Part Fourteen: Peace's Fate

    "I've been waiting for you," Manx said evenly, eyes cold despite her smile. "I knew you'd come here. The Nautical unit has never been able to match Omi's superb hacking skills. He always had a knack for this sort of things." She lifted one shoulder in a delicate shrug. "It was easy to see that you would take the only path available and seek out both the unit and your precious teammate. You, being the wounded one, would most likely end up coming here."

    "Your powers of deduction are astounding," Crawford replied dryly.

    She laughed softly and gave a small shake of her head. "I almost had the boy killed, you know. I did not see why we should waste our efforts in securing a transport for him. I'm lucky I thought to make arrangements just in case. It turns out I needed him."

    "Because you do not have Aya-chan."

    "Correct." Briefly Manx's lips twisted into a scowl before she was able to control her expression again. "I don't know how you managed to pull that off. I've had a team of some of the best hackers watching the tedious computer transactions that had been leading up to Aya-chan's move, where you would take her and bring her out of my immediate clutches. I struck when I knew you still did not have time to finalize everything, yet she was already gone. You could not have foreseen it. I know you cannot see me."

    Crawford allowed himself a thin-lipped smile. "You were betrayed by someone on the inside, the same way you betrayed Weiß. We do not have her. Until recently, we believed you had taken her." Manx considered the unpleasant news in silence. Crawford could see the flicker in her eyes as she digested his words. Her smile twitched again, and he could sense her bitterness. "You will not remain in power much longer now that someone else has found you out. You cannot win."

    "I can!" Manx said sharply. There was violence bubbling within her; Crawford could see it as she struggled to contain it. He was facing a very dangerous woman. "I will not give up until all four of you are dead. If I have to kill others that get in my way, so be it."

    "You must hate us very much indeed if you were willing you risk your prized unit."

    "Oh," Manx whispered, exhaling a shaky breath. Her hand tightened on the gun, and he could see it shaking slightly as she fought to control her urge to pull the trigger. "_Yes_. You can't understand how long I've waited for this day. You stole the two people I cared for away from me. My sister was in a unit that you so easily took out years ago. Your psycho Irishman," and here she was forced to place her second hand on the gun as well, "killed her. With him, death was slow and truly an escape."

    Crawford did not remember that incident in detail; he had not cared enough to hang onto it, and Farfarello had killed countless people. He calmly checked the oversight he'd made. He had most likely known of the victim's relationship with Manx, but at the time he had not known that Manx could get around him and hadn't cared.

    "Farfarello is a restless person," Crawford told her, tone careless.

    Manx's eyes narrowed. "And then Shuiichi..."

    "We did not kill him."

    "No." She gave a shake of her head. "But that bastard you protected did. You were bodyguards for a madman. Your presence made it difficult to exact revenge. And then I wasn't even the one that got to kill him; Weiß had to do it. Because of that, I have felt no rest. I will not have peace until those that contributed to Shuiichi's death are dead. I will settle for killing you four, the demons of death."

    Crawford regarded her in silence for several moments. ~Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,~ he mused absently.

    "A touching story," he murmured, leaning against the gurney. "Truly."

    She bared her teeth at him in a twisted smile. "Oh, but you didn't ever worry about me, did you? You never realized I could actually be a danger to your group. You didn't notice, but I did, and so did Svenska. When he offered me the chance to get rid of you, it was too good to pass up." She paused, taking a deep breath in an attempt to calm herself. "Yes, it put Weiß at risk. If they lived, fine. If they didn't, they could be replaced. Weiß had been slowly tearing at the seams. Units are only useful as long as their inner pains give them fuel to keep killing. It has been a long time since they settled their pasts. And _somehow_ amnesia and time with Schwarz completely snapped the fracture between the most diligent assassin of the group and us." At those words Crawford allowed himself a thin smile. "Tell me," Manx demanded. "How did you manage to get such a fierce bond from a man who never offered anything but an icy exterior to Weiß? What did you have that could get his trust and loyalty?"

    The glint in Crawford's eyes was mocking and superior. "That," he said softly, "is one answer you will never know or understand."

    Manx lifted one shoulder in an annoyed shrug. "I expected as much, but it was worth a try. Now then..." Her lips stretched back into a satisfied smile. "Do you have anything else to say before you die?"

    Crawford let his thoughts flow backwards, organizing everything that had happened so far. Suddenly he felt a great weight lift from his chest as the final pieces fell into place and he he _knew_. His ghost of a smile firmed and he almost felt like laughing.

    He had seen the gun fire.

    He had won.

    "No. I do not."


    Omi's head jerked up when he heard the single gunshot. His heart leapt into his throat and he pulled away from Nagi, grabbing his crossbow. Had a guard managed to slip past them? He darted to the doorway, pushing the door open slightly to peer out. The lights in the hall were still off. He could see a dark shape moving at the end of the hall, and he reached down to lightly test the dart in his bow. He heard the thud of a body hitting the floor, but he could not see who fell. He narrowed his eyes, squinting through the dimness. The one standing had long hair; it was a woman.


