3: Wie geht's?

      Yohji took the next day off work. As soon as Schuldich was safely in his room, he called Omi to report on the successful mission and said he had to take the next day off. He left Schwarz and the other telekinetic out of the conversation, saying instead that they really needed to talk about the mission but he couldn't talk yet. He needed to think on it, needed to figure some things out- needed time to figure out exactly what to say about what had happened. Omi was confused but he trusted his older teammate, and asked if he should put the report on hold until after Yohji was ready. In the end Yohji agreed and hung up, and he turned back to survey the German resting on his bed.

      He took a deep breath, refusing to look at Schuldich as Schwarz so he could figure out what had to get done. First things first- the German was bleeding. He went to get his first aid kit, and after a moment's consideration brought some medicine and a cup of water back to the bed as well. The pills and cup were set off to one side and Yohji started working, green eyes moving constantly between what he was doing and the telepath's face for the first few minutes. He was wary of the other man waking up; Schuldich had completely spazzed out when Yohji touched him earlier. He doubted the foreigner would react any better to this.

      He started at Schuldich's hands, dabbing antiseptic lightly on his palms before carefully bandaging them. He washed Schuldich's fingers as well to get rid of any blood under his fingernails, and left the right hand for the left. As he picked up that hand, he paused, looking at the back of it with some surprise. There were scratches on the skin, thicker white scars under the pink of newly healed flesh, one set on top of the other. It was strange; he tried to think of something that would leave five scratches like this but his mind drew a blank. It almost looked like a cat had caught him, but the lines were too far apart and much too long.

      He set it aside to think of later and took care of Schuldich's palm before turning to the rest of him. He had hair ties in his nightstand and he dug one out, gathering up thick orange locks into a ponytail to keep the mane out of the way. Orange; what an unnatural color. So strange, but it fit the man's brash attitude.

      ~Good,~ Yohji thought to himself, carefully tugging at Schuldich's shirt. ~Think about something normal. Don't think about what happened. Orange hair, usually wears a green jacket and yellow headband. A statement of the ultimate tacky dresser but somehow appropriate, thought he was colorblind at first…~

      He occupied himself with idle thoughts, focusing on inane topics as he managed to ease the German's shirt off. There were bruises already forming, as if he'd been hit by something strong, and red lines ran over his abdomen and sides from cruel fingers. Nothing serious, but Yohji dabbed lightly at the gouges with some cream anyway. Shallow wounds always seemed to sting the most.

      As if the German wouldn't have bigger pains to worry about when he woke up…

      Yohji swallowed that thought, screwing the cap back on his little packet, and leaned back to stare at the unconscious telepath. Just one thing left, but God Yohji didn't want to have to deal with it. It was wrong, seriously wrong. This sort of thing wasn't supposed to happen, especially to people like the arrogant German. He felt sick, and he thought he was going to bolt if he just didn't hurry up and do this. Finally he grabbed his courage with both hands and reached out, gingerly undoing the fastens for the other assassin's jeans. He forced himself not to think, forced himself to just act. It was hard not to think; it was impossible to not feel. A dull sort of outrage twisted with the horror in his stomach as he quickly washed the fallen telepath, a violent sort of despair lingering like bile on his tongue. He carried Schuldich's clothes to his bathroom and dropped them into the tub, shoving the plug in place and filling it a bit so they could soak. The washing machine was down in the basement, and Yohji didn't want to leave the other man alone in his room right now.

      He went back to the bed, standing beside the mattress to do a quick mental calculation, and decided that his clothes should fit. Schuldich stood maybe an inch shorter than him; it was hard to tell when they were fighting but that was the estimate he'd managed to come up with in their matches. The two were built a little differently but the clothes should still work, and Yohji pulled out the loosest pair of pants he owned, grabbing a comfortable cotton top to go with them. As soon as Schuldich was dressed it was time for Yohji to calm his frayed nerves, and he retreated to the window to smoke. He went through four cigarettes without stopping, staring out at the city with troubled green eyes.

