He rolls over suddenly, abruptly finished with his survey of the ceiling, and sprawls on his side to consider me. There's a full moon out tonight and with my curtains thrown open I can see the features of his face. His skin is covered with an ethereal sheen and his bright blue eyes seem to glow with a light of their own. From the way is mouth is curved, I know he's just had a Thought. I can't help but grin at the familiar look, mentally steeling myself for whatever randomness he is about to throw my way.

    "Horseflies," he announces.

    "What?" I ask. It's generally my response to one of these statements of his. My brain tells me that I perhaps really don't want to know, and that's almost always the case, but I figure I might as well let him explain. He likes to hear himself talk, and it amuses me, the bizarre things that he thinks about when he has his mind to himself. The first time he thrust one of his "Thoughts" on me, I told him that he was barking mad, a likely result of playing around where he didn't belong all these years. He hadn't been amused by the insult and had shoved me off the other side of the bed. I've decided not to question his sanity out loud again- at least not when I'm laying three feet off the ground.

    "Humans are like horseflies," he says, lifting one hand from the rumpled sheets to push his bangs out of his face. "Blood sucking, piss ass annoying little bugs. Mindless little creatures who waste their lives away worrying only about how to feed their desires and further their own good. We're all a bunch of bugs."

    I give him a measuring look, pretending to give his words some serious thought. "I suppose I can see the resemblance."

    Kudou Yohji, meet floor. Floor, meet Yohji.

    He leans over the side of the bed, folding his arms on the edge and propping his chin on them to peer down at me. His expression is cast more into shadow with this shift in position, but I can make out the lazily amused twist to his lips. I scowl at him for good measure, and not all of it is fake. I have a hardwood floor, and if being shoved out of your own bed wasn't bad enough, being shoved out without warning means you never land in a comfortable position.

    Of course, I kind of knew that that was how he was going to react, but whatever.

    "Do you mind?" I ask.

    "Not at all," is the smooth answer, the same words as every time before. I push myself up from the floor and crawl back into bed, sitting cross-legged off to his side. He doesn't bother moving, though he rolls his head to one side to arch an eyebrow at me. "Maybe you should keep the insults in check if you don't want a bruised ass."

    "Maybe you shouldn't make it so easy to insult you," I return sensibly. "There's idle chit chat, there are meaningful conversations, and then there's you. I don't think even you have a clue what the hell's going on in there half the time."

    "Isn't that what makes it fun?" he asks, pushing himself up in a languid move. "It doesn't have to make sense, anyway. Life doesn't make sense, which makes it all the more easy to figure it out."

    There's a knock at the door. "Yohji-kun?"

    He has time for one startled squawk as I shove him off the other side of the bed. There's very little room for him there, as that's the side close to the wall, but somehow he fits. I lean forward to push his legs the rest of the way off, turning just as my door slides open. Omi is standing a little uncertainly in the doorway, peering in at me with wide blue eyes.

    "Still up, Omi?" I ask.

    "Mm," he answers, looking around. "I heard a thud. Was it from this room?"

    "I figured it was you passing out on the steps from overworking yourself," I answer, sliding off of my bed and wandering towards him. He steps back and I move into the hallway with him, tugging my door closed behind me. "You doing all right, or are you finally ready to accept your lowly teammate's help?"

    "I'm fine," Omi answers, tugging at the sleeves of his shirt. He looks tired, but not as exhausted as I know I would be if I were doing his work. "It's all tedious work, Yohji-kun, otherwise I really would ask for your help. It's easier doing it with just one, so no one has to cross-reference pages in the filing."

    "You need a drink or something?"

    He gives a slight shake of his head. "Aya-kun is still up, too… He boiled water for some tea. I was going to mix mine when I heard the thud, and I thought perhaps I should check on you."

    "Wasn't me," I answer, an easy lie. "Maybe it was just the house settling again."

    He considers this, not completely convinced that that could be the reason but not willing yet to rule it out. It's taking us a while to adjust to this place. After things went bad a few weeks ago we were moved out here, taking up residence in a house on the outskirts of Nagoya. It's been rough for all of us, adjusting to the move. As assassins we don't have much to call our own, but we still had apartments that were our homes. Now we've been uprooted and put down again, the four of us in the same house so Kritiker can keep an eye on us. It's only temporary, Manx assured us. They're just waiting for the smoke to clear in Tokyo so we can return. But it's been almost four weeks now and we're getting restless. We have no cover up jobs to turn to during the day to take our mind off of things, and no missions. We do have the mountain of paperwork resulting from that screw up four weeks ago, though, but it's dull work and Omi is doing most of it. We've explored the city a little but it doesn't keep us entertained for long.

    It's not like I really need a city to entertain me, though.

    I didn't expect him to tag along when Weiss was transplanted, but he did. I'd walked into my room just four days after being moved here to find him sitting in the middle of my bed waiting for me. When I asked him "Why?" – a dangerous enough question – he had shrugged and said "Because he doesn't care what I do right now."

    "You should go to bed soon," I tell Omi. "It's not like you have a deadline for that work to be done."

    "Perhaps," Omi answers, and he takes a step back. I turn the knob of my door and offer him a parting smile and wave. He wishes me good night, offers up an apology for disturbing me, and then the door is closed between us.

    I don't have to check the side of my bed to know that my strange lover has taken off again. He comes and goes as he likes, popping up whenever and wherever to demand either conversation or sex. If I had any doubt about him being gone, I just have to take a look at my bed. He unzipped my pillow and pulled all of the feathers out, leaving them in a neat pile in the middle of my mattress. He doesn't like being ignored or put on hold when he feels like talking, and he especially didn't like being shoved off my bed.

    I just grin, moving over to the sheets to patiently put my pillow back together again. I've gotten used to his quirky little habits by now, after three months of hesitant companionship and three months of sharing a bed. I should have never given myself the chance to get used to them, should never have accepted what he was offering. And yet, it wasn't really an offer. It was a demand, from someone who was used to getting what he wanted when he wanted it. And maybe I wanted it too. I suppose I did, even at the time, to throw everything away and attempt something between peers and friendship with someone my teammates would slaughter me for talking to. But I let him in, let him do as pleased, let him come and go as he wished. And I got used to it, and I liked it. And when he pushed me into the sheets for the first time, his hands on my shoulders and his mouth on my own and his hair in a curtain around us, I didn't fight him. Common sense tells me I should have. Common sense tells me that every time he comes, but I don't really care to listen. I want it, and he wants it, and that's all there is to it.

    It's funny how something so complicated can be so simple.

    Funny, because things are rarely simple when it comes to Schuldich.


    He's back, just two days later. I know he's staying somewhere in Nagoya. There's no way he could come and go so often if he were traveling back and forth between Tokyo and here. I wonder why Crawford has let him go for so long; surely Schwarz has need of their telepath. The American knows where he went, knows what he came here for. All of Schwarz knows that we're sleeping together, or so Schuldich told me. I find it vaguely amusing that his team doesn't care about something that my friends would kill me for. Either way, I have to wonder why Schwarz isn't busy meddling around with the underworld and where Schuldich is staying while he's here. He hasn't told me and I haven't asked. Even though I'm curious, I won't.

    It doesn't really matter where he's staying. It just matters that he's here again. I'm sprawled on my bed with a book when a shadow falls over me and my glass door slides open. I leave it unlocked for him. There's a fire escape ladder going down from my balcony to the ground, and he uses that to come and go. He grouses about having to shimmy up a ladder but it's either that or knock at the front door to be let in, and considering he likes his head where it is, it's the ladder for him.

    I roll onto my side as he slips in, watching as he shoves it shut behind him and heads towards the door. I left it open, but he shuts it now before heading towards me. It's three in the afternoon, a risky time for him to be here, but he doesn't care. I used to think that nothing could sneak up on him- he's a telepath, after all. He ended up explaining his gift to me, telling me how it works, telling me that it's not a permanent thing but something he does by choice. He can find a mind and read it, but his gift won't work as a proximity alert when people are coming. I told him it was a rather useless thing to have, and he responded by shoving me on the floor.

    I see a lot of the floor when he's around.

