Part Six: Chapter Eight: Sororcula


"Pop Goes the Weasel!"

'Round and 'round the cobbler's bench
The monkey chased the weasel,
The monkey thought 'twas all in fun
Pop! Goes the weasel.

A penny for a spool of thread
A penny for a needle,
That's the way the money goes,
Pop! Goes the weasel.

A half a pound of tupenny rice,
A half a pound of treacle.
Mix it up and make it nice,
Pop! Goes the weasel.

Up and down the London road,
In and out of the Eagle,
That's the way the money goes,
Pop! Goes the weasel.

I've no time to plead and pine,
I've no time to wheedle,
Kiss me quick and then I'm gone
Pop! Goes the weasel.

(written by unknown)

Of course, it is not as easy as it sounds, Farfarello knows. The memory of the explosion at Kourin is hazy, distorted in his mind, interlaced with the roaring scream of fire and the knowledge that the next falling piece of ceiling or wall can cave his head in and splatter his brain across the dusty floor.

And of course, Farfarello also is aware of what Eve had not wanted to even mention. But that idea is too terrible for him to even consider, so he doesn't. Schuldig Over the years of being with the telepath, he has learned a few things about telepathy, most of them making no sense to him. As most would say, Farfarello's world is an easy world, centered around killing and 'hurting God'. But there is so much more to consider when one attunes their rhythm of life to that of another being, a process both Farfarello and Schuldig have mastered with flying colors. They have enjoyed the painful procedure of finding the hidden hooks and pitfalls of what mankind generally has come to call love, as much as they have enjoyed killing, torturing, fucking, and breathing. Unable to perceive physical pain of any kind, Farfarello nevertheless is aware of the bleeding hole in his being Schuldig's sudden and untimely departure from the world of the awake has left in him; the thought of this being, once again, God's work to throw another stone in the Irishman's way to one day ripping wings from angels, has crossed Farfarello's mind more than once, but never lingered. Schuldig is so much more than God.

It is in the early hours of morning, when the city is still half asleep, that he makes his way through Ginza, hands burrowed deep into his jacket pockets, shoulders hunched against the morning chill in the air. After they finished dinner, Eve had gone to watching TV, and Farfarello had curled up against Schuldig's side and slept for four hours, breathing in the telepath's scent. So fragile. It curled and twisted something in Farfarello's guts to even think for one minute that Schuldig would remain in his frozen state until death claimed him of old age. Just as Farfarello recovers from each and every bullet, each and every broken limb dealt to him, so Schuldig gets back to his feet every time. There is no other way - life as the Irishman knows it contains one sunrise-haired German, life without that German is not worth living. No row of bodies waiting for him to slaughter them can make up for the absence of Schuldig's voice whispering into his mind, stroking his soul with the tips of insubstantial fingers.

He lets his feet decide where to take him, wandering aimlessly.

Last night's revelation about Saijou Takatori means little to Farfarello. What does it matter who leads Kritiker, they are all dead meat anyway, and no one needs a name to die. Crawford and his absurd plans be damned; the American thinks of Eszet first before he thinks of the rest of his team, and Farfarello has known that for as long as they have worked together. For some reason the Irishman cannot discern, Crawford has never found his match in everything, never found someone to whisper to in bed or simply embrace. Those things mean a lot to Farfarello. Oh, of course - taking the American's sometimes more than obvious stares and glances into consideration, Farfarello assumes he would have fucked Schuldig in a second if the chance ever presented itself, Schuldig willing. Hell, Crawford would probably fuck Nagi if the youth were willing and not prone to break every bone in Crawford's body.

The thought makes him grin. Would be interesting to watch, though.

Back to more important things.

So here comes the question of the day, and please pay attention now, for this matter needs thinking about.

What now?

Weiß gone from the flower shop robs Farfarello of the chance of just walking in there and going through the remaining assassins one by one until he has found Schuldig. He will find Schuldig among them, of that he is certain. There is nowhere else Schuldig could have gone.

Crawford, from what Farfarello can guess, will come up with a more or less elaborate plan to take Weiß out, which means the Irishman has to be faster than Crawford and find Schuldig before they are killed. Kritiker, to be taken out while they are taking out Weiß most likely, don't even play a part in his considerations. Then, take the body Schuldig is in back to Schuldig's body...and hope that the telepath knows how to get back into his own. Kill everyone and everything that tries to get in his way. Fuck the rest.

Sounds simple, does it not?

By the time Farfarello finishes constructing the skeleton of a plan, the sun begins to rise, low beams darting to and fro between the skyscrapers of Ginza. The great city heaves a sigh and stretches, shaking the cobwebs of sleep from her restless mind, raising her voice in the sound of the morning rush hour and the footsteps of office workers on their way to work.

