Part One: Fade to Black

      Damn, his head hurt.

      Schuldich scowled as he stumbled towards the door to the seedy nightclub he'd visited so many nights in the past, the flashing lights and pumping music only causing his head to throb more acutely. Impatiently swatting away inviting hands that reached towards him on his way out, he snatched his coat from the hook by the door and walked quickly out into the embracing night.

      Shuddering, he pulled his coat on and glared blearily at the open doorway behind him. Damn, he must've had more to drink than he'd thought. He never left the clubs this early.

      He reached up, touching fingertips gently to his aching forehead. Way too fucking much to drink. Muttering to himself and ignoring the hazy babble of thoughts running through his head from the people on the streets of Tokyo, he made his unsteady way towards the flat he shared with his teammates.

      He was feeling thoroughly shitfaced by the time he spotted the familiar building on the corner of the street named.. whatever the hell it was called. Some stupid flowery name that he hadn't had the desire to memorize. It was easier to just pick up on the stirrings of his teammates' thoughts as he got closer to his destination.

      Someone had not turned the outside light on, and he was unlucky enough to stub his toe on the concrete step outside the front door. He swore loudly, favoring the foot as he dug around in his pocket for his keys. Muttering darkly under his breath about how the light above the door was there so people would not kill themselves when trying to get in their own houses, he finally managed to locate the key ring and tugged it free. Long fingers slid over the keys, searching for the short one that would let him in.

      He missed the knob on the first try and had to brace himself against the side of the house, using both hands to guide the key into its slot. It resisted being turned and he gave it a jiggle and a hard yank. He was contemplating either kicking the door to get someone's attention or ringing the doorbell when it finally clicked.

      He made as much noise as possible as he went through the front hall, slamming the door behind him, discarding his keys and coat on the floor and tossing his shoes carelessly against the wall as he toed them off. He could vaguely sense Nagi's irritation from the other room and smirked in triumph.

      "Maa maa~ chibi," he drawled as he entered the den and spotted the slender youth curled up on the sofa, nose buried in a thick book. "So thoughtful of you to leave the light on."

      "The light bulb burnt out," Nagi replied in a monotone without bothering to look up. Schuldich plucked up a coaster from the coffee table and flicked it at him idly as he sauntered by. "Don't kill the messenger," Nagi quoted, eyes still skimming over the pages.

      Schuldich jeered at him and padded down the hall into the bathroom, flipping on the light switch and yawning loudly. He winced and immediately turned off the light again. It hurt his head too damn much. He opened the mirror door above the sink and rummaged through the rows of drugs for painkillers, fingers groping for the familiar bottle.

      He managed to knock a few over before picking up the two he figured had the best chance of being his. He tilted his hand towards the doorway, checking the labels. He chucked the wrong one over his shoulder and unscrewed the lid of the remaining bottle, dumping a few pills into his hand. They were gross on his tongue and he filled his palms quickly from the sink to wash them down.

      He let out a quiet sigh, resting his hands on the rim of the sink for a moment and glancing up at his shadowed reflection. Hopefully the medicine would kick in soon. He did hope to get some sleep tonight, but that was looking like it would take some effort. Releasing the porcelain, he stepped back and wandered back into the hall.

      He almost ran into Farfarello as he reentered the den. The madman favored him with a brief, one-eyed stare and didn't pause on his way to the kitchen. Schuldich smirked at him. "What's the rush, Farf?" Damn, he must really be drunk- to not have been alerted by the madman's approaching thoughts.

      Right now the thoughts in question were jumbled, an incoherent background noise. Schuldich frowned slightly before shrugging it off as his drunkenness... Either that or Farfarello was getting more insane by the day, and his thoughts had ceased to be coherent.

      He didn't bother to keep that thought shielded, and felt a twinge of irritation from the scarred man, though he did not turn around to look at him, obviously more intent on digging up a late night snack.

      ...Hopefully one that was already dead. Nagi had come across a still-twitching pigeon in the fridge one afternoon, and had come dangerously close to losing his cool. Schuldich grinned at the memory and wandered into the den, flopping unceremoniously down on the sofa across from Nagi and digging the remote control out of the cushion cracks.

      "I'm reading," Nagi informed him without looking up.

      "That's nice," Schuldich said airily, turning on the television.

      Nagi lowered his book slowly to give him a stony look, and the screen abruptly went dark. Schuldich flicked the boy a glance and turned it back on. Nagi met his gaze calmly and the television set turned off again. On any other night, Schuldich might have been willing to play the game until Nagi finally gave up, but for some reason he wasn't in the mood today. He studied the dark screen for a while, debating whether or not to just play for the principle of the game. The decision was taken out of his hand when the remote was tugged away by an unseen hand and sent across the room to rest on the entertainment center. Schuldich watched it go in silence.

      Nagi turned back to his book.

