4: Schatten

      Yohji finally pushed himself up from his spot on the loveseat. He'd been reading for the last few hours, reading because it was simpler than figuring out what he was supposed to say to Omi. He had agreed to meet with the youngest Weiss in just half an hour to discuss the mission. The others were all at the Koneko now, so he was heading over there to help clean up and then discuss details with them. He wasn't looking forward to it. On top of everything else, he had a beautiful bruise on his face that would also have to be explained.

      With a quiet sigh, he set his book down on top of his dresser and raked his fingers through his hair, an absent attempt to make himself look presentable. His sunglasses were hanging from the collar of his shirt and he pulled them free, starting towards the door. He got his keys off the nail beside the door and he was out onto the balcony. He checked the knob to make sure it was locked and started towards the stairs, hands shoved in his pockets as he went. It had been an incredibly long day. He'd managed to fall asleep close to four and had woken up at eleven to find his thoughts had not moved on while he slept. They still danced along last night and everything that had happened, everything he had seen.

      When he stepped onto the sidewalk, a car door opened. He glanced that way at the sound of it and stopped in his tracks, staring. Schuldich was sitting at the driver's seat of the car, one arm folded to rest carelessly on the wheel. Farfarello was in the back. The passenger seat was empty, but that was the door that was open. Yohji looked from one to the other, trying to figure out what was going on.

      //Move a little faster, Kudou. I don't have all day to wait on you.//

      "What's going on?" he wanted to know, approaching the car cautiously. He stopped beside the open door, leaning over to look in the car. Was Schuldich going to kill him for seeing what happened yesterday? What were two of Schwarz doing here? His eyes slid towards Farfarello, who returned the look with a disinterested stare. "What do you want?"

      //We're going to talk.//

      "I'm on my way to meet with Omi," Yohji told him, straightening. "He's expecting me."

      //You killed someone last night,// Schuldich said, flicking his fingers towards the passenger seat in a silent command. Yohji frowned, hesitating. He'd killed the person with Nagi's power. Who had that man been, anyway? //That's what we're going to talk about.//

      "I'd have to be insane to get in the car with you two," Yohji said, but he leaned down again to peer in. Schuldich held his gaze steadily. The German looked much better than he had last night. It was a bit of relief. "I helped you last night because there was no way I could have walked away. But I'm not stupid enough to trust you two now."

      Schuldich's mouth twitched into the beginnings of a smirk and he leaned back in his chair, tugging something out of his pocket and setting it in the passenger seat. It was a pack of cigarettes- the pack he'd let Schuldich walk off with last night. "It's a smoking section," the German told him. At Yohji's blank look, he elaborated. "It's the smoking section of a restaurant. It's a public place. Now get in the car before I make Farfarello drag you in."

      //Just half an hour,// he added. //Just talking.//

      Yohji wondered at the words, a reassurance without sounding at all friendly. He studied Schuldich for a few more moments and then finally reached out, picking up his pack of cigarettes. His brain was screaming an alarm but he slid into the car anyway, pulling the door shut after him. Schuldich turned the key in the ignition and Yohji sat rigid in the passenger seat, calling himself all kinds of stupid for getting in the car. There was no reason to trust Schwarz, no reason to believe them. Even with last night there was nothing that said they had to be civil to each other. Jesus, he'd just offered himself to them to do whatever they liked with him.

      He automatically checked his cigarette pack, and found it was empty.

      A sideways glance at Schuldich showed his lips pulled into a grin. "I hope you brought more," was all the German said.

      Muttering dark threats under his breath, Yohji yanked a new pack out of his pocket. He shook one out and it was immediately stolen by the telepath. Schuldich had his own lighter, at least- or rather, the one Yohji had given him last night. Schuldich pressed a button and the front two windows rolled down a bit, enough for them to flick their ashes out of. Yohji went through three cigarettes before the car stopped, and he glanced out the windshield at the restaurant they'd arrived at. So Schuldich was telling the truth about that, at least.

      He was still pretty sure he was going to get killed tonight. Otherwise why would Farfarello be here?

      He trailed behind the two towards the front doors. Schuldich didn't stop to put their names on the waiting list. He didn't even slow but led the other two past the hostess towards the back. There was a table in one of the corners with a little reserved sign on it. Schuldich batted it away and sat himself down on one side of the booth. Farfarello took the spot beside him and Yohji settled himself uneasily across the table from them. A waitress appeared immediately to hand out glasses of water and then vanished again. Schuldich tugged the ash tray from the end of the table to rest between himself and Yohji, and he leaned back in his chair to study Weiss's eldest.

      Yohji waited for them to speak. Farfarello seemed to be ignoring them; his elbow was propped on the table and his chin on his hand, and his yellow eye was studying the rest of the store. Finally Schuldich's fingers stilled where they were dancing over the rim of his glass and he folded his arms loosely over his chest.

      "Get off work early Tuesday night," he said. "We're going to borrow you."

      Yohji blinked. "Huh?"

