Patterns of Blood ~ Mami's fanfics

God hurts those He loves...

~~~Ficlets, Excerpts, and AC~~~

This is the page where I'm hoping to keep the extra bits organized. Most of this is going to be WK ficlets and stuff. Some of what shows up here might be scenes from deleted fics (ex: Three Steps to Paradise) or scenes from fics that I don't know if I'll ever have a chance to write. Songfics, even though they tend to be as short as ficlets, are back on the main fics page.

The only reason AC is listed is because I attempted to write two AC ficlets when FF: Advent Children first came out, and I had nowhere else to stick them. o_O; Hm. It was a learning experience, at least- it reminded me why I never left the WK fandom. There's a strong possibility that some of the WK things will have spoilers, and the AC ones definitely do have them.

956 Days .. SxF
All a Dream
A l w a y s .. CxS
Blink .. FxK
Chocolate Cake and Death Threats .. CxS
Cold .. CxS
Exit Strategy .. CxS
Facade .. YohjixManx
Flash .. SxF
Games ((AKA: Why Sluts Can't Go On Proper Dates)) .. YxS
Ogawa's Chocolates - VDay Ficlet .. CxS
Psalm 23 .. YxS
Reckless .. NxS
Schwarz Misbehaving .. CxS
Shields - Excerpt from Necropolis
Snow Angels
Stay, for Lieb Schaden .. CxF
Taste .. FxC
The Bait
The Hearse     ((gore)) .. SxF
The Space Between .. YxS
Three Steps to Paradise: Lust -- excerpt .. SxF (SxFxY)
Two .. YxS
Watching Him Watching Me .. FxS
Wherever You Will Go .. SxY

Advent Children: Special
Advent Children: Let Go (rated NC-17)

Back to Mami's Fics

956 Days

The first time he fucked me into my dingy mattress I fought him the whole way down. I don't even remember why I fought anymore; it was probably more for the principle of the thing than anything else. He earned a scar on his hand where I broke the skin with my teeth. You can't really see it unless you're looking for it, but I know where to look and he knows where to look and that's all that really matters. I don't know why it ever occurred to him to wonder what I'd look like, sweaty and tangled in my sheets. It's not like Rosenkreuz stamped "fuckable" on my file. He read it enough times that he would have noticed.

You wouldn't think that biting and kicking invited a repeat performance, but it only took him two days to come back. I remember that time a lot more than the first, really. He showed up smelling of death and someone else's fear and was covered in blood. I still remember the way it tasted on his skin; I still remember the way it tasted in his mouth. It was like screwing the grim reaper himself- rather, the other way around. Apparently nowhere in his training had he ever been taught the word "No"; it didn't help a damn bit against him.

That's the drawback of restraints, I guess. They could keep me from harming myself, but they invited others to do as they wished. It's hard to fend someone off when your arms are wrapped across your chest in the folds of a straitjacket. He never bothered to gag me and instead did his best to keep out of range of my teeth after that first incident. I think he rather liked the way snarled death threats sounded when they rolled off my tongue.

It wasn't until the third time that he invited me to share in the experience as more than just an unwilling sheath, but I still think I would have been much happier not being dragged down with him. He was laughing in my ear the first time his hands touched me, hot and heavy and searching for a reaction of any sort. He called himself the angel of Schwarz; I spat in his face for such blasphemy and he just scraped it off and smeared it on his hands to make his grip easier.

The time in between his visits were hazy blurs of color and sound, always fleeting. I think I dreamed of flying once. Cities, languages I couldn't understand, people that turned into monsters. Mostly I was there in the ward, or somewhere that looked just like the ward. Restraints and drugs, shots and pills. Trips up and down, and he was the only real color, as much as I hated him, as much as I couldn't understand him. I fought him every time he came and he laughed at me every time. It took me a while to recognize the bitterness in that laugh.

He never made any sense to me. I don't know how many times he came. I could count it on one hand; I would need a pencil and paper to add it up. Nothing ever moved in a straight line, him and time most of all. Sometimes he just talked, but I rarely could hold onto the words. Most of the time he just helped himself, ignoring the way I fought. How many times did he come? Once? Twice? He came in scattered bursts. I'm not sure how long it lasted; I don't know why it lasted so long. Days, I think sometimes. Weeks. Once I counted up enough blurry memories to make years, but that doesn't make sense. I've never left this room; I've never been anywhere but here. It's been only a few hours since his first visit, I'm sure. That or two years, seven months, and fourteen days. If it was that long, though, I think either I would have gotten tired of fighting or he would have grown sick of laughing at me for it.

If it was that long, I would know.

All I know is that he finally stopped coming.

One of the last times he came to me he didn't do anything except stand across the room from my bed with a cigarette dangling from his lips. I remember seeing bruises on his face and blood staining the end of his cigarette. He was saying something, ranting about someone I didn't know, but the way he said it hinted that I was supposed to. I remember that that was predictable coming from him; he always expected me to follow him down his delusional ranting. He brought me a mirror, showed me similar bruises on my face. I didn't remember him giving them to me.

"If only you weren't such a junkie," he said, the only thing I remember clearly out of his entire rant. "If only you weren't such a fucking junkie, we could get out of this joint and sell Takatori's organs on the black market. Wouldn't that be a blast?"

I ignored him. There was a scar on his hand where I'd bitten through the skin just a while ago- some time ago, some amount of time that I could never grasp, that never mattered enough to grasp- that said he had no right to be anywhere near me.

I dreamed of a tower by the sea. The last time he came to me there was fear and excitement in his gaze and his hands were shaking with impatience as they shoved at my restraints.

"It's going to be different from here on out," he whispered, voice harsh. "It's going to be different. We're going to win this and things will change. There's a doctor in Nagano- guess I told you that already."

I didn't remember what he was talking about, but I didn't bother to argue. I was too busy slamming my knee up into his diaphragm, and I still remember the way his face twisted at the pain. He didn't have the benefit of being unfeeling like I did. He was alive and moving and inconstant, everything that I wasn't. He believed in time; he believed in two years and seven months and fourteen days when I could barely remember how many times he'd come into my room, even if I sat down and seriously tried to count it.

"We can get rid of these things," he told me, fingernails sliding down over my legs. "And maybe you'll start to remember again."

He got too close. I bit the bottom of his earlobe off. He snarled at the pain but he didn't leave. Blood ran down his face and over his throat, dripping onto my white sheets and into my eyes. He left when someone came for him. Did he stay after he was done, or were we interrupted by the door? It doesn't matter.

A tower by the sea. Something.

I remember water, heavy water, and falling rocks. Blood in the surf.


Fingers tangled in wet orange hair, which has to be a dream because I never saw it wet.

He never came back.

Maybe he was never here to start with.

I don't know if he's a bad memory or a bad dream. Life is a bad dream. Time is a bad dream. No one needs time. It changes things. It changes people. It blurs the memory, if such things were ever memories in the first place instead of just figments of one's imagination.

I don't know if I ever knew his name. I think he told it to me every time he came.

Did he ever come?

Two years, seven months, fourteen days.

Is that how long he came for me, or how long since he died in the sea?

"He's going to get us free."

Tucked inside Rosenkreuz's ward and I know I've never left, know he never existed, know that there's never been anything outside of this. Just the blurry memory of doctors in white and drugs and shots, and only the resentful thinking of why his smile never fades from my memory if he was nothing but a dream.


All a Dream

And I said
This is just a dream
And I know
One day we're gonna break free
To fly away...

Hey, remember when you said this was all a dream?

October, wasn't it? Couldn't have been September because we had already moved to Tokyo. That first place was so small, just like everything in Japan is so small. We weren't meant to be in such living quarters, not people like us. Anyone else, but not us. You can't stick four psychopaths in a three room place without three of them in straitjackets. I'd say four, but someone would have to feed the rest or everyone would starve to death.

This is all a dream, you said.

Standing out on the balcony in the rain; I'd say I'd thought you'd finally lost your mind but everyone knows you lost it long before then. I was just annoyed that the laundry was getting wet and you weren't bothering to bring it in. You wouldn't let me back inside; I remember you shutting the door behind me. Small hands on the railing, big eyes on the sky. It was pouring and the wind made the drops hurt. There was an overhang over the balcony but it didn't help any when the rain was going every direction. No thunder, though. I thought for two years that Japanese storms never had lightning, because that's how long it took before I saw any. You were staring up at the sky as if waiting for the clouds to part, as if waiting for a sign.

I had never seen you smile before, and it was damn creepy seeing it then. Blue eyes tilted my direction and the curve to your lips was hollow.

This is all a dream.

Nothing else, just that. I didn't have a clue what you meant. You said nothing else and I had nothing to say to you, so I stood out there and got soaked just like our laundry, just like you. Fucking cold as hell, but you weren't shaking. I wondered if you'd ever felt cold, or if you'd just been cold for so long that you couldn't notice it anymore. I pulled at the door but it took a second try before it would open, and I grabbed our laundry and went inside. It rained for a week; our clothes had to dry in the bathroom in between our showers.

I didn't wonder about it then. I wonder about it now. What the hell was that supposed to mean?

What's a dream? This? This fucked up excuse of an existence? You can't tell me Rosenkreuz was a dream. You can't tell me that a cramped apartment and an overcrowded city and some power-hungry politicians is a dream. Dreams are supposed to be pleasant, or so I've heard. At the most, they should be boring. You've got wings. You relive your day. You find yourself naked in the middle of an important conference. Whatever; depends on who's dreaming it as to whether or not they'll find the latter amusing. Me, personally, I'd love to see those fat fucks choke on their food if I waltzed in there in all my glory.

Dreams are nothing more than a way to pass the time between one lousy night and one lousy morning, that's all. Just an interlude where you're supposed to get some rest. It's nothing special.

By the smile on your face then, I guess you thought it wasn't anything special, either.

I run my fingers through blood, wondering about how hot it feels against my skin. For such a cold little bastard, I suppose I expected your blood to be at least just lukewarm. There's a hand on my shoulder and I tilt my head back, and Farfarello's standing there. He peers past me down at you where you lay, then arches an eyebrow at me in question. I have plenty to say, but nothing to tell him. Instead I lift my hand to show him the blood. Your blood. Your dark eyes are open and blank as you stare straight ahead, and I wonder what you're looking at. Certainly not me, though your gaze is pointed my way.

"This is all a dream," I tell him.

He gives a quiet snort and straightens. "Never pegged you for self-delusion," he says.

"Didn't know you knew me so well." I smirk up at him and turn back to your broken body. Broken by your own gift. The bones have all collapsed in upon themselves; you're a twisted wreck upon the floor. I wonder what it must take to destroy yourself with your own power. I wonder how bad you've got to want it.

"If you think this is just a dream, then you're just waiting for the moment you wake up," Farfarello says. "When's that going to happen?"

He says nothing else. I hear his footsteps tap against the floor. He's leaving; he's through here. He doesn't care to linger over one battered little body. I trail my finger through the spreading puddle around you, watching as the mess parts briefly in the wake of my hand. I move my hand to your face, pressing a dot into your forehead, and consider your blank gaze. I consider Farfarello's words and in my mind I can see you again on that balcony with that one-time smile on your face.

"Huh," I say, and I press down to close your eyes. There's nothing more for us to do here. Someone else will come by later to clear the mess, and Crawford can take care of the report. Our job was just to find you, wherever you'd gone. I shake my hand to clear the excess blood from it and plant my hands on my hips, considering you where you lie.

This is all a dream.

Are you awake now, Nagi?

If you are, does that mean the rest of us are still dreaming?

I don't know, so I turn around and walk away.


A l w a y s

It's seven o'clock, but Schuldig's not worried.

As a rule, he doesn't worry about anything, as that implies doubt, and doubt inevitably leads to failure. Schuldig doesn't believe in defeat. He's lived his life assuming everything will turn out exactly as he wants it to. It's gotten him this far, hasn't it? He made the cut for Schwarz because he refuses to let anyone else be better than him. He earned Estet's favor because he believes in perfect results. He caught Crawford's eye because he is ambitious and ruthless. And now his inability to second-guess Crawford has gotten him his freedom.

He's not worried. He's simply impatient.

Rendezvous at six, Crawford said. He gave them the exact time, the exact place, and Schwarz pulled itself out of the sea and did what they were told. The three youngest made it there right at six, still soaked to the bone and so exhausted they could barely walk. Six o'clock came, then passed, and Crawford never showed. At six-fifteen, Schuldig drove the other two home, just like he was told to do. He'd left them there to tend to each other's injuries and had returned here to wait.

Seven o'clock, and he's back again.

Crawford isn't here.

He admits there's a chance he might have passed Crawford, except they have just the one car, and besides, Nagi would have called him. The two might have fallen asleep, but no one can sneak up on Farfarello. Doesn't matter how exhausted he is; Farfarello can hear a door opening from two floors away. Farfarello would have woken Nagi up. For that matter, Crawford would have called him when he realized Schuldig wasn't there.

He's not worried. Maybe annoyed.

This is their big day, the culmination of years' worth of planning and waiting. "Good things come to those who wait". They're free men now. He's supposed to be cracking open beers at home. He's supposed to be getting shit-faced and going down on Crawford. He's supposed to be packing, because they have to be out of the country by noon tomorrow, before Rosenkreuz's teams show up looking for them.


Seven forty-five.

He's cold and tired and not at all amused. There's a knot in his stomach that tastes like bile on the back of his tongue. He's lost feeling in his fingertips, but he's not really sure if that's because it's so windy right here on the cliffs or because he's been clenching his hands in his sleeves for twenty minutes now.

Eight o'clock, he calls Nagi. He knows as soon as Nagi answers that he's woken the boy up, because Nagi's voice is slurred and drowsy.

"Tell me he's there," Schuldig says.

There's silence for just a heartbeat, and Nagi sounds too-awake when he demands, "Where are you?"

Schuldig stares out at the tide and feels that knot eat its way up his throat. "Tell me he's at the house," he says. He hears his voice twist around the words but he can't stop it.

Glass shatters and something hits the wall as Nagi knocks something over. He can hear Nagi's feet slap against the ground as the kid runs down the hall. Doors bang as he throws them open and Schuldig's phone creaks in his tightening grip. He hears Nagi's voice, breathless and muffled as he moves the phone away from his ear: "Crawford?"

Schuldig can't hear Farfarello's response. Nagi comes back on the phone, alarmed and frantic. "Schuldig, he's not-"

Schuldig hangs up on him.

'Meet here at six,' Crawford said. 'Schuldig, drive them home,' he said.

Schuldig isn't worried.

Eight o'clock, nine o'clock, ten o'clock.

Crawford will come, because Schuldig refuses to have things any other way. Things always turn out how he wants them to and Schuldig wants Crawford here. Schuldig wants Crawford to think less of him for standing out here for three hours waiting as long as it means Crawford shows up in one piece.

At eleven o'clock, Nagi and Farfarello melt out of the shadows behind him. Schuldig refuses to turn and look at them. He keeps his stare pointed at the sea, which he can't see anymore, and a horizon that's all shadows. Sand and gravel crunch behind him as his teammates approach him on slow steps. Fingers touch his arm but he can barely feel them; the wind has chilled him to the bone.

"Schuldig," Nagi says, so soft Schuldig thinks it might be the breeze. "Schuldig, let's go home."

Schuldig thinks about Rosenkreuz and Estet and falling and the house, the tickets in his bedside table that'll get him to America, the future Crawford promised him.

He remembers how Crawford never said he'd meet them later, how Crawford never called it 'our' freedom, how Crawford never guaranteed anything. Schuldig never asked him to, because only foolish, needy people demand signs of a commitment, and he and Crawford are anything but. He just assumed, because that's the future he wants. Schuldig always gets what he wants. Always. Always.

"Schuldig," Nagi tries again.

If he waits a minute more, Crawford will come. Another minute, maybe two, and Crawford will come, because Crawford knew they'd all come back to the beach for him. Maybe three minutes, or four, or an hour, or dawn. They have ten hours before their plane takes off, eight hours before they're supposed to head to the airport. Crawford always has impeccable timing. He'll show up tomorrow morning to pack and to drive them, and they'll know he has everything under control.

Schuldig's not worried.

That isn't betrayal working its way across his chest like lava; it's anger.

"He's not coming," Schuldig says. He hears the words but can't feel his lips moving, not when they're numb from the icy night.

Silence, and then a quiet, "No."

Nagi pulls at his arm again, and Schuldig takes the first step back. Just one step and he digs his feet in instinctively, resisting Nagi. He continues to stare out at the black sea, waiting waiting waiting, and takes another step back. The hand that finds his shoulder has to be Farfarello's, and the Irishman turns him. Schuldig lashes out instinctively, but Farfarello doesn't let go. He shoves Schuldig because he knows Schuldig won't go on his own, and somehow they get him to the car.

Schuldig makes it all the way there before his stomach gives out on him, and he grabs at the passenger door for balance. He throws up so hard he almost shakes himself off his feet.

He doesn't remember the ride home. He dimly remembers shoving clothes into his travel bag so roughly that he tears cloth. He drinks until he can't think, until he can't move. When Nagi wakes him up the next day, he's alone in bed. He lets his teammates drag him out to the curb, and a taxi takes them to the airport.

He stands at the gate while the rest of the passengers board, staring out the window at their plane. Nagi and Farfarello wait for him to move, knowing better than to go ahead of him. The overhead speakers announce last boarding call and they're the only ones at the gate. The attendants are watching them curiously. Schuldig turns and stares down the hall, looking for a familiar cream suit, and knows he's never going to see it again.

"He's not coming," Schuldig says.


"But I always get what I want."

"Not this time," Farfarello tells him.

Schuldig stares at him, struggling to process that, unable to understand such a concept.

"Schuldig," Nagi tries. "Let's go."

For the first time in his life, Schuldig admits defeat. The first step he takes towards the gate feels like a betrayal against everything he is and everything he's built his life on. The second step isn't any easier, but he moves, because this is what Crawford promised him, this is everything Schuldig told Crawford he wanted. And Schuldig always gets what he wants. Just not all of it.


Blink --- Written for Almighty Frog

It was like sunrise, in a way. First there was just the faintest hint of a red streak, and then it slowly melted outwards into a dark red ball. He studied it for a moment, mesmerized by the similarities, by the sheer possibilities of new starts and new days and new hunts, and then snuffed it out. A press of his thumb smeared the droplet of blood into something ugly and misshapen and he raked his hand upwards along the hard lines of a bare abdomen. The blood couldn't go far- it was only a drop, after all- and it faded to nothing. He turned his hand over, waggled his clean fingertips, and started anew.

He cut in a seesaw motion this time, gently rocking the blade back and forth, watching it work its way slowly but steadily deeper. It wasn't sunrise anymore. The two parallel lines were something else entirely. A path, perhaps, an unbroken sidewalk. It wrapped around his waist, a pathway from one side of the world to the other. It had to end somewhere, but that was out of sight, hidden by the sheets. Blood beaded up along both lines and he walked his fingers across it, wondering where it would take him. Somewhere far away from here, or back to where he started? That was the curse with circles, wasn't it? Never went anywhere.

A sudden spike of anger had him jerking his hand up, ready to slam the knife home and cut everything away. Blades pricked at his throat in warning, catching at his collar. He flicked a golden gaze from the blood to the brown glove. It was all the other man was wearing. He continued down the length of a tanned arm to a face. Calm blue eyes stared back at him, waiting for him to come back to himself. Sky above sunset. Day.

Full lips twitched into a smile that was almost mocking. The blades at his throat didn't withdraw. He, in turn, didn't lower his knife. He tilted his head down instead, tongue out to slide along one of the lines. They weren't deep enough to bleed, so it disappeared in Hidaka's sun-darkened skin. Farfarello erased the second line.

"We're going to have to find you a hobby besides cutting people up," Hidaka said.

"Same for you," Farfarello returned.

The other man didn't answer that. Instead he turned his hand to neatly hook his claws in Farfarello's collar. A pull dragged the Irishman up the length of his body. Farfarello let himself get kissed, let Hidaka probe his mouth for any hint of blood.

"I can't taste it," Hidaka said, sounding disgruntled.

Farfarello lowered his knife to his own shoulder and cut a line across it. Hidaka pulled his head to one side so he could reach and fastened his teeth to the skin around the cut. Farfarello hissed through clenched teeth and dug his free fingers into Hidaka's side. The brunette ignored the pain, more interested in tonguing Farfarello's gash. He shifted a little, pushing up against Farfarello, a slow side of thighs and hips and groin. Start stop start stop pulse of quickening blood and heat. Life waking up. Sweat on temples like dew on grass.

Hidaka dragged his mouth across Farfarello's skin to his throat, but the black collar there hindered exploration. "You've got to get rid of this one of these days," he said, sounding annoyed.

"Crawford thinks it should stay."

"Fuck Crawford."

Farfarello considered that, imagining red lines across Crawford's marble-white skin, fire on ice that would never be enough to melt it. There was the fleeting sensation of falling, frozen. Not even sunset. Space. Depths of space, where nothing lived and everything vanished into darkness. The thought made him cold all over.

"Not literally," Hidaka said when he saw the distant look on Farfarello's face. He gave a hard tug at Farfarello's collar, a demand that it be removed.

Farfarello's knife was at his throat in an instant, pressing so hard against the underside of his chin that he forced Hidaka's head back. "It stays on," he said in simple warning.

Hidaka was too stupid to be intimidated. He sighed and slid his blades further up Farfarello's throat. "Back off." Farfarello didn't move, more interested in watching the way the veins in Hidaka's throat fluttered against his knife. He could see the man's skin reflected on his blade. "Now."

Farfarello laughed a little, amused at the prospect of being threatened, and slid his knife down Hidaka's throat. He stretched forward enough to bite at Hidaka's lower lip. Hidaka turned his head into the kiss and this time they both could taste blood. Hidaka shuddered a little at the tang of it. Farfarello tangled his free hand in Hidaka's head and forced it deeper into the mattress, holding Hidaka as still as he could. If Hidaka couldn't move his head, he'd at least move the rest of his body, and he ground up against Farfarello again.

"Are you going to fuck me or cut me?" Hidaka demanded.

"Both," Farfarello answered.

"Then hurry up."

"Dawn takes its time. So will I."

"What? Skip the poetry and fuck me."

Farfarello thought about that. At length he decided there'd be time for slow mornings later. Days passed in the blink of an eye, after all, and tomorrow, perhaps, they'd both be dead, perhaps they'd be little more than bones and dust. One blink two blinks and the world was already gone, a frozen ball of hell, an uninhabited satellite among the stars.

If a blink was all he had, there was no time to waste.


Chocolate Cake and Death Threats --- Written for Stace S

Street lights flashed off of the window as the car zoomed past, sporadically replacing the view with his reflection. Crawford watched as his face appeared and vanished again on the glass, staring through the faded colors of his face and hair as he thought towards the day. Takatori was fast asleep in the seat across from his, oblivious to his surroundings and utterly drunk. Crawford doubted he would remember being put in his limousine after the party. He wasn't even sure the fat man would remember that there had been a party until he saw the article in the following morning's newspaper, but it wasn't his job to remind Takatori of his artificial social life.

It had been a long day, the sort of day that was becoming more and more common as their contract with Takatori stretched on. The preparation for this job had been staggering in its size but at least it had made the first few months easy. But easy was boring, and he supposed it was good that things were finally starting to move the way Estet wanted them. Even still, it had been twenty hours since he'd first left Takatori's place with the politician for work, meetings, dinner, and a party, and he was more than ready to let someone else handle the prime minister hopeful.

At last they pulled up to Takatori's place. The driver came back to open the door and leaned in, looking from Takatori to Crawford as he tried to figure out how to get the snoring man inside. Crawford considered leaving him to figure it out, save for the fact that the driver was barely pushing five foot three and would be crushed under Takatori's immense self. It wasn't his job to lug around drunken clients… except that it was. He swallowed a sigh and reminded himself of Estet's contract before moving from his chair to Takatori's. "Here," he said, and the relief on the driver's face was visible when he realized the strange foreigner was going to help him.

It was still a near impossible task between the two of them; the driver was just too short to be any real help. Crawford stopped him before they even got Takatori out of the car because he knew they'd just drop him and he didn't want to deal with the consequences of that.

