The secretary was on the phone when elevator doors slid open on the eighteenth floor. She glanced up from her computer screen, expression composed but thoughts confused as to who the unexpected visitors could be. Schuldig had the distinct pleasure of hearing her thoughts grind to a halt before exploding into panic as he followed Crawford out of the elevator. Japanese professionalism kept her voice calm even as she got to her feet and she very sweetly and politely asked whoever was on the line to give her just a moment. As soon as she had the approval, she pressed a manicured finger down on the mute button and stared at them.

      "Mister Takatori has not asked for your presence here today," she said.

      "He will see us," Crawford answered calmly as he took a seat. Schuldig kept going and crossed the room to stand right in front of her desk. She flinched back a little and he smiled down at her. "I suggest you tell him we are here."

      "He has a meeting at three," she protested weakly. "It is very important."

      "And now he has a meeting at two fifty-five," Schuldig said, reaching across her desk to press the buzzer for the inner office. The girl opened her mouth to argue and Schuldig planted his free hand over it to silence her.

      "Yes, Okuno?" came a familiar but strange voice through the speaker. The secretary tried to answer, but the best she could manage was a muffled response. She started to lift her hands to move Schuldig's away from her mouth, but the look on his face froze her in her tracks. Schuldig could hear papers rustling through the speaker, then at last there was a second attempt, "Okuno?"

      Schuldig let go of the speaker button and waited. It didn't take long before the large door behind the secretary's desk opened. A small figure moved into the doorway, thoughts vaguely impatient at the lack of a proper response. That was forgotten when he saw who was sitting in his waiting room. Schuldig let his hand fall away from Okuno's mouth and tuned out her frantic apologies, more interested in studying the newest Takatori.

      It had been years since he and Crawford had seen Takatori Mamoru, and then they'd had their inevitable reunion when the secondary Rosenkreuz team had started meddling in Japan. The youngest Weiß had changed irrevocably in that time. Schuldig still knew him on some base level, but the majority of the thoughts before him was twisted out of shape into something he shouldn't have found in one of the white assassins' minds.

      "I have no time for this today," Mamoru said, sliding his gaze dismissingly past Schuldig to face Crawford instead. "I told you I would see you again tomorrow."

      "We will be gone in time for your meeting," Crawford answered without looking up. He had brought a newspaper with him and was considering the articles on the front page.


      "Oh, come now," Schuldig said with a broad smile. "It's been so long."

      "An underappreciated and unmissed absence," Mamoru answered easily, looking back at him. He met Schuldig's gaze without any hint of fear or apprehension. He was head of Kritiker now, head of the Tokyo police as well, and he knew what power came with those positions. He saw absolutely no reason to fear Schwarz- not because he thought they respected his promotion, but because he knew what he meant to them now. Crawford had only underlined that when he'd approached Mamoru yesterday about taking on some of Kritiker's work. Schuldig still thought that was a mistake.

      They stared each other down, sensing everything that was different between them, everything that was the same, and at last Mamoru looked at his watch. "You have three minutes."

      Schuldig didn't miss the glance he sent at his secretary as he turned, though, and neither did she. She felt the tacit disapproval in that calm, split-second glance, and she bowed low before shrinking back into her seat. Schuldig reached over and pushed the button to release the call on hold, hanging up on the other line, and followed Mamoru into his office.

      He closed the door behind them and waited there beside it. Mamoru continued back to his desk and Schuldig took advantage of the seconds to look around the expansive office. It was pure business and power, efficiency and status. Not a trace of color or sentimentality dotted the walls or desk.

      "I expected there to be more foliage," Schuldig admitted.

      "I have had enough plants to serve me a lifetime," Mamoru answered easily as he slid into the desk chair. They must have replaced the chair, because this one was good for Mamoru's slight frame. It was still a little too big for him, but not as badly as one meant for Takatori Shuuichi's body would have been. It was, still, slightly disconcerting to see one of Weiß sitting in such a chair.

      Schuldig's memories of the youth had nothing in them that said Mamoru had earned this spot. These desks were for people like Crawford, for people like their former clients: the ice-hearted masterminds that moved the world. He breathed deeply and silently, sucking in the scent of polished wood and strength, feeling the way it curled thick and heady in his veins. Power was an aphrodisiac, but it was tainted here and now by its wielder.

      "You mean someone might misconstrue it as sentimentality," Schuldig said, starting across the room towards his desk. "Clinging to old lives and rejected acquaintances, and the like."

