14: Nani mo nai

      Schuldich and Farfarello were waiting in the kitchen when Crawford and Kudou came back to the house. Schuldich's mug was empty and he'd set the coffee maker to brew another pot. Nagi had started one when Schuldich had first left to contact Bombay, but Schuldich had already finished it. The new pot was halfway done now and he was wishing it would brew faster. Farfarello had already tended to the bites on his throat, and a small bandage covered the teeth marks. Schuldich had gotten a look at them in the mirror in the bathroom and just about lost his lunch. It was… a little too familiar. Now he had the bandage to hide it from him, and he had his hair pulled over his shoulders as extra shielding. If they would just quit hurting, he would love to pretend the marks weren't there and that this morning hadn't happened.

      He had been playing with his mug in his hands, but his fingers stilled when he got a good look at the precognitive and their reluctant fifth. Kudou pushed past Crawford, coming to stand beside the table. One hand- cut and filthy- lifted in a demand.

      "Give me my phone."

      //He looks like shit,// Schuldich commented to his teammates, studying Kudou's face. A quick poke into the man's mind told him why he was in such a state. He was dirty from crawling around the fallen flower shop, smeared with dirt from the plants, plaster from the walls, and water from the water pots. Blood was lightly spattered on his shoes and one sleeve, and his hands were nicely covered with it. There were dried smears across his face- from his fingers, Schuldich guessed- that went into his hair. Tracks through the dirt on his cheeks were left from dried tears. His shirt was torn in one place, probably from snagging it on something, and his clothes were filthy.

      "Give me my phone," Kudou said again. He didn't raise his voice, but there was a clear threat in his quiet words.

      ~Give it to him,~ Crawford sent at the telepath. ~He's going to fall to pieces without it and we still need him. You need to find whoever is in charge of Weiss's hospital stay before they call him. Einsam walked off with Tsukiyono, and it is better for all of us if Kudou doesn't know that.~

      //They got the little one?// Schuldich kept his grimace off his face. Crawford was right; one look at Kudou's eyes told him that letting the younger man in on the kidnapping would be just what it took for him to lose control. He quickly pulled everything out of Kudou's mind that had happened since the shop had exploded, taking in everything that had been said and everything that the man had seen. //Fantastic. We'll talk damage control when I get back. Nagi's unconscious on the couch; don't know when he'll wake up again but both Farfarello and I have been keeping an eye on his mind.//

      He pushed himself up from the table, motioning for Kudou to follow him. Crawford moved to one side, most likely waiting on the coffee pot to be done, and Schuldich led the Balinese down the hall to his bedroom. Kudou didn't wait in the doorway but followed Schuldich inside the room, standing beside him as he dug it out. Schuldich moved it out of Kudou's reach before the man could take it, reaching up to catch the younger man's chin. "Listen to me," he said.

      "I want my phone."

      "Listen to me," Schuldich said again, meeting Kudou's hard green gaze easily. The muscles of the other man's jaw twitched as he physically restrained himself from saying anything. Schuldich waited until he knew the man was actually listening before speaking. "The hospital is within my telepathic range," he said. "The flower shop was just outside of it, but the hospital is in a different direction, and it's close enough that I can tag your teammates. We needed a house within range just in case something happened. Your teammates are stable. They're all alive, and they're stable."

      Some of them perhaps more stable than others. Schuldich recognized the feel to Fujimiya Ran's mind, but Kudou wasn't going to hear the news from him. "Just because this has happened, you cannot let Kritiker know about this. The second Schatten suspects the people they hit were more than what they thought they were, they are dead. They're sitting ducks. Do you get me?"

      "Just give me my phone."

