It was raining outside.
But then, it always seemed to rain these days.
He shifted in his spot in front of the window. He could still smell the thick scent of dried blood floating in the warm air of the room, overpowering even the smell of the white petals that were strewn everywhere. His eyes slid to the pile of clothes in the corner of his room. He hadn't bothered to clean them yet. He probably never would. He wanted the blood that was on them. He wanted it to stay there with him forever. It was all he really had left, and he would cling to it as fiercely as he could. It was his, and it would remain his if it meant guarding it with his life.
He closed his eyes, lips thinning to a faint line.
Omi had tried to take it away from him. Omi had learned very quickly not to touch it.
A soft sigh, a wavery noise, slipped from the man's mouth. He turned his attention back on the world outside, lifting a hand to lightly touch the glass. The contrast of the warmth of his skin and the coldness of the glass caused the window's surface to fog up in the shape of his hand. "Where warm meets cold, there is haze," he whispered to himself, the words falling from his mouth like quiet stones. He tilted his head to the side and moved his hand. "It's a compromise between them..."
Already the fog was fading, and it disappeared until all that remained was the glass- and through it, the rain that continued endlessly. "So why does cold always win?"
Rain, rain, rain.
"Make it stop..." A strangled sob worked its way up through his throat and he felt his eyes water with tears. Tears, ah. He'd thought he'd cried all he could, but like the rain, the tears kept coming back. He sank to the ground in front of the window, tucking his legs up against his chest and burying his face between his knees. Body wracking with sobs so strong they were painful, he could only manage one more plea.
"Please, make the rain stop!..."
An Aya/Ken fic
"Omi-kun, do you think these flowers match my eyes?" One girl latched onto Omi's shoulder with a small but firm hand, bringing her face close to Omi's. Her other hand held three small blooms, their stems wrapped in gentle tissue paper, and she thrust it up alongside her cheek. Omi blinked, startled, grasp tightening on the large pot he was carrying. As he opened his mouth to answer, however, another voice broke in.
"Omi-kun, tell me what flowers would be best!" It was another girl, eyes dancing with glee and the hope that she would be able to secure Omi all to herself.
"E-eto..." Omi winced when the second girl leaned forward, placing her hands on the pot and unconsciously adding more weight to the already heavy burden. "Meiki-san! The pot, please!"
She looked down, startled, and immediately leapt back when she realized what she was doing. She scratched her head embarrassedly, laughing in a self-conscious way. "Gomen ne, Omi-kun!"
"Well, Omi?" The first girl butted her way back into the conversation- if it could be called that- by giving Omi's shoulder a small shake. Apparently she did not like being ignored. She pouted, her lower lip protruding almost an inch from the rest of her face. "Omi-kun!"
Omi's eyes darted from the flowers to her eyes. "They're beautiful, Yomi-san!" he reassured her. "Just the right shade of blue!" He gave her a bright smile.
"Ara~, arigato, Omi-kun!" She sighed dreamily, falling back and clutching the flowers to her small breasts.
Omi turned back to the second girl. "What type of flowers are you looking for, Meiki-san?"
"Well, let's see..." She tapped her lower lip with a finger, giving the question much thought. As she was thinking, four more girls immediately clumped behind Omi.
"Omi-kun!" they chorused. Omi's hands tightened on the pot and his gaze darted around the shop. Ken was busy transplanting a plant for a waiting woman, Aya was working with Sakura at his elbow, and Yohji...Yohji was standing in a corner watching the happenings.
"Yohji-kun!" Omi called to him. "Do you mind helping?"
Yohji gave him a smirk. "None of them are over eighteen."
"Ara~!" Omi sighed wearily before turning back to his customers. Ah well. "Please wait a moment while I serve Meiki-san," he asked them with a smile. Meiki-san sent the girls an arrogant look that she was going to be tended to first. Omi hid a grin. It wasn't because of favoritism, that was for sure. He was only helping her first because she'd gotten there before the other girls. If they weren't there, he would shake his head in amusement. ~Girls,~ he thought. ~I will never understand them!~
The same thoughts were running through Ken's head as he finished Hidori's transplanting. It was a wonder he'd managed to finish his work considering how often his eyes had strayed towards Aya and Sakura. She lifted the pot and smiled gratefully at him, moving it so it rested comfortably on her hip with one arm wrapped around it. "Thank you, Hidaka-san."
"No problem, Hidori-san," he assured her, wiping his hands off on his apron. They started towards the counter and Ken glanced once more at the two by the front window. He made a small noise of disgust and frustration as he slipped behind the cash register.
His customer leaned forward, handing him her money. "If you like her so much," Hidori said, eyes sparkling knowingly, "why don't you say something?"
"What?" Ken looked at her blankly.
"Sakura. You keep looking at her." A smile curved Hidori's lips. "Keep staring and they might arrest you for indeceny."
It took several moments for what she was implying to sink in, and Ken recoiled from her in surprise. "Me," he sputtered, "like _her_?" Where did this woman get off thinking that? Ken did _not_ like Sakura. She was the one girl that he never wanted to see. She hung around the shop and got in the way, she was an overall airhead, and she clung to Aya almost nonstop. Why would he like her?
"No need to hide it, Hidaka-san. It's obvious."
He felt insulted and dirtied, but he couldn't very well tell her the full truth. "I'm trying to figure out what flower she's playing with," he told Hidori. Aya had given the flower a girl to play with- hopefully to keep her hands full and off of him. Ken was hoping it wasn't a flower that declared love. He didn't think he'd be able to take it.
"Of course you are." Hidori accepted her change, chuckling as she turned and headed out of the shop.
Ken's eyes went back to the pair in front of the window. ~Like Sakura? Not likely...~ His eyes strayed instead to Aya and he gave a soft, longing sigh. Aya looked good standing there, dressed in a long sleeved dark shirt, his apron only faintly dusted with dirt. The sunlight streaming through the window left dappled shadows across his chest and face. His patented serious expression was gone, leaving a look on that was more relaxed than usual. Ken smiled in appreciation and grudging gratitude. Despite how annoying Sakura could be, she did help Aya unwind. Of course, he wouldn't mind if it was _he_ that made Aya's scowl disappear.
It hadn't taken him long to fall in love with Fujimiya Aya.
Ken lowered his eyes to the counter and lightly ran his fingers along the surface. He had always been fascinated by the man, even through the rough times when Aya had first joined on to Weiß. He had been intrigued by the man's icy exterior that hid a soft inside. Ken knew that Aya couldn't be frozen all the way through, and he was determined to get past that stony mask to what lay beneath. Somewhere along the way of trying to befriend the man, admiration and respect had faded to love.
Ken had almost told him, multiple times. He was wary of the response, but he wanted- _needed_- to know how Aya would react. At first he had been deathly afraid that Aya would reject him and turn him away. By now he had come to accept that anything that made Aya happy would make him happy- even if it wasn't himself. A rejection would still hurt deeply, but it would not end his life.
"Ken-kun!" Omi called, a plea.
Ken looked up. Omi was the only one really working- none of the girls dared gather by Aya except Sakura, and Yohji had vanished. He had mostly likely ducked out for a cigarette break. Ken berated Yohji mentally for leaving Omi, stepping out from behind the counter. "Can I help anyone?" he asked pleasantly, smiling at the girls that were clinging to any part of Omi they could reach. He had to have two dozen hands holding onto various parts of his clothing, and was looking pretty frazzled.
Most of the clump transferred to Ken, and he found himself being tugged at, being stared at by many pairs of shiny eyes. Love and adoration was written on all of their faces, and Ken felt a small twinge of pain for their naivete. These girls didn't love them. They only thought they did. Love was something more. Love was...Love was what he felt for Aya.
"Ken-kun! Do you like my shirt?"
"Ken-kun! Do you think I'm pretty?"
A gossiping crowd. They didn't want flowers. Ken gave an tolerant internal sigh, smiling indulgently at the girls. "Yes, that shirt looks very nice on you. And yes, you are very pretty, Ai-san." The two girls blushed brightly and tittered. "Does anyone want to purchase flowers now, or are you still looking?"
One girl, bolder than the rest, moved to the front of the crowd. "Ken-kun," she addressed him as Ken's mind scrambled for her name. Ah. It was Yumi. Itzuki Yumi. She came once to watch the kids play soccer. They'd had an interesting conversation about soccer after the game. It had taken him a moment to place her face because now she was dressed up, and at the game she had been wearing overalls and a cap. "Would you like to get a snack with me sometime?"
Ken blinked. "As a date?"
"Gomen ne. I don't date." He smiled faintly. ~I'm saving that for a certain redhead.~
She deflated slightly, then got her wind back and jutted her chin out. "As friends, then."
"That'd be nice." He nodded in agreement with his words.
"Good!" She clapped her hands once, then clasped them together. "How about tonight?"
"Uh..." Hmm...He got off at six today, and soccer wasn't until tomorrow morning. "Sure!"
"If they're not going to buy anything, they need to get out."
Ken jumped at the voice so close to his ear- really _jumped_. He jerked his head in that direction to see Aya standing right there. ~Damn, he's so close!~ Aya was standing so near to him that only a breath of air was between his chest and Ken's shoulder. Sakura was behind him. Ken cursed himself inwardly as he felt his cheeks burn and turned his head quickly in the other direction to focus on the girls. "Sakura didn't buy anything," he muttered in self-defense.
"She's about to."
~She gabbed first.~ The words almost made their way out of his mouth, but Ken didn't want to press the argument. Arguing with Aya was generally not a good thing, as he never won and it was not good to argue with someone that he wanted to like him. Ken raised a hand to scrub at his cheek instead, pretending to be wiping away some dirt while he was trying to hide the blush that was on his cheeks. He hoped it didn't show. "You heard the man," he told the girls surrounding him. Yumi was giving him a funny look- mixed between assessing and doubtful. "If you wait a moment, Yumi-san, I'm about to go on break and then we can figure out times and places."
The odd look disappeared, as he'd hoped it would. She brightened, practically glowing with delight. Aya, on the other hand, was radiating disapproval. The redhead's facial expression hadn't changed, but Ken had learned how to know what Aya was feeling. She stepped off to the side, and sent two girls a triumphant grin. Ken chuckled inwardly. ~I don't know why she's preening. We're just going as friends.~
Aya and Sakura made their way to the cash register, a small plant held carefully in Sakura's delicate hands. Ken watched them go for a moment before turning away and rubbing his hands together. "Yosh'. So who would like to buy something?"
"I'll buy something, Ken-kun!" one freckle-faced foreigner spoke up, and that started a chain reaction as the rest of the girls vied for a reason to stay and chat.
Aya handed Sakura her change and watched her go. She paused at the door to turn and wave, offering him a wink and a smile. Aya lifted his own hand in farewell before turning to survey the shop. Omi was starting to look a bit tired. Ken was going on his break and to send Yohji back inside where he belonged, the girl from earlier at his elbow. Aya watched them step out of the back of the shop to talk, trying to keep his jaw from tightening.
~Who is that girl?~ Aya demanded inwardly. He'd never seen her around here before. Then again, he didn't pay attention to the girls. But someone did...Someone knew all of their names.
He turned his attention on that someone. "Who is that?" he asked, voice calm and betraying nothing of what he was feeling.
"Eh?" Omi looked up briefly from where he was checking a few plants' moisture. One didn't meet his standards and he began misting it with water from a spray bottle.
"The girl with Ken."
"Oh." Omi thought it over. "Itzuki Yumi. She's been here only once before, yesterday when Ken wasn't on duty. She was looking for him."
~This girl came looking specifically for Ken?~ Aya turned his gaze to the register. He began to sort through the excess change and place it in neat coin rolls. His movements were as exact and graceful as they always were, masking his internal anger. Who did that girl think she was, coming here to stalk Ken? What right did she have to think she could steal all of his time? Aya had thought he'd be able to get rid of her by telling Ken that she needed to get out if she wasn't going to buy anything, but he'd failed.
And that comment about Sakura, from Ken- what was _that_ supposed to mean? Sakura had been at no fault. If Ken had been trying to imply that she was, the brunette was wrong.
Aya shook his head slightly to clear his thoughts. He would never understand the younger assassin. He usually saw himself as a step ahead of everyone else, but Ken always left him behind. It had been that way since the day they'd met. Well, it had been night then, and Aya had been trying to kill him...Details.
Yohji sauntered in, reeking of cigarettes and fresh air. "Who's the babe Ken's got back there?"
"An admirer of Ken-kun's," Omi answered, putting aside his spray bottle when a girl tugged on his sleeve. He turned to the girl, smiling brightly. "May I help you, Riki-san?"
"Any girls over eighteen?" Yohji asked, looking around with a charming grin on his face. He was immediately latched onto by about six girls who had been waiting for his return.
Aya scowled in disgust, turning to the leftover girls that were waiting on him. They were huddled as close as they could get without touching him, eyes shining brightly with adoration. They made him sick. "Who needs what?" he asked, tone flat to tell them how little he cared for their flattering. They began to all speak at once, hammering him from a thousand directions at the same time, their voices eager and urgent. He reached up to rub his temples with a hand, silencing them with a glare. "One at a time," he bit out.
They glanced at each other as if daring someone to be the first to speak. Finally one girl flipped her hair over her shoulder and turned fully to face him. She batted her eyes and gave him her sweetest smile. "Ne, Aya-kun...I need something pretty for my yard. What flower do you think would be right for me?"
