Part One: Fractures
I know the pieces fit cuz I watched them tumble down
No fault, none to blame it doesnít mean I donít desire to
Point the finger, blame the other, watch the temple topple over.

    A toe lazily dragged along the ground, the rubber tip of the shoe digging a line back and forth as he drifted in the swing. Hands were curled around the metal link ropes and he was leaning back to stare up at the sky. The sky was overcast and gray, and he wondered idly if it would start raining before he headed home. He didnít have an umbrella with him but he didnít really care either way. It had been a while since he cared about little things like getting soaked in a sudden downpour.

    Back and forth, the metal creaking as he rocked and stared. Finally he sat up, staring across the playground. The elementary schools were out already; a few mothers had rounded up a crowd and were supervising them as they raced around, screaming gleefully. They started kicking sand at each other and the mothers stepped forward to chastise them in low voices. He gave a soft sigh, tilting his blue eyes down towards the sand. They had flicked him odd looks when they had first arrived and found him sitting here alone, his backpack sitting off to one side, a young man who was a decade too old to be playing on such things. He had returned their stares with a calm look until they returned their attention to their charges.

    The breeze played with his bangs and he reached up to smooth them out of his eyes before studying his hand. There was still blood under his fingernails. They had had a mission last night. He and Ken had both taken out a target, Kenís claws hitting flesh just moments after Omiís darts did. The darts had been sticky with blood when he had retrieved them and heíd had to wrestle with shredded flesh to get one free. Most of the blood had dried and flecked off of his hands in the night. Some still lingered, though there wasnít enough for him to smell it. He hadnít bothered to shower when he had gotten home. He hadnít felt like it, so he had just gone to bed instead.

    A glance towards his watch told him that it was time to get going. He considered staying; he didnít feel particularly interested in making his way back to the bustling Koneko no Sumu Ie. He toyed with excuses in his mind, reasons for why he was showing up late if he stayed here longer. At length he finally slid from the swing, reaching down to lift his backpack from the sand. He brushed it off with a careless flick and pulled it on, making his way past the energetic children to the sidewalk. He turned his shoes in the direction of the flower shop, letting his mind wander where it wished.

    These days, it didnít go far. It was hard to find something interesting to think about; more often than not he found himself just staring off into nothing for unknown periods of time. Nothing caught his attention. Few things were worth his notice. Sometimes he simply didnít have the energy to think. Other times, he only had the energy to be angry. It was either nothing or everything, in back and forth swings he could not predict or control. He preferred the numbness, not because he was afraid he would lash out at his teammates in this new irritation with them, but because he didnít want to deal with the consequences of such a thing. Heíd often wondered what would happen if his teammates pushed the right buttons on the wrong days and had long since stopped worrying about offending them.

    Idly he wondered what had changed, and why. He was curious as to why it was suddenly so hard to care about anything, even as he didnít have enough interest or energy to sit down and try and figure out the sudden lack of concern towards life.

    It was a twenty minute walk to the flower shop, an eternity and just a moment both. He found himself standing on the sidewalk outside the Koneko just a minute later, but he had left the playground years ago. Blue eyes ran over the signs on the window declaring todayís specials and this seasonís flowers more out of instinct than interest, and he headed around back of the shop to take the stairs up to his room. One copy of his key was dangling from the zipper on his book bag, and he was inside quickly. The door was booted shut with a foot and he headed over to his desk, dropping his book bag carelessly into the chair. It hit and slid off, as there was nothing inside to keep it weighted in place. It had been about a week and a half now that he had stopped taking his text books to class. It had been about five since he had stopped taking notes and paying attention.

    If he could, he figured he wouldnít go at all. The only reason he still wasted his time with classes was because his classmates often came by the flower shop, and he didnít care to deal with the others when they started bugging him about his frequent absences. As it was, he skipped a few classes here and there, showing up to most and then taking one or two off to go wander wherever his feet took him. His teachers were really worried about him; they had tried talking to him several times. He had waved off their concerns with a vague smile and the excuse that he couldnít talk right then because he was going to be late to his next class.