      Schuldich eyed him for a moment longer before turning it over. Kudou snapped it open and immediately dialed a number. Schuldich got her face from Kudou's mind and recognized the woman; he cast out a mental query for her. He tuned out what Kudou was saying, focusing on the woman's mind as it came into focus. She was at the hospital, waiting as the staff tended to Fujimiya and Hidaka. Schuldich pressed through her consciousness, forcing his gift inside and twisting enough that she honestly thought Tsukiyono Omi was in the hospital. He did a quick sweep, stealing the condition of the others from her, and pulled back. Kudou's voice was ragged as he talked to her on the phone and Schuldich left him there, closing the door behind himself and returning to the kitchen.

      "It's Kritiker's contact, the one they call Birman," he told Crawford as he picked his cup up from the table. "She thinks Tsukiyono's in the hospital ward, but his status is just that he broke an arm and a leg in the fall. The other two are still alive." He reached up and brushed his bangs out of his face, refilling his mug. Crawford was already seated with his drink. Schwarz didn't really care about the state of Weiss's assassins, but they needed to know because it told them how on the edge Kudou was going to be. Kudou wasn't going to react to the news any better than he'd reacted to watching the Koneko blow to chunks. "Hidaka took a hit to the base of his spine. Hip bone is broken in three places and one of his legs is shattered. The doctors guess paralysis from the waist down but it's too early for Birman to have had it confirmed. Fujimiya's down and out for the count… He's stabilized but there's no chance of him waking up anytime soon. He went the path of his sister and joined her in sleep."

      "Wonderful," was Crawford's response.

      "Yeah. Kudou's going to be a fucking walking time bomb," Schuldich agreed with a sigh, heading back to the table. He took a slow swallow from his mug and looked from Farfarello to Crawford. "They have Tsukiyono? What for?"

      "Einsam is interested in him. Schatten doesn't know that the shop they blew up housed Weiss. According to Einsam, Schatten hasn't bothered yet to find out who destroyed Marigold's housing."

      "Great. Won't take Meirth long before he figures everything out about Weiss and Kudou. We have a small window to work with, while he checks out Einsam's new pet, but after that…" He took a another swallow and set his cup down. "Meirth is going… to be furious. He already is about Farfarello." His hand started unconsciously for his throat; Farfarello caught it and put it back on the table. Schuldich continued with a small sigh. "The game's falling apart quicker than I thought it would. All we have going for us right now is what I can do to Einsam."

      "How is that going?" Crawford asked.

      Schuldich's smile was humorless. "Let's just say that he's not happy with me constantly telling him how things are. His mind is splintered in more places than the shell of a dropped hardboiled egg. The faster he shatters, the harder Meirth has to work to keep him." He was silent for several moments. "The faster he shatters, the quicker he dies."

      Einsam had survived this long because he had a strong mind, but with two other Talents and a strenuous gift to pull at him, the mind had to give out. When Einsam couldn't control his power anymore, his mind would give out, and after years of fighting for him and to keep him alive… The younger man was going to die. After everything Schuldich had gone through to insure that Einsam was going to make it, back before Rosenkreuz found them and afterwards, everything he was doing now was just helping the Sequencer towards an early- if overdue- death.

      His teammates said nothing, keeping silent on the matter. Schuldich tilted his mug back and finished the drink off. "I'll keep on it," he told them. "I'm not going to stop."

      Twenty years since he'd first met the younger man. Twelve since Meirth had first started to tear them apart. It was all going to end here. Einsam wasn't going to survive this fight, whether it was because someone killed him or his mind failed. Schuldich knew that; he accepted it. And even if it curled in his stomach with a bitter taste, he wasn't going to try and stop it. He couldn't, and he knew it.

      So all he could do was help it along.

      What else were friends for?

      Further down the hall, a door opened and shut, and then another one. Schuldich did a brief check to find that Kudou had migrated to Farfarello's room. He brushed his bangs out of his eyes with one hand and looked towards Farfarello. "You need to get your sleep," he said, rising from his chair. "I'll help you kick Kudou out of your room. He can find somewhere else to find a pity party, and he definitely needs to take a shower and change."