"White Hollycock," Aya said dryly, the answer out of his mouth before he could stop it. "It's a vine." She seemed pleased by his answer, which showed she didn't know the meaning behind the plant- female ambition. He gestured to where it was growing up a small terrace by the window. She chirped something inane about how it was her favorite flower or some equally stupid comment. As he turned to find the small one they just planted, he saw Omi watching him with a mixture of amusement and surprise. Aya merely gazed back until the younger boy grinned and turned away with a shake of his head.
At the first girl's boldness, the others got their courage up. Aya was kept so busy for a while that he almost forgot about Ken and that twit that had been drooling on him.
Almost, that is...Until Ken and the girl reappeared. Ken waved her off at the door before turning to see where he could be of the most help. Aya had stopped in his work the moment the other assassin returned. Ken noticed and glanced up to search his face. When he founds Aya's flat, disapproving gaze staring back at him, he dropped his eyes again quickly.
~You can't see that girl,~ Aya wanted to say. ~She's wrong for you.~
He could imagine Ken's response- "Oh? Who are you to judge who's right or wrong for me?"
And then Aya would answer the truth softly. ~Someone who loves you.~
Those sorts of things were better left unsaid. Aya pushed away the bitter twinge that contracted his heart briefly. He couldn't say such a thing. Ken was the one he felt he could trust most out of the others. He didn't want to destroy that trust.
He didn't want to lose Ken.
He wouldn't be able to live if Ken reacted badly. A "no" might be all right. It would hurt, but Aya would learn to accept it. But if Ken just _stared_ at him, or gave him a look of disbelief and disgust...
So instead, Aya said, "Hurry and get back to work."
And Ken nodded.
"Yohji! I don't need your help!" Ken protested for the umpteenth time. The two men were standing on the stairs, with Yohji at the base to block Ken's way and inspect the younger man. Omi was leaning against his broom, watching them with interest. Aya was trying to ignore them all. Unfortunately, like all of the other times he tried to ignore anything that had to do with Ken, he was failing.
'Bring flowers," Yohji instructed, ignoring Ken's words.
"Flowers are for dates! This isn't a date!"
"He's in denial, Omi."
"I noticed." Omi chuckled and brushed his bangs out of his face.
"We're going out as _friends_. We're going to talk about _soccer_," Ken stressed, trying once more to get past Yohji.
Yohji sidestepped back into Ken's path. "Soccer?" he asked distastefully. "You'll bore her to death on a subject like that." Ken made a frustrated sound and glanced towards Omi for help. Omi just grinned back. "Here's what you should talk about..."
Aya couldn't take it anymore. He interrupted coldly, lifting his gaze to pin Yohji with it. "Get out of his way and let him go."
"I'm just giving him some really needed help."
~Don't. If soccer bores her, it'll chase her away and he'll be left for me.~
"Leave him alone."
Yohji sighed and stepped out of the way, giving Ken a playful clout on the shoulder as he passed. "Go get 'er," he encouraged with a big wink. Ken rolled his eyes. "Don't come back until morning."
"Have fun!" Omi added as Ken went by him.
The brunette paused by Aya, glancing up as if seeking encouragement. Aya automatically met his gaze, and time seemed to slow to a crawl. Ken's brown eyes were always so open. The boy couldn't hide much unless he desperately wanted to. Perhaps it was his carefree honesty that had first attracted him. Who knew? All he knew was that he'd slowly fallen in love with his younger male teammate. His friend's gender didn't bother him. He'd had brief experience in the past, with Knight...Then there had been a chance with Botan- the other man had made that quite clear.
What bothered Aya was that he had never wanted anyone as much as he wanted Ken. That was dangerous.
"Well?" Yohji spoke up when he got tired of the silence. "Any words for the big man of the night?"
"Be back by eleven," Aya said dryly. ~If you're out all night...~ Aya didn't want to think about the reasons behind such a long date.
A brilliant smile lit up Ken's face before the younger assassin could stop it and look away. The sudden radiance of it took Aya's breath away. It was as if that had been what Ken had wanted him to say.
"Ch'. Ignore him, Ken. Go have fun." Yohji waggled his hand at the nineteen year old.
Ken gave a snort, delight still dancing in his eyes. "Iie. See? Aya's the only one who understands she and I are just friends. Besides, I work morning shift." He grabbed his jacket. "Ja!"
The remaining three gazed at the door for a while after Ken had left. Yohji was the first to speak. "He's nineteen, you know," the oldest said to Aya, coming down the rest of the stairs. "It's about time he got laid. Give him a break and let him have fun."
"I won't let you corrupt him," Aya said, turning to gaze at Yohji calmly. Perhaps something about his tone was flatter than usual, because Omi glanced at him questioningly.
"_Corrupt_?" Yohji sounded offended, and his emerald eyes narrowed slightly. "We don't live forever, Aya. In fact, our lifespans will probably be much shorter than average. Everyone needs to break loose and have fun before they die."
"You have more than enough to cover for all of us," Aya said crisply, passing Yohji and handing over the broom as he went. Yohji started to make a sound of protest as he was passed the work, but Aya ignored him and went upstairs to his room.
Ken looked up at his name. Yumi had just entered the small coffee house. He smiled widely and lifted a hand in greeting as she neared the table. "Good evening, Itzuki-san," he said as she sat down across from him. "How are you doing?"
"I'm fine. You?"
A grin twitched at the corner of Ken's mouth. "I'm great." Better than great. Aya understood that this was not a date, and did not want Ken to stay out overnight. Perhaps there was hope after all.
A waitress came by to see what they'd like. Both ordered, then sat in silence for several seconds. Ken wasn't sure as to what to say. Yohji had given him plenty of topics- and pickup lines- but Ken wasn't interested in using them on Yumi. Not to mention that he doubted Aya would appreciate a pickup line like "Is there a mirror in your pants? I can see myself in them.".
Yumi broke the ice first. "When is your kids' next game?" she asked, twirling the salt shaker across the table top with her index finger and thumb.
"Next Wednesday. We're playing against the group from the rec center. It'll be a good game."
"They play well."
"They do," Ken agreed. He was proud of his kids, and his smile showed it.
"They have a good instructor." When Ken laughed and tried to brush the praise away, she gave a slight shake of her head and smiled. "You play soccer like you've played it all your life. You really should try out for a team. They have adult teams at the rec."
Ken smiled ruefully. "I don't have enough time."
Yumi giggled. "Does the flower shop really take up so much?"
"It's a lot more work than it seems." That was the truth. "What about you? Do you ever play?"
She gave a small shrug. As she answered, the waitress returned to serve them their hot tea and pastries. "I play now and then, but it's been years since I actually devoted myself to it. I think I'd get killed in a game if I tried now."
Ken grinned. "You have to keep your reflexes honed."
"And how do _you_ do that?" she teased him.
A flash went through his mind- sweeping out of the darkness of doorways, dodging fists, twisting to make sure the blow he delivered was fatal...Hearing gunfire and jerking aside as fast as he could, adrenaline turning into speed needed for self-preservation...
"Living with the people I do keeps me on my toes."
Yumi laughed, and the conversation flowed easily and smoothly after that. Yumi was a lovely person to talk to. She wove soccer and personal life together so well that within minutes Ken felt as if he had known her for years. For all of her questions, Ken found himself full of some for her, for all of her comments, Ken had comebacks and teasing remarks. Several times their laughter attracted the attention of the other customers. Finally the waitress brought over their bill. Yumi asked to pay for her half. When Ken protested, she insisted on paying her part since it wasn't a date.
As they fished out their wallets, Ken smiled at Yumi. "This was fun. I haven't actually gone places with other people in a long time."
"You should do it more often."
Yumi hesitated, debating whether or not to say something. Ken noticed and waited patiently, pausing in what he was doing. Finally she took his unspoken encouragement. "Why don't you date?"
Ken gave a slight, half-wistful smile. "I'm saving that for someone."
Another hesitation. Finally Yumi dropped her gaze and reached out to place her bills over the tab. "For Sakura?"
Ken stilled her hand with his free one, surprise rippling through him. _Sakura_? She was the second one to accuse him of harboring a crush on that girl. "Why do you say that?"
Yumi looked a bit uncomfortable. "Well...You're always looking at her when she's in the shop. There's a soft longing in your eyes when you gaze at her. Girls pick up on things like that."
The knowledge that even Yumi thought he liked Sakura was bothersome. Sakura was his competition. Any 'soft longing' that had shown had not been intended for her, but for the one she always hovered so close to. A faint frown traced his lips. "I don't like Sakura." When Yumi just gazed back, Ken released her hand.
"You don't have to try and hide it," Yumi soothed. "It's only natural. I mean, you're both attractive people..."
"I don't like Sakura," Ken said with more heat. "I like-" He cut himself off and closed his mouth, giving a short shake of his head and digging the bills out of his wallet. He reached out to drop them on top of Yumi's. This time, she was the one to stop him. Ken slowly raised his gaze to meet hers. Her eyes were wide in sudden understanding. Ken dropped his eyes again. That seemed to be all the confirmation she needed, for he heard her quiet gasp.
He'd promised himself he wouldn't let anyone else find out. He'd broken that promise. Now he was going to lose a friend because he was in love with another guy.
Soft fingers curled around his chin, and he met her gaze hesitantly. She was...smiling?
"Tell me," she entreatied. "Tell me all about it."
Ken entered the flower shop through the back door. He shrugged off his jacket as he passed through the storage room into the small area connecting the front of the shop, kitchen, and den. The lights were all off. Perhaps the others had turned in for an early night. He glanced at the clock as he passed the kitchen. 10:58. Two minutes early. A wistful smile curved his lips. He doubted Aya would notice.
As he neared the stairs, he heard the faint sound of the television. Curious, he stepped into the den's doorway. Aya was sitting in Yohji's chair, watching the news. For one foolish moment he had the notion that Aya had been staying up waiting for him. He brushed it away impatiently. After his conversation with Yumi, he was feeling a lot bolder, a lot more encouraged and sure of himself. That didn't mean he was ready to pour his heart out to Aya at an hour til midnight. These thoughts in mind, he tried to melt back out of view before he was seen.
No such luck.
Ken froze at the words, half in and half out of the dim glow the television offered. Then even that light disappeared, as Aya flicked it off. His heart sped up as he saw the dark shape that was Aya stand up. "Am I?" he asked.
Aya moved to stand in front of him. Ken's eyes adjusted to the darkness. His body was practically vibrating with the other man's close proximity. His breath seemed to stick in his throat. Aya's eyes searched his face, an odd expression on his features. The look was intense but held no anger. "Ken?"
Ken swallowed hard. "A-aa?" he managed to get out.
Aya brushed past him. "A mission came in."
Ken's heart sank, dropping from its spot in his throat to become a stone in his chest. Bitter disappointment pricked his eyes and he closed them. ~Ken no baka...~ he berated himself. ~What were you hoping for?~
"Oh." It was spoken as a mere whisper, and he wasn't sure Aya would even hear it.
Aya paused behind him. "Hai," the redhead said, a soft tone edging his voice. It was not a tone Ken had heard from him before. It was...Regret. Reluctance. Disappointment. It was a combination of all three. He wanted to turn and ask Aya what was wrong. His legs wouldn't obey, however, and common sense told him Aya wouldn't answer, anyway. Silence fell over them for several moments. Right when Ken was wondering if Aya really was waiting to be asked, Aya spoke again, his voice impassive. "Come on."
Ken swallowed the lump in his throat as Aya moved away. "Right behind you."
The first light in the room after the tape stopped was the small flame of Yohji's lighter as he moved to light a cigarette. Omi slowly rose from his spot and went to flick on the overhead lights. The four assassins remained silent for a while before Ken finally spoke.
Omi glanced over at his friend, sharing a look of shocked disgust with him when their eyes met. Manx took a step forward. After giving them the tape, she vanished to wait back by the stairwell. Omi looked over at her now. Her lips were drawn into a thin line and her expression was unreadable. "Do you think you can handle it?"
"Why wouldn't we?" Omi asked.
"Furisaka's security system is practically a legend among the political heads. All of his men are highly trained individuals." Yohji sniffed in disdain, and Manx's eyes hardened. The look she sent him was withering and cold. "This is not a game, Balinese. I fought with Persia over giving you this mission. Unless you can remain alert at _all_ _times_, this will be impossible and suicidal. Any distractions or daydreaming will get you and your teammates killed."
"He _has_ to be stopped." Ken looked up at her. "I'm in."
Omi stepped forward. "Me too."
Manx looked over at the others. They nodded. She pulled a folder out from where it'd been tucked under her arm and held it out as an offering to Omi. As Omi's hand closed on it and he tried to take it away, he noticed she still had a firm grip on the other end. He lifted inquiring eyes to meet hers. "There is not much we can give you on him that can be of help. It's up to you to find the information." A humorless smile twisted her lips. "You're about to be put to the test. How well you can do your job will alter the outcome of this mission."
Omi winced. "What pressure..."
Omi had never heard her voice be so hard. "If you don't think you can do it, give the folder back."
Tense silence fell. Finally Omi's fingers tightened on the folder. He tilted his chin up defiantly. "I can do it, Manx." When she didn't release her half, he added, "It's what I was raised to do." She continued to search his gaze, then released the folder. Omi clutched it to his chest.
"He must be dead by Friday. That morning he will be meeting with several department heads in the real estate division to try and spread his security men across Tokyo. That gives you two days to work. Good luck, Weiß." Her heels clicked against the grated stairs as she left.
