Part Three: Chapter Five: Coniuratio


"The Second Coming"

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


" ... the fire that destroyed the Kourin Research Center, a former British Embassy building in Shinjuku West, is under control. Chief of Police Shuichi Takatori, the younger brother of Jingen Party leader Reiji Takatori, announced earlier today that a thorough investigation will follow. Meanwhile, rumors about disfigured victims of the fire that destroyed the old embassy building being the same 'monsters' that have prowled the streets lately are spreading, and - "

For a long moment, the static bristle of the TV set is the only sound in the apartment. The sun sends her golden rays through the shuttered blinds, painting patterns on the floor.

The small group of gangers that sit on Eve Drake's leather couch look at each other, and then at the woman in her armchair, gauging her reaction. All of them are no older than twenty; adolescents still, with adult minds, and a century's worth of crime on their shoulders. All of them have killed already, be it to prove their bravery, or to ward off boredom, and all four of them would kill again if the need or the occasion arises. They are only a small fraction of the gangs that patrol Tokyo's streets, as they put it.

Or as Eve would put it: running away from monsters.

"We went snooping," one of the gangers finally offers as the silence becomes oppressive; in her armchair, Eve has leaned back, tapping one finger against her lips in thought. She turns her head and looks at him, slowly, as if still hanging after those thoughts, and her midnight eyes meet his midnight eyes. "The cops have practically erected the Chinese Wall around Kourin. They're not letting anyone in, only their own people."

"Not surprising. So. I guess this puts an end to those 'monsters', don't it." Eve turns her eyes away from the youth, and stares at the black TV screen. Taps her fingers against her lips again, feeling the oncoming want for a cigarillo. This, she had not expected. After Schwarz's visit to her apartment, she had expected trouble, but not of this kind. A building gone up in flames. Ignoring her current visitors, Eve looks at the shuttered windows, sighing.

A building gone up in flames.

She knows that Schuldig and Farfarello were there when it happened; wouldn't be surprised if they had started the fire. Although Eve has never felt threatened by them, she knows they are bad news on legs when it concerns others.

"And you expect me to just say yes to this and let you do it your way?"

Crawford's voice holds equal amounts of ridicule and exasperation as he strides back and forth in his office, hands pushed into his hips. Farfarello is leaned against the wall next to the door, his hands in the small of his back, legs straight out before him. His gaze is fixed on the square of the window, where he can see the afternoon sun beginning to sink towards the earth, coloring the sky in hues of violet and red. Nagi hovers in the doorway, hands in his pockets, his eyes downcast. They have returned from their meeting with Takatori and the two surviving members of Schreient an hour ago.

"I don't expect anything from you," Farfarello says calmly, never taking his gaze from the window. He knows, despite Takatori's semi-order to let him deal with Weiß and get revenge for Schuldig, that the final word lies with Crawford. Crawford and Eszet. As much as Takatori might want to believe it, his place in the rank of power is far, far below what Eszet and Schwarz make him believe. "Takatori wants Weiß dead. He chose me because I'm supposed to be the one who messily slaughters his victims, no?"

Crawford stops and turns, regarding the Irishman coolly. "You are."

Farfarello smirks.

"We will deal with Weiß," Crawford goes on, returning to his pacing. "Together."

At this, Nagi looks up, eyebrows slightly raised. "What about Neu and Tot? Are they part of the party?"

The American stops again, then walks behind his desk and sits down in his chair. He folds his arms over his chest and leans his head back; neither Farfarello nor Nagi move from their respective spot as they watch their leader slowly close his eyes and take a deep breath. There is the tiniest flutter of eyelashes as Crawford exhales, lips parting with the soft breath.

For now, Tot and Neu have taken up residence in a hotel near the waterfront of Tokyo. Both women - one still a girl, Crawford reminds himself with an internal sigh - have made it clear numerous times that they will help Schwarz to take out Weiß. And there is nothing wrong with that, Crawford thinks. He would not want to take revenge on anyone, should one of his team mates die at the hands of someone else, but he can understand the need that drives Tot and Neu, the need to do something instead of accept and start over, or forget. He does not know a lot about Schreient - it had been Schuldig's job to find out about them, and the telepath had never given a full report to Crawford other than that Schreient are, or rather were, as incompetent as the man they were supposed to protect.

Schwarz has always been a unit of four. As different as their characters are, they complement each other; they have never needed to work together with someone else to achieve their goals. Taking Neu and Tot into their circle, even if it is just temporary, does not seem such a good idea to Crawford. He knows each of his team mates to an extent where he can gauge their reactions and work around the pitfalls and loopholes that come creeping along with them. Even Farfarello, whose mind, to Crawford, never seems to rest, is predictable in some of his actions. The two remaining members of Schreient are, as far as he is concerned, wildcards. They have no psychic powers, only their bodies to fight with. Compared to what the members of Schwarz have in store in the psychic range, they are nothing; tag-alongs, nothing more.

Cannon fodder.

Crawford's eyes open and focus first on Farfarello, then on Nagi with a cold serenity both have come to be used to. He leans forward, nods.

"They will join us. Temporarily. We can dispose of them later." His gaze wanders to Farfarello. "Under my orders. If they are out with us, they will answer only to me."

The Irishman shrugs, and pushes away from the wall, rolling his shoulders. One pale hand wanders to his side, absent-mindedly scratching at the bandages under his vest. He does not care if Neu and Tot are with them, or not. His mind wanders, the desire to see Schuldig slowly overtaking everything else, the need to feel the telepath's skin under his fingers, the need to see him breathe. His solitary gaze finds Crawford's still fixed on him as he lifts his head to look at his leader; it seems Crawford is studying him, probably trying to figure out what Farfarello is thinking. One corner of the Irishman's mouth quirks into a smirk for a half-second. Although the Oracle would never admit to it, he knows the man is, if not afraid, then wary of him.

He has met people like Crawford before. Many of them are dead now. Most of them died because of Farfarello, or because of Schuldig, and sometimes, because of them both. There is a certain thrill in a game one cannot truly control; the want to see how far one's limits can be pushed, to feel the actual threat of death or injury grazing the tranquil oceans of everyday life. The many Crawfords he met in his time under Eszet's thumb all had one thing in common - an iron need for control, paired with a mind able to do what needed to be done to exert that control.

Farfarello does not doubt Crawford would use Schuldig to keep him under control. The veiled threats the American made earlier have not passed him by; yet, the initial, burning anger at these has vanished and made way for a dull, looming flame, almost like a candle flame, slowly flickering in the depths of his stomach. The power structure within Schwarz, that much Farfarello cares to know and keep in mind, is odd at times - Crawford is the leader, but even he is under Eszet's thumb. Even Crawford must bow to people he despises, another thing Farfarello knows and cares to keep in mind. Nagi and Schuldig are next in line. The Japanese youth is a formidable computer expert; his past, and his power, make him an enemy best not messed with if one does not want to mend broken bones or worse. Schuldig, with his gambler's grin and rogue, abrasive attitude, is the wildcard of Schwarz. The one who would never fully bow to an order, the one who bent words and intentions to fit his own twisted goals and ideals. For that alone, Farfarello adores him. A devil with red hair and a poisonous smile, and a mind that has lived in other people's minds for so long that moral standards have long since given way under the constant onslaught of knowing what really went on behind the façade of a smile or the warmth of an arm around sobbing shoulders.

The Irishman knows his own place in Schwarz is much less grand than that of the others. It is something that is a fact, not something he mourns or wants to change. His body's ability to withstand pain makes him nothing but cannon fodder at times, with the exception that he comes out of the crossfire alive. He has stopped counting the broken ribs and fractured limbs. They will heal. They always do. And when they have, he will peel off the bandages and pick up a knife to start carving a chunk of meat out of God's creation all over again.

