[identity profile] skyrat13.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] theblackcross
Yohji paused at the top of the stairs. He had expected Ken to have returned with Omi by now. What was taking them so long? He wondered at Manx's intentions, had she gestured for them to retreat to the basement intending to corner his younger teammates? Had she assumed, like him, that the mission room was about to be vacated? He wasn't sure how much he'd have to say to their former liaison knowing that he would be overheard. There was only one topic at the front of Yohji's mind, and that topic was currently at the bottom of the stairs.

Maybe he should have suggested they go to his room instead.

Manx would have totally taken that the wrong way.

He frowned and descended anyway.

Date: 2009-08-21 04:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] celtic-kitsune.livejournal.com
Omi came running up the stairs pausing when he could see the top, and Yohji. "Yohji-kun?" He said glancing behind the older man to see if Manx was there or still perhaps in the kitchen?

Date: 2009-08-21 04:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bcmanx.livejournal.com
Manx followed Yohji down the steps. Upon hearing Omi's voice a small smile crossed her lips. She paused for a moment then leaned to the side to catch sight of him on the stairs below.

"We have much to discuss..." Her tone was the same as if she were here delivering mission specification from Persia. Perhaps it was a small bit of nostalgia coloring her demeanor but she saw no harm in it.

The things they had to discuss were another matter entirely, though.
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Date: 2009-08-22 06:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] celtic-kitsune.livejournal.com
Omi looked at Manx and nodded but he couldn't stop himself from smiling a bit at her. "Come on down then." He said to her turning around to head back down the stairs only pausing to look over his shoulder and see if Manx and Yohji were coming down.

Date: 2009-08-23 04:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bcmanx.livejournal.com
Manx followed Yohji down the steps, skirting to the side to assume what had been her usual, non-commital position just beside the stairs. She had always put more effort into remaining detached when she had reason to visit. One look at Omi, at the hopeful smile beaming across his face, was more than enough reason to remind her why she had.

But she was no longer their handler. She was not here on some Kritiker sanctioned chore. She dipped her head with a reticent smile for herself, crossed to the couch and made herself comfortable.

She looked each of them over letting her smile grow with a chuckle and a shake of her head at herself. "It is so good to see all of you still together."

The psychological reports predicting each of their behaviours if or when they were returned to society were so very discouraging. They were far from an idyllic family, living here together as unlikely friends. But each of them needed the support of the others - the understanding of someone who knew exactly what they were going through.

Assassins were a unique breed - but these four were the most unique of all. They did not fit the standard profile. In fact, the 'standard profile' was more often than not the target of their missions. Persia realized that early on and despite all efforts to recreate the success of Weiss as a team, compromises always had to be made.

Shuichi called it dumb luck. Fate. Destiny. Whatever it was, they had never succeeded in recreating it. A team of assassins that retained their heart.

These three were the most amazing of finds. The most unique of circumstances bringing them together - killers with their moral compasses still fully in tact. Fujimiya had been the only wild card - the only risk. Manx just knew that once the redhead expended his anger, had his revenge, and once his sister was truly safe, deep down, he was cut from the same cloth as the rest. She had called it intuition. Shuichi had laughed from over the psychological reports predicting otherwise.

'Your intuition is a thing to be feared...'

She could still hear his laugh as he closed the folders and signed the requisitions for Aya's placement.

Her true reason for visiting was suddenly weighing heavily on her shoulders.

'Relax... I'm not here delivering a mission...' They all looked wound tight enough to snap - Ken most of all. That was an issue she'd get to after an attempt at relieving some of this tension.

"Sit." She looked to Yohji. " Tell me about this 'leverage' Schwarz has acquired."

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Date: 2009-09-01 04:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bcmanx.livejournal.com
Manx listened intently and found herself floundering in her ignorance. She was not only stationed far from Japan but was heading an entirely different division. She still kept in touch with the usual 'shop talk' but admittedly, she had removed herself from as much of that as possible. At least, from the Kritiker side of things. But from the sound of it, this disk made her wonder if maybe her return to Japan was a stroke of good fortune.

"I'm no longer involved in Kritiker in quite the same way as I had been. I know nothing about any of this and, quite honestly, I shouldn't even be asking. But I am not a strong believer in coincidences. Your handler called me a few weeks ago to ask for my help in placing Aya. Kritiker has an extensive protection network in place yet he felt it necessary to forgo the usual channels in favor of my discretion. I'm sure our previous relationship also had something to do with it but he was very clear about wanting this off the record."