Omi carried the folder to his computer and jiggled the mouse to get rid of the screensaver. He slid into his chair and flipped open the folder. It contained six sheets of paper with photoes and public profiles. Omi studied each sheet. This had to be an extremely difficult mission, if Manx hadn't wanted them to get it. This man had to be stopped, however, and the four of them were willing to risk a few bullet wounds. He lifted Furisaka's public profile. The man had a friendly, open face. From looking at the picture, it was hard to imagine that this man was capable of so many murders...
"So, Ken," Yohji drawled, "how was your date?"
With those words, the thick tension that had built in the air vanished. A grateful smile quirked at the corner of Omi's mouth, though it was obvious Ken wasn't so pleased by the question. "It wasn't a date!" the brunette protested.
"You were gone for three and a half hours. That's a date." Ken made an annoyed noise, which Yohji ignored. "So how'd it go? You didn't bore her to death, did you?"
Omi glanced over his shoulder in time to see Ken shoot a glare at Yohji. "Is she nice?" he asked, trying to soothe his friend's ruffled feathers.
Ken turned a wide smile on Omi. "Very nice."
There was a soft click of Aya's boots as the man started up the stairs. Yohji glanced after the redhead. "Aren't you going to stay for the gory details of Ken's first date in hell knows how long?"
Aya didn't look back. "Iie. Omi, find what you can." The door shut quietly behind him at the top.
Yohji shrugged and turned back to Ken. "So? Tell me everything that happened." The smile on his face was sultry and expectant.
Ken clasped his hands together in his lap. "Not now, Yohji," Ken said quietly. Omi blinked, surprised at the sudden shift in Ken's attitude at Aya's exit. "I need help from both of you." This got their attention, and they turned to fully face him. Ken paused for several moments, twisting his hands together restlessly. Finally he raised his eyes from his lap and looked around at both of them. "I know when we were assigned to be florists, we were taught all about the various meanings of bouquets and individual flowers...But this is one arrangement I want to make sure I want to get perfectly. I'm afraid of messing it up," he admitted.
"What message?" Omi asked, tilting his head to one side in curiosity.
Ken's eyes dropped. "Confession of love," he said softly.
Omi's jaw dropped. A strange expression of disbelief and wariness flickered across Yohji's face. No doubt he was thinking of Ken's brief encounter with Yuriko and his own time with Asuka. "Love?" Yohji repeated, all playful teasing replaced by seriousness.
"How long have you known this girl?"
Ken shook his head and met Yohji's gaze steadily. A smile curled his lips faintly. "Not her. She's the one who gave me the push I needed, the extra courage I'm lacking. She knew I liked someone, but she wasn't quite sure who it was. It slipped tonight, who it is."
"How long...?" Omi blinked in shock. Ken loved someone? He hadn't known...Ken must have desperately wanted to keep this a secret, if they hadn't been able to notice it. All those times Ken bounced out of the shop with the pretense of playing soccer- had he been seeing his secret love some of those times?
"Seven months and twenty-two days since the first moment I suspected I was in love."
Yohji whistled softly. "That long?" Ken nodded. Yohji studied Ken for several moments, the solemn edge to his face fading. Apparently the length of time reassured Yohji that: one, it was not just a passing fancy; and two, it was possible for Ken to keep the relationship going and safe despite the missions they were sent on. "What's her name?"
Ken grinned and shook his head. "I'm not going to tell you that until I know whether or not she accepts me."
"Describe her to me, then."
Omi had never seen such a soft look in Ken's eyes. "Beautiful," Ken whispered simply. "The one I love is the most beautiful person in the world."
A warmth spread through Omi at Ken's words. He was so happy for his friend. Who could reject Ken? "Myrtle and rosebud," he told Ken, the delayed answer to Ken's inquiry about the flowers. "I'll take your morning shift tomorrow and work with Yohji-kun so you can deliver the bouquet."
"Arigato, Omi." Ken stood. "Thanks, both of you." They smiled back at him and watched him disappear upstairs.
Yohji stood and stretched. "Well, I'll leave you to your work, Omi." He waved goodnight and left, probably to think the events of the evening over.
Omi sighed and turned his attention back to the profiles. Now and then, his mind strayed back to Ken. ~Good luck, Ken-kun...~
"Have you told him yet?"
Aya turned his gaze away from the window. The morning was dim and gray, so the sidewalks outside had few people. He'd been watching two kids race to get home, shopping bags held close to their chests. Now he looked over his cup at Sakura. "Have I told him yet?" he repeated.
She nodded. "That you like him," she prompted.
"I can't do that." He ignored her weary sigh, taking a deep sip of his coffee. Its warmth spread through him, helping to chase away some of the chill of the dismal morning. He'd always been slightly bothered by the fact she had picked up on his attraction to his younger assassin. No one else had. He had wondered over it for a long time, had sat and puzzled over how this one girl could see through his mask. He supposed it was because she was the closest outsider to the team. She knew of what they did. He had promised to explain it, and had kept that promise. Her acceptance, her cheerful attitude, and her overall friendly manner had drawn them together. She was possibly his best friend.
And she'd nearly given him a heart attack when she'd brought up his longtime crush out of the blue a few months ago. They'd had a brief talk about it, then, but he had been reluctant to tell her anything in the start. Since then, she'd rarely mentioned it besides asking how Ken was faring. From her frazzled look, he could tell she was tired of him putting off doing something about what he felt.
"You can't," she asked, lifting a brow in delicate inquiry, "or you won't?"
"Don't stick your nose into this."
The words came out harsher than he meant them to. Instead of being hurt by the tone, her expression softened and she reached out to squeeze his hand gently. "What happened, Aya?"
Aya set his mug down, teetering between whether or not he should tell her. He idly dipped his finger in his drink, ignoring the way the hot liquid burned the digit. He wanted to tell someone. He felt like he was going to explode if he didn't. She was the only one he could trust. Slowly the words came out. "Ken went on a date last night."
Sakura gave him a reassuring smile. "People do that, Aya. It's natural. Friends date."
Aya gave a slight shake of his head. "Iie. Yohji stopped by my room last night before going to bed. Apparently Ken asked him and Omi for advice after I left."
"On what?" Her forehead wrinkled slightly as a faint frown appeared on her mouth.
"Love," Aya bit out.
Sakura was quiet for several moments, letting this disturbing news sink in. Their waitress drifted by to see if they needed anything, and Sakura asked for the bill. The woman whisked away to take care of it. When Sakura turned back to Aya, her expression was serious but her eyes clear. "You have to tell him, Aya. No matter what happens, he has to know." Aya said nothing. Sakura leaned forward and touched her lips to his cheek in a soft kiss. "Promise me," she said as she leaned back, searching his face.
He gave her a slight smile. "I'll try."
She shook her head at his answer. "Promise!" she insisted.
Aya lifted a hand, gently touching her face. "I promise."
His heart was beating a rapid tattoo in his chest. The plan was simple- find Aya and present the flowers as if it was a delivery. Any observers would think it was from a girl, if Ken laughed and teased Aya as he handed them over. If he played it right, only one person would realize who the one behind the bouquet was. Aya would know when he saw the cord to Ken's jacket holding the bouqet together, and when he saw what was in the card. Ken had taped a carrot flower blossom to the inside.
He was prepared. It was finally time to come out with it. No matter what Aya's response was, Ken _had_ to tell him!
If only he could find him...
Ken paused, looking around. He'd been wandering for close to twenty minutes, searching all the places he knew the redhead liked to haunt. As his head was turning, his eyes picked up a smudge of red of an unmistakable shade. He focused on it, delighted. Aya was across the street, sitting in a window booth of a small deli. Someone was with him...Ken felt a frown tug at his lips, felt the first stirrings of uneasiness. Aya didn't like company during his brood time. Ken had counted on the fact that Aya would be alone.
His eyes widened slightly as he recognized the girl sitting with Aya. Sakura?? Did she follow him _everywhere_?
She moved, and Ken entertained brief hopes that she was leaving- preferably at Aya's command. Instead she leaned forward and kissed the red haired man. She leaned back and they exchanged a few words. Then Aya reached up and put his hand to her face in what was obviously a tender gesture.
Ken couldn't breathe.
His lungs had suddenly forgotten how they were supposed to work. Either that, or they simply could not suck oxygen in. He felt like he was being crushed, like a giant had was closed around him and was suffocating him. His lungs were so tight...But Kami-sama...His heart was pulled so much tighter. He'd known that the two were fond of each other, but knowing and seeing were two very different things.
~Sakura kissed Aya and he touched her face.~
The world was spinning and crumbling under his suddenly unsteady feet. ~Someone help me Sakura kissed Aya and he touched her face he touched her he touched her he touched her!!!~
Ken fled, his muscles unlocking and firing up with the wudden overpowering need to get away from there. His shoes slapped roughly against the sidewalk as he tore away from there as fast as he could. Even as he turned onto the busier roads that separated him from the flower shop, he didn't slow. He pushed past people and crossed the streets without bothering to look for cars. Later he might wonder how he'd made it without being hit. Right now all he cared about was getting away from Sakura and Aya.
He burst into the flowershop, one part of his mind registering that it was empty and being grateful for that. He dropped the arrangement on a table as he went by it, never slowing on his race to his room and the safety it offered. He'd said it wouldn't matter if Aya picked Sakura. He'd said it wouldn't matter as long as Aya was happy. That didn't stop this fierce pain, this sensation of being torn apart. He slammed his door and locked it behind him, then flung himself on his bed.
~I won't cry I won't cry I won't cry!~
But already the tears were breaking loose. Ken burrowed himself under his blankets and allowed them to break loose. They came with enough force to shake his entire body, and left carrying all of the bitterness and heartbreak of his soul.
Aya entered the shop and looked around. There were no customers, and he wasn't really surprised by that. They were probably at home, seeking warmth and brightness, an escape from this dismal morning. A small note was on the counter, done in Omi's handwriting. Aya stepped closer to read. It was written to tell any possible customers that he and Yohji had stepped out back to unload a new shipment. He frowned slightly. Ken was supposed to be on duty this morning, not Omi. He'd counted on that…Where was Ken?
He was glad for the few moments of privacy. He was determined to tell Ken. But how? He couldn't just come out and say it. Sakura had told him lots of ways to admit love, but none of them were things he would do. He rubbed his temples. He felt...nervous. He hadn't felt nervous in a long time.
What would Ken say? What would he do?
What would he _think_?
His eyes fell on an arrangement that had been carelessly dropped on a table, and irritation at the thoughtlessness helped to calm him. He moved over to it and lifted it. As he did, his eyes fell on the cord that was wrapped around the stems. Ken's cord?...Why? There was plenty of ribbon. He frowned slightly. Was it a personal arrangement? His eyes flicked over the blooms, taking them in.
"A confession of love"...
Uneasiness settled in Aya's stomach as he remembered the wide smile on Yohji's face last night. "Ken's in love," the man had said. "He came to me for advice."
Aya's lips twitched into a frown and he glanced at the outside of the card. No name. It was set up for a personal delivery. With an almost unsteady hand, Aya opened the card. A flower had been stuck to the inside instead of a message- carrot flower: "Do not reject me".
"Pretty, isn't it?" Aya hadn't heard Omi enter the shop. The boy drew even with him and eyed the flowers appreciatively. "He spent all morning working on it, making sure it was perfect. I wonder why he left it out. It'll go bad." He held out a hand, a silent offer to take the bouquet. Aya handed it over, too glad to get it away from him, and Omi padded away to put it in the fridge.
"Who's it for?" It was difficult to keep his bitter jealousy from staining his voice. Ken couldn't be in love, not before Aya told him...
Omi threw him a cheery smile. "Ken-kun wouldn't say. He did let on that they've been seeing each other for almost eight months, though."
The world came crashing down at Aya's feet. He was more numb than anything else. It was like losing his sister all over again- feeling something very vital to his existance get torn out of his grasp. Something must have shown, for Omi looked worried. "Daijoubu, Aya-kun?"
~No. I think I'm dying.~
"Oiii!" It was Yohji's voice. "Why am _I_ left with all of the work?"
"Coming, Yohji-kun!" Omi called back before returning his attention to Aya. "Aya-kun...What's wrong?"
~Ken can't love her. He can't. It's not right. She's not good for him, whoever she is. He should love _me_.~
"Nothing," Aya bit out. "Go help Yohji." Omi hesitated, but when Aya gave him a warning glare, vanished to the back room.
~Ken loves someone else, Sakura. He loves someone else. I said I'd tell him but I can't. I can't...~
Just moments ago he'd compared this shattering of his heart to losing Aya-chan. Now, as he slowly brought his hand up to see if the gaping hole he felt was physical, he wondered if this blow was worse.
That evening the four gathered in the basement so Omi could go over what he'd found so far. It was the first time since morning that Omi saw Ken. Worried, he'd gone to his friend's room earlier to check on him. Ken hadn't answered, but from really close listening Omi had heard the soft sound of Ken's breathing in sleep.
Before Omi could begin, Yohji turned to Ken. "So?" he asked. "What happened?"
Ken didn't look at his friend. He was gazing at some point on the other side of the room. "I chickened out," he muttered.
"What? Why?" Omi was surprised.
"Her parents were there."
Yohji gave Ken an affectionate clout on the shoulder. "Maybe tomorrow, then."
Ken was hiding something. Before Omi could ask his friend what was wrong, Aya broke in. "The mission, Omi," he said flatly, ignoring the other two. His eyes, when they met Omi's, were hard and icy.
~He could at least be a _little_ supportive,~ Omi thought, dismayed by Aya's complete lack of input towards Ken's romantic interest. They'd been a team of four for almost two years. They'd been through hundreds of missions and escaped many close calls together. They were friends. Friends supported and encouraged each other. "Hai."
