Patterns of Blood ~ Mami's fanfics
Schuldig x Ken, for Aionwatha
Crawford x Nagi, for Soleil Kitty
Farfarello x Schuldig, for Delfeus
Mamoru x Nagi, for Schuldige Katze
Omi x Schuldig, for Dormouse in Tea
Aya x Omi, for Zanzou-chan
Aya x Crawford, for Puddingcat
Crawford x Ken, for LevelDevil
Crawford x Schuldig, for Sabacat
Farfarello x Ken, for Gardensgnome
Schuldig x Yohji, for Cmda Alexanda
Yohji x Crawford, for WK Recomend
Farfarello x Nagi, for Amiko
The fourteenth ficlet was for an original story and is therefore not posted on this site.
Back to Mami's Fics
Schuldig x Ken
"Okay, question," Yohji spoke up. Ken pressed a hand against his ear to hear his teammate better, trying to drown out the pre-game noise. The announcers were already calling off players and statistics, which made it nearly impossible to hear Yohji. "Was Makinori supposed to have brought a clown with him today?"
There was a pause, then a tinny voice responded. "Repeat, Balinese?"
"A clown," Kudou said again. "I really don't know what else to pass the guy off as, except maybe a crime against humanity. Siberian, I know I'm not seeing things. He's coming your way now. You see the lightning bug on his left?"
Ken shifted, leaning forward against the railing, and looked down to the walkway below him. Makinori's entourage had just arrived: the eight men Omi had warned them would be on hand, and then one extra they had not expected. Ken frowned down at the head of brilliant orange hair and turned his gaze back on the soccer field. "I see him," he agreed. "Bombay, there's a foreigner with his group who wasn't in our files. Orange hair, can't make out his face yet. Everyone else is accounted for."
"Find me a visual when you can?" Omi asked. Ken could imagine his fingers flying over his keys as he double- and triple-checked their reports and earlier reconnaissance, looking for any sign of the new face. The stadium was too loud for him to hear Omi working, but he thought he detected a hint of frustration in Omi's voice as his search turned up nothing. Omi hated incomplete intelligence. "He's nowhere on the radar."
"You want me to get him?" Yohji asked.
"You give subtlety a bad name," Ken sent back. "Leave him to me."
"Oh, what, and you're Master Stealth all of a sudden?"
"Siberian's in a better position," Omi spoke up, forestalling their argument. "He'll move in. Balinese, stick to your original plan. You've got three minutes until game time. Remember your spot and stick to it. Siberian, adapt as necessary."
"No problem," Ken said, straightening from the railing. He kept a discreet eye on Makinori's group out of the corner of his eye, waiting until there were just seconds on the board and the teams were in place on the field. At last he started down the stairs towards the rows where the mafia boss was sitting. The group hadn't even bothered to disguise themselves for this outing, and as a result, there was a large gap of empty seats around them. Ken had counted on that, and he wasn't about to be intimidated out of a good spot- either for watching Makinori or for watching this game.
He felt the bodyguards' eyes on him as he made his way down the row and stopped barely out of arm's reach from the outermost of them. He didn't even acknowledge their stares and instead kept his face turned towards the field as the bell sounded. He threw his arms up, cheering loudly along with the rest of the crowd, and wondered how many bodyguards had reached for their weapons at that sudden gesture. He pat his hands against his thighs, mindful to keep them out of his pocket and to look like he was working off excitement over the game and a great seat.
"Hey," one of the men said.
Ken threw him a confused look. The man gestured for Ken to move down a bit further to give them more space. Ken looked around at the spots to either side of him, then eased onto the row right behind him. It put him diagonal back from Makinori, with just the foreigner between them. The bodyguards didn't look any happier about that.
"Hey," the man said again, a bit meaner this time.
"Okay, okay," the foreigner said with a thick accent. The bodyguards sent him a wary look, but Makinori motioned for them to calm down. They stopped bristling so much and turned back on the game. Ken flicked a sideways look at the orange hair, wishing he could get a view of the other man's face, and then turned back on the game. He guessed the man was a guest, if Makinori didn't want the guards acting so uptight in front of him.
At least Ken's vantage point meant it was much easier to keep glancing their way. He was as careful about it as he could be, not wanting to set anyone off, but care didn't help much. About ten minutes in, the foreigner finally looked back at him. Ken forgot subtlety in favor of staring, but he didn't really blame himself.
The man had blue eyes. Like, brilliant blue, the kind people really shouldn't have. His features were all angular and strange looking, a result of his foreign blood, but put together with those eyes and that maddeningly bright orange hair, it looked somehow right. Right, and- Ken felt his cheeks coloring despite himself and he forcibly turned his attention back on the game. Right, and good. Very, very good. This was not the right time to start thinking things like that, but a flash of skin on skin danced across his brain.
"Okay, okay," the foreigner said again. Ken slowly looked back his way. The foreigner was smiling now, a wide, lazy sort of expression that was a little too knowing. Ken thought he was just being paranoid, but the man lightly worried his lower lip between his teeth and let his gaze linger on Ken's mouth. Ken reminded himself that this man was an unknown, hanging out with one of their targets, but tail-end on that another heated image. It took everything he had not to look away again, but he wasn't sure how steady his expression was when blue eyes slid back up to lock with his. When the man had Ken's attention again, he tilted his head in a question.
Ken knew better than to interact with a client when he didn't have permission to, or he should have known better, but Omi had said he could take liberties this time. "Sorry," he apologized, just as the crowd went wild. He leaned a little closer so he wouldn't have to yell, just as the stranger leaned his way. Ken stopped, but the man didn't seem to notice and instead leaned right into his personal space. Ken grasped for something intelligent to say, mentally kicking himself for falling apart so quickly. Something about the man's stare just made it hard to concentrate.
"I didn't mean to stare," Ken apologized. "Your eyes just startled me." The man continued to smile at him, searching his gaze. Ken hesitated, then asked, "Did I offend you?"
The foreigner tilted his head to one side again, hearing the questioning tone. At length he announced, with the too-careful inflections of a language student, "I don't speak Japanese yet."
"Oh," Ken said. That killed that conversation, then. Or so he thought, but then the stranger was stepping up onto the row he was on. Makinori looked back to see where his orange-haired guest was going, but he didn't seem particularly worried. The bodyguards twitched a little, but they followed their master's lead and focused on the game and the rest of the audience that swirled around them. The foreigner leaned right up against Ken and pressed a smile into his cheek. Ken told himself it wasn't a kiss, but it didn't stop his heart from tripping.
Skin on skin and demanding hands-
Snap out of it, Ken! he snarled at himself.
"You teach me?" the stranger asked. "Japanese?"
"Sure," Ken agreed, and the man's smile widened.
"Schuldig," he said, pointing up at himself.
"Hiroki," Ken lied in return. "Do you like soccer, Schuldig?"
The man looked so offended that Ken thought his entire role in the mission was over. "Soccer," Schuldig repeated, and Ken gestured past him towards the ongoing game. Schuldig snatched his hand from the air and smacked it down against his leg. Whatever he said next, Ken couldn't understand. It wasn't Japanese; it was too harsh and jerky sounding. Schuldig saw that on his face and shortened it down to one explosive word: "FOOTBALL."
Well, at least that scratched out any chance of the foreigner being American. Ken ticked it off on his mental checklist. "Football," he agreed. Schuldig still offered him a cool look for his slip, but he calmed down fairly quickly. "Do you like football?"
"Like," Schuldig agreed. "You?"
"I love football," Ken said, earning another smile. "I teach football. I'm a coach." That went above the other man's head, judging by the quirked eyebrow and blank look in his eyes, but the amused smile never wavered. Ken guessed he'd gotten really good at keeping that smile locked in place since coming to Japan. He tried thinking up questions that would be in a rudimentary language class. "How long have you studied Japanese?"
"One day," Schuldig answered.
Ken gaped. "One day," he echoed. "How long have you been in Japan?"
A flash of one finger, and another, "One day." Schuldig seemed a little too pleased by Ken's shock. "I am… " He hesitated, thinking. There was a flicker of frustration on his face as he searched for the right word and couldn't find it in his limited vocabulary. He tapped his fingers against his temple as if that would shake the right words loose. His expression darkened for just a moment, then cleared, and he flashed a smile off to one side that was a bit too wicked to be satisfaction. Ken glanced past him, wondering who he could possibly be looking at, but no one else in the crowd had been identified as being part of Makinori's group. Then again, if this man hadn't shown up on their radar before, who else could they be missing in this crowd?
Schuldig turned back on him. "I am going to buy a drink," he said. "You will come with me?"
Omi murmured a quiet reassurance in Ken's ear that Yohji echoed. Yohji would move where he could watch Makinori, leaving Ken free to trail this stranger out of here. "Sure," he agreed. Schuldig flicked a look down him that almost made Ken wonder if he'd misunderstood something in that sentence, because the heat in Schuldig's gaze wasn't something the concession stand could cure. His gut twisted in response.
This is a mission, he thought desperately, but his head was buzzed just from being this close.
Schuldig leaned towards Makinori, placing a hand on his shoulder to get his attention. He didn't say anything, just met the boss's eyes for a second. He got a nod in response and turned away. Ken rewrote his suspicions that Schuldig was simply a guest, because guests wouldn't be allowed to walk off with total strangers like this. He couldn't be a bodyguard, though, because bodyguards didn't dare touch their masters like that. Then what? Ken demanded of himself.
"We go," Schuldig said, and he stepped past Ken, close enough that his body slid against Ken's. His hand was the last point of contact, seemingly catching hold of Ken's shoulder for balance as he found his footing on the metal bench, but the short squeeze he offered was all unmistakable invitation. Ken told his hormones to take a dive straight into the nearest glacier, sucked in a low breath, and followed after him.
"Dude, maybe things are a bit skewed from up here, but is he flirting with you?" Yohji asked at Ken's ear, sounding highly entertained. "Ken, I love you forever for talking me out of taking point. Way, way creepy."
"Focus, Balinese," Omi warned him.
"No, really," Yohji insisted. "I can't be seeing things."
Ken didn't answer him because he couldn't, but he thought a couple death threats the man's way anyway. "Enough, Balinese," Omi said, a little sterner, and Yohji subsided. Ken decided he should buy the kid a meat bowl sometime in thanks for not giving Ken away. That charitable mood died with the next words out of Omi's mouth. "Continue to adapt and improvise, Siberian."
It was an order and permission to do whatever he needed or liked that would get him the information they wanted. Yohji snickered and misread it like Omi and Ken both knew he would, except Yohji wasn't really misreading it. Ken swallowed a sigh. Sometimes he hated that Kritiker knew so much about his life. The fact that they had chosen to pass such information on to Omi rankled even deeper, even if he knew it helped Omi decided who to put where on missions. Still, having one's sexuality passed around like just another statistic on his file was a bit invasive.
Beneath that aggravation, though, was an undeniable spark of interest.
Omi had just given him the green light, and he could write it all off as recon. Even if he couldn't get all the answers today, if he made a strong enough impression, Schuldig would remember him in the future and Ken could slide slowly into his trust. It would be very valuable to have an in with someone working with Makinori, especially someone who had the authority to just get up and walk away from the man at the drop of a hat.
Schuldig took him out of the stadium and into the outer ring, where the concession stands and souvenir shops were. Ken was not surprised when the foreigner went straight past all of them, but he hadn't expected to be led all the way to Makinori's parked limos. The drivers were waiting beside their cars, but a sharp flick of Schuldig's fingers sent them elsewhere.
Definitely not a guest, Ken thought, and that sharp reassessment of Schuldig's rank was almost enough to kill his interest.
"Wow," Ken said, feigning surprise. "Is this your car?"
Another blank look, but Schuldig followed his gesture and looked back at the sleek vehicle. He snapped his fingers a couple times, struggling for the right words. In the end he gave up and gave a cutting gesture. "Do not be cute," he said, then scowled a little past Ken at the stadium. "Afraid," he enunciated, and he followed that with some irritated-sounding foreign words. Ken smiled despite himself, amused at such a slip. It was stupid to smile at someone like Schuldig, but it worked the way he'd hoped it would. Schuldig's expression smoothed out again and he reached out, tangling his fingers in Ken's jacket pockets to pull them together.
They met in a kiss Ken felt all the way down to his toes. He brought his arms up around Schuldig's neck to pull them closer, mostly so he could find the dial on his watch that would turn his microphone off. There was a mortified second where he wondered if either of the others had heard their bodies collide, but Yohji was saying something in his ear about Makinori's men, so he judged himself safe.
If, you know, kissing a complete stranger who was connected to the mafia in a very crowded place was at all safe. Ken told himself this was the stupidest idea he'd ever come up with, but it was too hard to think straight. That alone should have told him to get out of there, but he couldn't seem to move. Schuldig's kiss more than made up for his nonexistent conversational skills and Ken's thoughts were derailing at an alarming rate.
Schuldig managed to get the door open without fully letting go of Ken, and the smile he turned on the assassin was full of promise. He motioned for Ken to precede him and Ken did, if only so he had a second alone in the car to wrench his earpiece out of his ear. He stuffed it safely in his jacket pocket. There was a moment of alarm as he disconnected himself completely from his teammates, but it was better to do that than let Schuldig see that piece.
Schuldig was right behind him, slamming the door shut and locking it, and his hands pulled at Ken to turn him around. Ken glanced towards the tinted windows, knowing no one on the outside could see in but unable to stop the flicker of worry. Schuldig followed that with no problem.
"Okay, okay," he promised, burying his fingers in Ken's hair.
He crushed their mouths together with an almost vicious hunger. It was just about hard enough to hurt, and it was the first kiss that had ever given Ken a headache. He closed his eyes against the untimely throbbing and focused as much as he could on the taste and feel of Schuldig's mouth. The man was definitely the most aggressive of any of Ken's fleeting lovers, but Ken couldn't say he minded.
Hands were quick to divest him of his jacket. It was thrown carelessly off to one side and Schuldig had Ken flat on his back in seconds. He straddled Ken easily and leaned down, kissing a line up Ken's throat. Ken tilted his head back to give him better access, already working his hands over the man's green jacket in search of buttons. He grit his teeth as his headache spiked particularly sharp, and then the pain dropped to a faint hum. Ken gasped at the sudden loss of it. Schuldig didn't seem to notice, probably attributing it to what he was doing with his mouth. That was almost the truth, since Ken could finally focus on his touches again.
Except the more Schuldig touched him, the more drained Ken felt. He didn't notice it at first, and then wrote it off as him relaxing, but there was only so long he could ignore it. He tried to sit up, thinking maybe he just needed some air, but Schuldig caught him by his shoulders and shoved him right back down. Ken opened his mouth to protest, but Schuldig glanced his way and the warning that seared across those blue eyes dared him to move.
"Schuldig," Ken tried anyway.
"Almost there," Schuldig answered, pressing the heel of his hand against Ken's head to pin it down. Ken tried to bat his hand away, except his arms weren't working anymore. Schuldig had less of an accent now, and Ken's sense of alarm just grew with every word out of his mouth. "I'm surprised you've stayed conscious this long. Amazing… mmm." He thought for a second. "Stamina," he finished. "Most would have died or passed out by now. I'm impressed, Ken. Maybe it has something to do with this?"
Images flashed across his head, as if someone had turned his life into a photo album and then tossed the pictures carelessly into the air. The jumble of images and colors left him feeling dizzy and nauseous, and the smell of blood was thick enough in his memories to choke him.
"Get off of me," Ken gasped out. Desperation finally got his hand moving and he planted it against Schuldig's chest, trying to push him off.
Schuldig answered that with a lazy smile. "Lie still," he ordered, and Ken's arm dropped heavily back to the floor of the car. Ken's vision sparkled black and there was a dull roaring in his ears as he fought to stay conscious, and finally Schuldig let go of him. He was left gasping for breath, clinging to awareness with the very last bit of energy he had. Schuldig considered him for a moment, then leaned down and offered him a slow kiss. It tasted like ice, sharp and cold against his lips and mind, and the spike of it across his brain helped snap him back awake.
"I appreciate the Japanese lesson," Schuldig drawled, smoothing Ken's hair out of his face. "I think we've made incredible progress today. Mm?"
"Who the fuck are you?" Ken demanded weakly.
"I've already answered that question," Schuldig reminded him, sliding a hand down over Ken's chest to his pants. He pressed his palm hard against the crotch of Ken's jeans and smiled down at the fallen assassin. "Here we go. I think our teacher deserves a little something in repayment, hmm?"
"Get away from me."
"Boring," Schuldig mused. He pressed a finger against Ken's temple. Ken felt something slip, felt something slide, and found himself staring up at Schuldig's lazy smile. It seemed they'd stopped, but he didn't remember why. He opened his mouth to ask if everything was okay, but Schuldig moved his finger to Ken's mouth next to shush him. In the next instant he pulled his hand back to work at the fastens on Ken's pants. It took him just seconds to get them open and he buried his hand inside. Ken couldn't stop a groan as Schuldig's fingers curled around him and he didn't miss the heat in Schuldig's gaze in response. Mouths burned rough kisses into hard skin; fingers dug into Schuldig's back as Schuldig worked him at an almost painful pace.
It didn't take long before he was shuddering in Schuldig's grip and gasping for breath against Schuldig's throat. He could feel the foreigner's smile against his forehead as he drew his hand free. He licked his hand free while Ken watched, then neatly fixed Ken's pants again.
"Do you want-" Ken started, glancing down at Schuldig's pants.
Schuldig tapped his forehead again. There was a lurch and Ken's memories reconnected. His missing minute snapped back into place and Ken froze, thoughts dying on his tongue as he tried to figure out what the hell had just happened. Schuldig leaned forward to nip at his ear.
"I look forward to our next lesson," Schuldig purred. "I will see you again, Hidaka Ken. If you want that to be a pleasant meeting, I suggest you and your… companions… get out of my stadium and away from my client. Yes?"
Ken could just stare dumbly after him as Schuldig climbed out of the car. The door slammed behind him and Ken watched through the tinted window as the foreigner sauntered away. As soon as his thoughts caught up with him, he snatched up his jacket and threw himself out of the car. His legs weren't ready for him; whatever had cleared his mind hadn't done anything to give him his strength back, and he had to grab at the limo to stay on his feet. Unsteady fingers got the earpiece back in his ear and he almost wrenched the dial off his watch in his hurry to turn it back on.
"Bombay, we have to go," he said, trying to keep the urgent undertone out of his voice. "I don't know what the fuck just happened, but something tells me we are seriously in over our heads here."
He glanced towards the stadium again and saw Schuldig had stopped by the outer gate. There were three men at his sides, two other foreigners and one Japanese child, and the weight of their stares on him made his skin crawl. Distance didn't hide the mockery in Schuldig's smile. Omi was asking for an explanation at his ear, but Ken didn't hear it.
"Now, Bombay," Ken said. "We have to go now, okay?"
"Abort, Balinese," Omi said. "Take your separate routes back. Siberian, I'll want a full report."
"Yeah," Ken agreed, though he wasn't sure he could explain what had just happened. He dragged himself along the car and trying not to fall down. He heard laughter at his ear that sounded like Schuldig's voice, but the foreigner was so far away that he had to have been hearing things. The sound had him looking Schuldig's way again and he saw the man's companions had turned and started inside. Schuldig lingered for just a minute more.
See you next time, Ken, Schuldig's voice said, but his mouth wasn't moving. I think we're going to have great fun together.
The foreigner offered him a careless little wave as he turned away, and Ken could do nothing but stare after him.
Crawford x Nagi
It was only right that people died that day. Death had been an integral part of their lives since they'd first realized they had powers, and blood had been what had brought them together. Power games and murder had tied them to each other, the master and the servant, and it was what had separated them. And now, two years since they'd last crossed each other's paths, the ground between them ran slick and red with blood. Crawford gazed down at the mess, listening to screams and the sound of bodies collapsing in on themselves. The moonlight cast a vicious glow off of the quickly-spreading puddles and a grayish tinge on bursting flesh, and it still wasn't bright enough to hide the crackle of power on power.
Somehow, Nagi was the only dark point. He always had been.
At Crawford's side, Schuldig gave a low whistle. "Damn, is that really him?" he asked. Crawford wrote it off as rhetorical and ignored it, more interested in studying the long-absent youth. Schuldig didn't notice the silence, more interested in staring at their youngest teammate. With the two of them perched on a rooftop overlooking the battle, it was impossible to see the physical differences two years and Rosenkreuz had etched on Nagi's body. Schuldig rarely cared about physique, anyway, and was probably already raiding the teenager's mind for the most critical differences. Crawford, likewise, only saw power that, purposefully misplaced two years ago, had finally returned home.
Nagi was sorely outnumbered, but only by bodies. It took him less than a minute to destroy every psychic guarding the building. For a second, there was stillness, and then the remaining tool freaked and shot himself in the head. Schuldig tsked at that.
"Lacks class," he noted. Crawford ignored that as well, but this time Schuldig noticed. Blue eyes slid Crawford's way and the American could positively feel Schuldig's smile. "You haven't changed a bit."
"Stay out of my head," Crawford said.
Schuldig waved one hand, either in self-defense or a patronizing sort of dismissal. "Yours is the lesser evil at the moment," he said, still smiling that infuriating little smirk. Crawford refused to humor him and kept his gaze on the small crowd below, but perhaps that just amused Schuldig more. "You really should hear what's going on in his thoughts down there. Looks like he hasn't changed, either."
"He has changed," Crawford said.
Schuldig gave a quiet snort that said he completely disagreed. "Little word of advice?" Crawford quirked an eyebrow at him and Schuldig just grinned in response to the mockery in Crawford's silent question. "Something tells me he's not going to let you send him away again."
"He will do whatever I tell him," Crawford reminded Schuldig, finally turning away from the edge and starting for the door.
"Uh-huh," Schuldig said, obviously not believing him for a second. "Look what listening to you got him this last time."
"Leave it," Crawford told him, flicking him a sideways look.
Schuldig heard the warning in those two calm words and was wise enough to let it drop. For now, anyway. In another hour, if that, he'd have forgotten all about the unspoken death threat and would be back shoving his mental fingers everywhere they didn't belong. Some people never learned. Some people couldn't be tamed. Some people just wouldn't be controlled. If it was anyone but Schuldig, Crawford would have no use for them.
