16: Bleeding Hearts

      Schuldich wasn't entirely sure why he answered the phone.

      He was sitting in the den when it started ringing, and he looked up from where he was cleaning one of his guns to study Nagi. The boy was awake at last, if a bit groggy and sore still. Schuldich had given him water and some drugs and the telekinetic was content to remain where he was until he was sure he could get up without losing the contents of his stomach. The younger assassin had slipped into a light doze but dark eyes slid open again as his cell phone started ringing, and after a moment he shifted on the couch. Just watching him move made Schuldich hurt in sympathy; he'd been in Nagi's place enough times to know what the aftermath of such an empathic hit felt like. His teammate drew his phone from his pocket and flipped it open, but from the way he squinted at it, Schuldich could tell he couldn't focus on what the caller ID said.

      "Here," he said, setting his gun and rags on the cushion beside him. Nagi opened his fingers and the phone tossed itself at Schuldich. The German snagged it easily from thin air and Kudou wandered into the room, drawn there by the noise of the phone. He came over to the couch, sitting on the third cushion, and set his juice on the table. Schuldich glanced his way before looking at the phone. He didn't recognize the number, but there weren't a lot of people who knew Nagi's personal cell phone number. At the moment, it was limited to Schwarz.

      …And Tsukiyono, Weiss's Bombay.

      He just stared at it for a long moment, and his teammate and Kudou watched him in a curious silence. Nagi wasn't coherent enough to realize there was a problem with his phone ringing, and there was no way Kudou could know that this was a bad thing. After all, he didn't know that Schatten had taken the littlest cat home with them to play with. Schuldich cursed inwardly, wishing the phone had shattered when the shop had exploded. Crawford had given Weiss Nagi's phone number. He was starting to think the dumb child had actually saved it in his phone book.

      So was it Tsukiyono or Meirth on the other end?

      "Schuldich?" Kudou asked.

      He'd wish for it to be the youngest Weiss, but he'd never had good luck. Tsukiyono wasn't stupid enough to be the one calling, not when he was Schatten's prisoner. He had a feeling this conversation was going to be anything but pleasant. Recognition was finally dawning on Nagi's tired face and alarm came with it. Farfarello appeared in the doorway, drawn there by either the sound or his teammates' thoughts. "Don't-" Nagi said.

      Too late; Schuldich pushed the talk button and lifted the phone to his ear. When he answered, it was in English. "Afternoon, asshole, how's the weather?"

      "I have yet to decide whether to be impressed by Schwarz's last-minute ingenuity or to be disappointed that it fell through so quickly," was Meirth's response. "We have a boy here who claims that Kudou Yohji is not only Talentless, but part of a team that considers Schwarz to be its enemy. I suppose I should tip my hat to you that you got him to work with you so well."

      "Well, a little bribery and a lot of threats go a long way," Schuldich returned. Nagi was sitting upright now, staring at him, but Schuldich was looking anywhere except at the other three men. He picked his gun up instead, turning it this way and that as he examined it. He was only absently aware of Farfarello moving slowly closer to him, of the Irishman making his way around the room to stand behind the couch where Schuldich sat. "You should thank us for giving you the opportunity to look stupid yet again."

      "Schuldich," Nagi warned him, a soft call.

      Schuldich ignored him. "You sound so sure of yourself now," Meirth told him. "It's such a false bravado. All it takes is a thought from me and I can watch you crumble yet again. Bite marks healing yet?"

      Schuldich's hand went unconsciously to the side of his neck and the look he turned on his weapon was cold. "Can barely feel them," was his response.

      There was a sharp stab of pain down his throat; Farfarello slapped it down almost immediately but Schuldich's fingernails still dug into his neck. The feel of Meirth's gift was just too familiar, and brought back way too many nightmares. "Einsam's going to catch you for me," Meirth told him, voice soft but heated. "He's going to find a way and you'll be back here with me. It's been five years, Schuldich. I've been waiting to have my hands on you again. You've spent the last several years trying to forget. I've been thriving on the memory. I read your files at Rosenkreuz. I read about your rehabilitation. It kept all of Schatten amused for weeks. You should have seen Einsam's smile." There was hunger in Meirth's voice, an edge Schuldich recognized all too well. He realized his eyes were closed and he wondered where along the way they'd shut, but supposed it was better. It kept his teammates from seeing the nightmares of five years ago reflected in his eyes.

