15: Talk to Me

      Farfarello's room was empty when Yohji got out of the shower, so the older assassin claimed the place for his own. He dressed in whatever was closest to the top of his suitcase, not really caring what his hands found, and he sat in the corner by his suitcase to think until Schwarz came along and kicked him out. He turned everything that had happened since he'd accepted the mission to kill Hasagawa over in his head, considering everything that had happened since then. They were dark thoughts and he had to close his eyes against the room, fighting not to lose his lunch when he thought about the Koneko's explosion this morning. The memory of what he'd seen there was going to haunt him the rest of his life.

      ~They're alive,~ he told himself fiercely, willing himself to focus on his teammates' survival. ~They could have died, but they're alive.~

      But the state they were in ate a hole in his heart and he tucked his knees up close to his chest, folding his arms across them and burying his face against his forearms. His teammates were alive, but the price they paid to survive the shop… But they were *alive*. Omi would heal the fastest, and soon enough Ken would be out. He couldn't walk anymore but he was still breathing. He was freed from the requirement to kill people; Kritiker could not retain him as an assassin when he was handicapped. This life had always dug at Ken the deepest. Now he could step out of the shadows and away from the danger and try to heal his torn soul. And Aya… He had sat by his sister's side for years. He'd fought for her for years because he'd refused to give up hope in her regaining consciousness. Yohji wouldn't give up in Aya, either. Aya was too strong to let such a thing take control of him. He was going to wake up again.

      Things were going to be all right again.

      The laugh that came out of his mouth didn't sound like his; it was far too bitter for him to recognize it.

      Farfarello entered not even fifteen minutes after Yohji had settled himself in the corner. Yohji didn't look up to acknowledge him and Farfarello didn't kick him out of the room. Yohji listened to his footsteps as he moved around, getting ready to sleep at last. Yohji expected a boot to his shoulder but it didn't come; after a few minutes of rummaging around there was just the slight creak as the Irishman climbed into his bed. He listened to the rustle of sheets, green eyes open against his arms to stare into the dark gap between his legs and chest. Finally there was silence, and Yohji closed his eyes to go back to his thinking.

      There wasn't anything he could do to help his friends right now. Crawford and Schuldich had both said Schatten didn't know who Weiss was. If he stayed away from them, there wouldn't be a way for the other assassins to figure out the connection. They were safe there. Battered and broken, but they weren't haunting the streets as Weiss anymore. They weren't roaming around, trying to strike at Schatten or Marigold. They were out of this fight, though the cost of them keeping their lives was extremely high. Kritiker would look after them. Birman would take it as an attack on Weiss and there would be guards around them twenty-four hours a day. They were safe now, and he was still here, still in the middle of this war of revenge and hatred.

      He didn't trust Schuldich to keep an eye on the three, but he would trust Birman. She wouldn't let Weiss down now.

      Pain laced through his chest suddenly, so hot and violent that he jerked away from the wall. Before a strangled sound could leave his lips it was gone completely, leaving just a dull ache in its wake. One of Yohji's hands was against his suitcase, the other clenched into a fist against the floor, and he stared across the room with wild green eyes as he struggled to figure out what was going on. His gaze fell on Farfarello, who was sprawled on his side. The Irishman's eye was open and focused on Yohji.

      "What was that?" Yohji demanded.

      "Meirth," was the simple response, and Farfarello pushed himself up from his sheets. He slid off the side of the bed and started for the door. Yohji watched him vanish out into the hall once more, lifting his fingers to touch his chest. His heart was racing, startled enough to kick it up a gear, and his nerves protested in the aftermath of an unnatural touch. After a few moments, he pushed himself up and left the room to find the Sensitive. He stepped out into the hall in time to hear Schuldich berating the other man; Farfarello was just a few steps ahead of him and had just turned into the kitchen.

      "What the hell are you doing awake? Go back to bed and stay there."

      "Meirth's amusing himself," was the Irishman's answer as Yohji stepped into the doorway of the kitchen.