      Farfarello rose and trailed behind him out of the room. Schuldich turned the knob to Farfarello's room, half expecting it to be locked, and pushed the door open. Farfarello caught his wrist, and Schuldich glanced back at him. A small flick of his fingers told Schuldich to wait and Farfarello slipped past him into the room. Kudou was standing by Farfarello's dresser, staring across the room out the window. Farfarello folded his arms over his chest, using his shoulder to push his door open all of the way. It came to a stop against the wall and Farfarello propped himself against it, leaving Schuldich alone in the doorway. Kudou turned at their entrance and eyed them for a long moment before starting towards them. Silver flashed- Schuldich saw the knife in his hand and started to move forward.

      //No,// Farfarello sent at him.

      Kudou came to a stop right in front of Farfarello, who tilted his head to one side. Yellow and green stared each other down and Schuldich watched with a faint frown on his face. Suddenly Kudou moved, slamming the knife into the door just an inch and a half from Farfarello's cheek. The Irishman didn't even blink and didn't glance to one side to acknowledge the dagger Kudou had buried halfway to its hilt in his door. The stare down continued, and Schuldich got the distinct feeling they were judging each other.

      "I want to kill them," Kudou said. Schuldich had never heard that tone of voice from him before. It was soft and full of silken, dark promises. Schuldich guessed he wasn't happy by what Birman had had to say. He studied the way they were standing, with barely a breath of space between them. It was almost strange to think that just a few weeks ago, Kudou would never be so bold to get this close to Farfarello – much less shove one of his own knives into the door so close to his face. The man wasn't a threat to Farfarello and all three of them knew it, but he was still there. The times had changed him. The stress of this new life and the risks involved, and now his team's destruction, were wearing away at who Kudou used to be. "I want to kill them, and you're going to teach me how."

      Farfarello said nothing immediately. "Those girls," Kudou said, "were innocent. They were kids. That shop was my *home*. Manx was my friend. Weiss is my family. This morning, they destroyed everything. Everything I have was blown apart today or now rests in a hospital bed. The doctors don't know when Aya's going to wake up. Ken can't walk anymore. They hurt my family, and I'm going to kill them for it."

      Farfarello considered him for just a few moments longer before unfolding his arms from his chest. One hand slid up between them to rest beneath Kudou's collar bone and push him back. When there was a foot of space to work with, he reached up and pulled Kudou's hand off of the hilt of the dagger. In one quick move, the Irishman freed it from the wood and he twirled it idly before holding it out in offering. Kudou took it and Farfarello slipped past him.

      "This can wait," Schuldich said, a frown curving his lips. "We don't have time for this little 'I must have vengeance' spiel right now. Farfarello, you had less than two hours of sleep this morning."

      Farfarello lifted one shoulder in a shrug, sliding open his drawer of knives. He pointed to the spot beside him and Kudou immediately moved to it, holding out his knife for Farfarello to cap it. The Irishman selected a blade of his own and found a guard for it as well, then looked over at Schuldich. "In or out, but shut the door," he said.

      Schuldich hesitated, then stepped inside and pulled the door shut behind him. //Give me a reason,// he sent at Farfarello, //that you're giving up sleep for this when it could wait a few hours.//

      //Crawford says he isn't expendable. That includes him being in working order, and he needs a distraction before this morning eats him alive or before he can't take it and goes to the hospital. He needs something to keep his attention focused.//

      //That doesn't answer the why,// Schuldich informed him.

      Farfarello glanced his way, considering that. //Because he's starting to understand,// he answered at last.

      Schuldich turned his eyes on Kudou, gift bringing the other man's mind into focus. He could practically taste the fractures. His thoughts were vibrant and dark, laced with fierce emotion. He'd failed to protect his team and now they were lying broken in the hospital, and he couldn't go see them. It was a fierce war of power and he had none. He couldn't protect himself against the three men they were fighting and he knew the chance of him landing a blow on any of them was nonexistent. It was a war of hate and revenge and Kudou had no weapons at all, no way to reassure himself that he would get his revenge- no promise that his friends were going to get better. Even if they all survived this, the life he had was completely destroyed. Kudou knew this, and it made him sick to his bones, and he was feeding on the hate to distract him from despair and the realization that he was helpless and useless to do anything about his fallen team.

