20: Do you trust me?

      Schuldich didn't go into the room with Kudou. He took over the receptionist's chair instead, propping his feet up on her desk. It had taken some work to get Kritiker's agents to pull back from the morgue so they could come visit. The receptionist had been sent on a very early lunch break and the man who was currently in charge here had been convinced that it was all right for Kudou to go see his teammates. He'd rolled out their bodies for Kudou to see and Schuldich had then sent him to take a walk. That left Schuldich here to entertain himself while the younger man paid his last respects to the rest of Weiss. Schuldich had told him this morning that Tsukiyono was gone, deciding it was better to tell him then than to take him to the morgue and have him find three corpses waiting for him. Schuldich stayed away from his mind, telepathy searching to make sure no one was coming back. He knew not to expect any trouble from Meirth today- he could feel Einsam's mind twisting and turning on the link as the empath fought to put him back together.

      They were there for almost an hour when Kudou returned. His expression was the same blank mask it had been the previous night and his green eyes were dark. He said nothing but started towards the door, and Schuldich pushed himself up to follow. There were only three cars in the parking lot and neither spoke until they were inside theirs. Kudou didn't bother with his seat belt but stared out the windshield for a long moment. Schuldich neglected his own as well, twisting the key in the ignition before rolling down his window. Finally Kudou shifted in his chair, half turning to face Schuldich, and the telepath glanced that way. For the first time since the man had collapsed yesterday, Schuldich had a feeling Kudou was actually looking at him instead of through him.

      "Schuldich, I need a drink," he said.

      "You do realize that it's half past ten in the morning," Schuldich returned, glancing towards the clock on the dashboard.

      "Schuldich, please. I need a drink."

      Schuldich had the distinct feeling that 'a' drink didn't mean one, and he debated over it for a moment before decided that there wasn't any harm in it. Kritiker knew about Schwarz and Schatten now, he'd gleamed in a late night poke that direction, but if they went looking for the team and their missing agent, a bar wasn't going to be on their list of places to search at this time of day. Meirth's men were going to stick to his subdivision and so was Meirth, switching back and forth between the two he needed to work on. A drink might actually be the best thing to give Kudou right now- a drink or five or ten.

      Kudou took his sigh to be agreement and said nothing else, lowering his gaze to where his fingers were laced together in his lap. The closest place Schuldich knew of was four streets down, but there wasn't room for the car there. They left the car in a parking garage a five minute walk away and headed down the sidewalk side by side. The place they went to was a foreigners' joint, half a bar, half a pizza place, and the food half was the only reason it was open already. It was a small place on the corner of an intersection called Evolution, and the neon outline of a fish with legs marked it. They settled themselves at the counter and ordered drinks, as Schuldich decided that it wouldn't hurt to have a drink of his own, despite the time of day.

      He took his time with his glass and was still on his first when Kudou finished his third. He wondered if he should tell Kudou to slow it down and decided it was the younger man's liver and therefore his call. Even so, he asked, "In a hurry?"

      For some reason, Kudou laughed at that. Schuldich wasn't interested in touching his mind to find out why. He'd hear the reason and every other angsty thought Kudou was having at the moment, and he'd rather skip out on the latter. He decided to wait and see if Kudou would explain himself, blue eyes watching as the younger assassin ordered his next drink.

      "I think that settles it," Kudou said, and Schuldich was surprised the man was thinking straight enough to switch to talking in English. The bartenders knew some English, but only enough to take their orders from foreigners that couldn't get the Japanese out, and they were standing just six feet away to watch a baseball game on TV. "I think I should have expected them to die. I mean, I already failed everyone *else*. I was just fooling myself if I thought I was good enough for them." He sucked down half of his glass and held the glass up to consider it. "Turned out just like he did," he said, "despite her attempts to make me into something better. She wanted me to be something real, and look at everything I've become. Haven't written her in forever, because I have no clue what I'd say. How do you tell your mother you're a murderer?" He contemplated his cup for a moment more before taking a long swallow and looking at Schuldich. "What would you say to yours?"

