You canít quit until you try
You canít live until you die
You canít learn to tell the truth
Until you learn to lie

You canít breathe until you choke
You gotta laugh when youíre the joke
Thereís nothing like a funeral to make you feel alive

Just open your eyes
Just open your eyes
And see that life is beautiful.
Will you swear on your life,
That no one will cry at my funeral?

I know some things that you donít
Iíve done things that you wonít
Thereís nothing like a trail of blood
to find your way back home

I was waiting for my hearse
What came next was so much worse
It took a funeral to make me feel alive

Just open your eyes
Just open your eyes
And see that life is beautiful.
Will you swear on your life,
That no one will cry at my funeral?

~* 'Life is Beautiful', by SIXX:AM *~





Chapter 1
"For Richer or For Poorer"


The Koneko no Sume Ie had once been a favorite stop for schoolgirls of all ages; nowadays it had just as many male customers as it did female. Perhaps it was because the four handsome men who had once worked there had disappeared overnight, and no one was sure if they would ever return.

Or perhaps it was because the small flower shop was now run by a cute girl who always had a smile for everyone.

It was her sunny disposition that had won over her customers' loyalty in the end, and at least for the young men, it was the eternal hope that one day she would actually say "yes" to a date offer.

Seiji couldn't help but wonder if said boys would be so eager for a date if they saw what Fujimiya Aya was like when there weren't customers around.

It wasn't that she wasn't nice, he reflected, glancing across the shop at his employer. She was sweet, but when she thought no one was looking, he often caught her gazing off into space with a sad expression-- missing her brother, no doubt. She almost never mentioned him anymore. She'd hired Seiji only a few months ago, but from what he'd been able to discern, she hadn't even heard from her mysterious brother in almost a year.

He had learned never to mention Fujimiya Ran, and to always show up on time for work. He knew he was expected to keep the shop clean, and he had grown accustomed to practically shooing some of the more determined male customers out at closing time.

And he had very quickly learned that it was not a good idea to irritate his boss.

"I wonder if the temper runs in the family," Seiji muttered to himself, reaching up ruefully to see if he had a bump under his shaggy hair. Aya-chan was not a morning person, and being flippant with her before seven A.M. had only earned him a smack upside the head with the closest thing she'd had to hand-- which had ended up being a small garden spade.

He had marked her off as a bit strange but nice enough, which would have been all well and good if he hadn't followed the doomed path of the boys that visited the shop and ended up developing a helpless crush on her within a matter of weeks.

But Aya-chan, it seemed, was not at all interested in the dating game. She managed to politely blow off every obvious suitor, and seemed obvlivious of the more subtle ones. And though she was younger than Seiji by a year or two, she tended to treat him and the majority of the schoolboys as if they were... well, schoolboys. She acted almost as if she were older than she really was, when Seiji was quite positive she couldn't be a day over eighteen.

"Seiji-kun!"

He winced guiltily, sweeping furiously at the little piles of dirt that had collected under the shelves. "Sorry, Fujimiya-san! I was just thinking."

He glanced up and caught the fleeting fond smile on her face from where she was arranging the money in the cash register. "You're always daydreaming, Seiji-kun," she chided lightly.

At least she was in a better mood. She was always a bit more perky after about three cups of coffee loaded with a staggering amount of cream and sugar.

She glanced at the clock on the wall as she shut the till and reached for her apron. "You can go ahead and open up when you're finished. It's almost eight."

"Hai!" He swept faster, mind already drifting wistfully to ways he might somehow convince her to get a cold coffee or a crepe with him some day after work.

Aya's eyes flickered towards the picture she kept out of sight of the customers, poking out from under the register. Her brother's unsmiling face stared back at her-- one of the very few pictures she had of Ran from after what the doctors had called her 'miraculous recovery' from her coma.

Tying her apron strings firmly, she dragged her thoughts away from her missing brother and tried to focus her attention on watering the small potted flowers decorating the countertop. A moment later she heard the broom handle clack against the wall and the loud rattle of Seiji lifting the steel cage from the front of the shop.

