Ch. 3
"..Best Served Cold"

It was nice to have the whole gang together, Aya reflected as she very carefully set down her fork, meal half finished. Comforting to have the people she loved all in the same room having a nice meal together.
Until Schuldich and her brother ruined it, of course.
She glared at her plate and slowly counted to ten under her breath, struggling to keep her temper. Beside her, Ken gave a quiet cough. Everyone else had fallen silent, all eyes on the two redheads who were currently engaged in a private war.
Pissing contest, Aya corrected herself fiercely, and tried not to gouge the tabletop with her fingernails.
Schuldich's smirk was strained, his eyes snapping with temper as he clenched his cup in his hand and sneered across the table at his opponent.
Ran was sitting on the edge of his seat, gripping the edge of the table and glowering back, food forgotten.
She should have seen it coming, Aya berated herself. Of course Schuldich just had to say something snide to her brother, and of course he would see that as the prime time to jump in with some threat or accusation or some thing about him giving her lifts. Back and forth, back and forth, the false politeness dropping sharply with each comeback. They were staring each other down like bulldogs ready to leap for each other's throats.
Now everyone was uncomfortable and they had ruined the dinner. Aya couldn't decide whether to cry or start shouting at them.
Crawford's cool-headed attempts to cut off further argument had been shot down, and he had retreated to the kitchen to get another bottle of sake. Or get out of range in case Ran started shooting fireballs, Aya wasn't sure. Ken looked ready to join him, glancing nervously from one man to the other. Farfarello was typically unimpressed and was picking at his food, seemingly ignoring the fight completely.
"Look, buddy," Schuldich said tightly from behind a forced smile, "it's not like I force the chibi into the car and threaten her life. So don't go making me the bad guy here, red."
Ran lifted a hand to point threateningly at him; there were burn marks where his fingers had clenched the table's edge. "I'm not stupid, Schuldich," he growled. "You're just interested in one thing. I won't let you trick my sister into.. into.." he stammered, obviously not wanting to broach such a touchy subject right in front of her. Aya felt herself flush with mingled outrage and humiliation.
"You know, you can't keep her locked up forever like a princess in a tower, you tightass," Schuldich shot back. "She's not a little girl anymore, you idiot, I would think she can look after herself." Before Aya could feel flattered, he added scathingly, "Or at least I'd hope she's not so stupid as you, otherwise she'd be knocked up from Jackie boy in Ireland, now wouldn't she?"
Aya's mouth dropped open.
Ran was incensed. He leapt to his feet, and the temperature in the room shot up by several degrees.
"Oh boy," Ken muttered under his breath, edging away from the table a little.
"You cold-hearted son of a--"
Everyone jumped as Farfarello slammed one of his knives into the tabletop between the two men.
He glanced up at Ran with a hooded amber eye, face expressionless as they all stared at him.
"Er.." Ken cleared his throat. "Ran, why don't you go help Crawford find the sake?"
"He knows where it is," Ran started heatedly.
"Get the sake," Farfarello suggested in a hard voice.
Ran glared at him for a moment before survival instincts seemed to override his temper. Shooting one last murderous look towards Schuldich, he stormed off.
"Pah." Schuldich reached for his cup. "Arrogant pr-"
Aya snatched Farfarello's knife from the table and slammed it just beside Schuldich's plate; he managed to snatch his hand out of harm's way just in time. "Jesus Christ," he sputtered, spilling his drink everywhere. "What the hell are you--"
Aya jumped up, her eyes blurry with tears as she glared down at him furiously. "What is the matter with you two??" she cried. "You've ruined it! Why do you two always have to fight?!"
Schuldich gaped at her for a moment, then scowled weakly.
"Schuldich," Ken interrupted wearily, "if you even think about saying 'he started it', I'm going to plant that knife a little closer to home."
Schuldich glared at them all, then got to his feet abruptly and snatched up his coat. "Have it your way then, princess purity," he snapped. He flicked a glance towards Farfarello that was not completely friendly. "Don't get yourself killed in the States, Farf." He left, slamming the door behind him.
Aya sank into her chair and buried her face in her hands.
