Part Two: Stubborn

   The school girl crush was starting to become uncontrollable when Aya returned. Ken flashed the older man a grateful smile as the redhead entered and tied his apron around him. Yohji had been forced to start helping Ken out a bit a while ago, or nothing would have gotten done, but working the shop was not a two person job, especially when the same girls had been there since school let out until now- six thirty. Aya calmly booted Yohji away from the register, and the playboy vanished into the crowd. "If you're not going to buy anything," Aya spoke up, loud and firm, "get out."

    That was one way to help, Ken supposed as he cut lengths of ribbons. Some of the gossiping turned towards business as the girls struggled to have a reason to stay. Ken glanced towards Yohji when the man seemed to falter in what he was doing, and green eyes shot a Look towards the stairs. Ken peeked in that direction. Schuldig was sitting on the stairs, dressed in some of Yohji's clothes, an amused smirk playing on his lips. Ken sighed internally. What was _up_ with those two today? Ken looked back at Yohji just as the other man's eyes turned towards him. Yohji's eyes widened slightly and tore away. Schuldig laughed mockingly from his spot.

    The bell jingled. Ken turned to greet whoever it was, but a crystal clear, happy voice spoke up first. "Irasshai~!"

    "Omi!" several of the girls squealed.

    Omi appeared from the back of the shop, Nagi tying the apron on for him. The boys exchanged quick, slight smiles before Omi turned towards the customers. Nagi wove his way towards Schuldig, sitting a few steps below the telepath. Omi vanished behind some of the girls before reappearing by Ken, girls already attached to him. "Welcome home," Ken greeted, relief clear on his face. "When did he get here?" He jerked a thumb over his shoulder, indicating Nagi.

    A slight, pretty blush spread on Omi's cheeks. "He met me at school and walked me home."

    Ken grinned, shaking his head and handing the dozen daisies he'd just arranged to a waiting girl. "How was school?"

    He instantly regretted his words, as there was a flash of darkness in Omi's eyes. The boy hid it quickly, but Ken had still seen it. Omi smiled brightly up at his fellow assassin. "It was fine," he chirped, reaching around Ken to get the roll of ribbon Ken had just finished with. Then the high schooler wove his way through the crowd to gather what the girls around him asked for. Ken mentally kicked himself.

    /Smooth, Hidaka./ It was Schuldig's voice.

    ~What do you want?~ Ken asked impatiently.

    /Just to compliment you on how you handled that situation. Remind the boy that his substitute friend betrayed him, why don't you?/ Ken could hear the German's snickering in his mind. /I'm sure he appreciated it./

    ~Go bug someone else, why don't you?~ At that thought, Ken briefly remembered the way Yohji had been acting. Had Schuldig been bothering the oldest Weiß earlier? It made sense, in a way.

    /A bit slow, but you get the picture./ Schuldig slipped away, bored with playing with him.

    Ken rolled his eyes, returning to his work. Finally the girls began to leave. Ken gave an exaggerated sigh of relief when the crowd was completely gone, flopping against a counter. "If I see one more girl today," he started, "I'll-"

    "You'll what?" a cool, feminine voice asked.

    "Manx," Aya greeted calmly. "Birman."

    The two women of Kritiker had just entered the shop. "Is everyone here?" Birman asked, glancing around at the rest of the kittens and spotting the two Schwarz on the stairs.

    "Crawford and Farfarello are downstairs already," Omi answered as he and the others removed their aprons. Birman settled herself at the counter in case any customers came, and Manx led the six downstairs. Farfarello was sitting in a corner, licking at his knife now and then and then poking himself with it. Crawford was sitting in a chair. Omi and Nagi took the loveseat, with Ken perched on an arm. Aya stood behind it. Yohji took the remaining chair, and Schuldig lazily draped himself over the back of it, ignoring the way Yohji stiffened slightly.

    Manx leaned against the table, eyes taking in each person briefly. Her gaze lingered on Crawford, then Aya. "Persia has come to a decision, one I'm sure you won't appreciate, Aya." She paused a moment, as if considering her words. "We are asking that Weiß and Schwarz keep up their alliance, and to peacefully place down their weapons for an extended length of time."