Manx leaned back in her seat, momentarily lost in thought, crossing her arms across her chest with an uncharacteristic frown starting to thin her lips. With a quite sigh she turned on her hip to look more seriously at Yohji.

"Tell me why your Legion of Supervillians is 'extra batty'."

There was definitely something not right about any of this. She had come to trust her intuition and right now it was nearly screaming at her to dig into this deeper. It felt like a dark cloud was descending over them - it was the same feeling she couldn't shake in the weeks before things had come to a head with Reiji... and Esset. She tried to stay focused but couldn't help but search her feeling as she let her eyes fall on each of them.

In those weeks before his death, every time she looked at Shuichi she had a sinking feeling in her chest that just grew with each passing day. That last day, in the cemetary, she had put on her best face but looking at Shuichi by Ouka's grave was like looking at a ghost already long gone. In looking at each of them, she couldn't find any trace of that same sort of feeling, much to her instant relief.
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Date: 2009-09-02 03:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bcmanx.livejournal.com
Manx listened intently, her usual detached professionalism slipping as she caught sight of the mass of bandaging across Yohji shoulder and chest. Had he just suggested that he was injured before Mastermind had kidnapped him?

The kidnapping and subsequent lack of direction for doing so did not suprise her. In her new position, she had quite a bit more insight into the likes of Schwarz.

She pondered the information for a moment or two, more in an effort to chose the right words to respond with.

"Schwarz already has a weapon of mass destruction at their disposal... Prodigy. I highly doubt they need this disk if they wish to do harm on the scale you suggest. There needs to be another reason they are interested in it." She sank back into the couch, lost in thought. "I've never understood their interest in Weiss. Mastermind is an incredibly powerful telepath and, of what I know about telepaths, he doesn't really need a reason to fixate on something. But I could never figure out why Oracle employed such restraint in your encounters. They obviously have a reason... "

After a few more moments of thought, she shut the topic away for another time. There were no answers to be had here and now. The more familiar smile returned to her face.

"I would consider that a good thing... knowing they do not want this team dead. I wouldn't count on it, but it certainly changes the perspective of your encounters."

With a sudden start she slid forward, reaching into her jacket pocket to retrieve her cell phone. "I need to make a few calls to make arrangements for Aya. Excuse me, this will only take a few minutes." She stood and headed for a quiet corner of the room.
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Date: 2009-09-04 11:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bcmanx.livejournal.com
Manx stepped aside, cell already at her ear, number already dialing. She was a bit too eager to speak with her team. She took a breath to center herself before the call was picked up on the other side.

A few hushed greetings and instructions (they were distinctly in English) and she was quickly dialing a second number, keeping half an ear trained on the conversation in the room.

Her second call was to make arrangements to stay in Japan longer than she had expected - and to bring her full team here as soon as they could conclude their current mission.

Schwarz had resurfaced. That was all she needed to hear.

She was equally dismayed to hear how broken both Ken and Yohji were actually feeling. It was bound to happen. It was the dark side of their success as a team. Kritiker had always known that they were possibly sacrificing these four good hearts for the greater good. In theory, that had sounded so noble but, in reality, it was much harder to face.

Her long pause did not go unnoticed.

"It sounds like they need you."

"I brought them into this. I should be the one to get them out."

"You don't have to save the world, you know."

"I'm just trying to right a few wrongs."

A soft chuckle lilted over the line. "I love you."

"I love you too." A soft smile crossed her lips as she ended the call and turned back to face them. She schooled her expression and straightened her posture, presenting the face they were most accustomed to seeing.

"A car will be here to pick up Aya in half an hour so she can make the flight."

Manx looked to the flowers in Ken's hand as she walked closer.

"Those are for Aya aren't they?" She could read the flowers intent as easily as a card. "It may be overwhelming for her if you all crowd her with your good bye's at once. Why don't you go give them to her, Ken? I'm sure she will appreciate the sentiment." It was equal parts friendly suggestion and pointed direction.

"Once we see her off, we can discuss all of this together. With Ran. Whatever this is you have stumbled into, it may be bigger than you think."