    He abandoned his desk to sprawl on his bed, stealing a few minutes before joining the other three downstairs. The school had worked with him when he had signed up for classes at the beginning of the term, surprisingly helpful and supportive, and had made sure he got all the classes he needed and wanted while still getting out with enough time to get a good bit of hours in. Everyone at school knew that he had lost his parents long ago; everyone knew that he was supporting himself and that the only job he had managed to get so far was working at a popular florist shop. The faculty wanted to make sure he could get both an education and survive at the same time. Once upon a time he had been delighted and grateful for their concern. Now he wished they had been a little less interested in his life, as it meant he had to work with his teammates longer.

    He glanced at the clock on his nightstand and saw that it was time to head downstairs. He didnít want to go, but the quicker he went the quicker it would be over. Offering a world-weary sigh to the ceiling, he pushed himself up from his bed and headed for the door, raking his fingers through his hair. He locked his room behind him and wandered down the metal steps to the first floor, slipping through the back door of the shop. He could hear the girls from here, squealing about this and that, and the sound of them brought a frown to his lips. Each passing day brought his tolerance for their nonsense down a notch. They knew nothing. Those girls knew nothing at all about how the world really worked. They were stupid; it wasnít innocence, it was naivetť. Out on the streets people scrambled desperately for the money for their one meal a day. People in the business world stomped on those below them, making deals that destroyed lives to better themselves. People killed each other for shoes or over imagined insults. Real monsters existed. The stupid thought life lasted forever. Omi could feel himself dying with every breath. And these girls wasted their time at this shop, squandering away minutes they could never get again to harass boys that would never be interested.

    Stupid. They were all fucking stupid, and if they pushed too many buttons today he was going to have to hit them.

    He grabbed hold of his anger, taking a deep breath and trying to force it down. Anger wouldnít help him when he was just starting his shift. He took another deep breath, held it for a few moments, and let it out. He felt his lips pull into a smile, a mask that grew heavier to wear every day.

    ~One serving of forced smile and false cheer, coming up as expected.~ With that, he crossed the storage room and let himself into the flower shop. There was an explosion of hearty cheers from the girls at his entrance; their racket drowned out the greetings from his teammates. He returned everything with his smile, a lie perfected by years of practice. His apron was hanging on the back wall and he took his time lifting it down from its hook and tying it on.

    ExpectationsÖ Omi hated expectations. He hated the way everyone made a nice neat box for everyone else to fit into, hated how people thought that others should act the way they wanted them to. He hated playing the part for anotherís sake, hated having to act like he was fine and everything was fine and everything was going to *be* fine for someone else. Things werenít all right and they hadnít been all right for a while. He didnít have a reason but one didnít need to know the reason to know that something was the way it was. His teammates expected him to have it all together, to take care of the shopís accounting and Weissís strategies. The customers expected him to know what he was doing and have a smile ready for them. His teachers and classmates expected him to score highly on his tests and to try hard at everything he did. Everyone expected him to take whatever life threw at him with a smile and an optimistic bounce back.

    Well, Omiís spring was broken.

    But still he smiled and gave them what they wanted, or rather let them think that things were as they always had been. One of these days he was going to get tired of playing along, and idly he wondered what it would be like. He wondered if they would still be his friends if they didnít get what they wanted from him, and wondered if he cared.

    He wasnít sure he did.

    Funny how a couple months ago he would have died for these three, and today he couldnít bring himself to care. His smile faded as his fingers finished the knots of the apron strings; his mind turned that revelation over a few times as he considered it. He thought perhaps it should scare him to figure such a thing out. He thought perhaps he should recognize it as the true sign of how far he had fallen. He thought that maybe he should be furious at himself for letting things get so bad. But there was no anger, no fear. There was nothing but the comfortable numbness that had been cloaking him like an icy blanket these past many weeks.