Nagi was something different. Nagi always had been exactly what Crawford was looking for, vicious power and unquestioning obedience in one quiet bundle. Maybe too perfect, to the point of distraction. Crawford couldn't afford distractions on a team like this, not when their work was so precise. His reasons for sending Nagi to Rosenkreuz for training were valid, and he would not answer to anyone for that.
Now he had just returned, and he was already a distraction once more.
Schuldig moved past him, offering a cocky grin and a two-fingered salute against his forehead. "Next time!" he said with almost malicious glee, as if their team wasn't about to take on one of Rosenkreuz's other field teams. He looked hungry for the fight, like only a wild dog could look hungry, and then flickered out of there, blurring into nothing as he ran in search of his prey.
Crawford carefully tucked thoughts of Nagi to one side and turned his feet towards his own target for the night.
When the explosions started, there was nowhere to go but down. The blasts were too far away for fro him for him to see, but he felt the entire building jar beneath him. The wall at his back shuddered and groaned and the dust falling from the ceiling was thick enough to turn the blood around him into mud. He peered up at the ceiling through cracked glasses, mindful of the sharp buzzing in his ears. Schuldig, most likely, but Crawford couldn't understand what he was saying. His shields and minds were too bruised for anything the telepath said to be intelligible. Thinking was hard enough to master at the moment.
He slid his hands against the broken ground, searching for purchase. His body didn't want to listen to him, but Crawford tolerated disobedience and weakness in no one, himself most especially. He forced himself to his feet when his body wanted to stay sitting and ignored the rush of vertigo. The walls were starting to come apart and the chunks hit the ground hard enough to shake the floor. Crawford stayed standing when he barely knew how to anymore and put one foot in front of the other.
He'd made it halfway across the room before the far wall completely evaporated, leaving a lone figure standing in the dust. The dark-clad figure moved into the room on long, sure strides, only to slow down when he realized Crawford was up. "We are leaving," Crawford said as Nagi picked up speed to fall in at his side.
The teenager glanced past Crawford, looking at the thin trail of blood Crawford had left behind him. "You're injured," he noted needlessly.
The sound of his voice after two years was startling and Crawford stopped to glance over at him. As if the words were a cue, he finally saw Nagi as he was now: several inches taller than he had been the last time they'd seen each other, with a body that had lost its gangly childishness for something almost hard and lean. It wasn't a kid's face staring back at him, but Crawford knew those eyes well enough. They were dead, bordering on empty, as if every time Nagi looked at Crawford he was simply waiting for the precognitive to give him some purpose.
Stopping was a mistake; Crawford felt his vision slip. He blinked against the darkness and dragged his gaze forcibly away from Nagi. "It will pass," he said, taking another step forward.
His nerves prickled in a warning he couldn't interpret in such a muddled state. He didn't have enough time to fully recognize it as a spike of his gift before there was a faint pressure at the back of his neck. He knew what it was a second too late, and that second was all Nagi needed. There was just a hard press and then everything went perfectly black.
Crawford recognized the room he woke up in as the hotel room he and Schuldig had rented upon their return to town. It wasn't Schuldig sitting on the other bed, however. Nagi looked softer when Crawford wasn't wearing his glasses, and the prescient was vaguely and fleetingly annoyed by the illusion. Nagi was not soft; Crawford would never let him be such a thing.
"You've been unconscious for several hours," Nagi said. He gestured towards a glass on the nightstand. Crawford eased himself upright, mindful to go slow when he knew he'd lost a fair bit of blood. He helped himself to his glasses first when he spotted them beside the cup and eyed the cracked lens critically. At length he set them back down as useless and picked up the water.
Nagi said nothing immediately. That pause could have spelled a thousand bad ends for the telepath, except Crawford hadn't seen Schuldig's death coming. "He went out," Nagi said at length. "He didn't say where or when he would return."
Crawford accepted that in silence. Nagi watched him drink, saying nothing else. Waiting, perhaps, for Crawford to say something first. They considered each other with unreadable expressions, testing the years apart. Testing the things that had changed between them, and more importantly, the things that never had and probably never would. Crawford wondered if he should be annoyed by that small heads-up. Obsession. Distraction. Weakness.
"You have improved," he said.
"I didn't improve for myself."
"Why is he the first one you asked for?" Nagi asked, so quietly Crawford wasn't sure he'd heard him. "I went to Rosenkreuz for you, because you told me to. Not a day of those twenty months was I studying for myself; not a single drop of blood I shed was for my instructors or in the school's name. I went because you told me to, and I returned because you told me to. Why him, then?"
"He is a reckless idiot," Crawford answered, "whom I do not trust out of my sights."
Nagi said nothing to that but fixed his gaze on the far wall. Crawford finished his water and set it aside. Silence stretched between them, as calm as it always had been, as tense as it always would be. Nagi looked strange against the bed, almost, now that he was taller. There was more of him, more skin and cloth and shadows. More power. That same devotion. Like black clay on a wheel, waiting for the master to twist it this way and that. Crawford had almost forgotten what it was like.
"I've never seen you bleed before," Nagi said at last, still not looking at him.
"It's been known to happen occasionally."
"I should have-"
"You had your own job to do."
Nagi didn't answer that immediately, but the thin line of his mouth spoke volumes for his displeasure. He looked like he was struggling for words, searching for the line between them he would never know how to cross unless Crawford invited him. "My job," he said at last. "You assigned me to Kritiker once I graduated from Rosenkreuz. Are you going to ask me to stay with them now that we are finished here?"
"Would you?" Crawford asked. It was a useless question, for he already knew the answer, but he wanted to hear it out loud just the same. Nagi didn't disappoint him.
"You already know," Nagi said, flashing him a look full of dark need and frustration. "You know I would do anything you asked me to or be anything you demanded of me. Would you doubt me enough to test me?"
"Yes," Crawford answered, and for a second he thought something break in Nagi's eyes, "your job with Kritiker is finished." He heard Nagi's breath catch, just a barely audible hitch, and the younger man glanced quickly back at Crawford. They eyed each other for a few moments more and Crawford pressed a finger against his temple, feeling the way things were stretched near to burst between them. Two years had only strengthened what he'd refused to acknowledge before. "You are troublesome," he decided.
"Am I?" Nagi asked.
"It is unavoidable, perhaps."
Nagi said nothing to that, instead working over it in silence to try and decide if Crawford was criticizing him. Crawford crooked his finger in a demand for Nagi to come closer. The telekinetic eased off his bed and came to stand alongside Crawford's. It wasn't the first time Nagi had stood over Crawford like this, but he'd always been so small before. From this close, his face was finally in focus again. From this close, he finally looked hard like Crawford needed him to be, hard and powerful and ready for anything.
Nagi lifted his hand and let it hover there in the space between them, silently asking permission. Years ago he wouldn't do anything without Crawford's consent. Crawford idly wondered how much that had changed, wondered how Nagi would continue to balance his own personality and his innate need to follow Crawford's lead. He'd pushed the American unconscious at the building, judging the situation and deciding that Crawford was in no condition to get out on time if he'd continued on his own two feet. Crawford would have to talk to him about that later. Now, however, he tilted his head slightly to one side, just to see if Nagi would interpret it on his own.
Nagi knew he was being tested; Crawford could see it in his eyes. At last Nagi finally closed the distance between them and pressed his fingers lightly against the bandage on Crawford's forehead. He leaned over and in, close enough that he could peel up the bandage and peer at the cut underneath. His other hand came up so he could smooth Crawford's hair out of the way. The brush of skin on skin, as faint as it was, was enough to make Nagi pause. Crawford tried to remember if they'd ever touched before, aside from the one time two and a half years ago where circumstances had forced him to hit Nagi. Even as he ticked through his memories, he knew the answer was negative.
Before, it never would have been right. Before, Nagi had been perfect, but not ready.
Before, Crawford had thought he'd known better. Apparently Nagi had gotten better with age, whereas Crawford had gotten more foolish. Whatever it was, he didn't stop himself from reaching out. He hooked a finger in Nagi's collar and the young man didn't resist being pulled in.
It was a kiss two years in the making and he could feel Nagi completely relaxing against him, easing into the shattered tension and unspoken promises between them. Nagi's hand slid further up into his hair, tightening just slightly, only enough to hold on and never enough to hurt.
"Don't make me leave again," Nagi said against his mouth, quiet, inflectionless words that they both knew were a plea.
"This time you can stay," Crawford told him.
He thought Nagi smiled, except he wasn't entirely sure the boy knew how to anymore. It was there for just a second and then gone again, swallowed up as Nagi pressed in for another kiss.
Crawford didn't allow himself weaknesses, which meant he would have to find another name for whatever this was. In the end, he decided it didn't feel much like a weakness, not if it was Nagi. It only felt like power, and that was more than enough reason to not look back.
Farfarello x Schuldig
He doesn't need two eyes to know Schuldig is lost again. The telepath is sprawled against the back of the bathtub, orange hair a thick mess on the water that laps against his chin. His eyes are like a doll's, glazed over and vacant. Now and then his mouth moves, lips twitching over words Schuldig doesn't really know. Later he'll deny he was trying to say anything; later he won't even remember how much time passed here with his mind a half a world or more away.
Farfarello considers him from the doorway for a few moments more, then invites himself in. He pushes the door closed with one bare foot and kneels beside the deep tub. Metal is cool beneath his arms when he folds them across the edge and he dips his fingers into the water. It is cold to the touch, and he rubs his fingertips together to shake the droplets free.
He fishes one of Schuldig's hands out and is not altogether surprised to find the German's fingers have wrinkled. He moves Schuldig's hand to his mouth, nibbling idly on one finger. There is no response, even when he bites down hard enough to break the skin. He sets Schuldig's hand off to one side and reaches for Schuldig's throat instead. He squeezes hard enough to choke off the other man's air, careful to rein in the instinctive need to crush, and waits.
It takes longer than it should, but it works. Schuldig comes back to himself with a shudder and an automatic smirk that doesn't hide the raw look in his blue eyes. Farfarello loosens his grip and lets his hand fall back into the water. Schuldig blinks a couple times to focus, sucking in deep, slow breaths that rattle in his throat. When his lungs don't burn quite so much, he slides his gaze Farfarello's way. His eyes are too dilated now and he has to squint against the bathroom light, fighting as hard as he can to focus. In the end Farfarello stands up and turns the lights off, leaving just the filtered light coming through the bathroom's translucent glass door.
"Come to join me?" Schuldig asks. His voice is scratchy like he's been screaming, but Farfarello knows those screams never made it out of his mind to tear his throat like this. He leans over and splashes the German. Schuldig grimaces a bit when he realizes how cold the water has become. His body seems to have been waiting on his mind, because he starts shivering. He has to work his jaw a couple times to keep his teeth from chattering. "What time is it?"
Schuldig makes a face up at him and eases himself upright, bending his legs so he can rest his chest against them. "Aren't you the most helpful piece of cheese mankind ever caught and ate," he mutters, digging a hand through his hair. The gesture is awkward; his body is still trying to wake up from the paralysis of near-sleep.
Farfarello slants a look a him. "That doesn't even make sense."
"It did in my head."
"Fuck off." He sounds bored, but the tension is still there in his frame. "Who's still up?"
"Crawford will not sleep when you are lost."
Schuldig scowls a little at that, hearing the accusation in that simple reminder. "I wasn't lost," he insists. "I was simply looking around a bit and temporarily losing my way." He reaches for the side of the tub and drags himself to his feet. Farfarello traces his thumb through the water that runs down Schuldig's hard chest. His fingers slide down to the base of his ribcage and linger there on an ugly patch of reddish-pink skin. A few weeks ago, it was a bad wound. Now it's still trying to heal. It's the first scar Schuldig's ever earned on the job. They all know what it means.
"Poke at your own pretties," Schuldig says, batting Farfarello's hand away. He slides past Farfarello in search of his towel and scrubs himself dry. Farfarello doesn't stick around to wait on him but leaves, padding down the hallway on cat-quiet footsteps. Crawford is in the doorway to his study, one hand on his light switch as he closes his work down for the night.
"We shouldn't stay here," Farfarello says as he passes. The words are so low it'd be impossible for Crawford to hear them if not for the venom packed into those four small words.
"He will make it," Crawford responds, all calm fact that Farfarello cannot find reassuring. He listens to Schuldig noisily exit the bathroom at the end of the hall, listens to the way his footsteps sound far too heavy as his body still lags behind his mind, and takes the stairs two at a time. Crawford and Schuldig say something in the hall that he doesn't bother to try and overhear. He doesn't stop until he's reached their room and is prowling up and down the length of it, rice mats crackling under his angry footsteps.
None of them are particularly right in the head, but there's a crucial difference between being mad and being insane. They can't both be insane, the pair of them. Schuldig can't be the first one to take that slip off the edge into darker waters. Farfarello won't know how to find him there. He barely knows how to find himself as it is. The only reason Crawford even let him on the team is because Schuldig is enough to keep both his feet on the ground. It's not supposed to go the other way, with Farfarello holding Schuldig up.
The telepath isn't long behind him and comes padding into their room, skin red from scrubbing at it with his towel and looking foolish wrapped in black terry cloth. His hair sticks to his face where it refuses to dry and will continue to do so for another four or five hours. Schuldig has a mocking half-smile on his lips when he sees what Farfarello's doing, but he says nothing and instead just slides the door closed at his back. He starts to drop his towel off to one side, only to remember the million times Crawford has demanded they keep wet cloth off of the mats, and instead chucks it at his desk chair.
"We shouldn't stay here," Farfarello tells him.
"We could go killing."
"Here," Farfarello reiterates.
Tokyo, he means. A city of death. They've been here for four months and it's rattling Schuldig down to his shields, no matter that Crawford secured them a house out in the suburbs. There's only so far from the city they can live before they're uselessly far from their clients, which means they're still buried too deeply within Tokyo's vicious anthill. Schuldig's gotten lost a dozen times since they arrived.
"We're only here for three more months," Schuldig reminds him with a careless shrug, as if he's not honestly afraid. Maybe he isn't. Schuldig trusts his life to Crawford's visions. Farfarello trusts no one but himself. Crawford believes in his future; he'll say whatever he thinks is best to make sure they keep close to his sides. He can't believe Crawford enough to think the man could be concerned over Schuldig's mental state.
"Harsh," Schuldig says.
Farfarello bares his teeth at him in response. Schuldig's smile twitches a little wider and he changes his path, abandoning his dresser to start towards Farfarello. Farfarello abruptly changes his path as well and moves to meet Schuldig halfway. He fists a hand in Schuldig's hair and yanks him forward into a kiss that's as much teeth as it is tongue. There's the fleeting taste of copper, but it could just be a memory dancing against their lips. Schuldig's hands slide against his shirt, fingers digging in to get a feel of skin.
"Stop getting lost," Farfarello warns him.
"You'll come find me," Schuldig says, sounding amused.
Schuldig just murmurs something to that, still amused, still overly confident, still a bit shaken from tonight's close call. He tugs at Farfarello's shirt and Farfarello helps yank it up over his head. It's cast to one side as useless and they press up against each other, chest to chest and hungry hands on bare skin.
"The only one allowed to kill you is me," Farfarello reminds him, pressing his finger hard against the pulse in Schuldig's throat. "Remember that."
"It's a promise," Schuldig says.
Farfarello loathes promises, but from Schuldig, it tastes like truth. It's difficult to believe it when Schuldig's basing it on Crawford's visions; somehow he manages to fall for it anyway. "Good," he says, digging a little harder before wrapping his hand around the back of Schuldig's neck.
Tomorrow he'll be fine, and maybe next week he'll be fine. But he's going to get lost again, and again, and another dozen times before they're finally out of this overcrowded country and back to safer mental territory. Until then Farfarello will keep watching and waiting and dragging Schuldig back from the edge. If Schuldig does slip and fall, then Farfarello will simply have to find him- one way or another.
Mamoru x Nagi
Mamoru's starting to wonder just why people refer to dreams as castles on clouds, unless it's purely for the fact that such castles are out of reach. Standing at his window and staring out at Tokyo, he feels like he's climbed the ladder up to his particular castle. It has a spectacular view, to be sure, with all of the city spread out beneath him. His place is luxurious, almost embarrassingly big for one person, more so because he's slowly accumulating enough things to fill so much space. He lives like a king, watched and waited upon.
And always, always, so far out of reach.
What no one ever told him is that clouds are cold, distant places. They're miles closer to the sun, but lack any sort of warmth, and the air is so thin it's hard to breathe. A year of this and he feels numb and disconnected. Sometimes he panics and thinks he needs to get away, needs to go somewhere where he can finally be warm again. Being who he is now, though, it's hard to find a place to run away to. He keeps a small mental list of out-of-the-way places, little bars and restaurants where the patrons would never recognize him as Tokyo's chief of police and the former prime minister's long-lost "son". There is only so often he can go to such places, however, when he has such a reputation and so many responsibilities. He can never do anything that would reflect badly on himself or either of his organizations.
He presses his hands to the glass, tilting his head just so, until it looks like he's holding the city in his palms. People run over his fingertips and leave absolutely no warmth behind. He can hear the traffic even this high up, but it's just a meaningless cacophony. There aren't human voices except in the encrypted messages left on his answering machine, or in the occasional call up from the front desk to report a delivery. There isn't any laughter here. The closest he has is the frozen image of smiles and hugs, a picture from years ago, a picture he used to guard with his life.
The way the sun sits now casts his reflection onto the glass, and with it, there's a faint outline of the picture in question. He drags his gaze away from the city to stare at it, studying his teammates' faces.
He corrects himself sternly, frowning at his slip. They haven't been his teammates in almost a year now, and by now, they're half a world apart. Siberian and Abyssinian are, anyway, ensconced in their overseas team. The closest he's been to them in eight months is as close as he can get to the glass in the frame. The reports their team sends in don't make it up the chain to him; such things aren't important enough to reach his desk. They go through Kritiker's overseas faction, then are subsequently filed for safekeeping in a vault here where no one bothers to read them.
Balinese is even further out of reach, a defective agent protected only by his amnesia. As far as Kritiker knows, he was killed in that explosion. It took quite a bit of string-pulling to get the files together for that to where no one would question it. Now Kudou is safe as long as his mind stays shuttered, and he's free to do whatever he likes. The other day, he and Mamoru even passed in the streets, purely by coincidence.
Mamoru isn't sure what bothers him more: that Kudou couldn't recognize him and didn't even look his way, or that Mamoru couldn't even feel regret when he saw him. It's been ten months now since their final mission, and the only place Kudou has in his life is in memories best left untouched and fading. Or so he tells himself, but the picture still hangs on his wall. He takes it down when he thinks one of his aides will visit him. He used to keep it at his office, but they eventually started questioning him about it. Now it's his little guilty secret, or perhaps a bit of a masochistic streak he has only recently discovered. Idly he wonders if it counts as masochism when it can't hurt anymore.
Funny how the deepest knife to his heart, the cut that lingers even still, wasn't caused by his teammates' departure. But then, ten months ago he ran his final mission with them and knew he was going to be cutting them out of his life. As important and dear as they had always been to him, he'd known he was going to have to say farewell at some point. He'd had months to work himself up to it, not that he'd honestly thought a few months would do much to saying goodbye to so many years.
Then he'd made a vital mistake. In his desperation to not feel anything for his teammates, he'd channeled that frantic energy in a separate direction. In hindsight, hinging himself and his humanity on Naoe Nagi was a critical mistake, but there hadn't been anyone else that he could have trusted. Once Schwarz had approached Kritiker with news of Estet's latest schemes and with the first offers of a joint run, Nagi had been a permanent presence at his side. They'd worked in Japan and Europe both, spending every day of six months together. It wasn't until Nagi had approached him four months ago with the news that Schwarz needed him that Mamoru had even realized he'd used Nagi to replace what he'd lost.
Now even that's gone, and all Mamoru has and is, is emptiness.
It sounds foolish and childish in his mind, but he isn't sure how else to label it.
At last he turns completely away from the window and starts for the door. His fingers find the light switch on muscle memory alone, as his mind is miles away from here. He goes from room to room, checking to make sure all lights are off and everything is as it should be. When he is positive that his castle is secure, he retires to the last room in his apartment.
His bed is large enough to swallow him whole, and more than large enough that he doesn't have enough body heat to warm it. He sleeps a dreamless sleep, knowing tomorrow will be the same.
A week later, he's fraying at the edges all over again. He stalks from one room to the other, looking for something, for any way out of here. In the end, knowing he probably shouldn't go, he snatches up his sweatshirt and struggles into it. It's easy to pull his hood tight around his hair and he stuffs his keys in his oversized pocket. He flicks off lights, striding for the exit, and jerks the door open only to freeze in his tracks.
Someone is standing right outside his door, hand raised and poised to knock- someone security downstairs didn't buzz him about, because no sort of security could stop him.
"You're leaving," Nagi says, taking in Mamoru's jacket.
"You're here," Mamoru says blankly.
"Schuldig told me you were home," Nagi says, lowering his hand. "I thought I should let you know that we're back in town." He goes quiet and studies Mamoru's face. There's a searching look in his dark eyes, or so Mamoru thinks. He's not sure; Nagi's grown his hair out to help shield his face and Mamoru's not entirely sure what he's looking for. He doesn't really care, because Nagi is back, and Nagi is here.
"Do you need an escort?" Nagi volunteers at last.
"I don't know where I'm going," Mamoru says. "Just… out."
Running away, he thinks, because now that Nagi's here, that's what it feels like: running away from the path he accepted and the job Kritiker asked of him. With Nagi standing right there, it doesn't feel so crushing anymore. Nagi always had a way of putting things in perspective. It's funny how Nagi can be Mamoru's subordinate of a sort, but he still manages to carry this weight on his shoulders to share the load. It's something none of the aides or teams can do for Mamoru, and he knows, staring at Nagi, that he has no right to ask the man to do it again.
He tries to think of something else to say. They consider each other in silence, wondering if their months apart have damaged whatever there was before. At last Nagi says, "We could stay here."
It's the first time Nagi's come to his apartment; it makes him the first important guest to make it all the way to Mamoru's secluded castle. Mamoru steps back out of the doorway to let him in, and Nagi neatly toes out of his shoes at the door.
"Schwarz is back in Tokyo," Mamoru says as he closes the door behind Nagi. "Are you telling me this as a warning, so I know to expect trouble?"
