Friday 1.22 : On the Effectiveness of Earplugs

The sun was just starting to set - a red glow burning the edges of the scattered clouds in the Tokyo sky.

Ran and Yohji parked in an alleyway with an exit on both ends, close enough for their (hopefully unneeded) getaway, hidden enough for their approach. There were conveniently placed dumpsters blocking the car from view. The skyrises to either side were offices - the chance of an employee working late seeing them was less of a risk than if the buildings had been residences. It was an easy start to the mission.

Ran had remained silent during the drive. He wondered if he would regret any of the words he wasn't saying, and clenched his teeth at himself for his thoughts. Preemptive goodbyes were not his style, and neither were false reassurances.

If they could only find the source of the alleged sound before it was played, Ran was confident that he - Abysinnian - would be able to take them out. If not him, the others were just as competent, as long as they could keep themselves from being distracted. They had all been up against worse.

Distraction was the other reason Ran kept his mouth shut. He wanted Yohji focused, not dwelling on anything he might have conveyed too hastily.

Ran got out and shut the car door with an unintentional flourish of his coat, giving Yohji an efficient nod before heading to comply with Omi's directions.

"Bombay - we're at location. Anything before cutting contact?"

He held the earplugs between his gloved forfinger and thumb, waiting for the go-ahead.

Friday 1.21 The Mission

Omi wiggled into his mission gear as he juggled the phone he was trying to hold to his ear at the same time. “Senka, I owe you one. I promise to return it just like I found it!”

He tilted his head to hold the phone with his shoulder as he tied his shoe. “No no no… I told you, it’s not anything important. I just… er.. uh.. yeah, you caught me. There is this girl I want to impress. Oh yeah Senka, she is pretty, eyes that would make you just melt.”

Omi gathered the things he needed one-handed. “Look Senka, I really have to go – I will tell you all about it later.”

Omi blushed. “Yeah, I have protection.. geezus Senka. Thanks for loaning me the van and you promised not to tell Manx right? Ok.. yeah yeah I owe you a big one and tell Kyo I owe him one too for having it here in the next 10 minutes. Gotcha, thanks man. Ja na.”

Omi closed his cell phone and rubbed this stomach. He really hated lying but he needed the satellite hookups in that van if tonight’s mission was going to play off without getting a lot of people killed. Calling Manx was not an option, as he didn’t want to get her involved for basically hijacking Kritiker equipment. Sometimes you just had to bat your eyes and go with the flow to get what you wanted. Omi’s thoughts drifted to Ken. Had he done that to Ken? Had he just manipulated his friend to get… no no… Omi shook his head. He loved Ken in his own way it just wasn’t sexual. He had tried it but it hadn’t felt right, no matter how much he had wished it otherwise. He would just have to figure out a way to earn the man’s friendship back and possibly Yohji and Ran's trust again. He had really fucked up. He wouldn't let himself make that mistake again. He wanted to keep his family together more than anything. He would do his best to make amends. Later… if they survived tonight…

He bounced off his bedroom door, his hands full and bounded down the stairs to the basement. He flipped on the lights and started connecting his laptop to the room’s AV equipment when his phone rang. Kyo’s voice over the line told him the van was in the alley behind the shop waiting for him, the keys behind the visor. Omi snapped shut his phone with a satisfied click and logged in. He checked the connections one more time as he waited for his teammates to arrive.

Friday 1.20 Mission Planning

Omi sat in the mission room and stared blankly at his computer screen, his thoughts constantly cycling between guilt and fear. His team – his family – was imploding and it scared him beyond anything he could remember. He shook his head and tried to concentrate on the mission. Closing his eyes, he slapped his cheeks lightly and recited to himself…

Bombay… you are Bombay and you have a mission. You are Bombay.

