SYN: When You Gonna Learn?

Part One

      The fridge was pushed shut in disgust; he hooked a shoe around the corner to send it swinging on its hinge and it clicked neatly into place. The front of the fridge was a rather bare thing but it had enough: three plain red magnets and the calendar. A finger brushed along the paper and blue eyes followed its path as he sought out the date. Crawford never crossed out days; calendars were too important to completely block off a day like that. Instead he left little black crosses in the corner, and Schuldich looked until he found the first one without one. Tuesday; it was a Tuesday. He muttered thanks and turned away from the fridge, reaching up to brush his hair over his shoulders. Schwarz had absolutely squat in the way of food to eat, but Tuesdays boasted a special at one of the local Chinese places.

      He left the kitchen on socked feet, searching his pockets for his keys even as he remembered that they were hanging by the door, and he did a short mental query as he sought out his other teammates. Nagi had vanished hours ago and Farfarello was busy with Crawford. The telepath made a detour by the precognitive's office, rapping his knuckles against the wood. There was a distracted answer from inside and Schuldich tested the knob before opening it. Farfarello had a tendency to lock it half the time, and the first time Schuldich had tried to turn the knob and enter at the same time, he'd run right into the door.

      Farfarello still gave him a hard time about that.

      He hooked his hands on the doorframe, leaning into the room as he studied his teammates where they were working. Rather, Crawford was working, sitting at his desk with papers stacked everywhere. The computer screen was running through a line of code as he ran encryption on something, and Crawford was content to let it do its work while he did his. Farfarello took a moment more to find, and Schuldich arched an eyebrow at the Irishman where he was sitting under Crawford's desk. His arms were folded across the American's lap and his head was lolled to one side to rest a cheek to one pale bicep. He deigned to acknowledge Schuldich by cracking open a yellow eye, but he had no words to offer and he let his eye slide shut again as soon as he saw who it was.

      "Is now a bad time?" Schuldich asked.

      "Did you need something?" Crawford asked, turning a page in his stack and comparing notes with another file. Schuldich mentally translated his words as 'Fuck off' and grinned.

      "I'm going out," he said. There wasn't a response, and he let Crawford get halfway down the page before speaking again. "Hello, Crawford. Are you even listening to me?"

      "Out," Crawford repeated without looking back at him.

      "Out. Right. I'm going out. Any tips on what to wear, o fearsome meteorologist?"

      That got the other man's attention, and Crawford sent him a cool look over his shoulder. "I'm a level eight precognitive, Schuldich, who uses his talent for the benefit of our clients' corporate futures. I'm not your personal weatherman." Schuldich just grinned and Crawford turned back to his work, giving a quiet sigh that sounded almost aggravated. Schuldich figured either the work was getting to him or he really had knocked at an inopportune time. Who knew? Farfarello could just be pretending that he was about to take a nap. "Take a jacket."

      Schuldich laughed and pushed himself upright, reaching out to snag the doorknob. "Let me lock this for you," he said.

      "Why?" Farfarello asked without opening his eye. "The apartment's going to be empty."

      Schuldich just shook his head and tugged the door shut. He stopped by his room to grab a jacket, deciding that Crawford was useless as a precognitive. It was late fall in Tokyo; he wasn't quite stupid enough to go wandering around without something to keep him warm. He'd made the mistake of that when they'd first shown up, but that hadn't been entirely his fault. He was built wider than Japanese men and it had been hell to find something that fit that wasn't horrendously tacky. Crawford had ordered his jackets over the internet from an expensive clothing store in Europe somewhere, and Schuldich had worn a lot of sweaters until he'd finally found a green jacket that sat right. By that time he'd been too cold to really care that it was *green* and he'd been wearing it ever since.

      The fact that Takatori's least favorite color had been green had helped.

