18: Bleed for Me

      It was a little past eight when Schuldich appeared again, after being gone for two and a half hours. He found the other three in the den. The kitchen was cleared; they'd finished their dinner and stored the leftovers. He would get into his in a moment, but now he leaned against the doorframe to study the rest of Schwarz. The overhead light was off, and two lamps were being used to light the room. The bulbs weren't that strong, so the den was dim. Farfarello was standing in the corner by the window away from the lights, a shadowed figure. All heads turned towards Schuldich when the telepath appeared, and he folded his arms loosely over his chest before resting his head against the door frame.

      "Kudou?" Crawford asked.

      "Fell asleep. Think it's a self-defense mechanism." Schuldich sighed. "He'll be up and down all night, probably more up than down, and I doubt he's going to stay out long. As soon as the initial shock wears off, he'll be wide awake. Someone's going to have to keep an eye on him tonight; I don't trust him in that state."

      "Will he be all right?" Nagi wanted to know.

      "Do you care?" Schuldich asked, voice tired.

      "That it was Weiss?" Nagi gave a slight shake of his head. "It's better that it was them and not us, and they were bound to be killed one of these days. But… I know what it's like…" He trailed off. He didn't have to say "to lose your team" because Schuldich knew that was what he was referring to. For a moment he heard Lailan's laugh and saw her brown eyes widening in feigned innocence. Lailan and Kerry had been older than Schuldich, and Lailan had adored Nagi. Nagi had only been with the team for a year when Schatten had killed the other two, but he had been young enough that it cut him deeply. The youth gave a quiet sigh and glanced down at the book he'd been reading. "Where's Tsukiyono?" he asked.

      Schuldich lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "Best guess is he got hauled to Kritiker when they found him trying to kill Hidaka. He's not any sort of a threat now. He isn't worth enough for Meirth to bring him back, and he's not going to be enough to get out of their security. Most he can do is tell someone where Kudou really is and what's going on, but it won't do Kritiker any good. The two agents that might have known something of Schwarz are dead now, and the brat doesn't know enough to have them on us. Seeing as how we're not leaving the house and wandering around the city in broad daylight, they're shit outta luck in tracking us."

      "Hmm," was Nagi's response. He wasn't entirely sure whether to agree with Schuldich on Kritiker not being a problem; the telepath could hear him considering it. Schuldich let him think it over and wandered to the kitchen, opening the door to the fridge to find dinner's leftovers. His plate was wrapped and he pulled it out, carrying it to the microwave.

      He ate in the kitchen when he was done, leaning against the counter to do so. He gave the dish a quick rinse in the sink before setting it in the dishwasher, and as he was straightening, he heard a phone ringing. His hand instinctively went to his pocket even though he knew it couldn't be Kudou's. The sound was from the next room over and he'd turned the ringer off on the brunette's cell phone. A slight frown pulled at his lips as he returned to the den, and he stopped just inside the doorway to watch as Nagi pulled his phone out of his pocket to answer it.

      The teenager spared just a moment to study the number and Schuldich heard him identify it as a pay phone. The only ones who knew the number were Schatten and Tsukiyono, so was one of Schatten still in the city or did Kritiker not have their littlest anymore? It could be either one, so Nagi opted for "Nagi" as a greeting. Schuldich could see the boy's shoulders tense as the caller spoke and his frown twisted into a scowl. Nagi listened for a few moments and then lowered the phone to his lap, studying it. He moved his fingers to cover the mouth piece before speaking. "Farfarello," he called softly. "It's for you."

      The Irishman didn't hesitate but crossed the room to Nagi's chair, reaching over the back to take the phone when Nagi held it up for him. "What do you want?" he asked.