      Schuldich gave a quiet sigh, lifting both hands to push his hair behind his shoulders. He made his way to Farfarello's bed and sat on it, leaning back to prop himself up on his hands. "When you collapse of exhaustion later," he informed Farfarello, "I'm going to leave your Irish body where it falls."

      Farfarello offered him an amused look. "I suggest you get off my bed before that happens, then," he said. Schuldich grinned in response and Farfarello turned back to Kudou.

      Schuldich took the opportunity to watch them both, listening to them talk without really hearing what they were saying. Farfarello's calm voice explained what they were going to do and Kudou's smoother one checked or asked questions. He watched them as they worked together, like he'd watched them the other couple nights they did this. This morning's events changed the lessons… Before Farfarello had just put a knife in his hand and tried to make sure he knew how to swing with it and move with it. He hadn't really cared about the outcome as long as he did what Crawford wanted and gave Kudou another way to keep himself from getting killed immediately. Now it was different. Neither man had a lot of time to work with- nowhere near enough- but Farfarello would still teach him what he could.

      But despite his anger and his hatred, despite his intentions to learn, Kudou was still clumsy. He wasn't used to moving with a close range weapon, and as the two mock sparred, he looked ridiculous next to Farfarello's lethal grace. Schuldich watched them for twenty minutes before he finally spoke up.

      "It's a dance, Kudou," he told the other man. Both paused and glanced his way, waiting for his input. "It's a dance, and you know how to dance. Don't think of it as a fight. It's just a dance with death as your partner."

      Kudou thought about that for a long moment, green eyes holding Schuldich's gaze as he turned it over in his head. "Maybe you should hum for us, then," was Kudou's dry response at last.

      "Hum for yourself," Schuldich answered, flicking his fingers at the other assassin. "Find the beat of the fight in your own head. I can guarantee you that there's not going to be a radio conveniently blaring in the background when you need to fight. This isn't a movie. Besides, humans are way too erratic to be able to fight to a song unless it was choreographed first. But it is a dance, so move like it is one."

      Kudou tapped the flat of his blade idly against his palm as he thought about it. "Right…" he mused, then turned to Farfarello, arching an eyebrow at him. "May I have this dance?" he asked.

      Farfarello gave a quiet snort. "Earn it," was his response.


      Shaking fingers folded her phone closed again and clenched into fists around it. Birman stared down at her white knuckles without seeing them, without seeing the floor beyond them. In the distance she could hear doctors and nurses talking. The smell of the hospital was familiar but today it was heavy on her tongue. Through the smell of antiseptics and rubber, she thought she could smell sickness and blood. Her stomach churned uneasily and her bright eyes slid closed, trembling lips thinning into a hard line. She didn't want to be here. Kritiker had had her visit doctors before, regarding patients and the like, and now and then she'd come to see an agent.

      But the call she'd gotten from Maiko, when the police station had reacted to the explosion…

      Her head lowered until her chin touched her chest, and she could feel herself shaking. Her heart felt like it'd been torn in two and she had the feeling she was just a half a second away from losing it completely. She wanted to crawl away and react by herself, bury herself in her blankets at home and just cry. She wanted to just wake up and realize that this was a dream, and that she was still at the diner with Daiichi, and Manx would be showing up right about now…

      A small sob choked its way through her throat and she lifted her hand from her phone to press the back of it against her mouth.

      Dead. Manx was dead. She'd been alive this morning. She'd been alive just an hour ago, and now she was dead, just like that. She hadn't known the older woman for long but she'd grown to respect her quickly and their friendship had been steady. And now… Dead. Crushed under rubble in an explosion.

