Title: Winter's Regret

Author: Sybil Rowan

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

Rating: T

Summary: Sequel to 'Autumn Leaves.' Ken is now free from his target's wife, but he's in deep trouble with Kritiker. While he's trying to earn back Kritiker's trust, he tries to sort out the nature of evil and figure out if doing the right thing is always correct regardless of the outcome.

Warnings: Some violence, two cuss words.

Author's Notes: Last one... yeahhhh. I loved writing this one the most of the four. This is more of an introspective piece. To me, Ken's character can be too easily dismissed as a 'jock' type and not very deep or much of a thinker. My opinion is that he probably gets kept up some nights by things he doesn't understand... like cruel people. Also, balancing his morality with the type of life he leads is very tricky. This is my take on him getting some peace with that conflict. By the way, I put Botan in here for fun; I don't think I wrecked cannon because I was careful to keep him and Aya from meeting. Well... I hope you like this whole series. Special thanks to Deutschrocker and Tressa for your encouragement and patience while I took a break to write on my Cyborg 009 stuff.

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 = 6,947

May 3, 2009 (7:29am)

Ken kept glancing at the clock beside the cash register. Noon hadn't quite come yet, but he already wanted the day to be over. Every time the bell above the flower shop's door rang he flinched and fumbled with his tasks.

It was unusually silent because Ken kept the shop's television off; this morning he had quickly gotten rattled by the nonstop coverage of Hitomi Kitagawa's murder. He detested the constant reminder, especially, since he hadn't heard word about Manx's condition. Besides, his mind kept half expecting his name from the newscaster's reports.

The phone beside the register jangled; Ken dropped the pencil in his hand and stared at the phone. His mind half expected to hear Kitagawa's voice. "Hello, flower shop. This is Hideka."

"Hello, Ken, I need you to meet me at the café across the street."

"Birman?" Ken asked. The phone when dead. He hung up the receiver and looked over at Aya; the icy, redheaded assassin had been staring at Ken while leaning against the coolers. It was always hard for Ken to tell what Aya was thinking because of his constant aloof mannerisms.

Aya nodded to Ken after several long seconds. "You better not keep her waiting."

"Yeah... Thanks," Ken murmured and yanked off his apron. He took a deep breath and headed out of the door with hesitation. He was never one to avoid consequences. It was guilt over his deceit that lead to Manx getting shot, that's what made him want to waver.

He walked over to the coffee shop and peeked in the window. His heart pounded when he saw an unfamiliar man in a dark suit; he sat across from Birman. The man had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, crossed arms, and a frown. Birman sipped her coffee, but her furrowed brow did nothing to inspire confidence in Ken.

He took a deep breath and walked in. He politely told the waitress he was meeting someone and then walked over to the table. They both looked up at him with haggard expressions.

"Ken, this is Botan. Why don't you sit down and we can have a chat?" Birman slid over and Ken took a seat next to her.

"How's Manx?"

"She's fine. It was only a flesh wound. She wanted me to thank you for saving her life."

"Her life wouldn't have needed saving if it wasn't for the mess I made," Ken said after he looked around to make sure no one was close by.

"Got that right, kid." Botan drawled while adding sugar to his coffee. Ken's face flushed, he kept his eyes glued to his clenched fists resting on the table.

"Botan is here to debrief you, Ken. He works for our common employer." Ken knew Birman was referring to Kritiker. He had never met any other Kritiker agents face-to-face outside of Manx and Birman.

"Oh." A waitress cut off Ken's remarks as she served him a cup of coffee and refilled the other mugs on the table. After she flounced off, Ken looked up at Botan. The man slouched in the booth and appeared annoyed.

"I'm gathering information on what happened with the Kitagawa case. After that, I'll make a decision if you're fit to stay in Weiss. It's that plain and simple. So... you better sell me that you weren't on the take for that woman."

"She never gave me any money. It was blackmail," Ken admitted softly, his teeth gritted.