      ~It's Nuboshi,~ Nagi told Schuldich, tilting his head back so he could look up at Farfarello. The look in the other teenager's eye was cool as he leaned against the chair, his expression unimpressed. He said nothing else, just listened to whatever the sonic had to say to him. After a few minutes, he hung up and dropped the phone back to Nagi's lap. Two pale hands pushed him away from the back of the chair and his yellow gaze went to Schuldich.

      "I'm going," he said.

      "What for?" Schuldich asked.

      "To play," was the response, as Farfarello started towards the door. One hand was by his face and he ran his fingers over his mouth. The look in his gold gaze was sharp; the edge to his thoughts was hungry. Schuldich frowned at him, keeping his ground in the doorway. Nuboshi and Farfarello were the perfect opponents for each other, as both had a savage streak and were skilled with blades. The fact that Farfarello was a Sensitive kept him safe from Nuboshi's gift, as he could drain it off the other man. "To kill him."

      "Nuboshi's still hungry," Schuldich concluded, but he didn't move. "It could very easily be a trap. If Meirth knows what he's doing, he could have run it by Einsam first. He wouldn't let Nuboshi stay in the city if there was a chance of him losing."

      "If Meirth knows," was Farfarello's easy answer. The Irishman didn't care for the risks. He'd just been challenged by the one person that could provide him with a worthy fight, and the killer in him ached to go. "He hasn't gone back yet." Schuldich recognized the smile that curved Farfarello's lips all too well, and he wondered why he felt relieved to see it. It'd been a while, he supposed, since any of them had been pleased with how things were going. Schuldich realized then that nothing he said would keep his teammate here. Farfarello *had* to go, in his mind, and Schwarz had never been good at keeping the Irishman where he belonged when he wanted to go somewhere. "I'm going to kill him," he murmured, coming to a stop in front of Schuldich. He waited there, expecting Schuldich to move, and the telepath glanced past him towards the others.

      They were silent for a moment as they considered this, weighing the risks. "I'll go," Nagi finally said, and Farfarello flicked him a careless look over his shoulder.

      Schuldich arched an eyebrow at the telekinetic. "Right, let's throw half of our team out into the city with Schatten. Bright idea, kid."

      Nagi pushed himself up from his chair. "Two Talents out there is better than just one. We can't afford to lose Farfarello, so if it comes down to it, think of me as just another obstacle if they want him. Besides, if Farfarello picks up more of Schatten moving into his range, we'll get out of there." That was said with a pointed look towards Farfarello.

      The older teenager eyed him for a long moment, then turned away with a quiet "Hn."

      Crawford said nothing against it, so Schuldich stepped out of the way. Farfarello vanished down the hall and Schuldich hesitated just a moment before following. Farfarello had pulled out the box that was under his bed, and Schuldich stood beside him as long fingers popped the latches and opened it. Light from the hall glittered off of Farfarello's blades, and Schuldich stood silently to one side as his teammate considered which ones he was going to bring. They were his more decorative blades; this box kept the jagged and curved knives safe. He began pulling them free, reaching up to set them on his mattress from his crouch. There were five total from this box and he shut it again, slidng it back where it belonged. He rose and collected the knives, heading to the dresser to find the rest of his weapons. Schuldich followed him there, standing at his elbow.

      The second drawer held the sheathes, and Farfarello collected those as well. When he was finished, his arsenal for the night was spread out across the top of his dresser, and he set about pulling free knives where they were already hidden on his body. Schuldich watched, a silent audience of one, as Farfarello finished and then hid his new weapons where he wanted them on his body. When Farfarello was finished, the man turned to face him.

      Schuldich took that as his cue to speak. "It's not your skill I don't trust," he told his younger teammate. "It's Schatten."

      "I'll bring you back his head," was Farfarello's answer, and the man started for the hall. Schuldich followed him there and stood in the hallway, arms folded over his chest as he watched. Nagi met Farfarello at the front door and Crawford waited in the doorway to the den. The door closed behind them by a tug of Nagi's gift, and Schuldich considered it for a long moment.

