Part Three: Empty Bed

   Crawford calmly watched as the two Weiß kittens headed upstairs to get more boxes of personal items. Omi had gone out looking for an apartment the other day and apparently had found one. Hidaka and Kudou were going to go looking soon. His eyes slid towards Aya. The man was watering the plants that lined the shops. The flow of customers had come to a lull, giving the four a short break, yet Aya was still working. Though Crawford's actions and words towards the others about Aya's decision to disband had been that of one who didn't care, he still was determined to have Aya give in. There was only one more day before he would "go looking for Schwarz's new employer". Schuldig had found out the plan this morning, and was highly amused by it. Having the kittens think Schwarz was going to become an opponent again had strengthened their resolves to get Aya to capitulate. Crawford didn't even have to do anything.

    But if this kept up, it looked like he _would_ have to say something. Aya was still resisting the pull his team mates were giving. Last night he and Hidaka had gotten into a loud argument over it. As Crawford had been in the den at the time, he couldn't hear what they were saying, but it was obvious what they were fighting over.

    Aya seemed to sense Crawford's gaze, because he turned on his heel to fix Crawford with a icy glare. Crawford gazed back and lifted an eyebrow at the younger man. "What do you want?" Aya bit out, putting the watering can away.

    "Just to remind you that this is your last day to reconcile, or we leave this afternoon."

    Aya grabbed a rag and headed over towards a small table that was covered in water and ribbon bits. He began wiping it up, movements sharp and angry. "I don't need reminders. Go find yourself an employer now, if you want. I don't care. The sooner you're out the sooner the truce is over and I can kill you."

    "Such unkind words."

    "Go blow yourself up."

    "Your team mates don't seem to appreciate your stubbornness." Aya didn't answer. "They've come to accept the decision. Why is it so hard for you to do the same? Weiß, Schwarz, it doesn't matter what group we belong to, as long as we're both willing to drop our grudges." Crawford moved slowly towards Aya and the table.

    "Stop comparing Weiß to Schwarz," Aya said in low, icy tones. "We are worlds different from each other."

    "The only differences are our names, Aya."

    There was a flash of hot violet eyes, filled with defiance and anger. "Don't call me by my name! You're not my team mate, and not my friend!" Crawford could see the other Weiß stop halfway down the stairs when they realized the two were arguing, then Yohji led Ken back upstairs.

    He ignored Aya's stung retort. "Black and white are the same thing. One is the shadow of the other, but which one is which depends on who is looking at it. We are the same people, the same in thoughts and actions, but we were organized into two different parties. Who is to say which group was right? What gives us the right to think that either one of us _was_ the correct choice? It doesn't matter anymore. Weiß and Schwarz have crumbled. Accept that. There is no need for them anymore. Where does that leave us?"

    "It leaves _you_ without anything to do with your free time except aggravate me!" Aya was wiping one spot on the counter hard enough that it seemed he was trying to peel off the surface. Crawford grabbed his wrist, turning Aya to face him. The younger man's eyes widened slightly, startled.

    "What is needed to make you understand that we are not enemy assassins anymore?" Crawford asked quietly, watching as Aya regained his composure. He could feel Aya's pulse against his palm, quick in his anger.

    "More than you can ever do," Aya replied coldly.

    "I might consider that a challenge."

    "Consider it whatever you want, but if you don't let go of me I'll kill you right now and here. Fuck the truce."

    Crawford considered his options, deciding wisely that he had said enough for now. It was up to Aya now, and the rest of the florist assassins. He gave a slight shrug, releasing Aya. The man turned sharply away, stalking towards the trash can and throwing both the rag and ribbon bits into it. He left the room without another glance in Crawford's direction, his footsteps loud and angry on the stairs.

    "That was entertaining," a voice drawled.

    "What do you want, Schuldig?" Crawford turned towards where the German was lounging in the kitchen doorway. He hadn't noticed Schuldig's entrance. The German's eyes were glinting and his smirk was amused. "Did you get bored of playing with your kitten?"

    "Ch'." Schuldig's smirk widened. "Jealous?"

    Crawford eyed him. "Of?"

    "You don't seem to be having much luck getting any."

    "Perhaps because I'm not interested." Crawford pushed his glasses further up on the bridge of his nose.

