"I can't believe this," Aya fumed. "I don't need a bodyguard! I need to go to school!"
Schuldich didn't even glance her way. He was sprawled on her bed, picking his teeth with a butterfly knife. "Have you completely lost your mind, runt? How do you think they found us in the first place? It's because you were stupid enough to put your real name on school records. Idiot!"
Aya had been pacing the floor of her room, but she spun around to glare at him. "It was a mistake, all right? Give me a break already! When I signed up for classes, I didn't think. I put down my name. When I realized later that I should've used something fake, it was too late. They got really suspicious when I tried to get it changed. I didn't want to tell 'niisan about it because I knew he'd get mad, and I might have to change schools again."
"Go to bed, idiot."
Aya snatched a stuffed giraffe from her desk and hurled it at the German irately. "Get off my bed! And get out!"
Schuldich swatted the toy out of mid-air, glancing at her from beneath hooded lids. "No can do, sweetcheeks. Crawdad and your ninny of a brother will have Words with me if I let you out of my sight. Besides, I gotta make sure you don't cause any more trouble for us."
"Oh, so now this is all my fault?" Aya crossed her arms across her chest and dropped into her desk chair, glaring at him darkly. "You guys said Rosenkreuz would back off. That they wouldn't come after us. I'm not the only fuck-up around here."
Schuldich gave a short bark of laughter. "Such language," he tsked. "You've been hanging around Hidaka too much."
"And you," Aya shot back. "Unfortunately."
"Cry me a river." Schuldich sat up abruptly, tossing long hair over his shoulder. "Better get used to my handsome face, princess. You'll be seeing a lot more of me lately. Almost as much as you'll be seeing these four walls."
Aya had to fight not to jump out of her seat. "I refuse to just sit here like some.. some innocent bystander! Your old 'friends' are after us now-- my brother was almost killed! And if you think I'm going to be seen with you twenty-four seven--"
"Enough with the drama queen act," Schuldich drawled, pushing himself to his feet. "You should be thrilled to be allowed to hang around me." He arched a brow at her. "You never seemed to mind before. Is this still about that stupid delusion you have of me apologizing for something I've already forgotten about?"
Aya glared at him for a long moment, then turned her head and shouted towards the door, "Niiiiiiiisan, taskuteeeee! Schuldich is trying to see up my skirt!"
Schuldich blanched. "Wh- Hey! What the fuck is wrong with you?!"
Pounding steps approached, and Schuldich retreated to the other side of the room a split second before the door banged open. He greeted the unwavering katana blade and narrowed eyes with hands in the air.
"Is that supposed to be some kind of twisted joke, 'schuldig'?" Aya snapped from her chair.
Ran's eyes flicked suspiciously from one to the other.
"Here's a tip, chibi," Schuldich jeered. "Next time you try to pin something on me, pick something more believable. Why the hell would I want to look up the skirt of some prepubescent, flat-chested, bug-eyed little--" He managed to dodge the encyclopedia that went flying at his head just in time.
Ran straightened and sheathed his sword with a growl of annoyance. "Stop horsing around," he snarled. "We don't have time for this." He stalked out, slamming the door behind him. From the room, thumps proved that Aya was continuing her assault with whatever came to hand, and Schuldich's taunts were punctuated by curses whenever a missile struck home.
Schuldich came downstairs ten minutes later, nursing a bump on his head with a dark scowl. "Little runt's got good aim for a girl," he noted sourly. He dropped into an empty chair at the table his old partner was seated at. He lowered his hand to fish in his shirt pocket for his cigarettes, arching a brow at the other man. "Damn, you look like somebody ran over your puppy or something. Pyro still won't do the horizontal tango with you?"
Crawford's eyes barely flickered towards him. His hands were wrapped around a mug of coffee as he stared blankly at the far wall, where Schuldich had wrenched free the box cutter. His face was made of stone. Schuldich watched him for a moment in vague interest, then reached out and dipped a finger in the mug. "Cold coffee, mmm. I hear that's all the rage nowadays." He slipped a cigarette in between his lips and lit it. "What the fuck's gotten into you?"
Schuldich cocked his head inquiringly at the quiet omission, lifting his cigarette free to blow out a lungful of smoke. "Come again?"
"It would have been better if..." Crawford shook his head once, slowly, expression grim. "Things would have been simpler if we had split the teams back up after the fight against Agammedo. No. It would have been better if we'd never teamed up at all."
Schuldich studied him for a long moment in silence, puffing away thoughtfully on his cigarette. In the background, the clock above the cash register ticked slowly onward. Crawford continued to stare with hard eyes at the cut in the wall. Schuldich smoked his cigarette and-- for once --kept his peace. For awhile.