She looked up in surprise when the little bell above the jar gave a quick ring. It was unusual to get customers so early in the morning. The shop was busiest at lunch and after school hours.

"Irrashai~" she echoed Seiji's call. The customer paused just inside the doorway, giving the shop a quick sweep before turning his eyes her way. Aya studied him curiously for a moment, watering can hovering over a waiting pot of gardenias.

At first glance, she'd taken him to be a regular businessman, perhaps dropping by to get his secretary a little gift of appreciation for a job well done. He was dressed in a suit, and his hair was dark, but on closer inspection, he was obviously not Japanese.

He was too tall, for one thing, and his features were certainly foreign. And though she couldn't make out the color of his eyes from across the shop, gazing at her calmly from behind a pair of glasses, they didn't look dark enough or slanted enough to be Japanese.

Then he was looking away and heading for the ferns. Aya shrugged mentally and returned to her task.

"Can I help you find anything in particular?" Seiji was asking politely.

There was only the faintest of accents to the man's quiet baritone. "This shop used to carry roses."

"Oh, they're right over here. We have several different kinds.."

Aya tuned them out, finishing with the gardenias and turning to tend to the small potted sapling behind her. She studied the thin branches clinically. Saplings didn't sell well, and required a lot of water. They'd stopped selling them, but she had kept one for herself. "There are few enough trees in the city as it is," she'd pointed out when Seiji had questioned her about it. "If I ever get a place with a yard, maybe I'll plant it and have shade when it grows up." Silly and sentimental, perhaps, but she refused to get rid of the skinny thing.

When she turned back to the counter, the customer was standing there, brow arched as he studied the pathetic looking sapling.

Setting the empty can aside firmly, Aya shifted so that she blocked the man's view of the tree, offering her most friendly customer service smile. "Will this be all?" She glanced at the strange assortment he held loosely in his hands-- four single flowers. A gentian, a freesia, a cattleya, and a blood-red rose.

"Yes."

This close, she could see now that his eyes were a strange honey color, calculating and distant. He was handsome, no doubt, but there was something almost... cold to him. 'Hardcore business man,' she thought as she took the flowers and wrapped them carefully, tying them off with a bit of patterned ribbon. "Interesting selection," she noted, pausing to take a quick sniff of the rose.

His lips quirked in a barely-there smile that looked as automatic and impersonal as a brief handshake. But something in his eyes seemed strangely amused as he gazed back at her. "They hold a special meaning," he assured her blithely.

"Are they for a friend?" she asked.

"You mean girlfriend."

She grinned, ringing up the purchase. "Not necessarily."

He blinked, but didn't seem to take offense. Over his shoulder Aya caught Seiji sending her his 'You're Speaking Without Thinking Again' look. She pretended not to see.

"I suppose you could say they were for men," the man admitted calmly, surprising her a bit. "But do you have any black ribbon?"

She hesitated, fingers hovering over the tied ribbon. Oh lord, they weren't flowers for graves, were they? Suddenly uncomfortable, she quickly quoted the price and untied the colorful ribbon, replacing it with a scrap of black velvet she dug out of the drawer.

As she handed the flowers over, she glanced up and caught him staring at her nametag. He lifted his gaze to hers, one thin brow arched, but didn't say anything. Accepting his change and flowers with a slight nod, he turned and left without a word.

"Come again," Aya called. Her fingers hovered over the nearly-bare register. Please come again, she thought fervently. Despite the shop's popularity, paying customers were actually something of a rarity, and had been since long before she'd taken her brother's job. School girls and boys with paltry pocket change would rather chat up the owner of the store than spend what little money they had on flowers and potted plants. The shop had never been a great source of income, and with the disappearance of the handsome men who had run it, business had dropped.

And there were bills to pay.

~*~


"Let me get this straight..."

Crawford ignored the edge to his partner's voice, shrugging out of his jacket and hanging it neatly on the hook by the door.

"You go out to get us some half-decent food, and bring back weeds. After refusing to let me buy a plasma screen-- with MY money, might I add."

"We no longer have the luxury of spending money as freely as we once did," Crawford pointed out, crossing the room and plucking the flowers from the younger man's crushing grip. He shoved a bag of groceries into the German's arms instead. "There's pasta in there."