Repeating the mantra over and over again for a few moments allowed him to focus and re-gain his concentration. He reviewed the mission parameters (as he knew them) in his head while his fingers flew over the keyboard, pulling up information on the theater. He had managed to find blueprints from the architectural firm that had built the structure but it didn’t help with the obstacles inside that could hamper his team from getting people to safety or allowing Weiss access to where they wanted to be. Bombay chewed his bottom lip. Normally, they had better intelligence for taking out whatever ‘dark beast’ needed to be dispatched but this time…

“Damn it!” Bombay muttered.

From what he knew, the disc needed to be played over speakers. He didn’t have a clue if some sort of special speaker system would be used or if they would be tapping into the speaker system already in place at the theater and a fairly good one at that. He assumed it could be the latter since they culprit had decided to make a ‘theater’ the place of his experiment. He could shut the power down from his laptop, but if there was a separate sound system being used, it became a much bigger problem.

Bombay sighed again. Maybe he was just making this more complicated and should just phone in a phony bomb scare or pull the fire alarm and have the theater evacuated. His team wasn’t running at full capacity as it was. Ran’s leg was not too bad but it would keep him grounded. No high-flying stunts for Abyssinian tonight. Yohji, well shit, he didn’t even know if Yohji could use his wire effectively and Ken… not only was his ankle bad but he had a possible concussion. Guilt once again twisted in Omi’s gut as his thoughts turned to Ken. Ken obviously had been backsliding for a long time but the outburst earlier today led to concerns that he also wouldn’t be following orders. If he went rogue…. Omi tried to swallow the lump that had formed in his throat.

Omi had always felt that Aya was their will and strength, Yohji their heart and Ken had always been hope to him. Ken’s love for soccer and sharing that joy by teaching kids to play, kept alive in Omi the thought that there would be a tomorrow past Weiss. He didn’t want to lose Ken. He was his friend and he would do anything - anything for all of them. He refused to lose any one of his teammates. No matter what it took, he was determined to keep them together and alive. But the shape they were all in now… that in and of itself made them accepting this mission complete and utter suicide.

Turning back to his computer, Bombay typed in a search and after reading for several moments made a decision. He couldn’t protect his team without more information. He could call Manx or Sato but neither seemed ready to be up front with him about the details of what was going on. He had a feeling that was a much deeper problem and needed time later to think a little more on that to try to piece things together, but for now, all that mattered was surviving the night and with them all in one piece. It was possible that Yohji and Ken knew more, since their outbursts earlier had kept them from being properly debriefed. He wasn’t sure Ken would talk to him so it had to be Yohji. Without a second thought, he pulled out his phone and composed a quick text and hit send. Knowing that Yohji would meet him in his room, he collected up some papers from the printer, grabbed up a couple more needed items, then closed and tucked his laptop under his arm. It would soon be time for them to leave and he was the first to admit that they were not ready.

Friday 1.18 - Interlude

Yohji was seething as he stormed upstairs. He made a bee-line for Ran's room, not even stopping to knock. He'd taken the sideways glance downstairs as permission to follow.

"Christ!" He yelled, flinging open the door. "I want to throttle that son of a--" he broke off, mid-rant as he realized he was yelling at an empty perimeter. He stared blankly at the room and it's lack of an occupant.


It hadn't even occurred to Yohji that Ran wouldn't be here. Well, not considering that Aya-chan's room had now been vacated. The expression on Yohji's face darkened, although this time not from anger.

He backed out slowly and somewhat dazedly wandered back to his own room.

He supposed he shouldn't have been surprised to find Ran perched on his couch.

But he was anyway.

"Hey," he said, the volatility of his anger temporarily diffused.

He sat down next to Ran and gave him a pained smile.

Friday 1.17 Unexpected diversion

Manx knew she was leaving the boys in a tough situation. She could only provide so much guidance. she was not their mother - she wasn't even their handler. She hoped they considered her a friend but at moments like this, she felt more like judge, jury and executioner.

She would have to work quickly to try and round them up some support - discreet, off-the-Kritiker-radar support. She had been out of Japan long enough that her civilian contacts had grown a bit rusty.