"Yeah," he said at last, slowly and dryly. "Woulda been better." He took one last drag from his cigarette and dropped the butt into the mug of cold coffee cupped in Crawford's hands. The older man's eyes darted towards him, narrowed in annoyance. Schuldich didn't notice. He exhaled the smoke and leaned back in the chair, stretching with his arms over his head. "Yeah," he grunted, "it mighta saved us some asspain if we'd left the Brady Bunch to their own short-sighted devices. None of this complicated sleeping with the enemy bullshit. Oh yeah, and no uppity little princesses.." he offered the ceiling a fleeting scowl, fingers traveling unconciously towards his head again.
"Right," Crawford muttered, staring sullenly into his coffee.
"Ja, none of that crap," Schuldich continued blithely. "Just, you know... us being dead and all would kind of suck. OK, maybe not you. That wouldn't suck so bad."
"...What?" Crawford's eyes narrowed in a familiar 'Explain Yourself, You Stupid German' expression Schuldich had seen many times before.
Schuldich snagged a pack of sugar from the little tray on the table and ripped it open, idly sprinkling the contents into the ruined coffee. "Farf was the one to kill Agammedo. Good on the spud-eater. But he didn't kill fang-face on orders or for fun. He killed him for his little 'pet'. You know, the one that made him drink so he could fight in the first place."
"Oh, and the thing with a certain little nerdy runt reversing Iragadachi's mind-trick on me? Always a bonus." Schuldich tossed the packet aside, hooded eyes still on the mug. "Fujimiya getting that idiot Vampire Hunter on our side-- not too shabby for a walking matchstick." He reached for another sugar packet. "And while you might be a little on the frustrated side, some of us were getting regular ass--"
"Since when are you so optimistic?" Crawford cut him off acidly, though his voice was low.
Schuldich tossed the sugar pack at him, catching him in the chest. His lazy drawl was gone, his indifferent expression shifting into an impatient snarl. "Since when does Brad Crawford sit around whining into his coffee like a little bitch?" he shot back, and earned a flash of warning from dark eyes in response. "Save it, Oracle. So your little boytoy pulled the guilt trip. Big fucking whoop. Since when do you feel guilty about anything?" He got to his feet abruptly, pushing the chair under the table loudly. "You sit there and do your little 'what if' game all you like, Yankee. I don't have time for this shit. You lead or you sit there. I don't really give a rat's ass. But I'm not gonna just sit around and wait for you to finish up your little pity party." He tossed his head, flicking his hair over his shoulder and offering his most handsome, razor-edged smile. "The Oracle may be dying, but the Mastermind's still kickin'. You go ahead and drink your ashes and coffee, Bradley. I'll take care of Rosenkreuz myself."
Crawford surged to his feet, stung into action at the taunting words. "You don't get it, Schuldich," he barked. "You're still the same stupid kid that got put in his place back in Frankfurt."
Schuldich stopped halfway to the stairs, turning his head slightly to arch a brow at the older man. His tone was neutral, but his eyes were sharp as the blade he'd pulled from the wall. "So educate me."
Crawford's hands gripped the edge of the table tightly. He spoke through gritted teeth, glaring at his partner. "Rosenkreuz should have given us up as a lost cause. A faulty team. The first attempt to wipe us out failed. They lost valuable men. It's obvious we want nothing to do with them anymore. But now they send the Sandman. And Felix, if what you read was right. The Four are gone. Who do you think is pulling the strings?"
Schuldich snorted, though his eyes shied away warily. "Think I'm stupid? I know."
"You think you're so smart, Schuldich, then you tell me why," Crawford said in a quiet, intense voice. "You tell me why the Nobles are after three faulty students."
Schuldich didn't answer for a long while, his narrowed eyes focused on some distant point. Finally his gaze shifted towards Crawford. "If I knew that," he pointed out dryly, "I'd be the one in charge. Not you." He turned away and headed upstairs. "Lemmie know when you figure everything out, oh great and constipated one. I'll be guarding the she-demon."
"We have to plan," Crawford pointed out sharply. "We don't know what they'll do next--"
Schuldich snorted, but didn't look back. "Go get screwed, Crawdad, I'm going to bed. It's too late to think. Speaking of screwed, go apologize to the human blowtorch. You two are making me sick with all the moping. He's sulking in the storage room."
"Tchuss." Schuldich made a vague waving motion and disappeared up the stairs.
"If I didn't know any better," Ken muttered, peering at his reflection, toothbrush in hand, "I'd think the horny little shit was stalling."
Farfarello glanced towards the bathroom from where he was sprawled on the bed, going through each of his knives and checking for blood stains or signs of rust. "He's a Pureblood," he pointed out. "He can't move in the daytime." He frowned at his serrated dagger. "We will have to wait until tonight to talk about the treaty."
"Well..." Ken spit toothpaste into the sink and gargled water. "I guess that means we get to do some sightseeing today, then." He grinned teasingly at his lover. Farfarello chose to pretend he hadn't heard.
