Part Two: Fading
Maybe redemption has stories to tell
Maybe forgiveness is right where you fell
Where can you run to escape from yourself?

    Omi got to class on time the next day, his empty backpack draped over one shoulder carelessly as he picked his way towards his seat. He dropped the bag to one side and plopped himself down, propping his elbow on the desk and perching his chin on his hand. Blue eyes stared at the board and through it as he turned the previous day over in his mind. His cheek was bruised; Aya hadn't hit him hard but he'd hit just hard enough to leave a slight, small bruise. He reached his free hand up to his face, a fingertip finding the discolored flesh and pushing hard against it.

    His classmates filtered in through the door but he ignored them, only distantly aware of their laughing voices and their gossip. He didn't care for them. Once upon a time he'd been jealous that they had everything he could never have. Once upon a time he had felt protective of them, wanting to save them from the darkness that haunted his team's footsteps. Now he thought that it would be all right if they were to get caught up in some of the messes Weiss had to deal with. Perhaps class would be cancelled if enough people didn't show up.

    The teacher was a few minutes late, and for those few minutes Omi entertained the thought that maybe she was sick and they could all just leave. Perhaps he would go back to the playground. Perhaps he would just wander the street. He didn't really care where he went, as long as it wasn't here or the Koneko. He could hear murmurs around the room, as this teacher had always been punctual. Excited, hopeful whisperings ran from one side of the room to the other, and they died with disappointed groans when the teacher showed up at six after the hour.

    She swept into the room with a wide smile on her face, and she turned the bright expression on Omi as she settled her things at her desk. In hindsight, he should have taken that to be a warning. Instead, he just stared back at her, seeing through her smile because he wasn't interested in looking at her. He was counting down the minutes until he could leave. The lecture started just a minute later, an hour and a half of droning nonsense. These days, it really was nonsense. Even if he randomly grew bored and tried to listen, it was as if she was speaking a foreign language that everyone was privy to save for him. He supposed it was the language of the naïve, of the guiltless, of the people who still gave a damn about whether they lived or died.

    Besides his teammates' deaths, his own lingered near the forefront of his thoughts these days. He didn't long for it, no. He was merely curious about what it would be like to die, turning over the countless ways death could come to him in his free time. Freak accidents, deliberate actions, a simple mistake, betrayal… It entertained him on some level, a small sick sense of morbid satisfaction as his mind's eye watched his body explode in a rush of hot blood and torn muscle. He wondered how badly it hurt, and for how long. He wondered if there was an afterlife and these days he chose not to believe in one. It was hard enough to scrounge up the energy to do anything while he was alive. If he had a soul that would exist for an eternity, he decided he'd rather just wink out of existence.

    At long last the class was over. He was out of his seat when the bell rang, fingers grabbing hold of his backpack's strap to lift it effortlessly off the ground. He was halfway to the door when the teacher stopped him, calling him back with his name. He stopped in his tracks, wondering what she would do if he kept walking, wondering if she would chase him down. He wasn't in the mood for one of her little worry sessions. He'd had enough harassment from Aya these past few days; he couldn't stomach it from anyone else.

    "Omi," she tried again.

    He finally turned around to face her, letting the other students shove past on their way out. They ignored him, content to drift in their own little worlds. The teacher beckoned for him to approach her and he started towards her desk, waiting off to one side with a smooth expression on his face. That bright, ecstatic smile was back on her face and he wondered again what had prompted such a look. He was almost curious enough to ask, then decided not to bother and settled for keeping his expression politely inquiring. As soon as the students were all out of the room, she opened her bag and pulled out a paper, offering it to him.

    It was a graded test, with his name on it.

    He reached out, taking it from her with numb fingers. Neat handwriting had filled in all of the blanks, and it was a near perfect score.

    This wasn't his handwriting.

    This was Aya's.

    He felt like he'd been hit in the stomach, and in a rush, the indifference was gone, replaced by a rush of wild emotions. Confusion was foremost, with an anger he couldn't explain resting in second place.

    "Thank you," she said, and it sounded like there were tears in her voice. "Thank you."

    "Mm," he answered, slowly folding the test and sliding it into his bookbag. She reached out, curling her hands around one of his, and the look she turned on him was full of compassion, full of hope and warmth.

