Part Seven: Broken Chains

   Nagi and Farfarello still don't know.

    Three days have passed since I broke things off with Aya. I have gone nowhere near him or Weiß. I have taken to drinking lately, simply because every time I leave the headquarters my feet automatically bring me towards the Koneko no Sumu Ie or Aya's apartment. Since I don't want to go to either place, as soon as I realize what I'm doing I pull a U-turn and head for the closest shop. Fortunately, the closest shop always seems to be a club or bar. Crawford has said nothing on my return to my old drinking habit. Nagi says nothing, either, but I can see the disapproval in the slight frown of his when I head out to drink. Farfarello doesn't notice, or if he does, he doesn't give a damn what I do.

    Farfarello...I finally found out that he was who Nagi's crush was. It was an interesting thing to find out, and thinking on it or pestering them about it kept me occupied when I was sober during the three days. It was fun hurting Nagi about it. As I told him, Farfarello didn't quite understand what love or affection was. The madman knew that Nagi confused him with brief touches, that sodomy was a good thing because it was a sin, and that Nagi's blood tasted sweet. He was a bit possessive of the child, but that was the only good point in the relationship. I pointed that out to Nagi many times, savoring the pain in the back of the boy's eyes every time I rubbed it in his face.

    At least it took my mind off of my own problems. My problem is that I refuse to admit that what I feel for Aya is more than just lust. Maybe one of the problems is that we are enemies. Therefore Aya is a weakness I cannot afford to have. However, I cannot deny what Aya's feelings are. I heard them firsthand in his thoughts. He let me hear them. He feels for me, with love and desire, as much as he feels for his sister. What I can admit, but only in the private confines of my mind, is that he scared me when I heard those thoughts.

    No one loves Schuldich. No one loves the guilty one.

    Yet this beautiful redhead that I seduced dares to.

    I am on the roof again, looking out over the city. I have decided it is a good place to come to. Crawford does not come up here, and that makes all the difference. I hate him for letting me get dragged into this mess. He probably creams himself thinking of the night when he ordered me to kill Aya and I couldn't. Gods-damned sadistic bastard. He's probably looking forward to the fight between Weiß and Schwarz, when we will be victors and Weiß will be dead.

    How will it feel, I wonder, to look down and see Aya's broken form on the ground? I cannot help but be curious, but it is a dreadful, sickening curiosity. All I have to do is imagine myself with that gun to Aya's temple and I can feel an echo of the pain that seized me that night. If Aya were dead, killed at the hands of a teammate...My eyes slide closed and I inhale deeply.

    "Schuldich." It is Nagi. Deja vu. I wonder if he's up here to send me to Crawford again. I open my eyes so they are green slits on my face. He is standing beside me. His shields are getting better, I note with mixed frustration and pride. It seems he can learn more than computer junk. He glances up towards me before leaning against the railing next to me, and his eyes turn outwards, towards the city.

    For once, I am not in the mood to taunt him. Several things I could say to him- painful or just provoking- rise to my mind, but I swat them away with a weary mental hand. Maybe some other time. I gaze down at him, my eyes tracing his young face. He has bandages on one cheek. "Cut yourself shaving?" I drawl.

    Surprisingly, his mouth twitches in the beginnings of a smile. I have rarely seen the child smile. "No," he answers. "It's from Farfarello." Ah. Instead of love bites, now one can get a love cut. Doesn't that make you just want to grab the nearest person and fuck them? I snort in amusement. He squints up at me. "Are you all right, Schuldich?" he asks quietly.

    "Do you mean am I jealous that my face isn't sliced up?" I ask blandly.

    "No." He flicks his fingers. "You seem to be...quieter."

    "Nosy little bishounen." I raise an eyebrow at him and stretch my arms above my head. If I can just stretch a little further, my back will pop...

    "You're not sleeping with Aya anymore."

    I freeze for the slightest instant before reaching my mark. I feel the vertebrae on my lower back snap with satisfying cracks. I can feel his shields melting away. He is not interested in holding them up any longer. Perhaps he has realized that I'm in no mood to tear apart his relationship with Farfarello right now. He noticed the catch in my stretch. He peers up at me. I gaze calmly back, my eyes as cold and mocking as ever, giving no hint to my thoughts.