      Schuldich tilted his head back, letting it rest against the back of the couch and gazing up at the ceiling. Damn headache. Why wasn't the medicine working yet?

      "Where's Crawford?" he asked idly.

      "He already went to bed," Nagi responded automatically.

      "Ch'..." Schuldich sneered. "Early bird gets the Weiß and all that crap, eh? What a prude."

      Nagi declined to comment.

      Schuldich winced as his head began to throb insistently. "Saa...Think I'll be a prude for tonight," he muttered, climbing to his feet. "Keep an ear open for the one-eyed wonder boy, chibi."

      Nagi ignored him, and Schuldich wandered from the room with his hands in his pockets, too tired to even play with the boy's mind. He was not interested in removing anything other than his jacket, which he let slide carelessly to the floor, before flopping onto his mattress. He lay sprawled on his stomach for a while, face buried in his blanket, wondering if it were possible to will a headache away. Keeping his eyes closed, he slowed his breathing in an attempt to fall asleep.

      Ten minutes later he gave up trying to fool himself and rolled onto his back. He clasped his hands behind his head, staring up at the ceiling. It was going to be a long night...


      Schuldich wasn't the only one having trouble sleeping that night.

      Downtown, Yohji was tossing and turning restlessly in his bed. For once the silk sheets he'd bought at such expense were failing to soothe him and carry him into dreams of women, of confusion, and of the past. Finally he sat up with a gusty sigh, raking honey-colored bangs from his eyes and glaring belligerently at the innocent alarm clock by his bed.

      Almost one o' clock in the damn morning. Jesus.

      He kicked his sheets to the end of the bed and rose. He scratched wearily at his scalp as he padded to the kitchenette in the small apartment he had rented shortly before the beginning of Weiss, dressed only in his black silk boxers. He was going to have to get up again in about six hours, so he might as well get a drink and try to knock himself out in front of bad reruns.

      Rummaging through the nearly-empty fridge, he snatched up a beer and wandered into the small den, plopping onto the couch's deep cushions and rummaging for the remote. He found the Lifetime channel and settled down to watch. What better station to put him to sleep? Besides, there were some pretty hot chicks on that channel.

      Nursing his beer bottle, he glanced towards the window at the night sky outside as some woman on the show lamented on about her husband's affairs.

      There hadn't been any missions in almost five days. He wondered grimly what the infamous Schwarz was up to, and if they would meet again anytime soon.

      He grinned tightly and returned his attention to the television set.

      If so, he was going to be ready for that damned German this time. He wouldn't lose again to that maniac.

      Not this time.


      The coffee was cold when Schuldich finally left his bedroom. He shuffled into the room, raking sleep-tangled hair from his face and yawning loudly. It had taken a long time before he had been able to sleep last night, and he didn't feel rested at all. He tugged a mug down from the counter and filled it. Taking a sip and making a face at the temperature, he considered just chucking it.

      At least his headache was better. It was still a dull ache, but no longer the sharp pain that had haunted him last night. There was a murmur in his mind, and he glanced towards the door. Someone must be waking up.

      Nagi was standing in the doorway, looking at him blandly without speaking.

      Schuldich stared back for a minute before cracking a grin. "Aren't we the talkative one this morning."

      "I only asked you why you were drinking cold coffee," Nagi said calmly, walking by him to rummage through the fridge for breakfast.

      Schuldich blinked, opened his mouth, and shut it again. When had Nagi asked him that?

      Shrugging it off as inattention, the German turned to dump his coffee in the sink. "Be a good chibi and make a new pot."

      "Just turn it back on," Nagi retorted, pulling eggs from the fridge, "and let it heat up."

      "You're lazy."

      "You're two feet from the coffee pot," Nagi pointed out, nudging the fridge shut with a foot. A cabinet opened and a pan floated out to land on a burner on the stove. As he cracked the eggs open on the corner of the pan a spatula came over to rest on the countertop beside him.

      Schuldich rolled his eyes and reached over to flip the switch on the coffee maker. Crawford walked in at that moment, empty coffee mug in one hand, newspaper in the other. He flicked his German comrade a calm look as he set his mug in the sink. "Where were you last night?"

      Schuldich offered a suggestive grin. "Out."

      Crawford chose not to expand on the subject. He set his paper on the table and took off his glasses, polishing them on the front of his crisp white shirt. "We have a job."

      "Ch..." Schuldich drummed his fingertips on the counter and tilted his head to one side, jade eyes watching Oracle. "Which weasel do we have to clean up after this time?"

      "The executive board of Kaltoa's Higa-sen branch is going to be meeting," Crawford answered, checking his glasses before setting them on the bridge of his nose and sliding them up into place with a finger. "They would prefer to have guards nearby, as they have several people that would like them dead."

      Schuldich flicked rogue strands of hair over his shoulder and turned to the coffee pot, poking the glass experimentally to check the temperature. "Another exciting job," he declared. "It's great to be alive." He couldn't tell if the coffee was hot or not and let his fingertip linger a moment too long. He drew his finger back quickly when he registered that it was burning and gave his hand a small shake.

