Part Three

    "Sleep well?"

    Omi was startled by the words, blue eyes popping open. His head was down on the table, nestled in his arms. He blinked several times, looking around in confusion. Had he fallen asleep? When? One minute he'd been listening to Crawford and taking notes, and the next...He stifled a yawn, rubbing his eyes and sitting up. "Gomen nasai."

    "Do not worry about it."

    Crawford had a book in front of him that wasn't Schuldich's Berlin Wall one. Omi stretched, blearily looking at his watch. "How long was hour? Why did you let me sleep that long?" He scrubbed at his eyes again, trying to wake himself up. "I have to finish my research...I only have two days left to finish the paper."

    "You looked like you hadn't been sleeping well, and being tired will not help your paper." Crawford gestured to the two mugs of coffee on the table.

    Omi reached out without thinking, lifting the mug closest to him and sipping from it. It occured to him only after the fifth sip that Crawford might have put something in it. He hesitated, gazing absently at the mug. Would the American have? In this moment, Omi doubted it. Why would Crawford wait until now to make such a move? Why would he have spent the last few days reading aloud Schuldich's book to make a move now?

    "It isn't drugged," Crawford said, sensing his hesitation.

    Was that guilt he felt? Or shame?

    Omi turned a faint smile on Crawford. "I know," he said, taking another swallow. The hot drink was doing wonders to wake him up and his smile widened slightly. "Thank you for the drink."

    Crawford didn't acknowledge the gratitude. "If you want to do well in school, you have to take care of yourself. Those who do not sleep will drop behind."

    "I do sleep..." Omi took another swallow. It was strange, to be told such a thing from Crawford. But then, Omi had stopped seeing Crawford as an enemy within these walls. He certainly was more friendly than Yohji and Aya. He and Ken had finally talked to Manx, but she hadn't been much of a comfort. He glanced at his watch again and was dismayed to see that it was nearing his shift. If he had to go back there...He could feel his headache growing.

    Yes, he slept...But being around his partners wore him out.

    He yawned and hurried to cover it with a hand. "Sorry." His free hand rummaged through his papers, trying to see where they'd left off when he passed out. Crawford set aside his book and lifted Schuldich's. "You don't have to translate for me if you're reading something else," Omi assured him. "I can work on rearranging my notes and start the actual paper."

    "We are almost done," Crawford said simply.

    Omi hesitated before nodding gratefully. He plucked up his pencil and Crawford began reading. Omi listened, eyes on his paper. His hand moved across the page, scribbling down key information he gleaned from Crawford's words. He found himself distracted by analyzing Crawford's voice. It was hard to tell that Crawford hadn't been born speaking Japanese. He was fluent in it without an accent or fault. He had a deep voice, not too far from Aya's.

    He realized he'd stopped writing and hastened to catch up with Crawford, berating himself mentally. He was not going to inconvenience the man to repeat himself! He was lucky enough that the American was being so courteous and civil as to help him in such a way.

    He kept his attention on his work until the chapter was finished. Then Crawford calmly set the book aside. Omi finished his sentence and began rearranging his papers. "Thank you so much," he said, looking up from what he was doing. His smile was warm and genuine. "I would have been in serious trouble if you hadn't helped me."

    There was a faint trace of a smile on Crawford's lips, and something about it bothered Omi. He shoved aside the feeling that was so much like uneasiness, wondering about the way he couldn't hold Crawford's eyes another second. He dropped his eyes to his notes, as if checking them. "If I may..." he asked haltingly, "why did you help me?"

    "I had nothing better to do," Crawford answered.

    "That's what you said when we started." Omi frowned faintly, still absorbed with his notes. "But for entertainment or amusement's sake, why would you help one of your enemy?"

    "My enemy?" Crawford repeated, amusement in his voice. Omi looked up without meaning to, puzzled by Crawford's reaction. Crawford's mouth twitched. "Weiß is not our enemy. You four are not enough of a threat to be an enemy."

    Omi blinked. "Then what are we?"

    "You are whatever we need you to be, whether it is a distraction or whipping boys."

    "But are our enemy."

