Title: Ghost Story

Author: Genuinelie(s)

Pairings: Aya/Yohji (hopefully!); possibly other

Rating: Right now, PG, PG-13 for language

Status: Ongoing

Summary: Yohji's housemates decide he needs help with a problem he doesn't want discovered, but that's pretty hard when you're being watched so carefully. But is someone watching the watchers?

Note: I had started this way back in September for Halloween, but never really finished it.

"You've noticed too, haven't you?" Omi whispered conspiratorily. He sidled over to his companion in the flower shop. She was staring in - awe? Horror? - out the window at Yohji. His teammate was fending off a throng of fangirls flooding the cart of flowers on the sidewalk. Not that a single one of them was there for the flowers.

Aya-chan startled, a guilty flush on the ridges of her Fujimiya cheekbones. "Noticed?" She echoed anyway.

Omi suspected she knew what he was talking about. He might have let the issue drop, but he was becoming worried he was the only one who saw it. Ken began stammering and then made a mess of anything within arm's reach whenever he brought it up, so there wasn't anyone else he could really convince. And if that were the case, if he were really just seeing things, what would that say about him?

...Except that wasn't the real reason he wanted affirmation. The truth was, he was just a romantic, and if the two of them could find something so pure, when they were both so jaded -

Too bad that Aya never, ever, ever would go for it.

"Aya-chan!" Omi's voice had taken on a wheedling quality.

Or, Omi faced the new thought with a bit of horror, Maybe Aya-chan had turned into one of Yohji's fangirls? That was an awful thought!

"I'm going to the storeroom. Mind the register." Aya - Ran? That hadn't really been clarified for Omi yet - stated from behind the two teenagers. Omi turned to watch him retreat.

The good thing about Yohji being outside was that there were absolutely no customers inside. The older man wasn't always so accomodating, but every once in a while he'd give the rest of them a break. Omi didn't exactly have proof, but he suspected it was always on days after a date had gone badly. Even he wasn't going to argue that the attention wasn't flattering. It was unfortunately just largely more annoying.

Omi turned back to Aya-chan, who was rearranging the same vase of flowers she'd been fiddling with for the past ten minutes. He saw her glance up beneath her lashes, then finally sigh. He looked outside himself in time to catch an expression on Yohji's face that was nearing hopelessness and bordering relief. He'd aimed the look at the shop, but it definitely wasn't at Omi or Aya-chan. The older man had turned seamlessly back to the teenagers showering him with devotion.

"Fine!" Aya-chan said. Omi jumped a bit. "So I do notice." She played with the edge of a carnation until a petal fell off. Omi decided not to say anything, even when she hid the damaged flower in the middle of the bouquet. She frowned, a little wrinkle appearing in the middle of her forhead.

It didn't seem like she was about to say anything else within the next year. Omi turned earnest eyes on her, wide and blue. "Well?" He pressed.

"I just didn't think...I thought I was being silly." She expanded.

Omi chewed on his lip. She was as hard to get talking as her brother, sometimes! Luckily it was rare. "Aya-chan!" He cried, albeit quietly since Aya/Ran was still in the Koneko. "If you've noticed - well, Ken won't listen to me!"

"Ran hasn't noticed, though." She said quietly. The frown was still there. She met Omi's eyes seriously, and it cut him off.

Suddenly it struck Omi.

Aya-chan was being protective. Of Aya.

"...Yohji-kun still talks about that girl...the one who died..."

Omi's eyes widened. Aya/Ran would definitely not like that, if Yohji had been drunk enough to spill that in front of his sister.

"...and I really don't think...well," she smiled at Omi, and it brightened her entire face. She seemed to have done a 180 while she was talking, and it left Omi scrambling to guess what she was about to say. "Yohji-kun should be happy. He's a good person, I just think he's..." the smile faltered, it seemed Aya-chan couldn't quite define what Yohji was. "Anyway, if Ran does...I mean, he never said he liked any girls!" Her voice had almost become chipper. "I think he'd try really hard to make Ran happy!"

Omi blinked, winded by the logic. "Uh, Aya-chan..."

"We should tell Ran-kun!" She declared, also quietly.

"I, uh, I really don't think..."

"Oh, Omi!" Aya-chan smiled at him, and took his hands between her own. "If we tell him, then maybe he'll start noticing Yohji-kun!"

He most definitely would, Omi thought dourly.

"Aya-chan!" He exclaimed.

Aya/Ran promptly reappeared in the shop. The two teens glanced sideways at him, identical blushes on their cheeks.

