||Chapter 20||
"Service With a Smile"

Like his lover, Schuldich had always been a night owl. Most nights the two of them had stayed up until nearly dawn, vegging in front of the TV and flicking popcorn idly at each other, hitting the clubs, smoking and seeing who could come up with the wittiest comeback to a jesting barb, or screwing each other's brains out. More often that last option.
Schuldich didn't smoke as much as his bed mate, unless he was preoccupied. Yohji called it nervous, but Schuldich didn't do 'nervous'. So he was 'preoccupied'. When he was thus preoccupied, he tended to chain smoke, sometimes going through a pack and a half in one night.
Tonight was one of those nights.
He had shimmied his way up the fire escape and was sprawled on his back on the roof of the flowershop, staring up at the stars as he lit his sixth cigarette in the past hour and a half. He'd fallen back into his own form of meditation, in which he soaked in the thoughts around him, bleeding them with his own and examining them all as they murmured to him in a jumble of ideas and words. They were all pretty much the same tonight. Everyone was uptight about tomorrow. They were wondering what was going to happen, if anything. They were thinking of the future, wondering if there was any chance of winning, if they would get their friends back, and if they would be able to survive this. Only one person sounded calm in the mess of thoughts from inside, and that was because that man was able to tuck his more prominent emotions behind shields the telepath could not touch, allowing only his normal calm demeanor to leak through.
Schuldich scowled as he brushed against the blank wall of Crawford's mind. He really didn't want to think about that man right now. Inwardly he cursed himself for his outburst that morning. He'd been getting strange looks from the others ever since. They were wondering what he could be so mad about, and why Crawford had just taken his animosity so calmly. It wasn't their business, he reminded himself irritably. He should have just kept his mouth shut.
But after last night's nightmare... He blew out a lungful of smoke noisily, crushing the cigarette against the roof beside his head. His mouth twisted in a bitter smirk that hurt his face. Sometimes he hated the curse that was telepathy. Other times, like now, he welcomed the constant murmur of other voices. It helped block out his own thoughts, his own memories. Memories he would rather not deal with.
"There you are."
He'd heard the approach of the familiar mind, but had chosen to ignore it. He kept his eyes turned on the stars as he settled another cigarette between his lips and lit it. "Isn't it past your bedtime, runt?"
Nagi's frowning face appeared over him as the young boy leaned over to get his attention. "What are you doing up here by yourself?"
"Your boytoy has an epilepsy everytime someone smokes around his precious weeds," Schuldich reminded him dryly, blowing smoke into Nagi's face. The boy retreated with a cough. "Scram. Can't a guy get a little peace and quiet around here?"
"You shouldn't have said those things at breakfast."
Schuldich fell silent, his eyes narrowing slightly.
"The others have enough to worry about without having to wonder if you and Crawford are going to be at each other's throats. I thought you'd put that behind you. You two haven't brought that up in years."
"Don't talk about things you don't understand, chibi," Schuldich said, a biting edge to the light tone.
He heard the other boy sit down beside him and heave a quiet sigh. "I don't know because you won't talk about it. But I understand more than they do. All they see is you two suddenly acting like enemies. They don't know what to expect."
"Funny, I could have sworn I said something about bedtime..."
"I'm not tired, Schuldich."
"What, Bombay isn't wearing you out yet? You've got a lot of stamina for such a skinny runt."
The end of his cigarette suddenly twisted in on itself, extinguishing the cherry. Schuldich flicked it away irritably and reached for a new one from his pack. "Brat."
"I'm not tired, and neither is anyone else. Everyone is thinking about tomorrow, while you're stuck on yesterday. This isn't the time to bring up past grievances."
"Wow, did you learn that word in school today?"
"Quit being a smartass, Schuldich," Nagi snapped. "Actually, that's what Crawford said. And he's right. This isn't exactly the best time to decide you hate him again. Shouldn't you be more concerned about the Vampires?"
"I'm not afraid of bloodsuckers, chibi," Schuldich said carelessly, lighting his new cigarette.
"Then worry about Kudou," Nagi suggested tartly. "It'll get your mind off Crawford. Besides, you sure seem very calm for someone whose lover is a brainwashed drone for Rosenkreuz. You were in his position last time, and he was actually worried about you."
"I didn't ask for him to worry about me."
"You never ask anyone to worry about you," Nagi said quietly. "We do it anyway. Even when you're pissing off everyone around you."