~Schuldich,~ he called. ~Are you awake?~

/Depends on what you want me for,/ was the drawled answer.

~Come down to the car. We have to get Takatori inside.~ Silence was his first response. Crawford waved the driver off with the assurance that his team would take care of it, and the driver bowed and excused himself with various mutterings of gratitude and apologies. Crawford gave Schuldich another ten seconds before calling again. ~Now, Schuldich.~

/Do you have any clue what time it is?/

~You're still awake,~ Crawford pointed out.

/I was waiting on *you*,/ was the annoyed response. /Not him./

~I'm relieved,~ was Crawford's dry answer, and Schuldich sent him a few colorful insults. Crawford didn't bother to answer, knowing that the telepath was on his way, and waited beside Takatori for the younger man to show up. It only took a minute before he heard shoes crunch over the gravel driveway, and a moment later Crawford's teammate poked his head inside the car. Orange hair fell in his face and he had a light cotton robe on over sleeping pants. The light in the car was on because of the open door and it gleamed off of smooth skin where the robe hung undone around the telepath's lean chest.

Crawford reminded himself that they had to deal with Takatori first and lifted his gaze to Schuldich's face. The telepath was eyeing Takatori through hooded eyes and his disgust was only visible in the way his mouth curved. "You sure we can do this alone?" he asked. "You don't think we need a crane?"

"I'm sure we'll manage."

Schuldich gave a tired sigh. "Whatever…" He reached out, taking hold of Takatori, and the two awkwardly maneuvered the larger man out of the car. "I thought Japanese people were supposed to be *little*."

"You of all people should know better than to stereotype," Crawford pointed out.

"Crawford, it's almost five a.m. Don't get cute with me."

"I warned you that we wouldn't be back until late. You should have gone to sleep."

Schuldich didn't bother to give that a response and the pair lugged Takatori towards the door. Crawford had to let go of the politician with one hand to get the door and he had just curled his fingers around it when Takatori gave a sudden start in their arms, lurching in response to some drunken dream. Schuldich gave a strangled curse as the politician thrashed and even though Crawford made a grab at them, he couldn't move fast enough. The two hit the ground and Schuldich let out a string of florid curses as Takatori fell on top of him.

Crawford's mind clicked through priorities in rapid succession as he leaned over and he ended up giving Takatori a hard shove to get him off of his teammate. He told himself it was justified because they couldn't protect Takatori if they weren't all in working order and decided Takatori wouldn't remember being shoved aside in favor of the brash German anyway. Schuldich accepted a hand to his feet and scowled down at Takatori's bloated form, robe hanging off his shoulders from the fall.

"If you saw that coming and did it on purpose, you're going to be sleeping on the couch for a month," Schuldich informed him.

"It's my bedroom," Crawford pointed out mildly, and Schuldich turned a dirty look on him. Crawford kissed him to shut him up. The German's fingers were hooked around his tie to pull it almost too tight and he knew the telepath was annoyed with him, but they'd been together too long- as partners and otherwise- for something like this to really bother things. And besides-

"I want cake."

They both started and looked down; Schuldich's fingers loosened on Crawford's collar as they realized that Takatori had woken up in the fall and was staring up at a cloudy early morning sky. Schuldich seemed to give the state of Takatori's mind some thought before he reluctantly released Crawford's shirt, and Crawford leaned over to consider their client. "We need to get you inside," he told Takatori. "You should spend the day sleeping off last night."

Takatori's gaze shifted to Crawford. "I want cake," he said again.

"I really don't think you need any more food," Schuldich said, taking full advantage of Takatori's smashed state.

"I don't think you have any," Crawofrd said, cutting in before Takatori's sluggish mind could respond to that. He motioned to Schuldich and Takatori let them take his arms. The older man only made a half-assed effort to get to his feet, letting the two foreigners deal with most of his weight, and Crawford left him to Schuldich to get the door. Takatori was in deep thought when Crawford turned back to him. The alcohol just served to make him look stoned as he tried to think, and finally Takatori stabbed a stubby finger at Schuldich, who he was resting against.

"You can make me cake."

Schuldich's face went blank. "I can what?"

"You're going to make me cake," Takatori informed him, reaching out for Crawford to be helped inside. Schuldich looked from Takatori to Crawford as the politician abandoned him in favor of shuffling towards the American, too disbelieving at the order he'd just been given to give a hand. "The kitchen will have everything you need. Crawford, take me to the den to wait."

"Wait one fucking minute-" Schuldich started, and Crawford sent him a quelling look at his language.

"You have a problem with my authority?" Takatori started, wheeling around. He almost took them both down as he lost his sense of balance and went stumbling heavily back against Crawford. Schuldich reacted instinctively as Crawford was crushed between the doorframe and Takatori, lurching forward to grab at the politician, and Takatori's flailing almost knocked the three of them from their feet. It was probably sheer luck alone that the two managed to get him still and keep their feet, and Takatori grabbed a fistful of Schuldich's hair and gave it a vicious yank. "You were hired out to me to do whatever I demand of you! The contract says such a thing explicitly! Get into the kitchen!"

Crawford grabbed at Takatori's hand, peeling his fingers free of Schuldich's hair before he could do the man serious damage, and Takatori didn't seem to notice that he was doing it. Schuldich's expression was closed off as he stared back at Takatori but his mental voice was livid. /I'm not his fucking kitchen bitch,/ he snarled in Crawford's direction.

~We'll put him in the den and see if he passes out again,~ Crawford assured him. ~Come on.~

Schuldich reached for Takatori and the man shoved his hand roughly away. "Takatori, we need to get you inside," Crawford reminded him, and this time Schuldich was able to take hold of him without any problems. They eased him inside and brought him to the den, and Schuldich went back to shut the front door. When he returned Takatori was still awake and looking sharper by the moment. He was coherent enough to fix Schuldich with a sharp look when the German appeared in the doorway.

"My cake," he demanded.

/This is ridiculous-/ Schuldich started.

"I'm going to file a complaint with Estet," Takatori decided, looking around for a phone with a landline so he could make a call overseas. "They said you four would do anything I demanded. This is insurrection! This is insubordination! I refuse to work with liars! Where is that phone?"

~Schuldich,~ Crawford said.

/You've got to be shitting me./

"Mr. Takatori, calm yourself. I will talk to him, if you'll just wait here." He motioned for Takatori to quiet down and the politician resettled himself, folding his chunky arms across his chest to glare balefully across the room at Schuldich. Crawford started for the door and motioned for Schuldich to precede him out, and a hand to Schuldich's back made sure he was a safe distance away from the den before he opened his mouth again.

"I didn't come all the way to Japan to work with Estet's client so that I could bake him a fucking cake," Schuldich said. "He can go to the grocery store if he wants one."

"I don't think you can get away with that anymore," Crawford pointed out. "It's not about him having cake anymore; it's about whether or not Schwarz will stick to the contract and do what he asks of us. If you hand him a store-bought cake he'll probably just throw it across the room and call Estet. You know what they'd say."

Schuldich scowled at him, not at all pleased by his logic. "I'm an assassin, not a baker."

"You'll have to humor him this once."

"God damn it," Schuldich snarled, and Crawford was almost surprised that he didn't stamp his foot. The thought amused him and the faint smirk that curved his lips didn't help Schuldich's mood at all. The telepath gave him a dirty look, stabbing a finger at him. "Fuck you. It's five o' clock in the god damned morning and I'm supposed to be fast asleep. You can't shove something like this off on me."

Crawford thought about telling him that it had been his choice to stay up to wait on the American's return, but it was more common sense than precognition that told him Schuldich would make his life a living hell if he actually said that out loud. "I'll wait here and watch," he said, and Schuldich's scowl deepened when he realized Crawford wasn't going to help him get out of this. There wasn't much else Crawford could offer him, though, especially when Takatori yelled down the hall to them. "I'll be right back," Crawford assured him, and he went to answer the call.

Takatori was sitting in a different chair with a phone in his lap and he sent Crawford an expectant look as the American stepped into the doorway. "Well?" he wanted to know.

"We will get started on it immediately," Crawford assured him, "but my teammate is rather incompetent in the kitchen, so he will require my assistance. Will you need anything further?"

"No, just the cake." Takatori settled down to wait, looking quite a bit happier, and Crawford made a mental note that the man was an imbecile while drunk. He excused himself again and made his way to the kitchen to see Schuldich glowering at the far wall. Crawford understood how he felt but that didn't mean that they could get out of this, so he dug a cookbook out of the cabinet and set it down on the counter.

"This is ridiculous," Schuldich muttered, watching as Crawford flipped through the index to find what they needed. "I vote you do it."

"He told you to," Crawford reminded him.

"I'm incompetent in the kitchen, remember?" Schuldich sent him with a faint sneer.

"Schuldich, don't start. I've had a long day."

Schuldich eyed him for a long moment before giving an aggravated sigh. Crawford glanced his way as the German's blue eyes finally went to the cookbook, taking in the way the other's shoulders had sagged slightly in resignation. The telepath shrugged his robe back into place and scooted closer to him to look down at the ingredients, and they worked in silence to load the counter up with everything they needed. Crawford helped him prepare but left the mixing for him to do alone; Schuldich had been lucky enough to be around the house all day with just paperwork to do but Crawford was tired from his day out. He idly wondered just what Schuldich could have been hoping for by waiting up for him after such a day, but then…

He ended up standing behind his teammate as the German sullenly went through the process of mixing a cake, watching over Schuldich's shoulder as he cracked eggs against the side of a mixing bowl and stirred the orange mess into random other ingredients. The kitchen was cold at this time of night but Schuldich hadn't bothered to close his robe up, so Crawford reached around him and tugged at it for him. Schuldich's hands stilled in his work as Crawford closed the robe and tied the string together and the telepath tilted his head to one side slightly, not enough to look back at his teammate but enough to acknowledge what Crawford was doing. Crawford ended up resting his hands on Schuldich's abdomen, as he saw no real reason to pull them back, and Schuldich went back to work a minute later.

They said nothing to each other as the ingredients finally started to look like something edible and at last Schuldich was finished with the mix. They considered the bowl in silence for a bit before Schuldich poked a finger in and tasted it. As disgruntled as he was about having to make the cake, the German still had something of a sweet tooth and Crawford had wondered how long he'd last against a chocolate cake. He waited for the telepath's decision and was amused when the other Talent dipped two more fingers in.

"I make a damn good cake," the telepath decided, sucking his fingers clean.

"I suppose it can be one of your hidden talents," Crawford said. "I'm not sure you want 'master chef' written on your Rosenkreuz resume."

"I can simplify it further than that," Schuldich said, dipping another finger in and lifting his hand near his shoulder to offer the extended finger to Crawford. "If you tell Nagi and Farfarello about this, I'll castrate you in your sleep."

"Chocolate cake and death threats," Crawford mused. "The signs of a healthy relationship." He caught Schuldich's hand and slid the tip of the German's finger into his mouth. Chocolate wasn't his thing but he figured he could stomach it for now. Schuldich leaned back slightly, closing the half inch of space between them to rest lightly against his precognitive, and Crawford idly sucked his finger clean. Schuldich used his free hand to tug the greased cake pan closer and he poured the cake mix in, taking his hand back from Crawford to use a spoon on whatever didn't want to fall out of the bowl.

Crawford turned the oven on and opened it for his teammate, and Schuldich eyed the cookbook before setting the timer. He looked back towards Crawford, quirking an eyebrow at him, and Crawford tilted his head to one side in consideration. "We have plenty of time," Schuldich pointed out, and he wandered out of the room. Crawford followed him a moment later, leaving their mess behind for later. Their first stop was the den, where they found Takatori snoring uproariously, and Schuldich was beyond words at the sight of the fat man passed out.

Crawford decided to distract him before the telepath broke something or maimed their client. They did have forty minutes until the cake had to come out of the oven, after all, and Schuldich didn't seem to mind being distracted.



Shooting the taxi cab driver is not a part of the original plan, but then, neither was half-drowning in the sea. Schuldig catches him by his tie before he can hit the ground, but the man's sudden weight is almost enough to take him off his feet. He drags the dying man the few feet to the edge of the cliff and heaves him off. His legs give out under him, a conscious decision, and he digs his fingers into the rock and moss to keep from tilting over. It was hard enough to make it up the cliff face the first time. He won't manage a second.


One more query, yet there's only silence to answer it. Schuldig grits his teeth, squints his eyes against a harsh horizon. He hesitates, but only for a second. Nagi and Farfarello, they're—they're Schwarz. They're teammates. But when it comes down to it, they're fucking expendable.

Crawford is not.

Bitterness still tastes like acid and blood on his tongue, burning his teeth, but he shoves himself back away from the edge. He stumbles over to the cab, its door still open and waiting for him. Crawford is slumped on the ground where Schuldig had to drop him, blue around the lips and too far under to be healthy, too far under to reach. Schuldig misses the handle of the back door the first time he reaches, almost breaks his fingers the first time he gives the—locked—handle a yank.

The driver's door is an arm's reach away, outfitted with a button to unlock the back doors, but Schuldig isn't thinking anymore. He's exhausted and three-quarters frozen and he has to get Crawford out of here. He shatters the window with his gun and opens the door from the inside. His gun is chucked into the backseat first, freeing his hands to get Crawford off the ground. It's not the first time he's had to carry Crawford, but he's never been in this bad of shape before. Failure is not an option, however, has never been an option, not for Schwarz, not for Crawford, not for Schuldig, not for them.

He skins two fingers on the doorframe when he finally manages to shove Crawford into the backseat. He has to follow Crawford inside, shoving him by his chest and arms to get his too-long body into the car, and he ends up sprawled against the older man. He lingers for a moment when he knows they don't have a moment to waste, his ear pressed against Crawford's chest in search of a heartbeat. His breaths are so ragged and thin he can barely hear anything, but then, there it is—

A flicker, a spark, a little bit of that flame that is Crawford, that light that Schuldig's built his world around. It sputters to life amidst the chaos of Schuldig's gift and mind.

He props himself up on one hand and stares intently down at Crawford's face, waiting to see if the man's eyes open. Crawford lies perfectly still, but Schuldig's okay with that, because Crawford's back in his head where he's always been, where he's always belonged.

Crawford, he says, not really sure Crawford can hear him, we're getting the fuck out of here.

He's so tired, so dizzy and sore, that he can barely concentrate on the road, but he tries. He drives them to the safe house they agreed on weeks ago and leaves the cab at the curb. He folds his arms across the steering wheel and buries his face against them, sucking in ragged breaths as he tries to hold back unconsciousness.

His breathing is loud enough that he doesn't hear Crawford shift. The back door opening is what startles him into twisting around, and the sudden move leaves him so light-headed he thinks he'll pass out. He won't give in, not five feet from their door, not in front of Crawford. He digs his fingernails into his cheek, struggling for a focus, and watches as Crawford painstakingly climbs out of the car. Crawford gets the driver door open before Schuldig gets himself together, and Schuldig drags himself out.

He gets to his feet, but he can't stay there. He falls back against the car, letting it hold up his weight. He doesn't know, will never know, if he grabs Crawford for balance or if Crawford falls on his own. He's so cold it doesn't hurt when he's crushed between Crawford and the car. He buries his face in the crook of Crawford's neck, looking for heat and finding none. What he finds is Crawford's pulse, is the thin puffs of air in and out against his temple where Crawford is breathing.

How they get from the car to the door, Schuldig doesn't know. He didn't think people could stumble so far without falling down. It's like falling in every way, except it takes them twenty feet to hit the ground. He's past dizzy to nauseous by the time he rams his shoulder too-hard into the door, and he thinks he's broken his toes on the porch step where he didn't pick his feet up in time.

Crawford catches his hair, knotting his hands in orange tresses because he can't hold Schuldig up any other way, and supports him as Schuldig heaves helplessly onto the welcome mat.

The key is somewhere around here, buried a couple months ago, but neither of them are in the mood for hide and seek. Crawford knows where Schuldig keeps his gun, and he blasts a hole in the wood above the knob. He tears his hand up something terrible when he reaches through to unlock it from the inside. Schuldig grabs his hand as he drags it back out, maybe concern, maybe desperate for warmth. Crawford's blood feels cold under his fingers. Schuldig realizes he's not surprised.

It takes both of them to get down the hall, and a bit of struggling to get the tub going. It's all worth it when Schuldig sees the steam coming off the water. They don't even try to get undressed. There's room enough for both of them, so they sit pressed against each other. The sudden heat hurts so much Schuldig has to grit his teeth to keep from yelling. He draws blood on his palm and Crawford's shoulder, shaking fit to break as his body is forcibly warmed up. His breaths come in fast, shallow pants that tear his throat on the way down and pain has made his vision blurry.

The pain feels like it goes on forever and ever, until Schuldig thinks maybe it would have been better to drown after all, and then finally, finally, he can breathe again. He feels raw all over, but that knifing agony has faded. Schuldig sucks in a deep breath and lets his head fall forward. He's sitting close enough to Crawford that he can use the other man's shoulder as a prop. He half-expects Crawford to shrug him off, but the precog is too tired to fight him.

He knows better than to speak when his voice is so raw, so he settles for saying, We're never doing that again.

Crawford doesn't answer, but the hand that curls around the back of his neck says enough.


Exit Strategy -- Written for Stonecarnival for Weiss Day 2009

Schuldig stood at the window and stared out at the dark tarmac. A single bag sat on the ground by his feet, small enough to sling over his shoulder, large enough to pack his life inside it. There was still room leftover. Most of his possessions wouldn't fit inside zippered pockets—not because of their size, but because their worth was immaterial: vicious successions, a chain of conquests, endless nights of scheming with his teammates, Crawford…

The soft click of a phone to his left was his cue. Schuldig shifted his gaze to consider Crawford's reflection. "You trust this guy?" he asked.

"My trust extends to three people, four if I include myself," Crawford said as he tucked his phone into his pocket. "Regardless, he is honest."

"As if you're an expert judge of character," Schuldig said.

"You know why you haven't met him." Schuldig didn't answer that. Crawford only gave him a minute to argue before stepping up alongside him. "He is on his way. It's time." He pulled a small packet out of his coat's breast pocket and offered it.

Schuldig made no move to take it. "This is a dumb fucking idea, you know."

"I've been known to have a few of those."

Schuldig laughed. "Truer words were never spoken. Maybe you're turning honest, too."

Crawford refused to acknowledge that smart remark. "Now, Schuldig. He will be in your range soon enough and you don't have the self-control it takes to stay out of his head."

"I don't trust him," Schuldig said.

"You don't have to. You just have to trust me."

Schuldig hated it when Crawford got the last word, but there wasn't really anything he could say to that. He held up his hand in a demand. Crawford peeled the foil packet open and shook two pills into Schuldig's waiting palm. Schuldig knocked them back and tried to ignore the sour taste they left on his tongue. He slung his bag over his shoulder and went to sit down. Crawford remained by the window, staring out at the night, staring out at their once chance to get out of this mess alive.

"Bad idea," Schuldig said, but the drugs were kicking in already and making him slur.

The last thing he heard before he went under was Crawford's calm, "I know."


More dangerous than Crawford's gift and rank in Schwarz was that he had ideas.

Schuldig had always known about this fatal flaw. It was what had brought them together in the first place: that persistence of a personality beneath the weight of Rosenkreuz's cultish rhetoric. Crawford played the part of a puppet well enough, but not out of a sense of self-preservation. It was more that he found it entertaining to deceive the elders so thoroughly. The second Schuldig understood that, he knew they were going to end up together.

If ideas made Crawford dangerous, having Schuldig made him lethal. It was one thing to have ideas, it was another thing entirely to have a sounding board and unrelenting instigator. Within weeks of their first "Hello", they were the top dogs in Rosenkreuz's halls. Schuldig was the yang to Crawford's yin, the flamboyant and aggressive partner to counter Crawford's shadowy manipulations.

Some of Crawford's ideas were generally harmless, like How quickly can we restructure the teaching board? or Suppose we can cheat on the final exam without getting caught? or even Which one of us can kill more people inside two minutes?

Others made Schuldig question his sanity, such as Crawford's intense interest in recruiting a psychopath none of Rosenkreuz's talents could track. Then there was his decision to make Takatori the prime minister of Japan. But the mother of all ideas? I'm bored of Estet.

Four little words, an off-handed statement over coffee one morning, spoken over the morning's obituaries and Crawford's toast. Nagi had kept eating, thinking nothing of it. Farfarello, suspicious, had looked to Schuldig. And Schuldig had laughed so hard he hadn't been able to finish his breakfast.

He wasn't laughing anymore.

"I hate you," he said, for the fifth or sixth time in as many minutes. It was muffled against Crawford's shoulder, but he thought Crawford still heard him. Just in case, he reinforced it with his telepathy. "I h-hate you. A p-p-pox on you and your ch-children and your ch-ch-children's children-"


"-and your children's ch-children's lice-"

"Schuldig, shut up."

Schuldig shut up, but only because the cold made his teeth throb. He pressed his lips together as tightly as he could and lifted his head for another look at their surroundings. He immediately regretted it. The view was chilling in more ways than one: ice stretched as far as the eye could see. It was a horizon of frozen hell, and they were smack dab in the middle of it. When we get back to civilization, I am going to skin that pilot alive.

I told him to drop us somewhere remote. He simply did as he was told.

Don't worry,
Schuldig said. I won't forget that this is your fault.

We're going,
Crawford said.

Going where? Schuldig demanded. The Arctic Hostel?

If you want to be out here when the wind picks up again, then stay,
Crawford shot back, stepping away from him. Cold air immediately took up the space where his body had just been. I am going to find shelter. I am not interested in dying out here.

"I h-h-ho- I h-h-" He couldn't feel his lips anymore, so he gave up. I hope you do.

The look Crawford sent him would have been vicious under other circumstances. It wasn't as intimidating when Crawford's teeth were chattering and the subzero temperatures were making him shiver. Schuldig sneered at him and his lip split with the effort. Cursing Crawford's entire gene pool, he shuffled through the snow to plant himself against Crawford's side again.

Let's go already, he said impatiently.

The problem with having ideas was that they were just that: concepts, inspiration, fuzzy challenges. Crawford had turned Schwarz onto the path to Estet's demise with only an end goal. They'd made it up on the fly and hadn't bothered to come up with an exit strategy. It was how they'd always done things, and most of the time, they could pull it off. Sometimes, like now, it came back to haunt them. This desolate waste was their reward for piss-poor planning.

Apparently they'd left too many of Estet's people alive. When Estet had come for them, they'd only had a couple hours to escape. Hiding the younger two was fairly easy. No psychic could track Farfarello if he didn't want to be found, and finding Nagi when no one but Schuldig had a mental profile of him would be almost as difficult. Schuldig and Crawford were a different story altogether. Rosenkreuz's psychics knew their mental signatures. There were only three clairvoyants in Rosenkreuz strong enough to track Schwarz's top two, but those three were three too many. If they found Schuldig or Crawford's mind, they could tap into their gifts.

But if neither Schuldig nor Crawford knew where they were, it would do their hunters no good. That, at least, was the logic. For that purpose, Schuldig had been loaded on the plane unconscious, and Crawford had drugged himself soon after takeoff. Schuldig had envisioned the Middle East or South America or even Timbuktu. He had not expected to be dropped – well, wherever here was supposed to be.

Small favors; at least the pilot had packed for them. He'd left them a box of necessities, from thick coats and gloves and goggles to battery-powered heating pads. Schuldig's body didn't seem to notice all the layers; he was freezing.

He pressed his gloved fingers to the back of his neck. With his gloves on, he couldn't feel the scar, but he ran his finger down the bumps of his vertebrae just the same. If he closed his eyes, he could still see that tiny bathroom in Russia. He still remembered how steady Crawford's hand had been and how the box cutter had felt, so calm and sure and precise. He remembered making the same incision on Crawford's wrist where Crawford's watch would always hide it.

Normal people had wedding rings.

Schuldig had a GPS chip pressed up against his spine, and Crawford had an identical chip buried in his wrist. Nagi and Farfarello were the only ones who knew such things existed. They were the only ones who had the passwords to access their teammates' data.

Wherever they were now, Nagi would find them again. He'd wait until Estet had left Japan, or until things got so hot that he and Farfarello had to duck out, too, but he would find them. Schuldig didn't doubt that.