      Schuldich stopped with his mug almost to his mouth, studying Farfarello as the younger assassin seated himself at the table. The ash tray beside the German had been empty last time Yohji saw it; it was completely filled with ash and crumpled butts now. Another cigarette was held between Schuldich's fingers, ash gathering on the tip. After a few moments of scrutiny, Schuldich put his mug down and slid it across the table towards Farfarello. Farfarello used the back of his hand to stop it and Schuldich picked it up, moving it over the other Talent's hand to set it in front of him. Farfarello considered it for a few moments and Schuldich raked his bangs out of his face, blue eyes studying his cigarette.

      "Drink up," he told Farfarello. "It's going to be a long day."

      "What's going on?" Yohji wanted to know. He thought he knew but wanted it confirmed, though considering what his last words to Schuldich had been, he wasn't entirely sure he was going to get an answer. But the German gave him a response after taking a long drag off of his cigarette, smoke trailing past his lips as he spoke.

      "Meirth's reaching across the city to poke at us," Schuldich answered. "He's not trying anything serious. He just wants to irritate Farfarello. Einsam's had a while to stay locked on me; he knows by now that Farafrello's up all night. That means Meirth knows, and that means Meirth is playing his usual role of being an asshole."

      "If he's not being serious, then why should Farfarello stay awake?"

      "Meirth's only playing around because he knows Farf's up. If Farf were to go to sleep, then we're all free game until it registers with his gift to wake him."

      Yohji accepted this in silence. A few minutes passed where no one spoke. Farfarello had moved his hands so that his fingers were curled around Schuldich's mug, and he was studying the dark liquid inside with a distant expression on his face. Something tingled across Yohji's skin and he rubbed at his arms, trying to get rid of the feeling. Schuldich wasn't looking at him but he must have caught the movement out of the corner of his eye, because he spoke again. "That's Farfarello," he said.

      Silence fell again. Yohji studied the white-haired man, leaning against the doorway for balance. After a few more minutes had gone by, Schuldich flinched, fingers crushing the cigarette. Whatever bothered him vanished almost immediately, and Farfarello's lips pulled back into a faint scowl. Schuldich took a deep breath and let it out, moving his cigarette to the ash tray. His free hand lifted to press his palm against the side of his throat, against the bandages Yohji had noticed earlier. Farfarello reached out and pushed his hand back to the table. Schuldich fought him for just a moment, and his fingernails left red lines behind on his neck when Farfarello got his hand free. It also tore the edge of his bandages a little, lifting them up from his skin. He dug another cigarette out of the pack sitting beside him and lit it, playing with the end of it before perching it between his lips.

      Farfarello pushed himself up from the table and left the room. Yohji moved so he could get by, glancing over his shoulder to watch as the Irishman moved into the den. That left him alone with Schuldich, and green eyes slowly turned to meet blue across the room. He thought of the words he'd thrown in the German's face. The fact that he didn't trust Schwarz, he didn't regret saying. He didn't care for the curses sent the other man's way. It was the taunt on Meirth that made him want to kick himself. Just last night he'd finally understood Schuldich, finally figured out who he was. And this morning he'd thrown the man's greatest weakness and enemy back in the German's face.

      The Koneko was gone. Manx was dead. Most of the girls were dead. His friends were badly injured. But Schwarz hadn't done it; Schatten had. And as much as he'd needed to explode at someone, he knew that that was one thing that shouldn't have been dragged into the argument. Schatten had taken his team away from him and for that, he would kill them. But to kill them, he needed Schwarz. He needed Schwarz's power.

      "Look," he started, not really knowing how to go about apologizing but knowing it had to be said.

      "Fuck you," was the German's answer, cutting him off before he could say anything else. The telepath flicked his fingers over his shoulder and reached out with his free hand to tug a newspaper towards him from the far side of the table. "Go make me a new mug of coffee."