Schuldich opened the bag and stared blankly at the contents. "I don't cook," he stated flatly.

"You boil water and add the noodles. It's simple enough for even someone with your limited intelligence to grasp. Where's that vase I bought last week?"

Schuldich gestured vaguely in the direction of the low coffee table, already heading for the tiny kitchenette. "That hideous thing? I thought it was an ashtray."

Clenching his teeth, Crawford plucked up the vase from the table and followed his partner. He shook the ashes out into the sink and began rinsing it thoroughly.

Schuldich shot him an odd sideways glance as he tore open the box of pasta. "Flowers to make this dump all pretty? You going soft on me, old man?"

"Hardly." Crawford added clean water to the vase and arranged his four blossoms meticulously. "This is a message."

Schuldich's gaze lingered on the odd assortment. "Subtlety with class, as always," he said mockingly before turning away to rummage in the bare cabinets for a pot. "Just forget it, for christ's sake. We don't even know where those little shits are. They dropped off the face of the earth, and good fucking riddance." He set the pot down in the sink with unnecessary force, twisting the faucet knob fiercely. He glared down into the slowly rising water, fingers clenching the edge of the counter. "I've had it with those little bastards. If I don't see a single one of them again, I'll die a happy man. Unless of course they happen to be conveniently tied up. And unarmed. And I have a gun."

"They won't be gone forever," Crawford pointed out. "Not while the girl is here."

Schuldich looked up sharply. "Fujimiya's sister, you mean." He frowned. "He might come back for her-- maybe. Why would the others?" He turned off the water abruptly and heaved the pot out of the sink, irritated all over again. "And anyway, what the fuck do you care?" He slammed the pot down hard enough on the stovetop to slosh water onto the floor. "You're fucking obsessed with WeiŖ," he snarled. "The little bastards nearly took us all out, fucked up all our plans--"

"You give them entirely too much credit." Crawford turned and leaned his back against the counter, crossing his arms over his chest to stare steadily at the other man. "And personally, I'm growing weary of your constant bitching."

"I'm not bitching." Schuldich dumped the noodles carelessly into the water. "I'm just pointing out what a god-damn headcase you are for wanting to clue those idiots in on the fact that Schwarz is still alive and kicking."

"We aren't 'Schwarz' anymore," Crawford interrupted. "And not all of us are--"

Schuldich threw the box aside furiously, turning on his partner, eyes narrowed. "Shut up. Just shut the fuck up, Crawford."

Crawford gazed back at him coolly for a moment before pushing himself away from the counter and retreating in silence. He was not in the mood to get into another argument with the other man, and it didn't take a clairvoyant to see how bad this one might get.

Schuldich had gotten even testier than usual since Crawford had put his foot down about their budget almost three months ago. Finding work had proven to be next to impossible, and the funds they'd stored away were rapidly dwindling. They could no longer live the kind of life they'd grown accustomed to, and Schuldich was in utter disdain at the notion of being practically "poor", though it was closer to middle class. Going from ritzy flats and hotels to a small two-bedroom apartment had been a blow to the German's pride. It was a constant struggle to keep the idiot from buying things they didn't need.

But the flowers... they had a purpose. Schuldich wasn't the only one who felt stung by where life had led them. With no one else to vent his spleen on, he had focused his simmering plans for revenge on the only obvious target.

WeiŖ.

Schuldich appeared in the kitchenette doorway, bad mood gone as quickly as it had appeared. Definitely bipolar, Crawford thought sourly, not for the first time.

"Almost forgot--" Schuldich waggled his spoon towards the mail tossed haphazardly across the coffee table's surface. "You got somethin' from some Aigawa guy. Looked important."

Crawford arched a brow. "I'm surprised you managed to keep from opening it yourself." He kept his face carefully composed as he plucked up the plain white envelope and ripped it open.

"Looked boring," Schuldich said airily, but he didn't make any move to return to the kitchen. "Who the hell is Aigawa?"

Crawford didn't answer at first, skimming the letter quickly with a flash of self-satisfaction.

