aya!" he called.

    "Crawford?" Aya's voice sounded faint, exhausted.

    Making sure he was planted firmly against the ground, Crawford unwrapped his other hand and reached down. "Grab my hand, Aya," he ordered. There was a long moment of hesitation and for a dreadful few seconds he thought Aya was going to refuse, then a gloved hand reached up, and Aya curled slightly to try and reach. Crawford tightened his grip on Aya's ankle when he felt it begin to slip. Now he was beginning to feel Aya's weight, and holding the younger man by just one joint was not good or easy.

    Aya pulled off his glove with his other hand, reaching up and taking the hand Crawford had extended for him. They grabbed each other at the wrists, fingers tightening against flesh in a firm, solid hold. "Aya, I'm going to let go of your ankle." There was no reply, so Crawford slowly released it. Aya swung downwards and Crawford was pressed up against the railing, teeth clenched, in an attempt to keep his grip on the redhead. He offered his now free hand when Aya stopped swinging, and the man took it. Crawford pulled himself up from his knees to a crouch, then to a standing postition, moving slowly and dragging Aya up as he did so. When he'd gotten Aya seated on the bar he gave the man a quick lookover.

    Aya's eyes were dilated to an extent that it was definitely unnatural. The man seemed to be losing his grip on the here-and-now, but one thing clicked in Aya's mind. "Aya-chan!" He began to struggle, and Crawford was forced to grab him before he accidentally- or not so accidentally- knocked himself back off the roof. He wrapped his arms around Aya, pulling him all the way on the roof. Suddenly Aya let out a soft breath and collapsed. Crawford had seen it before it happened, and easily caught him. With one hand he turned his headset back on, then lifted Aya in both arms and carried him towards the door leading back inside.

    "-bay, the laboratory is cleared, the second target is dead. Crawford, Abyssinian, please answer me!"

    "What do you want?" Crawford asked calmly.

    There was an audible sound of relief on the other end. Apparently Omi had been trying to get them for some time. "I repeat, our floor is cleared. Status, Crawford?"

    "Taketori is dead, and I have Aya. He's unconscious and unharmed."

    "All agents pull out. Meet at the first stopover and proceed from there."

    "Understood. Siberian and Balinese out."

    "Bombay and Nagi out."

    There were clicks as the other radios turned off. Crawford didn't bother with his. He headed down the stairs, still wary of the hidden darts. The trip was uneventful. It was as if everything in the building was dead... Which was probably the case. When he arrived outside Schuldig was leaning against their car, pose tense and jade eyes flicking in an agitated way from the car to the door. The German straightened when he saw Crawford's approach and climbed into the car. Farfarello was in the passenger seat, unconscious and bandaged messily. Apparently Schuldig sucked in the medical field as much as Crawford did.

    Crawford got in back, keeping Aya in his lap as he shut the door since there was no other place to put him when the retrieved package from the other building took up the rest of the room. As it was he had to be careful where he sat. Schuldig pulled away. Crawford could feel all of the stress of the work and the long day kick in, and he was utterly exhausted. He reached up with a hand to check Aya's pulse. Slow and steady. Good.

    They pulled into the coffee shop parking lot. The other four were gathered around their vehicles. Crawford's eye swept over them. They all looked as tired as he felt, and were bleeding in several spots. Ken was standing quietly off to the side, gazing at his bugnuks in the golden glow coming from the shop. The soccer player looked up when Crawford and Schuldig exited the car.

    "How's Aya?"

    "Out," Crawford replied crisply.

    "Farfarello?" Nagi asked.

    "Needs a doctor," Schuldig said in clipped tones. "Now."

    Omi rubbed his temples tiredly. "Who's in working order to find Aya-chan, and does anyone know where she is at this point? If Aya's the only one that knows, we have to wait until morning."

    Schuldig gave a smirk. "Pf. Brother and sister are tucked in the back of the car." He jerked a thumb at it. Omi scrambled towards the car to look in, eyes going over all three unconscious passengers.