    Schuldig blinked, eyeing him for a moment if trying to figure out whether or not he was being serious. Crawford felt a whisper light brush against his mind as Schuldig probed it lightly. Crawford's eyes narrowed lightly and he opened his mouth, about to tell Schuldig to stay out of his mind, but was interrupted by the German sniggering. "Ah, he doesn't even know," the German said, more to himself than to Crawford. His smirk widened. "Well then, this should be fun to see."

    Crawford placed a hand on his hip, an impatient look in his eye. "What are you babbling about _now_, Schuldig? Spit out your business or be quiet."

    Schuldig waved a hand in dismissal. "Just keep in mind that if you're ever lonely, my bed is always open." He winked.

    "But never empty," Crawford replied dryly.

    "You make that sound like a bad thing." Schuldig paused, thinking, then asked, "Where's the Farf?"

    "Some doctor came for him just a few moments ago. Farfarello promised not to kill him and then left. I am not worried about him. He seemed rather fascinated by the man's company." Yes, very fascinated, indeed. Crawford had been almost surprised by the way Farfarello had instantly recognized the doctor from the Lizard Night Club. He hadn't even taken his knife with him when they'd gone. Crawford studied Schuldig's face. The German's smirk faded slightly as he digested this, his expression closed off. He seemed to be remembering something.

    "Well then, I'm going out." Schuldig waved and headed towards the front door.

    Crawford watched him go silently. He had no doubt as to where Schuldig was going, but he didn't particularly care. Instead his mind conjured up the image of a quiet coffee shop around the corner. He hadn't finished today's paper. A mug of steaming coffee sounded good right about now. He padded into the kitchen to collect the paper. Nagi was sitting at the table with Omi, and both of them watched him. They had heard the argument easily.

    "I'll be back in a few hours," Crawford told Nagi, picking up the newspaper. The boy nodded, and Crawford left.


   Aya didn't even resist the urge to slam his door this time. He let it fly, listening to the way it crashed into place with a good deal of satisfaction. What was there about Crawford that could annoy him so easily and so well? Curse that man. Aya sent a glare around his room. Everything was packed up and ready to move out. He was going to go looking tonight, after Yohji and Ken had returned, and then visit his sister again.

    He wished he wasn't done tidying his room. It gave him nothing to do with his hands, and he needed to work out his frustration _somehow_. He grabbed a box, ripping it open and dumping its contents all over the floor. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, a voice was telling him he was being foolish, venting his rage like this. Surely he could have controlled it. The rest of his mind told that voice to shut up.

    He was so fed up with everything. He was angry at his team mates for taking Schwarz's side, angry at Persia for telling them they had to put up with Schwarz, angry at Nagi for caring for Omi, angry that Crawford was so good at annoying him, and angry at all the doctors that said Aya-chan was "Looking better" when she looked the same every day and never woke up! He grabbed another box, jerking the top open and letting those contents join the first. At the same time that doing this calmed him, it also just made him angrier.

    The whole world was out to get him, and he couldn't escape. He couldn't fight back. He felt pinned and he was suffocating. Even the people who were supposed to understand and stand by him had deserted him, taking the side of Schwarz.

    He stood in the middle of his room, breathing heavily and taking in the mess he'd made. Finally he took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair. His anger deserted him suddenly, leaving him just feeling exhausted. He lowered himself to the ground, picking up his sister's picture. It had come unwrapped when he'd emptied the boxes, but luckily it was otherwise unharmed.

    "Are you really going to wake up, Aya-chan?" he asked softly, trailing a finger down the glass. "They say you're doing great, but you haven't moved in years. Your condition hasn't changed at all. Why do they tell me you're doing so well if you're still lost to me?" He raised the picture to his heart, pressing the glass against his shirt. No. He had to keep believing in her. He couldn't just give up on her. But sometimes, it was so hard to believe.

    Downstairs he heard Omi's voice rise in greeting to a customer. Despite his own pain, the world was still going. He couldn't take time out to feel sorry for himself. Aya sighed quietly and set the picture on his bed, pressing a hand to his temples and squeezing briefly. He picked himself up and dusted his clothes off, wading through the mess to the door and letting himself out. Ken was staring at him, wide-eyed, at the other end of the hall. He had heard the noise.