He just doubted his ability to stay alive until Nagi reached them.

And your children's children's lice's red blood cells, he said sourly.

Crawford ignored him, and the two set off across the ice and snow.



They don't try to pretend it's anything but a lie.

On the surface level, they let themselves act like it's something sincere. That's what they want, is a bit of honest warmth to hold them through all of this. What they've ended up with is merely candlelight, however: just flickers of light and the faintest brush of heat against chilled skin and colder hearts. It's a tease, not even enough to brush their fingertips over. It never soaks through to where they need it the most, even when they're tangled together in the most intimate of ways. Every brush of his lips over her skin and every muscle she traces out under her bright fingernails just leaves her feeling colder than before, but if he's not absorbing her warmth, where could it possibly be going?

But that is a ridiculous question, and Hanae is a practical woman. Rather, she thought she was, and then she was foolish enough to get caught up in this. The thought brings with it a bit of pain that is all edged with wistful longing. Kudou's body up against her is tough and lean, the body of a fighter, not the body she wants to be pressed against. She imagines what Shuuichi would feel like if she was curled up against him skin to skin like this and wonders if he'd be soft, soft like people expect women to be soft, all curves and some extra weight. The very thought makes her lips twitch and she hides it against a hard chest.

"You're slipping," Kudou says.

"I wasn't thinking about you," she answers coolly, because she never smiles for him, not here. It's one thing when she meets him professionally. When she's handing out missions that could get him or his teammates slaughtered, they deserve a smile at the very least. Here, where they replace business with aching hearts and futile need, she never smiles. Her smiles aren't for him, and he knows that. After all, it's the same for him.

She pushes herself up, drawing herself completely away from him. It lets cool air between their bodies, but she can't feel it. Half-lidded green eyes follow her every move and she doesn't look at him, knowing what impartiality she'll see on his face. She is the only woman allowed to see this brutally honest side of him; with any other lay he'd be making an extravagant effort to play the perfect date. She knows what those other faces don't; she knows exactly what he needs and is looking for. It saves him a lot of energy and her a lot of annoyance if they skip all of the flowery lines and pretty flirts.

Instead, she fixes her eyes on the far wall and her mind a half a city away. She thinks about the work waiting for her at home and, inevitably, of Shuuichi at his own apartment. She could call him from home about one of the projects, just to keep him updated. It's nothing that couldn't wait until tomorrow, but at least she'd be able to hear his voice once more before bed. As soon as she considers the idea, she brushes it aside. He would know what she was up to, and she can already imagine the coolness in his voice. She has made it clear in a thousand quiet ways exactly what she's offering, and he has made his disinterest inescapably clear a thousand and one in return. Maybe after a thousand and two, he'll give in. Maybe after a thousand and two, her heart will finally recognize that this is all a road to misery and will finally wise up.

She's practical enough to know that isn't going to happen.

"I should go," she says.

"You could stay," Kudou says.

He doesn't mean it and they both know it. She gets up and goes for her clothes where they're neatly draped over the back of his chair. There was no time to change after work, so there are a lot of layers to get back into. Everything is folded in the order she needs it in. For one moment as she picks her thong up, she knows it's not supposed to be like this. For one moment as she stares down at her clothes, she wants to see them strewn carelessly about, brushed off as unimportant in the face of passion and lust. She's never seen any of her things on the floor here. If Kudou ever dropped them, she would stop everything to pick them back up. There's a difference here. There always is.

She helps herself to the chair to get her pantyhose on. Kudou watches as she slides the gauze up her legs and she lets him look. She knows he's not seeing her. She doesn't hurry to cover herself; nor does she linger to let him hold on to his precious illusions.

When she's dressed, she holds her hand out in a demand. "Brush," she says, because he's run all of the curls out of her hair. There's nothing here that will help her get them back, but she could at least try to smooth out the messy waves he's left behind.

He finds it on the dresser and brings it over to her, but instead of turning it over, he uses his free hand to turn her around. She moves without argument and lets him fight with the tangled locks. He's gentle with it, more than she expected. She wonders why she thought it would be anything but. Kudou is a cool-hearted gentleman: he can be completely emotionally cold, but it's instinctive for him to be careful and considerate. It's a crucial difference between them, that he at least pretends to be kind on some vague level.

She checks herself in the mirror when he is through, needing to see that his job is satisfactory. It's fine enough, but she still takes the brush away from him to add a few more strokes. She's right there at the dresser now, but she hands the brush to him to put away. He sets it down right in front of her with a meaningful tap. She is already turning away, ignoring that.

He follows her to the door and she doesn't look back. She simply toes into her shoes and steps out onto the landing. It's just two steps over to the railing and she stares out at the buildings that crush up against the Koneko no Sumu Ie, staring out at a hundred curtained windows. She imagines the lives in those apartments and doesn't have to fantasize long before her gaze passes over an occupied balcony.

A husband and wife are talking to each other as the wife hangs laundry out to dry. Hanae can't hear them from here, but she can see the looks on their faces fine enough. The winter breeze threatens to send shirts sailing off into the city and the husband laughs before stepping in to help his wife. Together they wrestle the last three blouses into place and then laugh together, simple-minded enough to find it amusing. A hand reaches out, straightening the wife's hair and smoothing it out of her face, and the wife reaches back in return to brush her hand over her husband's fine suit.

Hanae reaches up to her own face, feeling where the wind tickles over her temple, and wonders if the wife is as cold as she is. How long does a caress last? How long does that heat linger? She isn't even sure anymore if that sort of warmth can transfer from one human heart to another. She used to think so; she used to be positive. But she's given her warmth all away to Shuuichi and gotten nothing back.

She realizes the door is still open behind her and looks back at Kudou. He's watching the couple as well. His expression is composed, but the raw look in his eyes is as familiar to her as the air she breathes, and she knows exactly what it means.

"I'm leaving now," she says.

"Be safe," he responds.

One day, one day, she wants to say "I'm home." One day he wants to say "Welcome back."

It's a craving they live with day in and day out and die for one breath at a time, and there's nothing either of them can do about it. And so she turns away and listens to the door shut behind her, listens to the lock snap into place, and walks out into a breezy winter.





"I can't help but think that this isn't it."

His partner didn't respond to that, didn't even look up from his work, but it didn't really matter if he was paying attention or not. Schuldig considered his reflection on the window, staring first at blue eyes and orange hair and then through the shades of his jacket out at the skyline. It was nearing midnight but the traffic was still heavy, never-ending, a tangled mess of lights and sound and life he couldn't silence. He reached out and tapped short fingernails against the glass, adding to the cacophony with just the softest plink plink plink, and scratched his hand down over the surface.


The question startled him and he looked over his shoulder, dragging himself up out of the streak of red brake lights and glitter-blinking bicycle lights. "Why what?" he asked.

Farfarello ignored that question, more interested in the body stretched out by the desk. The man was dead, had been dead for several minutes, but that didn't mean he wasn't fun to play with. It was something to do, anyway, until the rest of their job fell into place. Schuldig watched the blood that was slowly coagulating on the polished wooden floor. They'd likely never get the stains out, but that wasn't his problem. Idly he wondered if blood ever ended up looking like jelly, thick and clotted and dark. He could see Farfarello eating it on toast, and was in turns disgusted and amused.

He remembered the question again and crossed the room to crouch beside the Irishman. Hooded eyes watched fingers go in and out, in and out, testing and feeling and curious. "Why what?" he asked again.

Farfarello slanted a look his way. "Why isn't this it?"

Schuldig just shrugged at him. "What is 'it'?" he wanted to know.

Farfarello lifted one shoulder in a return shrug and let it drop. He pulled his hands free of the body and moved as if to wipe one off on Schuldig's shirt, but the look the telepath sent him was enough that he settled for using the dead man's suit jacket. Pale lips twitched in the beginnings of an amused smirk and Farfarello pushed himself to his feet. Schuldig remained as he was, studying the gash marks and inhaling the thick, rotting smell of death. Silence settled in the room once more, thick but not heavy, not tense but not relaxed. Through it Schuldig listened to the tap tap tap of bored thoughts against his skull, security guards on each floor making lazy rounds.

He shifted and propped his elbows on his knees, favoring Farfarello with a disgruntled look. "You could have made him last longer than that, at least."

"A slow death is inefficient," was the response.

Schuldig thought about that for a few seconds and then started laughing. He folded his arms across his knees and buried his forehead against them, needing a bit of extra support as he shook. The usual emptiness of Farfarello's mind seemed even more blank tonight than usual, a too-silent patch of absolutely nothing that hovered up against his skin. It made him itch; it made him shake. Farfarello had that kind of effect on people.

"Why are you laughing?"

He struggled for some sort of control and balance and at last let his head loll to one side. He got a fresh whiff of the body and it did nasty things to his stomach. He pushed himself to his feet and bumped into Farfarello on the way up, a hit and slide of back and shoulder to unyielding chest. He tried to look back at the younger man, but his hair was a thick curtain between their gazes.

"Move a bit or something," he said, annoyed, but not really, or maybe. He wasn't sure.

"Why are you laughing?" Farfarello asked again.

Schuldig moved instead, planting one foot between a dead arm and exposed rib cage so he could turn to face Farfarello head-on. "I stopped," he pointed out, but the look Farfarello gave him said that wasn't good enough.

"What is 'it'?"

Schuldig tilted his head to one side as he considered it. "This," he said at last. "All of this."

Maybe it wasn't the best answer, but there wasn't another way to say it. It was waking up at the crack of dawn and going to sleep far after midnight, paperwork and conferences and long flights. Negotiating and assassinating and intimidating, and streak streak streak of lights on the highways as they drove from place to place. Power and lust and greed and money and alcohol that burned all the way down; smiles that said all he had to do was ask. He had everything a man could want, but there was something desperately lacking.

Farfarello studied him in silence for a minute, one gold eye against two blue, and Schuldig leaned forward against his mind to sit inside that quiet.

"I'll kill you when you're thirty," the teenager said at length.

Schuldig just stared back at him, not expecting such words, not sure what he was supposed to say or think or feel in reaction to such a blunt threat- promise?. He turned them over and over in his head, pulling free of Farfarello's mind back into his own, needing the space to think and finding none. There wasn't breathing room inside his gift for him to stretch out, much less try and make any sense of Farfarello's odd words.

He didn't need to think about them, really, or at least, not on the surface where it was all connected dots and lines. Somewhere down beneath it all he felt it like something palpable, and he felt everything inside his mind relax for one precious moment.

A reason. An endpoint. A goal.

"You'd have to catch me first," he said. He sounded amused; he felt desperate.

"I know where you sleep," Farfarello pointed out, unimpressed with the taunt.

Schuldig looked down at his hands, counted the years on his fingers, brushed aside the numbers that whirled through the night around him. This was a number he could feel and he touched his fingertips to his cheeks and chin, wanting to burn the feel of that many fingers into his skin.

He smiled and it felt unfamiliar on his lips, made him wonder when was the last time he'd attempted such an expression, wonder when was the last time he'd ever had a reason to. In the end it didn't matter and he let his hands fall away. The night flashed on around them, crackling and addicting and maddening, but all Schuldig felt or heard was Farfarello's silence and his promise.


Games ((AKA: Why Sluts Can't Go On Proper Dates))

"Someone tell me why I was dumb enough to agree to this."

"Because I'm totally irresistible."

"You wish you were."

"Shut up and kiss me."



"I said no. You speak Japanese, don't you?"

"Ah, don't be such a spoilsport. No one can see us."

"It's not the seeing I'm worried about."

"Well, maybe you should just learn to be a little quieter, then."

"Maybe you should just shut- hey. Hey! Stop it."

"Stop what?"

"Don't give me that look. Let go."

"You know, if you don't shut up, someone is going to hear us. Just- ow!"

"I said stop it."

"You bit me."

"You taste like shit."

"Your dick tastes like shit."

"Your fucking cattleyas taste like shit."

"My what? What the hell are you doing eating flowers? You're not a cow."

"And flowers don't belong in bed, so the next time you think you're being witty in bringing them- I said stop touching me."

"You said you would try this."

"I was drunk at the time."

"You were not."

"Yes I was."

"You were high. There's a difference."

"Fucking technicalities. I said-"

A flashlight blinded both of them and they broke apart, swearing. A few minutes later found them both dumped unceremoniously on the sidewalk in front of the theater and Yohji brushed stray flecks of popcorn from his clothes. "You know, if you'd just have kept your mouth shut for once…"

Schuldich made a face at him. "Don't even start with me."

Yohji looked over his shoulder towards the glass doors and grimaced. "Well, unless you want to explain things to the rugrats, I think it's time to go," he said, and Schuldich looked back to where Omi and Nagi were stalking towards them. Nagi's face was an interesting shade of red and Schuldich decided that was a bad thing.

"Yeah," he said. "Last one to the car is a smashed assassin."

"I hate that game."

Schuldich didn't answer; he was already gone. Yohji had no choice but to run after him, muttering under his breath the whole way about uncooperative redheads.



He should be on the floor right now. Instead he stands in the middle of the room and gazes unseeingly at the charts in his hands. His hands are steady when they really shouldn't be, and his breaths are slow and calm. Despite that, he tries to breathe as shallowly as he can. He knows the smell of death by now, but it tastes different on his tongue today. He's used to fresh death, used to the sickeningly sour smell of destroyed organs and severed arteries. This stale death, this medicinal aftertaste, is something entirely new. Knowing whose bodies are underneath the sheets to either side of him is reason enough to panic, or at the very least, throw up.

His legs should have given out on him by now, but Crawford taught him nothing if not to stand fast.

He's read the autopsy reports twice through, once because he didn't retain a thing and once because he needed to know the details. He holds onto the clipboard now because he still doesn't believe them, because he needs something to hold onto so his hands don't shake. He can feel the tremors in his stomach. It starts as nausea, twists into grief, and he wants to scream. He wants to cry, when he hasn't cried in eight years, not since two strangers showed up at the curb and gave him a home.

He still remembers how they looked back then, white and black, gold and blue. They'd been so young, so invincible, so ambitious. If he has to see what they look like now, he might not make it out of this room. Standing beside their beds is hard enough, because the sheets rise and fall in unnatural places on top of whatever is left of them. He was there when the building collapsed. He saw nine hundred tons of concrete and plaster go down in chunks, even if he didn't know at the time that his teammates were still inside. He couldn't have changed the outcome if he had known; no telekinetic in the world could stop something that size and weight. He would have thrown his gift out trying, though, and killed himself in the process. He wonders if that's why they didn't call to him.

He wonders if Crawford saw it coming and, if he did, if he told Schuldig beforehand. He doesn't know which is more devastating: thinking the pair saw it as going out in style or imagining what went through their minds in those last seconds. If ever there were two men who refused to recognize their own humanity, it would be those two. They never stopped to think that they might be wrong, that they might fail, no matter how many mistakes they made. They never acknowledged their missteps; they simply edited their course and kept going.

He doesn't know if last night was all a part of the plan. He'll never know, and he doesn't think he'll ever be okay with that. He'll never know what they were thinking last night, or what they've been thinking the past several months. Crawford sold him to Kritiker four months ago with no warning and no explanation. Nagi had been told to go and he'd done as he was told. He hadn't questioned it, because he never questioned anything Crawford did. Nagi based his life on Crawford being infallible. And now--?

He needs to tell Farfarello. He doesn't know if Farfarello will care, but he still deserves to know. The closest phone is down the hall, and there are a lot of people between here and there. Nagi has no desire to see any of them, most especially the man in the next room. Nagi doesn't want to walk back out there and realize that Takatori Mamoru really is all he is ever going to have.

He wants Schwarz and black and white and gold and blue and power and impossible goals. He wants Schuldig crouching in front of him, three-piece designer suit and expensive watch, fuck-it-all grin on his face and "We've been looking for you." He wants Crawford's subtle, cruel humor and ruthless calm and impossible standards. He wants Farfarello's psychotic smiles and restlessness. He wants flawless missions and unity and trust. When Crawford promised him a future, Nagi never stopped to think that Schwarz wouldn't be part of it.

The world actually tilts in front of his eyes with the effort not to cry, and Nagi knows he has to go. He reaches out and sets the clipboard down. He doesn't look again at the misshapen lumps, but instead turns and starts for the door. He locks everything he is behind a stony mask and leaves everything he ever had under twin white sheets. Mamoru is waiting for him outside, expression sympathetic, and Nagi hates him for his pity.

He makes it through the day because Schwarz doesn't falter, because Schwarz doesn't quit. He ends up not calling Farfarello, because his control is tenuous as it is and he doesn't trust himself to not ask Farfarello to come home. He escorts Mamoru home after work, shuts the door in Mamoru's face when the man invites him in to "talk about it", and goes back to his own studio apartment on the other side of town.

There, only there, does he break.

If Schuldig taught him anything, it was how to lie, but Nagi's never been able to lie to himself. Without anyone to put a show on for, there is only himself and his shattered world, and Nagi screams until he cannot breathe.


Ogawa's Chocolates

Crawford could hear the TV all the way down the hall. The elevator doors opened to the eleventh floor and the sounds of chaos; bad actors screamed in alarm amidst the rat-tatting of guns going crazy. There was a mirror directly across the room from the elevator and he shook his head at his reflection. There was no question as to where the noise was coming from, and he shifted his grip on his packages before starting down the hall. He had to sidestep three gossiping cleaning ladies and their cart on the way. They paused in their animated chatter to bow and offer him greetings, and he inclined his head in an automatic response. They'd been staying at this hotel for almost two weeks now, long enough for the maids to get over their initial fascination with the two foreigners in their midst. They were still curious but not to the point where the interest was aggravating, and most of their intrigue had to do with the fact that Schwarz had specifically requested that their rooms not be cleaned. Crawford picked up fresh towels for them every day, but for security reasons, they couldn't afford to let the maids in their rooms while they were here on business.

It took some small juggling to get a hand free for his key, and he was blasted with the sounds of a ridiculous action movie as he stepped into his room. The show paused as he closed the door behind him and a hand lifted above the back of the loveseat to waggle a greeting at him. There was no way the door had been loud enough to be heard over the television speakers, but Schuldich dealt best with things that no one else could hear, and he hadn't been listening for the door, anyway. Crawford set his key and an envelope on the little table just inside the door and carried his bag and briefcase towards his desk.

"It's a wonder you have any hearing left," Crawford mused.

"All's fair in love and war," was the telepath's breezy answer. Crawford eyed the couch, digging a small box out of his bag and carrying it towards his younger teammate. He rested easily against the back of the couch to look down at the other man, who didn't bother to return the scrutiny. Schuldich was stretched out on his back on the sofa, sitting far down enough on the cushions that his legs dangled off the side. As if to prove a point, he gave a vicious kick of his leg and drove the heel of his boot into the wall. "Ol' pinky next door has been fucking that mistress of his since you left five hours ago. Christ on a crutch, these walls are way too thin. That girl shrieks like a cat in heat and I know he can't be that good."

"Jealous?" Crawford asked mildly.

Schuldich offered him a rude gesture and set his movie back to play, turning the volume up a few notches for good measure. /Blow me,/ he sent at the precognitive.

/Gunfire is hardly my idea of mood music./

/Color me surprised,/ Schuldich responded, tapping his shoe against the wall idly as he watched the glowing television screen. Blue eyes flicked up towards Crawford's face in a quick, sharp glance before he went back to his movie. /And here I assumed you'd be all ready to go after working all morning, music or not. You'd think the work would be enough- life is one big power game for you, and you get off on that./

/Shut up and eat your chocolate,/ Crawford answered, dropping the carefully wrapped box unceremoniously onto Schuldich's lap. He had the distinct pleasure of seeing a startled look flash across his partner's gaze at the sight of the gift before he turned away. He headed back to his desk, a small smirk playing on his lips at the complete silence on the mental bond. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Schuldich's legs vanish from view as the telepath shifted on the couch, and as he took his seat Schuldich straightened to look over the back. He propped his elbows on the cushions, letting the box dangle between his fingers by its frilly ribbons, and arched an eyebrow at Crawford.

"What the hell is this?" he demanded, speaking up to be heard over the wailing on screen.

"It's Valentine's Day," was Crawford's simple answer. Schuldich had nothing to say to that, but a glance his way showed the German's eyes had narrowed slightly in suspicion and confusion. He idly wished he were a telepath so that he could hear Schuldich's mental stumbling. "It's from Ogawa, one of Furuta's office ladies," Crawford said at last, speaking with a tolerant tone as if this little fact should have been obvious. He could see an almost imperceptible relaxing along Schuldich's shoulders and it was hard to hide his amusement at his companion's reaction.

After just another moment, Schuldich paused his movie again and slid off the couch to join Crawford at his desk. He perched on the edge, easily moving the American's things aside to get comfortable. Crawford let him, taking his own wrapped box out of the bag he'd brought home. Schuldich eyed it, comparing the two gifts, and then shook his box at Crawford.

"Yours is bigger than mine," he said.

"You noticed," was the softly drawled answer.

Schuldich rolled his eyes. "Ach, perhaps it was safer with pinky," he muttered, tugging the ribbons free so he could get to his snack. "What's Ogawa doing handing out candies to Schwarz, anyway?" he wanted to know.

"Japanese tradition," was the American's easy response.

"Last I checked, it was a western holiday," Schuldich said around a mouth full of chocolates and cream.

"Don't talk with your mouth full."

Schuldich's smirk was slow. "I've heard that one before."

Crawford pretended not to hear that and lifted his own box. "These are giri-choco," he informed his German teammate. "She wished to give chocolates to Furuta's assistant, but the Japanese ideas of obligation and social harmony required her to give gifts to all of his staff in order to do so. Schwarz was included on that list."

Schuldich just shook his head, amused by the custom, and went back to eating chocolates. The German loved sugar but hardly indulged, mostly due to harassment from his younger teammates. Nagi was diabetic and didn't want the stuff anywhere near him, and Farfarello tended to steal it for himself if Schuldich left it where he could find it. The Irishman didn't need to be hungry to snitch the telepath's stash; he knew it annoyed the German and that was enough. Now, with just the older two of Schwarz stationed in Osaka for a few weeks, Schuldich had the chance to stock up.

Schuldich didn't speak again until the small box was empty and he arched an eyebrow at Crawford, noticing the American's scrutiny. "What?"

"Hungry?" Crawford asked, looking pointedly at the empty box.

Schuldich's mouth was open to respond when the phone rang, and Crawford lifted the receiver from his hook to offer an affirmative before hanging up again. Schuldich didn't think it strange enough to comment and instead shrugged and gathered up all of his trash and toted it to the trash bin. "You said you'd only be gone for a few hours and that we'd have to discuss the job over lunch," the German said, and gestured towards the clock on the wall before dropping his rubbish into the bin. "A few doesn't mean five, Oracle. Nice sight there. If you think bringing some obligation chocolates home is going to keep me from whining about being hungry until dinner time, you've got another think coming."

"If I could just get you to go ten minutes without whining about anything, I'd be grateful," Crawford sent back. "Get the door."

Schuldich dragged a finger across his throat in response to Crawford's easy dismissal and went to answer the knocking. Crawford gathered his papers in front of him, pen in his hand as if he was prepared to work and ignore the German in favor of more important things. Schuldich muttered something under his breath and tugged the door open, fully expecting it to be a maid with towels or one of their client's many assistants, delivering something.

"Roho House Delivery," was the cheerful greeting, and Crawford could feel Schuldich's eyes on him as the German peered over his shoulder at the American.

"Money's in the envelope on the table," Crawford answered, and he knew Schuldich spotted it beside Crawford's keys just a moment later when he heard the rustling of paper bills. The delivery girl was paid and sent on her way and Schuldich shut the door behind her. He turned and propped himself against the door, balancing the box of food on one hand, and waited for an explanation from his teammate. Crawford glanced up from the blank sheets he'd set in front of him, mirroring Schuldich's expectant expression, and the telepath shook his head before starting into the room.

"You're impossible," Schuldich decided, "but at least you have good taste."

He stopped by the little kitchenette to fetch them plates and brought them towards the desk. The food and plates were set down where he'd made room earlier for himself and the telepath turned to find himself a chair. Crawford rose and gathered up the food, stepping away from the desk and slipping past Schuldich. Schuldich looked from him to the American's briefcase, confused for a moment before deciding that Crawford was moving because there was more room to work over the meal in the living room.

