Title: Autumn Leaves

Author: Sybil Rowan

Pairing(s)/Characters: No pairings, just a Ken

Rating: T

Summary: Sequel to 'Summer Rain.' Ken tries to get out of the dangerous situation he's in with the vengeful wife of one of his former targets. She doesn't want to let her new, free assassin go so easily. He gets to the point where he has to trust the rest of Weiss and for help before Kritiker catches on.

Warnings: Some violence.

Author's Notes: I plan on doing a forth part where Ken deals with Kritiker and the Kitagawa's son, Ryu. It'll be called 'Winter's Regret.' See my note after the story!

Disclaimer: Weiss Kreuz, its names and characters belong to Koyasu Takehito, Project Weiss, Marine Entertainment and Animate Film.

Beta Reader: My totally awesome husband WingedPanther73!

Word Count = 6,450

April 1, 2009 (8:12am)

"Look at all these damn leaves. Man, I hate the fall," Youji griped. Ken looked over to the open door and scowled at Youji who leaned on a broom rather than sweeping. "It's not even September yet!"

"Two days barely counts," Ken snapped. He flipped his magazine over, marched outside, and grabbed the broom from Youji. "I'll sweep and you tend the register."

"Are you sure?" Youji asked in a gleeful way that made Ken glare all the more.

Ken turned to the thin coat of gem-colored leaves on the sidewalk and briskly swept. It was unseasonably cold enough to cause some of the trees to shed their leaves early, but not in a great quantity.

Ken pushed the thought of cold weather aside; it always put him in a foul mood because soccer would come to a close soon. Not only that, but all the warm, sunny days playing his favorite sports on his days off were coming to a close. He enjoyed some winter sports like skiing, but there wasn't anything like the summer sun to energize him.

"Hey! Ken! I said you have a phone call," Youji said, grabbing Ken's shoulder and giving him a firm shake. Ken thrust the broom at Youji and walked into the shop. He glanced around and picked up the receiver off the counter.

"This is Hidaka."

"I've got a job for you."

"I can't. I've got another obligation this afternoon," Ken whispered, still keeping his eyes moving around the shop.

"Are you sure you want to test me?" the rich, feminine voice asked softly.

"I've ran errands for you five times over the last two months. I think I've more than repaid your inconvenience."

"So your answer is still no?" she asked. This was the third time he had verbally refused her since early in the morning.

He had made up his mind three days ago to call her bluff because Aya was starting to get suspicious of his every move. Aya was way too hard to fool and way too persistent. Besides, Ken had hoped that she would use him a few times and then move to hire a loyal assassin rather than a blackmailed one.

Ken's chest tightened as he dredged up his resolve. He was startled by Omi as he came around the counter and dropped his school bag. Omi waved at Ken and smiled before Ken turned away.

"I'm afraid you'll have to make other arrangements. Our store no longer provides that service." Ken slammed the phone down and jammed his shaky hands in his pockets.

"What service?"

"Hun?" Ken swirled around and looked at Omi's baffled expression.

"Oh... just a lady that wanted me to do something." Ken mumbled and pushed past Omi before he had to engage in a lie.

He retreated to the back of the shop and started to fake busy work, he reorganized the Aya-precise shelves. Omi was trying to get his attention, but he ignored the teenager. The phone rang again; he squeezed his eyes shut and held his breath.

"Ken, it's for you," Omi called. Ken tossed aside a plastic container and walked over to the phone by the register.

"Hidaka here," he snapped.

"Sorry, did I catch you at a bad time, Mr. Hidaka?"

"Oh no, Mrs. Yamaguchi. I apologize. My mind is elsewhere. What can I do for you today?

"I just wanted to make sure you were still planning on watching the children this afternoon for our garden club."

"Yes, ma'am. I'll meet them at the soccer field and then take them for some ice cream and video games at the arcade." Ken felt his shoulders and lower back start to ache as the tension slowly eased off.

"Are you sure it's no problem? You do so much for them during soccer season. We hate to impose."

"No.... not at all. You mothers deserve some time to finish your project. Besides, Akira said he would just die if he had to sit through another dull garden club meeting," Ken said. The mother on the other end had a pleasant laugh that caused Ken to chuckle.

"That's my son all right. Thank you from all of us. You can meet them at three. Good bye."

