Part Two

    Yohji did, however, have a date that night. She was a pretty little thing, a university girl who had streaked her hair red and had all the right curves. She had a dazzling smile and shining eyes that gleamed even more brightly under the influence of alcohol. A few drinks and a couple hours of enjoyable entertainment later, she kissed him goodbye at the entrance to her dorm and he left her there with the smell of sex, cigarettes, and liquor clinging to her robe. She had invited him to stay the night, but seeing as he had work the next morning and she had early classes, he ducked out around one in the morning instead.

    Feeling better about the world in general, he let the window down as he drove. Too awake to go home, he was content to drive aimlessly with the wind whipping his hair about his face. Music spilled from the speakers, the bass guiding his heartbeat. Fingers tapped out a rhythm on his steering wheel as he wove effortlessly around Tokyo.

    It had been a long day at the shop, made longer by the fact that Ken was injured. Once he had stood up to help the others work, Yohji had been able to see for himself what had happened to his teammate. Ken had been favoring a foot- apparently he hurt his ankle in the move back away from the changing guards and then from a sudden attack from the sentries. The girls had picked up on it just as easily, and they had fretted and cooed over Ken for the better part of the day. Some had bought him get well flowers, others dashed away and returned with cards, and a few more tried to keep him from working so as not to stress his foot.

    The other three of Weiß had been soundly chided by Ken's most loyal fans for making him work when he was injured. Omi had done his part and inquired if his friend would like to take the rest of the day off. Yohji had just shrugged off the girls' concerns. Ken had been injured enough times to be able to tell what he was and was not capable of. If he felt he would not be further damaging his ankle by working in the shop, then Yohji would not force him to go home and rest. Ken could be reckless sometimes, but he would not push an injury that would kill any hopes of ever playing soccer again.

    Watching Ken get fawned over had been amusing; it made waking up worth it. None of Yohji's teammates were particularly skilled at handling such attention from girls. For all the time they put into the shop, they had not figured out the best way to deal with their leeches. Yohji had watched Ken's uneasiness grow all day over the tops of his sunglasses, had watched him awkwardly accept the flowers and get well cards.

    Chuckling to himself at the memory, Yohji noted that he needed gas and pulled into the next gas station he passed. There were three other cars there- one at a pump and two parked beside the small convenience store- so he had plenty of spots to choose from. He took the pump closest to the store and turned the engine off, finishing the last verse of the song with a hum as he slid out of his car.

    He sprawled against the side of the vehicle as his gas tank filled, folding his arms on the roof of the car and propping his chin on them. His eyes slid closed as he inhaled the smell of gasoline, fingernails idly tapping out a soft beat to pass the time. It clicked when it was full and he straightened, eyes sliding open. Before he turned to pull the pump free from his car, however, he noticed the reflection on the glass window of the convenience store.

    He executed a lazy roll to prop his back against his car, peering past his pump to the other side of the street. It was the entrance to the park- the bright lights from the gas station made the tall metal fence glisten and the letters on the sign shine. He allowed himself a moment of consideration, thinking back to the previous night and deciding once again that it had been odd to bump into Schwarz there. That was the first time he had ever seen one of them outside their brushes on the killing field. He had never given much thought to Schwarz before...Many months ago he had decided it impossible to analyze them as people, as he had only seen one side of them. His teammates had eagerly written them off as the bad guys, as every story needed heroes and villains and surely Weiß were the knights in shining armor.

    Yohji had smiled and nodded with them, and eventually accepted that he would never be given another side of Schwarz to chew on. They were destined to be static characters in the background of Yohji's life, people with strange gifts that required wary respect during combat. Schuldich was the telepath with amused eyes and a cold smile, Farfarello was a demon with an apparent grudge against religious themes, Nagi was a telekinetic child who seemed slightly more human than the two before him, and Crawford was the enigmatic clairvoyant that guided them all.

    Yohji was almost content to leave them with such labels...After all, it was something rather than nothing and he had the feeling that trying to find anything else out on the other assassin group would be both dangerous and unsuccessful. As a private detective, however, he still wondered what went on behind the scenes. They had seen Schwarz at work always, and he wondered what they were like outside of the killing and such.

    Yesterday he had bumped into Crawford at the park. That was an interesting thought. Where people went outside of their homes and work helped define what kind of person they were. The oracle had been sitting on a dark park bench in the middle of the night.

