SYN: When You Gonna Learn?

Part Eleven

      The next week was one of the quietest at their apartment, though it would be an outright lie to call it peaceful. In general, peace implied some sort of harmony and balance, though Rosenkreuz tended to define it as the absence of a need to see each other dead. Both definitions were in a shorter supply than usual in Tokyo that week.

      Crawford kept his team occupied with paperwork and research that week and for once not even Schuldich complained about the busywork. It was something to think about that wasn't Nagi or Kudou and that was good enough for now. It didn't erase the silent tension between Schwarz's telepath-telekinetic pair and it couldn't dull the edge from heated dreams, but he'd take what he could get.

      Not talking about it didn't mean he wasn't thinking about it. No matter how many stacks of paperwork he went through, no matter how many files he organized and slotted away, no matter how many surveillance videos he had to transcribe, it was still there. In the breath between his thoughts, it ate away at his mind. What-if warred with Why-should-I-give-a-damn until he wasn't sure which side was which anymore.

      It was the first time Schuldich had ever had anything bothering him like this and the fact that it should be completely ridiculous wasn't lost on his irritated mind. He was driving himself crazy over sex. Or was it about sex? Was it sex, or that ridiculous notion called a relationship, or his right to make his own decisions without Rosenkreuz's say-so, or--? He didn't know. It didn't help that Farfarello had challenged his initial decision to just walk away a week ago. Farfarello was a psychopath, but he wasn't stupid. If he was, Schwarz would have no place for him. Crawford, in particular, would have no use for him. From what Schuldich had learned thus far, sex wasn't good enough to justify one's existence.

      For seven days, he drove himself quietly mad as he tried to extricate himself from such thoughts, and then abruptly, everything changed. At the one-week mark, things did an about-face and went back to normal. They had no choice but to revert back to how things had been before. As Crawford had told Schuldich once already, telepaths were too present-minded to be able to stick to one thing. The only reason he'd lasted a week without reminders outside vague, fleeting dreams was because the ordeal had been damaging to his psychological structure.

      At seven days, he knew it had happened, but it meant nothing to him, and it was tucked into the back of his thoughts. He didn't even notice the switch from important to irrelevant, and instead started his day bored and ready for the next bit of real entertainment. Crawford answered that by handing a new stack of paperwork to go through, and Schuldich scowled at it.

      "Aren't you done squandering our talents yet?" he asked.

      "I need it back by noon," was all Crawford answered.

      "I swear you're just giving me copies now," he complained. "Where the hell is all of this coming from?"

      "Corporate mergers and takeovers provide a lengthy paper trail," Crawford said as he filled two mugs with coffee from the pot. Schuldich knew better than to think either of them was for him. "Takayama has been neglectful in his file-keeping."

      "He'd better be paying an arm and a leg for this. I can feel my brain oozing down my spine in a bid for freedom. Isn't it time to blow things up yet? Drug lords? Kittens? Children?"

      "Now that you've stabilized, perhaps it is."

      "Don't say 'perhaps' just because you like the sound of the word," Schuldich sent at him, arching an eyebrow at Crawford's back as the older man collected his mugs and started for the door. "Level eights don't believe in 'maybes' and 'perhaps'. What do you mean, stabilized?"

      But Crawford was already gone, and Schuldich made a rude gesture at the empty doorway. "Stabilized," he muttered to himself, and he pulled his newest stack closer.

      He'd taken over the entire table by the time Nagi finally came in for breakfast. The telekinetic's stomach couldn't handle eating for the first hour or two after he woke up. Schuldich had found it annoying back when they'd had to eat all of their meals together, since they'd had to set breakfast to Nagi's clock and early morning jobs meant their team breakfast consisted of standing in a line or circle and munching energy bars. Now he was used to it and he just pushed his papers around to clear a spot.

      "Don't you dare spill," he warned Nagi as he finished rearranging stacks. "You mess any of this up and you get to ask Crawford for copies to start over again."