He opened his mouth, seemed about to say something, but instead dumped a pair of scissors and a handful of flowers on the counter, then disappeared again into the back.

"Aya-chan!" Omi repeated, this time in a hurried whisper. "I really don't think that's a good idea. Ay-Ran-kun is...I mean, I've just never seen him show any interest in things like that! In Yohji!"

His face was burning. Actually saying that aloud was far, far worse and more nonsensical than just thinking it. For months, and months.

Aya-chan bit her lip. "Maybe he just needs encouragement?"

Omi shook his head firmly. Encouragement to impale Yohji? Not that way! Oh, god. "No." He felt dizzy he was blushing so hard. "But Yohji-kun is suffering."

Aya-chan looked out the window. She was silent for a long moment. Omi wished he knew what she was thinking, because if he didn't know her better, he would have thought that she was looking at the older man's flirting and easy smile and taking him at face value, which would not have helped his case.

"He has been gettting drunk more," she whispered finally. It made her sound like she was 40, which hurt Omi's head, because she looked about 12 (exactly like he did). "I think?" She turned back to Omi.

He nodded affirmation. "But how do you know that?" He whispered back.

"I come downstairs to watch TV when I can't sleep." She looked like she'd been caught stealing something. "Sometimes he's there."

Oh, Aya/Ran would definitely not like that. Although, it wouldn't be concern for her virtue or anything like that, it would be more that one of his teammates was that much of a slob, Omi was sure, and possibly fear that his sister would get an earful about the birds and the bees from a less-than-pure source.

"...I guess I thought that was normal," Aya-chan finished weakly. "For him."

Omi gave her a small smile. "Kind of. But kind of not too? Usually only when he...uhm..." He was about to say "When they had a bad mission" or "When something reminded him of his dead partner" but he didn't really want to inflict either of those statements on Aya-chan.

"We could set Yohji-kun up!" Aya-chan exclaimed suddenly. Her eyes were wide again. She clapped her hands together and whirled on Omi. Her voice was a stage whisper. "You know...with a guy."

Omi's eyes widened. Yohji saved him from answering by backing his way into the shop, closing the door on a set of smooth, girly hands that were intent on being attached to him. Almost simultaneously, Aya/Ran reappeared with the rest of his flowers and a couple of vases from the storeroom. Although one moment before, Yohji had seemed both exhausted and not in the least likely to return outside, his nimble hand grabbed a flower - Aya's mangled carnation, Omi noticed with some amusement - and disappeared promptly through the door again.

Aya-chan caught him with her eyes. Omi gave an inaudible sigh and a small shrug.

xXxXx

It was one a.m.

Aya should have been asleep. He'd gone to bed at ten p.m. He'd read a book for an hour and finally set it aside to close his eyes at eleven p.m.

He'd been staring at his alarm clock for two hours, watching the minutes tag-team themselves through the night.

Footsteps in the hallway made his gaze shift to the door. No light was on, so no shadows bled through the crack by the floor. He heard them pass his room.

Not going to a bedroom. Of course not. It was Yohji going out for the night.

Aya slid out of his bed, waited for the creak on the stairs before he pulled on a tee shirt to complete the outfit with his grey boxers.

He knew it was Yohji going out for the night because this was routine. Aya had been sneaking downstairs after Yohji for the past week - just like he was doing now. Aya pushed open his door and crept after the footsteps.

He wasn't sure whether Yohji always had done this, and he'd just begun to notice, or whether this was a new personality quirk of his teammate's. He was unwilling to ask. He told himself he needed to know so that he would have a head count of who was in the Koneko in case it was breached, or they needed help. It was thoughtless of Yohji not to tell someone where he was going or when.

After that first night, it had become Aya's routine to go downstairs to get a drink. He was up anyway. He unofficially saw Yohji off, though the man would never know it.

The door hadn't opened or shut yet, so Aya took care to be silent as he padded down the stairs. He stalled three stairs up.

No noise came from the kitchen. What the hell could Yohji be doing? He was tired, he wanted to go back to bed.

A minute passed.

"...Hello?" Yohji's voice, in a whisper.

Aya held his breath.

Four seconds, and the door opened and shut. Another minute, and the Seven purred to life and pulled out of the driveway, the sound of the engine fading quickly away.

Aya breathed again, and entered the kitchen. He made himself a pot of decaffeinated green tea.

Water, of course, could be gotten from the sink in his room. There would have been no motivation for him to go to the kitchen.