Crawford waited until he heard the sounds of Schuldich gathering up Crawford's briefcase before speaking. "We're not watching this," he informed the telepath.

There was silence from the other man as Schuldich digested this. Crawford didn't wait on him but sat, making himself comfortable on the couch. Just a moment later Schuldich was behind him, leaning over the back of it to prop his elbows on Crawford's shoulders. He folded his hands together on top of black hair and lowered his head to rest his chin on his fingers. Crawford knew the telepath was still confused but was ready to start pushing back in an attempt to figure out what was going on.

"I suppose you have all of the necessary information memorized?" he queried.

Crawford gave a small shrug of one shoulder, careful not to dislodge his lover's arm in the move. "I spent five hours at that office," he said. "That's enough work for now."

"All right, what is it you want from me?" Schuldich asked, suspicious again. He leaned forward, sending orange locks into Crawford's face. "Whose mind is it you want me to rewrite? Just so you know, some food and a day off aren't going to be enough to make it a fun project, so don't expect me to be grateful."

"You did eat chocolate."

"You haven't eaten yours yet."

"Those are mine."

"You don't even like chocolate," Schuldich reminded him, straightening with the intent of fetching the box from the desk. Crawford caught him by his hair, stilling him before he could leave, and eased the German back down. It was uncomfortable to twist his neck enough for a kiss, but Schuldich gave up his pursuit of the other wrapped box. It was enough of an invitation that the German joined him on the couch, sitting cross-legged and sideways so he could see the food instead of the screen.

Schuldich was reaching for one of the plates Crawford was holding when the racket started up next door, and the German stilled at the sudden thudding and groaning that carried through the walls far too easily. Blue eyes and brown met as the groaning escalated into high pitched shrieking, and Crawford glanced towards the television.

"On second thought," he said, and Schuldich plucked the remote up off the floor and turned his movie back on. He beat the wall with the remote a few times for good measure before taking his plate. They ate to the tune of mass carnage. Crawford cleared away his mess when he was finished but Schuldich didn't seem to notice that his plate was empty, completely distracted by the last ten minutes of the movie.

Crawford shook his head and went into the bedroom to put his jacket away. He found the hanger in the closet and shrugged out of the jacket, making sure it hung neatly before setting it back in the closet. He was undoing his tie when fingers slid along his throat, a thumb grazing his chin before Schuldich used a grip on the knot of his tie to turn Crawford around.

"I've had to listen to them fuck all day," Schuldich informed him, "and you were at the office later than you were supposed to be."

"There we are with the whining again," Crawford mused.

"I did shut up while I ate," Schuldich reminded him. "And while we're on the subject of eating, why is your box of chocolates empty?"

Crawford arched an eyebrow at him. "Were you hoping to eat mine?"

Schuldich lifted his other hand to display the open box. "There's nothing inside."

"Perhaps I ate them on the way home."

"Perhaps, but I'd also like to remind you that there isn't a person named Ogawa at Furuta's office. I've been in and out of every mind in there and I've just remembered that she doesn't exist."


"Hmm," Schuldich echoed, a small frown pulling at his mouth. He tossed the box past Crawford towards the trash bin, and Crawford heard it hit the floor instead.

"You have bad aim," he decided.

Schuldich scowled at him and Crawford reached up to finish undoing his tie. His lover relinquished his hold on it and was content to watch, expression unchanging. Crawford didn't bother to acknowledge Schuldich's piercing look, knowing the telepath was struggling to put two and two together to figure why Crawford had bothered lying when it was such a see-through lie, and why he'd even done any of this in the first place. Crawford let him think, undoing the top buttons of his collar and working on his cuffs. When he continued to say nothing, Schuldich finally turned and left the room.

Crawford was only a minute behind in following, and he washed their lunch dishes in the sink while Schuldich rewound his movie. The noise was still going on next door and Schuldich popped the cassette out of the VCR and found its case where it rested on top of the TV.

"I'm going to go return this," he said. "If I have to listen to those two bastards for one more minute, they're going to lose some central wiring."

Crawford nodded in an easy acceptance of that. "We need more coffee while you're out," he said. The telepath didn't respond but Crawford knew he'd heard, and the telepath was out the door just a few moments later.


Schuldich was back three hours later with a bag of groceries slung over one shoulder. Crawford was watching the early evening news when he got back and stayed where he was on the couch, listening to his lover put the foods away. There was a long pause between the clack of the trash can lid closing and the German's arrival at the loveseat, but Schuldich came, and that made all the difference. The telepath plopped down on the cushion to Crawford's right, turning so he could prop his feet in Crawford's lap. He had a box of chocolates on his lap that he set about unwrapping and opening, and Crawford arched an eyebrow at him in a silent question. Schuldich felt the precognitive's gaze on him and met his eyes for a few moments before deciding the chocolate was much more interesting to look at.

"I bumped into Ogawa on the street," Schuldich explained, sounding bored. "She wanted me to give these to you. I knew you hated chocolate, but I took them from her anyway, and now I'm going to eat them. You have no say in this, but you should pass on your gratitude to her the next time you see her."

Crawford felt his lips twitch into a faint smile as he turned his attention back on the television screen. "I'll make a note of that," he promised the telepath.


Psalm 23

There's something about those eyes that just destroys his self-control. Every time they turn on him he fears that he loses a little more of who he is, trading it in for green and cigarette smoke. Sometimes it scares him so much he can't look Yohji in the face. He covers it up with careless words and obnoxious mockery, anything at all that can put the walls back between them that every glance tears down. They never stay up for long because he can't stay away for long. He can't stop coming back here.

There's something about this slow slide down that's a little bit exhilarating, a little bit exhausting, and a large part fear. He knows it's stupid to keep coming back but common sense sleeps on the floor while they sleep in the bed, sliding bodies and gasping breaths and a raw and greedy lust. Sweat and salt and names that slur and twist over moans and choked gasps, fingernails that mark out paths fingertips memorized months ago and a rhythm that doesn't have to stay the same to be familiar. The smell of dark cologne and blood making him heady and high as he buries his face into a pillow, as he ducks in for a kiss, as he ends up falling asleep sprawled across a lean body.

He tells himself it's just an outlet. He tells himself it's just a game, but he's not sure what the rules are anymore and he's not the one rolling the dice. He slips, he slides, and he recovers with harsher words and harder blows. Yohji lets him panic, lets it roll off, and lets him leave. He thinks he hates that the most, that Yohji knows why he won't look him in the face.

"I'm not doing this."

Four words for the snapping point, for when he has to break and run because he's so close to the ledge he feels his stomach lurch. He means "I can't" but he doesn't say "can't" because there's nothing he can't do, at least on the surface. He leaves there the perfect picture of disgust and scorn; he leaves there with his tail between his legs and his mind a roiling mess.

It takes him a day or two to put the pieces back together, a day or two and maybe a couple murders. A job run with Schwarz, who humor his madness and impatience. He gets drunk off his ass and tries to fuck Crawford just to prove a point to himself, but it backfires. Even before the American shoves him away he's feeling nauseous from the taste of Crawford's mouth. Crawford's too tall, anyway, and he doesn't smell right.

A day or two and he's back, letting himself in with the key Yohji made for him months ago. He trashes the place to justify his return and doesn't come up with anything particularly useful to Schwarz. Yohji gets back from surveillance an hour later and finds him helping himself to anything appetizing in the cabinet. They fuck right there in the kitchen, not hard and fast like he wanted it but long and slow, face to face so that there's nowhere to look except at Yohji's face and those eyes.

He ends up staying the night despite his intentions to leave, and the night after that. They bicker and kiss and smoke and insult any movie that comes on TV, anything to pass the time together. If they don't keep busy, he'll start thinking, and the last thing he wants to do is think about this. He's skittish and ready to go by the third morning and he starts for the door with four words thrown between them.

Yohji answers with three.

His hand misses the knob the first time he reaches for it. He doesn't remember answering Yohji's simple declaration before he's out the door and gone. There's nothing he can say to something like that, anyway, so he just gets home as fast as he can and starts drinking.

A few months ago he would have laughed off those words from anyone. A few months ago they were a brilliant trigger for his gift, something to wrap around and twist and snap. Hearing them today ties his stomach into a knot that no amount of alcohol can loosen up. They destroy everything about him he tried so hard to build up the same way Yohji's been steadily destroying everything else. He breaks his dresser on the first kick and almost breaks his foot on the second.

A lot of people die that week. Even Farfarello is impressed. Crawford kicks him out on the seventh day because his tension is starting to infect all of them and Schwarz can't work well if they're all feeling nervous. He's told not to come back until he's got himself straightened out but he isn't sure where to start and he thinks it might be too late to fix things. The question becomes whether or not he can live with them being broken.

He has nowhere else to go but back. Yohji's not there when he gets in and it's almost enough for him to leave again, but the green-eyed Balinese is in the doorway when he turns to run. He's got a girl with him who's already half-undressed and more than a little drunk. Yohji smells of liquor and her perfume even from here.

He feels something creak, feels something crack, and he writes the rush in his veins off as relief.

The girl's saying something about how she didn't agree to threesomes, and Yohji reassures her that 'his friend' is just on his way out. Schuldich feels himself smile at the words, feels the way the sick grin curves his lips. He holds up his hand, offering the key.

"I forgot to leave this," he says.

"Over there," Yohji says, pointing.

He brings it to the door with him anyway and Yohji's not fast enough to stop him. One blurred arm and a quick jab of his hand and the key's buried in her right eye. He hears her screaming as he starts down the stairs, hears Yohji's harsh voice, and he walks away from there without looking back.

The second he lost control of this game, it became Yohji's, but the only game Yohji knows how to play is the game of love. He's a master at it, the spider at the center of the web, spreading out his strings and drawing in anyone and everyone he can. He is everything they want and need him to be until they love him, and then he snips them loose to save himself. It's a selfish game, almost as masochistic as it is cruel, but Schuldich knows he should have known better.

He goes home and drinks, tries to kiss Crawford again and ends up taking Farfarello out to kill someone instead, pulling aside the first green-eyed person they pass. He drinks some more and stays out all night. At three he shows up at the lady's house where Yohji left her after the hospital. He kills her and dumps her body outside of the Koneko.

A week later Yohji has another girlfriend. Another body. And again, and again.

Yohji starts coming home alone.

Schuldich stops dreaming about green.



Schuldig didn't have to be a telepath to know his teammate was furious. The ferocious slamming of the door startled him out of hazy sleep and into reaching for a gun. His fingers were too clumsy to pick it up, nerves numb from drugs, but that didn't matter. His gift had just told him who had come to visit him, and he let his hand fall limp against the bedside table. He groaned as he eased himself back down against the sheets once more.

"Show a little consideration, won't you?" he rasped. Speaking hurt and he cracked an eye open, hoping against hope that there was water somewhere around here. It appeared in his line of sight in the form of a plastic bottle. He peered past it up at Nagi's face, wondering a little at how dark the telekinetic's expression looked. Most of the time, the boy gave rocks a run for their money when it came to showing the least emotion, but today his face looked like a thundercloud.

"A little consideration," Nagi repeated evenly, in that too-calm tone of voice that usually preceded Nagi ripping their targets apart. Schuldig wondered if he dared reach for the water bottle, or if it was the cheese in some sinister rat trap Nagi had prepared for him. He liked his fingers where they were, thanks. "I know you didn't just say that to me."

"What did I-" Schuldig started to demand, but his throat was too dry to handle such a forceful tone. He started coughing, and coughing just set off a vicious migraine that pulsed its way all the day down the side of his face. He swore breathlessly and clamped his hand against his mouth, trying to still the choking before it shattered his brain in his skull. Memory came back in broken pieces, delayed by whatever painkillers Crawford had given him. Ouka. Takatori. A nine-iron.

Shit, they'd royally fucked up, hadn't they?

The pain and coughing together were trying to set off his nausea, but Schuldig flat-out refused to get sick in front of Nagi. Or so he thought, but then Nagi took him by his shoulders to pull him upright. That was the last trigger his stomach needed and Schuldig barely managed to push Nagi out from in front of him before tilting over. Luckily for them both Nagi's gift was as fast as his reflexes, and he had the trash bin up under Schuldig's chin right before he heaved.

"You're such a loathsome idiot."

You're a cheap shot, attacking a man who can't defend himself.

"So defend yourself, telepath, Mastermind," Nagi said flatly. One day Schuldig wanted to know how he could sound so angry with so little inflection in his voice. Maybe he was spending unhealthy amounts of time with Crawford and was starting to pick it up through osmosis. That was terrifying. "Crawford warned you to be careful. Why didn't you listen?"

I'm not the one who pulled the trigger, he shot back, gasping for breath. The bin lowered a bit, just enough for Nagi to press a wet rag hard against his mouth. Schuldig flinched a little at the pain and glowered up at Nagi around the rag. Nagi stared back, completely unrepentant and unforgiving. I told Farfarello that we couldn't harm any of them. He just didn't listen.

Nagi said nothing to that immediately, but he finally pushed the water bottle into Schuldig's hand. He scrubbed hard at Schuldig's mouth with the rag before tossing it carelessly to one side. Schuldig thought about reminding Nagi that he didn't need a nursemaid, but there was no telling what Nagi might be capable of when he was in such a foul mood. Instead he worked on sipping at his water, using the first few mouthfuls just to swish and get the taste of bile off his tongue.

"He could have broken your skull."

"He didn't," Schuldig pointed out as he spat a fifth time. He swallowed the sixth gulp.

"He wanted to," Nagi insisted. "Him knowing who we are wouldn't have stopped him."

Schuldig slanted a look up at him. "You would have."

Nagi's expression finally fractured into something too-bright and almost scared. It was there and gone again, hidden as quickly as he could look away, but Schuldig went still with the bottle right up against his lips. "I couldn't," he said, sounding raw all of a sudden. "I couldn't stop him. Crawford said- he said let them land. Takatori was furious. He would have been more so if we'd defied him and sided against him."

Schuldig frowned up at him. "I know," he said simply.

"You know," Nagi shot back at him, looking at him again. "You know. You and Crawford, you think and you plan and you justify and somehow it's all right in your twisted little world. And me, Schuldig? And me? I had to stand there and watch, I had to stand there and watch them land and I-"

He swung at Schuldig, but his blow changed at the last minute and he knotted his fingers into a white-knuckled fist on Schuldig's jacket. "You're too reckless," Nagi accused him. "You're reckless and selfish. You never think about the rest of us."

Ah, and there was the problem with it all. A little piece of Schuldig cringed away from the realization that he'd created this weakness in Nagi. Crawford was not going to be happy with him when he found out. But Crawford could be dealt with later. Right now there was a miserable telekinetic right in front of him who was infinitely more life-threatening. Schuldig took one last sip from his bottle and reached out, setting it on the nightstand.

"You know, your lack of faith in my abilities is a serious blow to my ego," he said, catching at Nagi's collar and pulling him down just enough to kiss his throat. "Maybe you forgot I'm invincible."

"You don't look it," was Nagi's sour response. "You didn't look it last night. Do you even remember us leaving Takatori's place?"

Schuldig decided that was irrelevant. "I'll be more careful," he said, nibbling a short line up the length of Nagi's jaw in an attempt to distract him.

"Liar," Nagi accused him quietly. There was a wealth of emotion in that one word: anger that Schuldig would tell such a transparent lie, resignation that Schuldig wouldn't change, misery that Schuldig would never understand, fear that it would happen again and it would be more permanent next time. Schuldig said nothing to any of that because Nagi was right on every account.

"Fine," Nagi said, sounding tired and defeated. "If you're too stupid to watch your own back, then I'll have to do it for you."

"Sounds like a fair trade," Schuldig said.

"How does it sound at all fair?" Nagi demanded. Schuldig just kissed him on the mouth instead, but Nagi twisted his face away. "You taste bad."

"Then bring me a toothbrush."

Nagi pulled away from him and snatched up the trash bin. "Go to sleep," he said. "Just go to sleep."

"Yes, sir."

Nagi gave him an icy look for that mockery. Schuldig offered him a lopsided grin and watched the ice melt away under it, fading back into familiar stone. He carefully stretched himself out on his side once more. Nagi watched until he was settled before turning away. Schuldig opened his eyes again once the door was shut behind him, and he offered the shadows a small frown.

Don't you think you're a bit reckless? he asked, careful to keep the thoughts away from Nagi's mind. You should know better than to fall for a telepath. He'll just drag you down with him.

Too late now, it seemed, so he closed his eyes against the room and let himself fall back asleep.



I always knew I was going to Rosenkreuz, and Rosenkreuz always knew they would have me. I was a generational, part of a long line that offered its children to the gifted ranks, something that started a very long time ago with great to the nth grandmother. So I knew my whole life that I was destined for Rosenkreuz, and therefore knew I was destined for great things. At the time I was clueless about what the training was like; I only knew about the possibilities that came afterwards and they were such pleasant thoughts that I could get drunk on them. I waited for my turn to be accepted with little patience, something my mother tried to soothe out of me.

The only time I doubted the glory of Rosenkreuz was when my father stopped coming home so often. When he did come home, he was always distant and didn't want to see his children. He had been promoted within Rosenkreuz, previously something to celebrate, but the aftereffects of rising in their ranks were clear. They had changed my father, and I didn't like the man he had become. I remember asking my mother if it was good to go to Rosenkreuz or if I would stop caring like my father had. She reassured me that everything would be fine, that I would see for myself when I got there. She told me that because it was the only thing she could say. I had no choice in the matter, really, and after that conversation she would rather me be eager to go than reluctant to leave. I took her reassurances, trusting her because she was my mother, and it was the only time I doubted them.

I was the youngest out of several children. My mother and father were very good at giving birth to gifted babies. The whole line had been good at it, and so our name was favored between Rosenkreuz and Estet. I guess we were sort of a royal line, one of three that had been around forever to offer gifts and minds to train. Because my mother's children were so precious to the organization, my parents were practically paid to have sex and make babies. They couldn't make as many as normal people might...Having a gifted child wears on both parents, mostly on the mother. My mother managed five over nine years, but I as the fourth had some problems and the fifth was born with so many complications that he died just days after his birth. My mother cried over him for days before pouring almost frantic affection on me, the newly established baby of the group.

Only my mother and I knew that I had problems. She kept it from my three older siblings, as they would enter Rosenkreuz first and she didn't want them telling anyone. She feared what it might mean, and I feared it because she did. I had two older sisters and an older brother, and as much as my sisters could annoy me while I was at home it was my brother I severely disliked. He was always harassing me. My sisters would defend me when my mother wasn't around, but they left before he did, heading off one by one when Rosenkreuz beckoned them. So it was my brother and me for a long time, and they were days full of fights, black eyes, and my mother's scolding. I always lost the fights...My brother was older and stronger than me. When I was eleven, he left for Rosenkreuz. A year later we received the message that he had been killed in training. It broke my mother's heart. I remember holding onto her and smiling over her shoulder, quite pleased that my brother finally got what was coming to him.

My gifts were late in coming; they showed up a year later in me than they had in my siblings, and it was a year that had me on edge. I had to have gifts. I had to go to Rosenkreuz. I was destined for glory, but to get such glory, I needed power.

Rosenkreuz was patient. They had learned to be for us, because our blood line was so special to them. They never harassed my family about when I would finally bloom into what I was supposed to be. They never threatened my father or my life like I so feared they would. They waited in silence, watching from a distance, and the day my gifts appeared they were on our doorstep to take me away.

I remember being so excited to see them.

Kids are really stupid that way, you know?

One of the first things you learned was that it sucked donkey dick to have a common gift. With telepathy coming in third after empathy and precognition, my time at Rosenkreuz wasn't exactly a bundle of joy. Your ranking among your giftmates determined what would happen to you. Dead last died, the next section up would be given jobs inside Rosenkreuz, the second placers might end up as teachers or in interrogations, and the top five percent competed for spots on field teams. No one wanted to end up in Rosenkreuz the rest of their lives, so there was a strong motivation to screw over your giftmates and do anything to get ahead. No boys are angels at that age anyway, but the difference between brat and bully is crucial. Kissing ass didn't help- they didn't want weasels, they wanted wolves. Luckily for me, I learned to be an asshole really quickly.

The second thing you learned was that you couldn't get where you wanted to be alone. When you first started, you needed and wanted no one but yourself. In those first days you were too busy learning how to shield yourself from the other telepaths. The attacks back then were just mental stabs, one kid to another. We weren't given lessons on how to protect ourselves from the rips and prodding; it was something we would learn on our own or we would get torn apart by our classmates. Telepaths' shields are tricky because every one is different- they're personalized and made to suit the child as it will best fit. Once these were in place and we could no longer access each other, we realized it was time to branch out. Others were turning to the telepaths' ranks for aid within their own gifts, and we used them in turn. We weren't friends, we weren't even allies. We were necessary, and we picked our partners very carefully. Everyone wanted us, but we had to decide who would best suit our purposes in destroying each other. We were arrogant and we had a right to be. I was one of the pickiest... Most of the other telepaths had already formed circles and pairs by the time I decided who I wanted. Unfortunately, I happened to pick the only one in the Rosenkreuz compound who wasn't interested in making any agreements with telepaths. Fortunately... I was a very stubborn bastard.


Schwarz Misbehaving

Schuldich was drunk again. What was once a rare sight had now become almost routine, except that Schuldich was never constant enough with anything for Crawford to mark as routine. Crawford had at least hoped for better restraint when they were attending such an important client's banquet, but his teammate had been missing for an hour and that was enough of a clue as to what the telepath was up to.

He found Schuldich on the roof as the party was drawing to a close. The lanky German was half-sprawled against the railing at the far end, supposedly staring down to the revelers gathered by the pool several stories down. A call drew no response, so Crawford shut the door behind him and started towards the other man. Schuldich had no greeting to offer as he stopped beside him, nothing more than the wiggle of a pinky finger, and Crawford decided he was more hanging from the railing than leaning against it.

"This is not the place," Crawford reminded him.

"It's not," Schuldich agreed, and he tilted his head to one side, grinning up at Crawford but keeping his glassy blue eyes on the people far below. "Look. They're dancing."

"A common occurrence at banquets."

"I've never danced."

"You live a life full of regrets," Crawford answered dryly.

"Don't joke, Crawford," Schuldich sent him. "I'm too drunk to appreciate it."

"If you're too drunk to stand, you can crawl home. The Morimotos are retiring for the night in ten minutes and we are to be downstairs to see them off."

"Royal we?" Schuldich asked, sounding hopeful.


"Yes, yes." Schuldich sighed and shifted his grip on the railing. Crawford watched as he oh-so-carefully pushed himself upright, taking note of the way the younger man swayed. Fingers tightened around metal and Schuldich grimaced. Crawford's first thought was that he was going to be sick and he reached out to catch Schuldich's collar, ready to pull him back before he emptied his drunken guts over the railing. As soon as his hand closed around Schuldich's jacket, however, the telepath spat over the side.

Crawford hauled him back out of sight and moved back himself as a startled cry rang out below. Schuldich came stumbling where he was pulled and ended up colliding with Crawford, laughing quietly against the precognitive's chest. "You're crawling home," Crawford decided.

"Oh, come on," Schuldich enticed him, sliding his hands down Crawford's jacket to bury them in the American's pants pockets. Crawford could smell the alcohol on Schuldich's breath as the telepath tipped his head back, but he kept his gaze resolutely off to the side. Lips pressed against his throat clumsily and Schuldich tried to shift closer, only to stumble a little. Crawford had to catch him or risk ripping seams down his new pants, and Schuldich nibbled on his collar instead. "You think it was funny too. It was Sakamochi's wife."

"Your behavior is not appropriate for the reputation Schwarz wishes to maintain," Crawford told him. "If you want to spit on people, do it in your free time and not when we're representing a client at an event like this."

Schuldich laughed at that, sounding a little incredulous. "When you fucked me into Morimoto's desk last night, was that while we were on-duty or off? Technically, he was still in the building, so we were still supposed to be representing Schwarz." Crawford deigned not to answer that and Schuldich pressed a smile into his throat. "I thought about jacking off," he told Crawford matter-of-factly. "Right there at the railing, aiming out at the crowd and seeing who it would hit. Thinking about that fucking desk creak creak creak. Mmmm. Would you be more pissed at me or less pissed at me if I'd done that instead of spit?"