      "You are one ugly fuck, you know that?" Schuldich drawled. "That was five years ago. Your precious little Sequencer has almost burnt himself out and when he dies, Rosenkreuz is going to have you again. You're going to lose."

      "I'm not going to lose before I have what I want most," was the smooth response. "I want to see you cry, Schuldich; I want to hear you beg. I want to watch you fall to pieces and you know you're going to give it to me. He's not my precious little Sequencer; he's yours. We're both killing him slowly but he'll decide his death, and he'll burn himself out only after he gets his revenge on you. He'll die hating you, and Rosenkreuz will kill me, and I hope your Sensitive is strong enough to put you back together again after I've torn you apart. I've had five years to hunger for you, Schuldich. Five years to figure out exactly what I want to do to you. I have *plans*."

      Schuldich's mouth opened, though he wasn't sure what he was going to say, and the phone was yanked out of his hands. Farfarello lifted the phone to his ear, probably to see if Meirth was still talking. Meirth must have said something because Farfarello's yellow eye narrowed to a slit before he hung the phone up and tossed it at Nagi. The boy just barely managed to catch it. Schuldich's hand was still against his neck; the back of the other was pressed against his mouth as he tasted bile. The conversation- Meirth's voice, his promise, and the memory of five years ago- was almost enough to make him throw up. His stomach lurched inside of him and he choked on the taste of stomach acid.

      ~I don't want to remember.~

      A flash of snow on the backs of his eyelids; he could hear someone screaming. Fluorescent lights replaced the stars and he was stretched out on a hard mattress. It had been stuffed with sticks, for reasons Schuldich had never understood. He could feel them digging into his back as someone settled down on top of him. Yellow eyes were glowing with murky delight as they stared down at him, and he could feel ten little claws trailing down the hands he couldn't seem to lift from the bed. A glance up showed half lidded crimson eyes and a smile that was hungry and pleased.

      ~I don't want-~

      "Don't listen to him," Farfarello said in his ear, leaning over the side of the couch. His hand was trying to unlatch Schuldich's from the side of his throat.

      Someone else pulled his hand away from his mouth and it was replaced with another hand and the rag he'd been using on his gun. Two hands, from two different people, tilted his head forward just enough for him to cough up the stomach acid, and Schuldich opened his eyes as he wiped at his mouth with the side of his hand. Kudou had scooted across the couch towards him and was now seated at his side, their knees touching. The hand that had been on the back of his neck now moved to his shoulder. Farfarello was still leaning over him, one hand on Schuldich's and the other on the back of his head.

      Nagi forced himself up from his chair, crossing the room on unsteady legs to kneel in front of Schuldich. He hadn't finished his water earlier and now he offered it to his German teammate. Schuldich took it from him, still careful not to look the youth in the eye. He realized then that Crawford was standing just inside the den. The American was the only one Schuldich trusted himself to look at at the moment, so he flicked his gaze that way.

      Crawford's expression was carved from stone as he considered the four. He didn't have to ask. Schuldich didn't know how much of it he had overheard, but the look in his yellow-brown eyes told Schuldich he knew to some degree what had happened. The precognitive crossed the room towards Nagi, who was so focused on Schuldich that he didn't hear the older Talent approach. Crawford leaned over enough to hold his hand out in a demand, and when it passed into Nagi's peripheral vision, the youth sent a startled look up. He glanced from his leader's face to his hand, and finally set his phone down in Crawford's palm. The American straightened and all eyes were on him as he flipped the cell phone open. A press of a button showed him the last number that called and he crossed the room to sit down in Nagi's chair. It was a graceful slide of his tall body against the cushion and one hand removed his glasses from the bridge of his nose. His hand moved to the arm of the chair and he let his glasses dangle from his fingers over the side. His gaze turned towards the window as his other hand hit the button that would dial back to the last caller.

      Kudou moved his hand from Schuldich's shoulder to lightly touch the empty glass, and Schuldich glanced that direction to see the younger man's other hand still had the soaked rag resting in it. He let Kudou take the cup from him and the other assassin slipped the rag inside before wiping his palm off easily on his pants. "Saa~," the younger man sighed. "I should have known you were serious last night."

