Part Thirteen: Final Positions

    The hidden door revealed a staircase leading up to a vast room that was apparently used as mission quarters. Aya's eyes swept across the room, taking in the chairs, computer, and television set. The other unit was flopped around the place, most likely trying to wind down from their latest mission of snatching Nagi. He stepped forward, shoes muffled by the carpet.

    Neither he, nor his companions as they joined him, went unnoticed. There was a startled silence as the other four registered their presence before the closest one bolted from his chair to make a grab at a discarded handgun.

    Schuldich was barely more than a flicker as he crossed the room to deal a powerful blow to the offending assassin's back. The man fell to his knees and Schuldich picked up the dropped weapon, kicking the man away. He pointed the gun towards the unit, mouth curved into a smirk. "Let's not have any of that, ja?" he drawled lazily.

    Two exchanged glances before turning their wary attention on Aya's group. Aya lightly tapped the tip of his blade against the ground. "If no one moves, no one will be killed," he spoke calmly.

    "What are you here for?" one man asked, tilting his head to one side to study Aya through messy bangs.

    "We are here to retrieve what belongs to us," Schuldich answered simply, cocking a hip and resting his free hand on it. "You took something of ours. Didn't anyone ever teach you that it's not nice to take what doesn't belong to you?"

    "So?" another challenged, lifting his chin defiantly. "We do not care. Justice _will_ be brought to you. You will be stopped."

    "Justice?" Schuldich asked, and laughed loudly, the mocking sound echoing in the room. "There is no such thing. You Kritiker units have all been brainwashed to think of yourselves as honorable. How bravely you move to accept your missions, yet you skulk through them while hiding behind shields that declare your intentions to be noble. There is no justice; it is a fantasy created by weak minds."

    The man's lip curled in a sneer. "How easily and calmly you dismiss what you do not understand. We know all about you. We know how dangerous and evil you are."

    Yohji laughed once, a soft and bitter sound that drew all eyes to him. "You know all about us?" he challenged softly. "Dangerous, yes, we are very dangerous. Anyone trained by Kritiker is bound to be. But evil? There is no evil here. I have killed, yes. I have killed countless people. I have widowed and orphaned. I have destroyed both the innocent and the stained, same as you, and I have done it under the mask of righteousness that Kritiker offered." Yohji, seemingly unaware of the seven pairs of eyes on him, focused solely on the younger man across from him. Aya watched Yohji intently. "You know all about us?" he repeated, and shook his head slightly. "Do you see everything? Do you see the weariness etched into our bones and souls? We have been killing for so long; we have a boy among us who has been raised to kill. We are old souls in young bodies who have seen far too much. And I, for one, am sick of it." He lifted a hand and curled his fingers into a fist. "I have seen too many die. I have had too many nightmares. I have felt too much guilt and smelled way too much blood. And does all of that suffering go to waste when Kritiker itself, the one organization I trusted for salvation, goes wrong? I am tired, and I am going to get free."

    Aya studied Yohji in the silence that followed the man's words. Yohji, after struggling against Aya's decisions and pulls, had finally cemented his decision and put his feelings into words. He had finally chosen- by will, instead of by faith- to be free.

    "There is corruption in the core of Kritiker," he said after several minutes.

    "You are the corruption," the first man spoke, but he sounded uneasy. He was watching Yohji.

    "Perhaps," Yohji agreed breezily, covering his earlier grimness with a nonchalant shrug. Aya recognized the devil-may-care mask; during the past months in which his companionship with Yohji had finally gotten somewhere, he had been able to see the way Yohji could put it on and take it off at the drop of a hat. "Time will tell and the dice will fall where they wish."

    "I suggest that, for now, you stay out of our way," Schuldich said, twirling the gun around a finger. "It would be pathetically easy to kill you."

    The four seemed to consider those words seriously. Aya watched them as they looked from his blade to Schuldich, then towards Farfarello. It was the Irishman that they gazed at the longest, and he gazed back, single eye glittering intently.

    ~There's nothing to insure they won't follow us,~ Yohji spoke up across the bond.

    /You didn't want to kill them,/ Schuldich reminded him dryly. /That is a problem easily solved, however./

    Without warning, the four collapsed. Aya saw Schuldich sway backwards slightly on his feet- not as if drunk or unstable, but more recoiling from a blow.

    "What did you do?" Yohji asked, too startled to speak across the bond.

    Schuldich absently ran a hand through Farfarello's hair. "They're just going to take a long nap and wake up with some serious headaches," he said, dismissing Yohji's concern for them. "Do not feel for them; mankind has no need for casual sentiment."

    With that, he turned to go. Farfarello followed him out, their footsteps soft on the stairs. Aya half-turned, but his eyes remained on Yohji. His teammate slowly looked towards him. There was a reluctant sort of resignation in the man's eyes as they studied each other. Finally Yohji broke the silence.

    "Whose room, Aya?" he asked, speaking hesitantly. "Whose room is across the hall from the one Omi and I are staying in?"

    Aya remained silent for several moments, adjusting to the change that had come over Yohji after the man's small speech. His free hand lifted to briefly touch his hips, fingers touching where the bruises had been. Yohji's eyes followed the movement. It seemed Yohji had finally chosen to accept this as well. He suspected that part of Yohji had guessed all along, but the man had been denying himself the chance to examine what was before him. Aya debated over the correct way to answer that question, and finally chose what he thought was best.

    "It is Brad's."

    Yohji accepted this in silence, emerald eyes flickering with unreadable emotions as Yohji considered those words and the name he had been given. He took in a deep breath and let it out again. It was shaky. "I do not understand them," Yohji said, voice low as he searched Aya's gaze. "I do not understand any of them, and I don't understand you." He gave a helpless shake of his head. "You're not the kind of person to attach yourself to just anyone, yet you've chosen them over us. I wonder why I tried so hard if the months I spent with you are hovering on the edge of a drain."

