7: White Hunters

      Crawford had thought to bring a book with him.

      He glanced up from the page when Tsukiyono started to stir again, then marked his place and set his book off to one side. He had taken over the chair at the computer desk, seeing as how the owner didn't really need it at the moment. The other assassin was currently stretched out on the ground, trying to figure out where he was and what had happened. Crawford waited patiently for the younger man to push himself up, watching as fingers gingerly sought out the back of his skull. A small wince went through his frame when he found the bump that was there, and the young man looked around.

      "Are you ready to listen now?" Crawford wanted to know, and with a small yelp, the boy whipped around, half-grabbing at his bed as he turned. Crawford arched a thin brow at him for the reaction, watching as the wheat-haired assassin looked from him to the door he was blocking. He would have preferred to not have to knock the youth out, as it just wasted time, but it had been necessary. Tsukiyono's first reaction upon seeing who was at his door was to slam it in his face. That failing, he attempted to land a blow and then scrambled for his darts. At that point Crawford had had no choice but to lay him flat, and he'd made himself comfortable with his book to wait.

      "What do you want, Schwarz?" Blue eyes narrowed warily. After a moment, the other man pushed himself to his feet and took a step back. It wasn't a retreat; it merely allowed more space between them.

      "I want you to listen," was the easy response. "And if you want Kudou to come out of this alive, you will accept what I say." It wasn't a complete lie. There was the chance that Kudou would survive Schatten's confrontation. He wouldn't survive Schwarz if he did, however. He knew too much to be left alive.

      "Yohji?" Tsukiyono asked, startled and then furious. "What have you done to him?"

      "What has he done to himself?" Crawford returned. At the frown on the other's face, Crawford made a gesture towards his bed. "It is a long story," he said. "I would suggest you sit down for it."

      The younger man made no move to obey, blue eyes flicking around as if in search of a weapon. Crawford calmly shifted on his chair, drew his gun from its hidden holster, and let it sit on his lap. He watched as Weiss's leader studied it, and returned the glare that was sent his way with a calm look. His suggestion wasn't a suggestion, but an order, and after a long pause the other finally sat himself on the bed in a tense movement. His fingers curled into fists on his pants legs, and they studied each other for a few moments in silence. Crawford never thought he'd see the day that he'd show up at Weiss's apartments to tell them such things. In truth, he was about as pleased with the idea as Schuldich was. But Schwarz needed all they could get, and Weiss had been nothing but amusement and convenient toys in the past. This was just a step up, where they knew they were being used.

      "What have you done to Yohji?" his counterpart demanded, voice low with anger.

      And Crawford told him. He gave the other credit for never interrupting, for just listening with narrowed blue eyes. He told him what he needed to know, emphasized on Kudou's role and the serious peril he was in, and then waited. There was silence. Minutes ticked by; he heard a clock somewhere close by counting away the seconds.

      "You're lying," came the soft accusation at last.

      "Perhaps," Crawford answered. Unspoken: Perhaps not.

      Weiss's Bombay listened to that unspoken threat. "I want proof that he's all right."

      "You can't have it yet," Crawford told him. The youth's frown deepened, but he beat him to speaking. "Kudou understands the role he has to play in this, but he will give himself away if he has to be worried about Weiss's safety as well. You will put him in greater danger if you have contact with him, and vice versa. You can make it safer for him by cooperating. It is your choice." He pulled a small card out of his pocket and rose from his seat, moving to place it on the bed beside the younger assassin. Tsukiyono sat rigid as he approached, untrusting eyes searching his face. Crawford didn't look back at him, merely picked up his book and stepped out into the sunlight.

      He would get a call today. He'd known it as soon as he put the card on the bed, and he knew what the answer was going to be. A glance at his watch told him that he had just seven hours to wait- time for Tsukiyono to think things over, to find his teammates and tell them, to argue, and then to realize that they could not find Kudou anywhere. Nagi would have plenty of time to arrange things for Weiss's hacker, and Crawford and Farfarello would come by later to night to pick up Kudou's things after Weiss had gotten them ready.

      ~Schuldich,~ he sent out.

      //What do you want?// came the response. Crawford had been gone just a little over an hour, but it seemed it was enough time for Schuldich to cool down a little. There was still an edge to his words but the heat of anger was gone.

