17: Shatter

      It was half past five in the evening and the sun wasn't quite ready to give up and vanish for the night. The heat that had choked the city all day long still lingered, and those busy with errands hoped the evening breeze would come soon. They hurried on their way down the sidewalk, weaving around the small crowd spilling into their midst from the bus that was parked at the curb. Two men were left behind as the rest of the riders moved away. One remained at the curb, studying his surroundings as if debating which way to go. The other knew this area well, and crossed the sidewalk to take the steps up. The Magic Bus Hospital was set back from the street, and he slid one hand into his pocket as he started towards the doors. They slid open for him as he approached and the cool air washed over skin that had beaded with sweat in the hot bus ride here.

      He made his way to the front desk, smiling at the nurse who was on duty. "I'm looking for Fujimiya Ran and Hidaka Ken," he told her. "Can you tell me what room numbers they're in?"

      "I'm sorry, but we were told not to allow them visitors," was her response.

      His smile widened and he tapped the bouquet he was carrying lightly against his shirt. He heard footsteps as someone moved up behind him. "My name is Tsukiyono Omi," he told her. "I'm their coworker and the closest thing to kin they have. I'm sure you have the authority to let me through."

      She checked the file. He knew it was there. Kritiker knew he wasn't at the hospital, and would have it in there for him to be allowed to see the two. No doubt Yohji had the same access, though he was willing to bet the older man hadn't stepped foot in here. ~Some friend,~ his thoughts murmured, and he ignored the violent twitch in his stomach, keeping his expression sincere as he waited for the nurse to speak again.

      "They're on the fifth floor," came her answer at last. "Fujimiya-san is in 502, and Hidaka-san is down the hall in 517. I'm very sorry about yesterday's accident. I hope your friends recover quickly."

      "Thank you," he murmured, and stepped away from the desk. Behind him, she spoke to the next in line, asking them what she could help them with. He ignored her, finding his way to the elevator. There were a few others waiting there, mostly orderlies and one lady that was leaning heavily on her walker. He ignored them, more intent on getting to his teammates. Blue eyes watched as the numbers ticked down, and he idly fingered the plastic around the flowers he was carrying. His ankle protested him moving on it. The pain had been dulled but he could still feel it warning him to be careful with his weight. Limping was not the quickest way to get anywhere, and he idly wondered if they would have a crutch somewhere he could use.

      The elevator arrived and he boarded with the others, pressing the button for his floor. He was the second to get off; the walker lady had just been going to the next floor up. Two men were sitting just ten feet down the hall and they rose from their chairs when he left the elevator. They were dressed like police men, and he decided they were some of Kritiker's. Blue eyes moved past them, down the hall. Kritiker was bound to have more people here. They would have taken the explosion at the shop as a direct attack on Weiss. There were more police here, no doubt of it. There were some in the security rooms as well, perhaps, or watching through a hijacked line. No matter; that was already taken care of. He didn't have a computer of his own anymore, but the library had had some that suited his purposes just fine. It had been a little trickier without the system he was used to, but he had managed.

      "Tsukiyono-san," they greeted with no small bit of surprise. "Should you be up and moving around so soon?"

      "I'm fine," he assured them. "I just want to see my friends."

      "Birman had said your leg was broken…" one said, watching the way he was limping. The other noticed it as well and beckoned to the closest nurse.

      He tucked that aside for later, wondering why she had made up a story about him. "No, no, just twisted it." The nurse was quick in fetching him a crutch and he offered her a bright smile of thanks. She smiled back, perhaps thinking to herself what a cute little boy he was. Big smiles always made him look like a middle schooler; he'd heard it several times from his teammates. Shifting the bouquet to his other hand, he tucked the crutch under his arm and let the nurse adjust it for his height. She left to return to her station and Omi turned to the policemen, who were still standing. "A moment alone with them?" he asked.

