SNAFU: The World According to Schuldig

Part Twenty
Who says I'm a mistake?

    We make for some whacked out assembly, all twelve of us standing around Schreient's place. Weiß is decked out in their idea of battle regalia, which, although it's better than Schreient's attempt by a long shot, looks a bit clumsy for killing people in. They're attempting to make a statement by showing up like this. They haven't agreed to work with us, because they don't know yet exactly what we want from them, but they're ready for a fight if they decide to walk away and Schwarz won't let them. I'm not really sure what a sword, some darts, some claws, and a bit of string are supposed to do against Nagi's telekinesis or that sadistic gleam in Farfarello's eye, but I opt not to point this out yet.

    Everyone is silent as Crawford explains the situation to Weiß, but the way he lays it out is tilted in their favor. Rather than making it sound like Big Bad Schwarz needs help, he manages to make it sound like their precious Japan will be in grave danger if Estet should win this fight. If it weren't for the fact that we'd have to die to let Estet win, I'd vote we step aside and let them have the country.

    There's silence for a long minute after Crawford finishes and then the little one in charge, Tsukiyono Omi, reaches out and presses his fingers against Hidaka Ken's arm. My first thought is that it's a need for reassurance, but in the next moment, he's letting go and Hidaka is turning away. His move signals the other two and Tsukiyono stands there and gazes across the room at Crawford as they leave.

    "I need to talk to my team," he says simply, and he follows them out of the room. Nagi closes the door behind them before Tsukiyono can get it, a subtle reminder of just what they're messing with here, and the remaining eight of us wait.

    I look over at Crawford, then resolutely look away, but there's not much to look at. Nagi is a stranger, Farfarello makes my skin crawl, and Tot looks odd in her gear. She's dressed more for a concert than she is a bloodbath against a monstrous corporation like Estet. A skintight crimson tube top stops a good hand-span above her belly button. Dark arm bands hug her arms from her biceps down to her wrists and her skirt is short enough that it doesn't leave much to the imagination. I guess the boots make up for that.

    I reach out and poke at the white band that goes around her throat and she smiles up at me before turning and striking a pose. "Does Schuldig like?" she asks, skipping the Japanese she knows I can understand now to talk to me in German. It makes me feel a little bit better, but I still scowl at her.

    "I can see your bra through that shirt. Why's it have to be so tight?"

    She looks down at her shirt, which really is pulled tight enough across her breasts that I can see the bumps of lace. She cocks an eyebrow up at me, looking confused. "So?" she wants to know. "You've seen it! Already!" She catches at the collar of her shirt and pulls it down enough to show off half an inch of blue lace, as if proving that I've already seen it on her.

    "So has half of Tokyo, you immodest dork," I tell her, batting her hand away and pulling her shirt back up into place.

    She pouts a little at that. "Tot has breasts. She might as well show them off."

    "Why?" I want to know. "My mother was always showing hers off and they never made her look any better."

    Tot's pout just deepens. "Tot isn't pretty?"

    This is going nowhere, so I give up and switch into Japanese. "I didn't say that," I tell her impatiently. "You just don't need to hang out all over the place to look good. I'd rather you weren't flashing half of the world tonight. You're just going to draw more attention to yourself than you need to and I don't care if you have a spiky umbrella, you're still putting me on the spot to make sure no one plays 'X Marks the Spot' with your cleavage and shooting you or worse."

    Tot gazes up at me in silence for a minute before looking down at her shirt, and at length she turns and leaves. Schreient is sending measuring looks my way that I ignore and Tot is back before Weiß is. She's wearing the same shirt but she's pulled a sleeveless black jacket on over top. It doesn't do much to help but at least she tried, and she settles down beside me to wind an arm through mine.

    I just sigh and pull my gun out. "Is the safety on or off?" I ask Nagi where he stands on my other side.

    The switch clicks as he pushes it with a thought. "Off."

    "You sure?" I ask, eyeing the weapon. "If I aim this at someone and they end up shooting me first, I'll throw it at your head."

    "No worries!" Tot assures me. "Tot will protect you!"

    "Pffft, whatever. Just keep your retarded ass out of my way."

    Tot frowns up at me. "No!" she says. "I'm Schuldig's bodyguard!"

    "That makes me feel so much safer."


    "Don't mock her dedication to you," Hel tells me, propping her hands on her hips as she considers me over Tot's head. "Schreient was hired as Schwarz's bodyguards. Until we reached this confrontation, it was our job to help make sure Schwarz stayed together. Now that it's come, we're extra bodies in the way. If it comes down to Schreient or Schwarz getting shot, let Tot take the bullet and worry about your own team. She knows what she's doing."

    "Don't tell me what to do," I send back at her. "If Tot gets shot I'll have no one to go shopping with."