      ~Make sure Kudou does not have a cell phone on him.~

      //Will do.//


      Omi was only absently aware of the words flying around behind his head. Ken and Aya were not at all pleased about what Omi had had to say to them, and they were taking out their displeasure over such a thing on each other. It was as much a conversation as an argument, as they alternated between thinking together and challenging each other on what they did and didn't know. Omi closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to tune them out further, and went back to what he was doing. They'd tried for three hours to get hold of Yohji, with no luck at all. The spare key downstairs had let them into his room but there'd been nothing there to say that anything was wrong. The place was tidy, everything set to rights. His cell phone was gone- they'd stood in his room as they called over and over and over, and they hadn't heard a ring. With the thought that it had perhaps been on vibrate, they'd dug around everywhere, but couldn't find it. Ken had suggested that Yohji had stayed overnight with a girl, but it was two in the afternoon now. He'd never come home so late from one of his dates. There was also the fact that he'd been sick all yesterday morning to take into account. They were still trying to come up with reasons for his prolonged absence, but each successive theory was more unlikely than the previous one.

      Accepting what Crawford had told him, however, was inconceivable.

      He didn't want to accept it. None of them did. Omi tried not to think about how Yohji had seemed a little distant since his solo mission, tried not to think about how his teammate's behavior over the next several days could be justified by what Schwarz's leader had told him. His fingers flew over his keyboard as he searched for something, anything, any sort of proof. Beside him on the desk was the card, a plain white thing with just a phone number on it. He'd turned it upside down because he didn't want to look at it.

      ~Let it be a lie,~ he pleaded silently.

      There was the chance that Schwarz was making all of this up, that they'd captured Yohji and were just waiting for Weiss to do whatever they wanted. But the story he'd told seemed sound and complete, and he didn't see why Schwarz would waste their time with such an elaborate way of getting rid of the team that had tried for so long to take them down unsuccessfully. They didn't need big schemes. There was no reason for them to hide the truth behind such intricate and complete lies. One of Schwarz could take down all of Weiss. They didn't need this.

      He finally gained access to the camera's files. There were several security cameras around the shop, and a few on the roof of the shop facing the back street. He began flipping back through the days until he got to the day that Yohji had gotten home from his mission. It seemed the most likely place to start, although there shouldn't be much to see. Crawford had simply said that Yohji had seen Schwarz on his mission, confirming Yohji's report. But he started there regardless, skimming through the hours. A blur of color on the screen made him slow, but it was just Ken, returning from a late night workout. He kept going, and eventually there was a splash of more color.

      The strangled sound in the back of his throat effectively cut off the debate going on behind him, and his teammates turned to look. It was Yohji, all right, but he'd just pulled an unconscious figure out of the back of his car- a figure with long orange hair. He watched as the two disappeared up the stairs. The cameras weren't at the right angle to catch what went on on the landings. Omi had once considered moving them for security purposes, but Ken had responded that he didn't want to catch the beginning of whatever Yohji and his girls finished inside his room. Yohji had swat him for that, and the cameras had stayed where they were.

      Omi scrolled forward a bit more, turning the night over in his memory. Yohji had called him; he remembered the strange edge to his words. He remembered the older man saying that there was something they had to talk about, but he couldn't say it yet. Something wrong with the mission. Omi had agreed to wait. Now he was looking at what had gone wrong. A few hours later into the tape, another car showed up, and Schuldich appeared at the base of the stairs to join the two teammates who had come to pick him up. The car left, and the rest of the night had nothing to show them.

      Ken swore, a florid curse, and whirled away. There was a thud that Omi guessed meant he'd kicked the baseboard of Omi's bed. "Why the hell didn't he tell us?" he demanded.

      "Maybe he was threatened," Omi suggested. But Yohji had told him on the phone that there was a problem… He just hadn't wanted to voice it yet. He bit his lip, bouncing through the next couple days as Aya and Ken started another heated discussion behind him. Every time color blurred across the screen he'd stop and watch, and he went still as he watched a strange car appear behind the shop. That car didn't belong to any of them. A few commands switched to one of the other cameras, that should give a view from an angle that would let him see the driver's seat, and the screen shifted and readjusted. Orange hair was the most visible thing, and there was a hand on Omi's shoulder suddenly as Ken lurched forward to watch. The German didn't get out of the car, and a minute passed with nothing happening. Then Yohji appeared in the picture, and made his way over to the car. He stood outside it for a while, then climbed in.

      "What is he *doing*?"

      Omi winced away from the incredulous yell. "Ken-kun, please."