"I'll be looking at everything you own and your bank account just to double check." Botan took a sip of his coffee and gave Ken a scrutinizing look that made him feel dirty. "You know... that Kitagawa woman was a real looker. Former actress. You're a nice looking young guy... nineteen? Are you sure there wasn't something else going on?"

"No! Absolutely not! I despised Mrs. Kitagawa."

"Fine... fine... Finish up your coffee and we'll go for a ride."

"I know what you're thinking. On the outside she was an elegant, well respected woman with a good reputation. Her husband wasn't the only one doing horrible things. She was a vile woman."

"At one time in your life, on the outside, you appeared to be addicted to gambling and willing to cheat your way to the top of the J-League. So... your story may be true... or maybe not. We'll see."

Ken's face grew hot as he glared at Botan's implication. The man was predisposed towards thinking Ken was getting money or having an affair with Kitagawa. He took a deep breath and pushed his hot temper down. If ever he needed to be cool, it was now.

"And that was all?" Botan finished making his forty-seventh paper airplane. He tossed it in the air and watched the September wind catch it and carry it away. Ken bit back his annoyance with the man's incessant paper folding.

The only thing Ken could appreciate about it was that Botan kept tossing them to the small group of children playing in the field beside the picnic table they sat at. The children would yammer, grab the planes, and run around the field in glee. During Ken's story, Botan would give out random dry chuckles and start on a new plane from the pile of paper resting under a rock on the table.

"I know it's an odd story, but every word is the truth."

"Everyone I've interviewed, Manx and Birman, said you had a deep aversion to liars. They also said you were the 'Sir Gawain' type that would get suckered into something like this."

"Don't insult me. I have my morals, but I'm not stupid."

"This was not a situation you should have gotten stuck in. You risked the rest of Weiss and Kritiker, not to mention those kids you coach. The one thing I have no respect for is a man that risks a child's life. I mean, you knew Hondo Kitagawa was kidnapping children. How could you think Hitomi Kitagawa was any better?"

"I'm willing to accept responsibility for what I've done. Just tell me what's going to happen," Ken snapped, glaring at the man. Botan finished a paper airplane, tossed it, and lit a cigarette.

"There are two possibilities for you. If you are retained, you can continue working for Weiss. You'll be on a six month probation. If you commit another unauthorized assassination, you'll be sent to prison for the rest of your life and we'll deny any knowledge of your existence."

"What's the other possibility?"

"Kritiker would dismiss you. We would relocate you to Abashiri. We'd set you up with some retail job like what you do now and we'd expect you to stay there for the rest of your life. You, of course, could never divulge what you know about Kritiker. I think you know what would happen if you left Abashiri or talked about Kritiker."

"I've never been to Hokkaido island or any of those cities up there. I was raised in Tokyo."

"I'll prepare my report and give my recommendation."

"Which is?"


"Why?" Ken jolted back, ice settled in his stomach.

"Because, people like you get other people killed. Through your good intentions my friend, Katsuyuki Kanbe, was killed. He was the Kritiker agent you assassinated a few weeks ago for Mrs. Kitagawa. In spite of that, my intention was to hear you out and give you a fair shake. The more I listened to you, the more I realized what a danger you are to Kritiker. You just aren't cut out for this."

"I didn't think so before last night."

"I found your letter of resignation with Manx's things last night. You don't even think you should be in Weiss."

"I know I made one large mistake that lead to all of this."

"What was it?"

"I trusted that all good deeds could only produce good results."

Botan looked up and quirked an eyebrow. "You still believe that?"

Ken took a deep breath and shook his head. "I don't know."

Botan gave another dry chuckle and shook his head. "You know, I still believe in good deeds resulting in good outcomes. That's why I keep working for Kritiker. I'm going to go talk to Persia tonight and I'll call you in a few weeks when we've made our decision. In the mean while, you won't have any assignments and you will be watched."

"So what happened?' Omi asked first thing when Ken stepped back into the flower shop. Ken glanced around saw Youji was the only other person in the store. The ex-detective set aside his magazine and gave Ken his full attention.

"I met with a Kritiker agent named Botan. He just dropped me off."

