13: Aftermath

      //Nagi, we have to go. Run, now.//

      Schuldich gave the boy credit for not asking questions. The telekinetic just sent an affirmative and started Schuldich's way. Even though Farfarello had said they had some time, blue eyes cast a hunted look around as he waited impatiently for his younger teammate to catch up. He cast his mind out, wishing for the millionth time that he could track Meirth's mind. He couldn't hear the man anywhere out there. Next he reached for Farfarello. By putting himself at entrance to the subdivision, Schuldich had put himself close to Farfarello's range. The man was on foot now; the closer they got to each other, the easier it would be for Farfarello to leech off of him. When he was close enough, he would be able to pick up on Schuldich's sonic speed and would be coming much faster.

      Before he could slide further than Farfarello's mind, there was an impact in his gift. He took a quick step back, blue eyes widening. A large group of people in his range had just died. He cast a quick mental probe around, looking for them, and found Kudou's screaming mind.

      The flower shop.

      He swore, sending a sharp look over his shoulder for any sign of Nagi, and searched for Weiss. All three of them were down, but by some miracle, they were all alive. Bombay and Siberian were close to consciousness but quickly fading. It was Abyssinian that was gone- his mind was still there, but shut down. Barely there at all. Schuldich raked his hands through his hair and offered up a silent thanks that Crawford's car wasn't closer to the shop. Kudou knew what had happened, so they were nearby- but the shop hadn't exploded with them inside. Jesus, if Bombay had sent him the call and he'd sent Crawford there even a minute earlier…

      The shop had blown up without Schwarz in it.

      For what purpose? A frown pulled at his mouth. Meirth had to have found out that Weiss took out Marigold, he decided. This was him retaliating. It was all he could think of. That bomb had to have been put there by Schatten, if the other team was on the move and Einsam was hanging out by the Koneko.

      Nagi came into view then, running as fast as he could towards Schuldich. Schuldich caught him by the wrist as soon as the young man was at his side and he took off. He couldn't run as fast with Nagi hanging onto him, but the boy was using his gift to help propel himself along. The world blurred slightly around them as Schuldich picked a direction and tore off. //Farfarello, we're on our way. Where is Meirth?//

      //Closer than me,// was the answer. //Five minutes. He's going to-//

      Schuldich didn't hear the last half of the sentence. Pain shot through his leg and he stumbled. Tripping was a very dangerous thing to do going at the speed he was, and he had just enough sense to let go of Nagi before he fell. The speed made him fall forward, hitting the ground shoulder first and rolling. Nagi, released from the sudden speed, went stumbling but managed to catch himself on his hands before his face could meet the ground. His gift grabbed Schuldich before the German could roll far and he pushed himself up, rushing over to Schuldich.

      "Schuldich!" Small hands checked the German's face for injuries.

      Schuldich sucked in air through clenched teeth. His shoulder hurt like a bitch and his leg was still on fire. "God-damned-asshole," he managed to bite out.

      There was a sudden suck at Schuldich's mind, and he knew Farfarello had crossed the line where he could reach Schuldich. Ice washed through the heat in his leg. It still hurt but it was better, and Schuldich let Nagi pull him to his feet. He grabbed hold of Nagi's wrist again and took off. It was slower this time when his leg wouldn't cooperate right. Both empaths were fighting for dominance and pain spiked up through Schuldich's chest before Farfarello could catch it. The Irishman pressed forward to get rid of it.

      It was what Meirth was waiting for. Nagi's mind exploded beside his own; the boy didn't even have time to gasp before he collapsed. His dead weight brought Schuldich to a halt and the German stumbled before pulling at Nagi. "Nagi? Nagi! Fuck!" The telekinetic was out. Meirth had hit him strong enough, fast enough, that he'd knocked the boy clean out. Schuldich swore again, pulling Nagi into his arms. He turned to go again and an all too familiar and very unwelcome warmth washed through him.

      What was the rush? He didn't really want to run.