      Nagi didn't answer that. "Nagi," Schuldich said. "I'm talking to you."

      "…I know," Nagi answered at length, and Schuldich glanced over his shoulder at the tone. The look on Nagi's face was carefully neutral, but he'd gone still at the counter to stare at his older teammate. "Why?"

      Schuldich just looked at him. "Why?" he echoed. "What the hell kind of comeback is that? If you weren't planning on sitting here, just say so."

      "I'll sit there," Nagi was quick to say, and Schuldich shook his head and went back to his work. It didn't take long before Nagi was getting settled across from him, but the telekinetic ignored his food in favor of studying his teammate's face. Schuldich arched an eyebrow at him in a question without looking up, not wanting to lose his place, and Nagi poked holes in his toast. "Aren't you angry at me still?"

      "What for?" Schuldich wanted to know, frowning down at the rows of numbers. He found the one he needed and marked it with a highlighter before penning notes in to one side. It went in the appropriate stack and he looked over at Nagi, who just stared back steadily. Schuldich remembered an ultimatum and kicking Nagi out of his room, but the second he recognized what Nagi was talking about, he dismissed it. "That was a week ago. I've got better things to worry about, like staying awake through all of this crap. Talk at me or something, because Crawford wants this done by noon."

      "Oh," Nagi said quietly. "Back to the start of the cycle again, just like you were after Tot."

      "Addendum: talk at me about anything except that worthless puff of cotton candy."

      "She wasn't worthless," Nagi told him, frowning, but the usual heat that would have accompanied such words was missing, distracted somewhere along the way by that searching look in Nagi's blue eyes.

      "Pfft, who needs her when you've got such incredible teammates as us?" Schuldich sent back. He propped his elbow on the table and perched his chin on his hand to arch an eyebrow at Nagi. "What's with you?" he wanted to know. "You're acting weird. I think you have cabin fever and we should tagteam Crawford to get out of the apartment."

      "You're back to normal," Nagi told him. "It's been a while."


      "Nothing." Nagi shook his head and the smallest smile curved his lips. "Don't worry about it."

      "You're weird," Schuldig informed him.

      /Crawford, your kinetic is going fritzoid,/ he reported. /Do I need to arm myself with a stun gun or something? He went from moping to happy in a nanosecond flat, and I must say there's something a little creepy about watching Nagi smile./

      ~He's a teenager,~ Crawford answered calmly, not at all disturbed by Nagi's strange behavior. He'd probably seen it coming days ago and had had time to steel himself, Schuldich decided. ~Teenagers have a weak control of their emotions. He feels everything more intensely than we do. It's natural for someone his age.~

      /You know, imagining you as a geeky emotionally-erratic teenager is not how I wanted to start my day./

      ~Have you finished that paperwork yet?~

      Schuldich didn't bother to answer but pulled his gift back from Crawford's mind and went back to work. For a few seconds the only sound between them was the flipping of papers as he went back and forth as he compared numbers and dates, and then he waggled his pen at Nagi. "Talking or not?" he asked.

      "There was an earthquake last night," Nagi said in answer. "Not strong, just enough to rattle a few things."

      "Serious?" Schuldich marked a few more sheets and shuffled them into order. "We've been in this godforsaken country too long if I can sleep through such things."

      "Better to sleep through it than to wake up every time the ground shakes," Nagi pointed out.

      "You should be sleeping through them like any other docile native," Schuldich said.

      "Docile?" Nagi asked, and it was his turn to quirk an eyebrow at his teammate.

      Schuldich flashed the younger man a smirk. "Just wanted to see if I could say it with a straight face." Nagi flicked a baby carrot at him. Schuldich caught it as it bounced off his cheek. "Didn't your mother ever tell you not to play with your food?" he asked as he threw it back. "Oh, wait."

      "Ha, ha," Nagi sent at him, making a face. He pelted Schuldich with two carrots this time. "Jerk."