Date: 2009-09-08 10:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bcmanx.livejournal.com
With that look on Ken's face as he dejectedly headed for the stairs, Manx felt like she had just kicked a puppy. He was painfully aware that she was just trying to remove him from the room. She could make it up to him later, after she had heard their concerns regarding him.

She watched and listened until she was certain he was out of earshot.

"We had hoped that the damage he sustained at the Tower wouldn't leave any permenent damage." she began before she slowly peeling her gaze away from the stairs. "And from what little I have already seen, I'm not so sure that is to blame for what is going on with Ken. You said he may have been hiding whatever it is that has been troubling him. Tell me, what are you seeing."

She couldn't help but let her eyes fall to Yohji's damaged shoulder.

Date: 2009-09-09 09:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bcmanx.livejournal.com
Yohji must be extremely concerned if he was talking to her about this at all. It wasn't so long ago that the blond would have offered a smirk in response to such a question and little else. He was always boisterous on the outside but quietly wary on the inside.

Manx shifted her weight to one hip, crossing her arms loosely as she listened. This wasn't a new story. She had heard it over and over. And, honestly, it was a testament that they had chosen this team exactly right. Good people should be having a problem with violence. Ken should be angry at the suffering and death he had to witness - and enact. But how to help him reach the point where he could live with the truth of it? That was a much harder question to answer.

"I am glad you did not seek outside help with this. There is no civilian doctor that can help either of you without disclosing the nature of your troubles." She closed her eyes with a small angry shake of her head. "And there is not an Esset doctor that I would trust to send you to."

She turned away with an uncharacteristic sigh, pacing a bit as she thought this through. Everything she had once relied upon was now suspect. A civilian doctor would instantly turn them over to authorities once hearing the horrifying details of their mission. And Kritiker would never tolerate being outted by an agent. She used to count on the vast network that Kritiker had built for exactly this reason - they truly did care about those in their service, once upon a time. But she couldn't rely on that same benevolence now.

Without an immediate answer at hand, they would have to try and work through some of this until they could get him the help he needed. She sighed again and turned to face Yohji, clearly wearing her concern on her face.

"I am not surprised that he is having trouble with Farfarello. I was hesitant to send him on that mission in the first place. If I had known that he had developed a personal connection to Farfarello's mother I would never have let Birman extend him the offer." She shook her head slowly, remembering her own struggles with these same issues years ago. Not everyone was capable of making the same adjustment. "I think that mission, more than any other, demonstrated that many of the monsters we kill are made - not born. Somehow it would be easier if someone like Farfarello was actually born evil. If he was the demon he named himself after, the lines would be much clearer. His irrational violence wouldn't need explanation. Ken wouldn't feel the need to make sense of it. Maybe he can see himself becoming the same monster that Farfarello has become. I know that would anger and terrify me."

Her voice trailed off, lost in thought. She had no idea who she could trust in Tokyo any longer. And removing Ken from his position would raise too many alarms.

"I know this may sound crazy, but what is the one thing that you do when you have an irrational fear?" The question was rhetorical and Manx wasn't even sure she believed this herself but it made sense. "You face it. At some point, Ken is going to have to see Farfarello for what he is. He is a very damaged, very angry man. And, he is going to have to come to terms with the possibility that Farfarello may always be the one that got away. But how to go about such a thing... I do not know. Not yet."

Date: 2009-09-10 03:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bcmanx.livejournal.com
"I totally agree with you... I wasn't suggesting we sit them down in a room and have them make friends." Manx almost chuckled at the thought but the seriousness of the situation stalled it on her lips. "There is nothing irrational in fearing an enemy as powerful as Schwarz. I'm afraid that perhaps Ken's fears himself..."

She brought her hand to her lips, momentarily lost in thought. She had kept clandestine copies of most of the missions she had a direct hand in - Farfarello's was no exception. Even in her new position, she would have the authority to call up whatever files she needed on the madman.

"Farfarello is the definition of a sociopath and most likely psychotic as well. No - I was thinking something a bit less confrontational. Ken needs to come to terms with whatever this is that's plaguing him. I'm assuming he is still capable of that. If there is some other pathology or mental disorder at work, nothing we say or do will help. At least an attempt at something will guide us in the proper direction."

Again, her eyes fell to the heavy bandaging across the blond's shoulder and chest. Then her eyes snapped up to meet his.

"Is this how you noticed that something was wrong?" She stepped closer, reaching for the edge of his shirt. "May I?"