"What did he say?" Youji snapped impatiently.

Ken glared at him. "He's going to recommend my dismissal. They're under the impression I'm not cynical enough for this kind of work. Plus, I assassinated one of their agents. That's the big thing working against me."

"But it was a mistake, Ken. They surely understand."

Ken turned to Omi and shook his head ruefully. "No, they don't understand. I should have never assassinated anyone outside of their assignments."

"Well... what will happen if they dismiss you?" Omi asked.

"I'll move to another city and work a job like this. Listen, I'm tired. I want to go upstairs and crash."

"Of course. We'll close up in fifteen minutes. Aya is already starting dinner."

"Cool," Ken walked to the back of the store and went upstairs to their shared apartment.

The apartment was quiet except for the occasional clanking pans coming from the kitchen. Ken walked through the living room and paused when he saw the newspaper on the coffee table. The headline read, 'Murdered Actress's Funeral Tomorrow.'

Ken picked up the paper and saw her picture. She looked glamorous in large sunglasses as she stepped off an international flight; she was waving to adoring fans with a soft smile. Bile filled the back of Ken's throat as he read about how she was adored and emulated during her twenty-six-year-long career as a popular actress.

The various charities she contributed to were listed along with her impressive connections and accomplishments. He found out the forty-three year old woman was survived by a twenty year old son, Ryu Kitagawa, who was arriving from Europe later in the evening.

"Lies!" Ken tossed the paper on the coffee table.

"What?" Aya asked, poking his head out from the kitchen.

"Nothing... just..."

"How did it go?"

"Not good." Ken sat on the couch after Aya nodded.

"Birman called when you were out. She asked me a few questions about you." Aya walked over and sat at the other end of the couch.

"What did she want to know?"

"There was really one thing she wanted to know. It was whether I thought you wanted to be in Weiss."

"What did you tell her?" Ken asked.

"I told her that you hated doing the work, but you understood the importance of what Weiss does."

"If I really understood the purpose of Weiss, I would have killed Mrs. Kitagawa last March."

"No, I said you understood the importance of Weiss. You understand there are evil people who operate above the law. They need to be stopped; that's what Weiss's purpose is. The reason Weiss is important is that those evil people need to be stopped or innocent people suffer. There is a difference between purpose and importance."

Ken was too amazed at hearing more then two sentence from Aya, let alone, indicate that he understood Ken's motivations. Aya finally stood up and headed back to the kitchen.

"Dinner is in five minutes, Ken." He was jarred out of his musings. He glanced at the crumpled newspaper again.

"Hey, Aya. Can we switch days off? There's something I have to do tomorrow."

The funeral was not what Ken expected. It was large with many people pouring though a flowery courtyard to extend condolences to Ryu Kitagawa. Ken had a level of perceived danger at being in this press of people at two in the afternoon. There was also a sense of doing something taboo within Ken, but he had to see Mrs. Kitagawa's mourners.

He watched all the grief stricken faces in amazement. Words like 'inspiration,' 'generous,' 'graceful,' 'kind,' and 'beautiful' were whispered around Ken. His jaw clenched tighter as he made his way around, eavesdropping on the conversations.

Ken told himself over and over he was here to see if there were any whispered rumors about her murder that may implicate him. It wasn't until he heard an elderly woman say, "Hitomi was the kindest woman I ever knew. Her generosity to the children's hospital was remarkable."

"Yes. I wonder what they'll do now that she's gone."

A wave a confusion hit him as he wandered off towards a small bench under an arbor. Her death, which stopped gun and drug trade, also suspended donations to sick children. Even doing this right thing lead to harming innocent lives. He steadied his breath as he slowly admitted the truth of why he came. It was to see if anyone else could see past her veneer.

"Thanks for coming."

Ken started and turned towards the deep, rich voice. The young man was Ken's age, but much taller. Ken had no doubt who he was; his face was every bit as attractive as his mother's even with its worn and dispirited expression.

"I'm sorry for your loss, Mr. Kitagawa." Ken gave him a slight bow.