"We are here for work," Nagi answers, taking in the apartment with a calm glance. "We have finished tidying things up overseas, at least as far as we can do them at this time. With that settled and out of the way, we are free to make ourselves at home here in Tokyo once more. To do that, we will need to start building a client base once more. With our powers and reputations, it would not take us very long at all. However," he says, tilting his head Mamoru's way, "we are choosing to offer our services to Kritiker first. If you're-"
"Accept," Mamoru says. He doesn't stop to think about Schwarz's terms, doesn't stop to think about what his aides would say. He tells himself in the heartbeat of silence following that that he doesn't need to check with them. It's a lie, because the board will demand him to defend such a decision, but he doesn't care. He is Takatori Mamoru, and he will have the final say in this matter. He doesn't care whether or not Kritiker's people trust Schwarz. Mamoru will vouch for Nagi, and Nagi will vouch for Schwarz. In this moment, he doesn't even care what Crawford will charge.
Nagi's mouth is open, ready to finish his sentence, words forgotten when he realizes they're unnecessary. He is slow to close it again, and for a few seconds they are back to staring at each other.
"I will make you a drink," Mamoru offers. "Something warm?"
Nagi blinks at that. "It is summer," he points out. "It is hot outside."
The notion of warmth is so ridiculous that Mamoru can't believe him. Maybe Nagi sees that blank look on his face, because he frowns. It's just the smallest tug at the corner of his mouth and his stare is intense, as if he's trying to figure out just who he's returned to in Tokyo. "Oh," Nagi says at last. "So it is getting to you."
"I will make you ice tea," Mamoru says, starting for the kitchen, "and hot tea for myself."
"Mamoru," Nagi presses, reaching out to catch his elbow on his way past. Mamoru freezes in his tracks and Nagi reaches up, resting the back of his hand against Mamoru's cheek. His skin is hot from being out in the sun, almost feverishly so. It positively burns Mamoru's chilled skin and he leans into the touch, unable to help himself.
"I shouldn't have left," Nagi says quietly. "It wasn't my choice."
"Are you going to leave again?" Mamoru wants to know.
"I am Schwarz," Nagi points out. "My orders come from Crawford. Now Crawford's orders come from you. You must use us; we are the most valuable weapon in your arsenal now. Wherever that is, we will go. At some point, we might have to take temporary leave of you, if Estet starts to stir again. We are the only ones that can truly face them. But look at me, Mamoru. I will always come back."
Mamoru stares back at him, jaw working as he tries to think of how to respond to such a promise. He feels weak suddenly, and then a little panicky, because the last thing he wants to be, the last thing he can afford to be, is weak. But the rules are different when it comes to Nagi; they've been different ever since they started working together. He snaps a little and blames it on the heat, blames it on Nagi's words, blames it on that little bit of weakness he thinks he'll never be able to strangle out of himself. His hands are on Nagi's face, soaking up that heat, and he's crushing their mouths together before Nagi can retreat.
Nagi doesn't lean away. Instead his arm is sliding around Mamoru's shoulders, dragging him closer, letting Mamoru take anything he can. Mamoru kisses him until he can't breathe, until he starts to thaw, until he can finally feel again and all he feels is Nagi. He wants to say "Don't leave", but can't quite get it out, not when he doesn't want to let go. In the end he thinks it's all right, because he knows Nagi can feel that in the fingers that drag down his back to pull him even closer.
It's more than all right, because Mamoru can feel the answer in the arm that winds around his waist. And with every kiss, it starts to feel a bit less like a castle, and a bit more like a home.
Omi x Schuldig
It's not supposed to be like this.
Rather, he's not supposed to be like this.
Schuldig calls it evolution. Omi is acutely aware that Schuldig's opinion shouldn't matter. More than that, he knows it has to. These days, Schuldig's are worth as much as any of his teammates'. Somehow that fact has gotten easier to swallow. Months of having to deal with the man day in and day out have worn him down to acceptance, it seems. It's been weeks since he resented giving so much ground to a man that should, technically, be his enemy.
It's amazing how much a couple signatures can change things. When Estet crumbled at the sea, Schwarz waited only hours before approaching Kritiker. They claimed it was for work, since their insubordination had scratched off a rather lengthy list of possible clients. Omi and Kritiker quietly filed it under "seeking refuge" in their reports. Kritiker was wary of accepting such a team, especially after such a bold betrayal, but they couldn't exactly pass up that kind of power. In the end, they agreed to take Schwarz in, and now the unit is the organization's most guarded secret.
Omi knows when his teammates don't, because Omi has to know. Besides, it'd be a little hard to miss considering Schuldig hasn't left Omi alone since. Bodyguard or brainwasher; Omi can't always tell. It has to be the latter, because Omi doesn't want to think that Schuldig is the sanest of his companions these days.
"Your opinion of me is as flattering as ever," Schuldig says at his back. "You already know this," he presses a fingertip to Omi's temple, "isn't my handiwork."
"I know," Omi agrees softly. "I could hope otherwise."
"Live in denial for the sake of being weak?"
Omi brushes Schuldig's hand away and frowns down at his papers. "It's not weak," he protests. "I want to believe that what we're doing is right, that what we do means something. I want to believe that it really is all about justice."
"It's a corporation," Schuldig says, in that tone of voice that's all bored mockery. "It has to make its money somewhere. Take petty comfort in the fact that it's not making it from the same sorts of deals your targets use."
It doesn't make Omi feel any better. He fingers the papers in front of him and lets his gaze drift across his cluttered desk. Files, manuals, and thick reports are stacked precariously high. Looking at it all, he wonders how it all fits into such a small box under his bed where his teammates won't find it. More than that, he thinks he should feel overwhelmed. Maybe he would if not for the man right behind him. For a moment he hates that he's learned to rely so heavily on Schuldig; for a moment he hates that he had to meet Schuldig as a person. It was easier when he was a one-dimensional villain. Schuldig is no less twisted or moral-shy now, but discovering everything beneath that- the ruthless work ethic, unwavering confidence, and unquestioning dedication to whatever cause Crawford has asked of him…
"Stop fantasizing about me and get to work. It's late."
Omi flushes a little at that. "I am not," he insists hotly.
"Right. Lie to a telepath."
"If you're tired, then hurry up and go home and leave me alone," Omi sends over his shoulder.
"You already know I can't do that." Schuldig catches at Omi's head and turns it back towards the papers. "Let's go."
Omi sighs and pulls the files closer. More reading to do; there is always more reading. Kritiker is trying to drown him in histories and policies and suffocate him under the weight of a hundred-plus employees, it seems. It's a crash course in everything that Kritiker really is, down to their financial statements for the last several years, but a crash course only in the sense of how much time he has to learn it in. Now he finally understands why Kritiker placed him in charge of both Weiß and the Koneko, if it would prepare him for this. Still, there is a serious difference between what he's doing now and what they want of him.
"Get off my back," Omi mutters under his breath. He doesn't have to say it loud; he knows Schuldig can hear it perfectly. He doesn't really mean it, though. Schuldig is as neck-deep in this as he is and set to suffer the same mind-numbing fate. Maybe it's worse for him in the end, since he has to learn everything twice: once for himself and Schwarz, and once as he forces Omi through these "lessons".
Schuldig's not who Omi ever would have considered for role of tutor, but he's the best choice on hand. Very few people in Kritiker have clearance to view these sorts of papers. Weiß definitely has no place with this kind of information and they're not cool-headed enough to deal with the truth. Yohji would probably faint on first sight of how many papers there are, anyway. For Schwarz to be given such an insight is almost ridiculous, except the more the psychics know, the more they can twist things in Kritiker's favor. Schuldig was bound to find out all of it anyway, thanks to his gift.
"Focus," Schuldig says again.
"I am," Omi insists, but he's not focusing on the papers. He's focusing on the hand that still rests on his head. Schuldig's fingertips rest against his forehead and Omi can feel a pulse, though he doesn't know whose it is. He tilts his head up a little into the touch, and Schuldig is close enough behind him that Omi can feel him tense. He immediately feels foolish, especially when Schuldig draws his hand back.
"Employees," Schuldig says, and Omi sighs at being tested yet again. It will help get him back in the mindset to work, though, so he doesn't argue.
"One hundred and six signed to Kritiker. Forty-two thousand plus in the Tokyo police force, plus an additional three thousand civilians."
"Nine," Schuldig responds.
"Liar," Omi says, tilting his head back further so he can frown up at Schuldig.
Schuldig gazes back at him for a moment. "Nine," he says again, and then he realizes the reason for the discrepancy. He gives a quiet snort and slides hooded blue eyes away. "Six for now," he says, and Omi realizes Crawford's already tracking Kritiker's future. "They'll expand into Europe within the next year or so when we can hook you to some partners. America should be your end goal. There's plenty of work there."
"America's too paranoid," Omi answers. "We'd be constantly looking over our shoulders for the legal justice system to catch us, whereas here we're the ones controlling the law."
Schuldig leans over his shoulder, putting his mouth right at Omi's ear. It gives the air of one conveying a secret, perhaps a favor, but the faint brush of lips along his earlobe wipes that out completely. Omi stops thinking for what feels like an eternity, and his breathing halts in time. "Mmm, telepath? Telekinetic? Precognitive? Any of these things sound useful to you, o wise Bombay? Fuck their security. Schwarz could take America on single-handed."
"Arrogant," Omi says, or thinks he says.
"You're fantasizing about my ass again," Schuldig says, helpfully.
Omi can feel himself coloring again, but he still says, "So?"
There's silence for a long minute. Omi knows he's said too much, not that that really applies to a man who can hear his thoughts anyway. Nothing he ever says out loud can be a surprise to the man except in whether or not he chooses to acknowledge and act upon something only previously buried in his mind.
"Hooo?" Schuldig hums. "That's interesting."
Omi steadfastly ignores that and instead flips open his file. Schuldig reaches past him and shuts it. Omi opens his mouth to tell Schuldig they have work to do, but he stops himself. He has the feeling that if he ignores this now, he'll never hear Schuldig's honest response to this. If Schuldig even knows how to be honest anymore, that is.
"Only sometimes," the German assures him breezily. His other hand comes up to Omi's face, cradling Omi's cheek in his palm, and he fingers thoughtfully at the corner of Omi's mouth. Omi turns his head as much as he can with Schuldig right there. It's not enough to see Schuldig's eyes, and for some reason, that bothers him. He's still red; he can feel it in the heat in his face. "We're going to have to teach you how to not blush," Schuldig notes. "You can't afford to do that anymore."
Omi doesn't appreciate being teased and he turns back towards his papers again. Schuldig doesn't let him, instead he straightens a little and pulls Omi's head back his way. Omi can look up at him now. They stare each other down, two shades of blue, two entirely different people walking the same crooked path of life. Omi wonders just what's wrong with the world that they can even stand in the same room as each other. A year ago he'd have put a dart between Schuldig's eyes if only he could have been fast enough.
"Your move," Schuldig informs him.
Omi lets his hands fall back to the arms of the chairs and hesitates, torn. Schuldig says nothing to rush him, content to simply wait and see what comes of it. Omi knows he can look away now and go back to studying and Schuldig will let him. He knows he can lean up now if he wants and close this tense distance between them and Schuldig will let him. It doesn't tell him how Schuldig will react either way, only that Schuldig will let him do as he likes- either because Crawford told him to or because it amuses him.
"He is not my master," Schuldig says, but he sounds more entertained than irritated. "I have no master."
Schuldig calls this evolution.
Omi calls it the slow slide down a ledge he can't climb up again. He doesn't even know how he started falling and he's not entirely sure he's happy that he is.
"You are so fatalistic sometimes."
Omi eases himself up out of the chair before he can think on it more. It's just the slightest push up from the cushion, just enough to close the distance between them so he can press his mouth to Schuldig's. He hasn't kissed anyone since Ouka and just the feel of this is almost enough to make him flinch. It's been almost a year since her death, almost six months since Schuldig first showed up at his side and they were forced to argue about the circumstances of her death. It's been four months since Omi thought he could forgive Schuldig's role in that game and switch the blame to Farfarello instead. Still.
"Angst, angst, angst," Schuldig murmurs against his lips, and then both hands are on Omi's face. A heartbeat later he's kissing Omi, and it's something completely different. He has experience on his side- and, apparently, no second thoughts. His kiss is confident and aggressive. Omi forgets how to breathe somewhere between the first kiss and the second and he doesn't notice when he sinks back into his chair. Schuldig follows him there and eases around the chair without ever letting go of him, pushing Omi back into the cushions as he completely evaporates Omi's common sense.
Omi shudders a little when Schuldig leans back. Schuldig considers him thoughtfully and licks a little at his lips. He glances past Omi. "The other whiners have come back," he says, straightening. "Guess it'll have to wait. Pack that up." He flicks his fingers at the messy desk. Omi stares blankly back at him for a few seconds, trying to get his thoughts back in order. The sight of Schuldig's too-familiar smirk, as arrogant and self-satisfied as ever, snaps him awake. He's out of his seat in a heartbeat and gathering everything up as quickly and efficiently as he can. He trusts Schuldig to hold his teammates off just long enough for all of this to be safely tucked away.
He claps the lid on top of the box once it's full and shoves it under his bed. When he straightens, Schuldig is already gone. He's left standing alone, wondering just what piece of his soul he sold tonight. He presses his thumb against his mouth, feeling the way his lips still tingle, and wonders why he's smiling.
Aya x Omi
He found Aya practicing out back. The shop was parked out away from any street lights, so Aya was only dimly outlined by the light coming out of the trailer's kitchen window. Omi took a moment to consider how well he moved. He told himself not to get distracted from his original purpose of coming out here, but it was difficult when it was Aya.
Aya spotted him and slowed to a stop. Omi tried to remember what he'd come out here for. "Aya, can I talk to you?"
Aya frowned a little at that. Omi wondered if it was displeasure over the interruption, but then Aya concluded, "Something's wrong."
"Yes," Omi agreed, "and no. It's not mission related, anyway. Not technically." He worried at his jacket with his fingers, unable to stop himself, and watched Aya's face for any signs of rejection. Ever since they'd come to Kyoto, the team had been pulling apart at the seams. They didn't spend time together like they used to and it was breaking Omi's heart. He'd tried organizing a get-together last week, wanting to reclaim old times and easy ties, but it had been so awkward they'd all made excuses to split apart. Omi had retreated with his failure and the unavoidable fact that his team was breaking, and in light of that vicious wake-up call, had admitted to himself that Aya was the tie he could least afford to lose.
In their two years as teammates, he'd probably only seen Aya make three expressions. Stony came first and foremost, with angry right on its heels, and withdrawn was the most infrequent visitor to his face. The man lived a life of self-imposed seclusion, or as much as he could when he lived and breathed and worked with three other men. He never opened up to anyone, but in turn, he never pried and never let any of them down. It had taken them all months to realize how dependable he was beneath that antisocial exterior, but they'd all learned to rely on it.
Rely on it—and need it, in Omi's case. He still wasn't entirely sure how he had grown closer to Aya than either of the others, especially with Aya the most recent addition to their team. Maybe it was because Aya was so solid. Yohji was too good at dodging questions and staying impersonal, whereas Ken wore his heart on his sleeve like an open scar. Aya was different and always had been. Omi wanted to say that Aya felt that same close understanding despite the barriers between them, but since Aya never gave anything away, he could never be sure.
Ever since Birman had called him yesterday, he'd been half-sick with the realization that there was no way he could keep Aya- not with what she was asking of him. He still remembered, with a clarity that made his stomach hurt, how Aya had reacted the first time he'd found out who Omi really was. That blank shock, followed by distrusting fury, was something Omi never wanted to deal with again. So many months later, it still hurt to think about. What Omi was going to tell him was just going to bring it all back again.
"What makes you think I want to be this anymore than you want me to be?" Omi cried, frustration making his voice crack. "Am I supposed to be excited that I have a family again when they're a family of ruthless murderers? They undermine everything I was raised to protect!"
"You have his blood in you," Aya insisted. He raked his hands through his hair and the gesture was angry, almost helpless. It gave him away and gave Omi strength in turn. Aya, as a rule, didn't fidget. He opened his mouth to try again, but Aya beat him to speaking. "You're one of them, and I hate all of them. Get out of my room. Just—get out, and don't come back."
It had been a year now since they'd laid Takatori Reiji to rest, a year since Aya had gotten his revenge and five months since Aya-chan had woken up, and Aya was only recently starting to lose some of that sharp tension. But forgiveness was something Aya had never understood, and the concept of second chances was just as shaky. The fact that Aya had been able to get past his hatred once and work on the same team as Omi had been a gift from god, perhaps, or maybe Aya had just understood that Weiß was the only way to get his revenge. Maybe he'd written Omi off as the lesser evil, except Omi couldn't really believe that. Ever since then, he and Aya had never had real problems. Not really, except that Omi was growing increasingly distracted by the older man. Aya had to see it; there was no way the swordsman could miss it.
At last Aya started his way. Omi stepped down out of the doorway and pulled the door closed behind him. This wasn't something he wanted to bring up with the others yet. It was questionable how coherent Yohji was when he was drinking, and Ken had been out for hours, but Omi wasn't willing to take any chances. He propped his back against the trailer, needing some sort of support, and scrubbed at his face with one hand. He'd spent most of the day trying to think of how to bring this up with Aya, but now that the moment was finally here, he forgot every lead.
Aya stopped right in front of him, realizing Omi wanted this to be a private conversation and therefore standing close enough that Omi could keep his voice down. Such subtle consideration was almost enough to make Omi smile, except he felt sick to his stomach. Aya smelled like sweat and oil, determination and dedication rolled into one. Omi took a long, slow breath, trying to suck as much of Aya in as he could, needing the older man's strength.
"Birman called me yesterday," Omi said at last, feeling utterly miserable. "She—Kritiker's board has been talking." He struggled for words, wondering how he could say this, wondering if he could get it all out before Aya got mad enough to walk away.
Aya beat him to the punch. "About becoming Persia."
Omi's gaze snapped up to Aya's face. "W-what?" he asked, knowing he was gaping but unable to stop himself. "She told you?"
Aya's gaze slid away, staring off into the shadows at their sides. "Last week," he said, and Omi felt like the trailer had collapsed behind him. He was still standing, but his heart and stomach were positive he'd fallen down.
"She- she didn't tell me that."
"She didn't tell the others," Aya said. Omi's mouth worked soundlessly. Aya reached out and propped his sheathed sword against the side of the trailer. He still wasn't looking at Omi and Omi knew, knew that was a bad sign. "She wanted me to know before you had to tell me, because she knew you would say yes."
Omi said nothing to that at first. He just stared up at Aya, heart twisting a little in his chest. Aya already knew, but Aya had spent the last week pretending like he hadn't. He hadn't even seemed angrier or more tense than usual. "Will you hate me again?" Omi asked quietly. Aya finally looked at him, expression going blank, and Omi knotted his fingers in his jacket, needing something to hold onto. "It means they're going to make me a Takatori."
Aya's jaw worked a little at that name. "In name," he relented at last. "That doesn't mean you'll be like them."
For a fleeting moment, Omi thought he was going to cry. The stress and misery and heartache of the last day had pulled his entire being into a tense knot and Aya had just abruptly cut that knot open. He clenched his fingers into white-knuckled fists on his coat, trying not to tear up. The others had always laughed that he cried far too easily, though Ken said once it was because Omi could still feel things like the other three couldn't. That didn't make Omi like it any better, and he refused to cry in front of Aya.
Or so he thought, but he still felt his eyes prickling. He let go of his jacket and scrubbed viciously hard at his cheeks, using the pain to try and center himself. When he blinked his eyes weren't watery anymore, and then Aya caught his wrists to stop him.
"I'm the only one who can do it," Omi said. It tasted like an excuse on his tongue, but it was the truth.
"Then do it," Aya said simply. "Kritiker needs a head."
"And you?" Omi asked, staring up at Aya past his hands.
"I will always be Weiß," Aya answered. "I will always be your sword."
Damn it, he was going to—
He couldn't scrub at his face again, not with Aya holding onto him, so he did the next best thing: he took a step forward and leaned up against Aya, hiding his face against the other man's leather jacket. He knew even as he did it that Aya was likely going to push him away, but Aya would have to let go of his hands to do that, and that was enough.
For a long moment, Aya didn't move. At last his grip relaxed on Omi's wrists. Omi started to straighten on his own before Aya had to push him away, but then gloved fingers were sliding into his hair to hold him in place. He went perfectly still, staring blankly at Aya's chest, lungs and heart frozen in his chest. A second was all it took and then he was moving, wrapping his arms around Aya's waist and holding on for dear life.
"Do what you have to do," Aya told him. "Be who you have to be. It is all any of us can do." Omi nodded at that and they stood in silence for a minute. "I will talk to the others," Aya offered. "They will understand."
"I don't care," Omi said. It scared him a little to say that out loud, especially in front of someone, but with Aya's hands in his hair, he couldn't help it. He half-expected Aya to let go of him at such a response, but Aya didn't even twitch in reaction. "As long as you say it's okay, then it's okay. It's not their approval I need." He loved them desperately, his heartbroken brothers-in-arms, but it was Aya that he needed, Aya that he wanted to reach out to and hold on to. "Aya, I-"
He couldn't find the words for it, but he didn't need to. Aya's grip tightened and the swordsman tilted his head down to rest his chin on Omi's head. Aya didn't say anything else, but his grip said enough, and the night was forgotten as they stood there together.
Aya x Crawford
The intersection was packed with Japan's evening crowd. Aya stood with his back against a towering skyscraper, the only still point among such revelry. Neon lights flashed off billboards and storefronts, casting almost sickly glows across the swirling mass around him. High heels and business shoes clicked against the asphalt, barely audible over the cacophony of voices and cell phone alerts.
He kept his gaze moving, watching the crowd for familiar faces. Koua's students weren't allowed off campus grounds, but teachers were another matter. They seldom came all the way into the city, but sometimes they needed a break from the isolated countryside. This weekend they'd organized a rather large outing, snagging half of the teaching staff. Aya could have taken advantage of their absence and stayed close to the school, but he didn't want any of Koua's masterminds to get suspicious. On top of that, he had a rather important meeting here tonight. He'd agreed to come along and spend the day with the teachers, but had stated ahead of time that he would not be joining them for drinking and that no, it would not be necessary to count him in when making hotel reservations. He already had a hotel room.