    There was silence following that statement for a few moments, then Ken spoke up hesitantly. "You're asking that we disband?"

    "As you know, the number of missions these days is getting smaller. Why and how, I don't know." She gave a delicate shrug. "There's no need to keep sending you four on small missions that other agents could take care of easily, and besides, you deserve a rest after what happened with the Group. The only thing to take into consideration is Schwarz, but Crawford already told me that they are willing to drop out as well."

    "And you trust them?" Aya asked calmly.

    "Aya-kun," Omi chided quietly.

    "We knew you'd be a problem, Aya," Manx said with a smile. "You hold a serious grudge. It will be difficult for all of you, I know, to take on a normal life after all this, but it'll be worth it. However, we need to be sure that all eight of you will accept this decision, so we've simplified it. Until Aya and Crawford have reconciled and agreed that their teams deserve to separate, you will both remain as functioning groups with a wary truce."

    Ken groaned, clapping his hands over his face. "We're _never_ going to get a break if you let him decide!" Omi sighed loudly, and Yohji just shook his head.

    Aya did not look amused. "Then I suggest you find Weiß something to do, Manx," he told the woman, his violet eyes snapping with disapproval over the way the situation had been handled.

    She just smiled at him. "My apologies, Abyssinian," she replied insincerely. "I wish luck to both of you. That is all." She headed towards the stairs. All heads turned towards Aya. He ignored them, getting to his feet and stalking silently after the Kritiker agent, following her upstairs.

    Crawford adjusted his glasses. "If he does not give his cooperation within three days, I will begin looking for a new employer."

    "Good," Schuldig replied with a smirk.

    "You don't care about getting a break?" Nagi asked him, tilting his head towards the older Schwarz.

    "I don't care about either a break or a boss. A break means I can annoy the hell out of Weiß and go clubbing. An employer means I can do the same thing, get paid for it, but have to follow someone else's demands." The German bared his teeth in a grin. "Either way, I'm not going to let the course of my life dangle on waiting for that stuck-up redhead to give in." He flicked his fingers in the direction of the stairs. "Ne, Kudou?"

    Yohji gave him a cool look. "I'm siding with Aya," he replied.

    Omi sent Nagi a distressed look. Now that the two boys had recognized their feelings for each other, the thought of being enemies again was hard to face- especially since Nagi knew that he would kill the rest of Weiß without a second thought, thus shattering his relationship with Omi. And Omi would not think about fighting and taking out Schwarz if those were his orders, even though it would wreck his chances with Nagi. Omi reached out, sliding his hand into Nagi's and squeezing.

    "What about you, Farfarello?" Schuldig asked lazily, sending the Irishman a look. "Would you prefer freedom or a boss?"

    Farfarello raised his amber eye to give Schuldig a glance. "You didn't do so well with the last boss," he said simply, as if that was the answer.

    Something seemed to flicker in Schuldig's eyes and they narrowed slightly, but he caught hold of his tongue before he said anything. Nagi decided it was a fair amount of control on the German's part. As he watched Schuldig relaxed against the chair, propping his elbow on the back and perching his chin on his palm. Schuldig gave Farfarello an assessing look, amusement faint in his cold eyes. His smile widened and Farfarello recoiled suddenly, sending him a sharp glance. Nagi briefly wondered what Schuldig could have said to make the man react like that.

    "Schuldig," Nagi protested.

    Schuldig laughed, a mocking and cruel sound. "Naive little Irishman probably has no clue what I meant," he drawled, straightening and stretching. "Now I'm off to entertain myself." With a smirk, he moved out of the basement. Everyone noticed the way Farfarello cringed when Schuldig passed him.

    "Well," Omi said after a while, "we should probably get back to the shop."

    "Hai," Ken agreed.

    Omi gave Nagi a reassuring look. "I'll talk to him, Nagi, don't worry. Somehow he'll see that this is best, ne?"