      Nagi flicked him a knowing glance out of the corner of his eye that Schuldich decided to ignore. His head was beginning to hurt again. He stuck the tip of his finger in his mouth for a moment as he digested what he had just been told. "Who's going?"

      "All of us." Crawford noticed the cooking eggs and glanced at Nagi. Something in Schuldich's mind murmured.

      Nagi wordlessly took out four plates and set them on the table.

      Schuldich frowned, reaching up to touch his temple. Crawford didn't miss the gesture. "Something wrong?"

      "Nothing," he said blithely, lowering his hand. "Just a hangover."

      "Take some medicine," Crawford ordered, going over to get juice from the fridge. "Let Farfarello out while you're at it."

      "Yes, Doctor Crawford." He poured himself a mug of coffee, grinned at the cool look Crawford favored him with, and padded out of the room. As he passed Farfarello's door he reached out and rapped his fist against it, letting the Irishman know it was time to get up. He entered the bathroom, flicking the light switch on, and set his mug to one side. It took only a moment to find his bottle and he popped the lid off. He shook a pill into his hand and replaced the bottle to its spot in the medicine cabinet. Swallowing it with a gulp of his hot coffee, he returned to Farfarello's room.

      Farfarello was still asleep, judging by the muddled hum Schuldich received from a poke towards his younger teammate's mind. He tugged at the bolts and pushed the door open, stepping in. "Hey, Farf-" he started.

      He faltered as he was reaching to flick the lights on. Farfarello was awake. In fact, the Irishman was currently in the middle of carving his arm up. There were two slashes already done, and right now his blade was slowly digging another gash through the flesh. Blood trailed down his arm in sluggish streams and there was a small puddle on the ground under his fingertips. Schuldich's mouth pulled in a faint frown.

      It wasn't the crazed Irishman's self-mutilation that stirred up a feeling of unease in him. It was the fact that he hadn't been able to tell his partner was awake by his thoughts. He forced back the flutter of worry and blamed it on his hangover. He forced a grin onto his face and placed his hands on his hips. "Making yourself a homemade tattoo, Farf?"

      The Irishman looked up at him slowly, face expressionless.

      "Let me guess," Schuldich sighed, rolling his eyes. "You're busy hurting God."

      He snatched a towel off a nearby shelf and strode over, bending over and quickly wrenching the knife away. Farfarello's fist flew at him with lightning speed, but Schuldich calmly deflected the blow, pushing his arm to the floor and pressing the towel to the wound firmly. ~Nagi,~ he sent. His head gave a throb of protest, and he winced.

      A moment later Farfarello froze, pinned to the spot as Nagi appeared in the doorway, observing them calmly.

      Schuldich continued to apply pressure, muttering to himself. The Irishman may not feel pain, but that didn't mean he couldn't die from blood loss. "Get the bandages, chibi," he snapped over his shoulder.

      "Someone's in a bad mood," Nagi murmured, and the first aid kit floated into the room to land beside Schuldich. Farfarello was glaring murderously at the both of them, obviously furious that his fun had been spoiled.

      "The boy's observant, isn't he?" Schuldich asked Farfarello, freeing one hand from the blood-soaked towel to pry the box open. Enough blood had come through the towel that he left small crimson streaks on the contents of the first aid kit. He found some antibiotic swabs and chucked the towel to one side. Ripping the packages open, he unfolded the cloths, making a face at the pungent odor the medicine gave off. He used rough swipes to clean the mess, working quickly. "I told you to watch him last night," he reminded the boy in the doorway, but his accusation went unanswered.

      He used his teeth to help undo the tape that kept the bandage roll tightly wound while his other hand continued to clean the wounds. Finally he dropped the cloth to one side and began to wrap up the albino's arm. His head was beginning to throb harder and he grit his teeth, as if somehow that would make the pain go away. He fastened the bandages in place and collected the trash, leveling Farfarello with an annoyed look.

      "You're a retard, Farfarello," he informed the younger man, then snapped the kit shut and rose to his feet. "We have a job later, so you'd better stop the shit."

      The Irishman rose slowly to his feet, freed of Nagi's tight control. He turned a gleaming eye on Schuldich, picking absently at the bandage. His attention had obviously been diverted by this new way to hurt his god. "When?" he demanded simply.

      "You can ask Crawford," Schuldich told him shortly, plucking up his coffee. "It's time for breakfast. And quit messing with that." He left quickly, heading towards the bathroom again. Evidently one pill hadn't been enough.

      Strangely, once he was out of the madman's presence, his headache lessened. He popped two more pills, frowning at his reflection. Something was wrong here. He'd never had trouble hearing his mind mates' thoughts before after drinking. Forcing those thoughts to the back of his mind before he could accidentally let them slip into the bond, he strolled into the kitchen.

