Disclaimers -- I firmly believe in an individual's, corporation's or other legal entity's right to the fruits of their labor, including the right to their intellectual property. The individuals who own the intellectual rights this story is based on are Takehito Koyasu (creator of Weiss Kreuz) and any he has legally shared his rights with. I hold no rights to the characters or the story that this fiction is based on. I can only hope that those who do will allow me indulgence for my humble work and will not take offense at any liberties I have taken with their characters. I assure you, no insult was intended!

Explanations -- I have Aya giving the 'flower-meaning' for a flower Kasumisou, which is the Gypsophila flower (one flower in this family is baby's breath) in Japanese as "innocent heart". This information was found on a website which has information about Hanakotoba, the Japanese language of flowers.

During a rewrite, a play on words developed in the story. It probably doesn't exist in Japanese. I don't know if Aya is supposed to know English idiomatically enough to have thought of such a pun as I have him do. I'm pretty certain that Takehito Koyasu would be horrified if he were to read it...but, even though I suspect it is out of character for Aya, I like it and I'm keeping it in! Hopefully, it is the only place I have Aya acting or thinking too much out of character in this story.

Finally, the one character who is not in the original Weiss Kreuz story, is admittedly one I relate to. I wrote her with the idea though, that she could be an 'everywoman' standing in for all of us who like the guys of Weiss Kreuz. This is why she has no name, and her actions are passive and static. Her only importance in the story is how she interacts with Aya.

Collateral Innocence

Aya never fidgeted. At least not where anyone could see it. He leaned back against the wall, with the half-hooded eyes and slightly disinterested air that he normally affected when listening to mission briefings. He knew, that though he appeared to be bored with Persia's briefing, Persia and Manx knew he was actually listening very carefully, taking in all the details and already formulating the plan to complete his next mission.

He wished their assumptions were true. Today, Persia's voice flowed around him, barely making an impression in his attention. He couldn't explain his disquiet. He'd waken up this way, feeling quite unlike himself, his normal concentration and focused thoughts disrupted.

Did it matter if he listened anyway? Sometimes Aya thought that Persia just liked the sound of his own voice, as everything he was saying would be repeated in the mission folder. Everything. The target's name which never mattered. The patterns of movement, schedule of activities, usual associates, home address, work address, lover's address, or addresses, if there were lovers, favorite restaurants, secret vices, maybe even pet's name and more would be in the mission folder. An entire life compacted down into a sheaf of paper and handed to him to snuff out.

And those details wouldn't matter in the end. In the end it would be -- Aya looked up briefly at the image on the screen -- her blood dripping down his katana that would matter. Then, all of those details would be rendered as useless as the evil life he had ended.

But there would be another. And another. And others after that. Maybe that was what was robbing Aya of his edge today. The sheer futility of it all. It seemed as if the world had an infinite capacity to generate evil. And he was only one man. Well...

A swirl of deadly music came to his mind, the song of death that Yohji crafted whenever he slew a dark beast. Yohji's eyes suddenly met Aya's, as a memory pushed forward. Those green eyes, which had beguiled lady after lady, had been filled with determination and showed not one gleam of mercy as Yohji had lowered the beast to the floor and cleared his string from the body. He'd stood, flung a lock of his shoulder length hair back out of the way, grinned and said, "Clean kill, right? Easy mission! It's even in time for me to make my date tonight..." Yohji cleaned his string carefully as he zipped it back into its case on his wrist, straightened his coat and smiled. Thinking of his lady at the time, his eyes had filled with warmth and anticipation, but his first words echoed about in Aya's brain.

Clean... kill...

"I've gotta wash up." Ken's voice sounded in his memory next. Aya regarded his memory of the cat-clawed assassin after one of his kills. This one had been particularly brutal. The target had been wary, surrounding himself with guards to try to prevent the justice that Weiss had ultimately dealt to him. While Aya, Yohji and Omi distracted and eliminated those guards, Ken had struck through their ranks successfully finding their target. Still, the dark beast had fought, armed with a claw of his own. Ken's bladed glove was far superior to the single blade of the target, as was Ken's own skill, but desperation had given the dark beast a few more terrifying moments of life while he battled.