      There was no apology, just a swear as Ken straightened. A shadow shifted to Omi's right as Aya moved closer, and they watched as the car left. Yohji approached a few hours later on foot, and Omi hoped the direction he was coming from meant he was returning from the bus stop, because he couldn't see a sign of a car anywhere.

      "What day is that?" Aya wanted to know.

      Omi checked and told him, glancing back. He didn't understand the significance but apparently Aya did, because something on his expression tightened. The redhead didn't return Omi's look but kept his gaze glued to the screen, so Omi turned back. They hopped through the next few days and nothing out of the ordinary happened. They got to yesterday, and Omi watched Yohji return to his apartment early. Hours later, the recording showed the car from the first night return, and Schuldich and Nagi went upstairs. Crawford and Farfarello stepped out to wait outside of the vehicle for them. A while later the first two returned to the car, and they had Yohji with them.

      "That's when they took him," Omi said, flicking forward several hours just to check. He went through the night hours and over what the cameras had gotten so far today, but there was no sign of their teammate. "He hasn't come back since then. He said he was sick. He lied."

      "What are we supposed to do now?" Ken wanted to know. Omi stared at his screen for a long moment before turning in his chair, looking up at his older teammates. Aya's expression was dark, and Ken looked torn between worry and anger. The brunette looked back and forth between them, wanting them to offer up some sort of miraculous solution to this. Silence met his words, and he thought for a moment before speaking again. "They've got Yohji. We have to get him back from them- they'll kill him! We need to tell Manx."

      "And if Crawford was telling the truth?" Omi asked quietly. Ken just looked at him. "If he's telling the truth, then getting Kritiker mixed up in the fray will just endanger Yohji-kun's life. Crawford says he's safe as long as this, this Schatten," and he couldn't say it right, "thinks that he's one of them. If we throw Kritiker into it, they'll know it's a lie, and they'll kill him and then us."

      "This isn't *safe*!" Ken insisted.

      "I know it isn't," Omi returned, glancing towards Aya. The man had nothing to add yet; he was staring off into space as he listened. "But if it *is* the truth, then we'd do him more harm than good. Crawford says we can help him, but we can only help him as long as it's quiet, as long as it's just us."

      "I don't believe him," Ken said, shaking his head. "I don't want to believe him."

      "Can we risk not believing him?" Omi asked.

      There was silence following his words as they all chewed on their own uneasy thoughts. Finally Aya moved, reaching forward to pull the white card off of Omi's desk. He just stared at it for a while, narrowed purple eyes studying the number on it, and then slowly held it out to Omi. Omi reached out to take it, searching the older assassin's gaze. Aya didn't like this at all. But Aya understood the risks, and that was enough. They had to give Schwarz the benefit of the doubt. They'd never been able to track the team down before, so it wasn't like they could just march into Schwarz's hideout and demand their teammate back. And if that other team did exist… Omi wasn't stupid. He knew that Schwarz was only interested in Yohji as long as he was useful. It twisted uneasily in his stomach, the knowledge that Yohji's safety sat in their hands. He prayed silently that the oldest Weiss would keep himself useful until he could get away, prayed that Yohji knew what he was doing.

      Omi hated Schwarz for dragging his friend into their fight. He hated them more now than he ever had before, when Yohji was stuck with them.

      "We'll get him back," he told his teammates, turning the card over in his hands. "We'll get him back. They won't watch out for him forever. We will." He lifted blue eyes to study their faces. He sounded more confident than he felt, and he used the words to convince himself as well as his teammates. They were both watching him, listening to him. They needed these words, needed something to believe in right now. "They'll be focusing their attention on this other team, confident that we'll do what they want us to because we want Yohji-kun to stay safe. And we'll do what they want if that's what it gets, but we'll do more than that. They won't promise his safety. We'll find a way to while they're distracted. He's our friend. We'll get him out of this."

      Neither responded for a long time. Finally Ken turned sharply on his heel and walked away, moving to the window to stare out. "I hope that other group kills them," he said, so quiet that Omi could barely hear the words.

      Omi pushed himself up from his chair. "Yeah," he agreed. "Me too."