"Take a knee."
Nagi hesitated, confused. "..What?"
"Do this properly. Take a knee." Schuldich exhaled a cloud of smoke lazily, tracing a familiar constellation with hooded eyes. "With all these mushy things you're spouting, I'm expecting a proposal any minute now. I'm sure Tsukiyono will be jealous, but we can always let him be the flower girl."
"...You really are an asshole, you know that?"
A smirk of triumph curled Schuldich's lips. "I try."
Nagi rose to his feet abruptly, leaning over slightly so Schuldich could see the irritation on his face. "Rosenkreuz may have taught me I could do just fine by myself, and that I didn't need the weaknesses of others dragging me down," he said with quiet heat. "But you're the one who taught me what it was like to get strong because of other people."
Schuldich interrupted with an arched brow. "I don't recall giving any such inspiring speeches," he drawled.
"You didn't have to," Nagi said shortly. "When I joined Schwarz, I saw how you and Farfarello worked together and how Crawford kept the team together. You might not like to admit it- none of us do -but.."
Schuldich sat up abruptly, cutting the younger boy off. "What's with the flowery spiel on teamwork?" he demanded a little irritably. "Did Bradberry have some vision of an untimely death for you or me? Jesus." (1)
Nagi was silent for a long moment. "That's not funny, Schuldich," he finally said, very quietly.
Schuldich turned to stare at him pensively for a long moment, reaching up to lower his cigarette. He breathed out a trail of smoke, slipping through the younger boy's nervous thoughts. Nagi was afraid. Afraid that he was going to die, that Omi was going to die, that Crawford, Schuldich, or Farfarello might die. He didn't want that to happen; he didn't want to watch as the only family he'd ever known slipped through his fingers. He didn't like that Schuldich was so unconcerned with the possibility that he might be killed. It worried him.
"Hey, I'm not the suicidal one," Schuldich pointed out in response to those thoughts. "That would be Farf. Though I guess not anymore, now that he has a new chewtoy in soccer punk..." He shrugged one shoulder. "As for the shit between Crawfish and me, that's our business."
"Forget it, chibi." Schuldich rose to his feet, flicking his cigarette carelessly over the roof's edge. "You've been hanging around Tsukiyono too much. You're beginning to nag like an old hen."
"..I told you to stop teasing him."
Schuldich smirked over his shoulder at him as he walked towards the fire escape, hands in his pockets. "I don't take orders from runts and bleeding hearts."
Schuldich's feet shot out from under him, and he gave a strangled curse as he found himself hovering just over the roof's edge, two stories above the ground. He waved his arms uselessly. Heights were not exactly his forte. Especially after Kudou's 'rescue' of him from the hospital five months ago.
Nagi was watching him with calm eyes, face smooth and expressionless-- the face of Schwarz's Prodigy. "Who's a bleeding heart?" he murmured.
"All right, all right! Jesus," Schuldich snarled, forcing himself to look anywhere but down. "Thank you for reminding me what a sadistic, heartless, evil little gnome you are! Now put me down before I beat your ass!"
Nagi gave a small sniff and pulled Schuldich back onto the relative safety of the roof with his Gift. Schuldich stumbled to get his footing and immediately swung at the boy. It didn't take a precognitive to see that one coming, and Nagi was already just out of reach. "Good night, Schuldich," he said calmly, disappearing down the fire escape and leaving the flustered German to growl curses at his back. In retaliation he jabbed a particuarly vivid image of Nagi humping a tortoise into the young boy's mind.
A moment later he was rewarded with a yelp and a crash. He smirked to himself as Nagi's infuriated voice floated up on the evening air.
"Damn it, Schuldich! Go to hell!"
Schuldich popped his head over the roof edge to grin in a superior manner. "Been there, done that, got the tee-shirt." An invisible hand around his throat yanked him from the edge of the roof.

Inside the shop, Aya gave a little jump at Schuldich's scream of outrage and horror.
"Ignore it," Omi advised as he walked past watering the plants. "It'll help them blow off steam. They won't really hurt each other. Much."
"I hope not.."
"Nagi won't do anything permanent to him, and the most Schuldich can do is torture him with nasty images. It's kind of funny, actually....in a sad, sick way."