    Aya didn't say anything, just headed downstairs. A group of three girls had entered the shop. Omi was deftly making a bouquet of daffodils, graced with baby's breath. Aya moved behind the counter. Omi seemed to be very careful in not looking in his direction, Aya noted. He had probably heard the confrontation between Crawford and himself, not that Aya cared. The whole block could have heard it if it wanted to, except that it had dealt with private matters. Omi had only brought up the subject of disbanding once, and had retreated quietly under Aya's hard glare. Aya knew that the boy was suffering over the possibility of losing Nagi, but there was nothing Aya could do about it. If only they would understand and see this the way he did.

    The girls approached the counter, the two in back giggling and throwing eager glances his way. He ignored them, ringing up the bouquet the first girl had bought. Ken and Yohji crept downstairs as the girls left and began moving their boxes to the car. Yohji came back in when they were done, raising a hand in farewell. "We'll be back soon," he called.

    "Good luck," Omi chirped back in reply, with an enthusiastic wave.

    Yohji gave him a thumbs-up and vanished out the back door. In moments there was the sound of the car engine starting up, and they listened as their two fellow florists drove away. The phone rang and Omi moved to get it. "Moshi moshi! This is the Koneko Flower Shop! How may I help you?" He was quiet a moment as the other person spoke. His face brightened. "Lilies? We have a pretty selection of them, in reds, purples, and whites." Another pause. "All right! If you give me your address, I can get it to you in fifteen minutes." Omi looked around, searching for the notepad they usually kept handy for orders.

    It and a pen floated over to them. Aya glanced towards the kitchen door. Nagi was there. Omi accepted the two items with a grin towards the telekinetic, and scribbled down an address. After a few more questions and a cheerful reassurance Omi hung up. The boy hummed as he went to get a woven basket out of the closet, lacing ribbons around the handle and laying a cloth in the bottom. Nagi and Aya watched as he began selecting lilies of different hues of violet. Although Aya grew bored of watching after just a few moments, Nagi watched with fascination as Omi filled the basket with lilies, small white blossoms, and stems of green leaves. The effect was a pretty one, and Omi clapped his hands once when he was done.

    "I do hope they like it!" he spoke, though he wasn't really talking to anyone. He put a light sheet of plastic over the entire thing and picked up the paper with the address on it in one hand, hefting the basket easily in the other. "I'm going to go deliver this," he told Aya, who merely nodded in reply. The younger boy left the shop, and soon the sound of the motorcycle leaving reached Aya and Nagi's ears.

    Now the two were alone in the shop. As Aya turned back to see what else he could do, he realized Nagi was looking at him. His eyes moved to meet Nagi's stare. The two gazed at each other in silence for several long moments. Not many people would meet Aya's gaze and hold it for an extended length of time, but Nagi didn't seem disturbed by it. "Is there a problem?" Aya asked in clipped tones.

    "No problem," Nagi answered calmly. His face was expressionless. It was almost eerie, the way Nagi changed when Omi wasn't around. Around the Weiß boy Nagi's eyes seemed to shine, and his face was easier to read. Once Omi was gone, however, Nagi seemed to close off. It was this appearance that Aya recognized from his brief encounters with Schwarz on missions. "I was just wondering if you four had anything planned tonight."

    Aya eyed him. "Why would you want to know something like that?"

    "Because if not, I was going to take Omi for some teriyaki before I am to leave and find out if Crawford has chosen an employer for us yet. I do not believe that an hour of Omi's time is too much to ask?"

    Aya digested this in silence. He regretted having to hurt his team mates by refusing to accept Persia's plan, but it would not sway his decision. However, Omi did deserve a little off time, he supposed. "We do not need him tonight," he said in reply to Nagi's request.

    A slight smile curved Nagi's lips, and the telekinetic left the room. Aya was left in the quiet of the shop. He needed something to do. Finally he selected a broom from the closet and stepped out front. The plant stands out there were vibrant and green, he noted with satisfaction as he started his chore. There were gum wrappers and a few cigarette butts lining the sidewalk, and a slight scowl marred his face briefly. He told Yohji that if he wanted to smoke, to do it in back of the shop. Then again, Farfarello roomed back there. He could see why Yohji had taken to coming up front. With some amusement Aya decided it probably helped business if Yohji came up front- he could attract customers to buy flowers.

