6: The Brothers Grimm

      "Once upon a time in a land far far away, the moon and stars went out to play. 'Bang bang,' said the sun, 'bang bang, bang bang.' 'Bang bang,' said the sun, 'bang bang.'"

      Meirth lounged against the doorway, watching his Sequencer through hooded eyes. The boy was sitting under the table, his knees tucked up to his chest and his arms wrapped tightly around his legs. His braid trailed down his back and curled across the ground like a fat brown snake, shifting slightly as the Talent rocked gently back and forth. He was content not to approach the boy yet, instead watching with his arms folded over his chest. Nuboshi had followed him here and was still out in the hall. He'd propped himself up against a wall to listen, hoping for another fight. Meirth had ignored the Japanese assassin, and though he had trailed an empathic hand across the other briefly to taste the anticipation there, the focus of his power rested on that huddled form hiding within a self-made prison of chair and table legs.

      "What do you want?" the voice came at last, muffled because his face was buried between his knees. Einsam released himself with one arm, long fingers darting down to grab the end of the braid. His hand and the tip of his hair vanished between his chest and legs as the boy forgot yet again that he wasn't supposed to chew on his hair. Meirth contemplated reminding him and decided against it; the boy was fragile right now and he would have to tread carefully.

      What an annoyance. Always an annoyance. But worth it, because of who he was.

      "What do I ever want from you, Einsam?" he returned.

      "Go away. Go away, go away." His other arm darted out, his hand smacking violently against the chairs on his left side. One rocked back; the other fell. Einsam tilted his head to one side, red eyes peering across the room at Meirth. "I gave you what you wanted. I gave you what you wanted and what did you give me in return? Why did you do that to me?"

      "I do what I want because it pleases me, Einsam, not you." He finally pushed himself away from the doorframe, starting towards the table with slow strides. Einsam scooted towards the other end of the table but there wasn't that far for him to run. The American empath placed one hand on the table and leaned over, peering across at his youngest possession. "You don't have the time or the reason to question why I do things. You do what I want you to because I tell you to and because it makes you happy. Have you forgotten?"

      Einsam's face twisted, his mouth pulling in an anguished line, and he buried his face again. He started muttering once more, a quick tangle of words. The empath couldn't understand the words but he was pretty sure they were just some agitated gibberish, anyway.

      ~Count to ten,~ Meirth told himself.

      What a bloody aggravation his Sequencer was. So much work put into him, so many years of careful pushing and prodding, cushioning him when he should have just beat him down. There was only so far down he could send the boy before he cracked completely, and Meirth couldn't allow that before he had what he wanted. He hated that about his little prize, hated that he had to spend half of his time putting the boy back together again. It was a waste of his time, or would be, if he wasn't finally so close to getting what he wanted. But it wasn't even the boy's power that made him worth Meirth's careful work. No, it was the memory of sharp anguish, raw hatred, splintered through bright blue eyes.

      "Nnnnnnn…" Einsam lifted one hand to his head, fingernails digging through his hair into his scalp. He started rocking again, and Meirth let his agitation roll across his power. Finally he'd had enough and he straightened, yanking the chairs out of the way with enough force that they went crashing to the ground behind him. The boy gave a strangled gasp and tried to bolt, but Meirth caught him around his upper arm and hauled him to his feet. Fear, pure fear, but Einsam didn't fight to get away. He knew better than that. Instead he buried his face in his free hand, a small keening noise sounding in his throat. Meirth heard the small scuff of Nuboshi's shoes as the sonic moved a little closer, wanting a better view.

      Things had been a little jagged since Rice had died.

      Rather, since Einsam had let Rice die.

      The boy had claimed that he hadn't seen it coming. He'd warned Schatten that the telekinetic would run into trouble, but he hadn't been able to get his gift to focus on what exactly it was or what the outcome had been. Considering the outcome had been laughable- the only trouble one of them could have was from Schwarz, and there was no way Schwarz could seriously harm their telekinetic. Once upon a time Einsam would have known exactly what was going to go wrong; his vague warning was just more proof that his mind was dying on him. Meirth had known the instant the Hispanic had died, and had turned on his Sequencer. He knew the boy was telling the truth when he said he didn't know that the man would die, as there was no way the boy could lie to him when Meirth wanted an answer, but the boy hadn't been able to protest his innocence for long before he'd been unable to speak coherent sentences.