Ken came into the room and grabbed a pillow, bopping the Irishman lightly over the head with it. "Oi. C'mon, Farf, I've never been to America before! And New York is a great tourist place, right? We can see the Statue of Liberty, the.. whatsitcalled. The Empire State Building. Stuff like that. I can even get one of those corny 'I love NY' t-shirts." He poked his lover in the side encouragingly.
Farfarello's amber eye slid towards the balcony. "And the brat?" he grunted. "You want to babysit him all day?"
Ken's grin faded as he tossed an annoyed look towards the boy sulking on the balcony. "Damn. Almost forgot about him."
"I could eat him," Farfarello offered.
Ken hit him with the pillow again.
"Or turn him loose," Farfarello continued, still inspecting his knives. "Let Nathan's people find him."
"Knock it off, Farf, he'll hear you. Anyway, he may be a brat, but he's still just a kid." Ken tossed the pillow aside and sat on the bed. "We need to get him back to his home. Orphanage, whatever."
"He's Gifted," Farfarello muttered, scratching at a suspicious spot on his knife with a fingernail. "He can take care of himself."
"He would've been killed yesterday if we hadn't been there," Ken pointed out. "I don't think he has very good control of his Gift. Not like Nagi did. I don't even think he's as strong as Nagi was."
Farfarello fell silent at the mention of his deceased partner, and Ken sighed regretfully, reaching out to tangle his fingers in sunfire hair. "Look, we'll just take him back, OK? Then we get the corny t-shirt."
Farfarello snorted and placed a hand on Ken's chest. He pushed Ken onto his back and hovered over him, face expressionless. "No t-shirt."
Ken grinned wickedly up at him. "Hat, then?"
"Are you two fags or something??"
Ken tilted his head back and blinked in surprise at the boy hovering at the balcony door. Gabriel was staring at them with wide eyes, his lips beginning to curl in faint disgust.
"Lovely, an audience," Ken muttered, pushing Farfarello's hand away and sitting up.
Farfarello stared at Gabriel until the boy took an instinctive step back.
"Mind your own business, kid," Ken said, rising to his feet and stretching. "Are all Americans so narrow-minded?"
"Crawford wants Fujimiya," Farfarello pointed out, still staring unnervingly at Gabriel.
Ken made a face. "People like Crawford and Schuldich are a species all their own." He waved to get Gabriel's attention. "Oi, chibi. Brush your teeth. We're taking you home."
Gabriel looked quickly at him. "But-"
"You didn't think we'd put up with your bad attitude all week, did you?" Ken rolled his eyes and padded over to his bag to find his camera. "Look, you'll be safe at the orphanage. Nathan's not going to do a full-scale attack on a facility like that to get to one kid. We'll escort you there to make sure you don't run into any Turned."
Gabriel fell silent, staring at the floor and chewing on his lip.
Farfarello seemed to guess what he was thinking. "Your friend is already dead," he said bluntly.
"Farf!" Ken protested.
Gabriel's eyes jerked up in horror. "Don't say that!" he cried. "They didn't kill him! I saw-- they only.. only...."
"Bit him?" Ken guessed. "Kid, I hate to tell you this--"
"Stop calling me kid," Gabriel interrupted.
"Gabriel. Whatever." Ken tied his camera to a beltloop and crossed his arms over his chest, giving the boy a serious look. "I know it's not something you want to hear, but you're going to have to accept facts. If they didn't kill him, they Turned him. He's one of them, now." As he watched the boy's face twist in disbelief, fear, and horror, his tone softened. "I'm sorry, Gabriel," he said quietly. "They're Vampires. I'm sure you've figured that out by now. They would have had no reason to let your friend live." He decided not to go into the explanation of Feeders. Gabriel wouldn't like that any more than he would the thought of his friend being dead or Turned.
Farfarello finally turned his eye from Gabriel and rolled to his feet. With a few quick flicks of his wrists, he concealed three of the knives on his person. He scooped up the last two and tossed one without glancing at it in Gabriel's direction.
Gabriel stuttered, dancing to the side. The knife fell on the carpet by his foot. "H-hey, watch it!"
"He's a kid, not an assassin, Farf," Ken sighed. "He's not going to catch a sharp pointy object when it's thrown at him."
"He should be able to," Farfarello grunted. He pointed at it. "Give me that."
Gabriel hesitated before leaning over to retrieve the blade. Farfarello moved as fast as a cat. He sprang across the room, raising the other knife for a fatal blow.
Gabriel caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and cried out in shock, throwing his arms out in desperation. Farfarello ran into the unseen wall rushing at him and tumbled back across the bed before landing hard on the floor. Ken, who had figured out Farfarello's reasons quickly, stood to the side and made no move to intervene.