      Schuldich gave a slight shake of his head. "I think you're too fixed on grieving and angsting to want to hear it," he said. "Things are different with Rosenkreuz. It's not like the real world."

      "But Schuldich…" Kudou wanted some sort of answer, and Schuldich didn't have one anywhere close to what the man wanted to hear. He gave it to the man anyway, his voice almost amused as he watched the way the younger man reacted.

      "There's no one left to tell," Schuldich said, "and what I do now wouldn't be their business, anyway. I'm Rosenkreuz's." His mother had died when he was three, but he'd stolen memories of her from his father when he was nine, wanting to know what sort of person she'd been. His father had died when Schuldich was twelve because he'd tried to stop Rosenkreuz from taking Einsam and Schuldich away. That had been twelve years ago, and a lot of shit stood between now and then. Once upon a time the memory had hurt. Once upon a time was a long time ago when he had so many other things to haunt him.

      Kudou considered this for a while. Silence stretched between them for a few minutes as Kudou finished his drink and ordered another. That one was almost gone when his train of thought picked up again and he moved on down the list. "Asuka," he murmured. "I failed her twice, once as herself, and once as Neu." He studied his hands, and his fingers were shaking. "With these hands…" he said, voice ragged.

      "You don't know that they were the same person," Schuldich said.

      "You do." Green eyes flicked up and caught Schuldich's gaze, and Kudou moved before Schuldich could think to dodge. He grabbed Schuldich's arms and pulled him forward, but their stools were close enough that this almost dragged Schuldich into Kudou's lap. Schuldich had one hand on the younger man's shoulder and the other on the counter, bracing himself, and he tilted his head back away from Kudou's intent look. "You know. Tell me, Schuldich. Tell me the truth."

      "The truth?" Schuldich asked him. "Asuka died years ago."

      "But Neu…"

      "They had the same body," Schuldich told him, "but the minds were different. You killed the body but her mind was lost years ago. They were two entirely different women, and if any of Asuka was left crushed in there, she was probably quite happy to be released when you killed Neu. Neu was in love with a madman that turned people to monsters and had people of all ages slaughtered for his experiments, and she aided him in his hunting if he wanted her to. That sound like the woman you knew? Did they act at all alike?"

      Kudou thought on that, unsure whether to be relieved or disappointed in what Schuldich told him. At last he said, "They chose different tables. Asuka liked to see the sea. Neu sat in the far corner away from the windows."

      "Right. Now let go." Schuldich reached up and pried at Kudou's fingers, and the man unhanded him. Schuldich resettled himself on his booth and ordered a second drink. Kudou mulled over Schuldich's words for two drinks. The telepath didn't know if what he'd said would have any sort of effect on the younger man, but he knew it was going to take Kudou a while to come to terms with it. Kudou's issues with Asuka and Neu had kept him entertained once upon a time; he knew the damage from both deaths ran deep.

      "And Weiss…" Kudou murmured at last, his greatest perceived failure in life. "I couldn't do a damn thing to save them, any of them." His voice was raw with pain and his hand shook on his glass, but his eyes were clear. Despite seeing his friends' faces at the morgue and the alcohol he was inhaling, he wasn't about to lose it in public. Schuldich was relieved. Kudou didn't elaborate on his team, and Schuldich decided it was because he didn't want to put into words that they had been murdered. "Look," Kudou said, with a short, bitter laugh. "I'm not even good enough to do what Schwarz wants. I'm failing absolutely everyone that ever hoped for something from me."

      Green eyes flicked towards Schuldich but Schuldich didn't bother to return the look, finishing off his second cup and beckoning for another. Just one more, perhaps. Kudou went ahead and ordered another, and Schuldich tried to do a mental count of how many the other man had had so far. A quick glance towards his face told Schuldich that he'd definitely had enough, judging by the shine to his eyes and the small slur to his words. "I came here to protect my friends and I couldn't do that. You brought me here to be some sort of help against Schatten and I can't do that, either. They know who I am. 'Useful,' he said. How the hell am I useful to anyone? Nagi's gone and I just lost my team. It's a good thing you have Farfarello, isn't it? *I'm* sure as hell no good to you."