"You were an admirer?"

"I met her earlier this year and felt compelled to pay my respects."

"I appreciate it. Mr...?"

"Hideka, Ken."

"I have to go. The mayor and the director of her last movie will be speaking soon."

"Her last movie?"

"Yes, you know? Winter's Regret."

Ken watched the young man trudge off with slumped shoulders. A wave of pity hit Ken as an attendant directed him towards a chair so he could watch the eulogies.

Ken entered the empty apartment and loosened his black tie. He tossed a plastic bag on the sofa and went to change his clothes. Now in jeans and a tee-shirt he went back to the sofa and dug in the plastic bag. He removed the DVD and stared at the cover.

The title, Winter's Regret, was in a dark blue above the picture of Kitagawa and the male lead in the movie. He got out the disk and put it in the player. He turned off the lights and settled on the sofa.

The story started to unfold. Kitagawa played a woman in a loveless marriage. Her character was starting to have an affair with a police commissioner by the time Omi and Youji came up to the apartment. Ken paused it in irritation when they called him to dinner.

He ignored the dinner conversation, took a few bites of rice, and went back to the movie. In the background, Ken heard Youji leave for a date and Aya come in from visiting his sister. His real focus was on the dire action unfolding before him. The wife's husband found out and started blackmailing the wife and her lover. They decided to murder the husband, but their mutual mistrust sent them in a spiral towards more betrayal.

"Not your type of film, Ken."

Ken shook his head at Omi. Ken paused the movie before the last fifteen minutes were played out. "Just something I heard about."

"Really? I've never seen you watch anything but action and adventure." Omi sat beside Ken and set the DVD box aside. "I can tell you're watching this film because of Mrs. Kitagawa. Come on, Ken. We all know why you switched with Aya today. Why did you go to the funeral? It'll only get you into more trouble with Kritiker."

"I went because I wanted to see if anyone knew what I did about her. Everyone loved her. I don't understand why anyone else didn't know about the real Mrs. Kitagawa. Couldn't they see something was wrong with her? Didn't she ever give herself away just a little? I keep thinking about the first time I saw her. Looking back on it, she really wasn't afraid of me like I thought. She was cautious, but she could see right through me and knew exactly what I was. If only I could have looked at her and known exactly what she was, none of this would have happened."

"This is bigger than what happened with Mrs. Kitagawa, isn't it?"

Ken took a deep breath and nodded. He felt as though a heavy burden was around his shoulders, preventing him from sitting upright. "Yeah. It goes back to Kase. This thing with her made me realize how horrible I am at judging people. I kept giving him chance after chance. I just trusted him."

"Just because you trust people doesn't make you naive. It's one of your best qualities." Omi slumped forward, elbows resting on knees. "It's something I rely on."

"Omi, I trust you. You've always come through for all of us. Right now, I need to understand why she did what she did. Shouldn't bad intentions be worn on a person's face?"

"I wish that were so." Omi stood and shook his head. "You aren't going to find the answers in that movie."

"I'm trying to find a crack in her act. In this movie she plays the type of woman I knew her as: scheming and evil. Her acting is flawless because that's who she really was and no one knew that she lived her real life as a total lie. I just want to see if my own eyes can see through someone's lies."

"Don't make yourself so sick over it." Omi left. Ken finished the movie, but was jarred by the ending. Kitagawa's character murdered her rich husband and was going to frame her police commissioner lover for the crime. Her lover shot her in a tense confrontation at the lavish home the rich couple had shared. It make Ken's stomach turn to see her character die.

As the credits rolled, Ken realized he hadn't figured out anything from the movie. He shrugged off what Omi had said and pressed play once again.

[one month later]

There was a lull in the late Saturday afternoon. Ken glanced around after he finished mopping the back of the flower shop. He was annoyed to see Youji leaning on a counter, daydreaming. Beside Youji, Omi sat with the flower shop's ledger and a stack of bills. Aya was rearranging the front window to an autumnal display. Ken shook his head at the typical scene, but froze when he saw Manx walk in.