      Schuldich smirked around his cigarette. "That's not the most intelligent answer I've ever gotten from you, Kudou. I'm disappointed." He moved his cigarette to the ash tray, exhaling smoke to one side as he considered the one sitting across from him. Yohji stared back, waiting for an explanation, waiting for a reason behind this impromptu excursion. He didn't have to wait long before the German sighed. "Feel special, Kudou. I should kill you before telling you this; it's not something someone like you should know."

      "Then why are you telling me?" he wanted to know, looking from one to the other.

      "Because it's better for us if you know. You'll screw Tuesday up something horrendous if you don't have an idea of what's going to happen." Schuldich gave a small shrug and stubbed his cigarette out on the ash tray, downing his glass of water.

      "What happens on Tuesday?" Yohji asked, frowning.

      Schuldich offered him a humorless smirk. "You're coming to dinner with Schwarz to meet some friends of ours."

      Yohji almost inhaled his cigarette. Schuldich gave him a minute to cough, watching as he smashed his cigarette butt into the tray beside Schuldich's. Finally Yohji caught his breath and stared across the table at the telepath in wide-eyed shock. Was the German serious? Like hell he was going to dine out with all of Schwarz. "You've got to be shitting me."

      "Shut up," Farfarello said, flicking him a flat look.

      Yohji shut up.

      //Schwarz isn't unique,// Schuldich said, abruptly switching to his gift to speak. The waitress came back with three plates, setting them in front of the men. Schuldich pointed at his empty water cup wordlessly and she scurried away to find a pitcher. He didn't acknowledge her when she came back, eyes studying his food as he spoke. //There's a school in Austria dedicated to finding and training those born with powers, a powerful organization called Rosenkreuz. They train us to kill, teach us how the world works, and assign us to teams when we're ready. We're then scattered across the world, assigned to clients where our powers would be beneficial. Schwarz is currently Japan's team. There were two, but the other was reassigned last year.// Finally he started eating. Farfarello ignored his plate, seemingly disinterested in the food carefully arranged on it. Yohji was too busy listening to think about eating.

      //The man you killed was Rice Gonzales, the telekinetic for one of Rosenkreuz's other teams: Schatten. Schatten is…// Schuldich paused, searching for words. //Schatten is one of Rosenkreuz's most dangerous units. They have a Talent in their ranks that makes it difficult to track them. And they hate us.//

      "They hate you?" Yohji echoed blankly.

      Schuldich glanced away, staring off at something only he could see. //Schwarz and Schatten go way back… Meirth and I met ten years ago. We've had a long time to gather grudges. We didn't meet each other under the best of circumstances and the relationship has never gotten better. Meirth despises Crawford and me and tried for years to get rid of us.//

      "You work for the same people," Yohji started, but switched to thinking at Farfarello's Look. ~Why do they let you two fight like that?~

      //We're not supposed to.// Schuldich shrugged again. //Five years ago it was a full out war between Schatten and the original Schwarz.// He pushed his food around his plate idly with his chopsticks. //We lost. Rosenkreuz forbid us from seeing each other again and it's been five years. But Schatten's back, and they're here in Japan now to settle things for good.//

      Yohji stared at him in silence, turning that over in his head. He felt dizzy. A place whose sole purpose was to train people with powers to be assassins… A world full of Schwarzes… A team strong enough to defeat Schwarz, that had just showed up in the land of the rising sun to duke it out with them again. And him- thrown somewhere in the middle of this whole shit fit because he'd managed to one-up a telekinetic that happened to belong to said very powerful team.

      ~What about me?~ he asked, wary of the answer.

      //Schwarz and Schatten are meeting next Tuesday. You're coming with us.//

      ~Oh, HELL no.~

      He started to get to his feet, but there was a flash of silver and a thud, and a knife was suddenly buried in the table top beside Yohji's hand. Farfarello's fingers were still curled on the hilt and he fixed a cold look on Yohji's half-risen form. The white assassin considered this for a long moment, studying the yellow eye and reading the threat there. Finally, slowly, he sat down again. Schuldich didn't acknowledge the interruption, continuing on as if he hadn't heard Yohji's refusal.

      //Schatten's already made a mistake. They reserved eight seats for dinner on Tuesday. With Rice's death, they should have only gotten seven. They know you exist. They know you killed Rice; they knew it was coming and they let it happen. They think you're part of us, a fifth member. It's the only conclusion they could come to, because you were there that night and because Schwarz was originally intended to be a five Talent unit. They think you're ours, so we're going to let them continue thinking that and take you to dinner with us.//

      ~No way in hell. Leave me out of your pissing contest.~

      //They know you,// Schuldich said. //Would you rather they thought you were Schwarz or would you like them to realize their mistake? They'll find out you're Weiss and they'll kill your team before they ever turn on us, just some random flies in the way who thought they could outsmart them. Pick a side, Kudou, and pick it fast.//

      Yohji took a deep breath, thinking that over. He didn't like it. He didn't like the sound of any of this. ~What does Schwarz get out of such a farce?~ he wanted to know. They sure weren't doing it for Weiss's sake. He wasn't stupid enough to think that.