      "Well," Schuldich started to say, but the other man didn't hear him.

      "There was Hasagawa," Kudou said, and hearing the name spoken out loud had Schuldich forcibly restraining himself from flinching. He turned a sharp look on the other man, blue eyes dark in a warning. It didn't matter that Kudou was intoxicated or that he was grieving his team; Schuldich didn't want to talk about this. "It still happened. I didn't get there in time to prevent anything. And Schatten. I don't really know anything about them other than what you had to teach me, and I don't have the powers to fight 'em, anyway. I couldn't protect *them* and I can't protect you."

      "Keep in mind that it's not your job to protect me," Schuldich said, voice edged.

      "No…" Kudou thought about it for a long moment, green eyes just staring at Schuldich. "But I still think I would have liked to."

      Schuldich laughed at him, a mocking sound, and he reached into Kudou's mind to push Weiss to the background. He took Kudou's reaction to and realization of their deaths and pushed it out of the way for now, wanting to keep the grief out of this. He watched Kudou's expression clear as he forced the tangled thoughts back, watched as Kudou seemed to return to his old self as he temporarily forgot all about his fallen team. "And what, one wonders, did that sort of nonsense spring out from?" he asked.

      "Because I understand you," Kudou answered. "Because you're not a good man, but you're not a bad person, or you wouldn't give two shits about anyone on Schwarz. You wouldn't worry about Nagi, you wouldn't have reacted to Crawford's injury last night in such a way, and your little thing with Farfarello wouldn't be such a hopeless mess."

      "It's complicated," Schuldich sent back, swallowing from his fourth drink.

      "'Complicated' is the worst excuse I've ever heard for not getting any ass."

      "And why the hell are you so interested in my sex life, anyway?" Schuldich demanded. Perhaps it had been better to leave Weiss there. Neither conversation was one he wanted to have, but at least a moping Kudou didn't drag him and his problems into it. Curiosity killed the German; Kudou's words had startled him enough that he'd wanted to hear some sort of reason for it. In retrospect, he wasn't sure he really did.

      "You're interesting," was Kudou's honest answer. Schuldich idly wondered what the answer would have been if the man hadn't chugged down almost a dozen drinks. "I had to think about something while Schwarz and Schatten got ready to square off, so I thought about you." A smile pulled at his lips. "It really pissed Farfarello off, too. *He* noticed more than you did where my thoughts were always headed."

      "You've had enough to drink," Schuldich said, rising from his stool.

      Kudou pulled him back down with a hand on his arm and Schuldich twisted on his seat so he could pull it free. Kudou's free hand caught his hair, a dead weight tangled in orange locks, and Schuldich scowled at the younger assassin for the pain in his scalp. "You have two seconds to let go of my hair before I lay you flat," he warned him. "I don't care if you're drunk; it just means it'll take less to get you on the floor."

      "He's not going to hurt you," Kudou said, releasing Schuldich's hair. Fingers ghosted over the telepath's cheek and Schuldich batted the hand away. "*I* wouldn't…"

      Nothing could have prepared Schuldich for that, and he sat tense on his stool as he tried to figure out how to react. He just stared at Kudou, wondering what the hell had happened to the man they'd dragged into their house just a little over a week ago. He fought to come up with reasons for such words and he realized Kudou was smiling at him, drunk enough to not care what he'd said and instead look amused by the way Schuldich was sent reeling by his statement. Perhaps Schuldich had pushed one too many things when he'd sent Weiss to the background, maybe flipped a few switches. Maybe Kudou just had recognized the feel of his gift in his brain and so he only thought he was thinking about the German.

      "We're going," he said, and pushed himself up from his stool. Before he could catch the bartender's attention, Kudou caught his hair again and pulled his head down. Schuldich opened his mouth to bite out something rude and it got swallowed when Kudou kissed him.