It was the first time he had seen her in a month; Birman had brought the last two missions. Both of which Ken had been excluded from. He was starting to get impatient with Botan. He had half a mind to call the man up and tell him to make up his mind.

"Hello, boys."

"Manx, how wonderful to see you," Youji called out. "I was starting to get bored."

"Well, I have something for you." She walked towards the back of the store and paused when she saw Ken. Her forgiving smile make Ken blush in shame. "Ken, I want to talk to you afterwards. I'm afraid I can only invite Aya, Omi, and Youji on this one."

"I don't understand," Ken said, shrugging of the impulse to lie out of politeness.

Manx looked mildly surprised, but nodded. "Don't worry. Things are about to change."

Ken was left alone in the flower shop as the rest of Weiss followed Manx to the basement. He crossed his arms and flopped down on the stool next to register. He was jolted from his funk when the name 'Ryu Kitagawa' was spoken on the softly playing television in the corner.

'...has just announced the creation of a girls' academy. His new venture is named in honor of his late mother. He said it was her dream to start an academy where underprivileged girls could have a chance to learn about modeling, acting, and art. The Hitomi Kitagawa Girls Academy will open their doors in three days. Mr. Kitagawa, announced he will not continue his Oxford education until next Spring due to the horrible tragedies that have struck his family this year. The police have still found no leads in either Hondo or Hitomi Kitagawa's murders. In economic news...'

Ken felt something wasn't correct. A school for poor girls was unusual; it made Ken uneasy. He mentally berated himself for mistrust. After all, the man could be sincerely generous, but Ken couldn't just let go of the man's last name. He couldn't just blindly trust anymore.

"Ken," Manx said, shaking his arm. He turned to her and nodded.

"I'm ready."

"Let's go for a walk."

She led them to the park where Ken usually taught soccer. It was empty of children and mothers. The trees lining the field were half empty of their dying leaves.

"So are you still coaching?"

"Season is almost wrapped up. My kids came in second place. Not too bad really."

"Good to hear." They took a seat on a dilapidated bench. Ken took a deep breath and faced her.

"So what did Kritiker decide?"

"You're still in, but you are on probation."

A wave of relief hit Ken as he slumped back on the bench. "That's great news. I never thought I would be happy to hear I wasn't kicked out of Weiss."

"It was close. I argued to keep you. Since I had worked with you, they let my words carry more weight than Botan's report. Needless to say, he isn't happy. Unfortunately, he's the one assigned to oversee your probation so you'll have to be on your best behavior and be very tolerant of him."

"Thank you, Manx."

"I didn't do it for your gratitude. I did it because I feel you deserve another chance. Your heart is in the right place, Ken, but you can't let your good nature set you up to be a target. You need to learn to protect yourself."

Ken's relief was quelled by a harsh pang in his chest. He hardened his expression. "Don't worry about me, Manx. I'm not as trusting as I used to be."

She appeared a little unsettled and as if she had something to say. Ken wanted to know what she was thinking, but he knew he didn't really want to hear it spoken.

"For the next six months you have to accept every mission. You will not be able to leave the shop without checking with Omi or Aya. Every part of your life will be open for Botan to check whenever he pleases. Each month you'll meet with him and talk about your activities. After the six months probation, Kritiker will review your file and then they'll make a permanent recommendation."

"It's like being in prison!"

"I know. You won't have any privacy, but the alternative is going to live on Hokkaido."

"Fine. I'll do what they want."

Manx gave Ken a smile of encouragement. "Don't let me down, Ken."

[two weeks later]

"Hey, Omi, have you heard of this?" Ken glanced around the flower shop. There were only a couple of teenage girls hanging around while Omi tried to clean some vases. Ken slid the newspaper over towards Omi.

"Girls' School? No... afraid not. Why are..."

"Oh, that," Ouka said, glancing across the table at the newspaper. "Only the poorest girls get to go there, but everyone with looks and talents wants to go. The facilities, teachers, and opportunities are top notch. That Ryu Kitagawa is considered one of the most eligible bachelors among Tokyo's elite. He only travels in the best circles, same as my father."