"Good bye, Mrs. Yamaguchi." Ken hung up the phone and glanced at the clock. He only had to avoid the phone and Omi's curious glances for another half an hour.

Ken took a seat by an antiquated Centipede machine because it had the best vantage point for keeping an eye on his scattered brood as they latched onto their favorite video games. He took a sip of soda and soon slipped back into thinking over his two-month old dilemma.

The first time he had worked for Hitomi Kitagawa had set his nerves on edge. She sent him to kill a cargo inspector that had stolen a shipment of illegal firearms from her. He had wanted to get rid of the guns, but she had shown up before he had a chance to dump them off a pier. She was angry because she figured out what Ken was thinking. The following day Omi had nearly been side-swiped by a car on the way to school. After that, Ken knew she would follow through on her threats.

Ken did as she asked until the last assassination he performed for her. Kitagawa claimed it was dirty policeman who was trying to get in her business. Ken preformed the task in an alleyway beside a bar the man was at.

The next day Manx showed up and informed them that a secret Kritiker agent had disappeared the night before while trying to gather information on a new crime ring. Ken's blood rushed to his head when he realized it was the same man from the night before; the man Ken assassinated and dumped off a pier.

After the meeting Manx took Aya aside. Ken racked his brain wondering if he had left too many clues. His stomach twisted with the desire to eavesdrop on Manx and Aya, but he knew better. His conscience started to gnaw at him as Manx left the flower shop.

He had a mad impulse to grab her elbow, confess what he had done, and let Kritiker punish him however they saw fit. It was Aya staring at him from a back corner of the flower shop that stopped him. Those eyes seemed so hostile and dangerous.

His face flushed as he accepted that he had betrayed his friends by his good intentions; he silently cursed his situation and vowed to stand up Kitagawa the next time she called. He would have to be very vigilant, but he was fairly confident she would leave him alone after a while if he stood up to her.

Now he found himself with the chance to test her resolve to keep him as an assassin. He shook off his thoughts as Daichi waved him over to a game most of the kids were gathered around.

"Aren't you going to play, Ken?" Daichi asked

"Sure. Why not?" Ken said, pushing his thoughts aside. He lost himself in the electronic icons and competition.

"Hey, where's Riku?" Akira asked.

Ken's head jerked from his video game. He swirled around scanning the crowd of children in the arcade. He didn't see the young boy anywhere; his mouth was too dry to call out for the child.

"Come on, kids. Follow me," Ken choked out. He quickly lead the children around the arcade in a frantic search. Ken questioned the manager and the other adult patrons. Finally, an elderly lady with her grandson had his answer.

She pointed to the front door and said, "His mother came in and got him."

"Was she tall? Very attractive with long, dark hair?"

"Well, yes. She seemed so glamorous. Her clothes must have cost a small fortune; I couldn't help but notice her," the older woman said. "Son, you look ill. Are you okay?"

"I've got to find her," Ken said.

"She just left a minute ago. You can still catch them, I'm sure."

"Kids! Wait here with this lady and do not leave! I'll be right back," Ken shouted as he bolted towards the front door.

"Riku!" he shouted as he got to the sidewalk.

He looked to his left, nothing. "Riku! Riku!"

He looked to his right; his heart thudded painfully in his throat when he saw Kitagawa's car parked at the curb. She was in the car and Riku sat in the passenger's seat beside her. When Ken saw the boy happily licking an ice cream cone, he lost his temper.

He jogged over to the passenger's side and yanked the door open. Riku looked up at Ken with a baffled expression. Ken grabbed Riku by his arm and jerked him out of the car.

"What do you think you're doing? Get your butt back in the arcade or I'll tell your mother you ran off from me!"

"But, Ken, I was...."

"Shut up! Do as I say or else!"

"I'm sorry," Riku whispered hoarsely as his eyes started to water.

Ken took a deep breath, realizing he must have a furious expression. He gave Riku a gentle shove towards the arcade; his eyes didn't leave the child until Ken saw he was safely indoors. He slammed Kitagawa's car door and turned to walk towards the arcade.

"Mr. Hidaka." Her voice caused Ken to pause and move towards the driver's side door. He refused to look at her.

"Do you understand me now?" she asked. Ken took a deep breath and nodded.

"Good. Here are your instructions tonight. Call me when it's done," she ordered. He glanced to where she held a small piece of paper towards him. He took it and jammed it in his jean's pocket.

