Part Eleven: Hollow Ice

    Warm lips were pressed against the base of his neck, just below his hair. He was pressed up against a hard body, an arm wrapped around his waist so the hand could rest on his. Aya let himself drown in the dizzying comfort of the embrace, eyes closed as he leaned back against Crawford. They were standing just inside the American's room, door closed to prevent nosy eyes from spotting them. For these few moments he let the rest of the world go, let all of his outside thoughts and worries float away. For now, all that mattered was the warmth generated between himself and his lover, the feel of a heartbeat pulsing lightly against his back, the faint scent of cologne. They did not speak; words were not needed. The contact was enough for both of them.

    The illusion was shattered when there was a knock at the door. Aya fought against the sound, fought against the pull back to reality. He didn't want to go back. He wanted to stay here and forget everything except what it felt like to be loved and held. So many years without affection...He didn't want to go back to that coldness.

    "He'll still be there when you open your eyes," Schuldich's nasal voice came, sounding amused. "We have to go soon."

    Aya slowly opened his eyes. A soft sigh escaped his lips. Crawford slowly loosened his grip, and Aya reluctantly stepped out of the circle of warmth. Before he could fully escape the reach of Crawford's arm, the other man's hand clenched on his shirt and he rocked forward slightly. Aya twisted to look at his lover. "Brad?" Crawford's eyes were glazed over. Aya blinked, trying to figure out what was wrong. "Brad," he repeated, trying to get a response from the older man.

    Schuldich opened the door, alerted by the wary thoughts trailing through Aya's mind. He took one look at the American and gave a dismissive shrug. "He's having a vision, kiddo," Schuldich said.

    Aya was reassured until Crawford's eyes cleared and narrowed. "Go," Crawford said.

    "What?" Aya asked blankly.

    Crawford's gaze swept to Schuldich, locking eyes with his teammate. "They're after Nagi. They found him and he is a good hostage."

    "Scheiße," Schuldich hissed, and beckoned to Aya. "Let's go."

    "Aa," Aya answered, and squeezed Crawford's hand briefly as the man released him. He followed Schuldich out and down the hall. Omi and Yohji had very cautiously made their way to the living room and were sitting on a couch as if they thought it was going to attack them. Farfarello was nowhere in sight; perhaps Schuldich had put him down with some antibiotics for his wounds. His teammates looked up as they stormed in, rummaging around for Schuldich's keys. Aya found them and tossed them to his companion.

    "Where are you going?" Yohji asked, half-rising.

    "Kritiker's unit has targeted Nagi," Aya said as they left the room. Schuldich tugged open the door and Aya followed him out. As he turned to close the door behind him, Yohji pushed his way out. One part of Aya's mind was not surprised. Yohji, his best friend, was sure to follow as a support. Yet that left Omi behind with Crawford and Farfarello...Did Yohji not realize that? He said nothing, turning to wait impatiently for the elevator. If Kritiker was after Nagi, they were most likely going to target his sister as well. She was just three rooms away.

    The elevator dinged as it arrived. There was a young woman on already who eyed them appreciatively as they boarded. Schuldich and Aya ignored her. Yohji gave her a brief glance-over before deciding what was happening was more important than flirting. They exited the elevator as soon as the doors were wide enough to let them through. Schuldich led the way to his car and unlocked the doors. /This isn't right,/ Schuldich sent at Aya as he started the engine. Aya glanced up from where he was buckling himself in. /Dealing with that agent is delaying all of his visions./

    Aya did not reply. His thoughts were locked on Nagi- and his sister.


    The bed was empty. It was made and clean, waiting for the next patient. Aya could remember what Nagi had looked like in the bed just a few days ago, so dark yet pale against the sheets. Who had taken him, and where? How could the nurses change the orders Schwarz had fed them? He looked towards Schuldich. The German looked back at him, jade eyes hiding his thoughts. "I'll check the nurse. You go look at your sister."

    Ah, his sister...Crawford hadn't seen any vision against her capture, but still...Aya gave a curt nod and left the room. Yohji matched his fast stride down the hall. The door to Aya-chan's room was closed. Aya pushed it open and stepped in, silently hoping.

    His legs almost gave under him, and he dimly felt Yohji's hard grip steadying him. Aya-chan was gone. The bed was empty, even of sheets. One or two dead flower petals were on the bed. A nurse was standing beside the bed and looked up when they came in. "Fujimiya-san," she greeted, a bit hesitantly.

    "Where is she?" Despite how much he was shaking inside, his voice was hard.