    He flops on his stomach on my bed, reaching out and tugging my book away from me. He studies the cover for a moment and flips through it, skimming random pages to see if anything catches his interest. He doesn't bother marking my place for me and my spot is quickly lost as he rummages around, but I don't complain. In the end he's dissatisfied with it and offers it a "Ch'!" before shoving it off to one side. He buries his face in the comforter and I study him for a long moment, watching to see if there's a real reason behind his visit.

    But Schuldich says nothing, content to just lie there, and I consider fetching my book again before deciding I'm not interested. I shift to a more comfortable position, studying his hair where it covers his face and spills wildly across my bed. Finally I reach out and curl my fingers around some, waving them this way and that. After a few minutes he rolls his head to one side, arching an eyebrow at me as he watches me play with his hair.

    "How can you stand to keep it so long?" I want to know.

    "It isn't long," is his answer, and he pushes himself up. The hair is easily pulled from my light grip at the movement and when he's upright, his back is mostly towards me. He tilts his head to one side, slanting a glance down and back as if he could see the tips. I study the long orange locks.

    "It's a mess," I point out.

    "It's windy out there," is his answer.

    I consider this for a moment, then lean over and pull my comb off my bedside table. I push myself up and scoot closer to him. He holds his hand out for the comb and I extend mine to turn it over, content to watch him as he works with the mess. I can hear the knots ripping as he struggles with them, but his expression is ever patient as he fights with the rats nest the wind made. I watch him, interested, and at last reach out to take the comb back from him.

    "I'm not done-" he starts, turning to get it back.

    I push his shoulder to turn him around, studying his hair before starting on it. Schuldich falls quiet as I pick carefully at the knots. It takes a while to get it straightened out and when I'm done I brush just for the hell of it, because it's been years since I've combed anyone's hair but my own. There was Asuka, but those were very rare occasions, and her hair was nowhere near as long as Schuldich's is. Schuldich doesn't say a word the entire time, sitting still and silent as a stone, even when I abandon the comb just to play with his hair. I twist it this way and that, pulling it up in temporary knots and ponytails before letting the strands fall loose again, amusing myself.

    Finally I'm done and I toss the comb over my shoulder, taking hold of some of his hair to pull his head back. He lets me tug him without resistance, somehow able to keep himself from falling to his back though I'm making him lean back far enough that I can see his face. He stares up at me and me down at him, studying each other. The expression on his face confuses me- a light, almost invisible frown graces his lips and his blue eyes are guarded. I memorize the look to think over later.

    "What did you want?" I ask him.

    He shrugs, straightening and turning to face me. "I was bored," he answers simply. He looks around my room, studying the bare dresser and shelves. I don't follow his gaze. I hate this room, hate its lack of anything personal. We didn't have time to grab anything of ours to bring here. Kritiker supplied us with necessities and gave us the funds to get new clothes. This isn't my room, and I'm rather sick of it. "Let's go," he says simply, surprising me.


    "It's boring here," he answers, scooting off my bed. "I get tired of seeing the same scenery over and over."

    "You saw a lot of my last apartment," I inform him, though I'm already sliding off the edge of my bed. "You didn't complain about that one."

    "Your last one had things in it," is his response. "Stereo, TV, couch, private bathroom… This place is pathetic and I don't like it. There's nothing to do."

    "There's me," I offer, and he throws me a wolfish grin at the mild words, tugging me up against him to practically crush his mouth against mine. It should hurt, but it doesn't. I should pull away, but I didn't three months ago and I don't now. I never have. I never will. I wonder if it will get me killed someday, this foolish and unearned trust. Perhaps, but I won't regret any of it. I'll look down the barrel of his gun and smile, because I won't have done anything I'll want to take back.

    "Go," he says, heading towards my balcony once more. I vanish out my door, wandering downstairs to tell the others I'm going out. They accept my announcement without argument and I'm out the front door. He's waiting around back, hands shoved in his pockets. He doesn't hear me coming immediately, and I slow my steps to study him before he turns to face me.

    His head is tilted back slightly, his hair falling around his face. The orange locks are shiny from being brushed and for the moment are unbothered by the light breeze. His mouth is set in a smooth line, his expression serene. But his eyes, as they study the cloudless sky, are distant. There's something… wrong, with the way he looks, with the picture he creates leaning against the back of our house. There's something out of place, something… Something that isn't Schuldich. Or rather, something that is that I just don't know yet.

    Then he hears my footsteps and turns, and his expression has cleared to something normal again. He pushes himself away from the wall and moves to join me, blue eyes clear and his mouth curved ever so slightly upwards in the smirk that is forever fated to dance on his lips. Once upon a time the expression annoyed me, as I felt mocked. The mockery is still there, clear in half of what he says to me, but the edge is soft and the emotion behind it mostly false, and I take an odd sort of comfort in the ready expression. Today I want to reach out and smooth the smirk from his lips and ask him what's wrong.

    But it isn't my place to, so I don't, and I push it aside for later.

    We are lovers and off and on companions, together when Schuldich gets bored and decides to float to my side. There is never anything meaningful said between us, as our conversations generally revolve around Schuldich's Thoughts and are an easy exchange of insults. The sex is there because it can be and because we want it to be, because we like it and crave it.

    But our lives… are not open to discussion. We do not pry into pasts. We do not comment on things that we know are not our business. Once upon a time his restraint surprised me, but I learned to accept it and be grateful for it.

    Randomly, I wish that unspoken rule didn't lie between us, but I don't have the right to remove it.

    We walk, because Schuldich came to Nagoya by train and Weiss was only able to take one car here with us. It isn't that far to the station and we take it a couple stops, switching once and going a station further before getting off. We've arrived at the heart of the city and despite the hour, the sidewalks are crowded with businessmen and school age kids. Schuldich draws attention like nothing else, with his wild orange hair and his blue eyes. He is used to it by now and pretends not to notice the blatant staring or the accidents he almost causes when the drivers look at him and not the road. I am rarely with him out in public, and I haven't been wandering with him for an extended period of time, so the attention he brings to us unnerves me until I can get used to it. It's different from the adoring stares of our loyal customers, more along the lines of "What the hell is that?", and it makes me uncomfortable.

    Schuldich is forever unfazed, however, and leads me unerringly down the sidewalk. A brief stop at the conbeni has us both armed with drinks against the sweltering heat, and we stop at a corner to try and find out what to do. Green and blue slide up and down the street, searching for any stores that call to us, and right when I've given up hope of Nagoya having any form of entertainment, I spot a theater.

    "What about a movie?" I want to know.

    "I despise movies," is his answer. He unscrews the lid of his drink, takes it off, puts it back on, and screws it tight before giving it a vigorous shake. I've seen him do it before when he brought drinks to my apartment, and stopped giving him hell about the odd habit after the third or fourth time even though it still amuses me. He scowled at me every time and said he couldn't drink it unless it was mixed. I just laughed at him for being crazy and he would scowl at me for a while before changing the subject. It's just another piece of who he is, a complicated mess of a man that I'm still trying to understand. I regret that my teammates will never know him, will never know who he is behind his work.

    "How's that?" I want to know.

    "They're overdone," he says. "It's a clichéd mess, just a big commercial game. Hero has to do supposed impossible thing, falls in love with useless heroine within the first half of the movie, cars blow up, hero does his thing, and they all walk away unscathed and happy."

    I consider this and decide it's a fair enough estimate. "Is that a bad thing?"

    He slants a blue look at me. "I don't believe in happy endings," he says simply.

    "That doesn't mean that it isn't fun to watch cars blow up," I tell him. "And it sounds a lot more entertaining than standing out here on a street corner being stared at as if we were freaks. Unless you can think of something better to do, I'm heading that way." I jab my bottle in the direction of the movie theater.

    Schuldich just sighs, muttering something about people who are way too easily amused, but he follows me when the crosswalk changes again. I lead my still grumbling companion towards the theater, welcoming the shade the overhang offers as I study the promotional posters hanging all over the place. I eye the times, manage to find one that's close to starting, and offer it to Schuldich. He rakes his hair out of his face, resigns himself to this cruel fate, and shrugs to show he doesn't care.

    "But you're paying," he says.

    "Does that make me the man in the relationship?" I want to know. "It's generally the man that pays for things."

    He arches an eyebrow at me, mouth curving into a wry smirk. "As much as you may wish such a thing to be true, I doubt it ever will be," he taunts me. "And for that kind of logic to work, this would have to be a date."