      Yohji considered him for a few moments as Schuldich flipped through the paper, searching for an interesting article to read. In the distance, Yohji could hear Nagi's muffled voice. Farfarello had woken the youth up, probably to keep a better eye on him. Elsewhere, Crawford was holed away by himself to contemplate things. And across the room sat the telepath, content to lock himself away behind his cool expressions and flippant words as he waited for the end of a fight that had started over a decade ago. Yohji wasn't really sure what he felt, staring across the room at him. Everything that he'd observed in the other man had fit into place last night, standing outside the club as he studied the drunken telepath and listened to his words. Who he was and why he did things made sense.

      Absently he hoped that Schwarz made it through this, so that Schuldich and Farfarello could end their little dance. He wasn't really sure where the thought came from but it was there- the little hope that something good could come out of this. The hope that the 'not again' would never be repeated, and Schuldich would have something better than that. Something that wouldn't hurt him, as he'd told the telepath last night.

      Schuldich had gone still, his fingers clenched on the newspaper. Blue eyes weren't moving anymore and Yohji thought that perhaps he'd seen an interesting article. He finally left the doorway, moving towards the counter, and heard a small scuff right behind him. A glance over his shoulder showed that Farfarello had come up behind him in the hall as he thought, and the Irishman was just *looking* at him. His expression was smooth and unreadable and his yellow eye guarded, but there was a weight to that gaze Yohji didn't recognize. The younger assassin stood in the doorway for just a moment more and then vanished down the hall in the opposite direction of the den, towards the bedrooms. Yohji shrugged off the funny look and continued his trek, but as soon as he passed Schuldich, he felt the German's gaze turn on him.

      He lifted a mug down from the cabinets and filled it, and when he started back towards the table Schuldich was looking at his newspaper again. Yohji set the mug down beside him and was starting to straighten when he caught sight of what was under the bandage on his throat. The edge had been peeled back enough that from this angle, Yohji could see it, and he lifted one hand to gently touch it. Schuldich went still but he said nothing. Yohji was careful to watch him, waiting for the German to tell him to bug off and mind his own business. Gentle fingers pulled the bandage back more, showing him two overlapping lines of indents. It took him a moment to realize what they were.

      "That's some hickey," he told Schuldich.

      "Glad you approve," came the answer, and Schuldich reached up, fingers sliding against Yohji's as he pressed the bandage back into place. It wouldn't stick; the tape had stuck to itself.

      "I can redo it," Yohji told him. "You messed it up. Just tell me where the tape is."

      He expected a comment about how Schuldich didn't need his help. Instead, the German curled both hands around his mug, pulling it around in front of him to rest on top of the newspaper. Yohji waited by his side, not planning on moving until he got a response. Finally Schuldich glanced off to the side, towards the counters. "Third drawer," he said.

      Yohji went to fetch it, finding it amongst an array of medical supplies. He carried it and new gauze back to the table and took Nagi's seat, scooting it around the table to where he could comfortably get at Schuldich's neck. One hand moved orange hair out of the way and Schuldich was content to ignore him, studying the newspaper. Yohji offered up a warning before he slowly started to peel the old bandage free. There were little dots of blood on the gauze, but it had dried long ago. He studied the marks there in silence, one finger lifting to gently touch the skin beneath them.

      "Don't," Schuldich told him.

      Yohji obediently turned his attention back on the gauze in his hand and he tore a length free, folding it over itself into a patch. Schuldich had been bitten on the throat hard enough to break the skin, once hard enough to bleed. There was only one man who could have done it. It had happened while Crawford and Yohji were at the Koneko, before Farfarello could get there. Yohji wondered what it must have been like to be face to face with Meirth like that after everything that had happened between them in the past and he remembered throwing that history in Schuldich's face just a short time ago. He was careful as he taped the new bandage back into place. He gathered up his things and stood, one hand setting Nagi's chair back where it belonged as his green eyes glanced towards the newspaper. Schuldich hadn't looked up from it yet and he wondered what was so interesting. A small frown of confusion curved his lips. It was just a page of ads.