"Why me? Why can't you pick someone who wants to work for you? Isn't it a pain to keep blackmailing me?"

"You really don't understand what kind of perverse pleasure I get when you do these little favors for me. You took my Hondo; I'm taking your freedom. I do admit that twisting you is so much more fun than I could have imagined."

"What do you mean by that?" Ken hissed, keeping his eyes on the arcade door.

"I mean that I never imagined such a naive child like you would be an apt murderer. Now it's more than Hondo's murder. You amuse me. It's why I keep you doing favors for me."

A wave of revulsion hit is stomach. He shook his head and said, "We need to end this. I can't keep this up. The organization I work for is about to find out."

"What do I care?"

"I saved your life?"

"You took my husband's!"

"Please let me go," Ken said, forcing rage out of his voice.

"I can't even if I wanted to. I need to make sure you won't come back and interfere with my operations. You know way too much now so I need to keep you close. I'm sorry, but I'm not letting you go for a very long time. Get used to the idea," she said.

Ken slowly walked to the arcade, the muscles in his back were a solid knot. His head pounded as her last words to him echoed in his head. He went into the arcade, gathered the kids, and hurried to take them to their homes.

Ken didn't hear it coming. It just happened. His left shoulder blazed in excruciating pain as he fell backward on the linoleum. He gasped in pain and raised his head. It wasn't nearly as bad as the bullet wound in his left leg; it was growing numb, but he couldn't worry about it now. The target, a greasy, scrawny doctor, had a gun Kitagawa hadn't mentioned to Ken.

The second bullet to his left shoulder hadn't gone far thanks to his bullet-proof vest, but it still hurt him at close range. Ken waited until the glaring man leaned over; he lashed out with his right hand, adrenalin was all he had left. His full agility landed steal claws in the man's neck.

The man took on a shocked expression and tumbled across Ken's stomach; thick, crimson blood splattered all around and over Ken. He quickly hoisted the man off and sprang to his feet with his remaining burst of adrenalin. He glanced around the dim doctor's office and then stumbled towards the window.

He took a deep breath of cool, crisp night air before pulling himself through the open window. He crouched in the hedges around the building and quelled his panic. He stood and saw a flash of crimson out of the corner of his eye.

There was no way to avoid what was going to happen now. Ken knew he was caught. He knew the shadowy figure moving towards him; there was no mistaking the graceful motions. Ken couldn't stay upright any longer; his head swirled as he slumped towards Aya.

Ken gasped in pain and jerked upwards. He looked around his dim room as his left leg throbbed in time with his rapidly beating heart. The only sound was the rustling of tree branches and the light tap as the night winds blew leaves against Ken's window. He noticed Omi sitting on the side of his bed first. The teenager looked concerned.

It was Youji, who stood with crossed arms at the foot of his bed, that looked utterly angry. Ken only glanced at Aya standing by his bedroom door; the tall redhead was still as ice. No one said anything, but the howling wind filled the silence.

Ken tried to moved from his bed; Omi pushed him back and stood up. Finally, Omi asked, "Are you okay? Do you need something for the pain?"

"No, I'm good," Ken said, settling back on his pillow.

"You know, moonlighting is frowned on by Kritiker," Youji said.

"I know. I had my reasons."

"What were they, Ken?" Omi asked.

"I ran into a problem and I'm trying to sort it out."

"What kind of a problem?" Aya asked. Ken's skin grew clammy at Aya's sharp tone.

At first, Ken's mind raced for an excuse or some sort of explanation that would cover him. None came to mind that didn't involve direct lies and lies of omission; and he just couldn't bring himself to disrespect his teammates like that. He refused to lie to them by omission or directly like Kase had done to him years ago. It had left him emotionally wounded; that wound in turn caused an unwillingness in Ken to spread that kind of hurt. He took a deep sigh and sat up on his bed.

"I'm in some serious trouble. It started last March. Remember the Kitagawa mission?" Ken started his story. He related all the details about saving Hitomi Kitagawa's life and her subsequently blackmailing Ken. He finished the story with tonight's assassination of the doctor that ran in social circles with the former movie actress. The doctor had ties to Hondo Kitagawa's old white slavery ring and was pressuring Hitomi into resurrecting it.