      //Farfarello-// Schuldich returned, forcing himself onwards. Two powers clashed inside of him; he could feel the need to run and the need to stay flickering back and forth. It was confusing as all hell, and he ended up just standing still as he struggled to pick one. Meirth was stronger than Farfarello was. Farfarello was just a low ranked Sensitive, where as Meirth was a decently ranked empath. Farfarello could lessen the blow but he couldn't force it away, especially not when Meirth was so much closer than the Irishman was. Schuldich swore, arms tightening on his unconscious teammate.


      He didn't want to go anywhere. He needed to stay here.

      ~Get the fuck moving,~ he told himself, but his body wasn't interest in listening. He needed to stay here. If he left, bad things were going to happen. An almost violent fear swept through him, a fear of what would happen if he left this spot. Twining through it was the need, the sheer need to see Meirth again. Schuldich thought he was going to be sick. ~No no no…~

      //Farfarello-// he tried, and he thought he slipped and let an edge of desperation touch the name. //I can't-//

      He couldn't make himself move. Meirth's gift held him planted in place. He could scream at himself to move all he wanted, but the command of his mind meant nothing to his haywire, frantic emotions.

      A car parked fifteen feet away from him, and a black haired foreigner slid out. Schuldich was only absently aware that his hands were shaking where they were holding onto Nagi. He could only watch as Meirth made his way towards him. Farfarello was getting closer; there was a violent stab of the Irishman's power through him and he stumbled back a few steps in a retreat. A wide smile spread on Meirth's lips and he allowed Schuldich to retreat. Schuldich found out why ten steps later, when he found his back up against cool brick. He's backed up right against a wall.

      "Go away," he managed to get out, and he hated himself when it came out as a hoarse whisper.

      Meirth came to a stop right in front of him. "Do you want me to leave?" he asked, arching an eyebrow at the German.

      "No," Schuldich answered without thinking. He swore, ignoring the sharp edge to the word, and tried to slide down the wall away from Meirth. But he didn't want to run; he so badly wanted to see Meirth again. He wanted to stay here and talk. Talking was good. "Get the fuck away from me."

      Meirth reached out, planting his hand against the wall so his arm barred Schuldich's way. "You lied to me," he said, leaning closer so his forehead rested against Schuldich's. A swirl of power was trickling through the German's veins and all he could do was stand there and stare. "Does Schwarz think itself clever? I don't appreciate being lied to."

      "I don't know what you're talking about," Schuldich lied.

      Meirth smiled, and his power hit Schuldich with a force that was physical. The German gasped, falling forward away from the wall. Meirth caught him, one hand on his shoulder and the other tangling into a fist in Schuldich's orange hair. His lips brushed over Schuldich's cheekbone and Schuldich leaned into the touch, breathing ragged. "That white haired freak is your Sensitive," Meirth informed him. "He's on his way right now. So what is the other one, pray tell?" His fingers ran over Schuldich's other cheek, tilting Schuldich's head towards him. His eyes were so cold. Schuldich was having trouble keeping his own open. "You want to tell me, don't you? You lied to me."

      "Talentless," Schuldich murmured, past the ability to guard what he was saying.

      "Hmmmm…" Meirth lowered his mouth to the side of Schuldich's throat, teeth digging into the soft skin there in a cruel bite. Schuldich gasped at the pain but there was a need for it, a fierce need for the pain and Meirth, and Meirth could give him the pain and give him anything… "I have to go now, Schuldich. But Einsam's going to catch you, and I'm going to have you. And it's going to be just…" A second bite, and Schuldich thought he felt the warmth of blood before Meirth gave the skin a hard suck. "…like old times. I'm going to fucking tear you apart."

      "Please…" Schuldich whispered.

      "So you remember what I taught you. We'll see just how much of it you remember soon."

      With that, Meirth turned and walked away. Schuldich watched as he got into his car, watched the car drive away. He watched a white blur appear at the corner of the street as Farfarello raced towards him, and he slowly sank towards the ground. Farfarello was at his side in an instant, hands on his face as he tried to get him to focus. At this proximity, Farfarello was close enough to make a difference, and the Irishman's power crushed through him, forcing out everything Meirth had left behind. Schuldich gave a shuddering gasp at the sensation and Farfarello took hold of his chin, searching his eyes to make sure he was all right. Schuldich stared through him, at gold eyes and a promise of pain and death.