      He sat up that night, unsure of when the telepath was going to wake up. He made himself comfortable on his loveseat, watching and waiting. It was a quarter to one when the telepath finally stirred, curling slightly in on himself with a small moan. Yohji had turned the overhead lights out but the room was dimly lit by the bathroom light, and he watched Schuldich's face as the German's expression tightened. Just a moment later blue eyes slid open, halfway at first. He had a drugged look about him, a hazy edge to his eyes, and he just stared ahead of himself for a few moments. Yohji knew when he'd finally focused on his surroundings when blue eyes opened the rest of the way.

      The telepath didn't notice Yohji at first, pushing himself up into a sitting position with unsteady arms. Yohji watched the way his face tightened at the pain moving brought, and once upright Schuldich pressed the back of a hand against his mouth. After a moment he moved his hand, staring down at the bandage that went around his palm, and blue eyes slowly moved to lock with green. They stared each other down, just four feet of space between them. Yohji said nothing because he didn't know what to say, because there wasn't really anything he could say.

      He walked in on some fuck businessman raping the German and had carried him home after he passed out. Now what?

      "What am I doing here?" Schuldich asked. His voice was quiet, almost too quiet, and Yohji knew he wasn't at all pleased by his surroundings. He figured he was mostly safe; there was still the German's gift to worry about but Yohji was positive he would win in a fight right now. Schuldich was just too battered.

      "I don't know," Yohji answered, because the reasons were too complicated and even he didn't understand all of them.

      Schuldich shoved himself off the bed- perhaps planning on stalking out- but his feet didn't hold him up. Yohji instinctively leapt up from the loveseat, barely catching him in time as he fell, and Schuldich snarled something against his chest as he found his footing again and straightened. He shoved Yohji away and the white assassin let himself be pushed, watching as the force of it sent Schuldich backwards as well. Yohji felt the press of power against his mind and waited, knowing the telepath was trying to figure out what was going on.

      He watched the blood drain from Schuldich's face; watched the other man's skin pale before he managed to hide it away, a furious expression slamming home in its place. Yohji had never seen such a look on the other's face. The German had always seemed to be in perfect control, tolerant of Weiss and treating them all to a mocking smirk and amused laugh. He wasn't sure what to think of this look; perhaps on any other day he would have been extremely wary. Today he didn't see the telepath as a true threat, so he found himself interested in the black look.

      Schuldich took in a deep, slow breath, blue eyes still angry though he struggled not to lose his temper. Another brush against Yohji's mind and Schuldich started off, moving past him. His steps were slow and careful, almost a limp. Yohji turned to watch his progress, watching as Schuldich slammed the bathroom door open and vanished inside. He waited for the German to return, and just a moment later caught the sounds of the German getting sick. He folded his arms over his chest, fingers curling tightly in the sleeves of his shirt, and glanced back towards his bed. Schuldich had gotten blood on the sheets; he would have to wash them.

      The German failed to emerge three minutes later, and Yohji debated over whether or not to check on him before deciding it would be an unwise move. He looked around for something to occupy himself with and ended up plucking up his cigarettes again. He had just lit one when he heard Schuldich laughing. It was a quiet sound; if the man wasn't in the bathroom with a slight echo he wouldn't be able to hear it. Cocking his head to one side, alarmed by the strange twist in it, Yohji finally started towards the bathroom. He found Schuldich kneeling beside the tub, his arms folded on the side of it. His clothes dangled from his fingers and his head was down so his forehead rested against his arms as he laughed softly. Yohji lingered in the doorway, unsure of what to do, but Schuldich managed to control himself just a moment later and started to get to his feet. It hurt just to watch him move; it was clear that it was painful to stand back up.

      Schuldich refused to acknowledge him yet, wringing the water out of his shirts and pants. Yohji let him work in silence, reaching up to pluck the cigarette from his lips, and he leaned over to flick some ash in the sink. Schuldich glanced that direction and finally looked over his shoulder at Yohji, blue eyes following Yohji's hand as the white assassin brought the cigarette back to his mouth. He draped his clothes over one arm and reached out, stealing the cigarette from Yohji's lips to place it between his own, and then turned to squeeze out the last corner of his shirt.

