Part Seven: Broken Leash

    The nurse's shoes clicked as she moved down the tiled floor. Schuldich followed behind her, resisting the urge to rub his forehead. It wouldn't help the headache. Instead, he slid his hands into his pockets and gazed around with half-hooded eyes that gleamed cold amusement. Finally the woman moved and opened a door, waiting by it for him to enter first. He flicked her a glance that could have passed as dismissing and brushed past her. Farfarello was sitting on a bed. A crutch lay off to his side, ignored.

    Schuldich paused in front of him, taking in the bandages with a careful eye. They looked tight and well made. No sign of blood stained the material, which meant they'd secured the wounds well enough. /How are you feeling?/ Schuldich asked.

    Farfarello gave him a cool look. The Irishman had been forced by Schuldich's mental command to not attack the doctors. He'd convinced them beforehand not to drug Farfarello; the man did not tolerate shots well even if Schuldich gave them to him. To be given them by anyone other than Schwarz was to ask death for the man wielding the instrument. He'd wanted to attack them, and it had taken a good deal of willpower to make Farfarello promise not to harm them. Schuldich didn't care whether they lived or not, but there wasn't time for them to waste here.

    "I haven't been able to kill anyone tonight," was Farfarello's reply.

    Schuldich laughed softly across the bond and lifted Farfarello off the bed, setting him on his feet. The younger assassin studied him with an unreadable gaze. Schuldich knew what he was looking for from the crimson color to his thoughts. When Farfarello found blood on Schuldich's jacket, his eye lifted to meet the telepath's jade gaze. "It's yours, not mine," he told the cyclops. "You can even taste it if you want."

    Farfarello's lips parted enough for him to wet his upper lip with the tip of his tongue. The nurse chose that moment to approach them with the crutch. She offered it hesitantly. Schuldich eyed it thoughtfully. Farfarello was disdainful of the tool, but Schuldich accepted it. He flashed Farfarello a smirk. "Maybe we can find a use for it. I'm sure it will be a good toy."

    Farfarello turned his attention to it, considering this. Finally he nodded. Schuldich looped his free arm around his lover's waist, making each of them into props for the other. They picked their way out of the room and down the hall, ignoring those around them. /Aya,/ Schuldich called. /He's done./

    ~I'll meet you at the car,~ was Aya's response.

    /Ja./ Schuldich flashed out, entering the information Aya needed to know about Schwarz's home into his mind. Farfarello pushed open the glass door to let them out. The air outside was crisp and almost cold enough that their breath would create white puffs upon the air. Schuldich was content to bask in Farfarello's body heat as they waited beside Aya's car. They were not there long before Aya arrived and unlocked the doors. Both Schwarz climbed into the backseat and Aya made himself comfortable in the driver's seat. There was silence among them as Aya turned the engine on and pulled the car out of the parking lot.

    Schuldich allowed himself to enjoy the faint pressure from Farfarello as the Irishman sat close beside him. He'd almost lost Farfarello _again_. This time Crawford had had the vision to warn them of it, but he had kept it to himself. Why? He had "reasons". Faint anger stirred in Schuldich's stomach and he pushed it down. Not now. Later.

    The telepath tilted his head to one side, eyeing the slim throat of his partner. Farfarello was gazing out of the window to his left, presenting Schuldich with the graceful curve of his neck. Streetlights caused light to spill through the window in brief spurts that slid warm yellow glow over the foreigner, highlighting his vest and bared flesh. Schuldich was never one that was good at resisting temptation. He leaned in and lightly bit Farfarello's shoulder. The man stirred at the contact and turned his gaze away from the window to study Schuldich with a sort of anticipation. Schuldich smirked faintly in response before leaning in to grab Farfarello's lips in a rough kiss. Farfarello's fingers reached up, trailing along Schuldich's throat and cheeks in whisper-light brushes. Schuldich pushed his own hands under the hem of Farfarello's shirt, delighting in the way the muscles beneath the Irishman's stomach rippled as he applied his expert touch.

    "Don't do that in my car."

    Schuldich tipped his head back enough that he could meet Aya's gaze in the rearview mirror. "Why not?" he asked liquidly, smirk widening. Farfarello took advantage of his exposed throat and pulled himself up against Schuldich, nuzzling it and nipping at Schuldich's ear. His fingers wormed their way between the buttons on Schuldich's jacket, seeking flesh. Fingernails lightly scratched against the German's skin, caressing and causing tingles where they went. Schuldich's eyes slid closed in response and his lips parted into a silent sigh. He half-twisted in an attempt to help Farfarello find more skin.

    "Schuldich..." It was a warning.

    Schuldich forced his eyes open. Aya was staring straight out of the windshield. His grip on the steering wheel was tight enough to make his knuckles go white. Schuldich laughed softly. "Jealous?" he taunted.

    "I don't want you doing that in my car."