      He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror as he turned but wasn't interested enough to linger long; blue eyes met but didn't hold and he was already back out the door. Crawford's office was silent and he didn't slow as he passed, knowing better than to linger. The two were discrete for the most part; it wasn't in their personalities for them to advertise the fact that Farfarello had successfully managed to get Crawford to fuck him. Schuldich hadn't been surprised that Crawford didn't do anything to give it away, but it had taken a bit of thinking to decide that there wasn't a reason for Farfarello to say anything either. It suited them, both the silence and their pseudo-relationship.

      He took the stairs down from their fourth floor apartment, pressing the button for the sliding door that let him into the lobby. A delivery man was talking to the ladies at the front desk and he glanced up and stared as Schuldich swept by. The ladies didn't bat an eye and Schuldich didn't spare any of them a second thought as he stepped through the second set of doors and took the three steps down to the sidewalk. A bike careened by and he rocked back from it instinctively, flicking the youth an annoyed thought. The bikes had been a hard thing to adjust to when he'd gotten here; the first time he had picked up on a cyclist's mind it had confused the hell out of him. Minds had certain volumes depending on distance, and people in cars had very rapid crescendos before they vanished. Cyclists? They were different altogether and Schuldich hadn't been able to figure them out. As a consequence, he'd gotten his toes run over once or twice.

      Who knew bike crashes could be so much fun? Amazing how the cyclists just could lose complete control like that. Tsk.

      It wasn't very late and it was already getting chilly. He stuffed his hands in the pockets of his jacket to hug it tighter against himself and started off down the sidewalk, letting the wind toss his hair every which way. The sidewalks were busy but not crowded; a train had just arrived at the nearest station and a clump of elderly and school-age kids was scattering everywhere from the exit. It was too early for businessman rush hour, which was good enough for Schuldich, because he couldn't stand weaving his way through all of those dark suits. Salarymen were dry mental company- the shocker was that they were even more boring to listen to than the little old ladies. Schuldich had not failed to notice that the most flattering comments about his physique- and therefore the most disturbing- had come from the shriveled old biddies. It hadn't taken him long to figure out that he was happier not listening in on them if possible.

      He made his way through the small crowd, neatly dodging the few that ducked in and out of the nearest convenience stores, and turned on the little side street that would lead him down to the restaurant he was looking for. Further up the road a cat was chewing on something outside of a stationary shop and it ducked away as he passed. There'd been a time when it had been much more amenable to his presence. That had been before the first time he'd brought Farfarello with him to eat fried rice. Schuldich still wasn't really sure what the shop owner had thought of his cat coming home one day with only half a tail; he hadn't really bothered to find out. Nagi had been disgusted and Crawford had been tolerant, and Schuldich had decided the tolerance was a new thing and probably one of the perks of Crawford finally having a regular lay.

      It was a little early for the shop to be busy, so he ducked through the open doorway of the Ming Yat, letting the hanging curtain brush his hair as he stepped inside. There were stools at the counter and tables in the front, but Schuldich made his way towards the row in the back that had rice paper walls surrounding them. The waitresses didn't appreciate that he took up a whole table when he sat in the far corner, but he came to this place to eat, not to get gawked at, and if no one could see him, no one could distract him from his thoughts by thinking about him.

      The hostess followed him back to his table of choice to take his order, watching as he toed his shoes off to one side and seated himself on the straw mats. He ordered the same thing he did every time and she left to place it at the counter, returning just briefly with a glass and pitcher of water. Then she was back to her register to keep watch on the other customers and Schuldich contented himself to think of Schwarz's upcoming job as he sipped at his water.

      A job would do Schwarz good, he decided. It had been a while since their last one, not because there wasn't work available but because no one had what it took to buy out Schwarz's services. They'd all been drifting in the weeks since then, attempting to find other ways to keep themselves busy, and Schuldich was way past the point of being bored. Farfarello and Crawford could keep each other entertained to some degree and Nagi had taken to leaving the apartment more and more often, which left Schuldich to his own company with only his gift. He knew it was way past time for them to work again when he'd almost taken the newspaper ads about lessons at a nearby kendo dojo seriously. He was so *bored*.