With so many people around, it would be impossible to spot Crawford, so they'd decided ahead of time that Crawford would be the one to come find him. With his red hair, he was by far the easier of the pair to spot, even with the increasing trend of dyed hair among Japanese youths. He'd offered to just head straight to the hotel, since it had seemed easiest and it would give them the privacy they needed, but Crawford had brushed that aside without a satisfactory explanation. Instead Aya was to wait here, halfway down the block from the bar the teachers had disappeared into.
It didn't take Crawford long to materialize out of the crowd, and Aya straightened away from the wall to move towards him. Bodies bumped and slid against him as he cut a path to Crawford, but he kept his eyes on the American and didn't slow. The crowd just helped push them together, chest to chest, and Aya quirked an eyebrow at him.
"I am on time," Crawford responded.
"Fujimiya-sensei!" someone called, and Aya hesitated before following the sound of his name. Asami had just made it over to him, looking a bit flushed from her first couple drinks. "Why don't you- oh," she said when she realized he wasn't alone. She blinked a bit owlishly at Crawford. "We thought as long as you were waiting, you could at least have a drink with us, but your friend has made it," she explained, and she bowed to Crawford. "Hello."
"Asami is our English teacher," Aya said, gesturing between them. "Asami, this is- Joseph."
"A pleasure," Crawford murmured, perfect politeness without any hint of sincerity. "I have heard much about you." Asami flushed a little more at that, looking a little pleased for reasons Aya didn't quite understand. He hoped she would just turn around and leave again. He and Crawford had had to be exceedingly careful about all communication once Aya had taken up his post at Koua Academy, and he hadn't seen the man face-to-face in over a month. They had a lot of catching up to do, not all of it verbal.
"It's wonderful to meet one of Fujimiya-sensei's friends," Asami said. Aya wondered if it was the alcohol that kept her from sensing how unwelcome she was. Someone bumped into her on his way by and she stumbled a bit. Aya reached out automatically to steady her. She beamed at him and dropped her eyes, straightening her outfit and making sure her handbag was still secure at her elbow. "How long have you two…" She trailed off, staring at Aya's side.
Aya followed her gaze down to see Crawford's hand on his waist. The pressure and warmth was so familiar by now that he hadn't even noticed when Crawford had taken hold of him. Now that Asami was staring, he could feel Crawford's arm against his lower back.
Asami's mouth moved soundlessly as she forgot her train of thought. "…been dating?" she finished weakly, and her face went bright red at asking such a blunt question.
It took a great show of willpower for Aya to keep a scowl off his face. "A while," he answered vaguely. Asami's face went past red to a plum shade. "Thank you for the invitation, Asami-sensei, but as my friend is here now, I will be leaving."
"Of course," she managed. "Of course. I'll just- I'll just go back and let them know you've left. See you in the morning, then?" she asked, but she didn't stick around long enough for the answer. She was already turning away and bolting back towards the bar, humiliation as thick in the air behind her as the scent of her perfume and alcohol.
"Joseph?" Crawford asked.
"She used the name in one of her lessons the other day. It was the only one I could think of."
"What was that for?" Aya demanded, flicking him an annoyed look.
"I didn't foresee it coming up in any of your conversations with her."
"I don't see how it ever would have," Aya sent back, "considering it is none of her business."
"I am simply securing my future the way I see fit," Crawford answered with a slight, careless shrug. "She was growing far too interested in you. Since you seemed content to wait your mission out and then just duck and run, it was left to me to act on it."
He sounded completely bored by what he'd just done, as if breaking Asami's heart was on his list of errands between dropping off dry cleaning and picking up groceries. "I was handling it."
"Mm," Crawford said, all easy tolerance of Aya's apparent short-sightedness. Aya gave him a cold look in return, hating even the illusion of being patronized. Crawford's mouth twitched into a faint smirk and Aya let it slide, deciding now wasn't the best time to get in a fight over it. They could argue later, from a distance. Right now they were standing up against each other for the first time in forty-one days, and they had better things to do than fight. He'd have to do a lot of damage control with Asami, but perhaps that had always been inevitable.
It was a ten-minute walk to where their hotel was. Crawford already had their key, so he brought them past the desk to the elevator. Aya was the first into the room and he neatly toed out of his shoes before making room for Crawford to do the same. The room wasn't much, little more than an overly long bedroom, but that was all right. There was more than enough room for a desk for them to work at and a bed for them to sleep in.
"There's coffee," Crawford said, just as Aya heard it click on somewhere further in the room. He stepped forward and found a small kitchenette built into one of the walls. Two mugs were already set out for the coffee. Aya knew they'd both need it; there was far too much for them to accomplish and a painfully small amount of time to achieve it in.
Aya was the only one of Weiß who knew Schwarz was going to be in on this mission with him. Mamoru had assigned Crawford and Aya to each other not long after they'd made it back to Tokyo from Kyoto, just as he'd taken Nagi as his own liaison. When Ken and Yohji had been sent to Europe, Aya had been left with two fresh-faced teammates and Crawford. Somehow Crawford had become the more tolerable of the three to spend time with, and Crawford had worked slowly and steadily to take their work to the line between business and pleasure.
"You realize she's going to be staring at me all morning when she sees how tired I am," Aya said over the gurgling of the coffee pot.
"Eventually she will learn not to stare."
"I never pegged you for jealousy," Aya said, turning to face Crawford.
"Call it possessiveness and the fact that I was taught I never had to share."
"You had a stunted childhood."
Aya gave a quiet snort at that and reached up, curling his fingers around the back of Crawford's neck and pulling the man in for a kiss. Crawford's hands were on him just a heartbeat later, working at the buttons on his jacket. Aya had to let go of him to get out of the sleeves, but his hands went right back, feeling out the lines of Crawford's broad shoulders.
'Securing my future', he'd said, the way he only talked about long-term projects. They were just a few words, but they were the most either of them had ever talked about what they were doing here. It made Aya realize that Crawford really was thinking this out as an ongoing thing, more than just a couple months while their teams coordinated their work against Estet. Aya considered that, turning the notion over and over in his head.
"Should I ask what you're thinking about?" Crawford asked against his mouth. Aya leaned back a little with a questioning look on his face. Crawford lifted his thumb to Aya's face and traced it over his mouth, and Aya belatedly realized his mouth was trying to twitch into a smile.
"You'll figure it out eventually," he said, turning his head just enough to lightly bite at Crawford's thumb. Crawford accepted that- and the invitation in that bite- and leaned in to kiss him again. Aya tangled his hands in Crawford's shirt, pulling the man harder up against him.
It was the first time since before Aya-chan's accident that he'd thought he could actually consider a future for himself. He supposed it was only fitting that it was an oracle who gave him that second chance.
Crawford x Ken
"I find this somewhat anticlimactic."
Ken went still where he was tracing invisible lines on the wall. He'd heard his cell door open, but he'd ignored it. The guards came by so often that he'd started tuning their visits out. All they wanted was to fuss at him for being such a troublemaker or to drag him off to meals. He had no use for them, just as they lacked any real interest in him. They were frustrated by his presence, since the circumstances of his incarceration meant they had limited authority over him. He was one of their prisoners, but the guards had been informed that they were merely holding on to him for a time, until those with real jurisdiction over him stopped by to pick him up.
That voice, though, did not belong to any of the guards.
"They finally catch you?" he asked, rolling over onto his other side so he could see the man standing in the doorway. Crawford looked faintly amused by the prospect. Ken wondered how he could look amused and so insufferably arrogant in the same breath. He had to have cultivated that look over years. "What are you doing here, then?"
"I was passing by," was the dry response. "The guards have given me permission to take you on a walk around the grounds."
Ken considered that, wondering if it was a trap. A year or two ago, it would have been an obvious yes, but ever since Mamoru had taken Kritiker's throne, things weren't so certain anymore. Ken had never thought that Schwarz could be one of those uncertainties, but then, he'd never expected to see them showing up following Mamoru's lead at Koua Academy. Mamoru had never given them a satisfactory explanation for that, but then, Mamoru didn't answer to them anymore.
"What, no cliché 'I'm not going to hurt you' kind of speeches?" Ken asked. Crawford just quirked an eyebrow at that and Ken shrugged in response. "Yeah, whatever," he said, and Crawford stepped further into the room to get out of the doorway. A guard came in past him and crossed the room to take Ken's cuffs off. Ken ignored the man's quiet warning and sat up, rubbing a little at his ankles to try and work blood back into them. He had a red line across both where the metal had been on a little too tight. He got to his feet, watching the way the guard backed off a bit, and crossed the room towards Crawford.
Crawford led the way out of there, and Ken thought it telling that none of the guards followed them down the hall. They drew a couple glances from prisoners as they passed and Ken offered mocking salutes to a couple, only to get rude words and gestures in response. It was hard being so popular, sometimes.
It had been a week since they'd last let him outside. Behind such thick walls and the even thicker thorns of his thoughts, Ken had forgotten that it was spring. The air was so crisp that he could taste it on his tongue, like beer and sweets and hanami. The breeze smelled like cherry blossoms, even though no sakura trees grew on prison grounds. For a fleeting moment, Ken felt a viciously painful twist of nostalgia, but he forcibly crushed that. Times had changed; they'd all changed. They'd lost so much and there wasn't a way they could ever go back. All there was left to do was move forward, as soon as his feet found the path he was supposed to follow.
Crawford stayed near the buildings, likely because the courtyard was full of prisoners out on their breaks. Ken trailed behind him down the length of the wall. When Crawford stopped, Ken propped himself up against the wall and turned an expectant look on the foreign psychic.
"Why were you passing by?" he asked.
"Why not?" Crawford asked.
Ken supposed it was a valid answer and studied the other man's face. Crawford looked older than Ken remembered, not that he'd really ever seen much of the man. He wondered if those years had left their mark on his skin just like they had scarred his mind. The past three years had felt like an eternity between fighting Estet, watching Weiß implode, and his own impending insanity.
"How long are you intending on staying here?" Crawford asked.
"I didn't put me here," Ken pointed out. "I just had nowhere else to go."
Crawford's mouth twitched at that, just the hint of a smile that never formed. "Abyssinian already left."
"He was ready to go," Ken said, waving a hand in dismissal. Belatedly he realized what that said about him, so he added, "I'm still looking for something." He tilted his head to one side, gazing past Crawford towards the fence. "I'm just not sure what," he admitted without knowing why.
"Convenient," Crawford said, drawing Ken's attention back to his face. "It so happens that I am searching for something as well."
Ken folded his arms over his chest and arched an eyebrow at Crawford. "Oh?"
"Takatori Mamoru has a contract with my telekinetic," Crawford answered. "Even with Farfarello's return, Schwarz is down a man."
Ken gazed back at him, waiting for the rest of that story. When the silence stretched on, he realized that was it- and a heartbeat later, realized what Crawford was getting at. A second brow joined the first and he stared at the precognitive. "You can't be serious," he said. "You can't have seriously come all the way here and gotten me out of my cell so you could bid on me."
"Why not?" Crawford returned smoothly, expecting Ken's disbelief.
"Because I'm Weiß."
"Were," Crawford corrected him a little too easily. "You were Weiß. After Koua fell, you realized you didn't know what you were anymore, so Takatori put you here until you could sort things out again. Tell me, Hidaka, what you think he'll do with you if you can't figure things out and come back into his fold."
"I knew that when I agreed to come here," Ken answered. "We talked about it."
"You've been here for four months," Crawford said. Ken wondered if that was the truth. It felt like he'd been here forever, but at the same time, it felt like it had only been a couple days. Time was such a blur here when his thoughts refused to untangle themselves back to what he knew they needed to be. Still, four months was a lot longer than he'd expected it to be. "How long do you think he intends to wait on you to catch up to reality?" Ken didn't respond to that. Crawford tried a different tactic. "Why do you think I waited until now to come?"
"You couldn't get any of your first choices to say yes," Ken guessed.
"Tomorrow Takatori is officially erasing your files."
Ken felt like someone had punched him in the gut. Crawford inclined his head, an acknowledgment of how unexpected that announcement was. "You're still hesitating in the doorway," he said. "You're still halfway between who you are and who he wants you to be. The fact that you've been here for so long with no improvement means that he doesn't have the control over you he needs. He has to recognize that he's lost his Siberian, and now he must fully replace you. He cannot continue to fund your asylum here if you won't keep your end up."
Ken's initial reaction was one of disbelief. He told himself Crawford was just making this up to manipulate him and the situation, but he knew deep down that it was the truth. He thought wildly that he should call Mamoru up and let him know that he was back to his old self, that he was ready to be the justice-driven Siberian once more. That idea died as soon as it formed. He wasn't Siberian anymore. As soon as the missions started again, and the killing started again, Mamoru would know.
Four months of trying to clear his head, and he'd never realized just what piss-poor progress he'd made until now. When he laughed, he could hear it in his voice: that darkness that had started eating him alive in Kyoto. He rubbed at his forehead. "So that's it," he concluded. "Everything I've given them, everything I've lost for them, and now I'll be executed."
Crawford put a hand against the wall beside his head. "Only if you continue to lie to yourself that you're going to 'get better'," he said.
Ken stared at him past his hand, wondering how Crawford could possibly serious, wondering how he could even start to consider such an offer. "You're Schwarz," he pointed out bluntly.
"The accusation in that sounds so hypocritical," Crawford said. "We are no different in the end, Hidaka. We knew who and what you were years ago. We could all see it in you. It was inevitable once they handed you your claws. When you drown yourself so deep in death and blood, of course it's going to scar. Of course it's going to infect you and rip away everything else you could be."
"You kill innocent people."
"Innocence is a filthy word," Crawford responded, "and who gave you that notion, anyway?" Ken frowned at him, not understanding. "We are a group of bodyguards and assassins. We work for power-hungry politicians and corrupt men. We kill who we need to kill so that they can advance. Tell me how often these so-called innocents are the ones standing in our clients' ways."
Ken opened his mouth to refute that and found he didn't have an argument. He told himself to stop listening to Crawford, but it was impossible to tune the other man out and his legs refused to let him walk away from there.
"You're going to kill one way or another," Crawford continued. "Whether you lie to Takatori to get a pass free of here or you come home with me, you're going to kill. Under his lead, you'll always be living a lie, so close to the deaths you want but so far from the release you need. With us, you will never have to pretend. How could any of us judge you?"
Ken said nothing to that for a long minute. He had to look away from Crawford's face, gaze shying away from eyes that knew far too much about him. Crawford said nothing about the delay, content to wait.
"Why?" Ken asked at last. "Why are you even trying to convince me?"
"First and foremost, because it is a waste of talent to let Takatori execute you," Crawford answered. "You already know what Schwarz is, so we would not have to explain anything to you. You have a proven track record of working in a four-man team. Your style of killing is close enough to Farfarello's that we know how to work with that. We already understand your personality, so you would not be an unknown factor to work around. We have a lot of work to do; we would prefer to get started on it as soon as possible. You are the most obvious choice."
"First and foremost," Ken said slowly, because he needed time to think about that. Crawford's explanation made sense when he almost didn't want it to. "And the secondary reason?"
Crawford's mouth twitched again. Ken looked back at him, studying the way Crawford didn't stop the expression this time. It used to be a bad thing when they saw any of Schwarz smirking, but Ken wasn't intimidated by them anymore. He still was curious as to what had spurred that particular look, though, and he lifted his gaze to Crawford's face.
"We will call it personal interest, for now," Crawford said. Ken frowned at that, confused. "You will understand in time," the American assured him, sounding supremely confident. "Everything happens in due time."
"If you're so sure it'll happen, then why are you even asking me if I want to join you?" Ken asked. "Haven't you already seen my response?"
"I have," Crawford agreed easily. "Still, it is only courteous to discuss the offer with you."
"Your teammates beat that consideration into you?"
"Schuldig does not appreciate having his future spelled out to him," Crawford said with the slightest shrug of one shoulder. "We have all learned to compromise."
"Yeah?" Ken asked. "And I suppose Schuldig and Farfarello are thrilled that they're going to have me in their midst."
"I don't think you understand just how long ago I discussed this option with them. They have had ample time to get used to the idea."
"Yeahhh," Ken said slowly. "Don't tell me, because it might creep me out."
"You said it as a positive," Crawford told him. "'That they're going to'," he quoted back.
Ken hesitated, wondering if he'd really worded it that way. He had. He thought he should take it back, or tell Crawford that it was a slip of his tongue. He stayed silent instead, working through his options. Either he could stay here and let Mamoru sign his death sentence tomorrow, or he could leave here with Crawford. Staying was dying; leaving was accepting that he was a twisted, psychotic murderer. The thought made him chuckle and he rubbed at his forehead some more.
Crawford relaxed his arm a bit so he could step closer. "Stop fighting it," Crawford advised him.
"Easy for you to say."
"Is it?" Crawford queried. "We have already come to this ledge and chosen to step off it. It does not matter that the choice was not ours originally. All that matters is that we had a say in whether or not we were going to crumble when we found out what we truly are."
Ken didn't answer that. Something moved in his peripheral vision and he glanced past Crawford towards the fence. Two figures had come up on the other side and were relaxing against the iron links. It had been months since he'd last seen them, but Ken could never forget those faces.
You coming or what? Schuldig's voice came, somewhere between his fingers and his temple. I'm starving and Crawford's making us wait on you before we can get some food. You have enough experience with angst and self-doubt that you can multitask and do that over dinner.
Ken laughed. The sound startled him; maybe it startled Schuldig as well. "Yeah," he said, unsure if he was answering Schuldig or Crawford or both of them. He couldn't help but think he was out of his mind for actually taking a chance on this, but he didn't have it in him to stay and die here just on Mamoru's say-so. Kritiker had made him into this; let Kritiker live with the consequences. He wasn't their game to start and stop and terminate just because he wasn't up to their standards anymore. "Yeah. Let's get out of here."
"Good," Crawford said, with a quiet approval Ken hadn't heard from anyone since they'd first left Tokyo years ago. It still took him a moment more before he stepped back away from Ken, and then he started for the fence.
"You think they'll actually just let us leave?" Ken asked, following after him.
"Do you think they could stop us?" Crawford returned easily. "And before you can ask about security, Nagi has already disabled it. He knew of our plans for you before he even knew he would be transferring to Kritiker. Before we released him from our team, we made it clear that he had this final job to run for us. When Kritiker comes looking for you tomorrow, they will find no trace of you here, nor any evidence as to how you broke free."
"As if they'll just let me go," Ken pointed out.
Crawford slid him a sideways look. "We are Schwarz," he pointed out, and Ken felt an odd little tingle when he realized he was included in that 'we'.
Let them try and come for you, Schuldig added, sounding darkly amused. They were close enough to the fence now that Ken could see the vicious, toothy smile on Schuldig's face. They won't stand a chance. Eventually they'll do the math and realize they stand to lose a lot more by coming at us than they do by letting you go. Only one on their side who could try is Nagi, and he'll never take a job against us.
Glad to know you care, Ken said dryly.
You think Crawford would let us let you get hurt? Not likely, Schuldig returned, quirking an eyebrow at him. He beckoned to the guards, and one moved to open the gate for them. Ken took in the unfocused look on the guard's face as they passed. It had been so long since he'd seen Schuldig's handiwork up close that he'd forgotten how creepy it could be. You'll get used to it.
I suppose. What does that mean, about Crawford?
Figure out your messes on your own, kid. I'm sure as hell not getting into the mess that is Crawford's personal life.
"Enough, Schuldig," Crawford said. Ken wondered if the man could hear them or if he just knew from the silence and the look on the telepath's face that there was a conversation going on out of his reach. Schuldig offered the precognitive a wolfish grin in response and held his hands up in self-defense.
Personal; Crawford had already written Ken off as personal interest. Ken didn't understand, but he let it slide for now. He glanced from Schuldig to Farfarello as the gate closed behind him, taking in the amusement on one man's face and the bored tolerance on the other. He looked over at Crawford last and studied the almost arrogant satisfaction that gleamed in Crawford's eyes.
For one, fleeting moment, he thought he understood, but that passed, buried under the thought that this was a terrible mistake. He held on to that feeling for just a second, turning it this way and that, and then let it go completely.
To hell with it, he thought, and he'd never felt so free.
Crawford x Schuldig
Schuldig breathed as if he'd never tasted air before, sucking in deep, desperate gasps. Salt water licked against his face, lighting his cuts on fire and turning his mouth as dry as a desert. He choked on it as it lapped its way passed his lips onto his tongue and down his throat, but he didn't have the strength to stand. Fingers dug ineffectually into sand and hard rocks, searching for purchase and finding nothing. He had been thrown up against the rocks so hard he was partially impaled on one of them, and between the tide and his vicious shaking, he knew he was cutting himself even deeper.
Someone started coughing a short distance away; it was just a cough but he recognized Nagi's voice anyway. The kid's thoughts were sputtering in the back of Schuldig's gift, and then they went blank as the telekinetic woke himself up by throwing up all over the beach. Every cough sounded like it was tearing Nagi's throat open and did nothing to help Schuldig's wobbly stomach or shredded nerves.
He had the sudden, distinct sensation that he was falling, and his gag reflex, already weakened from listening to Nagi, failed him. He pushed himself up just enough to not drown in bile and salt water as he coughed it up out of his stomach and lungs. His arms held out only long enough for him to finish coughing and then he toppled onto his side. One hand slid across the ground towards his chest and he felt his way down his front, searching for his wound. He found it on his hip, sticky hot blood and shorn flesh.
His mouth moved over a name he no longer had the breath to call out, and he struggled to pull his telepathy back together.
"Schuldig," Nagi rasped, struggling to crawl his way. Schuldig cracked his eyes open to look. The telekinetic had hit the beach just a short distance away. He looked like Schuldig felt, already covered in black and blue bruises. Now that he was out of the waves, his wounds had started bleeding again, though the streams were sluggish as they tracked their way down his face and arms. His stare was unfocused and his path more than a little unsteady.
"Concussed," Schuldig said, or tried to say. His mouth was too dry and his throat too sore to manage the words. He tried to motion for Nagi to sit still, but Nagi wasn't listening. Nagi's body solved that problem for him when he sagged to the ground halfway to Schuldig. Nagi grabbed at the rocks around him with weakened hands, looking for the balance and energy he needed. Schuldig worked his mouth, trying to find moisture, and just made himself sick with how chalk-dry his tongue felt. "Stay still," he tried to say anyway, and he thought he heard Nagi moan a little in response.
