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15 January 2007 @ 04:54 am
Liebe Macht Blind, Part One  
Mission: Liebe Macht Blind
Place: Koneko no Sumu Ie
Date: Wednesday August 16, 2006


She had, Youji thought, an unerring sense of timing.

End of the day - a slow one, this, unseasonably cold and rainy: bad for custom - and all he wanted to do was shut up shop and get away for a while. Out of the store and away from his teammates. Away from Ken, who'd spent the best part of the afternoon slowly driving him insane (he'd known he shouldn't have let that one in on last night's less-than-successful date. Smug bastard). Away from the crowds of schoolgirls who, tempting though some of them may have been, were starting to look quite impossibly young - little more than children all dolled up in cute little uniforms. Sometimes, everybody needed a little time to themselves.

Damn Manx, he thought. Damn Kritiker, damn flower shops. He was not in the mood for familiar ankles glimpsed through a half-drawn shutter, or for the woman herself to come ducking through the gap a few seconds later.

"Manx," Ken said in something like surprise.
"Honestly, Youji," Manx had said with a smile, "anyone would think you boys were trying to get rid of me."

Youji tried to look amused. If only drawing a shutter on her were all it took to get rid of Manx. Life never was that simple. Damned persistent woman, that Manx.

He'd said nothing. She had said nothing. Just smiled a tight, perfidious little smile that utterly failed to meet her eyes halfway, and ushered them all toward the basement, a sheepdog rounding up her little flock. An utterly unremarkable manila file was tucked under one of her arms. Like this wasn't infuriating enough without knowing that once Manx was done with them they'd all have to troop back up here and finish cleaning the store safe in the knowledge that, once again, they had all been handed an invitation to go get killed in some unimaginably horrible way or other...

And Youji supposed he should have expected it. They'd gone a long time without a mission, at least comparatively, and it wasn't like losing another Aya would be considered good grounds for a bit of compassionate leave... The thought had him smiling grimly.

(Yes, we all love our kind-hearted, cuddly, caring, sharing employers.)

Followed Ken down the stairs and over to the couch and (the afternoon's petty differences already as good as forgotten; such things were luxuries they both knew they could ill afford, even at the best of times) traded a cautious glance with him as they sat, Ken drawing one knee up to his chest and wrapping his arms about it. Okay, Youji thought, I'm listening. what is it this time?

And there he'd been hoping for a quiet evening...

Manx. Hadn't ever really known what to make of her. Understated threat, that one, with a skirt that was far too short and a figure that was far too distracting and something about her smile that was so utterly benign that it had to be a lie. Always some line for Yohji, or some retort to a line delivered by Yohji, always a bit of playfulness but there was nothing funny or playful about her job.

Here's your target and now do your job.

Manx handed the manila folder to Omi first, and flipped open the clear thin DVD case, pulled it out and put it in the player. Screen flickered, some attempt at bad quality, just in case it were ever to end up in the hands of someone it shouldn't.

The mission was simple: someone was stealing eyeballs from people, drugging them first and removing their eyes--for what purpose was still undetermined, but the sheer fact that he was removing eyeballs seemed to merit the interest--and then dumping their unconscious bodies wherever was convenient. Some people died before they were found and others--as the perfectly clear photos showing up on the screen showed--developed fairly gruesome infections.

Too close to the brain or too far advanced, they were all dying and none of them had any idea who had done this thing to them. The victim's pictures, now, popping up on the screen and the only thing they had in common was as blindingly obvious as it could possibly be.

Nagi looked over at Ken, waited for him to pull his usual moment of 'wait--what--huh?'

But on the plus side, at least he wasn't feeling hungry any more.

Sometimes - and God, it was a stupid thing to think; you're far too shockable and how long have you been in this business, Ken? - you had to wonder about the motivation. Sometimes you had to wonder just why anyone would bother with-- eyes. Human eyes. Jesusmaryandjoseph. Someone was really out there stealing people's - they were drugging them up and removing their eyes and leaving them, quite literally, to rot.

God. The look of them. The - sockets, he guessed. Swollen, discolored - Christ, imagine the smell and now he wanted a shower. Ken hadn't really felt like cooking tonight anyway.

*Eyes*.

What was the point? What the Hell was he *doing* with them, fuck it?