      //Keep it in my range, Farfarello,// he sent at the Irishman. Farfarello didn't answer, but he knew the man had heard.

      Kudou chose that moment to wake up; his mind snapped awake as a nightmare invaded his sleep. Schuldich turned and headed back to his bedroom. A quick stop on the way had him filling the Balinese's bathroom cup with water from the sink, and then he was slipping into his dark room. Kudou was sitting up in the middle of the room, breathing ragged, face buried in his hands. Schuldich pulled open a drawer of his dresser, grabbing the bottle of pills that was in there, and moved to sit in front of Kudou on the floor. The medicine and the water were placed between them, and he reached out to tug one of Kudou's hands away from his face.

      "Take them," he said.

      It took another moment for the younger man to actually register that he was there. His mind was still tangled up in watching his two teammates die. Schuldich could taste the grief and guilt on his thoughts, could hear the blame he assigned himself because he hadn't succeeded in protecting them. "They were assassins," he told Kudou. "They got into this line of business knowing the risks."

      "Shut up," was the hoarse response. "Shut up."

      "Take the drugs." But the younger assassin ignored the sleeping pills, raw green eyes lifting to Schuldich's face. The anguish there was almost physical. "Farfarello's gone hunting," he told Kudou. "Nuboshi won't live through the night."

      Hatred twisted through the grief, and the look in Kudou's eyes was splintered. "I want him dead," he choked out. He raked his hair out of his face with shaking hands, tangling his fingers in the wavy locks. "I want to tear him apart with my hands, want to leave him in scattered little pieces all over the ground. He took my family from me." Schuldich said nothing, and Kudou dropped his gaze. His breaths were sharp as his mind twisted around images of a horrendously maimed Nuboshi, but the man flinched when his mind helpfully turned the gruesome image into one of his own teammates. Schuldich remembered then that he'd flicked a picture of Nuboshi's victims to Kudou before; that gruesome image was helping Kudou's mind work up nightmares now. "God…"

      "Farfarello's always slow," he reassured Kudou, because it was really the only helpful thing he could think of to say. "You'll probably hear Nuboshi screaming all the way from here."

      It didn't seem to help. Kudou heard him but wasn't really paying attention. His mind was too busy with thoughts of dead and lost teammates. "Why did I take that mission?" the man asked himself, a broken whisper.

      "Not everyone suffered for it," Schuldich pointed out, the words escaping him before he had a chance to think better of them.

      Kudou looked up at him again, about to demand to know how anyone could have profited from the events of that night, and the words died on his tongue when his green eyes fell on Schuldich's face. It was enough to briefly rouse the man from his grieving thoughts, and they studied each other in silence. If Kudou hadn't been there, Rice would still be alive. If Rice hadn't been killed when he had… Schuldich refused to finish that sentence, swallowing against the bile in his throat. He took a sip from Kudou's cup and set it to one side.

      "I didn't want this to happen," Kudou whispered, voice raw. "I didn't want… I should have…"

      "It couldn't be stopped," Schuldich told him. He was starting to think that he should leave Kudou to deal with this on his own. He wasn't the person for this job. He wasn't fit for trying to talk sense into grieving people, and he was itching to retreat and go back to the den. Crawford would probably kick him back this direction, though, the useless American bastard. "I sent security after him, sent Kritiker's guards after him. They couldn't stop him. He got away."

      Kudou reached out, catching Schuldich's shoulders when he started to sag forward. His hands were trembling and Schuldich reached up, catching the man's sleeves in preparation of pulling his hands away. Kudou's fingers tightened briefly against his skin and the younger man's head was bowed as he struggled to breathe. Schuldich's hands stilled on the man's wrists as he contemplated the lowered head in front of him. Slowly his fingers released Kudou and he reached out, catching the other assassin's chin to tilt his head back. Silent tears of pain and grief tracked down Kudou's cheeks, and the green eyes that stared back at him were broken with self-loathing and guilt.