      Yohji backed out of the bathroom and Schuldich stepped out just a moment later. "Where's my gun?" he wanted to know, and Yohji pointed soundlessly towards the dresser. Schuldich shuffled that direction and reached out, snagging it from the top. His cigarette was flicked out the open window in a sharp gesture before he tugged the hair tie loose, and as he turned again Yohji studied his face. Schuldich was paler now than he had been unconscious, and even though he'd schooled his expression Yohji could see the little signs of tension. Schuldich's hands were starting to shake as he worked and the line of his shoulders was rigid.

      Trying not to react, Yohji decided. Trying to hide a reaction to something he didn't want to believe had happened. And he was slowly failing.

      The German started towards the door then, and Yohji realized he was leaving. He was going back to Schwarz- or perhaps, to where he could react by himself. But what sort of company would the other team be in a case like this, and was it really smart to let the other man go off on his own? He watched the pained, slow steps and weighed his options before finally saying, "You don't have to leave immediately. You can rest a bit."

      "The day I willingly sit with Weiss, it'll be beside your cooled corpses," was the retort, and Schuldich continued onwards. Yohji followed behind him, just a few steps back, green eyes studying the other assassin. He had the feeling Schuldich was taking this better than he would have; he was glad Schuldich could keep it together this long even as he was still sick and heavily uneasy about what had happened.

      'Not again—'

      Schuldich froze in his tracks. Yohji realized the German had heard him and reached up, brushing wavy bangs out of his face. They stood there in silence for a minute and a half before Yohji finally spoke. "I heard you say it…" he said. "Just before I came to the office, I heard it…" He'd heard it right after he'd attacked that other foreigner, but he hadn't been able to place it or understand it until after he'd brought Schuldich here. He hadn't wanted to think about the situation but his thoughts had wandered there anyways, and his mind had put the words and scene together in something that just made his stomach twist tight enough to tear inside of him.

      "I'm sorry…" he said at last, because he needed to say it.

      In retrospect, he shouldn't have been surprised by the fist that crashed into his face. But he couldn't help it, stumbling back from the blow, one hand over his cheek. His mind was categorizing the pain, telling him that that was definitely going to bruise. He ignored that, staring at the man who had turned an acid look on him. Blue eyes were splintered, darker shades bleeding through, and wild hair spilled messily in his face and over his shoulders. His expression was tight with a deep fury but his face was pale, almost bloodless. The clothes and gun he'd been carrying had been dropped into a messy heap on the floor as he whirled on Yohji.

      "Don't patronize me," he said, words low but colored thickly with anger.

      "I'm not-" he started, but he wasn't allowed to finish.

      "Fuck you." One step closed the distance that the punch had created between them; the same hand that had struck him reached out, tangling in his shirt to yank him forward. He had to tilt his head back to keep their faces from colliding when he was yanked forward; as it was the other man leaned in, foreheads and noses touching, violent blue locked with startled, measuring green. He could smell the cigarette smoke in the cool breath that washed over his face, could smell the sharp scent of antiseptic from where he'd washed Schuldich's hand. "You don't understand anything; don't even pretend like you do. You don't know anything about me. You have no fucking clue what's happened and what this really means."

      With that, he shoved them apart, turning sharply on his heel and starting for the door. Yohji instinctively knew that the man shouldn't make it there, and he started after him, squishing all his reservations on the matter. He caught him by the elbow, refusing to let go when the older man tried to give his arm a savage yank away. With a snarl, Schuldich turned to face him again, bringing up his other fist with the intent to smash Yohji's nose to smithereens with it. Yohji dodged the blow, but just barely, and stepped forward, catching Schuldich's torn shirt and yanking him forward. The German froze when he found himself encircled by Yohji's arms; Yohji heard the catch in his breath and almost wished he could see Schuldich's shocked face. He gazed over Schuldich's shoulder, staring past him to the door.

      "I don't pity you," Yohji said simply. "I don't understand you. But I do know what happened to you."