    Schuldich lazily disentangled himself from Farfarello. Farfarello's fingers closed on a button, resisting the lack of contact. Schuldich sent him a look full of promise. /Later./ Screw the medicine, screw the headache. He and Farfarello were going to have fun tonight. They'd been stopped multiple times during the day. Farfarello released his hold, accepting the offer. Schuldich settled for combing his fingers through the short and spiky white hair. "You should try it some time," he drawled.


    Crawford ignored the slight chill of the air, keeping his eyes on the parking lot ahead of him. He was waiting under the overhang of the apartments Schwarz occupied, waiting for a white Porsche to pull up. What a day this had been. It was hard to believe that it had been this morning that Ran had returned to Weiß. The events between then and now were too long. The days ahead would be longer. He gave a quiet sigh, then absently touched his cast.

    One week. Not even a week, actually. How quickly things could change. How mindblowing that one action could change everything. He'd had to grow accustomed to that concept as he'd refined his gift. This was the first time since he'd schooled himself that something could surprise him like this, that he was thrown off by how one thing could throw the whole future out of whack. If the building hadn't exploded...If he'd seen it coming...If he hadn't needed Aya to get out of the building...If Aya hadn't pulled him down the hallway to make sure they would both get out...If one thing had been different, Crawford would not have spent those days with Ran. Ran would have continued to be Aya of Weiß, if he'd lived. Crawford would continue to be Crawford, solitary leader of Schwarz.

    It was a disturbing thing to think about.

    Headlights caught his gaze and his eyes focused on the car that approached. He easily recognized it as Aya's. The car pulled up against the curb and his two teammates let themselves out of the back. Schuldich was practically wearing Farfarello. They said nothing to him as they stumbled past, dragging a crutch with them. Crawford ignored them as well, eyes focused on something more important: Ran.

    Ran's window was down and his amethyst eyes locked with Crawford's, seeking and finding something within his brown gaze. He turned off the engine and lowered his hands from the steering wheel, letting them rest in his lap. "I'd get out," he said quietly, "but I wouldn't be able to make myself get back in again if I did."

    "Is that a bad thing?" Crawford returned, just as quiet.

    Ran's lips thinned slightly and something flickered in his gaze. "I promised," he answered. "I promised I'd return home tonight."

    Crawford had no reply for that. He'd expected something like this. He quelled the urge to open Ran's door and pull him out, instead stooping to give him a kiss. Ran's lips were pliant under his, and he felt the younger man's slim fingers threading through his hair. Crawford lost contact of reality, knowing and existing only in the feel and taste of his lover. His own hands cupped Ran's face, the only reachable part of the man, as they drowned in the forbidden love between them. Only a need for air made them pull apart, and their faces hovered mere inches away from each other. He could feel Ran's breath on his face, could see the glittering in his eyes from the brightness of longing and desire.

    "I want to stay tonight." It was a soft admission.

    "Aa," was all Crawford could manage to answer before Ran tilted his head in, catching his lips once more. Flesh slid over soft flesh as tongues gently probed and teased. Fingers caressed flesh with a teasing tenderness. Assassins forgot who they were and basked in the sensation of being whole and loved.

    And then Ran drew back. His eyes were murky, drugged from the slow kisses. "I have to go," he managed to whisper.

    Crawford wanted to tell him no. Instead he kissed Ran's forehead and stepped back. "You know where we live."

    "Aa." Ran's hands refastened themselves to the steering wheel and he turned his gaze out the windshield.

    With a great show of self-discipline, Crawford stepped back. There were several moments of silence as Ran tried to pull himself back together. Finally he turned the key in the ignition with his slender fingers and the car pulled away from teh curb. Crawford watched him go. Even after the automobile had disappeared he remained where he was. Ran had good judgement. If he'd stayed any longer neither of them would have been able to get him home again tonight.

    Crawford turned his back on the lot and headed inside. He was not worried, truly, about Ran being late and bothering his teammates with his tardiness. He cared very little about Weiß. The assassins were no match for Schwarz, they were naive, and they had faulty personalities. They had more strained relationships than Schwarz despite their boasts of friendship and goodness. Ran, for example, had been with them for a few years now, yet none of them truly understood him. They had gained his friendship, but the bonds were faint. Friendship was weak because Ran would never give them more than the most meager offerings of himself, not even to Yohji. Schuldich had given Crawford insight to all of the links within Weiß during the day as he trailed the events in the other household. The information was enough for Crawford to see Ran was more relaxed in Schwarz's presence than Weiß's.

    As for the others of Weiß...Kudou Yohji drowned his sorrows and guilt in liquor and the embraces of faceless women. Hidaka Ken could not and would not ever fully accept his role in life. Tsukiyono Omi hid his pains under a smile and the need to put others before himself, a reflex done to protect his mind from the agonies of his past.