    "It's a sentiment that isn't reciprocated," Crawford said simply.

    Schwarz and Weiß were representatives of good and evil, destined for a showdown that would prove whether or not right would vanquish wrong for once and all. How could Schwarz not take up their role? They didn't see his team as enemies? They were merely amusement? The disdain one group held for the other pricked Omi's pride. Crawford didn't see him as a threat. Omi had known this all along, but to be told to his face that he wasn't worth being bothered about, to be told that his hacking and tactician skills and his teams' pain and sacrifice to face Schwarz was brushed aside for more important things...

    "Thank you for your help," Omi said, smile vanishing. He gathered his things and stood. "I'm sure Schuldich will appreciate having his book back." With that, he turned on his heel and left.

    The store was crowded when he showed up. The delighted squeals of the girls when they saw him enter rang harshly against his ears. He was not in the mood for them, not today. Not now. He slipped through them without a backward glance, mindless apologies filtering from him of their own accord. He heard Ken say his name but pretended not to hear. He wasn't on shift for another hour.

    He had one hour to figure out why Crawford's words bothered him so much. What else could he- should he- have expected from such a man? Of course Schwarz thought of Weiß as nothing.

    But for a few days, Crawford had seemed like a normal human. The sudden degrading of Omi's unit had caught Omi unawares, tugging him from the comfortable lull he'd allowed himself to fall into around the oracle. He sternly reminded himself that, no matter how Schwarz looked at them, they were still enemies. One day the two groups would be ordered against each other again. Omi couldn't allow himself to be tricked by a polite attitude.

    He sat down heavily at his desk and put the notes to one side. ~Forget it, forget him,~ Omi told himself. ~Yes, he helped you, but he did it for his own purposes.~

    But what motives? Was it a gesture of condescension, where a member of Weiß had to have a Schwarz's help?

    'It isn't drugged.'

    'I know.'

    But if it was just disdain, why would Crawford have devoted so many hours out of the past several days to translate a book aloud? Why would he have wasted so much time to help Omi with his paper? It didn't click together. It didn't make sense.

    Nothing made sense, anymore.


    Omi was on Cloud 9. He burst into the shop, hands closed tightly on a folder in his hands. His face was flushed with delight as he scrambled towards Ken. The other boy looked up and propped one hand on his hip, squinting at Omi's face. "You look happy," he observed.

    Omi thrust out his folder. "I got my paper back!"

    "Paper?" Ken repeated blankly.

    "We had to do this huge paper in history, remember? I told you about it?" Ken considered it and nodded, but Omi had the feeling he'd forgotten it. He felt his elation deflate ever so slightly but shrugged it off, opening the folder and showing the graded paper to Ken. "I got top marks on it!"

    "Good for you, Omi!" Ken gave him an encouraging clout on the shoulder. "You knew you'd do great on it, though."

    "Iya, for a while there I thought I'd fail it because I didn't have enough resources."

    "That's silly, Omi." Ken grinned and turned back to his work. "It's not possible for you to fail anything."

    Omi gazed at his paper, absently nodding and thanking the girls around him who were crowing their congratulations. Somehow Ken's words weren't what he was looking for as a response to the grade. He was grateful for his friend's confidence, but this success wasn't only his. He would have failed...except for Crawford.

    ~Not that Crawford cares that I made a perfect grade on this,~ he mused, excusing himself from the girls and making his way towards the door. He called to Yohji that he would be back in a few minutes and Yohji told him to be quick so he could go on break.

    With that, Omi was out on the sidewalk and running down it in the direction of the library.

    ~This is courtesy and a sign of appreciation,~ he told himself. ~Whether or not he cares, I'll tell him about my paper and thank him again.~

    He flew up the steps of the library and ground to a halt in front of the large doors. He took a deep breath and pushed them open, stepping inside. He hadn't come back after Crawford had made that disparaging remark on Weiß. He'd been busy writing his paper. For a moment, as he let his eyes adjust from the bright sunlight, he experienced a feeling close to panic that Crawford wouldn't be here.