He took the fresh pot of tea, a mug and the book he'd carried with him and left the kitchen to sit on the couch in the living room. He poured himself a cup and set the book aside. He didn't feel like reading. Instead, Aya drew his legs up on the cushions and wrapped an arm around his knees, staring at the blank television screen.

He didn't understand how Yohji could bear to face the world. Aya himself hated it. It was filled with such hate, such violence, and humans were not stable creatures. He himself had transformed from a quiet, obedient child into a killer. His reasons were selfish. He had done it for personal revenge, for personal balance. His only redemption, and it was a spare redemption at that, was that he only murdered those that hurt the ones trying to live peacefully.

It was to use this opportunity as an outlet for all his hurt and all his rage, or that he might turn into one of the ones that deserved to be hunted.

Yohji, though. Yohji must think he was some sort of hero, protecting the weak. How could he bear to go out and pretend like he was one of them? Aya might not have experience, but he knew that the chances were slim Yohji wound up going home alone every night. How could Yohji feel justified lying to another person, and then becoming physically close with that person? The thought was abhorrent.

But Yohji had never had a girlfriend while at the Koneko. Lots of women who had claimed he was, but no one who lasted more than three or four dates, and never consecutively. Did that mean the man was able to completely cut himself off from emotion?

An image of green eyes that never quite smiled chased the thought away. That wasn't right. Aya's usual complaint was that Yohji felt too much, didn't think enough. Yohji was always warm with his dates, Aya had observed. It seemed like he truly liked the women he was with. All women he was with. Unemotional was almost laughably the antithesis of Yohji's being.

So if he was able to go out again and again, and find someone nearly every time, what was it Yohji was looking for? Chemistry couldn't be all that special. You could find couples everywhere. If it was special, more people would wait, it would be harder to find someone, wouldn't it? The world was enormous. So what did Yohji find lacking in the hundreds of women Aya was sure were after him?

Aya could not understand his teammate. Yohji had a chance to leave this lifestyle behind him, to move in with another person and live a normal life. Though he would never admit it out loud, Yohji did not seem to be bad at being a detective. He was annoyingly acute, in fact, when he wanted to be. Aya understood intellectually that Yohji had lost what he must have considered his soulmate, after Neu and Schrient his motivations had become utterly transparent. But death happened every day, and it did not turn everyone into what Yohji had become. If he was looking for closure, killing the girl was about as far as Aya could see it progressing.

Aya himself was not looking for anyone, and he could not understand Yohji's motivations. He had never looked for anyone. When he was younger, he had assumed that it was assumed that when it was time, his parents would introduce him to a girl of their choice, and he would marry her. He had been a dutiful son, yes, but beyond that, he had been solitary. He had never met anyone he'd had a connection with deep enough to make it seem like it was worth the effort and time. He had companionship with his sister and enough obligations as it was with his parents.

Now, of course, he simply wasn't interested. He was lonely at times, yes - sometimes he felt like he was in a fishbowl, looking through a glass cage at the world. But he couldn't imagine what his future would possibly be like after Weiss, and was never masochistic enough to try. There was no one on Earth that would be able to understand his life on a level that would allow them to connect.

Yohji, though.

Was it simply that the man needed an escape, and he found that through other people? Was he really able to pretend that his life was normal with them? It seemed so selfish to Aya, for Yohji to use others like that. Surely he realized that the people he hooked up with would be imagining futures with him. Their lives allowed it, their perspective was such that they had been trained their whole lives to imagine such a future with a person such as Yohji.

The clock on the VCR showed that it was nearing three a.m. His meandering thoughts had taken him nearly an hour.

A sudden click was all the warning Aya had before the scrape of the kitchen door opening was followed by a series of stumbling footsteps. There was a quiet thud, and some curses. Instead of heading upstairs, the noises were getting louder.

Aya shot off the couch, kicking his book under the couch, and grabbing both his mug and teapot slid as quietly as he could into the closet. Game systems and movies were strewn about the floor, this was Ken's doing. Somehow, he managed not to trip on any of them, or make too much noise.

It wasn't that he was feeling guilty. He had nothing to feel guilty about. He wasn't spying on Yohji when he did this, he just hadn't felt like sleeping. He was hiding because he didn't feel like talking to a drunk Yohji.

A moment later the footsteps stopped in the middle of the room, followed by a soft sigh and the sound of fabric sliding against the sofa. Aya peered out through the crack he'd left in the closet door.

On the couch, Yohji shot straight up from a lying position to stare around the room. The man's eyes were wide behind his sunglasses.