"Aya.." Ken reached out to place a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry, they'll get over it. They just had to get it out of their system. You can't expect them to just mend all their differences so quickly. They've never gotten along."
"But.." Aya sniffed, rubbing at her face. "They ruined your going-away dinner! This wasn't how it was supposed to be..."
Ken quirked a smile at her. "I think I'd be a little creeped out if they had sat here nicely the entire time, anyway. Besides, it's getting late, and Farfarello needs some real.. food. We still have to finish packing and get some sleep before our flight tomorrow."
Aya nodded glumly, wiping the rest of her tears from her face with her napkin. "I'll walk you to your car," she mumbled.
They paused outside, where Ken gave her a brief hug and an encouraging grin. "Try to keep them in line while we're gone. We shouldn't be gone too long."
Aya nodded and turned to hug Farfarello. He was getting better at this, and his hesitance was barely noticeable before his strong arms came up around her for a loose, careful hug. She smiled against his shoulder, giving another sniff. "Be careful. Come back soon."
"Aa." Farfarello disengaged himself gently.
"Here-" On impulse, Aya reached up and unhooked one of the earrings her brother had given her at the fair so many years ago. She held it out, smiling tremulously. "For luck."
Farfarello hesitated; he knew how much the earrings meant to her. After a moment he reached out and took it from her. Ken smiled and stepped forward, tugging it away as the Irishman stared at it, and poked it through his lover's ear.
Aya gave a lopsided smile. "I can't decide if it looks good on you or just a little strange," she giggled."
"Hn." Farfarello reached up and wiped the drop of blood away from his earlobe. He reached out with the bloody finger and touched it to Aya's forehead, drawing a crimson line down to the tip of her nose. She blinked, recalling the last time he had done such a thing, in the time of the war. She met his steady gaze and swallowed back the lump in her throat.
"For luck," he intoned.
Then he and Ken were driving away, and Aya was left in the driveway pondering ways to maim her brother and possibly kill a certain bullheaded green-eyed German.


The flight was an early one, so that was the only chance anyone got to say goodbye to the two before their trip. In hindsight, Ran regretted his fight with Schuldich for the sole fact that it meant he'd missed saying goodbye to Ken. He knew better than to bring it up, however, because Aya had been avoiding him all morning, aside from the occassional smoldering glare that he himself had used often enough on customers back in the flower shop. Apparently the roaring temper was an inherited trait, and he knew better than to open his mouth while his sister was in such a dark mood. He didn't even bother to ask any questions when she proclaimed-- to Crawford, since she was still ignoring Ran --that she was going out.
Whether or not she was going out with Schuldich, Ran decided at the last second not to ask. He continued to scramble eggs and glare irritably at the unoffending pan while she flounced off to spend her weekend with her friends.
Crawford turned to his partner with an arched brow once she'd taken her leave. "You really made her angry," he pointed out.
"Thank you, Captain Obvious," Ran growled. "Drop it already."
Crawford studied his tense shoulders for a moment, then gave a little shrug, picking up his newspaper and a fresh mug of coffee. "I'll be on the back patio," he said dryly. "When you're finished making charcoal of the eggs, you're free to join me."
Ran turned abruptly, wielding his spatula like a sword. "I don't see what the big deal is all about," he burst out. "I didn't do anything wrong. Schuldich's the one who said all that horrible shit about Aya. I was only trying to look after her-- she doesn't need to get on my case about it."
Crawford hesitated, blinking slowly. On the one hand, he wasn't too keen on staying in firing range of his partner when he was in one of his moods. On the other hand, the fact that Ran was actually ranting to him was a little encouraging.. in a strange way. Ran usually kept things bottled up inside.
He set his coffee mug down carefully on the stovetop and gave the redhead a steady look. "Ran," he said carefully, leaning on his cane to get the weight off his bad knee, "I'm sure she's just as mad at Schuldich right now. But the point isn't who said what. It's the fact that the two of you couldn't behave like civilized human beings for a going-away dinner that was important to her."
Ran gave him an incredulous look as if to say "you're my boyfriend, you're supposed to take MY side!". But when Crawford merely continued to stare reproachfully at him, Ran gave a weak scowl and averted his eyes. "I didn't think it would.. go that far," he muttered defensively. "But he started it with his stupid snide remarks."