Here, was the distant response.
Schuldig's eyes fell closed and his entire body relaxed. He refused to recognize that hot rush in his veins as relief. Breathing?
He tried to laugh. The best he managed was a breathy grunt that made his abdomen hurt. Now that he knew Crawford was alive, he finally spared a moment to locate Farfarello. The Irishman was unconscious, but alive. Nagi was awake, but slipping fast into unconsciousness once more. Schuldig wished he could join them, but judging by the blood he was dabbling his fingers in, that wasn't the best idea. He hated being responsible. More than that, he hated survival instincts. He just wanted to sleep.
Did we succeed?
Define 'success' in this instance.
The Elders are dead, aren't they?
In that case, yes. We succeeded.
Should we play 'My body is more broken than your body'?
I hated that game when you devised it in Rosenkreuz and I hate it still now.
Does that mean you're winning? Schuldig tried to push himself up. His hip screamed displeasure at him, but he tried a second and third time until he managed to stay somewhat upright. He looked out across the beach in both directions, but he didn't see either Crawford or Farfarello. The sea must have carried them elsewhere. He didn't like that. He could hear Crawford, but he needed to see him, especially now that Crawford hadn't responded to his last question. He was tensing up all over again. Where are you? he demanded flatly.
I'm still here.
I said, where are you?
I am on the beach, Crawford assured him. Set off your trigger, Schuldig. The retrieval team will arrive at my location in thirty seconds. They have to be able to find you.
Schuldig struggled to get his watch off and turned it over. One hard pop got the back off, revealing a discreet silver button, and he pressed it. It blipped once in response, a sign that it hadn't gotten destroyed when the tower had collapsed and sent them all into the sea. Small mercies, he supposed. I can't see Farfarello. Nagi's right here.
I have Farfarello in my sights. Crawford's mental voice was starting to sound tired. Schuldig dug his fingers into his wound, grimacing at the stabbing pain, and held on tight to Crawford's mind. Crawford must have felt the press of Schuldig's telepathy against his shields, because Schuldig thought he detected a note of strained amusement in his, We're alive, Schuldig. The team is here.
They left it at that because they had to. Schuldig kept watch over Nagi and waited until a dark van appeared at the top of the cliff they'd beached beside. Suited bodies climbed out and paused at the edge to stare down at them. Schuldig didn't recognize their faces, but he didn't have to. The badges on their uniforms- and more that, the taint in their minds- identified them as Rosenkreuz psychics. Schuldig tried to offer them a saucy little wave, but he'd reached the end of his rope. The team was here now. Their work was finished. For now, at least—at last—they could relax.
And so he did, tipping over and collapsing to the ground. He was unconscious before he even hit the rocks.
He woke up in Austria, stretched out on a bed not much softer than the rocks he'd landed on. The blipping of machinery told him he was in the medical ward even before he woke up enough to smell the antiseptic. He blinked blearily up at the ceiling before looking around. The machines were newer than he remembered, but not much else in here looked like it had changed. Not much ever changed about Rosenkreuz except weapons and medical equipment. Those were two things the cabinet couldn't afford to be stingy on. They spent more on a psychic's designated weapons than they did on his food and clothes for his entire schooling.
He stretched out with his gift, looking for his teammates. Only when he counted three minds did he close his eyes again, and he relaxed back into a hazy, drug-aided rest.
They were given a week to recover, more time than Rosenkreuz had allowed any other team. But then, Rosenkreuz had never asked such a thing of one of its teams before. The school had had deals with Estet for half a century now. They'd funded and supported each other for a good forty-seven years, using and manipulating each other however they saw fit. The cabinet knew more than anyone else just what sort of adversary Estet would be, which was why they'd watched and waited for twenty years before finally finding a team they thought would be suitable for the job.
When Schwarz had been informed of their selection, Schuldig had gloated for a solid week whereas Crawford had gone off to quietly migraine somewhere. Only once the job had started had Schuldig finally realized why Crawford started swallowing painkillers on a regular basis. It had all been such aggravating work, delicate and needle-thin, precision work from start to finish. It had taken all of two weeks to drive him and the younger two completely mad. It had taken them two years altogether, with every day planned out a week in advance, every option explored and contingency plans piled upon contingency plans. They'd learned to positively hate each other during the first couple months, and then that hate had given way to unshakable reliance and trust.
Now it was over, and Schwarz was rewarded for their excessive caution by all four of them walking away alive.
It was both exhilarating and nerve-wracking being alive, Schuldig thought, now that their purpose had temporarily expired. The week of recovery was the first week in two years that they didn't have to clear their actions with each other. They still checked in with each other more than they needed to, especially in the first four days at the hospital. It was habit by now, just a flicker from one mind to another, and so familiar that Schuldig didn't even realize they were still doing it until one of the doctors, a telepath himself, demanded that they knock it off. The man couldn't hear what they were saying, not when the team was using the links Schuldig had knotted between their minds, but he could hear the buzz of it back and forth, back and forth, all day long.
Schuldig had not appreciated that rancor, and the cabinet didn't appreciate anything that annoyed their most prized possessions. It had taken just two hours to get the doctor demoted and assigned to a different section of the ward. Schuldig had taken a great deal of satisfaction in that, but it had also alerted him to two things: that he and his teammates were still intensively codependent, and that the cabinet was practically breathing down their necks waiting for them to be fully healed.
He was considering what that meant for Schwarz's future when his door creaked open. Schuldig didn't look up at first, fully expecting it to be one of the nurses coming by on an hourly check-in, but the prickle against his thoughts told him otherwise. His gaze snapped up and locked on the figure at the door before it was even open enough to fit a body through. Schuldig hadn't even noticed how uptight he'd been all week until he laid eyes on Crawford's face. It was only when he relaxed that he could feel just how sore his body was from being tense every waking minute.
Bruises still lingered on Crawford's face, looking almost obscene there. Schuldig hadn't seen Crawford banged up since they'd both left Rosenkreuz years ago. He didn't like seeing it again, but if it meant finally seeing Crawford for the first time since that tower had given out beneath them, he'd get over it. What would linger longer was the sight of Crawford decked out in some of the ward's black scrubs. He wasn't well enough to have earned his uniform back, but he had recovered past the hospital gowns. Later Schuldig would harass him about wearing such an undignified outfit. Later, when he could breathe around Crawford again.
"Shit," he said, trying to kick his sheets back so he could get up. His leg wouldn't let him, but that didn't matter, because Crawford was already crossing the room towards him. Schuldig didn't miss the way he was limping slightly and alarm prickled hot and anxious in his gut. "Shit. Hey."
He knew he sounded stupid, but Crawford didn't seem to care. He didn't even slow in reaching out, and two hands in Schuldig's hair pushed his head back. Words were thrown aside as unnecessary and Schuldig buried his hands in Crawford's pockets to yank him hard up against the bed. Crawford's kiss was taking him apart from top to bottom and Schuldig loved the way it felt to completely unravel under his touch. Three years as Schwarz; two years of living completely entangled together. A week apart had completely shot their nerves, no matter the ties between their minds that had kept them connected enough for conversation.
"You're going to pull his stitches," one of the nurses called from the other room.
"What say we get out of here and away from our nosey babysitters?" Schuldig asked.
"Soon," Crawford told him. "We have a meeting with the cabinet tomorrow, and then we will be moving into our own rooms until they have need of us again."
Just let us know when we need to make ourselves scarce, Nagi said against his mind.
You already know I'm not subtle.
At least give us the courtesy of a verbal warning.
I'll think about it. Now bug off.
Nagi retreated across the bond to talk to Farfarello instead, and Schuldig let Crawford kiss away his smirk. They stood silent for a few long minutes, Schuldig's forehead pressed against Crawford's chin, hands still tangled in each other's clothing. "Shit," Schuldig said at length. "We really did it, didn't we?"
"We're pretty cool, aren't we?"
"We've been known to be, now and then."
Schuldig laughed at that. "Suppose they'll be willing to give us a vacation?"
"You're on it now," was the dry response.
"Figured as much." Schuldig inhaled deeply and realized Crawford wasn't wearing his cologne. He wondered if the retrieval team had already unpacked for them or if they'd be unpacking their suitcases tomorrow when they settled in. They'd be moving out of the medical ward tomorrow and put back to work, but with Schuldig's leg still healing and the other three injured as well, they'd likely be here for a good month or so, pushing papers and helping out in the classrooms. They were Rosenkreuz's most valuable players now; the cabinet wouldn't send them back into the field until they knew their bodies were back into perfect shape. The next month was bound to be more than a little boring, but boring sounded good after the past two years. They could all use a little less excitement and stress.
"Life is good," Schuldig observed. It amused him a little to think that he meant it, but sitting there with Crawford's hands on him and his teammates just a few rooms away, he couldn't help but believe it.
Farfarello x Ken
Wood shattered in the air just inches from his face, ripped apart by blood-soaked claws. Through wood shards and sawdust, Ken had a perfect view of his target's terrified face. His stomach clenched in vicious hunger and he bared his teeth in a wicked smile, picking up speed and drawing his hand back for a blow. The man screamed, panicked, and whirled around the desk. Ken took a swing and just took the corner of the desk off, and his target blubbered a bit at the sound of smashed wood.
"Where are you going?" Ken called after him, leaping over the desk and giving chase once more. His voice sounded twisted in the air, choked by the laughter that was beating in his throat. "Where do you honestly think you can go?"
The man shouted something in response, but panic and fear made it impossible for Ken to understand. He didn't really care. All he cared about was the scent of blood, so thick in the air he could feel it on his skin. His target left a splotchy trail behind him where Ken had gouged him once already, and even in this darkness, Ken could see where the man's left arm flopped uselessly at his side.
"Aren't you even going to fight me?" Ken yelled at his back. Metal chains clanged where the man tried one of the sets of doors further down the hall. It was just a quick, frantic tug and then he was bolting away towards the next set. This one was unlocked and he threw it open, and Ken had to dodge to avoid getting hit in the face by one of the doors. The target pelted into the auditorium full speed, only to stumble when he stepped off the ramp and onto the stairs. Ken could see him pin-wheeling as desperation somehow kept him on his feet, but his balance had to give out on him eventually. Ken heard it when he hit and started rolling, and he laughed as he jogged after him. The stairs were lit up with little emergency lights, just enough to keep him from tripping
"I bet you're regretting everything now," he said, lifting his voice so the other man could hear him. "All that raping, all that murdering, all those lives you've destroyed. Actually, I bet you don't regret a damn thing. I bet the only thing you really regret is being caught. Hm?"
The man rolled until he hit the stage, and he hit that hard enough to knock the air out of him. Ken reached the base of the stairs and stared the target down with just a couple meters between them. It was too dark in here for him to see the other man's face, but he could hear the terrified, pained whimpers just fine. It disgusted him as much as the impending kill shot excited him, and he slid the flat of his blades along his cheek.
"Boring," Ken decided, "but that's all right."
He shifted, ready to throw himself at the target, wanting to bury his claws so deep in the man that they got stuck in the stage behind them. He had just started to move forward when a hand seized his wrist, and another clenched around his throat. He choked at the abrupt loss of air and started to struggle, only to have fingers tighten in response. He felt his spine creak and realized the hand on his throat was in the perfect position to snap his neck with one twist. Likewise, one hard wrench would shatter his wrist.
The sad thing was that he was smiling, laughing at himself for being caught like this.
His smile died the instant he recognized the voice at his ear: "It shouldn't be boring."
Ken went positively rigid, staring blankly out at the shadows. He heard cloth rustling as his target tried to crawl away and he pulled hard at Farfarello's grip, refusing to let the bleeding bastard go. Farfarello just held on tighter, dragging Ken harder up against his chest.
"The fun doesn't stop when the chase stops," Farfarello purred at his ear. "That's where it just begins. Hmm?"
Ken tried to answer, but he didn't have enough air left for it. Farfarello was shoving him away just a second later, bringing his foot up into the back of Ken's knee at the same time. It made him stumble away from there, keeping him from turning instantly on the Irishman and slashing him open. He grabbed at the first row of seats for balance, heart racing all over again, and whirled to defend himself. It was a useless precaution, because Farfarello wasn't moving for him; he was aiming for the target.
The man shrieked a little when Farfarello caught up with him, and Ken heard flesh on flesh as he struggled to get loose. Farfarello stilled him with a fierce kick to his stomach. He slid a look Ken's way, eye glinting eerily against the darkness as the emergency lights caught on it.
"That's my kill," Ken said, annoyed.
"Are you coming?" Farfarello returned, and he turned away. He got two arms under the man and hauled him off the ground, and Ken watched in confusion as Farfarello dumped him on the stage. A strong push had the man rolling further back away from the edge, just enough for Farfarello to pull himself up. Ken heard it when the target started struggling again, but Farfarello just caught his hair and slammed his head against the stage to stun him. Then, just like that, he disappeared into the shadows and left the groaning man there.
A minute later, the stage lights cut on, blinding Ken after such a long chase in the darkness. He brought his claws up as an automatic shield, but Farfarello's footsteps across the stage were calm and uninterested as he started back Ken's way. Ken blinked a couple times to clear his sight and frowned, watching as Farfarello stood over the target with an expectant look on his face.
"Here," Farfarello said, pointing down at the ground beside him.
Ken stared back at him for a minute, then closed the space between them and heaved himself up onto the stage. Farfarello started peeling knives free of various hidden sheaths on his body and he crouched beside the target. Ken came to a stop on the corrupt businessman's other side, eyeing Farfarello with a bit of wary confusion, and then crouched as well. Farfarello offered him a cold smile, there and gone again, and lowered his gaze to the shivering body between them. He lifted the man's damaged arm, turning it this way and that so he could clinically examine the wound. Fingers dug at the blood and gashes, making the man groan, and Farfarello considered blood-painted fingers.
"Strawberries on snow," the Irishman purred. At Ken's blank look, Farfarello offered him a lazy smile and licked idly at one fingertip. "Like strawberries on snow," he said, holding his hand out in offering, showing Ken how brilliantly red the blood looked against his deathly pale skin. He felt his stomach curl in need again. He couldn't drag his gaze away, mesmerized by the sight and the sound of labored breathing between them. Farfarello slid his fingertips together, forcing a drop to slid down the length of one finger, and moved his hand closer. Ken should have leaned back, but he let Farfarello touch him, let bloody fingertips press hard against his lips. "Same tang, same sweetness. Mm?"
Ken didn't stop to think twice about the invitation, not like he really should have. He just relaxed his mouth enough that Farfarello could push his fingers in. Fingernails slid lightly over his tongue, leaving the taste of blood behind, and Ken's fingers twitched against the stage. Farfarello was watching him with a hooded eye, his own lips slightly parted as he watched his fingers slowly disappear further into Ken's mouth.
Farfarello moved without warning. His other hand snatched up one of his knives and he drove it forward, slamming it into the target's hip so deep and hard that it ground against his pelvic bone. The man screamed, arching off the stage a little, and Ken shuddered so hard he bit Farfarello's fingers. Farfarello hooked his fingers behind Ken's teeth and pulled Ken forward across his body until his hand was all that was separating their faces.
"Your turn," he murmured into the scant space between them.
"There's a difference between what I do and what you do," Ken said as Farfarello let his fingers slide free.
He said it like it was that easy to close the gap between hunting and torturing. Staring at him, Ken couldn't help but believe that it really was just a tiny skip. He looked down, staring at the struggling man. Farfarello had left his knife embedded in the man's hip and he was holding the man down one-handedly, almost bored by the man's attempts at fighting him. His gaze never left Ken's face and Ken could feel that stare burning into him.
"Erase it," Farfarello said again, and Ken dragged his stare to his blades. At length he lifted it, watching the way light flickered over the edges and the blood that was drying there. He scratched idly at his face, turning his attention back on the target. Farfarello had both hands on him now, holding him down with his shoulders. The man was still trying to kick with one of his legs, but the motions were jerky and small, as the knife in one hip made it hurt so much to move from the waist down.
Ken considered him, weighing everything the man had done, tasting strawberries and blood on his tongue, and moved in a blur. He slammed his blades in low in the man's gut, far too low to be a quick killing blow, just enough to tear the man's guts to pieces. The harsh scream was loud enough in his ears to set his blood on fire. Ken's heart started racing, so fast that it hurt his throat, and he realized his breaths were growing short and quick.
"Yes," Farfarello purred, shifting forward. Ken looked up just in time for Farfarello to reach him, and he felt the Irishman's kiss all the way down to his groin. It snapped through him like lightning, setting every hair on his body on end, and his blood rushed hot with need. He heard bones crackling between them but didn't care enough to look and see what Farfarello was doing. The target's groans of pain, coupled with the slosh of blood and Farfarello's mouth on his, just made him moan. Farfarello's hand came back up to his face, leaving smears all over his cheek, and fingers curled around his chin hard enough that they were sure to leave bruises.
Farfarello caught at his hand and peeled his glove off. Ken let him drag his bare hand to the target's body. Farfarello pressed Ken's palm against the wound he'd just made, forcing his fingers into the gashes, demanding that he feel for the first time exactly what it was his claws were capable of. Seeing it wasn't enough; feeling it through the glove wasn't enough. This was real and this was him, was everything Weiß was turning him into. Farfarello pressed his palm to the back of Ken's hand, stretching his fingers out so their hands were aligned, and forced their hands into the holes.
It felt intimate; the invasive heat of fingers into a body was the same whether it was for sex or in death. Ken gasped a little against Farfarello's mouth, drowning in the rush, and let Farfarello push a knife into his free hand. Farfarello helped guide his hand so that he didn't have to look down, and together they cut the man open.
Ken didn't remember the man's tears, didn't remember his final cries or prayers, and he missed the dying gurgles entirely. All he felt and heard was Farfarello, and he was past ready by the time Farfarello pulled their hands away from the corpse and focused on just him.
The last thing he had expected was for Farfarello to feel so warm.
Maybe it was the blood, he thought dizzily, but he didn't care. He let Farfarello push him flat and helped drag the other assassin over the corpse to settle on top of him. The smells of blood and death were so thick that he could taste it on Farfarello's skin and in their hard kisses. He thought maybe he'd choke on it, but that was all right. At the moment, he couldn't think of a better way to die. He let Farfarello burn the night into him with hard hands and harder thrusts, with blood an ever-growing pool beneath him. He would have to wash up before he left, because his teammates would freak if they saw him looking like this, but he didn't care. He felt—good, for the first time in weeks. Satiated, when every other kill had left him restless and needing more.
He laughed against Farfarello's mouth, dragging the man closer still, digging bruises into the line of Farfarello's shoulders. He had a feeling he was going to think of Farfarello and sex every time he smelled blood from here on out.
He thought maybe he should see something wrong with that, but honestly, he couldn't really care.
Schuldig x Yohji
The familiar voice at his ear pulled him into awareness and he came back to himself with a hard jerk. The sight waiting for him was terrible but not wholly unexpected these days. He stared down into a panicked face, studying the way tears tracked down over her cheeks and smudged her thick make-up. It took him a moment more to see his hands where they were clenched around her throat. He lurched back away from her, stumbling through apologies she likely couldn't hear over her sudden gasps for air. She choked on every breath she managed to suck into her lungs and then started wailing. The tears lasted only a couple seconds before she went completely limp and still.
"Shit!" Yohji caught at her neck, pressing two fingers hard against her soft skin in search of a pulse.
She's still alive, that voice said. I just have no patience for crying bitches.
Yohji didn't believe that until he felt her heartbeat throbbing against his fingertips. With a sigh that was equal parts self-loathing and relief, he fell back into his seat once more. He rubbed at his head, struggling to clear his thoughts, and winced a little as he realized how much his jaws hurt. He must have been clenching them, but he couldn't really remember. The last thing he could recall was getting in the car. He didn't even know what they'd been talking about, or how they'd gone from talking to him choking her.
A knock at his window startled him out of his thoughts. He turned away from her and found himself staring into a cold smile and amused blue eyes. Schuldig waggled a hand in greeting and Yohji belatedly realized that voice hadn't been his own inner one.
My, my, are you in the shit, Schuldig observed, motioning for Yohji to roll his window down. Yohji stared sullenly back at him. Jesus, we leave you alone for five months, and you go and tear yourself apart. You could have at least invited us to watch the show.
"Fuck off and die."
You going to let me in or what? Yohji answered that by twisting the key in the ignition. Schuldig laughed and took a step back to get his toes out of harm's way. I suggest you talk to me, Schuldig advised him as Yohji pushed the parking brake down. That is, if you want me to erase what you just did to her.
Yohji went still with his foot on the brake. He glanced over at Kiyomi, then back at Schuldig. "What do you care?"
I don't. I'm just opportunistic. Schuldig pointed at the window again.
Yohji hesitated, then rolled it all the way down. It let a summer breeze in, bringing with it the scent of cigarette smoke, and Yohji idly wondered how long the man had been standing there watching. With the wind brushing over his face, he finally realized how hot he'd gotten. The inside of his car was an oven between their interrupted lust and the resulting, murderous tension. He sucked in slow, deep breaths, looking for mental balance and finding none. Schuldig seemed content to watch him, as if this was the most fascinating thing he'd seen all year. At last the telepath leaned over and folded his arms across the window frame.
"Hate to break it to you, kid, but you've got problems."
"Don't be hypocritical."
"It's called admiration."
"Don't be that, either."
"One can't exactly 'be' admiration."
"I'm remembering why I hate you."
"You've never hated me," Schuldig pointed out helpfully. "You are far too apathetic about far too many things to give an honest rat's ass about someone as incredible as I am."
"You take far too much pride in yourself."
"Sing me a song I haven't already heard."
"Would you just get to the point and tell me exactly what it is you want from me?" Yohji asked. "I know you're not offering to help me out of the goodness of your warm, loving heart."
"Just the mere suggestion that I even have one makes me sick to my stomach." Schuldig dropped his eyes to Yohji's lap and his lips twitched into a smirk. "You realize you're still hard, lover boy?"
"Fuck off," Yohji growled, reaching for the button to roll the window back up.
Schuldig's hand snapped out to stop him, seizing his wrist, and there was something positively predatory in the stare that returned to Yohji's face. "No," he said slowly. "I've got a better idea." Yohji seriously doubted that, since nothing the German came up with could be any variation of 'good'. He didn't say that aloud, but the look on Schuldig's face said he didn't have to. "Put your hands on your headrest."