      "Colorblind clown."

      "Emo wannabe."

      "Children," Farfarello intoned from the doorway. They were up to five carrots by then but Nagi's gift caught them easily, and the two turned to face the new arrival. The Irishman was lounging against the doorframe with his arms folded across his chest. Scissors were dangling from one hand by the handles looped over two fingers and Schuldich didn't miss the glint of what seemed to be blood along one razor-sharp edge.

      "Want a carrot?" Schuldich asked.

      "Get out," Farfarello answered instead. "We'll finish the paperwork."

      "So that is Crawford's blood," Schuldich observed. "You two have some serious issues."

      Farfarello lifted his other hand to show a piece of paper, and Schuldich went to take it from him. He'd just pulled it free when he felt the point of scissor glades against his abdomen and he offered Farfarello's calm expression a lazy smile.

      "As long as your issues aren't contagious, I don't give a damn," he said.

      "Just get out," Farfarello suggested.

      Schuldich skimmed the note and held it up over his shoulder for Nagi to see. "Make it to-go, Nagi. Takayama has somewhere to be. Where's your coat?"

      "My closet, I think," Nagi answered, scooting his chair out, and Schuldig moved around Farfarello to head down the hall. He stopped by his room first to grab his jacket and shrugged into it as he headed back into the hall. It took both hands to scoop his hair out from under his collar and only one to straighten his jacket again as he let himself into Nagi's room.

      Nagi's room was what the telekinetic once called "carefully cluttered" and what Schuldich called a mess. He had to push things out of his way with his feet to get to the closet and he found Nagi's coat on a hook on the inside of the door. A quick pat of the pockets found the weight of Nagi's cell phone just in case they needed it and he excavated himself from the room to find Nagi waiting in the hallway.

      Nagi pulled his coat on while Schuldich got the car keys, and the telepath flicked a smirk over his shoulder at Farfarello where the man was still waiting at the kitchen doorway. Farfarello didn't even see it, as he was too busy with his scissors. His gaze was pointed down as he stared at nothing but the promise of what was to come and he slid the flat of the metal blade along his mouth, tasting the blood Crawford's skin had left there.

      Nagi caught at Schuldich's jacket, distracting him before either he could say something or Farfarello could see the silent taunt on his face, and Schuldich followed his teammate out into the hall.

      "They're so weird."

      "They're happy," Nagi pointed out.

      "Note to self: erase that word from Nagi's vocabulary."

      "Wrong word choice," Nagi admitted, "but you know what I mean."

      Schuldich didn't bother to answer that and instead led the way down four flights of stairs to the lobby. The ladies at the front desk were watching the news about last night's earthquake and didn't notice the two men that stepped out into a gray day. The apartment's small parking lot was to one side of the building and Nagi unlocked the doors before they reached it.

      The first thing Schuldich did after turning the key in the ignition was to roll the windows down. The wind would turn his hair into a bit of a rat's nest and it would just make the cool day seem much colder, but he hated stale car air. Rosenkreuz had been dead air from the fence inwards and he'd had too many years of that. Nagi was used to it by now and didn't complain. He just balanced his yogurt between his knees so he could zip his coat up and he was ready to go.

      The ride out to Takayama's place passed in a comfortable silence and Nagi was done with his breakfast long before they arrived. They went up the sixth floor of his office building to fetch Takayama and his associates for the day and it took two trips down in the elevators: Schuldich with the group in the first car and Nagi with a second group in the second. They left their car behind in favor of riding with Takayama in his car at the front of a seven car caravan. Only heavy traffic kept it from being obvious that the seven cars were together and trying to stay in as much of a line as possible, but that didn't matter. Takayama didn't care who knew or not, so Schuldich didn't, either.