Crawford let go of his shoulder, catching his hair in a tight grip to pull his head back. Schuldich grimaced at the pain in his scalp and neck and Crawford crushed the look off his face with a hard kiss. Schuldich's hands came up out of his pockets to the hem of his pants and his thumbs worked at the belt, toying with the metal clasp. "I'd have killed you."

Schuldich laughed against his mouth and yanked the belt undone. "I didn't," he said. "Know why? Because I wanted you to share it. I had my hand down my pants and I thought, wait, wait, this could be better." Fingers were jerking at the button on Crawford's pants and Crawford caught at his wrist to stop him, trying to ignore Schuldich's words but listening to every single one. Blue eyes locked with hazel and Crawford knew he should look away, he just didn't know how to.

"I wanted you to be there. Pushing me up against the railing, hand on my cock, fucking me against the metal. Seeing if we could be quiet enough that those fat fucks down below wouldn't look up, and then…" Teeth nipped at a lower lip. "You could aim, if you wanted. You could pick. You know we'd be off the roof before any of them caught up with us."

"A stunt like that would have been investigated," Crawford told him. "Morimoto would have had it gathered and tested."

"You're so fucking un-fun that I can't believe it sometimes," Schuldich said, scowling up at him. "Can't you stop fucking thinking of the consequences and just think about fucking me? You weren't this stuck up before we came to Japan."

"You weren't such a drunk back then, either."

"Fuck you." Schuldich tried to push away from him, but he didn't make it far. A lack of any real balance and Crawford's hand on his wrist just brought him stumbling back and down, and as he flailed to keep from falling, Crawford caught him and dragged him back. An arm around his waist pressed them back to chest and with a shove, they both stumbled back towards the railing. Schuldich caught at it with both hands to brace himself against hitting it and Crawford effectively cut off his teammate's snarled protest with a hand between his legs.

Schuldich dropped a hand from the railing to press it up against Crawford's, pushing his fingers against the hardness already there. "Fuck me."

"We only have eight minutes," Crawford reminded him, working him through the cloth.

"We can do it in eight minutes," Schuldich assured him, voice already strained as he moved against Crawford's hand.

"Just enjoy the view," Crawford sent back, gazing over Schuldich's shoulder. Beneath them the remaining thirty guests lounged around the pool and deck area. Five musicians in the corner were playing classical music and two-thirds of the guests were dancing with slow, stiff steps. The others were walking idle laps around the pool, gossiping and making business deals to the light of the candles floating on crystal clear water. Schuldich hissed something between his teeth, breathing ragged as fingernails bit little half-moon marks into Crawford's hand.

"Look up, look up, little chickadees," Schuldich called softly, and Crawford covered his mouth with his free hand to shut him up. Schuldich just tilted his head to one side, catching a finger with his teeth. Wet teeth and hard pressure from a tongue Crawford knew well almost had him pulling free. "Ah ah," Schuldich warned him around it. "Looks like Mr. Proper's hard, too."

"Is it really so difficult for you to stay quiet?" Crawford wanted to know, and Schuldich pushed back against him. Crawford cursed quietly at the heat and clenched down in a warning. Schuldich snarled something over his shoulder, muffled through Crawford's hand, and slid a foot back to hook it behind Crawford's. Rocking into Crawford's hand just brought him back up against the American again and Schuldich had taken to sucking on his captured finger. "Schuldich-"

Shut up before they hear you, Schuldich sent back mockingly, and Crawford gave it up as a lost cause. The plan had been simple: get Schuldich off, get Schuldich downstairs somehow, and get Schuldich home before he embarrassed them. Somehow Schuldich had a way of disrupting plans and bringing Crawford down with him, but Crawford quickly lost the motivation to be annoyed by such things. It was hard to be annoyed about this sort of heat and sticky lust, especially when it was Schuldich.

Schuldich caught it when he came and they both rested against the railing to catch their breath, and he showed off the small handful to Crawford. "Come onnn," he urged Crawford. At the look on Crawford's face he glanced over the railing once more, and a wide smile curved his lips when he turned back. "I can get it into the punch bowl from here," he offered.

Crawford mimed shooting himself in the head, and Schuldich tipped his hand over the railing. He wiped the rest off on Crawford's shirt, peeling his coat back to get to the bleached white shirt underneath, and Crawford rethought his ability to strangle the telepath. The German was already making his best attempt at an escape, which amounted to unsteady weaving in his drunken state, and was saying something about how they only had ten seconds to be downstairs. Crawford checked his watch, found the German to be about twenty-three seconds off, and went to go catch up with him.


Snow Angels

There was only so much a man could take before he snapped and opened fire on his teammates. Seeing as how his teammates made up Schwarz, this attempt at mass homicide would be doomed from the start to fail except for the fact that he could see the future. He was quite certain that when his time came and he lost that last little thread of patience, his gift would show him how to work around telekinesis and telepathy, and gift or no, dropping Farfarello from a distance was doable.


He drummed his fingers on the countertop, ignoring Nagi's questioning call, and instead watched the way the little vibrations along the tabletop made ripples in his scotch. That tone of Nagi's meant that he wanted Crawford to fix something, which was utterly ridiculous. Nagi was a computer genius and a telekinetic. He didn't need a precog to fix anything. If Crawford ignored him long enough, he was sure Nagi would fix the problem himself.

Footsteps sounded in the hall coming his way and Crawford admitted there was a flaw in his plan. Just a moment later Nagi popped into the doorway, red-faced from the cold and brushing snowflakes out of his hair. Crawford gazed back at him from where he sat with his cheek propped in his hand and Nagi dragged his gaze up from the open bottle of liquor to focus on Crawford's face.

"Schuldich's lying face-down in the snow again," Nagi reported. Crawford decided Nagi would have been a tattletale if he'd ever been allowed to go to school.

"Leave him to die," Crawford answered.

"Okay." Nagi turned and left again. A few moments later Crawford heard the front door bang shut, and then the shouting and curses began.

Crawford wondered what part of "leave him to die" involved anything that started such caterwauling. He downed his scotch and reached for the bottle, coughing a little at the bite. The one good thing that came out of this complete mess of their winter holidays was that this cabin was fully stocked. Granted, none of this was meant for them, but Crawford didn't care. Takeda could bill them.


Crawford checked his gun, found it to be loaded, and pushed himself up from the counter.


As a rule, Schwarz never took vacations together. They lived together, worked together, and killed together, and that was as much as anyone could expect of them. There was a minimum distance of three hours by bullet train that they had to be apart from each other whenever Crawford gave them a break and they tended to go much further than that. It worked for them. It kept them sane and allowed them to tolerate each other.

This insanity was simply a job gone very wrong. Their latest client had wanted to retreat to his cabin in the mountains for the winter holidays and had sent Schwarz ahead of him to get the place ready. It was demeaning, but the pay had been good, so they'd gone and hired people to stock it and clean it. They were only supposed to be there one day before Takeda and his children arrived by helicopter, and that same chopper would have taken them back to Tokyo.

What Crawford's visions had failed to warn him was that Tokyo would be hit by a very strong earthquake their first night in the cabin, which meant that their client was focusing on salvaging everything he could of his alliances and financial assets. Instead of taking his vacation, he was remaining in the city. What that meant for Schwarz was that they had been stuck in the middle of Absolutely Nowhere in a three-room cabin for four days now with nothing to do except watch snowfall after snowfall.

Needless to say, things were getting a little edgy.


When Crawford came out onto the small porch with his gun out and aimed at the first body he spotted, his teammates settled down immediately. There was that look in Crawford's eye that said he wanted desperately to pull the trigger, and it was best to just lie low until that gleam went away. Nagi picked one side of the porch and Farfarello the other, and the Irishman settled into a crouch with his knives at the ready and his single eye pointed out at the drifts. Crawford looked from him to the bleeding Nagi, who was glowering Farfarello's way, and at last looked at Schuldich.

The telepath had taken to beaching himself in the snow, throwing himself off the porch into the drifts in an attempt to die of frostbite or snow suffocation. Crawford knew he didn't mean it, because Schuldich always came in later bitching about hot cocoa and liquor and then got roaring drunk and obnoxiously happy, but one of these times, Crawford almost wished he'd forget to stand back up again.

"Schuldich," he said.

"Crawford?" came the muffled response.

"I'm going to shoot you."

"He means it," Nagi offered up helpfully. "He's got That Look."

Schuldich lifted his face from the snow to peer at Crawford, winced when he saw Crawford's expression, and sullenly pushed himself up to sit on his ankles. "You're such a tattletale," he sent at Nagi.

Crawford looked back at Farfarello. "What are you doing?"

"Looking for snow angels," Farfarello answered. "I hear they're easy to find after snowfall."

"Snow angels?" Nagi asked dubiously.

"Snow angels," Farfarello affirmed, and he licked the edge of his knife.

"Christ, Farf," Schuldich said, making a face at Farfarello. "You don't FIND snow angels. You MAKE them."

Farfarello eyed him for a long minute. "Make?"

"Make?" Nagi asked, still dubious.

"You make them. Nagi, make him one."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Nagi answered, lifting two hands in self-defense when Farfarello turned an intent look on him. "I think your brain froze in the snow."

"I want a snow angel," Farfarello told Schuldich.

"Just get out here," Schuldich sent at Nagi, stabbing a finger at the snow beside him. "I'll tell you how to do it and you do it."

"If you know, then you do it!" Nagi said, not budging.

"I want a snow angel."

"No," Schuldich said, scowling at the boy. "I'll look ridiculous. Just get out here."

"I WANT…" Farfarello started, and he'd dropped insistence for pure threat.

Crawford calculated, peeked at his gift, and pointed the gun at Schuldich. "Just shut up and make it," he ordered the telepath, "or I'm not cleaning up behind Farfarello."

"Crawford…" Schuldich protested.

Crawford felt his finger twitch on the trigger. "Now."

Schuldich started muttering things that should have melted the snow around him, but he turned over on his back in the middle of his indent in the snow. He managed to keep up a murderous, colorful litany even as he flopped his arms and legs out in the snow and moved them, and Farfarello and Nagi watched in mixed incredulity and amusement as the German made them a quick angel in the snow. The German sat up and scowled up at all of them on the porch.

"Are you happy now?" he demanded.

"Disappointed," Farfarello answered.

"You're right," Nagi commented. "You did look ridiculous."

Schuldich leaned over and grabbed a handful of snow, and Crawford decided to retreat back inside before the snowball fight could start. His scotch was saner company and he resettled himself at the bar, setting his gun on the counter beside him and pulling the bottle closer. It was almost gone by the time his teammates returned and Schuldich was covered in purple bruises from telekinesis-enforced snow balls.

Crawford had had enough to drink by then that he almost though the purple marks were funny. Nagi and Farfarello took advantage of his amusement to move the gun to a safe hiding place, and Schuldich decided Crawford was too drunk to care if he warmed up his frozen hands on his back. He was wrong about that, but the alcohol did make it hard for Crawford to chase him, and he managed to lock himself in one of the two bedrooms before Crawford caught up.

They were finally retrieved from the mountain three days later, and after spending a day listening to their client's woes regarding the damage his business had suffered, Crawford sent all of Schwarz on vacation. As far as he knew, they spent Christmas on four different continents.


Shields - Excerpt from Necropolis

The human mind has this nifty little trick of recording moments that change the world. My teacher refers to it as the impact synapse- even if the person cannot understand what has just happened and how it will affect him, his mind knows that something has just irrevocably changed. Don't agree? Where were you when the Wall came down? Where were you when the shuttle scattered to dust in the air? Let's get more personal than that. Ever lose someone important to you? Remember where you were when you got the call? Better yet, how did it feel to be standing right there and watch them slip away from you? The mind catalogues these things, sealing them in our memories where time will never touch them. It's just human nature.

It's different, being a Talent, and even more so if you're in the estimated seventy-four percent that Rosenkreuz gets its greedy hands on. It's not that we don't have that synapse; it's that different things affect us. The Wall? That was in large part our doing. The shuttle? I heard the order to take it out of the sky. Amazing what a couple of telekinetics can do when they're concentrating, isn't it? I guess you don't find it as amusing as I do.

We make these sorts of things happen every day, so they don't mean as much to us. We start wars on open streets and in underground empires on a regular basis- sometimes for the money, sometimes because we're bored. But that doesn't mean we can't be affected; it doesn't mean we can't be gotten to.

I know exactly where I was when his shields collapsed and took his mind with it.

We'd always known it was coming, but it wasn't something we talked about, not even in whispers when he was continents away. We'd always known it was coming, but it still caught me off guard. It caught all of us off guard, really.

Maybe we should have talked about it. Maybe we should have made plans. We should have done something, really, but I've always been better at hindsight than foresight, and in the end, there wasn't really anything we could have done.

His life had always been a dangerous game, his sanity a morbid joke, and when his mind gave out, the joke was on us.

It took all of ten seconds for our team to fall completely apart.

It took all of three days for the first one of us to die.



The look on Farfarello's face says he isn't impressed by any of this: not the two hundred-year-old mahogany wooden desk sitting in the middle of the room or the priceless paintings posted on hooks around the walls. He could care less about the carpets, which are plush and thick and white and therefore must be cleaned at least three times a day to still look brand new weeks after installation, and the windows garner only a smidgen more interest. The glass is clean enough that it's invisible and the panoramic view is breathtaking if one ignores the fact that it is, in fact, a polluted and overcrowded city they are staring out at. The money it costs to own and maintain an office like this is more than Schwarz makes as a unit in a year, but Farfarello has never really understood money. It's completely out of his league and therefore this extravagance is wasted on him.

What Farfarello has absolutely no tolerance for is the fact that the two of them are the only people in this office. They came on time for a six p.m. meeting, only to be told by the secretary that Hashimoto was called away to an emergency meeting that could take an hour or more. Neither of them believed that excuse; they've both been around long enough to know this is just a game and a power play. Still, Crawford made the call that they would wait, and so they have been.

For twenty minutes, neither of them have budged from their spots: Crawford by the window and Farfarello standing on the platform that hides the elevator. He'll feel the rumbling in time to move, unless he's in the mood to perch like a vulture when Hashimoto finally shows his face. Crawford doesn't care either way. He's working numbers in his head, adjusting what Schwarz was going to demand in exchange for their services. Seeing an office like this ups the ceiling and Crawford knows anything he asks for will be eventually accepted. It brings a smirk to his lip as he makes plans for his team and there's more than a little bit of hungry possession in his mind as he thinks about controlling a place like this. He can see Hashimoto's power and he wants to watch it bend to his will.

Farfarello is thinking about different numbers, and he's the first to voice them: "Seven."

"Disable them," Crawford says without looking back.

He can't hear Farfarello's footsteps on carpet like this, especially not with the slippers they had to put on before being allowed off the elevator, but he knows Farfarello is obeying. The Irishman makes a slow circuit of the room to take apart all seven security cameras. Crawford doesn't ask him to double check for an eighth. Farfarello has a sixth sense for things like this and if he says there are seven, there are seven.

Farfarello ends his tour at Crawford's side and the American glances his way, studying the way the skyscrapers look around him. The sun is setting on a horizon neither of them can see and orange sunlight falls in patches across his skin and the carpet. He came in white today at Crawford's request, even if the precognitive didn't know why he was asking. Now he seems to blend into the office, white and orange and pale and bright all at once. Clean and presentable on the outside and corrupt to the core on the inside.

It's almost as if the office has come alive in Farfarello's muscled frame: not Hashimoto's greed or his carefully arranged office, but the vicious power and strength. Everything that attracts Crawford to this deal is personified in Farfarello. Crawford looks at him now and feels a second spike of that hunger, even if it's not something he can ever satisfy. He can have Farfarello, yes, but the man is an untamable creature that Crawford will never own. If he doesn't care about money, and he doesn't care about power, and he doesn't even care enough about his teammates to check their status after a job, there is nothing Schwarz can offer him. He is here as a freelancer, almost, and will be gone again as soon as Crawford fails to entertain him sufficiently.

That day will come. Crawford knows it and can feel it every time he looks at the other man. It doesn't matter. That day isn't today.

Farfarello knows he's being considered but doesn't bother to return the look yet. He's restless and more than a little annoyed that Hashimoto is playing them like this. The games Crawford understands so well go far above his head. He doesn't know why Crawford puts up with shenanigans such as this and he's past ready to go. Crawford could remind him how lucrative this deal is, but that takes it back to numbers, and Farfarello will just up and go.

Distraction is all Crawford has left. He lifts his hand closer to the glass, studying the way the orange light has faded to red. Pollution makes the red darker than it probably should be, dark enough that it looks like blood when it mixes with the color of his skin. The stain across his bared wrist is more than enough to get Farfarello's attention and Crawford watches one single eye zero in on that illusion. He can positively feel the way the tension in Farfarello's body has changed and the abrupt resurfacing of interest.

"You make this far too easy," he says, curling his fingers to watch the way the light pools into his wrist and washes its way across their suits.

Farfarello offers him a hooded look for that but doesn't deny it. He reaches out instead, running his fingers over Crawford's hand, searching for the warmth and wetness of blood. The heat is there, emanating from Crawford's own skin, and Farfarello draws his hand back to consider his fingers. The light looks even more like blood on his deathly pale skin, and his breathing quickens a little in excitement.

Crawford catches Farfarello's wrist and pulls the man's hand back towards him, and Farfarello watches as Crawford's mouth closes over red fingers. Crawford bites down hard enough to break the skin, knowing Farfarello will feel the pressure if not the pain, and presses his tongue into the faint tang of blood. Farfarello pulls his hand free and leans in, crushing his mouth against Crawford's in a demand to share that taste. It is too small for him to find it and he growls a little in annoyance.

"Don't mark me," Crawford warns him before Farfarello can bite his lip. The hooded look Farfarello sends him dares Crawford to try and stop him, so Crawford elaborates with, "Not where he can see."

That tacit permission is enough, and Farfarello is moving to divest Crawford of his suit jacket. Crawford draws Farfarello away from the windows, closer to the desk. He manages to get his jacket away from Farfarello before the man can throw it carelessly off to one side and he drapes it over the back of the chair. His shirt is fast to follow and Crawford hasn't even let go of it before Farfarello is biting down hard on the juncture of his throat and shoulder. He hisses a little at the fierce bite and the sure sting of skin giving way and Farfarello's fingers dig into him in hungry response. His tongue is almost loving as it traces out the dots he's left in Crawford's skin and Crawford knows the affection is directed solely at the pain and blood. He doesn't mind.

He slides his hands down between them, working to get Farfarello's jacket off. At the rate Farfarello is going, he is bound to get some blood on the pristine white material, and that won't do. Farfarello lets go of Crawford with his hands if not his mouth, moving his arms to his sides so Crawford can get the sleeves free. Crawford has to press himself up against Farfarello to be able to reach all the way and he can already feel Farfarello's hardness.

"Sometimes you are nothing but an animal," he observes.

Farfarello laughs against his mouth, that chilling, raspy laugh of his that only serves to prove Crawford's point. "Better than being human," he says. "Better than being like you."

"There isn't room in this world for two of me."

"Arrogant." Farfarello is too impatient to wait on Crawford to get his shirt and he starts working at the buttons himself. They struggle together to get it off and Farfarello can finally get his hands back on Crawford's skin. He had a knife hidden under his sleeve but now draws it free and traces the tip up Crawford's abdomen, just hard enough to scratch. Crawford slips his hand between them. There isn't room between their groins but he forces his hand there anyway and squeezes hard at trapped flesh. Farfarello's mouth parts on a ragged pant and he drags his knife all the way up to Crawford's throat.

"No marks," Crawford reminds him flatly.

"Not today," Farfarello answers, tracing the knife under his chin and up to his lips. He turns it flat and kisses the blade. It is so thin that their mouths touch around it. Farfarello slides his tongue beneath one razor edge to find Crawford's and Crawford tastes blood. Farfarello tastes it as well, judging by the way he shudders, by the way his one good eye dilates. "But one day I'll mark you in a way that won't heal."

"Arrogant," Crawford murmurs against metal and blood.

Farfarello smiles, vicious and hungry and wanting, but he lets the knife fall to one side in favor of digging pale hands into Crawford's hair. Crawford drags him closer still, feeling the violence and lust humming in the skin beneath his fingers. He is holding onto a demon and he knows perfectly well that Farfarello is being serious. When the day comes for the madman to leave, he'll leave nothing of Schwarz behind him if Crawford can't beat him to the punch. It is inevitable, but nothing to lose sleep over. Crawford is confident in his ability to see two steps ahead of Farfarello, and more confident in his ability to keep Farfarello distracted. Farfarello doesn't have to appreciate numbers and games and scenic views to understand power. They just worship two separate powers, and right now, Crawford is enough for Farfarello. He knows exactly what it means to have the precognitive under his blade. He's known what it means ever since he first let Crawford push him down and fuck him. It's the only reason he allows it.

Crawford, in turn, knows exactly what it means to be allowed this, and he feels almost as high as Farfarello does. Shoving a demon down on polished mahogany with all of Tokyo at his fingertips is a rush he can't get anywhere else and he knows, sure as sin, that he's never going to let Farfarello walk away. His gift says they only have twenty minutes before Hashimoto returns, but twenty minutes is a lifetime in a world like theirs, and twenty minutes is more than enough reason to remind Farfarello why he's staying one more day.




Liquid heat and orange glow, spilling through blinds we never bothered to close. It's a slash of light down the wall, across the bed, across your skin, and I've never seen it glow like this. I wonder how it tastes, to taste the sun as it sets across you. Fingers follow flicking shadows, lines between here and there, between the reality we live and the reality we make.

Fascination. Obsession. Fingers slipping through short dark strands, curling in the locks to drag fingernails lightly over your skull. Leaning down for a taste of you, a taste of anything I can get from you. Sunlight and sunset, shadows and light, dark hair and pale skin. Warmth. Life. I can feel your heart beating against my lips when I press my mouth to your throat. I kiss and linger, and I don't know if it's your breath or mine that flows between us or rather something we breathe together.


You would laugh if I ever told you.

Leather's not a word anyone would think to associate with you on first sight. Leather is… something rough, something unrefined. Leather jackets of a motorcycle demon; leather chaps of a cowboy out of days long past. The first is ridiculous and the second doesn't fit. You can't link the past and future together like that; they refuse to mix.

But still… Leather.

Leather for the stereotypical masculine image it brings to mind; leather for the strength and the thick scent. Leather for brown and black and tan all sliding together in one easy existence. Leather for belts that still have marks on them from my fingernails; leather for the seats in your car where we fucked.

Leather for its kink, for its restraint, like the way I can never just walk away from this, where I can never blow you off. It's only ever a fleeting thought to walk away, but walking away once means walking away for good, and I don't know yet if this is something I want to give up. I don't know if it's something I'm ready to give up.

Leather for the bindings I would wrap around your arms and tie you down with, leather pushed between teeth to choke back the sounds. If I could- but you would see it coming. That is the trick of it, is it not? So if I cannot have blood here, in my mouth, then I will have whatever else I can reach.

I burn myself on the sunset that dances across your skin, but no matter how much it hurts, I know it will never leave a mark.


The Bait

He stood motionless in the middle of the field, blue eyes flicking this way and that over the grasses. Who'd have thought grass could get so tall? It was up to his shoulders, and he really didn't like this. He didn't like any of this. When he got back to the rest of Schwarz, he was going to beat Crawford senseless and probably wring his neck for good measure. Christ. He could feel his heartbeat in his mouth and his fingers were clenched on his arms. He wanted to look behind him, but he was dead set against moving.

Something cracked against the back of his head and he yelped despite himself, too tense from standing out here as their fucking bait to guard himself against the sound when Nagi hit him. He threw a dangerous glare towards the dark smear on the horizon where his teammates were waiting in the woods, muttering florid death wishes under his breath. Finally he pried his fingers from his arms, sliding back into the speedy gift that was the reason he was out here- and the only way he was going to survive this stupid idea. Everything slowed down around him; he could hear the wind groaning past his ears and the grasses were doing a sick, slow dance in time to it. Gathering his breath, he spread his arms out at his side, blue eyes moving constantly back and forth over the grass.

This is a dumb fucking idea.