      It took Schuldich a moment to remember what he was talking about, and blue eyes flicked towards Kudou. He caught the slight grin on the other assassin's face just as he remembered his words to Kudou- "Hold still and let me get sick on you."

      He offered the younger man a rude gesture and watched Kudou's grin solidify, wondering at the way it didn't reach the other man's eyes. He decided not to worry about it and turned his attention back on Crawford.


      Yohji's grin faded as Schuldich turned away and he lifted his clean hand from his lap to brush errant locks of hair out of his face. Schuldich had pointed his gaze towards Crawford, so Yohji followed his example. The moment Schuldich had spoken, he'd known who was on the other side. He'd guessed, by the way Nagi had reacted, but the words and the language had given the caller away. He'd only heard Schuldich's half of the conversation, but whatever Meirth had said, it had cut the telepath deep. Yohji had been unable to look away from his face during the call, watching his jaw tighten, watching the emotions dance in his eyes before they fell closed. The call had just been one more battle with Schatten, and Schwarz had lost again.

      Crawford started speaking then, and Yohji glanced his way in surprise. He'd called Meirth back, no doubt- but it was neither Japanese nor English he was speaking. Whatever language it was slipped from his tongue easily in a liquid mix of sounds. Yohji remembered his earlier conversation with Schuldich regarding languages and decided that this was Spanish. Despite his severe dislike of the American, he was impressed by the man's fluency. At the beginning of the call, it was clearly a conversation. Crawford would say something and pause, then speak again. As the minutes ticked by, the precognitive began to take it over. There were no pauses, and Yohji decided he was giving Meirth a piece of his mind and no chance to retaliate. Yohji glanced towards Nagi, but judged the youth's expression to mean Nagi wasn't following. A look towards Schuldich said the telepath was, and Schuldich had gone completely still as he listened.

      After a while, Crawford finally moved the phone from his ear and regarded it for a moment. Long fingers switched it off and closed it, and he set it aside for Nagi to collect later. "He hung up," he said.

      Schuldich started laughing. It was a bit ragged around the edges but there were still mocking undertones to it, and Yohji looked at the man in surprise. "Braddyn Crawford," Schuldich declared when he got his mirth under control. "There are so many reasons for your brother to hate you. God, I've missed that."

      Crawford gave a slight, almost imperceptible shrug. "Now and then he should be reminded."

      "I still can't believe you two are brothers," Yohji said, relieved that Schuldich seemed to be recovering.

      "The first thought at Rosenkreuz was that they either were identical twins or that they just looked similar," Schuldich said, sliding down the couch some to slouch against the back. It put his shoulder halfway down Yohji's bicep and the German tilted his head to one side to regard Yohji. "Rosenkreuz had a hell of a time once they got the two… They tried to get them to work as a pair only once and called it off when they realized the two were happier trying to kill each other than work with each other. Crawford's *better* than Meirth- school-wise, Talent-wise, you name it. And Meirth can't touch him. Meirth lost before he started but he still kept trying, and the hospital wards were always full of people after they finished their little fights. It was grand fun."

      "The Brothers Grimm…" Yohji mused, remembering Nagi telling him the name for the twins.

      "Indeed," Schuldich answered. Memories of the two going toe to toe in Rosenkreuz seemed to hearten him; gone was the shaky German of just a few minutes ago. He'd latched onto Crawford to recover and the American had been just what he needed- pleasant memories among a history rife with nightmares. "All Meirth wanted was to be better on his own. He never got it. He still hasn't. Fucking bastard." Schuldich's smirk was edged violent disdain, and his blue eyes were dark.

      "How your mother survived the pair of you , I don't know," Yohji said, content to keep on this conversation because it was helping Schuldich's mood.

      "She didn't," was Crawford's easy response, and Yohji stared at him. The smile Crawford turned on him was thin. "Neither did."

      "…Ah," Yohji said, for lack of anything better to say.

      "Twin Talents are a rarity," Schuldich elaborated, waving one hand in a vague gesture. "Takes too much out of the mother so she never survives childbirth. Of course, two babies need someone to take care of them. How long did the stepmother make it? I forgot."

      "Twelve years," was Crawford's answer.

      "What happened?" Yohji asked, startled. He didn't expect an answer. One part of his mind was reeling over the topic of the conversation. He was sitting on Schwarz's couch, resting against Schuldich, and talking about Crawford's family history. What the hell?