      Schuldich began to laugh again, a sharp, broken sound that Yohji had never heard from him. He planted his hands against Yohji's chest, shoving him roughly away. Yohji let himself be pushed, standing a few feet away from the foreigner. Schuldich reached up with a hand, tangling it in his orange hair, half-turning away from Yohji so that the other man couldn't see his face. "You know what happened?" he echoed, a strained, almost hysterical edge to his words. And still he was laughing. "You don't know the half of it."

      Yohji considered him for a moment longer, watching the way Schuldich's hand trembled almost violently in his hair, listening to that horrible, breathless laugh. He studied the hand that hung at Schuldich's side, shaking hard enough that the tremors were visible. His clothes and gun were still in a lump at his feet, the clothes still wet and with smears of blood staining them and the gun empty and useless. At last he stepped forward again, reaching around Schuldich to shove his pack of cigarettes into the hand dangling limply by his side.

      "I'm going to make coffee," he said, turning away and heading towards the kitchen counter. It didn't matter that it was after one in the morning. He was leaving to give Schuldich time to pull himself back together, letting the arrogant German have his space to get some control again. But as he stood in front of his coffee pot, staring through the can of grinds in his hand, he wondered if that was possible, or if the German had been broken enough that some of the pieces were gone for good.

      'You don't know the half of it.'

      Yohji had a sick feeling that that was right, and that what he didn't know was much worse.

      When the coffee was done he followed Schuldich out of his apartment, standing about eight feet down from him to lean against the railing. Schuldich had refused the mug Yohji offered but still had the white assassin's pack of cigarettes, and he was going through them steadily. He'd dragged his things out with them and taken a moment to bundle them up, and he hadn't said another word to Yohji. Yohji hadn't pressed conversation, keeping quiet as he watched to see what came next.

      What came was a car, fifteen minutes after they'd stepped outside. Schuldich leaned over very slowly, carefully picking up his clothes, and started away. He said nothing and didn't look back. Yohji watched him go in silence, watched as he made his way down the stairs. The car doors opened and two of Schwarz got out, the Irish psycho and the American. Both moved towards the stairs, meeting Schuldich as he reached the last landing. He shoved right past them without stopping, going towards the car, and after a moment they followed. He climbed in the back and shut the door loudly behind himself, leaving his teammates to exchange a quiet look over the hood of the car. At last Crawford slid into the driver's seat. Farfarello lingered a moment longer, his hand on the open car door, and tilted his head back to look up. Yohji didn't bother ducking away, meeting the yellow gaze that sought him out and holding it boldly.

      Farfarello looked away first, getting into the car, and shut the door quietly behind him. Yohji watched as the engine came to life, watched the car as it left and stared down the road after it long after it was gone. Finally he exhaled shakily, lowering his head to rest it on the cold railing.

      "Please take care of him…"


      Schuldich didn't say anything to them in the car ride, and they said nothing to him. Neither was stupid enough to push immediate conversation, not after they'd seen the look on Schuldich's face. The tension in the car was thick and the silence from Schuldich was a sort his teammates didn't recognize. Crawford parked the car outside of their house and Nagi was in the doorway almost immediately, drawn there by the sound of the engine. Schuldich was the first out of the car and his teammates followed him towards the house. His arms clutched a small bundle of clothes tightly to his chest and his expression was tight and pale. Farfarello seemed equally agitated; he'd been fidgeting since Schuldich had gotten in the car as his gift let him pick up on the edges of Schuldich's emotions.

      "Schuldich-" Nagi started.

      Schuldich reached out and pushed the boy out of the way, stepping into the house. Nagi started to follow but Farfarello beat him through the doorway first, and the telekinetic had to move back to avoid getting knocked over. Schuldich started down the hall towards his room. Crawford only followed him halfway and Nagi stopped just a short distance behind the precognitive. Farfarello didn't slow, and caught Schuldich by his elbow before he could reach his door.

      Schuldich dropped his stuff and turned on the man, fist snapping out. Farfarello ducked his head to one side to dodge the blow, pulling Schuldich closer. Schuldich planted his hand against the Irishman's chest, leveling a warning glare on him that could give the devil pause. "Get the fuck away from me."