      It wasn't like Meirth. There was no blood, no teeth. It wasn't like Hasagawa, demanding and invasive and disgusting. There wasn't even a tongue- Kudou kept it short and soft and then let him go, leaving the memory of a warm mouth against his own behind. It took Schuldich a moment to react; he stood frozen where he had been pulled down to, blue eyes wide as he stared at Kudou's face. The shock lasted for just a few seconds and then he retreated from the younger man with a quick step backwards, straightening as he put space in between them. Kudou pushed himself up from his seat and began rummaging for his wallet.

      "Gotta pee," he said. "Let me give you some cash and I'll-"

      "Go," Schuldich said. "Just- go."

      Kudou didn't argue and he didn't look at Schuldich again as he headed towards the small bathroom in the back. It took him a while to get there; he'd had enough to drink that he couldn't figure out how to walk in a straight line. As soon as the door closed behind him Schuldich found himself sitting down on the closest stool. He reached into Kudou's mind, struggling not to hear the man's reaction to the quick kiss as he pulled Weiss back from where he'd buried them. One hand raised to catch the bartender's attention and the man came over, accepting Schuldich's bank card and disappearing to the register with it. Kudou took a few minutes to return, probably doing a mental stumble over Schuldich's rearrangement of his thoughts. He started back as Schuldich got his card returned, and the German busied himself with putting the plastic in his wallet.

      Neither spoke as they stepped back out into the sunlight. After a minute of alternating walking and then waiting for Kudou to catch up with him, Schuldich slung one of the other man's arms over his shoulder and dragged him along. He was apparently going a little too fast for the white assassin, judging by the hand that was clenched on the front of Schuldich's shirt, but he didn't slow. As long as the man didn't puke on him, he didn't care of Kudou spent the walk nauseous and dizzy.

      "You mad at me?" Kudou finally asked when they reached the parking garage, and Schuldich twisted his head away from the feel of the younger man's breath on his ear.

      "Pissed. Shut up."

      "Liar," Kudou muttered.


      The other man fell silent for a few moments, but started talking again when the car came into sight. "Having them die throws into sharp relief what I still have left," he decided, the words slurred together slightly from the liquor. "I don't have anything left. It's almost funny."

      "The hangover you're going to have later will be even more hilarious. Get in the car." Schuldich propped him against it and pulled out his keys, sliding one into the lock of the passenger door. He opened it and Kudou regarded it for a few moments, ignoring Schuldich's gesture to get in. Finally the man sighed and slid into his seat. Schuldich shut the door behind him and moved around to the other side, taking his spot behind the wheel. He'd had some drinks but not enough to worry about, in his opinion.

      Kudou reached out, fingers ghosting over the telepath's sleeve, and Schuldich sent him a warning look. "When this is over, you'll have had your revenge. Meirth will be dead. You'll have Nagi back. You'll have Farfarello. I won't have anything. My friends are dead. Kritiker won't take me back after I've been with Schwarz. I just want… something." A small frown pulled at his lips. Green eyes were dark again as he lingered on unpleasant thoughts. "I think I should be glad that Schwarz has to run out of use for me eventually," he mused. "I'll at least have that to look forward to, and maybe death is better than having to start all over again from nothing…" He considered this for a few moments and Schuldich studied his face, wondering at the way the man almost sounded pleased about what lay in store for him. "A happy ending for all of us, then?" the Japanese assassin wondered.


      The man focused on him again, offering Schuldich a vague smile. His fingers moved from Schuldich's arm to his face, and the telepath was about to seriously wonder about the man's mental stability when he realized that Kudou was behaving normally. He'd been in the man's head enough times to know how the other assassin dealt with his grief- he generally drowned it under alcohol and then burned it away in the arms and pleasure of a faceless woman. Schuldich wasn't at all pleased by his role in this and caught Kudou's hand, moving it away. The younger man shifted in his seat, leaning towards Schuldich, and Schuldich debated how hard he could afford to hit the other without sending him crashing back into the window and breaking it. Driving around the city with a shattered window would probably draw attention to them.

      "Did it hurt?" Kudou asked.