    He paused when he was halfway done, turning back to eye the shop. Their first step away from danger was moving out. If Kritiker found even the slightest suspicion of trouble, or if Weiß became Schwarz's targets, they were going to have to quit their jobs. He had already spoken to Manx about this. He gave a quiet sigh, leaning against the broom. He wasn't stupid. He knew that a break from being Weiß- because disbanding was only going to be an extended break- would be nice. He knew that the others would enjoy their time off, and that he wouldn't have to worry about them getting killed. But that didn't change the fact that there was no way they could drop who they were. If he held his ground and refused to reconcile with Crawford, he would save his team mates from the harsh reality of their trap. If they were to disband, how long would it be before one of them forgot that they were no longer assassins and tried to pursue justice? How long would it be before they realized their hands instinctively went to where their weapons should be safely tucked away? He had tried to explain that to Ken last night, but the boy hadn't understood.

    Ken's words shot back at him from the fight, the words that had ended it and gave Ken a bloody nose: "We have lives to go back to, Aya! We have something we can try to live for! Your resistance to this is not going to bring Aya-chan back!"

    Aya had forgotten himself at those words, and he regretted it. By that time both his and Ken's tempers had been pushed to the limits, and Aya hadn't even thought twice about decking the younger boy. Ken had ended up sprawled on the floor, both hands clapped over his nose. Aya had been so surprised when the boy had moved his hands and saw the blood standing his face. He hadn't meant to hurt Ken. But before he could say anything, Ken had gotten to his feet, mumbled an apology, and was out the door.

    Ken had had no right to say that to him, no right to bring Aya-chan into this, but Aya couldn't help but feel guilty for hitting the boy that hard. He and Ken had walked quietly around each other all of today, and Ken hadn't pressed the subject of disbanding again. It was a victory, but one with a price. Aya sighed, moving to finish his sweeping. He wished the Group had never come along and messed all of this up. Or at least, the Group could have come but Yohji had not gone that night to the Schwarz headquarters and saved Nagi and Schuldig. Then this problem with teaming up with them wouldn't be here, and Omi wouldn't be so attached to Nagi.

    Too bad things never worked out the way Aya wanted them to. He took the broom back inside.


   Aya looked around the apartment. It was all right, not too big and not too small. His apartment building was across the street from where Ken and Yohji had picked their new homes, and next to the one Omi had selected. He turned to the waiting agent with a nod. "I will take this one."

    The woman smiled. "An excellent choice, sir." She beckoned him over to the small table. "You'll just have to fill out these contracts, and it's all yours."

    He seated himself across from her, filling in the blanks. His mind was wandering, however. Omi was out with Nagi, and who knew where Yohji and Ken had gone. Schuldig and Farfarello were missing, and Crawford had gone for a walk. Crawford had told Aya Schwarz would leave at nine this evening. That was only thirty minutes from now. Thirty minutes, and Aya would be free of Crawford and his annoyance.

    He handed the paperwork back, along with the first month's rent. In return she handed him two identical keys, blew him a kiss, and sauntered out. Aya stood, looking around the room. Manx had asked them all to call her when they'd gotten their new homes set up, but it would be a bit before he got his phone set up in here. He could call her from the hospital, though. He let himself out of the apartment, locking it and slipping the keys in his pocket. He headed down the hall towards the elevator.

    It was a short trip to the hospital from the apartment- within walking distance, even. That was one of the best things about the place. He stepped out of the apartment, almost colliding with someone as he did so. He stepped back quickly, looking up to see who it was.

    Violet eyes met chocolate brown.


   Crawford blinked when someone suddenly left the building to his right and he stepped to one side to avoid a collision. He glanced at the person to see who it was, and realized it was Aya. For a split second the man looked like a deer caught in headlights as Aya's mind processed who was before him. Then Aya's eyes narrowed.

    "What are you doing here?" Aya demanded.

    "Going for a walk, remember?" Crawford reminded him calmly. "It's not an illegal activity."

    Aya turned sharply away from him, starting down the sidewalk. It was obvious where the redhead was going. Crawford tagged along, catching up with Aya easily. The man shot him an annoyed look. "What do you want?"