As she exited the Koneko, she gave a wary glance around the street. She had convinced herself that Thea had only been giving her a warning for letting herself grow lax. But maintaining these mental shields was proving to be exhausting. She gave a moments attention to her fledgling shields and headed for the street to hail a cab.

Friday 1.16 An upset Nagi is not a safe Nagi

Nagi made his way home without trouble. No one bothered with a scowling teen staring at his far too complicated cell phone. Not only were they a common sight, but Nagi didn't exactly look like he was open to conversation.

His talent opened the door for him and he walked through, slamming the thing shut behind him.
The whole assignment didn't sit well with him. As a matter of fact, nothing that had happened the past few days sat very well with him. He had a lot to think about and between assignments that he wasn't cut out for and a wild goose chase for information Crawford could use, he didn't exactly have a lot of time to do so.

Nagi didn't bother to look if any of his teammates were home, assuming that if they were interested, the slamming of the door would have alerted them enough. He let his power unravel a little. It was almost painful, so tight a leash he'd kept on it. Like you'd kept a muscle tensed for hours on end and were only now slowly relaxing it. But it was a good pain, a relief.

Around him a few loose object took to the air, not really doing anything, just floating. One of Farf's knifes just laying around, a small statue that had possibly already been in the house when Schwarz had occupied it, an unopened letter, a pen and a notepad.

Nagi sighed in relief and a subtle tension left his muscles as well, even though they were still knotted.

Friday 1.14 - Meeting up with Prodigy - Continued

Yohji steadily trailed Ken, trying to keep himself in mission mode and ignoring everything else. He only paused when he felt his phone vibrate in his pocket, and checked to find a text from Ran.


He felt mildly warmed at the realization that Ran had noticed he called even though he hadn’t left a message. And more so that he was apparently worried. Although rationally, that could only be because he had called while on a mission. Ran was supposed to be worried.

He overcame the temptation to reply back with, “Situation normal, all fucked up.” Ran probably wouldn’t appreciate his sense of humor. No reason to needlessly panic his teammates.

Instead he responded with "Fine."

He left the message on the screen, hesitating over whether or not to add ‘We need to have another talk about Ken.’

In the end he aborted that idea. Again, it would just make Ran worry when nothing could be done yet. What’s more Ken seemed to be rather paranoid that they were talking about him behind his back. Which of course wasn’t unfounded, but no reason to fuel his teammate’s mistrust by leaving traceable evidence that they actually were.

He hated himself even more for thinking about his friend/teammate in such a tactical mindset. He was only fueling the problem…. But what else could he do?

He continued to pause, wanting to add some sort of more personal sign-off. He couldn’t think of anything that wasn’t gushy. Or didn’t use words that he hadn’t actually expressed to Ran verbally yet. At a loss for anything that felt appropriate, he reluctantly hit ‘send’ feeling slightly empty as he did so.

He was anxious for this mission to be over. He wanted to get back to the Koneko. He was even anxious just to meet Prodigy. Speaking to a member of Schwarz actually felt like it might be a relief in comparison to interacting with his own teammate.

How fucked up was that?

“Well….I guess we should start by going into the office and finding out if he’s actually enrolled here? Or do you think we should just hang around outside and hope to intercept him as he leaves?”

Prodigy was just one kid in a crowd of hundreds. There were so many ways this could turn into a dead end.

Friday 1.13 An Interruption

Ran thumbed open his phone on his way up the stairs and almost stopped in his tracks when he saw a missed call alert - from Yohji.

There was no messege.

Which could mean something relatively good but worrying, as in the man called to hear his sweet voice and realized he was being an idiot because he was on a fucking mission.

Or something like he'd tried to phone for help because Ken had gone psycho.

...Stop, he told himself, alarmed at the amount of distrust he realized that signified. It wasn't quite authentic, he would have put up a much stronger argument with Manx's backing if he'd thought it necessary. It didn't help quell his innate protectiveness, however. And that extended to Ken as well - he had no wish for Ken to be injured or to put himself at risk either.