"But the girls... I mean... they go home and see their parents every night. So they would be looked after?"

Ouka chuckled and shook her head. "You really are unsophisticated. It's a boarding school. The girls live on the campus and go home only on seasonal breaks. Ken? You look a little sick."

"Yeah, Ken, sit down. You got white as a sheet."

Ken sat down on a chair and took a deep breath to clear out his dizziness. Omi shooed Ouka away and sat beside Ken.

"Omi, I just know something is wrong with it."

"You need to put away this obsession with the Kitagawas. It's damaging your perspective."

"I have a feeling something is going on. Someone needs to look into it."

"Don't you dare go near that school. Botan will ship you to Hokkaido the minute you start snooping."

"But what if those girls are in trouble? No one would know."

"I'll look online if you promise not to set foot outside of the shop."

Ken sighed and gave Omi a glare. "Fine, you have my word. But... you better give it a good look."

"You have my word."


"No! Not a thing, Ken. Ryu Kitagawa is clean. The money came from his mother's acting career. All the instructors are world class and criminal background checks have been run on everyone employed by the academy."

"Maybe I am going crazy. Why can't I shake this feeling?" Ken flopped down on the sofa beside Omi.

"I'll email Persia and he can get Kritiker to do some investigating."

"No... it's okay..."

"Are you sure?"

"Not really. I think I'm still sorting out my issues." Ken stood up. "I'm going to bed."

"Good night." Omi said.

Ken went to his bedroom and settled in bed. Sleep was elusive. He tossed, unable to find a way to get comfortable. A vision from the first time he met Hitomi Kitagawa came to him; she was in her blood-soaked, blue nightgown. He remembered the way she jerked her chin up high and asked him, 'So now what are you going to do,' in that sensuous voice. He pushed it aside only to see Kase's burning eyes as blood trickled from the corner of his mouth. Kase gasped out, 'I'll see you in hell,' with that expression of loathing.

Ken jumped out of his bed and clasped his trembling hands together so tight his knuckles were turning white. He walked to the window and opened it. There was nothing to feel on the air. No rain, no wind, heat, chill, or light. It was a stale dark night with no moon or stars visible. It was a totally empty night, a black void, that left Ken adrift.

'I am in hell, Kase. You sent me here only you didn't know it. The hell you put me through is lost trust. I could hate you forever for taking that away from me, but it's her... She started where you left off. I could have lived through Weiss if only I could have my trust in people renewed. I thought I did the right thing by protecting her only it turned sour. Now I want to follow my impulse again and do the right thing. The right thing is to make sure those girls are safe. It'll mean I'll loose what little I have left. What if...' Ken thought to himself.

"I can't live like this. I have to do what's right," he said through gritted teeth as he gripped his window frame tightly. "I will not let Kase and Kitagawa take away that part of me."

Ken turned and quickly changed into his mission clothing and got his bagnucks out. He took note that it was almost ten o'clock at night before he locked his room's door and climbed out his window. He clung to the shadows and kept looking for signs of Botan.

He hopped on his motorcycle and took off in the direction of the girls' academy in downtown Tokyo. He kept glancing over his shoulder, weaving in and out of traffic, and running red lights to shake Botan in case he was followed.

It was a twenty minute drive from the shop to the academy that was held in a large, old fashioned building that had been refurbished. It was rather elegant. The lights were dim and there were only a few cars in the parking lot. He parked his motorcycle behind the modern office building adjacent to the academy.

He kept dodging behind the cover of the thick foliage around the academy and slipped close to a small side entrance. There was a camera watching the security locked door. Ken picked up a rock from the ground and hurled it hard enough to shatter the lens. Ken ducked beside the door and waited three minute before a security guard came ambling through the door.

Ken slammed his fists against the back of the man's neck. He crumpled to the ground with a foot lodged in the doorway. Ken quickly made his way inside, knowing he only had a short amount of time before the security guard was considered missing. He ran up the stairway, but kept his senses sharp for any indication of people. He reached a door at the top flight of the staircase and walked through it. The Hiragana read, 'Administrative Floor.'