      Nagi was waiting for the call to come, and he leaned back in his chair as he pulled his cell phone off the desk. He answered it halfway through the second ring, his eyes running over the files open on his computer. "Good afternoon, Bombay," he said. There was a startled silence on the other end for a moment- the other youth hadn't been expecting Nagi to answer the phone. "I'm going to make this short," he said, because he had no interest at all in talking to the other assassin. He never paused to let Weiss's hacker get a word in and Bombay didn't try. "Kudou is still wearing what he wore yesterday. You're going to go to his room and pack a suitcase for him. He needs enough outfits to last for two weeks. Crawford and Farfarello will stop by the shop at five, so have it ready then. I have arranged a disk for you regarding Marigold and Schatten, all the information that we have at this point. Your job will be primarily to keep an eye on Marigold. We have not had time yet to figure out how many people Meirth brought into the country with him. How many and where is for you to find out, and it's your job to kill them." He reached out, playing with the disk resting next to his keyboard, flipping it over and over idly as he considered what he'd said and what he needed to say. "The number you have, obviously, is the number for my cell phone. After today I am your sole contact for Schwarz. Have his things ready."

      He didn't wait for any confirmation, but hung up and tossed his phone carelessly back to his desk. He was mildly disgruntled about having to work with the other team, though none of Schwarz was particularly pleased by the semi-alliance. He knew why he'd been saddled with the task of keeping Weiss informed, but that didn't mean he wanted the job. Nothing about the other team impressed him. Bombay- Tsukiyono Omi- was a skilled hacker, but since Nagi could do everything he could do, he saw no reason to be at all interested in the other assassin. Weiss was giftless and too human to be worth anything.

      He sighed, reaching up to rub idly at his forehead. Things had been quiet since morning, even after Crawford's return. Kudou had been quiet since Nagi had summarized the history of Schwarz and Schatten, thinking things through. Farfarello was asleep, but he should be awake soon. Crawford was in his office, waiting on Weiss and keeping his precognitive eye on the things that were still open to his gift, and Schuldich… Schuldich was in his room, pulling himself together and preparing himself for what was coming.

      "He's useless," Nagi heard a doctor say. He rubbed harder at his forehead and then let his hands drop to his lap, staring through the computer. The old man's words whispered in his ear and he stood from his desk, moving over to his bed. "We can't trace everything that was done to him, but Meirth had five weeks. He isn't going to recover from what was done to him. Look at him."

      He sprawled out on his stomach in bed, burying his face in his pillow. Schuldich was burned into the backs of his eyelids, Schuldich sitting in Rosenkreuz's medical ward several days after they'd finally managed to get him back from Schatten the second time. The telepath was sitting on the edge of his bed, just staring off into space. Blue eyes were hazy from all of the drugs the doctors had him on, and the gown they'd changed him into couldn't hide all of the injuries that laced across his flesh. Most prominent were the ones that looked like swipes from a giant cat. Several had bled through the bandages, staining the gown in places. In a couple hours, the drugs would wear off, Schuldich would go into his mad hysterics or rambling again, and he would be sedated once more. The memory of him fighting the doctors desperately, screaming at them in harsh German, was almost enough to empty Nagi's stomach. But worse than that was this memory, of staring at him when he was drugged to the gills, watching him as he just sat there. Standing there in the doorway to the room, just four feet away from a man who was too drugged to know who they were or to react to their presence, and then watching Schuldich's head slowly tilt to one side, watching that sick smile spread on his lips seconds before he started laughing. Watching him rub at his wrists and press them to his laughing mouth, the edge of his laughter turning hysterical.

      "He'll make it," was Crawford's firm reassurance. "He has a reason to."

      And Schuldich had, but by the skin of his teeth. Once released from the ward, he was still heavily shaken, and the Schuldich that Schwarz had been handed was very different from the one they remembered. It had taken months for him to stop starting at sudden noises, months for them to trust him to go places on his own, months before the resentful and suspicious looks faded. But the nightmares stayed on, and it would be over a year later that Schuldich actually talked to them about something that didn't have to do with a job, that he finally started speaking out loud again. It wasn't until they got Farfarello, almost two years after Rosenkreuz got the German back from Schatten, that Schuldich actually initiated conversations and stopped cutting off what he was saying.

      Farfarello and Schuldich had slept in the same room for six months, taking opposite sides of the bed to sleep on. And finally, finally, Schuldich had started turning into himself again, and after six months Farfarello had moved to his own room. It was three years now since they'd gotten Farfarello, and while the Schuldich they had now wasn't the Schuldich they'd had before, it wasn't the one that the squad had carried into Rosenkreuz, all limp and bloody. It wasn't the madness they'd taken care of afterwards. He had changed but he'd survived and become strong again, if a bit sharp around the edges.

