Part Six

   Nagi's smart enough to show up without the fluff in tow. I'm half-asleep on Crawford's bed and Crawford's at his desk working when he drops by. I rouse a bit from my doze when Crawford gets up and leaves, but I write it off as a trip to get a drink or use the john. When I hear the lock on the front door open, it's enough to wake me up the rest of the way and I watch the doorway, poking out at the too-familiar mind that's standing on our doorstep.

    Nagi appears in the bedroom before Crawford does, shoeless and dressed in jeans and a squiggly button-up shirt. The watch on his wrist is new, as is the necklace around his throat, and I arch an eyebrow up at him. I just saw him a week ago and he looked semi-normal then. "That's interesting."

    He ignores that and props himself against the wall near my headboard. "Aren't you tired of being in bed?" he wants to know.

    "When you get to my age, you'll understand."

    "I'm not that much younger than you," he reminds me. "I'm sixteen now."

    I try and remember when his birthday was. Counting up the days and months, I finally decide it happened sometime in the two months I was hospitalized. "That's still six years."

    "I've still killed more people than you have," he points out.

    "Oh, whatever." I push myself upright and nudge him with my foot. "Get me a drink," I say.

    "Get it yourself."

    "Lazy," I gripe, but Crawford's back now and he holds out a glass to me on his way back to his desk. I take it from him and sip at it, arching an eyebrow at Nagi over the rim. "What's up with the clothes?" I want to know. "Get hit with a fashion stick?"

    "It must have missed you on its swing around," Nagi says, and I offer him a nice view of my middle finger. "This is what people my age are wearing. I figured I should try to fit in."

    "It's a step up from that gray uniform, but it's still ugly."

    He shrugs, not caring whether or not he has my approval. Maybe he knows that I don't mean it. It's just kind of strange to see Nagi dressed like a normal person- and knowing that he would have knocked to come in if Crawford hadn't beat him to the door, because he doesn't live here. "School started yesterday, so Tot and I went shopping this weekend for everything. It was her idea, really. We'd been by the school enough for the applications process that she knew what she was looking for."

    "She picked that out?" I want to know. "Did she pick out your underwear, too?" He scowls at me, not amused, and I offer him a lazy smirk in response. "Crawford says you're living together. Farfarello's going to have a shitfit when he finds out."

    "He likely knows already," Crawford points out from where he's going through files at his desk. "His range is strong enough."

    "It doesn't matter," Nagi tells me. "It's my decision. If he touches her, I'll hurt him."

    "And me?" I ask, amused.

    "Crawford wouldn't stop me," Nagi says. "He'd just tell you that you were warned and he'd step over your crumpled body on the way to the coffee pot."

    This is true.

    "How precious," I drawl. "When's the wedding?"

    "Oh, shut up. I'm sixteen."

    "Now you're going to pretend you have morals?" I ask, laughing. "Don't make me sick, Nagi."

    "Schwarz is gone," Nagi tells me, and the easy way he says it is so strange to hear. I guess he's had two months to get used to the idea, two months to break away from Crawford and realize that the man no longer can tell him what to do. I wonder how well both of them have adjusted to the loss of authority. "I can do what I want now."

    "Yeah, whatever." I flap a hand at him in dismissal.

    Nagi decides to ignore me and turns on Crawford. "Which place did you decide on for tonight?"

    "We will be going to Wisteria," Crawford answers, and he finishes up writing something down before turning his chair to halfway face us. "Everything is already arranged there. We are leaving in ten minutes."

    "You're coming?" I ask Nagi.

    "I offered to," he answers with a shrug. "When Crawford told me the Council was coming into the country, I offered to tag along. I thought it might be wise to have a telekinetic at the table that outranks theirs. The sonic is obviously no trouble, but I'm not sure about the electrokinetic. I've never met one before." He looks over at Crawford, who gives a dismissive gesture.

    "Electrokinesis is simply a refined form of telekinesis. There have been cases of telekinetics who can cross the line between them to be labeled as both, just as there have been a few that mastered short distance teleportation. It is all a matter of moving things."