    He gives up on trying to get anything from my expression and turns away, leaning over the railing to look down at the crowd below. I return to building-watching. He doesn't say anything else, and his thoughts drift aimlessly. Mine start to tread their way back towards a certain redhead.

    Time for a drink. I turn away from the railing, but before I can get further away than five feet, Nagi speaks up. "Schuldich...?" He continues when he hears my footsteps stop. He sounds hesitant, and in his thoughts he is preparing himself to get slapped down by me. "You said Farfarello doesn't understand love."

    "He doesn't," I answer simply. "You confuse him."

    "Ah..." His back is still to me. I wait to see if there is more he'll say, and he doesn't disappoint me. "Do you think I'm just wasting my time?" There is an underlying tinge of bitterness to those words. Someone else said them to him, I deduce, and pick up in his mind that it was Crawford.

    "No." It comes out almost harshly, and he jumps in surprise, then turns to face me with wide eyes. I am pretty sure that my answer would have been different if Crawford hadn't said that to Nagi. I am mad enough at Crawford for what he's done to me, but I won't let him hurt another one on our team. The expression on Nagi's face surprises me- it looks almost vulnerable- and I am given a sudden insight:

    Farfarello isn't Nagi's crush. He's Nagi's love.

    I make myself speak again, but the words taste funny on my tongue. They're not things I should be saying while sober or in my right mind. "No. He'll come around eventually. He isn't stupid." I have to turn away. "It all depends on how long you can wait." I give a careless shrug.

    How long can _I_ wait? I only have one more day before it is time for Weiß and Schwarz to fight. Crawford has already foreseen it, has already put it on the calendar in our kitchen, the stupid American. He marked it nicely and neatly and even circled the date. I would find it amusing if it didn't mark the death of the man who managed to get past my outer shields and inside me.

    One day, and Aya will die.

    I want that drink. I start away, and this time Nagi doesn't call me back.


    I watch the dancers on stage simply because there is not much else to look at. This club is not my usual type. I came here because it was halfway between the headquarters and Aya's apartment- halfway between my haven and his. The crowd seems to be the kind that just came to dance and find bed partners. Usually my crowds are a bit rougher. The sound system is good, though, and the liquor isn't all that bad. The lights are probably the only annoying thing- they stay white for a while, then switch to a different color, then back to white, then another color, over and over. How tacky. I am on my third round of drinks, the stage where I start to get that warm tingly feeling and mental voices are unclear. Somewhere between the fourth and six I will be intoxicated and if I want to hear thoughts I'll have to go after them, and by seven I will achieve true freedom- the voices will go away, and I will not have to think of *him*.

    A woman saunters up to me, her glittery outfit full of slits that reveal choice parts of bronze flesh. She smirks up at me, her mocha brown painted lips parting slightly to show perfect white teeth. "Lonely, stranger?" she asks, her bright sea green eyes trailing down my form.

    I smirk. "I am never alone."

    She slides onto the stool beside me, her movements causing the slits up her thigh to widen a bit more. My eyes linger there for a moment before returning to her face. "No one's ever alone in a place like this." She winks and reaches into the chest of her gown, pulling a pack of cigarettes from between her breasts. She offers me one, her eyes locking with mine. Her eyes shine with promise of pleasures of the flesh.

    I accept the weed. I miss where she gets the lighter from because the bartender is refilling my cup, but I turn in time for her to light my cigarette. She lights her own and the bartender slides over an ashtray, appreciative eyes running over the woman before he returns to his job.

    She sighs, blowing a small cloud of smoke and glancing at her watch. "He's late," she murmurs. Since I have had enough to drink that it is hard to make sense of her thoughts, I raise an eyebrow at her. She smiles at me, a wicked little smile. "A good friend of mine is coming, and bringing a pal with him. Supposedly his friend hasn't been doing too well for a few days." She lifts a shoulder in a shrug. "I'm here to make it alllll better." She sings the last two words in a husky, melodious voice, her mouth twitching so that I know exactly how she's going to make everything better.