      Schuldich decided it was time to pull a strategic retreat.

      He pulled Kudou's hands free and let them fall to the floor, pushing himself up in the next move. "Take the pills," he told him, and vanished out the door. One hand pulled it closed behind him and he made his way down the hall. The coffee pot in the kitchen was empty and he busied himself with setting it up, deciding he was going to need the caffeine to get through the evening. He reached out towards his teammates and found them still making their way across the city. They'd left the car here and opted to take the train to where Nuboshi was waiting for them.

      //Make it slow,// he sent at Farfarello, though it was kind of redundant considering who he was talking to. The Irishman sent him a murmured assent anyway, and Schuldich propped himself against the counter to watch as his drink brewed.


      Of all of the places the two could have settled their score, Farfarello and Nuboshi came face to face in the middle of a street. Nagi folded his arms tightly over his chest as he and his teammate came to a stop. Schatten's sonic stood just twenty feet away from them in the middle of the road, idly spinning a knife in one hand and his axe in the other as he studied them. Farfarello glanced over his shoulder at his teammate, gold eye cool.

      "Don't touch him," he said.

      "I won't," was the answer, though Nagi ached to just smash the man into a blood puddle against the street. Just one mental push and the sonic would be gone, and Schatten's numbers would be cut in half. But one quick push was more than Nuboshi deserved, and Nagi was content to let Farfarello settle this. He wasn't sure he liked the idea of his teammate going up against such a heavy weapon as an axe with just his knives, but he trusted Farfarello to come out on top. He waited on the curb as Farfarello stepped into the street, watching silver glitter under the street lamps as the Irishman drew his first weapons.

      Nuboshi's smirk was condescending and he tilted his head to one side. "Bringing back-up?" he asked.

      "Witness," was Farfarello's simple answer.

      //Found him?// Schuldich asked.

      ~Found him,~ Nagi confirmed. ~Farfarello doesn't sense any more of Schatten, but he's not stupid enough to keep up the fight if they slip into his range.~

      //Don't go any further,// Schuldich said, and Nagi knew the words were directed at both of them. //You're at the edge of my range and I don't feel like heading to the front of the subdivision when I wouldn't know if someone was going to be waiting there. I can hear Nagi better than you, Farfarello. You're standing right near the line.//

      ~As long as you can hear one of us,~ Nagi returned. Farfarello was too busy studying Nuboshi to answer. The two fighters were moving towards each other, shoes tapping softly against the asphalt as they approached each other. The lamps along the street glittered off their blades and lit their hair and skin, casting shadows in strange places on their faces. Nuboshi's smirk widened as he appraised his opponent for the night, and his dark eyes were hungry for a fight. The smirk was Schuldich's; the eyes were Farfarello's. Nagi offered the mental picture to Schuldich. ~You and Farfarello should never have children,~ he told Schuldich. ~They'd be little Nuboshis.~

      //Never minding the fact that such a thing is impossible, I don't appreciate the connection.//

      Nagi's lips twitched into a light grin and he took a few steps back, leaning against the wall of the closest building.

      "I find it rather rude of a Sensitive to bring a telekinetic along for the ride," Nuboshi said. "It makes you a cheater."

      "I don't need his gift for this," was Farfarello's easy response.

      Nuboshi's smirk widened; he seemed amused by Farfarello's words. Then they started moving, and it was a struggle for Nagi to keep up with them. They were both blurs of color, darting here and there against each other. He couldn't track their hands, couldn't follow the arcs of their blades. It was hard enough to track their bodies. They alternated between moving fast and abandoning the gift, flicking in at out. One moment they'd be a blur against each other and the next, they'd be moving in a few steps around each other before leaping in again. It was dizzying to watch. He heard the screech of metal against metal and the two went briefly still in the middle of the street. Farfarello's blade was the only thing keeping Nuboshi's axe from cutting his arm off at the shoulder, and they stood like that for a moment, straining against each other, eyes locked. Farfarello's other blade blurred towards Nuboshi's face and the sonic was already moving backwards, the Irishman in pursuit.