    "Who says I want anything?" Crawford adjusted his glasses. "I was going this way before you came."

    "That doesn't mean you have to walk next to me."

    This was starting to get annoying. "Can't you just drop your grudge for a few moments?" Crawford asked wearily. "I'm not here to bother you, merely keep you company. A walk by oneself can be boring."

    "Depends on what company is offered," was the clipped reply.

    "Is there any reason in particular that you dislike me so?" Crawford raised an eyebrow at Aya. "I understand that you're angry because of Schwarz's part in the kidnapping of your sister, but she was returned safely."

    "You bother me because you have no conscience."

    "That was a lame attempt at a reply, Fujimiya." Crawford gave a slow shake of his head. "That's not the real reason you dislike me." Before Aya could say anything else, Crawford continued. "I think I bother you because I think differently, and because my way of thinking makes sense. When I confronted you during our fight with the Group, you reacted quite violently. I don't think you appreciated the way I labelled your team mates."

    "Because they weren't true."

    Crawford laughed softly. "You can say that now, but you could not say that then. The problem with you, Aya, is that you are afraid to sympathize with your opponents. You are used to looking at things the way you wish to. I am used to analyzing, and you don't want to agree with my views because it's simpler if you don't." Aya was quiet, as if ignoring him. Crawford continued. "If I looked at a red rose and said it was yellow, and you looked at it and said it was white, does that change what color it really is?"

    Aya shot him an irritated look. "What is that supposed to mean?"

    "Simply that no matter what I say, and no matter what you say, we only are what we are. I can say Farfarello is slightly unbalanced, you can say he's beyond hope, and yet maybe he truly is the only one of us that is sane." Crawford gave a slight shrug. "You don't have to believe what I say about our groups, Aya. All I'm doing this for is so you realize that there is more than one way to look at things. If you lock yourself to one view, you're closing hundreds of doors of possibilities."

    "Maybe I want them shut," Aya replied dryly. A faint smile graced Crawford's face at Aya's words. They reached the hospital. Crawford followed Aya towards the doors. Aya turned towards him at the entrance, pausing with his hand on the handle, and eyed him. "What do you want _now_?" Something about his tone wasn't quite as hostile as it had been.

    "I'm here to visit Dr. Havi. I'd like to make sure Schuldig didn't hurt him too badly when he took Farfarello away. Do you know where I can find him?"

    There was a long moment of hesitation, then Aya answered, "He works on third floor, usually."

    They moved side by side towards the elevator in silence. Crawford had decided he'd given Aya enough to think about. The elevator heading up was crowded. Crawford stepped in first. When he turned to face the front he was amused to see Aya was almost pressed up against him to make room for the next three people entering the already crowded elevator. The doors closed and started up. They made a brief stop on the third floor to let a few people out. Although there was enough room to spread out more, Crawford remained close to Aya.

    Aya turned to say something to him, and they almost bonked noses. Crawford hid a smile. He'd judged the distance perfectly. There was something about seeing Aya startled that he found fascinating. He was used to seeing Aya impassive or angry, but in the brief second that Aya was thrown off guard and confused it was quite interesting. Aya recovered his composure by shoving Crawford back a few inches. Now Crawford allowed his faint amusement to show in his eyes. Instead of glaring, Aya just turned away.

    The elevator stopped on the third floor. Crawford moved past Aya, starting across the floor. When he was finished with his business, he would not see Aya again for a while. It was time for Schwarz to leave. He only hoped that he'd said enough tonight.


    The elevator finally reached Aya-chan's floor. Aya left the elevator, striking out towards his sister's room. He was feeling unnerved and jittery after that stunt Crawford had pulled. He hated it when the man did that. He needed some quiet time with Aya-chan to calm down. The nurses recognized him and smiled. He merely nodded in their direction, opening the door to where his sister slept and entered. He shut it quietly behind him, heading towards the bed in the dim room.

    He paused several feet away. Something

    He moved towards the table, reaching over to flick on the lamp. When his eyes fell on the now lit up bed, he froze. His breath caught in his throat and he heard a strangled sound in the back of his throat. His eyes could not tear themselves away from the bed, where the mattress was shredded into bits and the pillows slashed. Dimly he could hear his mind screaming.

    Aya-chan was gone.

Part 4