      Meirth didn't forgive failure. And he hadn't let Einsam recover from what had happened, hadn't washed it away with his gift. He wanted the boy to remember what failure cost him. He was positive the boy had learned his lesson, but he was disgusted that it had happened in the first place. After meeting with Schwarz tonight and finding out it was a Sensitive, he understood both how the Sequencer had missed it and how Rice had lost. But he didn't forgive Einsam.

      He didn't forgive anyone.

      Braddyn, for example. Schuldich, for a much better one.

      He lifted his free hand, snagging it in Einsam's hair, and yanked the boy's head back. Einsam made no sound at the rough jerk, but lowered his hand after a moment, letting it slide down until his fingers were covering his mouth only. Crimson eyes were sharp with pain, physical and emotional, as he stared up at Schatten's leader. He didn't protest the rough treatment. He knew better than that. And if Meirth had a hand in it, the boy didn't care.

      By all rights, his precious little Sequencer should hate him. It was Meirth's gift that kept that down. Einsam knew exactly what had been done to him and what continued to happen to him, but whether it hurt at the time or not, Meirth kept the hatred down. He'd found a more convenient target for such a dark emotion, spending a year working inside the Sequencer's mind to get him to turn against Schuldich. It had been a bitch to do with that link in place, with Einsam still so firmly attached to his telepath, even when Meirth had made him unable to disobey the empath's orders. It had taken forever. But it had worked, and the results had been beautiful. Meirth treasured the memory of the look on Schuldich's face when he'd reintroduced the two to each other five years ago.

      Tonight his games had cut a jagged hole in the boy. Einsam knew how to take the fun out of things. Meirth couldn't use him without fucking the boy up, and lifting what he'd done to let Schuldich have a glance at exactly who he'd lost had messed up both Germans. While everything had been put back where it belonged and the hatred rekindled towards the appropriate man, Einsam still knew it happened. It was times like tonight that Meirth wished he was a double talent and could do something about the Sequencer's memory. He could make the boy feel. He could make him not feel. But he couldn't make him forget, not what he'd been before or what Meirth was twisting him into. He couldn't do anything about it, couldn't protest when Meirth's power was laced through him, but he knew.

      And it was tearing him apart just like his power was.

      But that was all right. Just a little while longer. Once he'd taken care of that orange haired bitch he wouldn't have any more need for Einsam. Just a little while longer, granted he could keep the stupid child from falling to pieces.

      "Kudou Yohji," he told Einsam. "You remember his face. You remember what he said to us. You find him. You trace until you tag him, and I want to know who he is. Give him to us, Einsam."

      "Nnn…" was the incoherent little answer.

      "You want to find him," Meirth reminded him. His power curled between them, seeping through Einsam's skin, sliding through his blood. His mouth curved into a smile. It wasn't a friendly expression but with his gift like a drug in Einsam's veins, it didn't matter. He felt the fear start to slide away- temporarily, because Meirth would let it come back later- as a drowsier, thicker sort of emotion replaced it. Red eyes slid half closed. The hand that had been covering Einsam's mouth reached out, toying with the ties on the collar of Meirth's shirt before tightening in the material. The thin line of his mouth curved into a smile, a vague, broken expression that Meirth loved. "You want to find him for me, don't you?" he asked, leaning down to brush his lips over the German's forehead. Einsam leaned forward into the brief caress, needing it, wanting more. "He was rude. I want him dead. You'll find him for me, won't you?"

      "I'll find him," was the answer. It didn't matter to Einsam that a moment ago he'd been terrified. It didn't matter that he'd been screaming a few days ago, or that once upon a time this wasn't who he had been. It didn't matter that Meirth's smile was edged or that the grip on his arm was tight enough that it would bruise. Meirth could read this in him and it pleased him, even as he reflected that once upon a time it hadn't been so easy. "I'll find him for you. I'll find him for you, love…"

      "I know you will."

      He was going to take his time with Schwarz. They'd gotten out by luck alone last time, luck that Rosenkreuz's Cabinet had figured out what was going on before Meirth could get to the rest of them. He would stay here until the morning Rosenkreuz's hunters showed up if he had to. He was going to be slow as he ripped Schwarz to shreds, and if he wanted them to, they'd be happy to die for him in the end.


