10: Weakness

      He's pinned in now, and it's not like he's going to fight. You could stand like this all day if you wanted but you'd get no complaints from him. Your arms might grow tired but that's not such a serious problem. You could let go or stay, doesn't matter. He's not going to look at you either way. But what if you grabbed him and turned him around? You know what he wants. You could give it to him, it's not like it's a terrible thing to ask. Depends on where the taste runs but I suppose people like you wouldn't care. You could turn him around and just think of all the things you could do with him there. Think of what he could give you if you just let him. All it takes is a word and a touch but you're not going to do either yet, but curiosity makes one wonder how far it could go. Shall I follow it for you anyway?

      Meirth looked up from his newspaper and breakfast when Einsam burst out laughing. Einsam had finally decided to eat, as he hadn't had anything to eat yesterday, and now he was staring down at his plain corn flakes. His laughter was mocking and amused, his spoon held tight in one hand as he stared off at something only he could see. Words to a sequence only he could follow kept the younger man company and Nuboshi gave their youngest teammate a long look before raising an eyebrow at Meirth.

      Meirth lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "I'll ask later," he said. "It can't be too important."


      Yohji had generously decided that Farfarello was the one to blame for everything that had ever gone wrong in his life. It didn't matter that the man hadn't been around for most of it, or that nothing that happened within Schwarz's household was the Irishman's call, outside of the knife lessons. If he considered all of the times Weiss and Schwarz had fought in the past and brought up memories of the Sensitive's victims they'd found, he had plenty of reasons to dislike him. What he felt for the man now, on his third morning as Schwarz's tagalong, wasn't really based on the past. It came from a mix of his resentment that his life had turned upside down, restlessness from being trapped indoors twenty-four seven, and irritation that Schuldich's cigarettes sucked compared to his and he couldn't yet go out and restock. He didn't have a major problem with Nagi, and had decided that the youngest Schwarz was the easiest to deal with. Schuldich's mood swings were a little random, but Yohji could deal with those. Crawford, he disliked because the man had brought his team into the fray. Farfarello was different. He didn't think about everything that the man had done to him and his team before; he just simply disliked Farfarello because he could.

      At least the feeling was mutual. Yohji didn't understand all of the reasons behind his issues but the yellow eye that turned on him lingered between disinterested and dull distaste, and the way the man acted when he and Yohji were awake at the same time made it clear that he didn't think highly of Yohji at all. He was the most obvious in his dislike, which was almost funny, because he wasn't obvious about it at all. It was the subtle way he said or did things, or the look in his eye before he slid his gaze away to something more important. Whatever had caused it, it was there, and Yohji was glad that Farfarello spent a good portion of the day sleeping. Last night's knife lesson hadn't gone well, and Yohji was pretty sure the cuts he'd bandaged up afterwards were going to scar. He wished he had some way of retaliating against the other man, of showing his dislike of the man. Farfarello and Schuldich could hear it in his thoughts if they were listening, but there was no satisfaction to it. The problem was, Yohji didn't have anything to use against the man. Farfarello was a very calm person; the violence and madness that had laced Weiss and Schwarz's meetings broke out occasionally here, but never because he was provoked. Farfarello kept the violence in and Yohji was just masochistic enough to want to find the right buttons to push to force a reaction out of him.

      There was nothing better to do around the house, anyway. There was a television set but channel surfing got boring really fast. Nagi interacted with the household sometimes and holed himself away in his room for hours at other times, and Crawford was gone more and more, sitting in his room as he watched his gift for Schatten to move. That left Schuldich for company, but the German wasn't much company because he never really said anything. It had taken Yohji all of two days to realize that the man rarely said anything real. They weren't the kind of conversations Yohji could have with his teammates, and while it was better than being alone and not having anyone to talk to, Yohji craved conversation. He was a social creature. He needed human interaction.

      He was nursing these thoughts as he left Farfarello's bedroom that third morning. The Irishman had pushed him awake and left again, and Yohji was starting to think he should sleep with the smaller knife Farfarello had given him just so he could take a swipe at that foot when Farfarello pushed him next time. Being an assassin made Yohji a light sleeper, but Farfarello was quiet when he walked- too quiet.