    "I think your priorities are out of order."

    "I think the hired help shouldn't voice opinions their masters didn't ask for."

    I can see a muscle in her jaw twitch, but she doesn't answer me. Score one for me. I pat Tot's head with the butt of my gun because both of my hands are full and follow the weight of prickling stares to see Nagi and Farfarello are watching us. Crawford is sifting through originals of the files he copied for Weiß regarding Silvia and Estet, too busy to pay attention to whatever I'm doing.


    I open my mouth to complain about being ignored, but Crawford beats me to speaking. "And Weiß?" he wants to know.

    I scowl a little at being cut off but listen to the four voices that are gnawing back and forth behind my thoughts. They're torn, not sure whether or not to trust the story Crawford told them and not sure they can risk walking away. They don't want to work with people like Schwarz but they can't just let a group like Estet have Japan. Such a heavy moral debate. People with morals are amusing.

    "Who knows," I answer.

    "I suggest you convince them," Crawford tells me. "It was your wish to bring them into this."

    "My genius, you mean," I send back at him. "It took you months to get Schwarz and Schreient ready for this. It took me just fifteen minutes to get us four more bodies, and I haven't killed any of Schwarz to do it."

    Tot tugs anxiously on my arm. "Schuldig is having a lover's spat?" she asks in German.

    "Yes," I tell her sourly. "He's sleeping in his own futon tonight."

    Nagi hesitates and flicks Crawford a quick look, but curiosity and disbelief win over discretion. "You didn't really sleep together, did you?" he asks me.

    "No," Crawford says before I can answer him.

    I forget my annoyed response in favor of staring at Crawford, and for several seconds, there's just silence in the room. Nagi's expression relaxes a little in what might be relief, but at my side, Tot's jaw has dropped. I think I have the whole suffocating fish look going on, too. "You slimy-" I start, but Farfarello speaks up.

    "Yes they did," he intones.

    Round two of the silence thing starts. I think I win this time. In fact, I'm feeling quite smug until I realize one very important thing. When Crawford told me, "I don't know", it wasn't because he didn't know the reasoning behind sleeping with me.

    It was because he didn't know for sure it had happened.

    Crawford just looks at Farfarello and Farfarello just looks back, and the two eye each other with closed-off looks on their faces for a solid minute. I look back and forth between the both of them with a gnawing feeling somewhere in my stomach, barely noticing the signaled conversation between Tot and Nagi that ends with a stunned look on Nagi's face. Farfarello is the first of the two stone faces to move and he lifts one shoulder in a shrug.

    "Your mistake."

    "Who says I'm a mistake?" I demand huffily. Farfarello slides a look my way that says more than words ever could- especially when I can hear the thoughts that go with it- and I aim a kick in his direction. "Shut the hell up, you potato munching retard."

    Farfarello smiles and it squishes the fight right out of me. I can't stop myself from jerking my gaze away and I tug at my arm, trying to get it free from Tot's death grip. "I'm going to go convince Weiß," I mutter sulkily, and she lets go of me.

    I leave them all behind me, Schreient wondering what's going on and Schwarz trying to figure out whether or not we're going to deal with this personal issue just hours away from getting ourselves mutilated by Estet. Something is chewing at the edges of my thoughts, something that doesn't fit quite right about this new heads-up, but I'm too mad to figure it out at the moment. "Used" is a heavy understatement for how I feel right now. Crawford orchestrated all of this months and months ago, and I can't do anything but play along. The one thing that happened that wasn't part of his precious planning is something he doesn't remember happening- or that is so far tucked beneath his restored mind that he's probably dismissed it as a hazy dream.

    Spider eating bastard. I knew Americans were a Bad Thing. Mom always said so.

    Weiß is arguing two doors down, but they drop the argument the second I show up in the doorway. I eye my wrist pointedly, never mind the fact that I don't know where my watch is. I bought one when I was out with Tot one day, but I'm not used to having a watch, so I keep forgetting to actually put it on. The gesture is enough, anyway.

    "Tick tock," I say in case they missed the reference.

    "I don't trust you," Hidaka says bluntly. "I don't trust your group's intentions."

    "Crawford already explained it all," I tell him, sprawling against the doorframe. "We don't give a shit about what happens to Japan. We just aren't interested in clocking out yet. You can worry about Japan and we'll worry about the fact that we don't want to die."

    "It still is against our group's principles to side with a group like yours," Tsukiyono points out, "even excused under Machiavellian reasoning."

    I want to ask what the hell a Machiavellian is, but I laugh at him instead. The fact that these four assassins can think themselves to be so just and righteous despite their line of work is just amazing. They certainly would never show up in Japan because some smiling freak in a jail cell said it would be a good idea, and like hell they'd stand guard while people sold cocaine and the like. I think about bloody floorboards and fruit bowls and policemen and fire, and my thoughts fall on faces too numb from exhaustion and horror to look afraid.