      It took a few minutes more for his food to show up, and the waitress set his dishes neatly out in front of him and offered to refill his glass of water. He let her because he didn't care either way and didn't wait for her to leave before starting in on his rice. Authentic Chinese restaurant, the place boasted, and only one of the servers was really Chinese. Schuldich idly contemplated applying just to see the looks on their faces.

      The thought brought a smirk to his face and he stuffed his mouth full of rice again, glancing up from his plate towards where the lone Chinese woman had been relegated to hostess duties. His gaze never settled on her- the honey-haired man at the entrance caught his eye first. Sunglasses pushed up in wavy locks, laughing green eyes, and a dark green sweater- it was Weiss's Balinese, here in his Chinese restaurant for dinner.

      It was the youth standing at his side that had Schuldich choke on his rice, and he tilted himself out of view as he thumped at his chest. The rice paper wall hid him from view and he heard Kudou Yohji's voice grow louder as he approached. There was the creak of wood and the soft crunch of straw as he stepped up onto the small dais at the back, and Schuldich realized that meant he was sitting at the table on the other side of the wall from the telepath.

      "Smells good in here," Kudou was saying, sounding appreciative. "I've been looking for a good Chinese restaurant that's closer to the shop than that other one halfway around town. How did you find this place?"

      "Schuldich has an ad for it," was the response, and Schuldich tilted his head to one side, listening to the conversation. He told himself he had to be hearing things, because he *knew* Nagi wasn't really stupid enough to be socializing with Weiss's oldest assassin. "He doesn't really collect things, so if he actually brought an ad home, it meant it was worth looking into."

      "So you've come here with him?"

      "Oh, never with him," Nagi said, and Schuldich decided that meant he'd come here alone. It was that unspoken part that made him frown, because he'd never known that Nagi had come. He'd attempted to drag the boy here just once, the night he brought Farfarello, but Nagi had been too busy to bother "socializing" with his teammates. That was why Schuldich had brought the ad home, was to lay it out for Nagi to see what he was missing out on.

      The two placed their drink orders and asked the waitress for more time to think about their meal, and Schuldich listened to her sandals clack against the floor as she headed away to get their tea. He shifted, turning to sit sideways beside his table. It let him prop his back against the back wall and had the screen to his right, and he wondered if he was imagining things or if he really could see Kudou's silhouette through the rice paper wall. He crossed his legs and sat his plate of rice in it, eating as he shamelessly eavesdropped. It was annoying that the rice didn't taste as good now that Weiss was in the picture, and Schuldich wondered if it was Kudou's presence or the fact that he'd shown up here with Nagi, of all people. They weren't awkward around each other at all.

      Schuldich wondered if he'd missed the bulletin that Weiss and Schwarz were now on agreeable terms.

      ~There's a logical explanation for this,~ he informed himself. Schuldich didn't consider himself an optimist, because time at Rosenkreuz made it hard to retain any such character traits, but it was, to him, a realistic assessment. Nagi wasn't stupid, after all. He knew better than to associate with Weiss, or so Schuldich had thought, so the most likely reason for this was that Crawford had sent him here to keep an eye on Weiss. No, that didn't make much sense either. For starters, he was a telepath. And above and beyond that, Nagi's social skills sucked. Schuldich couldn't imagine Nagi acting well enough to make Kudou think he really was a safe person to talk to, and why would Kudou be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt anyway?

      He wanted to poke his chopsticks through the paper wall and demand to know what was going on. He knew better than to rummage around in Nagi's head, and Kudou had felt enough of his gift by now that he'd figure it out, too. If Nagi was here on some strange orders from Crawford, the last thing Schwarz needed was for him to think that Schuldich's telepathy was behind their easy relationship. But damn, he hated just sitting there listening to them talk without knowing what was going on. If this was one of Crawford's schemes, he would have told Schuldich, and Nagi would have had to get started a long time ago to get to this point. Schuldich would have picked up on it.

      "How's Aya?" Nagi asked.