      The subject of his grumpy morning thoughts was in the kitchen when Yohji entered, and he contemplated leaving again because he didn't feel like dealing with the other man. Farfarello was busy at the stove, staring at a pot as he waited for it to boil, and Yohji wondered why he wasn't in his room, getting ready for bed. It was curious to see him still awake, more curious that he'd woken Yohji up later this morning than he had before. The clock on the wall read it to be nine am, which was two hours later than Farfarello was usually demanding to have his room to himself. The younger assassin didn't bother to acknowledge him, content to study his water. A dozen raw remarks danced in Yohji's thoughts but he didn't voice them. It would be pointless, after all, because he had yet to figure out where Farfarello's buttons were. He wouldn't irritate Farfarello by just speaking, and he wanted the words to cause the aggravation. He kept them to himself because Farfarello might hear them anyway, through Schuldich's gift, and if he kept the insults up long enough the Irishman might get annoyed and toss the hot water his direction.

      He contented himself with ignoring the psychopath, pulling a cup down from the cabinets. Farfarello's water finished as Yohji fetched the juice pitcher from the fridge. Nagi had finished the task Schuldich had abandoned after the German had been knocked out last night. Now Yohji carried his drink to the table, making himself comfortable there. Despite his intention to ignore the other man, his green eyes strayed that direction anyway. Farfarello had changed at some point while Yohji was still asleep, into the pants he used to sleep in. They were black, and Yohji decided it was the best color choice. A lighter shade of gray or white would only serve to make him washed out, and Yohji's mind couldn't imagine the madman in something colorful. Shirtless, his scars stood out on his flesh. Yohji hadn't been paying enough attention to him yesterday when he'd been in this outfit, as he'd been watching Schuldich spaz out instead. The lines ran across his skin in fine lines, some pale, others dark. Yohji idly wondered who had put them there. They stayed out of the middle of his back, more towards the sides of his waist and from his shoulder blades up. Odd place for them, he thought. After a moment's consideration he decided the scars didn't really detract from the man's strange appearance, nor add to it. They were just there, a piece of who he was: a killer.

      Schuldich appeared in the kitchen just a few moments later, and Farfarello was ready for him. He turned, holding out the mug of the drink he'd mixed, and Schuldich blinked before a grin spread on his lips. "Life saver, Farf," he said, accepting the drink. Farfarello didn't respond but moved the spoon and pot to the sink, then tossed a packet of something in the trash. One hand wiped any spilled powder onto the floor and Schuldich leaned against the fridge, sipping at his drink as Farfarello worked. Yohji was a little surprised that the drink had not been for the freak himself, but for his telepathic teammate, and that he hadn't made it because he was asked to. The look on Schuldich's face had been a flicker of surprise and then recognition. Yohji considered this. It seemed out of character for Farfarello to spontaneously do something for one of his teammates. He certainly didn't do anything for Crawford… Or Nagi. Yohji wracked his brain, searching, hearing voices as the other two exchanged words but too busy thinking to listen to what they were saying.

      His mind could come up with several instances that he'd seen Farfarello do things for Schuldich in his very short stay here. He'd been in this house for only two full days but the list was a decent size. He thought of the Irishman clearing away and refilling his teammate's cup yesterday morning when Einsam had locked on, thought of the way the Irishman would move to make room for Schuldich. Last night at dinner they'd all five eaten together. Nagi had brought the fifth chair in but Farfarello had been the one to rearrange things before Schuldich sat, and he'd taken Schuldich's cup from him when the telepath was too busy talking to Nagi to notice he was waving around an empty glass. Farfarello, who hadn't been interested in anyone else at the table, and hadn't so much as looked their way.