      Fingers brushed over Schuldich's throat, beneath the bites, and Schuldich flinched away from the touch. Farfarello hesitated at the violent reaction, then reached out and carefully took Nagi out of Schuldich's arms. He set the boy to one side and reached forward, tangling his hands in Schuldich's hair to pull him forward. Schuldich let his Irish teammate guide him, let him pull him so his forehead was resting against Farfarello's chest. He felt Farfarello's chin on his head and he took several deep breaths to force down the terror and nausea.

      Just the thought of ending up in Schatten's hold again made him want to be sick for weeks.

      "He's gone," Farfarello told him. A hand was resting between his shoulder blades, a comforting warmth, while the other was still curled in the hair at the base of Schuldich's skull.

      Schuldich took another deep, shuddering breath. "Fuck…"

      "He's gone," Farfarello said again.

      "I know…" Schuldich answered. "I know… Fuck…"

      Farfarello gently smoothed Schuldich's hair out of the way; Schuldich knew he was taking another look at the marks on his throat. They stung. Meirth had definitely broken the skin. The Irishman hesitated a moment, fingers resting at the base of Schuldich's neck, and then he slid his hand from Schuldich's back to tilt his chin up. There was just another moment of hesitation and then warm lips touched the bites Meirth had left behind. Schuldich's initial reaction was to flinch away again, and Farfarello obediently started to pull back. Schuldich moved without realizing he was, catching Farfarello's shirt to stop him. He didn't look over at his teammate; he couldn't turn his head enough to see Farfarello's eye from where the Irishman had moved his head to, anyway. After a few moments, Farfarello leaned forward again.

      It stung, but nowhere near as much as the bites that had put the cuts there in the first place. Schuldich focused on the touch to control his breathing. Meirth was gone. Farfarello was here now. And Farfarello wasn't going to hurt him.

      Farfarello helped him sit up, checking his face again to see if he was all right, and rose to his feet. Schuldich accepted his hands to stand and leaned back against the wall while Farfarello crouched and picked Nagi up. He slung the telekinetic over his shoulder to leave one hand free, and he took Schuldich by the wrist to lead him back towards the house. Schuldich trusted Farfarello to report to Crawford and let himself not think, just let himself follow behind Farfarello as the Irishman took him home.


      After the initial shock of the explosion, a small crowd gathered around the flower shop. Whatever had blown the place up had shot straight up through the middle. The shop had collapsed upon itself, but not completely. Enough of it was still propped up and standing that Yohji could shove through the crowd and climb in through the shattered window.

      What he saw made him sick to his stomach. The shop had been crowded. There were both dead and injured girls on the sidewalk and in the street, where the blast had thrown them. Some where cut up from the glass and parts of the foundation. Inside the shop was much worse. There were girls crushed, where the ceiling had fallen in on them. Dust and plaster covered everyone. The plants were in shreds all over the place. Some girls were still alive; he could hear them whimpering, but he couldn't find all of them. The ceiling formed a barricade almost straight down the middle of the shop.

      "AYA!!" He whirled around, checking the bodies, almost not caring if the girls he passed were still alive. The most important people were his teammates. "KEN!!" A glance up let him see the sky and part of all four apartments. Furniture and belongings from the four rooms were among the rubble in the shop. A bed had just barely avoided falling down the hole, caught on a piece of collapsed wall. "OMI!!"

      Someone groaned- someone male.

      He found Ken half buried beneath a large chunk of wall. The man was in bad shape; blood formed a nice puddle around him. Yohji crouched beside him, checking his pulse and then his head, for major injuries. "Ken. Ken, can you hear me?" It didn't really sound like his voice, but he barely noticed. "Ken. Wake up, God damn it."

      Brown eyes fluttered open, but they took a while to focus on Yohji. "Nnnnohji?"