    Aya studied him thoughtfully, digesting the words. He understood what Yohji was trying to say, but he wasn't sure how to respond to it. He was dragging Weiß from the lives they'd grown so used to and was dropping them into another, and soon the time would come when the four- the team they'd been for the past several years- would go their separate ways. They were nearing a crossroads. Yohji could see which direction Aya was leaning, and the thought of losing their companionship was disturbing him.

    What did one say to that?

    Yohji had given up waiting for an answer. The man brushed past him, heading towards the stairs. Aya gazed at the fallen unit, unable to look away until he heard the first creak of Yohji's shoe on a stair. He turned quietly, wanting to say something, wanting to remain silent. By speaking he would be giving himself to Weiß, he would be acknowledging a bond to them that he had fought against.

    By remaining silent...

    His mind dwelled on the countless nights where he and Yohji had found themselves unable to sleep, on the times they'd sat drinking coffee in silence. He thought of the countless times he'd had to order Yohji out of a lazy wallow into productive work, of choking on thick cigarette smoke. He thought of the four of them after a mission, after living through something no regular person had to deal with, sitting in a circle with the smell of blood and death leaking from their clothes.

    Damn. He was not an emotional person; he did not get attached.

    Yohji wasn't looking back. He was moving down the stairs with steps that rang sharply against Aya's ears.

    Words escaped him of their own free will. "My place is not with Weiß."

    Yohji stopped halfway down the stairs but didn't look back. Aya could see his hand tighten on the railing and his head bowed slightly as he accepted Aya's words. Aya knew that that was what Yohji had been expecting.

    "That does not mean," and Aya paused until Yohji tilted his head to one side to show he was listening, "I am not a part of it."

    He could see the tension along Yohji's shoulders relax slightly. The man glanced over his shoulder at Aya and they stood in silence once more before Yohji offered a faint smile. He understood what Aya had been unable to say- his eyes reassured Aya that he knew and was comforted.

    "Let's go, ne, Abyssinian?" he asked softly.

    Aya had to look away, and busied himself by sliding his sword back into his sheathe. Yohji was waiting when he was finished. Aya moved to join him at the stairs and they descended together.


    Omi flipped on the light-switch, letting the light from the overhead bulb fill the small room. There were no windows, only a single bed containing a still figure. He crossed the room quickly to Nagi's side, reaching out to lightly touch the boy's forehead and throat. Crawford had explained to him about Nagi's condition on the trip over. It had been very reassuring; Omi had been fretting for the past several days that Nagi had fallen into a coma. He looked more peaceful asleep than he ever had awake. Omi's eyes passed over the younger assassin's face and he allowed himself a small sigh of relief.

    The trip had been almost too easy. They had no trouble at all getting past the night staff and guards. This floor was closed down for the night, and a quick tinkering downstairs had disabled the security cameras, leaving them free to enter.

    Crawford scanned the boy's appearance briefly, checking for any changes in his state, then disappeared from the room. Omi guessed he was going to find a cart to take Nagi out of there with. It would be a lot easier if the American didn't have a broken arm; he was sure Crawford would have been able to carry Nagi. He glanced over his shoulder at the open doorway before looking back towards Nagi. His heart was beginning to slow down from the race it had been on ever since he received the news about the kidnapping. Now his hands were trembling. He chided himself silently, trying to calm them by putting them to work. He pulled the sheets away from Nagi, folding them gently by the foot of the bed, and sat beside the boy's form.

    ~I have you back,~ he thought softly to the other boy, though he knew Nagi could not hear him. A soft smile curved his lips as he reached out, touching Nagi's cheek tenderly. ~I'm so silly; I know I am. You called me silly. You told me I was naive.~ Now his hand trailed down to curl around Nagi's, and he laced his fingers through the limp hand. ~But I'm not, not really. I meant what I said. When you wake up, I will prove it to you.~


    Crawford carefully cleared the items from the gurney, setting the boxes aside neatly. One hostage down, one to go. He gave a mental sigh. He could not accept the fact that he hadn't seen Aya's imouto disappearing. He knew why; he knew it was due to Manx's annoying gift. Still...He felt like he'd let the redhead down. It was a disturbing thing to feel. He'd never felt as if he'd disappointed someone before. He had never cared.

    Did she still live? That was an important question. More importantly, where did Manx hide her? Would they be able to find her? Would she be safe? He knew Aya would be heartbroken and shattered if his sister were to die. He had wrapped his entire life and existence around her for so long. Manx knew this and was using this. It was a cruel blow. And although Crawford knew he would have done the same thing if he had not gotten attached to Aya like he had, under these circumstances, he did not like it at all.

    Something was bothering him; something was itching at the back of his mind. Before he could get hold of it, a brief vision flickered across his senses: the sharp crack of a gun, followed by crimson blood flowing thickly into the carpet. Red hair, coated with blood, lay at his feet.

    When his vision had cleared, he realized he had swayed on his feet and was holding the gurney for balance. A dark sort of dread settled on his heart as he went back over the images slowly. His breath felt thick in his throat as his hands clutched the cart in a death grip. Blood and red hair. Surely not...Aya's face flickered in his mind. The vision had to be wrong somehow.

    Stark realization swept away the images.


    Flower petals!

    The scrape of a shoe on the ground sounded in his ears and he turned slowly. Standing in the doorway, leaning against the frame and dressed smartly in a short black dress, stood Manx. There was a smile on her face as she gazed at him, arm extended and hand holding a primed gun trained on his figure.

    "Good evening, Crawford."

Part 14