"I'll be in my room," Nagi announces softly as the silence in Crawford's office becomes oppressive again. He turns, eyes gliding over the carefully selected furniture, finally coming to rest on Farfarello's back. Suddenly, he wishes that Schuldig were awake, that Schuldig were whole, and not lying in a bed two doors down the hallway, frozen in time like Sleeping Beauty waiting for a kiss to wake her. With the telepath around, he wouldn't have to constantly worry about the state of Farfarello's mind. As much as he was afraid of the telepath's roughness and cruelty at times, he was just as much thankful for the control Schuldig had over Farfarello. That control is gone now, and with it peaceful sleep stole away to give way for restless tossing and turning. "I'll try and see what I can find out about Weiß. They operate as a unit. There must be some information out there about them."

Crawford nods.

When Nagi's lithe form is gone from the office, and soft footsteps have padded down the hallway followed by the clicking of a door lock, Crawford runs his fingertips over the edge of his desk, pensive. Ignoring Farfarello for now. There is still the matter of how to take care of Schuldig's body. He agrees with Nagi in so far as that none of them is capable of taking care of someone in a coma, due to lack of experience, and plainly put, time. Schwarz cannot afford to stay in the apartment and wash Schuldig. They cannot afford physical exercise on a limp body.

As if sensing the Oracle's thoughts, Farfarello's head turns to spear the American with a glance. "What about Schu?"

Schu. The nickname brings a small smirk to Crawford's lips as he straightens up in his chair and folds his hands in front of him. "I haven't decided yet."

"I have an idea."


Tot steps out of the shower and wraps herself in a large bath towel, shivering as droplets of water trail from the lose coils of her hair down her naked shoulders and back, cooling quickly in the drafty bathroom. Her small feet leave wet imprints on tiles as she steps over to the sink and lifts a hand to wipe moisture off of the glass, her other hand clutching the bath towel. Her left arm hurts; the doctor who treated her injuries has told her to make sure not to move it too much. It has not been broken, but sprained, but the difference in pain seems almost not noticeable to her. She knows what broken bones feel like. Staring at her face in the mirror, she hesitantly reaches up to her brow and touches the edges of the gash bisecting the skin, her childlike, pouty mouth thinning out into a line at the stab of pain shooting into her temples. Her bruised knees sting. Her whole body feels as though some large beast had taken her into its maw and chewed on her, then spit her out.

But then, compared with what happened to Hell and Schön, she guesses she came out lucky.

The thought brings the hot stab of tears to her eyes. She squeezes them shut, biting her lower lip in an attempt to not start crying again. She has cried enough; cried her eyes out for the two women who, over the years, had become sisters to her. Sisters that are now dead and have left her, and Neu, alone in a world that seems to hate their very guts. And with those sisters went Masafumi Takatori, whom Tot loved and adored like a father - a man so different from what her real father was like. She feels her insides clench as unbidden, memories surface, memories she has thought forgotten, over and done with. Images of a dreamcatcher hanging above childhood's bed, swayed by motion made by two bodies on the child's bed below, one large, one small. One male, one a child. The child forever hoping the dreamcatcher would swallow the man above her and return him to the land of nightmares he sprang from.


Tot turns and opens the door that leads from the bathroom into the shabby hotel room Neu and her share. They have nothing left to carry around with them, all their belongings, everything that once mattered something to both of them gone up in flames when the Kourin Research Center burned down. Standing still in the doorway of the bathroom, feeling the cool air move against her wet skin, she watches how the shadows creep over the dirty, once-pale-cream carpet. It is utterly silent in the room, a room that holds nothing more but two beds and a closet.

The room is empty safe for these shadows and her own, subdued breathing. There is a note on the bed Neu has chosen. Walking over, Tot picks it up and reads it, then sets it back down. Neu has gone out to try and get their money from one of the bank accounts Hell had set up for Schreient. The normally silent woman has gone even more quiet after what happened - her eyes are more dead now than they have ever been before.

Tot moves to the closet and opens it. In their haste to find shelter, they have broken into a clothes store after being dismissed by Takatori; what little they have found hangs neatly on hangers. In another time, Tot would have frowned at wearing the dull clothes she takes out of the closet now - but that time is gone, and dead. The bath towel falls to the floor as she dresses: panties, bra, jeans of dark blue, a green t-shirt and a dark green sweater. There are shoes in the bottom of the closet - much too large for her, but they did not have time to be picky. Putting on socks, she pulls on the heavy boots, leaving the laces undone for now after stuffing them into the top of the boots.

Masafumi had liked to see her dressed in frilly skirts and blouses, her hair done up in two neat buns. He had called her his "little girl", and ruffled her head while saying so, a warm twinkle of affection in his eyes. She remembers the mornings when they had all met in the underground laboratory, wearing crisp, white lab coats. Hell, as always clinging close to her lover. Schön, who would flirt with both of them. Neu, silent as a mountain, the tiniest smirk on her lips.

That had been her family.

And it is gone now.

With it, her laughter has died. She turns from the closet, squeezing her eyes shut once again to ward off tears.

When she opens them again, Farfarello is standing on the other side of the room, casually leaned against the wall. Tot blinks. The Irishman's calm, golden gaze is fixed on her face, his posture unmoving as he stands, half-slumped, hands shoved into his pockets.

The scream that tears from her throat is almost an afterthought.

"Shut up." Farfarello detaches himself from the wall almost like a shadow shying away from the sun, moving into the center of the room, one pale hand making a sharp motion towards her as Tot stumbles back in her shock, her back connecting with the doors of the closet before her knees give out and she lands on her butt with an audible thud. The girl's large, blue eyes are filled with terror and fear as he moves to kneel in front of her, the same hand that made the gesture clamping down over her open mouth, cutting off the sounds to reduce them to muffled noise. One of her legs kicks out, connecting with his lower gut; Farfarello's other hand curls around her booted ankle to set the foot back down.

"Be quiet," he says, this time in a much softer voice. He keeps his hand over her mouth until she stops trying to bite his palm. "If I wanted you dead, you'd be dead now."

That sobers her up, and she swallows, feeling his wet palm move against her lips as she nods. She reaches up with both hands and curls them around the sturdy wrist keeping the hand where it is, pulling on it - gently. Upsetting the Irishman does not seem to be a good idea. Farfarello lets go of her and rocks back onto his haunches, resting his elbows on his knees to study her. Tot draws her legs close to her body and wraps her arms around them, nervously licking her lips. Behind Farfarello, she can see the sole window of the hotel room; half-open, so that's how he came in.

"Where is the other woman?"

"Bank," Tot responds, hearing the shiver in her voice and hating herself for it, briefly. You do not show fear to someone like Farfarello, that much she knows. Almost in defiance of herself, she lets go of her legs and lowers them, sitting cross-legged. "She left a note."

"We're going to visit someone, and you will come with me. Leave her a note, too."

He stands and takes a step back. Tot rises, forcing her legs to cooperate. It takes some will to turn her back to him as she walks to the bed to pick up the note and turn it over, locating the pen Neu had used to write her note on a nightstand. Scribbling a quick message - Farfarello picked me up, back later - she sets the note down on Neu's bed and turns again. Farfarello is standing by the door.

She never heard him move.

"Why do you want to help us?" The Irishman opens the door as Tot walks over to him and waits until she is out of the room before stepping into a corridor that smells of sweat and urine, those stale odors that seem to go hand in hand with rundown establishments.

"Because Weiß killed my sisters and da - Masafumi."