      "As if you honestly care," Schuldich mouthed at his rice.

      "She's doing good," Kudou answered, and there was a smile in his words. Schuldich flicked the paper wall a quick look, doing a mental stumble over the female pronoun. It took him a minute to remember that Fujimiya's sister had woken up after the stress of the Estet ritual. The extensive testing they'd done on her and the removal of her life support systems had managed to kick start her again somehow. Schuldich had thought Schwarz should send Fujimiya a bill for Schwarz's involvement in her resuscitation; judging on how the man had been delirious for the first few months after her wakening, he probably would have paid it.

      "That's good," Nagi murmured, and Schuldich wondered at the complete absence of any sarcasm in his voice. Granted, he didn't sound like he was overjoyed to hear the news, but still. A little indifference would have been preferable to that easy acceptance.

      "Yeah… I keep telling Ran he should take her out of the city one of these weekends and get her some fresh air; it'll do her good. Omi thinks we should close up the shop and all go. Kritiker owes us a vacation anyway, and they have some getaway cabins out towards the mountains we could borrow for a few days without having to spend a lot of money."

      "I can't imagine taking a vacation with Schwarz," Nagi mused.

      "What, don't want to have a relaxing getaway with the rest of the mental ward?" Kudou asked, and the teasing tone had Schuldich giving the paper wall another odd look. He didn't bother to be offended by the comment; Weiss's opinion meant jack to him and he'd heard similar words enough times that they'd ceased to mean anything a long time ago. But that *tone*… Schuldich was quickly losing his appetite. He wanted answers from Crawford, not that he'd get any anytime soon. He wanted-

      Nagi gave a quiet laugh, and that easily derailed Schuldich's line of thoughts.

      Nagi didn't *laugh*. It was a fact of life that the boy's vocal cords didn't produce such noises. Schuldich put his plate back on the table, feeling mildly disturbed. "I'll pass," was the murmured response, but Schuldich didn't really hear it. He pushed himself up, uninterested in hearing anymore of their conversation, and dug his wallet out of his pocket. A quick push of his thumb opened it enough that he could see how much cash he had on him and he moved to the end of the table, stepping off the dais into his shoes. Kudou was starting to say something about the Koneko no Sumu Ie, but he cut himself off as soon as Schuldich took the one step to the side that put him right where they could see him.

      Nagi's expression closed off, whereas Kudou looked like he'd just bitten down on something hard. Green and blue locked and Schuldich let his lips curl into a slow smirk that he didn't really feel. The expression made his breezy words easy; unlike Nagi, he'd never had any problems with acting. "Hello, Kudou," he drawled. "How are the kittens doing these days? We haven't seen them in so long."

      "Schuldich," Kudou said, a little warily.

      "Kudou," Schuldich returned easily.

      "Schuldich," Nagi started.

      "Nagi," the telepath cut in. "I'm so glad we all remember each other's names." He opened his wallet again, digging through the bills. The thousand-yens were propped between his lips so he could tuck his wallet back into his pocket and he reached up to pull them free, wiggling them at Nagi. "You know, I'd thought that I was bored enough to seek out remedial jobs, but you take the cake, Naoe, and I resent you for making me lose my appetite."

      "Schuldich…" Nagi tried again, but Schuldich was already turning away and heading for the register. ~You're not going to tell Crawford, are you?~ he asked, and there was a hesitancy to the mental question that Schuldich really didn't like. The thought that Crawford didn't know about this made it worse than he had suspected, and Schuldich struggled with the thought that the apparent friendship between the two was real. He'd been joking about his appetite before, but now he wasn't so sure.

      "I'm not telling Crawford anything anytime soon," Schuldich tossed back carelessly as he handed over his money. "He's too busy getting sucked off by Farfarello to give a damn what you're doing."