      And Weiss, the unit they'd shared together… Omi had survived with just some broken bones, but Ken… Sweet Ken, who loved to be moving, who was always out swimming or running or playing with the children… They said he was going to be paralyzed from the waist down. They said he'd never walk again, and that he'd be in a wheel chair for the rest of his life. He was unconscious now and medicated, but someone was going to have to tell him this sooner or later, and just thinking of how to tell him made her heart twist. And Aya! He'd fought so hard for three years to avenge his family, had dedicated himself to his revenge and then to Weiss, with the hope that his sister was going to wake up one day. For years he'd sat at her bedside. For years he'd brought her flowers and had been tormented by nightmares about her accident. And now he had suffered the same fate as she, and they were lost to sleep together. The doctors had rearranged the siblings so they shared the same room, and their report regarding his wakening had his chances at slim to none.

      And Yohji- where was Yohji? Why wasn't he here? Why couldn't he come yet?

      Someone settled themselves on the bench beside her and she found an arm wrapped around her shoulders. She allowed herself to be pulled into a tight embrace. The bench creaked as a second person sat on her other side, and a gentle hand rubbed lightly at her back. She needed their comfort, and hated it in the same breath. It meant that this was real, that there was a reason to grieve, that the flower shop had been destroyed with so many people inside.

      "You should go home," came a quiet voice at her ear.

      "I can't," was her ragged response. "Someone- someone *did* this. And the boys- and Manx-"

      The arm around her tightened. There was no promise of "It'll be okay" because they weren't stupid, and it wasn't going to be okay again. Weiss was Tokyo's unit, Kritiker's prized team. Manx was the head of Kritiker. She'd been with the organization for so long. It had been hard to lose Takatori Shuuichi, and now Manx… Things weren't going to be okay, not with Manx gone and Aya in a coma and Ken unable to walk ever again.

      "Kritiker's working on it," came the reassurance from the other person, because it was all they had to offer now. Someone had done this to Weiss, and Kritiker couldn't fix what had happened. They could just find who it was and make them pay. It wasn't enough. It was never enough, but it was all they had.

      There was the soft tapping of shoes against the floor, and Birman turned her head where it was buried against her coworker's chest. A doctor stood five feet from the trio, a clipboard in his hands. He looked to be in his mid-thirties but his job had aged him, putting lines in his face and gray in his hair. His eyes were sad as he studied them, as if judging whether or not he could say anything. Birman reached up, running a hand across her cheeks to wipe away silent tears.

      "Hidaka-san is awake now," the doctor told her, taking her gesture to be permission. "You asked to be notified when he woke. He is perhaps too drugged to be coherent, but if you would like to speak to him at this time, I can take you to his room."

      The urge to flee was strong. If she got to her feet and ran, her coworkers would let her go. They wouldn't stop her. They wouldn't chase her down. She could run down the hall and down the steps, and take her car back to her place. She could hide in bed and cry and pretend that this morning hadn't happened. She wasn't sure she could walk into Ken's room and look at him without losing it. She didn't think she could look him in the face and tell him about his new disability and Manx and Aya without breaking down.

      But she didn't have it in her to run away. "Help me up," she whispered to the man on her right.


      Farfarello and Yohji both called a halt to their practice just half an hour later. Farfarello's eye flicked towards Schuldich and Yohji followed the glance to see the German wasn't paying attention to them anymore. His hands were in his lap, and he was idly rubbing his wrists together. Farfarello tossed his knife towards the far end of the mattress and moved towards Schuldich, and Yohji stepped off to one side so he could still see the German past Farfarello. He took a few deep breaths to control his breathing, one hand reaching up to rub lightly at his shoulder. If Farfarello hadn't had a guard on his knife, he would be in little chunks right now. As it was, the Irishman couldn't cut him, but he still hit him with enough force that Yohji was positive he was going to have bruises everywhere for a while.

      "Schuldich," Farfarello said, reaching out to touch the German's wrists.