      Farfarello got Nuboshi's second blade away from him, his knife slashing down the sonic's arm onto the flesh of his thumb before it forced him to let go. Then the teenager had to retreat as the axe took a try for his head, and Nagi heard material tear as the blade found Farfarello's shirt. He straightened from the wall, fingers tightening on his arms. When Farfarello and Nuboshi spun again he saw blood on Farfarello's chest. Nuboshi threw his axe to one side and it buried itself in the driver's door of a car parked on the curb, and he drew out two new knives. The fight was faster as the loss of the axe allowed them to get closer to each other, and Nagi watched their blurred forms as they moved this way and that down the street.

      "Daddy, lookit."

      Nagi glanced to his right to see a young child toddling towards him, wide eyes on the two in the middle of the street. Her father was hurrying after her, and Nagi crouched in front of her, one hand stilling her before she could get any closer. "It's not safe," he told the girl, and she turned wide eyes on him. The father reached them then, crouching on the girl's other side, and Nagi glanced over her head at him. "Take her away from here," he said.

      "Of course," was the answer, and the father pulled his daughter to one side, using her arm to drag her out from between them.

      The dart caught him in his stomach, and he uttered a startled curse, yanking it free. Dark eyes bounced back to the man in front of him, who had his daughter clutched against his chest as a shield. Nagi smashed the gun he'd been carrying into bits against the ground and took a few steps back down the sidewalk, eyes on the child as he hesitated to use his gift on the father as well. Big eyes blinked at him, and then there was a sharp sting in his lower back. A glance back showed another man standing there and he didn't hesitate to throw him down the street. He collided heavily with a car and didn't get back up.

      //Nagi, what-// Schuldich started to say, but his words cut off.

      Out of his range, Nagi realized. Down the street, both fighters glanced towards the crumpled body. The sound of him smashing into the car had alerted both of them, and then the little girl started squealing. The image of Nuboshi and Farfarello was blurred around the edges as whatever they'd shot him with raced through his veins. He blinked several times, trying to focus. Dark blue and yellow met across the street and Nagi felt his lips pull into a grim little smile.

      ~Not Farfarello, then,~ he decided. ~Better this way.~

      He glanced around but saw no one else, and the man had his daughter clutched against his chest as he retreated back down the sidewalk. Nagi took a stumbling step towards the nearest lamp post, leaning against it for balance. He thought he heard Farfarello snarl something, thought he heard Nuboshi's laugh, and there was the awful sound of metal on metal once more. He watched them fight, noting the blood that stained both of them. He watched until everything unfocused and he slowly slid towards the ground.


      Schuldich was waiting for them when they got back.

      Crawford was the first in the door, and Schuldich's eyes went straight past him to Farfarello. The Irishman had called to them just ten minutes ago, telling Crawford to come pick him up. *Him* up. Nagi was gone. Sharp blue eyes raked over Farfarello, studying the wounds on his teammate. They were from both Nuboshi and from the men that had come for Nagi. Farfarello had dropped the fight long enough to try and keep them back, but Nuboshi had followed. Marigold was gone, so Meirth had improvised. Schuldich's best guess was that he'd just picked another group from the underground and paid them enough to have a go at Schwarz.

      "He's gone," he said, though they'd already established this when Farfarello had stepped back into Schuldich's hearing range. Meirth had Nagi. The thought made him sick to his stomach, and his fingernails were digging into his upper arms where his arms were crossed over his chest. He knew Meirth wasn't going to hurt Nagi. The man needed a telekinetic to replace Rice, and he wasn't going to get Nagi's loyalty through kicking the shit out of him. But then, it wasn't really pain that Schuldich was worried about. It was thinking about Einsam and Tsukiyono that made him ill.