      "Of course," they said, and he started hobbling off down the hall. One man offered his shoulder a squeeze as he passed. He'd seen the sorrow and sympathy in their eyes. Kritiker must have been shaken by the fall of the Koneko and the destruction of Weiss. Aya in a coma and Ken paralyzed… And Manx dead. He worried at his lower lip with his teeth, blue eyes moving over the room numbers. He was closer to Ken's but he wanted to see Aya first. He felt eyes on him as he moved, felt the weight of sad, knowing gazes. The orderlies were too busy to pay attention to one lone visitor, so he decided it was the rest of Kritiker's security. The Magic Bus must have been hell yesterday, taking care of everyone that was brought in from the wreckage.

      He found Aya in the same room as Aya-chan, and a wry smile pulled at his lips at the sight. One hand pushed the door shut beside him and he moved towards Aya's bed, setting his crutch against the nightstand to regard his older teammate. He reached out, trailing his fingers over a cool cheek, as his eyes took in all of the machinery around him. The room was quiet, save for the soft hum of the machines and the little blips of two heart beats. He gave a quiet sigh, setting his bouquet down on Aya's stomach. Steady fingers undid the ribbons and unwrapped the plastic. Lying between the stems was a long knife, and he lifted it, turning it this way and that before him.

      His hands started trembling and he wondered why, running the tip of the blade over his lower lip. Blue eyes studied a face smooth in sleep, and then he shifted closer. "Takatori," he murmured. "Funny how you let a name choose who you hate…" His heart twisted and he closed his eyes, taking in a deep breath. The pain twisted deep. If Aya's eyes were open, they'd be looking at him with barely concealed loathing. Aya hadn't wanted anything to do with Weiss… Hadn't wanted to do anything with *him*. All of the times he'd shut the door in Omi's face, all of the times he'd shrugged off Omi's hand, all of the times he turned down every attempt at friendship… It all was because of a name. It was a hatred that had started months ago and it had never stopped.

      Well, Omi had given up on being Aya's friend. The resentment towards the older man for his behavior towards their teammates and his completely rejection and scorn of Omi burned hot, and it had long ago twisted to hatred. His fingernails dug lightly into Aya's cheeks. Well, now Aya was where he wanted him. This was a sleep that the redhead wasn't going to wake up from.

      His lips were trembling and he pressed them into a hard line, telling himself it was a foolish reaction. He moved the knife to Aya's throat, sliding it across lightly at first, adding just enough pressure to watch the skin peel back faintly under the blade. He wondered at the way his hands were starting to shake so badly, blinking rapidly when his vision blurred in front of him. One hand rested on the hilt of the knife, and the heel of the other moved to rest on the dull edge of the blade. Behind him, the door opened, but he ignored the man who had joined him. One quick breath and he shoved, throwing his weight behind the push.

      Blood went everywhere, and he jerked back from the spray. An alarm went off beside him and he reached out with one hand, flicking the machine off. The other hand went to his face, wiping the blood out of the way. He'd scrambled the alarms on the main systems for the hospital at the library earlier, so he knew the nurses wouldn't have a clue what had just happened.

      Two hands rested on his shoulders and a chin propped itself on his head as he watched blood gush from Aya's neck wound. "A bit messy," Nuboshi decided, "but not bad all the same." He straightened and moved around Omi, reaching out to pull the blade free of severed flesh. Omi turned away as he licked it clean, telling himself to revel in the joy of revenge. Aya was gone. He was dead. He wiped his hands on his shirt and then scrubbed at his face, roughly wiping away blood and tears. Nuboshi grinned, picking up the bouquet. A few sharp hacks and they were in pieces. Petals, leaves, and stems scattered all over the mess. Nuboshi studied it for a moment before handing the knife back, and Omi slipped it into one of his pockets. Blood was starting to run onto the floor, and the older assassin stepped out of the way to keep his shoes from getting messy.

      "One down," he said. Omi glanced back at him, studying the surgeon's uniform he'd acquired from the first floor. Appropriate dress, he supposed, for someone with Nuboshi's tastes. Besides, it was baggy enough that he could fit all of his favorite knives under it. He had brought a lot with him, hungry for the chance to play. Nuboshi turned and pointed towards the door, and Omi glanced that way to see a cart. "Change," he said. "You're too messy."