      "Kaleb didn't get what he wanted for Christmas." Crawford didn't seem bothered by it at all. "That's how Rosenkreuz found us."

      Yohji turned that over in his thoughts, considering it. ~Bizarre,~ he thought, but no families were completely normal. The presence of a stepmother would explain why fraternal twins had different last names, he supposed. He wondered if they'd been separated by names from birth or if it had happened some time in Rosenkreuz in a further attempt to divide themselves away from each other. At length he opted on the latter, deciding that having children with different last names would have caused too much trouble for the parents as they took their boys to school or the hospital.

      Schuldich turned his head to regard Farfarello, and he and Yohji were sitting so close that some of the German's orange hair fell over Yohji's arm at the movement. Yohji studied the locks for a moment, musing over the unique coloring. Strange, but no other color would have worked for the telepath. Orange was loud and vibrant and stood out. His hair hung to the middle of his back and was kept wild, brushed free of tangles and otherwise left to do as it wished. It was very Schuldich- it fit who he was. Yohji was only half-listening to the westerner as he talked to his younger teammate, lifting one finger to idly poke at a few strands.

      Just a little over a week ago, they'd been his enemies.


      What were they today? Yohji wasn't sure. He disliked Crawford. He didn't like the way the American did things. Crawford was all for the ends justifying the means, and he didn't care who he sacrificed to get what Schwarz wanted and needed. Yohji didn't mind Nagi; the boy didn't trouble him much and didn't seem insulted by having to work with one of Weiss. He still had some issues with Farfarello but they weren't as great as Crawford's, and he alternated between dislike and a curious sort of fascination. And Schuldich…?

      He didn't know. Honestly, he didn't know, and he wondered why that made him so uneasy.

      "Bang, you're dead," he heard in his ear, a memory of several days ago. A hand was against his abdomen and he was pressed up a body that was just a little leaner than his own. He wondered why he was remembering it now and pushed it back. He tilted his head to one side to study Farfarello as Schuldich spoke to him; he couldn't see Schuldich's face but he could see the Irishman's. Farfarello was leaning over, one arm bent on the back of the couch and the elbow of the other perched on the corner. His cheek rested in his hand as he returned Schuldich's look, focused on whatever Schuldich was saying.

      Schuldich had a way of capturing someone's complete attention, Yohji decided.

      Schuldich straightened then and waved at Nagi to back off. The youth got to his feet and stepped back, and Schuldich pushed himself up from the couch. He snagged the cup as he headed towards the kitchen. Farfarello watched him go for a moment, then glanced Yohji's way. Yohji noticed the attention and brought his gaze from Schuldich to the Irishman, and wondered at the cool look in that single yellow eye. Finally Farfarello straightened and started after his older teammate. Yohji made a face at his back, wondering over the strange look the teenager had sent at him. Nagi sighed and rubbed at his temples, turning to look at Crawford. The American rose from his chair and moved to the couch to collect Schuldich's gun, returning the weapon to the drawer the telepath had fetched it from. Nagi promptly reclaimed his chair and slipped his phone into his pocket.

      "Should I block that number?" he asked of Crawford.

      "No," was the answer. "We may need it yet."

      Nagi nodded his understanding and tucked his legs up onto the chair, shifting until he could rest his head against the arm of it. He yawned and closed his eyes, and said nothing else until dinner time. Yohji rose and went to the bathroom to wash his hand. He had been relieved when it was just bile Schuldich had hacked up; he'd seen the German's whole body give a small lurch and had known the telepath was trying to choke back whatever it was. It could have been quite a bit messier. He found his soap on the counter and used plenty of it, letting the water wash away the suds. For a few days, he'd moved his stuff back and forth between his suitcase and the bathroom. He'd finally decided that was too much work, and had found a place for his things alongside theirs. He had taken the fourth corner in the bathtub and found a spot to fit his towel, and his toothbrush and things had fit in the small cabinet above the sink. Schwarz hadn't commented on the way he'd settled in, so he planned on leaving his belongings where they were until he moved out.