      Farfarello considered him a moment, then lifted his free hand towards Schuldich's face. The German leaned away from him, blue eyes growing harder. "You do it and I'll kill you," he warned, the threat barely above a whisper. His teammate hesitated, considering this. He saw Schuldich was serious and finally let his hand drop back to his side, letting go of his older teammate's elbow. Schuldich shoved him roughly backwards and took a step back of his own. When Farfarello didn't move to follow him, he turned and continued the journey to his room. The door slammed violently behind him and they could hear the lock be thrown into place.

      Silence fell in the house. Finally Farfarello turned to look back at Crawford. The American turned away, moving towards the den, and his teammates followed him. No one said a word to each other for several minutes. Crawford stood by the window, staring out and wishing for a moment that he smoked. Farfarello had been called by Schuldich several hours ago; he'd stopped dead right in the middle of their job to listen to it and had been almost shot for the distraction. He hadn't cared; he'd killed the men with a careless slash and had almost dragged Crawford out of there.

      "We have to go," he'd said. "He's in trouble."

      There was never a question as to who 'he' was when it came to Farfarello. The Sensitive had been placed on the team for Schuldich and had spent the last three years looking after him in his own way. Farfarello didn't know everything that had happened to Schuldich in the past but he didn't need to. He knew enough. And when Farfarello said they had to go, it meant they had to go. They'd dropped everything and gotten back on the train. It hadn't helped them much- they'd left knowing that if Schuldich was in serious trouble, they would not get there in time.

      The train ride had not been pleasant. Perhaps it would have been a bit better if Nagi hadn't called them, if they didn't realize what they were coming home to. Nagi called Crawford's cell phone just five minutes into the two and a half hour ride, so upset that it had taken a while to get him to calm down enough to be understandable. The corporation had been attacked, he'd said. He and Schuldich split up to kill the intruders. The men had been in uniforms so he'd moved forward to see their logo, and he recognized it- Crawford had taught him of the corporation a year and a half ago. It was Marigold, the business Schatten was assigned to two years ago, a Canadian based organization. He'd tried to get a warning out to Schuldich but something had hit him from behind and knocked him out.

      When he woke up, he couldn't find Schuldich anywhere. The German was gone, and he wouldn't answer Nagi's mental calls. He found Hasagawa dead in his office and had choked out the state the man had been in with horror and fury coloring his voice. He'd continued looking for Schuldich desperately and that was how he'd found Rice Gonzales- or rather, his dead body. If Marigold alone had been here, they'd have been able to write it off as just some aggravation after five years of silence from the hated team. But with Rice there… Where one of Schatten was, they all were. Schatten was back, a nightmare come true. Five years wasn't long enough to heal the wounds left over from the last battle.

      They'd met up at Hasagawa's building. Crawford and Farfarello had examined the mess leftover from Marigold's invasion, studying the bodies of the men before moving on to Hasagawa and Rice. Crawford had taken one look at Hasagawa and left the room, brushing roughly against Farfarello as he did an abrupt one eighty and went back out the door. Nagi was quietly going frantic in the background, wondering if more of Schatten had been there, fearing that the other group had already snatched his teammate away. It had taken Farfarello longer to put together the most likely scenario for what had happened in Hasagawa's office, just a few extra seconds, and then he'd come at Crawford. Only the precognitive's gift kept Farfarello's blow from landing and Crawford had endured the Irishman's furious words in silence.

      "You should have seen this coming!" Farfarello had snapped at him. "You should have done something to stop this! You shouldn't have let this happen! He trusted your gift to keep him safe. You said that nothing would go wrong while we were here. You told him that it'd be fine."

      Crawford had said nothing in return, but Nagi had quickly leapt up in the American's defense. Farfarello wasn't interested in listening; he'd snarled a last vicious word towards Crawford and vanished down the hall, moving away from them to try and focus his gift on finding Schuldich. Crawford and Nagi had stayed beside Rice's dead body, staring down at Schatten's fallen telekinetic.

