11: Dangerous to Want

      Schuldich was ready to shoot himself after the eighth drink.

      It was the only option he could think of, as Crawford had declared that Kudou wasn't expendable. Besides, killing himself was probably the best think that could happen to Schwarz. Schatten had a grudge against Crawford but the real reason they were in town was Schuldich, so he'd be doing them a favor. They would call him a martyr, and he'd finally get away from his assigned companion for the night. Kudou had been tolerable grocery shopping, content to keep his sly comments to himself. It was after shopping that it had started to go downhill, when they stopped by the house to drop off the food and Schuldich was ready to leave again, and Kudou said something to Farfarello that almost got him decked. Schuldich wasn't there to hear it and he wasn't sure he wanted to dig into the man's mind to hear it, but the Sensitive had been in a foul mood when Schuldich had dragged Kudou out of there.

      Now Kudou was drinking, and the more he drank, the less he remembered that Schuldich was supposed to be the big evil telepath of the assassin group Weiss had never managed to beat. Schuldich decided it was a combination between the liquor and the fact that Schwarz was stuck with the man for the time being. "Useful," Crawford had said. Schuldich wanted to shove the glass he was holding down Crawford's throat.

      It would be easier to deal with him if he could put into words what about the other man was bothering him. But the words and reasons remained elusive, and the more he drank, the more he thought he should just call it quits and go back to the house. Returning home was the last thing on Kudou's mind, however.

      "I want to go dancing," Kudou insisted, for at least the tenth time since they'd gotten settled at the bar's counter.

      "I don't care. I don't want to go."

      "You owe it to me," Kudou informed him.

      "Pray tell, how do I owe you anything?" Schuldich wanted to know, finishing off his cup and lifting it in a pointed gesture to the bartender. The man came over, collected his glass, and went to mix him another.

      "You dragged me into this," was the easy response. "You just cut my life expectancy short. I didn't plan on dying before I hit thirty. You are cheating me out of eight years of life and a lot of ass. I want to go dancing."

      "At what point did what you want mean anything to me?" Schuldich asked. Kudou considered him a long moment and Schuldich gave him a sideways look, alerted by the pause that something else was going tick tick tick in the man's brain. "What?" he finally asked, because he was sick of being stared at. The man's expression looked a little too much like Crawford's.

      "How old are you?" Kudou asked.

      "I sure hope to God you don't try that on women," Schuldich snorted, taking his glass back from their bartender for the night.

      Kudou grinned. "I'm not that stupid. How old are you?"

      "I'm twenty-four," was the answer. "What does that have to with anything? I can't find any connections between my age and your inane request to go dancing."

      "And Crawford?" Kudou asked, ignoring the second half of what Schuldich had to say.

      Schuldich grumbled into his drink, wishing he could think of a creative way out of this. This was the one free day Einsam had given him before the shit hit the fan and he was stuck with Kudou, who had suddenly decided it was time to play twenty questions. Schuldich had had enough to drink that it was getting harder to think, and while he wouldn't have minded a conversation, he wasn't sure what Kudou was getting at. He'd had too much drink to be able to make sense of anything in the other man's brain. He'd tried the silent treatment, had tried ignoring Kudou. The man had switched to their bartender instead and at one point the conversation had turned so ridiculous Schuldich had found himself speaking without thinking first. That was all Kudou needed.

      The man poked him, and Schuldich snarled something incoherent in his direction. The grin on the other's face said he wasn't impressed. "You're sulking," Kudou decided. "How old is Crawford?"

      "He's twenty-seven," Schuldich said, and to spare himself the rest of the questions, added, "Nagi's seventeen, and Farf is nineteen."

      "Huh." Kudou considered this for a bit. "Jailbait," he declared. "You're courting jailbait."

      Schuldich had definitely not had enough to drink to deal with Kudou's new train of thought. "If I take you dancing, are you going to shut up?" he asked.