"Why not try to take revenge on your own?"

She has to think about this for a moment, counting doors as they walk down the corridor and turn into the stairwell.

"Because I don't think we could make it," comes the soft admission as they step out of the hotel entrance. Tot takes a deep breath, eyes wandering over the trash-littered street and the gloomy streetlights.

Farfarello does not answer to this, only looks at her for a long moment, his face devoid of expression.

"We're just two ... " Tot tries to justify.

"Two can bring a kingdom down," the Irishman says softly. He lets his gaze slide off of her, down the street. "We have to go."

Evening shadows fall more heavily now, the sky is slowly turning a darker shade of blue. She follows Farfarello as he turns down the sidewalk, walking briskly to keep up with his long strides, feeling her skinned knees chaff against the rough material of her jeans. The boots try to slip off her feet with every step.

The people on the sidewalk don't pay much attention to the tall, white-haired stranger and the fine-boned, blue-haired girl as they walk past brothels and bars. In this part of Tokyo, everyone minds their own business, or at least tries to; a habit born out of necessity. It is always unwise to disturb what does not have to interest one. Like rats on the hunt, the creatures of Tokyo's waterfront district hurry about, shadows slipping between shadows, motion behind yellowed curtains. The sound of shuffling feet out of dark alleys, a sound of metal scraping against metal. Tot hugs her arms around her torso and steps closer to Farfarello, who does not seem to mind. The Irishman moves amid ruined existences and crime as one of their own; and who would dare to step up to a scarred, one-eyed and pale stranger who moves like liquid? Killers know killers when they see them.

Three streets down from where they started, Farfarello points at a black Jeep parked at the curb, and reaches into his pocket to produce a key. For a moment, Tot actually asks herself if it is a good idea to sit in a car with someone who, for all she knows, is as insane as they come. She thinks of Neu, wonders if her sister is back yet, wonders if she found the note if she was back. Standing at the passenger side quietly while Farfarello unlocks the door on the other side and slips into the Jeep, Tot turns her head to look down the street. She can see the ocean, a graying, unruly stretch against the horizon.

A little further down the street, a rat runs across the lane, disappearing between two buildings on the other side.

If only those waters were blue, and not gray.

He turns over onto his back and sighs at the ceiling. Four hours. Four hours of tossing and turning, trying to let his mind wander off into the forgiving blankness of sleep, or the frightening confines of dream. Every time he closes his eyes, a wall of fire rolls towards him, swallowing his scream, swallowing the body of Masafumi Takatori. It happened so quickly.

Things like this always happen quickly, sweetheart.

Aya's brow creases at the voice whispering to him. He sits up, tosses the blanket off, and puts his feet on the floor, burying his face in his hands. Spreads his fingers and stares at the floor, at his feet. A part of him wants to stand and go down to check on Youji and Omi, see how and what they are doing. A part of him wants to talk to Omi and explain to the youth why he did what he did. But there is a by far larger part that shrieks and twists at the idea, calling him every foul name in the book.

Come now. I think you've heard far worse than that.

He squeezes his eyes shut and sighs again, biting his lower lip. Finally does stand and wanders over to the window, leaning on the windowsill to look out. It must be close to midnight, or earlier, or later, Aya does not really care to know. The streets below are deserted, safe for the occasional car passing by, headlights creeping over the black concrete of the street like eyes.searching. He presses his brow against the cool glass pane, his breath misting it, and feels the tiny, soft hairs on his bare arms raising in the cold radiating in from outside.

"I guess ... I'm lucky I'm alive?" His voice sounds hollow in the silence of his room; a whisper, nothing more. He cringes at the thought of Youji standing before his door again and eavesdropping, like he did what seems like a lifetime away now. Aya has no doubt as to what the others must think of him, especially after what he did; he knows the time to follow will put everything else that ever happened to him to shame.

Yes, you are. The voice has the definite quality of a grin to it now, followed by the image of someone leaning back in a lounge chair and exhaling a perfect smoke ring at the ceiling. If I hadn't done something, you would've run straight into that fire and killed yourself. So be thankful.

His teeth grit at the smugness contained in the last words; it is even more aggravating since he knows it to be true. In those few, eternity-long seconds when the wall of fire rolled towards him, Aya's first thought had been to press forward, find Ken, find the others, and then get the hell out of there. Yet, his legs refused to cooperate, leaving him rooted to the spot as the fire reached out for him, roaring, greedy devils dancing in the flames, laughing at him and mocking him. You are flesh and bone. Melt with us. Be one with us. Come with me. That voice again, the same that had whispered to him earlier, that voice that seemed to come out of nowhere and vanish just as quickly, leaving nothing but a foul taste on his tongue, sticking like a coating of sugar to his teeth. His legs giving out, dropping him not a second to late - fire licking at the tips of his hair even as he drops, rolls onto his stomach.

The glass coffins with their grotesque content exploding one after the other as the heat detonates the thick glass, spilling the beings inside onto the floor to be consumed by the hungry inferno. Some of them shrieking, others just.lying there. For a moment, he would have sworn that some had smiles on their misshaped faces. Smiles of peace and gratitude. Aya's eyes follow the rows of exploding glass tubes as though they are bonfires showing him the way to the metal stairway at the other end of the underground laboratory. He moves, almost against his own will, something in his mind twisting and forcing his limbs to cooperate until he is on his knees, on his feet, and finally running ducked low to the ground, slipping twice on quickly evaporating liquid on the ground before he reaches the stairwell. Some of the steps are littered with fallen debris, but Aya moves with sleepwalking security, this time not falling until he reaches the top stair and turns left, down the catwalk. In the middle of it, heavy chunks of wall, plaster, and support beams fallen from the groaning ceiling block his way. He starts digging at those, ripping his gloves and palms open on sharp edges, blood seeping into the leather of his coat as he kneels and digs frantically.

A moment of stillness. The last lifted piece of metal revealing someone lying beneath all that rubble. In the orange glow of the fire that begins to spread in the hall below him, the man's hair and skin are tinged red and yellow. Aya's eyes fall on hair spread out on the ground; another man, face turned away from him, a puddle of blood soaking the strands of long hair. Aya grunts with effort, lifting more rubble and throwing it to the side, both hands finally closing around the first man's shoulders. As he touches him, there is a stab of.gratitude flowing through him. Gratitude? His mind does not linger, does not try to understand why he is suddenly glad to find this man alive, and not dead, while his own team mates are screaming on the other end of the hall.

"I'll get you out of here."

The words falling from his lips not his own. He shakes the man, gently, kneeling above him. The face that had been turned toward the second man is lifted at his shaking and turns towards him. In the glow of the fire, Aya cannot make out the color of the single eye that looks up at him. He sees an eye patch and a pattern of scars on a fine-boned face. The stranger's mouth opens, to speak maybe, but all that comes forth is a torrent of blood that cascades over his chin. Aya stands and hops around the stranger, working his hands under his shoulders to lift him. Drags him down the remainder of the catwalk, through the door, down the corridor, and out into the blessedly cool night air.

... and then you returned to drag my own sorry ass out there. My hero.

"You made me!" The words come out hissed as Aya pushes away from the window and strides into the center of his room, hands balled into fists at his sides. "You made me! You made me abandon my team to help you!"

Your team? Soft laughter fills his head, soft like silk, the sounds chilling. You mean the team you hate, the team that you think does nothing but get in your way in your quest for revenge?

Aya looks to the side. "Who the hell are you?"

The voice does not respond for a long time, and Aya begins to think that it will refuse to answer. Then, it speaks up again, sounding ... amused, for lack of better description.

Shouldn't 'where' interest you more?