      Schuldich wasn't that surprised when Crawford appeared in the kitchen at half past four that morning. He figured it was pointless to ask what the older man was doing awake when he himself had been nursing a mug of coffee at the table for forty minutes now. It was long past cold but he didn't really care. He just needed something to hold onto, something real. The pot was still mostly full and Crawford moved to pour himself a mug, seating himself across from Schuldich at the table when that was taken care of. Neither of them spoke for several minutes, an uneasy silence sitting between them. Yohji and Farfarello were targets simply because they were here. Nagi had been in Schwarz the last time Schatten had confronted them, but only now did the other team have any real sort of interest in him. No… Even if Nagi didn't exist, Schatten would still have shown up on their doorstep. In the great scheme of things, the telekinetic meant nothing.

      He wasn't one of the people Meirth held a grudge against. Those two people were sitting across from each other, each thinking their own unpleasant thoughts. Schuldich's circled around dinner the night before. He'd had hours to calm down. The yelling when they'd first gotten home had worn him out but the anger had still burned brightly. Now, with seven hours between then and this moment, the anger was still there, but it had twisted into nausea. He studied what was left of his coffee, stared down at the dark liquid that sat still as stone in his mug. At least the shaking in his hands had stopped, he noted in the distant part of his mind.

      Over and over, those red eyes turned on him, silently accusing him of things he didn't remember doing. But he had to have done them… Meirth could create emotions out of nothing if he liked, but he never settled for doing things the easy way. He much rather preferred taking what was already there, twisting cherished memories and fond emotions into darker things. The look Einsam had sent at him – Traitor – was accusing him of things he had done that Meirth had completely shredded in the German's mind. He had the sinking feeling he knew what most of the incidents were, and his stomach tightened inside of him. Even if Meirth were to stop fiddling with the younger German, it would be a pain in the ass, take years, to unravel what was done.

      "I hate him," he said.

      It was a rather redundant thing to say, but it made him feel just a tad bit better. Honey brown eyes slid towards him as his words broke the silence between him. The precognitive said nothing, but Schuldich didn't need him to. He knew Crawford's feelings for the empath ran along parallel lines. He studied his coffee a moment longer before tilting the mug to one side, watching as the dark liquid sloshed around. Crawford had had much longer to feed the feelings of dislike and disgust towards the other Talent, but Schuldich's reasons ran far, far deeper.

      Memories flickered across the back of his eyelids, pleading red eyes turning on him, the hoarse whisper of "I can't-" followed by the thick sound of flesh on flesh and a gurgled cry. Blood stood out on snow like a red rose among ashes. He remembered a pain that never seemed to stop, a hand tightening into a fist in his hair as he was hauled up from his spot. That damnable smile playing on thin lips, amused by the unadulterated hatred Schuldich had sent his way.

      He shifted again, rocking his mug to the other side, pushing the memories aside. A mental hand reached for something more pleasant, and settled on their return to Rosenkreuz. A cruel smile spread on his lips, coldly satisfied. ~Even the devil knows how to scream,~ he told himself, loving the way the memory tasted in his thoughts.

      Farfarello chose that moment to join them. He'd been stretched out on his stomach in the den, his gift keeping a silent watch over the household. Away from the influence of too many powers, the color had returned to his skin and his mind didn't seem such a ripped mess to Schuldich. The German glanced up at his entrance, watching as his Sensitive came to stop beside him. One pale finger touched the mug in his hand, testing it, and then it was pulled from unresisting fingers. He watched as Farfarello moved to the sink, watched him dump and rinse the mug before refilling it. It was returned to Schuldich's waiting hands just a moment later and Farfarello turned one of the chairs around, sitting between his older teammates.

      Schuldich was tired of the silence. Extended quiet made it just that much easier for him to hear his own thoughts, and he wasn't interested in listening to them right now. He switched his mug to one hand only, uncaring that it was hot enough to burn his palm, and propped his elbow on the table. Blue eyes turned on the younger Talent as he rested his cheek on his hand. "How's the bait?" he wanted to know, though he didn't really care.

      Farfarello made a quiet sound somewhere between an irritated grunt and a sigh. "Fell asleep two hours ago."

      "Ch'… He'd better not be grumpy when he's sleep deprived." Schuldich considered this for a few moments, reaching out in search of the other man's mind. He found it, watched the uneasy dreams for a moment, and came back. One hand lifted the mug from the table and he blew on it before taking a sip. It burned his tongue anyway. "You?" he wanted to know.

      Farfarello just gave a short shake of his head- he wasn't having any problems. Yet.