      Crawford was already seated at the table and Farfarello was pulling his chair out when Schuldich arrived. Nagi stood by the stove, watching something that was cooking. Schuldich set his mug down at his place and hooked a foot around a leg of his chair to pull it out. He sat and leaned back in his chair, drumming his fingers on the side of his mug. Nagi finished at the stove and dished the eggs he had made into a large bowl. It floated towards the table, followed by slices of toast as they popped out of the toaster.

      Schuldich plucked his out of the air as it came to a rest in front of him. He set about buttering it as Nagi approached the table and poured Farfarello and himself some of the same juice Crawford was already drinking. He set the jug down as small sausages began to float off one of the other pans at the stove and drain themselves on paper towel. They all bounced onto a platter together and the dish brought itself to the table. The four served themselves in silence, and for a few minutes the only sound was that of their utensils.

      "Schuldich," Nagi said a trifle impatiently.

      Schuldich looked up from playing with his eggs to blink at the younger boy. Everyone was staring at him.

      Nagi shook his head irritably, and the salt by Schuldich's plate floated over to the other boy. "Pay attention. I asked if you were done with the salt."

      "No you didn't," Schuldich snapped.

      "I did," Nagi said hotly.

      Crawford was studying Schuldich keenly. Farfarello turned back to dicing up his sausage into tiny little chunks, losing interest in the argument.

      The little twinge of uneasiness was back. Schuldich glanced from Crawford to Nagi, then quickly reverted his attention back to his eggs. He stretched out, probing at the telekinetic's mind. His head began to throb, and he pulled back hastily. Nagi flicked him a questioning glance as he felt the German's quick withdrawal, but decided to let it lie.

      Schuldich abandoned his eggs in favor of sipping at his coffee. Jade eyes gazed at his plate without seeing it; his appetite had been replaced by the feeling that something was out of place. Perhaps he was just getting sick, and the illness was interfering with his gift. The thought did little to reassure him, however. Even when distracted by his own thoughts, even when sick before, he had never missed messages sent directly to him. He had to be smashed or heavily drugged to be deaf to his teammates- and he was neither. Well, there was his headache medicine, but it had never had such a side effect before.

      Maybe the medicine had expired. Could medicine expire? He sat mulling over this as he gazed down into his coffee mug at his dark reflection.

      "We leave at five tonight," Crawford was saying calmly, sprinkling salt sparingly on his eggs. Crawford was not one to over-use condiments. Nagi, stay with me. Schuldich, you and Farfarello will work together."

      Something whispered against Schuldich's mind, and he slammed his coffee mug down hard. Everyone stared at him. Schuldich gritted his teeth as he glared at the cool-faced American, struggling to keep down his rising panic. He was pretty sure Crawford had merely been telling him to keep an eye on the madman.

      But he hadn't HEARD him, damn it. Not one word! Crawford's mental voice, always so strong before, was a bare brush of air in the back of his consciousness. But of course he couldn't tell the others that. If they suspected...

      He felt a cold knot of nausea coil in his stomach, and rose abruptly to his feet. "I don't feel good," he said shortly in way of explanation, and hurried to the bathroom.

      He shut the door behind him and stared at his reflection, knuckles white as they gripped the sides of the sink. His lips were parted enough for his clenched teeth to show and he sucked in a deep breath of air with a hiss. What was wrong with his telepathy? Why was everything so faded and jumbled? Slowly he reached towards Farfarello's mind, grinding his teeth harder together at the pain it brought. All he could get from his teammate was quiet and an incoherent mess. Farfarello had always had the loudest mind of his team.

      "Fuck," he swore, drawing back. He bent over, resting his elbows on the sink and digging his fingers into his hair. Jade eyes glared at the shining porcelain before his face as if it somehow were to blame for this. Panic and anger warred together in his stomach, a violent churning deep in his gut.

      What the hell was going on? He took another deep breath and released it shakily.

      The door creaked open, and there was a quiet step on the tile floor. Schuldich raised his eyes to meet Crawford's steady gaze in the mirror.

      "If you're not up to this, you're not coming," the American said bluntly.

      Schuldich managed to dredge up a confident sneer, crushing his fears back where no one could sense them. "I'll be fine by tonight, don't you worry about that," he said in a voice that was actually steady. He was rather proud of that fact. He turned, lounging against the sink as he grinned at the older man. "Don't tell me you've lost your faith in me, Crawford. How disappointing."

      "Try not to be disappointing yourself tonight," the Oracle said dryly, and turned to go.

      "Is that an invitation?" Schuldich leered.

      Crawford flicked him an unamused glance and left.

      Schuldich remained behind for a few seconds longer, taking another deep breath and closing his eyes for a moment. He forced himself to relax. He had told Crawford not to lose faith in his abilities as an assassin and telepath. He could not afford to, either.

      This would blow over.

      His gift would get better.

      It had to.