"Damn! He nicked me!" Ken realized, pushing his left sleeve up a little. Ken regarded the target's blood that had splashed all over his clothes during his fight. His blue eyes held a light of rueful merriment as he glanced at his comrades.

"One of you will have to bring the truck around. I'd create a riot if I went out there like this!" He toed the body on the ground in front of him.

"Bastard! Trouble to the end!" Aya knew that it was the two girls that the target had killed after they had begun their mission that upset Ken more than the gore staining him now. Weiss hated to lose any innocents after they had been given a mission. Any mission where an innocent was lost was not a 'clean kill' in their eyes.

"Damn! I really liked this shirt too!" Ken lamented poking at the rent, "Do you think Manx would stitch it for me if I asked nicely?" Ken grinned, his wide eyes sparkling as he imagined the response if he'd tried it. Manx was anything but domestically inclined.

"Ahhh!" Aya's memory made the voice of the youngest of their group replay in his mind. The keyboard Omi had been holding clattered to the floor next to the code-locked door he had just opened as he reached with desperation for his crossbow. The small but powerful hand-weapon jolted as Omi fired it. The bolt sailed just over Aya's shoulder, surprising him with its nearness, and sank up to its fletching through the eye into the socket of the man sneaking up behind him.

Though his heart was pounding with how close both the man and the bolt that had ended the man's life had come to him, Aya maintained the cool that he knew was expected from him.

"How did you know?" he'd asked the youngest member of his team.

"I tapped into their surveillance cameras when we started. I had a window of it running in the corner while I was breaking the code on the door."

Aya nodded, the closest he would come to acknowledging his thanks during a mission. Omi smiled back at him, somehow maintaining his youthful joy despite their dark, serious task. Aya walked through the open door at that to finish the mission, though he had wanted to stroke back the lock of hair falling into Omi's eyes, or clasp the youngster's shoulder in gratitude instead.

Aya looked deeper into his own mind, past the surface where images still dwelt. He wondered why his impressions of these three, the ones who shared the same spilt blood and guilt that he did, were so bound into the weapons they used. Yohji's string, Ken's claws and Omi's darts -- why were these the first images that came to his mind when he thought of them? That and their tortured eyes...

After all, he spent much more time with them in the flower shop. Why couldn't his impressions of them be centered in these much more gentle images? What they did as Weiss was more important, true, but did that mean that was all they were in the final analysis? Were they only the tools of death and justice?

"Deny this dark beast her future!" Persia concluded.

The screen went blank. Manx sidled up, with the sexually charged tension with which she did everything, to hand Aya the mission folder.

He thumbed through the pages, the pictures, the schedule of activities and movements and the possible contacts, with a regrettably practiced ease, the plan for completing this mission beginning to form already in his mind. He was relieved that the mental discipline he relied upon was reinstating itself, dispelling his dark and useless thoughts.

This one seemed to be a straightforward, simple mission of the type Aya excelled at. Persia would sometimes give a simple mission that didn't require all the hunters. It was just as well, Aya reflected. Omi was studying for his school term finals, Ken was out of the country on a much needed vacation and Yohji, though he could be recalled rapidly with a single phone call, hadn't been seen for days. Aya suspected Yohji had yet another new ladylove.

This mission seemed almost too simple and -- Aya almost shuddered at the thought -- mundane. When had dealing people to their deaths become a mundane thing to him?

"So, Abyssinian?" Manx asked with a curving smile.

"I can handle it alone. There's no need to recall anyone." Aya told her.

"Even so. I suspected as much." She remarked approvingly as she turned and slunk toward the spiral staircase. "Let me know if you need any support!"