"You're in my head. Get out of there."

Can't. Do you really think I want to be in here while my body is still out there somewhere? While Farfarello is not with me?

A brief image passes behind Aya's eyes, making him blink. A man with short, white hair, standing by a window, turning his head as the distance between him and the onlooker diminishes steadily. A black eye patch covering his left eye, scars, but the smile on his lips is gentle. The picture vanishes before Aya can get a hold of it, before he can look at the surroundings; all he sees is a stretch of black water through the window behind the man's shoulder. Somewhere close to the waterfront?

Close enough. That's Farfarello. The voice sounds wistful for a moment. My demented Irishman...

It is the man he dragged out of the laboratory, Aya knows. Farfarello. He tries to pronounce the name, stumbling over the syllables, his lips moving. Finally, he gives up, rubbing his eyes with one hand. His head feels stuffed with cotton. Aya walks back to the bed and plunks down again, curling up on his side.

"Who are you?" he tries again. Sleep is beckoning him now, more forceful than before. It is almost as though speaking with the voice in his head tires him.

My name is Schuldig.

In the hallway outside Aya's room, Youji looks away from the door, shifting the dirty clothes he carries from one arm to the other.

"Talking to yourself now, Aya?" he mutters to himself, and walks on, toward his own room.

"You're out of your mind, Crawford!"

And nevertheless, Eve Drake moves out of the way as Crawford maneuvers himself and the burden he carries through her door into her apartment. She retreats to the door leading into her living room, meaty hands pushed angrily into her hips, and shakes her head as she looks upon the seemingly-sleeping telepath cradled in Crawford's arms, looking to all the world like someone who had just chosen to take a nap.

Crawford moves further into the hallway, allowing Nagi to enter behind him. The youth's face is tight, controlled, as he first looks at the black woman, then at Crawford and his burden. Eve notices how Nagi's eyes shy from directly looking at Schuldig, how he rather looks at the floor or at a wall. Herself, she has no trouble looking at Schuldig, and does, noting the deathly paleness of the German's skin, the too-calm way he sleeps. Even if Crawford, standing on her doormat, had not told her what had happened to Schuldig, Eve would have known. She is not a very strong empath, but she has lived long enough to know the difference between peaceful sleep and the grip of unconsciousness, or, as in Schuldig's case, coma.

"It's only temporary," Crawford says calmly, shifting the telepath in his arms. The German's warm, boneless weight feels strange to carry - too large for a child, but at the same time, and horribly so, also insubstantial and weightless. Countless times, Crawford has imagined carrying Schuldig that way. Hell, he even imagined carrying Nagi or Farfarello that way. Now, with Schuldig's head nestled against his shoulder, he can feel the German's breath brush over the exposed skin of his throat with every rise and fall of his chest, can feel Schuldig's hair tickling him. Crawford inwardly grins as he imagines what Schuldig's reaction would be like if he saw himself cradled in the American's arms like that. He had always made it a point to physically stay away from Crawford as far as possible.

Eve sighs with exasperation and shakes her head again. "What happened to him?"

"Accident. He's in a coma, and we need someone to take care of him."

"And, of course, you expectin' me to do that?"

Crawford's cold, brown eyes shift to hers; silently, they stare at each other. Eve is aware of the place she holds in Crawford's eyes - she is an information gatherer for Schwarz, nothing more. Of course, they frequently use her information for their own goals, and they trust her in so far as to rely on what she tells them - but that is it. Eve is not powerful enough to be considered a true ally of Schwarz. She knows, if Crawford decided to get rid of her, there is no place for her to go, no place where she is safe from him ... them. Nagi is staring at her, imploringly. 'Please', his eyes seem to ask. She looks at Schuldig again.

"Take him to my bedroom," the words fall from her lips with another sigh. She shrugs, biting her lower lip. She really has no choice, and she knows it, and she also knows Crawford knows it. For a long moment, the triumph she reads in his face as he turns from her and walks towards the door to her bedroom is all too visible, and Eve has to hold herself back from attacking him here and now.

But that would be suicide, and she knows this, too.

"I'll have supplies sent to you as soon as possible, Eve." Crawford deposits Schuldig on Eve's bed, arranging limp limbs, hands lingering over a body unable to react of its own want. "A bed for him, I guess. And everything else you'll need. I trust you remember everything?"

She grits her teeth, leaned against the doorjamb, her arms crossed over her chest. With his words comes the memory of a time spent in white, clinical rooms smelling of disinfectant and illness, filled with the whispery voices of the sick and the dying. Time she has left behind her over ten years ago.

"How'd you find that out?"

He turns from the bed and tilts his head. "There's nothing I don't know about your past."

Of course. Why did she even ask?

"You worked as a nurse at a hospital in New Orleans before you came to Tokyo. Specifically, you worked in Emergency." Crawfords smoothes down his dress jacket and steps away from the bed, casting one look at Schuldig before he turns his attention back to Eve. "You stopped working there when you couldn't explain why you insisted on wearing gloves when handling patients to your superiors."

"They fired me." Eve glowers at the American. "You try an' work 17 hour shifts when everyone you touch makes you want to vomit because you feel their pain and know what happened to them."

Crawford tilts his head and makes a non-committal sound in his throat. "Expect Farfarello to visit here frequently. It was his idea to bring Schuldig here, thank him when you see him."

Farfarello's idea? Eve has to wonder at that. True, she gives the Irishman more credit than most would give him, she thinks, doubting he is really all that far gone from the world as he seems to be, but why would Farfarello insist on bringing Schuldig to her instead of keeping him in the Schwarz hideout? Why bring him to the center of Tokyo's roaring heart, where discovery and assault are all so much more likely than wherever Schwarz usually spend their nights? Why move him from a place where a precognitioner and a telekinetic could watch over him? It makes no sense to her.

She moves out of the way as Crawford steps towards the door, her eyes moving over Schuldig's still form. Like a child, he lies there, trusting all the world to keep him safe and warm. Crawford stops in the doorway, his back nearly pressed against the doorjamb seeing that he has to share the space with a woman twice his weight. From close up, he can smell Eve's unique scent - sandalwood and vanilla smoke, and the coconut oil he can see glistening in the tiny curls of her hair.

"We will, of course, cover all extra expenses you may have."

Eve nods. Her eyes remain on Schuldig's form on her bed, a slight crease between her eyebrows. Crawford studies her a moment longer before he steps into the hallway and makes an ushering motion toward the door; Nagi, who has hovered in the background all the time, heaves a small sigh of relief and walks out of the apartment. The youth doesn't look back. Crawford watches him go as he reaches inside his jacket pocket and takes a small white card with a telephone number scribbled on it out, placing it in the crook of Eve's arm.

"If there are any ... complications, this is the telephone number of a doctor who stands in our service. Do not hesitate to call him. I don't wish to lose Schuldig."

"Neither does Farfarello, I bet." Eve turns her head and looks at him out of the corner of her eyes.

"No." Crawford smiles. "Neither does Farfarello."

In the quiet of the night, Tokyo's streets bear two extreme faces: they are either crowded with tourists and whoever else strolls through the darkness and the artificial light, or they are deserted. The flower shop that exists only as a guise for Weiß, by day cluttered with schoolgirls and the odd housewife, is as dark and silent as the rest of the street, safe for the occasional sound of a faraway car or a shred of music, laughter, voices drifting over from Shinjuku or Ginza. The black Jeep parked in the mouth of a small alley is one with the shadows existing in the gullies of glass and stone and cement. Its headlights are turned off, there is no light from within the car, no radio, no voices, no movement. The smell of exhaust fumes has long since been carried away by the subtle shifting of air, the footsteps that walked away from the Jeep one with a memory of echoes and daylight drifting through the cracks in the stone. A little further down the small alley, a fire ladder has been pulled down toward the ground.