    Schwarz...Schuldich fully accepted and reveled in what he was and what he did. His gift was his power and his downfall and he worked his way through both the way he wanted. He was efficient and loud, and dispensed his opinions freely. His psychic bonds to Schwarz were stronger and more permanent than friendship. Farfarello was both dominant and submissive, a perfect assassin who loved the hunt and success of a kill. Everything he had that he kept from Crawford and Nagi he gave to Schuldich. Nagi was intelligent beyond his years. He listened to orders because he had sense to follow them, but was also smart enough to question them. Schwarz was all he had, so he would stick to it and to them.

    Both groups were made up of dysfunctional members, but Schwarz learned to use that while Weiß denied it. Perhaps that was why Ran was more at home with Schwarz- the foreigners did not bother to hide who and what they were. They accepted everything and were each other's lines to sanity and success.

    Crawford had made it to the suites. He let himself through the door and locked it behind him. The lights were off- he'd turned them off upon his exit and his teammates had not bothered to turn them back on. He had no doubts as to where the two were now. Schuldich had chosen to drown the pain of his headache with something more addicting than the stolen medicine. He picked his way through the living room towards his own bedroom, letting the tendrils of a vision ebb over him. Tomorrow there would be talk between Schuldich and himself. The telepath had plenty to say about Farfarello's wounds and plenty to be told about where the future was going next. So many things were building up...Even the slightest of touches could send everything crashing down on top of them again. They must all walk carefully from here on out.

    As he entered his room, another vision melted into his mind: a white bed, messy from some struggle, sheets disrupted, pillow sliding off the side, and wilted flower petals scattered everywhere. Then the scene was replaced by the view of his bedroom. Crawford paused, trying to decipher what it was saying to him. An empty bed?

    His thoughts would be clearer in the morning. Crawford brushed the vision aside to go over upon waking up the next day and began to dress for bed. As he finally sat himself onto the mattress, a stray observation wormed itself into his consciousness-

    It would be strange to sleep alone.


    There was only one light on when Aya entered the shop, and it was the light in the kitchen. He made his way towards it, walking carefully through the dim shop so he would not bump into the plant stands. Four faces sat around the kitchen table- Birman, Manx, Yohji, and Omi. All but Yohji looked up upon his entrance. Aya had the feeling that Yohji was avoiding his gaze. His eyes lingered on the man's face before trailing to the others. Omi dropped his eyes to his hands, which he had folded in his lap. The two Kritiker agents caught his stare and held it.

    "Where were you?" It was Birman that spoke first.

    "I dropped Schwarz off at the hospital to get tended to and to find a cab home." Aya leaned to one side, resting his shoulder against the doorframe. Another interrogation...What would the results of this one be?

    "You were gone too long to just do that," Manx pointed out.

    Aya lifted his free shoulder in a dismissing shrug. "I checked on my sister as well. I have not seen her in a while. Is that a problem?" The last words were spoken coolly and directly to Manx. Her lips thinned.

    "Why did you aid Schwarz?" Birman broke in before Manx could reply. Her eyes reflected a curiosity towards his manner of speech and pose. "It would be better if all of Schwarz were dead. When you realized that you would not be able to carry through on that, it would have been best if you'd stepped aside and let Yohji finish them off."

    Mental images of Yohji's wire sinking into Schuldich and Farfarello flashed through Aya's mind. He pushed away from the doorway to approach the table, eyes dark. "You are wrong," he said coldly, placing his hands on the table. "They were not our target tonight. There was no pressure to kill them."

    "They are not targets of now and then, Aya, they are permanent targets," Birman answered.

    Manx was speaking almost before Birman was finished, voice raised to command attention. "And what would you do," she asked, voice as brittle and icy as Aya's, "if you were ordered against them?"

    Aya turned to look her full in the face and answered flatly, without hesitation. "I would refuse."

    They'd known but dreaded that he would say that. He could see it in their eyes. Yohji finally looked at him, his expression both disbelieving and angry. Omi tensed. Aya forced himself not to look at his friends, keeping his eyes locked with the agents. They slowly stood, faces stony. Birman's eyes were wary. It was her that he looked at now. "Whether you accept it or not," he spoke, voice low but strong, "Schwarz aided me. They did it for entertainment's purpose, but their action changed everything. I met the people behind the group. Because of that, I will never raise a weapon against them again."

    "Consider what you just said," Manx said quietly. "Think about the ramifications of those words."

    "I don't need to think. I said what I meant."

    Aya knew as he was saying it that he was putting a permanent wall between Kritiker and himself- and possibly between himself and Weiß. Even with his attempts to keep both Weiß and Schwarz, he was losing one. The taste in his mouth was bitter.

    Manx inhaled quietly and slowly, sucking air between her lips. "I see." She paused for a moment. "You are so hasty to make a decision that will put the care of your sister in jeopardy."

    It was a low blow that sank into Aya's stomach with the touch of venom, but he forced his expression to remain unchanging. There was finality in his words as he struggled to speak them calmly. "You are only upset because I am no longer playing by your rules. I am pulling free from the leash you have me on and you don't like that. I am no longer Kritiker's puppet."

    She said nothing else, but left. Birman followed quickly, and the sound of a door slamming resounded loudly through the air.

Part 8