Aya nodded then opened the file to plan the mission.

Aya's expertise on his solo missions came from his calculated and methodical approach. He never rushed in without knowing the whole situation first. Weiss functioned in a world of necessary acts committed in secrecy. Aya always chose the place for the mission's completion with this uppermost in his mind. Usually, the best place to slay a dark beast was within its own den. Of course, he needed to make certain there were no risks to this plan, either innocents who could become pawns or traps that could be sprung against him.

The sun was bright and the day warm as he walked out to the garage. Recalling the general neighborhood of his target's home, Aya selected the car as less likely to attract notice as the truck. He placed his katana on the seat just behind the driver's seat and draped his trench coat on top before he got in and started the car.

Easing out onto the highway, he rolled down the window to relieve the stuffiness in the car. The wind played with his hair, whipping one of the longer locks of his red hair, an eartail, against his cheek. Aya brushed it back and suddenly realized how beautiful the day was. He tried to recall the last time he had paid attention to the weather, except to note what it would do to his footing if he were to be in a fight. He couldn't recall.

"The beach!" Ken's eager voice rose in his memory. "I'm going to the beach! Sun, fun, surfing! Girl-watching! I may not have the reputation of Yohji here, but I do like to look at the ladies too. Especially the ones in the little bikinis!"

Ken grinned at Aya impishly a happy light shining in his eyes, while Yohji insisted that he wanted to go too.

"Naw, you stay here with your latest girl, Yohji. If you were to come, they'd never have a chance to notice me. You'd monopolize them all!" Ken put his hands on his hips and glared at Yohji lounging on the couch.

Ken ducked as Yohji threw a beer can at him. Aya caught it and tossed it in the trashcan.

"You could come, Aya. You could delight all the ones who like the brooding type and I could have all the rest." Ken grinned again, puffing out his chest. Aya had to smile at that.

"No, I'm not in need of a vacation, Ken. You will simply have to keep all the girls occupied yourself as best you can..."

Aya shook himself out of his memories, thankful that driving on a highway was such a routine task to him. He couldn't seem to keep focused.

"Maybe I do need a vacation," he muttered aloud. He glanced into the rear view mirror as he neared his exit. He almost started with how old and -- empty the eyes of the reflection looking back at him appeared. His dusky eyes had never held quite the sparkle that Omi's or Ken's did, nor even the repressed gleam of Yohji's sleepy gaze, but they had never been completely flat before.

The mission, Aya reminded himself. Brooding about his eyes and what their dullness meant could wait. There was a beast to slay and he had to scope out the lair first.

The door yielded to the least of his lock-picking skills to Aya's surprise. He put his tools away, brought out his thin leather gloves and put them on. Except for the life-depriving katana slashes on his victim, no one would ever know he had been here.

Alarm pricked in the back of his mind. Aya always trusted his intuition. He was as quiet as a shadow as he swiftly checked each room of the house to make certain he was the only one here. His alarm lessened, but did not abate. There was something wrong about this. He just hadn't found out what it was yet.

There was one hallway in the house that would be perfect for his confrontation with his target, when he decided it was time to complete his mission. Aya checked every surface and every drawer within reach of the three rooms around the hallway for items that could serve as weapons. Next, he checked the walls and the decorations to be found there. Desperate prey, trapped in its own lair, could turn surprising things into weapons against him in its mortal fear. To his distinct surprise, he found nothing. Aya could not remember a time where that had ever happened before.

The mission file was safe back at the base. Weiss never brought their mission files into the field as they could serve as tangible evidence of their work if a mission went very badly. However, Aya's memory had always sufficed before, if he needed to recall something. There had been no notice that this target carried a weapon.

The purr of a motor and a click at the front door alerted Aya to the fact that his target had returned from work. A glance at his watch showed that she was following the timetable of activity detailed in the mission report. Aya stepped back into an alcove in the hallway where deep shadows would conceal him, but allow him to watch his target's activities.