It was only when Youji turned to him, blinking, that Ken realized he'd said that last bit out loud: Manx shot him a warning glare that made him suspect she'd have been perfectly at home in a wimple. Brilliant. Just brilliant, Hidaka. He knew there was no point even asking. The *why* of it didn't really matter, or it shouldn't have done. You're an assassin, Siberian. Just do the job.

But. Sometimes you really *did* have to wonder about the motivation. Some kind of sexual kink? What the Hell would anybody, even a target, ever have wanted to do with a job lot of...

"Shit, Youji," he said, turning to face his friend, "ever thought of colored contacts?"

"Not just yet, Ken-kun, we may need to use him for bait." Omi made a face privately and skipped over the photos in the mission dossier, preferring rather to keep his appetite. Fair amount of documentation here, not as much as he'd like particularly concerning the mark. No name, no location, vague description of his appearance.

Sloppy policework oh-so-obviously the result of a payoff somewhere.

Seen too much of this in almost ten years, now, for something like that to slip by him.

"There seems to be another common link, though, with an online blogging community specifically for green-eyed people." You really can find anything on the internet these days, after all. He looked up from the paperwork--quick scan of the room, Ken's disgust, Yohji's unease, Nagi's... apathy. That much never really changed. Settled on Manx, the particular purse of her lips today. She must have had to listen to Birman vent over his medical care proposal. Didn't envy anyone in the main office that woman outranked--which was pretty much everyone, come to think of it.

"It says there's a voice post. Can we hear it?"

Manx nodded and skipped ahead on the DVD, played through a black screen with a tinny-sounding recording--cell phone, probably, female voice punctuated by labored breaths. "Hurts... It's not fair, I never did anything wrong... never hurt anybody. Never did anything... he just grabbed me. I never hurt anyone..." Long pause, whimpering over the line. The girl was dying. "Why did he do that? He's some kind of freak... I'll never be beautiful again. Never. No one on GEO will ever talk to me again. I don't have green eyes anymore... no more pretty green eyes..."

"Okay, we get the picture." Youji. Cutting across the blinded girl's agonized monologue, his own voice just a little too loud. "For Christ's sake, Manx. Turn that off."

Tightness there, something that was a long way from nonchalance and he knew it.

Yes, he got the picture. He'd got it the minute the victims' photographs had flashed up on the screen. Head shots for the most part. A couple of them had obviously paid no heed to their eye color, or not any more - the victims of coincidence, in the wrong place at the wrong time. A plump and plain-faced housewife, her eyes the only striking thing about her. A photo from a company ID of a harried thirtysomething salaryman, unremarkable in a pinstripe suit and the kind of tie a wife might choose... But most of them young, many of them female: heedlessly vain girls taking pride in their prettiness, showing it off like they would a new dress or an expensive piece of jewelry. All proud, oblivious smiles, or co-operatively pouting for the camera. *Look at me.*

All green-eyed.

All of them blinded and dead.

Youji had a horrible feeling he knew exactly where this was going: all Omi's words were good for was conformation of what he had already guessed. He'd always rather liked his eye color, before now. He'd fancied it rather striking. Too bad for him that this whacko seemed to agree with him... He shivered slightly, glad that it was dark enough that his momentary loss of composure wouldn't be immediately noticeable.

"What happened to the girl?" Ken asked, though Youji could tell from his tone that the young man already knew the answer. "The one who made that post, I mean."
"She died," Manx said matter-of-factly, calm as a nurse delivering bad news.
"Oh," Ken said, just that. He didn't sound surprised. Hardly knew why he'd even bothered asking. To fill the silence, perhaps... never liked it when they started talking, not the targets and definitely not their victims. "What's up with that website she mentioned? That Geo site? That connected to our guy in any way?"

Probably wasn't, though. That would have been that one bit too easy and it wasn't like anyone went to Weiss for the easy ones. Even paid-off cops couldn't possibly have ignored *that*... still, Ken couldn't imagine who else would want to bother running a website where vain, bored teenage girls could post narcissistic crap about how amazingly green their eyes were and how the boys all went crazy for it, which probably wasn't true anyway. He was looking at Omi who, head bowed, was rifling through the contents of the manila folder, but it was Manx who answered.