      "They are not rejected," Mamoru pointed out. "They are still useful, just in ways entirely different from my own."

      "Kudou still useful to you?"

      There was a heartbeat of silence. He felt it hit, even if it didn't show on Mamoru's face. The child had gotten much better at shielding his reactions and thoughts, in what had to have been a very unpleasant learning process. The boy had always been an excellent liar, but that expertise had been most often turned on himself. He had used it to fuel his cheer, telling himself to be optimistic and generous for the good of his teammates when he'd really needed that mask to keep himself from shattering apart.

      Apparently someone had finally taught him that smiles didn't get anyone anywhere in today's world, and that lying to oneself was more dangerous than anything else. In their line of business, they had to fully accept and embrace what they were and what they were capable of, or they'd never get anywhere but dead. Schuldig just wished he'd been there to see that sledgehammer strike home. What had they seen when they'd broken that façade? Had it been messy and emotional before he lost it all to the cold rationality he'd need as Kritiker's president, or had the ice and stone been there all along, like a secretive, rock-solid core? He smiled at the thought of it and knew it was an unfriendly expression as it cut across his lips. Mamoru's expression still didn't budge and Schuldig leaned forward, considering him across the expansive desk.

      "Yes? No?" he pressed.

      "What happened to Balinese was unfortunate," Mamoru said at length, "but the best possible path. He was defecting and becoming unstable. This was a simpler solution than execution."

      "Outlived his usefulness and was thrown away, hm? Was that your decision or Kritiker's?"

      "That is how life must work," Mamoru said simply. "I wouldn't even acknowledge your existence if I didn't think Crawford had some valid points in his offer yesterday."

      "My, my, haven't we been settling in well at the Takatori reins," Schuldig drawled. "Guess we lost all hope in you a little too soon."

      "Excuse me?" Mamoru asked, with that perfect, scathing politeness that was an exact mimicry of Crawford's.

      "We always knew who you were," Schuldig answered. "Rosenkreuz researched the Takatori family before we were assigned as Reiji's bodyguards. One of our tasks was to find out where your father had misplaced you, but we were all disappointed when we succeeded. We hadn't expected you to be quite an embarrassment to the Takatori name and power. Crawford's last report on you had Inept as its final diagnosis."

      That rankled the other man, both for being so easily dismissed and for Schwarz having known who he was long before he himself had, but the disgust was just a ripple against his mind. Mamoru's cool expression didn't waver and Schuldig leaned forward further still to get right in his face, wanting to see the first sign of the younger man cracking.

      "Littlest Takatori, hmm?" Schuldig mused, considering the impassive blue eyes in front of him. "Finally all grown up and corrupt."

      "Corrupt is relative."

      "Ends justifying the means and sacrifices made for the greater good? You know, I bet you sleep like a baby." Schuldig reached out and let his hand hover right beside Mamoru's, not close enough to touch but so close he could feel the other man's body heat practically vibrating against his fingers. The tension between them just jangled his nerves and his smirk twisted a little wider, showing his teeth in a mocking taunt. "Am I right? When did you sleep better? Was it when you were the martyr, risking your life to preserve the innocents? I think not. Something tells me you find it infinitely more satisfying to be the one directing others to their deaths."

      Mamoru just stared back at him in silence for a moment and Schuldig waited, waited for it. At length, the only thing the man had to offer was a noncommittal, "And?"

      Schuldig's lips parted on a silent breath. Mamoru just gazed back at him, waiting for something further. There was nothing in Mamoru's mind to say he was bothered by admitting such a thing out loud. He'd come to terms with that months ago out of sheer necessity, and he hadn't really stopped to think about it. He'd made his decision when he'd walked away from Weiß for the last time, when everything that had ever been Omi had died.

      Schuldig was treated to thoughts of the apartment Kritiker had set Mamoru up in, an expansive thing almost three times larger than what he'd ever had at the Koneko. Three times more space and a thousand more times deadly. The silence, the aristocratic and public-view lifestyle, and the separation from everything his company really was when it got down to the front lines were doing their job exactly the way Kritiker's cats had meant them to. Mamoru was completely removed from the blood and the pain of it all, trapped behind scenic views, polished desks, and ingratiating the public. Everything was statistics now, and numbers could be locked away at night before turning in for sleep. Mamoru slept a deep and dreamless sleep.