      Schuldich jumped as if he was burned, startled blue eyes flying up to Farfarello's face. He looked from one to the other. "Are you two done already?"

      Farfarello touched his wrists again, and Schuldich moved his hands to either side of him. One reached up to brush his hair over his shoulder, and Yohji frowned when he saw bandages lining the right side of the German's throat. Those hadn't been there yesterday. Schuldich was studying Farfarello's window but he knew the Irishman's eye was still on him. He didn't look back, but he answered the unspoken question. "It's Nuboshi," he told his teammate. "Meirth's unhappy with Einsam, so he turned him over to Nuboshi."

      "And that's a bad thing," Yohji concluded.

      The smile on Schuldich's face was humorless as he looked back towards Yohji. "Nuboshi's a sadist," he informed the younger man. "He was taught the art of torture back at Rosenkreuz and is very good at it. He's into knives like Farfarello here, but I daresay his blades are a lot more creative." He let himself fall backwards to lie on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. Farfarello remained where he was, standing by Schuldich's knee, and Yohji came to stand on the other side of the German. Schuldich lifted one hand, holding an imaginary knife and slashing at the air with it. "For his home life, he has everything from picks to scalpels to a fucking saw. For battle, he's got all sorts of freaky looking blades. His favorite is his axe."

      Yohji arched an eyebrow at him. "He uses an axe as a weapon?" he asked.

      Schuldich glanced his way, and with a touch of his telepathic gift, Yohji could see the weapon in his mind. The handle itself was just a foot long, and the blade was easily more than half of that. It had a wicked jagged edge and the ends were hooked to catch in flesh. The handle was jet black, with strings of gold woven through the paint, and two long leather strings dangled down from the end. Schuldich then treated him to a mental picture of how exactly Nuboshi liked to use the axe on his victims, and Yohji took a quick step back, one hand lifting to his mouth as his stomach twisted violently inside of him.

      "What's his grudge against Schwarz?" Yohji wanted to know, looking from one man to the other before his gaze settled on Schuldich again. "What's his reason to be here?"

      Schuldich gave a little shrug, letting his hand fall to rest on his stomach. "He and Meirth met in Rosenkreuz after Meirth was dragged back. Apparently they hit it off immediately. Far as I can remember, Nuboshi's the only one in Rosenkreuz that willingly wanted anything to do with Meirth. Birds of a feather flock together and all that… They were a walking pair of heartless sadists. Rosenkreuz thought they were great." Schuldich sighed, tilting his head to one side to study his teammate. "Nuboshi finds things he thinks are pretty, and he destroys them," he said. "Takes them apart from the bottom up. He loves it."

      Yohji considered this for several minutes. "You don't have many scars," he pointed out.

      From the way the two looked at him, Farfarello didn't know how Yohji would know and it was taking Schuldich a moment to remember. But the night Yohji had carried Schuldich back from Hasagawa's, he'd washed him. There had been scars, certainly, but everyone had scars, so Yohji hadn't thought about any of them save for the marks on his hand.

      "I do think you're implying that I'm not pretty," Schuldich said. It wasn't a real response to Yohji's comment and Yohji decided that meant Schuldich wasn't going to talk about it. "My feelings have been completely crushed."

      Yohji arched an eyebrow at the older man. "Now why should I do anything to help your sense of self-importance and arrogance by telling you how you look?"

      "So he does have a favorable opinion of me, after all." Schuldich lifted a hand from the mattress. Farfarello took his wrist and helped pull him upright. Schuldich got to his feet and held his other hand out to Yohji. "Give me your phone back."

      Yohji frowned at him. "No."

      "You didn't tell that woman where you were. You just told her that you couldn't come to the hospital. She's going to keep trying to get a hold of you to figure out what's going on and why you won't come. We don't have time to waste with you playing word games with her. The hospital's in range. Any time you absolutely must know if they're still breathing, I can find your teammates quicker than you can dial her number, and we can save ourselves a lot of time in the check up since I'm not going to be demanding explanations from you. Give me your phone and go take a shower. You look like shit."