      Omi grabbed his crutch and did as he was told, pausing a moment as he fetched his second shirt from underneath the cart's tarp. Blue eyes studied the axe that rested there with some interest and he reached out to touch the blade before rising. A glance back as he changed showed Nuboshi was studying the sleeping girl.

      "Who is she?" Nuboshi asked.

      "Aya's younger sister," Omi answered. He saw the smile that spread on the other man's lips and turned away to finish changing shirts. He used a clean corner of his first one to wipe at his hands and face, and he left the sonic there to take care of the second sleeping patient. Down the hall he went, past the elevator and the policemen. He didn't have to look to know that they were dead. Nuboshi had taken care of them upon his arrival, though on first glance it looked like the two were just dozing off. He watched the doors and finally let himself into Ken's room.

      The problem was, Ken was awake.

      Well… not for long.

      "Afternoon," he greeted, and he shut the door behind him.


      Ken kept his eyes on his nightstand as someone stepped into his room. He wasn't interested in visitors. Yesterday was a hazy day in his memory, thanks to all of the drugs they'd pumped into his system. He remembered enough, though. Remembered the shop coming down on their heads, and Yohji being there. He remembered being taken to the hospital. He remembered a teary Birman and a doctor telling him he would never walk again. He remembered hearing that Aya was in a coma and that they didn't think he was going to wake up any time soon.

      He remembered the last two the best.

      It had been years since he'd last cried, but that's what he'd done as soon as they left his room and gave him privacy for the night. He'd buried his face in his hands and wept- for the shop, for the girls, for Aya, for himself. He didn't know how long he'd cried but it had *hurt*. The thought that Omi was elsewhere in the hospital with broken limbs, and Aya was in a coma, and he was going to be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life… And Yohji was still out there, somewhere, though the Cattleyas on his nightstand couldn't be from anyone else. They'd been delivered sometime when he was in a drugged sleep. He liked the drugs because they knocked him out where he couldn't think. He didn't want to think, because he was pretty sure he was going to lose it again.

      Aya was a fucking *vegetable* and he would never walk again. He'd already lost the J-League. He'd already killed Kase with his own hand. What the hell else did they want from him? He was never going to walk again. He was never going to stand on his own, or go for jogs in the park, or swim. Ever again. Handicapped… Cripple.


      His head popped in the direction of the door to see Omi closing it behind him. The boy offered him a smile, hobbling towards the bed on his crutch. The relief at seeing him was painful. He'd had an endless round of Kritiker and doctors in the last thirty hours or so, and with Yohji on the loose and Aya out for the count… He was so glad to see Omi, and he reached for the youth. "God, Omi…" he managed, but his voice was hoarse. "I'm so glad you're here."

      Omi's smile was thin. He set the crutch aside, propping it against the wall, and took one of Ken's hands with his own. Ken closed his other over it, practically squeezing the life from him. There wasn't a railing on that side of the bed, so he pulled his unresisting teammate down to the mattress to hug him. Omi's other hand worked through his hair, fingers moving gently against his scalp. Ken took a deep, shuddering breath, and the air caught on the back of his throat. He hesitated, then moved his arms so he could push Omi up a little. "Omi?" he asked, concerned. "You smell like blood."

      "Aya bled a lot," was the answer.

      Ken pushed himself up from his bed as far as he could go, fingers tightening on the mattress. He clonked heads with Omi in the move and the boy fell back a step, rubbing at his forehead with a small frown on his lips. "What?" he asked, voice tight. "Omi, what? What's wrong with Aya? What happened? God, please don't tell me something happened." He didn't think he'd be able to take it if something else had gone wrong.

      Omi was studying his legs, and he reached out to touch them through the sheets. "They said you're paralyzed," he said.

      "Omi, what's wrong with Aya?" He grabbed at Omi's shoulders, giving him a small shake as he forced the boy to look at him.