      He moved to the trash can to throw the old bandage away and put the medical supplies back where they belonged. The coffee pot was low; he poured the last bit into a mug and set about preparing the pot to brew again. He searched for something to talk about, not really sure how welcome conversation was right now. He wanted something to distract himself with, something to take their minds off of what was going on.

      "So," he said at last, when the pot was starting to drip. "You and Farfarello were talking together in a foreign language the other day. I couldn't place it, and I've been curious as to what it was."

      It took Schuldich a moment to figure out what Yohji was talking about, and the younger assassin made his way back to the table with his half-filled mug. His seat was between Farfarello's and Crawford's, but considering the Irishman had left his drink behind, he took Nagi's. It meant Farfarello was going to come back, and Yohji would rather be across from the other man than beside him. Schuldich was folding the newspaper up, dissatisfied with what he found in it. "Irish Gaelic," Schuldich answered at last.

      Yohji was impressed; his eyebrows lifted a notch as he studied Schuldich with renewed interest. "You can speak Irish?" he asked.

      Schuldich shrugged, not finding the skill as neat as Yohji did. "Picked it up from Farfarello."

      "Any others?" Yohji wanted to know. "You can speak Japanese and English. I'm guessing German is a no-brainer."

      "Why?" Schuldich asked, lifting his mug to sip at it. Blue eyes were half-lidded as he studied Yohji, searching Yohji's gaze for some ulterior motive to the question.

      "I told you last night," Yohji said. "You like to talk. I like to talk. I just want someone to talk to so I don't drive myself crazy being trapped indoors. My teammates are in the hospital. Humor me so I don't have to think about what state they're in. It's not like there's anyone I can tell. I doubt Birman would give a rat's ass if I were to call her up and tell her how many languages you're fluent in. You don't have to answer everything I ask, and you know it."

      "I don't have to answer anything you ask," Schuldich corrected him.

      "True," Yohji acceded.

      Schuldich treated him to a long look. Yohji sat silent, studying the light blue eyes turned on him as he waited for the German to decide. What he'd said about having no one to tell was true. Crawford had declared that he wasn't expendable but there was still the chance that he would change his mind. If they all lived through this and he went back to Weiss, he didn't think he could tell them anything about what he'd learned while he was here. For one, none of them would ever appreciate it. For two… Maybe he respected the team enough not to tell what he figured out. Well, except for Crawford. Yohji didn't like Crawford, and if he ever found out something that bothered the American he'd probably take an article out in the paper.

      An amused grin curved Schuldich's lips and the German made a quiet sound in his throat as he took another sip from his coffee. "No lost love there," he observed.

      "That goes without saying," Yohji admitted, lifting his own mug to drink from it.

      "Spanish," Schuldich said at last, as Yohji took the last sip from his mug. "Spanish was one of Crawford's languages of choice at Rosenkreuz, so I know it through him. He started it in middle school, so the foundations were already laid for him to learn it when he got to Austria."

      Yohji blinked, surprised by both what was said and the fact that it was more than a one word answer. "Huh," he said, trying to come up with a more intelligent response. "How is it possible to speak so many languages?" he wanted to know.

      "Word associations," was the easy answer. "A telepath is always good at learning languages, because you just have to click a few things and the rest falls into place. Easy to do to oneself, a bitch to do to other people."

      "Can you teach other people languages like that?" Yohji was fascinated. He distinctly remembered the many years he'd devoted to learning English at school, and he wished he could have had a telepath on hand back then so he could skip all of the studying.

      "Yeah. Takes more work, but it can be done." A flick of his fingers towards the door indicated his teammates. "Taught Nagi English and German to make Rosenkreuz easier on him. Farfarello knows German and Japanese. Gave Crawford Japanese. They needed to know them, and it was a lot quicker to get it from me than to use one of those 'Learn Japanese in Just 20 Minutes a Day' bullshit books." He took another swallow from his drink, then turned considering blue eyes on Yohji. "Speaking of which…"

      Yohji blinked. "Yes?"

      "You're not fluent in English like the rest of us are. You know more than I expected you to, but there are still gaps."