      There was nothing Crawford could have done to prevent it. If Schatten was involved, his gift was mostly useless. With a Sequencer on their team, they could easily find a way to move around his visions. But Farfarello… Staring out the window of their house, Crawford reflected on the bad feeling Farfarello had had about the job. Farfarello owned a bit of Crawford's gift, though unless he tried very hard he was just good at getting premonitions in the form of hunches and feelings. Crawford had been blind to Schatten's return because of the Sequencer's tweaking, but Farfarello had been able to pick up on the edges of what he should have seen.

      Schwarz had never before ignored Farfarello's warnings. The one time they did…

      He would never make that mistake again. But he'd already made it once, and the consequences of ignoring Farfarello were severe.

      "What are we going to do?" Nagi asked at last, almost too soft to be heard.

      Crawford didn't answer. He didn't know yet.


      Schuldich left his room again when Schwarz was eating lunch the next day. Farfarello glanced up from his meal just moments before the German appeared in the doorway. He was dressed in a loose sweater and jeans, his arms folded tightly over his chest, and he made no immediate move to step further into the kitchen. His teammates regarded him in silence and he stared back, guarded blue eyes taking in each of their faces in turn. He could finally think without it hurting and he reached out with his gift, lightly touching it against their minds. He supposed it was masochistic curiosity that made him reach out, because he honestly didn't want to know what they thought. Crawford's mind was almost impossible to read on a good day, and it was even harder now. He could hear the soft mumble of the other's mind but couldn't bring the thoughts into focus where he could hear them. Nagi's thoughts had guilt lacing the edges and Farfarello was just doing a critical check of his teammate's appearance. Whatever he honestly thought about the matter was buried deep and Schuldich didn't want to probe that far. In turn he felt Farfarello's mind brush his, a soft query to see if he was all right.

      "Schuldich…" Nagi started at first, uncertain and unhappy.

      Schuldich knew what he was going to say, and he didn't want to hear it. "Shut up," he said, shifting his gaze back to his youngest teammate. "I don't want to hear that fuck's name again. I don't want to know he existed."

      Silence followed that statement, and Schuldich waited for a reaction. He was leaving again if they didn't accept this. Hasagawa wasn't something he wanted to talk about. He had grabbed hold of it and shoved it as deep as he could, trying to ignore the pain, trying to ignore the splinters he could feel in what he'd made out of himself after his teammates managed to get him away from Meirth five years ago. Hasagawa was the least of his problems now that Schatten was back and he was desperately hoping that denial would help him ignore the businessman. He couldn't afford to be off balance and injured when the other team decided to make their appearance.

      Was it possible to forget such a thing…?

      At last Crawford nodded. Schwarz would never mention the businessman to him again. They'd never mention what had happened in that office. They'd been able to figure it out; none of them were stupid and it wasn't incredibly farfetched when Schatten was involved. They were all going to pretend that nothing had happened, however. Only after the precognitive indicated his agreement to Schuldich's demand did the German step into the kitchen. It still hurt to walk, but not as much as it had last night, and he was better at hiding it. He went straight to the coffee pot and set about getting it ready to brew. There was a pause behind him before his teammates finished their lunch. His coffee was done about the same time they were rinsing their dishes, and he took his mug and led them into the den.

      He didn't want to think about Schatten. He didn't want to accept that they were back, that somehow they'd gotten up the courage to defy Rosenkreuz to force another fight with Schwarz. He especially didn't want to talk about them right now, but with him effectively knocking last night off the list of things to worry about, Schatten was the most important thing. The other team was back. It didn't matter that none of them were happy about it. They had to be ready to meet the other team when they made their next move, if Meirth decided he wanted them to know about it. His lip curled into a faint snarl and he hid it in his coffee mug, leaning against the wall by the window and turning to face his teammates. On his hand, his scars throbbed.

      ~Guess I'll see what you look like now,~ he mused.

      "Schatten's in Japan," Crawford said, a simple statement that opened up the conversation to all of them. It was how he started discussion on any job, opening it up to anything his teammates wanted to say. On any other day, he would take what they thought and use it, but he would be the one making the final decision. When it came to Schatten, however, it was impossible for Crawford alone to make the call.