      Yohji found Farfarello and Schuldich in the kitchen when he returned from the bathroom. The German had chucked the rag into the trash and put his glass in the dishwasher, and was now standing by the counter with a fresh cup and the water pitcher. Farfarello was sitting at the table, arms folded across the surface to make a perch for his chin. Schuldich had opened all of the cabinets to stare in contents, and he sipped idly at his drink as he considered what they'd brought back from the grocery store yesterday afternoon.

      Finally he closed the cabinets and carried his cup and pitcher to the table. Either he'd lost interest in eating or there wasn't anything up there he felt like having for dinner. Yohji didn't really blame him. He wasn't up to eating tonight. Everything that had happened today, everything that had happened in the last twenty-four hours… He was about to call the day a loss and retreat to bed, with the hopes that he would wake up tomorrow and find things normal.

      "How are my teammates?" he wanted to know.

      "They're still breathing," was the response. "Hidaka's awake. Tsukiyono's out."

      It went without saying how Aya was, and Yohji's stomach clenched inside of him. "I want to use my phone for a sec."

      Schuldich flicked him a bored look across the room, not deigning to offer up an immediate answer when they'd already settled the argument on Yohji's cell. Yohji didn't pack down, expression calm even though thinking about his teammates had brought a sharp ache to his chest. He stood in the doorway with his arms folded over his chest, but whether it was a defiant pose or it was there to offer himself comfort, he didn't know. He didn't offer up the reason, forcing the German to pick it from his brain. "Let me have it back."

      "Ch'…" Schuldich had obviously found the reason and he didn't seem overly impressed by it. "Weiss is full of saps and bleeding hearts."

      "Doesn't bother me. This phone call isn't going to do anything to give Schwarz away and you know it. Just give it to me before I go get Nagi's from him."

      "He's asleep again," Schuldich told Yohji. "I would *love* to see what would happen if you wake him up. He doesn't like having his beauty sleep interrupted, especially over something this stupid."

      "I'll take that chance," Yohji said, and started to turn away. He stopped when he saw Schuldich shifting, and a moment later, the German chucked his phone across the room at him. Yohji caught it easily. "Phone book?" he wanted to know.

      Schuldich just shrugged, and Yohji left the room. Crawford was still in the den, and he lifted one hand to point before Yohji could ask. The Weiss assassin headed towards the cabinet that held Schwarz's guns and checked the drawers until he had it, and retreated to Farfarello's room with his prize and his phone.

      It took only a few minutes to place an order with a florist to deliver bouquets to his friends' rooms. He managed to keep his voice steady throughout the call, and when he was done, he let his phone fall to the floor and stared at the phone book that what open in his lap. An ad for the Koneko no Sumu Ie was in the top right hand corner of the page, something they'd all designed a year and a half ago. It wasn't like they needed an ad, not when they were so wildly popular. News of the shop was spread by word of mouth, though mostly from one giggly school girl to the next.


      Careful fingers ripped the ad from the page and he shoved the phone book off to one side, green eyes locked with the scrap of paper held in his fingers.

      Three years, almost. Three years of Weiss and flowers. And now, gone, with just the memories left to haunt him. His friends' faces lingered in his mine and he tucked his legs closer to his chest, folding his arms across his knees to bury his face against them.

      He should have told them something. He should have found a way to make them back out of Schwarz's agreement. He should have done something that would have prevented this morning's explosion, something that could have saved everyone. There should have been something… It was too late, now. Too late, and his friends paid the price for his incompetence. He wondered how the girls' mothers were taking this, finding out that their daughters had died in such a way. Most of the girls that came to the shop were regulars. Visiting the four men was just something they did, and their parents probably accepted their obsessions with tolerant amusement. He imagined their daughters waving farewell as they hurried off to meet their friends and coo over hearts they would never win, thought of their parents turning a knowing smile on each other, thought of the police showing up with the news that the girls were never coming home again…

      Gone. It was all gone, and he couldn't have any of it back again.

      ~I hope you like the flowers… Aya…~


      Einsam listened to the second phone call in silence. He couldn't understand what was being said but he could guess how the conversation was going. Halfway through Meirth kept cutting off whatever he was trying to interject, as if the other person wasn't allowing him to speak, and then he gave up trying and settled for glowering at the far wall. Einsam knew from his gift that it was Crawford on the other end of the line. If he asked it, it would even tell him what was being said. All he had to do was follow the path of what would happen if he asked Meirth to translate, and one of the possibilities in there would give him the words in English. It was how he'd interrogated the teenager upstairs. He'd let Nuboshi get a judge of the youth's character through his monologue and then had used it to ask what he wanted to know, twisting it with what Nuboshi would translate the answers for if he wanted.