      They had a conference room booked at a glitzy hotel. Morimoto had brought his head people and they were all waiting in the lobby before heading upstairs. There were just enough chairs for all twenty-three of them, and plenty of standing room for the two of Schwarz. The Talents propped themselves against the doors to watch and wait. Japan excelled at beating around the bush and with two powerful men like Morimoto and Takayama considering a rather intricate alliance, it was bound to take all day.

      /Two thousand yen says they start with a comment on the weather,/ Schuldich sent at Nagi.

      ~Health,~ Nagi countered.

      "Takayama," Morimoto greeted. "You are looking as healthy as ever. I see the autumn cold hasn't been slowing you down."

      ~I win.~

      /How is that a win? He was talking about health in context to weather./

      ~Mine still came first. I win.~

      /That's cheating. You're fricking Japanese. You know how this works./

      ~You did study Japanese,~ Nagi pointed out. ~You should know by now.~

      Schuldich sent him the mental image of Nagi getting hit by a bullet train. Nagi countered by telekinetically stomping on his toes. Schuldich ground a layer of enamel off his teeth behind an unchanging expression and the meeting went on oblivious to their game.

      At the three-hour mark, they both started realizing that this meeting was going to ruin the rest of their day, because the men were still getting nowhere. Quite the opposite: a catered lunch had just arrived. Schuldich watched paperwork vanish in favor of food and wondered how much trouble he would get in if he telepathically convinced the men to call it a day. When he saw what they were going to be eating, it just became a serious test of his self-control to let them get on with business. Dead fish were staring up at Schuldich from every plate and he pointed his gaze towards safer things, like the far wall.

      /I think today is a rather blatant display of favoritism,/ Schuldich complained. /Why do Crawford and Farfarello get to stay home from this bullshit?/

      ~Crawford can handle the paperwork better than we can and Farfarello would never tolerate a meeting this long.~

      /What if we couldn't tolerate it?/

      ~Crawford knows we can,~ Nagi sent back, but he sounded as bored and sick of this as Schuldich felt.

      /What if we couldn't?/

      ~I don't have a lot of faiths in what-ifs,~ Nagi told him. ~They have too high of a failure rate, with too much disappointment involved.~

      /That sounds bitter. What have you got to be so cranky about?/

      Nagi just looked at him and Schuldich stared back, waiting. He won; Nagi spoke first. ~Don't you remember anything about last week?~

      Nagi and Kudou and that raw look in Nagi's eyes and hands digging into sweaty skin- the images flickered on the backs of Schuldig's eyelids when he blinked. He lifted one shoulder in a shrug and turned his attention back on the far wall. /Last week is over,/ he pointed out. /In the end, I got what I wanted./

      ~Did you?~ Nagi asked him. ~I saw it in your eyes. At one point you wanted more than what you had. Did you give up on that?~

      /Save the dramatics for when we're somewhere else,/ Schuldich advised him. /I'm already cranky from standing here for three hours and if I don't get out of here and away from the smell of all of this fish, I'm going to make my own contribution to the gaudy décor./

      ~Just get out,~ Nagi told him, somehow managing to sound both defeated and aggravated in the same breath. ~I'll call you when the food's gone.~

      Schuldich flicked Takayama a quick mental note that he was going to investigate the premises and vanished before the caterers were finished unloading the last trolley. It was easier to breathe without the smell of grilled fish fouling up the air and he grimaced a little as he headed for the stairs. The room was going to stink for the rest of the meeting, he was sure. Crawford could have at least thought to warn him that they were going to be eating fish. It was bad enough having to watch other people eat meat, but the smell of fish was the strongest and he was going to go home queasy tonight.

      Dumb Crawford, thinking only of his prick. Schuldich forced the foul look off his face and cast his gift out, running a quick search of everyone in his range.

      ~…Speaking of pricks…~ His lips twitched into a smirk and he turned his feet that direction. Harassing Weiss was worlds better than watching a boring meeting.