      "Hold still," Yohji told him, eying the chunk that was on him. "Let me see if I can get this off…" He ran a hand across it, wondering how heavy it was, and checked around for clear space to roll it to. "God…" There were girls in the way, but the twists to their bodies told him they were dead. He looked from their bodies to Ken, and made up his mind. One strong shove had it rolling free of him onto them, and he tried desperately not to think about the corpses he'd just crushed. Ken yelled in pain as it rolled free of him, and Yohji gently checked his back and legs to figure out what was wrong. "Ken, stay here with me. Where does it hurt at?"

      "My back… God…" Ken coughed on the dust in the air. "What the fuck was that…? Fuck… Hurts…"

      "What about your legs, Ken?" Yohji ran his hands down them. There was a lot of blood.

      "They're fine… Can't feel 'em."

      "Can't feel *them* or can't feel pain?" Yohji asked sharply.

      "Does it matter?" came the drowsy response. "Like it better when I can't feel them…"

      "Shit…" Yohji raked bloody hands through his hair, looking around wildly. "I can't move you," he said. "I can't move you. It could be your spine. Shit. What the hell happened here…?"


      "Ken." The younger assassin didn't answer him immediately, and Yohji grabbed his shoulder when he saw Ken's eyes were closing. Ken swore and snarled something about it hurting that Yohji ignored. He could hear sirens in the distance. "Ken, don't you dare go to sleep on me, God damn it. The ambulance is coming. Just stay awake."

      "I am awake, damn it…"

      "Ken, where are the others? Where's Omi, Ken?"

      "Out back." Ken pointed in that general direction. "Manx came. Omi took the disks, the papers… Was going to bring them to his room." His brown eyes finally slid around in a slow survey of the shop, and he made a strangled noise in his throat when he saw their customers laid flat. One of the girls was crying. There were a few moans. Around them, the flower shop rumbled quietly as it threatened to collapse further. Yohji prayed the ambulance got here quicker. At least Omi was out back… The most that could have happened to him was being thrown by the blast.

      "Where's Aya?"

      "With Manx…" The finger slid across the floor. "Went… to the basement."

      Yohji lifted his eyes from Ken to stare in that direction.

      There was no door to the basement anymore. There was a giant hole in the ground where the basement was supposed to be. Whatever explosives had taken out the flower shop had to have been in the basement, for it to hit the shop this hard and leave such a crater. "Fuck…" he whispered, voice hoarse. "Ken? Stay here, Ken. Stay awake."

      "D'I look like I'm moving?" was Ken's weary response. "Where's Aya?" He started trying to move, to look back that direction, and swore at the pain such shifting brought.

      "Don't look, Ken," Yohji told him, one hand on Ken's head. "Don't. Look."

      "Yohji?" There was alarm in his slurred voice.

      "I'm going to go find him." Yohji rose to his feet and picked his way over to the hole. Most of the basement was covered in large slabs of brick and concrete. Yohji looked around, then glanced up at the two floors above him that were ready to collapse if someone breathed on them wrong. Gathering his breath, he lightly dropped through the hole. He was shaking all over, and he knew he was just seconds away from getting ill. He stared around at the mess. Bits of the metal stairwell were imbedded in the wall. "Aya? Aya!"

      He thought he saw red and moved that direction, climbing over the rocks the collapsed building had made. It was red hair, and whoever it was, they were crushed beneath one of the larger slabs of rock. There was no way they'd have survived. Yohji's stomach gave a violent lurch before he realized it was the wrong red. "Not Aya," he told himself fiercely, because he needed to believe it or he was going to completely lose it. "Not Aya."

      Not Aya.

      That was Manx's hair color.

      "Ohhhhh God…" Yohji pressed the back of his hand to his mouth, tearing his eyes away from the blood that had spread out under the rock. His stomach twisted inside of him. He had to find Aya. He had to find Aya, or he was going to fucking lose it.

      The sirens were right outside. He could hear megaphones as police tried to get the crowd back. He had to find Aya. He looked around wildly and finally started pulling at whatever rubble he could find to move it. His search grew desperate as the voices grew louder. He could hear people crying in the distance.

      "Aya…" he whispered brokenly.

      And then he found him.