      Yohji covered a loud yawn with one hand, draping himself over the counter and gazing blearily around the shop. They had reached a lull in the customers. While he was generally grateful to have a break from the cacophony, at least it had been harder to feel how tired he was when he had to pay attention to the girls. Now that there was nothing to do, he could feel his eyelids drooping. He sent a glance towards where Omi was watering one of the ferns, already knowing what the younger man would say if he turned around and caught Yohji sleeping at the register. At least Aya wasn't around...

      He let his eyes slide closed, deciding that he could fend off Omi's worried inquiries about his health. Omi would probably assume he was sick, though sometimes Yohji wondered if that was just a show. Nightmares were the more common source of sleepless nights, but Omi would never ask his teammates if that was why they wandered around the shop yawning or glaze-eyed.

      Yohji allowed a soft, content sigh to escape his lips, ready to pass out on the spot. The bell jingled then and he bit back a groan. ~Figures...~

      "Ohayoo gozaimasu, Manx-san," Omi greeted cheerfully.

      Yohji forced his eyes back open and pushed himself upright. "Well, well, my day's just gotten much better," he said, a smile curving his lips automatically at the sight of the redhead.

      She sent him an amused look. "Sorry to interrupt your nap, Yohji."

      "I think I'm still asleep, because you can't exist outside of a dream."

      "Lame, Yohji-kun," Omi teased, setting his watering can aside. Yohji grinned at his back. How was he expected to come up with anything good when he was so tired? The younger boy tugged at the knots of his apron. "You have something for us, Manx-san?"

      "I was starting to think you'd forgotten about us," Yohji said. "It's been almost a week."

      She flashed them a smile and Yohji blinked in surprise. She was in a good mood- because of the mission? Indeed, she waved a small folder at them and crossed the room, heading towards the basement. Green eyes flicked a curious glance around. "Your partners?" she asked as she tugged open the door.

      "Ken's fan club came for him and dragged him off to the fields to play," Yohji explained, flicking the sign on the front door to "On Break" before following Omi and Manx down the stairs. "Aya pulled the disappearing act again."

      She gave a nod and Yohji pushed the door closed behind them. She turned to face them as soon as they reached the bottom of the stairs, not even moving for them to drape themselves on the various furniture in the room, and offered the folder towards Omi. "We've finally been able to find an opening to get a shot at Kaltoa. The Higa-sen branch has to meet to discuss budgets and security. All four of them will have to be together. They will have bodyguards, of course, but this could be the opening we've been looking for."

      Yohji peered over Omi's shoulder as the boy flipped the folder open. Kaltoa...Kaltoa...Ah. He recognized their faces and could place the name. Kritiker had been wanting to take out that company for a long time. A miscalculation on their part had ruined the last mission Weiß had taken against the corporation. Ever since, the targets had been sitting pretty much on the back burners while Kritiker looked for a good second chance.

      Manx had a reason to look happy, then.

      "Be careful this time, Weiß," she requested. "This is short notice, I know. We almost missed them, but someone managed to hear that they were having a meeting. It's to be held this afternoon."

      "We'll take care of it," Omi assured her.

      She smiled again and offered a faint nod. "I will be expecting good news."

      "Would you expect anything else from us?" Yohji asked, flashing her a toothy grin before sending another glance towards the papers Omi was reading. The images of their four targets stared up at him with sullen expressions, photographs of them at various press conferences. A mission would be good. If he could wear himself out enough, there would be no trouble sleeping that night. If not, well...He would have a paycheck to drink himself to sleep with.


      Schuldich pushed the car door shut behind him and tilted his head back to gaze up at the building they had just arrived at. His teammates were exiting the car as well, and Schuldich glanced over his shoulder at Crawford. The American met his gaze for a brief moment, honey brown eyes assessing. It was only from years of wearing the expression that Schuldich could curve his wide mouth into a smirk. Inside he still felt sick. The car ride over had been...suffocating. The headache had dropped back to being a dull pain but through the throbbing, one thing had been perfectly clear:

      The trip had been quiet.

      His mind had not carried Nagi's calm thoughts, nor had it been tangled in Farfarello's eagerness for the upcoming assassination. After spending most of his life riding around with the world in his brain, being privilege to only the faintest sensation of a humming in the back of his thoughts- a soft, nonsensical droning- was more than enough to bother him.

      To cover up his discomfort, he slipped on his familiar confident mask, turning to grin at Crawford and thrusting his hands in the pockets of the business pants he'd been ordered to wear. "So this is the place, eh? Nice."

      "It's just a hotel," Nagi pointed out, unimpressed as always. He glanced towards the car they had followed as their clients stepped out, straightening their ties and looking around a little nervously. Schuldich waved at them with a grin, and after a hesitation, the one in the lead beckoned, a silent command to follow.

      "Saa... follow the leader," Schuldich drolled, falling in with his group.