      And the results… A thin smile curved his lips and he shifted his red eyes away from Meirth. He was torn. The automatic response to hearing Meirth be slighted was to feel resentful towards whoever was doing it. It was a reaction Meirth had trained in him years ago. Those who were rude to Meirth, those who defied him and stood against him… It was his job to hate them, and if asked, have a ready way to get rid of them. But tangled through the dark emotion was a bitter sort of amusement, and he ran his fingers over the cuts on his chest. The blood had clotted and the scabs would form soon; now he scratched his fingernails against the dried blood on his skin. Having Schuldich around was unbalancing everything Meirth had taught him. He had the German's sequences strung as tightly to him as his own. On top of that, his thoughts were open to the telepath, and Schuldich was aggravating enough to comment on whatever he thought deserved some sort of wise-ass response.

      He didn't mind the smart remarks, not really. What he minded was when Schuldich *talked*. His voice was there when Einsam woke up and when he went to sleep, as if the German was just waiting for him to be stretched out in bed with nothing better to do. He didn't bother with sticking to stories that would prove him innocent of Einsam's dark thoughts towards him, choosing instead to flick around other subjects. He talked about Germany- about the snow, about the times they thought a ghost was living in the house and Schuldich's father had scared them witless when he heard about it, about the bakery down the street where the lady with eight cats worked. They were all good memories, something to smile over in recollection. Einsam remembered too much from Germany; he had been nine when they'd been taken to Rosenkreuz. He guessed his sharp memory was because Schuldich had been there with him, with that link in place, and Schuldich was three years older.

      Sometimes Schuldich talked about Rosenkreuz. He talked about the instructors that they'd hated and the fights the school had seen. He talked about the food and the way it was always too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. He talked about waking up early for classes and lessons, and the exercises they'd been put through.

      Einsam wished he could shut the older man up, but he couldn't quiet Schuldich's voice. He tried sequencing to drown him out, but the words still filtered through. He didn't like listening, because it made him remember what was left unspoken.

      He grimaced, trying to push the thoughts free. As soon as thinking was gone, he was back into the sequences. Laced above his own paths were those of the other three in the house, then Schuldich, then Kudou Yohji. He was going to have to start tagging Farfarello as well, now that they knew he was the Sensitive, but he was far out of practice with following that sort of Talent. He left his spot against the door to face the television, letting his hands rest on the top of the entertainment center it sat on before leaning over to eye his reflection on the black surface. He had a good idea of what sort of person the Irishman was, simply because Schuldich spent so much time around him, but Sensitives were almost as much of a headache as precognitives. Learning how to sidestep someone who could see the future had been a bitch. It was worth it, though.

      He found Schuldich in the kitchen at his place, cutting off the other threads of everything he could do from where he was seated with a forcible mental shove. The Irishman was beside him- still not asleep?- and Einsam slid his attention towards him. The easiest way to track him would be by tracking Schuldich and Farfarello as a single entity. There were too many other minds to take care of… Unless he dropped Kudou. The man was Talentless, and extremely predictable. He reminded Einsam of a softer Schuldich, all of the same cheek and impudence without the malice behind it. He toyed with the idea for a while, a smirk pulling his lips as he thought about the things he'd seen in the other man's future, and then dropped his sequence to make room for the Sensitive.

      He considered the middle two of Schwarz for a moment, feeling the difference in his gift as he tracked possibilities based on reactions to each other. He had a feeling he was going to spend a good part of the night heaving in the bathroom and a larger chunk in Nuboshi's room. Meirth was going to be busy tonight- too busy to help keep him grounded. There was that boy to consider, after all.

      That was right. That boy. Einsam opened his gift to the younger man's sequence, frowning at his reflection. Behind him, he heard Meirth cut off the phone call with a savage curse, but he didn't look back. They could kill the boy, this Tsukiyono Omi… Or they could make some use of him. He knew they were going to do something with him, because he knew Meirth was going to be with the younger assassin all night. He started there and worked his way backwards, moving carefully in reverse down the sequences. His gift went forwards automatically. Backwards was how he solved things. He saw what he wanted, and he worked back from there. He saw that the precognitive hadn't seen it coming, and then figured out how they would sidestep his vision. It was how they'd decided to put the bomb in the flower shop. Meirth had wanted to see Schuldich. Einsam had seen it, and then figured out the how.