      The redhead was crumpled in the corner. There was a thick slab of concrete on top of him, but it had settled in just the right way that it hadn't crushed him. Even so, there was a horrendous gash on his head. And the blood puddle beneath him…

      Aya's arm was completely crushed beneath another rock, and Yohji had a feeling one of his feet was as well. "Oh God. Oh God." It was a little mantra as he leaned forward, stretching his arm under the rock to try and reach the redhead. He was afraid to touch him, afraid to unbalance the rock that was just a breath away from crushing his teammate, but he had to know if he was still alive. His fingers were shaking violently as he touched the other man's cheek. He was pale. Too pale. "Oh God…"

      He had a pulse.

      He was still alive.

      "Are you all right down there?" came the call. The police had found him.

      He whirled around to face them, not even aware of the tears that were tracking down his face. "Get him out of here," he called to them, voice ragged and hoarse with grief. "Get him out of here- he's going to die if you don't get him out of here…!"


      Crawford found Einsam behind the flower shop. It was an accident, really, as he'd been doing a circle of the shop to study the damage. Kudou had vanished inside and Crawford knew that nothing he said would get the man back out, so he wasn't bothering. He would take care of Kudou later. Right now, he found himself twenty feet away from Schatten's Sequencer. The younger man was wearing what he'd worn to the Schwarz-Schatten confrontation five years ago, but it hung looser on him now that he'd lost so much weight. The shirt was flowing black silk, with slits from the shoulders to the elbows, and sleeves that billowed out over his hands. His pants were snug and a dark gray. He was crouched beside a still form, one elbow propped on his knee and the other hand dancing over the fallen man's face. Red eyes were on Crawford as the precognitive rounded the corner.

      A slow smile spread on the Sequencer's mouth. "Hello, Braddyn."

      "Spencer," Crawford returned.

      Red eyes were hooded as Einsam eyed him. "I really don't think you have the right to call me that."

      Crawford ignored that, honey brown eyes studying the demolished flower shop. "I suppose you're feeling proud of yourself, that you managed to blow up a flower shop and a bunch of school girls. Schatten must feel accomplished."

      Einsam laughed, trailing clawed fingers through wheat blond hair. Crawford kept his gaze careless as he studied the fallen Bombay, keeping recognition from his eyes, before looking up at Einsam's face again. The Sequencer lifted his hands from the fallen assassin, gathering up his braid and wrapping it idly around his throat. "I suppose," was the answer. "Doesn't matter. Meirth still got to say hello to Schuldich, and that's what he wanted." He rose to his feet. "I followed it," he said. "You lied to us about the madman."

      "Did I? Do forgive me."

      "That attitude isn't going to get you anywhere." Red eyes scanned the back street. "Where's your Talentless?" he asked.

      "We split up looking for you," Crawford said. "Farfarello knew you were in the area. I hadn't expected to find you playing with a dead body."

      Einsam gave a careless shrug. "He's not dead. Yet." He eyed the body at his feet and toed it. Crawford watched his face carefully. There had to be a reason the Koneko had been demolished. Schwarz hadn't been inside, so Schwarz wasn't the target. Weiss, then? There was a chance Einsam had figured out that Weiss was behind Marigold's assassination, but if Einsam had seen it coming, why had he allowed Weiss to succeed last night?

      "I hear Marigold went up in flames," Crawford commented.

      "Meh." Einsam gave a shrug. "We didn't need them that much. We'll get around to finding out who did it after we're done with Schwarz."

      "If you live through this," Crawford said. He pushed Einsam's words aside to think on later. He reached up, brushing bangs out of his face. "You look like you haven't been sleeping lately. Schuldich says you're having nightmares again."

      The look Einsam turned on him could have chilled hell. "Tell Schuldich to get what sleep he can," he said. "He's only got a few days left and he's ours again." With that, he crouched and pulled the unconscious Bombay from the ground. He made a face at the younger man's weight before turning his gaze back on Crawford. "Until next time, then, Crawford." With that, he turned and started away. Crawford considered drawing his gun and shooting him. "You'd miss and you know it," the younger man called back. Crawford knew he was right from experience, which irked him because the Sequencer didn't even have Schuldich's or Nuboshi's speed. "Go home and tend to your orange haired bitch. Meirth is headed this way to pick me up."