Now, Tot is glad her clothes are dark. Now, she is glad she is wearing trousers, and not one of her ruffle-layered skirts and frilly blouses. It is not truly cold yet, but it is not warm either, and the tar she lies on, baked in the midday sun, has long since stopped giving off warmth of any kind. Next to her, Farfarello seems not to notice the cold, or the tar. He has been lying still for nearly half an hour now, unmoving like a statue carved from marble. The binoculars he used earlier to spy into the now-dark windows of the shop across the street lie forgotten by his elbow. Boldly, and because she is beginning to get bored, Tot reaches for it. He never moves.

But she knows he sees her moving. She is on his right side, not his blind side. Though his amber eye remains fixed on the building across the street, she knows, on some gut level, that he sees her moving.

She puts the binoculars up to her eyes and looks at the flower shop across the street, the corners of her mouth twitching downward each time she reads the sign above the now-shuttered window display. Koneko no Sumu Ie. A few days ago, Tot would have laughed at the idea of such a name, and laughed even more if someone had told her Weiß live here. Assassins do not spend their days selling flowers. Perhaps that is why, she thinks, that the guise is so good. Who would guess blood and manhunts existed behind the gaudy, lively display of flowers and colours? In her time with Schreient, Tot has seen her share of assassins, all of them either working for Masafumi, his father, and her sisters, or against them. Those had always been men in business suits and expensive shoes, who spoke in measured voices and oozed cultivated sociability before they drew their gun or knife and put an end to the lives of those around them.

Well. One look at Farfarello, and that theory was out of the window.

And Schreient had not exactly been the picture of cultivated sociability either.

The man beside her moves, effortlessly rising from his position on his stomach to his knees, and Tot tries to move as silently as he does, having a harder time thanks to her large-sized boots and unfamiliar clothing. She hands him the binoculars, and then rubs her elbows, feeling the soft inside material of the sweater against the abused skin.

"I'll bring you back to the hotel," the Irishman says softly, pushing to his feet. "Mark this spot. This is where they live."

"How did you know they are here?"

He waits until the girl has gotten to her feet before he turns and walks towards the edge of the roof, holding his left arm out for her. After a moment of hesitation, Tot steps up to him and presses against his side; Farfarello scoops her up in one arm and takes off toward that edge - airborne, a moment later, and they land safely on the next roof. She clamps her arms around his neck, legs wrapped around his middle, and feels the air rip at the hood of the sweater as they move across the roofs, curling her toes inside her boots to keep them from falling off. Where their bodies connect, Tot can feel his muscles move beneath skin and clothing, and she can't keep the picture of a large, predatory cat out of her mind, jumping from tree to tree in the search of prey. Finally, there is a long plunge; Tot closes her eyes and bites her lower lip bloody as his body descends off of the edge of the last roof, foregoing the fire ladder. The impact of his feet on the ground pushes the air from her lungs, and she wobbles a little as he sets her down on the ground.

"We've known about them for some time now," Farfarello uncurls his body, looking toward the Jeep parked in front of them. "Them being assassins, it was remarkably easy to uncover some of their tracks. We just never had a real reason to go against them."

"But now you have." Tot's voice sinks to a whisper. "So have I..."

"Yes." He looks at her, measuring. "Still up for it?"

She nods, vehemently. There is a long moment of silence as the Irishman continues to look at her; Tot makes a point of looking back at him. It gets easier, she found out. Once you got over the initial impression you had of the Irishman, once the ugly sensation of being nothing more than a bug beneath a microscope vanished, Farfarello was merely unsettling to look at, but not frightening. It is his silence that unnerves her most, those long periods of time where he does not speak, does not move, just studies and observes, taking everything in like a sponge. The beast of Schwarz, Masafumi had called him. So far, she has seen nothing that would warrant such a title. Hearsay and muttered comments have installed a fear of Farfarello in her that she now, for the most part, finds unjustified. Perhaps, she thinks, it is like this with all things man is afraid of. Sooner or later one is bound to find out that often, fears are irrational.

He drives with the lights off until they reach a corner and turn toward the lights of Shinjuku that create an orb in the distant night sky. Soon, the black Jeep is swallowed by the flow of traffic heading toward that orb; like a moth heads for the light of a candle flame only to perish in it. Tot muses over the fact that a few hours ago, she was questioning herself if it was wise to sit in the same car with him; Farfarello is a better driver than any of her sisters are or had been.

"Crawford wants control over you within our group." Farfarello stops at a red light. "When you or Neu are with us, you will answer to him."

"And when he is not with us?"

He chuckles lightly, sending her a glance. "You're cannon fodder. Nothing more. Crawford sees you as such. I think that as long as you do as he says while he is near you, he doesn't care what you do unless you jeopardize our goals."

"Your goal is our goal. I want Weiß dead as much as you do." Tot turns in her seat and curls a leg up under her. From the tone of her voice, Farfarello cannot tell if the term 'cannon fodder' offended or shocked her. "Is Crawford truly an Oracle? Can he see the future as they say?"

"Yes. At least, we think so. He has never been wrong so far."

With a slight jolt, the Jeep moves forward, one car among many in a long, slowly winding snake of traffic. Tot licks over the bite mark in her lower lip, tasting a residue of metal. Cannon fodder. She would have been surprised if he had used any other term. She knows enough about Schwarz, has heard enough about them from Masafumi and his father Reiji to understand the cold-bloodedness that moves them. In many aspects, Schreient and Schwarz were alike, but not in all; there had been an almost family-like atmosphere surrounding the four women, while Schwarz, to Tot, seem as though someone stuffed four of the most controversial characters to be found on this planet into one box, closed it, and then stepped back to wait for the box to explode - or implode. Farfarello's words and the inflection behind them have left no room for doubt as to what he seems to think of Crawford. The way he reacted to the American's words in Reiji Takatori's office - words that were lies, she thinks - has told her more than any of them probably think.

"Why are you in it?"

The question seems to startle him. He shoots her a quick glance before concentrating on the cars in front of them again, and for a very long moment, Tot thinks he will not answer.

"Because the demon always follows the devil." Farfarello snorts. "When he can."

It is not an answer she expected, and not an answer she understands, either.

When they stop at the curb in front of the hotel, Tot looks out to find the silhouette of Neu against the light in a window. She hesitates, hand on the door, and looks over her shoulder at Farfarello, whose face remains turned toward the windshield.

"We'll give you notice when we need you."

She nods and leaves the car, crossing the sidewalk quickly. As the door closes behind her, the smooth purr of the Jeep diminishes and is soon gone. She makes her way up the stairs, listening. Behind some doors, there is only silence. Behind some others, she can hear voices, or moans, or the soft cadence of ordinary conversation. Was there an unwritten law that proclaimed that the cheaper the hotel, the thinner the doors were? She doesn't doubt that whatever is going on behind these thin doors is going on behind thicker doors in every hotel, even the most expensive ones. The difference is that here, she can hear it.

Neu opens the door to their room as soon as Tot has reached the top of the stairs, enfolding her in a hug and pulling her inside.

"I was worried, Tot. You were gone for nearly five hours."

The lateness of the hour surprises her. Five hours? Had they lain on that rooftop for so long? Entangling herself from Neu's embrace, she slips the boots off her feet and walks to her bed, plunking down on it with a huff of relief. Neu closes the door and leans against it. She has been at the hairdresser's, Tot notices. The dark, in this light green-highlighted hair, is cropped close to Neu's skull, giving her face a harsh, angled appearance. Worry and tiredness have etched lines into the pale skin of Neu's features, making her seem older.