He half-turned to his computer, typing in a command one handedly. The floor plans of Furisaka's immense estate came up and scrolled past one at a time before becoming separate icons on the desk top. Next to pop up was the small inventory list he'd managed to get. "These people have a really well guarded system," Omi told them. "I can only get small glimpses into what they have. They only way I could see any of their arsenal was by rerouting and backtracking all orders the major weapon producing companies received and filled." That had been hours of headaches and hell. "From the glances I got, I'd say it's like being up against an army. Furisaka knew that one day someone would come to challenge him. He set out to make sure that when that day came, he'd be the victor."
He shook his head. "I can't get enough for us to work with. I need at least three times as much information as this. I can't get anything else from the computer, though, so that means some of us will have to go in and survey the place. I need one person to come with me. The other two need to stay here and watch my computer to make sure the files I send get here and download properly." They gave slight nods, accepting his decision. "Yohji-kun, want to come?"
"I'll come," Ken said, breaking in before Yohji could answer.
"You sure?" Yohji asked, exhaling smoke and giving Ken a questioning look. "You might want your rest. Tomorrow's going to be a big day for you when you deliver those flowers."
"I want to go." Ken turned his eyes on them for the first time that evening, meeting Omi's steadily. "Let me?" he asked.
Omi studied his friend, searching his face. Ken looked pale. He gave a slow nod. "Aa. You and I will go. We leave as soon as I do a check on all of my gear."
Ken slowly lowered the motorcycle to the side of the road. He and Omi would walk the remaining mile to the estate. They started off, side by side, equipped for action. Both were wearing headsets to communicate by. Omi had a palm computer and a digital camera attached to his waistband. He'd left his bow at home but had brought a strap of darts in case he needed them.
Ken was exhausted, mentally and physically. He'd eventually cried himself to sleep earlier, but the rest had not done him any good. It hadn't been an escape from the sudden misery that cloaked his life. It had taken two hours to get all traces of red and puffiness from his eyes. He hadn't wanted to leave his room at all. He'd wanted just to stay there forever.
"Ken-kun?" At Omi's quiet inquiry, Ken glanced over at his young friend. Omi had stopped. He couldn't see much of the younger man's face in the dark, but he could sense those big blue eyes on him. A hand reached out, gently touching his face. "Daijoubu, Ken-kun?"
"Mochiron," Ken whispered.
He didn't want to think about today. He didn't want to remember Sakura kissing Aya and Aya touching her face. Were they going out or were they lovers? When Aya vanished during the day, was he going to her house, to kiss her and love her as he never would Ken?
Omi gasped, and Ken realized a hot, bitter tear had rolled down his cheek and onto Omi's hand. "Ken-kun..." Omi said, dismayed. "What happened?" Ken shook his head, trying to force away the tightness that grabbed his throat. Omi stepped forward and looped his arms around Ken's neck. He pulled Ken against him, hugging him and holding on, offering comfort and reassurance in the gesture. Ken tried to retreat and brought up his hands to shove Omi away. The boy was too close. "Don't push me away, Ken-kun," Omi pleaded. "You're my best friend and I can't stand seeing you hurt like this. Please..."
Ken refused to cave into the pain, but he did accept Omi's hug. He wrapped his arms around Omi's slight form, squeezing him tightly and drinking in the comfort like one starved for affection. His heart felt like it was going to explode inside him. It wanted to scream its pain to the whole world. He couldn't allow that to happen. If he started crying again, he wasn't sure he'd be able to stop.
Omi was stroking his hair, soothing motions up and down. Ken loosened his grip slightly, then slowly released Omi. "Arigato, Omi," he said quietly.
"Remember, Ken-kun...I'm here for you if you need me. We all are."
"Aa. I'll remember."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
They were on a mission. As tempting as it was to breakdown and tell Omi everything, he would have to wait. He shook his head once, slowly. "Iie. Not tonight. Maybe tomorrow." Yes...Maybe tomorrow this pain wouldn't be as great as it was now. Maybe tomorrow it wouldn't be as sharp, wouldn't feel like he'd been torn down the center. Omi nodded and gave him an encouraging smile. Feeling that he would collapse if he lingered on thoughts of Aya and Sakura, Ken steered the conversation elsewhere. "So...Tonight's mission should be simple, ne?"
Omi sniffed. "I never said that." When he saw Ken's Look, he grinned. "What we're doing is simple, but we don't know how many guards there are, or where they're positioned."
"Just stay focused once we're in and it will go easily."
Ken lifted his communicator to his lips. "Bombay," he whispered, using his free hand to part the blinds of the window on the door. His eyes scanned the hall quickly to make sure no one was nearby.
"I think I've found something. Room 4D on your map."
"On my way."
Ken released the blinds and slid down to sit with his back against the door. He couldn't think of another mission that had been this suspenseful. This was the least informed mission they'd ever been sent on. The little they did know was mostly that Furisaka was using children as guinea pigs in a militaristic environment. Kritiker pointed to him as being the instigator of over three hundred murders in the past fifteen years. Three _hundred_.
Ken couldn't wait until the man was dead. If he was lucky, he'd be the closest one when it was time to take Furisaka out. His blades would love to taste the man's blood.
~One more death on my conscience.~
~It will be a death I will not regret.~
Omi's soft voice jolted him from his thoughts. He pressed his thumb to the TALK button of his communicator. "Siberian here."
"I'm above you, coming down. Don't claw me."
"Gotcha." Ken looked up as a tile of the ceiling moved out of place. Omi wriggled through the hole, then dropped lightly to the ground. Ken shoved his communicator in his back pocket and stood. Omi flicked on his flashlight and shone the small beam around, letting it move over the crates Ken had found. The boy padded around the room, eyeing them. When he'd made a full circuit, he paused in front of them and nodded.
"Stand guard while I take inventory."
Ken half turned, leaning his side against the door and propping the blinds open with two fingers again. He could hear Omi rummaging through the boxes. This was the third room they were going through. It was slow work. They were trying to get an idea of what they were going to be up against- what types of weapons they were going to face, as well as how many, and were on their way to find a second computer room. They'd found one already, but Omi was sure it wasn't the main one that was in charge of central securities. That was the room he would have to take out in order to get tomorrow night's mission rolling.
Omi whistled softly and Ken turned to look. The boy was holding something in one hand and was scanning it with the flashlight with the other. "What is it?" Ken asked, curious.
"A really dangerous gun," Omi answered. "The barbs on the end of the ammunition stop the bullets an inch or two into the flesh and drop sparks out to keep them anchored. They're not supposed to exist. I heard a rumor about them a while ago, but it was said the project was dropped."
"And Furisaka owns some?"
"He's owns a lot, if all of these crates contain them. I think they do...They're all labelled the same."
A shadow moved down the hall, and Ken tensed, peeking out the gap his fingers made. "Bombay." Omi paused in his work, alert. "Someone's coming." He watched as a shadow split into two and the people who owned them came into view. The two were moving towards the room Weiß occupied with purposeful steps. "Two of them, coming for us."
Omi dropped the gun back into its box and shut the lid. "I'll get them. Less blood that way." He pulled two darts from under his jacket and readied them in one hand. Ken nodded and took a step back, out of the way. Omi melted backwards into the shadows of the room, flicking his flashlight off as he moved. They waited for several tense moments, then the door hadnle turned and the door swung open. The two men entered, and light spilled in from the hallway in a thin beam that lit Omi up completely. Just as the light revealed the young assassin, Omi let fly with his small darts. They froze, hands flying to their throats, before slowly toppling forward. Ken stepped forward, planning on dragging them out of the way and closing the door.
Gunfire exploded, ripping through the air like thunder as what appeared to be long bullets sprayed the room. Ken saw Omi throw himself behind the crates. Blood dotted the floor and wall where the child had just stood, and Ken felt his heart leap in his throat. A third man? He had come from the other direction, probably. Ken let his blades slide from their sheathes. The gun quieted and Ken heard soft footsteps. He waited, praying that Omi hadn't been struck badly.
The gunner stepped into view. Ken leapt into the air, bringing up his blades. The man whirled, alerted by movement to his right. For a split second, their gazes locked.
He had purple eyes.
The man had Aya's eyes!!
Ken froze midflight, muscles freezing suddenly. The man raised his gun and aimed. Ken heard gunfire and felt his skin tearing open. He yelled in pain as the force of the bullets threw him backwards. As he hit the wall, he heard the firing abruptly stop. He didn't feel it when he slid down the wall to land roughly on the ground, as the screaming agony throughout his abdomen drowned it out.
They had been Aya's eyes and they'd been looking at him with such derision...
Soft hands were suddenly on him, and a familiar voice barely carried over the pain. "Bombay aborting mission. Siberian! Siberian, are you still conscious?" Omi's voice was almost frantic. The flashlight flicked on, skimming over his face. Ken made a low sound of protest, closing his eyes against the harsh beam. The hands touched him, probing gently. Omi cursed quietly. "You've been hit by a barb gun. I can't get them out right now or here. We've got to get out of here. Can you stand?"
~Can I stand? Yeah right...~
"I can try." It took several attempts to get the words out. Something trickled down his chin, leaking from his mouth. He touched it with his tongue. Blood...? He opened his eyes as Omi very carefully looped an arm around him to help him stand.
They slowly stood. Nausea and pain rippled through Ken. Everything kept flickering and threatening to black out. He stumbled several times as they made their way towards the nearest exit. An alarm went off. Omi was saying something, but he knew it wasn't directed to him.
The trip out seemed to take ages. Ken was useless to help defend them. Omi was stretched between helping Ken move, keeping darts handy, and acting as a shield for Ken. Ken registered faintly that the boy was limping, which made it harder for them to move. Finally they were out in the night air. Stumbling and staggering against each other, they took off into the dark shelter the night offered as fast as they could go. Above them, lightning flashed, closely followed by thunder. Ken felt the first few drops of rain hit his hair and slide down.
"Ken-kun...Please stay awake..."
Omi's voice was faint against the blackness that was swallowing him. He tried to latch onto it, but he hurt too much and he was too weak. Omi's pleading words lost distinction, becoming just a murmuring that faded as Ken fell into an endless pit of numbness and oblivion.
The last thing his conscious mind could see were those purple eyes, so cold and so contemptuous.
Aya was out of the house before Yohji's mind finished registering that the sound outside was Ken's motorcycle. Omi flicked the bike off and half fell, half stumbled off of it. Aya steadied him. His eyes were not on Omi, however, but on the unmoving form still draped over the motorcycle. Omi was saying something about needing to get Ken inside. Then the back light was flicked on as Yohji arrived.
"Jesus, Omi!" Yohji hissed.
Only then did Aya's gaze flick downwards to the boy trying valiantly to stay on two feet. Omi's clothes were soaked through by the rain that was still falling. Parts of his clothes- a large part, in fact- were stained red with blood. It was all over his shirt. "It's not all mine," Omi choked out, and Aya realized the child's voice was thick with tears that he was forcing himself not to shed. "Some of it is Ken-kun's..." Aya passed Omi to Yohji and took two strides to the bike. He reached out, pulling Ken into a sitting position. Makeshift bandages covered him from the bottom of his ribcage to his waist. The bandages had been made from Omi's jacket, Aya noticed. "He was struck with some barbs," Omi spoke up, resisting Yohji's attempts to draw him into the house. "I had to stop over someplace and cut them. Tell me he's still breathing, Aya-kun..." Omi pleaded.
"He is." Relief colored Aya's voice. When Omi had contacted them fifteen minutes ago to tell him the mission had been aborted due to severe injuries, he'd almost stopped breathing. He and Yohji had been sitting in complete, tense silence in the kitchen, waiting for the two to return home. All of the blood on Omi, and the blood that covered Ken where the bandages weren't, had scared him. For several seconds, he'd feared the worst. Ken had looked so still...He lifted Ken in his arms and turned to face the others. "Let's get in out of the rain."
The two wounded were brought inside and down to the basement. Aya laid Ken gently down on the coffee table after using a foot to clear its surface off. Yohji removed Omi's shirt to try and discern what blood was his and which was Ken's. It was too hard to tell, as rain had spread the red color everywhere. Omi was shivering from cold and possibly blood loss, and his teeth were chattering. Yohji went to get the med kit even as Aya removed Ken's jacket and began tearing the brunette's shirt away. Yohji returned and set the kit between himself and Aya so both could reach it. Arming themselves with soft sponges, they began to mop up what they could of rain and blood.
"Did you call Manx like I asked?" Omi asked, then hissed softly as Yohji got too close to a wound.
"Aa," Yohji answered. "She's coming and bringing that person you asked for. She'll be here in just a minute or two."
"What happened?" Aya demanded, half twisting to pin Omi with a cold glare.
"We never saw the third guy," Omi answered quietly, then winced again at Yohji's ministrations. "Ken was lookout. He saw two. I took them out. When they fell, there was a third waiting behind them with a gun. I saw him a mere moment before it was clear enough for him to fire, so I'm mostly just grazed. I think I sprained my ankle in the twist to get away, though.
"But Ken-kun...I'm not sure why his attack wasn't successful. I heard gunfire and Ken's yell, and popped up to see him getting blasted. I took him out with a dart and got us both out of there as fast as possible. Ken-kun passed out on the way to the motorcycle. I stopped under a bridge on the way home to cut the barbs down enough to bandage him. I couldn't stop the bleeding with them still sticking out." Omi hiccuped, an attempt to keep himself from crying. "Please…Aya-kun…Yohji-kun…I'm sorry…I'm so sorry…"
"Shh…" Yohji soothed Omi, holding him in a careful hug. "It's not your fault, Omi."