      Meirth had Nagi.

      "Get Kudou," was all Farfarello said, and he headed back out to the car. Schuldich hesitated, glancing towards Crawford. The American's face was carefully blank but he knew Crawford couldn't be pleased about losing their youngest. He tore his gaze away and headed down the hall. Kudou had refused to take the sleeping pills, so he was still awake. Schuldich pushed the door open and beckoned for him to get up.

      "Let's go," he said.

      "Where to?" was the dull answer.

      "The back yard," Schuldich said. "Farfarello brought us a present."

      Kudou didn't seem overly interested; he was staring at Schuldich and through him. Then tangled snarls and curses filled the air, and a green gaze sharpened as it jumped towards the doorway. He was up from the floor faster than Schuldich could blink, stalking past the German into the hall. Farfarello was dragging a bloody Nuboshi down the hall into the den. Kudou stalked that direction and Schuldich followed. Crawford had the back door open and Farfarello dragged his prize through it into the tiny fenced-in yard their house had. Kudou and Schuldich followed him out and Crawford closed the door behind them, choosing to remain inside for the show.

      Farfarello let Nuboshi fall heavily to the ground and Kudou was on him instantly, hands around his throat. Schuldich let him throttle him for a few moments before leaning over Kudou and pulling his hands free. "Too fast," he murmured in the man's ear. "You'll kill him too fast."

      Kudou's breathing was ragged, his entire body tense, but he let Schuldich pull him to his feet. Nuboshi was glowering up at them, pushing himself up on his arms. Farfarello had cut the back of his knees before bringing him here, knives slashing through the tendons. The sonic's shirt was torn in places where Farfarello had used the material as a tourniquet to keep him from bleeding too much on the ride back. Farfarello eyed the fallen sonic for a long moment and then started for the door. It opened and shut behind him, leaving the three of them alone. Schuldich crouched beside Nuboshi, a slow smirk pulling over his lips.

      "Good evening, Nuboshi," he drawled.

      The Japanese assassin took a swing at him. Schuldich caught his hand and gave his wrist a vicious twist, listening to the bones crackle as they broke under his fingers. Nuboshi jerked back, a sharp yell of pain on his lips, and Schuldich's smirk widened. Blue eyes took in the sonic's bloody appearance and he reached out with one hand, running his hands over the tourniquet on one leg. "You might have fared a little better if you hadn't touched what was ours," he told Nuboshi. "Farfarello was just going to bring your head home. Now you've got us."

      Nuboshi sneered at him, not bothering to answer. Schuldich ran a mocking hand through his hair and pushed himself up. "Poor, poor Nuboshi. I'm thinking Einsam didn't tell you this was coming. Better yet, I'm thinking he didn't tell Meirth." His hand ran over his shirt, fingers trailing over imaginary cuts. He'd heard Einsam's mind as the sonic carved into pale flesh, and the smile he turned on Nuboshi was chilling. "Just because Meirth owns his soul doesn't mean he's forgiving," he informed the older assassin. "He traded a sonic for a telekinetic, which is enough to save his life when Meirth figures out what's happened."

      "Fuck you," came the snarled response.

      Schuldich just smiled at him, loving the way Nuboshi's thoughts sounded in his head. Dark eyes flicked from Schuldich to Kudou, taking in the dark anticipation on Schuldich's face and the violent hatred on Kudou's. Schuldich took a step towards Kudou, moving around him. His fingers trailed along the line of the younger man's shoulders and he came to stop on the other man's side, eyes on Nuboshi even as he leaned closer to speak in Kudou's ear. "We're going to show you how it's done," he murmured.

