Part Six: Alien Home

    Ran gazed out the window, letting his eyes travel along the buildings outside. He was bored. He wanted to go out and do something. He did not have Crawford for entertainment, as the man had gone out to locate someone by the name of Nagi. Crawford had explained in passing that Nagi was the fourth member of their group. Ran hoped Crawford would find the boy. And yet...

    Crawford's words brought nagging thoughts to mind that he wasn't ready to think about yet. What he'd managed to piece together in his mind was shaky, but still enough to bother him. From everything he'd heard so far- things Crawford had said, things Schuldich had said yesterday, what had been said by that woman with socks and high heels...He could piece together a part of who he was, or- more specifically- what he had been a part of.

    There were two groups. Weiß and Schwarz. Ran was assuming that he was Weiß, since that had been the side the people the red haired woman was with had been cheering for. Crawford said that he- and therefore, the other two foreigners- worked against the place. That made them Schwarz. There were four of Schwarz. Crawford had said there were eight total assassins in the place.

    That left three blank slots.

    That left Ran with an empty team of people he didn't remember.

    "Are you bored, kitten?" a voice asked near his ear.

    Ran jumped, startled, and turned to see Schuldich. "Why do you call me that?" he demanded.

    Schuldich smirked. "Inside joke. Let's go for a walk." He took Ran's upper arm in his hand and steered the man in the direction of the door. "You're bored, I'm bored, so we'll walk. I have a good idea of a place we can go."

    "I should leave a note for Crawford..."

    "We won't be gone that long, and knowing him he'll know what's going to happen soon."

    "What about Farfarello, then?" Ran asked, tugging free of Schuldich's grip as they reached the door.

    The German reached up to undo the bolts, plucking the extra room key up from its spot on a small shelf by the door. "I gave him enough sleeping pills in his coffee to knock a rhino on its ass. It won't last for very long, though, so we've only got a small time window to work with." He opened the door and made a gesture for Ran to go first. Ran stepped out and Schuldich followed, stuffing the key in his pocket. The older man pulled the door shut, listening to the click! as it locked automatically.

    "So where are we going?" Ran asked as they moved down the hall.

    "Don't you think the hotel looks a little bare?" The question caught Ran by surprise. It wasn't what he'd been expecting the man to say. He nodded, though. Schuldich gave a slow smirk that radiated mischievousness and anticipation. "I think some flowers will spruce the place up, and I know this nice little shop that might be open. I hear they have a good selection."

    Ran considered this, then smiled brightly. "That's a good idea!"


    The two ended up walking, as the one car they had was Crawford's. Ran didn't mind the walk. There was silence between the two for the trip, a silence that neither made Ran feel comfortable nor uneasy. He still wasn't sure what to make of the orange haired man, and that nagging feeling about the man having an insight to his soul hadn't gone away. He also couldn't shake the impression that the man was laughing at him. Ah well. Crawford had said that the German wasn't completely mentally stable.

    Schuldich made a sound almost like a snort. Ran looked over at him. "Is something wrong?"

    "Inhaled a bug," the German replied blandly. He lifted a hand and gestured. "There. That's the place."

    Ran looked up. "Koneko no Sumu Ie...Cute name!" He laughed.

    "Isn't it," Schuldich agreed dryly.

    "It's closed, though," Ran said, disappointed. He reached out, running his fingers along the metal shield that had been pulled in front of the place.

    "There's someone in there." Schuldich rapped on the gate. After several moments of waiting, there was the sound of movement on the other side. The gate lifted a foot of the ground, enough for whoever was in there to see how many pairs of shoes there were. Schuldich smirked.

    "Can't you tell the shop's closed? Go home," a weary voice said. The gate started to lower again.

    Ran ducked down, catching the gate with a hand and leaning over enough so that he could peek under the gate and see who was there. He found himself staring into tired emerald eyes. The face the eyes belonged to was drawn with anxiousness and sorrow, and was framed by wavy honey golden locks. The man wasn't looking at him, instead reaching for a lever that would help secure the gate the rest of the way. "We just wanted some flowers," he said. "You don't have to be so rude."