It was night time, why the hell did the man still have those on?

Yohji was frowning and peered around the room. He looked toward the closet and examined it for at least a minute.

Aya quickly concealed himself, knowing his coloring simply did not blend in to the shadows well.

"...Hello?"

Aya held his breath. After a moment, Yohji muttered something to himself, shot the room a thorough look, and left.

That was too close.

xXxXx

Yohji's night had matched his day, they'd both been boring as hell. Yohji hadn't even bothered going to a club, but he couldn't sleep, either, so he ended up going out sometime after midnight to his usual haunt.

Haunt, now that was an appropriate word. It was too fucking early, his sense of humor became twisted after midnight. 'Haunt' was the right word though. Spending time with Asuka's ghost in their coffee shop, reliving old memories.

Hell, he'd turned into a barrel of laughs these days, Yohji pulled into the garage of the Koneko. He turned the engine off and locked the Seven up, rubbing a hand over his eyes. And the boys probably think he'd been out partying. What a joke.

He was masochistic. He knew it, and couldn't stop, like any abuser. Asuka was becoming more of a constant refrain in his thoughts, and less the background chord. He'd thought he'd been getting better, since the ocean and the fall of those bastards. But the near-death experience had also left him with some shaky feelings that, once he'd named them, sucker-punched him in the gut with a new wave of guilt and pain over the loss of his partner and a new sense of hopelessness.

Because he could have found love with any woman, any woman at all, and he would have had a better shot at true love than with... It was just his crazy libido talking. Because of crazy adrenaline.

Whatever the reasons, though, the emotions were still the fucking same, and they still brought back Asuka. His feeling was that if he was going to think about her anyway, full-on immersion was the way to go. So he went to their coffee shop, and kept going back, and he knew he was bound to go back again, when he should have been going to a bar and finding some nice woman and getting sloppy drunk.

She wasn't there. She never was. And she hadn't left him any answers in the acidic cups of coffee or familiar faces of waiters. No forgiveness, either, or the permission he knew deep down he was seeking.

Because the others didn't matter, and never would. Never will replace you.

Yohji stumbled inside, from tiredness. The only thing he'd had to drink was burnt coffee. He eyed the stairs. He would have to exert effort to climb them. He stumbled toward the mission room instead, and flopped down on the couch.

And still won't. No one will still replace you, because he...fuck, I'm not even gonna think it. I'm Yohji Kudoh. I don't pine... He rolled his eyes at himself, but it didn't dislodge the sick feeling that had become a constant in recent days. Especially not after...

He closed his eyes, and clenched them against the prickling that had started there. I miss you, Asuka.

The Koneko was silent.

...except for something that sounded like breathing.

Yohji shot straight up.

"...Hello?!"

Nothing. The noise had stopped.

There was no movement, no sounds except the persistent whirr of cicadas outside the window. Yohji frowned heavily. The back of his neck was tingling.

A feeling like someone was watching him. But the shades were down on the window, and the only place to hide was the closet. The Koneko's doors were locked though, and it was simply ridiculous to think that one of Weiss were hiding in the closet. Especially not at howeverthehell early it was.

After a moment, Yohji laid back down. He crossed his arms over his chest protectively.

"You're losing it, Kudoh," he muttered.

The feeling was still seriously creepy, valid or not. Five minutes was about all he could stand. With a sigh, mostly at himself, he launched himself to his feet and dragged his tired ass upstairs to his room.

A small, irrational voice almost had him convinced that Asuka had followed him home.

xXxXx

"You do know this is insane, right?" Omi offered doubtfully, looking at the young man headed toward the Koneko.

Aya-chan jabbed him with her elbow. "He's over 18! I met him in the library. He's really sweet."

"...how did you get him to come here again?" The "over-18-year-old" looked like he could have been Farfarello's cousin. He had bleach-blond hair to the point of needing sunglasses when you looked at him and was wearing a black, stomach-bearing getup that made Omi wince. Yohji had always seemed to like his women classy; surely that would apply to a male date too?

"I know, I know!" Aya-chan sounded a little nervous. "He was wearing khakis in the library!" She caught Omi's eye. He gave her a weak smile. "Michiru saw him on a date with a boy last week! She told me in the library. So I went over and told him I knew someone he might like." She was sounding more jittery by the word. "Actually, when I mentioned 'flower shop,' I think he -"

Omi would have actually liked to know what she thought he had, but suddenly Aya-chan turned and disappeared into the back room. Omi's hands had flown to his hips, but he was forced to look pleasant and busy when the bell tinkled and he realized the young man in question was in the shop.