"How old are you? Twelve?" Crawford demanded. "'He's touching me', 'Stop looking at me', 'He started it'?"
Ran gave him a Look. "It is too early in the morning for one of your rare little bouts of sarcasm," he growled.
"Apologize," Crawford said simply, retrieving his coffee.
"What? I'm just saying-"
"Not to me, wit," Crawford sighed, nodding towards the smoking stovetop. "To Aya. And if I were you, I'd get those eggs off the stove before you set off the fire alarm."
Ran whirled and yanked the pan off the stove, flipping off the heat and turning on the overhead exhaust fan. When he turned around again, Crawford was limping from the room. Ran opened his mouth for a parting argument, then thought better of it and gave a disgruntled sigh. His partner was right. Like it or not, he owed an apology to his sister.
But if she thought he'd apologize to that gap-toothed Nazi, she had another think coming.

Aya didn't call Schuldich for a ride, because she was still mad at him. And since she had no one else to call, having made no new friends yet at the new school, she took the bus to the coffee shop she'd often gone to with the German.
Luckily, he wasn't there, and she chose a booth near a window where she could stew in private. And work on her math homework.
She ordered a mocha and a banana nut muffin, spread her books and papers over the small table, and was soon lost in the puzzle of numbers and equations, the events of the night before blissfully swept aside for the time being.
The waiter brought over her coffee within a few minutes, and she offered a fleeting, absent smile of thanks. Across the room, she spotted a flash of red, and for an instant her heart sped up. Schuldich? Ran?
But it was someone she didn't know, a guy just a little older than her in a flashy red shirt perusing the selection of muffins and brownies. He glanced her way, caught her staring, and offered a little smile.
She looked away quickly and rearranged her books so that she could set her muffin and coffee down, and resumed working on the puzzling equation she'd been working on.
A few minutes later, a shadow in her peripheral vision caught her attention, and she glanced up, muffin halfway to her mouth.
It was the boy in red again, giving a slight little grin, the polite, friendly kind people wore when greeting strangers. He was cute and looked harmless enough, with neatly combed ebony hair and nice brown eyes. "Um.. hi," she said hesitantly, not sure whether to put down her muffin or not.
"Hi." His grin widened, and he made a vague gesture towards her homework. "Sorry, couldn't help but notice all the busywork over here. You go to the University?"
"Huh? Oh.." Aya gave a little sheepish smile. Luckily, the embarrassment that question would have brought about a year ago was not quite so sharp. At her age, she really should be in her first year of college. "No. High School." She smiled charmingly, awaiting the usual "..oh.." and hasty retreat.
But his smile didn't fade, and he glanced towards her book with a look of sympathy. "Math. I hate math. Never my best subject. If you asked me for the root of something, I'd probably send you out into the garden."
Caught by surprise, Aya couldn't help but give a little laugh. How corny and.. a little cute, she had to admit. Unfortunately for the poor boy, she had not been brought up the way Japanese girls normally were. Spending the last year in the midst of potty-mouthed, sarcasm-wielding assassins had sharpened her wit and destroyed her chances of a date with most of the men on the continent. She couldn't stop the comeback that popped out. "Here's a word puzzle for you, then. If 'morning' equals 'good' and 'good' equals 'bye', what does 'morning' mean?"
The boy blinked, hesitated, obviously thinking it out, then hazarded a guest. "..'Goodbye'?"
"Yep. Good morning and goodbye to you, too." Aya waved dismissively and returned to her studies.
For a long moment the boy merely stood there, opening and closing his mouth foolishly. Abruptly he laughed. Startled, Aya glanced up at him, brows raised.
"OK, not the reaction I was expecting," she admitted, puzzled.
"That was cute," he complimented, grinning again. He hesitated, then offered his hand. "Sorry. I'm Yokomoto, by the way. Yokomoto Neiji."
"..Hi." She reluctantly shook the proferred hand. At the last second she realized that giving her name to a stranger right after moving away to avoid detection might not be a good idea. "I'm Uchiha Keiko."