    "That'll give you something to work on when you're bored of Tot," I tell Nagi.

    "I've never been trained," he reminds me.

    "Make Crawford teach you." When Nagi just looks at me, I offer him a lazy smile. "He taught me."

    That's something Nagi didn't know, and he flicks a considering look Crawford's way. Crawford doesn't bother to comment but continues with the conversation. One of these days I'll figure out how he can so completely ignore all tangents and distractions from what he wants to say enough to keep going exactly where he left off. I guess it comes from a lot of practice, since most of our conversations end up interrupted in one form or another. "I will drop you two off at Wisteria on my way to the airport, but you will be the last to leave. The Council is staying the night in Japan and I am driving them to their hotel. I will pick you up afterwards."

    "What a good little chauffeur," I purr.

    "I don't need a ride back," Nagi tells Crawford. "The subways should still be open then and I can catch a ride home from there."

    "The subways?" I echo dubiously.

    "You might want to try them sometime," he suggests. "They're actually quite useful."


    "It's a thirty-seven minute ride out here," Nagi tells me, double-checking his watch as if it somehow still marks the time he was checking underground. I make a face at the idea of spending almost forty minutes in a tunnel underground and Nagi gives a little shrug. "The ride is worth it, even if it means the commute back and forth to school every day will eat up our free time. We're far enough out from the busy districts that we could find a nice place for a fraction of what this place might cost. I've got enough leftover from Schwarz to brace us until we both find some part-time work."

    "Selling teriyaki burgers?" I ask.

    Nagi doesn't answer that, but I don't miss the mental reaction to such a prod. I smirk at him as I push myself to my feet. It's the first time I've been upright around him since we took on the last Council and I'm reminded of how short he is. It's a nice reminder.

    "Tell me, Nagi," I invite him. "What sort of work are you going to do?"

    "I don't know yet," he answers.

    "And what are you going to do with your expensive education?" I want to know. "Business, and be a worker bee? Work yourself to death like every other Japanese man? International politics? Work in the Diet? Come on, Nagi. Share your worldly plans. What's life going to be like without murder?"

    "And what are you going to do?" Nagi sends back, annoyed. "Now that you're healed and you don't have a Schwarz to cling to anymore, what are you going to do?"

    "Bang Crawford," I answer easily.


    "You asked."

    "That's not an answer. You know what I meant."

    "You didn't even answer *my* question," I point out. "Why should I give you anything? You're just scratching for ideas because you have no clue what to do with your life besides bang Tot and go to school. Nice plan of action there. I can see it lasting."

    "I'm not sleeping with Tot!" Nagi snaps back at me.

    "There we go with the morals and self-delusions again."

    "Leave him alone, Schuldich," Crawford tells me. "And don't say it."

    My mouth is already open, ready to remind him that he only likes her because of Crawford fiddling with his mind, but at Crawford's warning, I decide to let it drop. Kind of a pity, really, since it would be such a perfect comeback. Nagi was assigned to Tot months ago to keep an eye on her, back when we realized that there was something about her we needed. However, Crawford only told Nagi what he was supposed to do in the mental room between Schwarz, which means Nagi didn't retain the details when he stepped out of it. He just knew that he wanted to see her, and his affection for her blossomed out of that. Manufactured love. Put a tag on it and sell it on discount.

    Crawford rises from his seat and sets it neatly under his desk. "We're leaving," he says, and he precedes us to the door.

    We toe into our shoes and step out into the hallway and I pull the door closed behind me. It locks automatically with a loud clack and I trail behind my ex-teammates to the elevator. It takes us down to the parking garage and Nagi gets in the backseat. It looks a little weird with just him back there; usually when there's just this combination of us, it means Farfarello's off killing someone and we're waiting on him to catch up.

    I guess he won't be killing anyone for a while. Then again, with that gift of his, he doesn't need to be upright to go mass murdering.

