Part Three: Wary Face-off

    The air hung thick with silence and tension. Aya stood against one wall while Manx stood against the other. The lights were off but the room was lit by the dim glow coming from Omi's mission computer. It was enough to accent Manx's stern features. Her eyes took him in silently, examined his face and searched his gaze. Her arms were crossed tightly over her chest. Everything about her said that she was wary of this confrontation. Aya couldn't blame her. The last time he'd spoken to her had been on the phone, when he'd called her and talked for a few moments. Then he'd been speaking in half-sentences as he'd sought answers to questions he couldn't dare ask her, questions about Schwarz and Crawford. Before that, he'd arrived at a Kritiker base with a smile on his face and Crawford at his elbow.

    Aya wasn't looking forward to this either, but he kept his expression stony. Through the silence he was aware of a quiet sound: the ticking of a watch. He could hear its second hand moving. His eyes slid in that direction, seeking in. When he looked away, he heard Manx gather her breath.

    "It would perhaps be better if we sat," she said finally, her voice clear and ringing with authority. "This is going to be a lengthy talk."

    "Mm," he answered distractedly. Who in this house owned a non-electronic watch? He turned in that direction and padded away. Manx paused from where she'd stepped forward to sit down, watching him go. He stopped by Omi's desk. Tick...tick...tick...Just like the clock from the library the day Schuldich and Farfarello had gotten back together. The day he had convinced Crawford to go to a movie theater and to eat out. Only now could he appreciate exactly what he'd made Crawford do, now that he could remember how Crawford acted and lived.

    His fingers found a small watch and he picked it up, holding it between his forefinger and thumb. It was a small watch for a small wrist. Omi, then? Iie...This wasn't Omi's watch. He paused, debating, then slid it into his pocket and turned bck to Manx. She had gone ahead and taken a seat, and now gazed at him with a cool expression. He met her eyes and approached her, taking the seat opposite her. A small coffee table was in between them.

    They were no longer standing, but remained at a face off.

    It was his clear message to her that he was going to fight her. She regarded him silently for several moments, then laced her fingers together in her lap. She leaned back into a seemingly relaxed pose, letting her back rest against the large pillow that was in the corner she sat in. Her eyes were serious as she began. "Five days ago, almost six, the building Weiß was in exploded and collapsed. Start from there and tell me what happened."

    It was Aya's turn to study her in silence, then he slowly leaned back and let himself sink into the thick cushion of the chair. It was Yohji's chair, the man's favorite chair. He'd brought it home one day with the declaration that he'd found true love at last. The other three, including Aya, had found it to be the most comfortable piece of furniture they owned, so it was generally a race between his three team mates to see who could get down to the chair first. Yohji had great fun tipping Ken and Omi out of it. He'd tipped Aya once as well when he'd come down to find Aya reading in it after work.

    There was a slight change in Manx's expression when she saw his relaxed position. She saw him like Weiß saw him- as a rigid and reserved man. Schwarz now saw him as the mostly relaxed man named Ran. Now he was a mix between the two personalities. How long would it take Weiß- and Kritiker- to realize that? "I woke up to find myself isolated with Crawford. He knew the way out, but his arm was broken. He knew he wouldn't get very far with only one hand, so he brought me along with him."

    "You went with him?"

    "It was go or be killed. The ceiling above us was made up of collapsed floors, all balancing temporarily. Places were starting to give out, so we knew it wouldn't be long before the whole thing gave way. I made the choice and we called tempoarary truce."

    "Mm," was all she said in reply.

    Aya skimmed ahead, going through the events and deciding how to word them. For example, the way he had pulled Crawford along with him out of the building. His reason for that action was very simple and but complicated at the same time. It was the honorable thing to do. Crawford had saved him, so he had saved the other man. Then there was the added notion that they were the ones who opposed each other greatest within the groups. Weiß and Schwarz mirrored each other to pair off to those that were their opposites, and Crawford had been Aya's. It was Aya's unspoken job to finish off Crawford. That wasn't for the building to do.

    "We found a hallway leading out and managed to make it through the rubble. As we went, the hall began collapsing. It was hard going for Crawford because of the loss of one arm, so I helped to drag him through." Manx's lips curled into a frown at that admission, and her eyes narrowed ever so slightly. "It was my way of repaying him for getting me out of the building. I was struck by some of the chunks and knocked unconscious right before we made it to the exit. When I woke again, there were sirens going off and we were outside. I didn't know what was going on, who I was, or where I was. I saw that the man beside me on the grass was injured, though, and woke him up. His face was the only thing I could think of that was familiar, so I asked to accompany him when we left."

