Part Three

    One train and a taxi later, Nagi found himself shoved into the first floor apartment of a ten-story complex. He tripped over the step at the entrance and a hand on the back of his shirt helped keep him from falling flat on his face. The door closed with a very final slam behind him and for a moment it was crowded there at the step. Schuldich was out of his shoes then and up into the room and the toes of Farfarello's boots scraped down over Nagi's heels to pin the back of his shoes against the ground. A rough shove against the small of Nagi's back had him stumbling out of his shoes and up into the hall and Farfarello stayed behind to work on getting his boots off.

    "How many times must I tell you not to slam the door?" came a calm voice from further down the hall, and Nagi looked up to see yet another foreigner watching them. The man was tall, almost startlingly so, and impeccably dressed in an off-white suit. He looked at Nagi with a stare that saw straight through him and Nagi almost preferred Farfarello's madness and Schuldich's sickness to that calculating intelligence.

    "You could have warned us about the blood detail," Schuldich told him as he slid sideways past the taller man. He was ignored but he didn't wait for a response, pausing just long enough to bare his teeth at Nagi over the third man's shoulder before disappearing down the hall. "London Bridge is falling down and crushing little children," he sang. "See the blood run all about fa la la la la la."

    A door slammed on the last "la" and Nagi could feel the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end from the two stares fixed on him.

    "Are you in charge here?" he demanded.

    "Yes," was the simple response. "I see you made it in one piece."

    "I want to go back to Osaka."

    "In time," the dark-haired man answered, and he beckoned. Nagi heard Farfarello's boots thud heavily against the ground and the pale ghost stepped up behind him, using his weight to push Nagi down the hall. "I know you will not sleep tonight without a better explanation than my associates have given you, but I can promise you ahead of time that the knowing will not help you sleep any easier."

    Nagi took a few quick steps to get ahead of Farfarello so that he could walk on his own and followed the tall man into a room that seemed to serve as a kitchen, dining room, and den all in one. "We are well aware of the power that you harness and we have decided to take advantage of it for our next project. I am sure you have already been told the monetary aspects of this deal, but as you can see, we will also be providing food and a place for you to sleep while you are here. The contract is for one month and you will be given your ticket back to Osaka when we are finished here.

    "For this month you are Schwarz." The man gestured at the table but Nagi didn't have much of a choice about sitting. Farfarello's hand on his shoulder shoved him into one of the empty chairs and the dark haired man went to where an ash tray was resting on the stove. A lit cigarette was propped there and he plucked it up, turning it this way and that between his fingers as he considered the teenager across the room. "Schwarz is a team of three: myself, Farfarello, and Schuldich. We have gifts the same as you, though ours are quite a bit different. With our powers we find work throughout Japan, often as bodyguards and more often as assassins. You will be doing a bit of both during your weeks here."

    "You're mad," Nagi sent at him. "I'm not a murderer."

    "Nor are we," was the calm rebuttal. "Murderers kill for the sake of killing. We kill for money and profitable business arrangements."

    Nagi's head was spinning and he wondered if it was from getting slammed up against the side of the train. "I refuse."

    "You have no reason to," the stranger told him, and he took a drag off his cigarette. Nagi watched smoke curl out from between his lips as he spoke. "I would advise you to think about what you left behind in Osaka as you spend the first few days with us, and I'm sure you will realize there is enough offered here that it is a more than fair trade. You have a great deal of potential, Naoe Nagi, but you have not yet had a chance to fully realize it."

    Nagi felt his heart skip a few beats. "How do you know that name?" he demanded in a low voice.

    "Perhaps the same as I knew you were going to be in Osaka," the man told him, carelessly flicking ash back into his tray. "Your gift is blood telekinesis. Schuldich is a telepath and I am a precognitive. Yesterday I saw that this job would work better with you on as a contractor, which is why I sent Farfarello and Schuldich to Osaka to find you." Another flick and he held his cigarette where it rested between his lips, inhaling and exhaling around it so gray tendrils wrapped around his fingers. "Our work begins tomorrow, which may not be the best time for you, but I am sure you will see things our way after a night to think things over."

    Nagi's jaw worked for a moment as he struggled between fear and outrage. "If I refuse?" he asked tightly.

    "Then I will turn you over to Schuldich," the so-called precognitive answered, and this time Nagi's heart didn't skip- it stopped. "He is fully educated in the matters of artful persuasion and he has yet to fail us on that front. If you had not noticed already, your power has been muted, so there would be nothing to stop him."

    Farfarello's fist against his back knocked air back into lungs that had knotted up in fear and Nagi choked on the first breaths he managed to suck back into his body. "My power," he managed to get out. "Why isn't it working?"