    I don't bother to buckle as the car pulls out of the underground garage and into the street, and instead watch the buildings as we drive by. Stranger than just having Nagi with us is the scenery that we fly by. I'm used to living on the outskirts of the city, safely away from the towering skyscrapers. A glance at my rearview mirror offers me a view of the endless traffic behind us, both vehicle and pedestrian, and the entryways of the surrounding buildings. Where are the skyscrapers stretching up at a sky they can't quite reach? What does it mean to lose that? Have we given up and crashed back down to holding onto reality, or have we made it and no longer need to strain? I'm not really sure.

    It's fifteen minutes to get to the restaurant and Crawford lets us out onto the curb. We watch him pull back into the traffic and I tilt my head back, staring up towards the clouds and the building tops far above. They seem shorter here. Funny that I would think that. From the distance, I can hold my hand up and block whole sections of the city from my sight. But here, standing right underneath them with them leaping tens of stories up from me, they seem less impressive.

    "Schuldich?" Nagi asks.

    "I hate this city," I tell him, but I don't mean it, and I'm not sure why I say it. Somehow I think he knows, and I drag my eyes down from the clouds to consider him.

    "Everything we are, we made in this city," he tells me. "This is Schwarz."

    "We aren't Schwarz."

    "No," he agrees. "We're not."

    No more turning to Crawford as he receives a call from Estet or Rosenkreuz. No more waiting to hear the details of a job and then going out to protect or murder a client. No more dangerous games like Takatori, or interferences like Aine and Adashi. No more four bedrooms, three used, with Farfarello locked up in his room when we can't trust him to behave.

    Almost a decade ago, Crawford and the Council hauled me out of a room in Germany that still smelled of sex and hatred and dragged me to Austria. Before then, I had nothing but madness, from the madness at home between my mother and father's shattering minds to the breaking of my own mind at Hoffmann's touch. All I am is Schwarz. All I am is Schuldich. This is all Crawford made me into. He built me from the ground up to be this, and now it's gone.

    I think I'm happy about it, but at the same timeEIt's a strange sort of limbo. We say Schwarz is gone, but the Council is still coming here tonight. Until we've settled everything with them, we can't truly shut the doors on our team and find something new. After the Council's gone, we'll finally be able to point out exactly what we want and take it. All we have to do is hope this goes well, and thenE

    Nagi and Tot in a two-room place on the edge of town, Crawford and me sharing a bedroom but with two beds, and Farfarello in the hospital with Aine's ashes right next to him.

    "What are you going to do?" Nagi asks.

    I consider that and reach up, pushing my hair out of my face. Around us a faceless crowd sweeps by. Cell phones jangle and friends share the latest gossip. Music filters our way from headphones turned up too loud. The smell of exhaust is thick in the air and the sound of traffic is so familiar it's barely noticeable. But above it and beyond it all are the thoughts of a million people, spinning this way and that over a countless range of topics.

    "What I've always done," I answer. "The only thing I know to do."

    "Be annoying?" he wants to know.

    "Funny," I send at him. "I'm going to make everyone's life a living hell."

    "You've always been good at it," he assures me blandly, and I make a face at him as he starts for the front door. As he passes me he reaches out, closing his fingers around my sleeve just briefly. It's just enough pressure that I feel it against my skin and then he's letting go and pulling the door open. "You should come see our place sometime," he offers, looking back at me, and I follow after him into the lobby.

    "You'll actually trust me around your little girlfriend?" I feign surprise.

    Nagi offers me a grim little smile that needs no words.

    The host looks to Nagi. Despite the obvious age difference between us, I'm the foreigner here. His thoughts don't even stop to consider me as a contact. Nagi, however, says nothing in response to the enthusiastic greeting.

    "We have a table reserved here," I tell the man, and his gaze jumps back to me almost apologetically. "Crawford."

    "You are Mr. Crawford?"

    "No, I'm his fuck buddy. Is our table ready?"

    I've never seen a Japanese man turn so red without a lot of alcohol to help. He scribbles a quick note down on the list of reservations to give himself a moment to recover and then pastes a smile on his lips. "Right this way, please, sirs," he invites us, and we follow him past a string of tables.

    ~Crawford won't appreciate you smearing his reputation,~ Nagi points out.

    /What he doesn't know won't kill me,/ I return easily.