"I'm home!" she called brightly as she opened the front door and entered the house. "Not that there's anyone to care," she muttered. Aya smiled wryly at that.

She dropped her keys on the table in the entryway and walked right past him into her bedroom. Aya listened intently to the faint sounds of movement. After a few moments she emerged, having changed from her work clothes into more casual wear.

Aya was not surprised that she then went into the room that held a desk and computer and switched it on. The carpet wear in this room suggested she spent a fair amount of time here. While waiting for the disks to cycle up to speed, she switched on a CD player, filling the room with undemanding, almost trance-like synthesizer music.

"That's better," she announced aloud again. "Now..."

Soon her attention was wrapped up in her computer screen. Aya ventured a look, but all she was doing was browsing websites and reading email. He realized that now was the perfect time to complete his mission. She was alone in a place he had already determined was suitable. He was here, in position with his katana. Fate had taken his reconnoitering mission and handed him the opportunity to complete the actual mission itself. Aya decided to accept fate's gift.

He stepped from the shadows and allowed the premonition of the violence of the next few minutes to announce his presence to his victim. Now that he was no longer trying to hide, he watched as his presence within her house raised an alarm in his target. She wheeled around and jumped up out of her chair to face him.

"Who, who are you?!"

The spurting fear and wide-eyed alarm in her eyes was an expression Aya had seen so many times as to become part of the gruesome routine of Aya's life.

"To the dark beast about to die for her crimes I have no name!" Aya kept his voice low, devoid of all emotion but for his disdain for her.

"Die?! Crimes?! I haven't done anything!" She looked into Aya's eyes and blanched. Aya could tell she had seen her own death on his face.

This had also become part of the routine, the false protestations of innocence. Aya hated to admit it, but this, the moment when he showed his victims the blackness in their souls before he killed them, so that the last thing they would ever see would be his implacable face and hear his carefully cultivated, lightly neutral description of the unremitting evil they had done -- this moment was the one he lived for. He was the white angel of dark vengeance in that moment -- and perhaps, it assuaged some of the darkness of his own soul.

The pages of the mission file floated before his mind's eye. He narrowed his eyes, opened his mouth and...

Could accuse her of no crime.

The tide of adrenalin that fueled him on his missions faltered. This had never happened before! Aya mentally reviewed every page of the mission file, then recalled the moment when Manx had given it to him. Had a page fallen out? Where was this woman's list of crimes? What had she done to fall under the baleful shadow of Weiss? Why was she marked for his katana's deadly attention?

Some of his confusion must have shown in his eyes, for the woman said again, "I haven't done anything wrong! Why would you want to kill me?! This makes no sense! This..."

"Silence!" Aya hissed, stopping her prattle. He looked up at her again, directly into her eyes. Whatever she saw in him made her step back until the computer desk stopped her.

"I will make sense of it," Aya told her in a low whisper. "I never kill without reason."

He stepped forward and laid the cold edge of his katana lightly against her throat. "Once I find the reason, I will be back. Do not try to flee. I will find you!"

He withdrew his blade and turned to leave. A thump sounded behind him. A quick glance told him she had fainted. Oddly, that reaction troubled him.

Aya knew he was speeding. He knew he should slow down. He had a sharpened blade in the car. That would be hard to explain if he were stopped. He didn't care.

His mind spun in an unaccustomed confusion. He could think of only three reasons why he didn't know this target's crimes. The simplest one was perhaps the most troubling to him. He had overlooked the page. Or read it and forgotten it. Either possibility dismayed him. He had always been able to rely on his memory and he prided himself on his attention to detail. Such a gross failure of either faculty would be inexcusable, for he would have had his target in the perfect position to complete his mission, a clean kill, and he had blown it. Now she was alerted to the fact that Weiss was after her because Aya had taken a simple mission and bungled it. Now it would take the full force of Weiss and probably more extensive research by Persia's men to bring her to that point of vulnerability again. Aya didn't want to think that because of his failure Persia would decide to let her go free until a later and better time to bring her to justice. If such a thing happened -- the blood any innocents she harmed in that time would stain his soul further.