    "That was the package Nagi found," Crawford explained calmly. "Aya's sister had apparently been sent to them to dispose of, but they were interrupted by the meeting. She needs to be returned to the hospital as soon as possible."

    "I don't think it'd be wise to give Farfarello to the hospital," Omi said, half turning, "but I'm sure Kritiker has a place for him. If anyone has a cell phone..." He trailed off when Crawford held out his own. The boy bobbed his head in gratitude and stepped away from the group to make a call.

    "Now what?" Ken asked, looking around.

    "Now..." Yohji had to stop so he could yawn loudly. "Now we get the people to the hospital that need to be there, and the rest of us get some well deserved sleep. Tomorrow morning everything can be decided. Maybe we'll even throw a party." He gave an amused smile.

    "Party for what?" Ken asked blankly.

    "End of Weiß."


   Crawford gave the door to the apartment a nudge shut with his foot, making his way across the floor with his redhead bundle still in his arms. Since no one was quite sure where Aya had picked his apartment to be, and the Schwarz had figured it time to pull out of their hotel, the seven of them were scattered between three apartments. Yohji had given up his apartment for the night, volunteering to sleep over with Ken after the two had put Aya-chan safely into the hospital, and Nagi had gone to Omi's. That left the remaining three in Yohji's apartment. It was large enough for all three of them, with room to spare. Crawford wondered briefly if Schuldig was going to pester him, but no, the telepath was too exhausted- physically and mentally- from using his powers so strongly tonight, as well as the remaining twinges of pain leftover from the Group. The doctors had estimated it would take two weeks for the German to fully recover. Apparently Schuldig didn't plan on taking it easy, as he had already claimed Farfarello.

    Crawford's head hurt from too much thinking. He didn't remember ever feeling this tired. Each step across the apartment, passing Schuldig where the German had sprawled out on the couch, was hard to take. He figured he'd deposit Aya in the bed and sleep in a chair in the living room.

    The bed was messy, comforter bunched and twisted, and Crawford frowned slightly in disapproval of such untidiness. Then he sighed and lowered Aya down to the bed. As he started to straighten, however, Aya's hand reached out, closing on his shirt. Crawford felt his entire body freeze as he stared down at the sleeping redhead. He realized he was holding his breath and let it out slowly, ashamed of himself for reacting so.

    He calmly untucked Aya's hand from his shirt and lowered it back to the bed, covering Aya up and tucking him in. He paused a moment to gaze down on the sleeping form. Aya's face was so pale, yet so smooth. His silky red locks hung around his face, and his earrings were lying flat on his neck. Crawford sat down on the edge of the bed, unable to take his eyes off of the man.

    ~I want to touch.~

    He blinked, surprised at the thought, then slowly raised his hand, reaching out to lightly run his fingers down Aya's cheek. It was as smooth as it looked. His fingers made their way to his hair, fingering a long lock. He gave a quiet sigh. He was so tired. He didn't think he could make it back to the living room to sleep. Before he knew what he was doing, he had laid down on the bed beside Aya, setting his glasses aside. As soon as his eyes closed he was yanked into sleep.


   Aya felt like he was crawling from the depths of a very dark and deep pit as he woke up. It was hard to drag himself back to reality. He was warm, almost unusually warm, as if he were lying next to someone. That wasn't right. Slowly his violet eyes slid open, focusing on his surroundings. He was curled up against someone, his face pressed to the person's side. His heart leapt into his throat and he pulled away, sitting up to see who it was. A soft, strangled sound escaped his lips before he could stop it. Crawford was lying there, gazing back up at him calmly. The man's glasses were on the nightstand. Aya shot a quick look around the room. His heart felt like it was beating ten times the speed it was supposed to be going.

    ~Why is Crawford in the same bed as me? Where am I?~ The room was unfamiliar, yet the belongings scattered all over the floor...Yohji's. He was in Yohji's apartment.

    "I thought you were going to sleep all day," Crawford finally spoke up.