      Omi's smile was sweet- and very wrong. There was a lazy, pleased satisfaction in his blue eyes that chilled Ken to the bone. "I killed him," was the answer, and he pulled Ken's numb fingers from his shoulders. "He didn't put up much of a struggle."

      Ken couldn't breathe. He thought he was going to be sick, and he pressed his hand against his mouth. "Fuck you, Omi," he choked out. "Don't even joke about such things right now. There's nothing funny about this."

      Omi's smile just widened and he slid a long knife from his pocket. The blade was clean but the hilt was messy with blood, and the way it glistened said it was fresh. Omi tapped the flat of the blade against his cheek, turning bright blue eyes on Ken. "You're awake. It makes it harder. But you can't run." He seemed to find that amusing, because he threw back his head and started laughing.

      Ken lurched to one side, hand flying out for the nurse's button. He didn't know what the fuck was wrong with Omi but the stress of yesterday must have cracked him somehow. He didn't want the boy in his room, didn't want him standing there and saying such horrible things.

      He saw silver flash and couldn't move his hand in time. Pain flared up fire hot in his hand, and he jerked it back with a strangled sound. Omi eyed the blood on his knife as Ken clutched his hand to his chest. His mind was reeling as he tried to comprehend the fact that it was *OMI* standing in front of him with a knife, *OMI* who had just struck him with it. The boy's smile widened, and there was a bitter edge to it as he turned his attention back on Ken. Ken watched tears bead up in his eyes and watched them roll down his cheeks, but the youth didn't seem to notice them. Something hard and cold settled in Ken's stomach, and his heart gave a horrendous twist.

      "You're joking about Aya…" he whispered.

      "Ask him yourself," was the answer, and Omi moved.

      Ken swore, struggling to think, struggling to process this. He instinctively caught Omi as the boy threw himself at him, catching him by the wrists. Omi used his momentum to swing up onto the bed, landing heavily on Ken's waist. The painkillers were dying out and the pain at Omi's landing made him cry out. He fought to keep his eyes open, struggling to keep a hold on Omi. He may be paralyzed, but he was still the strongest one in the group, and he threw the younger boy off of him. Years of working out kept him in shape and he needed to have strength to use his bugnuks efficiently. Omi hit the floor in a clumsy heap and snarled a curse, and Ken hit the nurse button with his fist several times.

      Omi pushed himself to his feet, needing two tries because his ankle wouldn't hold him. The smile was gone from his lips and he started forward again, moving too fast than could be healthy for whatever injury he had, and he launched himself at the bed once more. Ken threw himself against the far side of the bed, hitting the railing and listening to it shudder under his weight. Omi's knife tore a gouge in his mattress and he caught the boy's wrist.

      "Omi, stop it! What the hell is wrong with you?!"

      The door flew open, and Omi turned to see who had come. Ken took his chance and decked the younger assassin, sending him stumbling back. The knife was left behind in the mattress, and Birman caught him. "Birman, he's lost it," Ken told her, eyes wild. She needed no further encouragement from him, and a sharp blow to the back of his neck had Omi crumpling. She left him where he fell, hurrying towards the bed. She didn't understand but her first priority was Ken, who was bleeding all over the place. Nurses appeared in the doorway, making distressed noises as they tried to figure out what was going on.

      She took his hand, studying the gash that ran from the base of his pinky to just past his wrist. "What happened?" she demanded, pulling the knife free to set aside before helping Ken settle in the middle of his bed. She was trying to get him to relax against the sheets but he was too high strung to relax, staring past her towards where Omi was on the floor. "Ken!" She grabbed his chin, turning him to look at her. He could see his reflection in her eyes, could see his own horrified gaze staring back at him.

      "He- he's nuts, Birman," he choked out. "Said something about killing Aya, and then he came at me with a knife, and- and- God! What's going on, Birman?"

      "Go check on Fujimiya," Birman sent over her shoulder, and the nurses vanished. Two Kritiker agents remained. "It's all right, Ken," she soothed him. "It's all right…"

      He buried his face in his hands, ignoring the way she was trying to use a handkerchief from her purse to dab at the blood. "It isn't all right," he told her. "Nothing's all right anymore. Yohji's missing, Omi's lost it, and Aya-" He choked that off. "Is Aya all right? Is Aya fine?"