      At the moment, he and Farfarello were the two most vitally important members of the team. The other two- and Kudou- had their own roles to play. But Farfarello was going to be the most useful in figuring out what was coming; the dark premonitions that they should have listened to over Hasa - denial, denial- that businessman's job should help them. His ability to shield them against Meirth's touch to some degree was going to be necessary. And Schuldich, well… Schuldich was going to keep doing what it was that had gotten Meirth hating him in the first place, and that was going to be tracking Einsam. He bet the fucker had tried for years to figure out how to get rid of the link woven between the two Germans. He certainly hadn't been pleased about it as they stalked across the northern edges of Canada, saddled with not one but two irritating German Talents.

      Farfarello was watching him, his yellow eye studying Schuldich's expression. Schuldich sipped at his coffee as an excuse to break the stare. He often found himself wondering why he'd taken a Sensitive into Schwarz's cold embrace, why he'd dragged the man out of his cell and let him in when it would leave him so open. He wasn't easy for the Irishman to read, certainly; the man couldn't see everything. But he could read too much, and the understanding that Schuldich craved came hand in hand with resentment. He wanted someone to understand without them having to ask, without them having to take the time to figure things out about him. Farfarello simply felt and knew, an easy companion and an intruder in the same breath.

      "I'm not that fascinating to look at," he informed the Irishman, his own way of telling the man to mind his own business.

      Farfarello lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "Depends," he answered. But he looked away, and that was all that mattered.

      Silence reigned once more. Time passed slowly. It felt like hours and hours before it was six, before Nagi's door finally opened and the weary looking telekinetic stepped through the doorway of the kitchen. Schuldich knew he hadn't gotten a lot of sleep. The occasional pokes that direction had alternated between finding him awake and finding him resting. The seventeen year old took the last chair at their table. The sun was already up, shining through the window. Farfarello had his arms folded on the back of his chair and his chin resting on them, his eye half lidded as he stared off into space. First glance would tell an ignorant observer that he was bored, or perhaps on the verge of falling asleep. Those that knew better would know that he was very much awake, his gift doing a constant check and recheck of his teammates.

      Schuldich considered his comment on Kudou from an hour and a half ago and decided that if anyone came out of this sleep deprived, it would be his next youngest teammate. If they were lucky, this battle with Schatten would be quick. He knew better, however. He remembered the look on Meirth's face when they'd managed to get him dragged back to Rosenkreuz after over two years on the run, remembered the way the Cabinet had dealt with him, remembered the years of poisonous barbs as they attended school, the years before Meirth was able to take his team against Schwarz and the ensuing punishment, and the years he'd had to wait for another try. Meirth had been waiting for this a long time, had been waiting to get Crawford and Schuldich off his hands for a very long time. No, this was going to be anything but short.

      It was way too early in the morning for meetings, but there was no point in delaying one now that they were all here. Crawford looked up from where he was considering the table at Nagi's entrance, calm eyes studying each of them in turn. They'd had no time to go over the previous night together. They'd had the long hours of the night to chew on it individually, but Schuldich had destroyed any attempt at a group discussion last night and they'd let him. He'd needed to vent, needed to get it off his chest in a rush of furious words that hid his fear. Because deep down, he was afraid.

      The time he'd spent with Schatten before Schwarz had managed to find him had seen to that.

      He took the memories, the cold red eyes and that laughing voice, and rammed them deep. Farfarello gave a small jolt in his chair; apparently his gift had been touching Schuldich when the German gave that ferocious mental push. A yellow gaze slid towards Schuldich but the telepath didn't bother to return it.

      "Your thoughts, gentlemen?" Crawford asked.

      There was silence as they tried to figure out exactly what to say and who would go first. Schuldich finally spoke up. "Kudou worked," he said simply.

      "Better than expected, perhaps," Nagi answered, pushing himself up from the table to get the pitcher of juice from the fridge. Four cups carried themselves to the table and he filled them before sitting down again. "I don't think Meirth stopped to doubt what we'd presented to him, and I don't think he'll have given it any further thought yet after what Kudou said to him."

      A thin, cold smile curved Schuldich's lips as he remembered the white assassin's taunts on Meirth's looks. He hadn't known it, but he'd struck right at one of the empath's buttons- struck at, and smashed. Meirth did not stomach well insults on his looks, not when his body was lined with scars left over from his unfortunate meeting with the Cabinet years ago. His entire wardrobe had changed after that; he could no longer wear shorts or short sleeved shirts if he wanted them to stay hidden. Meirth had always been a vain man, and Schuldich knew how much he loathed the lines that crisscrossed his body. He also knew, from personal experience, how Meirth responded to taunts on his looks.