    Alarm raced through his veins. He glanced back at Nagi and pushed the door open enough to lift his bow. It was difficult to aim in the dark, but he was sure he had a good aim. "Freeze!" he called out.

    The figure moved, reaching towards the doorway. Omi felt his muscles tighten in response to the movement. Before he could release the dart, however, the hall light was turned on. His eyes widened as he found himself meeting Birman's gaze. A gun was held in one hand; the other rested on the lightswitch in the hall. Her eyes were not on him, but stared at the ground. Omi lowered his bow slightly. Whose side was Birman on?

    "What are you doing here?" he demanded.

    "My job," was Birman's reply.

    There was the soft rumble of a masculine voice, but Omi was too far away to make out the words. He did recognize the voice, however, and relaxed. Crawford was still alive, and he didn't sound like he was in pain. Then who...? He padded forward, lowering the bow only slightly, wary eyes going from Birman to the doorway. When he was several feet away he could see high heels. Another step brought him into full view of the one who had been shot. Manx was sprawled on the ground, blood slowly seeping into the fibers of the carpet. Her red hair was drenched from a head wound; she had never known what had hit her. A gun lay fallen beside one outstretched hand.

    "Birman...?" Omi asked, looking up at her.

    She spared him a brief glance before turning her attention on Crawford, who was watching her. They studied each other in silence. Omi's eyes traced Manx's form. He felt a swirling mix of both satisfaction and regret; he had known Manx for most of his life.

    "You took a risk by snatching Aya-chan from underneath her nose," Crawford finally said, breaking the silence.

    "You figured it out." Birman offered a faint smile of acknowledgement. "I was counting on that in case I didn't make it here in time. It would not have been good if you faced Manx with a disadvantage."

    "Birman?" Omi asked, startled. "You kidnapped Aya-chan?"

    She gave a slight shrug of her shoulders. "I had no choice. I was in charge of the team monitoring your actions to move her. When I realized what Manx had done and was trying to do, I had to act." She looked down at her friend, and both sorrow and determination flickered across her face. "Justice is no longer justice when it is made personal," she said quietly.

    "But Crawford...You only saw one kidnapping. Can Birman slip past you, too?"

    "Iie," the American denied. "A couple of nights ago I had a vision of an empty bed, with the sheets rumpled and flower petals scattered across its surface. Today I had the second vision of an empty bed with Nagi being taken from it. At first I did not count them as two separate visions, but as one. A few moments ago I realized they had been two."

    "I had to make a mess of Aya-chan's bed," Birman added to Omi. "Manx's group would clean up behind themselves. I was trying to make a distinction between the two hostages."

    Omi could not think of a reply to that. His mind was reeling from the new information and he took a step back, bow dropping to rest at his side. ~Manx is dead.~ That meant they were safe now, didn't it?

    Manx turned her attention back on Crawford. "I alerted several of the staffs to Manx's corruption. One is holding Aya-chan safely. You may have her, but only if both Weiß and Schwarz cease their activities and refrain from doing anything that might make them possible targets."

    "I do not see bloodshed in our futures," Crawford's answered. "Perhaps we have gone as far as we wish to go."

    Birman smiled again, an odd and half-sided smile that was regretful, yet satisfied. "I never thought there would be a day that I would give a damn about the life of a Schwarz," she said. "And truly, I hold no affection for you. The only reason I helped you was because of Weiß. Aya sees something in you that no one else could or wanted to see, and his teammates trusted him enough to leave us for you. Now I will have to trust you to take care of them."

    "If we had wanted to hurt any of them, we would have started the day of the explosion."

    She acknowledged this with a slight nod. "Shall we return Aya-chan to her hospital for you?"

    "No. We will come and pick her up, and that is the last you will see of us."

    "I understand."

    It took Omi a moment to understand what Crawford had just said; the statement that the eight were going to disappear was sudden. And yet...It was the most practical thing for them to do. This city held too many memories and enemies. He closed his eyes, wondering where they would go next. Would they still stay together? Would they find a nice new place to live? Would Ken accept the companionship they had gained with Schwarz?

    A hand touched his shoulder and soft lips pressed a warm kiss to his forehead. He opened his eyes to see Birman smiling at him. "Sayonara, little Bombay," she whispered.

    He could form no response, but managed to nod and a return her smile. She brushed past him. He turned to watch her go. She didn't look back as she made her way down the hall, and didn't turn when she stepped on the elevator. The doors closed, and Omi realized he had just seen Birman for the last time.

    A warm feeling rushed through him, making his fingertips tingle. Suddenly he felt relaxed and light. ~We are all free now,~ he thought incredulously. ~I do not have to kill anymore. I will never have to raise a weapon again.~

    And he laughed.

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