When they got back he resolved to stop playing the ignorant. Whatever his teammates had been keeping from him was no longer just their personal business.

Or even ask Omi, while they're gone.

As soon as Sato leaves,
he resolved.

He sent a text to Yohji, feeling like an idiot: "Ok?"

Half of a week. That was it. He had told Yohji this was not a relationship.

...and yet here he was. Texting like Yohji's would-be girlfriend.

There's valid cause for worry. He told himself strongly. A missed phonecall on a mission was not something to dismiss.

Friday 1.12 A visit from a dead man

The bell to the Koneko tinkled, the visitor not bothering to wait at the entryway for assistance. Yutaro Sato locked the door behind him speedily and headed directly to the back of the shop. He descended into the mission room without pause, guessing - correctly - that would be where to find Weiss with a Kritiker liaison present.

Gone was the former cheerful smile, the man had a gaunt look and stress lines at his eyes and forehead. A weak upturn of the lips greeted Abyssinian and Manx. He forcibly grew it into a bright smile. He hadn't met Weiss' former contact in person, and she was younger than he'd supposed. The other redheaded Weiss looked deeply unhappy, but it could be he was reading into things. They hadn't exactly started out on the right foot.

He nodded to the two present, and remained by the stairs. Manx was Kritiker after all, and he did not have a deep knowledge of his coworker. "Balinese called me here. It is good to finally meet you." He nodded at the redheaded woman.

Friday 1.10 - Summoning

Yohji took his time climbing down the staircase, wishing not for the first time that it was an enclosed one. He wanted to linger a little and eavesdrop on the continued discussion. Test how paranoid he was being with his assumption that Omi was trying to remove him from the room.

That would be entirely too obvious.

He threw himself on the couch and dialed their handler's number. He didn't bother with Omi's phone.

"Sato?" He asked cautiously at the sound of the line connecting. Although he had already had the contact information, he hadn't had a reason to actually try reaching the agent himself yet. This would be his first time speaking to the other man over the phone.

In the moment it took for his question to be confirmed, Yohji found himself absently wondering at the fact that that he knew this man's name. Even someone as high up the ranks as Persia had a codename. As if there weren't enough elements present feeding his suspicions.

"Balinese." There was no reason to waste words here. "A rather attractive lady is looking for you. She hadn't heard about your unfortunate demise. You might want to...stop by."

Friday 1.9 Hunting

Crawford retreated to his office, shutting the door with a quiet click. He went through his usual beginning of the day routine - scanning stock reports and the relevant bits of world news, acts of habitual confirmation. While skimming through his various email accounts he pulled two suspicious trolls and forwarded them to Nagi. It was usually just a fluke - a mistyped email address by a housewife in Missouri or a lazy customer service rep out of India. Crawford was incapable of letting his guard down even for something so seemingly superfluous though. They would both need to be traced – just to be sure.

He turned his attention to the disk, again pulling up the sound analysis program and beginning a more thorough scan of its contents. He double checked that the speakers were still unplugged before he clicked play.

Several hours of gutting the soundtrack revealed a most interesting detail. One he wouldn't have ventured a guess at. A small smirk crossed his lips as he saved and encrypted his notes on the matter. Johnson had inadvertently tipped, at least, part of his hand.

It was nearly lunchtime and again he was nearly starving. Such an odd side effect for a mental talent. Usually it was the physical talents that displayed the vastly increased metabolisms. Both he and Schuldig suffered from it to varying degrees at times though his own battle with it always involved a power spike of some sort. But even as hunger nagged at him, he couldn’t forestall the next task at hand any longer.

He clicked the remote and the window shades obediently crawled closed. He let himself get comfortable in his chair. With half a shake of his head, he momentarily cursed his own apprehensivness. It was his own head for gods sake. There was no room for doubt.