      Hence the reason Meirth had started hating Schuldich…

      He cut that thought off, waiting for someone to say something. He had nothing to add yet, and looked back and forth from Nagi to Farfarello to see if they had something. There was a small struggle on Nagi's face, and wary confusion laced his thoughts. Just before Schuldich could poke his gift in there and see exactly what was bothering the telekinetic, Nagi voiced his question.

      "Why did they let Rice die?"

      Schuldich straightened from the wall so fast his coffee sloshed over the side of his mug to spill on the ground at his feet. "What?" he demanded.

      Nagi looked back at him, surprised that he didn't know. "Rice is dead. We found his body down the hall from-" he cut the man's name out of his sentence after just a short pause, "-the office. He was almost decapitated; something had cut him halfway through his throat."

      Farfarello tilted his head to one side, yellow eye studying Schuldich's face. "Kudou got him," he said simply.

      Schuldich just stared at Farfarello. He'd wondered why Rice's gift had dropped out last night, but there could have been a hundred reasons for such a thing. The most probable was that the deed was already done so it was just amusing to watch Schuldich have to struggle free and get out of there. He hadn't expected the man to be dead. He gave a sharp bark of laughter, a harsh sound, and took a swallow from his coffee.

      "One of Schatten killed by a Talentless?" he mused. The thought was thrilling. Schwarz had been unable to get a hold on any of Schatten in their previous skirmishes. The other four had walked away injured five years ago but Schwarz had been knocked down from five to three and Schuldich had been in pieces. Now one of them was dead, just like that? Killed by Kudou… He hadn't picked it up in the other's thoughts last night. He'd only checked the younger assassin's thoughts a couple times, quickly shying away from what he found there because Kudou's entire focus had revolved around what happened with Hasagawa.

      Denial. Denial. There was never a Hasagawa.

      "Fuck…" he murmured, considering this and returning to Nagi's question. "Why did they let him die?"

      "Call Rosenkreuz," Nagi said, twisting in his seat to look at Crawford. "Call Rosenkreuz. Tell them that Schatten has moved out of their boundaries. Tell them the team is here. Make them send another unit to get rid of them."

      "Einsam will see them coming just as easily as he tracks us," Crawford pointed out.

      "It's still better than us taking on Schatten by ourselves. If they didn't have Einsam with them they wouldn't be worth worrying about. With him, there's not a lot we can do against them. You can't follow him, Crawford. Call them."

      "Crawford can't," Schuldich said, turning to rest his shoulder against the wall. Blue eyes stared out the window. "Farfarello can, but just barely. And then there's me." Silence fell in the room; his team knew he wasn't done speaking yet. After a few moments he turned back to face them, taking the last swallow of his coffee and setting it on the windowsill. He folded his arms over his chest once more, blue eyes hooded as he locked eyes with Crawford across the room. "Let's settle it," he said. "I'm not going to go running to Rosenkreuz just because they're here."

      "That's not being brave, that's being suicidal," Nagi informed him.

      "Can you place them?" Crawford wanted to know.

      Schuldich hesitated, then glanced off to the side, letting his eyes unfocus as he reached back in his gift. He let himself slide into it, searching for a link he'd buried five years ago, a link that had been there for as long as he could remember. He'd grown up with it; he didn't know how he'd made it so young but it'd been made at a young enough age that he couldn't place the year exactly. At last he found it and touched it, sliding out on it to a mind he thought he'd walked away from five years ago. The other was waiting for him and spoke up as soon as he felt the brush of Schuldich's power.

      //Hallo, Schuldich. Wie geht's dir denn so?//

      //Fick dich, Einsam. Wo steckst du gerade?//

      There was a laugh, a rich sound. Schuldich's fingers tightened on his arms at the sound. It was familiar… More mature than he'd heard before, but it was still Einsam's laugh. He spared a moment to wish Meirth all kinds of horrendous deaths and then felt Einsam's mind touch his. It was a swirl of colors and voices, as twisted and broken as he remembered it. //Ja. Nein. Wir treffen uns dann hier am Dienstag.//