      Schuldich hesitated, and that pause cost him. Kudou's free hand curled over his cheek and he was being kissed again. Schuldich let go of the steering wheel, switching his fingers to Kudou's throat to leave half moon indents along the soft flesh. ~Give me this?~ Kudou asked him, green and blue meeting over the kiss. He didn't seem overly bothered by the hand that was clenched on his neck. ~Just this?~

      Schuldich stared him down for a long moment, even as he debated over the hesitation. When his fingers relaxed and fell free, he wasn't entirely sure why he chose to give in rather than throw Kudou back to his seat. Maybe it was the liquor talking, because it most definitely wasn't common sense. Maybe it was because it hadn't hurt, and it was the first one he'd received that didn't leave a sick feeling in his stomach. He heard a soft murmur of gratitude in the other man's thoughts and then Kudou's mouth was moving against his, coaxing him to respond. At length the telepath relented, closing his eyes so he wouldn't have to look at the younger assassin any more.

      He didn't really expect to like it.

      Kudou… knew how to kiss.

      That was the only coherent thought Schuldich could come up with as the man burned away his resistance and second thoughts. It wasn't like the chaste kiss back at the bar; this was something far, far different and it sent little shockwaves down his nerves. Warmth curled in his chest and hummed through his veins, and by the time Kudou's mouth slid from his own, he was in desperate need of air and his breaths were ragged. Warm lips traced across his jawline and pressed against his throat, and Kudou drew back at last. He eased himself back into his seat and they just stared at each other in silence for a long moment. Schuldich was trying to figure out how to react even as he forced his breathing back into normal patterns. Slightly unsteady fingers lifted to touch tingling lips that were swollen from the kiss. Despite the sadness that lurked in the back of Kudou's green eyes, there was a faint, smug smirk on his lips that said he was pleased with the results of the kiss.

      Kudou was the first to speak, and his words completely destroyed whatever lingered between them. "Farfarello's going to kill me for that," he decided.

      Schuldich flinched at the reminder of his Irish teammate, pressing the side of his hand to his mouth. Had he honestly forgotten about Farfarello? He tore blue eyes away from Kudou, twisting the key in the ignition with the fingers of his other hand. "Shit," he said against his hand, and he thought he heard a soft laugh from the younger assassin.

      They didn't say anything else to each other on the car ride back. Kudou retreated to Schuldich's bedroom when they made it back to the house and Schuldich was content to hide in the kitchen. The coffee pot was empty and he set about fixing that, teeth clenched on his lower lip almost hard enough to draw blood as he tried to force away the taste of the younger man. Fucking hell, how stupid was he?

      He knocked the can of grinds off the counter in his hurry to get the pot brewing and scrambled to catch it. As his hands closed around it he realized someone had moved into the doorway, and he froze for a moment before realizing it was Crawford. The American was leaning against the doorframe, arms folded lightly over his chest as he regarded his younger teammate. "The things I'd rather not see," he mused.

      "Crawford, don't make me hurt you." He set the can back down on the counter loudly and turned his back on the older Talent, finishing up with the coffee maker. One hand snagged a mug from the cabinet and he stood in front of the counter, watching the coffee brew. As soon as there was enough for a mug he poured it and set the pot back to finish, and he carried his drink to the table. Crawford hadn't moved and finally Schuldich tilted his head back to eye him, giving the older Talent a dirty look. "*Useful*." Crawford just shrugged. "I hope that bullet wound becomes infected and you have to lose the arm," he sent at the precognitive.

      "Yes, one can hope," was the dry response, and Crawford moved to fill a mug from the coffee pot. The precognitive stayed over there by the counter and Schuldich propped his elbow on the table, resting his chin on his hand to study his drink. He reached out with his gift, searching for Farfarello. He found the Irishman in the back yard, practicing his throwing knives on the tree that was out there. The younger assassin knew Schuldich and Kudou were home but was content to stay where he was.

      A grimace pulled at Schuldich's face and he took a swallow from his drink. "He knows."

      "I told him," was Crawford's easy response, and Schuldich twisted in his chair to stare at the precognitive in disbelief. The older Talent didn't bother to return the stare, nursing his drink and sounding completely unrepentant. "I told him you needed it, and reminded him that Kudou isn't his to kill."