      The change was fascinating. Vaguely. If one was very bored. And yet—

      It was the same thing that had attracted him to Crawford: that complete emotional removal from everything around him, that power, that calculating mind that had no trouble at all manipulating and sacrificing pawns to preserve the head. Back when they'd first met, Schuldig hadn't understood it at all, because telepaths simply couldn't operate like that. He was water where Crawford was stone: volatile and impulsive and reckless and on such a goddamned high from life that he barely knew when his feet were on the ground and when he was bouncing to catch the next rush. He lived for the moment, for the feeling of it all, for the seconds that changed absolutely everything about a person. He wanted to live, he wanted to hurt, he wanted to play and fight and kill and fuck and touch and suck absolutely everything of the world up into himself. He wanted everyone caught up in the frenzy and the madness and the soul-consuming hate and pain of it all.

      Mamoru, like Crawford, had put his feet down and refused to move again, effectively taking himself out of that rush. That was unacceptable, but certainly no real problem to someone like Schuldig. Even stones could be worn down. Crawford was living proof of that after eight years together. Schuldig wasn't going to devote eight years of his life to Mamoru, not unless there was a damn good reason and a world of rewards for that sort of attention, but—

      He started to derail those thoughts before they went down dangerous sidelines, but decided a second later that it was futile to resist his nature. Crawford already knew. Schuldig realized that in a heartbeat but didn't even bother to feel annoyed by it. Eight years of toying with each other meant they'd just come to accept it, and he knew better than to question it by now. Crawford had known exactly what would come out of this meeting. He'd sent Schuldig here because he'd known what Schuldig would see in Mamoru's mind and he'd realized that this revelation was the only way Schuldig was ever going to agree to work under Mamoru's lead.

      Maybe it wasn't going to be eight years, but that was still enough time to win. Schuldig loved winning.

      "I'm coming to your apartment tonight," Schuldig said.

      Mamoru stared back at him for a long moment, caught off-guard by such a groundless stray from the conversation at hand. "I don't recall inviting you."

      "I've invited myself," Schuldig said, pressing his hand against one cheek and sliding it across warm skin in a brief brush. "Expect me at seven."

      "I won't be in. I don't entertain clients at my apartment."

      Schuldig smiled, slow and cold. "Are you sure?"

      Mamoru considered him, mulling over any and all possible connotations of such a meeting. Schuldig listened to him weigh possibilities of betrayal and murder against twisted games and political talk, listened but said nothing in response to any of it. Instead he slid his hand back towards the front of Mamoru's face and slipped his thumb across the younger man's mouth. Mamoru tilted his head into the brush but kept his eyes on Schuldig and his thoughts impersonal and contemplative. He made the step from A to B much faster than Schuldig expected him to; Tsukiyono Omi never would have figured it out. Of course, he also would have been smart enough to decline and make himself scarce come seven o' clock. Takatori Mamoru was something entirely different, however.

      "Seven, then," Mamoru said against his finger.

      The clock started chiming on the hour. Schuldig let his hand fall away. Mamoru's expression still bordered on bored, but Schuldig could hear his thoughts ticking away as he tried to figure out exactly what the telepath was aiming for with this new offer of his. "Have your peons draw up the paperwork, then, and Schwarz will sign off on it tomorrow."

      "I trust you can see yourself out," was all Mamoru said in answer, and he immediately dismissed Schuldig in favor of the rest of his work. Schwarz was completely wiped out of his thoughts, replaced by the next item on his to-do list.

      Schuldig lingered for just a second more to admire how easily the other man switched from one problem to the next. His mouth twitched into another smirk as laughter twisted in his chest and he stepped back away from the desk. Mamoru's phone was already ringing for his three o'clock appointment and Schuldig didn't stick around long enough to see him answer it. He let himself out of there and past the miserable secretary. Crawford was still waiting for him in the lobby, already folding up his newspaper in preparation to leave. He was ready in time that he was the first to take the step towards the door and Schuldig fell in behind him without missing a beat.

      Crawford didn't ask what he thought, or what he'd decided, or mention anything about the impromptu plans Schuldig had made for the night. In their first years together, Crawford had still initiated such conversations, perhaps because he'd thought it would have been better if Schuldig felt he had some illusion of control over what he was doing. Schuldig had instead felt like Crawford was mocking him and wasting their time with such tactics. He'd confronted Crawford on the matter and the precognitive had obediently backed off. Now he left it to Schuldig to initiate any conversations regarding things he'd already foreseen. The silence meant Schuldig was right, that Crawford had known exactly what it would cost for Schuldig to approve of this alliance.