      Yohji's initial thoughts of Schuldich said that the German could take care of himself. These past few days confirmed that, but as he thought hard about it, he realized that it was possible to take care of oneself and still need someone to look after you. It was how Weiss worked, but Schwarz didn't operate on the same terms. Not all of them, anyway. He frowned slightly, taking a sip from his drink, and studied the two that were across the room. Farfarello spent a lot of his time sleeping these days, but when he was awake, he and Schuldich were together. It'd been Farfarello that came with Crawford to pick Schuldich up that first night, Farfarello that came to dinner the next. Farfarello that sat next to Schuldich when Schatten was there, that had been the one to calm him down when he was going to lose it. Farfarello who had come out of his room when he'd already gotten ready to bed to check on Schuldich when Einsam's mind touched him, and Farfarello that stepped in and did something when Schuldich lost it yesterday afternoon.

      Funny that they were together so often. He hadn't really noticed, and he told himself that it wasn't an important observation. It didn't mean anything, that they still managed to hang out with each other the most out of all of Schwarz even though Farfarello slept eight hours throughout the course of the day. He gave a quiet snort at the thought that perhaps they were friends. They were both a little too psychotic to ever understand the meaning of the word.

      He refilled his cup and glanced towards the two, wondering if they were picking up on his thoughts. Neither seemed to notice that he was there. Schuldich had moved so they were both resting against the fridge, standing close together as they talked. Farfarello looked relaxed as they spoke, and the language they used was unfamiliar. It was pretty, and it intrigued Yohji to sit there and watch them converse in a foreign tongue. He wondered what it was like to be Schwarz, wondered what it was like to have such powers and to travel the globe. He couldn't help but wonder where all the four had gone together, and when he considered his own life he felt a small stab of irrational jealousy. That was squished quickly as he took advantage of their distraction to watch them.

      They'd been oblivious to him two nights ago, too, he mused. They'd been focused completely on each other the night Farfarello had given Yohji his first lesson in knife handling, when their sparring came to a quick halt with Farfarello as the victor. Yohji thought again of the strange silence, of the odd way Schuldich had conceded his defeat and then excused himself from the room. Farfarello had gone to lie in bed and Schuldich had been in a rather off mood the rest of the evening. He was still sure that he had missed something there. Looking at them, at their easy handling of each other, he wondered what it was.

      Schuldich laughed at something Farfarello said, amused, and emptied his mug with a final swig. He didn't have to move towards the sink, or even hold it out in question. The Irishman was already taking it from his hands as he lowered it from his lips. Schuldich said something else with a grin and a tilt of his head, and moved towards the door again to return to whatever he was working on. Yohji watched him leave and then flicked his green eyes back towards Farfarello.

      The Irishman hadn't moved yet. A single yellow eye studied the doorway, not noticing Yohji's attention as he watched Schuldich leave. He lingered there for a moment longer before glancing down at the mug in his hands and moving to the sink to wash it. Yohji sipped slowly at his second glass of juice, wondering. The beginnings of suspicion gnawed at his stomach, and he turned it over in his mind. It was, on the surface, absolutely absurd. But Yohji prided himself on being a good judge of people. It had helped him as a PI and it had helped him push Weiss into something more cohesive than assigned partners. He knew people. He understood them. He'd been trying for countless months to understand Schwarz, and now he'd been with them for two and a half days. It wasn't long, considering what complex characters they were, but still…

      If he considered this and looked at everything he'd been musing over, it made sense. That added with the expression that hovered, almost invisible, on Farfarello's face as he watched his teammate walk away…

      "How cute…" he drawled, just loud enough for the Irishman to hear him.

      It was so bizarre, so fucking ridiculous, and he had the feeling it was exactly what he'd been waiting and hoping for.

      Farfarello ignored him, washing the mug out in the sink. From the scent lingering in the air, it had been hot cocoa. Yohji rose from his spot, carrying the pitcher towards the fridge before bringing his cup towards the sink. It was, perhaps, not the smartest thing to do- approaching Farfarello while taunting him- but he couldn't help himself. This was too rich of an opportunity to pass up, and if he couldn't beat Farfarello in a fight there was no way the other would ever beat him in a game of words and insults. Yohji's tongue was one of his best weapons; Manx had once called him a silver tongued snake. He could use it to woo whoever he wished into his bed, could use it to get the information he wanted, and knew what to say that would cut the deepest. It made arguing with his teammates a dangerous game, and he tended to bow out of them before he lost his temper and said something he would always regret. He stood to Farfarello's side, propping his side against the counter as he watched the younger man's face. "So how long has *that* been going on?" he asked.