      "You're going to take me?" Kudou asked. "I'm flattered. Farfarello might be a little jealous, though, so you're in charge of damage control." At the Look sent his way, Kudou laughed and pointed at Schuldich's cup. There was an amused light in his eyes and Schuldich realized then that he hadn't been paying attention to how much Kudou had been drinking. The man was definitely still sober, or at the most, a little tipsy. "Let's go, but drink some more first. You're still grouchy."

      Schuldich upended his glass.


      Yohji grinned to himself as he pulled his companion through the crowd. He'd found them a place on the far side of the city, as far away from the flower shop as he could get. He was hoping not to run into any familiar faces. He'd been away from the flower shop for days now and he couldn't tell the girls he'd been sick if he was out enjoying the night life. Besides, one of them would mention it at the shop tomorrow and his teammates would probably level the store when they found out who he'd dragged here with him. The place was packed but it was bound to get more so; it was just a few minutes out from the prime clubbing hour. He had a feeling Schuldich was still muttering to himself as Yohji wormed his way through the crowd towards the middle. Something was definitely on the German's mind tonight. He wasn't sure what it was but it had followed him all afternoon, ever since he left Farfarello's room. An amused smile pulled at Yohji's lips. He supposed he had too great of an interest in such a thing, but there wasn't much else to catch his attention while waiting for Schwarz and Schatten to take their first steps against each other.

      There was enough space in the middle of the floor for them both to stand with some room between them. Yohji wasn't wearing his usual clothes for such a thing; his teammates hadn't packed him any of those outfits, as the chance of him needing such things had been extremely low. He'd settled for the next best thing, and it was enough. He didn't need his usual club wear to draw attention; he was all too aware that they'd been followed to the middle of the floor, and those around them were turning to look. Schuldich had changed out of his wool shirt sometime between dropping off groceries and leaving again, as it was too hot outside for it, and the new shirt was good enough for this atmosphere. People were staring at him, fascinated by his coloring, and as Yohji let go of Schuldich's wrist, a girl brushed a hand invitingly down the German's chest.

      Yohji turned away from the man to see who was available by him. He knew Schuldich was annoyed with him, but he didn't care. The German was a little too high strung right now. What he needed was to relax. Yohji could remember the dinner easily, and if Schuldich lost control that quickly once things started to get dangerous… Schuldich had been nursing whatever had been bothering him all evening, and he needed to forget about it. The girls by him were pretty enough to distract. They were definitely more attractive than Schwarz's nutcase. Trusting Schuldich to the attention of the girls on his side, he offered a smile to the prettiest beside him.

      She knew an invitation when she saw it, and moved to meet him. The song that had been playing when they showed up ended and another was on immediately, bass pounding through the club. It was a popular song for dance clubs; Yohji recognized it and he loved the beat it had. The girl wasn't just a pretty face; she could move. He was pleased by his choice as they moved together to the music. She felt good against him, a slender body sliding along his own wiry frame. This was what he needed… Just to forget, for a few hours. Just to stop thinking, and feel. The crowd around them moved in a frenzy. The music cranked louder, just on this side of painful. Another girl was at his back and they danced. He gave up who he was and what he was doing to simply exist.

      He was brought back to earth just a minute later, when he caught orange out of the corner of half-lidded green eyes. Schuldich was moving, but not dancing- he was turning the girl who wanted him away and looking to find the best way through the throng of dancers out of the dance floor. Yohji kissed both girls, the second first, and the first on both her mouth and her neck. "Wait for me?" he asked her, and a flash of teeth in a brilliant smile told him she would. He turned away and the girls shifted, dancing with each other as he reached out and caught Schuldich's elbow. He knew he wouldn't be heard over the music so he tugged the drunk man closer.

      "In a hurry?" he wanted to know, tilting his head closer to speak by the German's ear. "You've really got some issues on your mind tonight."

      "Bug off, Kudou." The way they were standing had their cheeks almost touching, mouths by each other's ears so they could hear. Even still, they had to speak up to be heard over the thundering bass. "I'm not in the mood for this shit."