"Because I'm going to get you off and I don't want to be strangled for it. Yet."
Yohji gaped. "You- what? Are you sick? You think I'm-"
Schuldig dug his fingers in so hard Yohji felt his hand creak. "I said put your hands on your headrest and leave them there," he repeated, "or your bitch over there gets to wake up remembering everything about you you wished you'd never started discovering. Either you get dirty now, or she goes crying to the police about you and you get to deal with that fallout. I'd decide right now if I were you just which reputation you're most worried about."
Yohji stared blankly back at him as Schuldig finally let go. "And the third option?"
"You have three seconds. One. Two."
"Shit, shit, shit," Yohji clenched his hands around the sides of his headrest and wrenched his gaze away from Schuldig's face. He could feel himself flushing in anger and humiliation, and a large part disbelief. "You're a sicker bastard than I thought you were."
"Likewise," Schuldig agreed, slipping his hand inside the car. Fingers trailed over Yohji's thigh before dipping between his legs, and Yohji got chills the second Schuldig's hand shoved up against the crotch of his jeans. His body appreciated the pressure after being tense for so long, but as long as his mind knew who it was, he couldn't think it was a good touch. "You're getting hard off strangling innocent little girls. She really fucked you up, didn't she?"
"Shut the fuck up," Yohji warned him through gritted teeth. Schuldig's hand started to move, slow and sure, as if there wasn't something seriously wrong with him fondling another man. The telepath laughed at his ear and proved he had absolutely no qualms about any of this by snapping the button open and peeling Yohji's zipper down. Yohji had to close his eyes before the sight freaked him out. "Shit."
"Relax," Schuldig purred at his ear, and fingers wrapped around hard heat in time.
It took longer than it would have otherwise, as Yohji's mind and body went to war against each other. Yohji almost wished he could just relax into it so it would be over sooner, but Schuldig's hand didn't feel remotely like a woman's and it kept him from putting together frantic, shallow fantasies. He was breathing hard by the time it finished, choking on both release and denials. Schuldig just laughed at his ear, low and hot, and licked his hand clean. Yohji stared blankly ahead of him, refusing to look Schuldig's way.
"She's clean," the telepath promised him. "Get her home before you work up the desire to try a second time. Hm?"
He stepped back out of the way, and Yohji didn't slow long enough to put his window back up. He just hit the gas and floored it out of there.
A couple days later, the nightmares started all over again. It took him another two months before he got depressed enough- and drunk enough- to put the moves on another girl. They were much too drunk to stand, so they ended up in the alley behind the club, propped up against each other and cool brick. Yohji remembered bits and pieces of words against each other's mouths, remembered blood and love and confessions, remembered-
Terrified, faint, dying.
Hands came down on his and wrenched them free, and Yohji stared blankly at bruises already forming as shadows on a pale throat. The girl was staring back at him, too afraid to even cry. Yohji's mouth moved soundlessly as his drunk mind tried to catch up with him. A second later she sagged down against the ground, eyes falling closed, and Yohji was pushed hard up against the bricks. He hit his head and swore a little at the pain, but he couldn't take his eyes off of the nameless girl.
"What are you going to do when this becomes routine?" a voice asked at his ear as hands yanked at his pants. "What are you going to do when this becomes our foreplay?"
Yohji gave up and closed his eyes against the brick and the fallen girl. "Nothing, I suppose. How much more can I possibly hate myself?"
"Oh, just wait and see, just wait and see."
Nightmares. Dying. Blood. He saw all their faces, all of the women he'd tried to hurt, all of the women he might have killed. He listened to their throats collapse between his hands, their breaths gurgle to a wet stop, and their spines snap beneath forceful fingers. He woke up with the shakes and barely swallowing back his nausea, and instinctively reached for the alcohol he kept on his nightstand. Across from him, Omi slept a soundless sleep. Aya's bunk was empty. The fierce, dull thuds said Ken was attacking the punching bag he'd bought last month. Yohji stared at the clock, found it to be three in the morning, and drank until the sun rose.
Yohji didn't even realize he'd crossed the line again until something wrapped around his throat and tightened so fast it jerked his head back. A hand at the base of his neck helped hold the buckle in place and he gagged a little at how snug it fit. He caught at the collar, scrabbling at the edges, and the girl shoved past him on her way to the door. She only made it a couple feet before she stumbled and dropped to the ground unconscious. Yohji tried to gasp for air. He felt the briefest flicker of it across his tongue, but it was a cruel tease when it wasn't even enough to make it to his lungs.
Fucking relax, Schuldig ordered him. Relax. I'm not going to kill you.
Yohji struggled with him, but alcohol had numbed his reflexes and his nerves. Schuldig just rammed him up into the corner of the bathroom and blocked his legs with his own. Yohji reached over his shoulder and grabbed a fistful of orange hair, giving it as hard a jerk as he could.
This would be the opposite of relaxing.
You fucking psychopath! Let go!
Schuldig slipped one hand around his waist and down into his half-unbuttoned pants. We're calling this experimenting, he said, completely undisturbed. You like choking people so much, figured you were aching for something like this. Ah.. looks like you were. Relax, flower boy. I'm in your head. Why would I let this go too far when it means it'd cut my fun short? Relax or you'll just tighten the collar further.
'Relax,' he said, but Yohji didn't know how he was supposed to relax when—
The pictures that hit his mind next cut short that train of thought, as well as any thought that might have followed it. Naked skin and curves and heat and moans, and it had been so long since Yohji had actually gotten to sleep with a woman that the images had an instant effect. He moaned helplessly, only the sound couldn't make it out of his throat. Schuldig rewarded that attempt by getting his pants down the rest of the way. The telepath even kept up the stream of images as he worked at Yohji, until Yohji was left hanging on a vicious edge, needing both air and release. Schuldig denied him both, tightening the collar until Yohji's vision was flickering black and slowing down his hand to a cruel pace. The images were starting to crumble under sensation, need and want and lust and—
He heard Schuldig bury a curse at his shoulder and realized belatedly that he was moving with the German's hand, and therefore back up against the telepath as well. There was one startled moment where he realized just where those heightened emotions were coming from, and then Schuldig's hand swept that all away.
He came harder than he had in months and collapsed forward against the wall, digging at the tiles for balance. A second later Schuldig was jerking the collar loose. Yohji gasped for air, sucking in ragged breaths as he tried to put his thoughts back in order. He was dimly aware that Schuldig was still resting up against him, searching for his own footing mentally and physically.
Schuldig was still the first to recover. Fingers danced over Yohji's earlobe as he leaned forward to prop his chin on Yohji's shoulder. "Next time, you can choke me, if you dare," the telepath promised him in a low voice. "I'm not one of your stupid women, Kudou. You take it one step too far and you know I'll drop you in one hit."
"Stop being so stupid," Schuldig told him. "You're never going to work shit out if you exist in denial."
"I'm not going to give up and give in to this," Yohji growled against the bathroom wall, feeling helpless against his own madness.
"It'd be boring if you did," Schuldig told him, winding the collar and its small leash loosely around Kudou's throat for safekeeping. "But there's always a third option, Kudou."
"You didn't give me one months ago."
"Somehow I don't think you'd have appreciated the 'kill the bitch and dump her body' choice."
Yohji had a feeling he'd hate himself for asking, but he still had to. "What's the third option this time?"
"Someone who isn't afraid that you're a total freak," Schuldig said, tightening the coils of the leash ever so slightly. "Someone who finds another way to work out your psychosis. Someone you can't kill."
"Since when are you anybody's solution?" Yohji asked.
He felt Schuldig smile against his cheek, there and gone again in just a second. "I guess you'll figure out," he said in response. "At least figure it out before you choke the next broad," he suggested, stepping away and going to examine himself in the mirror. Yohji eased around to where he could see Schuldig. The German was fixing his clothes, and doing so reminded Yohji that his own pants were undone. "Preferably sometime within the next thirty days, so the receipt's still good if I have to take your choker back." With a final, mocking smirk, he let himself out of the bathroom and disappeared.
Yohji stared after him for a long minute before slowly moving over to the sink. He stared himself down in the mirror and considered the leash around his throat. It took a couple minutes more before he could reach up and make himself touch the thin leather, and just the feel of it beneath his fingertips made him shudder a little. The fact that he couldn't tell whether or not it was in revulsion just made his stomach hurt. He carefully started uncoiling it, trying not to shiver at the feel of it sliding against his skin.
Why are you trying so hard?
I already told you I'm opportunistic.
This goes beyond that, don't you think?
Then we'll call it sheer delight at finding someone more fucked up than I am, was the telepath's amused response. Welcome to the rabbit hole, Kudou. You can't change the fact that you've reached wonderland, but you can at least decide if you're going to hit the ground alive. It's worth hitting rocks on the way down, isn't it, if it means you won't end up a smear?
Yohji thought about that in silence for a minute, staring down at the rope in his hand. He glanced towards the trash can, knowing full well that he should just throw it away.
He wasn't entirely sure why he wrapped it back up into a neat ball and hid it in his jacket pocket.
One day I really will choke you.
He could feel Schuldig's smirk against his mind, dark and hungry and waiting. It's a promise.
Yohji didn't drink that night. Neither did he dream.
Yohji x Crawford
Yohji was twitching by the time the train pulled up to the platform, desperate for some nicotine and a hard drink. He shuffled towards the door with the rest of the crowd, feeling his phone buzz at his pocket. Asuka, likely, but there wasn't room to answer it here and he wouldn't be able to hear her anyway. He let it ring as he spilled out onto the train with the rest of the commuters. It had stopped by the time he reached the escalators, and he tried hard not to drum his fingers on the handrail.
He had a cigarette between his lips before he'd even reached the exit and he held his lighter at the ready. He grimaced a little at seeing how packed the station was, realizing he'd come up the wrong set of escalators. He had to cut through the crowd rushing in and out of the south exit if he wanted to get to the smoker's area, and at this time of day, he'd come out of a judo match with fewer bruises. Still, a cigarette was worth the pain after a day like today, so he waited for his chance.
At last a small gap opened up between the crowd, and he bolted for it, ducking between bodies as fast as he could and trying to work his way to the other side. Shoulders hit and bumped, but no one dared look at each other, knowing the second they made eye contact, they'd all be forced to start playing nice and giving way to each other. Anonymity was best in situations like these, and so Yohji didn't see the woman until it was a second too late.
She was on her way over from the other side, rushing as quickly as she could, one hand waving a silent gesture of apologies in her wake. She glanced up at the same time he did and he saw surprise flicker across her face as they realized they were on a collision course. Yohji ducked quickly to one side to get out of her way, knowing it was just running him up against the crowd. She made it past without even slowing, but just as he tried to get his footing back, he tripped over someone else's shoe. He ended up stumbling forward, unable to get his balance back after how fast he'd been going, and at last he tripped—
—and ran hard up against someone's chest. Hands came up automatically to his elbows to steady him, but Yohji didn't notice. His entire body just froze.
It had been six months now since he'd woken up in that hospital with only a name. In all that time, he'd gotten achingly few memories back. His fiancée was never enough to trigger things; neither was his mundane office job. No, what always left him reeling were scents.
This one bothered him in all the wrong- right- ways. Cologne and cigarette smoke were like acid to his brain and common sense, ripping it all away. He was only dimly aware that he'd dropped both his cigarette and his lighter in favor of grabbing the stranger's jacket in a death grip.
"Hey, hey," a nasal voice said at his side. Sea salt and cooper and- "Don't wrinkle the expensive suit."
"Schuldig," a low voice said right in front of him. "Shut up now."
Yohji realized belatedly that he was clinging to a total stranger. He jerked back a bit now that he had his balance back, more than a little mortified. He had his mouth open for apologies and was all set to start bowing, only to falter as soon as he saw the two men in front of him. They were both foreigners: one who looked like a j-rocker wannabe, the other who was very obviously a businessman. The latter was regarding him with a calm, if distant, look on his face. The rocker took one look at Yohji and almost inhaled the beer he was sipping at. His companion didn't even look his way but thumped him hard on the back to clear his lungs. Honey-brown eyes never left Yohji's face. Yohji realized they'd been speaking Japanese just a second ago, and he decided to take his chances.
"I'm so sorry," he started to say, bowing hurriedly.
"Awkward," the flashy one said in-between coughs, waving his partner off. Yohji glanced up at him, worried that they couldn't understand him. The loud one scrubbed at the side of his face, regarding his companion with a sideways look. He opened his mouth as if to say something, then thought better of it. "I'll go back alone," he said instead, and he disappeared into the crowd.
Yohji had the distinct sensation he was falling, and on the tail end of that was horror. "I know you," he whispered. "I mean, I should know you, shouldn't I?"
The businessman considered that for a moment. "We used to be acquainted."
Guilt was toxic. Yohji picked up his fallen lighter with nerveless fingers. "I'm sorry," he breathed. "I'm so sorry. I- There was an accident, and I-"
"I know," the not-stranger said.
They stood there in silence that felt horribly awkward to Yohji. He struggled with his next course of action, wondering frantically what one was supposed to do in a situation like this. The foreigner was Yohji's worst fear brought to life: someone from before, someone he'd known well enough that the rocker would give them privacy. He'd toyed with such a confrontation in his thoughts, wondering just what he'd think and say. He'd never been able to figure out if he'd lived every day hoping for a piece of who he was or if Asuka was right and he was much better off with a clean slate. She claimed his brain knew best and that it was burying his past on purpose. But what did she know, really? His tattoo seemed to back her story up, but people were always tattooing strange things on themselves.
"I, ahh… I'm sorry," he said, picking nervously at his lighter. "I'm not… Shit, there's no good way for me to say this, is there?"
"Perhaps, then, there is nothing to say." The other man inclined his head to him. "This is how you would have wanted it, I suppose."
"Is it?" Yohji asked desperately, moving with the man when it seemed as if he was going to turn away. "Would I have really wanted this for myself?"
The other man eyed him, but there was still a distant look on his face, as if he was looking past Yohji entirely. Even when the crowd pushed them practically chest to chest, so close Yohji could feel the man's breath on his face, the stranger was staring through him. Yohji could smell his cologne again and it was choking him, memories that were just smoke in his mind, there and gone again so faint he could barely make out shapes.
"The last time we spoke, you were trying to find a way out," the man explained simply. "You wanted to forget everything. You wanted a chance to start over. Now you have it. Are you not satisfied with how things have turned out for yourself? You have a regular man's job and a regular man's wife-to-be. What more could you possibly want?"
"But why?" Yohji asked, digging a hand into his stomach to try and calm the ache building there. "What was I trying so hard to forget?"
"If I remind you, what is the point of you having forgotten?"
That did nothing to make Yohji feel better, and instead made him feel even more miserable. The man's words were simple and matter-of-fact, but something about them felt like an accusation. It was just a prickling at the back of his throat, denials and self-defense he didn't feel justified in voicing. Whoever this man was, Yohji had known him once, and Yohji had made it perfectly clear that even he would be expendable if only Yohji could get a second chance at life. He'd actually told a companion- colleague? friend?- that he would be happily erased.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I-"
A businessman shouldered roughly past him, sending him tumbling into the stranger a second time. Yohji's face ended up against the other man's throat, and for a second, he felt his heart skip a beat. He felt the other man's head turn into his almost instinctively, just a slide of cheek on cheek, felt an unyielding chest against him. Cologne and cigarette smoke; copper blood and… gunpowder? A flash of skin, golden in the light.
Yohji's mouth opened soundlessly.
"Leave it forgotten," the man said at his ear. "You worked so hard to forget."
"I bought you this?" he asked slowly. "This cologne? I recognize it."
He hadn't stepped back yet. He knew, knew, that he needed to. He knew he was completely invading the other man's space, knew he was crossing a serious line here. He knew that, but he couldn't move. He was stuck in the middle of Shibuya Station and stuck up against a man he couldn't but needed to remember. His feet felt cemented to the floor and he couldn't pull his nose away from the man's throat. Their chests were rising and falling in time and Yohji scrabbled desperately at his blank memory.
A name, he thought desperately. Please at least give me a name.
"Yes," the foreigner answered at length.
"Did I really want to forget?"
"Up until the last moments," was the response.
"I had second thoughts, you mean."
"Don't have them again."
Blood and salt and heat and musk.
"Tell me your name."
His phone started buzzing again. Standing this close, they could both feel it. The stranger stepped back, giving him room to reach for it. Yohji dug it out of his pocket, wanting to just ignore it, but he knew he couldn't. He flipped the phone open instead and hated answering the call.
"Sorry to bother you," Asuka said cheerfully. "I was just wondering if you paid the utilities bill today? I can't find the slip anywhere."
"Yes," Yohji assured her. "I dropped it off on the way to work."
"Okay, thank you! Do you suppose you'll make the last train home tonight? I know you're out drinking; I just want to know if I should worry if I don't see you."
"Ahh, I'm not sure yet," he answered. "I should- I think. Probably. Don't stay up waiting, all right? You need your sleep."
"All right, then," she agreed easily. "I'll see you in the morning, all right? I'm making fish for breakfast."
"My favorite," Yohji said, and wondered if sounded as hollow as he felt. "Good night." He waited until she responded in kind and then crammed his phone back into his pocket. "I'm sorry," he said. "That was-"
"Your fiancée," was the calm response, and Yohji wondered if it was his imagination that it sounded a little cool. Golden skin and glasses and raven hair. Bare skin and- "She's a nurse, I hear. Congratulations."
Yohji tried to murmur thanks, but it got stuck in his throat around a more pressing question. He told himself he had to be crazy, that he had to be remembering things wrong, but… "We… Were we?" He faltered, searching for a good way to put it, gesturing helplessly back and forth between them. "We, ah…"
"Stop trying to remember."
"You're not helping yourself."
"Or me," the foreigner noted.
"Shit," Yohji whispered, feeling ill. He knotted his hands in his hair, staring blankly at the other man. "It took me three stores to find this damn scent, so you'd better start wearing it every day as a sign of appreciation." and skin on skin and mouth on mouth and "I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry—"
"Don't you ever wish you had a second chance?"
"I made my own choices, Kudou. I weighed every option and made every decision based on what I thought was best for myself and my future. Why would I second-guess myself enough to erase all of that?"
"I didn't have that choice."
"And so you'll retaliate at the relative unfairness of it all by pretending it doesn't exist?"
"I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm—"
"Enough," the man said firmly. "Enough. Let it die." Yohji shook his head at that and the man caught his chin to still the gesture. "If you bring it all back, a month from now you'll just hate yourself for remembering."
"You said I changed my mind at the last minute."
"So Schuldig was kind enough to tell me," was the cool response. "It was too late by then, anyway. Look at me and understand something. If you remember, you will lose everything you have now. You won't be able to stay. Do you honestly think you could walk away from everything you've built up in this life? Could you walk away from her?"
"Like I walked away from you?"
That earned him a look that bordered on chilly and Yohji wished he had found a better way to say it, or at least hadn't said it at all. He rubbed at his arms, trying to work warmth back into a body that had gone cold. He started to open his mouth for another question, but the stranger tilted his hand just enough to push his mouth closed.
"I said think," the man ordered.
Yohji stared back at him, wondering if he was serious, wondering just what his mind had blacked out that could completely change everything. He'd been awake for six months. He'd been engaged to Asuka for a month now. He worked at a marketing company, low-level but with a path to the top if he could stick to it and prove himself. Would he seriously just take all of that apart in favor of whatever he'd forgotten? Could he really do that to Asuka? He'd already done it to this man, but apparently he thought he'd had fair enough reason to walk away six months ago.
"How long were we together?" Yohji wanted to know.
That earned him the barest of smirks, but the expression was emotionless. "What does it matter when you don't even know my name?"
Yohji wished he could squeeze his brain until it bled answers, but there was absolutely nothing there, just hints and patches of other conversations. "I don't know," he said brokenly, catching at the stranger's wrist to keep him from pulling away. He felt like he was going to break apart under the sheer need for something definite. "I don't know. I can't remember, I can't remember but I- I remember I bought you that cologne. I said I had to look in three stores to find it, so I wanted you to wear it every day. I wanted you to always have something on you that was me somehow. I wanted you to go home and still think about me, because I-"
Whatever was holding the other man's self-control in place snapped, because Yohji couldn't finish his unhappy excuses before the man was leaning in to kiss him. Yohji didn't even see it coming, but the first press of a mouth on his had him parting his lips instinctively. They were smack dab in the middle of Shibuya Station, surrounded by half of Tokyo, it seemed, and he was letting a foreign man kiss him. What was left of Yohji's sensible side warned him to make a break for it.
Except Yohji knew this kiss like he hadn't known anything else this past half year. His arm was already moving, sliding around the other man's neck to hold him in place. It seared him all the way down in all the right places. He didn't even have to think about it; their mouths knew exactly what to do and Crawford-
"Crawford," he said against the man's mouth, and fingers tightened to a bruising grip on his chin in response. He knew he was right, but he hated how awkward it sounded on his tongue, as if his mouth had never said the name before.
"Eleven months," Crawford said in response.
Yohji felt like he'd been sucker-punched. "Eleven months," he breathed. A year. A year of his life to someone he didn't know, someone he could barely recall. A name and cologne and kisses were all he had of anything they'd ever been. Just the enormity of the thought made him want to run. The weight of his phone in his pocket felt like a stone around his throat, ready to drown him in the next river he crossed. Crawford hadn't been exaggerating; whatever he'd had, it was completely different from what he had now. How was he supposed to choose lives like this? Crawford had said he'd wanted to forget, so was he really supposed to just let it lie and walk away?
Eleven months. Oh God.
If he'd lost so much from that year, how much else had he lost? He was somewhere in his mid-twenties. He'd lost years of sorrow and joy and hate and love, and he- how was he supposed to be him without any of that? How did he know who he was when he'd lost everything that had made him- well, him?
"When someone is forgotten, do they die?" Yohji asked. "Not- literally, or physically, but in the way that really matters. If you just completely erase a person, are they dead? Am I dead, and if I suddenly remembered everything, would this me die? What about my friends? Have they ever existed, if the part of them that only I ever saw was erased without me there to see it?"
"I'm not dead," Crawford pointed out.
"But you and me and eleven months are."