Schuldich reached for Nagi the minute he was set carefully on the sidewalk in front of the shop. Nagi dodged backwards, a small grin flitting across his face. "It served you right," he informed the older man.
"Hold still, you little shrimp," Schuldich snapped. "When Crawdad finds you in the morning you're going to be tied up in a burlap sack and hanging from the-"
The blow this time struck with the force of a truck. Schuldich slammed backwards into the metal grating that covered the shop's front door, the air driven from his lungs violently.
He slumped to the ground as his vision faded in and out in his struggle to force oxygen into his mouth. Falling to his hands and knees, he finally managed to suck in a ragged gasp of air. Racking coughs shook his aching body as he struggled to rise. Pure fury rose to wash away his previous irritation.
"Nagi, what the FUCK-"
Another blow, this time across his face, like a hit from a boxer. Or maybe a gorilla, Schuldich thought distantly as the impact lifted him off his feet. He crashed into the trash bins nearby, head spinning. It took him longer to sit up this time, and when he wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, he smeared blood on his knuckles.
He could see Nagi racing towards him, mouth gaping, eyes wide in shock. Not Nagi? What? Then...?
Nagi gave an involuntary shriek of surprise and pain as he was suddenly bowled over by an unseen force and smashed against the brick wall. He fell in a small heap and didn't move.
"Nagi!" Schuldich scrambled to his feet, almost slipped in the trash-
He spotted movement on the street and lashed out with his Gift, encompassing any mind within a block's radius of the store.
He could sense the ordinary people out there, but nothing close by aside from his team. Where there should have been an enemy's mind, he ran instead against a solid barrier. Only two men had that strong of a shield. Crawford-- and Souma.
Shit! He found his footing and snatched up a nearby chair leg, holding it like a club. Two rusty nails jutting from one end would make it a dangerous weapon. It was just like Rosenkreuz to make a move at just the right time-- when the Adir'avar were back in Farfarello's caves.
He sent his call out like a jolt of electricity. FARFARELLO-!
The figure in the street gave a wicked laugh, and Schuldich grunted as another heavy blow took him in the stomach, doubling him over. Then came an uppercut to his chin so violent that it threw him up and back towards the store--

Aya finished up her sweeping and set the broom in the corner, carrying the dustpan towards the trash can. "There's too much testosterone in this house," she tsked. "You boys need more women in your life. Not," she added hastily, "that I have a problem with anyone's relationship. I just wish you had more girl friends. There's only me and Manx-san, after all. And every now and then that Sakura girl, though I haven't seen her in awhile." Good riddance, she added to herself. Sakura was nice and everything, but she was a little too infatuated with Ran for Aya's tastes.
"Not all girls would understand us like you do, Aya-chan," Omi said with a smile.
"Oh?" Aya couldn't help but smile at his flattery. "Omi-kun, can you hand me th--"
The side window shattered with a deafening noise. Aya screamed, throwing her arms up to protect her face. A moment later Omi was barreling into her; they landed heavily behind the register and Omi covered her with his body as glass flew everywhere.
Over his shoulder Aya saw something that made her scream again. Schuldich came flying in with the glass, and crashed into the shelves on the far wall before falling heavily, bringing pots, soil, flowers, and wood down with him.
Omi rolled off of her and yanked open a drawer in the register. He drew out a small pick and hand shovel and edged around the counter just enough to see the ruined window. He could hear feet pounding on stairs as the rest of his friends came running from the basement and upstairs.
There was no movement at the gaping entrance. Omi chanced a quick glance towards Schuldich before returning his eyes to the shattered window again, grip tightening on his crude weapons. "Schuldich," he hissed. Schuldich! Daijabou ka??
"Schu-san," Aya whimpered, hanging by Omi's elbow and staring at the German's crumpled, bloody body in horror. "I thought you said they wouldn't hurt each other!"
"That wasn't Nagi," Omi said under his breath, eyes glued to the darkness outside.
Omi glanced over his shoulder. The register covered the back door sufficiently if one were to crawl. "Get in the kitchen and go hide in your room, Aya-chan," he murmured. "Stay close to the floor. And lock your door. Take the Jackal with you. He'll protect you."
Aya's wide eyes darted from Omi to Schuldich and back again. "Demo-"
Aya hesitated another breath before turning and scrambling on hands and knees for the kitchen door. She disappeared inside just as the basement door slammed open.