His eyes flicked back to the counter. Yohji was ringing up a lone group of three schoolgirls.

When he turned back, the young man was a lot closer than he had been, and looking Omi up and down with a look he was pretty sure he'd prefer aimed at Yohji.

Actually, maybe he'd prefer that look wasn't aimed at anyone he knew. Omi's face colored.

"Uh, welcome, uh...can...can I help you?" Omi squeaked.

The young man proferred a hand. "Hiro." A smile was sliding up the corner of his mouth. "Are you Yohji? A girl I know..."

"NO!" Omi shouted, and knocked over a vase. By that time, the fangirls had cleared out.

"Oi! Watch it, kiddo!" Yohji gave him a sharp look Omi was pretty sure he thought was disguised by his sunglasses, but wasn't. Yohji peered over the rims at Hiro, the corners of his eyes crinkling in that friendly way he had that Omi secretly thought looked fake. But that was only probably because Omi knew more about Yohji than almost anyone else, other than their teammates. Or at least, he thought he did. "Sorry about that!"

And that was it. Yohji offered him no help whatsoever, and did not even come over to talk to Hiro.

Oh, boy.

The young man was frowning at them both. "You're not Yohji?"

Out of the corner of his eye, Omi watched Yohji's eyebrows shoot straight up.

"N-no...that's him, over..."

"Omi!" Who's your friend?" Yohji did come over at that point, throwing an arm over Omi's shoulder.

It took Hiro a moment, but it seemed he came to peace with the deception, because he sidled closer to Omi and ignored Yohji completely. "That's okay, you know, if you're not whoever-that-guy-is. What're you doing Saturday night?"

Omi swallowed heavily. "N-nothing...I mean, something, yeah, definitely something, hey, Yohji, I'm going to go get a broom, okay?"

Yohji had that look that meant he was going to be made fun of something serious later, a full-on grin threatening to emerge. "Oh, don't worry about it! I'll get the broom. No thanks needed, kiddo, I think I'll owe ya."

Yohji only went as far as the counter, though. He leaned next to the cash register and obviously pretended not to be listening.

Oh, boy.

"I think it's something," Hiro was still smirking at him. "9 p.m., Flashpoint?" He threw in a bar in Roppongi even Omi knew the location of. "See you then! I'll get whats-her-name to remind you if you forget." He doled Omi a wink.

"But...but I..."

"Actually, he is doing something already." Yohji swooped back in, magically holding a broom. He also gave Omi a wink, but his was comforting. "Sorry."

Hiro frowned at Omi, then frowned at Yohji. There was a minute of silence during which Yohji even began to look uncomfortable.

"Aren't you a little old??" Hiro snipped finally.

Yohji's look of surprise was probably completely missed by Hiro, Omi decided.

"Actually, kiddo," Yohji told Omi, his voice a little colder, "How about you go find a dust pan?"

"Uh...yeah." Omi fled upstairs, instead of to the supply room where Aya-chan was still hiding. He decided to wait to explain the situation to the girl after he stopped struggling not to cry, or wanting to strangle her.

xXxXx

Ken was guffawing when Omi reemerged for dinnertime. He hoped that Aya/Ran had cracked a joke, because he was the only other Weiss present.

Omi had a sneaking suspicion that wasn't the case.

For his part, Ken did a valiant job of trying to look serious when Omi appeared in the kitchen, but there were tears in the corners of his eyes, and his face was turning bright red.

"What." Omi asked flatly, deciding there was no point in putting off the inevitable.

"Ken." Aya/Ran said sharply.

"What?!" Ken snapped back, affronted. "I wasn't gonna-"

Yohji appeared from the side door, eau de cigarette clouding after him. He paused in the entry way, obviously trying to decide if he wanted to join in or flee. His eyes rested on the back of Aya's head.

Yohji pushed his sunglasses up, a frown there and gone. Omi was pretty sure he was the only one who noticed.

Ken took one look at Yohji, and cracked up again.

"Oops!" A solid weight suddenly hit Omi in the back, pushing him fully into the kitchen. Aya-chan stumbled after him, looking thoroughly surprised. "I'm sorry! I didn't see you!"

"Aya told- I mean, sorry, Ran, Ran told me that some guy in bondage gear asked you out!" Ken grinned.

Aya/Ran looked like he was trying to conjure up his katana with his eyes. "I did not say that."