    "The doctors reported a sudden drop in her status. We tried to get in contact with you, but there was no response. She was taken away for critical care. I don't know where. I was just told she was being taken. The doctors have your number. They said they'd contact you."


    The word burned on his tongue but didn't slip free.

    Aya-chan was gone, without a vision. That could only mean one thing. Manx had her.

    No no no.

    They had been so close to getting everyone safely and then the scales had been tipped against them. With Manx as an opponent to block against Crawford's vision, they were a step behind. Manx had the upper hand. She snatched away what Aya held dearest. The terrible thing was, Manx held no real concern over his sister's life. Whether she was killed or kept alive, Manx knew Aya would come for her. She didn't have to do anything to lure him in- and why should she keep Aya-chan alive when there was still a slight chance Schwarz and rogue Weiß could get her back?

    He tasted bile and blood; he had bitten his lower lip until the teeth had broken the surface of his skin.

    "Aya, snap out of it," Yohji's voice urged him. Aya pulled himself away from his friend's grip and turned to face him, eyes blank. Schuldich entered the doorway behind Yohji and took in the scene with a jade glance. He then turned his attention on Aya.

    "Nagi was signed out formally just fifteen minutes ago."

    Fifteen minutes. That was seven minutes before Crawford had gotten the vision.

    "They took her," Aya said, even though it was unnecessary.

    "We have what we need," Schuldich told him. "Now we have to get back." There was a faraway look to his eyes as he talked, showing he was communicating mentally with someone. Crawford, perhaps. Aya didn't know. At the moment, he didn't care. He felt hollow. He felt cold.

    "What did we need?" Yohji asked, breaking his grudge against the man in favor of a determined sort of curiosity, and Aya was aware of a warmth at the small of his back- Yohji's hand, a support.

    Schuldich's eyes flicked over Yohji's face as he briefly debated whether or not it was worth his time to tell the man. He finally did, but only because it would benefit Aya as well to hear. "There is a computer file on the move. If your hacker is any good, that is a traceable thing."

    Yohji looked back towards Aya, who hadn't reacted to the news. He slid his arm upwards to rest on his shoulder. "Daijoubu, Aya," he whispered softly.

    Daijoubu...Daijoubu...What a lie. Aya's eyes slid shut.

    ~Brad...I'm so cold.~


    Omi looked up a bit nervously when Crawford entered the room. The American studied the boy for a short moment before speaking. "Come with me." Omi hesitated. "Nagi and Aya's sister have been taken from the hospital." The boy went deathly pale at the news. "They left behind one piece of evidence. You are going to use that to find them."

    Omi swallowed visibly. "I...can try," he offered.

    Crawford turned and moved towards the computer room. He heard the couch creak and the soft padding of shoes against the carpet as Omi followed. Crawford opened the door and entered first, gesturing to the seat before the computer. Omi sat down, eyes going over the various equipment. He was obviously impressed by everything they had. With the amount of money they made, Schwarz could afford a lot of electronic 'toys' Nagi used to ensure jobs would run smoothly. Crawford knew how much money Weiß made, and it was pathetic compared to the Schwarz paycheck.

    Crawford reached past Omi and typed in a six digit password that allowed the locked system to open. Only he and Nagi knew the code.

    "In the hospital's mainframe you will find an order filed for Nagi's move. I trust you know what to do with that information."

    Omi nodded wordlessly, eyes on the screen as he tried to adjust to a different operating system. Crawford left him there to do his work and returned to the living room. Not long afterwards he heard the door open. Schuldich entered first, with Aya behind him and Yohji in the rear. "He's working on it," he told Aya.

    Aya made his way towards the room where Omi was. His eyes were dead, and Crawford followed his progress. Yohji followed him, not wanting to be left alone with the two black assassins and to continue to be a support. Schuldich stepped up alongside Crawford. "Only one order," the German said. "Two moves, but one order. The nurses know about his sister, but they haven't filed it because the doctors will supposedly send them a confirmation when she's settled." Schuldich turned his eyes on Crawford. "They were done at different times, with the girl first."

    Crawford did not answer for several moments, digesting this news. They were done by different people, obviously. The conclusion he could draw from this was that Manx was not going to underestimate her ex-team and let the dispatched unit guard both hostages. Whoever she'd sent out would guard one, and she would hold the one she considered more important. "And Ken?" he finally asked, and waited while Schuldich sent out a mental wave.

    "Still safe in the other hospital."

    Crawford turned away from Schuldich and headed towards the computer room. Aya was standing right behind Omi's chair, gazing at the screen, and Yohji had taken a position off to the side. Omi winced slightly and looked up at Aya. "Aya-kun, please," the boy said. "I really can't work with you right there."