    I chuckle quietly and shake my head, blowing my own stream of smoke and gulping my drink. The lights have now turned blue, so our colors are off. What used to be bronze skin on her seems gray, and my orange hair seems black. I take another drag on my cigarette, feeling the inhaled smoke and nicotine seep through me. Ah, nicotine and hard liquor...What more could one ask for?

    "My name's Atita," she introduces, holding out a hand.

    I take it, but someone else speaks up before I can. "Atita! Hey!"

    I know that voice.

    We both turn. Atita smiles, sliding off the stool and exposing more thigh as she does so. She is hugging Kudou. And who is behind Kudou? Who else? Aya is gazing off to the side, eyes blank as if he's not all here in the mental department. Kudou waves a hand at him, smiling at Atita. "Atita, this is my good friend Aya."

    "Good evening, Aya," she greets, voice warming with appreciation. A surge of possessive jealousy rises in me. Atita turns towards me, and Kudou follows her gaze. The lights flick back white. "And this is-"

    "Schuldich," The lanky playboy interrupts, voice hard and surprised. I am not looking at him. My eyes are locked on the redhead behind him. Aya jumps at my name as if he was stung, swiveling in my direction. His violet eyes go wide when he sees me. Atita looks from me, to Kudou, to Aya. She blinks slowly, looking from Aya to me and back again. "What are you doing here?" Kudou demands.

    "Leaving," I reply simply, and slide from my stool. I throw the correct payment for my drinks on the counter top, grateful to no end that I am too buzzed to hear Aya's thoughts. I move past the three, striking out towards the door. Hands brush against me in casual touches that hide inner eagerness. For some reason their touches make me sick to my stomach. Maybe it's just the liquor. Yeah, it probably is.

    A hand closes on my elbow firmly. Without looking back I shake my arm to dislodge the unwanted leech. It doesn't work, so I turn back to get them off forcefully. I stop when I see who is hanging onto me.

    "Let go, Aya," I order him flatly, my eyes tracing his face hungrily. A work of art, it is. I remember when it used to be cold and closed off. Now his eyes have pain lingering in the backs of them. The temptation to yank him closer and ravage that sweet mouth of his is almost overwhelming. I take his chin in my hand and pull him up against me. He does not resist me, and our eyes lock. "One day, Weiß. One day left to go before the end." It is a warning, it is an explanation, it is everything I cannot say. I release him, pushing him away as I do so.

    He watches me leave.


    Nagi has listened to my advice and sticks closer to Farfarello than before. Right now they are ahead of me, looking over the railing and watching the entertainment below. I move to watch with them. We find it amusing for different reasons- Nagi, because Weiß might get hurt, Farfarello, because people are dying down there, and me, because the guards are so easily cut down by the white hunters. The only thing guards are good for is filling bodybags. The more bags we have in stock, the more guards we send.

    Crawford is standing behind us, calmly waiting until it is time for us to make our appearance. He made his intentions very clear to us earlier. Estet will fall tonight. Weiß is here for them, and we're supposed to be protecting their old hides. What a shame that we no longer wish to serve them. They do not suspect us of our treachery. After all, our contracts were practically signed in blood. I do believe the blood has gone stale, though, which is most unfortunate for them.

    The last of the guards is chopped down by a well-aimed blow from Aya's katana. Weiß looks around, trying to determine which of the two doors they should go through. I lazily reach out with my power, brushing against their minds as my teammates and I melt backwards out of view. //Take your pick, kitty cats. This is like the story The Lady or the Tiger. One door will lead you eventually to your lady, your Estet. The other will lead you to us, your tiger. Which door will it be, hmm?//

    /Stay out of our minds!/ Hidaka snaps irritably. The shink! of his bugnuks rings clearly in the room as he briefly sheaths the fiercesome claws. "Which one?" he asks aloud, not knowing that we are within hearing distance.