      "I'm sure he's fine, Ken," she reassured him, but her voice was tight. "You two, bring Omi back to Kritiker. I want someone to talk to him and figure out what's going on. I'm going to stay here with Ken."

      They nodded sharply and collected the unconscious youth, vanishing from the doorway quickly. Birman was doing her best to calm Ken down, but he couldn't. He felt like he was going to lose it right there, and he could hear the monitors around him as they echoed his agitated heart beat. Birman gave up on his hand, deciding it wasn't deep enough to worry about, and settled herself on the edge of the bed to pull him into a tight embrace. He clung to her, burying his face against her shoulder.

      There was a footstep as someone joined them, and Birman glanced back. "Fujimiya?" she asked.

      "He's fine," was the answer. It was a man, not one of the female nurses they'd sent. There was the sound of the door closing. "I should look at that hand," he said, and shoes clicked against the hard floor as he started towards them.

      The relief was painful, and Ken sucked in a ragged breath of air. Omi had just been deranged. Aya was fine. Aya was fine. Aya was fine. Birman's arms tightened around him. "See?" she told him, but he could hear the heavy relief in her voice as well. "I told you. It's all right." The doctor was at her side then and she shifted, trying to move so he could tend to the cut. She pushed herself just a foot down the mattress, turning so she could see both the doctor and her employee. Ken looked up, an instinctive glance towards the doctor now that Birman had slid out of the way.

      His heart stopped in his chest.

      There was no time to shout a warning. There was a flash of silver and a blur of black and gold, followed by the thick thud of a blade hitting home. Birman had time for one gurgled sound, expression frozen in shock. Blood trickled from her lips as she stared down at the axe that was buried in her chest. Ken could just stare, mouth working soundlessly. The blade of the weapon was enormous and had cut straight through her breastbone, and one curled edge peeked out of her shoulder. The man- Schatten's Nuboshi- gave a rough jerk on the axe handle to pull her from the bed. With a vicious shake of the weapon she fell free and dropped heavily to the floor. Nuboshi ignored her, dark eyes on the form sitting in front of him. His axe was propped lazily against his shoulder, and a long, thin blade was held in his other hand. Ken stared up at the man for a long moment, frozen in place by shock, and then lunged for the nurse call button again.

      He never saw the other man move. One second he was moving towards the alarms, and the next the thin blade was through his hand, pinning it to the wall. He yelled in pain, grabbing at his wrist as blood ran down his palm. Wild eyes turned on the man in front of him and he sucked in a deep breath to call an alert to someone. One hand grabbed him by his face and shoved him back against the bed, nearly crushing his head into his pillow. A hot palm that smelled of blood completely covered his mouth, and a face hovered just a breath away from his own.

      "Don't call for them," the man murmured, a light chastisement. "You'll end the fun far too quickly."


      Schuldich cut himself off mid-sentence, his food halfway to his mouth. He forgot that he was talking, staring across the table at Crawford. He shifted his gaze to the right to stare towards the doorway, letting his eyes fall out of focus as he listened to his gift. People were dying, one after the other. Two minds that were in a deep unconscious state were given the push they needed to slip away, just a few minutes apart. The first one didn't make him take notice. The second one, he ignored as well. When three people died just a few minutes later, that was when he stopped eating and decided it was time to check things out. He stretched his gift out, trying to get a feel for what was going on.

      He found Nuboshi's mind first, and tagged him at the hospital. With a mental curse, he did a quick rummaging around, and realized that the first two to go had been the Fujimiya siblings. He shot across the mental field to find Hidaka, and he found the younger man's mind to be a mess. He dug around quickly, trying to figure out what was going on, and cursed fluidly when he realized Meirth had sent Tsukiyono to visit his teammates. A search showed the youngest Weiss unconscious and moving away from the hospital, and Schuldich bounced quickly back to Nuboshi. The sonic was going looking for Schatten's second target.