      Crawford watched him leave, turning the short conversation over in his head. He considered what Einsam had said and then started around the shop to find Kudou. It wasn't hard to find the other man; he was by the ambulances, watching as his fallen teammates got placed inside.

      "Kudou, we have to talk."

      The look Kudou sent him was full of venom. "No," he said. "Not now."

      "Two seconds," Crawford said.

      The ambulance doors were being shut, and Kudou ignored Crawford to grab at one of the drivers' sleeves. "I want to go," he said. "They're my coworkers, my roommates. Let me go with them."

      "No room," was the answer.

      "I'll drive him there," Crawford offered, and the driver motioned Kudou towards Crawford before heading towards his seat. Kudou remained rooted to the spot, watching as the ambulances pulled away from the curb. There were several more on the way. The air was full of cries as the crowd watching wept. Crawford reached out and took Kudou's elbow, and brought his other hand up to catch the fist the man sent his way.

      "You *fuck*," Kudou hissed at him.

      "Save it for the car," Crawford told him. "They," and he tilted his head towards the crowd, "don't want to hear it."

      "Where's Omi?"

      "An ambulance in back got him. Let's go."

      "Take me to the hospital."

      Crawford turned away and started towards where they'd parked the car. Kudou followed behind him, shaking hands digging cigarettes from his pockets. He looked like hell. Crawford didn't blame him. He did, however, power lock Kudou's door so the man couldn't open it again. It only took the other man two streets to realize Crawford wasn't following the ambulances, and he twisted in his seat, murder in his eyes. "Take me to the hospital," he said.

      "If you want your friends to die, I will."

      Kudou started for his throat, and Crawford had the gun waiting for him. It hovered an inch away from Kudou's forehead. Crawford never looked up from the street. The other man studied it for a few moments and then tried his door, but he couldn't get the lock to open. "You're going to listen to me," Crawford told him.

      "FUCK you!" Kudou exploded. "You got my friends dragged into this and look what happened! The shop- the fucking *shop*. There were girls in there. They were just kids. Just a bunch of kids and they're dead because of you, and my friends are being taken to the hospital! I told you not to bring them into this! I knew this was going to happen!"

      "It didn't happen because Schwarz brought Weiss into this," Crawford told him, raising his voice when Kudou started to snarl out another accusation. "Einsam was behind the shop. He said that Schatten didn't know yet who had taken out Marigold. They didn't blow up the shop because Weiss was in it." Honey brown eyes flicked towards Kudou. The green eyes staring back at him were brimming with violence, twisted with grief and hatred. "They blew it up because you were near there. They blew it up to keep you here, so Meirth could go after Schuldich. They've just figured out that you're not a Sensitive, and Einsam's going to be watching you and Farfarello. If you go to the hospital now, they'll make the last connection between you and them. You cannot afford to see them yet."

      "I have to know they're all right-"

      "Schuldich has your cell phone," was Crawford's response. "If Kritiker cares enough, they'll have someone stand watch over Weiss. They're going to think it was an attack on your team. When we get back to the house, you can call and check on them. You can find out what state they're in and what room they're in, if you want. But you must. Not. Visit them."

      "You're lying," was the hoarse accusation.

      "Try me," was the cold response. "Can you afford it?"

      "I hate you…" came the ragged, helpless whisper. "I hate you."

      Crawford didn't answer.

      He didn't put the gun away, either. He wasn't stupid.


      There was a room upstairs for the fallen boy Einsam had dragged back from the ruins of the flower shop. He left him there to wake up on his own and came back downstairs to find Meirth and Nuboshi sitting at the table. Meirth had been in a very good mood the whole ride back from taunting Schwarz's telepath. Now that he was back here, it was time for him to put aside his own satisfaction over the personal victory and focus on business. First thing was that Schwarz had lied to them. Second was Marigold.

      "The ugly one?" was Nuboshi's reaction to the news. The Japanese man's nose crinkled in distaste.

      "Talented…" was Einsam's murmur. He reached out and touched Nuboshi's arm, where a sheath was hidden under the sonic's sleeve. "Blade fighter. Like you." Red eyes slid away from Nuboshi towards Meirth. "He's Schuldich's," he said.