      The timing was perfect. He went down two flights of stairs and came out near the elevators, and he had just propped himself against the wall when Balinese showed up in full Koneko no Sumu Ie gear, complete with a large pot of flowers in his hands. Green eyes widened slightly in surprise and recognition and Schuldich offered him a lazy smirk.

      "I don't think any of us invited you to this party, kitty cat," he said, though he privately gave Weiss points for making it to an emergency meeting. Hidaka and Fujimiya had been taking turns trailing Morimoto and Takayama, so one or both of them must have noticed the mass caravan. This pathetic disguise on Weiss's part was probably all they'd been able to come up with, but it was still something that they'd made it. He cast his mind out further and found the other two nowhere in sight, just in case either of the men upstairs or their bodyguards on the hotel grounds could recognize them.

      Kudou offered him a patented flower boy smile. "Good afternoon, sir. Are the elevators in service?"

      "Too lazy to take the stairs?" Schuldich glanced at his arms and the corded muscles showing. He reached out and caught at the edge of the pot, pushing down. Kudou grimaced a little at the extra weight but didn't let the pot sag far. "Apparently toting pots around and strangling people is good for the arm muscles."

      Kudou's smile took on a cold edge. Schuldich let go of the pot and pushed the up button. "After you, of course," he invited, and he followed Kudou on. The man set the pot down and pushed the button for the top floor, and Schuldich sprawled back against the handrail to ride up with him. The doors slid closed and Schuldich skimmed what he could get of Kudou's surface thoughts. Seemed the man had been planning to bug the two elevators so Weiss could have visual IDs of everyone with the group upstairs somewhere. Schuldich's presence axed that plan, but at least they'd have outside surveillance- as good as they could get, anyway. The elevators already had security cameras, but Morimoto had promised that his people had already turned them all off.

      "Been a while," Kudou spoke up.

      "Miss me?" Schuldich asked him.

      "Did you miss me?" Kudou returned easily, and he moved around the pot to stand in front of Schuldich. It put Schuldich in the corner with the pot to one side of him and Kudou in front, but he didn't bother even pretending to be intimidated.

      "My life just isn't complete without your ugly face and crackpot issues," Schuldich drawled.

      "We still haven't had a chance to talk."

      Schuldich's smirk just stretched wider on his face. "We have nothing to talk about."

      "How are things with Nagi?"

      "Nagi is no longer your concern. Maybe you forgot that."

      "Then how are you?" Kudou asked instead.

      "Your teammates have already warned you about being so civil."

      "Excuse me if I'm not trembling in fear," Kudou answered easily. "It's hard to be afraid of you when I've helped break you apart."

      "Well," Schuldich said, taking a step forward until he and Kudou were almost touching. "Since we're such good friends, then, here's a friendly warning: when Crawford decides you aren't worth the amusement of keeping around, I'm going to help Farfarello take you apart, and we'll see which one of us looks prettier on the inside."

      "I'm sexy as hell inside and out," Kudou informed him, leaning in.

      Schuldich tilted his head away from the kiss and reintroduced his gun to the white assassin's throat. "No thanks."

      "No?" Kudou asked, feigning surprised. "You've lost interest?"

      "Not interested in your diseases."

      "Have you fallen in love with me that quickly?"

      "I can't believe you just said that word out loud."

      "I was a comedian in a past life," Kudou assured him. He leaned in again and Schuldich pushed him back with his gun. Tangled sheets and heavy breathing and groans flickered in his mind and he blinked hard against it. "You're a picky lover, aren't you? Don't want Nagi or me, don't want anyone. Can't want anyone."

      Schuldich barely heard that; he'd just realized what Kudou had said. "You're still talking to Nagi," he said. It came out a pleasant-sounding observation, but Kudou heard it for the accusation it was. "You've talked to him this week."

      "Since Nagi's poorly-worded ultimatum?" Kudou asked.

      Schuldich's smile could have melted diamonds. "I warned both of you," he said, almost too quietly, "to stay the fuck away from each other."