    "I wish I could share your optimism," Nagi replied quietly as they both stood. They padded towards the stairs, fingers still interlocked, and started up. The remaining three and a half pairs of eyes watched them go, and Yohji shook his head.

    "The bad thing about not accepting this decision is how it'll tear Omi and Nagi apart. Nagi already lost that blue haired chick, and this is the first time I've seen Omi that attached to anyone. Personally, I have no problem with killing the rest of you off, but Omi would not be happy if I were to use my wire against the chibi." He ran a hand through his bangs, hoisting himself to his feet to follow the teens to the shop. Ken followed his example.

    "I suggest you talk to your red-haired boss," Crawford replied calmly.

    "I suggest you stick to your own team," Ken sent back as they headed upstairs. Ken wrapped his apron around himself. Omi had just taken a customer from Birman and was helping the old man, who was rambling on about flowers for his wife's grave. Manx and Birman left with a small bouquet of flowers. Aya was adjusting the money in the register. To anyone who didn't know him well enough, he looked as calm as ever as he went about the task, unrolling coin wrappers so he'd be able to make change, but to his partners of Weiß it was obviously he was not happy. Ken could see why Aya was angry- Aya _hated_ Schwarz, Crawford in particular- but there was no reason to keep a grudge this long.

    Ken himself didn't really trust the other four men, except perhaps Nagi, since Omi did. But it was hard to dislike them now, after the Group. They were people. They had fears and feelings. They were deranged, all of them, but they were human beings. Jeez. Why couldn't they have just remained evil bad guys in the background? Although they were the ones that brought the problem to Weiß, they helped clean it up. They could have just saved their own skins during all the commotion, but they had made sure all of the florist/assassins had survived as well. Why? When had the truce faded from one built on hostility for a single purpose to one for the same goal?

    Ken shook his head slightly. It wasn't like himself to worry over things like this. could he make Aya see the truth? Although the prospect of not being in Weiß anymore was a bit disconcerting and frightening, it was also exciting. They could stop worrying about who and when to kill, and start planning futures. They could have real futures! Omi wouldn't have to ever think about whether or not he'd be alive to graduate high school or to enter college. Yohji wouldn't have to worry about his work interfering with his numerous dates. Aya would hopefully lighten up some. And himself...~What will I do?~

    ~I'll have fun,~ he decided. There was no reason to pursue a future further than that at the moment. All he knew was that his life was going to involve a lot of soccer, his friends, and a lot of motorcycle trips. Smiling widely, he turned to the most recent customer.

    ~Aya, I hope we can convince you that this is right!~


    Omi looked up when Nagi entered. On silent agreement they were going to share Omi's room while Schwarz was still at the flower shop. Omi smiled warmly. "Nagi-chan," he greeted, shoving more books into his box. "What's up?"

    The telekinetic gave a slight shrug, perching himself on Omi's bed and crossing his legs, using one hand to help prop him up and the other to brush his bangs out of his face. "Nothing much, just came to tell you that dinner is ready." He looked around. The room seemed so much emptier than when he'd left a few days ago. His hand lowered from his hair to the bandages around his other arm, where the implant had been inserted. His eyes wandered across Omi's desk. It was tidy, now, all of its papers probably in one of the three boxes by Omi. "What are you doing up here?"

    "We decided the other day that we should move out of the flower shop. We'll continue to work here, at least for a little bit longer, but it's getting too risky to remain living here. There shouldn't be a reason that anyone else will find us, but the fact is that the Group found out our identities and then our home. If anyone else does...It could spell serious trouble and put innocent lives at risk. We're going to find some apartments. I'm going to go look after school tomorrow. Want to help?"

    A sad shadow crossed Nagi's eyes. "I...I don't think I should."

    Omi blinked. "Why not? What's wrong, Nagi?"

    "What if Aya does not agree to disband, and Crawford finds us a new leader that wants us to exterminate you four? Schuldig could easily pluck your new location out of my mind. He would not care about hurting you, and I'm not sure if I'd be able to stop him." Nagi's eyes dropped to his lap. "We've only actually known each other for a few short days, but already you've gone through so much for me. You've suffered too much for me, because I allowed myself to care about you."