      "Schatten's going to consider Kudou to be the greatest threat to them," Crawford said, accepting the cup of juice that was pushed his way and sipping at it. "Einsam is going to be focusing on him. We cannot leave him alone these next few days. Seeing as how your schedule is going to be broken and switched," he glanced at Farfarello, then Schuldich, "it will have to be Schuldich. You have the next best chance of picking up on what Einsam is doing, and we need you to be a constant presence that will play into Einsam's Sequencing. Putting Farfarello in there will just show him that one of us seems to always be sleeping."

      Schuldich was not at all thrilled at the idea of being labeled the babysitter, and the frown on his lips said that. But he didn't protest, because being saddled with Kudou was much better than being blindsided by Schatten. At length he nodded. Crawford fell silent for a few more moments before speaking again.

      "It would probably be beneficial to drag the rest of Weiss into this as well."

      Schuldich almost choked on his juice, and he fixed a flat look on the other Talent. Nagi's expression was equally surprised; dark blue eyes were wide. Farfarello's eye had narrowed slightly but it was his only visible reaction to the words. "Say what?" Schuldich demanded.

      "Schatten does not know Weiss exists," Crawford said. "They can move where we can't, at least briefly, until Einsam picks them up. They will cooperate when they figure out that their teammate is caught up in this and can't get out, because they will want to do anything to insure his safety and survival. It is just one more extra boost. Like Kudou, it is a farce certain to fail quickly, but we only need it to succeed one time. All we need is to throw them off balance."

      "They're Weiss," Schuldich said. "I don't want them in on this."

      "You're the one who doesn't want to call in one of Rosenkreuz's squads, Schuldich," Nagi spoke up, and Schuldich turned narrowed blue eyes on him for siding so easily with Crawford's idea. On one level he understood it. On the other, it was bad enough with just one Weiss knowing that Schwarz was in over its head. Granted, Kudou wasn't going to live much longer and Weiss wouldn't last long either if they were dragged into this, but… "Do you think we can do this alone?" The boy pushed his empty glass away from him, frowning at Schuldich when the German didn't answer. "So Kudou managed to get rid of their telekinetic. So? All they have to do is find the right moment and they can have us- any or all of us. It wasn't a telekinetic that caught you last time."

      Schuldich's glare at that reference could have frozen hell over, if such a place truly existed, but it didn't faze Nagi. "Something tells me you were thinking about Meirth's proposition all night," Schuldich purred, and he almost didn't recognize the tone of his own voice.

      "Something tells me you're too caught up on his kiss to think straight," came the flat response. It was rare that Nagi could be pushed enough, unnerved enough, to use his sharp tongue as a weapon. But with Schuldich as his teammate, he'd learned from the best, and he could make his words cut when he wanted them to.

      "Be quiet," Farfarello's voice came, before Schuldich could come up with something hateful to say to that. He straightened in his chair, glare moving over both of them and lingering on Nagi. The boy looked away after a few moments, turning his gaze on Crawford. Schuldich didn't, his acid look still glued to his youngest teammate's face. Farfarello rose from his seat, reaching out to touch Schuldich's shoulder and ignoring the way his teammate roughly brushed his hand away. "He's here," with a tilt of his head to indicate the sleeping assassin just a door down the hall, "because you said we needed everything we could get."

      "And do we, my all knowing Sensitive?" Schuldich asked, words cold, as he slanted a look up at the Irishman.

      Farfarello considered him for a few moments in silence. "Yes," he said.

      "Schuldich." Crawford's voice was quiet. The German ignored him, staring off into space as he seethed quietly. "Schuldich," the American said, almost insistent, and at last Schuldich turned to meet his leader's gaze. They studied each other in silence. "Think with thoughts, not emotions," came the words, almost soft. "That's what got you caught last time."

      Schuldich said nothing. Farfarello left his untouched glass of juice on the table and vanished from the room. No one spoke for several minutes, and finally Crawford rose from his chair. "He is going to want more answers. Tell him what he needs to know, what will keep him alive for a few days, and no more than that," he said. "I will be back in an hour or so." And just like that, he was gone. Schuldich and Nagi didn't look at each other in his absence, and Nagi said nothing when his older teammate stood up a few minutes later to smoke by the kitchen window.

      A better stress reliever than nicotine entered the kitchen not thirty seconds later in the form of one Kudou Yohji, who was not at all pleased to be woken up by Farfarello when the Irishman wanted to go to bed.