      Schuldich pointed at him with his chopsticks. //You're one more piece for Einsam to have to watch, one more person he has to take into consideration. The more we have stacked against him and his gift, the better.//

      ~What is he?~ Yohji asked, curious despite himself.

      //A Sequencer.// At Yohji's blank look, Schuldich heaved an exasperated sigh. //Completely clueless, aren't you? A Sequencer is a branch of precognition, but with much more control. They can trace all possible actions and all possible consequences of doing said actions.// Yohji still didn't get it, and shook his head. He didn't really expect Schuldich to explain further, but the German was looking around as if trying to find an example. //I could sit here, I could stand, I could leave…// he said. //If I sit, I can eat, I can drink, I can talk… If I eat, it could be good, could be bad, I could choke on it… So on and so forth. When you apply that to assassin work, it makes a Sequencer efficient. When you consider that Einsam learned how to trick precognition and is on Meirth's team, it makes him deadly.//

      ~Then how do you know he won't just figure out that it's a lie, that I'm not Schwarz?~

      //There's no guarantee. He could figure it out eventually but he's the one that told Meirth to save eight seats for dinner. Einsam lives in the future. We move in the present. You don't worry about what he could figure out, you worry if he's figured out what you're doing now. He isn't perfect, anyway, and he's half insane from his power. He's the oldest Sequencer Rosenkreuz has a record of; all the others died in their late teens. Their gift drives them mad. Einsam can't be in that good of shape by now. There's a chance. It's a risk you'll have to take, unless you want your precious team slaughtered.//

      ~If they do figure it out eventually, my team's still at enormous risk.~

      //Then keep them from figuring it out,// Schuldich returned with a bland smirk. //I hope you're a good actor, Kudou.//

      ~I still haven't said I'll come…~ Yohji reminded him, though it was looking like he had little choice to do otherwise. He did a quick mental review of all of the points. Really strong team had just flaunted their orders and come to Japan to kill Schwarz. Schwarz lost the last time this happened- the 'original' Schwarz, Schuldich had said, whatever that meant. Yohji was now caught up in the middle of it because he'd taken that mission and killed one of the Talents on the powerful team, and now that team thought he was Schwarz. If he made them believe he was, then his team was safe. If they found out it was a lie…

      ~Either way I'm screwed,~ he mused. ~Not being a part of Schwarz will get us killed. Pretending to be Schwarz will get me killed because this Schatten is here for the sole purpose of killing Schwarz.~

      //Life sucks and then you die, but you're the martyr type so you already know which path you're going to take. We'll see you Tuesday. Eat your food.// Schuldich's plate was empty and he pushed at Farfarello's shoulder. The Irishman slid off the booth obediently and the two walked away without another word and without a glance back. Yohji watched them go in silence, nursing uneasy thoughts. Finally he looked down at his plate, studying the untouched food.

      //You might as well eat it,// Schuldich's voice came. //You're picking up the tab.//


      "You told him too much," Farfarello said, tilting his head to one side to rest his temple against the window.

      "Maybe," Schuldich answered, turning the key in the ignition. "Maybe I didn't tell him enough to survive Tuesday. It's going to be a bitch to pull this off. I had to tell him something."

      "Then don't do it," Farfarello said simply. "It's a lot of trouble for just a little room to work. It isn't worth it."

      "You haven't fought Schatten before," Schuldich said, turning in his seat to check out the back window as he backed out of the parking slot. He lifted one hand from where it rested in his lap to rake it through his hair, pulling into the street when a gap opened in the traffic. "You don't know what it's like. Kudou may be just a little thing, just a tiny detail, but it could be enough to save our necks. It might not be enough to do anything, but I don't need guarantees that something's going to work. I just need something to work with."

      Farfarello considered this for a long time in silence. Finally he glanced Schuldich's way. "You're scared of them."

      "Fuck you, Farf." He pat his pockets for cigarettes and realized he had none. Scowling at the inconvenience, he pulled up to the curb when he spotted the next vending machine and slid out of the car. He didn't bother shutting the door behind him, searching to make sure they had Kudou's brand and sliding coins into the slot. He collected his prize and his change and returned to the car to find Farfarello had reclined the passenger seat and had his arms folded loosely over his chest, his eye closed.

      He didn't bother leaving until he'd lit up, and he stuffed the pack of cigarettes between the seats where he could reach them. A button had the window rolled down and only then did he slide the car back into traffic. "Work with him, Farfarello," he said around the cigarette. "Work with him and help us pull this off."