    "Your friend explained everything to us," she said. "I know things are hard, but keep fighting, please. I wish you'd told me sooner. Take your time, and I hope things work themselves out at home."

    This wasn't what he wanted. This wasn't what he needed to hear from her. He didn't want her to think that things were going to be fine one day. They were never going to be fine again. The test was a lie. Everything was a lie and he wanted to rip the paper into shreds right before her eyes and tell her how stupid she was. Instead, he just gave her a thin smile devoid of any semblance of warmth and pulled his hand free. She let him go; he could feel her eyes on him as he headed for the door.

    He shouldn't have been surprised when, after his next class, that teacher handed him back two chapter summaries and a report and said basically the same thing that the first teacher had. Omi listened to it in silence and with a rising sense of nausea, and as soon as classes were out he bolted. Anger gave him speed and he ran the entire way home, papers clenched in his fists as his feet flew over the sidewalk. These reports were typed up neatly, with Omi's name in the corner, but he hadn't written them. Aya had written them- but to do that and to get such a fine score on them, he had to have done the research. He had to have had Omi's text book. It would have taken hours.

    What was Aya trying to prove? What was he trying to accomplish?

    For a wild moment he thought he would cry again, as he turned onto the street for the Koneko. For a wild moment, as he burst through the front doors of the flower shop and came to a stumbling halt just inside, he thought he would throw himself at Aya and cling to him and apologize and beg forgiveness. Standing there, chest heaving from exertion, crumpled papers in one hand, he wanted to thank Aya and ask him for help, wanted to ask him make the coldness go away, to make the world seem real again and give him the energy to give a damn.

    It lasted for a moment, and then it was gone, sucked away like everything else he'd once held dear.

    The shop went dead quiet for that moment as everyone turned to see who had just burst in. The second the girls' voices raised in gleeful greetings, he felt the foolish, sentimental urges die. Blue and purple locked across the shop, gazes holding for a significant moment before Omi stalked towards the back door. Girls reached for him, long fingers curling around his arms, and he shrugged them off roughly. There were startled inquiries, hurt cries. He ignored them, shoving through them to get to the back room. He saw Yohji and Ken exchange a quick look, but he didn't care about them because Aya too was moving towards the storage room.

    He got there first, throwing the door open and storming halfway across the room. Aya was just a few seconds behind him and shut the door, leaning against it as he regarded his youngest teammate in silence. Omi shook his hand at the redhead, blue eyes narrowed.

    "What is this?" he demanded.

    "Why ask me?" was the cool response. "They're your assignments." From this close, he could see the telltale signs that the redhead had not slept the night before. He did a mental count of how many tests and assignments had been in that folder, tried to count up how long it would have taken someone unfamiliar with the subjects to get everything done and turned in at the school in time for Omi's teachers to collect them. He was so confused. Why would Aya do this? What had prompted him to do such a thing?

    "What good do you think this will do?" Omi demanded, smashing the papers, smashing the hours of work, into a little ball. He threw them at Aya, watched them bounce harmlessly off the man's shirt to roll around on the ground. "What do you plan on doing, wasting your life taking my tests for me? I didn't do them because I don't want them done. Don't tell me you expected me to be grateful."

    "Your approval of it isn't what gets you the grades," was the calm answer. The door opened a little as Yohji or Ken pushed at it from the other side. Aya leaned further back against the door, planting his shoes against the ground to keep their teammates from coming in. Doubtless the shop was in confusion over what had just happened. Neither Aya nor Omi cared for the interruption. "You can stand there and say you're going to let it all go to waste, but it isn't right. You're the only one of us that still has a chance to get away from this. How can you throw it away?"

    "Stay out of my life!" Omi snapped back at him. "Leave me alone! I was *fine* before you started to meddle."

    "Fine?" The word was sharp. It was all Aya said, but it spoke volumes. His eyes declared Omi's words to be a flat out lie.

    Omi made a rude gesture at him and stalked towards the back door. He wasn't going to stay around for this. He didn't know how to react to this, to what Aya had done for him. He was confused as all hell; it threw everything that had happened the last couple months out of whack. Aya didn't call him back, even though Omi was supposed to be going on shift in just a minute. Omi wasn't going to show up, and he figured Aya knew that. He let the back door slam behind him and took the steps up to his room two at a time. He almost broke the key shoving it in the doorknob and he slammed this door behind him, too. The lock was thrown into place, his back pack was dropped somewhere near the door, and he went straight to his bed. He didn't get up again that night, ignoring dinner in favor of hiding in his sheets.