The second reason why he didn't know this woman's crimes would be because the list wasn't actually in the mission file. Aya cursed his inattention to the briefing now, Persia would certainly have mentioned them, even if somehow the page was not in the file. He couldn't very well go back and admit to Persia that he hadn't been listening. Aya decided that if he didn't find the page, he would do some research on his own. He had some idea how the research that Persia's men did was conducted and he was fairly certain he'd be able to find some clue as to what this woman had done.

The final reason... Aya didn't want to think about it. No, he wouldn't think about that until he had eliminated the first two possibilities. His foot pushed down and the needle showing his speed climbed higher. He had to get back to base!

Aya walked down the spiral staircase, grabbed up the file and began to turn through the pages rapidly. Once he had gone through them all, he started back at the beginning and looked more closely at every page. He didn't quite read everything, instead he skimmed every paragraph looking for the information he sought. Finally, he put the file down, satisfied that what he was looking for wasn't in it. A huge weight lifted from him at that. He had not let a dark beast live when he should have known to slay it. Of course, it meant that he still didn't know why Persia had made her his target. He looked again at his watch and noted the hour.

The blank screen of the computer beckoned from the corner. Aya sighed as he turned it on. Omi's expertise would make this much simpler, but the teenager had to be in bed already, sleeping soundly in preparation for his final exam tomorrow. Aya still toyed with the idea of waking him, after all, this was important, but Omi deserved some normalcy in his life. Even if that normalcy was a grueling school exam. Aya decided to find out what he could on his own, with his less-impressive computer skills.

Two hours later he went upstairs to make some tea. He hadn't found anything. He'd gone through the normal avenues of finding people's crimes, searches for newspaper articles, police records, court records, even her driving record. He had even found a way to track how she spent her money. He simply hadn't found any evidence of any crime. Not that he was ready to give up. Omi's laptop sat on top of his schoolbag on the kitchen table. Aya smiled at Omi's evident preparation for his exam day. It looked as though Omi didn't want to forget anything!

He considered for only a moment before pulling the laptop down and plugging it in. Omi's computer was more powerful than the one downstairs and Aya was certain that Omi's programs would be more powerful too. Maybe with this tool he could find a way to the information he needed. He knew it was an invasion of Omi's privacy to do what he was doing, but Aya knew that Omi, of any of the others, would want him to know for certain what his target had done. There were some surprising and unspoken ways that Aya and Omi were the closest of the group and the belief in the justice of each mission was the strongest. Omi would understand. Aya hoped he would also forgive him, if he ever found out. As he suspected, his young comrade had some very powerful and probably illegal software loaded on his laptop. Aya's eyebrow rose in surprise when he realized just what these programs allowed him to do. After a moment, he lost himself in the task before him, delving through information on a site he had no right to be looking at.

"Uhmm? Aya?" Omi's soft, sleepy voice counterpointed oddly against the rapid clacking of the computer keys under Aya's fingers some time later.

"Omi? You should be asleep." Aya didn't even look away from the computer screen. "Don't you have a test tomorrow?"

"Yes, but I am ready for it. What are you doing?" Omi pulled up the other chair, sitting backwards against the backrest and leaning in to read the screen.

"I am on a mission. I need some further information than what was provided. I am sorry. If it were not so late, I would have asked to use your computer," Aya replied, still traveling through layers of security in the site that had files he was trying to get a look at.

"No, don't worry about it! That's okay! But..." Omi twitched the laptop away from Aya, entered a few keystrokes and broke the last barrier to the information Aya sought, "there!"