Why is it when something bad happens, Tot thinks, people seem to age within days, hours sometimes? She feels a hundred years old herself as she sinks back on the bed, letting her legs dangle over the edge.

"I have much to tell you, " Tot finally says to the ceiling, and waits until she hears Neu settle down on the bed behind her. And then the devil makes her add, "Nice haircut."

Of course, he has to go and see for himself is all is well with his pain, despite Crawford's slightly impatient assurance over the phone. One does not take away a part of Farfarello's life and expects him to just accept it as done and over with. It is three in the night as Farfarello arrives on the sidewalk in front of the Matsuya Shopping Center, and even now, the streets are still packed. Not gifted with Schuldig's ability, he had to park the Jeep nearly a block away from the shopping center and make his way here on foot, using the time it took him to immerse himself in the ceaseless flow of humanity. Farfarello is tall, most Japanese only coming up to his shoulders. He stands out in the crowd like a black sheep among a flock of white sheep; his exotic appearance marking him further, there is no way he can escape the curious glances in his direction, the sometimes open-mouthed stares he receives, when he moves freely and in public. He gives little on those stares, and never understood Schuldig's amusement when the German pointed individuals out to him who obviously had been nearly eating him with their eyes. Farfarello has little care for those around him unless they are marked prey or a relief from boredom. There is no reason to acquaint himself with the faceless strangers that move around him like a swarm of bees - he speaks their language and knows their rituals to some degree, but other than that, they are just shadows surrounding him. It had not been different in Canada, or Greece, or London.

Meaningless, faceless, mindless sacks of blood and shit and bone, nothing more. Created by a God who sought perfection and has, instead, created the greatest imperfection of all times. Mankind. As unreliable and fickle as the deity they pray to; believers of the lies spread out before them like a feast. Believers who eat God's son's body and drink his blood each time they seek redemption. Even here, in the Land of the Smiles, those believers have festered like cancer amid society, driving to push to the surface amid other deities. Although his own belief in the Christian God forbids him to even acknowledge the possible existence of any other god or goddess, in his heart of hearts Farfarello thinks that those other deities are at least as fallible as the humans who pray to them. Only the Christian God is perfect. Only He never desires, never fails. His verdict is pure and just, aimed to wipe the tainted off of the face of His earth - a planet slowly wheeling toward self-destruction, waiting for the promise of salvation spoken with a thousand forked tongues. And for what? A day of judgment that would divide the good from the bad and cast those uncomfortable to God into everlasting fire while those who had gained his favors sat and gloated at his side.

Sometimes, Farfarello wonders how anyone who lived with their eyes open can still believe in a construct as easily destroyable as the belief that God was good and just. He has seen behind the lies years ago - why can't the others?

Perhaps that is, he thinks as he stares up at the building next to the shopping center, what divides the sheep from the wolves. Bleat all you want for salvation - sharp teeth and claws will find your soul and throat in the end, anyway. Because in the end, there is no salvation. Even those who believed in the Liar with all their heart and devoted their lives to him have proven themselves false. Farfarello knows that all too well.

Someone bumps into him, shaking him from his reverie. He doesn't look over his shoulder and regains his balance quickly, stepping out of the flow of people on the sidewalk. The small, razor-sharp blade remains hidden in his palm as he walks a few steps and finally turns to see a group of people gathered around a businessman crumbled on the ground, screaming. He cannot see much, but the few droplets of blood that have spattered on his wrist and palm are all the confirmation he needs. More screams begin to fill the air as the life bleeds out of the man on the ground from a cut in the soft fold of his thigh, where Farfarello's blade has cut through the femoral artery.

Farfarello turns and walks down the sidewalk, listening to the screams of the businessman dying away. He hopes, by the time he comes out of Eve's apartment, there will still be some evidence of that life on the ground.

Eve, when she greets him at the door to her apartment, is looking less than pleased at his late night visit. Her enormous body is covered by an excruciatingly minty nightgown, which makes her dark skin even darker. He notes her toenails are painted black. She pushes the door open and stalks into the living room, giving no notice to the tall, pale Irishman entering through her front door like a nightmare enters a dream. He moves towards her bedroom by instinct, doubting Eve would dare sleep in the same room as Schuldig, and opens the door, quietly, almost as though he is afraid of disturbing the sleeper within.

In the soft glow of Eve's nightstand lamp, Schuldig indeed looks - again - as though he were only slumbering. Farfarello moves to his side and sits down, brushing copper hair from a pale brow before he leans down to press his lips to Schuldig's unresponsive mouth. Schuldig's mouth tastes of herbal toothpaste. The sheet and bedspread his pain lies on are white and clean, and they smell of starch and medical cleaners. His hair looks soft and clean, as though it has recently been washed. Next to the bed, an IV stand has been squeezed in between bed and nightstand, and Farfarello's fingers follow the thin plastic tube connection Schuldig's arm to the plastic bag that supplies him with nourishment. An umbilical cord, of sorts. Only that if this one is cut, life will fade away instead of begin. Farfarello listens to the ticking of a small, antique clock on Eve's nightstand, listening to the minutes tick by, his forehead resting against Schuldig's.

Are you in there, somewhere?

Of course, only darkness and water answers him. The sound of waves gently rolling onto a white, peaceful beach.

"I hear it's your idea. That they brought him here to me."

Eve's voice drifts from the doorway, making him lift his head and look up. She stands there with her arms crossed over her chest, now wearing a large, dark blue robe over the nightgown, slippers on her feet. At his nod, she sighs.

"You trust Crawford that little?"

"Crawford would use him..." The Irishman trails off, his voice nothing more but a brittle whisper. "Use him as long as he thinks he can use him and then toss him away if his usefulness has outlived itself." He rests his forehead against Schuldig's again and carefully tightens his arms around his pain's middle, fingers moving against the blanket.

"You were in that explosion that ripped Kourin apart, weren't you?"


"How did you get out?"

Silence at this. Eve waits for a long moment before moving further into the room, standing on the other side of the bed. She has seen this too often. Although years in the past, the picture of Farfarello leaning over the still form of the telepath brings back memories of sons and daughters leaning over their dying parents, whispering their last good byes. Finally, when five minutes have passed, she leans down as well and reaches out to Farfarello.

His hand curls around her wrist before she touches him, painfully gripping, fingers digging into the soft skin, head lifted again, lips pulled back from his teeth in a snarl.

"Don't touch me!"

"You're the one touching me."

He draws his hand back.

"He's not in there, you know?"

"What do you mean?" He returns his hand to Schuldig's side, still staring up at her.

"I couldn't ... wash him with my gloves on." Uneasy now, Eve retreats a step from the bed. Not because she is afraid of Farfarello, but because the feelings from a few hours ago return to her with the words she speaks. "I touched his skin. He's not in there. His mind isn't in his body anymore."

Farfarello narrows his eye even further, mouth opening and closing again. "He's in a coma. Isn't that normal?"

"Not like that. Coma means the mind draws away from the surface and closes itself in far away from the world around." She rubs her arms; despite the warm room and the robe, she feels cold now. "Schuldig's mind has left his body entirely."

He tries to digest this, and fails. Staring up at Eve as though struck by lightning, Farfarello again attempts to speak, and fails at this, too. It is not a concept he thinks he can understand. For him, mind and body are linked - one cannot exist without the other. When Schuldig spoke to him through their psychic connection, there was always the feeling of Schuldig's presence close by, no matter how far apart they were. To him, Schuldig's mental voice sounds of warm limbs and sensuality, and a hint of darkness.