    "What's going on?" Aya demanded. Crawford sat up, and Aya found himself retreating backwards. He was still dressed in his assassin's gear, minus his weapons, gloves, boots, and jacket, of course. That was some consolation.

    Crawford smiled slightly, amused by the way Aya was so disconcerted. Aya blinked. Crawford looked so _different_ without his glasses! He had to tear his eyes away and for some reason he felt embarrassed. ~I was _staring_,~ his mind exclaimed, appalled.

    "It's after twelve," Crawford explained, sliding off the bed. "We got home very early a.m.. Farfarello is currently in a Kritiker hospital, healing from a deep wound. Nagi and Omi are at Omi's apartment but should be here soon, Schuldig is at the hospital with Farfarello, and Yohji and Ken are waiting patiently next door in Ken's apartment for you to wake up."

    ~What happened last night?~ Everything was distorted. Aya rubbed his temples, trying to sort out the memories. A too-confident voice sprang into mind:

    "By now she is probably in a dump somewhere, where no one will find her, nor remember her, with homeless people stealing her clothes for their own and taking her hair to play with."

    A choked breath escaped Aya's lips as the sharp, bitter reality dug into him. Aya-chan was dead! Crawford reached out, grabbing his shoulders when he saw Aya's face go deathly pale. "Aya! It's all right."

    "Don't tell me it's all right when Aya-chan is-"

    "Is safe, Aya!" Crawford interjected firmly. Aya looked over at him, wounded purple eyes meeting reassuring brown ones. "She's all right, Aya. She was at the headquarters Schuldig and I went to. She was the package Nagi wanted us to find. She's back in the hospital. Ken and Yohji put her there personally."

    ~Aya-chan is safe. Aya-chan is safe.~ The thought echoed round and around in Aya's mind. He reached up with his hands, meaning to rub at his aching forehead, but covered his face instead. The wash of relief through his body was so thick it was painful. After so much stress and worry, everything was all right. He was trembling badly.

    Strong arms wrapped around him and he was pulled gently against Crawford. A hand softly stroked his hair. Aya knew he should have protested the man touching him. Part of his mind wanted him to pull away and yell at Crawford, ashamed that he was losing control of his stone mask in front of this man. The rest of his mind told that part to shut up and relaxed in Crawford's hold, taking the warmth and shelter the American had to offer. He would not let any of the others do this- not Yohji, not Ken, not Omi. He was too strong to have to rely on their strength to help him. So why was Crawford different?

    They stayed like this for several long minutes, until Aya had composed himself. He gently pulled back, and Crawford obediently loosened his grip so Aya could move. Aya slowly looked up at Crawford. A million questions burned in his mind, one reaching the surface. ~Why do you care?~ Before he could ask, there was a knock at the door.

    Aya slid off of the bed first. ~You're retreating, Aya. Whoever's at the door could wait long enough for you to ask Crawford and get your answer. But you're fleeing. Are you afraid of the answer?~ He ignored the chiding voice, padding towards the door. His heart felt so much lighter, knowing that Aya was safe again, but at the same time there was a strange tug at it, leading back to the unresolved matter with Crawford.

    The door, when opened, revealed Ken, Yohji, Omi, and Nagi. Omi smiled brightly at him. "Glad to see you're up and about, Aya-kun! You looked so pale last night!" Aya gave the boy a slight nod of acknowledgement. Omi beamed, turning his sunny smile on Nagi. Nagi stared back and gave an almost imperceptible shake of his head.

    Aya had a feeling they wanted to ask him something. Somehow he was aware that Crawford had entered the room. He glanced over his shoulder at the man before turning his expectant violet-eyed gaze on Yohji. Yohji would be the one to ask him. Yohji stubbed his cigarette out on the wall when he saw Aya's look, exhaling smoke. "We've come to hear your decision on the Weiß Schwarz mess."