"Hey, fuckers," he called out, spinning in a low circle to keep watch on the rest of the field. Jesus, he'd never before wished to have eyes on the back of his head. He hated standing out here in the open like this. He couldn't read these things, couldn't get anything from them. Fuck, they weren't even supposed to be real. They were supposed to be dead and rotted and barely bones right now. "Live meat!" His voice was almost too loud in the otherwise quiet night. "Come and get it while it's fresh, assholes!"

His hands were shaking but he couldn't get them to stop. He thought he heard grasses give a violent swish off in the distance and he hesitated, freezing for a moment before glancing that way.

I'm never going to forgive you for this, Crawford. I'm going to fucking kill you.

The ground trembled beneath his feet and he stared out across the field, turning very carefully, giving up yelling to concentrate on getting his breath ready for the long run. He couldn't see them anywhere. He could feel them moving in his shoes but he couldn't see them anywhere. He came to a stand still, lowering his arms to his side, and looked around nervously. How the hell could something that size hide? Their client had specifically picked this race because they were giant.

He heard Nagi's mental yell of warning and whirled around to see one of them come flying out of the air, leaping out of the grass to pounce on him. The sight of it froze him where he was for a second, breath catching in his lungs and heart clenching violently. Jesus Christ, it's huge- All brown and black scales with a striped back, a huge snout with jagged teeth, those knives for claws, and fucking hooks on its feet. He heard the thud of Nagi's gift hit it and it went crashing back against the ground. It snarled something vicious as it hit the ground and he heard Nagi's mind wince against the mental bond, already pushed too far. Schuldich stood locked in place for just a moment longer, staring down at that sprawled body, watching it twist with a liquid grace to get back to its feet.

Schuldich turned and ran.

He thought he heard a hoot behind him from one of those things, but he didn't care. They weren't hiding anymore, now that he was on the run; he could see them racing through the grass on either side of him.

Fast, he thought, and for a moment he felt a sliver of panic. His guns wouldn't work much on these things and his gift was absolutely useless. All he had was his speed, and if that couldn't save him… Nagi sure as hell couldn't, not when they were moving away from Schwarz, not when these things weighed a fucking ton apiece. There was only so far he could throw his gift against that much weight, and with the beasts moving so quickly away from the team, Schuldich was on his own. Jesus, they're too fast.

He ran faster than he ever had before, ran because his life was dependent on it. He'd never before been in such a situation, never before been so completely the prey. He didn't like the feeling one bit. He could hear their massive feet on the ground behind him and one threw itself out of the darkness at him. He leapt to one side, almost stumbling in his hurry to get away from those claws. It put him right next to another and he realized it had been herding him when jaws snapped together just inches from his head. He had his gun out and he fired at it, aiming for its eyes even as he danced around it and raced off.

"Don't hurt my experiments," their client had said. "They're worth more than Schwarz is."

Their client could go to hell and have tea with the devil himself, for all Schuldich cared. His life was more important to him than anything else and he'd be damned if he just sat here and let these things chew his face off and get those hooks in his skin.

Schuldich? Farfarello sent at him, alerted by the gunshots that there were problems.

These fuckers are too fast, Schuldich sent back.

Run faster, was Farfarello's response.

Fuck you, Farfarello.

But he did, because he had to. Because there were still two miles to go before he reached the gates. Two miles to go and these things were already even with him. Fuck. He was going to kill Rosenkreuz for assigning them to this man, and then he was going to kill Crawford for making him the bait.

If he made it to the gates alive, that was, and he was starting to get the feeling he wouldn't.

The field gave way to trees and what was left of coherent thought snarled vicious curses as he fought his way through the tangled underbrush. He tore his coat on a bush, scraped his knuckles on the rough bark of a tree. Every step was just a risk of breaking his ankle, of snagging it in the roots and leaves that twisted across the ground. He couldn't afford to be careful here, couldn't afford to slow down. And these things- these monsters- weren't having a hard time at all.

He could see lights through the trees and he pressed on. He couldn't hear his breathing over the crackling of low branches and the thuds of much heavier footsteps beating against the ground, but his heart was in his throat and he thought he would choke on it. He threw himself forward and felt something slide beneath his foot. He managed a strangled, frantic yell as he lost his balance. He slid across slick leaves and glanced a tree with his shoulder and went tumbling down the side of a small incline. The gate- the gate was right there. He'd fallen looking back up the hill and he saw one of the raptors make a leap for him. Sheer desperation saved his life but he felt its clawed fingers rip lines down his back. If he had the breath for it, he might have screamed.

It had been a very long time since he'd ever been scared, but these things were reason enough to be terrified. He was moving even as those dark claws were tearing through him, throwing himself the last twenty feet towards the gates. They were closed. They were closed. He slammed one hand repeatedly against the large green button, back to the gates as he faced his stalkers. He left blood all over the metal walls of the giant fence and he wondered when he'd torn his hand open. There was a groaning of metal, impossibly loud, as the gates slowly started to open. He couldn't breathe; he was utterly exhausted. He could just stand there and stare as the monsters carefully picked their way down the hill for him. He had nowhere to go, so they weren't in any hurry. Four of them. No, five. Fuck. There was no way he could get away from them right now. Not even his speed would save him. Fingers curled desperately against unrelenting metal, fingernails sliding against the blood-slicked surface.

"I hope you choke on me, you assholes," he snarled, baring his teeth in a last show of defiance.

The entire ground… shook.

Schuldich's stalkers came to an abrupt halt, twisting their heads every which way. Schuldich felt his breath catch in his chest and he slowly turned his head to stare at the open gates. There was a sound, like wind, but not a breeze. And another thud that shook the ground beneath him.

Not a wind. Something was breathing.

Schuldich looked at his hunters, who were starting to look agitated, and inched his way down the wall towards the open doors. Slowly, carefully, that's good, that's good, take it easy…

Except one of the raptors wasn't so willing to lose its lunch, and it threw itself forward. Schuldich leapt to one side and something hit him hard. Something huge and heavy, and it threw him bonelessly to the side as it rushed past him. Dazed blue eyes could only watch as giant jaws caught the raptor in midair, and the smaller dinosaur screamed as its bones cracked. The other four leapt to its defense, jumping after the new monster. Schuldich could only lay there and watch for another minute, staring at the gruesome fight going on twenty feet away from him.

Jesus Christ, didn't know they came so big. They looked smaller in the fucking brochure…

Eventually the fog cleared enough that he thought he should get moving. Whichever side won, he didn't want to be left dealing with them. It hurt to get to his feet and he wondered if that big head had broken anything when it had blindsided him. He kept his attention on the fight as he forced himself to approach, and he slipped past them. He backed up into the compound, shaking hands on his gun as he watched them fight.

Crawford, if you knew there was one of these things waiting in here for us, they're never going to find all of your pieces, he sent at the precognitive. His mental voice sounded strained but he couldn't pretend not to be bothered, not at a time like this. Considering how shitty their day had gone and in particular what they'd just demanded he do, he figured his team would forgive him for dropping from Schwarz's Mastermind to a normal nineteen year old man.

One of these…? Crawford sent back.

This fucking giant thing. Tyranno-something-rex.

One, Crawford repeated. There are supposed to be two.

Schuldich bumped into something on his backwards retreat and his blood ran cold. He froze for a long moment, staring blankly into space in front of him. Just a building. Surely it was just the building he was looking for.

Hot breath washed over his clothes and the ground shuddered behind him. The surface vanished and he slowly turned to see the second one, larger than the first. He'd run into its head; it had been watching him come. Now it stared down at him, beady eyes locked on his frame.

Oh, shit.

A mouthful of teeth came flying at him, and Schuldich jarred awake. He jolted back to awareness so quickly that he almost fell out of his bed, and he grabbed desperately at his sheets when he felt himself sliding. Fingers were clenched into tight fists on his blankets as he stared into the darkness. His breathing was ragged and he struggled to control it, blue eyes flicking frantically around his room to take in his familiar surroundings. Their house. In Japan. Not some fucked-up island. He took a deep breath, held it, and let it out through clenched teeth. It didn't help, so he did it again. One hand unknotted itself from the blankets and he reached up to brush his hair free from his sweaty forehead.

"Jesus Christ," he muttered into his empty room, studying his shaking hand. He watched his fingers until they calmed down, turning the dream over in his head. After a few moments he slid off of his bed, snagging his pillow with one hand as he made for the door. He let himself out of his room and headed down the hall. He felt stupid for checking the shadows with quick glances but he couldn't make himself stop, and he let himself into the last room on the hall. Ten steps brought him over to the bed and he studied the sleeper for a few moments before lifting his pillow in both hands.

He brought it down with a savage whumpf right onto the head of one suddenly very awake Brad Crawford. Honey colored eyes snapped open and a hand instinctively flew out to catch Schuldich's wrist. Schuldich scowled fiercely at him, waiting for the American to focus. It took his teammate just a moment longer to realize who was in his room and what their weapon had been, and Crawford pushed himself upright. Long fingers slid free from Schuldich's hand and felt his head for damage. "I'm guessing there's a reason for this," the older Talent said.

"That's for being an asshole," Schuldich answered.

Crawford quirked an eyebrow at him and lowered his hand from his tousled hair. "No more movies for you right before bed, Schuldich."


The Hearse

"Did you ever think, as a hearse goes by, that you might be the next to die?"

Candlelight flickered off the stones and wood, turning granite to gold and wood to fire, but it couldn't erase all of the shadows on the man who had lit them. He lay stretched out on one of the pews, arms folded to make a pillow for his head. Two eyes were pointed up at his companion, but one stared at nothing, blank and white from a years-old injury. Fingers uncurled from one scarred bicep to stretch out in front of him and found the knife where he'd set it down earlier.

"They wrap you in a big white sheet and bury you down about six feet deep."

Full lips moved over words that weren't even loud enough to be a whisper. Blood welled up where he closed his fingers over the blade of his knife and he pushed himself upright, dragging his hand back with him to set the weapon in his lap. He examined the small cuts on his fingers and got up from his seat, moving around the pew and the fallen man on the ground. He brought his blood over to his more important audience and reached out, pressing bloody digits to stony, crucified feet.

"They put you in a big black box and cover you up with dirt and rocks."

There was a muffled moan from the man on the floor, and Farfarello turned back to consider him. He offered his unwilling guest a chilling smile and crouched down beside him, planting the flat of his hand against the uneven rise of his chest. He could feel the broken ribs through the man's shirt and he pushed down against them, helping bring the priest back to consciousness earlier than the Father wished to be there.

"Wake up," Farfarello told him. "We've been waiting on you."

He watched the hazy edge leave the other's eyes, watched as terror set in when the priest realized who he was staring at. He opened his mouth, probably to scream, and Farfarello's hand came down on his face, slamming it against the stone ground so hard he could feel flesh give way. The priest's yell was muffled against his palm and Farfarello shoved further, listening to the frantic pitch rise, listening to the yell escalate into a gurgled shriek as he forced the man's jaws out of joint.

"And all goes well for about a week, and then the coffin begins to leak."

"Are you watching me?" he asked over his shoulder, but no answer came from the statue. He offered it a sneering look, staring up into an expression forever carved into agony by the artist. "With those sightless, stony eyes, can you see? I'll make him bleed more than they ever made you, and his blood will not come out water. Almost a pity, is it not? I could ask you to turn it into wine for communion if it would."

Fingernails were clawing at his hands. Bound legs thrashed against the floor as he tried to kick at Farfarello, but with tight wraps at both his knees and his ankles, he couldn't bend them to get them far off the ground. Even still, it was annoying. He drew his hand back from the priest's face, switching his blade from one hand to the other, and listened to the priest's wet gurgling cries.

"The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle on your snout."

He shifted, slinging himself over the priest so that he could sit across his hips. His free hand clenched around the man's throat, choking off his cries almost to the point that the man couldn't breathe anymore. A knife trailed bloody lines down the priest's face before he let it fall carelessly to one side, and he offered the older man a demonic smile and he leaned in closer. Fingernails bit into cheeks and his forehead and he could feel strained breaths on his face.

Somehow, he found the air to scream when Farfarello plunged his fingers in.

"They eat your eyes, they eat your nose, they eat the jelly between your toes."

"You won't need these where you're going," Farfarello reassured him, feeling the way they popped and oozed between his fingers. He pressed his fingers into the man's mouth, letting him taste the gel. Tears tracked down from empty sockets, trailing along the lines of blood. A few drops slipped between his eyelids to fall in, and Farfarello wondered how it felt to cry into one's own skull. He drew his hand back and slid it down a heaving chest. The buttons were easy to break and he rested his palm against bare skin. He could feel his heartbeat, fast as a hummingbird, and lifted his fingers to his own neck to compare them.

His fist came down, taking out more ribs, and he could hear it in the choked, bloody breaths that gurgled and rasped in the priest's throat.

"A great big worm with rolling eyes crawls in your stomach and out your eyes."

The candlelight that had given such a brilliant edge to the rest of the church did little for the blood that was spilling rapidly across the floor. Flesh gave way to insistent hands and bones creaked and shifted as they were pushed and pulled. Farfarello tuned every noise out, focusing instead on the hot pulse of blood against his hands and the pounding of his heart as it picked up speed. The breaths that had been calm and controlled before had a ragged edge to them now; he could feel his lungs twisting in his chest.

"Your stomach turns a slimy green and pus pours out like whipping cream."

It was still fascinating, years after his first kill, that the human body could be so fragile. It could live through so many things, but at the same time, it was so very weak. There were stories of people falling out of tall trees and buildings and walking away; there was a story of a woman whose parachute hadn't opened and she'd been fine. But then there were the unfortunate ones who could tumble down a single flight of stairs or slip in the tub and they were gone.

Flesh gave way almost too easily. Fingers squeezed and squelched over organs, watching the way they ruptured, watching blood stream over his hands and wrists as it was forced out of veins. He leaned down, burying his face in it, feeling the shuddering against his lips and eyelids as the man died. He didn't bother to listen to the priest's last breaths and cries, more interested in the feel of it, and he could almost imagine that the man was already growing cold.

Fingers slid over the back of his neck; fingernails lightly bit down into the skin. He pulled back just enough to see the orange hair trailing past his cheek, and his teammate's other hand came up onto his face. Fingers curved over his wet mouth and Farfarello bit down, breaking the skin to mix the blood. He straightened as Schuldich pulled his hand back and looked up, watching as the German licked his fingers clean.

Schuldich finished the song for him. "You spread it on a slice of bread, and that's what worms eat when you're dead." His smile was lazy and slow, and Farfarello pushed himself to his feet. Schuldich caught him as he turned to face the telepath, catching him by his belt loops to pull them together. His shirt was slick with blood that was already cold against his skin, but it was warm when pressed between them. Schuldich's mouth was hotter.

He could feel Schuldich smiling against his lips. "I warned you that it would get stuck in your head."


The Space Between

The space between
What's wrong and right
Is where you'll find me hiding, waiting for you
The space between
Your heart and mine
Is the space we'll fill with time

Rain beats against the window when he wakes.

He keeps his eyes closed for a few minutes, just listening to it pat-pat-pat on the glass. There's no incentive to get up. The alarm hasn't gone off; he never sets it for Sunday mornings. The cigarettes are on top of his bedside table, just in reach. The sheets that twist around him are warm and soft. There's a body at his back, breathing evenly in sleep.

He loves Sunday mornings.

He slowly rolls over- careful, careful, don't want to wake him- to stretch out on his back. Green eyes open at last to consider the ceiling far above, studying the cracks in the paint. There are a few stains he never could get out from one time when they were all drunk and thought it would be fun to throw pens and highlighters at the ceiling. The sound of laughter rings in his memory and it brings a smile to his lips.

A hand reaches out to find his pack of cigarettes and he pulls one out, perching it between his lips. The pack is dropped off to one side carelessly and he hears it slide and fall to the floor. One hand works its way through honey colored hair and the rest toys with the cigarette he can't light yet. The lighter has too distinctive of a sound and he doesn't want to wake his companion.


There's the quiet rumble of thunder in the distance.

It's the perfect excuse to stay in all day. The shop's closed. He has nowhere he has to be. The apartment is stocked with everything he needs: movies, liquor, food, cigarettes… And a warm body beside his. He rolls his head that way, watching the way a bare back rises and falls in sleep. He can't resist, though he doesn't want to wake the other man. A hand reaches out and fingers graze over smooth skin. The breathing catches as the touch wakes the other up, and clear blue eyes crack open to figure out what's going on.

He offers an innocent look to the question in the other's eyes, indulging himself as he presses his palm against the small of the man's back.

A voice, slurred with sleep and muffled against the pillow. "What time is it?"

Yohji shrugs. "Morning."

The other man accepts that. Blue eyes slide closed. He isn't interested enough in waking up just yet. Yohji lets him drift off without protest, content just to lie here this close.

Sunday mornings are their mornings, the only days they both have free, the only days they can meet like this. It's a break in time, a day after a week of work and before the start of a new one. For one morning they are nobody and everybody, and no one can hold them accountable for these things they do. The days between the Sundays are counted down almost religiously, and when Saturday nights come, it makes the wait worth everything.

He reaches out and curls his fingers through long orange locks, letting green eyes fall closed again. He has the time to drift back to sleep, safe here beside his companion. Lips relax to let the cigarette slide down his cheek to the bed. The rain is quiet, the bed is warm, and for these few hours he's not alone.

Sunday can't last forever.

But there will always be another one.


Three Steps to Paradise: Lust -- excerpt

The nice thing about being drunk was that it made imminent death seem almost appealing at times. Yohji supposed that fate just found him an amusing toy, because he hadn't intended to die before he was thirty. He still had a lot left that he wanted to do- namely, the rest of the female population of Tokyo- and now it seemed like he wasn't going to get around to finishing that task. Then again, it was perhaps his own fault that he was sitting three steps away from an early grave. He should have probably noticed that the church was deserted on Christmas night, should have been alerted by the way the scent of blood curled with incense in the air. But he was not a church-going man, and any faith he had once held had crumbled years ago, so he had only paid these two things half a mind and staggered down the aisle towards the dais at the front. He'd been so busy getting out his cigarettes and trying not to fall when he sat down on the steps that he had completely failed to notice the man stretched out off to the side. It meant he'd had more to drink than he'd originally thought.

Schwarz's Irishman was covered in blood.

They stared each other down, two murky green to his one yellow, sitting just ten feet away from each other with the steps between him. Farfarello was on his back on the dais itself, dressed in tight black pants and a silky white shirt. Rather, it had been white at some point, judging by the little gaps of clean material here and there. The buttons were undone and it was crumpled off to his sides, and his front was covered in gashes that had bled all over him and the ground. One arm was bent to make a pillow for his head, and the fingers of the other hand were twirling a gruesome looking knife.

Yohji wondered if he could get up and just walk away, and if the man would let him.

Kind of ironic, he supposed. Weiss was in the shits now, just eight weeks out from being gone for good. Eight weeks from freedom, a clean record, and the chance to start again, and here he was in the same room as Farfarello. Nice one, jackass.

"Excuse me," he said, shifting to try and get to his feet. "Wrong church."

The look Farfarello gave him was bland. "You don't seem like a church-going man."

Yohji couldn't get the oomph needed to get off his ass and considered this for a few moments before looking back at Farfarello. He debated over trying again, and then the drunk and dizzy side of him pointed out all of the injuries on Schwarz's insane one. Maybe Farfarello had just crawled here to die. The cuts looked pretty bad. Maybe Yohji wasn't in any danger after all. He struggled with this thought for a long time, and in the end, liquored laziness kicked in and he gave up on getting to his feet. Instead he dug his lighter out of his pocket. If Farfarello was going to die, then Yohji might as well do him the favor of being an audience. No one wanted to die alone, after all. Besides, then Yohji could go home and file an official report and Weiss would have that bit of great news to end their careers with. "Speak for yourself," he said. "I seem to recall us having a mission against you some months back where you were going homicidal psychopath on Catholic priests around Tokyo."

That earned him a faint smile, just the smallest twitching of the Irishman's lips. For something that was there and gone again and barely there at all, it was a vicious little expression. He didn't bother to answer, so Yohji concentrated on getting his cigarette lit. As he was tucking his lighter back into his pocket, he glanced towards Farfarello. The man's head was lolled to one side to watch him, and Yohji pulled the cigarette from his lips, giving it a little wave in the air. "You mind?"

Farfarello said nothing, so Yohji interpreted the silence how he liked and replaced his cigarette between his lips. Farfarello contemplated his knife before perching it on his abdomen. One yellow eye considered the ceiling as his empty fingers ran through the blood on his pale flesh. Yohji felt his nerves cringe at the careless handling of his wounds. He supposed it was better that Farfarello pay attention to the cuts rather than to Yohji himself, yet he couldn't help but open his big mouth. "Looks like you finally met your match," he said.

Farfarello quirked an eyebrow at him- an interesting feat for someone who only had one eye- and soundlessly lifted his knife again, giving it a slow twirl before setting it back where he belonged. He lifted his hand to his mouth and lazily sucked on two of his fingertips. "Ah," Yohji said. Later he would kick himself in the ass for being so pushy with conversation when Farfarello was so obviously content to think his own thoughts, but at the moment he was sure the man was on the brink of death and the alcohol made him bold. "The path of noble suicide, then."

That got a laugh from the other man, if that was really what the sound was, and Yohji stared at him. It was a quiet, short sound, drenched in mockery. "There is nothing noble about suicide," was the answer, and the yellow gaze on his was disdainful.

Yohji considered that for a few moments and shrugged. "Suppose so," he said. "Anyone can die. It's much harder to live. I suppose it's just so popular because death is so uncontrollable. Death beats life every time, hands down, and we don't get a say in when our time is up. People like having control over the end-all to everything." He thought this over, taking a long drag from his cigarette, and watched the gray smoke curl in the air.

"You're noisy," Farfarello decided.

"So I've been told," Yohji said, but he fell quiet because he was positive that was Farfarello's way of telling him 'Shut the fuck up'. He contented himself with his cigarette and Farfarello went back to studying the ceiling. It wasn't until Yohji was stubbing out his cigarette on the stone steps that Farfarello spoke up again.

"Was she a whore?"

Yohji blinked, confused for a moment by the question, and looked towards Farfarello. The Irishman's eye was closed, entire body relaxed as if he was asleep- or dead. "Pardon?"

"You smell like sex."

"Oh." Yohji wondered how he could smell it with the space between them, with the scent of his blood and the harsher smells of incense so thick in the air. "No, she wasn't. I don't have to pay people for sex." He was offended by the thought. "So sorry that I can't give you any recommendations."

Farfarello considered him for a long moment and then pushed himself up on his arms. Yohji watched the blood move sluggishly over his front with absent fascination. The thought that the Irishman had inflicted those wounds on himself was curious, and his green eyes slid to the scars on his face. Those as well? Curious. He'd always assumed the man's scars came from battle. Then what about his eye? "You should probably get a band-aid for those," he said, pointing his second cigarette at the other assassin's chest before perching it between his lips. He dug around for his lighter again as Farfarello leaned forward, touching his hands to the cool stone of the dais. Yohji forgot his lighter as the Irishman started towards him. Moving on his hands and knees, he should have looked ridiculous. Instead Yohji had the sudden distinct feeling of being stalked, and he froze where he was as he watched the man come. He remembered in that moment what a threat the shorter man was and considered his flippancy of the past few minutes. He couldn't make himself get to his feet and run, and he thought perhaps he would be caught before he made it past the fifth aisle even if he could.

"You're drunk," Farfarello decided, coming to a stop just a foot away. He leaned to the side until he was sitting again, one hand still against the stone. He reached out with the other, snagging Yohji's cigarette from his mouth and breaking it. "You shouldn't smoke in here."

"You shouldn't crawl in here and dice yourself up, either," Yohji pointed out.

Another flicker of a smile, and it was more terrifying up close than it had been at ten feet. "Are you a God-fearing man, Weiss?"

"Which answer will you kill me for?" Yohji asked.

"Are you afraid of dying?"

"Is that a rhetorical question?" Yohji arched an eyebrow at the pale face just a short distance away from him. "Afraid of death? No. I couldn't be afraid of such a thing and still work with Weiss. Afraid of regret, perhaps, that I'll find death on my doorstop when I haven't done everything I wished to do. Unfinished business, unspoken words, that sort of thing." He plucked up half of his broken cigarette from the stone, eyes raking down Farfarello to the gashes across his skin. "Are you?"