    Crawford has reserved a room in the back for us, away from the rest of the rich clientele. It's covered in tatami mats and comes complete with sliding doors. "Will the rest of your party be joining you soon?" the host wants to know as he opens the door and bows to us again.

    "Not for a while," I answer. "They're coming from the airport."

    "Of course, sirs. I will bring you some water."

    I wave him off and he vanishes. Nagi's already toeing out of his shoes and he stands in the doorway to the room, an effective barrier until I do the same. I grumble as I push my shoes to one side and I step up into the room. Six places are already set up, three on each side of the table, and Nagi and I sit on the same side with a space between us for Crawford. There's an opening beneath the table for our legs to hang down into and I'm relieved we don't have to sit cross-legged in such a cramped space. I swing my legs and listen to the thump of my heels against the wall, and Nagi tunes me out in favor of his thoughts.

    Crawford picked this place out. Apparently Takatori and his partners used to come here quite often, and Crawford of course went along with him as his permanent bodyguard. With the Council flying into Japan, it makes sense both etiquette-wise and common sense-wise to take them out to eat. We're not afraid of the Council by any measure, but it's still good to meet with them in a public place. Maybe we're not afraid of them- but I have no doubt that some part of them is afraid of us. We're the group that killed a Council, and now they're coming here by themselves to see us.

    A waitress stops by with our water and we tune out her polite phrases, uninterested. I can smell food from a neighboring room and it's making my stomach growl. At length I get tired of sitting up and lie down, stretching out on my back on the mats with my legs still thumping against the wall.

    "Farfarello still isn't speaking to me," Nagi says several minutes later, and I let my legs go still to hear him better. He's toying with his glass of water, fingertips smearing the condensation that gathers along the sides. "He hasn't really said anything to me since we left the beach."

    "He's not much of a conversationalist."

    "I think he's mad at me."

    "For Tot?" I guess.

    He shrugs. "Among other things. Maybe because I couldn't fix him." He glances my way and at last his calm expression gives way to one I've had the chance to grow used to: a troubled Nagi. "I was too woozy when I woke up on that beach to be much help to anyone. A telekinetic shattered him, but I couldn't even set his bones."

    "You had just died," I remind him, and something haunted flickers across Nagi's eyes at those words. I want to kick myself for saying such a thing. I wasn't the one that drained myself dry to make sure my team survived to take on the Council. I wasn't the one that had my guts punched out and blown all over the beach. Nagi gave so much- too much- for us at that beach. The memory is too sharp and I hear again the sound Mosuli's gift made against him. I can taste bile and blood.

    He looks away from me and I sit up. "Nagi." He doesn't look at me, so I say his name again, and at last Nagi looks back towards me.

    I open my mouth, but I can't find the words. There are too many of them twisting right there, burning themselves into the blood on my tongue and Nagi's scream in my head. I want to tell him not to worry about Farfarello, because Farfarello wouldn't be mad at him over such a thing. I want to tell him not to ever go that far for Schwarz again. I want to tell him that the only way I managed to kill Hoffmann was because even in his unbalanced state, fresh back from the dead and confused as to what he was doing there, it was his power throwing the sand in Hoffmann's face that gave me the one second I needed and knew I was never going to get. I want to tell him that if I ever have to watch him die again, I will revive him just to hurt him. I want to tell him to keep Tot and do well in school because he more than earned it that day on the beach.

    In the end I can't say any of it, but he doesn't look away again or push me to find out what I wanted. He and I watch each other in silence. At last I say the only thing I can. "I'll beat Farfarello up for you."

    It's enough that he gives me a slight smile, but it doesn't really make me feel better. "You can try," he tells me dryly.

    A minute more stretches by between us. I don't hear the question forming in my thoughts; I just hear it coming out of my mouth. "What are you studying?"

    He gives me a sideways look. "Do you care?"

    I offer him a grin. "Never."

    He rolls his eyes at that, but he answers the question, and then proceeds to bore me for the next half hour with stories about his school and his first impressions of his classes.

    Somehow, it's not so boring.

Part 7
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