    Things changed after that. Aya didn't confront him again. He collected Omi's assignments from school, filled them out, and turned them in. Omi would get them back a few days later and throw them away before leaving the classroom. He ignored Aya- he didn't say another word to him about what the redhead was doing because three weeks later he still didn't know how he was supposed to react. Yohji and Ken knew something was up between their teammates, sensing the underlying tension there, but neither would offer anything up on the subject.

    As long as Omi pretended Aya didn't exist, his cold bubble of fuck-you was easy to hold onto. Easy, but ragged around the edges. He got lost a lot more often; the sense of being unreal was growing. If he wasn't at the shop or at school, he was lying in bed, and he began to lose track of hours. He would stay awake all night, go to class, and then find himself in his room at eight in the evening without the memory of leaving class or going to work. He didn't eat much, as he'd lost the interest in food a long time ago and these days either forgot about meals or didn't have the energy to feed himself. Everything was a haze; the world was turning to fog around him and he stood alone in the middle of the thick mists without having a clue where he was or where he was supposed to go.

    Once upon a time, it had been a comfortable spot to sit in. These days, the coldness ate him with a savage bite, and the unreality of everything was starting to terrify him. Sometimes he panicked, thinking he was just a dream, that he didn't exist. Most of the days he didn't care to exist, but when he really realized that he was just an imagined specter, he would freak. He had nothing solid to hold onto, nothing pure to remind him that he was still alive.

    He was caring less and less about being alive, and it if it wasn't instinct, he had a feeling he would have stopped breathing a long time ago. As it was, he barely had the energy for that, and sometimes he would hold his breath as long as he could. He wondered if he could just hold his breath until he fell asleep, until he passed away. He tried it a couple times, but he could never stop himself from taking a gulping breath of air when he started getting dizzy.

    He didn't know how much he slept those weeks. He lost track of which hours he was awake and which he was sleeping. School was a blur, the shop was a blur, and behind it all he was distantly aware of purple eyes watching him with a growing alarm. He realized that he was smiling suddenly and wondered at it, reaching up to brush his fingers over his lips. His face was wet. That was curious.

    He looked around and saw that it was raining- pouring, really- and he was standing outside. He was in the middle of the playground, his shoes half buried in the mud the rain turned the sand into. He let his eyes fall closed, tilting his head back to let the rain fall on his face. He lifted his arms over his head, fingers reaching towards the clouds as if he thought he could grab hold of one. Maybe he could learn how to fly, and go sleep on the clouds. He wondered what the world looked like from up there. He'd never been higher than the fifteenth story of a building; Ken was the only one of Weiss who had ever been on a plane before.

    Abruptly the rain stopped falling on his face. He could still hear it beating against the metal equipment of the playground, but no more rainwater struck him. Curious, he opened his eyes to find himself staring up at the underside of an umbrella- and into another blue-eyed gaze.

    Schuldich stood almost a head taller than Omi, and the German was gazing down at Omi's upturned face with dry amusement dancing in his eyes. He arched an eyebrow at the young Weiss. "What do you think you're doing? Your mother forget to take you home after playtime?"

    "I don't have a mother," Omi answered sensibly. He wondered if he should be afraid of the other man. The fear, the hatred, the anger… Everything that used to be so firmly attached to this devil foreigner of Schwarz was gone. He felt nothing, staring up at the other man. "She hanged herself years ago. You know that."

    Schuldich looked amused. "Indeed." He tilted his head to one side, and a moment later Omi saw something like surprise flicker through the other's gaze. Omi wasn't interested in dealing with the man. He didn't want anyone's company. He just wanted the rain. He stepped out from under Schuldich's umbrella, resettling himself just a few feet away, and stared across the playground. He was content to ignore the German. Pretending the man didn't exist was easy. It was hard enough these days to know if he himself existed.

    "Huh," came the soft, thoughtful sound behind him. Omi barely heard it over the rain. He stared off at the horizon, studying the dark gray clouds through the gaps in the buildings.