      It didn't, however, tell him what Crawford honestly thought about it all. He considered that as he watched the city blur by out the passenger side window of their car. Schuldig knew this job meant a lot to them professionally, because Schwarz had run itself into the ground twice in a row in its attempts to get free from Rosenkreuz and Estet. There weren't enough clients left in Japan, but it was risky going overseas and trying to start up again there when they didn't know where the rest of the teams had scattered to. Besides, they'd been bred for Japan. They spoke German and Japanese; the English they'd been taught at Rosenkreuz had been fluent years ago but had crumbled from disuse. Their choices were severely limited and they needed income fast. That meant Kritiker.

      They apparently needed the money more than Schuldig realized, if Crawford really had orchestrated things to get Schuldig in Mamoru's bed. Either that or Crawford really just didn't give a damn if Schuldig went out and banged someone other than him. Maybe it was both. Schuldig wasn't sure and the desire for an answer was borne more out of idle curiosity than anything else. He sent the precognitive a sideways look, considering the expression of perfect calm and acceptance. Blue eyes considered the tilt of Crawford's eyebrows and the skin around his mouth, searching for any sign of tension or unrest. There was none. Crawford had Mamoru's mask beat any day.

      They went back to their place, a small apartment a twenty-minute train ride west of Shinjuku. It was extremely out of the way, but it was cheap, and that was what they had needed. Defeating Estet had been a plan many years in the making, long enough that they'd carefully saved up as much money as could be discreetly siphoned out of their paychecks. It had been enough to get them from there to here, but they hadn't foreseen their fights against the remaining Rosenkreuz teams and their trips into Europe.

      Farfarello was still overseas somewhere, not due back for another few months, and Nagi had been running things in Japan while they were away. Crawford had ended up selling his powers to Kritiker for a time out of necessity. Without Kritiker's financial backing, they might not have made it out of that mess. Kritiker hadn't even realized just how heavily Schwarz was leaning on them, too caught up in their need to eliminate the Rosenkreuz threat from Japan. After all of that, Schwarz was almost down to bare bones. It was too difficult to support work like theirs, especially when they had been scattered in three different locations for a time, and money only went so far.

      Now Nagi was safely overseas again, sent to rendezvous with Farfarello. The Irishman was a terrible record-keeper and just as bad about keeping in contact, so it was necessary that Nagi join him for the last few months of that job. Crawford needed something more substantial than "He is dead" e-mails in his inbox if he wanted to plan out their future. In time the pair would return to Japan, and Schuldig and Crawford were determined to have regained Schwarz's footing long before then.

      Schuldig set about making them coffee while Crawford went to organize files. They met up at the short table in the main room. They knelt across from each other and Schuldig passed out mugs while Crawford set papers out in order. Nagi had been working as a double-agent while with Kritiker, filling Schwarz in on what the company was up to and how many pies it had its fingers in. Crawford had used those to make his final decision on what to do with the company, and now he made estimates on what projects Schwarz would be assigned to.

      Schuldig listened with half a mind; as a telepath, half a mind was all he needed. He kept his mug cradled in two hands and watched Crawford's fingers move over the papers. Eventually his gaze drifted up the other man's arms, past broad shoulders and to his face. Crawford had grown his bangs out a little more, just enough to hide the scar he'd gotten in their last fight, but Schuldig had no problems seeing it from this close. He still remembered the building blowing up around them, and trying so hard to get through the rubble and fire to wherever Crawford had fallen. He still remembered how much blood there'd been, and how they'd never have made it out of there without Nagi to pick the pieces up.

      It had been far too close. They'd been stretched far too thin- had been stretched thin for years.

      Crawford looked up from his papers, having tolerated Schuldig's silent stare for a few minutes but now tired of it. "Questions?" he asked.

      "Why did you set me up tonight?" Schuldig asked over the rim of his mug.

      Crawford arched a thin brow at him. "I asked you to speak to Takatori so that you could decide on your own whether or not he was worth your time and energy. You took the next step on your own. Rather, the next leap."

      Schuldig offered him a vague smirk he didn't feel. He wasn't about to second-guess himself and his plans for tonight. He couldn't; that was who he was. Even if he looked at Crawford now and thought about eight years and a lot of death, he still thought about earning a stable future through Kritiker. He thought about how much Takatori Mamoru had changed and how fascinating the differences were, and he ached to see that stone erode. When the clock hit seven, he'd be out the door, even if he'd be back here before dawn to find Crawford again.