The size of the wound certainly suggested more than just a gunshot or an accidental crossbow bolt.

Manx had always assumed that this was the reason Ken used bugnuks as his weapon of choice. The horrific wounds they left were as good as being mauled by a tiger. It was a distinctive calling card - deadly, vicious and cruel. Rarely did Ken's victims die quickly. Those that died by his hand served as a warning and a deterrant.

Her eyes mirrored the conflict of her thoughts. If Ken was capable of this - wounding one of his closest friends... She refrained from filling in those blanks until Yohji could provide some clarity.

Date: 2009-09-15 01:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bcmanx.livejournal.com
As Manx inspected the wound she couldn't help but wince at the severity of it. It had been precariously close to a lethal blow. And Yohji's attempt at redirecting the blame was not unexpected. Nor was the attempt at changing the subject.

"Relax, Yohji. I'm not here to take him away." Her tone was matter-of-fact, her eyes still trained on the wound even as she replaced the bandaging. She looked up, unable to catch his wandering gaze. She pulled away, returning the boundries of the blond's personal space.

She let him vent - they all needed to. More than once she had taken each of them aside to give them just that opportunity. They would all implode if they didn't. But, in her absence, it seemed they did not develop enough trust in anyone to do the same. Maybe this was the reason Weiss had held together for so long. They had a handler that actually cared - 'had' being the operative word.

Manx swallowed down the tinge of guilt she felt. As always, they needed to see her strong and ultimately in control. In some ways, she knew that they counted on her for that.

"Don't second guess yourself. You did what was apropriate at the time. If I had thought you were off base, I would have put Ken on that plane myself. And do not delude yourself. A woman's blood is the same color as a man's. Women are just as capable of depravity as any man. Sometimes, moreso."

Her voice went a little flat at the memories that statement dredged up. She had come to Kritiker in the same fashion they all did - she had hunted enough dark beasts of her own. The things she had witnessed changed her opinion of the human race as a whole.

Her eyes again fell to Yohji's bandages. "He lost control." The finality of that statement wasn't lost to her own ears. It sounded like a proclimation, a final verdict. There would be no helping Ken unless they faced the truth of the matter. "The question is - did he enjoy it?"

Her gaze was hard, clearly seeing through all of Yohji's stall and diversion tactics. She wanted the full honest truth.

Date: 2009-09-20 01:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bcmanx.livejournal.com
Unfortunately,it sounded too much like Yohji was trying to justifying Ken's actions despite his obvious - fear - of what Ken was capable of.

They had finally reached 'the point'. That final turning point that this profession exacted on each and every one of them. The heartless killers were already long past 'the point', having surpassed it or even skipped it altogether through traumatic childhoods and worse. Yohji and, most certainly, Ran would turn inward, looking for answers within themselves. Omi would rationalize, always seeing the evidence that what they did was a necessary evil. Manx had insisted that they indoctrinate him that way to ease the burden of guilt he could possibly face.

But Ken - Ken was the most likely to look for answers outside himself. His justification would come in the form of acceptance by someone he respected, someone he valued.

Liquification of a target could be nothing but anger finding an outlet. It was bound to happen. It was almost amazing it hadn't before now.

"Two questions then - was he smiling and did he suffer any guilt over the kill afterwards? I'm assuming he felt guilt for what he had done to you but did he feel guilt for going so far beyond the requirements of the mission?"

Date: 2009-09-26 12:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bcmanx.livejournal.com
Manx paced a bit as she considered Yohji's words. She wasn't sure exactly what she could do to help in this situation, not without giving away her involvement. But something clearly needed to be done to intervene on Ken's behalf. He had friends. Whatever this was that plagued him, he had all the support he needed right here at the Koneko.

He wasn't smiling during the attack, which was a good thing. He hadn't crossed that line yet. He wasn't embracing the psychotic. But, he also didn't seem to feel remorse or regret for the human being he turned into a warm puddle of goo. That was most definitely sociopathy. With any luck it was simply a defense mechanism his mind needed to defend itself. It was a learned behavior, not an innate one. It could be unlearned.