    "We can't split up," Tsukiyono muses, "because no matter which group we meet, two will not be enough to defeat them."

    "So it's down to a roll of the dice, hm?" Kudou murmurs.

    //The one on the left,// I whisper into Aya's mind, so soft and faint that he cannot tell if it is me or some inner instinct. I seep further into him, very carefully so that he cannot sense me. //The one on the right. Roll of the dice. Which one to choose?// I can see through his eyes as he gazes at both doors. Weiß is watching him, waiting. I lean against Aya's mind until he looks back to the left. It is the door that leads to Estet.

    "Left," he orders.

   I crawl out of his mind, moving forward to watch as they disappear through the door, then turn to the others, meeting Crawford's eyes briefly and smirking. "Done."

    "Lets go." He turns away and starts off at an unrushed pace. I fall in behind him, and Farfarello and Nagi take up the rear. We must make a frightful spectacle. Crawford's glasses shine every time we pass an overhead light, and his lips are in that faint smirk that always means trouble. My eyes are as mocking and icy as always, my wide mouth pulled completely into a condescending smirk. Nagi is as unreadable as he usually is, and the air around him seems to crackle as he gathers his gifts. Farfarello looks like Farfarello, his golden eye blazing with the lust to kill, his knives securely hidden under his clothes. The four of us are wearing pristine whit suits. Schwarz wearing Weiß...Amusing.

    A door flies open ahead of us to reveal a member of Estet. His eyes are wild and angry. On the other side of the room a badly injured Hidaka kneels beside the fallen bodies of the other two members. "There you are!" the final member yells, fury and relief in his voice. "Where were you?"

    "Coming," Crawford answers calmly, and the man steps aside to let him through. The rest of us follow. Hidaka retreats a bit to lean against a wall, too wounded to fight anymore. Silence falls, thick and tense. The final member of Estet flees. After a few long moments, Farfarello follows to finish Weiß's job. Nagi's worry for the Irishman's health is carefully tucked aside as we eye our opponents. Besides Hidaka, the other three sport minor injuries: the kid is cut in two places, Kudou has what looks to be a bullet wound on a shoulder, and Aya is favoring an ankle.

    The final clash has come. Until Estet is fully dead, we will fight Weiß with the intention of killing them.. It is the usual pair-off, and I am not sure whether to be grateful or wary. I do not have to fight Aya- but Crawford is going to.

    Nagi and I move first. Nagi slams Tsukiyono backwards against a wall, and I flit forward until I am right in front of Kudou. Aya charges Crawford, disappearing from my view. Kudou aims a punch at me that I easily dodge, and his wire whizzes harmlessly past my face. His weapon is not much use on someone with speed like mine. I elbow him in the side of the face, enjoying the pained and surprised grunt he makes. His death will be easy. I bring up my leg to fiercely knee him in the stomach. He doubles over, choking for breath, leaning heavily on my leg.

    I catch his thought, but it is already too late. Wire digs into the underside of my thigh. Damn, that hurts! I reach down with my hand, snagging his hair. I twist and drop to my knees, pinning him beneath me. I think I feel two of his ribs crack, and he yells in pain. Blood runs freely down my once white pants. I reach down, seizing his wrist and shattering his watch, yanking his hand so that the wire goes slack against my leg. He glares and I smirk, opening my mouth to taunt him.

    Aya cries out, the sound of a wounded man. Kudou and I both snap our heads in that direction. The redhead is on the ground, face drawn with pain. One hand is holding his ankle, and I pick up from his thoughts that Crawford dealt it a vicious kick. His other hand is clenched against the ground. It is empty. His sword is in Crawford's hands. Crawford raises the katana above his head, and everything slows down for me.

    "Aya!" Hidaka yells, alarmed, and his shout is echoed by the other two Weiß. Nagi turns to watch.

    //Farfarello, aren't you done yet?!// I demand frantically.

    /He's dead. God is crying now,/ he declares gleefully, laughing maniacally in his head.

    The sword arcs down. "Crawford!!" And suddenly all I can see is blood exploding everywhere, red and warm. "NEIN!!!"