"Well?" Schuldich made a face at him. "What is it?"

Crawford held up the letter, a small smile of triumph hovering on his lips. "A job."

"What??" Schuldich was across the room in a flash, practically snatching the letter from Crawford's hands. Crawford moved it deftly out of reach, planting an elbow firmly in the German's chest to hold him at bay. "Let me see! Why didn't you tell me you found someone crazy or psychotic enough to hire us? What's the job? Give it here, dammit!"

"Control yourself, Schuldich," Crawford drawled, switching the envelope to his other hand to put more distance between it and Schuldich's grasping fingers. "Back off and shut up and I'll explain."

Crawford was quick-- Schuldich was quicker. He darted around the older man and practically ripped the letter from his hand. He was back out of immediate grabbing range in two quick strides, eyes greedily scanning the neatly penned words. Crawford looked from his empty hand to Schuldich and frowned in displeasure.

"Shit, Crawdad, this is pure gold!" Schuldich exclaimed, eyes lighting up. "How the hell did you land such a cushy job?"

"I knew you'd be thrilled," Crawford said dryly. "Aigawa had heard of Schwarz's reputation. I'm not sure how he found out you and I were still alive and in Japan, but I'm sure he has his ways. He contacted me and asked if I'd be interested. We discussed the terms and payment, and he said he would let me know if he still required our services."

Schuldich chortled happily, and Crawford sighed internally. No doubt the other man was already planning on how quickly he would spend his upcoming paycheck.

"Wait..." Schuldich's eyes narrowed, and Crawford knew he'd caught the finer details of the job. The telepath reread the letter quickly, then shot his partner an incredulous look. "Tell me this isn't a gay cruise."

"Don't be ridiculous." Crawford walked over and plucked the letter away.

"He wants us to 'fit in'. How the hell do you plan on pulling that off?" He scowled darkly. "And if I hear the words 'Schuldich in drag' so much as flit through your head, you're going to be breathing through a tube for the rest of your life."

Crawford rolled his eyes, folding the letter up neatly and sliding it into his back pocket. "Trust me, Schuldich, you wouldn't fool anyone."

"Hey, are you saying I'm not pretty?"

"I hope you're joking."

"Seriously, what do you plan on doing? Hiring a hooker?" He paused thoughtfully. "I could do that."

Crawford grimaced at the thought. "He only requires one of us to have a partner, idiot. And since I don't feel like dealing with you and some uncouth girl making fools of us, I will be the only one required to fill out this part of the deal."

Schuldich gazed off into space. "Hold on a second. I'm trying to put together the mental image of you going up to a street girl with a deal like this. She might laugh in your face."

"I am not bringing along a hooker, Schuldich," Crawford said sharply, mildly offended at the suggestion. "She wouldn't fit in anyway, and would probably only end up blowing our cover."

"Well, sorry, buddy, but we're kind of lacking in the female companion department," Schuldich pointed out acidly. "I could call up whatsherface, Rei, but I don't think she wants to be within two miles of me."

"I'm not interested in the army of women you warm your bed with and then discard," Crawford said stiffly.

Schuldich spread his arms wide, expression mocking. "Well, then, mister all-knowing, where exactly do you expect to find a girl to fit your high standards on such short notice?"

"She doesn't have to be perfect," Crawford corrected. "She just has to be able to act like a civilized lady for a few days."

Schuldich arched a brow. "You sound like you have someone in mind."

Crawford's mouth stretched in a slow, conspiratorial smile. "Perhaps."


==========
Important notes for die-hard WK fans: - Yes, this is a het fic (gasp!), though anyone that reads my shit should expect there to be hints of a side yaoi relationship going on in the background, even if it's only hinted at
- Gluhen does not exist
- Neither does that kindly old lady who seemed to own the shop in the anime but only showed up a couple of times
- As for approximate timeline, this takes place close to the end of the OVA
- I have not seen the OVA
- I plan on winging some things. Besides, WK isn't my true fandom, so there may be inconsistencies that the most die-hard WK fans (those like Mami, who know the exact chronological order of the WK world) might pick out
- Attempt to forgive me for this >>;
==========

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