      Farfarello said nothing, but he let the German pick up on a disapproving thought. Farfarello didn't have to approve- he just had to do what Schuldich told him to- so the telepath didn't comment. Farfarello didn't approve because he thought it was a waste of time, not because he had a bad feeling about it. It was an important difference. They made the rest of the ride in silence, and found their teammates waiting for them when they stepped back into the house. Schuldich let himself fall backwards into the chair in the den, nodding to Crawford when the American looked his way. Farfarello didn't really understand. He couldn't possibly understand just how much one thing could throw everything out of whack. He'd never met Schatten. He'd never dealt with Einsam. The other three were what was left of the original five of Schwarz, however, and they knew all too well. Schuldich knew more than the others, as he'd grown up with the other Talent.

      He idly rubbed his fingers along the back of his other hand, tracing the scars on his flesh. Tuesday was going to be… difficult. It didn't matter that they weren't going to be fighting. Just being in the same room with them again- with Meirth and Einsam again- was going to take a lot of self control. He hoped Kudou worked out well enough. Farfarello thought he'd told him too much. He hadn't told him enough. He'd given Kudou a general idea of Schatten only. Tuesday he would have to tell him more about the three he was going up against, something so he wasn't completely knocked back by the group. He'd never thought he'd be telling such things to a Talentless, especially Kudou. It was too much. When this was all over he'd have to find a way to block it from the man's mind.

      If Kudou survived, that was. And the chances of that were close to none.


      It was a little hard to concentrate on his work after the previous night. Being told to come eat dinner with Schwarz was bad enough. Actually agreeing and going was worse. But what he'd agreed to at dinner itself… That went beyond the boundaries of fucking stupid into insane. He played nervously with a pair of shears, whittling away at the edge of the table. His mind was running in little chaotic circles. He'd gotten little sleep last night, and what rest he'd managed to get had been broken by nightmares of Schwarz and this brand new group of demons called Schatten. He felt much worse now than he did after finally getting home last night, as the full weight of what Schuldich had told him began to settle on him and choke him.

      'Schatten is one of Rosenkreuz's most dangerous units. And they hate us.'

      Bloody fucking wonderful. A world of Schwarzes, and some of them were worse than the group Weiss faced off against. There were stronger people out there, with far more frightening and dangerous powers, all across the world. And now one of them had come to Japan to settle things with Schwarz. Schwarz had lost the last time this happened. What made Schuldich think they would fare any better this time around?

      Not that he cared whether Schwarz were to live or die. They were interesting targets, though he wouldn't use that particular word in front of his teammates, who were more prone to using terms such as 'demonic,' 'heartless,' and 'ruthless'. Once upon a time Yohji had found them mildly intriguing, mostly because he couldn't figure them out. Their powers made him wary and their attitudes on the field made him dislike them severely, but they'd still been interesting to contemplate from time to time. Walking in on that businessman and Schuldich had- changed things. Cemented in place that perhaps Schwarz was human – he could already hear Ken scoffing at the thought – and it had scared him. It had scared him, that a group he'd taken for granted to be so powerful had fallen, and in such a way.

      But what he'd seen that night wasn't enough to make him agree to Schuldich's demands. Schwarz wasn't his concern. They'd sown the seeds of hatred themselves and it was up to them to deal with the consequences. Yohji wanted no part of it and Weiss had no place in such a battle. They had never won against Schwarz. They would be pathetically weak against this "Schatten" that had beaten Schwarz years ago. Seeing Schuldich get hurt, seeing him stumble- that wasn't enough to give a damn about this. It sharply altered his view of the man, though he didn't really have time to figure out how to think of the German yet, but he still didn't care if he died.

      'They think you're a part of us.'

      He wished he'd never raised his hand the other night and offered to take the mission. He'd needed the money. He didn't need to get saddled with this aftermath. He wanted to be left out of this. He didn't even want to know such a fight was coming; ignorance was bliss and he was a hedonist. But he'd asked for the job, and he'd gone, and he'd killed the wrong man. Killed the wrong man and carried Schuldich out of there, instead of listening to his own god damned common sense and leaving him there for his teammate to take care of. He'd taken Schuldich home and in so doing had brought Schwarz to his doorstep- and the second time they'd come, they'd brought such a monster of a problem with them.

      '…unless you want your precious team slaughtered....'

      What the hell was he supposed to do about this? There was no way he could pull off what Schuldich was demanding of him. There was no way he could pull off Schwarz, and they should know it. He didn't want to play the part. He didn't want to meet Schatten. He didn't want to see Schwarz ever again and he certainly didn't want to know everything Schuldich had told him at dinner last night.

      A hand came down over his wrist and Yohji jumped. He'd heard the expression 'jumped out of one's skin' before, but he had never really understood the feeling until this moment. He leapt to one side, springing away like a startled cat, wild green eyes flying to lock with considering amethyst. Aya studied him for a few moments, then looked down at the shears Yohji had left behind in his sudden retreat. His gaze ran over the shredded wood before lifting again to lock with Yohji's stare. Yohji quickly composed himself, shoving away his surprise and burying it under more familiar expressions.

      "What are you doing?" Aya asked.