    "It isn't?" I toss back at him, wanting to see his reaction, wanting to step on his toes for his first words.

    He just Looks at me, and I laugh at him and buy our tickets. The theater is on the six floor of the building and we catch the first elevator up, handing our tickets over to be torn before slipping inside the theater itself. We manage to find two seats together and sit, Schuldich resting low in his chair as if trying to dribble out of it. I reach over and pat his head. "There, there," I assure him. "It'll all be over soon."

    He reaches up and catches me by the hair, dragging my face towards his to kiss me. He bites my lip hard as he lets go. I'm all too aware that the conversations going on around us and right behind us have come to a stunned halt. "Pet me again and I'll kick you," Schuldich warns me, letting go. I affect an intimidated look and he rolls his eyes at me as I straighten in my chair with a grin. "Asshole."

    "Nazi," I send back cheerfully.


    We end up back at my place sometime between eleven and midnight, tired from our excursion and all of the walking. After the movie was dinner, because it was dinner time then and neither of us had eaten lunch, and then we'd wandered up and down the streets looking for idle entertainment. He followed me back here without asking, because he doesn't need an invite to be allowed and he knows that. We sprawl out together in bed, stretched out in positions that shouldn't be comfortable yet are, staring up at the ceiling as we think our own thoughts.

    "I hope we'll be back in Tokyo soon," I finally say.

    "Miss your flower shop that badly, kitty cat?" he taunts me.

    "My stuff," I answer with a small shrug, shifting to lace my fingers together behind my head. "The familiarity. A home, after thinking I wouldn't have one again." Schuldich says nothing and I think for a few moments in silence before craning my neck to see him. He's lifted his head from the mattress but it's too dark to make out his expression. "Aren't you ready to be back? You've been here almost as long as I have. Surely you aren't bored of Schwarz already."

    Schuldich says nothing for a long moment, and it's the silence that gives him away. Schuldich doesn't do quiet. But then he moves, pushing himself up and shifting, propping himself against the headboard. "I daresay Schwarz is more fun than tending to you," comes his answer at last.

    I push at him with one foot and think I see a grin flash on his face; I almost can tell the difference in shades in the darkness enough to know his teeth are showing. He catches my foot and tugs at it in a command, and I obey, shifting myself further up the bed until I have flopped, my head where my feet were. He's leaning down to kiss me when I ask him.

    "Why don't you believe in happy endings?"

    He stops with his mouth just above mine, and I can feel his breath on my lips. He lingers there for just a moment before straightening. "Never had a reason to," is his answer.

    The way he says it tells me I'm dancing on the wrong side of the line between us, that I shouldn't be asking this because I knew before I asked that it wasn't something I should know. But I feign to be too tired to notice the light edge to his words. "You're the all powerful mind reader," I remind him. "Come on, I bet every kid wanted to be you. You could cheat on tests."

    He gives a soft snort at the answer. "Whatever, Kudou." With that, he slides from the bed and starts towards the balcony door. I sit up to watch him leave, propping myself up with my arms. My hair's fallen in my face but I peer through it, tilting my head to one side so I can see him.

    "You talk a lot," I tell him, "and you like to talk. So why do you always choke back the things that really do need to get spoken?"

    "What does it matter, and what business is it of yours?" he returns, sliding the lock out of place on the door.

    "I'm your lover," I remind him.

    "Don't get possessive of the title," is all he says, and he lets himself outside. He pulls it shut without another glance towards the bed or me and I watch as he vanishes over the side. I study the balcony door long after he's gone, not bothered at all by the apparent threat. I just have to wait, and while I wait I can consider what he's said. He'll be back. I know he will be.


    It takes a week, but he does come back. He comes back the same day Manx told Weiss we can return to Tokyo. We're all quite relieved to hear it, and we have a small party after she's gone. I carry the remaining drinks to my room, floating on a happy buzz, and find Schuldich sitting in the middle of my bed when I enter. He turns a disapproving frown on me when he realizes I've been drinking. Schuldich doesn't like drunks. He doesn't find them amusing at all, and doesn't like how stupid alcohol can make people. He says people are stupid enough without looking for help in the bottom of a bottle.

    "We're back to Tokyo tomorrow," I tell Schuldich.

    "So I deduced," is his answer.

    "Doesn't that make you happy?" I want to know, and he just gives a bland shrug, making room for me when I cross the room to sit beside him. I offer him a drink and he bats my hand away. I shrug and sip from it instead, arching an eyebrow at him. "One drink isn't going to kill you, Schuldich. One sip isn't going to make you a drunk. You might as well just celebrate with me. We're both going home."

    There's a palpable hesitation, a flicker of blue eyes towards me and then away, and something changes in the moment it takes for him to look back at me again. In that moment he gathers his resolve and for the first time in our five months together he actually says something real about himself and who he is, putting in words just another piece of him when I've been struggling with all the rest so far. "I'm not allowed," he says simply, leaning backwards to sprawl on his back in bed. Blue eyes are half-lidded, his expression the familiar mask I'm used to seeing, but the way he speaks is different. He's picking and choosing every word he says, painfully careful with what leaves his mouth. "Rosenkreuz forbid me."

    I could ask why, but he wouldn't answer me. He wouldn't answer a direction question like that. "How are they going to know?" I want to know. "Do they check your blood at regular intervals?"

    "Ch'," is his response to that, and he studies the ceiling for a moment. He's back far enough on the bed that his legs are stretched out on the mattress, and he bends them, crossing one leg over the other by the knee. "They're in Austria. How do you suppose they would do such a thing?"

    "You tell me," I respond easily. "You're the one familiar with their powers and how they do things."

    He just slants a look at me. "You don't go against Rosenkreuz's orders," he tells me, speaking as he would to a slow child. "It isn't done. They don't need to enforce what laws and restrictions they hand out, because no one is stupid enough to disregard what they've been told. It's the quickest way to get killed."

    "Huh." I consider this for a few moments. "So no one is allowed to drink?"

    Another pause, but shorter this time. "Not everyone," is his answer.

    I have the feeling that if I kept pressing he'd keep talking, but I also know that he doesn't want to talk anymore. So I content myself with this small victory and set my drinks on my bedside table, abandoning the conversation for better things. He's waiting for me when I turn back to him, lets me slide on top of him to kiss him. He relaxes his arms slowly, lowering us both to the sheets. Fingers run through hair, over and under clothes, a familiar and sure touch. He shifts, hooking his leg around mine, and easily switches our positions. He hasn't let me take him yet, has never given that to me. I'll wait. I've been letting him dictate this entire relationship since the start. When he's ready, and not before.

    So I let him, like I let him every time before. And it's good, like it is every time. There's something addicting about his taste and touch. There's something there that wasn't there with the faceless girls I used to try and forget Asuka. It's something purely Schuldich and it's something I need, so I let him have whatever he wants. I don't bother thinking that this is dangerous; such concerns are far away as we move together.

    "What time is your train?" I ask him sometime later, when we're laying tangled together.

    He considers that, and finally says "Noon."

    "Good," I say. When he arches his eyebrow at me, I shift, settling in a more comfortable position. "That means you can stay."

    He just looks at me for a long time in silence. I wait for his response, wondering why it's taking him so long to think about it. He's never stayed with me before, always leaving an hour or so after we're done with whatever entertainment we've chosen. I've never asked him to stay before, because he has always been content to leave. I wonder what's different about tonight but tell myself not to think hard on it. I try not to spend a long time thinking about what we have, in the dim chance that I might find a problem with it. I like what we have, like everything about it, so I don't want to question it.

    "I can," he says. "I won't."

    And he pushes himself up, finding his clothes where they were shoved carelessly off the bed. I watch him as he dresses, enjoying the view. He doesn't look back as he crosses the room, and within moments I'm alone again. I consider this for a few moments, then sigh and reach for the covers.


    It's almost two weeks before I see him again, but I'm not surprised. We used to only see each other once or twice a week, and then he left Schwarz to follow me to Nagoya for five weeks. His team was probably glad to have his gift back and I don't doubt that he's been very busy since his return. Weiss has been equally busy, reassuring our customers that we'll never abandon the flower shop for that long again. They've been flooding the shops to cling to us. Several cried the first day we were back, much to my amusement.