      And Schatten was here to undo it all. In less than a week, Nagi could see all of Schwarz's and Schuldich's hard work crumbling.

      He desperately longed for Meirth's death, and he hoped it would be bloody.

      His nerves tingled, and a moment later he felt a small roll of foreign power wash across his own. Farfarello was waking up, reaching out and testing the gifts that his own power was leeching to. He focused on the small brush to drag himself out of unpleasant thoughts and rolled over onto his side, gazing at the white wall that was just three feet away.

      ~It's half past two,~ he offered up before Farfarello's touch moved on. It had taken him a while to adjust to the idea of having "two" telepaths on the team. Farfarello's power, which he held only when Schuldich was within mental range of him, worked identical to Schuldich's. The German had explained the telepathy to him once, saying that everyone's voices within his range existed as a hum in the back of his thoughts, and within that range he could find people's minds and listen in on them. The humming was constant, whereas coherent thoughts were not, but he could hear when someone called to him. Nagi had had to learn how to tone his thoughts more towards Farfarello's gift than Schuldich's when he wanted the Irishman, though there was still the chance of them both picking up on a mental call. It was rare that they missed something sent to the other, their minds picking it up as if it was bounced at them, and Nagi wasn't sure if that was because Farfarello was only a telepath through Schuldich or if there was another reason. ~You're going with Crawford to pick up Kudou's things in a few hours.~

      //Mm,// came the disinterested response.

      Now seemed to be one of those times that the telepathy worked in sync, because Schuldich offered up a lazy drawl of //You could sound more excited, Farfarello.//

      Farfarello didn't bother answering him, or if he did, it was a rude response sent to Schuldich alone. Nagi rolled onto his back, staring up at the ceiling. He needed to keep his mind out of the past. The past was full of dark memories, and if he thought about them he couldn't think about their future. They would make it out of here. They'd find a way. They couldn't fail this time. Schwarz was smarter now. They'd fought Schatten before. And Schatten could have only grown weaker with time. They were down a telekinetic, for starters, and Einsam… Well, the older assassin's gift had to be finally taking a toll on him.

      "We'll win," he said out loud, because he needed to say it, needed to hear it.

      //We will,// came Schuldich's response.

      Hearing Schuldich say that was enough. Nagi felt his mouth curve into a small smile. Schuldich was ready to fight. Still hurt, still shaken, but he was going to fight. Holding back last time was what had nearly destroyed Schwarz, but Schuldich wouldn't make that mistake again. He couldn't afford to. He was going to fight this tooth and nail with the rest of them- even if Einsam was the one in range of the gun. Absently Nagi thought that that would be the luckiest thing to happen to them.

      If Schuldich caught the thought, he didn't respond. Nagi pushed himself up from the bed and left the room, off to find his teammates.


      Yohji watched as Crawford and Farfarello left, wondering where they were heading to but not curious enough to ask. It was almost five now, and it had been a very long day. He was ready for it to be over already. He'd spent a lot of the day just thinking, turning what Nagi had told him over and over in his head. He'd made something small for lunch early in the afternoon because he was hungry, taking advantage of the kitchen when there was no one else in it. The place was decently stocked and he'd managed to find something he liked to eat, and then he'd retreated back to the den. Schuldich had vanished this morning sometime when Nagi was telling his story, and had only reappeared two and a half hours ago. He and Nagi were currently in the den, playing a card game he didn't recognize. Yohji pulled his gaze away from the front door to look back inside the den, leaning against the doorframe as he watched.

      It was a rather interesting thing to watch. They neglected to use the coffee table and were stretched out on their stomachs on the floor to play. It seemed to be a violent game; there was a lot of smacking and foreign insults involved. Schuldich had an ash try off to his left that was full of little cigarette butts, but he'd stopped smoking when he started losing the game, paying more attention to what he was doing. Nagi was, apparently, very good at this game, and Schuldich seemed to be a sore loser. The smacks where getting harder and judging by the way Schuldich winced at the newest hit, he wondered if the boy had used his telekinesis to enforce it.

      He wasn't sure they knew he was there. At the beginning they had to have known, but right now they seemed completely caught up in the fast pace of the game. Cards flew, laid out in quick lines, flipped over, exchanged. Hands flew out to smack their own cards and their opponent's, often catching each other as they both moved for the same thing. Yohji was amused despite himself and he shifted his arms where they were folded over his chest, green eyes watching as he finally got to see Schwarz do something outside of killing people. It made them seem human, which he supposed was beneficial. He needed to be able to live with them to pull this off, needed to be able to hide his distaste for them and this mess.