"Well, okay, Yohji told me about the outfit. But you did say that's why Omi left shift early." Ken snorted with his efforts to not laugh, then abandoned the attempt completely, doubling over in his chair. "A guy! A guy asked Omi out!"

"Is something wrong with that?"

All four male heads turned to look at Aya-chan, who was regarding Ken frostily. As frostily as Aya-chan was able.

Omi stood, dazed, in the middle of the room.

Ken's eyes shot up, then he looked at the others, then back at Aya-chan, then turned red. "N-no, I mean! But it's Omi!" He looked for support.

Yohji let out a loud laugh, then slid into a chair beside Ken. "You should have seen him! The guy looked like Farfarello. Really, kiddo, we need to teach you to have more taste with who you bring home!"

Omi's eyes went wide, but the tension was broken, and for that, at least, he was grateful. Even if it was at his expense.

"I did not bring him home. He was looking for you." Omi's hands went to his hips. It absolutely did not matter that Hiro was looking for Yohji only because of him and Aya-chan.

"Excuse me." Aya/Ran got up suddenly. He exited upstairs, but he'd left his tea on the table.

"Anyway," Yohji continued like he hadn't given the empty chair a look like it had just killed his mother, "I rescued him. Good ol' Yohji Kudoh, to the rescue again!"

Omi sat down in Aya's emptied seat, he could repay Yohji with that, at least. He thunked his head down onto crossed arms. "I'm never going to hear the end of this..." He wailed.

"Well." Aya-chan clapped her hands, as if to dust all the guilt for the whole debacle off her palms. "How about I make dinner, Yohji-kun will help, and we all stop picking on Omi-kun?"

Omi beamed at her.

Then thunked his head down again as Ken snorted, and started laughing.

xXxXx

Aya knew he had to get back on some sort of schedule. Waking up and going to sleep on Yohji's time was depleting his energy. It was only a matter of time before this lull in missions was broken, and he'd need to be at the top of his game again.

He'd been more careful to go upstairs as soon as he'd finished his tea, rather than waiting downstairs or in the mission room for Yohji to go to bed. He'd kept the habit of waiting up for Yohji's returning footsteps though, which was usually around three or four a.m. It wasn't specifically his choice. He found it hard to fall asleep unless he did.

Aya finally admitted to himself that it wasn't concern for the team as a whole that was driving his actions. Yohji had been looking worse lately. He'd been especially pissy to be around, and Aya had noticed bottles peeking out from under his bed on the rare occasions Yohji forgot to shut his door. Not exactly a new habit, but drinking in his room meant Yohji was spending time in his room, and that usually meant the social older man was avoiding them.

No. It wasn't concern for team dynamics that kept Aya up at night.

He waited for Yohji to come home to make sure the man did come home.

He couldn't stop himself from sneaking downstairs after him. It made him wonder if there was something wrong with him, that he was so addicted to this new game of I-spy-Yohji. He told himself that it was because if he saw how Yohji was dressed, it meant he knew where he was going. He almost would have suspected solo missions, except Omi or Manx would have told them, and Yohji was never dressed in his gear. He'd never exactly been dressed for a night out in a club, though. Not that Aya knew what that constituted, or what places Yohji was going to.

He swirled the tea in his cup on the table.

A long creak came from the direction of the basement stairwell.

Aya nearly fell out of his chair. He used the jump to spin toward the noise.

"Who's there!?" He demanded in a hissed whisper. If it was just the house creaking...

For a second, Aya could have sworn he heard a couple hurried footsteps. They were too quiet for him to be sure they had even been heard, though. Aya-chan had been asleep in her room when he'd checked, so that left… "Omi? Ken, if you're playing a prank, I swear I'm going to puncture all your balls." He decided to leave whether he meant "soccer balls" ambiguous.

No answer. Aya got over it and strode toward the stairs, flicked on the lights to the mission room, the kitchen, and the living room.

No one was in any of them.

The sound of Yohji's car returning had him up the stairs without turning off the lights again.

No one was awake upstairs, either.

Aya, the assassin, locked his bedroom door behind him.

xXxXx

"Hey, kiddo." Yohji entered the mission room and draped an arm across Omi's shoulders, making the kid jump in his computer chair. He'd had his headphones on. It was about 11 a.m., thankfully a Saturday. The Koneko was quiet. Ken was out playing soccer with his minions, but he'd passed Aya sitting in the kitchen with a book.