    But now Schuldich is back, sitting on my windowsill even though I've told him countless times before that it's not a safe perch. I've made us both hot drinks and we sip at them as we think. Suddenly he moves and I look up from my book when I catch the movement out of my peripheral vision. Schuldich's watching me, and the look on his face has me smiling without realizing it. It's time for another Thought.

    "Have you ever seen Alien?" he wants to know.

    "Seen what?" I ask, confused.

    "Alien," he repeats. "It's an American movie."

    I arch an eyebrow at him. "I thought you didn't watch movies."

    He lifts one shoulder in a shrug, taking the last sip of his mug. "Saw it years and years ago. Anyway, there's this guy who gets an alien on his face. Looks like a giant spider of some sort, and it latches onto his head. Lays an egg in him through his mouth and then falls off and dies later." He toys with his mug, rolling it between his palms, his mouth curved into an amused grin. "Some time later, the alien is born, but you know how it gets out of him? It chews right through his chest." He plants one hand against his own, supposedly in the exact spot it happened in the movie. "He's eating dinner and it just bursts out in a spray of blood."

    I make a face at him, setting my book aside and sitting up. "Thank you for sharing that."

    "What if humans had babies that way?" he asks me, and I just stare at him for a long moment before pushing myself up from the mattress to approach him. "You know? What if women had their wombs up here," a pat of his hand against his chest, "and when the baby was born, it had to burst out of her? Take her to the hospital when she goes into labor and chain her down, and then get someone to catch the tot when it comes popping out like a piece of bloody, chunky toast."

    I come to a stop beside him. "You have way too much time on your hands to think," I decide.

    He slants a grin up at me. "Maybe."

    I can't resist and reach out, giving him a small push as if I'm trying to knock him off the window and down three floors to the ground. It's just a nudge, and even as I do it I'm holding onto him, but it gets a beautiful reaction. He gives a small lurch and latches onto me, instinctively grabbing at something to stop the fall. As soon as he's done it he knows what I was doing and he scowls viciously at my laughter. I pull him off the windowsill, holding him close up against me, feeling his rapid heartbeat pounding up against me.

    He shoves at my chest but I refuse to let him go, lacing my arms around his waist and grinning at him. I tilt my head forward, unbothered by his glare, to rest our foreheads against each other. "Dance with me," I tell him.

    "After that stunt you just pulled? Rot in hell."

    I kiss him; he bites me. I grin, lips brushing his as I repeat the words. "Dance with me."

    "I don't dance," is his response as he untangles my arms from around him.

    I affect surprise. "Gasp! Something the all powerful mastermind can't do?"

    He treats me to his best I'm-Not-Amused look. "I didn't say I can't," he informs me. "I said that I don't. There's a difference there."

    "Surely you can make an exception this time." I take hold of him again, lips skimming against his cheek. "Just think. One of these days Nagi and that Schreient kid are going to get hitched, right, and then you'll need to be brave enough to dance at their wedding."

    It's the wrong thing to say. I don't know what I've said wrong, but he goes rigid in my arms for all of a second before he can force himself to relax again. I lean back, studying him in surprise at the reaction. He isn't looking at me; he's pointedly looking off to one side, his mouth set in a firm line.

    "Let go," he says.

    It's not a request. It's a soft order, and I obey without hesitation. He doesn't move immediately and I reach up, catching his chin and turning his head towards me. There's something guarded in his blue eyes and I wonder at it, wonder at the way I feel my chest clench at the sight of it, and press a soft kiss to unresponsive lips. "I'm sorry," I tell him, because it's the truth. "I was just joking."

    He leaves just a few minutes later, and I'm left to wonder over what happened.


    The next day, Schuldich is drunk.

    I find him by pure chance alone. I'm taking a walk around the city when I see him. He's sitting on the steps of a random apartment building, and it isn't until I'm right next to him that I realize that he's smashed. I hesitate before crouching in front of him, looking up into his eyes. He stares back at me, stares through me. "Hey," I say, touching his knee to get his attention. He finally focuses on me and the faintest edges of a grin touch his lips before fading.

    "Good morning."

    "It's eleven at night," I inform him.

    "Ch'. What's it matter…?" He pushes himself up and almost falls over. I catch onto one of his arms as he pinwheels, straightening him, and he falls against me. A few weeks ago this might have amused me. A few weeks ago, I wouldn't have really thought about finding him wandering the city drunk. Except he told me- he told me that Rosenkreuz forbid him to drink and that no one disobeys them. "Jesus, it's cold out here."

    "Come on," I tell him. "I'll take you back to the flower shop."

    He fights my grip, just a single pull to get out of my grasp, but there's not enough strength behind it. "I want to go home," he says simply.

    It's the first time he's ever referred to Schwarz as home, and I stare at him for a few moments. It's always been that he has to go back to the others. I hesitate, then lace one of his arms around my neck and wrap one of mine around his waist. "I'll take you there," I tell him. "Just tell me where to go."

    He laughs. "Who knows…?" is his response.

    I frown slightly at that, but pick a direction and start off. I move slowly so he can keep up, as he seems to have a little difficulty walking. I wonder how much he's had to drink, wonder why he started drinking in the first place. So many questions, but I'm not allowed to ask him. In the beginning, I didn't mind. More and more I grow impatient with the courtesy rule that lies between us. There's so much that I want to know, that I need to know, and never will. But I swallow my questions and keep him moving, and he finally starts to cooperate when we first reach the intersection, pointing out which way to go. He's singing something quietly, but it isn't in Japanese. He has a nice singing voice, I realize.

    He is a far way from Schwarz's place. The subways would have been quicker, because it takes us almost forty minutes to get to his apartment. I bring him all the way inside, pressing the button for the elevator. He waits silently beside me for it to come, but when it opens, he makes no move to step in. I look over at him, studying his expression. He's staring through the elevator, either oblivious to its arrival or completely disinterested in it.

    "Schuldich," I tell him, giving him a light push that direction. He digs his feet in. I feel the small edges of alarm touch me but I force them aside, telling myself not to overreact. There's a reason for his small struggle, and I wrack my brain for it. "Is Crawford going to be angry at you for drinking?" I want to know.

    Something splinters in blue eyes; he's too drunk to guard the look. He hides it by looking away, but he doesn't move quickly enough. "He won't care," is his response.

    The doors have closed. I reach out and push the button, and they open again. This time I move with him into the elevator, bringing him with me to make sure he actually goes. He stares at the rows of numbers for a long moment before finally poking the one for the thirteenth floor. He's mumbling another song under his breath, staring at the row of numbers still and ignoring me as I study him. The door opens and I help him into the hall, moving with him until he indicates the room by digging in his feet again. The doors are few and far between here; the apartments have got to be large. They're meant for more than one person, and built for the rich. I wait as he fumbles for his keycard, and he rams it into the door with more force than it really needs.

    He pops the knob and shoves the door open, using his other hand to push my arm away from his waist. I watch to make sure he gets inside. He stumbles against the door; it opens all the way and bangs loudly against the wall. He swears at the noise and I glance past him, wondering if his teammates are still up, wondering if the noise woke those that were sleeping.

    Past him, I see a room down at the other end of the hall, and it's – wrong. I take a step forward before I realize I've moved, an uncomprehending frown on my lips. Then Schuldich is turning, and he shoves the door closed between us without another word. I listen to the lock get thrown into place and stand in the hall for a long time, just staring at the door. At last I turn away, letting my shoes carry me down the hall. This isn't my place; my place is above the flower shop.

    But an uneasy feeling follows me the whole way home. My sleep is restless. I sit on the edge of my bed the next morning, the only day of the week the shop is closed, and consider things. It's not my place to question him, but I grab my sunglasses and keys before I can talk myself out of it and go to my car. A few minutes later finds me parking in front of his apartment, and I take the elevator to his floor. I knock loudly on his door and wait. A few minutes pass and I knock again. Someone's got to be home at this time. I'm going to stay here until they answer.

    After ten minutes of knocking and waiting, the door finally opens. Schuldich arches an eyebrow at me from where he's propped between the door and the wall, his body an effective barrier into the apartment. "Can I help you?" he wants to know.

    I shrug. "You randomly show up my place at the time. Figured it was my turn."