He smiled in triumph as he handed the computer back to Aya. Aya smiled faintly back at him. Omi had just saved him about twenty minutes worth of work. Aya knew it was Omi's way to let him know that Omi wasn't mad about his use of the computer. He also knew that Omi could figure out what he was looking for, given the website he was on.

"Thank you, Omi," Aya said with a rare soft tone coloring his voice.

"It was nothing," Omi demurred, then yawned. "But I am tired! I'm going to bed."

"Sleep well," Aya told him, turning back to the computer screen.

Omi smiled at Aya's back before returning to his room.

Aya read the content he had fought so long to find and frowned. He sat for long moments in thought, wondering what to do now. Possibilities one and two were wrong. The third possibility, the one he didn't want to think about, was now the most likely. He shut the computer off and returned it to its place on Omi's backpack. He smiled, remembering Omi's help.

Aya got a piece of notepaper wrote, Thanks. Good luck with your test! on it leaving it on Omi's laptop for him to find in the morning. He washed his teacup out and returned it to the cupboard. Checking once more that the kitchen was neat, he turned off the light and went to bed.

He couldn't sleep. The mental chaos that had been with him all day simply would not allow him to. Images, thoughts, feelings, fears, memories -- all of this and more rattled around in his mind restlessly.

What if... Aya ruthlessly stifled the thought.

But... This one he quashed too.

The memory of his flat, purple-hued eyes looking back at him from the rear view mirror floated to the top, demanding to be dealt with.

"Vacation..." he muttered aloud.

Maybe he did need a vacation. Maybe he needed a break from all of this, the responsibility, the stress, the loneliness.

Ken's face resolved before his mind's eye. To Aya's relief, there was no sense of Ken's claws in the thought. It was the bright and happy look Ken had worn, anticipating his vacation, that had summoned this avatar of his friend. Aya imagined him running down the beach, the hunted for once, as dozens of girls chased him. A crooked smile quirked Aya's mouth at the thought. Ken would not mind being the prey of such a hunt!

"Such a vacation would not be restful to me," Aya decided. What would be good for him? He'd not taken a break for a long time. He had no idea what he would do. He wanted to get away, further than the cabin, if he took a vacation. He wanted to be able to forget that one of his names was "Abyssinian". He wanted to forget the scent of blood -- he wanted to rid his fingers of the oily, sticky memory of it. He wanted his katana to be merely for show, or practice, with a blade that stayed gleaming steel, unsullied by red. He wanted...

He wanted to feel earth between his fingers and sun on his back. He wanted the clean scent of life-giving earth to be the air he breathed, maybe spiced with the mingled perfumes of flowers. He wanted his hands to coax green life from the earth instead of dealing red death. The only red he wanted to cross his sight would be the red of flowers, maybe roses, as he gardened.

Yes, a vacation where he could garden all day might give him the peace he needed to sleep at night. Having finally decided what he would do if he took a vacation, Aya now longed for it. He wondered that he was just now realizing that he needed one, badly. His poor performance today would not have occurred if he had been at his peak, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.

If he didn't get away and take the break he now realized he so desperately needed, Aya would be as useless as a rose without thorns. He'd always considered such hybrids as thorn-less roses to be the eunuchs of the flower kingdom. He knew his view would be inexplicable to the western mind where flowers were treasured only for their beauty and the rose was regarded as the "Queen of Flowers", but an emasculated rose was a tragic thing to him. What was a rose without its prick?

Laughing mentally at the layers of meanings, especially the ribald one, in his thoughts, Aya turned to his side and finally fell asleep.

The next morning, though he was up very early, he was able to easily establish a video conference with Persia.

"Surely you have all the information you need to complete the mission?" Persia's voice held a note of impatience. "All the preliminary work has been done. Schedule, usual movements..."

"Yes, all of that is there, and as carefully researched as always." Aya treaded warily. Never before had he questioned the information given about a mission.

"What is your problem, then?"

So direct! Aya responded in kind.