    And so when he turned back to the customers, he was able to put the smile back on his lips and pretend to listen to their gossip and squeals and requests, while in the back of his mind his thoughts danced around blood and loss and a sky thick with rain clouds.


    Two days later, his life took a sharp drop. The apathy that had smoothed over most of his days was buried under an irritated anger, something that was almost too hard to hide. It was Aya's fault; he was content to blame everything that happened afterwards on the redhead. Perhaps Aya didn't deserve most of the blame, but Omi needed to point the finger at someone and he didn't care to point it at himself. So Aya it was. The day started out just like any other. He was saved from putting up with school because it was a teacher workday, and he'd managed to talk his teammates into giving him the morning off. Yohji and Ken had fought against it, Yohji because he wanted a chance to sleep in and Ken because he wanted to go play soccer with the kids. Surprisingly, Aya took Omi's side. His logic was that Omi needed the morning the most because he was always running back and forth between school and work. Yohji and Ken didn't quite believe it- Omi could see it in their eyes, but Aya had stood his ground.

    Omi thought he should feel grateful for the redhead's intervention. And for a little while, he did. When he woke up that morning to find that he'd slept in til half past eleven, a lazy smile that was almost happy curved his lips. It was just thirty minutes later that a knock came at the door.

    He considered ignoring it, pretending to be asleep. It was tempting and he was silent for a long moment after the knock, half-lidded eyes studying the door. His first thought was that it was Yohji or Ken, coming to try again. He debated that and in the end decided it wasn't likely. They'd stopped by his apartment many times in the past and they had distinctive knocks. Yohji's was a rapid beat and Ken's was almost a bang, and they both usually called to him as they knocked. This was a quieter, more polite rap, and no voice accompanied it.

    Aya, then?

    He was half curious as to what the redhead wanted, but not interested enough to get up. The knock didn't come again and he waited in bed for ten more minutes to make sure the older assassin was gone before getting up. He found a small brunch on his shelves and carried it back to his bed, draping himself across it on his stomach. The banana peel was chucked haphazardly in the direction of his trash can and the bread crumbs were brushed carelessly off his comforter onto the ground. He didn't feel up to doing anything else, so he shifted a little to make himself more comfortable and opted for staring at the far wall.

    Forty minutes later, the rap came again. It roused Omi from a small doze and he considered his door, wondering whether or not to ignore it a second time. Finally he pushed himself off his bed. He had nothing better to do, anyway. His fingers twisted the lock and he forced his lips into a smile, tugging the door open to regard his teammate with what everyone considered to be the cheerful Omi look. Anything less would have them concerned, would have them hounding him to find out if he'd remembered something else miserable from his past, to see if he was sick.

    Ch'. His past no longer bothered him. How could he waste feelings on something he couldn't change when he couldn't even make himself care about what was going on right now?

    "Good afternoon, Aya-kun."

    Aya hesitated, then gave a small nod. He looked a little uncertain, light purple eyes searching Omi's face. Omi kept his smile in place, leaning against the doorframe. He didn't bother inviting the man in. He would see what Aya wanted but what Omi wanted wasn't the man's company. It almost amused him to watch the struggle in Aya's eyes. The man had never been much of a conversationalist. He wasn't a rock, not at all, but he was more the type to watch everything and pull it inside to think over than to spit out the first thing that came to mind, as long as it didn't have to do with his precious sister.

    Aya finally chose to jump right to the point. Omi would have been surprised if he'd done it any other way. "The school called."

    Something small twisted in Omi's stomach, but he shoved it away, keeping his face politely inquisitive. "Oh?" he asked.