    "Go home," is his response, and he moves back to shut the door.

    I plant my shoe in the way, and he throws a startled look towards it and then towards my face. Before he can react, I reach out and shove the door with all of my weight. He swears as he's knocked back; I hear his shoulder crack against the wall. The door bangs into the wall like it did last night and then I'm moving down the hall.

    "God damn it, Kudou-" He grabs at me but reacts just a second too slowly, and ends up slipping free. I keep going, listening to the door bang back into place before he hurries after me. He catches up to me as I reach the end of the hall, grabbing onto my elbow, but it's too late. It's too late because I'm staring in at what I thought I saw last night, and I realize that I really wasn't seeing anything.

    This room is supposed to be a small lounge of sorts, but it's bare. It's sole occupant is a wooden chair in the corner by the bay window. There's nothing else. No other chairs, no couches, no paintings, nothing. Absolutely nothing. "Schwarz isn't big on decorating?" I ask Schuldich, turning on him. His mouth thins to a hard line but he says nothing, and then I'm past him down the hall. I could be seriously wrong, but something in my gut tells me I'm not. Schuldich, for his part, remains in the doorway to the lounge. He doesn't bother to follow me, arms folded over his chest as he watches me. I open the doors one by one, looking inside.

    Only one of the rooms has anything in it, and it doesn't have much. I finish my search and turn on him, silently demanding an explanation. He vanishes into the kitchen and I follow, watching as he mixes tea at the counter. He pulls two cups down from the cabinet, and when the doors are open I see how bare they are. It's an apartment big enough for four and stocked for just one.

    "Where are they?" I ask when I realize he's not going to answer without a verbal prompt.

    "Austria," comes the response. He slides one of the cups down the counter, nursing his own as he leans against the fridge. I take my glass but don't drink from it, watching him. "Crawford was promoted to the Cabinet of Rosenkreuz, so Schwarz went back with him. Nagi's going to go through the training now that he didn't have time for before, and Farfarello goes wherever Crawford goes. Rosenkreuz isn't interested in Japan anymore, so there was no need for anyone to stay here."

    "And you?"

    The smile on Schuldich's face is the most honest expression I've seen from him so far, and it's scathingly bitter. "I've been released," he says simply. I don't have to ask what that means, because he explains just a few moments later. "He left six weeks ago, but before he went, he cut me from Schwarz. He's going to tell Rosenkreuz that my arrogance got me killed on a job, and they'll strike me from their records."

    I just stare at him. "But why?" Blue eyes flick to me and then away, and he doesn't answer. "Why would he take you out of your group?" I could ask him why he cares, but that expression is enough to tell me that this freedom Crawford gave him wasn't something he asked for. Crawford took him out of his team and left him behind, taking the others halfway across the world. And Schuldich… is never going to see them again, if Rosenkreuz really is done with this country. "Why would he take you out of the organization? I mean, can't you go to Austria and tell them that you're still alive?"

    "I probably could," he says, quietly. "I won't yet."

    We stand there in silence. My mind is reeling from all of this. Schwarz abandoned Japan over a month ago, and none of us knew. Schuldich could have gone with them- there's the chance that Crawford wouldn't have released him. Schuldich would have been gone just like that, bringing a sharp end to our comfortable relationship. I find myself strangely relieved that he didn't go and then tell myself that it's a selfish relief. Schwarz abandoned their telepath, leaving him behind. He isn't happy about it; his expressions and the way he talked tell me that he isn't at all pleased to be left behind, to just be dropped like that by his team. They were his group. He didn't talk about them often when we were together but the way he spoke of them told me that he was comfortable with them, that he liked them well enough. Now they're gone. And he won't fight to get them back.

    Why not? What's keeping him from leaving? What has he got to keep him here?

    We say nothing for several minutes. Schuldich finishes his tea and pours more. The apartment is eerily silent, unsettling almost. I consider this, wondering what it's like to come back to such a quiet place. My teammates and I have our own apartments above the flower shop, but all four of Schwarz lived in the same place. What is it like, for someone who likes to talk, to have so much silence here?

    This is why he was able to come to Nagoya, I realize. Crawford had left him. "He doesn't care what I do now," Schuldich had said.

    "What are you supposed to do for a living now?" I ask. "Without Schwarz, I mean."

    "Haven't gotten that far," is his honest answer.

    "Okay, well… Let's think on that."

    "I missed the part where I actually told you I needed your help," Schuldich says, arching an eyebrow at me.

    "I'm volunteering it," I return, finally sipping at my tea, "whether you need it or want it or not." I give him a moment to consider that and look around. "Jesus, it's quiet here."

    I don't expect him to make a comment, but after a few moments he agrees. "Yeah."

    "Let's go," I tell him, taking a large gulp of my drink before setting the cup on the counter. Schuldich sends me a blank look as I start towards the doorway, and I pause to send him an expectant look when he hasn't followed. At his frown, I elaborate. "It's too quiet," I say. "I don't think well in quiet places. Let's go." I beckon for him to follow.

    There's nothing saying he has to come along, but after a few moments he sets his glass down beside mine and follows after me to the door. I drive us to a café for breakfast and order us some food, and we sit across from each other at a little two person table. The waitress comes by quickly with our order and then vanishes again, and I look towards Schuldich. "What kind of work do you like?" I want to know.

    He shakes his head at me. "I'm not going to bother with a job."

    "You'd rather be a bum?" I ask.

    "Crawford's *going* to tell them I've died. He hasn't yet. I have three months."

    "For what?" I want to know.

    Schuldich considers me a moment and then shrugs and explains, adding some cream to his coffee before sipping at it. "Right now Rosenkreuz thinks I'm running a solo job that will delay my return to Austria by three months after Crawford's arrival. I'm to stay on my own for three months and then I'm allowed to go back. If I return within that time, Crawford's going to have me assigned to some extremely tedious paperwork branch of the school and I'll never see sunlight again. After three months, I'm safe."

    "But why?" I ask, confused.

    "He's certain I won't go back," Schuldich answers, studying his food. He pushes it around his plate. "He's just waiting for me to realize that for myself." There's a sneer in those words and then he starts eating.

    I'm completely lost, but I have the distinct feeling that he won't explain it any further. "So what are you going to do for another two months?" I want to know.

    "Sit on my ass," is his easy response.

    "All day?" I ask, and he shrugs. I think about his apartment, think about the empty rooms and the dishes for just one person. I think about the only room with things in it, and how few possessions were actually there. The thought of being in that place all day and all night bothers me. There's a solution, but I'm not sure I have the right to offer it. Of course, I already broke the rules of our relationship by shoving past him into his apartment, taking the answers for myself that he wouldn't willingly give me. But he probably wouldn't accept the offer anyway.

    But it burns on my tongue through the whole meal, and finally, as I'm paying the waitress at the cash register, I decide I might as well say it. "You could stay with me," I suggest, looking back at him to gauge his reaction. My offer surprises him; I can see it on his face. A small frown curves his lips as he thinks about it, and I wait for him to turn it down with a shrug and a few careless words. But it doesn't come, not immediately. "I've asked you before, and you ran away then," I tell him. "Going to do it again?"

    "It isn't running away," he informs me, following me out of the café. I arch an eyebrow at him and he sends a rude gesture back my way, and then we're at my car and sliding into our seats.

    "Well, I've got the day off and I'm bored," I tell him. "Feel like doing anything?"

    He just shrugs, and we're off again. I manage to keep us somewhat entertained until late afternoon, and then we end up back at the flower shop. Schuldich checks with his gift to figure out where my teammates are and then we move up to my apartment, finding the rest of our entertainment on my bed. I have enough food that I can cook us dinner later, and after eating he's gone again. I sit on my bed after he's left, sipping at a cup of juice as I consider what he's returning home to.

    "You should have stayed," I say aloud, but I can't make him if he doesn't want to.

    The thought that he'd rather go back there, to that hollowed out apartment that's way too big for just one person, than stay here where at least he can have company, bothers me. I tell myself that it shouldn't, but it does nonetheless.