    Aya didn't move; he probably didn't even hear the words. Yohji started to move to go over to Aya, but Crawford got there first. He lightly gripped Aya's elbow and turned the man away. For the first time since Aya had gotten home, he looked directly at Crawford and met his eyes. He looked so empty inside, but there was a cold fiery anger swirling in those amethyst eyes. Crawford felt pain squeeze at his heart.

    "It's not good for you to be here," he told Aya, quietly but soothingly. He was aware of Yohji's eyes following their every move. Omi had returned to scouring the intricate programs and codes of the hospital mainframe. "He will tell you when he finds something, but it's going to take a while." Aya started to shake his head. "It's going to take him a while." He slid his hand up from the elbow to rub up and down lightly on Aya's upper arm. "Come on."

    Aya hesitated, then obeyed and moved towards the door. Crawford followed him out and stopped him halfway down the hall to swallow him in a one armed embrace, the best he could do. He didn't care who saw them. All that mattered now was trying to comfort his lover. Aya was shivering, but whether it was from a barely contained rage or from shock Crawford didn't know. The light tremors vibrated against him as Aya burrowed his face in Crawford's shirt, seeking warmth. "She's going to kill her," he said flatly. "I know she is. She's going to kill her."

    "Hush," Crawford tried to soothe him. "Don't give up already."

    "It was different before," Aya continued, not paying any heed to Crawford's words. "Before, Manx was on our side. We had a full team. Aya-chan's life wasn't at risk. Neither you nor Schreiend was interested in killing her. You needed her alive. Manx doesn't."

    "It's going to be all right," Crawford said firmly. Aya didn't respond. Crawford said nothing else, merely continued to hold Aya close and try to reassure the younger man.


    It wasn't until 9:00 that evening that Omi left the room. His head was pounding with a severe headache as he entered the living room, tired and strained eyes taking in the scene. Yohji was sitting in the lone chair. Crawford, Aya, and Schuldich were sitting on the couch, and Farfarello sat on the ground in front of Schuldich, leaning back to rest between the German's spread legs. Omi could have sworn that Aya was leaning against Crawford slightly. He yawned and rubbed his eyes. When he looked back, Aya had straightened and was gazing at him with hollow amethyst eyes.

    "All right," Omi began, rubbing his arms to get the blood circulating through his aching muscles. "From the hospital I managed to get the computer signal that authorized the move, and from there get an address. I checked it with the list in Kritiker's database and it matched out. The address is for a club called Neon Love, and it serves as headquarters for another unit. It's about an hour and a half away at the edge of another Kritiker district. They are the unit that has targeted us, as they are the closest one, and they are the ones who will know where Nagi- and maybe Aya-chan- is." He sighed softly. It had been extremely tricky to get through the loopholes his opposing hacker had left. All he wanted to do now was sleep and give his brain a rest.

    "So we go to the club and confront them." Yohji shrugged.

    "We can't have all six of us just barge in there," Omi said, frowning. "They wouldn't let me in anyway, because I'm underaged. My thought is that four should handle the unit while two retrieve Nagi." As he spoke he glanced warily towards Crawford and Schuldich, uncomfortable at offering suggestions as to how to lead a mission to Schwarz. Schuldich coughed softly in sounded suspiciously like a laugh and Omi had the distinct feeling that the German was amused by his thoughts.

    Aya flicked his fingers for Omi to continue, sending Schuldich a hooded look. Omi went on. "I will be one of the two that goes after Nagi, since I'm too young to get into the club."

    Yohji frowned, eyes going warily towards the three Schwarz Aya had surrounded himself with. "But who would go with you?"

    Omi paused, debating the question mentally. If Yohji went, that left Aya with the rest of Schwarz. If Aya went, Yohji would be stuck with Schwarz. If Schwarz came, he'd be accompanied by one of them. The thought made him uneasy. He'd been told by Nagi that his team mates were not monsters like Omi was sure they were, but that didn't make him automatically accept them.

    "Crawford," Aya answered. The American glanced towards him, holding Aya's gaze. "You're wounded," Aya said. "A broken arm will stand out in a club. Besides," and now Aya turned to meet Omi's eyes, "that will evenly split up our two units."

    Omi nodded.

    That decided, Aya stood, turning to face Crawford. "Now," he said, and his voice was quiet but hard. Some of the deadness had faded from his eyes, and they gleamed with an unhealthy shade of ice. "I need a sword."

Part 12