The Jackal burst into the flower shop, looking around wildly, his sword in hand. "What's going on in h-"
"Get down," Omi protested, then gasped as an instant later an invisible blow knocked the startled Irishman back. He gave a strangled cry as he fell heavily down the stairs.
"Kuso," Omi hissed, chancing another quick glance towards the broken window. He licked his lips nervously. A telekinetic didn't have to see something- or someone -to touch it with a thought, which meant likely whoever it was didn't know where he was. He wrestled with his fear for Nagi's safety, pushing it to the background. Right now he had to take care of the threat. He could worry about his lover when this fight was over.
The kitchen door opened a crack, and Crawford edged around the door, gun in hand. He spotted Schuldich in one second, the broken window in the next. His gun swept in that direction as his eyes darted about the darkness for his quarry. He looked calm and dangerous, and Omi was suddenly grateful for his reassuring presence.
"I didn't see this coming," the older man murmured in explanation.
Omi swallowed hard, wishing for the umpteenth time that Crawford had more control over his Gift. "It's a telekinetic," he warned quietly.
Crawford's brow rose. "Then why isn't he attacking?" he muttered, almost to himself. He was angled against the door enough to avoid gunshots, but he should still be partially visible to whoever was outside.
With Crawford watching the door, Omi took a moment to peer at Schuldich from across the room, trying to assess the other man's damage. Under all the broken pottery, wood, and soil, it was impossible to tell if the German was breathing or not. Schuldich!
"Where are the Jackal and Nagi?" Crawford asked, voice still quiet.
"The Jackal got knocked down the stairs," Omi responded anxiously. "I don't know what happened to Nagi. He must be hurt outside."
He snapped his mouth shut at the amused call coming from the darkness outside. "Brad Crawford."
Crawford's eyes narrowed slightly. His thumb twitched, flicking the safety off his gun.
"Why don't you come out so I can see you properly?" the voice drawled. "Otherwise it wouldn't be a proper reunion. You can come out willingly or I can drag you out from there. Your choice."
Crawford hesitated before slowly edging into the open, strategically keeping one foot holding the door open in case a quick escape was needed. Omi tensed in preparation for fight or flight.
A shadow disengaged itself from the darkness outside the shop, glass crunching under scuffed cowboy boots. A stranger strode into the shop, wearing a confident little smirk, fingers hooked in a wide belt.
Omi tried to place his ethnicity and failed. Asian, definitely. But not Japanese. Vietnamese, maybe? Phillipino?
Crawford didn't look surprised to see the man who was watching him expectantly. Finally the shorter man heaved a sigh of impatience. "Let me guess. You saw this coming."
"I saw the Alchemist," Crawford said calmly. "I figured that meant the rest of you would show up soon."
"You always have to spoil the surprise, don't you?" the man sneered at him in a mix of arrogance and irritation. "You're such a spoilsport, Brad."
"And I see you're still as immature as always."
That comment earned Crawford a quick mental shove that pinned him to the door, the back of his skull cracking loudly against the wood.
"Don't you pull that all-knowing shit on me, Brad," the younger man snarled. "You American dog."
Crawford ignored the drop of blood on his lip from where he'd bit his lip when he'd cracked his head. He offered his opponent an unimpressed, cold look. He didn't even need to speak. No one could pull off the regal "you're lower than pond scum" look like Brad Crawford.
Wham! Infuriated, the telekinetic lashed out, and Crawford was thrown sideways, hitting the far wall. As Omi tensed himself to spring while the man was distracted, he heard a slight noise behind him and instinctively glanced over his shoulder.
Aya was standing in the kitchen doorway, and her arm was whipping forward in a blur. For the split second it took to spot the movement, Omi was bewildered. Then the telekinetic screeched, and Omi twisted his head around quickly in time to see the man stumble backwards, clutching the handle of the wickedly sharp cooking knife imbedded in his left shoulder.
"You BITCH!" he shrieked in rage.
"AYA!" Omi shouted in warning as he dived at her legs to bring her to the ground in a last-ditch attempt to save her from the retaliation he knew was coming.
Suddenly what little glass was left in the side window exploded from the frame, and the strange telekinetic offered a startled cry as he flew across the room and was crushed against the wall near the ceiling.
Omi gasped in relief and surprise as a familiar slender figure staggered into the room via the gaping hole in the wall. "Nagi!"