    Aya blinked. He'd given them his...Ah. Things were different now. Not much, but enough. He no longer viewed Crawford as a hostile intruder, nor as an aggravating obstacle, merely a confusing man with some slight annoying tendencies. Aya's entire outlook on the man had first changed after the Group ordeal, then changed again now that Crawford and Schwarz had helped him get Aya-chan safely back. His gaze travelled from Yohji's patient eyes to Ken's hopeful ones, to Omi's anxious ones and Nagi's unreadable ones. They were all waiting for him to say the words that would set them free. Aya turned his eyes back on Yohji. "Tell me, Yohji," he finally said, "what would you do if Weiß disbanded?"

    Yohji gave a slight shrug. "The only reason I pushed for the disbanding was for the others' sakes," he answered, leaning against the wall. "I will either try being a private detective again, or maybe remain with Kritiker on active duty. It's what I do- this hunting and delivering justice." Forest green eyes met Aya's.

    ~Yes, you always understood, didn't you? You knew what I meant by resisting the disbanding, but you know something I do not. Is it possible that you know what Crawford does, what he's been trying to press into my mind so insistantly?~


    The boy grinned widely. "I'll continue to teach soccer. If Kritiker will help me clear my name..." His eyes dropped here, as if he were embarrassed to be voicing such a hope, "I'd like to try again for the J-league." Yohji gave him an encouraging clout on the shoulder.

    ~Always soccer.~ Aya sniffed softly in amusement, eyes drifting to Omi.

    "It'd be nice to be able to concentrate solely on my education. I want to attend college soon. There are plenty of careers in computers these days." Omi smiled, turning the expression on Nagi. "Nagi, too," he spoke for the quiet boy.

    Aya turned away, walking towards the wall. ~Why do you even hold them back, Aya?~ he asked himself, reaching out to trail a finger down it. "So be it, then," he finally said, keeping his voice as expressionless and quiet as it usually was. "Yohji can contact Manx and tell her."

    "Wai~!" Omi cheered, hugging Nagi tightly.

    "Lets have that party you mentioned, Yohji!" Ken said brightly.

    Aya wasn't in the mood for a party. "I'm going to go see my sister." He wanted to make sure that she was really safe, that Crawford wasn't playing some sort of sick joke with him.

    "You're not going to stay?" Omi asked plaintively.

    Aya paused, looking back at the boy. "I just want to see her. Then I'll come back." He let himself out the door, closing it behind him and drowning out the sound of Ken, Yohji, and Omi laughing and talking to each other about what foods and drinks to get. He didn't make it far down the hall before the door opened again. He didn't look back to see who it was. He didn't have to, for as he waited for the elevator the man caught up with him. It was Crawford.

    "Do you take a pleasure in following me wherever I go?" Aya asked him.

    "I do not believe my company is required in planning a celebratory part for the end of Weiß and Schwarz." The doors slid open and the two stepped on. The elevator was empty save for them, and the doors closed after they'd entered. Crawford leaned lightly against the wall, gazing at Aya. "What will _you_ do, Aya?"

    An odd thought occured to Aya. ~How long have I been letting him call me by my first name?~

    "I will probably stay with Kritiker. There is nothing else for me." Aya gazed at the numbers above the door that lit up and changed as the elevator lowered. "It is work that I am good at, that I am comfortable with, work with a meaning that can make a difference in innocents' lives."

    "And yet you still don't understand what I've been trying to tell you about Weiß and Schwarz." Crawford smiled slightly, moving towards Aya. "You are white, yet you remain to dance in the darkness of night and death. Why? Because darkness is a part of white. You can let it go, but you don't wish to, because you are Weiß."

    Aya looked up at him. Crawford was right in front of him. "I am black, yet I strive towards a different path away from this darkness that I was raised in. Why? Because light is a part of darkness. I can stop struggling against it, but I don't wish to, because I am Schwarz."

    "I still don't understand," Aya finally said, looking away. Crawford gave a slight shake of his head, leaning in close and placing his mouth close to Aya's ear.

    "Gray, Aya." The words were barely a whisper. He saw a slight shiver go down Aya's spine, but whether it was because of his breath on Aya's ear or because of their closeness he wasn't sure.