      Schuldich thought his jaws would break, his teeth were clenched so hard. "Precognitives were taught that meddling is their God-given right, but I'm about to kill you for it," he bit out, narrowed blue eyes watching as Crawford set his mug down and started towards the table. "You have a two second head start, so start running."

      "Give me a moment to feel threatened," Crawford returned.

      Schuldich pushed himself to his feet, turning to face the American. "If that's the only reason you let him live, then kill him now. He decided it wouldn't be such a bad thing to die when he's got nothing left and he's just one more complication we don't need right now."

      "You kill him," Crawford said. "I'm injured." With that, he reached out and pushed Schuldich back into his chair with his good hand. "We don't need you tipsy and unfocused right now, Schuldich. Get it back together. The problems here are Schatten and Nagi, not Kudou and Farfarello."

      "You're an asshole, Crawford."

      "So I've heard." With that, the precognitive was gone, leaving Schuldich to scowl after him.


      It was looking to be a very long day.

      Schuldich was ready for it to be over already, but there was too much left to happen still. After the morgue, the bar, and the kiss in the car, the Schwarz household had been tense and quiet all afternoon. Schuldich had had nothing to distract him from his thoughts, but the only people around for distraction were the ones he hadn't been up to seeing, so he couldn't truly complain about the lack of company. It was strange having Nagi gone, to not be able to reach out and touch the youth's mind. Knowing he was gone and knowing where he was had left a bad taste in Schuldich's mouth as he weathered out the day. The afternoon had dragged on forever, and it had gotten much longer when Crawford had decided to up and disappear early afternoon, leaving the other three alone. Unhelpful bastard.

      At last it was evening, and there was a lot left to do, but at least he was out of the house.

      Not like this place was any better…

      Schuldich was propped against the side of Crawford's car, staring down at the lit cigarette that dangled from his fingers. They'd parked the car at the curb fifteen minutes ago, and while they'd gotten out, neither had moved any further from the vehicle. Crawford was standing just a little bit down from him, hands in his pockets as he stared out into the darkness. Neither spoke, because there wasn't really anything to say. Everything that needed to be said had been said at dinner, and it had been an unpleasant conversation. Schuldich took a deep breath of the cool night air, turning his hand and watching a few flecks of ashes drift down from the tip of his cigarette. After a few moments he lifted it to his lips, and blue eyes turned on the horizon. Streets of dark houses greeted him, and he let his attention drift over the black windows and shadowed bushes.

      If he didn't leave now, he was never going to make it. It took everything he had to drop his cigarette to the ground and crush it under his shoe, every ounce of will power to push himself away from the car. He could feel Crawford's eyes on him and he glanced over at the American, studying the tight expression on his teammate's face.

      "Farfarello is going to kill me," the precognitive said.

      "Probably both of us," Schuldich returned, relieved that his voice was calm when his insides were starting to shake. He let his gift drift out, wandering through the sleepers as he took the first steps towards the entrance to the subdivision. He forced his lips into an amused smile but knew he couldn't hold the expression, so let Crawford see just a glimpse of it before he turned his face away. "Concern doesn't suit you, Crawford. You're supposed to be unflappable and removed. Go home and drink some more coffee or something."

      "I'm not going anywhere near Farfarello's range unless you want him to screw this up," was Crawford's answer. "The moment he figures out what you're doing, he's going to come after you. He won't even stop to listen to your logic."

      "He'd get himself shot," Schuldich said, continuing to wrap his gift around the dreamers as he looked for the conscious minds. "Make him wait. It's just a couple of hours…" He wondered which one of them he was reassuring. One hand reached up and raked his bangs out of his face and he could feel his fingers trembling when they brushed his forehead. "Just a couple hours. Meirth is going to be tired from Einsam and Nagi. It doesn't matter who shows up on his doorstep. He won't be staying up all night."

      There was silence from behind him, then, "This isn't a good idea."

      "No, probably not." He pulled his cigarette pack from his pocket and lit two, smoking them both at the same time. "Tschüss."