      It took Yohji a moment to figure out what Schuldich was implying, and the offer surprised him. Green eyes were wide as he stared back at Schuldich, wondering if he'd misinterpreted what the German was saying. "Are you going to fix it?" he wanted to know.

      "There could come a time when it'd be better that you knew," Schuldich said. "I won't always have the time to check and make sure you're following things when Schatten's around. Just sit still for a minute." Yohji did as he was told, staring at Schuldich as the German stared back. He felt the telepath's gift moving against his mind, felt it brush against his thoughts until he wasn't thinking anymore, just staring at Schuldich. He let the German take over his thoughts and twist them the way he needed them to. A few minutes passed but he didn't complain about the time; this was far too interesting to worry about just a handful of minutes.

      At length Schuldich's mind fell back and the German looked away. Yohji blinked, tilting his head to one side. "Is it done?" he wanted to know, and Schuldich nodded as he finished his drink. "It doesn't feel any different."

      "'Course not," Schuldich told him with a dismissive flick of his fingers. "The language was already there. It'd take a lot for you to realize what's been moved into place. I just filled in the gaps. It's not like I gave you something you had no foundation for previously."

      "Oh." Yohji considered this for a while, then decided "Cool" summed it up pretty well.

      "He's easy to please," Schuldich declared, and Yohji knew the German wasn't talking to him. He glanced towards the doorway and saw Farfarello returning. The Irishman took his spot opposite Yohji and Schuldich gave the coffee mug a pointed poke. Farfarello took a sip from it to humor him and put it back down again, raking one hand through his short hair.

      "Are Crawford and Nagi all right?" Yohji wanted to know.

      "Hah…" Schuldich flicked his hair over his shoulder and slouched in his chair. "Crawford's peachy. Meirth couldn't hurt him if he wanted to."

      Yohji frowned at that. "What do you mean?" he asked.

      Schuldich blinked, then looked towards him. "We never told you, hm? Meirth's gift doesn't do shit against Crawford. Crawford's shields are way too strong; they're strong enough to keep his own damn twin out. Meirth doesn't appreciate that, considering Crawford's gift tracks him as if he was Crawford himself. I suppose Meirth makes up for it because I can't bring his mind into focus no matter how much I try." He lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "I can't track him that way. No telepaths can, actually. He's got shields like Crawford's."

      Yohji thought about that for a long moment, considering where Schwarz and Schatten stood in relation to each other. Crawford and Schuldich couldn't track Meirth. Meirth could reach them across the city, though he couldn't touch Crawford. Unless he was close enough, Farfarello couldn't use Meirth's gift for himself. He could take what Meirth put in his teammates and twist that to get rid of it, but had no real empathy of his own. Nuboshi couldn't bother them from the distance, but that left Einsam. Just the thought of that Sequencer made Yohji grimace. "In short, we're screwed," he concluded.

      "Smart boy. Go make me some more coffee."


      Omi looked up when his third visitor appeared in the doorway. He'd been lying in bed since he got here several hours ago, quite content to remain where he was. He didn't see the need to go anywhere else. He'd tried for the better part of an hour to leave the room, but the moment he slid from the mattress the pain in his ankle had sent him to his knees. Coupled with it was the sheer terror of the consequences of leaving the room. He wasn't stupid; he knew that the only logical explanation for such a wild emotion was because there was an empath in the house. Nagi's files had explained how Meirth's power worked. But the fear was debilitating, and no matter how much he tried, he couldn't conquer it. He'd made it to the doorway once and that's when pain had taken over everything else, and he'd spent the next fifteen minutes trying to remember how to breathe.

      He had tried only once more, and decided that he wasn't going anywhere until they wanted him to. His ankle had been a mass of raw nerves by then, so he'd returned to the bed, and everything had smoothed out once more.