    Ah, but Crawford was. He was sitting at the same table he was always at. Omi made his way that direction, nervous without knowing why. He paused beside the table, heart thudding in his throat and fingers closed tightly on his folder. It only took a moment for Crawford to acknowledge him by looking up.

    Omi dropped his eyes to his folder, wondering at his reaction and his nervousness. "I-I got my paper back from Sensei," he said. Crawford held out his hand, and Omi turned his folder over. Crawford opened it, eyes skimming over the teacher's scribbled note. "If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't have been able to pass," Omi said. "Domo arigato gozaimasu."

    Crawford held the folder out and Omi accepted it gingerly, looking back up at Crawford's face. There was a small smile on Crawford's mouth and Omi felt some of his anxiety slide away. "Congratulations," he said, and for a moment Omi believed he was sincere.

    He realized he was smiling back and dropped his eyes to his folder again. He was waiting for something. For what? He didn't know. What did he want?

    "Your teammates must be proud," Crawford said. Omi gave a faint shrug. Yohji and Aya wouldn't care, and Ken had forgotten all about the paper. "Those who receive good educations will go far. You should always take your studies seriously."

    Omi wasn't sure where the question came from. "Like Nagi?"

    Crawford's eyes were amused. "He's not as serious as he should be, not as committed as you are."

    Omi wasn't sure whether that was a compliment or an observation, so he said nothing. Crawford sipped at his coffee. "Are you Tsukiyono Omi or Bombay?" he asked.

    Omi blinked. "What?" he asked blankly.

    Crawford gazed at him calmly. "The last time you were in here we parted as Oracle and Bombay. From now on may I assume that we will meet as Crawford and Omi?"

    Oracle and Bombay...Omi's thoughts went back to the comments on Weiß that had made him quit the library. Did Crawford mean that they would meet as normal people, like the way they'd been meeting while Crawford translated? It meant trust, it meant a truce. It meant companionship.

    Right now, companionship with this man wasn't a terrible thing to ask. The day he hadn't gone to the library he'd sorely missed that peaceful lull in his day, had missed being able to escape the noise and anger in the shop.

    He was smiling again. "I would like that, Crawford-san." The Grandfather clock at the front of the library tolled then and Omi's eyes jumped to it. He'd been here longer than he was supposed to. Yohji would either be impatient or he would have taken his break anyway. Aya would be annoyed that he was late to his shift. For a moment, he wanted to just forget about the shop and stay here.

    "I am on shift," he said as an apology, looking back at Crawford. "I have to go."


    Crawford watched as Omi turned and left the library with his folder clutched tightly to his chest. Few people he had ever met displayed their emotions as freely as that boy did. It made him seem so very alive, made the others seem dead and decaying. One smile on that boy's lips made his face glow and his eyes shine. It was something different to observe, a far cry from anyone on his team. It was fascinating; it was a fresh breath of air.

    Nagi, as a teenager, should have been able to feel happiness so freely. For necessity, he had been turned against humanity. If he was as light-hearted as Omi, he would be a defective member of Schwarz. But happiness was coming for the gloomy boy...Crawford had seen it. ~Chocolate,~ he mused to himself, ~is good for the soul.~

    As for his other teammates...Just thinking about them was enough to give him a headache. They'd been at each other's throats for what felt like forever. Not even he was able to control them now. He'd talked to both of them, several times, but neither would back down. They were fortunate that their work was not required anywhere, or Crawford would have had to take more drastic measures to separate them.

    ~Soon,~ he told himself. ~Soon everything will settle down and straighten out.~

    Soon, when Schuldich got struck by a bolt of lightning and gained some common sense. Farfarello was to be treated with wary respect, as a dangerous weapon that could explode any minute. Schuldich had seen him as a source of amusement, especially after he had taken Balinese to his bed. Farfarello had reacted rather violently, and Schuldich's amusement had quickly faded when the teenager retaliated. Farfarello had set about making Schuldich's life miserable, and now it was a full blown fight of fury between the two. It was idiocy.

    He collected his things and threw his cup away. Tomorrow at four o' clock Omi would walk in the library doors. At precisely three fifty Crawford would arrive and have himself settled.

    He made a mental note to order them both coffee and biscuits.

Part 4