    His thoughts were interrupted when the pump beeped at him, reminding him that he needed to pay for his gas. He turned to slide it out of his car and stopped, sending a sharp glance across his car's roof when he realized he was no longer alone.

    Amused golden-brown eyes met his gaze. "Did I startle you?" the American drawled.

    "Didn't your mother teach you not to sneak up on people?" Yohji asked, giving the pump a small jiggle before putting it away. Fingers screwed the lid to his gas tank back on, his green eyes on the other assassin as he did so.

    Crawford gave a delicate shrug, lifting a cigarette to his mouth and lighting it. "Didn't yours teach you not to kill people?"

    "She tried. Didn't stick, apparently," Yohji answered, then gestured towards the cigarette Crawford now held between his index and middle fingers. "I don't appreciate you smoking where I'm trying to fuel up," he informed the other man. "I don't feel like going up in a fireball tonight."

    "If I had thought it was a bad move, I would not have lit it," came the simple response, and Crawford gave him a sidelong glance as he started to move around the car.

    Yohji moved with him, mostly to plant himself between the American and the fuel pump. He had no reason to trust the man to refrain from arsony. They reached the end of the car at the same time and Yohji was only then aware of how much shorter than the American he was. His eyes made it to Crawford's mouth only, so he had to tilt his head back to stare up at the other man. Crawford gazed down at him through his glasses for a few moments, expression calm and eyes still tinged with amusement. Yohji propped himself against the trunk of his car, posture lazy. His nerves were still on the alert, but the way he stood told Crawford he wasn't interested in a confrontation here and now.

    Crawford lifted the cigarette to his lips and Yohji watched him, contemplating how natural the gesture looked. He had never considered the other man to be a smoker- it wasn't a possibility he had thought of when he had debating about the people behind Schwarz so long ago. He was interested despite himself.

    Gray tendrils of smoke escaped slightly parted lips as Crawford extended his arm towards Yohji. He turned his hand to present the back of his palm to the younger assassin, then uncurled his fingers slightly. Yohji couldn't mistake the movement as anything except an invitation to take the cigarette.

    "You smoke?" he asked instead.

    A twitch of lips told Yohji the American found the question amusing. It seemed everything was amusing to the foreigner. Crawford turned his hand again, gazing at the lit end of his cigarette as it protruded from between his fingers. "Occasionally," came the response. "Old habits die hard."

    "I suppose they do." Now Yohji was amused as well. It was almost too funny that he had bumped into Crawford two nights in a row, that he was standing at a gas station watching Crawford smoke and holding a civil conversation with him. He did not allow himself to relax too much, however. Crawford was Schwarz, and Schwarz was unpredictable. He would not let his guard down; he was not fond of the idea of dying at a gas station.

    "You make me suspicious," he informed Crawford, bold to show the other man that he did not fear him. "We haven't seen Schwarz on the field in three weeks and suddenly I bump into you twice in a row." He propped his elbows on the trunk, leaning back further against the car and lolling his head to one side to peer at Crawford. "I'm starting to think I should take this as a warning. Perhaps I should suit up for battle at all times from now on."

    "I doubt the rest of your group is as eager as you appear to be to meet up again."

    Yohji lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "They hate you. Good, bad, and all that. Who's to blame them? They're just kids."

    "And you?" Crawford took a final inhale from his cigarette and spread his fingers, allowing it to carelessly fall to the ground.

    Yohji planted his shoe on top of the still burning butt, giving it a hard rub to make sure it was extinguished. He found it just a bit reckless of the other man to be lighting up and dropping lit cigarettes right next to a gas pump, even if Crawford could see whether or not such actions would cause an explosion. He wondered why Crawford was asking his opinion of Schwarz, wondered why he should bother answering. He debated for a minute more before deciding that it didn't matter. It wouldn't hurt anything to tell Crawford what he really thought of Schwarz...The most he could do was provide Crawford with more entertainment. "I don't believe in fate," he said. "I don't believe in destiny. I don't believe that the purpose of Weiß and Schwarz is to work to a free-for-all bloody end. This isn't a battle of good versus evil or a fairy tale...It's reality. We are two groups with similar jobs but different goals and viewpoints on what we do. I kill, you kill, we all kill, then we go home and smoke a cigarette or two to erase the scent of blood."

    Silence fell between them for a moment as Yohji waited for a reaction to his words. At length Crawford gave a slight nod. "That is what I expected you to say," he said.

