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[note: takes place between eps. 17 and 18.]

Youji-kun writes me an awful lot of notes. "Please excuse Omi-kun from class today," he drawls as he picks up his pen in the morning. "He was up all night killing people." Or "Yesterday, he was nearly killed by a psychotic Irish madman." Or "We need him to stay home and keep the flower shop open while we track down the asshole who's killing your students."

He doesn't write that. Sometimes I think that the notes would be better if he did. They always turn out so bland and inoffensive that I wonder why they haven't just expelled me by now. I'm always surprised when someone accepts Youji-kun as my older brother, much less when they accept something he says as gospel truth. My teachers are good enough about accepting my absences; they know that I'm an orphan, that I'm trying to support myself and still go to school, that I'm working whenever I can. They don't know all of it, of course. But they know some.

The last time I was in English class, we were reading a poem by some dead English man named Tennyson. It was about a woman who lived in a tower, tucked high away from the rest of the world; she had been told that if she ever looked out the window, down towards the town, she would be cursed. The poet spent an awful lot of time describing all the flowers and the river and the people -- all the things that the poor woman would never be able to see. Eventually, of course, a knight rode by singing, and she dared to look, and she fell in love with him even though he'd never seen her before. In the end, she took a boat, wrote her name on the boat, and floated down the river to the town. She died on the way, and when the boat arrived at town -- the mysterious, dead woman in a boat that no one had ever seen before -- the knight she'd fallen in love with only said that she had a lovely face, and wished that God would treat her well.

I can't get that image out of my head -- a woman in a boat, her hair unbound, floating down the river. I didn't understand a lot of it, and I've missed class since; two broken ribs, this time, and a gash up my side to accompany them, the kind of cut that winds up stinging for weeks afterwards. But that picture sticks in my head. It makes me think of --

I don't need to be thinking about this anymore.

"Omi-kun." Youji-kun's eyes are concerned as he stops in the doorway and looks over at me. "Have you found any sign of her?"

My eyes are gritty and feel as if they've been lit on fire; that's what staring at a screen for seven hours will do to you. "No." I shift in the chair and hiss as a too-deep breath catches on fractured ribs. "There's no sign. There's no trail. I can't find any suggestion anywhere that a patient named Fujimiya Aya has been transfered into any of the hospitals that I can check." I scrub a hand over my eyes and let them close for a moment, then a moment more; it feels good. "Which means what I was already pretty sure of; someone has her who doesn't care if she gets medical care or not. Which means that I'm going to have to work harder to find her, and faster."

Youji-kun shakes his head. "You're going to have to go back to bed," he corrects me. "You've got two cracked ribs and you lost a lot of blood. The computer will be there in the morning."

I can't explain to him why I'm doing what I'm doing, can't explain why I have to keep doing it. All I can do is shake my head. "I'll go back to bed." Pause. "Later. Once I finish checking the last of the emergency clinics. I have to be sure."

I'm scared that they brought her somewhere I can't track. I'm scared that they took her somewhere that doesn't keep records, that doesn't have names, that doesn't feed into the insurance databases. If they did, I'm never going to be able to find her, and I won't accept that. I can't accept that. So I keep looking.

Youji-kun only stands in the doorway for a few minutes more, watching me as I lift my fingers back to the keyboard and keep typing.

Another morning, another note. "Dear Principal Haruka," Youji-kun muses out loud as he looks for a sheet of paper without the shop logo or some sort of stylized flower on it, and finally finds one. "Please excuse Omi-kun from class again today. He was up all night in front of the computer with two broken ribs and was too much of a baka to know when to sleep in his own bed..."

"Lay off of him, Youji-kun," Ken-kun says over his shoulder as he picks up the first of the day's deliveries from the refrigerator. "You know how Omi-kun gets when he's got something on his mind. He's just trying to help Aya-kun."