      //Get out of the room,// Schuldich told Crawford and Nagi. //Kudou's about to fucking lose it.//

      ~What happened?~ Nagi demanded.

      //The Fujimiyas are dead,// Schuldich answered, letting his silverware fall back to his plate. //Nuboshi and Tsukiyono paid them a visit, and Nuboshi's heading for Hidaka now.// He did a quick glance around, looking for Kritiker's guards. They had to be there somewhere… He came across just one, and gave the man a sharp mental poke to go draw his gun on the sonic. It wouldn't do him any good; Nuboshi would hear him coming and kill him before he could blink.

      Silence reigned for a long moment across the bond as his teammates considered that. Finally Nagi glanced Kudou's way. Kudou noticed the look and glanced from Schuldich to the younger assassin. ~You tell him, and I knock him out?~ the telekinetic asked.

      ~He has to react,~ was Crawford's response. He pushed his glasses further up on his face, closing his eyes as he lightly squeezed the bridge of his nose. ~If he doesn't react now, he will later, and he has to be level headed when we need him to be.~

      //If you think he's going to be level headed anytime in the next *month* after I tell him this, you're being stupidly optimistic,// Schuldich sent at him, mental voice sharp. In his mind, Birman fell dead. Just a few moments later, the guard did as well. There were other people in the hospital who could be sent on Nuboshi, but Hidaka was a lost cause. Schuldich heard his coherent thoughts give away to mental screaming and quickly let the man's mind fall out of focus. //Fucking hell.//

      Crawford got up from his seat and left the room. Nagi was quick to follow. Farfarello didn't budge, and Schuldich heard two doors shut further down the hall. The look Kudou turned on him was alarmed. The retreat of the two told him that something was wrong, but there was no way he was going to be prepared for what Schuldich was going to tell him. The telepath quickly dug through the hospital, searching for more security guards to taken on Nuboshi. He couldn't do shit for Hidaka but if Nuboshi didn't walk away alive, it'd be great.

      He heard Einsam laughing in his mind, and lurched back in his chair as the youth opened his mind and *pushed* his sequences straight at the telepath. Schuldich managed a strangled sound of pain and surprise, lurching back in his chair. His knee cracked against the table and it shook under the impact, and Farfarello grabbed his chair to keep him from falling. Schuldich clapped both hands to his head, leaning over as he tried not to be sick from so much mental noise. He swore long and loud, a tangled mix of languages, voice muffled against his jeans.

      Fucking link!

      He struggled to untangle himself, sharpening Farfarello's mind in his own to try and block out some of the noise. Then the jumble was gone, yanked back into place by the younger German.

      Hidaka's mind had vanished as well.

      Schuldich stretched out once more and forced the guards into action, throwing Nuboshi's location into their minds. It was a waste of time; the sonic would be past them in seconds. Hidaka was forced to be a quick kill because of Schuldich's interference, but there was no way he would be caught leaving. Indeed, he could feel Nuboshi's mind racing through the mental field, and then it was gone as he vanished out of range.

      "A painful death to every Sequencer," Schuldich muttered, letting Farfarello pull him upright. The Irishman's mouth was pulled in a tight line; he'd picked up on Einsam's hit through his gift. Kudou was staring at them. Schuldich took a long swallow from his water and pushed himself up from his chair, going around the table to stand on Kudou's other side. The younger man slowly stood up, and Farfarello got to his feet as well, so now Weiss's eldest stood between them. Schuldich studied him for a moment, wondering the best way to go about this. "I've got good news and bad news," he said.

      "Oh?" Kudou bit out, standing tense between them.

      Schuldich was trusting Farfarello to be quick enough, because he had a feeling Kudou was going to go for his throat. "The good news is, Fujimiya didn't feel a thing." He brushed his bangs out of his face, continuing with just the slightest hesitation. "The bad news is Schatten just killed him and Hidaka."