    "Kind of hard to surprise someone who can see the future, I suppose," Yohji responded dryly. "Is this where you tell me I'm mistaken and should quiver in fear at the mere sound of Schwarz's footfalls?"

    Crawford made a small noise that might have been an amused snort. "No...I prefer it your way." With that, he gave a slight bow.

    Yohji returned it automatically, and Crawford was heading away. He passed between two pumps, moving towards the other car Yohji had spotted parked there. Yohji watched as he slid into the driver's seat without looking back. The door swung shut and the engine came to life, and Yohji remained where he was until the black vehicle had glided onto the main street before heading into the convenience store to pay for his gas.


    Yohji lounged against the back of the Koneko no Sumu Ie, feet stretched out in front him, shoes planted against the sidewalk to keep him from sliding further down the wall. One hand was stuffed in his pocket, the other held a cigarette to his lips. An icy breeze tossed his hair in all directions, stealing the gray smoke from the lit end of his cigarette and his breath almost before it could form to whisk it away. Green eyes gazed up at the darkening sky, sunglasses for once tucked away in a pocket. It would storm tonight... Appropriate, considering what the evening held in store for them.

    Music was playing; Ken's window was open to let the sounds out. The athlete had the afternoon shift off and was tucked away in his room. Yohji recognized the tune and he began to hum along brokenly around his cigarette. He lifted his cigarette from his lips, giving it a flick. Ash was torn from the end and went flying away to land wherever the wind allowed it.

    Manx had stopped by yesterday, calling them away from their duties in the shop to hand them a new mission. Yohji had considered turning that one down as well. In the end he decided he could use the extra cash and had gone ahead and taken a packet. Omi had spent the rest of the day downstairs going going over the data, analyzing everything he had been given to determine the best way of accomplishing the job. He was down there again this morning- now that he had a plan, he was getting things organized for the team.

    ~Such a focused little worker,~ Yohji mused, dropping his cigarette to the ground and grinding it out with a shoe. He reached towards the sky, stretching as far as he could, before yawning and turning back into the shop. He picked his way through the storage room, murmuring the lyrics to the song he could no longer hear, as he dug his sunglasses from his pocket and set them on the bridge of his nose. Aya looked up when he stepped through the door into the main room of the shop before turning back to his work.

    There was a small stack of sticky-notes beside the phone. Yohji plucked the top one off the pile and headed to his table, resticking it where he could see it and eyeing the order. Still murmuring along to the song, he set about arranging the bouquet. Long fingers sought out the appropriate flowers, lying them beside each other on a sheet of pink plastic. Stems overlapped and blooms were rearranged until he could roll them up in the plastic. He lifted the bouquet, studying it for a moment to make sure it was just right. Aya passed Yohji on the way to get another order from the phone. On his way back, Yohji held out the bouquet in offering, planting a hand against his chest.

    "Will he accept it or will he shatter my heart?" he asked.

    "Save it for the girls," was Aya's response as he evaded the bouquet on his way back to his own table.

    "Ouch, my heart..." Yohji grinned, moving to the small fridge. He slid the door open and set his bouquet in one of the little stands, pasting the sticky to the shelf in front of it. He lingered a moment longer, enjoying the icy air that drifted out of the fridge to brush against him, before closing the door and moving to find another order.

    It was when he turned that he saw Omi arrive in the shop again. The boy's blue eyes were bright with the glow of justice. Aya must have caught sight of the movement from the corner of his eye, because he turned to face Omi expectantly. Yohji continued on back to his table, poking his sticky into place before turning to see what the younger man had to say.

    "Ready!" Omi said, giving them a thumbs-up. "We have to leave before six. The shop will be closed by then and it even gives us time to get the place cleaned up for tomorrow."

    Aya nodded. Yohji offered a broad smile. "Sounds good to me. Early mission means early return. There will be plenty of people out to welcome me home." He waggled his eyebrows meaningfully.

    Omi looked faintly exasperated. "Mou, Yohji-kun...Do you ever think of anything besides women and drinking?"

    Yohji grinned. "Never," he said, because he could and because his young friend would probably believe it.


    The smell of blood was harsh, sour and sweet at the same time. It was thick in the air, as if breathing was the same thing as drinking it in. It was familiar. Yohji inhaled deeply, tasting it on his tongue. Blood was the in-law you never asked for, something that had to be tolerated but one would much rather live without.