"I researched it last night. I can find no evidence of wrongdoing by my target. Why has she been targeted by Weiss? What is her crime?"

Persia smiled. "Is that all? I don't know."

Aya's heart thumped at that. Pure anger began to boil in him. "I do not kill without reason!"

"I know. I had to test that, though. To make certain you weren't becoming just a killer. This mission is canceled. You have completed it successfully."

Aya closed his eyes. If not for the woman's absolute confusion, he might never had questioned the mission. If she had tried to run from him...

He would have killed her.

"What -- what would you have done if I had killed her?"

"Oh? Moved you from being active in the field. You have many useful skills. Like the way you searched for information and broke the encryptions on those files last night."

"No -- the woman. How did she become a target? What would have happened if I had killed her?" Aya clarified.

"She has no family and is not critically important in her job. It would have been regrettable if you had killed her, but no lasting damage would have been done." Persia looked away for a moment as if someone had called his attention from his conversation with Aya. "I must go. Well done! Mission completed successfully."

Aya looked at the blackened screen for many long minutes. He replayed Persia's cold disregard for the woman's life in his memory. He wondered if Persia had become as soulless as he worried that Aya might become, to have such a callous attitude toward someone's life. Admittedly, it was Persia's job to doom people, mark them for death, but those people should always, always be guilty and deserving of death for their crimes.

But, there had been that glaring omission from the mission file, the missing crimes. Aya would be on his guard now, always looking for that. Of course, false crimes could be manufactured against his targets...

No! Aya shook himself. He couldn't doubt Persia and himself now! Hadn't he known, before killing this target? Wasn't that why he had granted her reprieve, so he could determine her crimes for himself? Something had felt off ever since he entered her house. He had known... As a trained hunter of evil, he had known this target was not for him. Persia had known that too. Persia had known he would see through the mission, that was why he hadn't been worried about the woman's life. Only Aya knew how close he had come to...

...slaying an innocent. But he hadn't. In the final analysis, he hadn't killed her. And now he knew to be careful, scrutinize his missions thoroughly, make certain he was ridding the world of evil and not contributing to it. He did what he did, to make the world a better place after all, to rid the world of the dark beasts that would prey upon the innocent...

The innocent. He couldn't leave the situation unresolved with her. She had seen him, for one, and that was a problem for Weiss. They could only be as effective as they were because the world at large didn't know about them. Also... He'd left her in a state of terror and dread. He'd found nothing at all in his extensive research to suggest that she had done the least thing wrong, to deserve such punishment as the horrid anticipation of his return would put her through. He had injured her enough by scaring her once and threatening her. It was time to undo that damage as best he could and return her intact to the world of innocents where she belonged. It was enough that he and the rest of Weiss had to live in a shadow realm of death-dealing and self-doubt. He wouldn't condemn anyone undeserving to the life of foreboding that he led.

As before, he let himself into her house without a key. He wore his black trench coat for there was no other way to ensure she wouldn't notice him before he decided the time was right for her to know he was here. His katana was safely locked away in the trunk of his car. His right hand closed around a different object this time as he waited.

She arrived at her house as before, dropping her keys on the table by the door, crossing through the hallway, walking within mere inches of Aya and not seeing him or noticing him at all. It was very slight, but Aya noticed the faintest blue smudging under her eyes as she passed by him.

After she had changed from her work clothes, she entered the same room as before and turned on her computer. This time however, she did not play a soothing music CD while browsing the internet and answering her email. Aya noticed how she had rearranged the furniture of the room so that her back was no longer toward the door. He could see the tension in her, in the stiffness of her shoulders and the clenched muscle of her jaw. She lifted her hands from the keyboard and stretched in her chair, a full body stretch, reaching toward the ceiling, much as how a cat would stretch. As before, Aya left his hiding place and stood in the doorway, waiting for her to sense his presence.