    I see a lot of Schuldich the next couple of weeks, between him showing up at the Koneko or me inviting myself over to Schwarz's apartments. It's the most we've seen of each other, starting out with every other day visits and then becoming a daily thing. Even in Nagoya he didn't visit so often, and before that, Schwarz was still in town so he didn't have time to. But now he has nothing and no one, save for me, and I do what I can to ease the sure loneliness of being abandoned by his team. He's stubbornly waiting out his three months but I can see the toll it's taking on him to be alone. He talks a lot more; he's a lot more restless. He's a people person and he needs to have some sort of social life, and right now, our visits are all he has. They're longer these days. Because of my work, we meet in the evenings and slowly stretch our visits until the early morning hours. It doesn't matter for Schuldich, who has nowhere he has to be. But my shifts suffer for a little while from my lack of sleep until one day Schuldich just points me at his bed and makes me take a nap. I protest, because I came over so he'll have someone to talk to, but he insists, and I sleep. I spend the night there, waking up once when Schuldich comes to bed as well. He wakes briefly when I leave in the morning and mutters something about people waking up way too early.

    The next night, he ends up staying at my place all night. We've been lovers for almost five months now, and it's the first time he's actually stayed with me all night. I consider his sleeping form the next morning, reluctant to get up and get ready for work. I study a face smooth in rest, fingers running lightly over his skin. It's strange, yet familiar, to have someone to wake up to. It changes things, I think. It makes a difference, but probably more to me than it'll ever mean to him. It's a dangerous sort of difference, but I don't care. I like it.

    I suppose it should bother me on several levels that I'm starting to care too much. I know what I felt for Asuka. I know what I felt for the faceless girls I used to sleep with. And I know that Schuldich is somewhere in the middle right now, shifting from amusing companion and lover to something else. Maybe I should fight to keep it from shifting, but I don't have any interest in doing such a thing. It doesn't bother me at all to watch myself slide closer to the edge, even knowing that Schuldich plans to be gone in just a month and a half, knowing that I'll never see him again if he gets on that plane. I've lived long enough and seen long enough to know that it's the things you don't do, the things you don't allow yourself to have and feel, that will haunt you in the end.

    He doesn't stir under my touch, and I lean forward to press a light kiss to his forehead. We were both up late last night, entertaining ourselves with random arguments that were heavily laden with insults. He'll be asleep for a while longer. Content with that bit of knowledge, I slide from the bed and set about getting ready for work. I move as quietly as possible and manage not to wake him. I get the coffee pot set up so all he'll have to do is press a button, and then I'm gone.

    "Someone's happy this morning," Ken notes when I step inside, studying the smile that plays on my lips. "Any particular reason, or is asking that going to get me some gruesome tale of one of your conquests?"

    The last half of that is a tease; my teammates and the shop girls had to readjust when I cut off my dating months ago. I saw no point to take the offered company of the girls when I had him, and while I'll still flirt with them and tease them, they've learned nothing will come out of it. It took a while for the questions and the speculations to die down, but both my team and our customers have accepted it.

    Aya and Omi turn back at Ken's words from where they're setting up their stations. My smile widens. "I guess things are just going my way," I answer.


    "Move in," I tell Schuldich.

    He looks up at me from the newspaper he's reading. "I do believe you've said that several times before," he says.

    "I've offered it twice, and you've refused it twice." I lift my shoulder in a shrug. "Third time's a charm. Move in. You're over here all the time, anyway. Save yourself some travel and just stay here. There's room." I wave an arm around. "Your things can fit." He glances where I gestured and I take that as an encouragement. "If you're here, maybe we won't have to stay up so late and I can fix my schedule."

    "I could just leave you alone, and that would fix it," he points out sensibly.

    "I'm not willing to give that up," I tell him. "I'd rather keep the insomnia." He hesitates, perhaps a little startled by such an honest answer. Blue eyes study me, weighing the sincerity of my words. I wait for him to turn me down, to find a reason why he shouldn't stay, and start preparing myself for an argument. I wonder how he'll react if I have to fight him on this, to make him stay. I do want him to move in, and it's not all because of my messed up sleeping schedule. I want him here because I like having him here, because his visits have long since been the highlight of my day. Work is just a convenient excuse.

    "You shouldn't think such things when there's a telepath nearby," Schuldich tells me, sliding off my bed and tossing the newspaper to one side. "He might be listening to you at the moment."

    "I don't care," I answer, pushing myself up and following him. I catch him by his elbow before he reaches the door, turning him around to face me. His expression is smooth, his eyes guarded. "I haven't tried keeping secrets from you for months now. I don't care if you know where I stand here, and it doesn't bother me that I'm standing alone as long as you don't leave."

    I'm not demanding reciprocation from him. I just want acceptance of what he now knows I'm starting to feel, and I want it to not scare him off. I don't want him to leave, and that desire beats out any other concern.

    "Move in," I say, voice soft. "Stop being alone all the time. Crawford didn't leave you with a car; it takes money and time to take the train and even longer to walk this far. Just stay here. I want you to stay."

    Third time really is a charm. After several moments of silence, Schuldich pulls his arm out of my grip- but he doesn't leave. The rest of the evening is quiet, almost awkward. But he stays, and sleeps beside me through the night. I wake up early the next morning and clean out my closet, rearranging my dresser so things can fit and making a pile of things that won't fit that can be given away. I leave my closet doors open as a pointed command and leave for work.

    When I come back the closet doors are closed, but it's no longer empty, and Schuldich's sprawled out in bed with one of his own books. I move to sit beside him, deciding not to comment on his long-awaited decision to stay. It was hard enough to get him to accept the idea; I'm not going to say something that will make him change his mind. So I sit in silence beside him, working my fingers through his hair as he reads.


    We manage to fix the schedule so that it works for both of us. It takes some pushing and pulling, but eventually we find a way to break up the day. I have work, so I need sleep, but he's alone all day so he's restless to get out by the time I'm off shift. He leaves the apartment randomly during the day but for the most part that's where he gets most of his sleep hours in. So he lets me nap when I get back, and then we leave for dinner and random entertainment. We're up into the wee hours of the morning, and I then get a few more hours of rest in there as well. It takes a few days to adjust to but it works, and it's better than going all day and straight through the night with just a few hours of rest.

    It's nice having him there when I get off work. It's nice having him always around to talk to. Sometimes we don't leave the place at all. I'll cook, or he'll cook, and we'll just talk. He's getting better at talking, even though it's a struggle. He's talking more about real things, telling me stories of Rosenkreuz and other spots in Asia. I learn that he's fluent in several languages, as he was assigned to the Eastern division of Rosenkreuz and therefore needed to know the language of the countries he was sent to. He spent some time in China and Korea, and tells me that he could have been sent to Taiwan but Schwarz was moved to Japan instead. He tells me of America and Europe, and I listen in wonder. I've never been outside the country, and everything he talks about seems so fascinating. When he cooks he cooks dishes from the other places he's lived, and I just sit there and try to imagine what his life has been like. It's had its ups and downs- for he explained what a brutal system Rosenkreuz is- but for the most part, his life is the kind of thing that I have only read about in stories. I envy the things he's seen, and he laughs at me, for he doesn't consider most of what he tells me to be all that great.

    And so it continues, until the day my youngest teammate shows up on my door. I'm about to take my evening nap when I hear it, and I motion for Schuldich to store himself somewhere until I can get rid of the visitor. With that, I cross the room and open the door.

    "I brought dinner," Omi tells me, holding up a take-out bag.

    "Oh," I say. An excuse- I need an excuse for us to eat in his room. "Well-"

    "I brought enough for three," he interrupts me, blue eyes sliding past me. There's just the faintest bit of strain to his words. "If Schuldich can lower himself to eating with us."

    I open my mouth and close it again soundlessly, staring at my youngest teammate in shock. There's a creak behind me and I look back to see Schuldich stepping out of the bathroom. He and Omi eye each other for a long moment, two shades of blue judging each other. Schuldich's expression is calm, Omi's tight, and then Schuldich's eyes narrow and his mouth thins. "He *told* you," he says, and I realize he's given Omi's mind a poke. "That son of a bitch."

    And he whirls around, storming over to seat himself huffily on my bed. I look from one to the other, bewildered, and then beckon weakly for Omi to step in. I can see the tension in the teenager's shoulders as he moves past me, and I shut and lock the door behind me before following him towards my bedroom. He stops five feet from the bed and they stare at each other again, my teammate and my lover, both obviously displeased with the situation.