      "You still haven't picked between us," Kudou pointed out, as if that was an acceptable excuse.

      "I don't have to pick," Schuldich told him. "What I wanted when I started this mess was to break you two apart. That's why I did all of it, even if the resulting mess from my trigger made all of us forget that."

      "Do you really think it's that easy?" Kudou asked.

      "It's going to be that easy," Schuldich answered. "You talk to him again and see what happens to your precious teammates."

      "How can you be so fucking dense?" the Balinese demanded. "How can you be that violently territorial of him and still not get it? Even with the trigger telling you that you can't feel anything, common sense should connect the dots."

      "It's none of your business anymore."

      "How is this at all fair to Nagi?"

      "Life isn't fair," Schuldich sent back. "I refuse to believe that a manwhore really cares that much about Nagi after just two months together."

      "I see in him the same things you do," Kudou answered, "but I'm not programmed to ignore the signs. You're not going to win this one, Schuldich."

      "On the contrary," Schuldich argued neatly, "I've already won."

      The elevator slowed to a stop and the chime dinged as the doors opened, but neither of them moved. They stared each other down until the doors slid shut again, and Kudou was the first to step back. He propped his hands on his hips as he put space between them. The elevator started down again, but it only made it two floors before stopping to let on seven more guests. The women's conversation stopped when they saw the two already in the car, but it started up again a few seconds into the descent.

      Kudou ended up in Schuldich's personal space again but now he was more interested in the ladies, immediately setting Nagi and Schuldich aside for a time when he could actually deal with such a problem. The ladies kept sending him quick looks and Kudou was ready with his killer smile, all open invitation and promise. Schuldich studied the expression, remembering the way it looked with shadows across his face, remembering watching it slide into something that was more heated and carnal.

      Kudou smelled like flowers and dirt, but beneath that, Schuldich could smell his cologne. He remembered his face up against a hot, sweat-slick neck. Pain and panic and pleasure and a dizzying rush-

      He could feel a headache forming somewhere near his temple as last week's problems threatened to stir again and he told himself to forget about it. The day had been going so well; he saw no reason to ruin things already. But it was too late and he was thinking about sitting in the rain with Farfarello, telling the Irishman that he should just walk away, and Farfarello quietly challenging that decision.

      ~Don't,~ he told himself. The smart thing to do would be to get off the elevator at the second floor and go back to Nagi and the others.


      He thought about checking Nagi's coat to make sure his phone was there, thought about Nagi using that phone to text or call Kudou to talk about Schuldich and everything that had happened a week ago, and Schuldich's hard smile just twitched across his lips once more.

      Kudou arguing with him about Nagi's predicament just a few seconds ago and his ogling of the girls now just served to sour Schuldich's mood further and he was moving without thinking. One hand reached out to catch Kudou by his apron and he gave the man a tug back towards him. There wasn't far to pull and Kudou looked his way just in time for Schuldich to crush a kiss against his mouth.

      It effectively killed the conversation right next to them, especially when Kudou didn't pull away. It was short but still hard enough that his lips hurt as Schuldich let go and leaned back against the wall, and neither of them looked at the women for the rest of the ride down. Everyone got off at the first floor and Kudou and Schuldich watched the women hurry away.

      ~I'm going to buy you a drink tonight,~ Kudou told Schuldich, glancing his way. ~Same place I found you last time. Whether you're there to drink it or not is up to you.~

      Schuldich ignored the invitation. /Get your cats away from our clients, Weiss,/ he said instead, and he turned and headed for the stairs. There was no way the men were going to be finished eating yet, but he could sit in a chair outside the conference room on the second floor for the rest of the time. Eavesdropping on lunch conversations could keep his thoughts where they needed to be, but Schuldich already knew the ride home was going to be unpleasant.

      He found a seat near a window and set to work finishing off his current pack of cigarettes, but three sticks later he could still taste Kudou.

Part 12
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