      "You don't have to dance," Yohji told him. "You can just stand there and she'll dance on you." Schuldich made an attempt to pull his arm away, and Yohji just barely kept his grip on him. "Unless you're just upset that she doesn't have white hair…"

      Schuldich jerked backwards, and the look he turned on Yohji was dangerous. "Shut up," he said. The words were lost to the crowd, but Yohji could read them on his lips.

      Yohji sighed, pulling Schuldich back. Schuldich's free hand was busy trying to pry his fingers free. "Just relax," he told the older man. "Look. They want you. Just let them dance."

      "That's me, the object of everyone's sexual desire," came the sardonic reply.

      Yohji laughed. "Everyone knows I'm God's gift to women," he answered. The song ended and the next one started. This one was still loud, but there was enough of a volume difference that he could lean back as he spoke. "You can be the object of the men's sexual desires."

      Schuldich sneered at him. "Glad to know I'm the subject of your wet dreams." He jerked his arm free and ended up running into the person behind him. The crowd was thickening, pressing forward, and even as Schuldich was straightening, they pushed against him. He went stumbling back into Yohji and Yohji caught him, hands on his upper arms to keep him from falling down. He'd kept a careful eye on what the telepath had had to drink tonight, and he had been wondering how long it would take before the other assassin had some trouble standing. Schuldich didn't seem to be able to straighten immediately, head against Yohji's shoulder where he'd fallen, his own fingers instinctively on Yohji's arms for balance. After a few moments- after the dizziness passed, Yohji assumed- he straightened and tried to back off. By now there wasn't any room to go to. The girls Yohji had been dancing with were pressed against his back. He could feel them dancing against each other and him. Schuldich tried to retreat back into his own space, then tried to force himself some room on the sides. His attempts failed; he was pressed up against Yohji with no leeway.

      "Glad to know I can make you squirm," Yohji drawled. "Flattered, really. Here I thought you only had it in for albino wanna-bes."

      A hand snaked up between them, forcing its way between them where they were pressed together, and grabbed a handful of Yohji's hair. Yohji reached up to pry the hand loose but he was too late; the German gave his prize a fierce yank, his lips curling back in a vicious snarl. "Stay the fuck out of my business." Even with the music blaring around them, Yohji could hear the threat in those words.

      Yohji glared at him, prying his hand free before he could pull again. That was going to hurt for a while. The German's eyes were as a cold as ice as he returned Yohji's glare, but the staring match was broken when a dancer rocked into him. Schuldich turned the best he could in the limited space and reached out to shove the one who'd run into him. When the person didn't move- because there wasn't room to move- the telepath settled for hitting them square on their shoulder blade. The dancer sent a startled look back, but any anger at the blow was quickly tucked aside when faced with the look on the German's face. The other man quickly turned away.

      Yohji's eyes were on Schuldich through the exchange as he thought about the telepath's words. That, in itself, was the most curious little mess with Schuldich and Farfarello. Schuldich was too touchy on the subject for him to not give a damn about what was going on. He didn't encourage or discourage his younger teammate, merely accepted what the Irishman did for him and kept going. But if it was really so one-sided, why would Schuldich be so defensive about it? He searched his memory, trying to find the missing piece.

      And then it clicked into place, and he realized that nothing about the mess was amusing after all.

      'Not again,' he'd said.

      The way Yohji had suddenly been yanked into Schwarz's household and lives curled around his thoughts- the blood and the words and the weight of Schuldich as he carried him out of Hasagawa's office. And maybe this couldn't explain all of the problems with Schwarz's middle two, but something as severe as what had happened that night had to play a large role in things. Rape victims… they were a little wary of relationships. The familiarity between Farfarello and Schuldich said that their little thing had been going on for a while, but this had fallen right in between them. Neither were willing to give it up, but neither were ready to press on.

      He wanted to kick himself for forgetting, for pushing that night to the back of his mind in his desperation not to deal with what he'd seen.