    "Your teachers had a conference about you." Aya folded his arms lightly over his chest, as much on the offensive as he was being defensive. When it came to the missions, Aya could go for something with a single-minded intensity. When it came to personal life, he generally shied away from confrontations. He didn't want anyone digging around in his business, so he mostly refused to go dipping in others'. "They said you haven't been doing your tests."

    "Did they." It was supposed to come out surprised; instead it was a small murmur, almost amused. Aya's lips thinned briefly at the tone; his eyes narrowed slightly in both confusion and thought. "How curious."

    Aya didn't know how to react to that. Omi could see it on his face. He might have laughed. Once upon a time he would have been entertained by his calm and collected teammate's complete uncertainty. Of course, once upon a time they wouldn't be having this conversation, either. "Well," Omi said, taking a step back, reaching out to take hold of the door. "Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I'll make sure to look into it."

    Aya put a hand out as Omi was closing the door in his face, stopping it halfway and refusing to budge. A frown curved his lips as he stared down at the youngest Weiss. "Why?" he demanded.

    "What's it matter?" Omi returned. Aya didn't answer immediately, so he gave the door another pointed push. Aya pushed back.

    "Don't be stupid. You're going to ruin your chances."

    "What chances?" Omi wanted to know, mockery sliding along his words. The comfortable numbness he'd grown so used to was being riddled by irritation. He could feel the edges of it working its way through him, irritation that his teachers had the gall to call the shop, that Aya dared stand in front of him and tell him what he should and should not do with his life. "A chance for a real education? Pray tell, where will it get me to memorize useless facts like emperors and eras and classical literature? Spare me the motivational speech, Aya-*kun*, because I don't want to hear it." That caught Aya off guard; the redhead took a small step back, surprise in his purple eyes. Omi's smile was cold, almost twisted into a sneer. "Those things won't get me anywhere. Kritiker is my life and they'll have me until I'm dead, so I might as well not waste my time pretending I can have or want anything else. Now, today is my day off, so good day."

    And with that, he shut the door and threw the lock back into place. He leaned against the door, ear pressed against it, until he heard the soft rattle of metal. It took Aya a while to leave; he just stood outside staring for a few minutes. When he was finally gone, Omi took a few steps back to regard his door and turn the short conversation over in his head.

    In the end, he decided he was glad it was Aya that picked up the phone and came up here to talk about him. In the end, he decided being Aya didn't give the man the right to tell him what to do. He made an ugly face at the door and returned to his bed, sprawling on it and burying his face in the mattress. He didn't get up again until it was time for his shift.

    Aya didn't look his way a single time that afternoon.


    Things would have been fine again if Aya had just let things lie, if he had just accepted Omi's words and stepped back to let the boy wander down his path of cool apathy. As it was, the man had to try a second time, and the results of this confrontation were a bit uglier than either side meant it to be. It happened two days after Omi's morning off. It was Aya's afternoon off, but when Omi stepped into the storage room for his break, the redhead was waiting there for him. Omi knew immediately that he wouldn't like what the redhead had to say. There was a determined look in the older assassin's purple gaze, and his eyes rested heavily on Omi.

    Aya held out his hand, extending his arm in offering towards the youngest of Weiss. Held in his long fingers was a folder. Omi made no move to take it from him, and for a long time Aya made no move to do anything else. Minutes stretched by between them, until at last Aya opened the folder and held it back towards Omi in offering. The young man glanced at the sheets inside, blue eyes narrowing when he recognized them to be his tests and assignments. There was quite a stack in thereÖ Exams and report outlines and summary requirements collected from several weeks of doing nothing.

    He lifted his eyes to Aya's face, silently demanding an explanation.

    "I told them that you were going through rough times here," Aya said. "I told them there was trouble with the shop and the people here, and that you have been too distracted by real life to keep up with school. They are fond of you. I talked them into this."

    "This," Omi echoed, not a question, just a soft, cold word.