"But it is," Omi protested. "He hasn't been feeling well all day, and Manx said that we had to be completely focused. I knew that, but I let him come along."
In that moment, Aya wanted to blame Omi for Ken's severe condition. He knew that was what Omi was waiting for- and possibly Yohji, as well. He wanted to say it was Omi's fault for not stopping Ken. But that wasn't fair.
"Iie," Aya said quietly. "None of us stopped him."
"But the decision was mine."
"Don't look for guilt that isn't yours," Aya said flatly, almost harshly, eyes running over the paleness of Ken's face. "He knew what he was getting into."
~Ken, how could you do this? How could you allow yourself to be distracted on a mission?~
~What would have happened to you if you'd been killed? How could I live without you?~
"Weiß." They looked up to see Manx and a man standing at the top of the stairs. She was wet from the rain, and had let herself in with the extra key she'd been given. Now she stood, taking them in. From the corner of his eyes, Aya saw Omi drop his head slowly, unable to meet Manx's piercing gaze as it travelled over each of them. Finally Manx came downstairs, the man behind her. She went to Ken first, since Omi's report that Yohji had used when calling Manx had said he was the worst off. "Take off the bandages," she instructed Aya.
He did so, peeling away the layers of jacket material. When it was done, they were all treated to the sight of Ken's wounded abdomen. There were six holes, each as large as half the width of a pencil. His skin was discolored around each of the holes. Manx gestured to the man who had come with her, and he stepped up. "Back away, Abyssinian."
Aya rose and moved to the other side of the table. Manx glanced at him as if saying that that wasn't far enough. He gazed back with an expression that said he didn't care. He was not going to leave Ken's side. The man knelt by Ken to examine the wounds. He set a small bag beside him on the ground and pulled two small intruments out of it- one long pair of tweezers, and one thin rod with a small hook at the end. "When we first heard of these guns, we set about to figure out how to dislodge the barbs," he told Weiß, using the tweezers to hold open the first hole. He reached in with the hook, twisting it slowly in search for something. "If you know what you're looking for, it's easy. If you're going to be up against these people, you will need to know how to get them out, in case you are struck." He ignored the blood trickling out of the wound, and gave the hook a flick. He withdrew the hook, twisted the tweezers, and pulled out a small tube that was half an inch long. He dropped it to one side and went for the other. "Cut off the barb as close to the flesh as possible. Use a hook to reach around to the bottom of the plug, and depress the button that's there. They'll withdraw, and you can take it out easily." The second one was removed. "We will need to take him back with us for extra care and a blood transfusion, but we cannot transport him until these are removed.
Yohji went back to cleaning Omi's wounds. "Most of these are just grazes along your back," he noted. "Quick reflexes, kiddo."
Manx motioned for Omi to turn around and present her his back. He did so slowly, and Aya glanced over at the wheat haired boy. Indeed, there were three grazes going across his shoulder blades. A fourth, however, looked like it had taken a nice bit of flesh with it as it went, forming a indent across Omi's back. "Those were the darts," Omi said quietly, turning back around.
"You also have a bullet wound on your leg," Yohji noted.
Aya watched the two, unable to look at Ken anymore. The sight of him so pale and still, with such
gruesome things being pulled out of his flesh, was enough to make him nauseous. Omi's face was pale and drawn, and his hands were curled into fists at his sides. Yohji finished with the antibiotics and cleaning, and set about bandaging Omi's back.
"When you are finished being tended to, I would like a talk with you, Bombay." Manx's voice was firm and flat, a sure sign that the conversation was not going to be a pleasant one.
"Iie." The refusal from Yohji was enough to attract all attention. Yohji's expression was calm and impassive as he faced Manx. "He will not be in any condition to talk to you tonight, Manx. When I am done with him, he is going to bed."
"I did not ask you, Balinese." The look she gave him was a warning.
"You didn't," Yohji agreed. "But I'm telling you." At the words, Manx's eyes narrowed slightly. "If your talk is so important, you can come back tomorrow. You will get nothing right now."
Silence fell as the two regarded each other. Then Manx looked at Omi, who refused to meet her gaze, who looked so pale and so distraught and was barely able to keep standing. She looked over at Ken. Aya knew why Yohji was refusing her. Omi was already so worked up over the events of the night that the reprimand Manx was looking to give him would probably shatter his attempts to stay together. Omi saw himself as the guilty party, responsible for the failed mission and the injuries. Anything Manx said would only enforce that, and then Omi wouldn't be able to handle the mission any longer. So when Manx turned her eyes on him, waiting for his reaction to all of this, Aya said, "Tomorrow."
"I will be back tomorrow, then," Manx said, turning back to face Yohji. "Bombay and I will speak then."
Yohji did not respond. The man Manx had brought with her finished on Ken's stomach. He'd bandaged it neatly and tightly, and now stood. "We need to get him back quickly. If someone will help me carry him out…?"
"I'll get him." Aya looped his arms under Ken and gently lifted him off the table. The man paused, then nodded and turned away. Aya followed after him. Manx dropped in behind him as they headed upstairs. Out back, parked next to Ken's motorcycle, was the car they'd come in.
"Thank you. Just put him in the back seat." The man gestured and moved to open the door for him.
"I wish to come."
The man paused. Manx glanced over at Aya, and he met her gaze calmly. "He will be fine with us, Abyssinian."
Aya refused to be left behind. Ken had been badly injured. The thought of letting the younger man out of his sight gripped his heart painfully. He couldn't shake off the silly fear that something bad would happen to Ken if he was let out of Aya's sight. Aya wanted to go along. He wanted to protect him. He wanted to be there when Ken recovered. "He is my team mate and my friend. I want to come."
Manx was starting to look frazzled. She wasn't used to having Weiß repeatedly contradict her. "Fine, then. Get in the car."
Relief washed through Aya. He was going.
~I will take care of you, Ken.~
~You were hurt, but I'll make sure you're not hurt again. I'll keep you safe.~
~No matter what.~
Ken was aware that he was lying on something soft. He was warm. There was a faint pain in him, but it was dulled, as if he'd been given painkillers. He could hear the soft murmuring of voices, but none of them were familiar. The smells around him were strange as well. Where was he? Had he and Omi been captured? Curiosity and panic warred until he heard a deep voice that he loved:
"How is he?"
"He's doing fine. You were only gone for ten minutes." That voice was a stranger's.
Ken struggled to get his eyes open. The sight that greeted him upon success was a tiled ceiling. He lowered his gaze to see Aya standing in the doorway, speaking to two men in white coats. Doctors? "Aya," Ken spoke, voice fuzzy and thick.
Purple eyes snapped to him immediately. The gaze that met his held tinges of relief. The doctors turned around. "Good morning, Siberian," one said, and the three drifted closer to the bed he was lying on. "How are you feeling this morning?"
He felt tired, and he had a feeling there was something he was supposed to be remembering, but besides that he was all right. "I'm fine…Where am I?"
"You're at a Kritiker based hospital."
"Oh…" Ken's eyes drifted to Aya. "Why?"
"The mission last night," Aya answered.
Ken blinked, then strained to remember. Mission…? He searched Aya's gaze. He didn't remember any…
Cold purple eyes.
The vision came to him in a flash, and he tried to sit up. He'd been distracted. He'd allowed the man's gaze to stop him, and because of that he'd been injured. And Omi? What about Omi? "Where's Omi?" he asked frantically, even as three pairs of hands pushed him back to the bed. The pain killers were beginning to wear off, and the movement caused a brief stab of pain that made him wince. "How is he? Is he hurt?"
"He's suffering from four grazings, a bullet wound, and a sprained ankle," the second doctor answered.
Ken had to close his eyes, basking in relief that the boy had not been injured worse. Those wounds were still bad, but they could have been far greater. Manx had warned him that slipping up could mean death. "He could have been killed because of me."
"He's fine. The other two are coming to see you."
"You're going to be fine as well," the first doctor added. "You responded well to the transfusion and treatment last night for the injuries you suffered. You'll be going home by noon time. However, you must rest. You tore and bruised several abdominal muscles last night, so I would suggest keeping your movements to a minimum for at least two weeks."
"Ken-kun!" Ken looked past them in time to see Omi enter the doorway. Yohji was right behind him, holding some folded clothes. The youngest assassin limped forward, blue eyes searching Ken worriedly. "Daijoubu, Ken-kun?" he asked. The doctors left the room, leaving Weiß to themselves.
"I'm fine. You're all right? You shouldn't be moving if you hurt your ankle…" Omi looked terrible. He looked like he hadn't slept at all last night. Ken reached out, clasping Omi's hand. "Omi…What's wrong?"
Omi winced, as if in pain. "Gomen nasai, Ken-kun…I shouldn't have let you come when you weren't feeling all right."
Ken had known at the time that it wouldn't be smart to go on the mission. He hadn't cared, though. The thought of being stuck in the same room as Aya after seeing Aya and Sakura together had been terrifying. He wasn't sure what he would have done. So he had gone against his better judgement and asked to go, putting two lives at risk. "It's my fault, Omi. I could have gotten both of us killed because I locked up. It's thanks to you that we're both alive."
"What happened back there?" Aya demanded.
Ken looked back at him, looked back at those violet eyes that had been his downfall yesterday. They weren't cold, nor did they hold the contempt that the soldier had had. They were impassive, yes, but that was it. The thought of telling his team mates that the man had Aya's eyes and that had stopped him was foolish. "His eyes…" Ken said quietly, looking away. "He had the same eyes as…as someone I care about."
"Your love?" Omi asked.
"A-aa. It's a unique shade…I haven't seen it anywhere else. Gomen…" He closed his eyes. "It was such a stupid thing to lock over."
"Good morning, Weiß." The four looked up to see Manx in the doorway. Her eyes fell on Omi. "Bombay?"
Omi slowly pulled away from Ken and limped towards her. Ken could tell from the set look to Yohji's jaw that the man wanted to protest Omi going to Manx. He kept silent, however, and Manx and Omi disappeared from the room.
"Would you mind telling me what went wrong last night?" Manx asked crisply, standing before Omi. He was sitting on an oversized windowsill. His eyes, when they met hers, were tired.
"Ken-kun got distracted on the mission." She continued to gaze at him. Omi looked away. "I knew he wasn't doing well that day, but I allowed him to come along. Therefore, I take the blame for the failed mission last night."
"You gambled with two people's lives last night," Manx said flatly, disapproval coloring her voice. "Who gave you the right to do that?" He remained silent, fixing his eyes on a point on the wall behind her. "It is your job as leader to make sure that this sort of thing doesn't happen. You failed more than the mission last night. You failed your team."
Omi clenched his teeth, trying to fight back the tears that threatened to well up in his eyes. Manx continued.
"We placed you in charge of Weiß because you are the most practical and responsible of your team. We trust you to do what's right. I want to know why you ignored your responsibility and let Siberian go with you."
"He wanted to come," Omi bit out.
"What somebody _wants_ is nothing when it comes to the mission. The mission matters first. I thought you understood that."
"Then why did you let him come?"
"I don't know," Omi whispered.
"You have to know, because you made the decision."
Omi just shook his head, unable to come up with a response. What could he say? That by looking at Ken last night, he had realized just how much Ken needed to get out of the house? That he let Ken come because he wanted to get the boy alone so he could try and figure out what went wrong? He let Ken go for selfish reasons, and because of that Ken had almost been killed. The others didn't blame him for it, but he blamed himself- and Kritiker blamed him.
"I suggest you think this over long and hard, Bombay. If you cannot be trusted to carry this out properly, Weiß will be taken from this mission and you will be brought in for evaluation to see if you are deserving of your position as leader. Is that understood?" Omi nodded mutely. "You have thirty minutes to make your decision. I will be back."
With that, she turned on her heel and stalked out of the room, closing the door loudly behind her.
Omi was left alone in the room with nothing but his guilt to keep him company. He could feel his body beginning to shake as his tears fought to get free. He clenched his hands into fists in his lap, lowering his head. They'd almost gotten killed last night. He'd made the wrong decision. He'd failed Weiß.
The first tears broke free and his body heaved with a shuddering gasp at the same time morning rain began to strike the window behind him. He tried his best to keep from crying, but it was no use. Finally he tucked himself into a ball on the sill and buried his face in his hands. Sobs were wrenched from his throat. No matter what the others said, no matter what Ken said, their injuries were his fault. If this mission failed, if anyone was hurt further, it was his fault.
He didn't hear the door opening, but was suddenly aware of long arms wrapping around him. He was drawn against a hard chest in a tight embrace, and the fragrance he picked up was Yohji's- a dark vanilla. "It's all right, Omi," the oldest Weiß whispered, rocking him gently. Omi clung to Yohji's shirt, burrowing himself tighter against the man. "It's all right…"
"I can't do it," Omi gasped out between his tears. "I can't do this mission. I'm so sorry…"
"You can't give up now, Omi," Yohji told him, one hand cupping the back of his hand. "Furisaka has to be stopped. We might be the only people who can stop him. We can't let him murder anyone else. We can't let him spread his men across Tokyo."
"I won't put anyone else at risk."
"After what happened with Ken, there's no way we'll be distracted again. We want to go. We want to get those men back for what they did. We want to make sure that no one else is ever the target of those guns. We won't give up. Don't you give up."
Omi didn't answer. Yohji didn't prompt him for a reply. He just held onto Omi and waited as the boy cried himself out, tears echoed by the rain outside.