      "Well, I figured the florist cover doesn't really suit me. Considering going into carpentry instead and wondered if I was any good at it." He reached over and took the shears away from Aya, offering the table top a quick glance-over and wincing at the extent of the damage he'd wrought on the helpless wood. He brushed wood shavings from the blades, aware of Aya's heavy stare resting on him, and moved over to trim some plants. They didn't really need trimming, but he did it anyway. He didn't want to look back at Aya, because even if the man's mouth was set in a disapproving line, the weight of his look was more intrusive. It wasn't like Yohji to get distracted at the shop, certainly not in his character at all to carve up their table.

      After a few moments Aya moved up beside him. He reached out and took the shears away. Yohji went still but still didn't look at him, keeping his green eyes fixed on the plants. "They don't need this," Aya said simply.

      "Oh," Yohji said, for lack of anything better to say. He turned around and went back to the table, turning in the direction that wouldn't have his eyes turning towards his younger teammate, and sat himself down at the table. One finger picked at the gouges he'd left in the wood. Omi and Ken were out right now, Omi to argue prices with one of their suppliers and Ken on deliveries. They were not going to be happy with him when they got back and saw what he did to their furniture. Yohji could still feel Aya watching him and he wished that someone would come into the shop, anyone, so they could distract the redhead.

      '…unless you want your precious team slaughtered…'

      Not liking what Schuldich had to say didn't mean he could ignore it. He didn't have to give a damn about Schwarz's survival to know that he was going to play a part in it. How could he just blow them off? With his team at stake… They were all he had now, and he'd worked so hard to get them where they were today. They'd all worked so hard, pushing at each other and themselves until they found their place within the group. They had no one else. They weren't family or friends, but somewhere in between. They would die for each other without being asked, without any hesitations. They were his brothers, in a way. They were his charges, his responsibility as the oldest. He watched after them because he'd seen more of the world than they had, because they let him. He would act lazy and carefree but even Aya yielded to him when he meant it, whether it was tending to them after a job or giving them advice. When he stopped smiling and started talking, they all listened.

      How could he ever let anything happen to them? He wouldn't be able to survive. He'd lost too many people that he cared about, and losing these three would be the last thing it took to destroy him. He hadn't fated himself to this when he'd stepped out with his wire in that businessman's office… He'd fated it when he stopped brushing his teammates off and started listening, and started taking the time to understand them instead of accepting that they were just more partners he was assigned to. The moment he'd started caring too much, he'd had this coming to him.

      'They think you're one of us.'

      If this was what it took to keep them safe… then what else could he do?


      The two days between being told about this 'Schatten' group and Schwarz coming to pick him up for it passed uneasily. Yohji spent his free time pacing about his room, thinking about what it was going to be like. His mind had conjured up all kinds of horrible "what-if's," had run through everything that could go wrong Tuesday.

      He was going to die. He was sure of it. There was no way in hell this was happening. Just a few days ago everything had been normal. Now he'd gotten caught up in a war between people with ghastly powers, stuck between Schwarz- who Weiss had never been able to top- and a group that had managed to beat them. If he played his cards right, he would live a couple more days. His team would stay safe and undiscovered and he would turn up dead one day without any explanation for them. If he screwed up, Weiss was gone, just like that. Schwarz wouldn't guarantee a way to protect his team because they didn't care. They cared about their own survival only.

      Weiss knew that something was up, but they weren't sure what. Omi was only curious because of the way Yohji had reacted the night of the mission. Aya knew because of Yohji's lapse in the shop. Ken heard it through the Weiss grapevine, but since he'd fazed out with Aya in the shop, Yohji had put his mask back on and refused to let them see what was wrong. Outside of the shop was a different matter altogether. He'd managed to alleviate most of Omi's concern after talking to him about the mission, telling him he was late to their meeting because he'd fallen asleep. He'd mentioned that Schwarz was there, leaving out the other telekinetic, and had told the truth when he said it was Schuldich that had bruised his face. The bruise was mostly gone now but there was still some discoloration to the skin. He hoped it didn't set alarms off in Schatten's heads. His team… His friends. He had to protect them.

      That didn't mean he was at all happy about what tonight was going to bring. He'd worked at playing sick all morning long on Tuesday, making subtle gestures of touching his head or rubbing at his face, coughing now and then, until Omi asked what was wrong. He'd shrugged and responded that maybe he was catching something. By noon it was worse and he'd had a headache, and halfway through the afternoon shift Omi had taken pity on him and sent him home. Yohji had come home and gone through six cigarettes and half a pot of coffee, standing beside his open window. It was half past six now and he didn't know what was expected of him. He didn't know where he was going or when, or what he was supposed to do or how he was supposed to act.

      As if on cue, Schuldich's voice came. //Let me in and you might get your answers.//

      Startled, he glanced over his shoulder towards his door. After a moment he stubbed his cigarette out on the windowsill, flicking the butt out and moving quickly towards the door. As soon as the lock was thrown open Schuldich pushed the door open and stepped inside. He had the little one with him this time- Nagi. Schuldich waved his hand in a gesture for Yohji to move and he stepped back automatically, watching as they strolled past him into his apartment. Just a few days ago, everything had been normal. Now he had half of Weiss's mortal enemies in his room- and Schuldich was digging haphazardly through his dresser.