      He much preferred going backwards to forwards, but his gift didn't really care what he wanted, and even as he made his way backwards, he could hear Schuldich and Farfarello start to move, could listen to everything Tsukiyono could do in his room, could watch Nuboshi clean his knives, and *know* that Meirth was going to need a way to vent soon. He threw himself backwards faster, telling himself that the details didn't matter, that he needed a reason- some incentive- and he found it.

      Meirth turned to him just as Einsam stepped to one side and turned on the television set.

      Whatever the empath had been going to say got swallowed when the American was distracted by what was on the television set. He knew as he turned it on what it was going to be showing, but he studied the screen anyway. A reporter was standing in front of this morning's damage, babbling about the accident. Einsam's mind was twisting and turning down Meirth's path. The empath was going to watch this for two minutes, thirty-seven seconds, and then tell him to go get the boy from upstairs. Einsam would go fetch as he was told, and then Meirth was going to send him for Nuboshi. Einsam could save a trip by grabbing them both, but Meirth wasn't in the mood for Einsam to show that he could predict Schatten's leader so easily. Those three were going to be busy for a long time, and Einsam would slip away to track Schwarz. There was a chance for them to get the dark youth. He'd seen a quick glimpse at it, through Schuldich, but it wasn't Schuldich's path. It had to do with the Irishman, so Einsam was going to be busy following him down his little twists.

      There was a picture of the four men who had worked at the shop on the television, taken some time back for a newspaper article, and the corner of the screen showed a picture of a hospital. Einsam took the reporter's words and twisted them in his gift, forcing them through as fast as he could, watching the track of him going to Nuboshi's room and dragging him out here to translate. He tilted his head to one side as he heard Nuboshi's voice in his mind, explaining the broadcast.

      "They're alive," he informed Meirth. "Weiss lived through it."

      "Get me that boy," Meirth grated out.

      Two minutes, thirty-seven seconds. He offered Meirth a smile and vanished from the room, starting towards the stairs. Kudou was with Weiss. Tsukiyono was here. That left the other two in the hospital- one in a coma, and the other paralyzed from the waist down, according to the reporter.

      Oh, this was going to be so much fun. He was laughing by the time he reached Tsukiyono's room, laughing as his gift twisted gleefully down the paths that lay before them. He knew which one Meirth was going to take and he strode over to the bed, where Tsukiyono was resting. Blue eyes were wary as they took in the look on Einsam's face and Einsam beckoned for him to rise. The younger man slid towards the edge of the bed and Einsam leaned towards him, fingers dancing over his chest as red and blue studied each other.

      "You are exactly what we wanted," he told the boy, knowing the words wouldn't be understood- knowing that the cold smile on his lips was enough. "This is going to be *fun*."

      He helped the boy up, offering himself as a crutch because Tsukiyono had twisted his ankle badly when the explosion threw him. It was a wonder it didn't break, as he'd snagged it on the railing when he'd fallen. He helped the other assassin down the stairs, knowing that the youth wasn't stupid enough to attack him. It didn't take Meirth's gift for this… He still had his claws on, and the arm that went around Tsukiyono's shoulders was curved enough that he had a nice grip on the Weiss's throat. He took him to the living room and sat him down in the chair closest to the television. They were on a small break now, but what they'd showed of the shop- a recording from a couple hours back- would cycle back again soon.

      "Send Nuboshi here," Meirth said.

      Einsam left the room a second time. He slipped into the sonic's room unnoticed and came up beside the other man. "Meirth wants you," he said, taking a good bit of satisfaction in the way his teammate started at his voice. "You're to play translator."

      "That's not what I'm here for," came the disgruntled answer, and the man irritably set his blades aside. They were the tools he'd been using on Einsam just a short while ago and several of them were still flecked with blood. The man rose from his chair and paused, eyeing the smile on Einsam's face.

      "They're still alive," Einsam told him. "Weiss. *That's* what you're here for."

Part 17
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