      He let go of Schuldich's shoulder, reaching up to catch the German's chin to turn his head back. He waited until Schuldich's eyes were on him, those blue eyes that were glittering with a smoldering anger. Schuldich wasn't interested in his touch; his other hand was lifting to pull Yohji's hand free. When Yohji knew he had the telepath's complete attention, he spoke. "It isn't supposed to hurt."

      The German's expression shut off, and his hand froze where it was. There was a palpable hesitation between them as the telepath struggled for a way to react to that. "And you know this from your extensive experience, of course," he drawled. There was ice in his words, a warning Yohji chose not to heed.

      "I wouldn't call it extensive," was Yohji's breezy reply, and Schuldich went still. His other hand had still been pushing at the dancers around him, but it stopped as the German just stared up at him with an expression carved from stove. After a few moments, he finished the journey with his first hand and ripped Yohji's hand free from his chin. Yohji let the humor fade from his face, studying Schuldich in silence. The grin that pulled at his mouth was automatic, but there was nothing behind it: no taunting, no amusement. "High school graduation got a little wild," he said. "I suppose there was too much alcohol involved. He was my best friend from high school… He cared a lot about me. It didn't hurt. It isn't supposed to."

      "You didn't have to say that," Schuldich informed him. Yohji mentally translated it to "I didn't want to hear that," where the 'want' wasn't there because he was disgusted by the thought. His expression hadn't changed. "It's not like I would have double checked to make sure you were telling the truth."

      Yohji gave a shrug. "Just because it's not something I advertise doesn't mean I'm ashamed of it, so what should I care? It happened. Oh well. From what I remember of it, it was good. Schatten's going to kill me in a couple day and if they don't, Crawford will get bored of having me around eventually and Farfarello's already staked his claim. I have nothing and no reason to hide anything when my time is running out. You can blame it on the alcohol if you like."

      "But you're not *drunk*," was Schuldich's retort, and he tried once more to take a step back. He didn't make it far.

      Yohji shrugged and took hold of Schuldich's elbow. Schuldich yanked his hand off and Yohji caught him again, fingers curling tight around the other man's arm. The telepath tried again to pry him loose, fingernails digging deep into the back of Yohji's hand, but he didn't let go. He leaned over to kiss his girls once more and offer them an apology before forcing a way through the crowd. Schuldich followed because it was follow or rip free and get stuck in the middle of the dance floor. Yohji fought them a path to the counters and ordered them some drinks, stealing stools that were in the corner. Schuldich was given the one against the wall, and he sat in a rather dark silence between it and Yohji.

      Their drinks were brought over quickly and Schuldich inhaled half of his glass in one swallow. Yohji decided that meant he'd hit a sore spot. The German honestly didn't need more to drink; he was already nicely drunk. Yohji studied him for a few moments and sighed, reaching up to rake his bangs out of his face. "Let's try this again," he said, voice just loud enough to be heard over the music. He reached out to touch Schuldich's elbow as he spoke to make sure the German was paying attention. "My name is Kudou Yohji. I'm twenty-two years old and my hobbies are women and driving."

      Schuldich sent him a flat look. "What do you want *now*?" he asked.

      "I want to talk," Yohji said. "You like to talk, and I like to talk. I've been sitting in Schwarz's house watching paint peel for three days. I want someone to talk to."

      "I think you've said more than enough for tonight," was the clipped answer. Schuldich finished his cup and set it on the counter. "It's time to go back."

      He was unsteady as he got to his feet; Yohji rose and reached out, helping him catch his balance. Some money was tossed on the counter for the bartender and Yohji guided Schuldich out of the club. The German pushed away his hold twice and almost fell both times. On the third touch, he sullenly accepted Yohji's hands on his shoulders. It was cool outside and the breeze was strong, and Yohji glanced down at the man he was leading to the car. He found himself a bit disturbed by the events of the evening, but he would need a night to go over things to figure out what was wrong. He wasn't drunk; he'd had just enough to get a nice buzz. He knew he probably shouldn't have said some of the things they did- Schuldich certainly didn't appreciate them- but at the same time, he felt they had to get spoken.