      "You're annoying," he said.

      "You're troublesome," Crawford said. "Focus, Schuldig."

      Schuldig grumbled into his mug and forced his gaze back down to the papers. They went through two mugs of coffee apiece before they were done and by then they had a pretty sturdy idea of what was going to happen next. It would be confirmed at tomorrow's meeting, when Crawford officially signed Schwarz into Kritiker's services and effectively made another Takatori their boss, but Schuldig trusted Crawford's instincts and power to give them an edge. If there was one thing their team hated, it was going into anything blind. That was how idiots died.

      Neither of them were hungry after filling their stomachs with coffee, but they ate dinner at six anyway. Crawford washed the dishes while Schuldig dried, and then the telepath disappeared to take a shower. He found Crawford at his computer when he returned and he went to stand behind the older man. One towel was knotted around his waist and he worked another through his hair. It wouldn't do to show up with wet hair; he didn't want to look too prepared.

      Crawford was reading a message from Nagi detailing their movements and their shift from France to Switzerland. He gave Schuldig time to catch up before scrolling down, and they read to the end in silence. Farfarello and Nagi were working well together, much better than Schuldig had thought they could. A couple years ago, they'd have been rotten partners. Nagi had been cautious and torn, and Farfarello had been unstable and temperamental. Their victory against Estet and new freedom from such obsessive control had soothed some of Farfarello's vicious unrest, and the years since had finally squished the last of little-boy uncertainty out of Nagi. Now they were perfect and cold: Farfarello merciless and Nagi pitiless.

      "We're going to be unstoppable when they get back," Schuldig said, dropping his towel off to one side to let knotted hair fall against his shoulders. He leaned forward against Crawford, slinging an arm around his shoulders so he could prop his chin on Crawford's head. He could smell his soap and Crawford's cologne and he inhaled deeply, gut clenching in hungry need. "Does he deserve this kind of power?"

      "It is not about him," Crawford answered easily. "It is about what Schwarz needs."

      Schuldig glanced at the clock and saw it to be half past, almost time for him to go if he wanted to get there on time. This time of night the trains were bound to be crowded as people headed in to the city for fun. It would be worse coming back, when businessmen and women all flooded out of their offices and tried to rush home.

      He straightened and went to get dressed, and Crawford tapped out a response to Nagi in the background. As Schuldig got the comb through the last bit of hair, he glanced at the clock. He had two minutes to be out the door if he wanted to catch the train. It took about a minute to get from here to the platform, not that he was worried. If he ran a little late, he could scramble the conductor a bit for more leeway. He turned a considering look on the back of Crawford's head, then started resolutely towards him.

      "Don't be late," Crawford said.

      Schuldig ignored that and came around Crawford, catching his face in both hands to tilt his head back. It felt like a slow slide downwards, the way it always did, the way he'd hated so much in the beginning. He'd known the first time he'd kissed Crawford that it wasn't something he could ever take back or stop. Eight years later and he wasn't any stronger against it, but that was all right.

      "Come with me," he said against Crawford's mouth.

      Crawford hadn't foreseen that. Schuldig could see it in the quirk of Crawford's eyebrow and the tug at the corner of his mouth. "Explain to me why I should find that invitation at all tempting."

      "You set this up," Schuldig pointed out. "You might as well follow through."

      "My interest in Takatori is from a purely business angle."

      "Then ignore Takatori," Schuldig said. "Just fuck me instead."

      Crawford didn't answer that, apparently needing a few seconds to come to terms with Schuldig's off-the-cuff invite. "You set this up," Schuldig insisted again. "You put me in this position. You knew exactly what seeing him today was going to do to me. You should suffer the consequences as well."

      "You're rather unconvincing at pushing the blame off on other people," Crawford said, but they both knew Schuldig was right. Crawford had needed Schuldig's agreement in this, so he'd taken it the only way he knew how. He'd known Schuldig for eight years. He knew how the telepath worked and how his gift made him tick. He knew Schuldig couldn't stand down from what he'd seen in Mamoru's mind. What he didn't know was that Schuldig had only made that particular skip in his gift because Mamoru had started sounding like Crawford.

      "Prove to me that Takatori doesn't change anything," Schuldig said, staring Crawford down. He left off the 'between us', but they could both taste it in the scant air between their mouths. "Come with me tonight."