"…I worried about you." Ken looked up at the words. He and Aya had been sitting in silence since Yohji left to find Manx and Omi. He was surprised that Aya had spoken- but more surprised by what was said. Aya was worried?…Aya glanced down at him. "Omi called and reported that you had been seriously injured."
"Gomen…" Ken whispered. Aya had worried about him. Hope might stir his heart, if he hadn't seen the interaction between Aya and Sakura. "It's not like I wanted to be injured."
Aya was silent for a while, as if trying to figure out what to say next. He was apparently unable to come up with anything. He met Ken's gaze briefly. There was an odd longing in the backs of Aya's eyes that Ken didn't understand. It was like Aya was asking Ken to know something, to see something that Aya wasn't showing.
"Am I your friend?"
Aya digested this question for several moments. "Aa."
Ken smiled and closed his eyes. They were quiet once more. Aya's cell phone rang, breaking the silence. Aya stood and carried the phone several feet away before answering. "Moshi moshi, Fujimiya-san…Sakura?" There was faint surprise in the inquiry. Ken peeked open his eyes in time to see Aya glance at him. Ken lifted a hand in farewell and closed his eyes again, listening to Aya's footsteps as the man left the room.
~I hope you make him happy, Sakura. I really do.~
Last night was good for one thing. The thought of dying without telling Aya how he felt, the thought that he could have been killed and taken the secret of his love to his grave, was terrifying. He wanted Aya to know. It wouldn't change anything. Aya would accept it and return to Sakura, but Ken would not die without saying anything.
He understood now, and accepted it. Aya worried about him. Aya viewed him as a friend. That was enough.
It would have to be.
Omi was helped out of the room by Yohji. His ankle was fussing at him, protesting him moving on it so much. Manx watched them go silently. Omi had just told her that he was going to keep the mission. He was torn on his decision. He was deathly afraid he'd slip up again. He didn't like this mission. All of it had a bad air to it. And yet, he had accepted the mission knowing what he was getting into. He couldn't back out now. If Furisaka wasn't stopped, how many more innocents would die? He wasn't afraid of taking the mission. He was afraid of getting his friends hurt. He was afraid that he was not good enough to keep them safe.
Without Yohji's help, he would have caved in. He had to trust in his friends' abilities.
They passed Aya on their way back to Ken. He was on his cell phone, his mouth drawn in a thin line. When they entered Ken's room, Yohji jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "Who's Aya talking to?"
"Sakura," Ken answered.
"I didn't know he'd given her his cell number…" Omi blinked in surprise. The only ones who had the number for Aya's cell phone were Weiß, Manx, and the doctor in charge of Aya-chan. Ken gave a slight shrug.
"What'd Manx want?" Ken asked.
"She wanted to discuss last night and make sure we could still handle this mission," Omi answered, avoiding Ken's eyes. "She said you're free to go."
"Oh, good." Ken sat up slowly, wincing at the pain moving brought. A doctor entered as he was kicking back his sheets.
"Here," the man said, offering a bottle of pills to Yohji. "He can take one every four hours for pain. It causes drowsiness, but sleep will help you." These words he directed towards Ken. "Your shirt was ruined, so we had your team mates bring in another outfit for you. Here are your bugnuks." He lifted a paper bag. Ken accepted it and Omi's help in getting out of bed. "Take it easy, Siberian," the doctor said, his words a warning. "It would be dangerous to stretch those injured muscles further than they can go."
"I understand." Ken hobbled over to the outfit Yohji had draped on the chair by the door when he'd vanished to go after Omi. It hurt to walk. He disappeared into the bathroom attached to his room to dress. Outside, he could hear the murmur of voices as the three conversed. He glanced at his reflection. His face was pale and drawn.
~I screwed up, but both Omi and I are alive.~
He was grateful. It would have been a stupid way to die. When he'd joined up with Kritiker and almost fouled up a training course, someone had told him, "Never die because of someone. Die _for_ them." He'd taken those words to heart. Last night he might have died because of his distraction with Aya. Nothing would have been solved. If anything, he would want to die for Aya, that Aya would live. That Aya would live and learn happiness.
"Baka Hidaka," Ken whispered, but he smiled faintly. He turned and left the bathroom. Aya had returned
and was waiting with his team mates in the room. Ken set his folded hospital pajamas on the bed and tucked his paper bag under his arm. "Shall we go?" he asked brightly.
"Can you walk all right?" Omi fretted.
"I should be able to." Ken tottered off, slightly bent to keep his stomach from pulling. "See?"
There was an amused chuckle from Yohji, who was helping Omi along so the boy wouldn't put too much weight on his bad foot. "That's real graceful, Ken." The two made faster progress than Ken, who kept stopping to try and find a more comfortable way of walking.
"Oh, be quiet." He stuck his tongue out at their backs.
A slender hand appeared in his view, palm up in offering. Ken blinked and followed the arm up to meet purple eyes. Aya was watching him patiently and impassively. Aya was offering help? Ken smiled in response, and the man looped an arm around him. The feel of Aya's arm around him was enough to make Ken's heart trip over itself. It just seemed so perfect there; it fit snugly enough that it was almost like it had been made to hold him. They moved down the hall, Ken putting part of his weight on Aya. He waved cheerful goodbyes at the nursing staff. A few doors down was Manx, who was watching them both, her face expressionless and eyes disapproving. Ken avoided her gaze, knowing very well she was not happy with him for disobeying her orders and putting two assassins at risk.
She said nothing as they passed her.
Yohji and Omi held the elevator open for them. Ken half-expected Aya to release him when the elevator started down, but he didn't. He just acted as if it was something natural, his head tilted back slightly as he watched the numbers above the door go down. Ken took his eyes away slowly, only to find himself meeting Yohji's gaze. He blinked, then looked down at Omi. Omi was looking at the arm Aya still had looped around his waist. Ken looked down at it, admired it. He loved the natural way Aya's arm fit around him. It was all he could do to keep a smile from appearing on his face as he raised his eyes again.
The look Omi gave him was measuring. Ken looked up at Yohji's expression. Yohji made a soft, amused sound. When Ken looked back at Omi, Omi smiled faintly.
His friends now knew.
And they didn't mind.
Ken felt so much lighter and freer than he had in the past eight months. His friends knew and accepted the fact that he had feelings for Aya. Aya saw Ken as a friend. Even if- well, when- Aya turned him down for Sakura, the four would always be friends.
Ken was content.
"Ken-kun, what are you doing?" Omi asked, entering the room where his friend sat. Ken had taken a clump of flowers to the back room, and now Omi watched as he pieced them together into a bouquet. Now and then Ken would stop and rearrange the flowers he had just laid down.
"I'm remaking my bouquet. The other one wasn't right."
Omi blinked, puzzled. "It was the correct combination…"
"Hai…But it wasn't a personal message. I want to make the perfect arrangement." Ken lifted his brown eyes briefly before going back to his work.
Omi paused on the other side of the table, hesitating, a question on the tip of his tongue. Finally he gathered enough courage to ask, "Ken-kun…What color were that man's eyes?"
A smile lit up Ken's face but he didn't look up. "They were purple," he answered softly.
Omi watched as Ken worked silently, digesting this. He'd suspected it in the elevator, but part of his mind just couldn't believe it. Ken and Aya?…He'd noticed that they'd been treating each other oddly the past few days. Most people might look down on a same sex pairing, but in Omi's mind, he saw that the relationship was perfect. Ken was outgoing, friendly, patient. Aya needed someone like that, and he was stable enough to keep Ken close. Neither would have to worry about tainting an innocent's hands with their own blood-stained ones. In the darkness, there was light…
Ah, but they weren't a couple yet. Ken hadn't handed over the bouquet…
"Does Aya-kun know?" Omi asked.
An odd smile, half-accepting and half-wistful, curled Ken's lips. "Not yet. But I know his answer." He paused and looked up, meeting Omi's gaze steadily. "He will say no." When Omi stared at him in surprise, Ken continued. "I've seen the way he and Sakura interact. At first, I hated her. I hated her because she could make him relax. Then I was jealous of her, that she could get that close to him. But now…All I want is for Aya to be happy. She makes him happy, Omi. I didn't want to accept that. I didn't like actually _seeing_ the way they fit nicely together. I wanted to be the one who fit nicely with him." He gave a soft laugh. "I still want that. But he is happy now, I think."
"And what about you?"
Ken returned to his arranging. "I will be content to be his friend."
"But you'll always wish for more," Omi added quietly. Ken didn't respond.
Omi's eyes drifted over the flowers Ken had collected. Shepherd's-Purse flowers: "I offer you my all"; white carnations: "Pure and ardent love"; and a single yellow jonquil: "I desire a return of affection". The Shepherd's-Purse were laid in between the carnations, and the entire arrangement was made around the jonquil. Perhaps it wasn't the prettiest group of flowers together, but they weren't ugly together, and knowing the meanings behind them…
Omi reached out and squeezed Ken's hand. "I wish you the best of luck, Ken-kun."
Ken squeezed back. "Arigato, Omi."
Outside, rain fell.
Ken paused as he entered the shop, his bouquet in one hand. Where were the others?…The shop was closed because of the weather. He could hear the rain beating against the front of the shop, almost like hundreds of hands beating to come in. He winced, lowering a hand to his stomach. The pain killers had worn off, so he'd taken one just a few minutes ago. While the fuzziness had kicked in, the pain had not yet been pushed away.
He started towards the stairs. It was a bit of hard work to get up them, and he had to lean heavily against the railing. He stopped at the top. Aya's room was on the left, with his on the other side. Yohji's and Omi's were on the right. He turned to the left and stopped before Aya's door. He raised a hand and knocked.
There went the pain.
It left slowly- just melted away. He gave a sigh of relief and knocked again. Why wouldn't Aya answer? He was so tired…
Finally he turned the knob and opened the door. The room was empty. He sighed as his legs slowly gave out under him and sagged towards the ground. Well…The carpet looked comfortable enough. He curled up right inside Aya's door, the flowers held against him, and was asleep almost as soon as he was down.
"So…Who's going to tell Ken?" Yohji asked, flicking ash off his cigarette. He looked around the kitchen at the others. They'd spent most of the day going over the details of what was going to happen tonight. It shouldn't have taken that long, but all three were apprehensive about it. Their information was sketchy. All they had was the folder Manx had gotten them and what little Omi and Ken had been able to find. It was mostly going to be a strike-as-you-go type of mission, and none of them were happy with that. With anyone else, it might be fine. With such an established person as Furisaka, it was downright dangerous.
"He should already know," came Aya's answer as the man poured coffee into his mug. He set the pot back in its spot and took a sip, turning to face the other two. All three were dressed in their gear and ready to go.
"I know Ken. He won't like letting us do this," Omi said slowly, "but there's nothing we can do about it. One of us should sit down and talk with him." Those blue eyes turned on Aya, and Yohji turned also to gaze at Aya. "Aya-kun?"
~Why me?~ Aya wondered as he returned their calm looks. He'd almost told Ken how he felt earlier. Then Ken had made that comment about them being friends. It seemed Ken was only interested in a friendship.
"He might listen if he hears it coming from you," Yohji added when Aya didn't respond.
"We'll go on ahead and wait at the edge of town, under the overhang of the old Ryokou theater," Omi said, looping his bag over an arm. He motioned to Yohji and passed by Aya towards the door. "Be gentle, Aya-kun."
Aya set his mug aside and left the room, his eyes trailing towards the clock as he did so. It was nearing nine. They were going to pack up and leave soon. That just left one loose end: Ken. His shoes fell quietly against the stairs. As he turned onto the second floor to go to Ken's room, he stopped. His door was open, and Ken was sleeping on his carpet, holding a bunch of flowers. The brunette twitched, then
moved, uncurling as he woke up. Aya stood over him, watching as Ken yawned and opened his eyes.
"Napping?" Aya asked.
"Doko…?" Ken pushed himself up unsteadily, looking around. "Your room?" Aya offered a hand to help him up, and Ken accepted it. Once on his feet, Ken brushed at his clothes. "Sorry about that…I took a painkiller."
Not that Aya really minded Ken sleeping in his room…
"We're leaving," Aya said abruptly.
"Huh?" Ken blinked, struggling to figure out what Aya meant. Then it clicked. "Ah. We're off now?" He reached out, setting the bouquet on the nearby dresser, then turned to face Aya. "Furisaka dies tonight." He took a step forward.
Aya held up a hand, stopping him in his tracks by pushing lightly against Ken's chest. "We are going. You are staying here."
Another moment of silence, as Ken digested that. Then Ken blinked and shook his head. "No."
"Don't be stubborn."
"I'm not being stubborn. I have to go."
"You're going to stay here."
"If you're worried about me screwing up again, don't worry. I promise I won't." Ken tried to push Aya's hand away. Aya turned his hand and lightly gripped Ken's wrist.
"You're going to stay here and wait for us."
His words did not come across well. The look Ken sent him was panicked. "I won't!" Ken protested, trying to tug away. "Aya, you don't understand! Manx said it'll take all four of us to pull this off. That means I have to go!" Aya didn't answer. Instead he lifted his other hand and pushed Ken backwards, towards the bed. Ken pushed back at him. "It's dangerous with four of us, she said. With three, it'll be suicide! Aya! Let go!"
"You're wounded. You can't come with us," Aya said flatly.
Ken's eyes were pleading, asking Aya to understand. In those eyes, Aya could see the desperation to come and protect his team mates. He could see the guilt he felt over being distracted the first time. He could drown in those eyes.
"It's not that bad," Ken lied.