After Ken was finished with his story, he leaned against his head board. He anticipated a nasty, shameful feeling, but he actually felt as though he could breath freer. He felt a little lighter with the confession, but he still had his worries.

"What were you thinking? Did you think she was going to say, 'oh that's fine.' Hun?" Youji asked tartly.

"Don't be such a hypocrite! You would have done the same thing!" Ken said with a sneer. "I thought she was just an innocent lady who was at the wrong place; I didn't know until it was too late. I never agreed to kill innocent people when I started with Weiss. I just won't do it."

"Then you're not cut out for this," Aya said. Ken glared at the icy redhead.

"Maybe not, but I'm here now. I have my own reasons for doing this. I believe in justice and I know first hand that it can't be obtained by legal means. If criminals are left unchecked, it can harm a lot of innocent people."

"Being naive can harm a lot of innocent people too," Aya said.

"Don't call me that! She calls me that because she doesn't understand me. She has a jaded outlook just like you."

Omi jumped back and waved his hands in the air just as Aya's expression turned nasty. "Stop, everyone. This isn't helping. Ken did what he thought was right. None of us should judge him because we're in a difficult situation. We assassinate criminals, but they sometimes have families that care about them. Nothing is simple about what we do. Can't you understand that?"

Youji sighed, shook his head, and crossed his arms. "Okay, Ken. You said a private detective has the blackmail material?"

"Yeah, but Mrs. Kitagawa keeps his name from me. I've tried snooping, but I haven't found anything. The detective has the information on all of us and the kids I coach. I not afraid of Mrs. Kitagawa, I despise her, but I'm afraid of what she can do to the kids. This afternoon..." Ken shook his head and took a deep, cleansing breath.

"What is it?" Omi asked.

"She tried something this afternoon. She keeps her eyes on me and she won't hesitate to hurt one of them. You guys have to really understand how dangerous and calculating this woman is. This woman... she gets her kicks from controlling me. It's revenge on me more than anything else. She just isn't natural; she's cold and has no conscience, morals, or fear."

"Any woman who would threaten a child has no soul. She lost everything that makes her a woman if she's capable of that," Youji pronounced. "Don't worry about the detective. I've got some favors I can call in and I can see about neutralizing him."

Ken stood up and walked over to Youji. "I'm really sorry for this. I put you in danger that night. She could have had a gun or..."

"Hey, don't worry about it now. Let's get you out of this jam," Youji said, giving Ken a firm slap on the shoulder. He flashed a lopsided smirk and said, "Besides, like you said, I probably would have done the same thing."

"One problem. Kritiker suspects you of being involved with the assassination of their agent. Manx was having me follow you," Aya explained. "That's going to be a larger problem for you."

"You were spying on me?"

Aya didn't answer Ken's question; he just gave Ken a look that caused a roiling of guilt in his stomach.

"I need to go talk to Manx and tell her everything."

"No, Ken. This could get dangerous for you. Let's handle it quietly and then tell Manx. We can do this if the timing is right. Youji needs to find the detective first and pretty quickly. Just keep Mrs. Kitagawa thinking you're still working for her. When Youji gets back we can take her by surprise," Omi suggested.

"Youji only has a week to find the detective before Manx has to report what she knows to the higher-ups in Kritiker. If we do this, it's got to be fast. Even then, no telling if you'll be safe from Kritiker," Aya said.

"I'm willing to own up to my mistake. I want to stop her before she gets more power," Ken said.

"Fine, you'll be the one to take care of her," Aya said dryly before he turned and walked out of the room.

"I don't think he'll tell Manx right away," Omi whispered before he and Youji left Ken alone in his room. Ken's head jangled with a thick tangle of thoughts. His thoughts shattered at the soft purr of his cell phone beside his bed. He picked it up; it was her.

"Hello, did you do that favor I asked?" she asked.

"Yeah, I did it."

"You didn't call me right away. I expect you to be more prompt next time."

"Yes, ma'am," he answered numbly before he hung up.

[two days later]

Ken looked up when the bell to the flower shop rang. His hopes were dashed at seeing Youji's aggravated expression. The shop was crowded so Youji waved Ken towards the back, leaving Omi and Aya to cover things.

"Ito Norinaga is the man with the information over your head," Youji announced. Ken brightened up.

"That's great. We know who he is and we can get rid of him and then Mrs. Kitagawa, right?"