      Crawford led the way, as always, with the smirking German just two steps behind him. Farfarello walked behind him, his single golden eye taking in everything with a cold and calculating glance. Nagi was in the rear, ready to restrain Farfarello if necessary, or turn on any attacks from behind. They worked as a group, fell into the patterns and rhythms they had instinctively picked up around each other. In a sick way, they were almost like a family.

      The Addams Family, maybe, Schuldich thought, his grin widening.

      And as he walked in the strong security of his 'family', his unease melted into the background.

      They took the stairs up to their floor to avoid risk of elevator complications, even though Schuldich knew Crawford would see it coming if such a thing were going to happen. Crawford and Nagi joined the men in their room while Schuldich and Farfarello were left to wait in the hall. The German made a gesture for Farfarello to follow him and padded down the hall towards an open door that a nearby sign declared to be a lounge. He flopped down on the couch, propping his hands under his head and crossing his legs at the ankles, content to stretch out on his back and gaze at the ceiling. Hopefully this wouldn't take long.

      Not that he would know when it finished, or what was going on in the room...

      He shoved those thoughts quickly away, humming a German tune under his breath. Farfarello was standing off to one side, long fingers picking idly at the threads of a fuzzy, oversized arm chair. A neutral silence fell between them, and Schuldich let his eyes slide closed.

      Things should get interesting sooner or later-- Crawford had experienced a vision on the way over. Evidently Weiss would be making an appearance.


      He began experimenting, stretching outward with his senses, searching for the thoughts of their clients. It unnerved him that even the low droning was gone unless he actively searched for it, now. Still, the thoughts of the men next door were muddled and incoherent.

      It was getting worse, he realized with a jolt, then clamped down on that thought and cracked an eye open to peer at Farfarello. He had no way of knowing anymore if some of his more insistent thoughts were audible in the bond.

      And if Crawford found out...

      If Rosenkreuz found out...

      He shuddered at the thought, then covered his uneasiness with a sneer and resettled himself on the cushions. There was no use thinking about things like that. Rosenkreuz wouldn't find out; he wouldn't let them. It was that simple.

      Simple...Right. He glanced up as his teammate crossed the room, watching as the Irishman sought out a new way to entertain himself. Apparently the threads weren't fascinating enough. The teenager stopped by the window and gazed outwards, silver flickering in his hands as he produced a knife from one of the many hiding places on his person. Fingertips brushed over the gleaming metal almost reverently, as if Farfarello was already imagining its clean surface stained with blood. The younger man was looking forward to Weiß's appearance...Any opponent would do, actually. It wasn't as if Schwarz would ever kill the other group; they were too useful as fall guys and to do the work Schwarz didn't feel like accepting.

      Not to mention that they were highly amusing.

      He stopped himself just in time from calling to his teammate mentally. He didn't need to make his headache reemerge. "Oi, Farf," he said lazily, hooking a leg over the couch arm. "Why don't you see how that nice curtain looks in little strips?"

      The Irishman turned slightly to study the thick, expensive drapes covering the window, fondling his knife. Without a word he strode over and seized a fistful of the soft cloth and methodically began cutting it into long tatters. Schuldich laughed.

      ~What are you doing?~

      He nearly fell from his chair at the sharp jab of pain that accompanied that thought. He hissed a German curse, clutching his head tightly in his hands and bending over. Across the room, Farfarello glanced over at him in mild curiosity.

      It took Schuldich a few moments to place the owner behind the voice. He managed to regain his dignity as the headache slowly ebbed. Crawford. Little bastard. It would figure that only that man would be able to get a direct thought through his fuzzy senses.

      ~Just waiting,~ he sent back as casually as he could, gritting his teeth at the pain. ~Go away.~

      Surprisingly, Crawford withdrew.

      Schuldich offered up silent thanks for small mercies. Farfarello continued to gaze at him for a moment longer, and Schuldich met his stare with his best "What are you looking at?" expression on. Farfarello said nothing, and silence fell between them. There was something penetrating about Farfarello's stare, and Schuldich fought back the urge to shift uneasily under his teammate's scrutiny. When the staring dragged on, however, the older assassin rose to his feet and stretched. Farfarello continued to watch him as he padded out of the room.

      He thought they had passed a water fountain when arriving on the hall, and he set off in search of it now. One hand rummaged in his pocket for his medicine bottle and he grimly shook a few into his open palm. They weren't working well so far, but somehow he felt that the act of taking medicine should do something. It worked for other things. What was that called- the placebo effect? If people could take sugar pills and think they felt better, he should be able to take real drugs and get _something_ from it. He couldn't keep this up for much longer, though; his bottle was starting to look empty.

      He finally spotted the water fountain and leaned against the button. As he was lowering his head to the water he heard another door open and glanced up. One of their clients was exiting the room and moving the opposite direction down the hall. Schuldich turned back to his task at hand and quickly swallowed the three pills. As he was straightening and wiping his mouth on the back of his hand, there was a gurgle and a thud at the other end of the hall. He shot a quick look that way to see their client sprawled on the ground, with Siberian of Weiß standing over his bloody body.