      "So I read," was the empath's amused answer. He ran a finger along his lips, thinking about what his gift had found in the two Talents when Farfarello had come running to Schuldich's side. He considered things for a few moments, sliding his hand up his face to brush his bangs out of the way. "The Irishman is the Sensitive and the other is Talentless. We have to readjust for that. Your Sequencing," and gold eyes flicked to Einsam, "has to change for that."

      Einsam nodded.

      "What's up with the banged up boy?" Nuboshi wanted to know.

      "We need him," was Einsam's response. He drummed his fingernails on the table, gazing off into space. "He has something we want. Useful. Haven't gotten there yet." He sighed, pushing himself up from the table and moving to pour himself a drink. "Boom…" he murmured.

      "That wasn't the only boom," Meirth said, turning in his chair. Einsam could feel the older man's gaze on him as he poured himself a glass of juice from the fridge. Ten little metal claws clicked against his glass after the pitcher was back in place and he pushed the refrigerator door shut with a foot. He glanced back at the American. Meirth had heard about the annihilation of Marigold this morning on the news, but he had tucked it aside for after they came back from dealing with Schwarz. There hadn't been much time to hash it over beforehand; both Meirth and Einsam had been up late, so Meirth had slept in. "Marigold is gone. The news says they were killed around three this morning. You had me call them before they died. Tell me if you saw them dying."

      Einsam lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "We didn't need them."

      His glass dropped from numb fingers to shatter on the ground and he fell against the fridge, gasping for breath against the white pain that laced through his chest. Nuboshi's eyes were hungry as they watched him; Meirth's were cold. The empath rose from his spot and came to stand in front of him, grabbing a fistful of his bangs to yank his head back. "You saw that."

      "Too late," was the answer. "You wanted Schwarz. I'm getting you Schwarz. I can't watch everything."

      "How could you possibly miss something like that?"

      "Schwarz didn't do it," was the sensible answer. "Someone else. You sent them through Tokyo's gutters. They made enemies. Their fault. You wanted *Schwarz*," he said again, red eyes searching the gold ones staring down at him.

      Meirth shoved him against the fridge. Einsam's teeth clacked together painfully and then the empath was gone, storming out of the room. Einsam didn't have to look to know Nuboshi was getting to his feet. He knew a call for help would be ignored when Meirth was irritated with him. It didn't matter that he'd shown Meirth Schwarz's lies. It didn't matter that Meirth had gotten to play with Schuldich. Marigold was gone. Rice was still dead.

      He knew running was pointless, but he tried it anyway.

      He made it to the living room before his teammate caught him, and they fell in a heavy tangle of limbs. Einsam made sure to land on his back and he dug into Nuboshi with his claws, giving his best. The sonic swore viciously as the metal tips dug lines across him and he snagged Einsam's wrists, flattening them to the ground.

      He'd seen this coming about twelve hours ago, and there was still nothing he could do about it. Sequencing was a curse sometimes. He fought the best he could, but Nuboshi was older and stronger. ~Please,~ he thought desperately, already knowing that Meirth wouldn't give him what he wanted. He'd tried several times in the sequence to find a way to make the man listen. He'd failed because Meirth simply didn't give a damn. ~Stop him. Stop him, or at least make me not care that it hurts.~

      Nuboshi offered him a cold smile, switching both of Einsam's smaller wrists to one hand. The other drew the blade out that Einsam had touched earlier, sliding it free from the sheath on his arm. He trailed the tip down one of the younger assassin's cheek, watching a thin trail of blood follow it. "Consider it practice, our *precious* little Sequencer. In a few days, we'll have Schuldich back, and it'll be just like old times. He can't let go, you know. He still can't let go. So if Meirth's not tearing him to pieces, he can watch you with us. Because *that* would cut him a lot deeper than Meirth's gift alone could. You should take some satisfaction from such a thing, that the man you hate is going to be hurt the most because of you. How's it feel to know you'll still be useful for a while yet?"

      "Fuck you…" came the ragged response.

      Nuboshi just smiled.

Part 14
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