Aya had looked strangely exhausted that morning, although he was going about the usual routine. Yohji had observed this to include a sparse breakfast, coffee and either the newspaper or a book. He hadn't been able to discern what made the man choose one over another, but whichever it was, on weekends he'd stay in one of the main rooms reading the material of choice until the early afternoon. It was as close to social as Aya got, in Yohji's opinion. At any rate, that morning, Aya had had darker circles and lines beneath his eyes than was usual. Worrisome, since Aya looked pretty worn down as a state of being, despite his can-do attitude. Yohji paused in his thoughts to snort.

He'd also ignored Yohji's presence completely when he joined him that morning. He usually managed at least a grunt. Yohji had actually felt sorry enough not to pester the man.

And Aya thought he didn't care.

Coming back to the present, and the mission room, he gave Omi's shoulders a squeeze. It sometimes made Yohji wonder if it ever concerned Ken or Aya that their lives were basically entrusted on a daily basis to an 19-year-old boy. Their only saving grace, in Yohji's book, was that Omi didn't really have the usual cocktail of boy hormones going on to mess with his concentration. Yohji didn't bother putting himself in Omi's place, the idea of himself at 19 running Weiss was too scary for Yohji to handle.

Omi was staring up at him. "What is it, Yohji-kun?" The smallest indent of irritation was between the kid's eyes. He apparently hadn't quite let go of the whole Hiro incident yet.

Yohji smiled easily. He had a purpose, but it wasn't like he had anything else to do. He could take some time on this. "You're jumpy. What was that screen you clicked off there? Girls are interesting, aren't they?"

Omi turned red, then looked horrified as he caught on. "I wasn't looking at porn!"

"-I won't tell, it's perfectly health-"

"Yohji!" Omi stammered, then glowered. He looked like an angry kitten. "If you're just going to bother me, Yohji-kun..."

Yohji waved a hand. "Okay, okay. Just teasing. Sheesh." He fluffed the kid's hair. Omi's eyes narrowed, but he knew the kid liked it. "I was wondering about the money situation these days."

Omi raised his eyebrows. "You're asking for solo missions?"

"No, no. Just, have there been any? We should all be told if there have been, right? To be fair?"

"Of course! They're offered to all of us equally, you know that, Yohji-kun!"

"Okay, okay. Just wondering. Thanks, kiddo. Lemme know though, okay?" He tousled Omi's hair again after he received a bewildered nod. He left the kid in the mission room and headed back upstairs.

Aya was gone from the kitchen. Hopefully he'd gone up to get some sleep, but he doubted it. Yohji grabbed some leftover coffee and went to make a mess out of the living room.

xXxXx

"Okay." Omi breezed into Aya-chan's room through the open door and plopped down on an extra chair. She startled, then turned away from her homework to look at him with wide eyes. Omi steepled his fingers, game face on. He was very close to looking like Bombay in planning mode, but Aya-chan had never seen that face and wouldn't have known. "We have to set Yohji up again. I swore I wouldn't, because last time was a disaster, but..."

"...Omi, I don't think that Yohji needs our help..." Aya-chan broke in, stuttering a little.

"Yes, he does. He was asking if there had been any solo missions last -" He clapped a hand over his mouth, then gave Aya-chan a horrified and apologetic expression. They weren't supposed to mention things Weiss to her unless necessary.

She just looked irritated though. "So? Look. I think we were wrong. I'm sorry with what happened with Hiro and I really don't think..."

"Aya-chan!" Omi exclaimed. "Didn't you hear me? Yohji is almost asking for solo missions. Yohji. That's...that's like..." He didn't want to say it. He thought that that was as good as Yohji asking for a suicide mission. The older man only took missions with damsels in distress, and never asked for them. Omi's lower lip trembled, just ever so slightly. It hardly ever worked on Aya-chan, because she was in on the younger-sibling tricks, but this time it wasn't a gimmick. "I just think we need to help him!"

Aya-chan looked as if she wanted to say something else. She sighed instead, then looked down at her hands. Her fingers fidgeted with her clothing before she looked back up. "Fine. I'll help you. But you have to find a date for him this time. I'm not doing that again."

Omi readily agreed.

xXxXx

Yohji followed the trail of smoke up to the ceiling of the common room.

So Aya wasn't taking solo missions. If he could trust what Omi had told him, if he even knew everything there was to know about Weiss. He wouldn't put it past Aya to be sneaking around, even behind Omi's back.