      He crammed his pack and his lighter back into his pocket and started off down the street. There were no cars out in this quiet neighborhood, so he contented himself with moving down the middle of the road. He could feel Crawford watching him as he went and he inhaled deeply from his cigarettes, needing the nicotine to ease his frayed nerves. Every step made him want to just turn and run, and he knew if he fled back to the car, Crawford would have the passenger door open and ready for him. He wouldn't think any less of him. He'd probably be relieved. Crawford didn't like this idea at all, but right now, it was the best thing they had.

      Crawford had left the house when his gift started to show him what Schuldich planned on doing. He'd left before it had a chance to form, acting on the hunch that Farfarello would disapprove, and had vanished into the city to watch what his precognition wanted him to see. It had taken Schuldich several hours to finally start to understand what he had to do, and when he had, Crawford had called him and asked him to meet him in the city. Schuldich had taken the subway so the second car could be left at the house, though he worried that Kudou and Farfarello would kill each other while he was gone. He'd had a feeling as he left that Crawford knew what he was thinking, so he'd been prepared to face the precognitive. Dinner had been a fight, as Crawford confronted him on his decision. But Schuldich had won.

      Victory left a sour taste on Schuldich's tongue.

      The first red dots appeared on his chest when he turned onto Meirth's street, and he fought back the urge to get sick as he sought out the empath's place. He was following two minds, Nagi's and Einsam's. He ignored the dots, taking a quick last drag from his cigarettes before dropping the butts to the ground. As soon as they were gone he lit another.

      ~Run, you dumb fuck,~ his mind told him.

      He realized he was laughing when he reached the driveway and he stopped there, unable at the moment to make himself go any further. They were quiet, breathless laughs that were on the verge of turning hysterical. He knew Meirth had to know he was there by now. He'd probably sensed him at the head of the subdivision with no problem. Schuldich's hands were shaking badly as he pulled his cigarette from his lips, and his blue eyes were fixed on the house as his laughs gave way to ragged breathing. The dots covering him were numerous enough that if they were to fire, he'd be in little chunky pieces. He stretched out for the shooters, placed them, and sent their locations to Crawford. When it was time, Crawford would bring Kudou and Farfarello here to take care of them. Right now, Crawford had to wait.

      Meirth was fixing Einsam.

      It shouldn't be possible, considering the damage the younger German had taken, but Meirth was starting to piece his gift back together. Schwarz couldn't allow that. If Einsam was even remotely stabilized, Meirth would turn on Nagi and force his rewrites deeper. Schuldich refused to allow that to happen. He wasn't going to lose their youngest. He wasn't going to let Meirth take the telekinetic away from them for good.

      ~Don't want to be here.~

      Staring at the door and knowing what was on the other side had his heart lurching inside of him, and he thought he was just a few seconds away from hyperventilating. Meirth couldn't save Einsam. He couldn't have Nagi. That left this one small opening. Schuldich had to stop him from working on the two, and what better distraction could he offer?

      Once upon a time, he'd ripped a hole in Einsam's gift that the sequencer hadn't been able to fix. That had been so many years ago, when they were both younger. It had been a bitch to do and had taken everything Schuldich had. Einsam had been able to recover, because of his age and with Schuldich's gift to help.

      Einsam wouldn't recover this time, but Schuldich couldn't do it from the other side of the city.

      ~You didn't find a way to catch me,~ he thought to himself, forcing himself to take the first step up the driveway towards the door. ~You just knew I was going to come.~

      All he needed was some time. Just a little time. Meirth would be terribly happy to see him but as soon as the empath turned his back, there was nothing to save Einsam. The sequencer had *chosen* this. He'd seen it coming. Now Schuldich was here, and everything that had started twelve years ago was about to be finished.

      ~I don't want this.~

      He made his way up the driveway and down the path to the front door. It took him a minute to get his hand up and his hand was shaking so badly he missed the doorbell on the first try. He heard the notes ring through the house and waited.

      ~Last chance,~ his mind told him.

      The door swung open and Meirth stepped out onto the porch. Schuldich retreated before he could catch himself, taking a few quick steps backwards. A lazy smile curved the empath's lips and Meirth closed the space in between them. He reached up, both hands curving over Schuldich's face, and the telepath fought to control his breathing. Meirth's touch hurt and he was frozen to the spot, wide blue eyes locked with an amused amber gaze.