    When he turned around ten minutes later, Schuldich was gone, and the rain had pushed the sand in to fill up his footprints. Omi studied the spot the foreigner had been standing in and wondered if he had indeed dreamed the man up. He reached up, pushing his bangs out of his face, and decided that it was time at last to go back to the shop. He had no clue what time it was, and wasn't really sure how long he'd been standing here. His shoes sank into the mud as he walked and he set a lazy pace, wandering down the middle of the road to get back to the Koneko.

    It didn't take him long to realize that something was out of place when he came back. After all, the lights were on. He could see them glowing out from under the back door, and all of the windows in back were lit. He wondered about it, starting up the stairs for his room. He had just made it to the landing when Ken left his own room, and the boy did a double take when he saw Omi.

    "Yohji!!" Ken yelled suddenly. "Aya!!"

    He took several quick steps towards Omi, and without thinking, Omi took a step back – right off the landing. He saw Ken's eyes widen and heard his shout, and then the world whirled around him and he was falling. His ass and hips hit the stairs first, his shoulders and head next. The world exploded in a flash of black and he was tumbling, rolling down the stairs towards the ground. His shoulder hit the side railing and he felt the sharp pain of broken skin, and then he was on the ground and rolling across the asphalt.

    Two hands stopped him and Ken was crouched beside him suddenly, his eyes wide in horror. "Jesus Christ, Omi, are you all right?" Ken demanded, his voice sharp in worry. He gingerly helped the younger assassin sit up. He kept his hands on Omi's arms, and Omi thought maybe it was a good thing he did because he didn't think he had the strength to stay up on his own. The world was swimming before his eyes and black sparkles danced in his vision. He hurt all over, and he could hear the pounding of shoes against the metal stairs, could hear Yohji's worried voice as the rest of Weiss sped over towards them.

    "What the hell happened?" Yohji demanded.

    "He slipped on the stairs," Ken answered. "Fell right back off the landing."

    Aya was crouching to Omi's right, long fingers moving aside the torn material of his shirt to figure out where the blood was coming from. Omi tilted his head to one side to watch, studying the dark crimson streaks with fascination. The blood trailed down his arm sluggishly, mixing with the rain water to make lighter, faster drops to run down his arm. Ken gently took hold of his chin, turning his head back around to face the athlete, and Ken held up some fingers. "How many fingers can you count?" Ken wanted to know.

    Omi considered it, watching them dance in front of his eyes. "Four."

    Ken cursed, and Omi decided that meant he'd guessed wrong. Yohji leaned over Omi, fingers carefully working through the boy's hair. "No blood," he said at last, sounding relieved.

    Omi reached up to push Ken's hand away from his chin, turning back to look at his torn shoulder. The movement made him dizzy, and his stomach twisted in a violent protest.

    "What time is it?" he wanted to know.

    "Six in the morning," Ken answered. "Manx came by to see us. Where were you, Omi? We've been looking for you for an hour."

    Omi didn't answer, lifting up a hand to run his fingers across his wound. Aya pushed his hand away, looking towards Yohji. "Go get something," he said simply, and the other assassin nodded, hurrying towards the stairs.

    "My room's open!" Ken called after him. He turned back to Omi, and his eyes narrowed slightly- not in anger, but in mixed confusion and concern. "What's so funny?" he demanded.

    Funny? It took Omi a moment to realize he was smiling. The realization made his grin wider still. Aya was checking the rest of him to see if there was any other blood, and Omi reached back up to his shoulder wound, his fingers pressing roughly against the gash. Sharp, sharp pain.

    He felt… real.

    He felt more real in these moments than he'd felt in a while. Dimly he remembered when Aya had hit him, when everything that had been swirling out of control had gotten a focus for just a short time. Pain was brutally real. Suddenly he wanted to cry, he wanted to laugh. He was giddy with a sick sort of humor, and he thought he was going to have another hysterical fit. He couldn't hold it in for long; just a few breaths later he was laughing, and Aya and Ken were exchanging alarmed looks over his head.

    "What's so funny?" Yohji wanted to know, returning with a cloth.

    "We need to get him inside now," Aya said simply. "He needs to get out of the rain."