      Farfarello returned then, tugging the door firmly closed behind him, and he set a small tray on the ground to the sonic's right. Nuboshi's eyes flicked over the contents and Schuldich loved the way he went tense. He laughed at the man's thoughts as he registered what the teenager had brought out, and Farfarello ignored them all. He'd apparently gained a new toy tonight, because his other hand had Nuboshi's axe in it. He put it down carefully and set about prying his knives free from their sheathes. When they were scattered in a line, Farfarello picked the axe up again, moving it from one hand to the other as he tested the weight and feel of it. He seemed pleased, judging by the cold smile that pulled at his lips, and his gaze finally returned to Nuboshi.

      "Meirth can't help you," he informed the sonic, shifting across the grass. "He can reach this house, but I won't let him reach you."

      Silver flashed. Nuboshi jerked his hand away but Farfarello stole his speed, snagging his arm and slamming it back down. The axe met flesh just a moment later and the blade cut clean through, taking his hand off two inches down from his wrist. Nuboshi arched off from the ground and Schuldich was already there, crouched behind Nuboshi's head, both hands against the man's mouth to muffle the sound. It wouldn't do for the neighbors to figure out what was going on, and he let his hands catch most of the noise as he pushed Nuboshi's head back down against the ground. Farfarello left the axe embedded in the dirt and reached for the tray, for the iron he'd heated on the stove.

      "Kudou," Schuldich said, flicking him a thought to tell him what he wanted him to do. The man didn't hesitate but settled himself on Nuboshi's stomach, grabbing at the hand that was trying to gouge holes in Farfarello's face. He pressed the man's arm back against the grass, keeping it there with most of his weight. Green eyes were darker than Schuldich had seen them before as Kudou stared down into Nuboshi's face. Once upon a time, Kudou would have never even thought of helping something like this.

      Once upon a time was before Nuboshi had killed his teammates.

      It took both Schuldich and Kudou to keep Nuboshi in place when the iron touched Nuboshi's severed arm to cauterize the wound. Even with Schuldich muffling him, the scream they could still hear made Schuldich's smile pull wider and he could hear the hungry, hateful satisfaction in Kudou's twisted thoughts.

      Power rolled across their skin in a heavy wave, but Farfarello didn't give it time to register. He didn't stop in what he was doing, not caring that Meirth was reaching across the city for them. Meirth wasn't doing it for his teammate's sake; he was doing it to take the fun out of it for the three who were going to kill Nuboshi. But Farfarello refused to have that taken away from him, and he crushed Meirth's attempts to dull the pain in the sonic stretched out on the grass beside him. Schuldich glanced towards his teammate as the struggle dragged on. Farfarello's mouth was pulled into a tight line as he fought a Talent stronger than his own, but sheer determination and stubborn will gave him the edge to win. The smell of burned flesh was thick in the air and Farfarello finally set the iron back down. At length, Meirth's gift fell away. Schuldich was willing to bet it was going to be turned on Einsam pretty soon, and he sharpened the minds around him so he wouldn't hear the younger German's thoughts as clearly.

      "Now," Farfarello said, fingers brushing along the tools he'd brought out for them to play with. "Kudou." Green eyes turned on Farfarello, ready to do what the Irishman wanted him to do. Schuldich laughed, blue eyes bright. Beneath his hands, Nuboshi gave a low moan. His severed arm moved across the grass in a weak pull.

      Schuldich grabbed hold of his mind, twisting it with his gift, and leaned over the sonic. "Don't fall asleep on us," he told him. "That's no fun. You killed Kudou's team today, and I think he'd prefer you didn't pass out while we showed you why that was a bad move. I won't let you go."

      Kudou slid off of the older man, moving to kneel beside Farfarello and take the knife he was offered. Schuldich watched the other two men, studying them where they sat together. Kudou and Farfarello were sitting close enough that they were touching, Kudou in front of the younger man enough that their shoulders were back to front against each other. Farfarello leaned forward against him and around him, one finger moving across Nuboshi as he showed Kudou where to cut, voice low as he murmured instructions. Kudou was listening but looking at Nuboshi's face, his expression carved from stone and his green eyes dark. He didn't immediately move to obey Farfarello, lost in his dark thoughts, and pale fingers curled over Kudou's hand as Farfarello moved him into place.