Farfarello almost seemed amused by the question. It was hard to tell, because his face didn't change much. It wasn't in his eyes or on his lips; it was the way he tilted his head, the slight tilt of his eyebrow, the relaxing of his expression as a whole. "I am death," was the answer.

"Mine?" Yohji asked. If the man was going to kill him, Yohji at least wanted to know it was coming. Maybe a running head start towards the door. He knew he wouldn't make it but he'd still like to say he tried, and perhaps Farfarello would find some sort of sick thrill in being able to chase down his prey like some sort of beast. Beast, hm…? If Farfarello was an animal, what would he be? A wild cat, surely. The grace of one, the speed and stealth. And his eyes would surely fit a feline more than they would fit a human.

"Not tonight," was Farfarello's answer. "Maybe tomorrow."

"Didn't know you were in on the whole spirit of Christmas," Yohji said. "Maybe I should light a candle in thanks or some shit."

Farfarello gave a slight shrug with one shoulder, pushing himself to his feet. Despite the man's words that he wouldn't kill him, Yohji still felt every muscle in his body tense as the man stepped past him almost close enough to touch. The Irishman took the steps down and slowly started down the aisle between the pews. He had his arms out on either side of him, pale fingers brushing over the backs of the wooden benches as he passed. He left blood on the first several, and there were drops on the polished wood floor as he walked. He was only halfway to the back of the church when the doors from the annex opened and another visitor stepped in. Yohji couldn't see him through Farfarello- he heard the doors open and shut but the Irishman's body blocked the man from view. When he spoke, though, Yohji went rigid.

"Why am I not surprised?" came a familiar nasal voice, and footsteps tapped against the wood as the new arrival started towards Farfarello. "Where's the priest?"

"Which piece?" Farfarello wanted to know, lowering his arms to his side. The gesture- and the newcomer's approach- put Yohji and Schuldich in each other's line of view. The German's eyebrows rose when he saw who was sitting at the front of the church and he glanced towards Farfarello.

"You missed a bug," he said.

"He's drunk." Farfarello and Schuldich came to a stop right in front of each other and Farfarello half-turned to look back.

"Ch'. That's no fun. How inconsiderate of him." Schuldich's mouth curved into a cold smirk. "Evening, Kudou. Looks like you picked the wrong church to visit."

"You're telling me," Yohji answered, watching the German warily. There was about thirty feet between them but he remembered how fast the telepath could move. Just because Farfarello said he wasn't going to kill him today didn't mean Yohji was safe from the orange-haired man. It had been three months now since they'd last seen Schwarz, and they were lucky for the absence. The other team hadn't been as permanent a presence in their life since Estet was destroyed eight months ago, and Weiss had hoped their less frequent appearances meant that the other team was closing up shop in Japan. They had originally hoped that Schwarz would crumble after Estet did, but they weren't that lucky.

"Let's kill him," Schuldich suggested, looking back towards Farfarello. There was a lazy, murky gleam in his blue eyes. Something like hunger gave a faint edge to his words and he reached up, skimming one hand roughly across the gashes on Farfarello's front.

"It's Christmas."

"Christmas didn't stop you from killing the priest," Schuldich pointed out helpfully.

"We're going back," Farfarello said, turning away from Yohji and taking a step towards the door. As he slid past Schuldich, his hand caught briefly on the telepath's belt hoop before his fingers trailed across the hem of his pants. "Come on."

Schuldich considered this for a long moment, seeming torn between staying to harass Yohji and following what Yohji thought was an invitation from Farfarello. The green-eyed man blinked, looking from one to the other, confused by the touch. Schwarz didn't strike him as being very touchy-feely. Weiss itself wasn't that big on physical contact, but even then they didn't touch each other like that. Guys were comfortable touching each other here in Japan, but that sort of brush…?

Schuldich's smile was slow and unpleasant. He reached out with his wet hand, smearing Farfarello's blood across one of the pews. "You're going to wash up, right?" Schuldich asked Farfarello, making up his mind and turning after his teammate. He bent his arms over his head, lacing his fingers together at the back of his skull. "I don't want to get your blood all over me."


And just like that, the two were gone. Yohji stared across the church, green eyes sliding past bloody pews and the drops across the wooden ground, to where the door was idly swinging back and forth in their wake. It all felt very surreal, and Yohji had a feeling he was going to be reeling when his hangover faded the next morning and his sober mind tried to wrap itself around the night. He turned over the last ten minutes in his head, from finding Farfarello here to the pseudo-conversation with him to Schuldich walking in, and he was surprised that he was still alive and in one piece. The only thing he'd suffered was a broken cigarette that was laying off to his side.

//Guess tonight's your lucky night, Kudou.//

"Yeah, guess so," he offered up to the empty air. He thought that over for a long moment and pulled his pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. "Huh. Merry Christmas."



Cigarette smoke and shadows; whispers of curtains ghosting over a windowsill. He came awake in pieces, dragging himself up out of consciousness to consider his room. Perhaps it was the click of the lighter that woke him, or maybe it was just the movement so close to his side. Now and then moonlight flickered across the room, stealing in past the curtain to flash over pale skin. Fingers turned a lighter over and over and over, casting a spark of light into eyes that weren't ready for such brightness, and he let his head loll to one side to rest against his shoulder.

"Mmhmhmhmm?" It was the closest he could get to a coherent sentence without actually trying. His mouth tasted like blood and liquor and nicotine. If he pressed his tongue against the backs of his teeth he thought maybe he tasted sweat and skin and sex. Salt on one side, tang on the other. Almost sharp enough to wake him up, but just familiar enough to ease him back towards sleep.

His question went unanswered, not that he really cared what time it was. He could guess that it was somewhere between four and five, considering what time they'd gotten back and the fact that the other man hadn't left yet. That was a good enough estimate for now. When the sun was up, numbers were everything. They had a shop, after all. There were opening and closing and delivery times. Flowers to ring up and be paid for, change to calculate and then press back into hands desperate for a brief brush of warm fingers. Mission statistics, times and guards and positions and how many footsteps, how many seconds to move. The only number that mattered now was two.

The bed shifted; he heard glass scrape against wood. He didn't need his eyes open to recognize the sound of his ash tray being moved and he listened as his companion ground the freshly-lit cigarette out. What a waste, but he wouldn't have the energy or interest in being annoyed for at least another three hours.

"You need to stop smoking," the other man drawled as the mattress creaked under his shifting weight. Green eyes peeked open again to watch as Schwarz's telepath settled back against the headboard. The man was tapping Yohji's stolen lighter against his lower lip as he stared out at the darkness, and Yohji gave a quiet snort against his arm.

You'll get over it.

"I could make you get over it," was the bored response.

Yohji's mouth twitched into a faint grin against his arm. That would take work, he reminded the telepath, and we both know you're a lazy bastard.


The Balinese groaned against his arm at the spike of Schuldig's gift in his mind. A year and a half of working around Schwarz on the field and three months since they'd first forgotten all the black and white nonsense to break in springs and stiff mattresses hadn't done anything to help him. Telepathy worked in a way that no mind could really get around, and every word sent straight up against his thoughts was jarring. He could feel his back tensing up as his consciousness protested being intruded upon but he refused to admit defeat yet.

He lasted for all of a minute. The seconds ticked between them with the soft whisking of his curtains and the barely perceptible sound of Schuldig's breathing. Sixty were far too many and at last he moved a hand clumsily along the sheets. Fingers clutched blindly for a pack of cigarettes and found a thigh first, and he slid his palm over hard muscle to pet at hotter flesh. Schuldig batted his hand carelessly away and Yohji went back to his searching.

He managed to find the pack without having to sit up and nibbled idly on the end of a cigarette as he waited for the other man to turn over his lighter. It took Schuldig a few seconds before he relented and Yohji smirked up at him as he took the first drag. The man was pointedly not looking at him, but it didn't take him long before he had to give up as well. Telepaths were just as prone to the power of suggestion as their intended victims were, and sleeping with a chain smoker was playing nasty games with Schuldig's brain.

Moonlight and glowing cigarette ends were the only sources of light in the room but that was more than enough to see by. Yohji watched silver light graze over sheets and bare skin and he reached out again, working his hand down a hard thigh once more. This time Schuldig didn't stop him, and he painstakingly pushed himself upright. Ash crumbled and danced down over his forearm as he moved their cigarettes out of the way for a kiss.

You need to stop smoking, Schuldig told him again. Your mouth tastes like dick.

Not yet, it doesn't, Yohji sent back.

Then get to it.

He reached past the other man to stub his cigarette out and warm lips worked down over his throat and shoulder. He'd just dropped the butt to the pile of ashes when a soft trilling filled the air between them, and he went still to glance back at Schuldig. The other man didn't have to say anything; his eyes were pointed at their pile of clothes and Yohji leaned down to catch at abandoned slacks. He found the phone in the second pocket he tried and passed it over.

Schuldig answered in German and Yohji didn't bother to wait. He just slid down the telepath's throat, ignoring the flicked look of warning sent his way in favor of kissing a line from navel to thigh. Schuldig could kick him away if he thought this was a bad idea, so Yohji helped himself to a mouthful of warm flesh. The headboard creaked a little as Schuldig leaned back harder against it but his voice sounded as rough and careless as usual.

Fingers from a free hand tangled in Yohji's hair as he sucked quickly hardening heat deeper into his mouth, and legs shifted against the sheets restlessly. Yohji pressed his hands against Schuldig's knees to still them and listened to the headboard creak again. Schuldig's hand tightened in his hair and Yohji put his tongue and lips to work the best way he knew how.

"Ahh?" Schuldig asked, sounding distracted. Yohji couldn't help but wonder who was on the other end and what they could possibly want at four-or-five in the morning. There was no way it couldn't be important, but this was important, too.

He sent his thoughts down lurid pathways, skin on skin, mouths on mouths, fingers knotting up in sheets in something too close to desperation to matter as anything else. Schuldig's head hit the wall behind him as his gift picked up on it and he snapped his hand back from Yohji's head to drive the heel of his palm into his temples. Yohji had broken that carefree edge out of his voice and replaced it with something almost strained and he wondered just how far Schuldig would let him push. A quick glance upward showed blue eyes were closed as Schuldig struggled to concentrate on the phone call.

Fuck off, Schuldig warned him.

Fuck me, Yohji sent back, complete with another string of mental images.

He was almost disappointed when Schuldig hung up just a couple seconds later, but it was just a fleeting emotion. The phone was tossed off to one side carelessly and Schuldig caught at his shoulders instead. You're not funny, the foreigner warned him.

Don't wake me up if you don't want to deal with me.

Schuldig didn't answer that- couldn't, really- and Yohji was fine with dropping the argument for better things. Schuldig pushed him hard and he let his back hit the sheets without argument. The German was a heavy weight on top of him and Yohji's fingers marked out paths down the telepath's back, shuddering a little under Schuldig's ministrations.

The phone rang again.

Both assassins went still, staring each other down over an aborted kiss, and listened to the second trill cut through the air between them. On the third, Schuldig pushed away, and Yohji draped an arm across his eyes and cursed whoever was on the other end.

The conversation was much shorter this time, just a couple terse words that did nothing to hide Schuldig's frustration, and then the German was slapping his phone shut. "Time to go," he announced.

"Not yet," Yohji growled back at him.

"As if you deserve to be fucked twice in one night."

"I like the number two."

There was just a heartbeat of silence following those words, but whether either of them really understood what those words meant- if they meant anything more than what they sounded like on the surface- neither of them were going to acknowledge it. Schuldig just leaned forward and kissed him so hard Yohji felt it in his groin.

I like the number one.

"Whatever," Yohji told him. He thought he said it, anyway. His lips were a little numb from being crushed up against his teeth, and the flicked his tongue against them to see if they were bleeding. They tasted like Schuldig; close enough. "Just go."

He didn't bother to watch as Schuldig dressed and left, more interested in the frustrated need between his own legs. He watched moonlight dance across the ceiling through hooded eyes and could taste the cigarette smoke on his gasping breaths. When he lay still and alone he lifted a hand to consider it, eyeing the mess on his fingertips before letting his hand drop back to the sheets.

Hey, Schuldig.

One and one is still two.


Watching Him Watching Me

Watching him.

Look at him as he stands there by the window, the moonlight putting a sheen in his hair. He's got that look on his face again, the look that says he's dreaming of death. When all the world's a nightmare you can't wake up from, there are always ways to find it tolerable, and he knows every one. It's a rather fascinating expression, the slightest curving of his lips, a vacant gleam in his gaze. He'll sit with you today and maybe kill you tomorrow if he has to, or maybe if he's bored. He's insane, and I can say it knowing that I'm no better off.

You don't have to know him to know he's dangerous. All it takes is one look at ragged hair and that face. He walks like a true predator, and he's sized up everyone in the room before he's even passed through the door. The weapons are there beneath his clothes but he doesn't need them. Everyone knows he's deadly, but they always underestimate him- always. He lets them because it amuses him. There's a lazy sort of madness to him, the way he just lets everything blow by as if he hasn't a care in the world, but he misses nothing. Every word, every gesture, every unspoken whisper, is carefully catalogued behind a bored expression. He forgets nothing, forgives nothing, and he'll only strike when you least expect it.

Watching him watching me.

He turns away from the window, noticing the scrutiny, and I rise from my spot to move towards him. We say nothing because there is nothing to say and pointless chatter is a waste of our time. I stop just outside of the moonlight, remaining in the shadows as I study him where he stands. I lift a hand, holding it just outside of the silver rays. There is the slightest twitch at his lips; he knows why I've stopped and it amuses him. He lifts his own hand, humoring me, and moves it towards mine. Our skin touches where the shadows meet the light, the edge neatly lining up between our palms.

We are two creatures of the night, two little grim reapers. I can smell the blood on him and know that he was successful tonight. None of the scent comes from injuries of his own unless it amused him to let them hurt him. He cares nothing for flesh wounds, thinking them a waste of his time. He doesn't care for much anything, really, not even me. Nor I him. But the fascination persists, and I suppose that's why I let him fuck me.

His hand is cold. I'm not surprised. He is cold through and through, dead to the world, lost to the little mazes within his mind. He kills because blood is warm, because deaths keep him amused. He kills because he is told to, because when he does, he pretends that he is killing himself. If he could, he would end his own life, I think. There is nothing left here for him, nothing but insanity and pain. The light that sets his skin aglow offers no warmth and only provides a small little patch of freedom from the shadows of reality.

He lets his hand fall back to his side and turns his head to stare out the window once more. I can hear the laughter of little children, the offspring of our neighbors as they play in their backyard. From here, the sound of the swings creaking is just barely audible. His eyes follow them as they dash about their yard and I wonder why, wonder if he still has enough in him to hate them for the innocence they have. He hates the naïve, hates the rampant stupidity of society, but does he have enough left to crave what we all lost so long ago? Or has even that been frozen away, and does he stare out wondering just how easily he could squeeze the life from such small necks? Is it the barest threads of despair, or irritation at the sounds? I'll never know. What he says and what he thinks are rarely the same thing, and I'm not the mind reader, after all.

I lower my hand and take a few steps further back into the shadows. He turns to watch me as I retreat, and I beckon for him to follow.

He considers this for a few moments and then starts towards me, and I watch as he steps from the moonlight into darkness, watch the color bleed from his vibrant orange hair just as the life has been bled out of him over the years. The familiar smirk is on his face, cold and calculating, and he reaches out to touch me. Cold hands find my shirt and burn through the thin material to my skin.

"One day we'll kill them," he tells me. "I can hear them screaming already."

"One day," I agree, but it's a promise that will never be followed through on. "Let's go."

He nods to that, letting his hands fall away, and I lead him out of the room.

Watching him watching me, because shadows are only scary if you drown in them alone.


Wherever You Will Go

I know your routine by heart now.

I play shadow to you; it gets easier each night. I follow you from your apartment to your choice club for the night. You are king of the dance floor, attracting admiring eyes from many. For all that you have seen, you are still a shade naive. You allow the appreciative glances and brushes from strange eyes and hands, uncaring of who it is behind them. All you care about is using them as they use you, finding a temporary escape from your life, your hell.

I watch you interact with them, dancing mindlessly amidst flashing lights and a pulsing beat, letting passions and the rhythm guide you along. I watch from the sideline, where I circle the dark corners, my eyes only on you.

When you have found the one who will best take you far away from your thoughts and your job, from your friends and your guilt, you will leave and I will follow.

You do not return home. I know that you never bring them back to your apartment, and I know why. You do not want to bring them into your lair of blood and darkness. You do not want to carry them through a place where you have woken up again and again alone and torn with nightmares. You do not want this, your single escape, to get anywhere near a place that has death hanging in the air. You do not want the shadows to grab hold of them as it has taken you.

Night after night.

So many nameless faces, so many people you meet for only a few hours. They pass through your life like water through a sift. Hours of passion and whispered romance are mindless, to be forgotten. You will never see these people again. You make a habit not to stick to one person; there is always that chance you are afraid of, that chance that one of you will get attached. You don't want that, do you?

So much time spent in a stranger's arms, so much time wasted trying to find some light in the darkness you see wrapped around you.

If I could, I would shake the stupid out of you.

You have been doing this for years, but it has never helped, has it? If it was successful, there would not be the need to return again and again. There would not be that hollow ache inside of you, a pain that you do not know how to soothe. You think this is the way to solve your problems, the way to lose yourself.

You are in denial. You do not allow yourself to see that it is not working. It is just one more addiction, like the cigarettes your coworkers chide you about.

You always light up on your way home from your hotel. I can time it exactly from the time you close the front door behind you to the time it is in your mouth and glowing. You always stand there for one long inhale before starting off, tucking your coat about yourself as you pick your way back to your home, to your empty bed and your nightmares.

I will follow you the whole way home. I will go wherever you lead.

You are my addiction. You have become that drug that I cannot get enough of, that I cannot free myself from. I told myself in the beginning that it was just a way to pass the time, a way to see how much you had deluded yourself. Looking back, I wonder which one of us was more in denial. I follow you because I cannot help but to do so. I cannot rest until I have trailed behind you all over the city. My routine is as predictable as your own. I leave my companions at the same time every night to bury myself within the warm folds of my jacket, to hide myself in dark clothes and a hood.

Each of us will follow our obsessions.

It seems that you have more courage than I. That is a difficult thing to think about, to consider and admit. You think you know what will help you and you take it. You are so used to this game you play with yourself that you could do it with your eyes closed. You are bold and confident in your path.

And I?

I tell myself that I never approach you because it is more fun to observe.

It is such an obvious lie that I cannot help but give myself a scornful sneer.

The reasons behind my failure to close the distance between us are too tangled for me to examine. I will never look into them. I will never attempt to untangle them. Like the way you skirt around meeting familiar faces in your clubs, I will avoid analyzing my actions. Some things are better left alone.

And yet, I cannot help but wonder.

I can see myself in their stead, can see myself as the ones who dare to brush skin with you on the dance floor. I can see myself drawing you away from the clubs, drawing you out of the music and lights to a world of silence and shadow. I can see me taking you away like you take them, carrying you to a place where names and faces do not matter. I can see me offering you the escape you seek so desperately. I know I can give it to you. I know that I can silence the screaming that haunts your dreams. All it would cost would be one night as your faceless lover, one night where I might win you over and seal your place by my side.

It is a price that neither of us can afford.

Shadows and cloth will hide my appearance from you; they will be my shield to keep me here. If you were to ever see me, your routine would change. You would strive to avoid meeting me. Even though I would easily be able to track you still, there would be that wariness tingeing your thoughts. Eventually, you would seek another escape, possibly one I could not reach. I can see the look in your jade eyes if you were to turn on the dance floor and see who it was that was offering himself to you.

Yes, I can see it all too clearly.

As long as you do not know who trails you night after night, everything will continue on as it has been going so far. You will continue to look for the one person who can take everything away. How ironic, that the one person you are seeking is not someone you would really like to find. So I will let you look, and I will continue to go wherever you will go.




"Do you ever wonder what he's looking at?"

He remembers being asked that a long time ago, remembers flicking a questioning look at his brother in response. A tilt of the other's head indicated where Kadaj was crouching off to one side, arms hooked around his legs, as he stared out into the distance. It was an odd little habit of his; Yazoo figured it was acceptable because it meant Kadaj wasn't talking, for once.

"How do you know he's looking at something?" he'd asked, giving a careless little shrug of his shoulders.

Loz had considered that for a few moments before looking back towards their youngest. He'd given the response serious consideration before looking back towards Yazoo, and their eyes had met for just a moment before the oldest was turning and heading away to entertain himself with something else. "He is," had been the simple response.

Yazoo had let it slide, not interested enough to give it much thought- until the next time he caught Kadaj at it, that was. He'd gone over under the pretense of having a question about their bikes, and he'd never gotten the words out. Loz was right; it was there in Kadaj's eyes. The youngest wasn't with them- physically, perhaps, but mentally, miles away, and Yazoo had no clue where he'd gone or what map he was following to get there.

"Do you ever wonder what he's looking at?"

He's doing it again.

Yazoo looks up from his spot on the bed, peering through silver bangs towards where his brother stands by the window. Black-clad arms are folded across his chest and he's staring at the glass, but he's not admiring the view. The chill of the night has fogged up the window too badly to see through. No, Kadaj is looking at something none of them can see. Yazoo reminds himself that it's none of his business and looks back to his weapon, tilting it to one side to eye the designs carved down its length. Tomorrow they'll reach Midgar; tomorrow they'll reach their brother's city.

He can almost taste it; there's a wrenching feeling in his stomach at being so close to Mother. So close to finding her…

"We shouldn't have stopped," he says, breaking the silence between them at last. He sees Kadaj give a little jolt; his voice is overly loud in the quiet between them. It is loud enough to bring Kadaj back from wherever he's gone, and he tilts his head to one side. It's not enough for him to look back at his brother but it's an acknowledgment, and Yazoo continues, looking towards him once more. "We're too close to stop now."

"Fu." He can hear the smile in the laugh, and Kadaj lifts a gloved hand to press it to the glass. The inn left them robes on their beds but they haven't been touched, and Yazoo watches as his brother smears his hand through the condensation. It leaves a black streak behind where the night shows through. "It's too late, Yazoo."

"I'm not tired," Yazoo returns pointedly, and Kadaj looks back at him at last, reading his tone to be a taunt. Yazoo meant him to, and he gives Kadaj a cool look as their eyes meet across the room.

He realizes then that Kadaj isn't back- not all the way, anyway. The look on the other's face is not his brother's, and Kadaj glances away from him, flicking his gaze to the far wall first before turning back to the window. "It's too late," he says again, and he sounds distracted. "Even if we continued on, we wouldn't find what we were looking for. It's too dark." He smears another line across the glass, and Yazoo sets his weapon to one side.

His shoes thud lightly against the floor as he pushes himself to his feet and heads to Kadaj's side. The youngest has his arms folded again, but this time they are crossed across his stomach. He doesn't look at Yazoo as the other stops beside him, though his jaw tightens as Yazoo reaches out and touches a finger to his cheek. "You're ignoring us."

"There's not an 'us'," Kadaj points out sensibly, and he reaches up to brush his brother's finger away. His hands settle on the windowsill and Yazoo thinks that it's an improvement, though he's not sure why. "Loz isn't here right now."

"Aggravating as usual, aren't you?" Yazoo returns. "Why did we stop?"

"Fine, fine," Kadaj says, and the tolerance in his voice is exaggerated as he pushes away from the window. He lifts his hands in the air in a careless shrug as he turns around, but he turns away from Yazoo instead of towards him. "We'll leave."

Kadaj's hair isn't as long as his own but it's still enough for him to reach out and catch, and he snags his brother by a fistful of it to bring him to a stop. This time Kadaj looks at him; it's the first time all evening he's actually looked at his brother, and Yazoo arches a thin brow at him. "I want to know why we stopped," he says again.

Kadaj scowls at him. "I already told you. There's no reason to show up in the middle of the night when everything we need will be dark and everyone there will be asleep." His fingers clench around Yazoo's wrist but Yazoo doesn't relinquish his grip. There are loud footsteps in the hall, the unmistakable sound of Loz's approach, and Kadaj's eyes dart towards the door. "You can tell him we're leaving."