      Schuldich couldn't hide the quick look of surprise that flitted over his face as he stepped back from the fountain to lock eyes with the panting assassin.

      Siberian was watching him warily, claws held ready for offense or defense. Schuldich pasted on a sneer, though his stomach lurched with a sick feeling at the realization that he hadn't sensed the other's arrival at all. "Well, well, well," he said drolly. "Look what the cat dragged in."

      "Schwarz," the younger boy spat, and Schuldich noticed the mouthpiece he was wearing. Ah, no good. Soon all his other little flower friends would be here to help. He moved forward with frightening speed, watching smugly as the white assassin's eyes widened in surprise. He reached up with one hand to yank the com away, bringing his other arm down hard to deflect Siberian's instinctive upper-cut. "Naughty naughty," he tsked, and pushed the other boy roughly.

      Ken stumbled back, hitting the wall behind him with a grunt.

      Schuldich tossed the headpiece aside negligently. No need to get a headache by alerting his teammates to this interruption. He could handle this on his own. He grinned widely at the wary boy before him. "So you've come to play. How nice. You're not too well mannered, are you? I'll have to get Farf to declaw you sometime."

      "Out of the way!" Ken shouted, leaping for him.

      Schuldich evaded him with pathetic ease, watching him lunge past before elbowing him in the back.


      The boy cried out and landed clumsily. A door opened slowly, and the Berserker stepped out into the hallway, alerted by the noise. He gazed down at the sprawled boy with a hungry gleam in his eye, knife spinning idly in his hand. "God's angels have come to play," he murmured.

      Ken scrambled to his feet, quickly putting his back against a wall and glancing to each of them with wild eyes.

      Schuldich let a lazy grin spread on his lips, even as his thoughts were racing. Ken had gotten off a warning to his teammates, and they would soon be on the way. He started towards Ken, keeping a measured pace as if he had all the time in the world. In truth, he had very little time at all. He hadn't heard Ken coming; he wouldn't hear the others. He lifted a hand, and both assassins looked towards him.

      "Why don't you go scrounge up the rest of the kitties?" Schuldich asked his teammate, keeping an amused look trained on Ken. "There are more scampering around to hunt."

      Farfarello trailed the tip of his knife across his full lips, sparing only a moment for consideration before disappearing down the hall on silent footsteps. Schuldich glanced over his shoulder as he left but did not keep his eyes off of his opponent for long, not when he could not anticipate an attack. Schuldich had to use Farfarello as a buffer between Weiß and him, as irritating as that admission was. The German had long relied on his gift to give him the advantage in battle, whereas Farfarello used his senses.

      "Now then," Schuldich said, letting the smirk stretch wider on his lips as he turned his full attention on Ken.

      Ken brought his claws up in a defensive posture, edging slowly towards the side, never taking his eyes from his enemy. Schuldich glanced to the side at the room his prey was trying to get to. Of course. The clients. He grinned at the boy. "Where do you think you're going?" he demanded. "I thought we were going to play."

      "Kisama," Ken growled, and leapt for him, swinging his claws in a deadly swipe.

      Schuldich ducked and seized his arm, using the other boy's momentum to send him yelling into the water fountain.

      "Ouch," he said with false sympathy as Ken struggled to his hands and knees. "That had to hurt. You're not a very good dance part-"

      Something wrapped around his torso from behind, tightening faster than thought and bringing a quick gasp of pain from his lips. He twisted around, glaring at the man who had just emerged from around the corner, breathing hard, his fists tightened on his wire.

      "Caught you off guard, Schwarz?" Balinese growled, giving his wires a sharp tug. Schuldich winced as the pain intensified, the wire cutting through clothes into skin. He forced himself to grin at the other man impudently.

      "Another lost kitten. Don't you have anything better to do than waste my time, Weiß?" Then he leapt backwards.

      Yohji cursed, yanking his arms up in a frantic attempt to regain the tautness of the wire, but his enemy was too fast. Schuldich slipped his fingers under the wire that was wrapped around him and twisted, racing to get it off of him before Yohji could pull it tight again. The other assassin barely had enough time to dodge the fist that came for his face, but he couldn't avoid the next blow and went stumbling back.

      "Tsk tsk tsk." Schuldich shook his head at the other man, fingering his clothes. "You've gone and gotten my clothes dirty. Do you have any idea how much the cleaning bill is going to be?" His grin curled into a smirk as he watched Yohji ready himself for an attack. "Not as much, of course, as it will cost your friends to get put back together after Farfarello is through with them."

      "Go to hell!" Yohji snarled, leaping forward.