    The man whipped his head down, eyes almost too wide to fit on his face. He stared at Ran as if staring at a ghost, mouth dropping open so that the cigarette that had been perched between his lips fell free. Then the stunned look was replaced by a look of joy so great that Ran felt a twinge of uneasiness in his heart. The man gave the lever a shove and stood, bringing the gate with him so it rolled up the rest of the way. He froze when it locked into place above him, staring at Schuldich. His entire expression closed off again.

    "Thank you," Ran said, to get his attention. When the emerald eyes slid to him again, he smiled and passed by the man, entering the shop. He glanced back to make sure Schuldich was following. The German was smirking, enjoying some private joke, perhaps. He and the shop worker entered the shop. Ran turned back to the flowers, walking along the tables. "These are pretty!" he complimented, reaching out to lightly brush his fingertip along a petal.

    "What did you do to him?" he heard the worker demand.

    "Jumping to conclusions, aren't we?" Schuldich asked. Ran glanced over at them from where he was holding a small pot of African Violets. They obviously knew each other...and the worker didn't like Schuldich, from the look of things. "What makes you think I did this?"

    "Look at him."

    "I didn't touch him." Schuldich stooped to pick up the worker's dropped cigarette, looking around for a lighter. He saw one sitting beside the lever and scooped it up as well, lighting up. The worker snatched it away, dropping it to the floor and grinding it under a boot. Schuldich shrugged. "He got knocked in the explosion and his mind's a total blank. I didn't have to do a thing to him."

    "You're lying."

    "I don't do jobs like that."

    Something about their conversation bothered Ran. He knew instinctively that they were talking about him, but they weren't making sense. "Schuldich, what about these?" he asked, holding the pot up. "They're pretty, aren't they?" Both men looked at him. Ran found himself unable to meet their gazes, keeping his gaze on the plants instead. After several moments of consideration, he shook his head. "I don't think Crawford would like them, though." He set them down. "What's his favorite flower?"

    "I believe he'll like a rose," Schuldich drawled. "They've got a nice batch. Go look at them." Ran obeyed, his ears listening to their conversation even as he looked over the thorned flowers. "Shop's empty, Kudou." He got no reply, but apparently he didn't need one. He laughed. "And Hidaka?"

    "Stay out of my mind!"

    ~Okay, perhaps they're both off their rockers,~ Ran mused, selecting a red rose. He held it to his nose and inhaled it deeply. Ahh...A delighted smile played on his lips. "Roses are so beautiful, don't you think?" he asked, turning to face Schuldich. To his surprise, the worker- Kudou, Schuldich had called him- had moved up close to him. His eyes widened in surprise and he retreated a step instinctively, banging into the counter as he did so. "Ouch!"

    Kudou took his wrist. "Aya, tell me you don't have amnesia. Tell me this is a trick."

    "Aya?" Ran frowned faintly. "You've got the wrong person. My name is Ran." He looked over at Schuldich. "Who _is_ Aya, anyway? That woman with red hair called me that, too."

    Schuldich gave a shrug, as if saying 'I have no clue'. Kudou took Ran's chin, turning his head so Ran was forced to meet his gaze. "_You're_ Aya. That's what you call yourself." When Ran just raised an eyebrow at him, Kudou ran his free hand through his hair. "Damn it! Aya, don't you remember me?"

    "...No. Should I?"


    ~How sad...~ Ran thought, eyes softening with pity. ~I was afraid this would happen, that I'd find somebody who trusted me and I wouldn't remember them.~ His heart went out to the distressed man. "I'm sorry," he said softly. "I don't recognize you."

    "I'm Yohji. Kudou Yohji. Aya-"

    "_Ran_," Ran cut in. "Get it straight."

    "Ran, you have to stay here. You belong here. I don't know what you're doing with him." He waved his free hand at Schuldich. "He's a nutcase. He's the enemy."

    Ran looked over at Schuldich, who grinned. "He's not so bad."

    "Aya!!" It was a desperate cry.

    "_Ran_!" Ran tugged away from Kudou's grasp. "You obviously don't know me, if you keep calling me by that name."

    "I'm your friend! I work with you!" Kudou waved a hand around the shop.

    Ran moved around him, turning so his back was never to the honey haired man. "I'm sorry," he repeated. "I don't remember you."

    "And you remember _him_?" Kudou asked. "Don't you remember all the things he's done to you? He hurt your sister, for God's sake!"