    The other man held his hand out, fingers splayed in a gesture towards Farfarello. "Farfarello was bred by my family specifically to act as a shield," he said. "My parents had further sight than I have achieved and they knew Schwarz would need such a creature on hand. He can manipulate and muffle the powers around him because he has some of all of them flowing in his veins. By ingesting his blood, you let him into you just as easily as you would have taken him in. His strength for killing power is simply stronger than your strength to unleash it. He is the perfect experiment, and years of upkeep are finally starting to pay off. If you have no further questions, we are finished here."

    "My parents-" Nagi started, grabbing the first thing that came to mind.

    "Died two years ago," the man finished for him easily.

    "My teachers-" was his second desperate attempt.

    "When was the last time you attended school?" One brow lifted over honey-brown eyes and the man reached out to stab his cigarette out on his ash tray. "Farfarello will show you where you are to be sleeping."

    That signaled the end of the conversation. Two hands on his shoulders pulled him to his feet and Nagi didn't have it in him to resist. He couldn't even move, so Farfarello caught hold of his already bruised wrist and tugged him forward. Nagi just stared at the well-dressed foreigner as he was taken out of the room, thoughts racing over everything that had been said.

    "Fa la la," purred a voice in the hallway, and Nagi jerked his gaze forward.

    Schuldich was sprawled stomach-first against the wall, cheek planted against cool paint to watch the two. He had a hand up near his face and was nibbling on his thumb, blue eyes half-lidded. A green jacket had been replaced by a yellow silk night shirt and khaki pants had been traded out for maroon and blue crosshatch cotton, and Nagi wondered if the man was actually colorblind to some degree. He physically hurt to look at.

    "Guess who gets to stay here despite all his whining," Schuldich sent him.

    "You look like you fell out of a Jusco bargain bin," Nagi snapped back. "If you wanted to look like walking puke, you've succeeded."

    White teeth gleamed around his hand and blue eyes went to Farfarello. "Let him stay with me tonight," he ordered the shorter man. "He sounds like he's not convinced that he wants to play nice with us. Just give me one hour and I'll have his priorities fixed."

    "No," Farfarello intoned.

    "Crawford practically promised him to me."

    "Tomorrow," was the calm reminder.

    "I'll get an early start and save us a morning migraine. Come on, Farfarella. Do a guy a favor. I'll buy you that set of knives you keep pawing at Brietta's. The shiny ones with the jagged edges." He made a hook with one finger and bobbed it, presumably in the shape of said jagged edge. Farfarello tilted his head to one side, considering that, and Schuldich's smile widened. "You know you want to hear how loud he can scream."

    Farfarello glanced back at Nagi, and Nagi realized he had shifted behind the white-haired man. When they'd stepped out into the hallway, Farfarello had been dragging him by his wrist, but now Nagi's hand was locked around Farfarello's. His knuckles were almost as pale as the freak's skin as if somehow he could convey his "Please" into that iron grip, but he couldn't make himself look up at Farfarello. He didn't want to see a madness that would trade out one mouthy teenager for a knife.

    "No," Farfarello said at length, startling both of them, and Nagi could breathe again.

    Schuldich's expression twisted into something ugly. "No," he repeated.

    Farfarello didn't bother to say it again but reached out with his free hand to twist the knob of the closest door. It creaked as it opened and Nagi didn't need to be told. As soon as Farfarello's fingers loosened on his wrist he bolted, throwing himself through the doorway and into the shadows of the room. He heard Schuldich snarl something intelligible, heard a meaty thud of flesh on flesh, and then light flickered over pale skin as Farfarello followed him through the doorway. The door clicked shut, throwing the room into darkness, and Nagi froze where he was standing by the far wall.

    He had traded out one psychopath for another. How was this any better?

    "The lamp," came a bored voice from the door, and Nagi clenched his fingers around trembling arms as his gift felt for it. It took a sweep of it to find the switch and he flicked it on, eyes closed tightly against the light that flashed harsh on his eyelids. He only let himself have a second- an endless second- before he wrenched his eyes open again, but Farfarello wasn't moving towards him.

    That's when he realized there were two beds in the small room, and he looked from one to the other, not willing to relax yet even as relief pounded in his veins. "I'm staying here?" he asked.

    "Or with Schuldich," Farfarello answered, peeling off his shirt. It was dropped carelessly to one side and Nagi forgot to respond to that blithe comment when he saw the scars that tracked up and down the other man's pale flesh. He counted six in all along his back, bubbly looking streaks of gray across blood-drained white. Branded into one shoulder bone was an eight-digit number and Nagi thought of the third man's- Crawford?- words out in the kitchen.

    "Experiment," he said carefully.

    "It was a success," Farfarello said, not sounding at all bothered.