    He and Ken rose to their feet before leaning down, each taking one of Omi's arms to slowly pull him upright. Omi let them, still laughing until he couldn't breathe, until the warmth on his cheeks told him that tears were mingling with the icy rain water. He had to close his eyes against the world because it was spinning in a nauseating rush of color, and when they tried to get him to take his first step towards the stairs, his stomach lost its control and he leaned forward slightly, throwing up. Ken was rubbing his back lightly, but whatever he was saying was too soft to be understood. It had soothing edges to it.

    So they did care after all. Kind of funny.

    Hysterical, really, because it was much too late.

    Either way, he let them take him to Ken's room. He allowed them to dry him off and obediently moved his arms when they peeled his soaked clothes off of him. He ended up wrapped up in a blanket, and he watched as they cleaned and bandaged his shoulder. Yohji vanished into the kitchen at one point and came back with a mug of something hot, which he pressed insistently into Omi's hand.

    "Drink that," he said. "You're shaking so hard I'm surprised you haven't fallen off the bed."

    Was he? He looked down at the mug in his hand. Yohji was still holding onto it, and he realized that he was indeed trembling. If the older assassin let go, his drink would be all over the place. He offered Yohji a thin smile, accepting the man's help as he drank. It was hot chocolate, of course. Ken didn't like tea or coffee, so he kept his room stocked with cocoa. He burned his lips and tongue with the first swallow, but that didn't matter much. He welcomed the sharp pain in his throat, drinking half of it before lowering it.

    "Where were you?" Ken demanded. "We've been looking for you, and you've been out wandering in the rain. What were you thinking?"

    "I couldn't sleep," he answered simply. "Started raining after I left. No umbrella." He finished off the rest of the drink and Yohji took his mug away to the kitchen again. Ken looked towards Aya. He said something but Omi couldn't hear it. He was suddenly very tired, very warm and alive and exhausted. He felt his lips curve into a drowsy smile. This was the best he'd felt in weeks, and all it had taken was falling down a flight of stairs. He let his friends talk, closing his eyes against them.

    When he opened his eyes again, it was well into the day and he was alone in Ken's room. The covers were tugged up around him and there was a note on Ken's pillow telling him that they'd be by to check on him but they wanted him to keep sleeping.

    He had no problems with that, and he let himself slip away again.


    The next few days went relatively well, to Omi's surprise. Despite the fact that his night out in the rain had gotten him sick so he was coughing twenty-four hours a day, he was in a somewhat pleasant mood. He didn't have to go to school or work, and his teammates brought him food. He'd been moved back to his own room mid-afternoon that first day, and other than the hot showers, he was content not to leave his bed. Yohji dutifully delivered the get well flowers and cards from the shop customers, joking that Omi falling sick was the best thing to happen to the shop, as the girls were actually buying things.

    Besides stopping by to make sure he was eating, his teammates left him alone. Manx had brought them a mission the morning Omi had fallen down the stairs, and the three were busy with working out details on it. Omi had forgotten the mention of Manx, so was surprised when Ken showed up at his door three days after the fall with a stack of papers.

    He stood uncertainly in the doorway, studying his teammate's sprawled out form before looking at the pages in his hand. "How are you feeling?" he wanted to know.

    "Alive," Omi answered, because it was the truth and he didn't mind sharing it.

    "Can I talk to you?"

    Omi thought of pointing out that he already was, but just nodded. Ken grinned and stepped in, closing the door behind him before coming to make himself comfortable on Omi's bed. He set the papers down beside Omi. "This is what we've managed to figure out for the mission so far," he said, his initial words confusing the youngest Weiss. "We've been trying to get it ready without you, because Manx labeled it as urgent and we didn't want to push you while you were sick. Think we're running it tonight, but I'd still feel safer if you looked over what we came up with."

    Omi blinked, trying not to look completely clueless, and picked up the stack. Blue eyes ran over scribbles and sketches as he flipped through the stack. "You guys worked out a mission?" he asked.

    "Aya did most of it," Ken answered with a nod, reaching out to point out the more important papers. "That's the summary for what we've got to do, and some technical information we could find, and what we thought would be the best and safest routes…" He fell silent again, waiting for the younger teenager's approval or rejection.

    Omi read through it with something torn between pride and gut-wrenching unhappiness. His teammates had always given him this to do, trusting him to come up with what was best, saying that there was no way they could plan like he did. But the plan was solid enough; they had underestimated their own abilities.

    And, apparently, overestimated his. They didn't need him if they could do something like this.