For a moment, Yazoo's tempted to hit him. He's not sure how to handle Kadaj's attitude right now. Kadaj has always been loud, has always been confident and sure of where to go and what to do. Yazoo decided a long time ago that he likes the sound of his own voice; he certainly uses it enough. That he's refusing to talk now is both a surprise and an aggravation, and Yazoo finally lets go of his hair, lip curling in disgust. Kadaj sees the expression and gives him another scowl in response.

"We are all… so special, you see…"

"The only special one here is you," Yazoo says, and Kadaj stops before he's even managed to make it a step closer to the door. Bright eyes flick back to his face and there's something sharp and fractured in his gaze that Yazoo doesn't recognize. The door knob turns with a squeak and the door swings open to reveal their missing third, but neither notices his entrance as they stare each other down. Yazoo is answering words that are hours old, words he hadn't bothered to acknowledge earlier because he had easily accepted them as fact.

"We're the only ones here," Loz announces, not yet noticing the tension he's stumbled across. He shuts the door behind him and starts towards the window, but he's only half there when he realizes his brothers haven't moved. He comes to a stop just a few feet away from them and now Kadaj is stuck between his older siblings. Siblings? Sometimes the word makes Yazoo want to laugh; for the most part, he is content to rely on the tight connection between them. "What happened?"

"The only special one here," Yazoo repeats himself, and he can hear the heat in his tone.

Kadaj doesn't let him finish. "We'll go if you want to go," he bites out. It's almost good to see his eyes flash. Kadaj is such a child sometimes; he swings between his emotions like a chaotic pendulum. For the most part his amused arrogance is the easiest role for him to play, but there are moments like these when it breaks and shows the frustrations and shortcomings of a simple teenager. "I didn't say we had to stop. I said we would and you didn't argue."

"You were tired," Loz says, thinking to make things better.

It fails; the words have the exact opposite effect. Kadaj shuts up abruptly, lifting one hand to knot it in his hair. Loz looks to Yazoo, who just lifts one shoulder in a shrug, and the oldest looks back to their brother. Kadaj steps away from them, starting towards the furthest bed, and neither of them move until he is sitting on it. When he lets himself fall onto his back, silver hair spilling across his face and the pillow, Loz finally starts that direction. Yazoo doesn't bother to follow, folding his arms across his chest as he watches from a distance.

"We're special," Kadaj murmurs. "We're the only ones Mother has."

Loz immediately interprets Kadaj's strange mood to be a prediction of failure. "We'll get her back," he insists vehemently. "We'll take care of her. Won't we?"

Yazoo laughs at him. "You shouldn't scare him, Kadaj," he says. "He'll be up all night crying."

That's enough, at last, that a smile quirks at Kadaj's lips. It's an empty expression, there and gone again, and he finally releases his hair to settle his hand on his stomach at last. "We'll get her back," he assures Loz, studying the ceiling. "He won't have it any other way."

The male pronoun is what brings Yazoo up short. He thinks he sees Loz react in his peripheral vision, but his gaze has narrowed in on Kadaj's face and that's all he can really focus on. Silence stretches in the room and finally Yazoo starts towards the corner where his brothers are. Kadaj doesn't look at him as he stops beside the bed, choosing instead to gaze up at the ceiling. His expression is finally crumbling; the detached anger gives way to something more honest, something young and troubled.

"It is wrong of me," he murmurs, and he closes his eyes, giving a little shake of his head, expression twisting slightly. He's trying to stop himself from speaking but he can't hold back the words. "It is wrong of me to think sometimes- that I do not want to be special."

Loz looks to Yazoo; Yazoo considers his brother in silence.

They are all special, these three brothers. Bound by power and their Mother's love, they have the world at their fingertips. They are the only ones who can find their Mother. They are the only ones who can make the Reunion happen, the only ones who can make her happy and bring him back. They are as much him as they are their mother, but Kadaj? Kadaj has always been the most special, and Yazoo and Loz know this. They can hear Mother's voice; they can feel her twisting in their veins. But Kadaj can feel him too, can feel their Mother's lost child.

They do not know what the Reunion will bring. They followed Mother's voice here because it is all they know to do, because it is all they know to want to do. They know what she wants but not what will come of it; she leads them step by step and Kadaj has pulled them around the world to follow her voice. Yazoo wonders then if Kadaj knows more than they do of what is coming.

"Is he here?" Yazoo asks.

"He did not want to stop," is the breezy answer, and Kadaj is already recovering from his slip. His eyes crack open and his expression is something almost lazy as he laces his fingers together on his stomach. "I can feel that he does not want to stop, not when we are this close."

"Should we leave?" Loz asks, uncertain.

Kadaj doesn't answer immediately, so Yazoo does. "I'm tired," he says, turning away. He can feel their eyes on him as he makes their way to the next bed over. Gloved fingers lift the robe that the innkeeper laid out there for him; he snags a corner of it and lifts it to offer it a critical look. Loz hesitates by Kadaj's bed for a few moments longer before accepting this decision. He's the oldest but he decided long ago that they know best. Being oldest has its drawbacks- Loz has the least of him inside. Yazoo is closest perhaps in looks and voice, but Kadaj is the one that has what counts. Loz knows to follow them, so he doesn't argue and instead heads to the last narrow bed.

Yazoo isn't tired. He flicks the robe to one side and sits on the edge of the bed, fingers working at the buckles on his boot. Kadaj is watching him; he can feel the other's gaze on his face as he works.

"She's talking again."

"I don't hear her."

"No. Not to us. She's talking… to him. Again."

The boots are nudged off to one side; Yazoo glances up through his bangs where he's leaning over and sees that Kadaj has turned away at last, rolling onto his side to present his back to the room. He gives a quiet sigh, straightening and tugging at the fingers of his gloves.

"We'll find her, won't we?" Loz asks from the other bed.

"I told you he'd be up all night crying," Yazoo says, sounding bored.

"I'm not crying," Loz sends back, annoyed.

Kadaj laughs. It doesn't sound quite right but it's close enough. "We'll find her," he promises. "Everything will happen exactly the way Mother wants it to."

"And how's that?" Yazoo presses, tossing the gloves to one side. One lands on the end of the bed; the other hits the bedpost and falls to the floor.

"She'll tell us," the youngest answers, and at last he sounds sure about something. "She'll tell us. We'll reach Midgar tomorrow, and she'll be waiting there for us."

"Midgar," Loz murmurs, and it sounds like the name of paradise when he says it that way. Yazoo supposes it is, in a way. That's where Mother is; that's where she has to be. They'll find her because it's all they know to do, because they will not accept failure. They'll find her and they'll have their Reunion.

None of them are tired, but they lie there nonetheless, each thinking their own thoughts. The hours drift by, dragging slowly as if mocking their decision to stay when they could have been on their way to find Mother already. It makes Yazoo restless but he forces himself to stay put. Kadaj wants to stay; Yazoo doesn't know why but he doesn't think it matters.

He hears Loz's bed creak and glances that way to see if he's getting up. He doesn't care one way or the other, but he's bored of lying still. The fire in the hearth has almost burned out completely but he can still see the other's eyes, and they study each other in silence for a few moments, communicating without words. Yazoo knows by looking at him that Loz is worried, but the concern on his face isn't the pinched, restless worry that he wears when he's thinking about Mother. That leaves Kadaj, and Yazoo just gives a slight shake of his head and a shrug. It's an awkward gesture when he's lying down, but Loz can see it nonetheless.

"Na, Kadaj," Loz says.

"Mm?" There's no hesitation to the response, and Yazoo considers commenting on the fact that he's not sleeping either. In the end he swallows it.

"I'm cold."

"Put your blankets on, then," comes the response. The other bed creaks; Yazoo rolls his head that way to see Kadaj turning at last to face them again. There's not quite enough light to get a good look at his expression. Yazoo knows he's spent the last several hours thinking of what's coming, and he wonders what the youngest has come away from such musings with.

"The fire was warmer."

Kadaj gives a little laugh. "I suppose it was," he agrees. There's silence for a moment- expectant on Loz's part, and considering on Kadaj's. Yazoo lies between them, considering the ceiling as he waits. At last Kadaj pushes himself up. He hasn't even bothered to take off his boots yet and he starts across the room. The fireplace is closest to Loz's bed; the oldest moved the bed there when they first showed up. Loz rolls onto his side as Kadaj crouches in front of the hearth, content to watch as the youngest sets about adding logs to what little fire is left. He gets it going again with a bit of himself, adding a spark of power to help the burning embers catch on the logs again. Wood starts to crackle and Kadaj considers the flames for a moment before pushing himself to his feet.

As he straightens, Loz reaches out and catches his wrist, and Kadaj sends his oldest brother a questioning look.

"I like you better," Loz announces, and Kadaj blinks, looking past Loz to Yazoo's bed. Yazoo arches an eyebrow at him, but Loz clarifies himself before either of them can react to that apparent favoritism. "Than him, I mean." Kadaj isn't sure what to say to that; Yazoo can see the small struggle on his face. "We all love Mother," Loz continues, "and she loves us. We're her children; we will do what she wants because we love her. She doesn't love any of us more than the other. She's a Mother; that's how mothers are. But I like you more."

Yazoo thinks he can finally understand and it irks him for a moment that Loz saw it first. The only sound in the room is the popping of the wood in the hearth as Loz and Kadaj stare each other down, and Yazoo watches his younger brother's face as he waits for the reaction. At last Kadaj relaxes; Yazoo can see the tension slide out of his shoulders and his expression is finally Kadaj, through and through. His lips curve into a smile and Loz lets go of his wrist, content that he's said something right.

"Let's go, then," Kadaj says.

"Are you still tired?" Loz asks, sending the question over his shoulder to Yazoo.

"I've rested enough," Yazoo answers.

"Then we're going," Kadaj says, and Kadaj knows best, has always known best, so his brothers get up. He strides to the window where the glass has already fogged up again, and one hand reaches up to smear a clean path along it. He presses his fingertips to the dark spot and throws them a grin over his shoulder, eyes alight with feverish anticipation. "To Midgar. To Mother."

"To Mother," Loz agrees, thumping a boot against the floor to shake the dirt free before tugging it on. Yazoo retrieves his second glove from the floor and Kadaj is already starting towards the door, intending on checking on their bikes. Yazoo is the next out, leaving Loz to figure out where his other boot has gone, and he catches up with his younger brother out back where they left their transports. Kadaj turns at his approach, mouth open to say something, but he forgets it as Yazoo comes to a stop right in front of him. Two hands close on the bike to either side of the shorter youth and Yazoo doesn't think about it, just leans forward and kisses Kadaj's open mouth.

Loz was right earlier; the night is cold. But Kadaj is hot, and Yazoo likes his heat. Just a heartbeat of warmth and then Yazoo leans back to consider his younger brother's blank expression.

"Mother may talk to him through you, but we're the ones making this Reunion happen," Yazoo informs him. "We're the ones she's relying on here. We're the ones that are looking for her and fighting for her- not him, because he's already failed her once. Remember that."

Kadaj hesitates, then gives a nod, and Yazoo smiles and pushes away as Loz appears in the door. The oldest has a mad grin on his face at the prospect of being back on the road and on their way to Midgar, and Yazoo is in a good enough mood to answer it with a vicious smirk. They're on their bikes before Kadaj thinks to move again; bright eyes flick towards Yazoo before he tears his gaze away and turns to his own bike.

"Is he happy we're leaving?" Loz asks, and Yazoo wants to kick him for being stupid enough to voice such a thing after what happened earlier.

But Kadaj just offers them a lazy smile, every bit their brother and their Mother's special child, and not a trace of him in sight. "I don't care," he answers. "We're going for Mother, not for him. I don't care what he thinks." Loz laughs, liking that answer, and Kadaj glances towards Yazoo. Yazoo has a smirk to offer him in response, and Kadaj's smile stretches wider. "Let's go," he says.

The engines roar to life and they tear off into the night. The inn is left behind; the uncertainties are thrown away like the dirt beneath their tires. All that matters from this point forward is Mother. There is no one around to watch them go, and in the dark of the night they can feel her in their veins, faint and warm and pleased, and Yazoo thinks they can all be okay with being special.


Let Go

The air shook around them as they stared each other down, and at last, the power began to melt away, twisting and shimmering as it faded. Kadaj made no move to get up, seemingly content to gaze up at Shinra's president. Off to the left, the fallen Turks were still struggling to recover from what he'd hit them with, but Rufus didn't break Kadaj's stare to look towards them. A glance could be interpreted as too many things, especially in the wake of what Kadaj had just shown him, and the last thing he needed was for the other to think that look was a silent hope for help when he just wanted to know how injured they were.

"I'm glad you understand, President," Kadaj said at last, almost a purr. He relaxed his second knee to the floor and the move brought him closer to the president's wheelchair. "I think we will have fun working together now that you understand. You will not be so quick to lie to us again, will you?"

"I wouldn't think of it," Rufus answered calmly, and Kadaj's mouth curved into a smirk that was a little too hungry for his young face.

"I wonder what it's like," Kadaj mused, tilting his head to one side. Silver bangs fell into his face and across his throat, and an eye glowed through the strands as he continued to stare up at Rufus. The gaze traveled down from his hidden face, following the line of the hooded cape. A gloved hand came up, testing the armrest, and Rufus obediently shifted his hand to one side to allow him the exploration. There was no harm in it, though it wasn't a childlike curiosity that was etched on the other's face. "Tell me, President, what it means to be you. You have your own throne, do you not? You perch up there and command the rest of the world- do as I bid and I will grant you mercy. But one has to wonder what sort of mercy can be found in the sickness that you've cast upon the world."

Black-tipped fingers caught his hand, turning it so Kadaj could examine the marks of the Geostigma. A finger pressed down against them and pain lanced up Rufus's arm, white hot and piercing. Lips parted; breath hissed softly between his teeth. Kadaj smiled and set the hand back down, giving it a little pat.

"How is the view from your throne, President, when the world you stare at is as fallen as you?" Fingers slid over the cloth covering Rufus's thighs and he could feel the heat from the other's hands. "There has to be a way for you to atone for your sins. They would throw stones at you if only they knew where to find you, I am sure. And I?" He considered that, hands pressing down tighter. There was a shift of cloth off to one side as Reno made another attempt to get up, not liking the way the conversation was going or how close Kadaj was to Shinra's president. Kadaj sent him a sideways look, lifting a hand with a careless grace.

Reno choked on air and blood- Rufus heard his teeth clack over a wet gurgle and Kadaj came back up on his knees, stretching a leg out to the side to give the red-haired Turk a push with his boot. It rolled him onto his stomach and he coughed desperately for air. Kadaj's smile widened and he looked back towards Rufus, settling on his knees again. Elbows were pressed into the chair to either side of the president's knees and he leaned forward over Rufus's lap. The older man could almost feel his breath on his face, but perhaps that was his imagination.

"We are pleased with the destruction you've managed to bring about on this hateful planet, even if we will never forgive you for what you've done to Mother," he informed Rufus. "So we will pay you that mixed homage. This is how you would like it, isn't it? We are on our knees in front of you to offer gratitude."

"Common sense tells me that your gratitude is an unhealthy thing to collect."

Kadaj laughed at his calm words and lowered his hands. They were hot against Rufus's hips and it was through sheer force of will that he didn't tense at the heavy hold. He wanted to move his left arm; his fingers tightened where they were closed around the box his men had retrieved for him and he had the distinct impression that Kadaj was just heartbeats away from being able to pick up on it. That he hadn't yet was a miracle of sorts, Rufus supposed, but this close contact was pushing it.

"You'll take what I have to give you," Kadaj assured him. Fingers curled in the material of his cape and pushed. Fists slid up Rufus's chest, dragging the ends of the cloak up towards his knees. "And you'll be grateful for it."

Too close. Rufus shifted, trying to move his arm without letting the cloak highlight the sharp corners of the box. "Stop."

"President?" Kadaj's smile was lazy and bright mako-infected eyes were half-lidded and glowing. His voice was a purr again and Rufus's internal alarms went off at the look. He could feel himself tensing and he couldn't stop it. Kadaj felt it; there was no way he couldn't. If anything, the edges of his smile just pulled wider. "You don't have the right to tell me to stop."

He caught the end of the cloak and pushed it up, bunching it up at Rufus's hips. The president lifted a hand, moving to catch Kadaj's wrist. The youth let himself be grabbed and simply lifted his other hand, closing it tight around Rufus's. Dark marks on pale skin jumped to life, twisting and burning as if they were eating their way through the skin into bone and marrow. He felt his ragged breath more than he heard it, felt it rip through clenched lungs as the pain streaked up to burn in his throat. He heard Reno say something- rather, heard Reno try to say something, but it was more noise than actual words.

Kadaj tossed the hand carelessly to one side and Rufus couldn't make his muscles listen to him. His arm was like a dead thing that was connected to him at the shoulder, limp and pulsing with pain, and it hung off the side of the wheelchair. Kadaj's fingers found the hem of his pants and Rufus told himself he must be imagining things, except that when he blinked it was burned into his eyelids, and it hadn't changed when he opened his eyes again. Fingers clenched even tighter around the edges of his precious box, knuckles white against metal that had long since grown warm, since he couldn't exactly lower the case to push Kadaj to one side.

"Stop," he said again.

The click of metal, the hiss of a zipper, and he couldn't get his right arm to listen to him. Kadaj was ignoring him completely and leather slid against bare skin. "Our gift to you, President," he said, and lips curled back in a toothy smirk. "Shinra."

"Nnnpres-" Reno tried. He had been rolled so that he was looking away and Rufus found himself glad suddenly that he couldn't see what was going on. Rude, on the other hand, was face down, and Rufus finally flicked a quick look their direction when he saw the bald man start to shift in preparation to face them.

"No," he said, and it was a wonder Rude knew which one of them he was talking to. He saw the other man's shoulders tense at the order. "No," he said again, flatter now, and Rude's fingers curled into fists against the floor as he made himself relax again.

Kadaj laughed. "Don't you want them to see, President?" he asked, a lazy taunt, as he gave Rufus's pants a sharp tug. It brought him forward on the chair; his head hit the cushion behind him and he clenched the box against him, hard enough that he knew the edge was going to leave a bruise where it was digging in. "The young should always aspire to be like the old, shouldn't they, and follow faithfully in their footsteps. The exception is, of course, if the older should fail. Then the younger needs to find a different way to do it. A better way to do it. The dream is still the same; the goal is still the same. All it takes is a little more work, a little more drive, a little more imagination." He smiled up at Rufus, taking in the other's closed off expression. "A little more need."

And with that, he lowered his head.

Rufus had told himself not to react- not to tense, not to move, not to close his eyes. But Kadaj's mouth was on his skin, hot and wet and unwanted, and his teeth clenched tight enough that he felt his jaw pop. Gloved fingers dug into his thighs hard enough to hurt and silver hair spilled around Kadaj's head, sliding over an exposed abdomen and bare thighs. He wasn't breathing- couldn't breathe, because he didn't know what it would sound like. Eyes clenched shut for a moment before he forced them open and he fixed his gaze on the far wall, searching for anything that was better to look at, better to focus on, than the fact that Sephiroth's youngest clone was sucking him off.

Rufus remembered for a moment that life had been normal years ago, but it was a fleeting thought and he couldn't really remember what it had been like.

He had to breathe; his exhale was a ragged, sharp burst of air and the inhale was strained. He had enough feeling in his arm to lift his hand to the arm of the chair. It moved no further than that, as pain was knifing through the weakened muscles, and he clenched his fingers as tightly as he could on the hand rest.

Gloved hands slid down his legs, over his knees and down the length of his calves. When they came back up, they caught Rufus's knees and pushed them further apart. It changed the angle, changed the heat, and Rufus damned himself that his body was reacting to this when it should have known better. Teeth and tongue scraped over sensitive flesh and his chest was tight as he kept his breaths and his protests locked inside. Kadaj was undeterred by the silence; hands slid over thighs once more, and one hand closed around the base of an erection Rufus didn't want to admit was his. The other hand pressed against a flat abdomen and slid upwards, and Rufus forced his hand to move. The need to keep Kadaj from brushing against what was hidden beneath his cloak was enough, at last, that he could throw his hand from the arm rest and catch Kadaj's wrist. There was more than pride riding on this, more than dignity and decency. This was the fate of the world, tucked inside a black box and digging into his ribcage.

He had to breathe, and he hated the sound of this breath even more this time than the last. Once he'd started breathing again, he couldn't stop, and he thought he heard Kadaj laugh at the tight, strained sound of it. The silver haired youth let him hold onto his hand, content to keep his gloved fingers pressed against smooth skin. Rufus wanted to reach out and tear the hair from his skull.

Lips and tongue and heat and not this, not this, and not him-

His head tilted back; teeth gritted and slid against each other. His fingers flexed and tightened on Kadaj's hand as the other man worked him down to madness. There was a roaring in his ears and he struggled to hear through it, struggled to look past this moment and what was going on. It was impossible to get distracted from this, however- impossible to escape him.

"Don't," he heard himself say, but it was far too late and he wasn't sure anymore which one of them he was talking to.

Kadaj moved his hand and swallowed him to the hilt, and Rufus felt his hips lift from the chair, canting slightly towards the other. Fingernails bit into Kadaj's hand as he realized what was doing and Kadaj's free hand traced patterns down his side. A mouth slid free; warm breath ghosted over sensitive skin. Kadaj tilted his head to one side, just enough to peer up at Rufus's tight expression, and his smile was wicked. He pushed himself to his feet in a lithe move and Rufus forced himself not to lean back away from him. It wasn't like there was anywhere to go anyway. Kadaj's free hand lifted to his hood, fingers curling in material and the hair hidden beneath. The grip had the material falling across his eyes, blinding him, and then a mouth was on his as his other hand started to move.

He tried to pull his head away, but Kadaj wouldn't let him move. Fingernails dug into the black metal of the box and the arm rest of his chair as Kadaj kissed him hard enough to hurt; a soft mouth was bruising against his. When a tongue pushed past his lips Rufus's first thought was to bite down, and power hissed through his veins, wicked sharp and biting. He heard a strangled sound and realized it was his, and Kadaj pressed a kiss to the corner of his mouth as he laughed. Strands of hair were pulled free as Kadaj pushed his hood further up on his head and he met the other's brilliant stare, willing himself to give nothing away in the look.

He wasn't sure he succeeded; he didn't know if that smirk Kadaj sent him was because he lost that fight or because the other was amused by his defiance. A hand tightened around him; breath stuttered through aching lips and Kadaj was right in his face again, kissing him. Their eyes locked over the kiss and Rufus felt some of the cushion on his arm rest peel up under his clenched fingers.

He couldn't fight it. Up, up, up, and he lost the battle. Everything pulled tight for one sharp instant and Rufus thought perhaps he hated himself most for closing his eyes at the last moment, not wanting Kadaj to see what was in them, as the other forced release from him.

They stayed that for a long moment afterwards, breathing in and out of each other with Kadaj's stare burning holes in Rufus's eyelids, before Kadaj was finally satisfied enough to pull back. Two fingertips pressed against the bottom of Rufus's chin, tilting his head back for a last kiss as the other straightened, and Rufus opened his eyes at last. He watched as the teenager neatly refastened his pants and smoothed the shroud back over them, feeling oddly detached from the moment. Kadaj finished just a few moments later and bright mako-eyes turned on his face again.

He made sure Rufus was watching when he wiped his hands off on the cream-colored cloth, and Kadaj straightened once more to his full height. Rufus considered his smile from the shadows of his hood, slowly noticing the pain in his fingers where they had locked on the box he held close to his chest, and something almost vicious knifed through his gut at the realization that Kadaj still didn't know.

"It's been a pleasure, President," Kadaj assured him. "I will see you again soon." He turned away and started towards the door, and Rufus watched him, fingernails sliding against black metal in hungry, hateful anticipation. The youth stopped over the fallen Turks to eye them a few moments, then dismissed them with a condescending "Hn!" and kept going.

The door clicked into place behind him and silence followed in his wake- silence as the Turks tried to figure out what they were supposed to do and say, silence as Rufus thought towards the future and a time when he would see those bright eyes shatter like stained glass windows.

"I will be in my room," he said at last, because it was all he could say, and his fallen bodyguards said nothing as his chair glided from the room.