      ~I want to wake up now.~

      Schuldich turned, holding something out for Nagi to see. The boy considered it and shook his head, and Schuldich let it drop back towards the floor. Yohji stood beside his little kitchenette, watching them and feeling a little bit nauseous. Finally Schuldich found something that met his teammate's approval and he threw it towards the bed, jabbing his finger at the pile as blue eyes met Yohji's green across the room. "Get changed," he ordered.

      "Right now?" Yohji asked.

      "No, next year," came Schuldich's answer. "Yes now, stupid."

      "Schuldich," Nagi said, and the German sent him a Look. Yohji hesitated, then moved over to inspect what the German had picked out for him. Schuldich headed towards the open window, examined the pack of cigarettes Yohji had left there, and helped himself to one. Nagi watched him in silence a moment before turning dark eyes on Yohji. Yohji glanced that way from where he'd been studying the outfit, studying the younger assassin's face. He was used to seeing disdain there, a calm sort of superiority. He wasn't used to the hard edge to the boy's eyes or that pale color of his skin. His expression was calm on first glance but a closer study made Yohji think he was either sick or uneasy.

      He was willing to bet it was the latter, and it didn't make him feel any better about tonight.

      "Your role tonight is simple," Schuldich spoke up, talking around the cigarette. "You're going to play yourself, except you're going to be Schwarz's. You've never gone through Rosenkreuz; Schatten would have known about you a while ago if you had. We picked you up here in Japan a year ago. Your weapon is your tinsel. Your Talent is a Sensitive."

      "A what?" Yohji asked blankly.

      Schuldich glanced his way and stabbed a finger at the cloth dangling from Yohji's fingers. "Change," he ordered before explaining. "A Sensitive is a Talent leech. They can use the powers of those around them to a small extent. The more powerful ones are something to be wary of, as they can command another's gift almost as if it was their own, but they're rare. Your string isn't enough to get you a spot in our ranks, so that's what you're going to be from now on."

      "There's no way I can pull that off," Yohji told him. "What if they want proof?"

      "That's what Farfarello's for." Schuldich sent Nagi a look. "Nagi," he said simply, and Yohji was knocked back a step as a strong grip suddenly yanked his shirt over his head. "We haven't got all day, Kudou. Get your ass in gear."

      Yohji shrugged into the shirt, a white short sleeved thing that clung to him, and the black decorative jacket that went over top. The pants were black and fit him like a second skin, and he snapped the buttons shut, looking up when he was done getting changed for Schuldich to answer his question. The German and his teammate were giving Yohji a critical glance-over and finally Schuldich gave a short nod of approval. "Farfarello's going to cover that for you," he said at last. "He's a Sensitive. He and I are going to be keeping track of you, and he'll use his gift when you should."

      "Farfarello's got a gift?" Yohji asked, looking from one to the other. "But he never-"

      "He's used it, you just weren't quick enough to pick up on it." Schuldich waved a hand in dismissal. "Farfarello can be explained because he's such a violent person. He's a killer through and through and his skill alone would make him worth Schwarz's time. So he's Talentless and you've got a gift. Don't forget that. You can't look at them tonight as if they're a threat to you. Look at them as if they're a threat but people you can do something against. They'd be suspicious if you weren't wary of them but if you're too uneasy they'll just find a weak spot and attack it."

      Yohji tried to focus on what was being said to him. On one level, he was hearing it all, absorbing it. On the other, the words were just a mush. He gathered up his discarded clothes, carrying them towards his laundry basket, and dropped them in. Slightly unsteady hands started gathering the outfits Schuldich had dropped so carelessly all over the floor and he returned them neatly to their spots. Schuldich talked as Yohji worked, continuing with his explanations. "Meirth is the leader of Schatten, the American of the group. He's an Empath." Schuldich didn't even wait for Yohji to ask; he was rolling his eyes even as the other man looked that direction. "Empaths read emotions and manipulate them. They can tell what you're feeling when and can change that to whatever they like. Nuboshi is a Sonic, which is just a few steps below teleportation. He cannot move himself instantaneously from one spot to the other but you can hardly tell, because he flicks this way and that all the time. And Einsam…" Schuldich flicked his cigarette butt out the window, uncaring that it was still lit and was falling down towards a crowded sidewalk.

      There was silence for a few minutes. Yohji tucked the last shirt into place and slid his drawer shut, lifting his eyes to study his reflection in the mirror above his dresser. He studied his green eyes before lowering his gaze to examine what he was wearing. "What's going to happen tonight?" he wanted to know.

      "Schatten wants to catch up after being apart for five years," Schuldich said.

      "Sounds a little friendly for a group that wants to kill you." He rummaged around in the top drawer of his dresser, pulling out a thin necklace and snapping it around his neck to finish the outfit. As he pushed the drawer closed, he looked Schuldich's way. The German's lips were curved into a humorless smirk.