      Schuldich sagged against the car when they reached it, wanting something sturdy to lean against for a few moments. Yohji gave him the time he needed to get his balance back, watching him as he leaned there. Finally Schuldich rolled over, his back against the car and his head lolled to one side. Blue eyes stared at Yohji and through him; there was something off about his expression that Yohji couldn't read in the dim parking lot. Schuldich was too drunk to guard it, and Yohji studied it, trying to memorize the look to consider later.

      "You're wrong, you know."

      "How's that?" Yohji wanted to know.

      "It's dangerous to want something," came the reply.

      Yohji shook his head. "What you want can't hurt you." Which, he knew, wasn't true in all cases, but he doubted the topic of their conversation was going to turn on Schuldich and maim him one day. He might be giving the third man too much credit, but tonight he was giving the Irishman a little trust.

      Schuldich's teeth flashed in a bitter smile. The unguarded self-loathing behind it startled Yohji and sucked the breath from his lungs. "In a game like this, it can kill you."

      Yohji just stared at him for a long moment as silence fell between them once more. He thought of a gold eyed man who had the power to read and manipulate one's emotions, of a fight that had started twelve years ago. He thought of a blood-eyed boy Nagi had claimed Schuldich had fought so hard to protect, and those red eyes coloring with loathing as they looked across the table at the telepath. He thought about Hasagawa's office and the words 'Not again' and the cold smile on Meirth's lips. He thought of a kiss shared from one man to the other, the devil and the lost Sequencer. He thought of Schuldich's bitter laugh, of his sour words and vacant smile as he turned his gun to rest it against his temple. He thought of Schuldich and Farfarello's intricate little dance, each toeing a line they couldn't yet afford to cross. And he thought of Nagi telling him that he would never understand, because it wasn't his fight.

      Schuldich pushed himself up from the car and fell against Yohji, lacking the balance it took to stay up straight. "I drank too much," came the declaration from the man resting against him. "Hold still and let me get sick on you."

      "Fuck that," was Yohji's response, and he thought he heard the other man's muffled laugh. He stared down at the head that had fallen against his shoulder, stared down at him as he put the pieces together of the man standing in front of him. In that moment, everything that Schuldich was fell into place, and he realized that they would have to kill him when this was all over, because there was no turning back.

      He forgave Schuldich for who he was, in that moment- for everything he was.

      He could blame it on the liquor in the morning. He could blame it on the fact that he was a bit sentimental when he'd been drinking. He could say it was partly Schuldich's mental influence and partly because he was cracking from the stress and being forced in on Schwarz for twenty-four hours a day. But in that moment, he finally understood who he was looking at, and he forgave Schwarz's telepath everything he'd ever done to Yohji in the past.

      Because Schuldich was human, and humans were flawed. And humans could hurt and be hurt. In the end, Schuldich was no different from any of them, just a man whose life had taken the wrong damn turn twelve years ago. Some of the choices he'd made had been his own and what had come of them were his own problems to deal with them. Some of the things life had thrown at him were beyond his control, just like everyone else. And the things that had happened to him… Most of what he'd been through had remained unspoken, and Yohji was eternally grateful that he didn't have to know. He didn't pity the man, because Yohji found it hard to pity anyone and such an emotion would just have the German tearing his throat open anyway, but he sympathized with him. And he understood, at last, Schwarz's most complicated assassin.

      He sighed and lifted one arm, wrapping it around Schuldich's shoulders and holding the man against him in a brief squeeze. It was the kind of comfort he was used to offering Ken and Omi when things were getting rough and they were fraying around the edges, but it felt a little strange to be offering it to Schuldich. It was all he had to give, really. Schuldich wasn't as used to the touch as his teammates were; he went still for all of one heartbeat before shoving himself out of Yohji's grip.

      "Let's go back," Yohji said, and he helped Schuldich move off to one side so he could get the door. He waited until the telepath was settled in the passenger seat before closing it behind him, and moved around to the driver's side.

      "We have to get food," Schuldich said when Yohji climbed into the car.