She jumped. Aya could tell in the hyper-aware tension in her, that, as he suspected, she had existed in a type of hellish torment, waiting for his return.

He stepped forward and handed her a spray of baby's breath.

"Do you know the flower meaning of Kasumisou?" he asked.

She accepted it, locked her startled gaze on his eyes and shook her head. She trembled.

"It means 'innocent heart'. I proved your innocence for myself. It was a mistake. You are no longer my target."

Her knees sagged a little.

"Thank God!" her relief was heartfelt and sincere. "I knew it must be something like that, but I've never been so terrified in all my life!"

"I am sorry." Aya turned to leave.

"Wait!" she called. Aya paused. "That day -- every feeling, every heartbeat -- what you said, all of it -- every word..." She shook her head. "All of it is -- etched in my mind forever. I will never forget what happened. Or what you said."

Aya listened, her soft syllables adding a burden to his soul already darkened with far too many sins, accepting the guilt her words caused as her vengeance on him for what he had put her through. He would not leave now and deny her the justice that was her right, even though he feared the look in her eyes and her quietly uttered words would haunt him and accuse him more thoroughly than any look from people he'd killed or their shouted curses and rantings as they died on his blade.

"Please, listen and believe what I tell you now. You must never mention this, or me, to anyone. If we should ever meet, I do not know you. I can't explain exactly what I do, but I promise you that only the guilty need to fear me!" Aya told her intently.

Perhaps, if he could impress upon her how important her silence was, he could spare her any more unwanted attention from Weiss. He knew that Persia had teams in place to maintain the secrecy so vital to Weiss' operations. He did not want to put this woman's life in any further peril. He wondered if he should tell her that her continued life depended upon her silence.

She regarded the tiny white flowers in her hand. "I've had some time to think. I think I understand. There are those -- who are evil -- who are truly dark beasts, like you thought I was."

Aya narrowed his eyes, and listened. He wondered where she was going to go with this train of thought.

"I've seen some of them, on the news. There are reports of people who -- they -- well they deserve to rot in jail, or worse. By their actions they show that they are no longer human -- they prey upon the weak who can't defend themselves."

She looked up from the flowers in her hand and met Aya's eyes. Hers was a gaze as cold, flat and determined as any Aya had ever seen. They glittered with a hard edge he was startled to recognize. He'd seen it often in Yohji's, Ken's and Omi's eyes. It was a light he knew often illuminated his own eyes.

"But our laws are weak sometimes and -- impotent. Unable to reach and punish these dark beasts. That is what you do, isn't it?"

Aya wondered that she had reasoned all this from his mistaken mission. He nodded.

"Thank you."

He lifted an eyebrow at her.

"It is regrettable that in our flawed world sometimes good must be harsh. Sometimes, the just must do -- regrettable things. Your job is not an easy one. But, it needs to be done. I can tell you are very skilled at it. Both in the preparation -- and the execution."

At her word, Aya recalled all those he had executed to protect people such as her from the depraved evil of the dark beasts.

"The blood on your hands is shared by all the innocents you avenge and protect by your actions," she continued. "Whether we know it or not," she finished in a whisper.

"Thank you," she said again.

There was no response for what she had just said. Aya simply nodded and left.

Persia permanently deactivated the small, hidden camera that the woman and Aya hadn't suspected was there and smiled. This innocent, who had just enough knowledge to know what she was talking about, had given Aya an absolution of sorts for his needful actions. She'd given him another reason to continue to exist in the grey area between good and evil. She'd given him a reason to look at each mission with a critical eye, not just for the planning and successful completion of the mission, but for its justice as well. Persia knew she'd never mention her meeting with Aya or what she had intuited about what Aya did. Persia leaned back in his chair, well-satisfied with the final outcome of Aya's mission.

- end -

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Author's notes -

Reviews, comments and constructive criticisms are always welcome! Please feel free to send a message to me also if you see something awkward that needs to be clarified or fixed. I need all the help I can get.