I'm sitting at the table, in the easy chair that Youji-kun and Ken-kun dragged up from downstairs for me to sit in so that I didn't have to sit on the hard chairs. They tried to talk me into staying downstairs out of the shop, or ideally upstairs in bed, but I hate being idle, even when I'm hurt. Youji-kun is sitting across from the table, cigarette in hand, coffee under his nose, printing surprisingly neat, blocky letters excusing me from all the normal obligations of someone my age. Ken-kun is carrying flowers from the refrigerator to the car, giving me concerned glances when he thinks that I'm not looking, always stopping halfway to coming over and seeing if I'm all right.

"He could do it without personal injury," Youji-kun grumbles, signing his name at the bottom of the note and pushing it across the table for me to read. I skim it over and nod; the usual, "personal emergency", "all work will be made up", blah, blah. Ken-kun picks it up on his next trip past and tucks it into a pocket of his apron; he'll drop it by the school after his first delivery.

"I could have gone to school today," I offer. It's true; last year I spent three weeks trying to hide a fractured collarbone in gym class, after a mission had gone wrong and the target's bodyguards had gotten a little bit too close. All you need is a reputation for being just a little clumsy, and you can get away with just about anything.

Ken-kun rests a hand on my shoulder. "Don't worry about it, Omi-kun. Just get better, okay? You've had a rough few months." I give him a smile. "Just be sure to duck back into the back room when the fangirls show up at lunch, okay? Last time they showed up when you were out from school, it caused problems."

I hate dealing with the fangirls; we all do, even Youji-kun. Not as people; individually, they're rather nice. I hate dealing with the fangirl collective. I just want some privacy, want to be able to play hooky in peace. Half of them go to my school, though, so I have to hide out.

I'd go with Ken-kun, if I could. I'd like to get out of the shop, and Ken-kun listens so well, when I can't ignore the thoughts anymore. It's easier to say them out loud than it is to listen to them in your ears.

"That's going to leave me alone with the fangirls today, isn't it," gripes Youji-kun. "Omi-kun will be hiding downstairs, and you're going to be on deliveries all day."

The words slip out of Ken-kun's mouth. "What about Aya-kun?" He stops as he hears himself, and his eyes get a little wide, as if he's said something incredibly tactless. I know he knows; I told him myself.

Youji-kun doesn't flinch as he looks back at me; somehow, I appreciate that the most. "He left early this morning. I don't know when he'll be back."

I wish I was a hunter in search of different food, I wish I was the animal which fits into that mood, I wish I was a person with unlimited breath, I wish I was a heartbeat that never comes to rest

Youji-kun never would turn the damn stereo down; I can hear it all the way in the back of the shop. I don't mind, not really, but it always means that it's hard to think while Youji-kun is the one in charge of the shop. I guess it's a good thing, really. There's been too much going on in the past six months for me to really have any extended period of time thinking. I'm not complaining about the lack.

I wish I was a stranger who wanders down the sky, I wish I was a starship in silence flying by, I wish I was a princess with armies at her hand, I wish I was a ruler who'd make them understand

The redhead from Schwarz must like this song, I think, and smile, half-heartedly. It's got bits in German. I'm pretty sure that the redhead is German. I can only barely understand the English parts; the German is completely beyond me.

Wir zwei beschreiben Stille, die jeden Krach umhüllt besitzen ein Bewusstsein, das jeden Raum erfüllt auch du wirst mich vermissen, wenn keiner bei dir ist denn ich will von dir wissen wer du bist

"How you feeling, kid?" Youji-kun pokes his head back into the back room, and I pick up my head to smile at him a little more.

"My ribs hurt," I say, truthfully. "A lot. But I'm okay. Here, I finished that flower arrangement that Ikaru-san asked for this morning." I actually enjoy flower arranging; it's a peaceful hobby. Then again, I enjoy being good at killing people, too. Oh, I don't enjoy the actual process of death, the fact that I'm responsible for ending someone else's life, responsible for dispensing some crude and rough justice. But if someone's going to do it -- and someone is going to do it -- it might as well be someone who is good at what he does. None of our targets suffer, not even when they're the type who probably deserve to.