Aya reached down and pressed hard against Ken's bandages with two fingers. Ken recoiled with a soft cry of pain, lowering his free hand to grasp at the injured area. The backs of his knees banged against the bed. Aya carefully lowered him backwards, pressing Ken against the soft mattress and kneeling on it beside him. "Stay here," Aya said gently. "I want you to stay here." He was unable to resist, and lifted a hand to move Ken's bangs out of his face. "If anything goes wrong, I want you to be here where it's safe."
Ken shook his head. Aya stilled the movement with a hand on Ken's cheek. "I failed to protect my family," the redhead said. "I failed to protect my sister. Don't let me fail to protect you." Quieter, he
added, "I wouldn't be able to live with myself."
Ken looked away. "And if something happens to _you_?" he asked softly, voice hoarse.
"Nothing will happen, Ken." Aya stood and turned away, pushing away the internal war of his mind versus his heart. His heart could not stand against Ken's pleading eyes or his frantic voice, his mind knew that putting a wounded Ken in the mission would be asking for the enemy to kill him. His footsteps were quick as he crossed the floor. Looking back would mean giving in to Ken. Looking back would mean that he would let Ken come.
He did not look back. He heard the bed creak as Ken scrambled off it. As he reached the door, he reached out and plucked a key off a hook, then stepped out. He pulled the door shut, holding it closed with one hand and slipping the key into the knob with the other. All of the doors on the top floor had locks on the outside, locks that were rarely used. Aya was the only one who had taken the time to hunt down the rusted key for his door. He'd gotten it when he'd first joined Weiß, when he'd wanted nothing to do with his team mates. Ken tugged at the door from the inside, but Aya held it firmly closed. His fingers twisted, and with an audible click the door was locked. He released the knob and stepped away.
Ken rattled the knob again. There was a hesitation, as he seemed to notice the catch in the knob that could only mean it was locked. "Aya?" he asked.
To answer or not to answer?
"Aya, I know you're still there! Let me out! Let me out!" Ken began to bang on the door. "Aya, you stubborn bastard! Let me out of here!"
Aya gazed at the door calmly for several moments, then reached forward and brushed gloved fingers across the wooden surface. "Stay here, Ken," he whispered, knowing the other boy would not hear over the racket he was making. "Stay safe for me."
With that, he turned and left the building.
Two forms huddled under an overhang of a long closed shop, the only signs of life on such a nasty night. Everyone else had holed up far away from the tremendous storm that had broken loose over the city, fleeing the stark world of the rainy, fleeing the icy winds that howled by, fleeing the thunder that was so loud it made the streets seemed to vibrate. They were all indoors, as far away from the windows as possible, seeking light and laughter, warmth and color. All except for the two people waiting on their partner to arrive, waiting for the time to strike and kill.
"I hate rain on a mission," Omi told Yohji, crossing his arms tightly over his chest. "It ruins visibility." He peered through the thick downpour, trying to make out the dark shapes. Which were trees and which were poles? Which were buildings and which were just the shadows? Rain was not a bad thing. Rain on a mission could mean the difference between life and death. It was neither an ally nor an opponent, aiding and defeating both sides at the same time.
Yohji gave him a saucy wink and gave a slight jerk with his chin. "Don't you think it's fitting? It's always raining in the movies when somebody gets killed."
"Yeah," Omi muttered as lightning flashed. His blue eyes traced the landscape ahead of them even after
the light had faded. It looked just as ominous in the flash as it did in the darkness. He tugged his hood
further down over his eyes. "But usually it's the good guy that's been killed when that happens."
"Puh," was his only response. Yohji stubbed his cigarette out on the nearby banister.
Both Yohji and Omi jumped when a quiet voice spoke up: "Are you ready?" They turned in time to see Aya melt out of the darkness behind them, rain running in small rivers down his trenchcoat. His hair was soaked and the drops streaked down the side of his face. Omi gazed at the drops, transfixed. They seemed almost like tears...And yet, more like blood. It seemed to him that they were sucking the color from Aya's hair and coloring the vibrant red shade down with them, so that Aya's entire face seemed to be running with blood...
A hand clapped down on his shoulder. "Earth to Omi."
Omi jumped, eyes jerking up to Yohji. Both of the men were watching him assessingly. "Ahh...Did you say something, Yohji-kun?"
Yohji leaned closer, searching Omi's face. "Are you all right?"
"H-hai..." Omi sneaked a peek back at Aya. It was just rain, he reassured himself. He gave Yohji an embarrassed- and shaky- grin. "Those are some strong painkillers."
Yohji frowned. "Will you be okay?"
"How many fingers am I holding up?" Yohji held up a few fingers.
"Mou, Yohji-kun!" Omi pouted. "Three. And I'm fine. Trust me." There was a hesitant air to the two. He jutted his chin out defiantly. "I'm fine! I was just distracted. You have to keep me on this mission. I'm the only one who can do this computer work, and there's no way only two people can carry out the rest." He planted his fists on his hips. "If I think I won't be able to do anything, I'll stop. I promise."
Aya and Yohji exchanged glances, communicating silently, it seemed- and came to the same conclusion. Yohji turned back to Omi. "We're holding you to that promise, Omi."
"Un!" Omi nodded emphatically. "But I'll be fine. Lets go."
Ken kicked the door, letting it shudder under his weight. His breath was coming in ragged gasps as each movement sent pain jolting through him. He ignored it, kicking once more. What were the others thinking?? How did they hope to accomplish anything with only three people? It was more like just having two, though, since Omi was wounded. At best, the boy would limp around the corridors. They needed Ken and his bugnuks.
The door shook but didn't open. Frustrated, Ken beat his fists against the door. "Damn it, Aya!" he yelled.
He hadn't even gotten a chance to tell Aya about the flowers…
Lightning flashed outside, bright enough to light up the entire room.
Ken pivoted to face the window. He crossed the room in three large strides and wrenched the window open. Rain immediately poured in, soaking the front of his shirt. He leaned out, judging the distance to the ground. It was quite a drop. The only thing down there to catch him was the dumpster, if he aimed his jump to the right…Ken pulled himself onto the sill. Right now the pain was only a dull throb. Hopefully it wouldn't get worse too quickly.
He held his breath and leapt. He let himself hit the dumpster feet first, then topple into a roll with the momentum to go off the side and land in a crouch on the ground. Something screamed in protest along his side and he pressed a hand to the base of his rib cage, breathing quickly through clenched teeth. "Itai," he hissed, straightening slowly.
He needed a weapon. His bugnuks were inside, and he didn't have a key to get in. Damn…He couldn't go unarmed. What could he use?
A sudden thought occurred to him, and he stumbled towards the back door. His motorcycle was parked there still, and on a quick search, he saw the keys left in the ignition. He gave a relieved sigh, pulling them out. None of the others would have remembered to come back and take them out, not with all of this fuss. It was a small thing to remember, with big things around to block it out.
He staggered to the back door and unlocked it. He'd put his bugnuks in the basement…It was short work fetching them. On his way back up, he grabbed his headset from where it was on its hook and put them on. He pulled his helmet off the shelf in the storage room and stuck it over his head with one hand, closing and locking the back door with the other.
~You can't leave me out of this, guys,~ he thought as the pushed the keys into the ignition and twisted them. The motorcycle roared to life and he kicked up the brake. ~You need me.~ He turned it in the direction of the edge of the city. Five miles out from the last buildings was the estate.
And at the estate was Aya.
~Aya…I didn't get a chance to tell you that those flowers were for you…~
He pushed the bike as fast as it would go, not caring if the roar of the engine disturbed anyone's rest. They could lose a few minutes. His friends were gambling with their lives. Omi was talented, but he hadn't gotten a chance to see everything he needed to yet. Plus, he was wounded and wouldn't be able to move fast if it came time for some action. Yohji was quick with his wires, but they were a long range weapon. If anyone were to get right in his face, would he be able to react in time? And Aya…Aya was skilled with his blade, but would a blade protect him against the type of guns Furisaka owned?
He snorted with faint amusement. ~And you, Ken?~ he asked himself. ~You already proved that you're no match for those guns.~
He lifted a hand as he turned a street, sliding a finger under his helmet to flick his headset on. He was too far to pick anything up from them, still, but he wanted to hear their positions before he entered. He wasn't prepared for this. They'd probably spent some time debriefing today. All Ken had was the memory of a few rooms and the original floor plan Omi had brought up. He didn't know what the others' plan was- or if they even had one.
Lightning cracked overhead, whiting out everything for several moments.
~I hate the rain…~
"There sure are a lot of these people," Yohji murmured through the headset. Omi reached up to lightly touch his ear piece, pushing it closer to make sure he caught the oldest Weiß's words. "All of them are well armed, too."
"They're all alerted because of what happened last night," Omi answered back, lifting his night vision monocular to scan the building. The three were stationed on opposite sides. Surrounding the estate was a circle of guards, armed to the teeth with guns. Omi traced down the line for several moments and sighed softly. This would never work if he couldn't get inside. "What about you, Abyssinian?"
"The line remains unbroken."
He had expected them to put a guard up, but this was ridiculous…"Looks like we have no other choice than to knock our way through. Arm the crackers." There were affirmatives from the older two, and Omi waited. The crackers were small explosives that they hardly used. Omi had brought three just in case, but he hadn't expected to have to use them on the guards outside. He'd thought they would be used for bursting through doors.
"Cracker armed," Aya spoke up.
"This one too," Yohji added.
"Throw them on my mark." Omi lowered the monocular. "Mark." His eyes scanned the line. Suddenly two identical explosions rocked out on opposite sides of the building. For an instant, there was turmoil ahead of him as the guards tried to figure out what was happening. Then gunfire ripped through the air as they split up and fired. Omi stood slowly and reached into his pack, pulling out the third cracker. He slipped his pack onto his shoulder and began the limp forward, towards the building. Each step sent warm pain up his foot. As he neared the distracted guards, he snapped the cracker, arming it, then hurled it forward into their midst. He crouched low, waiting.
As soon as the explosion went off, he raced forward, ignoring the agony of his injured limb and the way moving hurt his back. He broke through the flying dirt that was kicked up from the cracker's explosion and found himself by the door. It was open, and a guard was standing in the doorway, alerted by the noise. Omi's fingers found a dart and he let it fly. The man sagged. Omi leapt over his body, almost falling when he landed again. He winced as he limped forward. With each step, it felt like something was about to break in his foot.
He scrambled onto a nearby cabinet and let himself into the ceiling, closing the tile behind him as he heard voices. Once sealed in the darkness, he let out a relieved sigh. As he did so, he heard shouts and gunfire right below him. He leaned down, pressing his ear to the tile. Had one of the others made it inside?
"Balinese, Abyssinian, positions?"
Omi frowned. So who was-
"Inside," a third voice said cheekily.
"Siberian!" Omi choked out, pulling back the tile. Ken was standing beneath him. The older teen lifted a hand in greeting. " How did you get here?"
"I got here on my motorcycle. Luckily I left only a few minutes after you guys did, or I wouldn't have caught up in time to use the debris you kicked up with your explosion."
"What are you doing here?" That was from Aya. His voice was flat and deadly.
"You guys can't run this mission with just three people."
"I told you to stay at home."
"I didn't listen, obviously." Ken stepped over the bodies of the guards he'd just killed and boosted himself onto the cabinet. He seemed to have a little trouble at first because he was soaking wet. Omi moved back so the brunette could climb up alongside him, then moved the tile back into place. "I need to be here."
"You're going to get yourself hurt further," Omi told him.
"You're one to talk," Ken retorted over his shoulder as he crawled off.
~No, no, no!~ This mission was not working out how Omi expected it to at all. The wheat haired boy started after Ken.
"What happens now?" Ken asked him when he drew even. "Abyssinian and Balinese are distractions. You're still looking for the power, aren't you?" Omi nodded. "If you shut it off, they'll realize there's a third inside and come looking for you."
"Not if I do it right," Omi answered. "It _is_ storming outside, after all."
Aya could barely contain his anger. Ken was here? How had the man gotten out of his room? Damn it, didn't Ken understand that it wasn't safe or smart for him to be here when he was injured so badly? Was it too much to ask that Ken just stay at home so Aya didn't have to worry about him continuously?
Ken was inside.
Therefore, that was where Aya needed to be.
He left his position, pressing forward. His feet fell silently against the ground and he drew his katana in an angry but graceful move. It hissed against its sheath as it came free. Some of the guards spotted the movement and turned their guns in his direction. He wove off to the side as he heard them fire, teeth pulling back in an expression of cold rage.
~You hurt Ken.~
Aya reached striking distance and leapt into the air, sword arching above his head. "SHI-NE!!!"
"Abyssinian?" That was from Balinese, a startled inquiry.
Aya did not answer. He was caught up in the flow of battle. He was too close for them to shoot at now without the risk of hitting each other, so they were taking swings at him, using their guns as clubs. He danced out of reach of them, bringing his sword up and around to let the sharp blade satisfy its thirst in the blood of these men. Lightning flashed directly overhead, with thunder coming barely a second behind it. Aya could feel its boom resonating throughout his body, making his bones shake.
Guards fell back and fell down as his blade swept across them. Those that retreated, he followed, pressing the attack. Finally he broke through the line. He sprinted towards the door, knowing he was leaving his back unguarded but not caring. Bullets struck the wall to his right, and pain flared up as two grazed his arm. He stumbled slightly but didn't slow, turning the corner to the front and completing the race to the front door. He paused briefly inside, eyes sweeping over the bodies on the ground. The gashes on them were unmistakably from Ken's bugnuks.
"Inside," he reported calmly, starting off through the building.