      "We went grocery shopping earlier," Yohji reminded him, glancing that way. Schuldich wasn't looking at him; his head was lolled to the side to rest his forehead against the cold glass and he was staring off into space.

      "For Farfarello," Schuldich said. "Said I'd bring him food back. Lunch."

      Yohji accepted this and turned the key in the ignition. There was a fast food place three streets over and he parked the car at the curb to go inside and get something. Schuldich had approved the place but just shrugged when Yohji asked for a specific order, so he supposed the Irishman would have to make do with whatever he got. Schuldich took it from him when he returned to the car, holding the bag in his lap with both hands curled in the plastic. He had to check with Schuldich on the directions to the house, and luckily Schuldich could help him or he'd have never made it back. He parked outside and looked over at Schuldich, who hadn't moved yet.

      Yohji considered him for a long moment, unbuckling himself and opening the door. Schuldich still hadn't moved and didn't look interested in moving any time soon. ~Farfarello?~ Yohji tried at last, wondering if the Irishman would hear him.

      The soft crunch of gravel just a few seconds later told him that he had. The yard was dark; the street lamp nearest Schwarz's house had burnt out. Farfarello had always been a fearsome sight in the dark, and Yohji watched as he passed in front of the car. With some alcohol in his blood, he told himself he was impressed by the sheer presence Farfarello had, even when he was only walking. In the morning he'd be back to his senses and would be disliking the man and finding nothing good about him. But now, he watched the moonlight dance in white hair and over pale skin. There was a tree overhanging the driveway and even with his light coloring, Farfarello was only an outline when he passed into its shadow. Yohji popped the lock for Schuldich's door and Farfarello opened it, leaning over to look at Schuldich. The German stared back, and then wiggled the bag in his lap. The light had come on inside the car when Yohji opened his door, and he watched Farfarello's expression as the Irishman considered his teammate.

      "Brought you food," Schuldich offered.

      "Hold onto it," was the response, and Farfarello undid Schuldich's buckle. The German sighed and slid out of his seat. Farfarello moved back to let him out, but Schuldich had just gotten upright when he collapsed again. Farfarello caught him easily, pulling him up straight and letting the German rest against him. Yohji climbed out of the car as Farfarello shut the car door with a foot, and he followed behind the two to the house. Schuldich was muttering something Yohji couldn't make out as he let Farfarello help him towards the door. One of his arms was around Farfarello's neck, and the Irishman's plastic bag dangled from the arm that was limp at Schuldich's side. Yohji got the door for them and let them in first. Farfarello brought his teammate to the German's bedroom and Yohji paused inside the front door for a moment before deciding Farfarello knew what he was doing. He toed his shoes off at the door and stepped inside, letting himself into Farfarello's bedroom to go to sleep.


      Schuldich let Farfarello pull at the laces of his shoes. He was seated on his bed, the Irishman crouched in front of him. His teammate's food was still in his lap, and he thought maybe he should move it eventually because it was hot. He studied Farfarello as the Irishman worked, watching his pale fingers move in the dark room as he pried Schuldich's boots off. He rose and carried them over to the closet, opening the door to chuck them in, and returned to Schuldich's bed. The Irishman leaned over to study Schuldich's face, one hand lifting to check his forehead.

      "Are you mad at me?" Schuldich asked. It was a fight to focus on his teammate's face. He wondered how much he'd had to drink. He couldn't remember now.

      Farfarello arched a thin brow at him. "Should I be?"

      Schuldich shrugged. "I took Kudou dancing."

      Farfarello gave a quiet snort, pulling the bag of food out of Schuldich's lap. "Go to sleep," he said.

      Schuldich considered this and started peeling off his shirt. He got it halfway there and Farfarello needed to give it the last tug free, after which he let it fall carelessly to the ground. It was as much as Schuldich cared to change and he pushed himself further back on the mattress to pull his legs up onto the bed, crawling towards his pillow and sagging down on top of the covers. He stared across the room for a long moment as the evening danced in his head, and he finally turned his head to study Farfarello. His teammate noticed the attention and waited, his food hanging from one hand. He was unbothered by the scrutiny and content to wait until Schuldich's attention wandered elsewhere or until he said something.