He pictured Tot as he remembered her most clearly – the wide eyed look of shock on her clueless face as she raced up the steps to her death, lifeless eyes staring up at Nagi like a broken doll, pigtails limp as they draped over his arms. Slowly he let the image call the relevant visions foreward. It had been a long time but he was certain the girl did somehow survive that night. Several hazy snippets of the blue haired girl emerged – but all he could sense were images of today and today alone. A small quirk of smirk creased his lips as he let the image guide him deeper until he found what it was he was looking for.

He had a time and a place and the disgusting flavor and scent of cotton candy ice cream assaulting his senses.

With a satisfied grin he headed for Farfarello’s room.

With a single knock on the Irishman’s door, he pushed it open just a bit and called in.

“We leave in half an hour. This will be… casual.” The sound of amusement in his voice was clear - to anyone in this household, at least.

Friday 1.8 - Aya's Departure

Manx had led the way upstairs, quietly observing the banter in the kitchen before making herself known with a clearing of her throat. She looked between Ran and Aya and smiled softly.
"It's just about time."
She held out an arm, motioning for Aya to join her. She could clearly see the emotion welling up on Aya's face and her brave attempt to rein it in. Ran was simply a coiled ball of nerves - he looked ready to snap. He was never one to give his emotions the outlet they so desperately needed and Manx didn't expect that to change - even now.
Manx headed out onto the street, Aya's bag in her hand. Ran and Aya followed her a few moments later, Yohji and Ken tagging along after them. Manx stepped out to the curb as a non-descript black sedan rounded the corner, pulling up beside her. She leaned into the window to exchange pleasantries and a few hushed instructions in English. The driver exited the car to stand beside Manx.
She was a tall dark skinned woman, easily Yohji's height or a touch taller and built like a linebacker. Long blond micro dreadlocks swayed with her every movement while her piercingly ice blue eyes caught each of theirs with practiced casual assessment. It wasn't immediately clear but she sported a continuous pattern of fine tattoos along both of her bare arms which were only just visible against her dark skin.
Manx held her hand out to Aya.
"Aya, this is Thea. She is a very good friend. She will be accompanying you on your journey." Manx's eyes fell on Ran. "She holds my highest confidence. Aya couldn't be in better hands."
Thea stepped forward, catching Yohji's gaze, squaring her shoulders just a bit and offering the blond a quick little smirk as she looked between him and Ran. She offered Ran a small curt bow.
"She is your sister?" She offered the question in broken Japanese, the words difficult to understand through her thick Jamaican accent. Her eyes caught his, pausing a second as she was momentarily taken off guard by the color of his eyes. She barely glanced to Manx from the corner of her eyes, never truly making eye contact with the redhead. Manx chuckled softly to herself, seemingly unprovoked. "I will treat her as if she is my own blood."

Friday 1.6 - Meeting

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.

Friday 1.4

Omi headed strait for the mission room. Sitting in the chair he opened his laptop again while pulling his feet up onto the couch. //She's going to be safer if she's not here.// Omi thought. He had really been enjoying having Aya-chan around. It had been a good change. He couldn't help but wonder though, if she had never found out about weiss, if she would be staying. Omi sighed for what he thought must have been the hundredth time that morning. He wished he could have given Aya-chan a proper goodbye instead of the pitiful excuse for one he had just given her.

But Omi couldn't think of anything he could give her, or say to her. When he thought about it, it just boiled down to the fact that he hated saying goodbye. When he didn't know if he would ever see her again. //At least she's not dead.// Omi couldn't help but think of Ouka, and then Midori-chan. Omi had cut ties with her without even saying goodbye. He could still remember her lying in the hospital bed.

Omi shook his head franticly. He couldn't think about this, he didn't have the time to! picking up his laptop he started typing pulling up as many school sites as he could starting with the one's in the general area of where Yohji had shown him.

Friday 1.3

//Nagi. Naaaagi. Naaaaaa-kun. Wake up. Brad wants coffee, and he asked if you would make it.//

Nagi groned and burried himself in the warmth around him. After a bit, as the pestering got to be too much, he groaned again and collected his mind enough to send back //He must not really want to wake up then... Can't you make it? You're obviously very awake...//

He was tired. He was groggy and he didn't care about the world outside right now because he was also warm and comfortable and it seemed he'd survived the night without nightmares. Miracle of miracles. 