    "Do you...regret that you care?" Omi asked quietly.

    "No!" The word was vehement and pained, and Nagi's gaze shot up to lock with Omi's. "I hate myself for not being able to protect you, but I will never regret the way you''ve managed to touch me, even in such a short time span." Nagi's hand briefly touched his heart.

    Omi rose from his crouch, moving over towards Nagi and embracing the boy firmly. "No matter what happens, Nagi, don't stop believing, all right?" he whispered, eyes closed tightly. "If we stop believing, we stop living."

    Two boys, both hurt by the world, both scared of their futures, clung to each other then, seeking out this temporary warmth that a pair of icy violet eyes threatened to blow out, until there was a knock at the door.

    "Oi~, Omi! I'm hungry!"

    It was Ken, and Omi could imagine the boy shifting from foot to foot impatiently out there. He giggled quietly, and the mood dispelled. Omi leaned back away from Nagi, eyes shining and his cheerful smile on his face. "Daijabou, Nagi-chan," he told the boy brightly. "Everything's going to work out. I promise. Do you trust me?"

    Nagi gave a slow nod- not slow in hesitation, but to emphasize just how much he did indeed trust Omi. "Always."

    "Good. Now, I'm hungry!" Omi laughed and grabbed Nagi by the wrist, dragging the boy towards the door. He threw it open to reveal Ken, the soccer boy's hand raised to knock again. Ken blinked in surprise, then turned away. They made their way downstairs and to the kitchen. Yohji was leaning back in his chair and threw them a glance.

    "What took you so long? I'm hungry."

    "We were in the middle of something," Nagi replied calmly, meeting the other man's eyes as Yohji tilted his head back to drink.

    "Doing what, I wonder," Schuldig drawled lazily.

    Yohji choked on his drink and his chair fell over backwards, landing him on his back on the floor. Aya threw Schuldig an icy look. Ken, oblivious to the meaning of the comment, laughed at Yohji. "And you say _I'm_ clumsy!"

    "We were _talking_," Nagi informed Schuldig dryly.

    "Mind your table manners, Schuldig," Crawford said without looking up from where he was pouring his own cup of tea.

    "I'm not touching anybody, am I?" Schuldig returned, raising an eyebrow.

    Yohji stood up, set his chair to rights, and sat down again, still coughing after swallowing his drink wrong. He sent Schuldig a Look, who merely smirked back. The expression in those eyes was clear to Nagi and he sighed inwardly. Schuldig just didn't know when to keep his hands to himself.

    /You worry about _that_ boy, and let me play with this one,/ Schuldig sent back, the smirk on his face widening another notch.

    /You're a slut, Schul./

    /Don't I know it./


   Aya was not happy. He hadn't been happy since Schwarz arrived, he had become less happy when Manx had told him Persia's idiotic plan, and he was even further from being happy now that he was at the table- and stuck sitting between Yohji and Crawford. How the hell had he ended up next to Crawford? He was sure Yohji had done that on purpose. Yohji had approached him an hour ago to ask him to consider dropping Weiß. It was foolishness, all of it. Without Weiß, what did the others have? One didn't just _stop_ being an assassin. One kill might be something to overlook, something to regret or be afraid of, perhaps done in self-defense or to protect another. Two and the victim's blood started to smear on the palms. Three, it spread to the fingers. Four, it was engraved in the fingerprints.

    Weiß had bloody hands, bloody souls. After killing so many, how did the other three expect to just put aside weapons and try to adopt normal lives? How could they stay away? They were bound to this way of life by deep-strung wires, wires that cut when they struggled but were also so familiar. Why struggle, only to get cut and bleed? There was no point. They may hate this life they led, or regret it, or possibly just be tired of it, but escaping from this was not going to be easy. It wasn't like they could hand Manx their weapons and walk out, holding hands and singing songs, into the world.