      After a few moments, Schuldich pointed at the foot of the bed. Farfarello eyed him in silence, probably trying to figure out exactly what Schuldich wanted, but eventually sat down. Schuldich let his hand fall back to the mattress and stared across the room, studying the far wall. Silence fell between them. After a minute had passed, plastic crinkled as Farfarello ate his lunch. Schuldich waited until he was finished eating to speak.

      "He understands," he said slowly, not bothering to look back at his teammate. He could feel Farfarello's eye on him. He wondered why he was saying this, but supposed it didn't matter. The words were slurred anyway. He was tired. "Like you do."

      Silence. Then, "Go to sleep."

      The bed shifted as Farfarello stood up, and Schuldich sighed, letting his eyes fall closed.


      Omi had spent his lunch break with Manx, going over what he'd supposedly spent the last few days on. She had reviewed everything carefully and in the end had given Weiss the official permission to go ahead and sketch out a mission. Omi already had one ready, and after the shop was closed for the day, he'd called Manx to let her know Weiss was moving out. It was at ten that the three had started the process of elimination as to where Marigold was staying while in Tokyo. The night was cool and the search long, but they kept gamely to it. It was half past two when they finally came to the second to last spot Omi had decided on as a possibility and found what they were looking for.

      The place was an abandoned apartment building, a building without a landlord and one that wasn't supposed to have any tenants, either. A careful search and a well planned act showed them that there were indeed men inside- a lot of them.

      Aya considered the apartment from a few buildings down. He'd settled on the front steps fifteen minutes before Omi moved in to check things out, and Ken and Omi had met him a few minutes later. There were guards around Marigold's building, both inside and out, and anyone moving on the street was bound to draw attention. Ken had played the part of a drunk, wandering down the streets singing something to himself, stumbling off the curb and laughing. Omi had been the one helping keep him upright and he'd been inwardly amused by how well Ken had taken to his role. Ken had happened to choose Aya's building to throw up by, leaning over and retching near the steps where Aya was supposedly smoking a cigarette.

      Aya had snarled at both of them, Ken for being drunk and Omi because he was there. There had been eyes on them the whole time and Omi had apologized profusely over Ken's loud complaints. In the end Omi had managed to convince Ken to just sit down on the steps and not move, and with a short plea to Aya to watch him, he'd dashed away with the excuse that he would get things to clean it up with from the nearest convenience store. That convenience store was on the opposite side of Marigold's stakeout from where Weiss was, and when Omi had made his way back, he'd tripped on the sidewalk and ended up dropping all of his bags right in front of the building.

      The eyes had told them that someone was there. But as Omi fumbled to pick his bag back up, he'd heard it- the soft click of a gun readying itself. He was too close to the building for the Canadian army's comfort. He'd pretended not to hear it; only years of listening for such a sound had helped him hear it in the first place. Now he was mopping up Ken's mess while the older teenager was sprawled out backwards on the steps snoring, and Aya was staring off at the building with the excuse that he was looking away from his unwanted companions.

      "They're definitely in there," Omi told his companions, wiping idly at the steps to clean up the last of the vegetable soup Ken had been toting around. The bottle of beer he'd been carrying and waving while he sang had been full of it, so all it had taken was one large swig without a swallow for him to be able to make a mess. Omi drew a small visor out of his pocket, pressing the button to turn it off. After a few moments, the lines that were squiggling across the screen faded. It was used for detecting signals from certain levels of equipment. He'd had it out in the grocery bags with him while he picked up the spilled cloths from the ground, and it had been going haywire. There weren't ordinary people camping out in that abandoned building. There was some heavy technology in there.

      Ken rolled onto his side, so that his face was facing the stone wall that lined the sides of the stairwell. "So how should we get in?" he wanted to know.