    "And you came to a Kritiker hospital," Manx continued. "How did you get there if you didn't remember anything?"

    "Crawford knew the way. I drove."

    "How did he know?"

    Aya lifted one shoulder in a dismissing shrug. Manx's frown deepened at the movement- for what it stood for and because she hadn't seen him shrug before. "They have a telepath on their team, Manx. Schuldich knew from the beginning who we were and where we lived, and everything about us. We didn't know of him then, so our minds were easier than ever to read. He probably found the place and told Crawford about it."

    "..." Manx closed her eyes for a moment, then reopened them. "Continue."

    "The hospital staff tended to Crawford and myself, and we left."

    "Why?" She pressed, pouncing on that statement. "The doctors returned to find you missing. Why didn't you stay there?"

    A wisp of a sardonic smile curved the corner of his mouth. "I did not trust the place. Its whole atmosphere made me uneasy. I did not like the doctors nor you. There was something about you that told me you were dangerous and unpredictable. I asked Crawford to leave and he agreed."

    "Of course he did." There was a tinge of anger in her words. "He was saved from an exploding building by a member of Weiß who had amnesia, who asked to travel with him, and who asked to stay with him. If one of Schwarz staggered in here without a memory, we'd take advantage of him the same way."

    One strong contrast stuck out, blaring white against the black of her words. It made something inside of Aya's stomach curl with revulsion. ~Except...We would have hurt him, and they didn't hurt me. If Schuldich had come, we would have used him to find out everything we could: all weaknesses, all secrets, all fears. Then we would turn on him and use what he'd done to take down the rest of Schwarz.~

    ~Crawford did not harm me because he looked upon me with amusement. I can see that now, when I look back into my memory. I was entertainment while he recovered. Schuldich accepted me for the same reason, and Farfarello went along with Schuldich. I was allowed to do what I wanted and they never bothered me or demanded anything of me.~

    Manx flicked her fingers, anger fading as quickly as it had come to leave her cool and detached again. "Continue."

    "We found a hotel and chose to stay there while our wounds recovered."

    She waited for him to elaborate on that point, but he didn't. She considered her options and her questions, then decided on a separate course. "The rest of Schwarz- when did they come in?"

    "A couple days after us. Schuldich managed to find Crawford by doing a mindsweep of Tokyo to find his face. The minds led him and Farfarello straight to us." Useful gift, actually.

    /Glad you approve./

    ~Snooping, Schuldich?~ Aya asked dryly.

    /Me, snoop?/ Schuldich returned with feigned distaste. /Nein, nein, nothing so trivial. You mentioned my name in your thoughts so I came to see why you're thinking of me. Miss my loud mouth already?/


    /Ch'./ He felt Schuldich slip out.

    Manx was waiting, and Aya realized she had asked him a question. "Repeat?" he asked.

    Her lips thinned. "I asked how those two reacted to finding you there."

    Aya recalled the way he'd greeted Schuldich, with cheery relief. The clipped tones with which Crawford had told him about his teammate had been hurtful to hear. While Crawford hadn't shown it, he'd known the American was not feeling well about the other man's absence. How loud Schuldich had laughed upon his arrival! "Schuldich was amused. He was warned off of bothering me by Crawford, however, and he abided by that rule. Farfarello wasn't pleased by my presence but didn't attempt to harm me."

    "I find that hard to believe. You were in an apartment with three members of Schwarz and none of them bothered you?"

    He met her gaze steadily. "Aa. The only time they irritated me was when Schuldich brought me to visit the Koneko no Sumu Ie and I realized that I was supposed to remember the man who was on duty. Other than that, they left me alone. They were more concerned, I believe, with regaining their footing. What happened to them was quite a shock to their arrogance and confidence."

    Her frown twisted briefly into an amused and satisfied smile. "I'm sure it did. It probably rankled Crawford deeply that he didn't see that explosion coming." She tilted her head to one side, thinking over everything they'd said and finding out where to go next. "You were gone for several days. What did you do to keep yourself occupied?"

    He figured he could leave out the part about dancing at a club. "I went to the library and a theater. I visited the hospital. I went to the flower shop. I had someone with me at all times when I left the hotel until the day I woke up with my memories back."

    Her next question came quickly. "The day you got your memories back- what triggered that? Was it something that took place? Something important? Something you saw? Perhaps something on the news?"

    ~She left off the option, 'sleeping with the enemy'.~

    "They just came back. By then the shock from the explosion had worn off enough."

    She digested his reply and they were quiet for a few minutes. Finally she spoke again. "You should know that I know you're leaving bits out."

    "Of course," he affirmed. "Some of what happened is just tedious."