      There was a crash behind them. Yohji faltered midjump and Schuldich spared the quickest of glances over his shoulder. He had forgotten about Ken for just a moment; he had allowed the other man to get between him and Schwarz's clients. Now said assassin was crumpled against the wall opposite the room Crawford and Nagi were still in. There was a Ken shaped indent above his head and he let out a quiet groan.

      ~Go to hell, hm?~ Schuldich mused. ~Crawford's going to reserve a seat for me personally.~

      Nagi stepped calmly from the room, gazing down at Ken with cold indifference. Behind him, the clients were in a frenzy- probably angry now that the initial fright was gone that the assassin had been allowed to get so close.

      Schuldich took a step back so he could keep an eye on Yohji as he grinned at his partner. "Good throw, chibi."

      Nagi flicked him a scornful glance, and there was a murmur in Schuldich's mind. The German shrugged it off- it was probably a reprimand -and flapped his hand airily. "Maa, maa, chibi. I'm busy."

      "Ken," Yohji called, "daijabou??"

      Siberian picked himself painfully to his feet, glaring at the younger boy before him. Nagi gazed calmly back for an instant, then Ken was quite suddenly hurled down the hall towards the steps.

      "KEN!" Yohji shouted, instinctively making as if to run for him. Schuldich stepped quickly in front of him, grinning widely.

      "Not so fast, kätzchen. We're not through playing, yet."

      Ken seized the banister as he started to tumble down the stairs, his curses floating up to them. For some reason Schuldich found that funny, and laughed. Yohji's face contorted in hate.

      Schuldich's laughter cut off abruptly when a fist crashed into his face with enough force to send the telepath stumbling backwards. One hand instinctively grabbed the water fountain for balance and his eyes flew open wide, disbelief flickering on his face for a moment as he struggled to digest the fact that Yohji had just hit him. The other man seemed just as shocked by it as he, and a startled moment of silence passed between them. Schuldich reached up slowly to touch his face, fingering his cheek gingerly. That was going to bruise.

      Jade eyes narrowed and irritation flared. Frustration, confusion, and anger all rolled into one. Everything had been off-balance and rolling rapidly downhill since he had woken up this morning, and he had had enough. His lips thinned to a flat line and he leapt forward. Yohji could not match his speed and could hardly defend himself from the blows. Schuldich hooked his foot behind Yohji's ankle and kicked out, knocking the man's feet out from under him. He dealt the man's body a fierce kick as soon as he hit the ground before straddling the man's back and closing his fingers around Yohji's throat.

      Crawford's voice snapped like a whip, freezing him more effectively than any weapon. "Schuldich. That's enough."

      He turned to glare at the older man standing in the lounge doorway, watching him with a cool eye. "Get rid of him." Behind him, Nagi was calmly escorting the clients towards the stairs where Ken was getting unsteadily to his feet. "The location is being changed." He turned and followed the group of nervous clients. Nagi sent a brief, disinterested look towards Ken. The other man suddenly hit the hall behind him with a sound that was part thud and part crack before crumpling to the ground. He didn't get back up.

      Schuldich's lips curled in a silent snarl of frustration as he returned his narrowed gaze to the struggling man underneath him.

      "Balinese, can you hear me?" a worried voice asked over the com Yohji was wearing. Bombay. "There's a helicopter landing on the roof- are the targets taken care of?"

      Schuldich kept one hand firmly wrapped around his prey's neck, pressing his face brutally into the carpet and snatching the earpiece away with the other, raising it to his mouth, forcing his voice to sound light and condescending. "Sorry, Playboy isn't in right now. Please leave a message." He heard a sputtered exclamation of surprise and tossed the piece over his shoulder, attention back on the man he had trapped under his weight. "That was a lucky shot, Scheiße kopf. And a mistake. Unfortunately, I don't have time to play with you right now." Gritting his teeth in preparation for the pain, he sent out a quick thought. ~Come back, Farf.~

      Fierce pain flared, and then something frightening happened.

      Everything went silent.

      No murmuring, no dull hum in the background.


      Nausea struck out of nowhere and he fought back the violent urge to retch, rising to his feet. He gave Yohji another kick just for good measure before turning towards the stairs. As he started to rise he sent a quick look back, making sure the man wasn't coming. Balinese was on his hands and knees, fingers gingerly touching the side Schuldich's shoe had befriended. The other man sent him one last acid look before turning his gaze elsewhere, calling out a concerned "Ken?" Then he was out of view as Schuldich turned onto the next flight.

      He stopped halfway up the stairs, unable to stop the shudder that ran through his frame. He folded his arms tightly over his chest, leaning slightly against the railing as he stared towards the ground with unseeing eyes. He was shaking now and he fought to control it. The silence was deafeningly loud in his mind; all he could hear were his own thoughts, and they were clearer now than they had ever been before.

      For the first time in his life, Schuldich was the only one home upstairs.

      And he didn't like it one damn bit.

Part 2

das Schweigen brechen : to break the silence
Scheiße kopf: shit head