      He'd spent the time trying to figure out what was going on. He didn't know what happened at the shop or if he was here alone. He'd called for his teammates and knocked on the walls near him, trying to get some sort of a response. He'd gotten nothing, and in the end had decided to wait and see what his captors wanted of him. He had no doubt that it was somehow related to Marigold. Until they decided to enlighten him, however, he was stuck here. That's where he was when his visitor appeared in the doorway, and Omi rolled his head that way to study the other man.

      He knew immediately who the new arrival was, thanks to Nagi's files, but the picture had been years old. The man sprawled against the doorframe had changed quite a bit from whenever the picture had been taken. His face had lost the curves of youth and was now framed by thick, loose chestnut brown hair that hung around him to his knees. He was slender- almost too thin- and the fact that he was shirtless only helped show the lines of his ribs. What really caught Omi's attention was the blood.

      There were gashes cut all across his abdomen and chest, and blood leaked sluggishly across pale skin. His pants were ripped in places to show more cuts, and the material was stained darker where blood had wet it. There was even a cut on his face, running down his cheek from his eye, and his lip was split. He seemed completely unbothered by his appearance, however. His dark red eyes were fixed on Omi, studying him. A notebook hung from one hand and he lifted it, idly tapping it against his lips, before stepping further into the room. Omi pushed himself upright, watching warily as the older man approached him. Meirth stepped into the doorway to watch him and Omi glanced from one to the other as Einsam eased onto the bed, seating himself at the foot of it. He stretched his legs out across it and rested his back against the wall, pulling a pen down from where it rested behind an ear, and he flipped the notebook open. When he was positioned, Meirth stepped further in the room to let their last man in. The Japanese assassin went and propped himself at the end of the bed, so that just the bed posts were between him and Einsam. He hadn't bothered to change; the bloody clothes he'd been wearing just a few hours ago were still on him. He'd gotten rid of the knives, though. Omi looked between the injured assassin and the bloody one, struggling to put two and two together. But two and two were making five; there was no way their team would allow such behavior.

      "He wants to talk to you," Nuboshi spoke up.

      "I don't want to talk to him," Omi answered easily. "Where am I? Where are my friends?"

      Omi really didn't like the smile on the older assassin's lips. He said something in English to Meirth, and the man answered. Einsam gave a quiet snort, liquid voice adding something else. Nuboshi glanced down at him before shrugging and looking back towards Omi. Omi was desperately wishing he knew English. "Far away from here," came the answer at length. "We aren't interested in them. You're here because Einsam thinks you're going to be useful somehow. How a florist is supposed to be any good for us is beyond me."

      'A florist'. Not, 'an assassin'. A florist. Did that mean they didn't know yet…?

      Omi told himself not to get his hopes up and eyed Einsam. Eyes the color of dried blood stared back, and he said something to Nuboshi. The man immediately translated. "He wants you to talk to him."

      "I don't want to."

      There was a crackle of warmth across his skin. If it had been pain, perhaps he would have been able to fight it with more strength. But it wasn't pain- it was the warmth of trust. He could feel himself relaxing despite his intentions to stay alert. "You can talk about anything," Nuboshi said. "He doesn't care what. You work at a sissy shop. Talk weeds for all we care."


      "Because we told you to," was the easy answer.

      ~Don't,~ Omi told himself. And his mind said, ~What can a monologue about flowers do to hurt?~ He fought to squish that thought and shivered as that warm touch slid through his veins. It was all right… ~No…~ he told himself, trying to be firm about it.

      "Are you going to translate for him?" he asked.

      "No." Nuboshi gave a shrug. "Just talk."

      Silence fell. Omi struggled with an internal war, the center of attention of the room as he stared at the Sequencer sitting just five feet from him. He fought to keep silent, fought to shake off the lethargic sense of safety and trust that was stealing over him. Minutes ticked by as he fought, and the three waited in patient silence. Einsam was studying his bare foot, and long fingers reached out to gently touch the swollen ankle. Blood ran down his fingertips, leaving two dark drops behind on pale skin when he moved his hand further up. Omi's clothes were torn, though how they'd gotten that way, he didn't know. Now Einsam was studying the material of his pants as he played with the hem, and the older assassin tilted his head to one side to consider them before eyeing the rest of his clothes. Finally he tucked his legs up, crawling further up the bed and dragging his notebook with him. He knelt to Omi's side, saying something.