      Farfarello said nothing, content to ignore him, using his fingers instead of the scrub brush to wash out the inside of the mug. Completely uninterested in whatever Yohji had to say, judging by the impassive expression on his face. Yohji didn't let the silence bother him. "Isn't this where you tell me that I'm deranged and seeing things?" Yohji inquired, a smile curving his lips. "Come on. Tell me I'm wrong. Tell me you weren't just the little bit discontent to watch him leave."

      "You're wrong," Farfarello said, tone careless as he rinsed suds from the mug.

      Yohji was highly entertained by this, secure in the thought that he was right. "You know, I don't ever see him making *you* drinks…" The German had put his teammate's dinner together that first night, and sat with him while he ate, but the way Farfarello did things for Schuldich made it obvious that the little favors were routine and came from years of practice. He didn't think about them; he just did them- for Schuldich, and no one else. "You can tell Yohji-niichan all about your unrequited little crush," he said, leaning forward with a taunting smile on his lips. He thought he saw Farfarello's shoulders tense, a natural reaction as he invaded the Irishman's personal space, but if they did, it was such a minute change that he couldn't be positive. "First base?" Yohji asked, though he was sure he knew the answer and he didn't really want the mental images of it being anything other than ground zero. "Second? Third? None?" Farfarello didn't respond, and Yohji took a guess that the Irishman didn't know what he was talking about. "Have you gotten any at all?"

      A yellow eye finally flicked towards him, almost impossibly cool. "Go away," was the response.

      "Or what?" Yohji wanted to know. He was taller than Farfarello, but this was the first time he'd ever felt the height difference. The Irishman radiated a deadly power and a killer's instincts, and his presence had always made Yohji feel smaller and inferior in the past. "You'll kill me?"

      Farfarello finally drew his hands from the sink, his lip curling back in the faintest of warnings. "You don't need your tongue to still be useful to us," was the flat response.

      "Am I missing something?" came the amused words from the doorway. Farfarello didn't bother to look that direction at his teammate's sudden reentrance, keeping his eye locked on Yohji's face. Yohji turned his eyes away. Schuldich had reappeared in the doorway, one hand on the frame as he leaned in. His other hand had a packet in it. "Kudou," he said, waving it in an order. "Nagi thinks I'm some sort of errand boy and couldn't be bothered to float it here himself."

      Yohji let a lazy smile play on his lips as he sent a final glance towards Farfarello. He thought he saw Farfarello's teeth briefly before the psychopath turned back to the sink, rinsing the mug out once more even though Yohji was pretty sure it was clean by now. Schuldich straightened as Yohji approached, looking interested by the expression on Yohji's face- and by how close the two had been standing when he walked in. Yohji took the large envelope from him and felt a small brush against his thoughts as Schuldich investigated what he'd missed out on. Yohji ignored the packet in his hands, choosing instead to watch the German's face carefully for a reaction. He had the benefit of seeing Schuldich's expression tighten slightly before relaxing again. He said nothing, though blue eyes slid past Yohji towards Farfarello before he turned away and vanished back down the hall. Yohji studied the empty doorway for a moment before glancing back. Farfarello hadn't moved, though the water was off now.

      There had been the chance that he was wrong, but Schuldich had just proved that there was indeed something going on there. That little slip on his face had given them both away. It wasn't surprise; it was quickly hidden recognition. There'd been nothing in his eyes to say what he thought about whatever it was, but it confirmed that it was there. "I say again," Yohji said. "How cute. At least you're making terrific progress. You only scared him off down the hall, and not out of the house."

      Farfarello sent him a flat look over his shoulder, and Yohji wondered if the sudden drop in pretense had to do with Schuldich's silence on the matter. Or had Schuldich been silent? Were there words to accompany the quick look he'd sent Farfarello's way, spoken on a mental wavelength Yohji couldn't hear? It was strange to think that Schuldich wouldn't have reacted at all to what he found in Yohji's thoughts. Yohji rather hoped that whatever Schuldich might have sent his teammate had been discouraging.