    "You knew?" I ask Omi.

    Omi's eyes flick towards mine before he looks down at the bag in his hand. His knuckles are white where he's holding onto it. "Crawford approached me two months ago and told me," he says, looking up again to eye Schuldich. Schuldich's expression is guarded, his eyes half-closed as he studies the younger man. "He said that Schwarz was leaving Japan for good, but that Schuldich was staying behind. He said he was leaving him here for you, and he told me why." He seats himself stiffly on the loveseat, setting the bag on the table in front of him to dig out dinner containers. "He said he'd be here for three months if he chickened out, and longer if he didn't."

    "If he what?" I ask.

    "Shut up," Schuldich says at the same time, voice flat.

    Omi turns cool blue eyes on Schuldich. "He told me about Ouka," he says. Every word is slow. He's had two months to think on this, but he's still wary and unhappy about what he knows. "He told me you didn't mean for her to die, that Farfarello's the one that pulled the trigger. He told me about Takatori."

    Schuldich's on his feet instantly, expression dark. "That isn't your business," he bites out.

    Omi gets to his feet as well, his own expression dangerous. I'm looking back and forth between them blankly, still reeling over the fact that Omi knows, and that he's known for a while. "It is," Omi says, voice sharp. "You're in a relationship with my teammate, my friend. My team hates you. I hate you."

    "Omi-" I start, but he ignores the interruption.

    "He told me so that I'd understand you," Omi says again. "He told me in hopes that I would be able to forgive you, so you two don't have to try so hard to keep this secret. When Yohji-kun finally decides he's going to tell everyone, at least he'll have an ally when Ran-kun and Ken-kun want to go for his throat." Schuldich says nothing, still scowling. "He told me, and I listened, but I didn't want to believe him. So I've been watching Yohji-kun for two months, waiting to see any sign that you've been hurting him." There's a pause as Omi struggles for words he doesn't want to say. "But he's *happy*," he says at last, and some of the tension leaves him. His shoulders sag slightly, either in acceptance or defeat. "He's been happier than I've seen him in years, especially these last few weeks. And I don't understand it, and I don't want to try to. But… I'll accept it, and I'll forgive you for what you've done in the past because of what you're doing now."

    Schuldich's eyes narrow, not in anger but in surprised thought, and he studies my teammate in silence. Omi reaches up, brushing his bangs out of his face, and then stabs a finger at the older man. "But if you do ever hurt him," he finishes, "I'll kill you. I'll hunt you down and kill you. Understand?"

    I expect Schuldich to recover from this shock long before I do. I expect him to make some comment that is typically Schuldich that will just irritate my teammate further. But the silence stretches between us and I look from one to the other, studying their expressions. I don't think either of them really notices that I'm here right now, locked in their stare down. They're judging each other, judging where they stand with each other and with me. And Schuldich… doesn't blow Omi off. He doesn't paste a smirk on his lips and throw some wicked taunt at my partner. A few minutes pass in silence, and then Schuldich reaches up and brushes his bangs out of his face.

    "I'm starving," he says.

    It's the second shock to my system in under ten minutes. It's Schuldich's way of accepting what Omi's told him, accepting and acknowledging the shifted balance between himself and Omi. It means he actually listened to the kid. I understand that, because I've been with him for almost seven months now, but I chance a quick look at Omi to make sure he realizes Schuldich isn't ignoring what he's said.

    But Omi's already holding a container out to the German. He doesn't release it immediately when Schuldich takes hold of it, and for a breath it hovers between them, connecting them. And then Schuldich's expression fades into something more familiar and Omi lets go.

    I sit between them, taking the second cushion on the loveseat. Omi is to my right and Schuldich perches on the edge of my bed to my left, and we eat together. When I think I've finally recovered from the shock I attempt conversation, and although it's awkward both of my companions chip in. When Omi leaves I walk him to the door, reaching out to ruffle his hair. He pauses on the landing, looking up at me, blue eyes searching my face for answers to unspoken questions.

    "Thanks, Omittchi," I say at last.

    He offers me a smile. It's tired, but it's sincere, and then he's gone. I watch him leave before returning inside. Schuldich is sprawled out on his side on my bed, and I move to stand beside him. He slants a look up at me, mouth curved in the faintest of frowns. "Remind me to kick Crawford's insufferable ass later," he tells me.

    "Duly noted," I answer. I study him for a few moments, reaching out to play with his orange hair as I consider what this truce with Omi might mean for us in the future. I find myself pleased by it, even as I wonder what Crawford could have possibly said that would make my teammate forgive Schuldich enough to accept him like this. "What did he mean?" I want to know. "About Takatori, I mean."

    He is silent for a few moments. "I don't want to talk about it," he says at last.

    And I accept that, not because I want to or have to, but because it's probably safer. It tells me that it was something serious; it tells me that that was what was enough to make Omi decide that Schuldich wasn't a demon to be feared and slaughtered. It tells me that if I knew, it would only make me angry, and I'd probably go dig up Takatori from his grave to beat the shit out of his corpse. My hand stills in his hair as I wonder what could have possibly happened. One day, maybe he'll tell me. Until then, I'm probably much better off not knowing. "All right," I say.

    He pushes himself up from the bed, tilting his head back to look up at me. "I'm bored," he says. "Let's go."

    "Anywhere in particular?" I want to know. It means I'm losing my nap, but I don't care because that conversation with Omi woke me right up.

    "I want to see a movie."

    I wonder what it means, but I don't question him. "Let's," I say instead. "And you can pay."

    That earns me a scowl, but it's only half-hearted.


    Schuldich's plane ticket shows up in the mail. It's an envelope addressed to me, but I know as soon as I've opened it who it's for. There's a single ticket and a small note inside, the ticket from Narita airport to Vienna, Austria. It's for one person, first class, and the date is just two days away from now. I just stare at it for a long time, breath caught in my lungs. I do a quick mental tally of the days and realize that it has been three months since Nagoya, that it really is time for Schuldich to pack his bags and leave. He's waited out his time here and now he's allowed to go back to his team, go back to the organization he belongs to. He'll be given another team, perhaps put back with his two younger teammates since Crawford is on Rosenkreuz's Cabinet. And they'll be off again, helping organizations all over the world grow. He'll travel the globe. Maybe he'll take more language lessons and move on to other continents.

    But Schwarz is done with Japan. Rosenkreuz is done with Japan. When he leaves, he won't come back.

    I move the ticket to my other hand, needing to turn it away from me because my stomach's just clenched inside of me, and glance at the note. It's just a single sentence, written in graceful looking English. It's been several years since I studied the language but I study it anyway, struggling with it.

    'Are you sure you want to give it up?'

    "What's so fascinating?" Schuldich wants to know, looking up from where he's mixing tea at the counter. I stopped right inside to open my mail, and now I look up towards him. He frowns at the look on my face, abandoning his drink to start towards me. His hands are wet and he wipes them off absently on his shirt as he stops beside me. I turn over the mail wordlessly, and he studies both the ticket and the note for a long time in silence. I slide past him, carrying the envelope to the trash can to toss it.

    I finish mixing his tea for him and leave it on the counter, moving into my room. I shrug out of my shirt, tossing it towards the laundry bin, and climb into bed. Schuldich looks up at last from what he's holding to turn a blue gaze on me. I shut my eyes against it. "It'll be good for you," I say, "to see them again."

    Which is the truth, but there's not really any emotion behind the words.

    "Mm," Schuldich says after a few moments.

    I can't fall asleep, but I lie there for an hour, trying to pass out. Schuldich joins me after the hour, settling himself on the bed between me and the wall. He says nothing, but I know he knows I'm still awake. When I finally give up on resting and get up again, I move to the kitchen and start our dinner. Schuldich stays where he is, but I feel his gaze on me as I work.

    We don't talk that night.


    I take the next two days off work, the first because it's Schuldich's last day here and the second because I'll need to be free to take him to the airport. We spend most of the day before out on the town, eating all three meals out and wandering where we like. The location doesn't really matter. The conversation that wasn't there last night is here today, and we pass the time with random topics. After dinner we finally return to my apartment, Schuldich sprawling on my bed as I wash some dishes left over from the day before. For all that it wasn't a demanding day, I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted from my denial over tomorrow.