    "Gray?" Aya asked, lost. Crawford leaned back slightly to face Aya, barely an inch between their faces.

    "You will understand, Aya," Crawford reassured him.

    One of his hands reached up, touching Aya's face gently, experimentally, to see if Aya pulled away. Aya's eyes widened slightly and Crawford saw color faintly tinge his cheeks. Ah, that was nice, to see color finally touch that too-pale skin. He ran his thumb lightly across the flesh, eyes locked with Aya's. "Why?" Aya managed to get out. His voice sounded a little hoarse. "Why do you care?"

    Schuldig's words floated back:

    "Earlier you asked yourself a question- 'Now that I've got him here, what I am supposed to do?'. Remember that question? The answer's simple. You kiss him."

    "I don't," Crawford answered softly. Imagine, taking advice from a German telepath with an unstable mind. Crawford leaned in. He heard Aya's soft gasp right before his mouth pressed against the boy's. Aya stiffened slightly at first, but then he was responding, his mouth opening to let Crawford enter. Aya tasted of pain and darkness, but so sweet. It was a taste that Crawford immediately found addictive. No one should taste this good! The hand that rested on Aya's face slid behind the man's head, tilting it back while he continued to ravage Aya's sweet mouth. He felt fingers against his clothes as Aya reached up, and the redhead closed his hand on the base of Crawford's neck where neck met shoulder, pulling him closer still. Time froze for them, as nothing existed but the feel of each other and the forbidden sweet taste between these two men, these two old enemies.

    Crawford finally slid his mouth from Aya's, lowering his head so his hair brushed against the redhead's cheek. Both were breathing heavily now, trying to catch their breath after such a stunning kiss. Slowly Crawford raised his head, gazing at Aya. Aya's lips were swollen from the kiss, and his eyes were murky with both confusion and- yes- lurking desire. "What...?" Aya managed to whisper, but that was all he could get out. He swallowed hard. "What was that?"

    "I'm not sure." Crawford was surprised to hear that his own voice was a little breathless. He had not foreseen his attraction to this man. Why not? His gift, that had helped him in countless times in the past, that had shown him so many little things that didn't matter and so many things that _did_, had failed to reveal this to him. He had known of his fascination with the man, but why hadn't he seen it turn from just interest to desire? Crawford gazed at Aya, and slowly Aya raised his eyes to meet Crawford's. They stood in silence for another long moment, then Crawford's eyes dropped to Aya's lips as he remembered that delicious taste. He leaned in, and Aya met him halfway. Crawford moved his right hand to Aya's hip and gently thumbed the flesh through his shirt. Aya's free hand rested lightly on Crawford's hand at his waist.

    And now Aya thought he understood, as he felt Crawford's mouth upon his again, as he gave himself up to what the clairvoyant was offering. Now he understood what Crawford had been trying to tell him about Weiß and Schwarz, what Yohji already knew.

   Somewhere along the way, black faded, white darkened, and all that was left was gray.


   Now she was hungry. Why couldn't she just have a restful night of sleep? At least she wasn't cold anymore. She was so warm and comfortable, and she felt like she could stay there forever, if she wasn't so hungry. Giving a small sigh she forced her eyes to open. The ceiling was unfamiliar. Slowly, as her head felt funny when she moved it, she turned her head to the side. She was in a bed. A hospital bed. Why? Panic rose in her chest. What was going on? The last thing she remembered was being at the festival with her brother. What had happened?

    She moved under the covers, rolling onto her side. Where was her brother? He would know what was going on. As soon as her legs stopped tingling she'd get up and find him. Satisfied with the thought, she sat up, her eyes falling first on a vase of beautiful flowers nearby, then on a nurse button. She pressed the nurse button. They would find Ran-niichan for her.

    ~Until then,~ she thought, picking up a flower to smell it, ~I'll wait here for him.~

    One of her beautiful smiles spread on her face as she held the flower to her chest, her eyes sparkling with love and kindness. ~I'll always wait for my Ran-niichan. I'm sure he'd do the same for me.~

The End
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