    He reached out a foot, pressing the heel of his boot against the fresh corpse and shoving against the shoulder to move the body out of the way. It left a smear of red against the ground, the bloodied uniform sliding easily on its moist trail like a giant snail. He stepped over the mess and headed down the hall, lazily twining his garrote around a gloved finger. Through his headphones he could hear his teammates- the muted breathing of them as they lay in wait, the sharp intake just before they attacked, the hiss of breath through clenched teeth as they dealt a killing blow.

    Ken was just a hall away, the closest of the four to the target. He had asked for the final swipe and Omi had worked his request into the plans. Yohji had expected it, considering what the target was wanted dead for. Hirasawa Mikoto helped fund some of the more unsavory politicians with proceeds from a booming child pornography business, several of the victims his own relatives.

    Ken and Omi had been out of their seats at that last bit of knowledge, their eyes wide in horrified disbelief. Aya had lowered his gaze to the floor, his fingers tightening on his arms. Yohji had lit a cigarette. For a moment he had wished he could still be so stricken by their targets' deeds; for a moment he had wanted to feel the same rage that consumed the two teenagers, or even the furious nausea that Aya had felt. There had been a twinge of regret that the world was so far gone to hell, along with a sweep of remorse towards the victims and everyone affected. It was a sad story.

    And Yohji had heard it a few dozen times.

    It wasn't that he didn't want the man dead. He loathed their target for what he had done. He just didn't hate the man as much as the rest of his team did.

    Absently, he wondered if that was a bad sign.

    A faint smile curled his lips, dry and amused. It was not that he was worried about redemption. He had chosen this way of life; it had been his decision entirely. Omi had been crushed into it early without much of a say-so. Both Ken and Aya had watched their lives go down the drain and had set out for revenge, minds clouded by emotional turmoil. Yohji had thought over his career for years before pursuing being a private detective. Weiß was much the same thing; it was just a small step from the spotlight to the shadows.

    He knew what he was, and he accepted it fully. He could put a light hearted spin on Weiß at times when his teammates could not even begin to appreciate the irony behind their missions. His carefree attitude towards what they did was barely exaggerated and rarely an act. He would not pretend to be outraged when all he could feel was small grief. He knew Manx understood, as she felt the same way. He knew that Aya could understand his attitude even if he could not feel the same. It was the younger two that were often offended.

    He supposed Ken should be happy he wasn't as gung-ho about it, or perhaps he would have argued for the chance to take out Hirasawa.

    Ken spoke up on cue: "I'm there..." It was barely a murmur. Yohji continued onwards, reaching up to press a finger against his headset, listening to Ken's breath catch and hold as the younger assassin opened their target's office. He knew elsewhere his teammates had stopped to listen as well. He turned onto the hall where Ken was, reaching it in time to see the smaller boy's body vanish through the doorway.

    There was a pause on the headset, enough time for Ken to charge across the room to wherever Hirasawa was. Yohji waited for the soft breath just before he threw all of his weight behind his bugnuks.

    Instead there was a gurgle.


    Well, that wasn't part of the script.

    "The target is...down already."

    "Dead?" Omi asked.

    "Ern...Most...definitely." Ken sounded faintly nauseous.

    Yohji reached the room and slipped inside, murmuring Ken's name so the brunette wouldn't whirl around and strike him. Ken was standing beside Hirasawa's desk, gazing down at something that was out of Yohji's line of sight. One gloved hand was pressed to the athlete's mouth, and Ken shot his teammate a wide-eyed look over his shoulder. Yohji closed the distance between them, coming up alongside Ken to investigate. Ken took a deep, noisy breath beside him and tried to report.

    "He's intact, but I don't know how...His body is- wrong. Twisted funny. As if a giant picked him up and wrenched him all the wrong ways. No blood. No human could have done that..." Ken quickly covered his mouth again and glanced away, searching for something else to calm his nausea.

    "One human could," Yohji said softly, gazing down at the twisted body of their target. He reached out with a foot, nudging Hirasawa's shoulder. He was impressed despite himself. No blood, no broken skin. That kid had a wicked grasp of his gift. Yohji made yet another mental note to never try and cross the boy, even as he allowed himself a moment of relief that the kid had never- for reasons Yohji didn't know- turned the full force of his gift on Weiß.

    Ken grabbed at his arm, a silent protest for Yohji touching the body.

    So. Schwarz had come and gone, and killed Hirasawa on their way out.

    That was interesting.

Part 3