    Don't go, I want to say, but I swallow the words. He's been waiting three months to go back to his team. They abandoned him here and he finally has the right and the chance to go back to them. They're his team… He's had them for years. I don't have the right to make him choose otherwise, and I won't because I know which one he'd choose.

    'Don't go' still burns on my tongue, though.

    Schuldich watches me as I work at the sink. I set the dishes back in the cabinet and dry my hands, and finally turn to face him. It's his last night here. His plane leaves at eleven tomorrow morning, so we have to be up early. He hasn't packed yet. I wish I could take it as a sign, but I know that it's only because we've been gone all day. It's not like he has a lot, anyway. He'll have plenty of time to pack in the morning.

    I move towards the bed at his beckon, and he reaches out to catch my wrist, tugging me down onto the mattress. I lean down to kiss him and he tugs at me, helping move me the way he wants me. It has me over him and I wait for him to flop us, wait for him to take the moment between the kisses and touches to move us. But he doesn't. We've been lovers for six months now and it's the first time he's giving me this, the first time he's allowing me this. It's our last night together and I need this, and he lets me have it, lets me have him. I don't let go of him afterwards, don't let go of him as we drift off to sleep, and he doesn't fight my hold. It is a long time before I can fall asleep.

    And the morning comes too quickly.


    Everything Schuldich owns fits into a suitcase and a shoulder bag. I take him to the airport and help him get checked in. He doesn't really need my help, as he's done this countless times before and I've been on a plane once in my life, when my family went to Okinawa, but he doesn't remind me of this fact. I follow him back to his waiting area and sit with him until they announce that he can board. Neither of us say anything, green and blue watching the chart of flights and times. His suitcase has been sent through already and is waiting to be loaded on the plane. His shoulder bag sits in his lap and his hands rest on top of it.

    Don't go.

    The loudspeaker turns on at that moment, a woman's voice announcing the first boarding for Schuldich's flight. My stomach clenches as Schuldich rises to his feet, and I push myself up as he slings his bag over his shoulder. We study each other for several moments in silence, his expression clear but his eyes guarded. It's a fight to keep my own expression blank, and I know the smile I finally force onto my lips looks strained. I reach up, touching the back of my hand to his face.

    "Send me a postcard," I joke.

    He just quirks an eyebrow at me and turns away. I stand there and watch him as he leaves, watch as he checks in at the desk. He shows them his ticket and is waved through, and he is gone without a glance back. I stay where I am, wondering if I'm going to be physically sick. I tell myself to be happy for him and I realize that I am. I'm happy for him that he's going back where he belongs- happy for him, and heartsick for me. I should probably leave, but I cannot make myself move.

    Come back.

    The minutes tick by. People filter by me to enter the plane, and then I'm the only one still standing there. The lady comes on the speaker again to announce the last boarding call. I feel sick and dizzy, and my thoughts are spinning in little frantic circles. And then they catch on something.

    "Are you sure you want to give it up?" Crawford's note said.

    Schuldich never found what he was left here for. He never looked for what it was Crawford wanted him to find. I remember Omi sitting there with our dinner, and saying that Schuldich would be here for three months if he chickened out- and longer if he doesn't. He hasn't found it yet. He's giving up. There's a chance I could convince him to try again, to stay longer. Crawford wouldn't mind if his former teammate stayed on longer; he's the one who left Schuldich behind in the first place.

    Come back.

    I'm moving suddenly, quick strides carrying me towards the desk. The clerk looks up at my approach, holding out his hand for my ticket. "He's got my car keys," I say, and then I'm past him, racing down the tunnel towards the plane. I hear his startled inquiry, hear heels beating against the ground as one of the clerks follows me, but then I'm inside the plane. Schuldich's sitting in first class, right there when I appear through the doorway. He looks up at me, his mouth open to ask what I'm doing, but then I'm yanking his shoulder bag down from the overhead compartment and racing off the plane with it.

    "H-hey!" I hear metal clattering- his seatbelt being thrown to either side as he gets up. I'm only halfway down the tunnel when he grabs onto one part of his bag. I refuse to let go, so the force of his yank just pulls me around to face him. To either side of us, stewardesses and clerks wait a good distance back. They're not willing to come any closer yet, and I ignore them in favor of my orange-haired lover. "Kudou, what the hell-" he starts.

    "Don't go," I say, and he shuts up. He just stares at me, blue eyes wide. "Don't go," I say again. "Don't go back to Austria. Don't get back on that plane. Stay here- stay with me. Whatever you were looking for, whatever you needed that kept you here… We'll look harder. I'll quit the flower shop somehow. I'll stop taking missions. We'll look night and day until we find it. I promise we'll find it. Just stay. Stay with me. I don't want you to go."

    He opens his mouth, and closes it again soundlessly. I take his face in my hand, pulling him closer to kiss him. There's a desperate edge to the kiss but he doesn't pull away. "Please," I whisper against his lips.

    He is silent for a long time, and the silence hurts. I just stare at him and him at me, green and blue searching each other. My heart is pounding so hard my chest aches, and my hand is shaking where it's clinging so tightly to his bag. And then he reaches up with his free hand, fingers dancing over my face. "I don't want to go," he says at last, voice quiet.

    I drop his bag, wrapping both arms around him to squeeze him against me. His face is against my shoulder as I practically crush him, but he doesn't protest the tight hold. The panic to get him to stay has faded to a dizzier sort of rush, and I press a light kiss to the side of his neck before slowly releasing him. "Come on," I say, taking hold of his wrist. "This plane wants to take off."

    He says nothing but lets me guide him towards the exit. His suitcase is still on the plane but I'm sure we can contact the other airport and have them ship it back. I won't worry about that now. Details come later. Schuldich's going to stay. Some of the stewardesses we pass are beaming, not quite understanding what they just saw but somehow pleased by it. I barely notice them; I'm more aware of the man following me, of his heartbeat beneath my fingertips. We say nothing to each other as we weave through the airport, or as we make our way through the parking garage to my car. The drive back to my place is equally quiet, but as we step out of the car behind the Koneko I start talking. "You can keep staying here," I tell him, leading him up the stairs. "You can stay here as long as you want. And you won't have to sneak around anymore. Omi knows. We'll tell the others. They'll learn to accept it, just like Omi has, and you can come and go as you please, and you'll have more people to talk to so you won't always be alone. And we'll find what it is you're looking for. We'll find what it is you want."

    It isn't until I've stepped through the door first that Schuldich acts. I'm only a few feet inside when he reaches out, snagging my shirt. I turn around to face him again. He's leaning against the door, blue eyes guarded as he studies me, and I move closer to him, standing just a breath apart.

    "I want," he murmurs quietly, only audible because we're so close, "a happy ending. I want to believe again."

    "What will that take?" I want to know.

    He considers me for a long moment. "Damn that insufferable bastard, anyway," he says at last, with a soft sigh. I have the distinct feeling he's talking about Crawford, and then Schuldich's hands are on either side of my face and he's kissing me. I want to tell him that he hasn't answered yet.

    And then I realize that he is.

    I'm the reason he stayed, and I'm the reason he almost left. Omi said that Crawford left Schuldich here for me, but I didn't really understand it then. He said Schuldich would leave if he chickened out. And I realize that this is what has been bothering him, a relationship that started out as fun and casual and started becoming something deeper. Schuldich said he didn't believe in happy endings, but he was left behind so he could find one. He was left behind… to stay with me.

    I'm so relieved, so happy, that I want to laugh. But if I start, I won't be able to stop.

    I kiss him instead. "I'll see what I can do about that," I promise him.

    "You do that," is his response. "Crawford just ate a two thousand dollar ticket." He makes a face. "Bet he wasn't even going to send an escort to pick me up, the asshole."

    I laugh, a ragged sound, and lace my fingers through his hair to kiss him again. He lets his shoulder bag slide down his arm to the floor and reaches up, lacing an arm around my neck as I press him against the door. Sometime today, maybe I'll tell Aya and Ken. It will take them time to accept this but I won't back down, and Omi's on my side. Maybe I'll tell Schuldich that he could get a job with us, so he's not alone anymore. But details can always be figured out later. Schuldich's here to stay.

    It feels like a happy ending already.

The End
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