Gabriel looked towards him wildly. "What the fuck??" he shouted. "He's trying to kill me!"
"He's trying to teach you," Ken corrected. "You only use your Gift instinctively. You need to be able to use it more quickly. You stopped Farfarello when he came at you. Why didn't you stop the knife?"
Gabriel opened and shut his mouth a few times, eyes darting from Ken to Farfarello, who was picking himself up calmly from the floor. His fingers made a minimal movement-- suddenly he was holding a wicked-looking knife in each hand. "Catch," he intoned. With blurring speed he hurled the knives, one aiming for Gabriel's chest, the other for his throat.
Gabriel swung his arm wildly, but he seemed to know the limits of his control. He dropped to the floor an instant later. The ripple he'd sent out sent one of the knives spinning across the room, but the other slammed into the wall where he'd been standing a moment ago. "Stop, stop!!" he shrieked. "You're going to kill me! I can't catch them, they're too fast!"
Was this, Ken suddenly wondered, how Farfarello had taught Nagi? From the little he had heard of Schwarz's past, he knew that when the telekinetic had been accepted into Rosenkreuz, he'd come to them through Schwarz. They'd picked him up on one of their patrols for other Gifted. Schwarz and Rosenkreuz had helped the boy to hone his Gift. Had Farfarello also taught him? Had they loosed the Berserker from his chains and his cell in order to train Schwarz's Prodigy?
"If you don't catch them," Farfarello agreed calmly, "you will die." He bent over and scooped his knife off the ground, twirling it almost negligently in his hand as he straightened and stared Gabriel down with a hooded amber eye.
"Haven't you been practicing your Gift at all?" Ken enquired, frowning at the boy.
Gabriel shot him a swift glare before returning his wary attention to Farfarello, ready to dodge once more. "...I'm not supposed to use it," he finally muttered. "It's too hard to control, and..." He swallowed hard. "People get hurt."
Farfarello cocked his head to the side, face expressionless. "You're a coward," he summarized.
Gabriel flared at that. "I'm not a coward!" he shouted. "I just don't go around hurting innocent people just because I can't control this.. this thing inside of me!"
"You could control it if you would only practice," Ken snapped. "What, you expected to be born an expert? No one who has a Gift knows what they're doing when they first discover it!" He hesitated. "Well... maybe a telepath. How hard can that be?"
But Farfarello shook his head once, flicking a glance towards his lover. "Schuldich couldn't control the volume or the amount of minds until he was brought to Rosenkreuz." His lip lifted in a sneer of cruel amusement. "I heard them talk-- talk about their little pet subject. Another year unsupervised, and his messy little brain would..." He closed a fist, then opened it suddenly, lips lifting over his teeth in a barbaric smile. "Splat."
Gabriel looked both confused and sickened at Farfarello's words. Ken rolled his eyes at the grinning madman. "Thank you for that clarification, and remind me not to eat noodles today." He turned a stern look on Gabriel. "You need to practice," he repeated firmly. "You can do it in private, that way no one gets hurt. And that way no one finds out about it." When the boy frowned, Ken sighed in exasperation. "Look, kid, it's best to keep Gifts a secret. Unless you want to be plastered on the cover of every tabloid magazine and locked up in a lab for the rest of your life."
Gabriel screwed up his face in confusion. "Don't call me kid. And you keep talking about it like you know what it's like," he said bitterly. "But I haven't seen any of you do anything special. You don't have these stupid.. 'Gifts'. He's just a monster."
Ken offered him a vague smile that must have come across as more creepy than amused, because Gabriel visibly blanched. "Suddenly you're the expert, I see."
"We don't have time for this," Farfarello interrupted, suddenly looking bored. He sheathed his knife and made grabbing motions in the direction of the knife still on the floor. After a slight hesitation, Gabriel picked it up gingerly and handed it over.
"You're the one who decided to start the day with a little Terrorism 101," Ken grumbled, padding over to the door to fetch his shoes. "Right, grab your jacket, runt. You're going home. Let's hope we don't run into any unpleasant surprises on the way."
"You mean besides him?" Gabriel muttered under his breath, glancing Farfarello's way.
The Irishman heard him, and gave another eerie smile.
Translations: Tchuss- German for bye/see ya (pronounced like "juice", but with a "ch" sound at the beginning)
Author's Notes: See? I delivered. Don't kill me x_x Sorry; while my muses have been jumping all over the place, they are temporarily obsessed with all things Gundam Wing. So I haven't had the slightest urge to work on this. Inspiration sputtered out midway through the scene where Farf is "training" Gabe. But I went and read a few new reviews for this fic and realized ppl are still waiting for another chapter, so... ^.^;; Here 'tis. Can't tell you when the next chapter will be out, though. I'll try to work on it soon. Ja~
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