      "First we have to find out where the guards are," was Omi response. He threw an apologetic smile Aya's direction for the men that were still watching them. "The rest of these buildings are still up and running. They're residential buildings. The guards have to be outside somewhere. Aya, they can see us. Where are they?"

      Aya gave a disdainful flick of his cigarette before propping it between his lips, hooded purple eyes running a scan of the street. After a moment he lifted his hand to study his watch, peering through his bangs at the location he'd decided on. "There's an alley between the medicine shop and the Yamada apartments," he said. "It's the only space within sight of the stairs that a man could fit."

      "Right… I'll see if there's a back entrance over there." Omi straightened and started pulling at Ken. Ken swat at him for show, complaining loudly about being disturbed. Omi managed to get him to his feet and with an awkward bow to Aya, started across the street towards the apartment Aya had mentioned. The entrance to the apartment was a set of sliding glass doors requiring a key card to open, and through it Omi could see a night clerk watching TV. The man glanced his way when he saw movement and Omi made a show out of searching for Ken's wallet without letting his friend fall to the ground. A press of a button at the main desk had it opening and he ushered the stumbling Ken inside, offering a grateful thanks to the man and apologizing for the inconvenience.

      "He looks pretty smashed," the guard commented.

      Omi offered him a dry smile. "Twentieth birthday," he explained, and the man laughed and turned back to his shows. Omi led Ken towards the elevators, which were out of sight of the main desk, and Ken immediately straightened, though he kept up his mumbling. Omi called the elevators and sent one to the fourth floor empty. As soon as its doors closed, Ken shut up, and they both slipped out the back door. There was a small porch out here for smokers who didn't want to sit out front on the main street, and they stepped out onto it in a crouch. Omi was first peeking over the railing, blue eyes peering through the darkness in the direction of the alley. There was no movement; any threat to Marigold was bound to come from the main street, so they didn't bother watching back here where the dumpsters were. Omi's nose crinkled in distaste. Tomorrow was burnables' day, and he could smell rotting food.

      Up and over the railing he went, landing on the asphalt as quietly as he could. Ken followed him and they moved along the wall towards the alley. Gloved fingers pulled a dart free and Omi twirled it lightly in his hand as they reached the corner. Ken dropped to a crouch and Omi glanced around. There was a can nearby and he gave it a vicious kick before throwing himself to the other side of the alley entrance. The can clattered loudly against the ground, and while there was no audible reaction from the guards hiding inside, Omi knew they were coming. He was still moving, racing without bothering to be quiet, to get to the other side of the medicine shop. The footsteps would point the guards this way.

      He knew when they reached the corner because there was the familiar sound of Ken's blades shooting out just moments before they sank themselves into someone's stomach. Omi whirled around, took just a second to see how many there were to investigate the noise, and let his darts fly. Ken gave his claws a final wrenching twist and yanked them free, letting the body fall to the ground. There was a shout from further down the alley- the third guard, who hadn't followed his companions to the back. It was followed by the sound of several boots pounding against the street as reinforcements raced towards the alley from a separate hiding spot.

      "Shi-ne!" came Aya's familiar battle cry, just moments before the third guard showed up to taste Ken's blades.

      Silence fell quickly, and then there was the scratch of metal against the bricks. "Bombay," Aya called.

      "All clear," came the answer, and Ken and Omi hurried down the alley to meet Aya at the other end. They stood together at the entrance, studying the building, and Omi slid his backpack down to hang from one elbow. He eyed the building for a long moment and then tilted his head back, looking at those to either side to judge how close they were to each other.

      "Anyone up for acrobatics and fireworks?" he asked.

      Ken bared his teeth in a smile. "Let's go," was his answer.

      It would be The story on the news the next morning as police scrambled to find out how an abandoned apartment building had exploded in the middle of the night- and a struggle as they tried to figure out what an abandoned building was doing fully occupied. Omi and his team would watch the morning report on the television in the shop and agree with their customers that the world was falling into chaos, Omi clicking his tongue in dismay at the horrific things that people did and got away with. And when the girls left, he would turn to his teammates and offer them a smug little grin.

Part 12
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