The hallway to the administrative floor was dimly lit. It looked abandoned except for a door slightly ajar at the other end. His mouth was dry and every muscle was tense as he walked towards the door. The Hiragana sign read, 'Head Patron, Kitagawa.' He peeked into the room.

The furniture was heavy, dark mahogany and books were scattered everywhere just like the study at the Kitagawa mansion. Even the same cloying odor of cigars, liqueur, and pine triggered a nervousness within Ken. A moan towards the right of the room caught his attention.

Ken could see a girl, no older than thirteen, laying on a cordovan leather couch. She was wearing a rumpled school uniform. Ken could tell from her shallow irregular breathing and her glazed over eyes that she was in serious trouble.

He paused when Ryu Kitagawa came into his line of sight. He was leering at the girl while he was removing his crisp, white button down shirt. Ken was too stunned at first. It was only when Kitagawa sat beside the girl and started tugging at her blouse that Ken came too and slipped in the room.

Ken's murderous rage kept him from being quiet. Kitagawa jumped up and turned to Ken in shock. Kitagawa tried lunging for the phone, but Ken popped his blades out and shook his head. Ken imagined he looked horrific, judging by Kitagawa's terrorized face.

"What do you want?" Kitagawa's voice quivered.

"The truth. What are you doing with that girl?"

The young man swallowed and gave a callous shrug. "Nothing that will hurt her. She won't remember a thing."

"You're as sick as your parents!"

Understanding hit Kitagawa's face. The young man's eyes grew wide. "You! It was you! You killed my parents!"

"Is this why you set up this school? To molest these kids?"

"I'm trying to break into the same trade my father was in." Kitagawa said.

Ken couldn't believe the emptiness in those elegant eyes. There was the ugliness behind the beautiful veneer Ken had been seeking. It was there to be seen, but it repulsed Ken unlike anything else.

Being depraved and apathetic toward human beings was something so hideous and foreign to his thinking. He realized now why he couldn't see these things in others, it wasn't a part of his nature and it never could be. A cool, comfort swept over him as he held his steel claws towards Kitagawa's throat.

"I'm not going to let you hurt these girls or anyone else. I'm also going to tear down the veneer over your parents' reputation."

"What are you? Some sort of idiot? Do you know how much these girls go for in other countries? Listen, I can use someone like you. Name your price, I'll pay it. I need good people to help me set up my father's business again."

"I'll never work for another Kitagawa." Ken almost shuddered at his own bitter monotone. "Keep your hands up and sit in that chair across the desk."

Kitagawa slowly took a seat as Ken reached for the phone with his left hand, keeping the claws pointed at the young man's throat.

"Mr. Kitagawa?" A voice called from the doorway.

Ken swirled around, Kitagawa leaped up and put Ken in a choke hold. He quickly flipped Kitagawa over his shoulder and followed with an upwards swipe to the young man's exposed back.

Ken's adrenalin took over as he jumped to the door and jabbed his steel claws into the security guard's stomach. There was a surprised expression on the man's face as he sunk to the linoleum, blood spilling towards the hallway. A moment of guilt took Ken, the man was doing his job and walked in on the wrong thing.

A soft whimper caught his attention. The guilt lessened as he saw the girl struggle to sit up. She collapsed back on the couch, unconscious. What he did saved this girl and the rest from being abused. He took off his jacket and wrapped her in it.

He took her down the stairs and into the stagnant night air. He started walking over to his motorcycle, wanting to get the girl to the hospital as soon as he could."You better have a damn good reason, Siberian."

Ken froze, he turned slowly to Botan. The man's face went from extreme anger to bafflement. "This girl has been drugged. She needs a doctor right away."

Botan hurried over. Ken shifted his bundle towards the man. "Come on. To my car."

Ken let Botan drive them to the hospital. The Kritiker agent order Ken to stay in the car while he took the girl in. Ken waited for what seem like an eternity. Ken imagined what his life in prison was going to be like. He was amazed at how peaceful he felt over it; not one bit of regret filled his heart.