He couldn't put his finger on it, but there was something wrong with Aya. The man was looking more tired, more wan, than he had even before his sister had woken up. It was as if the littlest Fujimiya had taken her brother's life and energy to keep going. Yeah, he seemed happier. But there was a sharpness there that hadn't been there when the redhead still had something obscure to fight for.

Or could it be you're only just now paying attention?

That wasn't true, though. Yohji had always paid attention to Aya, hadn't he? Even if it had only been since that damned fall into the ocean that he'd started noticing how he really felt. Precipitous loss, imminent death, all that - it tended to make things come into focus.

Yohji let out a light snarl at himself and flung a hand over his eyes.

No more. No more thinking about Aya. Not tonight.

The Koneko the night before had been deathly silent when Yohji came home. It was also devoid of the strange presence Yohji had been sensing lately, like the feeling of eyes on him in the darkness.

But all the lights had been on.

They'd been off when he'd left.

...Come on, Kudoh. This isn't related. One of the others just got up and forgot to turn them off. You moron.

He'd gone out way past their bedtimes, though.

He ran a hand through his hair. If it wasn't Aya he was thinking about, it was...

...or maybe, the lights scared it off. Yohji frowned. Was that why he hadn't sensed anything?

"It" wasn't right, though. No, it was "she".

And there was only one "she" Yohji could think of who would be bent on haunting him. Among all the souls he had dispatched, only one could possibly care that he kept going out at night to the coffee shop. "Their" coffee shop. Asuka's and his.

Neu. Neu would care, because he had killed her, and robbed her of her chance to love.

Or was he being ridiculous and overly paranoid?

Maybe the others had felt the presence, too. Maybe he was being self-centered to think that he was the only one who'd noticed.

...maybe that was why Aya was looking so haggard as of late?

...did Aya have his own ghost?

"Kudoh."

Yohji started, almost jumping off the couch. He managed not to drop the still-burning cigarette. "Aya! Shit!"

The redhead was standing at the foot of the couch. His lips were a thin line. "No smoking."

Yohji opened his mouth to protest, but instead stabbed the butt out onto the plateful of crumbs on the table by his head. He raised his legs off the couch to make room and stretched them out in front of him in one smooth motion, recovering some of his poise in the process. He managed to summon a smirk, patting the cushions. "Join me?" He almost winced at the slight desperate note, but if Aya had heard, he didn't give it away. He shifted on his feet, and Yohji looked closer.

He looked normal. Tired, and pissed off at life. Except for his right hand. That was playing with a small thread hanging off of his tee shirt.

Was Aya...

...nervous?

He wished Aya would smile more. Would sometimes allow himself to be a normal guy, and stop the incessant worrying. He had suspected - no, he knew, he definitely knew - that Aya was more obsessive even than he was. He wished the other man was able to just let it be.

"Yohji..." The redhead cleared his throat. "Do you..."

Yohji sat up a little straighter. Lots of things began with those three words. He wasn't expecting any of the good things, but it sounded like Aya was actually about to entrust him with some precious inner thoughts.

"...do you trust Omi?" Aya still looked like he had flatlined, but one corner of his mouth had downturned.

"Yes." He said flatly. Every time he thought there was some justification for the way he felt, Aya just went out of the way to prove he was a bastard. "Why?"

"I don't mean as Weiss." Aya hissed. His eyebrows pulled together, just marginally. "I mean..."

Yohji narrowed his eyes, and stared Aya down. Fully in...fully enraptured with the other man or not, if Aya was about to say something against Omi because another boy had asked him out...

"Nevermind." He stated. All emotion was gone from his face again. He turned to leave, but Yohji closed his fingers around his wrist. Aya immediately shook them off, but pivoted to face him again.

"What, Aya?" Yohji examined him. "Yes, I trust Omi. I trust all of you. With my life," he added pointedly.

"I think he and my sister..."

Yohji's eyes widened. He bit the inside of his lip to keep from laughing, with relief and because poor Omi to have ever been involved in a statement with Aya-chan coming from Aya's lips.

Aya narrowed his eyes again. He looked like he was about to say something, but seemingly changed his mind and turned again.

He took Yohji's innards with him. Fuck. No wonder Aya didn't pay attention to him, Yohji hardly ever took him seriously. Or at least, it had to seem that way to the other man.

"Aya." The redhead paused in the doorway, chin turned toward him. "I'll keep an eye on them both, if you'd like. But I don't think you have to worry."

"Thank you." Aya sounded like he meant it. He left.

Yohji flung himself back on the couch, and slapped a palm over his face, grinding it into his scrunched-up eyes.

xXxXx

TBC.

xXxXx