    Maybe these four wouldn't do such things, but they're Weiß. I'm Schwarz. I'm the Mastermind.

    But that doesn't mean I don't have any choices, either.

    "Here's a bonus, then," I announce. "If you're good enough to walk away tonight, I'll give you a present."

    "My survival instincts tell me I don't want any sort of present you've thought up," Kudou says.

    "We helped Takatori's ring bring twenty-three little Korean peeps into the country," I say, and that shuts them all up. I hold a hand out at my side to indicate height, giving them a good enough guess at what age the oldest of the children probably was. "Child pornography, black market slavery, fill in the rest of the blanks yourself. If you fight tonight, then you get to walk away feeling like heroes. If you live tonight, then you get to save twenty-three children from such a thing, because I'll tell you where they went."

    Expressions have shut off down the line and they stare back at me with faces carved from stone. It's amazing how dead their faces can look when I can hear how alive and hot their thoughts are. I can practically taste their revulsion.

    "Don't bargain with children like that," Hidaka says at last, low and rough and raw.

    "I'm not," I answer him, my own smile curving into something that's all ice. "I'm warning you to survive."

    It takes them a few seconds to respond and Tsukiyono is the first to find words. "Are you working for Takatori's ring or not?"

    "I already told your disillusioned little dye job over there: I work for Crawford. Takatori's just the one who gives me money to spend on nikuman."

    They look at each other, weighing each other with their gazes as they hold a silent debate. I can listen to their thoughts all slide in our favor but they know each other well enough by now that they don't need words. They all end at the same conclusion and turn resolutely to me.

    "Promise us that you'll give us the kids," Tsukiyono says in a quiet voice.

    "Pfft, I'm not giving you kids. I'm giving you directions. You have to do all the hard work of killing people yourselves. Just don't tell anyone that Schwarz sent you. I'd like to still have a job when all is said and done."

    There's no way they believe I'm doing this for the kids' sake, so instead they wonder just what terrible monsters Estet must be if Schwarz is selling out their clients to get Weiß's help. They're somehow not stupid enough to feel smug at being recruited by people like us, since they know it's more of a demand for more bodies than a cry for help of any sort. The order of people that are allowed to die starts with the ugliest Weiß and ends with Tot and Crawford and me. Still, they're not afraid of what's coming- there's just that grim resolution and dedication to twenty-three unknown faces. I don't know whether to be impressed or feel a little exasperated over that single-mindedness of theirs.

    All that really matters is that they follow me out of the room.

    Tot is waiting for us in the hallway and she taps her umbrella against her cheek. "Time to go!" she announces cheerily. "Everyone is already going downstairs. Estet will reach Tokyo in an hour. We should be ready!"

    "Tell Crawford we agree," Tsukiyono says.

    Tot just laughs. "He knows!" she answers with a small little smirk. "Schuldig! We go!"

    She laces her fingers through mine and prances down the hall at my side, and Weiß hurries after us. Schreient is loading up into two different vehicles in a parking garage downstairs and Tot gives me a peck on the cheek "for luck!" before following after Birdie. Weiß splits up into four different vehicles, apparently more interested in saving lives one measly existence at a time than they are in saving the environment, and Schwarz has nowhere to go but into one car.

    Farfarello and Nagi take the backseat, leaving me to ride passenger. Crawford is the last to get in the car, as he's busy talking directions with Hel and Weiß, and I slouch low in my chair to watch him through the windshield. I'm not particularly happy about having Farfarello where I can't see him. At least I can hear him, though his mind is loud and sharp enough that he might as well be breathing down the back of my neck.

    The best way to ignore Farfarello is to pick up the argument right where we left off. "Yes we did," I insist stubbornly.

    "We'll figure it out later," Nagi says slowly. "For now, maybe we should worry about Estet."

    "Why?" I demand archly. "Crawford already said we'd win this time because we have me."

    Something hisses in the backseat; I can watch the parking garage lights flicker off the blade Farfarello's drawn. His mind is so focused on it that I can see it through his eyes and almost feel the icy touch of the metal against his fingertips.

    "She's mine," he says, barely a murmur, more of a promise to himself than anything else.

    "Because you handled her so well last time?" I send over my shoulder.

    "Don't," Nagi says quietly, but it's directed at Farfarello. I don't know if he's using his telekinesis or what, but it's enough to keep Farfarello from responding to that gibe either with words or his knife. He still flicks a bloody mental image my way, but he settles down and even puts his blade away again.

    "Oh," I say. "So Farfarello's the bitch in that relationship. I figured it the other way around."

    Yeah, me and my mouth. Good thing for all of us that Crawford gets in the car then.

Part 21
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