"Norinaga specializes in helping wealthy people blackmail others. He has a lot of damaging information on all sorts of people... politicians, businessmen, police...."

"Then we need to stop him anyway."

"You don't understand how it works, kid," Youji said. It always irritated him when Youji got that scowl and addressed him like a child. "He's got all that information duplicated somewhere. If that man turns up dead, a lot of people will be put through all sorts of scandals. It'll create a huge shake-down in the government and banking industries."

"Didn't you find where he's hiding all of his stuff?"

"I broke into his office and snooped around, but the man isn't stupid enough to keep his valuables there," Youji said. Ken glared, leaned back against the cinder block wall, and slammed his fist into it. "Hey... don't get worried about. I'm sure Omi can do the rest."

"You're right. Thanks so much, Youji."

[later that night]

"Have you found it?"

"Ken... a computer is not like a Ouija board. Please give me some time," Omi said. Ken felt guilty seeing Omi's shoulders slump. Ken started pacing again. He glanced at the clock and realized it was almost two in the morning.

"Omi, you had better get some rest. You have school tomorrow and my mistake..."

"It's okay. I'm fine. Besides, helping you is more important to me than school," Omi said, typing furiously. Ken paused and smiled his first genuine smile in two months.

"Thank you for sticking by me."

"I would have made the same choice and I know you would help me out in the same situation. It's what friends are for. Next time remember you can lean on us and we'll help you," Omi said.

"I know you and Youji would have made the same choice, but do you think Aya would?"

Omi stopped typing and turned around in his chair to face Ken. "I think Aya would avoid killing a person who wasn't a target. You know, Ken, Aya's been careful around Manx. He's trying to help you too... in his own way."

"I'm sorry I haven't shown you trust lately. You know I've had problems with friends betraying my trust and I need to work on it. I realize I can trust you and Youji. I just don't always know about Aya." Ken paced again. Omi didn't answer; he just turned to computer and started typing again.

[three days later]

"Florists, this is Hidaka. How may I help you?"

"I have a favor I need done," the woman's voice said over the telephone receiver.

"Tonight?" Ken asked.

"Yes," she murmured. He was silent as she rattled off the details of a man she wanted killed. He didn't pay attention to her orders; he waved over his three teammates. They all stopped doing flower shop tasks and crept over. "Do you understand what I expect?"

"Yes. I promise you'll hear from me tonight," Ken said and hung up the phone. He glanced around, making sure only he and his teammates were in the store. "That was her. Since you found his hiding spot, will you three go take care of Norinaga around eight o'clock? Don't forget those three guys from Kitagawa's old white slavery circle. She'll call them in for some retaliation. It should be downhill from there. That'll protect you guys and the kids."

"What are your plans?" Omi asked.

"I'm going to go atone for my mistake tonight. Here, Aya. This goes to Manx tomorrow morning," Ken said. He took a folded envelope from the back pocket of his khakis and handed it to the icy redhead.

"Don't do anything stupid," Aya warned.

"Trust me. I'm going to protect Weiss from her. Just don't worry about me. Any of you." Ken turned and jogged upstairs, refusing to look at them again.

This situation with Kitagawa was too painful and too dangerous to involve the rest of Weiss any longer. It was in his nature to care about people and want to protect them. It was incompatible with the life he lived. He came to the painful conclusion he wasn't cut out to assassinate people. He hated it and wanted to leave it behind, this was a good enough reason.

He had written the letter of resignation to Manx two days ago when he realized that he couldn't suppress his honorable intentions that lead to him saving Kitagawa's life last March. There was just no room for honorable intentions in the shadowy life of assassins; it only would throw his friends and kids in danger again and again. It was time to leave Weiss behind.

Ken had stayed in his room the rest of the afternoon and the early evening. He had listened to his teammates when they came up to their shared apartment. He listened to them have dinner; he had rebuffed Omi trying to urge him towards eating.

He sat on the edge of his bed and let the autumn sky turn rusty and fade into darkness. His glowing alarm clock finally read seven. He stood, put his cell phone and motorcycle key in his pocket, and looked down at his clothing.

All he wore was a plain white tee shirt, fade khakis, and thin, gray Converse sneakers. He didn't bother changing into the clothes he wore for missions and he didn't bother getting his bagknucks. His plans didn't include them.