      Yohji was woken up when he was shoved by something hard and cold. It woke him up immediately and his first instinct was to lash out, but Farfarello had already moved back out of range. It took him a moment to realize that it had been the Irishman's boot, pushed roughly against his shoulder. It took him longer to figure out where was and what he was doing there, and then green eyes lifted to Farfarello's face. The other man was standing just a few feet away, arms folded loosely over his chest as he gazed down at the white assassin with a disinterested look in his single eye. Yohji didn't know what time it was but light was already filtering through the curtains, and he knew when he stood up that he was going to be sore from the position he'd fallen asleep in. With a wary look towards Farfarello, he untucked himself from his spot between the bed and the dresser, using both to help pull him to his feet. One hand snagged his jacket and he shrugged back into it before glancing towards the Irishman.

      "Get out," the freak said.

      "Gladly," Yohji sent back. But Farfarello didn't move for him to slip by, which meant he would have to squeeze between the other assassin and the corner of the dresser. "You could move," he said.

      "I could," was the answer.

      Yohji didn't respond, but he muttered a few choice phrases in his head as he slid past. He forgot- and he forgave himself, because it was way too early in the morning to remember such things- that Farfarello could hear him. An arm shot past him, planting itself effectively in his way, fingers curling around the edge of the dresser. Yohji went still but didn't turn, just stared down at the arm that was in his path as if looking at it would make it move. Farfarello's free hand reached up and grabbed his hair, giving it a cruel yank. Yohji was forced to follow it if he didn't want his neck snapped, and his hands flew up to yank Farfarello's fingers free.

      The look in the other assassin's eyes froze him where he stood.

      Farfarello took a half step forward, and Yohji instinctively tried to step back, but there was nowhere to go with the dresser behind him. Farfarello's fingers tightened in his hair and there was barely a breath of space between their bodies. Yohji's muscles were tensed, ready for a fight, his gaze locked with the madman's golden eye.

      He had thought that there would be a crazy gleam in that gaze that proved that the man was off his rocker. Staring at him, Yohji had the sinking feeling that yes, Farfarello was insane… But he was not at all hindered by the handicap. There was a calculated madness in his eye, a measured and barely restrained cruelty, and way too much intelligence for Yohji to feel safe. Farfarello could kill him right here and right now, and Yohji would never see it coming- unless the man wanted him to. He remembered the bodies that Schwarz left in their wake, the telltale sign that the white-haired monster had been let loose. He remembered the first time he'd seen what the man liked to do to his victims, remembered finding himself heaving down the hall without remembering his retreat.

      Farfarello was waiting on him, waiting on that understanding to sink in. He was waiting for the flippant attitude to fade, and when he saw the last of it get sucked out of the green eyes close to his, replaced with the knowledge of what exactly he was standing in front of, the man spoke.

      "If I had my way, you would be dead," Farfarello told him. "At the end of this, you will be. If Schatten doesn't get to you first, then I'll be the one to kill you."

      He waited until Yohji accepted that. Yohji didn't nod- couldn't, with his head twisted at such an angle- but Farfarello didn't need the gesture. It was in his thoughts, and Farfarello finally let go and took a step back. They eyed each other a moment longer, Farfarello's gaze cool, Yohji's wary, and then the Irishman turned and moved to his bed. Yohji didn't bother to watch him climb on, one hand gingerly feeling his neck as he moved towards the door. He considered slamming it behind him, but the knob was ripped from his fingers and the door slammed itself. It took him a few moments before he left that spot, staring at the door and turning everything over in his head.

      He wanted to just leave. He wanted to just go back to the flower shop and forget all of this. Blood red eyes danced on the backs of his eyelids. If that other boy was everything Schwarz had made him out to be, then he wouldn't be seeing the flower shop again for a long time.

      If ever.

      Pleasant thoughts to start the morning off with. They went right with the new ache in his neck and the headache that came from too much stress and not enough sleep. He looked around for a way to distract himself, but there was little hope of that when he was standing in the hallway of Schwarz's house. He could resent it but he couldn't change it. And while he couldn't say he could make the best of things, because he didn't know how that was at all possible, he was going to have to learn to accept it.

      Having nothing better to do, he set off down the hall, and the first door he found led to the kitchen. Nagi was sitting at the table by himself, though there were four cups and a mug to indicate that all of Schwarz had already been up. Schuldich was standing by the kitchen window, smoking. Yohji considered his options. He was hungry, but this wasn't his house and he didn't want their company.