"Nice to meet you. Actually, I just wanted to ask if the banana nut is good, because I'm having a crisis deciding whether to get that or the chocolate chip muffin."
Aya stared up at him for a moment before giving a helpless little laugh. "It's good," she said with a shy smile.
He grinned at her again. "Thanks." He nodded politely and walked back towards the counter.
Watching him go, Aya allowed herself a tiny moment of happy satisfaction. 'I was just hit on,' she gloated internally, smiling foolishly at her math homework. 'Take that stone cold Schuldich.' A moment later she realized he probably wouldn't have cared.


Schuldich didn't show his face until the next day. Since it was Sunday and that meant most of the weekend was gone, he assumed Aya would be a little put-out with him, and had decided he would allow her to drag him shopping for gaudy clothes. Schuldich did not apologize; he would rather buy back her good mood rather than admit he was wrong, and even that was a stretch for him.
He figured she'd be in the cafe they normally frequented, and he was right. He spotted her at a corner booth chatting with a waiter. Or-- wait, not a waiter. He wasn't wearing the tacky outfit the others were. Because he was nosey by nature, he took a little mental peek and listened in on their conversation-- both spoken and unspoken.
It only took him a few moments to draw a conclusion.
Jesus, the pimple-faced twit was actually flirting with her! ...And she was soaking it up, the little idiot!
His gracious mood mysteriously evaporating, he strode over to the table and came to a stop right behind the boy. The sudden turn of smile to frown on Aya's face caused the boy to turn around.
"Oh-- hello," he said hesitantly, probably unsure if the obvious gaijin could even understand him.
"Hey, kid, fetch me a coffee and a bagel, will you? Chop chop," Schuldich said imperiously, taking a seat across from Aya and ignoring her glare.
The boy flushed slowly. "I don't work here," he said stiffly.
"This is Yokomoto-kun," Aya interrupted, ignoring Schuldich in favor of smiling up at the young man in the horrible yellow sweater. "We met yesterday."
"Charmed, I'm sure," Schuldich drawled, staring at the boy with hooded eyes.
Yokomoto knew a dismissal when he heard one. He smiled at Aya again, already retreating. "Well, see you tonight. Nice talking to you," he said sincerely.
The enthusiastic pats on the back for picking up such a hot chick Schuldich could hear in the boy's head made the telepath want to puke.
"Ja!" Aya sang, waving as he headed for the door, coffee in hand.
Belatedly Schuldich realized the implications of that simple conversation. "Tonight?" he echoed, arching a brow and pasting a handy 'like I care' look on his face.
"Yes," Aya said primly, still pointedly not looking at him as she buttered her muffin. "Yokomoto asked if I'd like to visit the University library with him; their selection of books is much better than the high school library, and I need better references for my essay."
Schuldich stared at her incredulously. "He wants to show you the library... at night?"
"Oh for pete's sake, it's not like it's ten o' clock we're going. Right before dinner, that's all." She gave an airy sniff and took a delicate bite of her muffin. "Anyway, what do you care?"
Schuldich tried to get a peek at her thoughts, but she'd pulled up a wall around them the instant she'd spotted him. "Holy Christ, are you really that dense?" he demanded.
Aya looked at him at last, only to glare frostily. "It's not even a date, for god's sake. And even if it was-- like I already said --what do you care?"
"I don't," Schuldich was quick to point out, scowling at her. "Have fun with your little coffee mate. Have a ball. Have two balls."
"Schuldich!" Aya gasped.
"Now who's jumping to conclusions? Anyway, enough about your nonexistant love life. Cram the stupid muffin down your piehole, we're going shopping."
"You always know just what to say," Aya said drolly, deliberately taking tiny bites around the edges of her muffin. "And who said I wanted to go shopping?"
Schuldich gave her a pitying look. "You're a woman. Your natural habitat is the mall, so don't pull that crap with me. Now hurry up, I haven't got all day."
"Would it really kill you to say those two little words?" Aya demanded, setting down her muffin to look at him impatiently. "Just two little words, Schuldich. Really."
"...Hurry up?"
"Nice try, asshole."
"Look, sweetcakes," Schuldich growled, leaning forward and jabbing a finger at her warningly. "This is as good as it gets. Take it or leave it."