"The last time I heard this conversation, the conclusion was yes," Crawford answered. "That is what gave you your second thoughts. You realized that you would be completely erasing people that needed to be remembered to stay alive."
"But why did I want to forget?"
"That is complicated."
"Un-complicate it for me!"
Crawford was staring through him again, either trying to stare past the reality of the present or considering six months ago, when they'd been entirely different people. "Suffice it to say, you were not in your right mind for the majority of our relationship and I have a theory your deterioration was caused by prolonged contact with Schuldig by proxy."
"I don't understand."
"Schuldig has that effect on people. It's a gift." Crawford reached up between them, sliding his glasses a little further up the bridge of his nose, and finally looked at Yohji again. The gaze felt searing, as if it was digging inside him in search of something familiar. Yohji knew it was coming up empty and the sense of failure was gnawing. "On top of that, our particular circumstances and your sense of guilt and regret towards your previous lover made you think too much. You started to get hung up on the details and it was a slow slide down from there until you just wanted to erase everything."
Yohji shook his head, completely and utterly lost. "I really need a drink. Let me buy you a drink."
"That would not be a good idea."
"Just one. I think we could both use the alcohol."
"If I drink with you, you will not be going home to your fiancée tonight," Crawford told him. "You will be coming home with me and Schuldig will be setting your mind back to rights. I have always prided myself on my self-control, but you continuously force that line between us and six months have worn me thin."
Yohji's heart stopped in his chest. "He could?" he asked, feeling cold all over. "Fix me?"
"Break you," Crawford answered in a low voice, "back to what you were before, back to everything you were before. He would know how. He is very good at what he does, Kudou."
"If he breaks you, you will never be this again. He can't put things back together. He can only tear them down."
Yohji stared at him for an endless minute, searching honey gold eyes for strength, wondering how the hell he could stand here and listen, wondering how he could possibly just bow and walk away. The city rushed on around him as they waited on moments, on lives shattered and interrupted by an accident.
"Tell me what I'm running from. I have to know."
Crawford tilted his head forward so that their lips touched as he spoke, brushing over each other, the words passed from one mouth to the next as light as air. "The people you've killed," Crawford answered, and Yohji stopped breathing altogether. Crawford breathed for him. "You were a vigilante for justice."
"Lies," Yohji said, or tried to say. He couldn't get it out.
"Go home to your fiancée."
Go back to Asuka, to his job, to his quiet neighborhood. Go back to being a marketing assistant, answering phone calls and making coffee. Go back to being Kudou Yohji, the well-mannered, decent citizen, the fiancé with an attainable future. A house, maybe some kids, maybe a corner office someday.
Blood and salt and skin on skin and the hiss of metallic string as it hissed through the air.
"I can't," Yohji said numbly. "I won't, I mean. I won't believe that."
"I know," Crawford agreed quietly, smoothly, as if this was at all fine. "Go home to her."
Yohji's mouth moved soundlessly, and then he finally took a step back. Crawford's expression didn't change from the cool stone he'd worked it back into and Yohji couldn't see anything in his gaze. Another step back and he couldn't smell Crawford's cologne anymore.
"I'm sorry," he said, voice hoarse.
Yohji turned and fled. He couldn't outrun his thoughts, but he could out-drink them. He drank until he didn't even know he was alive anymore. When he woke up, it was mid-afternoon the next day, he was sprawled out in bed in a hotel room he didn't remember renting, and his phone said he had four missed calls. He couldn't even think about checking his messages until he'd thrown up and showered and drank most of a pot of coffee, and then he settled gingerly down and started going through the messages. All of them were from Asuka, growing increasingly worried as his absence stretched out longer.
He dialed her phone and pressed the phone hard enough against his ear that it made his head pound. She answered on the first ring with a breathless, "Hello?"
"I'm sorry," he said in a voice too gravelly to sound like his own. "I didn't make it to breakfast."
"It's four o'clock, Yohji," she said, but she sounded concerned, not annoyed. She hadn't ever lost her patience with him, not once in the six months they'd been together. She was always so, so careful. So patient, so tolerant. For a fleeting moment, it angered him to be indulged like a child. "I was worried."
"He knows who I am," Yohji said, digging his fingers hard into his head, wishing the pain of his pounding migraine would swallow up the sick feeling that had never faded through the night hours. "He knows exactly who I am, Asuka."
There was a startled pause, then a careful, "Oh? That's good, isn't it?"
"Yes?" Yohji answered helplessly. "No? It would- it would change everything if I asked him for the truth."
The silence following that said she realized she was included in that 'everything', and then she said softly, "There was someone else."
"That was six months ago. I don't even know that person anymore."
"But she still knows you."
"And has had six months to grieve and then move on." She didn't argue with that; she didn't want to. "On top of that, I don't know if I could honestly live with myself. What he said, I mean, what he hinted at when it came to me. I don't… I don't know if I could hear it. I couldn't say yes."
"Come home," she pressed quietly. "Please come home, Yohji."
"But how can I just say no? How can I just… be empty the rest of my life? How can I live twenty years, or thirty years, without ever knowing the twenty that brought me here? When I'm forty, will I wish I'd listened? Will I lose my one chance to know who I am?"
Someone pounded on the door and Yohji winced at the noise. It was loud enough that Asuka heard it and she went quiet. "I think I overstayed on the room," he said weakly. "Look, I'm going to clean up here, all right? I need to check out and all of that."
"Are you coming home?" she asked quietly. Yohji floundered, but then Asuka saved him. "No, that's unfair of me to ask that. I don't want to influence this decision." He could hear her steeling herself up, could hear the false bravado in her voice. "Stay out as long as you want today. Clear your head. Just promise to call me tonight and let me know what you're thinking? Just so I know you're okay, I mean."
"Yeah," Yohji said, wondering if that was nausea or gratitude. "I promise."
They murmured farewells and Yohji hung up. He left the phone on his bedside table and went to answer the door, only to go still when he saw the rocker was on the other side. The orange-haired man was considering him with a narrow-eyed look, expression somewhere between hostile and assessing.
"Kudou Yohji," he said evenly. "It's been a while."
"I knew you, too," Yohji concluded glumly.
"Don't feel guilty," the foreigner assured him. "You and I never liked each other. Do you know why I'm here?" Yohji shook his head at that. "I'm here because there are things Crawford isn't going to say to you, since you fucked his head up enough that he's actually giving you a say in all of this. As long as he thinks you might actually want this inane life, he won't make the decision for you. He'll just live with whatever your pathetic mind chooses. You have any idea how much you piss me off, cat? I made a career out of getting under Crawford's skin, and then you slipped right past me and got in there deep in a millionth the time."
"Did I steal him from you?"
"Oh, fuck that. I look queer to you?"
Yohji, wisely, did not comment. "Fuck you," the foreigner said anyway, letting himself in the room. Yohji hesitated, then shut the door behind him. The orange-haired man didn't go far before turning back around and pinning Yohji with a Look. "My name is Schuldig."
Yohji froze. Schuldig didn't even hesitate. He just pointed at Yohji. "And you? You're a bloody idiot and a coward. I know you don't like the things you did. We all fucking knew it, you and your team angsted so much. 'Woe is me for having to live this life.' Cry me a damn river, Kudou. You out of everyone on that team had the most say in what you chose to become. Maybe you didn't believe in the message of 'justice prevails', but you didn't exactly care about the legalities."
"I killed people."
"You were a hired assassin, yes. You killed people for an organization that sought to rid Japan of its dark underbelly. You killed rapists and drug dealers and child molesters and corrupt politicians. Don't you fucking shake your head at me. Actually listen and stop letting that knee-jerk reaction get in the way. Yes, you were a murderer. Boo hoo; get over it. You chose to murder for justice. It's a stupid fucking notion but you believed in it. Your teammates believed in it. You risked your souls and sanities for it."
"Do you know why you forgot?"
"Crawford thinks it's partially your fault, but I don't understand."
"Do you know what I am?" Schuldig demanded. "Do you know what I do? I am that sinking feeling in your stomach, Kudou. I'm that little piece of you that you never want to admit exists. I'm your conscience and your guilt, choking you until you drown. And I've been part of Crawford's team for so long, using him as an anchor for so long, that he practically bleeds me through his pores. I got inside you and tore you apart, and guess what, I don't really give a shit, except you forgot everything and he didn't, and I fucking hate dealing with a human Crawford. He's Schwarz. He can't afford to have flaws.
"You only wanted to forget because you wanted to forget her," Schuldig bulled on. "Because you started feeling guilty that you were getting so tangled up in Crawford that you weren't thinking about her anymore. But guess what, lover boy: she's dead. In fact, she's past dead. By now she's just maggots and dirt. Will you just move on already?"
"She," Yohji echoed hollowly. "She who?"
Schuldig's smile was all ice and he leaned forward, getting right in Yohji's face. "The first Asuka," he said. "The one that died. Why the hell do you think you ended up with this one, except she's such a drag on your soul that you couldn't help it? Tell me, how's that manufactured love working out for you? I heard you got engaged. Tell me you're joking."
"You-" Yohji gaped at him. "You know nothing about us."
Fucking try me, Kudou, Schuldig said flatly. His voice felt like it was ripping across Yohji's mind. Yohji's first thought was that he had to be hearing things, because Schuldig's mouth hadn't moved, but the pain and that sense of intrusion was so familiar he felt dizzy. He closed his eyes, struggling to regain his sense of balance, and saw a rocky beach. Wire tangled around a pale throat; furious blue eyes and a vicious scowl. Falling, falling, falling. I know shit about you that even you don't know.
"Crawford gave you a choice yesterday," Schuldig told him out loud. "Guess what. I'm not going to. Do you know why? Because I was there when you realized you didn't want to forget, when you finally came to terms with her death. I was there when you realized just how important all of this mess was to you. You don't remember? Oh. Here you go." He smacked his hand forward, slamming the heel of his palm into Yohji's forehead.
The hotel vanished around him; he remembered a cavernous room and a woman with green hair. There was also a red-haired man with a sword, Aya Aya Aya. The entire place was threatening to go around them, but he wasn't going to stop there. He refused to stop there, because Asuka would have wanted him to keep going. She'd have wanted him to keep fighting. He remembered how it had felt to shake free of that depression, to realize he was going to give that fight his all and surface from it as himself. The burden he carried would never disappear, but it felt lighter. He'd come to terms with her death, and he was going to survive this, and there would be no second thoughts, not for this, not for Crawford—
He came back to himself throwing up into a trashcan, Schuldig's hand knotted in his hair to keep his head down. "You see that?" Schuldig asked coolly, completely unsympathetic. "That is why you don't have a choice today."
"I didn't drink it," Yohji gasped out around the taste of bile. "I didn't drink it. So how—? Why?"
"The building came down on our heads. That sort of trauma and months of your weakened will just made it easy for fate to take its course. And, of course, fuck me and mine over in the doing."
"And now you want me-"
"Want?" Schuldig laughed, short and almost cruel. "Not want. I'm going to make you. Look at me." He pulled at Yohji's hair, forcing his head back. "You don't deserve this kind of life, Kudou. Not even a lame-ass like you deserves this disgusting monotony. So what I'm going to do is patch your brain back together and you're going to go back to Crawford. Got it?"
"You can't do that."
"Stop me," Schuldig challenged him, low and cold. "You never really wanted this; you just wanted forgiveness. Stop fucking hiding from yourself. After everything you gave up and everything you fought for, do you really want to just wipe the slate clean and fuck us all over like this?"
"I…" He struggled for words and couldn't find any. Schuldig's words were scratching at his mind, like claws on soft fabric, tearing little rivets through everything he'd had to accept about his current life. Instead of blood, he bled memories: words and images, fragments of days and conversations. He choked on the smell of flowers- cattleyas- and blood, and struggled to hear himself think through the squealing of a shop full of high school girls.
Wake up, Balinese.
Everything shattered; everything fell apart.
And amazingly- depressingly?- the pieces all came back together again.
Shattered and shorn, bruised and broken, his mind came awake on the scent of blood and crushed dreams. But beneath that thick cloud there was hope and friendship and loyalty, something to wake up to every morning. And above all of that was cologne and gunpowder, and the heat of a body up against his. He stared unseeing through the floor as his life wrenched itself back together again, days falling in place like cards settling in a stack they'd been carelessly scattered from.
Kudou Yohji came back to himself gasping for air he couldn't quite manage, shaking with shock and pain and a deep, viciously cold fear. The realization that he'd almost gotten lost down there made him moan low in his throat and he dug his hand into his stomach, trying not to be sick again.
"Oh, God," he breathed. "Oh, God."
He'd never be happy about the things he'd lost, but he didn't have to be. All he had to do was keep moving forward, one foot in front of the other. He'd lost out, but he'd gained, too, and the pillars he'd found weren't ones he could afford to lose. Aya and Ken and Omi and Crawford
"I want to go home," Yohji said between gasping breaths and knifing pain. "Take me to him."
"Fucking right I will," Schuldig said, letting go of him. "You're a mess. Sober up some first."
"I got you this room for two nights. Just stay here and I'll come throw him your way tonight."
Yohji closed his eyes, drowning a little in the warm wash of relief and need. "Thank you."
"Ugh, don't even say that to me. The only way I could go through with this was by telling myself you weren't getting a good end of the deal. I don't do your kind favors, Kudou."
Schuldig smacked him upside the head just to set off a horrible headache. "Bye," he said unceremoniously, and he stalked towards the door. "And you ever pull shit like this again? I will kill you, just so you know."
Yohji didn't have a chance to respond before he was gone, the door slamming loudly closed behind him. He sank to his knees, cradling the trash can close. It took another hour before he thought he could get up, and by then he'd been awake long enough that he was feeling more like himself. As Tokyo grew darker outside his window, he started pacing impatiently, stomach twisting in restless anticipation.
Seventeen months later he still wasn't sure why either of them had fallen in together, except that they'd both been in the wrong place at the wrong time for all the right reasons. It should have been a one-time thing. It had lasted eleven months, with Crawford holding him up when Yohji started his slow slide down. Impossible, arrogant Crawford, who'd been unflappably calm in the face of his madness, who had never stopped wearing that cologne ever since Yohji had bought it for him in Europe.
Now he could keenly feel those six months apart, and he hated it.
He clenched his fingers tighter around his phone, knowing he needed to call Asuka, knowing he should call her before Crawford came, but this wasn't something he could do over the phone with her and there was no way he was leaving the hotel, not tonight, maybe not tomorrow morning, maybe not ever, as long as Crawford stayed.
There was a clack at the door, the sound of the lock giving way to an authorized key card, and Yohji didn't even stop to wonder just how Schuldig had gotten hold of a spare for Crawford to use. He was across the room before the door had finished opening. He gave himself just one second to see Crawford's face and then his hands were buried in dark hair as he dragged Crawford into a kiss.
I know you I know you I need you I know you
He started laughing; he couldn't help it. It was just a little funny, albeit a bit morbid, that two men so drenched in death could feel so alive.
But that's how things should be, he told himself. And that's how things are going to stay.
Farfarello x Nagi
They had expected more than just him.
They weren't suicidal enough to say so, but he knew it anyway. They gave themselves away in the glances they flicked past him in search of his superiors. There was a brief pause as they gave him a chance to announce his teammates' delay and he let it stretch out a second too long just to make it awkward.
They should have known better. They'd been working with Rosenkreuz long enough that their ability to doubt the psychics should have been eradicated years ago. They were dead minds, though, and therefore more human than they could help. They looked at him and saw nothing more than a teenage boy, and Nagi didn't appreciate it. The only people who had questionable reason to doubt him were Crawford and Schuldig: the former because he could foresee and therefore prevent anything Nagi wanted to do, and the latter because he could crush Nagi's mind with a small effort.
"Well?" Nagi asked at last.
"He is sedated on board," one of the doctors said, holding out a key in offering.
Nagi ignored it and walked straight past them towards the small jet. One of them started to say something, but Nagi cut him off with a flat, "Enough. You stay out here."
They were smart enough not to argue, at least, and he went up the stairs and through the door without further delay. The jet was designed specifically for transporting mentally unstable or otherwise dangerous psychics. The cage was more for show than anything else, as the real security came in the form of a tagalong team of psychic bodyguards. The babysitter this time was a man decked out in full Rosenkreuz regalia, who didn't even glance up from his book at Nagi's arrival.
Nagi moved up beside the cage to consider his newest teammate. The man was kneeling on the floor in the middle with his legs spread and his hands planted on the ground between his knees for extra balance. There was a straitjacket off to one side where he must have removed it himself sometime during the flight from his facility in Russia. A single hooded gold eye was dilated and vacant as drugs kept his mind fuzzy and blank, so Nagi looked his fill. The man looked washed-out with snow-white hair and wintry skin. Nagi idly wondered if he was as cold to the touch as he looked.
Farfarello should never have been granted field status, as far as any psychic who knew of him was concerned. The last time he'd been on a team, he'd completely taken it apart just five months into his contract with them. He'd been exiled to Russia for three years for that, paying back their blood with his own by serving as a research subject. It was highly questionable just what state his mind and gifts were in after such a stint, but Crawford had specifically requested him. It had taken six months of negotiating to get the transfer approved.
"Did he give you any trouble?" he asked, sliding his hand along the lock. The gears clicked as the latch popped free and he pulled the door open. The bodyguard didn't answer. Nagi flicked him a sideways look and saw the man totally absorbed in his book.
Nagi turned his head to look directly at the other man, frowning slightly, and then crossed the small space between them to touch his fingers to a tanned throat. He knew as soon as he touched the man's skin what he'd feel, but he still gave it a few seconds to confirm there wasn't a pulse.
The soft clank of chains brought his attention back to the cage, where Farfarello had gotten to his feet and was lounging against the doorframe. The drugged look was missing, leaving behind a stone-blank expression and a too-calculating gaze. Nagi let his hand fall away from the other man's throat and slowly turned to face Farfarello. The Irishman trailed his hand up the metal doorframe to his face and dug his fingernails into one full lip.
"A child," he murmured around his fingers. "I could kill you with one touch."
"I'm not impressed," Nagi answered smoothly. "I could kill you with one thought."
Farfarello smiled at that, so wide and vicious that Nagi wasn't sure how it didn't dislocate something. "Could you?" he asked. "A child like you?"
He lunged without warning. He was fast, but Nagi lived with Schuldig, and the sonic was faster. Nagi froze Farfarello in his tracks just an arm's length from him. He drew himself up as tall as he could and stared Farfarello down, any lingering wariness evaporating instantly. "I am not a child," he said in a hard voice. "You are one of Rosenkreuz's. You shouldn't be so stupid."
"Then what are you?"
"I am Schwarz."
"Not Rosenkreuz," Farfarello noted. "You don't smell like they do." He bared his teeth at Nagi behind a scary smile. "Rain drops and cotton candy newspapers and gutter trash and exhaust pipes." The tip of a pink tongue flicked out, looking almost obscenely bright against such pale lips. "Incense and wine. Psychics aren't allowed to put idols before Estet's god."
"I'm not religious."
"You should be," was the lazy response. "Street rat."
Nagi bristled. "I am not. Stay out of my head."
"Why should I?" Farfarello asked, sounding bored. "It smells nice." He tilted his head to one side, as far as he could move it with Nagi's gift on him. "Wist…?" he asked, trailing off when he realized it wasn't quite what he meant. It took him just another moment to find the word he was looking for. Nagi wondered just how many gaps there were in the man's German vocabulary. Crawford would want that fixed as soon as possible. "Nostalgic."
That brought Nagi up short. "Nostalgic," he echoed. "Were you…?"
"Bread crumbs turned sponges in bird baths turned oceans. Communion and prayers and blood and soil." Farfarello's smile was almost dreamy as he remembered- dreamy like Schuldig dreamed, all madness and hate and sharp edges. "Where are we now, rat?"
"You know you're in Tokyo," Nagi answered. "We were told you were briefed regarding your responsibilities within Schwarz."
"As you were told what I did to my last team. In graphic detail, perhaps?"
"Schuldig thought it was hysterical and showed 'admirable imagination'. You don't honestly expect us to be intimidated by you, do you?" He tightened his grip on the other, just enough to cut the other man's air off, and then released Farfarello completely. Farfarello straightened from the pose he'd been frozen in and held up a hand, turning it this way and that as if testing his freedom. "Come on. Schuldig is waiting for us. I suppose it's too much to ask you to behave until we reach our apartment?"
"Depends. Is the rat asking nicely?"
"I am not a rat."
"Is the rat asking nicely?" Farfarello repeated patiently.
"Do you have a hearing problem?"
Farfarello nibbled on his fingertips. "I asked first," he pointed out.
Nagi wondered what he'd done wrong to make Crawford assign him to transport duty, since he was no longer sure it was just for his gift. Sure, his telekinesis could be used as a forceful leash to keep Farfarello complacent, but Schuldig could do almost as well. His telepathy could keep an eye on Farfarello's state of mind and he could outrun the psychopath no problem. Most importantly, he had much better defenses against an astral traveler. Nagi had basic shields, but his greatest defense was the ability to knock Farfarello flat out on his ass if he tried something. Schuldig was also, presumably, closer to Farfarello's age and therefore wouldn't be underestimated based on looks. Nagi made a mental note to speak to Schuldig later about any unnoticed transgressions.
"Yes, I'm asking nicely," he finally answered.
It certainly didn't sound nice, but Farfarello didn't seem to care. He tipped his head all the way back to stare at the ceiling, slipping his fingers a little further into his mouth, and then let his hand fall limply to his side. "For now, then," he said. "For now. Because the rat asked."
Nagi didn't trust that, but he didn't argue. He stepped past Farfarello, noticing the flicker of a cold smile on the other's mouth that he was so willing to turn his back on such a psychotic killer. Chains clanked as Farfarello took the first step after him and Nagi glanced over his shoulder, flicking his gaze down Farfarello's legs to the straps that kept his legs so close together. One thought snapped the buckles on the straps. The bands remained on Farfarello's calves and thighs, but the chains dropped to the floor. The Irishman stepped over them without slowing, and Nagi led him down the stairs outside.
"Your bodyguard is dead," Nagi said, raising his voice as he drew close to the doctors. The blank looks on their faces said it was much a surprise to them as it was to him. One apologized hastily, knowing just how much trouble they could get in for leaving that detail out regardless of whether or not they'd known. Nagi didn't have time to play games like that, so he just stalked past them towards the car. He couldn't hear Farfarello behind him, but he could feel the man's stare on the back of his head. Nagi didn't understand how it could be so intense when he only had one eye.