      "You're going to be of no use to anyone if you die of starvation before the fight," Schuldich said, and there was a sharp edge to his voice. Yohji guessed a night hadn't been enough to take away all of the anger the German had brought back from dinner. "So stop being stupid and just eat."

      Yohji really wasn't in the mood to deal with him. "And if I don't, are you going to force feed me?" he wanted to know, green eyes hooded as he stood just inside the kitchen doorway. Nagi stood and started clearing away the dishes, leaving just the full mug of coffee and a half full cup of juice behind.

      Schuldich stubbed his cigarette out on the windowsill and turned to face him, blue eyes cold. "Maybe we'll just start cutting little fingers and toes off of the kitty cats until you start eating on your own," he said. "Less babysitting on our part and a lot more enjoyable."

      Yohji opened his mouth to answer and found himself shoved out into the hallway by something that wasn't there. Nagi stepped out a moment later and shook his head at the older assassin. "Don't start," he said, and started down the hall. Yohji followed him, because there was nothing else he could do. Nagi brought him to the den and sat himself in one of the chairs, tilting his head back to study the ceiling. Yohji wanted to go back to the kitchen and put his wire around Schuldich's throat for such words, but Nagi's gift pulled at him again.

      "Sit down," the boy told him, pointing at one of the chairs. "Calm down."

      "Pray tell, how am I supposed to be calm?" Yohji wanted to know, anger twisting his words.

      "Find a way," Nagi said, lowering his head to turn his dark blue eyes on Yohji. The white assassin just stared at him for several moments, and Nagi pointed at the chair again. "Sit down."

      After a long moment, Yohji started lowering himself to the cushions. He froze halfway there when he heard glass shattering, looking back towards the doorway. Nagi didn't seem overly concerned with the noise. His mouth tightened slightly but it was the only reaction, so Yohji finally sank into the chair and looked back at him. "Leave him alone," the younger man said, and Yohji had the feeling it was a warning.

      "Give me a reason," was Yohji's answer.

      "This is your first time against Schatten," Nagi said. "You and Farfarello. It's different for the rest of us."

      "That's not my fault," Yohji told him, folding his arms across his chest. "You say they have grudges. Grudges aren't unfounded, and I'm not the one who brought them to Japan in the first place. You're the ones who started this hatred. It's just a sick twist of fate that I got pulled into it."

      "It's not our fault," Nagi returned, a small frown curving his lips as he looked away.

      "Hatred and rivalry don't spring up because they amuse people," Yohji pointed out. "There are reasons. And the reasons have to do with that little red-eyed kid," he said, remembering his observations from the night before.

      Nagi's lips twitched into a smile for the faintest of moments, and Yohji thought that it was a rather bitter expression. But when Nagi glanced his way again, the boy's face was clear. "Crawford said you need more answers," he said, and Yohji blinked, a little surprised by the words. "If you stop talking, you might get them."

      Feeling a little miffed, Yohji shut up.

      "It does have to do with Einsam," Nagi said. "It all started with him." He considered this for a few moments, then shifted in his chair until his back was propped against one arm and his legs dangled over the other. It reminded Yohji of Omi, and he squished the comparison quickly. Nagi's hands moved to his lap and he studied his interlaced fingers as he spoke. "Schuldich and Einsam were brought to Rosenkreuz from Germany at the same time. They were caught together... They'd always known each other. Rosenkreuz was pleased to have them, both a Sequencer and a telepath in one grab. They weren't the only ones eager to make use of the power presented to them, however.

      "Meirth was a relatively new student then, and he wanted out. He hated Rosenkreuz. Running away is the quickest way to get yourself killed, but he knew that if he could get his hands on Einsam, he'd be free. That's what he did." He shifted slightly, tilting his head to one side to rest it against the back of the chair. "He took Einsam and he ran. No one really knows how he got out of the gates, but he did, and he was gone. Einsam helped him get away; he had no choice once Meirth's empathy got him. They were on the run for two years. Numerous squads hunted them down, but Einsam was at the best stage of his power then. The two were always several steps ahead.