He guessed it had a lot to do with him being in Farf's room though, the older man protectively curled around them.

He tried to go to sleep once more but it was to no avail. //Damn it! If you want me to wake up than you have to give me some of your coffee...//

He cuddled into Farf a little more.


Ran sat at the kitchen table with a cup of matcha that had long gone cold. His cell phone rested by his left hand.

He hoped he had made the right decision.

Where was Manx?

Where was Birman?

Kritiker had new leadership, Ran found he couldn't quite call reassignment suspicious. Each Kritiker team had always had very specific handlers.

So why couldn't he shake the feeling he should worry that the two women were unreachable?

In earlier times he would have been grateful. They weren't his favorite people to deal with.

But having to rely on Sato in this way...

He hoped his instincts were right. That Sato was telling the truth. That he shouldn't trust his sister's placement to anyone else he didn't know on a personal level inside Kritiker.

He wished it had been Manx.

Perhaps he should ask Sato.

Perhaps they should have done so earlier, before the man had 'died'.

Outside, the glow of morning sunlight was brightening.

It was too late to dwell on it.

The one thing Ran was sure of was that this was a decision he should have made months ago.

His certainty didn't make the prospect of his sister's absence hurt any less.

Thursday1.22 - Twilight

[NOTE: This is post-Thurs. 1.21, though that thread is still open]

Ran left the meeting without looking at anyone, specifically Yohji.

He made it to the stairs leading up to their apartments before he stopped dead in his tracks.

Was this the right thing to do?

It had been the right thing since the beginning.

Nevertheless, he stared blankly at the glow of light coming from the upstairs hallway.

She's seen things she never should have had to. Shwarz got to her again, because of this choice. All this has been is selfishness.

His breath was coming out shallowly. It felt like he was losing her.

Forever. Because if he could help it -

After this is over. This will be over.

He couldn't convince himself entirely that Schwarz would ever be gone, though. Did that mean that his sister would never be safe, unless...?

He put a hand on the railing.

The right choice.

Did this make him Aya again?

No. He would kill with his own name, and wipe clean the entire slate.

"I should have done this in the beginning," he murmured aloud.

The sound of his own voice convinced him to start upstairs.

It felt like he was dragging his katana slowly across his chest, from the inside. He stopped outside his sister's door and placed a hand flat on the wood. His eartails hung in front of his vision, his head bowed.

Ran took a deep, shaky breath, then drew his hand away to his side. He looked up and squared his shoulders.

"Aya-chan?" He called, softly.

Thursday 1.21

Leaving Sato in the hallway Omi headed to the flower shop figuring that's where he'd find the others and be able to let them know about Sato being there, and the state he was in.

Coming into the shop he didn't see anyone at first but then noticed Yohji and Ran on the floor. "Ran-kun? Yohji-kun? What are you doing down there?" Omi asked with a slightly confused look on his face but shook his head. "Never mind." he decided Sato issue was more importent.

"Sato is here, I sent him down to the mission room, he doesn't look to be in the best shape either. He refused to give me details until we got here and he could say something to all of us. So if you two want to head down stairs I'll go find Ken-kun and tell him."

Friday 1.1

(I know Schwarz is like, way ahead of Weiss, but Drae and I are impatient. So... sorry. :D)

Schuldig stirred slowly, drawing in a deep breath from his nose. The first thing he noticed was the faint smell of blood, though it was several hours old. Dull and coppery. He frowned and opened his eyes, sighing softly when he saw Brad. Of course. He must have missed a spot on the man the night before.

Carefully, he reached a hand up to Brad's neck, checking for a pulse. Sure Brad was warm, but a body could stay warm for a surprisingly long time after it died. He just needed to have that physical affirmation that the man hadn't passed away during the night.

The beat was there, strong and steady as ever. He sighed and let his head drop against Brad's shoulder. All he could think was Thank God.