      Schuldich had the distinct feeling that he was watching the last of Weiss shatter and die when Kudou's knife broke through the skin.


      Schuldich and Kudou took the car to the port. What was left of Nuboshi was wrapped up in a tarp in the trunk- what they could comb out of the grass, that was. Crawford was going to clean up the back yard and Farfarello hadn't bothered to tend to his injuries before they'd started on the sonic so was going to wrap them up now. The drive there heard no words exchanged between them. Both windows were down as they smoked, each thinking their own thoughts. It was going to be a bitch to get all of the blood out of the car, but Crawford had leather interior for a reason. He'd be stupid to have anything that couldn't get wiped down easily. It was still going to be days before the smell of blood was completely gone, though.

      He parked the car and was the first out. Kudou joined him beside the trunk and Schuldich flicked his cigarette butt off to one side before pulling it open. Their clothes were sticking to them where the breeze chilled the blood against their skin. Schuldich gestured to one end of the tarp and took the other, and between them, they got it down to the railing by the water. They let one side go, listening to the splashes as Nuboshi's corpse and the pieces of him they'd removed went sliding down into the ocean. Kudou stood silent, staring out at the dark waves, and Schuldich folded the tarp by himself. When that was finished, he held it to his chest with one hand, reaching up with the other to comb his bangs out of his face, and waited.

      It took a few more minutes before Kudou spoke. "Now I know… how he felt…" he said. He took a deep, shuddering breath, voice etched with pain. "After he killed Takatori. I thought he'd be happy. But… it didn't wake her up. It didn't bring them back." He considered this for a long moment and turned to face Schuldich, green eyes dark. His mouth was pressed into a firm line and his cheeks were smudged with blood. Stray strands of hair were stuck to the drying liquid; the rest of the honey brown locks were tossed here and there by the wind.

      "I can't have them back," he said. "I can't bring them back."

      There was nothing for Schuldich to say, so he kept quiet. Kudou's eyes dropped to the tarp but he was staring through it as his mind and heart reached desperately for what he'd lost. Silence fell between them once more and Kudou struggled to control his breathing. He lifted bloody hands to his face, trembling fingers raking his hair behind his ears when the wind kept tossing it in his eyes.

      "I want to see them," Kudou said at last.

      Schuldich considered that, weighing the risks of taking Kudou to the city morgue. Meirth had Nagi now, and Einsam was going to be down for at least a day after what the empath had done to him while the three carved Nuboshi open. "Tomorrow," he relented, after a long minute of debating. He'd have to talk to Crawford, but he doubted the American would stop him from taking Kudou. Perhaps Farfarello would be a better choice- better warning system. He was mulling over the details, so it took him a moment to realize that Kudou was staring at him. "What?" he asked, but he realized the answer as soon as he spoke. Kudou had been expecting an argument, had been expecting Schuldich to name a hundred reasons why he wasn't allowed to see his teammates.

      Kudou moved towards him and Schuldich took a step back, knowing what the younger man was coming for, but Kudou still caught him. His arms almost crushed Schuldich and he buried his face against the German. Schuldich went tense in the embrace, fingers tightening on the tarp that was squished between them. He could feel Kudou's ragged breathing on his throat and he winced away from the strange feel of it, prying one hand loose from the bloody plastic to shove at Kudou's chest. "We're going back," he said. "It's cold out here."

      Kudou let go, knowing it was more the touch than the weather that made Schuldich want to beat it back to the car. One hand caught Schuldich's hair and he used the grip to pull his face down, and Kudou touched a light kiss to the telepath's forehead. "Thank you," he said, and then he was gone, starting towards the car.

      Startled blue eyes watched the man's retreating back, and it took Schuldich a few moments to follow him.

Part 19
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