"I'm afraid not. Green Eyes Online--" here she smiled, a little tightly, "--is run by a rather silly young woman from Fukushima prefecture who felt that the entire country needed to be informed of the precise color of her eyes. The target is simply taking advantage of her silliness and the vanity of the people who post there."
"But that's the dumbest excuse for starting a website *ever*!" Ken complained.
Youji tried to smile. "You're only saying that because if you've got brown eyes, nobody gives a damn."
"Nobody gets so fond of them they try to rip them out your head, either." It should have sounded pointed, but it didn't. Wonder in Ken's voice. "Christ, what's he doing with them? Why've they got to be green?"
"Why are you asking me that?" Youji asked. "I'm not some kind of authority on this because my eyes are the right color." Or, as it was beginning to look like, the wrong one.

Had the laptop out, balanced on his lap, always had it--except in the flowershop, far too easy to get knocked around or abused by the crush of girls that came to stand around and coo over how adorable their favorite boy was-- Signed on and found the website, not even a challenge really. Half-listening to the rest of the conversations. Figured that when something significant and relevant to the mission needed to be said that Omi would say it.

Nagi worked his way through Green Eyes Online, hand hovering over the keyboard of his laptop. Silent depression of the keys when necessary, rolling through the various forms needed to sign up to this ridiculous display of vanity.

Three pictures needed, apparently. One of which had to be a closeup of your eyes, the other two could be broader shots as long as they clearly showed the eyes. Optional fields to fill in your name, age, and location. And some kind of rating system for those vain morons that had already been accepted into the community to rate your eyes on various levels of attractiveness, greenness and expression.

"Where were the victims from?" Nagi said, looking up from the screen, directing the question at whoever could answer it. Turned his face back to the laptop before they answered, flipping through the profiles that were already on the page, and endless display of green eyes, blending together after a while.

Different locations though. Most of them weren't even close to Tokyo--a few of them weren't even in Japan.

Omi had a funny little smile on his face, listening to Ken and Yohji banter--after the strain of the past few days it was good to hear that again. Maybe it was the normalcy of going into mission status... if one could consider discussing gruesome murders and preparing to kill people normal.

"Ours is not to question why, ours is but to do or die." He said it as a joke, but there was just a bit too much eerie truth to it for it to go over completely in that fasion. Still flipping through files to find the answer to Nagi's question. "Shibuya." Flip. "Kotoku." Flip. "Chiyoda--they're all local." Flip. Flip.

"This is... damn. There's one from Kanagawa prefecture but otherwise, every victim lives in Tokyo."

Simple enough.

He finally looked up long enough from the case file to notice Nagi's laptop glowing, the young man in question bent studiously over it. "I take it you've found the site?"

Slight bow of the head: Nagi had nodded. No messing around from him. Already bent studiously over his laptop, dreaming up some picture-perfect profile any eyeball freak on the lookout for fresh supplies (at least in the immediate vicinity) would go nuts for. Ken guessed they'd need pictures, just to prove they weren't faking it. He wondered how easy it would be to Photoshop in a pair of gorgeous green eyes. Probably not that hard, if you didn't overdo it and make them like, glowing emerald green or something...

"So," Manx was saying - she flipped the lights back on, somewhat belatedly - "Am I to take it you're all in?"
Ken nodded. "Yeah." Kind of a given, that; it wasn't usual for him to pass on a mission unless the last one had left him damn near dead, even when the perpetrators weren't ripping out eyeballs. (But they're all twisted shits, Ken; it's just a matter of degree.) Turned to look at Youji. Youji was looking sour.
"Whatever," he said a little irritably. "Doesn't look like I've got much choice..."
Ken frowned, a look which in him implied concentration rather than peevishness. "What's the problem?"
"For Christ's sakes, Ken, even you cannot be that clueless."

Oh.

For a moment, Ken considered getting mad with Youji, but... no, he couldn't say he really blamed the guy for being a bit upset. This whole business was quite gross enough even without finding yourself right in the line of fire. Still, that was easy enough got round, wasn't it? Surely any of them could do it, with a couple of aids to nature?

"Well," Ken said helpfully, "you know, I could do it. I wouldn't mind."