      Schuldich pulled back, releasing the link to slide back into his own mind. It left him a little dizzy; he wasn't used to the chaos that was Einsam's mind anymore. No, he'd lost that chance years ago, and the bitter taste of loss and betrayal had never faded. What could have been and what it had actually turned into was something he would never get used to, something he would never accept. "He's in Tokyo," he told Crawford, "but on the opposite side of the city from us." He considered what Einsam had told him- Yes, no. They were answers to questions Schuldich hadn't asked him, questions Einsam knew were coming. Now Schuldich had to figure out what he'd been going to ask the other German. "They want to meet with us," he told Crawford, considering the address Einsam had let slip from one mind to the other. Schatten had already been to it to arrange things; Einsam had even flicked him the image of the exact table they would be dining at. "Meirth wants to talk to us."

      "Did you tell him no?" Nagi wanted to know.

      Schuldich gave a quiet snort at that, turning his head to contemplate the window again. "Next Tuesday, at a restaurant on their side of town."

      No one replied. Schuldich reached into his pocket, drawing out Kudou's pack of cigarettes. He considered the box for a moment before pushing the window open, memorizing the brand. He liked this brand a lot better than the kind he'd been using. He shook one out and lit it, propping it between his lips. The lighter was stuffed back into his pocket but he played with the pack, turning it over in his hands as he considered it.

      Kudou had killed Rice.

      Kudou had seen what happened in that office. He knew what that fuck had done. And he'd carried Schuldich out of there, bringing him back to his apartment. Schuldich tucked Schatten aside, tucked aside thoughts that Schwarz's destruction could be at hand, and focused on thoughts of the Weiss assassin because they were safer. Kudou hadn't brought Schuldich to a hospital. Why his apartment? Weiss considered Schwarz their mortal enemies. Even considering what had happened, if Weiss moved to do anything about it none of them would bypass the hospital to carry Schwarz straight to their own bed.

      Well, Kudou was a little different. Kudou was the smartest of his teammates when it came to reading people, when it came to figuring out motives and the most likely reactions. He had to be good at reading people since he'd been a detective once. It had amused Schuldich in their previous meetings to listen to him struggle with the idea of Schwarz, to listen to him try and fall short every time. It was an idle hobby for the other man. Yesterday everything he'd contemplated and fought with had been destroyed.

      The only people that knew what had happened last night were those directly involved. No doctors knew. No nurses knew. No receptionist at a check in desk had filled out paperwork saying what exactly had happened to the German. Weiss would never know. It was something stuck between Schatten, Schwarz, and Kudou. That was why the man had done it, even if he hadn't known at the time that those were his reasons. Schuldich had read it in him, had read the explanations that the man hadn't stopped to consider yet.

      A strange man, that one. But he had good taste in cigarettes. And he'd killed Rice. Schuldich supposed letting them live when Estet fell had been a good idea.

      He considered that for a moment and then turned to study Crawford, a small, thoughtful frown pulling at his lips. Nagi had been saying something that he'd missed, lost in his thoughts, but when Crawford turned his attention from the telekinetic to Schuldich, Nagi went quiet. Farfarello's eye was on Schuldich; it had never left. "They've already messed up," he said, words slow as he thought about it. "Schatten's already made a mistake."

My eternal thanks to Katja-san, who translated the German for me. Every time there is German in a part, the translations will be at the bottom. I think it'll be possible for the readers to use after they're done, as either 1) It's just something simple, or 2) Schuldich will generally turn around and reflect on it or make a comment on it in English- not a translation, but he basically summarizes what they just spoke about. I don't want to break up the story with translations. Having Einsam and Schuldich converse in German makes it seem a bit more real to me.

I learned that "Wie geht's" is basically "How are you?". The way it is worded in this part is due to Katja-san's advice, which I will quote because it's exactly how I meant it: "It's sounds a little more ironic. Just in case Einsam doesn't really care and wants Schu to know."

Schuldich's response is "Fuck you, Einsam. Where are you now?"

"Wir treffen uns dann hier am Dienstag." To quote Katja-san again, "'We're meeting here on Tuesday.' Which implies that that whomever he is talking to, is meant to be there on Tuesday."

Part 4
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