      "I'm not feeling inclined to trust any of Schwarz with my team," Yohji told him, lifting his chin slightly in defiance. "You four pulled them into this mess."

      "Then tell me, Kudou…" Schuldich's blue eyes were calm as they studied him, and the German tilted his head to one side to regard the younger assassin. "Who else are you going to trust, these days?"

      Yohji said nothing for a long moment. "When I ask you to, will you find them?" he wanted to know.

      "If you don't ask every two seconds, I don't care."

      "Every three, then?"

      "He's a comedian," Schuldich remarked to Farfarello.

      "I'm being serious," Yohji told him, and he smacked Schuldich's waiting hand away. "You four have given me absolutely no reason to trust you. You came along a week ago and completely uprooted my life. I got sucked into your fight through no fault of my own, and I agreed to play along so you could have just one more advantage against Schatten. I told you yes, I went to dinner, I came here, and you still dragged them into this mess. I was helping you for my friends' sake, doing whatever you asked and knowing you were just going to have me killed in the end, because it meant they were going to stay out of it. So you're going to protect me- because I'm still useful somehow. To you. But my friends were almost killed today, because of you. I don't have any reason at all to trust any of you. I'll jump when you say jump and go where you tell me to, so the least you can do in return for me is to take two seconds of your time to make sure they're still breathing because you're the ones that put them there. I can't even go *see* them because of you."

      "You know, I think I've heard this argument before." Schuldich flicked his bangs out of his face. "You can keep saying it a hundred more times if it helps you sleep better at night, but it doesn't change things. This is how things are. Now give me your phone."

      Yohji threw it at him, aiming for his face. Schuldich caught it easily, one hand blurring up to snag it from the air. "Fuck you."

      "You're not my type."

      "And Meirth was?"

      He had time to see blue eyes widen before a pale fist buried itself in his gut. His breath was ripped from his lungs with a horrible choking noise and the world rocked around him. It felt like the punch had gone straight through his middle, and his arms wrapped themselves around his stomach as he struggled to get breath back in his lungs. It took him a moment to realize that he was staring at someone's shoes and his cell phone and he blinked several times to bring them into focus, mouth moving soundlessly as he fought to suck in air.

      Someone grabbed him by his shirt and hauled him upright, and he found himself staring into Farfarello's face. The Irishman said nothing but shoved him backwards roughly, almost hard enough to be a throw, and Yohji crashed into the bedroom wall beside the door. He managed to get his breath back and gulped for air greedily, arms still tight around a stomach that was positive it had been ruptured.

      "Get out." There was a threat in those low words and Yohji studied the Irishman across the room for a moment before green eyes flicked towards Schuldich. The German's face was carved from stone, his blue eyes dark as they stared back at Weiss's eldest.

      Yohji slid across the wall and left the room. He locked himself in the bathroom, shaking hands peeling his clothes free. He stared at himself in the mirror, stared at the dirt and the blood that streaked across his skin. The dirt of a shop, of a place that he had made his home for several years. The blood of his friends, of a team and a family, who lay in little broken pieces right now. A life that was his, and now lay in shambles around him. A harsh twist of the knobs had water pouring from the shower head, almost too hot to stand, and he stared at himself and the evidence of his crumbling life before he stepped under the spray and let it get washed away. He stood there for a long time, hands tangled in fists in his hair as he closed his eyes and dreamed of everything he'd left behind and everything that used to be.

      And when the water ran cold, he opened his eyes and looked at what his life had become. That knowledge and acceptance chilled him to the bone quicker than the spray washing over his skin. He stayed there and let the water hit him, let it chill his skin and numb him, thinking perhaps it would work its way inside until it wouldn't hurt so much to breathe.


      Omi woke up because he heard someone scream.