    "Like what? When examining Schwarz, nothing is tedious. We have yet to find a way to take them down. You got the most in-depth view into their life anyone has ever received. Tell me what you found out- everything."

    ~Like that Schuldich and Farfarello are lovers? That Crawford and _I_ are lovers? That Crawford likes to watch the morning news, Schuldich likes taking up the entire couch when channel surfing, and Farfarello can be entertained for hours if he lies on top of the counter with a blender? You want me to tell you that Schuldich is still injured from the explosion and takes pain killers that cause extreme drowsiness? That Crawford knows of three food places that serve American food- proof that he's gone out to them before? That Farfarello is very possessive of Schuldich and is easily jealous?~

    Aya tilted his head to one side. "They like yakisoba and rice balls."

    Manx was silent at his reply. He spoke it simply and without any inflection, but it was enough to tell her that he wouldn't tell her what he knew. She leaned forward and linked her fingers together again. "You are hiding something from me. I don't know what it is, but I can guess. You have pride. Sometimes, you have too much pride. I can see why they would not try to extract information from you through interrogation or torture- with your mind swiped, it would be useless. That doesn't mean that they wouldn't hurt you just for the hell of it. Yohji saw you yesterday morning. He said you were highly out of it and you were walking like you'd been beaten badly."

    Walking like he'd been...?

    Ah...The night before, he'd lost his virginity to Crawford. He wouldn't tell her that. He couldn't.

    She saw his expression close off, and her own face turned serious. He knew that, by his silence, he was letting her draw her own conclusions- none of which were good. Her next words confirmed that she'd taken it to mena that he'd been physically abused. In what aspect, she didn't know. "Aya, we have counselors that can help you. You can talk to them. Several of our other agents have been beaten or tortured. You cannot draw that into yourself or you will hurt yourself further. You don't need to think you owe them anything for taking care of you. What you're feeling is just misplaced gratitude that appeared when you were without memories."

    Crawford torture him?

    Iie. Crawford had sheltered him when he'd been confused. The man had made no moves. It had been Aya that had taken the first step and had kissed him. It had been Aya that had sought to make Crawford laugh. It had been Aya that had asked Crawford to take him. It had been Aya that had pleaded with him so ferverently that night, pleaded to be touched and loved and taken.

    He stood, eyes cold. "I do not do anything off of gratitude, Manx."

    She tried to interrupt him. "Aya..."

    He continued. "Whether you accept it or not, I was not a prisoner of Schwarz. I came and went as I pleased. It was my choice to return here upon getting my memories back. They made no move to stop me. They let me do as I wished and followed along behind. Do you know why?" Manx could only shake her head soundlessly. "While they were amused by the things I did when I was Ran, they never once tried to use me or make me do something I didn't wish to do. They didn't judge me as the person they saw me as. They did not come and treat me like a pawn to carry out what they wanted. I did _not_ return to this place for Kritiker. I returned for my own reasons. I do not need your counselors, I do not need your help, I do not need your reasons or assumptions or questions."

    With that, he turned on his heel and started for the stairs. The couch creaked as Manx stood. "Aya," she called after him. "We're not done."

    He didn't look back to her and he didn't reply until he reached the door. "Yes. We are." He stepped out of the basement and closed the door silently behind him. Yohji and Omi were in the kitchen, debating quietly over who was going to make lunch and what it was going to be. They looked up and quieted as he entered. He ignored them as he went to get a cup. Their eyes followed him as he poured himself a drink. As he returned the juice pitcher to the fridge, the door to the basement creaked. Manx appeared in the doorway. Aya could see her out of the corner of his eye, but he didn't turn to face her.

    "Omi," she said, beckoning to the boy. "Come with me. It's your turn." She waited while Omi stood, her eyes straying to Aya. He continued to ignore her. Finally she left, Omi behind her. When Aya heard the basement door click, he set down his empty glass. Yohji didn't say anything, and silence fell over the kitchen once more.


    Aya pulled the watch out of his pocket and let it sit in his hand so that the face was on his palm and the straps hung off the sides. He watched the hands tick for a while.


    He closed his hand over the watch again and returned it to the pocket of his pants, then turned to face Yohji. Yohji was watching him with a neutral expression, worry lurking in the backs of his green eyes. "There's a pot of gardenias on one of the tables that needs to be repotted. If you have nothing else to do, you can do that."

    Yohji was quiet, letting the masked dismissal register. Finally he stood and left the room. Aya twirled his empty glass on the counter top, keeping it upright with his index and middle fingers. His eyes drifted around the room and landed on the clock. It was lunch time. Neither of the other two wanted to make lunch, and he had nothing else to do.

    He began arranging pans on the stove.

Part 4