    Bred by Crawford's family to overwhelm powers? It seemed impossible, but everything about this was impossible, down to his gift and Farfarello's ease at muting it. The shaking had sunken through his skin to his stomach and it was twisting painfully against his guts, wondering over the revelation that there were others out there with powers. Considering how these three had turned out, he wondered if he was grateful that he'd never known he wasn't a mutant, but stillů He thought of doors slamming in his face and his mother's brokenhearted tears.

    Footsteps moved out in the hallway and fingernails scratched over the door. Farfarello didn't look but Nagi edged further away from it, and he heard Schuldich's nasal laugh.

    -What a sob story,- Schuldich's voice purred, but it came from right near his ear. Nagi jumped and whipped around, but laughter and scratching told him the German was still in the hallway. -You want a new family? Here, I'll be your grand Uncle Schuldich. Let's bond for a while.-

    "Let's not, you hideous colorblind Nazi," Nagi spat back.

    "Blind," Farfarello corrected him.

    Nagi looked over at him. The ghost had kicked his pants somewhere and was digging through the messy sheets on his bed. Lamplight gleamed over icy white skin and somehow managed to make it look colder. The scars continued down his thighs and arm and when Farfarello looked over at him, there was a line of stitches across his abdomen.

    "Blind," he echoed belatedly, trying to drag his eyes up from the dark thread.

    Farfarello offered him that dreamy little smile again and pointed to his own face. Fingernails scratched over an eye patch. "Mostly blind," he said. "Spend too much time prying where you don't belong and you lose the right to see what was once given so freely. He sees color and lights and shapes. The rest he sees here." He pushed his eye patch aside and Nagi flinched back as his finger disappeared between eyelids into an empty socket. His stomach made it up to his throat before falling down into his knees.

    "Crawford is blind," Farfarello continued, sliding his finger free and pushing the patch into place. He smiled again but seeing him stick his finger inside his head made it harder for the smile to affect Nagi this time. "He sees tomorrow and doesn't care for today."

    "He can't be blind," Nagi protested, thinking of the other man's piercing stare.

    Farfarello didn't answer that. He found the pants he was looking for and slipped into them before sprawling on his back on his bed. One leg dangled off the side of the mattress and he reached over his head to brush his fingertips along the wall near his headboard.

    A partially blind sociopath telepath, a completely blind precognitive, and some freaky looking lab experimentů Nagi's mind was trying to shut down around this new bit of information. Dealing with the kidnapping was hard enough, but then to find out what they wanted from him, that they had powers of their own, and that two of them were blind? His legs were threatening to give out on him so he stumbled over to the second bed and sat down. At least the scratching had stopped at the door. Schuldich seemed to have lost interest in the conversation as soon as it turned towards his sight.

    "This is insane," Nagi whispered.

    "Life is," Farfarello agreed.

    Nagi pulled his legs up onto the bed and hugged his knees to his chest. "If you're a lab experiment of some sortů then you're not really here by choice, either. You could just walk out and leave them. If you really can muffle powers, then what's stopping you?"

    "I choose to stay."

    "But why?" Nagi demanded.

    "They amuse me," was the accented drawl.

    "That's not good enough."

    "Why do you solicit?" Farfarello asked him, biting the tips of his fingers. Nagi saw dots of blood well up and the pale man sucked each fingertip clean.

    "I need money to survive."

    "Why that," Farfarello clarified. Nagi had the impression that the ghost didn't really care, but it didn't stop him from thinking about the question.

    A minute stretched by between them, followed by another, and Nagi buried his face against his knees. He thought of slamming doors and angry voices, and blood dripping off of metal. Freedom at last- freedom from the censure and pain and hatred. He'd fallen in love in an instant with the stranger who had killed his parents and maybe it was the most twisted sort of love a young, bruised heart could latch onto, but it had been enough that he'd followed the other man away.

    Light eyes, dark hair, and the emotions that had been burned into that stare when he'd realized Nagi was there had burned straight through the telekinetic's skin. Pain, regret, self-loathing, acceptance, resignationů They'd stared each other down in the snow, the stranger waiting for some sort of angry attempt at retribution and Nagi looking for another step towards salvation. It had happened with that smile, that dreamy little half-smile that spoke of only death and shattered minds.

    Nagi had let him go, and the stranger had let him live. The other man had walked away with blood still dripping from his claws and Nagi had dreamed about that smile for months.

    "I'm looking for something," he said at last.

    Farfarello didn't answer. When Nagi looked over a few minutes later, the ghost was fast asleep.

    It was a long time before Nagi followed suit, but the German's laughter further down the hall was enough reason not to try to escape. He didn't dream.

Part Four
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