      For a long moment, nobody moved. Kudou just stared at him, green eyes blank as his mind refused to process those words. His face was completely expressionless and Schuldich watched him closely for signs of a break down or attack. Kudou's mind had gone dead, and he decided that was a bad thing. The silence stretched on for another minute, and then Kudou finally whispered, "What?" It was a ragged, hoarse word.

      "Nuboshi found them at the hospital-"

      Kudou came for him, and Farfarello reacted instantly. Pale arms caught him, pinning Kudou's own arms to his side, and dragged him back a foot before he could get his fingers on Schuldich. Kudou's chair was kicked in the struggle and crashed to the ground. "You're lying," Kudou breathed. "You're lying." Schuldich said nothing. He just stood there and stared as he waited for it to finally click. He could hear Kudou's mind wake up and he quickly dropped it back into the hum of everyone else's noise, not wanting to listen to it. "You're LYING."

      "He killed Kritiker's guards," Schuldich said. "They couldn't stop him. But Tsukiyono's still alive," he pointed out. He decided not to tell him that it was his youngest teammate who'd killed Fujimiya. There were some things people just didn't need to know.

      Kudou didn't seem to hear him. He began to fight Farfarello viciously, struggling to get free so he could come at Schuldich. Schuldich stayed where he was, watching him with a guarded expression. He was definitely making Farfarello fight to keep a hold on him, and Schuldich almost wondered if he should lend the Irishman a hand. The Balinese was cursing him in a ragged voice, calling him a liar, damning him for his sick jokes. And behind it all, behind the anger and the hate, Schuldich could see despair and fear in his eyes as his thoughts asked ~What if it's not a joke?~

      Schuldich stepped towards him, hands coming up to Kudou's face. One palm rested on each cheek and, surprisingly, Kudou went still. From this close Schuldich could see that he was trembling all over. He tilted Kudou's head towards him, green and blue holding each other, and he let Kudou see the truth in his eyes. "They're gone," he told him.

      He watched the denial shatter like shards of glass, watched the fight drain out of Kudou as he stared back and realized that this wasn't a joke, that Schuldich was being dead serious. He watched the blood drain from the younger man's face as raw anguish and horror colored his gaze. Kudou gave a thick, despairing moan, and his legs gave out from under him. Farfarello let him drop to the floor, following him there, and Schuldich knelt in front of him. Kudou was staring at the floor, numb as Schuldich's announcement ate away at his heart.

      "Kudou," he said. The man didn't seem to notice, and he touched his face again. "Kudou, look at me." He touched the man's thoughts again and he could *hear* them breaking as everything the man believed in and lived for gave out from under him. He'd been the bearer of bad news before, but it was usually news of his own making being announced to Schwarz's targets. And while he'd contemplated, long ago, how much fun it would be to take Weiss apart, it was somehow different now. This time he didn't let Kudou's mind go, and he tucked it closer as he listened. He flicked his fingers at Farfarello and the Irishman drew his arms back. Kudou sagged a little more towards the floor, hands propping himself up as his eyes stared through the linoleum. He took the other man's chin, forcing his head up, but the assassin wouldn't focus on him. "Kudou," he tried. No recognition. "*Yohji*."

      Green eyes locked on his face, and he wanted to flinch back. He'd seen the look in Kudou's eyes on another face a long time ago, and it wasn't something he had ever wanted to see again. His stomach gave a violent twist but his expression betrayed nothing. "They're gone," he told him, and it came out quiet.

      "Gone." Kudou's lips moved around the word, but no sound came. His hands lifted from the floor, shaking fingers touching Schuldich's face first before moving to his own. Fingernails dug pink lines in his cheeks as his hands moved towards his hair, and he made fists in the honey colored locks.

      He was up from the floor faster than they could blink, knocking Schuldich back as he started for the door. Farfarello missed on his grab and by then Schuldich had recovered, pushing himself up and throwing his fast speed into use. He reached the doorway right before Kudou did, turning around to catch him just a breath before the other man slammed into him. The impact threw him back and he brought Kudou with him, slamming into the wall of the hallway. It shuddered under their combined weight and Farfarello planted himself in the hallway, in between the two and the door. Kudou fought Schuldich, hitting and shoving, and the telepath struggled to keep a hold on him. The man managed to jerk out of his grasp and tried for the door again, but Schuldich shoved himself away from the wall and caught him, arms around his shoulders as he forced them both to the ground. Kudou ended up on his hands and his knees, and Schuldich was only absently aware that he was screaming at them in strained Japanese. He stayed where he was on Kudou's back, arms tightening around the other man.