      "There's nothing friendly about it," he said, "but no one's going to die tonight." With that, he shut the window and started towards the door, tucking Yohji's cigarettes into his pocket as he moved. Yohji wondered if he should comment on the theft but didn't have the energy to do so and followed behind Schwarz's telekinetic. Nagi started towards the stairs once out of the apartment but Schuldich stopped, pausing to pull his sunglasses free where they dangled from the collar of his shirt. As Yohji turned from locking his door, green and blue met again.

      He'd never noticed how light Schuldich's eyes were, or perhaps they just looked so pale because the German was uptight. "Don't fuck this up, Kudou," Schuldich told him quietly. "I know you can act. You act tonight and you do it well. Get the part right; you're the Sensitive of one of Rosenkreuz's most favored teams. Schatten will kill your team if they figure out something's up, and I," he tilted his head towards Yohji, leaning forward to invade the other's man's personal space, "I'll kill you."

      Yohji studied him for a moment, searching those blue eyes. There was something a little out of place, something running across his nerves that he couldn't name. And then he opened his mouth. "You're afraid of them," he said. It wasn't the brightest thing he'd ever let slip, but Schuldich didn't hit him again. The German merely arched an eyebrow at him, a cold smile playing on his lips. He reached up one hand, tangling his fingers in Yohji's hair in a cruel grip.

      "Be careful, Kudou," he warned him. "No one ever thinks the mouthy kid in class is funny. He's the one they beat up afterwards because he's so god damned annoying."

      With that, he pulled his fingers free and started towards the stairs. Nagi had stopped on the first step to turn back, noticing that he wasn't being followed. Yohji watched Schuldich move away from him, waiting until the German had caught up with his teammate to follow. A different car was parked at the curb than last time; it was the car from the night he'd carried Schuldich home. Crawford and Farfarello were waiting there, one on each side of the car. Farfarello lounged against the side, arms folded over his chest, staring off into the distance. Crawford stood straight beside the other door, hands resting in his pockets. Both glanced their way as they reached the sidewalk, and Yohji was treated to two more assessing looks. Neither seemed to have any complaint- or any sort of greeting- and slid into the car. Schuldich took the passenger seat and Yohji was left with nowhere else to go except into the back with Nagi and Farfarello.

      He hesitated for just the barest of moments before sliding in, telling himself that he should just be grateful he was next to the telekinetic rather than the psycho.

      //He isn't a psycho,// Schuldich sent at him. //He's smarter than you are.//

      ~He's still fucked up,~ was Yohji's response.

      //Everyone is,// came Farfarello's voice, and Yohji sent a startled glance that direction. Nagi was leaning forward, fixing the hem of his pants how it hung around his shoe, and over his bent form Farfarello had turned a cool look on Yohji.

      //Keep in mind that he *can* hear you when he's in range of my power,// Schuldich reminded Yohji blandly. //He can read you at will just like I can.//

      ~Fan-fucking-tastic,~ was Yohji's response, and he looked away to stare out the window. The reflection on the window showed the Irishman also turning his head away and Yohji made a face at the image. Childish, perhaps, but it made him feel a little better.

      //That's what's going to keep you alive tonight,// Schuldich told him. //Don't bite the hand that feeds you or mock the nut who saves your ass.//

      //Shut up,// Farfarello said.

      //Eat me,// Schuldich returned easily, and Yohji felt his gift fall away. The rest of the drive was made in silence. It took them a little over half an hour to get to the restaurant, and Yohji took a moment to eye it as he slid out of the car. Good smells seemed to roll off it, and it was beautifully designed. The architecture was elaborate and there was a man in a suit outside whose sole purpose was to welcome everyone to the restaurant and point out empty parking spaces if they needed help. It was definitely a place for rich people to dine, which meant Yohji would never have the opportunity to eat here again. Weiss didn't make him a fortune; most of the benefit was that Kritiker picked up the rent for their apartment.

      It took him a moment to realize he was the only one critiquing the restaurant's appearance. A glance back showed that they were all looking at Schuldich, and Schuldich was ignoring them in favor of the cigarette he was lighting. Finally he stuffed the lighter into his pocket and took a deep inhale, parting his lips just enough to exhale a cloud of smoke. With his cool look towards Crawford, Schwarz started for the restaurant door as one. Yohji took a deep breath, taking control of his doubts and fears and squishing them down.

      ~Think of them,~ he told himself, bringing his friends' faces to mind. ~Think of them if I screw up.~

      With that, he let out his breath and moved after Schwarz, trailing just a step behind Nagi at the rear of Schwarz. The five stopped just inside the door for a moment, where a pretty lady in a short skirt and apron bowed to them and led them further back into the restaurant. She stopped beside a woven door and slid it open for them, waiting to one side as they slid out of their shoes and stepped up into the private room. Another girl brought over a tray with cups of water and waited behind them for them to be inside. Yohji took another deep breath and stepped up into the room, steeling himself for this meeting.