Youji didn't respond, or at least not verbally. Just leaned forward in his seat and looked right at him. Stared intently into his eyes in a manner that was frankly unnerving and left Ken worried that Youji was about to go for his throat. He drew back a bit, tensing.

"What?"
"Ken," Youji said, in the manner of a man enunciating a great truth, "your eyes are brown."
Ken looked blankly at him. "And? Youji, man, that's a photo site. Anyone could take a picture and color their eyes in green using a paint program. I can't imagine Green Eyes Online send people round to check you really do have the right color eyes."
"The minute the guy saw you--"
"I could get contacts," Ken said remorselessly. Turned in his seat to look over at Manx. "Some of them look pretty real, right? Hey, Manx? Could you ask Birman where she got her colored contacts from?"
Youji sighed. "God damn it, Ken. No."
"Why not? If we work fast he'd never even find out I didn't have--"
"No." Youji said again. He hoped he'd sounded emphatic. "I... look, I just don't want you doing it. I'll do it."
"Oh," Ken said - and God damn it, he sounded genuinely surprised. "Well... okay, if you're sure, look I really wouldn't have minded, Youji, but--hey, we can take the photos right now, right? If you're doing it. Omi, where's your camera? I'm gonna take a picture of Youji's pretty green eyes."

Youji groaned, burying his head in his hands as Ken scrambled to his feet and hurried toward the stairs. God, what was it people always said about idiots with ideas? What the Hell was he getting himself into?

"Oh, God. Do I have to? Well, can I at least brush my hair first? And get me a clean shirt!"

Nagi heard Manx, had trained himself somewhat to listen to her when she said something--otherwise he would have droned her out with the rest of them. (Never trust a woman with a skirt that short, Schuldig had said once. Playfully, he guessed. Figured that really, it had been some kind of sage advice being imparted to him.) Were they all in--yes. Him in the capacity of profile creator, and probably something else later. He assumed that Yohji would have some kind of GPS device attached to him at all times after his picture was posted. Nagi would sit right here in front of his laptop and track him, the other two would do the rest.

Manx walked out somewhere between Ken offering to be the bait and Yohji asking if he could brush his hair.

Nagi turned away from the computer. "We'll need three pictures," he said flatly. "One close up of your eyes and two that can be broader. This site allows for listing of your name, age and general location but nothing more specific."

"Top desk drawer." Loud enough Ken would hear, maybe, if he wasn't already diving head-first through Omi's personal effects. Still in the armchair himself, Omi paused at the last stapled packet of paper in the folder, labeled as a possible connection to the string of assaults. A young woman brutally beaten to death, glassy stare at the crime scene photographer; one brown eye, one green.

Yohji should see this. Later, maybe after the mission.

"Take the pictures in the shop, and outside. Get a shot with a good view of the sign." He closed the folder calmly--had enough of that already--and noted Yohji. Picture of agitation, there.

"There's really nothing to worry about, Yohji-kun." Offered his best reassuring smile, somewhat more honest than the one he gave to unhappy girls alongside a flower. "It's just like infiltration, if you think about it."

"Infiltration," Youji said, sighing deeply, "doesn't usually require anaesthetics. Or involve me doing anything more dangerous with my eyes than looking through them. And speaking of looking through them, Omi - I'm not blind yet. Gimme the file."

Had seen the way Omi was looking, as he rifled through that thing. Noted the pause. Slight moment of - surprise, maybe. Nothing so overstated as shock, but there'd definitely been a momentary freeze. Omi might have been a good liar, but so was Youji. And he hadn't become a successful detective, or a deeply alive assassin, without picking up a few things about the art of observation.

Omi shrugged a little--like he had meant for this to happen, intended transparency to give Yohji an in. Hadn't, really, but he could play it that way, still. Stood up and walked over to the couch, handed the file over and sat down next to him. Let Yohji look through it.

Waited for him to land on that last piece, realize a sacrifice of comfort and security would save the rest of them from a decidedly unpleasant death.

"I don't envy your position. Really. You have to trust me when I say that we won't let anything happen to you. I won't allow it, and Ken-kun would sooner gouge his own eyes out with a rusty spoon."
That had always been an issue with them, hadn't it? This thing called trust. Not so much now, after Estet, after that level of terror and near-death, but still every once in a while, it would rear its ugly head. "We need you to trust all of us, that we'll get you back safely. Otherwise this isn't going to work."