"Nice work, Omi-kun," Youji-kun says, and ruffles my hair a little; I duck my head, scowling, and swat at him halfheartedly. They never will stop treating me like a child, no matter that I'm only two years younger than Ken; the hazard of being the baby of the group. I'm always going to be the baby, even if we all make it to our fifties and wind up sitting around a go board somewhere in retirement. If only I weren't so damn short, so damn cute. It works to my advantage sometimes -- people underestimate me, and I can get away with so much more -- but the benefits aren't worth always being "the kid". "Look, Momoe-san is gonna watch the shop for a bit while I go upstairs and make lunch. Anything in particular you want?"

I shake my head. "Food's good." A smile. "Food that you make is better. You just learned how to cook because you think it attracts women, didn't you."

He grinned back at me. "Well, it does attract women. And, you know, it's my duty to attract women, what with me apparently being the only straight man in the prefecture again."

"You'd better be straight."

"Why's that, kid?"

I can tell that he expects some answer about how much I appreciate spending time with him because he's straight and there's no relationship difficulties, none of the tension that's there with Ken or -- Because he's expecting it, I don't give it to him. "Because if you're not straight, and you dress like that, you're the gayest gay man I've ever seen."

Laughing hurts with broken ribs. But it's the kind of hurt that somehow feels better after it's done.

I'm almost too far asleep to recognize when Youji-kun comes into the mission room late that night, ready to play mother hen again. I hadn't realized just how close I was to unconsciousness; I'm slumped over in the chair, my chin propped up on one palm, my other hand still on the mouse. My neck hurts. I guess my eyes just drifted shut; God only knows how long ago it was. How many nights have I fallen asleep like this?

My ribs hurt. This isn't new. I'm almost used to it by now.

"Oh, Omi-kun," he sighs, as he sees me. I'm working up the energy to move, working up the willingness to break out of the drowsy half-asleep. I don't get enough sleep, particularly not these days. None of us do. Youji-kun crosses the room with quiet steps; I imagine that he intends to carry me into bed, and I find the energy, somehow, to stir just a little, in preparation to protest. Being carried will hurt.

"Leave him," comes the soft, deep voice from over by the stairs. I can imagine Youji-kun whirling around to face Aya-kun and glaring, but I'm drowsing again, and can't bother to move.

"What are you talking about? He's hurt. I can't let him sleep here."

"Leave him. If you carry him, you will hurt him worse; being carried will not only jostle his ribs, but pull at the scab on the cut. It will wake him up, and once he's awake, he won't be able to fall asleep again. If he stays there, and the pain grows too great to bear or he is doing damage to his body, he will wake up on his own."

"Ne, Aya-kun, you're cold. Do you know he's been out of bed all day sitting there hard at work? Looking for your sister. Looking for Aya-chan. Did you ask him to do that?"

"No." No, he hadn't asked me. I'd decided to do it myself. "It was entirely his idea."

"You jerk, don't you care that he's pushing himself past the limits of what his body can handle? Just for you, for some twisted reason, because he thinks he has some sort of obligation to you or something? Will you just say something to him to let him know that he can knock it off a little, and maybe get some actual sleep?"

"He's sleeping now. And, I might add, he has no obligations to me at all. Good night, Youji-kun."

If they say anything more, I miss it, as I slip back over the edge into sleep. Aya-kun doesn't realize that I'm doing this precisely because he didn't ask me to. That creates so much more of an obligation. Aya-kun, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for who I am, and who I was born. If I give you your sister back, will you stop hating me?

I dream that night of the lady in the boat. I'm not sure whose face she has, but I do know one thing. Her face isn't mine.

[The German lyrics in "Komm Zu Mir" are translated as "The two of us describe a silence that wraps up every noise/we both have a conscience and a confidence that can fill every room/you will miss me, too, when no one's with you/cause I want to know who you really are"]

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