      It looked like he'd found his entertainment for this house arrest. Yohji offered Farfarello a smug little grin and a wave of his hand before vanishing from the kitchen. He heard a door close in the hall just minutes after settling himself in the den with his packet, a sound that indicated Farfarello was finally going to sleep. A grin curved his lips once more.

      This was perfect.


      The packet Yohji had been given by Schuldich earlier was from Weiss. Omi had spent a good chunk of the last two days hunting down the powerless organization that had accompanied Schatten into the country, and had called Nagi sometime earlier that morning to report what he'd been able to find. Nagi had apparently given him an online address to send the information to, and a printed copy of Weiss's findings had been in the envelope the telepath had handed over. Yohji had spent a good hour going over it, studying what all his teammates had been able to scrounge up. Omi had been able to track their movement across Tokyo's underground, and the youth's guess was that they were looking for information on Schwarz as well as making nuisances of themselves. Omi had some educated guesses on where they were going to be and Weiss was planning on making a strike soon, perhaps tonight.

      Nagi entered the den around noon. Yohji hadn't bothered to move, for lack of anything better to do, so was still sitting there with his thoughts and the envelope when the youth stepped in the room. Yohji poked the packet in his lap. "They're not bad," he said.

      "They're not useless," came the easy correction. "Which," he added, "is more than our original opinion of Weiss."

      "Oh?" Yohji asked, knowing that he wasn't going to appreciate the response but curious anyway. "And that was?"

      "To quote Schuldich…" Nagi offered Yohji the barest of amused smiles as he lowered himself to a chair. "'They can't find their asses with two hands and a flashlight.'"

      "How generous," was the dry response.

      Nagi gave a slight shrug. "To people like us, Weiss is obsolete."

      "But you need us now," Yohji pointed out, waving the packet.

      "We don't need Weiss," came the answer. "It's just convenient for your team to take care of the dirty work for us. It's routine by now. We've been orchestrating the four of you into doing what we wanted for a long time now. You just didn't know it before."

      He wasn't at all bothered by telling this to Yohji, but Yohji didn't have the energy to feel insulted. Before he could decide just what reaction was appropriate, Crawford stepped into the room. The American stood in the doorway to study them, cool yellow-brown eyes on Nagi first before sliding towards Yohji. It was on Yohji that his gaze lingered, and the white assassin frowned slightly under the attention. He thought he saw orange in the hallway; Schuldich had followed Crawford here but Crawford wasn't interested in stepping further inside.

      "Kudou is not expendable," the precognitive announced.

      "Not?" Yohji echoed.

      "Not?" Nagi asked at the same time. "For how long?"

      "Until further notice," was all the answer they received, and the foreigner vanished back down the hallway to his office. Schuldich moved into the doorway to take his place, blue eyes curious as he studied Kudou.

      "Strange," he mused.

      Yohji considered this, then looked at Nagi. "Well," he said. "Now you need me, at least."

      Nagi opted not to answer that, a small frown on his lips. Yohji returned the scrutiny, just as curious as the other two as to what would drive Crawford to make such a call. He wondered if he should be relieved, as it meant Schwarz wouldn't be so careless in how they chose to use him. In the end he decided it was probably safer to be wary, as there had to be a real reason for him to be worth Schwarz's protection.

      "Wary is a good idea," Schuldich agreed with him. "It's never a good thing when Crawford looks at you like that."

      "Fantastic," Yohji murmured, looking back down at the packet resting in his lap.

      Schuldich considered him a moment longer, then moved into the room. He came to a stop in front of Nagi, planted his hands on his hips, and leaned over to look at the boy. "I'm bored out my skull," he announced. "Make yourself useful and entertain me."

      "Go pick a fight with Kudou or something," came the response.

      "Hey," Yohji protested.

      "He's too easy," was Schuldich's dismissal.

      "Go watch TV."

      "There's nothing on."

      "Go read a book."

      "I *did*."

      "Go wake Farfarello up."

      "And get killed? You wish."

      "Go away."