    "It's a second chance," Aya said, taking two steps closer so that the folder was just a foot in front of Omi. He closed it again, still holding it out in a demand for Omi to take it. "Do them. Write the reports. Take the tests. They'll accept them. They know what you're capable of, and they sympathize with you for your situation. Just do these, and they'll forgive you everything."

    A second chanceÖ A chance to step back into the role he had fallen out of so long ago. The comfortable numbness sank away from him; Omi could feel it being sucked away into an irrational, bitter irritation. He took one look at Aya's face and something ugly twisted in his heart, and he thought maybe in that moment he hated the man. He wanted to drown in this darkness. He liked it there. Why did Aya have to find out? Why did he have to push? Why did Omi have to be what everyone else wanted him to be? He'd done what he was told for almost eighteen years now; he was sick and tired of it. He was tired of everything.

    His hand moved before he realized he was lashing out, smacking the folder viciously from Aya's hands. Papers flew everywhere haphazardly, and the smooth look on Omi's face was replaced by a scowl. Aya's expression shut off. "How dare you," Omi said quietly. "How dare you step in and try to control my life. I didn't give you the right."

    "You can't do this," was Aya's flat response.

    It was the worst possible thing he could have said right then.

    Omi threw himself forward, slamming his hands against the man's chest to send him backwards. Aya wasn't prepared for the shove and went stumbling back under the force of Omi as a battering ram. A wild grab at the shelves on the wall was all that kept him from falling, but the shelves were ragged wood and he tore his hand on it. He just stared at Omi, thrown and uncertain as to how to react. Omi took a step towards him, drawn up in fury. Blue eyes flashed with raw anger. "How *dare* you," he breathed, voice shaking. "How *dare* you tell me what I can and can't do. Don't treat me like a child. I'm not a child."

    "I know you're-" Aya started, his own eyes narrowing.

    "Aya-chan, Aya-chan," Omi said, a sneer curling his lips. Aya's expression turned dangerous as his sister was dragged into the argument, but Omi didn't care. "You're always so caught up in her. You threw your soul away to save her, but it was your choice. YOURS. You decided to do this, yet you and them," scorn laced the word and he gave a jerk of his chin towards the door, "think you have the right to mourn what your life has become. Oh, woe is us, we poor tortured souls that kill people." He gave a flick of his fingers, disgust clear in his words. There was a freedom in this anger, a freedom in finally voicing the thoughts that had been twisting through him, even as he was almost afraid of just how strong the rage was. Where was his apathy? Where was his cool indifference, the calm numbness he had grown so used to these last weeks? He reached desperately around for something, anything, but even as he dug he just felt himself pulled onwards by the adrenaline of rage. "What were you doing when you were six, Aya? What did you do with your life until your sister got in her wreck? You were living. You had a *life*. I was learning how to kill people before I was ten. Don't you DARE stand there and try and tell me what I can and can't do. Don't you DARE tell me that I have to make an effort to hold onto a life that isn't and never will be mine. I'm not a child!"

    "What is your problem?" Aya demanded, taking a step towards Omi. He was bewildered and angry; angry because it was the only way he knew to react, because he had no clue what he was up against or what had caused such a severe change in his teammate. "What happened to you?"

    Omi was sick of the conversation. With an irritated "Ch'!" he whirled around and started towards the door. A hand caught his elbow before he could reach the doorknob, yanking him back around.

    He did the first thing that came to mind- he lashed out again. He caught Aya across the face this time, just a glancing blow. Aya's temper snapped, and right after Omi's hand slid off the redhead's face a fist crashed into his own face. He hit the door, heard it shudder under the impact of his weight. When his eyes refocused on Aya, the man was staring at him with wide purple eyes, stunned that he'd really just hit Omi. Omi was the last person the swordsman thought he'd ever lash out at, and he was at a complete loss now. Omi reached up, brushing his fingers over his face.

    PainÖ Interesting. It had been a while since he'd felt it. He felt his anger dying as he pressed against the sore flesh. He pulled the coldness back in around himself eagerly, fingernails digging into the spot Aya had hit. Funny, how pain seemed so real when everything else seemed so fake and stilted.