      Crawford considered him in silence. Schuldig knew the wait meant they were going to be late, because they only had a half minute to catch the train. He knew that and didn't care, because there'd be another one just after it. Mamoru could wait. He probably didn't expect them to be on time, anyway; he probably figured Schwarz would just make him wait. A piece of him probably thought Schuldig wouldn't show up at all, just so that tomorrow the telepath could read in his mind how long he'd waited and whether relief, disappointment, or apathy had won out emotionally when Schuldig hadn't arrived.

      At last Crawford minimized what he was working on, and Schuldig knew he'd won. He stepped back just far enough to let the other man to his feet, then buried his hands in Crawford's jacket pockets and pulled Crawford hard up against him. Crawford tangled one hand in damp orange hair and kissed him soundly, and Schuldig smiled against his mouth.

      "Let's go," he said, and he let Crawford lead the way out of the apartment and to the station. They had indeed missed the train, but it wasn't long before the next one. They got more than a few cautious and curious looks from the other passengers, but they ignored the stares. Schuldig watched outer Tokyo whiz by out his window and counted the stops to Shinjuku. He didn't even want to know what Kritiker was paying for Mamoru to have an apartment here.

      They'd never been to Mamoru's apartment before, but that didn't matter. Schuldig had seen it in Mamoru's head during their brief meeting and that was all he needed. They'd been in and out of Shinjuku enough times that he recognized the landmarks easily. He passed that knowledge to Crawford and followed on the other man's heels, as much out of habit as to keep from getting separated in the bustling crowd. Dirty looks and strange appearances weren't enough to get personal space in Shinjuku; it took a bit of force at times. They'd never let Farfarello come here, because they knew exactly how he'd react to the crowding and the shoving.

      The building they were looking for was twenty-seven stories tall. The glass lobby needed a key card to get in, but Schuldig brought the security guard close enough to trigger the automatic lock on the other side. A dismissing wave of his hand sent the guard back to his desk none the wiser and the two men let themselves into the elevator. Schuldig pressed the button for the nineteenth floor and they rode it up in silence. He checked his watch as they reached Mamoru's floor.

      "Five minutes count as fashionably late?" he asked Crawford.

      "There is little that is fashionable about us or this," Crawford pointed out.

      Schuldig conceded the point and poked the doorbell for Mamoru's apartment. They waited in silence for a half a minute for Mamoru to get up from whatever he was doing to come answer the door, and Schuldig watched his mind very carefully as the young man noticed Crawford's presence. It was funny how quickly he reevaluated what they had come for tonight, and Schuldig wondered if that was regret in his thoughts. Mamoru himself didn't even know and didn't plan on dwelling on it, so it made it hard for Schuldig to read into it.

      "Have you brought my paperwork, then?" he asked, making no move to let them in yet.

      Schuldig reached out with both his gift and his hands. He knotted his gift in Mamoru's distant thoughts and his fingers on the hem of his pants, and he pushed Mamoru back inside his apartment with the weight of his body. There was just a foot and a half before they hit the step up into the apartment and he backed Mamoru up against it so hard the other man lost his balance. Mamoru instinctively caught at him for balance, grabbing at his waist for something to hold him up, and Schuldig swallowed his warning in a kiss.

      Mamoru tasted like chocolate. Schuldig supposed he tasted like mint toothpaste, or maybe like Crawford, not that Mamoru would ever know what Crawford tasted like. He'd shoot them both if they ever kissed and he didn't care if that made him a hypocrite.

      Crawford stepped in behind him and closed the door. He stepped on the backs of Schuldig's shoes, pushing them down enough that the telepath could step out of them, and Schuldig picked Mamoru up out of his house slippers to set him back down on the step.

      Mamoru pulled away from him and peeled Schuldig's hands off of him- or tried, anyway. "Why are you both here?"

      Schuldig offered him a slow smile. It wasn't nice, but he didn't know how to smile nice for anyone, especially not a Takatori. It wasn't malicious, though, and that made all the difference. There was hunger in that tilt and possession in the gleam of his blue eyes, and he pushed Mamoru further down the hall to let Crawford up behind him.

      "Don't worry about him," he said. "He's here for me."

      Mamoru's eyes narrowed slightly in thought. Crawford made it simple for him really fast when he came up behind Schuldig. Schuldig leaned back into his steady weight, blue eyes falling half-closed as such familiar heat and hardness. He pulled Mamoru after him, dragging Kritiker's short lord up against him, and dipped his head in for another kiss.