After he heard the others leave, he left his room and looked around the dim apartment. They all had left and dressed as if they had a mission. Ken felt a wave of relief. He knew the rest of Weiss would get the job done and then his kids would be safe.

He quickly left and went down to the alleyway where he kept his motorcycle. The evening chill made goose bumps on his bare arms as he took off down the street towards the Kitagawa mansion. He had no problems finding the place; the hateful path was ingrained in Ken's head. He parked in roughly the same spot. It was out in a dark, close-by wooded area. He turned off his motorcycle and noticed the house had a faint light coming from the study.

He got out cell phone and dialed. A voice answered with a bland, standard greeting and asked Ken to describe his need.

"I'd like to report a murder," he said softly. He interrupted the police dispatcher, gave Kitagawa's address, and hung up. No details were going to be necessary until after they got there.

Ken got off his motorcycle and took a deep breath before walking across the lawn. He didn't bother to duck, hide, or run. He made it to the same French door he had entered through twice before. He took it as a sign of her arrogance it still had a standard latch. He looked in to see she wasn't in the study, but he needed to get her attention.

He slammed his shoulder against the elegant doors. Three pains of glass shatter as the wood groaned and buckled. Ken pushed the ruined French doors aside and stepped into the masculine study. This time, the fresh air followed Ken and suppressed the musty sent and stuffy atmosphere. Ken could see the light was come from a small fire in the fireplace.

He stood still as he heard the soft patter of her feet. She stepped into the room wearing a cream colored bathrobe. Ken saw the gun in her hand before she noticed him. She locked her alluring eyes with his and gave him a sigh, half-smile.

"Mr. Hidaka. I didn't expect you to drop by. It shows poor manners on your part to come to my home unannounced."

"I came by to tell you that I've turning myself into the police. I'm done doing your dirty little favors."

"What about your friends? And those children? You can't go to jail. If you do something that stupid out of some misguided sense of nobility, I'll crush everyone of them. Don't you get it? I control you. Even your ability to escape me is at my whim."

"You can only push a person so far before they break. You pushed me to that point when you tried to take Riku from the arcade. I confessed to my friends and I've resigned from my organization. They agreed to do me one favor..."

"No! You didn't!"

"Yes. Right now they're taking down Norinaga and destroying every part of his business. The organization I worked for will seal itself off and deny any knowledge of me. My friends can take care of themselves after I'm gone," Ken said.

A sardonic expression came to her face as the light from the fireplace flickered. A strong gust of wind rained rusty brown leaves around Ken and his blackmailer.

"I'm going to tell them everything about you too," Ken said softly, eyes unwavering.

"You wouldn't dare. I'll get rid of each child you've dealt with this last summer if you report me to the police."

"You see, I've also told my friends about your husband's three old associates. They decided they'd go finish the job we started last March. There isn't anyone left for you to call."

Her eyes narrowed. "You're a stupid boy."

"No, I'm honest and I refuse to let you use me any longer to further crimes that can harm innocent people." Flashing lights outside cut the darkness and jerked their attention to one of the side windows. Ken turned his head back to her; her face was anxious. "That's the police coming to pick us up."

"I'll kill you for this," she said, aiming her gun at his chest.

"You kill me, and that's a murder charge that will go directly against you. They'll be here in minutes and you won't be able to get rid of my body. I'm the only witness that you have that can vouch you never killed anyone directly. I'll do it too. You'll go to prison for your crimes, but you'll be alive. It's time to make the right choice."

Her face went from anxious to surprised. Her face slowly melted into a charming, gentle smile; Ken was struck once again with how attractive she was.

"It seems I did underestimate you. You are smarter than I thought, braver too. I see I did push you too far. I won't make the mistake of keeping you around any longer. You have too many surprises," she said, drawing back the hammer on the gun.

"But you'll be sent away for murder."

"I'll tell them how you confessed to killing my husband and how you were going to kill me. I've got a good lawyer. If that doesn't work, I have ways out of this country and a son in Europe. I can start over because I've learned the art of survival over the years. You see, Mr. Hidaka, you pushed me to far," she said.

Ken clenched his jaw and squared his shoulders. The thought had crossed his mind that she could be this ruthless, but he had hoped her intelligence would dominate. He saw shadows dancing over her elegant face as wind blew her hair upwards.