      "Talk to me," Nuboshi answered.

      "Talk to me," Einsam echoed. He could reach Omi's face now, and warm fingertips ran over rounder cheeks and through lighter hair. He took Omi's chin, tilting his head so they could study each other. It gave Omi a good look at his eyes, and the sight of them sent a chill down his spine. They had a gleam to them he recognized from his few up close and personal fights with Farfarello. It was not a welcoming look; it was the gleam of someone who was hovering a little too close to the line of insanity. His gaze skimmed down Einsam's front. "Yes," Einsam said. The answer was in English but Omi knew at least that much, and he frowned up at Einsam.

      "He was answering your question," Nuboshi said, amused by the lost look on Omi's face.

      "I didn't ask one," Omi returned.

      "Yet." And he laughed.

      Omi struggled to figure out what he could have asked. Einsam's lips curved into a smile. There was a cold sort of amusement in his eyes and he moved his hand from Omi's chin to run his hands down his front. Fingernails raked harshly over one of the larger cuts across his front; Einsam's eyes unfocused for a moment as he inhaled sharply, and Omi flinched back from a look that didn't know whether to be pained or pleasured in Einsam's eyes. He glanced down the foot of the bed and saw the sharp attention Nuboshi had trained on Einsam now, his dark eyes almost hungry as Einsam lifted his fingers to his mouth to lick at the blood.

      "Did you do this to him?" Omi asked.

      "He already answered that."

      Meirth said something, the edge of his words impatient. Einsam's lips tightened for a moment into a thin line and then he pressed his fingers against Omi's nose. "Talk to me," he insisted.

      Omi eyed him for a long moment, wary of such a strange request. But his body was telling him to trust this, and as he was debating, Meirth vanished from the room. Omi listened to his footsteps fade. "Talk to him," Nuboshi said, moving around the bed to come stand behind Einsam. He reached out, hands curling over bloody, bare shoulders, and he leaned over the German to look at Omi. "If he doesn't get anything from you now, then I get him again until you're ready to cooperate."

      Omi knew he shouldn't care. But between the way the Sequencer had just gone rigid at Nuboshi's touch, the gruesome cuts across his too-thin body, and the warmth of Meirth's gift in his veins, he lost the fight. He pushed himself upright and leaned over, shoving Nuboshi's hands free from Einsam's shoulders. The older Japanese assassin took a step back, planting his hands on his hips as he waited. Omi glanced from one to the other.

      Talking about flowers couldn't be dangerous. He could talk for hours without ever giving away who he really was. There was a strong chance they already knew, or had some suspicion. But until they confirmed it, he could play stupid. He could talk flowers. That was safe enough. "My name is Tsukiyono Omi and I work at the Koneko no Sumu Ie…"

      He talked for over an hour. Nuboshi wandered off to the far side of the room, clearly bored with the topic, within the first ten minutes. Einsam, for all that he couldn't speak Japanese, was an attentive audience. His eyes stayed on Omi's the entire time and he held his notebook in his lap, idly nibbling on his pencil where it rested between his teeth. At last Omi ran out of things to say and Einsam studied him for a long moment after he fell silent. Finally a small, hollow smile curved his mouth and he crawled down to the end of the bed. Nuboshi came to stand beside him and they talked for several minutes. Omi watched them, wondering how they could get along when they'd been tearing each other apart previously. Madness… It was madness.

      "Bring Schwarz to mind," one of Nagi's notes had said. "Think of us how you imagine us to be, the heartless demons that haunt your dreams. Multiply that by about twenty and bring your wild imagination to life, and maybe you'll have Schatten on a good day."

      Despite his opinion of Schwarz, he couldn't bring himself to picture the other team treating each other in such a way. Teams couldn't survive if their individual members couldn't respect each other and work with them. Nagi hadn't been exaggerating in his summary of Schatten.