      "But Schuldich is bound to Einsam." Nagi's eyes moved toward Yohji's then, holding his gaze. "He has a link to him that has always been there. Schuldich didn't care that Meirth was gone- he had no clue who he was back then and he didn't want to know. He just wanted Einsam back at the school, and he fought tooth and nail to be allowed a chance to find him. The longer Einsam was left with an untrained gift, the greater the chances of it eating his mind prematurely. Two years on the run, and Meirth made his mistake." At Yohji's frown, a thin smile curved Nagi's lips. "He moved too close. Schuldich's got a limited range for his gift, but his ability to feel Einsam runs much deeper and he can find him at three hundred times the distance. Meirth moved too close, and Schuldich knew exactly where they were." He gave a small flick of his fingers. "A team was assembled, four people strong, with Crawford and Schuldich in it. They went hunting. But Einsam was too wrapped up in Meirth's gift to let them get too close. For two years Meirth had used him as a guard, and what he did to Einsam still held. Einsam betrayed the hunting party. Meirth let them catch him, but only after he knew they could get away. He let them get caught. Let the squad think they'd won, and then vanished out from underneath all of their noses in the middle of the night. But when he left…" His eyes dropped again. "When he left, he took Schuldich with him, too."

      Nagi's fingers tightened, his knuckles white. "It was months before they were caught again. Schuldich somehow found a way to get them caught. I don't know how he did it. Crawford does; I never asked. He found a way to let Rosenkreuz know exactly where they were, and found a way to keep Einsam from warning Meirth. So they were all three brought back to Rosenkreuz." He lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "Killing people to make examples works. Leaving them alive works better. The Cabinet let Meirth live, but he was punished horrendously and his punishment continued the rest of his years. Schuldich says that every time he slipped up in the later years at Rosenkreuz, his entire rank was punished as well. Having one's entire rank of gifted furious at you for them getting beaten needlessly helps keep one in check. Every time you make a mistake, as soon as your instructor is done with you, you've got a crowd of other angry Talents to take his place." The smile that twisted his lips was coldly satisfied and he took a moment to think over that before he continued.

      "After time, Schuldich graduated from Rosenkreuz. He had to leave Einsam behind. Einsam's younger by three years and while his training was moving quickly, it wasn't done yet, so the two had to be split up again. It was a fight, I heard, but Schuldich lost. Crawford got him, and they both waited until Einsam was ready. At last he was, and the Brothers Grimm went before the Cabinet to fight for him." He gave a small, sharp laugh that had Yohji's eyes narrowing slightly in surprise. He'd never heard the boy make such an unpleasant sound. "You'd have thought the Cabinet would have known better. But they asked Crawford if he saw treachery in Meirth's future, and he was forced to tell them no because it was the truth as his gift showed it to be. Schwarz lost. Einsam was Meirth's again." His hands clenched tighter. "Schuldich tried to get them to change their minds. He and Crawford both tried, but they failed and were sent on their way. They found me a year later. I'd been with them for one year only when Schatten showed up on our doorsteps, with Meirth wanting to show off his team and his new toy.

      "They beat us," he said, and his words were soft. "They killed Lailan and Kerry and by the time Crawford and I realized Schuldich was gone, it was too late."

      Silence fell. Nagi didn't- couldn't?- say anything else. There were dots of blood on the backs of his hands where his fingernails were digging in as he stared at his fingers. His expression was tight, his eyes dark with horrible memories he didn't want to speak aloud. Yohji considered pressing him but he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to know what was left unspoken. He stayed silent, turning the story over in his head. It was more than he'd thought they would tell him, admittedly. He bet it was more than he would have gotten from Schuldich- much more.

      "We're going to beat them," came the quiet words at last. "We're going to beat them because we won't accept any other ending to this fight. Meirth has to die. You don't understand; you never will. It's not your battle, but you're dragged into it anyway, so you need to at least know where it all comes from."

      Yohji accepted this in silence. Finally Nagi shook himself from his memories, shifting in his chair once more to tilt his head back. Dark blue eyes studied the ceiling and Yohji considered what he'd been told once more. "Lailan and Kerry?" he asked at last.

      "Schwarz was originally a five Talent unit," Nagi said, and Yohji remembered hearing similar words from Schuldich. "That's why it's easy for Schatten to believe you're one of us. They expect us to have five."

      He filed that away, searching for another question. "The Brothers Grimm?" he wanted to know. "I don't recognize that phrase."

      "That's what Rosenkreuz liked to call Crawford and Meirth," Nagi said. He paused, then slid his eyes towards Yohji. The expression on the boy's face was that of faint, dry amusement, even if none of it showed in his dark eyes. "You did notice that they're fraternal twins, didn't you?"

Part 7
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