He sits at the side of her bed and holds her limp hand in both of his, trying to blank his mind of any unwanted thoughts. Feeling thin and drawn, Aya concentrates on the feeling of his sister's skin beneath his lips as he raises her hand to his mouth and presses a kiss to it, eyes squeezing shut. Her skin is smooth, papery, brittle. The bed she lies on dwarfing her lithe, childlike body - childlike still, retaining the form he remembers before Takatori stepped in and ripped her childhood apart.

No flowers today, and there won't be any flowers coming for a long time if their current situation is any indication toward what the future will bring. Aya does not mourn leaving the flower shop behind - it was a means to their ends, nothing more than a disguise meant to distract others from what they do as soon as night covers Tokyo.

A bit flat around the chest, if you ask me, Schuldig announces delicately.

"Shut the fuck up," Aya whispers, throwing a glance over his shoulder, his sister's hand grasped tightly now in his. Through the glass window allowing nurses to do a rudimentary check on Aya-chan Fujimiya, he can see the broad back of Botan as the Kritiker agent talks to the head nurse. Midori Anda. A large, purple bruise covers one side of her face, stemming from the impact of a suitcase and an expensive leather shoe. Aya does not know if he is supposed to be thankful for her being transferred to the private hospital outside of Tokyo to watch over his sister. Midori Anda had been in charge at the place where Ken supposedly was in good hands.

Turning his head back, it strikes him that Schuldig is right - in the two years of her comatose sleep, Aya-chan's physical appearance has nearly not changed; she may be a bit thinner than before, her cheeks and eye sockets sunken a little into her face, hair a bit longer than before - but that is it. His eyes wander over the stark white sheet covering her body, stopping at her chest. He remembers all too well the day of her 16th birthday: Aya-chan, resplendent in a new kimono, running ahead of him through the crowds at the festival their parents had allowed them to go to in celebration of that day. She had been a bit bold that day, leaving the cloth of the kimono a bit too wide open at the throat, red-cheeked and bright-eyed and smiling with all the power of awakening womanhood in her. Aya - Ran - himself, both worried about that boldness as any older brother would be worried in his opinion, but proud at the same time. His sister would grow up to be a very beautiful woman one day. He had bought her a simple necklace that day, along with a pair of earrings of which he is wearing one now in her honor; the glass pearls of the necklace had fitted just right into the barely perceivable cleavage peeking out of her kimono, making the vendor of the jewelry stand grin a bit too widely for his personal peace of mind.

Maybe she's just a bit slow in growing up, Schuldig offers cheerfully.

"Will you shut up now?" Aya growls, gently placing his sister's hand back onto the bed.

I'm bored, and you're the only one I can talk to. The voice inside Aya's head takes on a curious tone. So your real name is Ran?

He sighs. There is no way he can shut Schuldig up, anyway. "Yes." He cannot get rid of the suspicion that Schuldig already knew that, but gives no further thought to that speculation. He has been silent all through the night after their return from the Makamura Center, so silent that Aya had been on the verge of hoping the telepath's presence had been nothing more than imagination. But now and here, Schuldig chatters as though he has nothing better to do, commenting on the furniture, the landscape, even Botan, in a voice that has set Aya's teeth on edge after five minutes of listening to it. This is not the seductive whisper or angered hiss from the day before, this is the voice of someone bent on boring or annoying the hell of their unwilling audience.

So tell me, Ran. What are we going to do now?

"'We'? There is no 'we'."

There is. Like it or not, but I'm in here, and unless you want to spend the rest of your miserable existence with me giving you a running commentary, we'd better come up with a plan.

He turns his sister's hand palm-up and presses the earring that he takes from it each time he visits her back into it, closing her fingers around the strip of gold. The room Aya-chan now lies in is vastly different from the place where she has been before. As far as he knows, this is a private mansion belonging to a well-situated retired Kritiker agent; on the outskirts of one of Tokyo's suburbs, the mansion stands amid a small pine forest and is surrounded by high-voltage fences. It is a one hour drive from Weiß' new apartment to this place.

Checking on Botan again, Aya lowers his chin nearly onto his chest, then closes his eyes. The Kritiker agent who accompanied him here has not yet tried to talk to Aya about Ken, or about Weiß at all. Aya is absurdly thankful for that. He holds no love for Kritiker or their agents. True, they have supplied him with everything he needs, and so much more - a job, a home after his own had been destroyed, a possible future. In return, he has given them the leash connected to the collar around his neck, along with a note saying: 'Use at will. I'm yours'. And theirs he is, theirs they all are, for better or for worse. Sometimes, Aya hates them for what they are, these agents, this organization. They are his salvation, true, but he is not so sure if the benefits of being Kritiker's tool hold up to the disadvantages - he must bow to their wishes, fulfill their requirements.