      Nagi finally scooped up all of the cards and pushed himself up with a victorious "Hah!" that Yohji decided meant he'd won. Schuldich scowled at the younger assassin, dropping his head into the carpet and reaching blindly for the ashtray. It was easily slid out of his way by an invisible hand and he lifted his head to glance that direction after a few missed grabs. Nagi feigned not to notice the glare sent his direction, apparently too absorbed in straightening the deck of cards. Schuldich made a final swipe at the ashtray and it happily carried itself out of his reach. Grumbling darkly under his breath, Schuldich finally pushed himself up into a sitting position on the carpet, reaching out as he did so to shove Nagi over.

      Nagi let himself be pushed and lay on his back, considering the stack of cards in his hands before tossing them in the air. Instead of falling around him his gift caught them, whirling them about above him in a colorful blur. Schuldich leaned back, propping himself up on his arms to watch. Yohji was quietly impressed by the display. All of the cards ended by sticking face down to the ceiling, and they began flying one by one back to Nagi's waiting hand. It took Yohji a moment to realize they were coming suit by suit, in numerical order. That finished, the boy pushed himself back up and tied the pack together with a rubber band, chucking it at Schuldich. The German caught it easily and it vanished into one of the pockets on his jacket. He pushed himself to his feet and his youngest teammate followed him there, and Schuldich stretched his arms before turning to face Yohji. They studied each other in silence for a few moments, green and blue taking the other in and judging them.

      Finally Schuldich pointed at him. "You need to take a shower at some point."

      "Yeah," Yohji agreed. He'd thought about it off and on all day, but now he picked at his shirt. "I don't know if it would help much, since I'd just be getting back into dirty clothes. And I don't have any toiletries with me."

      "Yet," came Schuldich's answer. He laced his fingers behind his head and waggled one elbow in a gesture before starting towards the door. "Crawford and Farfarello went to pick your things up."

      "They're going to break into my apartment?" Yohji wanted to know.

      Schuldich's smile was slow. "No," he said, sounding amused. "There's a suitcase waiting on them, packed and ready to go. You can shower when it gets here."

      The German was right in front of him now and Yohji reached out, planting a hand against Schuldich's chest to stop him. They stared each other down, narrowed green and amused blue. Dread twisted in Yohji's stomach, along with a dull sort of anger. "What?" he asked.

      "You heard me," Schuldich said.

      "You didn't bring them in on this." The words were soft but there was a definite warning to them.

      "*I* didn't," was the response, and the emphasis told Yohji exactly what he didn't want to hear. Yohji took a swing at him, and Schuldich bounced backwards out of range. The German laughed at him and Yohji stood rigid in the middle of the doorway, hands clenched into fists at his sides. "Temper, temper."

      "I'm doing this to keep them safe!" Yohji snapped at him, moving into the room. "Why the hell did you bring them into this?"

      "You're pathetic opponents but decent assassins," Schuldich said, flicking his fingers at Yohji. "That's all we need. Schatten brought Marigold into the country, both to use against us for the hell of it and to help draw us out into the open. We don't have time to waste messing with them. Weiss needs to make itself useful. Consider it a payback on their part for our hosting you."

      "You're going to get them killed!" Yohji snarled, taking another swing. Schuldich dodged it again, and the ease with which he moved just infuriated the white assassin further.

      "It was an offer," Schuldich informed him. "They didn't have to take Crawford up on it. They did. Let them content themselves taking out little powerless armies. We need to focus on killing Schatten."

      "My team is going to die because of your stupid games!" Yohji said, taking another step towards Schuldich. The telepath watched him come, highly amused at having riled Schwarz's newest pet. Yohji jabbed a finger at him, too angry to watch what he was saying. "You can't hope that anyone's going to survive this. You can't do anything against Schatten; you couldn't even do anything about one lousy businessman!"

      He never saw the fist coming. He just found himself stumbling backwards, hand against his nose. Then a hand was on his shirt and another in his hair and he was shoved back, slamming roughly up against the wall. Schuldich was pressed up against him, pinning him there, and there was sheer ice in his gaze. Yohji wasn't in the mood to be intimidated; he was furious that Schwarz had pulled his friends into this. They didn't have the right. He snarled something unintelligible at the man, the sound muffled through his hand. Blood leaked down his face, over his lips, and he could taste it. Schuldich's fingers tightened, almost taking out a decent chunk of hair. Where their bodies touched Yohji could feel light tremors of anger, of a barely repressed violence.