    "Sister?" Ran asked blankly.

    "Jesus..." A soft utterance, as if what Ran had just said totally wiped out any hope Kudou had. The man collapsed backwards against the counter, seemingly unable to hold himself up anymore. He lowered his head, a sign of defeat. For several moments the only sound was the sound of Kudou's ragged breathing. When he managed to find his voice again, it was tight. "If you obviously don't remember Schuldich, why are you with him?"

    "Because I remember..." Ran dropped his eyes to the rose he held. "I remember Crawford. I remember his face..."

    Kudou groaned, raking his hands through his hair. "Damn it, where's Manx when I need her?" he muttered. He raised his head to meet Ran's gaze. Finally he straightened, determination settling in his eyes. He pushed away from the table. "You're going to stay here, Aya, Ran, whatever you call yourself now. This is where you belong. I won't let you leave." He marched forward. "I'll fight Schuldich if I have to, but you're going to stay here."

    Ran retreated as the green-eyed man approached. He didn't have far to go before he bumped into Schuldich. He glanced back at the German, confusion and a plea for help in his violet eyes. He didn't understand what was going on. This florist thought he was someone else and was trying to make him stay. Why wouldn't he just take the hint and leave him alone?

    While he was distracted by looking at Schuldich, two hands closed firmly on his upper arms. He was yanked and stumbled forward with a startled cry. He struggled against Kudou's grip as he was dragged across the shop. "Let me go! You've got the wrong person! Schuldich!! Tasukete!!"

    "Kudou must think he has a prior claim," the German said simply.

    "Damn straight I have a prior claim. He belongs to _us_. If I see you near Aya anymore, you Schwarz bastard," and here Kudou turned a murderous look on the watching German, "I'll-"

    Ran acted without thinking, taking advantage of the man's distraction. He rammed his knee upwards, sinking it into the soft flesh of Kudou's abdomen mercilessly. Kudou choked, doubling over and releasing him. Ran kicked him, the side of his boot cracking against the side of Kudou's face. The man went sprawling, banging into a table. He didn't get back up, but Ran could hear a low groan come from him.

    Ran stared at the man's form for several moments in horror. "G-gomen nasai!" he breathed, then turned and fled the shop.

    He was almost a block away when Schuldich caught up. "Perhaps we'll try a different shop next time," Schuldich drawled.

    Ran whirled on Schuldich, beating his fists against the man's chest. "You knew he would recognize me, didn't you?" he demanded. Schuldich caught his wrists and yanked his arms to the side. Ran struggled to free himself, panting harshly in anger, fear, and frustration. He glared up at Schuldich. "You knew he would expect me to know who he was! How could you? Do you think this is funny?"

    Schuldich leaned forward, touching their foreheads. His lips curled in a smirk. "Hilarious," he drawled. Ran kicked at him, trying to bring his knee up and hurt Schuldich as badly as he could. Too fast for Ran to see, Schuldich released one of his wrists, dropping his hand to stop Ran's knee. "Tsk tsk, little kitten," Schuldich purred. "That wasn't nice."

    "Let go of me," Ran snapped acidly.

    "And why should I?"

    A flicker of-- _something_-

    Mocking jade eyes, shining cruelly. A smirk on that wide mouth. Words, but no movement of the lips?... A hand reaching out, brushing through his hair, encountering something warm and sticky. Blood? _His_ blood... A forehead touching his, words whispered into his mind. A man leaving, orange hair flowing over his back, dressed in a godawful green jacket.

    The feeling of helplessness and despair...

    --and it was gone.

    Ran was left grasping at empty space, clawing at his mind to try and free it. Schuldich's eyes had widened slightly. The man's gaze turned thoughtful. "Nein, kätzchen," the German told him, slowly releasing Ran's other hand. The redhead turned a wild look on him- mingled between desperation to remember what he had just seen and confusion as the memory had thrown him off balance. "Don't remember that." He turned Ran by a hand on his shoulder, turning him in the direction of the hotel.

    Schuldich set off, and Ran gazed after him, still clutching through his mind.

    "Give it up," came the German's voice.

    Ran hesitated, lingered...

    ...and let it go. He lowered his head and started his feet moving in the direction Schuldich was heading.

Part 7