He shut his eyes and flinched at the loud bang. His hand flew to his chest when he realized there was no sting or pain. Ken opened his eyes. Mrs. Kitagawa's eyes were wide; her lips shown a glossy red. Her hand trembled and then the gun dropped.

Ken's quick reflexes caught her before she landed on the hardwood floor of the study. He could know see crimson spreading across her cream colored bathrobe. He glanced over to the doorway to see a redheaded woman in a police uniform. The woman was lowering her smoking gun.

"Manx, what are you doing here?"

"Is that a way to thank me?"

"But the police? Why are you wearing that uniform?"

"No time to really explain. Just be grateful Aya and the others figured out what was on your mind tonight and were able get in touch with me so I could intercept the call to the police."

"Wow, Kritiker must have deeper roots than I figured. But I..." Kitagawa stirred slightly and then went limp in Ken's lap.

"I want you to go now, Siberian. I'll talk to you tomorrow about all of this and the repercussions," Manx snapped. Ken nodded and looked down at the woman in his arms.

"Why didn't she just let me go? Why did she have to put herself into her husband's mess?"

"I don't know," Manx said, laying a hand on Ken's shoulder. "I'll handle all of this for you. It'll look like a robbery."

Ken shifted Mrs. Kitagawa to the floor and stood up, dizzy from the near miss. Manx took him by the upper arm and tugged him towards the door. He paused at the large, mahogany desk and turned to Manx. "Did you read my letter?"

"Yes, and I think you're wrong. You have a large heart and it's apt to get hurt, but I think it would hurt you more to know that there are people like Hitomi Kitagawa that are free to do as they wish. This situation has labeled you a hazard to Kritiker. They will want to debrief you soon. Especially about the agent you killed."

"Yeah... I just don't know what I..." Ken saw a shadow move and a flash rise behind Manx to her right. "Watch out!"

Manx cried out; her gun tumbled to the floor. Ken shoved Manx to her left and threw himself over her as a second, loud shot rang out. Ken scooped up the gun and took aim where Kitagawa now knelt; he squeezed the trigger twice, not thinking about the unfamiliar weapon. Kitagawa was flung backwards and melted back into the shadows.

Ken's breath was ragged as he knelt by Manx's side; she was only slightly wounded in the arm. She sat up with a grimace and pushed him back slightly. They stood and went over to the body. Ken stooped down and checked. She was dead; permanently, irrevocably dead.

He stood, eyes fixed on her, knowing he should be relieved. Instead he felt hollow. Real police sirens were beginning to sound in the distance as Manx pushed him outside of the French doors. His mind was numb, but his body quickly ran for his motorcycle

Ken sat on his bed, but didn't turn on the lights. He watched the soft rain patter against his window. He couldn't remember the trip home, but he came to when he entered the apartment and the rest of Weiss was there.

Ken found out they were all victorious. Youji had taken out Norinaga while Omi had taken all of his blackmailing information. It was to go to Kritiker. Aya had found one of Hondo Kitagawa's associates, killed him, and then met back with Youji and Omi to kill off the other two.

They asked Ken about what had happened. All he told them was that Hitomi Kitagawa was dead, but he just couldn't talk about right now. They let him escape to the quiet of his room where he could start to put things in perspective again.

He couldn't understand her at all, but there was a part of him that felt if he could just understand what made her that way he could forgive and forget the whole ugly situation. He wanted to move on, but he realized that he would have to accept the fact that he may never know what made a person like her.

For now, he would have to deal with the trouble he was in with Kritiker. He wouldn't know how deep his troubles would be until tomorrow when he saw Manx. His stomach began to twist in uncomfortable knots once again.

It was as if he could never truly be free of this life of killing, even when he broke several of Kritiker's rules. He had no idea what was next. To him, it was like the pitch black night outside his window. There were no landmarks to get his bearings. There was nothing familiar or comfortable in his eyesight, just the constant, steady rain from the sky.


[PS- Thanks to everyone who's been reading this series and given me great feedback. This still didn't seem complete when I finished it even thought that was my intention. I promise one last one, but it'll be Ken dealing with Kritiker and the Kitagawa's son, Ryu. My target is to have that one done by May 1, 2009; it'll be called 'Winter's Regret.' I'll merge all of the stories into one after I'm finished, but I don't know what to call it in general. Just let me know what you think. My goal was to analyze Ken's character more than anything else.]