      The ceiling above him was unfamiliar. The room was painted a dull pink color, and a border of unicorns went around the wall. The curtains on the window were white and frilly, and when he slowly pushed himself upright, the sheets he was resting on were the same. The nightstand beside the bed had a unicorn lamp and was littered with little ribbons of all sorts. Moving set off a sharp ache in his skull, and he closed his eyes against the room as he waited for the pain and nausea to fade. A shaking hand reached up as fingertips ran lightly over his forehead and temples, and he found dried blood there. When he lowered his hand to examine the flakes on his fingers, he found that his arms were scratched up badly.

      What had happened? Where was he?

      The last thing he remembered was carrying the files and disks out the back of the shop with him. He'd just barely made it; Ken had been knocking on the basement door to let him know Manx was coming closer. It was a wonder he'd managed to get everything and get out before she maneuvered her way through the shop's customers. He'd been halfway up the stairs to his room, and that was the last thing he remembered. It didn't explain what he was doing waking up here.

      There were footsteps in the hall as someone approached the room he was in, and he carefully turned on the bed to let his legs dangle over the side. The tips of his shoes touched the floor and his left foot screamed at even the slight bit of pressure that put on his ankle. With a sharp hiss of pain, he leaned over and gently felt the joint. It was swollen, and he clenched his teeth as he untied his shoe and pulled it free.

      His caretaker showed up in the doorway then, and Omi tilted his head back, mouth open to offer his gratitude- and then to interrogate.

      The words died on his tongue.

      The man standing in the doorway with his arms folded over his chest had shoulder length jet black hair and gold eyes, with a foreigner's impressive height. Omi knew that face; it had been on the disk Nagi had sent with Crawford to the Koneko just several days before. He was staring at Schatten's empath.

      The man said something that Omi didn't understand. He recognized it to be English but his language skills were horrendous. Yohji was the one with that little talent. He checked his shirt and shorts for darts and found none, and wary blue eyes turned back on the taller man. Gold eyes had been disinterested when the foreigner had first shown up; now they looked intrigued. The man arched an eyebrow at him, gold eyes searching Omi's face. He said something else and left the door, moving towards the bed. Omi pulled himself back onto the mattress, teeth gritting against the resulting pain in his leg. One hand snapped out and caught him by his shirt, pulling him back, and Omi took a swing at him.

      The punch failed halfway there because his ankle exploded in white hot pain. He cried out as fire ate its way through the joint and the man holding him pushed him down to his back on the mattress. Omi tried a second hit and his fist was caught easily and pressed down to the sheets at his side. All of a sudden his panic and anger was gone, replaced by a drowsy sort of contentment, and he lay there passively as the other man studied him.


      He was released but he couldn't think of a reason to sit back up again, so he rolled his head to one side to see who had shown up. It was the one Nagi's files had identified as Nuboshi. His shirt was splattered with blood and there was a scowl on his face. Wrapped around his neck to dangle over each shoulder was a strange sort of wire, with a handle on each end. In his hand was a curved knife, its blade slick with fresh blood. Omi stared at him, blue eyes moving back and forth between the two. His rational mind told him he should probably be freaking out. It told him in no uncertain terms to get up and get away. His ankle told him there wasn't a chance in hell he'd be able to out run him, and he couldn't shake the strange feeling that it was all right if he just stayed there. He was feeling a bit disturbed by the look the Japanese man had turned on him, but not enough to react yet.

      They talked for a minute, but Omi couldn't catch most of their conversation. He thought he heard Nagi's name in there somewhere, though he supposed there could easily be an English word that sounded the same. Then Nuboshi was moving so Meirth could leave the room, and the sonic was left in the doorway to eye Omi a moment longer.

      "Where am I?" Omi wanted to know. It was a logical question, he supposed, though he wondered why he wasn't feeling so concerned over it.

      The smile on Nuboshi's lips was slow. "Hell, now," he said, and he vanished down the hall after the other man.

Part 15
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