      Mamoru was trying to come off as relaxed, like he knew what he was doing, but Schuldig could taste the tension on his mouth. The man had never done this before, though Kritiker had sent him to public events with hired dates. He hadn't brought any of them back here or anywhere else. Girls just reminded him of Ouka, after all, and his new ice couldn't shield him from everything even if he pretended otherwise. Schuldig would take advantage of that in the months and years to come, finding the cracks in the stone and pulling hard until they bled and bruised. He had no doubts that he would win. Crawford had made him an expert.

      Just the thought of it was enough to get his blood going and he dragged his hands up Mamoru's sides to his face, holding him in place while he kissed all strength out of the youth. Mamoru was still thinking and attempting to analyze this, but Schuldig could hear the thoughts sputtering as he was distracted. The man didn't know what all of this was about or why Schuldig had even proposed such a thing, but he was at least smart enough to know it was all self-serving on Schuldig's end.

      "Bedroom," Schuldig ordered him, and he let Mamoru pull away to lead the way.

      Mamoru flipped lights off as he passed them; Schuldig turned them back on. Mamoru glanced back at that but didn't comment, and the three disappeared into the bedroom. Schuldig had already gotten a glimpse of the room in Mamoru's thoughts, but seeing it face-to-face convinced him it could fit all three of them. Mamoru paused closer to the bed, considering it and what was about to happen here, and Schuldig gave him a couple seconds to think it over. He was more interested in turning around into Crawford's touch. The movement drew Mamoru's attention back to them, but Schuldig didn't care. Let the Takatori brat get an eyeful; it'd teach him a couple things.

      Crawford got him out of his shirt with no problem, without even having to break their kiss. Schuldig took it from him and dropped it off to one side, letting it slide down the length of their legs to the ground. He pressed as close to Crawford as he could before their skin got in the way, chest to chest and hips to hips, and drowned. Crawford traced a line down his throat and Schuldig rolled his head to give him better access. Hazy and half-lidded blue eyes sought out their third partner for the night. Mamoru was standing perfectly still as he stared. Unfamiliarity with all of this, and with this part of Schwarz in particular, made him look more like Omi than he had so far today.

      He turned in Crawford's hold and went after Mamoru, leaving Crawford to strip out of his own shirt. He didn't miss the way Mamoru's shoulders tensed slightly as he tried to draw himself together, but he didn't give the man long enough to get his thoughts in gear. One hard push and pull and he'd taken Mamoru off his feet. An arm around Mamoru's small back kept him from falling too fast as he pushed him down onto the bed, and two hands under his arms shoved him far enough up the mattress that he could stand up against the base of it.

      Mamoru reached up with a surety they both knew he wasn't feeling, pressing his fingers against Schuldig's collarbone. His hand twitched a little at the boldness of touching someone else's skin and Schuldig leaned down to kiss him. A second hand joined the first and Mamoru traced the line up his throat that Crawford had kissed down it. Fingers worked their way over Schuldig's arms, testing out the muscles and the strength in the grip that was holding him down. He was starting to get the hang of the kissing thing, though it would take him a couple tries before he was halfway decent at it.

      Schuldig gave him a minute to start relaxing before divesting Mamoru of his shirt. He couldn't get the sleeves off with Mamoru's arms in the way, but he had enough access to bare skin that it didn't matter. He took his time mapping out Mamoru's chest and abdomen, feeling out where harder lines of a tough youth had relaxed somewhat into the softer skin of a bureaucrat. It was a startling difference from Crawford's tough body and he was both confused and intrigued. Mamoru's reaction to being touched so intimately just slid it more into the latter category, and Schuldig caressed with the single-minded goal of making him squirm. He listened to Mamoru lose his fight to stay completely composed, taking a perverse thrill in the way his breathing grew uneven and wanting. The thready moan that escaped from his throat embarrassed Mamoru and Schuldig just offered him a mocking smile in response.

      A heartbeat later, Crawford was against his back again, and Schuldig's thoughts completely derailed. Leaning back was instinctive, but Crawford was an unyielding weight behind him. A second set of hands worked their way over his sides and up onto his chest and Schuldig shuddered a little, caught between expertise and eagerness to learn. Mamoru was watching him very carefully, still a bit thrown by the realization that the two were together. Schuldig wondered how he'd ever been considered the bright one of Weiß and almost said as such, except Crawford's fingers had just found that patch of raw nerves at the base of his ribcage. The scar was leftover from Rosenkreuz and the nerves around it had been jangly ever since it had healed. The slightest pressure against it caused a twitchy sort of pain, but Crawford knew just how to use that here. He played it until it hurt, until every other nerve on his body seemed to come wide awake in alarm, and ghosted breath down over newly overly sensitive skin.