      "You can't help them," he told Kudou. "You can't help them now. They're dead, and Nuboshi's gone. There was nothing anyone could do. They're gone. They're *gone*." One of Kudou's hands was twisted in his hair and he grit his teeth against the pain. Farfarello crouched in front of them, and Schuldich turned his head enough to meet the Irishman's gaze even as he spoke in Kudou's ear. "They're gone."

      Kudou pushed himself up from the floor and Farfarello caught his shoulders, planting him back on his knees when he tried to rise to his feet. Kudou went for Farfarello's good eye with his free hand and the teenager twisted his face away, catching his wrist. Kudou fought to get away, releasing Schuldich's hair to use his other hand, and Farfarello had to let go or risk irreparable damage to Kudou's wrist in the fight. Weiss's eldest managed an elbow to Schuldich's side and the telepath grunted as it hit him. Farfarello caught Kudou's shoulders and shoved, half rising to his feet to get enough force behind the push. It forced Kudou to catch himself with his forearms on the ground or his face would hit the polished wood and Schuldich shifted his grip, one boot catching against the ground so he didn't slide off of the brunette. Farfarello was watching Kudou intently, hands ready in case the man tried once more to get up and to the door.

      Kudou shuddered underneath him, sucking in air in ragged gulps. Schuldich let his eyes drop from Farfarello, staring over Kudou's shoulder at the floor instead. Kudou lifted one hand from the ground, moving it to cover his mouth. He was shaking still; Schuldich was draped over top of him and he could feel the younger man trembling badly beneath him. "Ohhhh God," Kudou moaned, muffled through his hand. Schuldich could hear Einsam laughing in his mind again and he blocked out the other German's mocking thoughts, arms tightening around the man beneath him. Kudou gave another violent shake and Schuldich could hear the strangled sound in the back of his throat. He looked towards Farfarello, who was staring at Kudou's bowed head. The teenager looked up when he felt Schuldich's eyes on him. This wasn't something either of them were used to dealing with. It was something they'd never had to do, and neither was quite sure how to react.

      Schuldich carefully eased himself off of Kudou but refused to relinquish his grip, and he pulled the younger man to his feet with only a little difficulty. He doubted the other man noticed he was being moved as horror completely replaced denial. Schuldich didn't look back at Farfarello but pulled Kudou with him down the hall. Crawford's bedroom was the furthest from the front door, and Schuldich's came next. The door opened for them as Farfarello touched on Nagi's gift, and Schuldich shut it behind him with a foot. He sent out a mental word to the others and he knew they were going to return to the kitchen. They didn't want to be on this half of the house when Kudou lost it.

      ~Just leave him here,~ his mind told him. ~It's his problem to deal with.~

      Kudou wasn't interested in going any further and sagged towards the ground, dragging Schuldich with him. Schuldich wanted to let go and leave, wanted to go back down the hall and drop Kudou's mind so he could go back to eating. He didn't give a shit about Weiss. They meant nothing to him. But Weiss was completely destroyed right now. Fujimiya and Hidaka were gone and Tsukiyono had been rewired by Meirth. Kudou's team had just been yanked away from him, and Schwarz still needed him for this.

      ~Leave him here,~ his mind told him.

      He'd never heard a grown man cry before. Not like this.

      Kudou was buried against him, his head against the telepath's shoulder. One of his arms was stuck between their bodies; the other was wrapped around Schuldich so his fingers could clench in the material of the German's shirt. He was shaking with the force of his grief and Schuldich just stared down at the younger assassin's bowed head.

      ~Leave him here,~ his mind said again.

      Schuldich stayed.

Part 18
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