Gone where?

Eve peels the gloves off her hands and resolutely steps closer to the bed again. She leans down, her right hand coming down on Schuldig's biceps, and reaches out for Farfarello, seeking his face with her eyes. This time, he lets her touch him.

The sensation is different from when Schuldig touches him with his mind, he notes. He can feel the skin on his shoulder turn cold where Eve's fingertips rest against his skin, almost as if someone is pressing an ice cube to it. It tingles, where she touches him, the thousand pinpricks of muscles fallen asleep and now waking again; the sensation is not unpleasant, but it isn't pleasant either, something in between, hard to categorize. For someone who does not feel pain, it is hard to divide between physical stimulation at times.

And then that sensation is gone, too, and the void swallows him.

Nothing. Where his body touches Schuldig's, he feels literally nothing. He can see and feel the steady rise and fall of the German's chest, can almost see the pulse beat beneath the thin skin of Schuldig's throat, but takes those realities in with detachment. He moves his left hand to Schuldig's face and touches his pain's cheek - the skin is waxen, clammy to his fingers now, instead of warm and soft. A low, surprised hiss escapes his throat.

"This is what I feel when I touch him, " Eve's voice drifts to him as though from a great distance. "Cold and dead."

He knows she is right. There are no waves, no nothing, just the waxen, cold skin of a body that suddenly seems dead to him. And yet, he cannot let go. Farfarello has touched death, tasted death, caused death. It is almost morbid curiosity that makes him remain in his position, half-leaned over Schuldig. Something in his chest twists and turns at the thought of the telepath remaining as he is now, something that definitely falls under the category of unpleasant sensations.

Eve studies Farfarello's face as much as she can, trying to ignore her side of the connection she has opened to the Irishman by touching him. It feels as though something cold and.wet is crawling up her hand from where she touches Schuldig's skin; it is this feeling, and feelings like this, that had forced her to stop working as a nurse all those years back. Looking at death, in her opinion, is bad enough. Feeling death every time she touched one of the patients was something she could not bear anymore in the end. Farfarello's face, she imagines, must look like what her face looked like the first time her powers came to her and took control of her life. She had been sixteen, in a car crash, wedged in between bent and scorched metal with her father, and she had felt the life draw out of him with each breath he took.

That is something she will never forget.

The Irishman moves so suddenly, Eve nearly topples over and onto Schuldig, catching her weight on her hands in the last moment. Surprised, and then again not really surprised by the violent reaction, she watches him stumble away from the bed until his back hits the wall behind him, taking deep, hitching breaths, his single eye blinking rapidly.

"I know," Eve tries to make her words soft, soothing. She sits down on the side of the bed and rearranges the blanket Farfarello's hasty retreat has brought into disarray before she pulls her gloves back on.

"Where is he?" He swallows, looking from her to Schuldig. "If he isn't in there, where is he?"

"I don't know." She pulls the sides of the robe closer around her body. "I only know he's not in there anymore. Who knows where they go when they leave us."

In the basement of the Koneko no Sumu Ie, the faint whirring sound of computers accompanies the steady clacking of keyboard keys. It is dark down here, except for the light coming from the computer screen; a strange, cheesy light bathing Omi Tsukiyono's face, painting sickly shadows in the soft hollows beneath his eyes, in the valleys of his cheeks and the creases in his brow. He sits hunched over, his lower lip caught between his teeth as he works away at the data racing over the screen in front of him; tired, yes, too tired to sleep, too worked up to give up now and go to bed.

His irrational anger at Aya is gone. Mostly. It sits in the pit of his stomach like a coiled snake gone to sleep, calmed by the familiar routine of moving his fingers over the keyboard. Manx's revelation - the disk that now sits in a plastic case next to him - has shocked him. Being caught in the explosion had been bad enough; having another bomb dropped on him was not what he wanted to come home to. Home. The thought brings a sneer to his face. It doesn't feel like home anymore now that one of them is in a hospital, barely alive. There was a time when it felt like home. The flower shop has been his refuge for as long as Omi cares to remember - the dark shadows of his past kept at bay by the thousand colors of the flowers and the voices of the school girls, and the voices of Aya, Ken, and Youji. Yes, even Aya. Although their last member has always been silent and stone-cold, Omi has grown attached to him like he grew attached to Youji and Ken. Friends are often a substitute for a family, he has learned, especially if that family was nothing more but a bunch of fucking nightmares he keeps having. Of course, there were the people at school - people his age, people he joked with, laughed with, and studied with. But he would trust Youji, Ken, and Aya with his life. Yes, even Aya. Aya is Weiß, and Omi believes that this is all he needs to know to trust him. Weiß is four cats attached by strings of yarn. Blood and missions have strengthened that yarn to something rarely found in families - trust, and the will to put your life in the hands of another person.

He sits back and rolls his aching shoulders, suppressing a groan as a muscle in his back twitches painfully. In front of him, the computer is hard at work, the mechanic whirring louder now. He closes his eyes for a moment, tongue sliding over the indentations his teeth have left in his lower lip. It was this ... breaking of trust that has shaken him the most. If it can even be called that. He wants to believe Aya's words, wants to believe that maybe it was the explosion or a heavy knock to the head that made Aya go back through the entire laboratory and rescue those two strangers instead of trying to help him and Youji get to Ken. And Aya did help them, in the end.

Ken would not be in his state now if they had gotten to him sooner, the rational part of his mind speaks up, sounding almost smug. And there is still no explanation as to how Aya knew the two strangers were with them.

But no, no, Ken was caught in the center of the explosion, even if they had found him sooner it would not have helped. Omi had paid no attention to the others while fighting his own adversary - a girl still, but she fought with such vehemence that even now Omi can only marvel at her ferocity - and maybe Aya had seen the two moments before the explosion went off. He had been the one fighting Masafumi and that dark-haired woman, the only one with a clear view of the catwalk at the other end of the hall.

A loud beeping sound makes him open his eyes, slitting them as the light of the computer assaults his tired optic nerves. He leans forward and studies the screen. Taps a command on the keyboard and waits again.

And then pushes away from the desk so hard the wheels on his chair carry him through half the basement, the gasp dying on his lips as what feels like a fist slams into his guts.

Not -

But no, wait. That could not be.

That was not possible.

He rolls his chair forward again and sets to work furiously. Filters and enhancers working hard on the grainy image on the screen, replicating bits and pieces of what is missing. He works with desperation, almost. He doesn't want what he sees there to be true.

But it is true, and the image does not change. Instead, it becomes clearer and clearer, until it finally fills the entire screen, and Omi sits back again, feeling the strength leave his limbs, a cold numbness settling in the pit of his stomach, keeping the coiled snake there company. The image on the screen is still grainy, but there is no mistaking the pale, scarred face half-hidden behind Aya's shoulder. He can even see the strap of the eye patch along the dirt-marked skin of the forehead. But really. The white hair is all he needs to see. Really.

He had had nightmares about that face, nightmares about the person it belongs to. Hastily, Omi saves the image to his hard drive and copies it onto two different disks. Then he sits back and stares at it.

And although that single eye, the eye he knows is colored amber and gold, is closed, it seems to stare back at him.

Aya wakes from sleep with a suppressed shout, kicking the covers from his body. Sweat is beading on his brow. He breathes heavily, the ghostly feeling of hands sliding over his body only slowly fading from his awareness, and looks around, his eyes falling on the red digits of the alarm clock on his nightstand. Half past four in the morning. Shaking, Aya bends to the floor to gather the blanket back up, wrapping it about his huddled form, and curses silently, listening for any sounds from the hallway outside his room but hearing none. Sliding to the head of his bed, he leans against the headboard and sighs, running a hand through his tangled bangs.