      It irked him to say the other youth was right.

      Finally the two were done. Einsam stared off into the distance for a while, then began scribbling furiously in his notebook. Nuboshi folded his arms over his chest and propped his shoulder against the wall. Einsam was singing idly to himself, a smooth voice under his breath, though the words faded out from time to time as he got too absorbed in what he was doing. He couldn't seem to be able to write fast enough; the edges of irritation touched his face as his pencil tore the paper but he kept going. Omi just stared, wondering what he was doing. Suddenly Einsam froze, staring at his notebook, and then he turned to stare at Omi. Then he burst out laughing, and he threw himself from the bed just as Meirth reappeared in the doorway. He crossed the room in a run, burying himself against Meirth, laughing into his chest. Two hands reached up to tangle in black hair and Einsam tilted his head back, saying something. His voice was quick, excited, and there was a bright sort of satisfaction in his gaze. Meirth stared down at him as he spoke, and threw a sharp look Omi's way after a few moments.

      Omi decided this was a Bad Thing.

      Nuboshi started laughing and said something, sounding highly entertained, and then leaned over the foot of the bed. Two hands planted themselves on the mattress as he stared over at Omi, and Omi sent a wary look his way. "You don't look like an assassin," the other man declared.

      "What gave you that ridiculous idea?" Omi wanted to know. His face could hold true to the lie; from Meirth's laugh, he couldn't hide the sharp stab of alarm over such words from the empath.

      Einsam was still talking, words tripping over themselves as he spoke. Then he said the wrong thing. Omi looked that way in time to see Meirth react, yellow eyes flying wide before narrowing to slits. A hand grabbed Einsam's shoulder, shoving him to arm's reach, and he snarled something. A vacant smile was on Einsam's mouth and the younger man tugged at his loose hair. He kept talking and Omi watched Meirth's expression darken. Nuboshi straightened and stalked over to the other two, grabbing Einsam's other shoulder to yank the man so he was facing sideways, able to see both of them. He said something and Einsam curled his lips back in a sneer, offering up a taunting response. Nuboshi shoved him back towards Meirth and whirled on Omi, storming over towards the bed.

      Omi struggled against the hand that grabbed him, but then he was being pulled off of the bed. His bad ankle refused to hold his weight and he gasped at the pain, instinctively grabbing at Nuboshi's arm so he could take the weight off it. "Kudou Yohji is Weiss?" Nuboshi demanded.

      Omi felt like he'd been hit in the stomach. It was all he could do to keep it off his expression. "Who?" he asked.

      Nuboshi hit him, one heavy fist cracking against his cheekbone. In the wake of the blow came a pain so cutting that Omi screamed. His vision gave out under the harsh agony and when it faded back in, he was on his back in bed. His legs were hanging over the side of the mattress and Nuboshi was leaning over him, one hand on his throat and the other squeezing his wrist. It was a grip just shy of doing serious damage to the joint, but Omi couldn't feel the warning pain under the rest of the fire that was threatening to eat him alive. He thought he heard a thud; his mind automatically catalogued it as the familiar sound of a body hitting the floor. Meirth appeared beside Nuboshi and leaned over as well, his fingers curling into a fist in Omi's hair as he pushed the youth's head further into the mattress.

      "Kudou Yohji is Weiss?" Nuboshi asked again.

      "No," came Omi's defiant answer.

      It was the last thing he remembered for a long time. When he could think again, he was crumpled on the ground, struggling for air. There was blood on the floor beneath him and it took him a moment to realize that he'd hacked it up. He was alone. The door was closed and Schatten was gone. He tried to straighten from where he was curled up but he couldn't move. Whatever Meirth had hit him with still lingered, and just thinking about moving was enough to make him spasm in pain again. The breaths he managed to suck in were thin and felt as if they were shredding his lungs.

      He had the sinking feeling that he'd given them the answer they wanted while blinded by agony.

      "Run, Yohji," he pleaded weakly against the hardwood floor. "Run…"

Part 16
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