Nagi was glaring fiercely up at the man he had pinned against the wall, taking shuddering breaths to control his temper. His fingers twitched by his sides as if he were fighting not to simply snap his captive in half. His dark hair was matted with blood, and he was limping. Omi scrambled to his feet to run to him, when the backlash came.
He felt it like a tidal wave at his back, screaming in shock as he hurtled across the shop, crashed into Nagi, and spilled into the street outside in a painful tangle of limbs, bruises, and- crack! -Nagi cried out in pain.
Aya was calling to them desperately from inside. "Omi-kun! Nagi-kun!"
Omi forced himself to his hands and knees, panting harshly. He saw the basement door open as the Jackal came barrelling out, swinging his blade at the telekinetic, who was landing lightly on his feet.
With a single disgusted look the man swept Tomás aside like a leaf in the wind, and he tumbled over the counter to collide with Crawford as the American was aiming his gun.
The man's lips peeled back from his teeth in a snarl of triumph and hatred as he turned his attention on Aya. "I'm going to enjoy fucking you up, bitch. You can cry all you want, it isn't going to do anything but make it more enjoyable for me." He reached up, wrenching the knife from his shoulder with a hiss of pain. Then he started towards her in long strides, murder in his eyes. Aya could only stand and watching him come, mouth opened in a silent cry of terror.
Then, abruptly, he stopped.
He came to a dead halt, eyes losing focus. He cocked his head as if listening to a voice no one else could hear. Anger rushed across his features, but he managed to bite out, "Hai, Souma-sama."
He offered Aya one last murderous glare, pointing a finger at her in warning. "I'll be back for you some other time, cunt." He turned sharply on his heel and stormed out through the back door. Crashes and slams marked his exit as he pulled every dish from the cabinets with his Gift on the way out. The door banged shut behind him.
"Aya!" the Jackal was struggling to his feet, ignoring Crawford's grunt of pain. He stumbled over a broken pot and hurried over to the shellshocked girl. He seized her shoulders, looking desperately into her blank, terrified face. "Aya-san!!"
She blinked, finally focusing on him. Slowly she looked around at the carnage, her eyes landing on her fallen brothers. Hot tears welled in her eyes, and she made a choking noise.
"I'm sorry," the Jackal was gasping, guilt darkening his eyes. "I was supposed to protect you- I-"
Aya pulled away, shoving him aside and running to Crawford. "Check on Nagi and Omi!" she called over her shoulder when the Jackal took a hesitant step towards her. He nodded and ran outside.
"Crawford-san, daijabou?" Aya asked desperately, finding his cane nearby. She handed it to him and helped haul the man to his feet. "Is anything broken? Are you hurt?" she babbled.
"I'm fine, Aya," he said quietly, eyes distant and mouth tight. Aya was about to turn and attend to Schuldich when the man's grip suddenly tightened on her upper arm painfully. She gasped, turning to him quickly, but his eyes were unfocused as he experienced a vision. After a moment he shook his head sharply and looked at her, speaking two words. "They're coming."
Aya blinked, confused and frightened. "Who? More? More of them are coming?" she looked around frantically.
"No- Farfarello has.." he blinked, reaching up to touch his temple and wince. Belatedly Aya remembered he'd hit his head pretty hard. "He's released the Adir'avar."
"Good," Aya said so fiercely Crawford actually focused on her in surprise. She stepped away and bent over to snatch up the bloody knife she'd thrown at their attacker. The look she turned on the Oracle was grim. "I hope that man gets a nasty surprise on his way home. I hope they kill him."
Turning away, she hurried over to Schuldich.
Crawford watched her for a moment, then looked towards the broken window, where Omi and the Jackal were carefully guiding Nagi inside. He was holding one arm close to his chest, his face tight and pale with pain. Crawford winced, reaching up carefully to place a featherlight touch to the back of his head. He blinked rapidly to stave off the darkness creeping around the edges of his vision, stubbornly refusing to black out.
Leaning heavily on his cane, he made his way into the kitchen to find the first aid kit.

(1) "Bradberry"- I blame this nickname on Mami. Her use of it over chat cracked me up and I couldn't resist tossing it in there.
Author's Notes: WAHAHAHA I had sooo much fun with this chapter ^___^ This chap is for Mami, since I whined shamelessly for her to finish VU 11 and 12 in the same night for me to read. XD
And trust me, most questions you have about this chapter will be explained soon.

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