Botan came out and took the driver's seat again. "I'll drop you off at your motorcycle, speedy."

"Not the jail? I did kill two men."

"No. I'm not going to do that. The girl told me what was going on at that school."

"I went to go check on it. Kitagawa was going to start up his father's old white slavery ring." Ken watched Botan's face get hard. It was as if the man was in pain.

"My daughter was kidnapped. I joined Kritiker to stop things like this."

"So did I." Ken kept his composure, but this was the first time he felt pity for the man rather than anger.

"I didn't like you because those kids you teach soccer to were put in danger. I thought I didn't approve of your recklessness. What I really didn't approve of was my own neglect in keeping my daughter safe. When you told me how Mrs. Kitagawa grabbed one of your kids at that arcade, I got furious. I shouldn't have taken it out on you."

"I made some big mistakes and I'm not going to change. I want the chance to protect people who can't do it themselves."

"What you did saved that girl. You did the right thing."

"Sometimes the right thing turns out horrible."

"Yes, but if you just follow the rules rather than your heart you'll forget why your fighting for Kritiker. We all have to keep trying. I was wrong, Ken." Botan pulled up beside Ken's motorcycle. "Tell you what, I'll lay off you and get you back in Kritiker's good graces if you do one thing for me."

"What's that?"

"Be true to yourself again. It'll keep people safe."

Ken nodded and got out of Botan's car. He kept his eyes off the academy as he hopped on his motorcycle and dove off towards the flower shop.

[next morning]

"You are the luckiest son-of-a-bitch I've ever met," Youji griped to Ken as he swept the floor of the flower shop. "Kritiker is going to stop busting your balls and you rescued a bunch of girls. You end up being a hero even when you break the rules."

"It comes from clean living," Ken teased and gave Youji a bright smile. Youji rolled his eyes.

"Hey, Ken! It's on the news. Wow," Omi said turned up the sound.

'In shocking news, Ryu Kitagawa was murdered last night along with a security guard at the Hitomi Kitagawa Girls Academy. A discovery was made that several of the girls had suffered drugging and abuse during their month stay at the academy. Early reports say that Kitagawa was trying to establish an international prostitution ring with the students. It's believed that the murder was drug related and the police are persuing that lead. They deny that there is any link between Kitagawa's murder and the murder of his parents earlier this year.'

"That's Kritiker at work for you. I swear they must have ties to the police," Youji said. "Good thing for you 'cause it sounds like they're on a wild goose chase."

"Yeah... I just wish the world knew about his parents too." Ken took off his apron. "I need to take a quick break."

Ken ran to the back of the store and jogged upstairs. He opened the door to see Aya hunched over a book while sipping on a cup of tea.

"Thanks, Aya."

"For what?" Aya's eyes didn't leave the page.

"For telling Kritiker on me. It was the right thing to do and I really can appreciate that."

"I called Manx in the first place because what you did could have put us all in danger."

"I also wanted to thank you for helping me remember that Weiss is important."

"It's a means to an end," Aya said cryptically. Ken shrugged and started to leave the apartment. His eye was caught by a DVD on top of the television. He grabbed it and jogged back downstairs. He tossed it in the trash can beside the register.

"What was that?" Omi asked.

"I just decided to throw away my regrets over Hitomi Kitagawa." Ken said, sitting on a stool beside Omi as the teenager twisted flowers into a wreath.

"Oh damn! Not more rain," Youji moaned, leaning against the open doorway as the sky grew slate and lightning started to pop. Ken grinned at the sky and leaned his elbows on the flower arranging table. The unseasonably sultry air pushed into the chilly flower shop.

"I thought you hated the rain, Ken," Omi said.

"I used to."


PS- I really enjoyed writing this whole series. I felt compelled to end it on an upbeat note because Ken's character, at least to me, has an optimism in spite of his discontent with his situation and hardships. I hope everyone who stuck with me enjoyed it. Thanks for reading.