      "Pleasant surprise," Meirth said. "I'd like an explanation."

      It took two tries to get the words out. "You're killing my brother," he said, and he heard soft footsteps in the hall as someone came to investigate. He could see Einsam past Meirth. The younger German's braid was undone, and the wavy locks hung down around him like a chestnut waterfall. Einsam was dressed in a dress shirt that hung almost to his knees and no pants. Half of the buttons were undone, allowing Schuldich to see the scabs from Nuboshi's games. Red eyes were vacant and the smile on Einsam's lips was dreamy and hollow. He was sucking on one finger as he studied the two at the door. After a few moments his hand slid down his chin, and he tangled both hands in his hair. Teeth showed through his smile.

      "Heeeeeeee," Einsam sang out, spinning in a lazy circle before racing down the hall. "Nagi, Nagi, Nagi, love…"

      "That I am," Meirth said, sending a disgusted look over his shoulder.

      "He's mine," Schuldich said, the words quiet but firm, and Meirth turned to look back at him. "I want him back."

      Meirth just smiled, fingers digging into Schuldich's face, and took a few steps back. "Come and get him," was the response.

      Down the hall Einsam was laughing, a wild, cracked sound. Schuldich fought down his nausea and took a few steps forward. Meirth moved aside, letting Schuldich enter the house first. Nagi was sitting at the end of the hall, slouched against the wall to stay upright. Blue eyes were clouded as they watched Schuldich step in. Einsam was crouched behind him, fingers tangled in dark hair as he kept Nagi's head turned towards the two.

      "Look," Einsam was saying to the unresponsive youth. "Bang bang."

      Schuldich reached into the link woven between them as blue and red stared each other down across the hall. Through the cracks and through the mess Meirth had left behind, Einsam knew exactly what he was doing. There was a sharpness to his mind, buried deep, that was hidden from his face and his actions. Schuldich wondered why he wasn't surprised to find it there, and his lips pulled into a tight smile before the empath moved. Meirth came up behind him, hands running up Schuldich's arms to his shoulders. He could feel the familiar wash of power over his skin, a touch that had him fighting to keep from getting sick on the spot, but he refused to turn his eyes away from Einsam's. It was all he could do not to flinch away, not to try and escape.

      ~Do you trust me?~ - a soft whisper across his mind, so quiet that he could be imagining it.

      Fingers pulled the bandages of his throat free, and fingernails ran over the healing marks. Meirth's other hand moved his hair out of the way and the empath pressed a small kiss to the base of Schuldich's neck. Schuldich could feel the smirk in it and his teeth clenched down on his lower lip. He could taste blood on his tongue, a familiar tang.

      ~I don't want this. I don't want *you*,~ his mind thought desperately, struggling against Meirth's mental touch. He grabbed everything he could find and forced it down, squeezing it down through his mind towards that link before the heat rolling over his skin could reach it. He threw it down there and felt it be pulled by a mind that wasn't his, and he didn't resist the yank. An invasive warmth replaced it, scratching over his nerves and making him sick to his stomach. Einsam was singing a nursery song, Nagi's hands in his own as he tried to get the limp telekinetic to dance with him.

      "Let's go upstairs," Meirth said, moving around him.

      Schuldich found his mouth curving into a smile without his permission as the empath came to a stop in front of him. Meirth saw the blood and leaned forward to kiss it away, his own teeth coming down savagely over the tear to rip Schuldich's lip further. Schuldich felt a familiar shudder run down his spine at the pain and he realized his hands were moving, coming up to glide over Meirth's shoulders and cheeks. Long fingers tangled in Meirth's hair and somewhere inside he could hear himself fighting, frantic protests and sick denials of how familiar it felt to relax back into Meirth's touch.

      "Let's go upstairs," Meirth said again.

      "Let's," was Schuldich's murmured response.

      "Bang bang," Einsam sang as Schuldich let Meirth pull him along down the hall. The Sequencer's laughter followed them all the way up the stairs.

Part 21
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