And he didn't really know why he'd wanted it, when he'd got it.

Skimmed quickly through the file, head bowed, a heavy hank of dark hair tumbling into his face. Impatiently, Youji pushed it back behind his ear, sighed in frustration when it slipped back almost immediately. He didn't know what he was looking for: anything out the ordinary run of crime-scene photos and autopsy reports. Anything that would have given Omi pause. Perhaps he'd know it when he saw it but, with a guy like Omi, who could tell? Who could tell what details that steel trap of a mind might have seized upon?

Sometimes, though, it was obvious. Sometimes even Omi would consent to be only predictable. Caught his breath at that final picture. A body lying in the guttering, face so swollen he could tell it was a girl's only by the clothes and hair. Mismatched eyes.

(Some of them look pretty real, right?)

"Shit, Omi," he said quietly. Guess I won't be showing this to Ken.

Closed the file and let it rest upon his knees, one hand placed lightly atop it. Watching Omi out of the corner of his eyes, from behind that curtain of hair. He must, he knew, have looked really anxious if Omi should feel the need to reassure him...

Sighed. Said, "I trust you. It's just..." he tailed off, his eyes uncertain. "I dunno, Omi. Doesn't this feel different to you?"

"Different?" Omi watched that one--might only feel different to you, Yohji, because for you its personal. We've all had those, and it really wasn't any different than any other mission we take, except to us, individually. "Should it?"

Leaned back against the couch's arm, pulled his knee up and got comfortable--from the sound of clattering coming from the upstairs, Ken hadn't found the camera yet. And here he hadn't even remotely been planning to spend this evening cleaning his room. Left his expression open for whatever was on Yohji's mind.

"No, probably not," Youji admitted. "But it does. Damned if I know why."

It wasn't just the personal thing: he was sure of it. He knew what personal felt like, and it wasn't like this. Perhaps it was just - he didn't know. Playing the part of a victim, perhaps?

Youji couldn't put his finger on it. But trusting his team to watch his back in the field was one thing. Trusting them to be able to save his sight: that was different. He hardly knew why, but at least in the field death usually came relatively quickly and cleanly: a gunshot, a single blow. A moment's pain and then nothing. At least there it was relatively dignified, at least compared to what this guy had to offer, and at least he had a chance of saving himself.

This - letting someone drug him with a view to removing his eyes and leaving him to die, with nothing to do but hope the guy didn't fuck up the dosage, that his teammates could get to him in time - was different. It shouldn't have been: it was the same old song, even if the lyrics were different. Same result. He knew that.

(He never had liked being helpless.)

"... Guess I'm probably just overreacting. I know it's not different at all." But it feels it.

"There is something that's not right. You'll notice it too, if you look through those files again." Omi ran his fingers through his hair, noted idly that it could probably do with a wash. Too much time and brainpower devoted to studying. "This mission isn't exactly easy, but it wouldn't have been difficult, either, even for law enforcement. The website was a simple connection and should have been utilized, but it wasn't. The mark should have left trace on the victims, but as far as I can tell no one ever so much as looked for it."

Paused there, because Yohji could work out the rest of the details from that. Smiled a little again--not trying to be anything, this time. Just a smile.

"You're not overreacting, Yohji-kun. It's harder to give up than it is to fight."

Nagi had finished the profile, somewhere back about the time Yohji was mumbling about not being blind, spent the rest of the time sitting there not listening to them (hearing them, but not really listening because he figured he was supposed to be focused on what he was doing and therefore deaf or uninterested.) All that was left was the pictures, and Ken seemed to have lost his way with that task.

Still, he kept his seat until the tone in Yohji's voice got that quality to it that almost annoyed him--couldn't say why really. Blamed Crawford and all his emphasis on superiority; worse than Schuldig was about it. That thing in Yohji's voice still grated on his nerves, for no other reason that its vulnerability. Even here, even among teammates where it was supposed to be safe.

(Not really safe anywhere, is it, if Schuldig's back.)

Nagi stood up, looked over at them briefly, didn't say anything but left with a sigh, figuring they would know he was off to find Ken. Up the stairs and to Omi's room.

"Top desk drawer," he said.