      Schuldig said something in German that was too thick for Crawford to understand, but Crawford knew the tone well enough and he didn't need words. He lingered over the spot for a few moments more, his other hand down somewhere near Schuldig's hips, and murmured a response at Schuldig's ear that was all dark promise. Schuldig's lips parted on a ragged pant and he pushed harder against Crawford, silently demanding that the precognitive follow through on such words.

      Mamoru started exploring in earnest now, encouraged by Crawford's lead and by how easily Schuldig had reacted to him. He wasn't as skilled, but he didn't have to be, not when Crawford had brought Schuldig's entire body alive with such unfair exploitation. Mamoru watched the way Schuldig shivered at his touch and Schuldig could hear his mind really starting to wake up out of its calculating distance into something real.

      The doorbell rang then and Mamoru went perfectly still. "Your bitchy cat," Schuldig told him after a quick mental peek. "Your secretary reported we'd been by, so she's had people guarding your apartment. They saw us come here."

      He lifted one arm to let Mamoru roll away. The youth grabbed up his shirt, muttering something about meddlesome subordinates. It was too quiet for Schuldig to be certain what he said, but the rudeness in it and the perfect disregard he had for Birman was entertaining enough. The two watched as he stalked out of the room, neither one missing the way he tried to fix his mussed hair into something more presentable.

      Schuldig rolled over and sprawled out where Mamoru had just been, soaking up Mamoru's body heat through his back and Crawford's through the front. Crawford was a perfect weight on top of him and Schuldig arched up into him, mouth and fingers working hungrily across skin that belonged entirely to him. His gift was trained on Mamoru's mind, listening to their quiet argument at the door and Mamoru's insistence that he didn't need her help for negotiations with Schwarz. She thought he looked a little ruffled and flushed, but she was attributing it to annoyance, not lust. More fool her.

      Crawford's hand between his legs brought his attention back to where it needed to be and Schuldig muffled a curse against Crawford's throat. It was almost frightening, almost irritating, how quickly Crawford could get him worked up to the edge. The precognitive brought him dangerously close before withdrawing and Schuldig cut bloody lines down his shoulders in angry retaliation. Crawford just kissed him so hard Schuldig's teeth hurt.

      "Asshole," Schuldig managed.

      Crawford's smile was icy and thin. "Hypocrite."

      Schuldig gazed up at him in silence for a frozen second, needing a moment to realize Crawford had just slipped. One spoken word from Crawford could hide a thousand silent ones and Schuldig heard everything he needed to hear in that chaotic mess. He caught Crawford's face in his hands and kissed him again. He started to move up against Crawford, but Crawford caught his hips and held him down, refusing him the friction that would end this game a little too soon. Footsteps in the hall said Mamoru had won the argument and was on his way back, and Schuldig grit his teeth against the desperate need to move. He hid his face against Crawford's chest, looking for balance, looking for control, and Crawford was content to shield him until his expression was something closer to what Mamoru was allowed to see.

      He looked past Crawford's arm to where Mamoru had hesitated in the doorway. Uncertainty had returned upon finding them like this; the knowledge that he was intruding on something far more important than he was kept him still. Schuldig had no patience for it and he crooked a finger at the other man.

      "Come here," he ordered, and Mamoru started across the room. He hesitated beside the bed, sending a half-wary look at an impassive Crawford, and Schuldig snagged his wrist to get his attention. "Don't touch," he said, and Mamoru knew the sugar-sweet tone of his voice was all poisonous warning. "That's off-limits."

      Mamoru just nodded, not that he'd ever be bold enough to touch Crawford unless Crawford initiated it. The American moved back enough that Schuldig could get up, and Schuldig used his grip on Mamoru's wrist to get him back onto the bed. He stood there for a moment, staring down at Mamoru and Kritiker and power and Schwarz's best chance to get back to their glory days, feeling hunger in his gift and Crawford's heat at his back. At last he smiled, slow and cold, and reached up to snag the cord for the overhead light.

      "Here's to a very, very good future," he drawled, and he watched the room go black.

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