"Well, I guess I'll just wait out here in the rain, then," Yohji sighed. "If my hair gets rain-bleached you'll be the first I kill, Abyssinian."
Omi spoke up then. "Bombay and Siberian have reached the end of this space. The structure in front of us seems to be the side of stairs, though, so we'll drop down and head on up."
~Ken, you and I are going to have a long talk when we get home,~ Aya thought darkly.
"Understood," he said aloud.
Omi glanced back at Ken as they hid in a doorway of a small office. An alarm was going off overhead. "Go down the left corridor," Omi instructed. "See what you can find there. _Be_ _careful_," he stressed.
"Are you going to be all right?"
"I'll be fine." Omi was already slipping his pack off and limping towards the computer. They'd made it further inward than he'd thought they would. While they still hadn't found the main computer, this one would be enough. It was sure to be on the network. He heard Ken's soft footsteps as the brunette headed away, and closed his eyes briefly. He knew it was dangerous to send Ken off when the man was injured, but Ken was right. This wouldn't work with only two assassins moving through the building- and it definitely wouldn't work with Yohji still outside. If Ken wasn't here, it would be just Omi and Aya.
They wouldn't even have a chance.
Ken would simply have to take Yohji's route.
"Moving to second floor."
"Trying to find an alternate way in. This storm has kicked it up a few notches. I'm having a terrific lightning show."
"Be careful," Omi told him. "I don't want you ducking around out there when those guards are worked up." He jiggled the computer to rid it of the screensaver and began picking through the system. Several times it asked for a password. "This is going to take a few minutes…" he warned the others.
"We can stall," came Ken's cheery voice.
"Watch your back, Siberian," Aya said flatly.
"You have no faith in my abilities," Ken replied with a sigh. Soon after, gunfire echoed across the line. When it cut off, the other three waited tensely for his voice.
"Siberian, status?" Omi asked.
"Two guards down. No injuries."
Omi doubted he was the only one sighing in relief. He went back to his work with a vengeance.
Furisaka glanced up when the lights above them flickered for the third time. "What's going on with the electricity?" he demanded, looking over at the three men at the computers. They looked like they were closing programs.
"The storm outside is awful, Furisaka-san. It could take out our power."
"What about the back-up?"
"The generator takes ten seconds to turn on."
Furisaka nodded. "All right. As long as we get our power back."
"We will, sir."
At the end of his words, the power died, and those in it waited tensely, counting the seconds.
Yohji watched as suddenly all lights coming from the estate turned off. It was timed perfectly to a particularly loud crash of thunder. The guards noticed the sudden lack of light and many of them turned. Their captains yelled at them to face back forward, and Yohji watched until they were looking away. He'd managed to get around to Aya's side, though he'd suffered a few grazes doing it. His left arm hurt like hell.
"Seven seconds, Balinese," Omi spoke up.
"Right." Yohji broke into a run, pushing himself forwards and up from his crouch. Running jarred his arm, and he hissed and held it against him with his good hand. His feet thudded lightly against the ground as he turned the corner to be in front of the building. The door was still wide open. He ducked in and shut it. A few rapid heartbeats later, the power clicked on, and he heard something in the door click as it automatically locked.
"Balinese is inside." He looked around and set off, readying his wire.
"Let me know when you reach the second floor."
"Hey, guys…" that was from Siberian. "I need some back up."
"What did you find?"
Yohji sped up, listening to the other three talk.
"Where are you?" Omi asked.
"I went down that left corridor. At the end is another hallway going both directions, and a door that has stairs behind it. I thought it was a closet and ducked in when I heard a lot of guards moving. Up the stairs is a third floor, and the first room on the left is a big computer room. It has a window on the door that I can see through. He's standing in there, and there are a lot of other people."
"On my way," came the crisp response.
"Siberian, wait until your back-up arrives. Balinese, where are you?"
"Almost to the second floor stairs."
"Right. Abyssinian, as soon as you reach Siberian's point, let me know. The power is going out right then."
Yohji smiled faintly. ~It started out hard, but it's getting easier. And Manx thought we couldn't handle this…~
Ken heard boots against the ground- lots of boots. He glanced once more at the room Furisaka was in. Ken ducked down so he couldn't be seen and scurried forward. There was another room on the left…He ducked in and found himself in an office. The footsteps were getting louder, and he could hear orders being snapped. Ken leapt lightly up to the desk and pushed at the ceiling, searching for a weak tile. One gave way, and he boosted himself up with a grunt, then closed the tile almost all the way.
"Abyssinan…regiment of guards moving down the hall. I was forced to move from position."
There were several seconds of silence, then Aya answered. "They went into Furisaka's room. One's talking to him. Where are you?"
"In the room by Furisaka's. It's an office."
Aya stepped in the doorway and looked around. Ken stuck his fingers down the hole. "Look up."
Aya glanced up and entered the room, reaching out with his sword to let the tip trail on the wall. "What are you doing up there?" he asked, stopping right under Ken.
Ken moved the tile back enough for Aya to see his grin. "It's a good place to-" He cut off abruptly as gunfire rang out. Aya let out a livid curse when the bullets struck his katana, hurting his hand with the vibrations and sending it flying.
Everything went in slow motion as Ken's eyes followed Aya's sword on its trip through the air. It hit one of the walls and bounced off, clattering loudly as it hit the ground. His breath left him in a horrified hiss. Boots scraped against the ground, bringing his attention back to Aya. The redhead was turning to see
who had shot his sword away. Three men were standing just inside the room- Furisaka and two guards, whose guns were trained on Aya.
Aya had been distracted because of him. Panic swelled in Ken's chest.
~Never die because of someone.~
"Bombay, cut the power!" Ken whispered frantically. Even as he said it, he knew it wouldn't be enough. Two guns and an unguarded Aya…Aya would be hit in their sweeping of the room.
"Give me three seconds," came Omi's answer. "What happened?"
Three seconds was too long.
Ken didn't answer. He dropped out of the ceiling, landing neatly in between Aya and the soldiers just a heartbeat before the firing started. Furisaka took off, darting across the room to a back door somewhere. Above the thunderous gunfire he could hear his own scream and Aya's hoarse yell. He could feel the bullets tearing through him mercilessly, the bullets that would have struck Aya and killed him. Sometime in those endless seconds of firing, the lights turned off. Omi was practically yelling in his ear, voice frantic and desperate to figure out what had happened.
~Die _for_ them.~
The firing stopped abruptly. Ken could make out a tall figure right behind the guards, with something glinting in his grasp. Yohji?…The two men slumped to the ground. Then Ken was falling backwards. Hands caught him and lowered him gently to the ground.
"The lights! The lights!!" Aya ordered. They flicked back on to show a deathly pale face hovering above Ken's. "Shit, Ken, what the hell was that for?!" Aya snapped, voice tight with worry, anger, and what might have been a hysterical edge.
Ken closed his eyes against the pain. It was choking in its severity. Well…_This_ certainly wasn't the way he'd imagined he was going to die. Although he was an assassin, he'd still entertained optimistic hopes that he would someday find a way to get away from Kritiker, find a way to clean his hands of the blood they'd worn, find a way to die in peace. And maybe…to die old with Aya at his side.
Now he knew that that was too much to hope for.
"Ken! Ken, answer me!!" Yes…That _was_ a hysterical edge.
"Bombay, Siberian is down!" That frantic voice was Yohji's.
"Yohji…Furisaka went through the back door," Ken managed to get out. As he spoke, something thick and sticky filled the back of his mouth. He almost choked on it and began coughing harshly, his whole body jerking with the force of it. The taste of it was metallic and sour. Blood…"Please, go get him."
"You're more important that him! We've got to get you out of here!"
Ken gave a shake of his head, finally getting his breath. "Yohji…Furisaka has to die. If he doesn't, we all fail and more will be killed. Please?" He opened his eyes, though it was hard to do. "You know that's what has to be done." Yohji was shaking his head rapidly. "Yohji…Do it for me? One last thing for me?"
"Shit, Ken…" Yohji hissed, his expression a mix of despair and agony.
"Ken, don't talk like that!" Aya said savagely.
~Why not, Aya? You know…I know…Yohji knows…I'm not going to make it out of here.~ It was almost like an intuition, telling him that he'd been hurt beyond repair. He could feel his time ticking down, slowly…
Yohji came up to him in two long strides, bending down to briefly touch Ken's cheek. It was an apology, it was a farewell, it was a gesture of utter pain and loss. Ken smiled up at him. "Arigato, Yohji," he whispered, feeling more blood trickle from his mouth. Yohji pulled away as if he could no longer bare to see Ken, and Ken heard his shoes hitting the floor as he raced away. He could tell from the haunted look in Yohji's eyes that the man wanted to stay, wanted to be with him and do anything he could to help. Yohji knew, though, that Furisaka had to be stopped and he was the only one left to do it. Ken coughed again.
Cold, trembling hands were touching his face, his hair, before moving down to frantically pull apart his shirt. "God damn it, Ken…" Aya whispered hollowly as he got a view of Ken's bullet ridden body. His words were choked with emotion Ken had never heard before when he spoke. "I told you to stay at home. I told you to stay where it was safe." His voice were shaking badly.
"I wasn't going to risk letting you get killed," Ken told him, struggling to lift a suddenly heavy hand to seek Aya's. Aya clasped it in one of his hands, almost tight enough to cut off the circulation. "You have to look after Sakura." Besides the pain, he'd just lost feeling in his body. He couldn't even feel Aya's hand on his.
"Sakura can take care of herself," came the harsh response.
"What a way to talk about the one you love," Ken murmured bemusedly.
"She is just a friend. I love _you_." Aya took a deep breath before adding softly, "I always have."
Ken let the words sink in slowly. A rueful and self-mocking smile curved his lips, even as tears filled his eyes. "So there was nothing to fear, after all," he whispered. He was feeling so tired, almost as if he'd taken those pain killers. He gave a soft sigh, closing his eyes simply because he couldn't hold them open anymore.
"Aya…You left too soon," Ken said. His words were slurred and he trailed off. He was so tired.
~I never got the chance to tell you…~
"Ken! Don't you die on me!! Ken!!"
~I never got the chance to say I love you.~
~I've loved you for almost eight months.~
~You're the one I wake up for every morning. You're the one I go to sleep to dream about. You're the one whose pain I feel as keenly as if it was my own. You're the one I can't live without. You're the one I kill for, to protect. And now, you're the one I die for, so you will live.~
"Aya…?" It was so hard to speak. He felt like he was drowning on his own blood and the darkness that ripped at him. "The flowers…"
~Aya, it doesn't hurt anymore.~
The pain had dulled and he'd regained some feeling. He was pulled up against Aya, held tightly to the man's chest. Aya's body was shaking violently as he was hugged close to him. He could feel Aya's heart beating against him. He could hear Aya's gasping breath. Warmth hit his face. Blood? No…It ran too quickly to be blood. Maybe the ceiling had fallen in and it was raining on him. No. It was too warm.
Tears for him?
~I'm so cold.~
~Aya…~ He could no longer get the man's name out vocally, despite his attempts. His mouth wouldn't move, his throat would produce no sounds. ~Aya!~
~Don't forget me, Aya.~
~I love you.~
~I love you so much.~
Then he could no longer feel Aya...and he felt nothing at all.
Yohji opened the door silently. He'd been alerted by the sound of weeping from inside. Aya was kneeling facing his window, his upper half doubled over so that his forehead practically touched the ground, his arms wrapped around his stomach so tightly that he might have been trying to hold himself together. His slender form had never looked so frail or vulnerable as it did then, shaking with grief-filled sobs. Yohji crossed the room, quiet footsteps covered up by the sound of Aya's mourning. He knelt beside his teammate, gently easing Aya up and pulling the redhead against him. He wasn't sure what kind of a reaction he'd get. The last few times Omi had tried to give comfort when Aya started losing control- before the younger teen had been called back to Kritiker for a review, that is- the redhead had escaped and locked himself away.
This time, Aya let himself be held, keeping his arms where they were but burrowing his face into Yohji's shirt. Yohji rubbed his back gently, up and down, in a soothing motion, with one hand. His other hand cupped the back of Aya's head. All of them had been dealt a powerful blow to the heart and soul, but Aya had been the worst. Yohji knew why. He had heard Ken and Aya's final conversation over his headset. Yohji's eyes fell on the petals strewn across the room, petals from the bouquets Ken had so lovingly created. Yohji still remembered the day Ken made them. It seemed so long ago. Ken had been laughing and blushing, protesting Yohji's teasing and attempts to find out the secret loved one.
Ah, but the secret loved one was now in his arms. One of his hands was clenched up against his chest. The edge of something was sticking out of it. Yohji touched it, and Aya slowly uncurled the hand. Inside was a small card, the kind of card one would take off of an arrangement. Yohji gently picked it up and uncrumpled it. From the creases on Aya's hand, he wondered if the man had let go of it at all since their return home.
It has been seven months and twenty four days now since the first moment I realized that I was in love with you. Since then I have dreamed up thousands of ways to tell you, planned out all of the times and places I could have drawn you aside and bared my heart to you. Each time I stopped myself because I was afraid. Now I'm not afraid anymore. I do not mind if you do not accept the love I offer you. All I ask is that you are happy. Find someone who makes you happy. Learn to live and enjoy life. Let me love you from a distance, and hold me as your friend.
I will be happy if you are happy.
Yohji could feel his own eyes watering with tears as he returned the card. Aya's hand immediately closed back over it. Yohji pulled Aya tighter against him, letting Aya shake. His own tears rolled down his cheeks.
Outside, it continued to rain.
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