    And to top this struggle, Persia wanted them to stay with Schwarz? Aya could easily see the reason. Schwarz was an unpredictable factor. They'd want to keep the four nearby in case they grew bored of a humdrum existence and set out to find new throats to slice. It was a perfectly acceptable request, but that didn't mean Aya agreed with it. Schwarz was a problem? Fine. Eliminate them. But to stay with them? Why? Why ask such a thing from him? How did they expect Aya to just forget everything they'd done and forgive them? His team mates seemed to be able to do that, but he couldn't.

    "Aya, if you would pass the soy sauce?" A voice jarred him from his thoughts, scattering them. Thrown briefly into confusion, his eyes shot from his plate to a pair of brown eyes. What? Amusement danced in those eyes when the person realized Aya's predicament. "The soy sauce," Crawford repeated.

    Aya's mind registered who it was and what the man wanted in the same instant and his eyes narrowed, tearing almost savagely away from Crawford's gaze. He plucked up the bottle, holding it out with the bare tips of his fingers without looking back at the clairvoyant. Crawford accepted it.

    Aya turned his attention to dinner and ignoring Crawford's presence. Damn, what was it about the man that could grate against his nerves so easily? His entire being was resonating with Crawford's closeness, screaming hate and distaste towards the man. He picked at his food, but his appetite had vanished. Instead he stood abruptly, tucking his chair under the table and making sure to knock it painfully against Crawford's knees as he did so. He scooped up his plate and dumped the barely touched contents in the trash before leaving the room, feeling everyone's eyes on him as he moved.

    He stalked upstairs to his room, wanting to slam the door but at the same time feeling childish about such an impulse. Instead he shut it quietly and snapped the bolt into place with as much force as he could muster. That helped, some. He looked around his room. He'd started taking everything down yesterday, but there was still a good deal to pack. He headed over to his shelves, yanking books off them with a savage force. There was a knock on his door.

    "Who is it and what do you want?" he asked coldly, stacking the books in a box.

    "No need to get all offensive," Yohji's voice muttered through the door.

    "Go away, Yohji."

    "Go where?"

    "I don't care. Go to your room. Go get laid. Go back to dinner." Aya went to strip another shelf.

    There was a snort from his team mate. "Can't I just come in? Schul's driving me nuts down there."

    Aya hesitated for a moment. So Yohji found Schwarz annoying still? He headed towards the door on silent footsteps, unlocking it and opening it an inch to give Yohji a flat glare. "If you say one word about Schwarz while you're in this room, or disbanding, or Persia, I will throw you out of the window. Is that understood?"

    Yohji grinned, pushing his sunglasses further up onto his head. "Understood," he affirmed, and Aya moved to let Yohji in.

    "Now what do you want?"

    Yohji sprawled out lazily on Aya's bed. "Nothing, really, just that I don't feel up to packing my stuff yet and everyone else is eating." He gave a slight shrug, looking around at the shelves Aya had managed to bare already. "Jeez, it's weird, moving out like this." Aya didn't reply as he filled the box and closed it. He taped the top to make sure it wouldn't open and wrote on it in small, neat script telling what the contents were.

    Silence fell between them, a comfortable silence. Aya collected his small framed pictures, holding them gently in his arms and depositing them on the mattress so he could wrap them in individual packaging. Yohji plucked up one of Aya-chan, holding it between two fingers. "How was Aya-chan today?" he asked.

    "Sleeping," Aya replied crisply, taking the picture back. Before he could wrap it, though, he paused, gazing at it. A strange feeling had swept through him. There was something he had forgotten...Something about Aya-chan. But what?

    "Don't worry, Aya. She'll be up and at 'em before you know it." Yohji sent him a smile and thumbs-up.

    Aya didn't answer for a long moment, still staring at the picture. Slowly he brushed aside the ill feelings, slowly wrapping the picture up. "I know," he finally said in response to Yohji's encouragement.

    ~Will she? She hasn't woken up yet, and the doctors say she's "Looking better" every time I see them. No...I must believe in her. One day she _will_ open up her eyes, and everything will be fine.~

    So why did traces of those dark feelings remain?...

    ~What can't I remember?~

Part 3