      Three men reclined on one side of the table. It was a table meant to seat ten, four on each side and one at each end, and eight of the seats were set. Side by side on the opposite side of the table was Schatten, who didn't bother to rise as Schwarz arrived. Yohji wanted to take a moment to look them over but Schwarz was moving already. Farfarello took the end seat, with Schuldich closest to him. Crawford had the one to Schuldich's right, and Nagi made a slight gesture of his hand to indicate Yohji take the next one. It left one seat open between Schwarz and Schatten on either end, to Farfarello's left and Nagi's right. After they sat the server came in to hand out their glasses, and Yohji took a long look at the group that had managed to defeat Schwarz five years ago.

      Nuboshi had his hair fluffed up around his head, died a reddish shade. A large silver hoop hung from each ear and he wore a silver choker on his throat. He had a skin tight long sleeved yellow shirt on, tucked into baggy black pants. A scar went from his cheekbone down across his cheek and over his lips, stopping right above his chin. Even with it, he still had a pretty face. Beside him was Meirth, with raven black hair and cold amber eyes just a shade or two off from Farfarello's. His bangs fell in his face in little spikes and hung loose to his shoulders. He wore a gray poet's shirt, the ties at the v of his collar undone and the sleeves hanging low on his arms. He had his fingers laced together and his elbows propped on the table, his chin resting on his hands as he surveyed the group. The barest of smirks curved his lips, a look of pure malicious amusement. To his left sat a young man with dark brown hair. Bangs fell messily in his face and the rest was pulled into a braid that hung like a thick rope over one shoulder. It was long enough that Yohji couldn't see the end of it. He wore a shirt that seemed to be made of overlapping white gauze and he had a black beaded rosary as a necklace. His lips were pulled into a smile that Yohji might call dreamy if not for the gleam in his eyes. And his eyes- they were the most striking thing about him. They were the color of fresh blood.

      When they started speaking, they weren't talking in Japanese. They were talking in English, and Yohji concentrated to follow along with what they were saying. Of his teammates, his English was the best. It was a result of him dating a foreigner in high school and subsequently spending his junior year overseas. His parents had thought it would be good for him. But that had been years ago. It turned out he didn't really need to worry; the second Meirth opened his mouth he felt Schuldich's mind reach towards his, checking to make sure he was following the conversation. When they went too fast or used phrasing he didn't understand, the telepath translated.

      "Braddyn," Meirth greeted. "I'm honored you could join us."

      Yohji had no clue who Meirth was talking to, but it was Crawford that answered. "I believe you have some explaining to do, Kaleb. Last I heard, Schatten wasn't supposed to come into Schwarz's territory."

      "I've never been good at following orders, you know that. Especially when you have something that I want." Meirth lifted his cup of water, taking a sip from it as his eyes ran down the row of men opposite him. His eyes settled at the far end of the table, shifting one to Crawford's left- on Schuldich. Yohji glanced that direction before looking back at the two men to either side of Meirth. Nuboshi was watching him, and their eyes locked across the table. Nuboshi considered him for a moment before tilting his head to one side, lips sliding into a lazy smile that set alarms off in Yohji's head.

      Meirth looked Yohji's way then, hooded gold eyes giving him a once-over. "Nice new pets you have, Braddyn. Interested in introducing us?"

      Crawford tilted his head towards Yohji slightly. "Kudou Yohji," he said. "He's a Sensitive we picked up in Japan a year ago. And Farfarello," he said, gesturing towards the white haired Irishman. "We found him three years ago and found him interesting enough to keep."

      Meirth didn't glance towards Farfarello; he wasn't interested. Instead he continued studying Yohji's face, and Yohji stared back. Such strange eyes he had, more like the color a cat would have than a human. A hungry panther, perhaps, when one took into account the predatory gleam swirling in their depths. "I must say, he's prettier than your last two. Your taste is improving."

      "I'm prettier than most people," Yohji found himself saying. Meirth's mouth curved faintly, amused, and Yohji wondered if he should have said anything. There was the brush of- something- along his nerves, something warm rolling across his skin. It lasted for just a heartbeat before it was shoved coldly away, and Meirth gave a small nod.

      //Good,// Schuldich said simply, and Yohji swallowed his indecision, reaching for his glass of water. The door slid open again; the waitresses apologized for the interruption and started passing out plates of food.

      Yohji forced his eyes away from Meirth's, turning his attention on the brown haired youth to Meirth's side. The other man didn't look his way; his red eyes were fixed on the opposite side of the table. Yohji knew without looking who he was staring at, and he wondered why Schatten seemed so interested in Schuldich. He remembered the way Schwarz had looked towards Schuldich outside. In all previous experiences, Schwarz had looked to Crawford. Crawford was the leader of Schwarz. But outside… No, they hadn't been looking to Schuldich for guidance. They'd been looking to him to see if he was ready for this.

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

      Yohji had the sudden sinking feeling that this was the other half.

Part 5
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