      "Useless little prick…" Schuldich straightened and looked around before moving towards the window. Yohji watched him go, watched as he threw open the curtains for the window and stared out. Bright morning light fell on him, putting a sheen in his hair. Yohji studied him, forgetting about Nagi and the packet in his hands, as he considered the other man. Nagi's mention of Farfarello just brought back this morning's delightful little conversation with the madman, and now Yohji wondered what it was that had drawn the Irishman to his teammate. Schuldich was more of a mischief maker than a sadist, more vibrant and outgoing than Farfarello's calmer mask. He pushed, Farfarello stood still. What was there about him that made it possible for Farfarello to be interested?

      He supposed it was Schuldich himself. That personality that so sharply contrasted with Farfarello's own was all he could think of. If Yohji was being generous he'd say the other man wasn't bad looking. He was different, a foreigner with unique coloring, but he wasn't painful to the eyes unless he was decked out in that mismatched outfit from a fashion designer's hell. Today he'd settled for a white wool pullover and jeans. The weather outside didn't allow for it, but it didn't matter since they were trapped indoors where it was nicely air conditioned for just a little while longer. Schwarz was waiting for Einsam to clue in; now they would be able to have the yard and perhaps this street to wander on. Outside of that, they were fair game to Schatten.

      But Schuldich himself… He was definitely the most alive of the group. Crawford was cool and controlled. Nagi was calm, content to do his own thing. Farfarello was Farfarello. And Schuldich was a whirlwind of personality and color, with mood swings, a healthy dose of restlessness, and a sly tongue. He was definitely interesting, if complicated. Yohji had never met anyone like him.

      "I've got to get out of this house," Schuldich declared, tapping his fingernails on the window.

      "You go right ahead and do that," was Nagi's response. He didn't look up from where he was apparently trying to doze in his chair, so he missed the way Schuldich frowned, missed the way the German rocked back slightly as if something startled him. Yohji caught it because he was watching the telepath. "Take a trip to the super and let me know how it goes."

      Yohji wasn't sure Schuldich heard him. After a few moments, the telepath blinked and looked back over his shoulder at them. "All right," he said.

      That got Nagi's attention. "What?"

      Schuldich was already heading towards the door to the den, and Nagi watched him go with a lost frown on his face. The telepath didn't bother explaining but vanished down the hall. There was the sound of a knock and a door opening and closing. Yohji and Nagi exchanged a clueless look across the room. After a few moments Nagi just shook his head and sighed, resettling himself to take his nap. Yohji wracked his mind for something to do and, failing that, decided to eat lunch.


      "I don't like it," Schuldich said, stopping his pacing of the room to perch on the end of Crawford's desk. Blue eyes peered at the older Talent through unruly orange bangs. "I'd be stupid to not take advantage of it, but it means that he has better things to do than worry about what I'm doing now. He's found something, Crawford, and he's working on it."

      Crawford thought this over, gazing at his hands where they were folded together on his desk. Schuldich watched him, waiting for a reaction. Right after he'd announced to the den that he was sick of being trapped indoors and wanted out, Einsam's voice had popped up and told him to go right ahead. The Sequencer had told him he had a free day, that he could go where he wished and Schatten wouldn't harm him. Schuldich's initial response had been to scoff at that, but the Sequencer had promised.

      Einsam's promises meant dick these days, but Schuldich was feeling inclined to believe him. After all, the younger German had reasoned, it would be extremely boring to get hold of Schuldich so early in the game.

      Schuldich's concern wasn't whether or not Einsam would really leave him alone tonight, but what the Sequencer was working on now. He could feel it in the other man's voice when the blood-eyed beauty had popped out of nowhere to give him the go-ahead. His voice was laced with the power of his mind, cracked and broken and insane. He was Sequencing something, and Schwarz didn't know what it was, but for him to give Schuldich a whole day off… It was something big. And fuck if it didn't make Schuldich's stomach clench to think about it. As much as he hated the house arrest required as everyone put their pieces into place, knowing that Schatten was ready to start the game made his blood run cold.

      "They're ready to play," he said.