Schuldich of course meant the apology-- or lack thereof. But in light of recent events and unearthed feelings, Aya chose to look at those words in a different light, as it seemed suddenly appropriate in that situation. She gazed at him for so long with such a strange look on her face that Schuldich actually leaned back and squinted at her warily. "Do you have to take a dump or something? Cuz the bathroom..."
"Goodbye, Schuldich," Aya said quietly, lowering her gaze and fixing it on her muffin.
An uncomfortable silence stretched, in which a hundred witty-- and suicidal --remarks popped up and were promptly crushed. Schuldich's first instinct to such a strange rejection was to respond with something unpleasant to make the other person just that much more happy that he'd left, just so he could get the last word. But though he didn't understand Aya's sudden withdrawal, he sensed that this was not the time for flippant remarks.
He got up and left without a word. He did not look back, so he did not see the traitorous tear that Aya had to swipe away with the back of her hand.
And she of course did not see how he 'accidentally' bumped Yokomoto's elbow on the sidewalk, causing him to spill burning hot coffee all over the front of his tacky yellow sweater.


Saturday Morning

Getting through airport security was hell.
At first when the metal detector kept going off as Farfarello tried to pass through, Ken assumed it was a hidden knife his lover had forgotten to take off his person. But when Farfarello emptied all his pockets, let a guard pat him down, and went through the little doorway for the fourth time only to have the horn blare once again, Ken began to get both aggravated and perplexed.
The guards were beginning to look aggressive and nervous, and had doubled their number. They stood tensely by, ready to pat the Irishman down and jump him if he made a break for it. Farfarello, his face an emotionless mask, finally allowed-- at Ken's insistence --a full pat-down, complete with a handheld metal detector...
Which continuously went off.
At last a frustrated guard, after having the thing blare at him while passing it over Farfarello's bare chest, demanded, "Did you have any major surgery at any time?"
"Surgery?" Farfarello repeated tonelessly, staring at him in such an unnerving way that the man actually took a step back.
"Yes. Anything where they would have put metal pins in you or an artificial... lung or something?"
"...I have metal in me," Farfarello said after a moment.
Ken's eyebrows shot up.
Luckily the guards didn't see his startled reaction, as they were too busy watching the scarred Irishman warily.
"Where?" The guard made as if to pat his chest, then thought better of it. "Here? And in your arms and legs?"
"...." Farfarello looked down at himself, lips quirking in a tiny frown as he obviously thought it over. "Everywhere," he said at last.
The guards stared at him incredulously.
"I'm sorry, sir," one said at last, "but we're going to have to put you through an X-ray. We need you to cooperate with us."
"He'll cooperate," Ken said quickly, giving his lover a meaningful Look. Farfarello sneered, but didn't put up a fight as he reluctantly followed the trigger-happy guards into another room. Ken sighed loudly and plopped down in a seat, dragging their carry-on bag into his lap. "What the hell is going on?" he muttered wearily. "What does he mean, metal..." His voice trailed off as he seriously studied the implications of what Farfarello had said.
Metal. Metal inside him-- everywhere.
That shouldn't be possible. It certainly couldn't be from any surgery. Perhaps from an accident- that, he could buy. But... everywhere? That was insane. And besides, he remembered abruptly, hadn't Schuldich or Nagi or someone said something (as if it had been a forewarning, the little shits) about how it was a pain in the ass getting Farfarello through airports? Was this why? What had they been talking about? He wracked his brain, trying to remember. It had been during the war... the one against Agammedo, or Malachi? Malachi, yes, that was right. It was right after they'd met Nebel...
Clear as day Nagi's words from that day came to him. "Their leader beat Farfarello- he was about to kill him before the Four interrupted. Not all his scars are self-inflicted. And Nebel's the reason..."
Ken had never heard what "the reason" was, because Crawford had cut him off. But suddenly, without being able to say how, he knew why it was that Farfarello couldn't pass through the metal detector, and he knew how Farfarello had almost been beaten that day. It would explain all the metal in his body.
The Alchemist had certainly had his fun with Farfarello that day. And oh how Ken wished he could repay the man.
With a knife across his throat.

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