The cab was waiting further back on the tarmac. The back door swung open on its hinge and Nagi climbed in first. Farfarello followed him in, and the driver pressed the button to close the door. Nagi gave Schwarz's addressed in clipped Japanese and turned on Farfarello as the car started forward.
"I assume you can't speak Japanese," Nagi said, switching languages again. English may dominate as the world's international language, but with both Estet and Rosenkreuz stationed in Austria, psychics dealt in blood and German. Farfarello flicked his fingers in a dismissive gesture, which Nagi couldn't read as either a yes or no. He went with no, since Farfarello was such a recent acquisition for the Schwarz team. He wouldn't have had time to be trained in Japanese and there was no reason for him to have learned it otherwise. "Crawford will want you to learn."
"He can want."
"He is your team leader," Nagi said. "You'll listen to him."
"Oh," Farfarello said, as if that was news to him.
Nagi gave him up as a lost cause and turned his view out the window. Farfarello continued to stare at him. Nagi gave him a few minutes to see if he grew bored. When the staring persisted, he looked over at Farfarello. "What?"
The only response he got was a ghost of a creepy smile, so Nagi turned away again. It was a long ride from Narita International Airport to their apartment in Roppongi, but Schwarz had the money for such an exorbitant fee. It was just best to keep Farfarello away from Tokyo's crowded subway until they were sure he could be controlled. Nagi could lock him down the whole way there, but the hour-plus trip would completely drain him.
Moderate traffic and the fact that they were traveling by car slowed them down, so it actually took closer to three hours before they finally stopped in front of Schwarz's apartment building. Nagi handed several ten-thousand yen bills to the driver and didn't bother to stick around for the change. The door opened up on Farfarello's side again and the two climbed out onto the sidewalk. The cab pulled back into traffic and Farfarello leaned back a little, staring upwards as he tried to see to the top of the building. Bikes whizzed around them, bells dinging in warning, and the psychopath half-turned to consider the retreating figures.
Nagi waited, letting Farfarello look his fill. The man had just come out of three years in Russia, only to be dumped, sedated, on a plane and shipped to Tokyo. Nagi had a feeling he hadn't been outside in a while. The man took several minutes, studying every building he could see and watching the cars with a rather intent look on his face. At last he looked back towards Nagi.
"This is ours," Nagi said, pointing at the building. "I don't think Crawford will ever let you out on your own, but just in case, you need to be able to find us again. We're in Pacific Tower Roppongi on the ninth floor, Minato ward, 7 chome. Can you remember that? If you tell the cab drivers that, they'll bring you back here."
Farfarello just gazed at him in response. Nagi didn't try again but started for the door. A key card let them into the lobby and an elevator was sitting on the ground floor waiting for them. The security guard glanced up from his work at their arrival. It was supposed to be just an instinctive look at the sound of the doors hissing open, but he went still when he saw Farfarello's ghoulish appearance. Farfarello followed the stare and the guard, forced to be polite after making eye contact, offered respectful greetings. Nagi answered for Farfarello and pressed the button to close the elevator doors.
Their apartment door was open when they reached their floor. Schuldig was lounging against the doorframe, fingernails drumming along to some inner tune, and he quirked an eyebrow at Farfarello as the pair stepped off the elevator.
"Kind of chalky, isn't he?" he asked Nagi in Japanese. The two couldn't get past him, so they stopped right in front of him. Schuldig and Farfarello stared each other down, gathering first impressions and memorizing the feel of each other's mental gifts. "I don't suppose you speak Russian, because I sure as hell don't. He's thinking in some German-Russian unintelligible mix. Hurrah for flaws in Crawford's perfect little plans. He's going to twitch when he finds out. I can't wait."
"Just let us in."
Schuldig didn't move out of the way, but he did straighten against one side of the doorway. Nagi slipped past him, leaving the other two to debate the trouble of greetings and introductions. At length Farfarello decided it wasn't worth his time and followed Nagi inside. Schuldig got the door, and Nagi was stuck with showing the psychic around their two-bedroom place.
"Schuldig and Crawford share the master bedroom," Nagi said, pointing at the door furthest from the door. "You and I will share this one." He pushed the door open to let Farfarello glance in at the two single beds. "Don't mess with the boxes. We just moved up onto this floor a couple weeks ago when Rosenkreuz approved your transfer, so we're still in the process of unpacking. We've been too busy to finish it up."
"Also known as lazy," Schuldig volunteered.
Nagi tuned him out and showed Farfarello everything else. The Irishman didn't comment on anything but instead followed him from room to room, and then back to the living room when they were finished. Schuldig had work spread out on the coffee table and Nagi seated himself on one of the cushions beside it, pulling files over to him. Farfarello sat down right beside him and tucked a knee up against his chest. He folded his arm across it to make a perch for his chin and skimmed the scattered papers with a hooded eye. Nagi supposed it was all chicken scratch to him. It was vaguely annoying to be handicapped like that; they needed four working agents, but Farfarello wouldn't be able to understand anything any of their clients said.
"You don't say much, do you?" Schuldig said after they'd been sitting in silence for half an hour.
"Don't ask him to start talking again," Nagi said, making notes in the margin of one of the reports. "He doesn't make any sense when he does."
"You are Rosenkreuz," Farfarello said. "You smell like them. I am bored of your kind."
"Doesn't that suck, then, that you're stuck with us," Schuldig drawled. "You'll get over it."
Farfarello offered him a creepy smile. "So you say."
"I don't really see what we needed a traveler for, anyway," Schuldig said, switching to Japanese abruptly to exclude Farfarello from the conversation. "Kind of redundant when there's a telepath on the team, I would think."
"You've been over this with Crawford a hundred times," Nagi reminded him.
"Without a satisfactory answer, I might point out."
"I guess we'll find out," Nagi answered with a small shrug.
"Missing one," Farfarello observed.
"Crawford is on an overnight trip with our client," Schuldig said.
Farfarello didn't even look at him. "Missing one," he said again.
"Does he have a hearing problem?"
Nagi gave a quiet snort. "I'm already wondering," he said dryly, and he looked over at Farfarello. The Irishman was watching him, waiting patiently for an answer. "Crawford's in Osaka now. He'll be back tomorrow afternoon and you'll meet him then. We have a job tonight without him, just to see how well you can kill."
Farfarello's smile was back. "Very well," he practically purred.
"We'll see," Schuldig said, and he tossed a stack of papers at Farfarello. They hit the table in front of him and skidded a bit. "Put those in order. You don't have to be able to read anything; just go by the numbers in the corners. We need all of this organized by tonight." He waited, but Farfarello didn't even blink. Schuldig's eyebrow slid up on his forehead a bit and he turned on his youngest teammate. "Nagi, tell your new pet that he can at least sort papers with us to earn his keep."
Nagi mimed shooting himself. "Farfarello, sort the papers like he said."
"Is the rat asking nicely again?"
"Consider everything I tell you to do to be me asking nicely," Nagi sent back, "and stop calling me rat. Either call me Nagi or Prodigy."
Farfarello bared his teeth at Nagi in response and pulled the papers closer. Schuldig watched as he started rifling through them and then looked back at Nagi. "Why are you so special?"
"Apparently he likes the way my mind smells."
"Whatever that means."
"You're the one that says thoughts have a taste. I imagine this isn't much different."
"You realize he keeps staring at you?"
"I'm getting used to it already."
"…Yeah. Enjoy rooming with him."
"Nothing," Schuldig answered blithely, going back to his work. Nagi frowned at him for a few moments longer, glanced Farfarello's way to meet that considering stare, and finally focused as best he could on his own part in the paperwork mess. It was a while before Farfarello actually paid attention to the files he'd been handed. All that mattered was that he did what Nagi had told him to, and having a third man reading the sheets meant they finished before they had to go. Schuldig packed everything up and put the box on Crawford's desk.
They kept their weapons in a padded drawer in the living room. Nagi unlocked it so Schuldig wouldn't have to fetch the key, and the German took his time selecting what he would need for the night. Farfarello stood at Nagi's side, looking rather bored by the display of expensive guns.
"Pick something," Schuldig told him. "We're out of here in two minutes." Farfarello turned around and left. Schuldig flicked Nagi a look that said how not amused he was. "This is going to get old really fast."
"Farfarello," Nagi said, stopping the Irishman with his gift. "Choose your weapon."
"There," Farfarello said. Nagi released him and Farfarello kept going. Frowning, Nagi followed after him, and Schuldig pushed the drawer shut and came behind him. They caught up to Farfarello in the kitchen, where he was pulling blades out of their wooden block. He considered their serrated edges before selecting three of them, which quickly disappeared into his clothing somewhere.
"Those are our good cooking knives," Nagi said. "Use a gun."
"Knives are better." Farfarello reached up and touched a finger to the eye patch covering his left eye. "No practice with guns since Jeremiah took my eye." He smiled at that, privately amused by either the loss or what he'd done to his former team leader after such an injury. "No depth perception for sighting."
Nagi looked over at Schuldig, who shrugged. "Whatever," he relented. "We'll buy you proper knives later, when we have time. I just hope you know how to use those."
Nagi's only response was that dreamy look on Farfarello's face.
A couple hours later, they both realized it had been a waste of time to doubt him. That was after Farfarello had carved twenty security guards into unrecognizable chunks without breaking a sweat. Nagi had been assigned to the computer to download files and destroy everything in his wake while Schuldig took care of things on another floor. Farfarello had been left with Nagi so he wouldn't have to divide his attention between his power and his assignment. Somehow Nagi didn't find it easier to concentrate and he stared as Farfarello went through bodies like they were pudding.
Farfarello watched as the last body crumpled to the ground and then looked back to meet Nagi's gaze. "You're fast," Nagi said grudgingly.
"At least I can sort of see why Crawford requested you for our team. Only partially, though." Nagi went back to his work as Farfarello started across the room towards him. "I don't see what one mad astral traveler is supposed to add to our team, especially when you're such a risk. Why did you kill your last team?"
"They were slow."
"That's not a good enough answer."
Farfarello leaned over the desk, sliding his bloody knives across the wood in offering. Nagi ignored them, and Farfarello propped his elbows on the desk to perch his chin in his hands. He had absolutely no concept of personal space, apparently, and his stare felt much heavier from this close. "Are you afraid?"
Nagi lifted his gaze to Farfarello's face and met his stare boldly. "Of you?" he asked. "Never." Farfarello said nothing to that, content to just study him. "Aren't you tired of staring at me yet?"
Farfarello's teeth were bloody behind his smile. "Never."
Nagi muttered under his breath and went back to work. It was irritatingly hard to concentrate, though, with Farfarello right there in his face. "Back off," he said. Farfarello didn't budge. Nagi turned on him, ready to use his gift if need be. The man wasn't looking at him anymore; he had that vacant look on his face he'd had in the airplane. Nagi eyed him, belatedly realizing he was lost in his gift. They'd have to clean him up before they let him back in the car. He was splattered with blood and gore and the smell would take forever to get out of the car.
Blood trickled down over Farfarello's face to his chin, threatening to drip onto the keyboard. Nagi reached out and smeared the drop away, and the touch brought Farfarello back to himself in a heartbeat. He refocused on Nagi so suddenly that Nagi felt his gift crackle against Nagi's mind.
"You're dripping," Nagi said, showing Farfarello his bloody fingers. "You're going to get it all over my work. Go wash up or something."
Farfarello touched his face, trailing his fingertips up the path Nagi had touched, and eyed his own damp fingers before looking at Nagi's hand. He licked his fingers clean almost absentmindedly and reached for Nagi next. Nagi pulled his hand out of reach.
"I said, go wash up."
"The rat is bleeding."
"I am not. Don't touch me."
"Hy…" Farfarello thought for a second. "Hypocritical rat." He held his hand out in a demand. Nagi eyed him, judging the amused challenge in Farfarello's gaze, and finally turned his hand over for Farfarello to inspect. The psychopath turned it this way and that, using both hands to splay Nagi's fingers however he liked and getting Nagi's hand messier in the process. Nagi watched him play, not entirely sure why he was allowing this. He remembered his first impression of Farfarello being that he'd expected the man's skin to be cool, and he wasn't quite sure what to think when he realized that was correct.
"You're cold," he said. "Why?"
"I have no soul," Farfarello said sagely. "Blood and heart and soul: kindle for the body's fire. Ah, but mine was bled free years ago. Red, red, red, like rivers into stone in Russia, freezing and crusting over into black ice."
"Why did you kill your last team?" Nagi pressed.
Farfarello considered that for a moment. "It amused me," he decided with a there-and-gone-again smile. "In the planning. In reality, they were quite boring. Far too easy."
"We have permission to kill you the second Crawford foresees your betrayal."
"Oh," Farfarello said, uncaring. "So easy, isn't it, with such power. One thought and the unworthy are broken and discarded. Shadow to rat to altar boy to god. Hmm? Still smells like a rat. Earthly gods should not exist."
"I'm not a god."
"Let go of me."
"Communion," Farfarello said, tilting Nagi's hand a bit more to eye the blood collected in his palm. "Shall we pray?"
"I'm not religious."
"I was only put at the church until Crawford could come back for me." Nagi thought for a moment, searching Farfarello's face. The Irishman's expression was distant as he slid a thumb against Nagi's palm, spreading the blood a little bit thinner. "You said we were the same that way."
"Mmm," Farfarello agreed around his thumb. He let his thumb fall free and leaned in instead to lick Nagi's hand clean. Nagi froze, staring blankly at the Irishman as he hunted up every drop of blood with his tongue.
"What the hell are you doing?" Schuldig asked from the doorway.
"Nothing," Nagi said, starting to pull his hand away.
"Up to and including 'not fighting'," the telepath pointed out.
"Farfarello, let go," Nagi said again, and this time he used his gift to enforce it. "Go get clean."
"It is not so simple."
"The bathroom's just down the hall. Be ready by the time I'm finished here."
Farfarello thought about that for a moment longer, then shrugged and straightened. Schuldig moved to let him out of the office and then quirked an eyebrow at Nagi. Nagi wiped his hand off on his pants leg, trying to erase the feel of Farfarello's tongue and the tingle it had left behind. It didn't quite work, but he forced himself to turn back on his work. Fingers flew over the keys as he finished copying files and Schuldig circled the room, admiring the mess Farfarello had made. He ended his circuit at Nagi's side, and neither of them missed the hooded look that earned him when Farfarello returned.
"Nice pet," Schuldig observed.
"He's not my pet."
"Uh-huh. I say again: enjoy rooming with him."
"What?" Nagi looked up at him as the last disk ejected. Schuldig gave his head a condescending pat and Nagi smacked his hand away. "Knock it off," he said, annoyed, and got to his feet. Schuldig stayed at his side, unusually close, as Nagi gathered up his work. The computer screen flashed with warnings as the hard drive started deleting itself, and Nagi watched just to make sure it finished before systematically taking the entire computer apart with his gift. Only when it was a pile of neatly separated chips and wires did he start for the door, and Schuldig was right on his heels. Nagi was about to tell him to back off when Farfarello moved. The Irishman's hand shot out right above Nagi's head, smacking into Schuldig's shoulder to force him back a step.
There was a smirk on Schuldig's face as he let himself get pushed, and then Farfarello's hand went straight through him as Schuldig rematerialized at Nagi's side. He buried his hand in Nagi's hair and Nagi decided to write the entire day off as a really bizarre Touch Nagi Day. A second later, Farfarello was tugging Schuldig's hand free and replacing it with his own. He pulled a little, just enough to drag Nagi closer to him than Nagi was to Schuldig. They were close enough that Nagi could feel how cool the air around Farfarello was, and he could smell soap and blood where Farfarello had given his skin a quick wash. His clothes were still a mess, but those hardly mattered.
"What did you do to annoy Crawford that he would do this to you?" Schuldig asked.
"I was going to ask you that," Nagi said.
"As if he explains his psychosis to me."
"More likely to you than to me."
They rode the elevator down to the first floor in silence and headed back to their apartment. Schuldig and Nagi had files to go over while Farfarello cleaned the knives, and the rest of the evening passed in silence. They didn't start packing up until close to two in the morning, and then the three wandered down the hall to the bedrooms. Nagi knew better than to enter his teammates' room, so he carried boxes to the doorway and let Schuldig tote them across the room to where Crawford's small office was set up in the corner.
"Hey," Schuldig said as he took the last box, and Nagi paused where he was starting to turn away. The telepath eyed him for a moment with a searching look on his face, then said in Japanese, "Keep your guard up tonight."
"I can take care of myself," Nagi said, but the unexpected display of concern had him glancing over his shoulder. "…Why?"
Schuldig shrugged. "I told you: I can't really read him to see what's going on in there. But it doesn't always need words. He's quite fascinated by you."
Nagi thought that over for a minute and then shook his head. "He'll get over it," he said confidently, and he headed into his room. Farfarello was already stretched out on his side in bed, turned so he could see Nagi's bed. Nagi ignored his stare as he got changed into his sleeping pants, but it was hard to keep ignoring Farfarello once he was actually in bed.
"Go to sleep," he said, and he didn't wait for Farfarello to argue. A firm press against the other man's neck knocked him unconscious, and Nagi curled up under his blankets to go to sleep. It was more than a little odd to sleep when he could hear someone else's breathing, but at least he wasn't being stared at anymore. Idly he wondered how long it would take Farfarello to get bored of him and move on.
One week, he guessed. Maybe two.
With that in mind, it was much easier to fall asleep.
Nagi was wrong. Farfarello didn't get over it in a week, and he certainly didn't get over it in two.
After two months with the team, Farfarello still only responded to Nagi, and Nagi had no clue why Crawford tolerated that. The man was usually pretty adamant about having their complete cooperation, if only so he could build a successful future around their team. He didn't even bat an eye when Schuldig explained things to him, however, and instead continued to pass orders to Farfarello by way of Nagi.
At first Nagi was less than pleased, and in fact, more than a little annoyed. He had to focus on his job, keep Farfarello doing his work, and fill in the gaps in the German that had grown rusty after three years in Russia. At one point he grew frustrated enough to gripe to Schuldig about it. The telepath simply responded, "How do you think Crawford feels?" and then Nagi didn't feel justified in complaining anymore. He gave in to the situation out of necessity, and resignation and resentment both faded over the weeks as he grew used to it. By the time Farfarello had been with them for nine weeks, Nagi had gotten used to the staring and the man's strange speech, and he was even picking up a bit of Russian.
"Don't you ever kill anybody cleanly?" Nagi asked as Farfarello painted a wall red with blood.
"Why should I?" Farfarello returned. "Pristine deaths are meaningless."
"And there's an actual point to chunky massacre?" His fingers flew over the keyboard and he watched the screen, frowning a little as files and programs loaded for him. It would be far easier if he could just upload them to their client's computer across the city, but Schwarz refused to leave traces behind. The only thing they wanted in their wake was death, and Farfarello was happy enough to fulfill that requirement. The Irishman had become their heavy hitter that first night with them, and Nagi and Schuldig had both learned to work around it. His presence and brutality meant they could focus on the fine-tuning. Nagi had computer work to do and Schuldig's gifts were put to better use when he was manipulating and rewriting minds. It had still taken Schuldig a week or two to forgive Crawford for bringing another mental psi on the team.
"Finished," Nagi said, getting to his feet. He came around the desk and started for Farfarello. The man was still in the middle of dissecting the last two guards, but Nagi wasn't bored enough to wait on him. He walked straight past them, only to get a splash of blood across his cheek.
Farfarello gave up his games immediately and downed the men with two vicious cuts across their throats. His hand in Nagi's hair pulled the youth back towards him and he frowned down at Nagi's face, golden eye hooded as he saw the way blood looked against his skin. "You're messy."
"And getting messier if you just stuck your hand in my hair," Nagi pointed out. "It doesn't matter."
It did to Farfarello, apparently, because he tried to wipe Nagi's face clean with his free hand. The first try just backfired, since his hand was drenched with blood. He looked from his hand to Nagi's face and then tipped the man's head back further so he could lean in. Two months with Schwarz and Farfarello had never gotten any warmer, but Nagi had almost forgotten how cold he was. It sent a funny shiver down his spine as Farfarello licked the blood up and his fingers clenched around the strap of his bag.
"There's a bathroom," Nagi said. "I can just wash up there."
"Mmm," was Farfarello's distracted response.
How Farfarello could be so cold but make his face feel so warm, Nagi didn't really know. He refused to think he was flushing at being touched like this, so he wrote it off as discomfort and unease. That was certainly true, even if he wasn't sure either of them was a bad thing.
"You can stop now."
Farfarello just lapped his way across Nagi's cheek to his mouth. The first flick of his tongue across Nagi's mouth had the teenager jolting in surprise. It was quickly followed by a short kiss, as if somehow Farfarello had misread shock as permission. Nagi stood frozen in place, staring wide-eyed up into Farfarello's face, breath caught somewhere in his throat.
Nagi's mouth moved soundlessly as he searched for an answer, but the only thing that came to mind was, "Don't do that."
Farfarello's smile was lazy and so close to his face that he could feel the man's lips twitch against his. "Is the rat asking nicely?" he drawled, just this side of mocking.
"I- what? Yes."
"For now, then," he said. "For now. Because the rat asked."
"For now?" Nagi echoed.
Farfarello offered his lip a nip that stung and slid free of him. "For now," he agreed. "But not for forever. We can't pray at the same temples for long before we start wondering why our gods aren't answering us. One day I'll come to collect."
Nagi stared after him, watching as Farfarello preceded him to the door. The psychopath stopped there and glanced back at him, looking so sure, looking so tolerant, that Nagi couldn't think of anything else to say. He touched his mouth, feeling out the lingering soreness, wondering if Farfarello had broken the skin. Farfarello had left both ice and heat on his face and Nagi wasn't sure what to make of it. His skin felt like it was humming in response.
Farfarello offered him a smile that was all teeth. "We're going, rat. Yes?"
"…Yes," Nagi answered at last, and he started forward. Farfarello waited at the doorway for him, only to catch at his hair. His grip was tight but not cruel, and Nagi could feel the possessiveness in his hold as they started down the hall together.
Nagi didn't shake him loose.
The apartment Schwarz lives in for this ficlet can be viewed here, and currently rents for roughly $8,000 a month.
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