      "They are," Crawford answered. He thought for a few moments longer and then brushed his bangs out of his face, turning his chair to face Schuldich. His hands were brought into his lap and the two studied each other in silence. They'd known each other for ten years now, tied together by Crawford's blood brother and Schuldich's 'adopted' one. They knew more than anyone else what this meant, and neither of them were looking forward to this. It was a score that had to get settled, and Schwarz wasn't willing to lose a second time. Schuldich knew Crawford couldn't stand being blind to Meirth. The man lived his life based on the visions he'd seen, and Einsam shielded the one that it had always been easiest to follow. It made him feel useless in a battle like this, and Schuldich didn't like the loss of the power Schwarz had been built around any better.

      "I saw you leaving," Crawford said at last. "Now I know why. Take Kudou with you to give Einsam two people to watch over."

      Schuldich nodded. He could wait until Farfarello woke and bring his Irish teammate with him, but it would be dangerous to keep Farfarello nearby for so long. Even with Einsam distracted, they didn't need him to start wondering about the Irishman's supposedly giftless status. Farfarello wasn't going to like that Schuldich was dragging Kudou along, but… He thought of the conversation he'd walked in on this morning. At this point, bringing either of them along was dangerous. "What's up with Kudou, anyway?" he wanted to know, trying to find something to distract himself with. "How is he earning his keep?"

      Crawford tilted his head to one side, fixing Schuldich with an assessing expression. Schuldich didn't like it. "He'll be useful," the American said, after considering his words for a few minutes. "In his own way, he'll be useful."

      Schuldich gave him a long look. "I really wish you wouldn't look at me like that," he said.

      "And I would much rather see Schatten than spend my time watching you gallivant all over the city," was the easy response.

      "Feeling appreciated," Schuldich said, pushing himself off the desk. "I'll wait until Farfarello wakes up to go, just in case. We need more food; I'll grab that first. After that, I have the feeling I'm going to need a stiff drink or ten. Any issues, all seeing eye?"

      "None worth mentioning."



      It was almost a quarter after four that Schuldich heard Farfarello's mind wake up. He looked up from the book he'd been reading, then closed the book and set it aside. Nagi looked up from where he was watching television at his older teammate's move, but he didn't have to ask where Schuldich was going. Farfarello's mind touched each of them in turn, checking on them and checking on the links he had to their power. Schuldich had told Nagi and Kudou about Einsam's words and Crawford's approval. Now he just had to tell Farfarello. He reached the doorway to the den as Kudou was moving towards it, juice in one hand a magazine in the other, and the younger assassin took a step back to let Schuldich pass. Schuldich touched his mind as he headed towards Farfarello's door, feeling the white assassin's eyes on him. There was curiosity and interest in Kudou's thoughts.

      //Bug off,// he sent the other man.

      ~Of course,~ came the response. ~I'll leave you two to your privacy.~

      Schuldich didn't answer that, letting himself inside his younger teammate's room. Kudou was a nuisance. It was a pity Crawford had changed his mind about the value of the man's life. If Schuldich wanted to be generous, he could say the man wasn't a pain in the ass and therefore Schuldich didn't care what he did or that he was here. The problem was that Kudou thought too much. He had way too much time on his hands to go over everything that was going on here, and had spent the last few days analyzing Schwarz and the story Nagi had told him. His stunt this morning with Farfarello was just the newest in a series of ways that Kudou was starting to figure out too many things that Schuldich wasn't interested in him knowing. He could reassure himself with the thought that at least the man wasn't stupid, but he'd known that all along. He just preferred it when Weiss was clueless. Tsukiyono was the real brains of the operation, but what he could do with computers and logistics, Kudou did with people. It was just within this last week that they'd finally had to give him the pieces he needed to work with. And the things that ran through that man's head once they gave him just a little… He didn't even need to be telepathic.

      Farfarello was already sitting up when Schuldich closed the door behind him, though the Irishman hadn't done more than push his blankets aside. A single yellow eye watched as Schuldich approached, and the German seated himself on the end of Farfarello's bed. Farfarello was fast to wake; the moment he roused from sleep, he was fully awake and ready to go. No lingering haze from sleep clouded the eye that followed Schuldich's progress; it was sharp and knowing.