    Mostly Aya's… He could easily pick out Aya's handwriting. Several of the sheets were obviously roughs of the plan, of routes. All three had scribbled on copies of layouts, their arrows overlapping and some relevant points scratched off to the side. Aya's was the most thorough; he'd most likely interrupted the other two to show them his own idea, and the other two had shut up and listened.

    Aya again.

    Aya, who had been doing Omi's schoolwork for weeks now… Who took his tests and wrote his reports, and did so well on them despite the fact that he was learning everything fresh. Aya could plan for Weiss, and they would listen to him. Aya could do anything. So what was the point of Omi?

    His stomach twisted violently and he made a tight sound in his throat without meaning to. Ken flicked him a worried look, glancing from the paper to his friend's eyes. "Is there something wrong with it?" he wanted to know.

    "My throat's just dry…" Omi answered, reaching up to rub at it.

    "I'll get a drink," Ken offered immediately, bouncing up and trotting away to the kitchenette.

    Omi ignored him, fingers digging into the side of his neck as he stared down at the papers. Aya could do anything. He could do Omi's schoolwork and his Weiss work. What did Weiss need Omi for? He felt a violent urge to rewrite the plans, just to prove that he could come up with something better than the redhead could, but even as he stared at the papers and knew that he could find another way, he could not honestly find any fault with the one decided on except that Aya had written it.

    Ken was back, holding out a cup in offering. He'd filled it with water from the sink. Omi just stared at it for a few moments without seeing it, and finally reached out to take it from his teammate. He made no move to drink it, instead holding the papers out to Ken.

    "Well?" Ken wanted to know.

    "They're fine," Omi managed to get out. It was the truth, whether he liked it or not. "Good luck."

    "Thanks." Ken grinned. "I'll let the others know. We're leaving at nine tonight, so we'll see you in the morning, all right?"

    Omi just nodded dumbly, staring at the far wall as Ken headed towards the door. He listened to it click into place and his gaze dropped to the cup of water he was holding in both hands. His hands were shaking, and he stared down at the liquid swirling around gently inside.

    Weiss didn't need him… Not for the shop, not for the missions. The others could easily work the shifts. Aya could figure out strategy. Omi didn't even need to go to school, because Aya could do that easily enough.

    He was unneeded. He was unnecessary.

    And his teammates had been doting on him the last several days because he'd been stupid enough to fall down the railing, because he'd given himself a concussion and a fever. Aya had taken over his schoolwork because Omi had been falling to pieces, because the others were still strong and he was suddenly weak. Suddenly he couldn't do anything… What had happened to the boy he used to be? What the hell had he become? It scared him, disgusted him. He hated himself for falling so far and he was angry at the others for being able to exist without him.

    Worthless… He was worthless.

    He felt the pain before he heard the glass shatter, before icy water spilled all over him in a sudden rush. He stared down at his hands in mild shock, stared down at the glass that littered his blankets, and turned his palms upwards to study the shards that still dug into his torn flesh. Blood welled up on the skin, thick and red, and ran down his hands to drip down to his sheets. When he turned his hands the overhead light made his skin sparkle where glass too small to see clung to him.

    He idly reached up and picked a large piece out of the flesh of his thumb, lifting the glass to study the wet tip, and then held up his hand to study that. Pain was a deep pulse in his hands and he flexed his thumb, watching as a fresh swell of blood oozed up along the cut.

    A small smile curved his lips, unbidden and unexplainable, and he settled back against the headboard to watch his hands bleed, focusing on the blood to shove away his dismal thoughts and mood.

    The blood was long dry by the time Ken rapped on his door to let him know they were going. Omi tugged at his sheets to hide the mess just before the younger assassin popped his head in to say farewell. A smile was easy; the sound of glass tinkling against glass echoed in his ears and he offered his teammate a cheery farewell. Then the door was closed and he heard footsteps on the metal railing. He waited until he heard the car engine fade before finally sliding out of bed and moving to clean his sheets up.

    He hummed as he worked, and when he was done he went and found the spare key from the storage room downstairs. He let himself into Aya's room with it and took a moment to survey the place. The redhead had collected all of Omi's school things. Omi gathered them up now and carried them back to his room, locking Aya's door behind him before locking himself in his own apartment.

Part Three
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