"If he has pulled away in shame or embarrassment, all I can suggest is do not let him retreat any further. It will be extremely uncomfortable, but talk to him about this, openly, frankly... tell him exactly how you feel. But also talk about what you want to do to help. He's quite far inside his own head right now. He wouldn't be having conversations with himself, like the one I witnessed upstairs, if he wasn't. Do not leave anything open to interpretation. In this state, he will only fill in the blanks with a negative." She turned to look at Yohji, a bit dismayed at how thoroughly her hands were tied in this. But, she wasn't willing to abandon her team in their time need.

Again, she nearly chuckled at herself. She found them, groomed them, knitted them together into a team... they were hers and she would always see them that way. She would always see them as her personal responsibility. This was one of the reasons she had been reassigned.

"Your heart is too big for this sort of work..."

That was the day she knew Kritiker would never be the same. All the more reason she needed to see Ken and all of them through this.

"Can you contact Sato?"

Date: 2009-09-28 02:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bcmanx.livejournal.com
Manx just looked to Yohji blankly for a moment before blinking her gaze away, lost in thought.

"No..." again she crossed her arms, cocking one hip to the side. It was her 'official' pose and, while considering the inner workings of Kritiker, it was a matter of habit after many long years. "Last I spoke to him was a week ago. We were supposed to be in touch yesterday and I haven't been able to reach him."

She knew what this sounded like and silently prayed that her intuition was wrong.

"Sato gave me a personal cell to contact him... he went to every trouble to ensure that his contact with me was 'off the record'. I am not sure why he felt he could trust me so thoroughly but I am glad he did. I am not about to break that trust by reaching out through official channels."

Manx had already said more than she should have. After all, her suspicions were, as yet, unfounded. There were many small instances over the past few months that just were not adding up correctly. Her distance from the home office blurred the truth even further.

She wasn't so sure she could trust Sato as much as he seemed to trust her. Something as innocuous as placing Aya, even if someone up the chain caught wind of it, wasn't anything more than a slap on the wrist offense for either of them. Her 'soft heart' would be to blame for it once again. It was almost a non-issue... unless Sato had a solid reason for his secrecy. That, more than anything, lent Manx the patience to see how this arrangement with Sato would play out.

"If you can still contact him, see if you can bring him here but not until after Aya is safely on her way. Definitely, do not let him know I am here. I think it is time for your handler to do some explaining."
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Date: 2009-10-01 01:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bcmanx.livejournal.com
Manx glanced up, her eyes going just a bit wide at the tone in Ken's voice. He was always a suspicious one but she was unused to having his suspicions directed at her.

"I, for one, would like to find out why he has been trying to arrange for Aya's placement - without Ran or anyone else's knowledge - for weeks now. He reached out to me. I can only see two reasons why. This is a test of my loyalties to Kritiker in someway or your handler is suspicious and untrusting of some faction of Kritiker. He is neck deep - a stones throw from Persia's desk if he has been given this team to oversee..." Her voice trailed off.

There were so many questions, too many possibilities, most of them not so good. But she also didn't want to worry them with her, as yet, unfounded suspicions. If their handler was the problem, this was an easy situation to fix without the need to cast the organization in a bad light.

"If he knows I am here, his story may change in someway. I would like to get the raw footage, if you know what I mean." She pointedly looked to Ken, gaze solidly locked onto his.

"Does that answer your questions?" She heard the edge that had crept into her voice. But her stance was unapologetic for it. She was a touch insulted that Ken would cast such strong suspicions her way. She'd expect it from Ran and possibly from Yohji. The only way it would have stung more was if it had come from Omi.
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Date: 2009-10-01 02:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bcmanx.livejournal.com
Manx dipped her head, actively trying to secure the frown that she felt crease her face. Her immediate and ingrained reaction to a threat of treason against Kritiker needed to be put aside. This was no longer the same organization. And Ken's state of mind was of the utmost concern. Ken had already hatched involved and detailed conspiracy plots apparently - he NEVER questioned anything quite this thoroughly before.

There had to be a reason. Manx slowly looked up, her face carefully neutral.

"Sato was attacked?" And they believed Kritiker was behind it... Manx would be paranoid too if this were actually the case. It was a fairly huge detail for Yohji to have left out of his explanation. She looked to the blond expectantly but shook her head slightly to fend off any explanations right this second.

"We need Ran - it's clear we all need to sit down and put all the pieces together so we know what it is we are looking at here." She pulled her cell phone to check the time. "Aya will be leaving in ten minutes or so, if you'd like to go say your good-byes this will be your last chance." She nodded once to Yohji. Despite Ken's agitation, she knew she needed to hold her ground to help prove his suspicions wrong.