      The conversation at the nearest table stuttered to a halt and the authentic Chinese restaurant's lone Chinese woman dropped Schuldich's change all over the floor. She stammered apologies as she stooped to scoop it up and Schuldich could feel Nagi's glare boring into the back of his head for saying such things in public. Schuldich didn't really give a damn what Nagi thought and held out his hand for his change when the lady was done collecting it all. She didn't look back at him as she turned it over and her cheeks were scarlet as she mumbled out a few customary words of gratitude for his business.

      He was halfway down the street when Nagi caught up with him, and Schuldich decided he wasn't that surprised that the youth had come hurrying after him. "Schuldich, wait!" the telekinetic called, and Schuldich idly debating whether or not to keep going. In the end he stopped, because it was better to stop of his own free will than to have the other's power stop him in his tracks. He turned to watch as the other drew near and stuffed his hands in his pockets again, arching an eyebrow at his youngest teammate.

      "What do you need now?" he asked. "I already said I wasn't going to tell Crawford. Life's a lot more fun when I can hold this over your head; why would I go and talk to him about it?"

      Nagi gave him a cool look at the hint of blackmail, completely unimpressed. "You weren't supposed to have been there tonight," he said.

      "What, did you check with Crawford before you left earlier? I'm sure that would have been a fun conversation. 'Hey Crawford, is Schuldich going to eat at the Ming Yat tonight? Oh, no reason, no reason, and don't probe too far into the future to figure out why I'm curious or anything.' Smooth, Nagi, really smooth."

      "You really like the sound of your own voice, don't you?"

      "You must like the sound of his, and I'm being honest when I say I like mine better." He gave himself a mental pat on the back when Nagi couldn't come up with an immediate response. The youth folded his arms across his chest, sending a scowl off to one side as he struggled for an intelligent answer, and Schuldich rolled his eyes and started to turn away. "The things I never wanted to know about you," he said with a dramatic sigh.

      Nagi reached out, catching his elbow, and Schuldich neatly pulled his hand free. The move brought a familiar scent to his nose and he frowned, lifting Nagi's hand to sniff at his fingers. It didn't take the telekinetic but a moment to figure out what he'd picked up on and his hand closed into a fist as he tugged it free. "Mind your own business, Schuldich."

      "You smell like his cigarettes."

      "Mind your own business, Schuldich," Nagi repeated, flatter now.

      "Tch. You're a disappointment," Schuldich decided.

      He saw the youth's reaction in his dark eyes, in the way the youth flinched back slightly, but Nagi's tone was as hard as ever. "I do what Crawford orders me to and I do it better than you could," he said. "I know my place in Schwarz and I've never shirked from what I'm told. Outside of Schwarz, I'm free to do what I want and associate with anyone I want, and as long as I remember that I'm Schwarz, you don't have the right to call me to order."

      Schuldich laughed at him. "Where'd you get that spine?" he asked. "Was there a discount sale at Jusco or did he fuck it into you?"

      Nagi's opened his mouth but Schuldich reached out, curling his fingers around the youth's chin and giving his head a slight jerk back. It was enough that his mouth shut and Schuldich thought he heard his teeth click. "Hate to break it to you, Nagi, but Schwarz is life. There is no you outside of Schwarz; it's ridiculous of you to even entertain such a thought." He let go, pushing Nagi as he did so to send him stumbling back a foot. "Go back to your dinner," he said, turning away. "And don't go back to the apartment for a while. The boss is probably still busy."

      "I despise you," Nagi sent after him.

      Schuldich just laughed. "Sticks and stones, brat; I think your rice is getting cold."

      He didn't look back to see if Nagi turned immediately to return to his companion, and he kept walking for several blocks after he'd passed Schwarz's apartment building. At last he came to a stop near a convenience store and propped himself against the glass windows, blue eyes watching the traffic zoom by. He was suddenly without a place to eat or an apartment to go back to, and in the end he ducked into the store to buy some random onigiri. They had a little bench in one of the corners and he sat there to chew on his rice, thoughts a few streets away on the unlikely pair eating dinner in *his* restaurant.

      Nagi was going to have a hell of a time explaining himself.

Part 2
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