You're too cute, you know that?

"Shut up." Aya growls the words, trying to calm his breathing down. His cock is hard against his thigh, every movement he makes rubbing the weeping head against the skin of his thigh and the material of his sweatpants. "If you do that again I will - "

What? Kill me? Schuldig's voice takes on a taunting quality. Commit suicide?

Aya has no answer for that and growls wordlessly, trying to ignore the only slowly fading sensations of pleasure in his loins. The dream has been to vivid to be made up by his own mind, and who would dream of being caressed by that ... that ...

Psycho? Nutcase? Loony?

"I said leave me alone!"

He can be surprisingly gentle, you know? Surprised me too, at first. I thought he'd be rough and brutal, but he can be soft and sweet as any other being out there.

Aya swallows hard. He knows Schuldig's words to be true - hell, he has felt Farfarello's hands sliding down his spine with a gentleness and care that seem unbefitting for a man who looks as though he would rip one's throat out with a kiss. A man. He has been aroused by a dream about a man. On top of that, a man who, according to Schuldig's words, is a certified sociopath and insane killer. A man.

Laughter echoes through his mind, bouncing off his temples like a ball made of feathers.

Don't tell me I'm trapped inside a straight mind ... heaven help me...

The acid sarcasm in those words does not escape him, and Aya grits his teeth, squeezing his eyes shut to will the voice and the presence in his mind away. He opens them again when the soft patter of rain against his window reaches his ears; for endless minutes, he stares at the square of glass, trying to think of nothing at all. It is hard for him to wrap his mind around the concept he now, it seems, has to live with. A telepath trapped inside him. How or why, he doesn't know, but he knows he doesn't like it. Aya is a person who loves his privacy - this is a violation of it. He cringes at the idea of his innermost thoughts being known to Schuldig. He associates a grin with that name, cutting through to the bone. The first image he had of the him, that of a unconscious man on the ground, lying there with a pool of blood beneath his head, has been replaced by someone standing leaned against a wall, one hip cocked, a taunting, teasing smirk on his lips. Orange hair messily falling into an even face, emerald green eyes moving quickly, taking in everything around them. Those two mental images are so different, but Aya finds the second one more fitting for the voice in his mind.

Well, thank you.

"Leave me alone."

Would if I could, but alas, I can't.

"Why not?"

I'm trapped. The words are accompanied by what feels like the shrug of a shoulder. Aya holds absolutely still to not shrug his own shoulder - after what happened in that dream, he is not sure how powerful Schuldig really is. Trapped inside your mind until I can get to my own body, and hopefully find a way back in there. Don't think I'm staying here willingly.

Aya doesn't think that. Schuldig has said as much before, when they first talked. "Where is your body? And why me?"

The first, I don't know. The were there. Farfarello's mind, I fear, is too unstable to hold two of a kind. My presence in there would've killed him.

The Japanese man sighs and lifts both hands to his temples, rubbing slowly. He can feel the beginnings of a headache reaching for him, accompanied by a slow, thumbing sensation.

You'll get used to it. You're spending too much energy trying to understand what happened. Just accept it, and it'll be easier.

"I'd rather die..."

Laughter echoes through his mind again, enforcing the thumbing sensation. He huddles deeper into the blanket, drawing his knees up to his chest with a sigh. There is someone in his mind. If the voice wasn't so...individual, Aya would swear he has finally lost it and snapped. Someone inside his head who easily unearthed his thoughts and dreams. He can only begin to try and understand the effects this will have on his working relationship with the others - if it has not already had some. He could have told Manx, Youji and Omi why he crossed the hall to help two strangers out. He had been on the brink of doing so.

Instead, lies had flowed from his mouth, easily, as easy as breathing. Not persuasive perhaps, but good enough to buy him some time and get settled...

Schuldig's thoughts, he realizes. The workings of a mind so different from his own, a mind that had needed time to settle down in Aya's head to find a good grip on him and make itself comfortable. Like a fucking virus, he thinks, shaking his head abruptly. Settle down in a system, get to know how it works, and then fuck it up. He feels violated. He feels left out of a decision that, by all means, should have been his own. Just like his sister had never been asked if she wanted to end up in a coma.

Die? You think I'll just let you kill yourself or get yourself killed? Sorry, honey, but I have no intentions to spend the rest of my life in here. Your thoughts are, to put it lightly, excruciatingly boring and mundane. Is revenge all you ever think of? Jesus, Farfarello thinks more than you do!

He wants to scream at him to shut up, to get the fuck out of his mind, but no words come from his mouth. Instead, Aya's scream is internal; he imagines it to be loud, painful to anyone's ears - the result is spectacular. What is in there of Schuldig seems to be ripped from its hold and bounced around inside his mind, each time it connected with a part of Aya's mind like a heavy blow to the inside of his head. A scream of anger tears through his mind, followed by a blinding stab of pain in his heart, in his head, behind his eyes. Aya loudly gasps for air, sickness spreading in his stomach. He can feel something hot and wet run from his left nostril, over his lips, drip from his chin. Blood. His fingers dig into the blanket. Two heartbeats later, he scrambles to lean over the edge of his bed and empties his stomach onto the floor, the sour smell of bile making him even more sick. In the end, he is left dry-heaving, gasping, coughing, trying to keep it down, trying to keep it silent.

He cannot determine how long it takes for the sensations to die down. The sickness begins to draw away like the pleasure did, slowly but surely. He shoves himself away from the edge of the bed and squeezes into the corner of bed and wall, shaking, wiping the back of his hand over his mouth. For a long moment, the inside of his head feels liquefied, then that feeling, too, goes away.

Stupid asshole! Schuldig's voice is cold and brutal, lacking its former superior taunting quality. It sounds a bit shaky, too - but not for long. Do that again and I'll make you run yourself through with your fucking katana.

There is a way to unsettle Schuldig, Aya knows now. He tries to keep the thought to himself, tries to think of white walls rising around what he imagines is the private part of his mind. Schuldig's slow, soft chuckle chills him to the bone.

True enough. You can unsettle me. But I can unsettle you too. Tell me, how would it feel if I made you get up now and walk next door to attack Youji?

"You wouldn't!"

Why not? Technically, he's my enemy. So is that sugar-puppy, Omi. And you, come to think of it.

Aya lets his head sink onto his knees and listens to the patter of the rain against the window. Soothing, calming. He rubs the nail of his right index finger against the flesh of his right thumb until the flesh feels raw and tender. Schuldig is quiet within him, seemingly satisfied with having driven his point home. After what feels like minutes, Aya lifts his right hand to his mouth and sucks the small droplets of blood from his thumb, teeth digging into the flesh, tongue sliding over the sharp edge of the thumbnail. His body stops shaking, and his stomach settles down, the feeling of sickness making way for hunger. He wants to clean the mess he made and open the window to let the sour smell out of the room.

Instead, leaden tiredness overcomes him. He cannot stop his own body as his muscles loosen and he tips onto his side, curled up at the head of the bed, the blanket wrapped around him like vice. His eyes slide shut, his breathing calms down. Aya knows it is not his own doing, this bone-deep tiredness that overcomes him, the seducing call of sleep whispering to his aching mind.

What sounds like a humming is the last thing he hears before he drifts off to sleep, and this time, there are no dreams, no hands sliding over his skin. Only darkness, and silence. In a part of his mind that Schuldig has now reserved from himself, the humming turns into a chortle of glee and the clicking of a tongue.

Too easy.

Part 4: Chapter 6   |   Fanfiction