    "OmiÖ" Aya started.

    Omi didn't let him finish. "Don't bother me again, Aya," he said, his voice light despite the cold words. "I work strategy on the missions. Try to tell me what to do again and you might have a slip up."

    Funny how the words made him want to sneer, how they made him physically ill, in the same breath. He turned away from Aya before the redhead could react, yanking desperately on his numbness, forcing it through him until he didn't care, until he didn't care about Aya or the fight or how everything had spiraled so violently out of control for a few minutes. For a moment, sharp fear stabbed through him, but he ruthlessly squished it down.

    ~I won't care. I won't care about any of them, because they don't care about me.~

    ~If they really cared, they would have helped me a long time ago.~

    The thought was wistful and bitter, and he wondered where it came from all of a sudden. Then he was out of the storage room, clocking back in. His lips wouldn't curve into a smile; he was staring through the girls that were calling eagerly to him. Yohji glanced his way, wanting to know what the crash had been. Omi reached up, pushing his fingers deep into his cheek again, and the pain helped. He turned a vague smile on Yohji, murmured something about being clumsy, and turned to his work.

    He felt like he'd been torn down the middle. There was something missing in the nice blanket he was trying to wrap around himself, something he couldn't fix. He couldn't concentrate on the shop. He couldn't hear the girls half of the time they talked to him, and he kept reaching for the wrong flowers. It took him five minutes to realize that the shift had gone over and the girls were gone. His teammates were locking the front, and they turned to him with frowns on their faces.

    "What's up, Omi?" Ken wanted to know. "You've been out of it since you came back from break."

    "Bet he's thinking about a girl," came Yohji's ever-helpful input.

    Omi hated them. It was a violent, wrenching feeling coming out of nowhere. He thought that if he had to look at them any longer he might claw their eyes out. He tasted blood as his mouth stretched into a smile. "I'm sorry," he said.

    "Don't worry, it's natural for a kid your age-" Yohji started breezily, reaching forward to ruffle Omi's hair.

    Omi pushed his hand away roughly, managing to keep the sweet smile on his face. Yohji blinked, a little surprised by the rude shove. Ken didn't pick up on it. "I'll clean up," Omi said simply. "I didn't help out much on shift and Iím sure you two have places to go. It won't take me long. I don't mind."

    "Really?" Ken asked. Yohji was giving Omi a considering look, a small frown on his face. "I'd feel guilty about leaving you here by yourselfÖ But there is a J-league game in town tonight and I was kind of hoping to catch it."

    Omi ignored Yohji for the moment, turning a winning smile on Ken and reaching out to brush his fingers against the back of the athlete's hand in reassurance. He considered it a great show of his self control that he didn't claw skin off in the middle of it. "It's all right!" he said, a little too brightly. He felt like he was choking; his throat was being sucked tighter and the sick feeling was spreading. "I think well when I work, anyways. I need to be able to concentrateÖ If I go back to my room, I'll just get on my computer. Have a report coming up, you know, and need to organize my thoughts."

    That killed any beginning suspicions Yohji might have had- he saw the easy look return to the man's eyes as Yohji decided to write off Omi's shove as school stress. Sick. He was going to be sick.

    "Thanks, Omi. We owe you one." Ken flashed him a grin that was all teeth and turned the excited expression on Yohji. "Let's beat it."

    Omi managed to keep the smile on his face as he watched them leave. They left through the storage room; he watched the door shut and then listened to the back door slam into place.

    The world spun before him and he fell to his knees, wrapping his arms tightly around his stomach. He felt like he was going to be torn apart, and he was leaning over until his forehead was resting against the ground. The floor was cold, almost cold enough to burn.

    And he started crying, wild tears that came out of nowhere, and it was a long time before he could stop.

Part Two
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