She turned to look fully at Ken.

"Loyalty and trust are almost dirty words in our line of work..." Her voice had fallen to a soft, non confrontational tone. She invited him to come sit on the couch with her with a small gesture. She sat on her hip, her elbow perched over the back - her body language open, inviting conversation. "We'll talk about Sato after we give Yohji and Ran these last few minutes with Aya. Have I given you reason to distrust me, Ken? Aya was in need and despite the backlash I may receive for involving myself with Weiss without authorization... I'm here. I do not think I need to prove my loyalties beyond that." She was careful to keep her tone soft, the words spoken slowly without hint of antagonism or judgement.

It pained her to think that Ken, who had already been through so much, was feeling so isolated and alone. Manx wanted to hear some of that internal dialogue that seemed to be plaguing him so badly. The clues they needed to help him were locked inside his head. They needed to call them out.


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Date: 2009-10-01 04:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bcmanx.livejournal.com
The mood swing was almost instantaneous. As difficult as it was to watch, at least it gave her hope that a simple prescription may be able to help even out Ken's temperment. The stress all of them had been under for the past year or so was bound to have tampered with delicate brain chemistries.

"Ken..." she tilted her head, trying to catch his gaze. She wanted to him to hear her words, not the soundtrack in his head. "Ken..." she waited until she thought she had his attention. "You do not have to be sorry. If you truly feel I am in the wrong I expect you to call me on it - you always have - and I have always appreciated that about you. With Shuichi gone..." Manx immediately recognised the too familiar tone in her voice. She corrected it in the same breath. "... with a new Persia at the helm of Kritiker, I am out of the loop as well. My first instinct is to trust this Sato. The evidence is strongest for the man to have been honest in contacting me. But I have also witnessed things that just do not add up correctly. Your caution is warranted."

She took a deep breath, watching the effect of her words play across his face.

"One thing I am certain of... we need to get a clearer picture of exactly what it is we are dealing with. If we act or react without the fullest picture possible, we could all be in danger. I am suggesting we start with Sato. He is the one piece of this puzzle we all have in common. Does that sound like a plan to you?" The question was an honest one. She was no longer their handler. If they were going to examine this together it would be on equal terms.
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Date: 2009-10-02 04:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bcmanx.livejournal.com
Ken's body language was clear enough. Manx wouldn't push him further than he was ready to go. Not that she expected him to open the flood gates and divulge all his deepest darkest secrets. She maintained a professional relationship with them all but she had had much more personal interactions with Omi and Aya... Ran... she'd need to get used to that all over again. Her own fond feelings for them all just may come as a suprise, she suddenly realized.

She relaxed into the couch for a moment before letting Ken off of this uncomfortable hook.

"I regret that I wasn't able to stay here to see how Aya adapted. Is there anything I can do to make her transition easier? Anything in particular that she enjoys? I'll ask Ran as well but, I'm sure he sees her much differently than a friend would..." She smiled softly in Ken's direction, hoping the change of subject would relax him just a bit.
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Date: 2009-10-04 03:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bcmanx.livejournal.com
When he was quiet and focused like this he looked so much younger. It was surprisingly easy to forget exactly how young they all were. But Ken looked every bit the wounded boy he still was.

He had always been a bit socially awkward. He could never seem to find the right words to say. The only time he seemed at ease was in the presence of children. At first glance that always struck chords of perversion, but Manx saw that Ken was simply more comfortable in children's company. The lack of expectation seemed comforting to him. It was the only time he smiled openly and freely. It was dismaying that he hadn't connected with Aya while she was here. The girl had such a caring soul.

"Of that I have no doubt." Manx chuckled in response. "But the 'no worrying' part may be a challenge. If she is half the Fujimiya that her brother is, I will be struggling to keep up with her..."

She looked to Ken with a warm gaze, glad that he granted her these quiet few minutes. More often than not, their past conversations had been heated, always going head to head over moral issues that did nothing but drive a wedge between them. That had never been her goal. But Ken was most definitely driven - sometimes by passion, sometimes by something else Manx couldn't quite define. He had nothing to lose when he came to Kritiker but, now, Manx was certain, that he had more to lose than any of them.

"It's about time. Let's head up stairs to see her off."

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