      "I'm going grocery shopping," Schuldich said. "Anything in particular you want at the store?"

      "Why?" Farfarello wanted to know.

      Schuldich had worked with Farfarello long enough to know that the 'why' wasn't directed at his offer. In this instance, it was more of a 'How?'. He lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "Einsam has better things to do than watch the present," he said. "He's onto something and he's going to be working on getting all of the details and back roads of that secured. He told me I could have the day off, and I'm going to get groceries and then get smashed to celebrate."

      A small frown pulled at Farfarello's lips. "He could be lying," he pointed out.

      Schuldich sighed, raking a hand through his hair, and then studied the back of it. The cuts he'd made over the scars had healed, leaving just the white lines behind. "He's having nightmares again," he mused, though he wasn't sure if he was saying it for his own benefit or for Farfarello's. Blue eyes lifted to meet Farfarello's gaze. His Irish teammate leaned forward, moving onto his knees and reaching down the bed to take Schuldich's wrist. He eyed the scars, perhaps checking to make sure Schuldich hadn't cut them again. Satisfied, he let his teammate's hand go but didn't retreat back to his spot on the bed. Instead he chose to settle down closer to Schuldich. "It's not his gift that's tearing him apart," Schuldich told Farfarello. "It's this… This fight. What Meirth's making him do."

      He could feel it, could hear it in the background of Einsam's thoughts. And Schuldich wondered if he was happier not knowing, if he'd have been much more content to not know that it was Einsam's reservations on the Schatten-Schwarz fight that was driving the Sequencer to pieces. Einsam remembered, and he couldn't let go, even if he wanted to.

      Farfarello said nothing, because Schuldich didn't need or want him to say anything. Schuldich eyed his hand again and let it fall back to the sheets. Silence fell between them. "We can't kill Kudou," he said at last.

      "Why not?" was the answer.

      Schuldich gave a shake of his head to indicate he didn't know. "Something Crawford has seen but won't share. He says Kudou isn't expendable. We can't kill him, and we can't allow him to be killed. But he didn't say permanently, just 'until further notice'." The disapproving frown on Farfarello's face brought a wry smirk to Schuldich's lips. "He can't stay useful forever," he reassured the white-haired assassin. "That's what Crawford's judging his worth on."

      "I can make him useless," the Irishman suggested.

      "I'm getting the impression that you don't like Schwarz's newest," Schuldich said, showing his teeth in a grin. Farfarello gave him a cool look in response. "He won't be around to bother you tonight, or to take his knife lessons. Crawford's orders are to take him with me, so he's off to the super in about ten minutes and then he's playing designated driver while I get smashed."

      Farfarello said nothing. Schuldich didn't really expect him to react to that, at least not visibly. He considered his younger teammate for a long moment before venturing to say, "We'll stop by somewhere after drinking. Pick you up some takeout or something… It'll be around your lunch time then. Any requests?"

      Farfarello gave a slight shake of his head, sliding from his bed and moving towards his dresser. "It doesn't matter," he said.

      Schuldich hesitated, watching the Sensitive as the teenager dug around in his drawers for something to wear. He forced himself to his feet and closed the space between them, coming up to stand behind Farfarello. The man didn't look back to acknowledge him. "I told you," Schuldich said. "Don't listen to him."

      "I'm not," was Farfarello's short answer.

      Schuldich reached out, one arm to either side of Farfarello so his hands curled around the edge of the dresser. Farfarello went still, one hand holding a shirt and the other pausing where it was ready to push the drawer closed. "You are," Schuldich argued quietly. He stayed there just a moment longer, only a few inches of space between his chest and Farfarello's back. His hair had fallen over his shoulders to sway in between them, lightly touching the Irishman's bare shoulders and back. His teammate didn't respond and didn't move. Schuldich waited just long enough to make sure the man had heard him and let go of the dresser, drawing his arms back and heading towards the door. He didn't look back, and Farfarello didn't watch him leave.

      //Kudou, we're going,// he sent out.

Part 11
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