      "What did you say?" Schuldich asked, voice soft, words cold.

      Yohji lowered his hand, using the side of it to smear the blood away from his lips, and sneered at the other man. "What will you do about it?" he wanted to know. "You can't kill me without giving away the game to Schatten. You can't maim me, or they'll notice on your next run in. You had *no* *right* to drag them into this. I only agreed to this mess because I wanted them to stay out of the fray and safe."

      Schuldich used his hair to pull his head away from the wall and slam it back there. "You have a couple days to heal," was the dark answer. "Fuck your friends; I hope they die. I hope they're the first to get lost in the fray. Soon as they stop being useful, I'll turn Farfarello on them."

      Yohji went for his throat, shoving himself away from the wall even as his hand snapped up to dig fingers into soft flesh.

      "*Stop* it!" came the sharp command, and they were ripped away from each other. Yohji was thrown back against the wall and Schuldich was sent stumbling several feet back. Neither of them looked towards the younger assassin that was standing just six feet away; their glares were locked on each other. The need for a fight burned in Yohji's veins. The last few days had been hell, and he needed a way to vent that stress. A fight would do perfectly, and he clung hungrily to the image of a bleeding Schuldich.

      "Let go," he sent at Nagi, never taking his eyes off of Schuldich.

      "Let go," Schuldich echoed flatly.

      "I won't," came the flat response. Dark blue eyes looked from one to the other. "We won't make it out of this if we kill each other off before the real fighting begins. Kudou, go somewhere. I don't care where. Pick a room and stay out of the way until we need you. Schuldich, we're going to go start dinner. Crawford and Farfarello will be back soon. Let's go." Nagi jabbed a finger at Yohji and the pressure holding him against the wall faded. Yohji stayed where he was a moment longer, knowing that the telekinetic's power would stop him before he made it to Schuldich but wanting to try anyway. There was a rough shove to his shoulder and finally he turned and left, wandering down the hall. He made his way to the bathroom to wash his face off, glowering at his reflection. Footsteps in the hall told him Nagi was escorting his older teammate to the kitchen.

      His thoughts were dark as he pat the last bit of water from his skin. He couldn't do anything about the blood that had made it to his shirt, but he didn't care. He should call his team, should tell them to stay out of this. Hands checked his pockets for his phone but it wasn't there, and a small frown pulled at his lips. It had been in his jacket pocket. Perhaps when he took the jacket off to sleep in, it'd fallen out. He left the bathroom and moved to Farfarello's bedroom, checking the area around where he'd slept. Unless he was blind, it wasn't there. Maybe Farfarello had done something with it, but he didn't know what the madman would want with his phone.

      Elsewhere, a door opened and shut again. A few moments later, Farfarello appeared in the doorway, and the two assassins eyed each other. Yohji was a little surprised that they were back so quickly; they'd only been gone almost thirty minutes. Farfarello said nothing, just pointed down the hall, and Yohji moved to the door. Farfarello took a step back, just enough for him to squeeze through, and Yohji thought better of complaining this time. A suitcase waited just inside the front door. Packed by his teammates… He was going to have words with Crawford about his team later.

      "Where's my phone?" he asked Farfarello.

      Farfarello lifted one shoulder in a careless shrug. "You don't need it."

      Yohji opened his mouth to contest that, but the look in the Irishman's eye made him think better of it. He looked towards his suitcase. "Where do I put it?" he wanted to know. "Out of my way," was the response, with a flick of fingers towards the bedroom Yohji had just come from. The barest edges of a sneer accompanied the gesture and then Farfarello vanished further down the hall.

      Yohji accepted that in silence and went to get it, grabbing its handle to roll it down the hall. He picked a spot that he guessed to be out of the way in Farfarello's room, and after a moment, crouched in front of it and unzipped the front pockets to check them. One held toiletries and things, the other held accessories for his watch. He pulled the bag out, studying the coils of wire and little tools. Sometime this evening he should clean his watch to make sure the wire wouldn't snag when he needed it most. Perhaps after dinner; it would be something to keep him occupied and out of Schuldich's way.

      "We'll make it," he murmured, wishing his teammates could hear him, wishing for the strength to believe in such a thing. "We'll make it."

Part 8
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