And you called me a lapdog. Schuldig snorts in Aya's mind. I might work for Takatori, but at least I can dictate my future. Is it fun letting yourself be used, Ran? Does it make you happy to know that to them, your life is only worth something because you do what they tell you to?

Aya does not disagree. Blindly, he reaches for his sister's hand and cradles it. There are a few questions he wants to ask the telepath, yet he does not know where to start, or if he will get an answer he can believe. For as much as he knows about Schuldig, the man could be lying through his teeth.

Why...why did your teammates kill Ken?

Why? Because he was a teammate of yours. The tone of voice is matter-of-factly, almost bored. Isn't that how the world works, Ran? Start with the weakest link and work your way up.

He was in a coma, Ran accuses, letting more emotion into his mental voice than planned. He was no threat to any of you anymore, yet you killed him.

I didn't kill him, Crawford did. But you already know that. It doesn't matter anyway, it's just the way we work.

How do you know it was Crawford who killed Ken?

He was still in one piece.

The answers flows as lightly from Schuldig's insubstantial lips as butter melts in a hot pan, but the taste it leaves is sour. Still in one piece, still in one piece, well, maybe that is a good thing, not that it mattered to Ken six feet under, Ken food for worms, Ken soon to be a memory. The dead hardly care for their bodies anymore. Lucky bastards, Aya thinks, and then voices his next question although he already knows the answer to it, wanting to divert his inner eyes from a body buried in moist soil, a body that will soon be nothing more than a shapeless mass of flesh and bones.

Will they try for us all?

There is no answer, and for a long moment Aya believes Schuldig will just remain silent. Aya is not blind, nor stupid. He knows the massacre in the Makamura Center was a prelude of what might be waiting for him, Youji and Omi in the time to come; the way Kritiker works, the way he knows Manx and Persia, Weiß' next mission will be to take out Schwarz. He cannot get rid of the feeling that by going after Schwarz, they are doing exactly what Schwarz want them to do.

Yes on both accounts, Schuldig finally answers, his tone of voice becoming contemplative. From how I know Crawford works, Makamura was two things: a signal, and a warning.

A warning?

A sigh. 'This is what we have in store for you.' Think about it. The people at Makamura had nothing to do with Schwarz or Takatori. From what I've seen through your eyes, Farfarello was let loose on the staff, Crawford killed Ken. The bloody hand - and fingerprints? They are mocking you. There is no way in hell your Kritiker people will find them in any police computer together with accurate information.

Aya pictures the walls, white, immaculate, decorated with red, and for a long moment, he is ridiculously thankful Ken had not been the source for some of that red. None of them had wanted to look at Ken's body in the morgue, taking Manx's words about the state of the corpse for granted.

A shapeless mass, brought back to life again by generations of worms, moving...

Takatori is behind this, he says with some sureness, making it sound both like a question and a statement.

Yup. You killed Masafumi Takatori, his son.

He deserved it!

Really? Tell me something, Ran - Takatori killed your parents and put your sister into a coma. You want revenge. You and your team killed Masafumi. Now Takatori wants revenge. Do you think you have the sole right to exact revenge because you are the 'good' guy in all this?

Masafumi Takatori was a kidnapper, killer, and criminal! A man like him deserves to die!

From your point of view, yes. We all deserve to die, one way or another.

My parents and my sister were innocent, you ass! What did they do to deserve something like this?

I don't know, you tell me?

Bastard! You don't even know what innocence is!

A soft, dry chuckle sounds in Aya's head, making his guts shiver. Innocence is an idea. It's a concept fixed in people's minds, generally applied to children who grow up to be murderers and rapists. Everyone's guilty of something.

He realizes he has grasped his sister's hand hard enough to bruise and lets her go with a small gasp, fingertips smoothing over the skin where he has left indentations on her palm. Willing his muscles to relax, he takes a cleansing breath, studying the shape of the pine trees outside of the window, thumb seeking and finding the side of his index finger and tracing the shape of the fingernail.

Everyone is guilty of something. He looks from the pines to his sister's face and asks himself of what she was guilty, back then. The side of his fingers becomes wet, the pain that accompanies that wetness beloved, well-known. Distraction. Focus point. Scratch, scratch, scratch. Although he does not share Schuldig's sentiments, he slowly begins to come to a conclusion, an answer to his question. Of what was she guilty?

She was, and is, guilty of having been there. Guilty of having been in the way of Takatori, guilty of wearing that kimono, guilty of being outside the house when the bomb went off. It is for her that he now is what he is. Had she died back then, Aya doubts, and he accepts that conclusion with a bitter heart, that he would be doing what he does now. Had she died, he would not feel guilty about still being alive, of still being able to walk about, talk, eat, sleep, fight, kill, while she has to lie here and sleep the sleep of the comatose. She is guilty of needing his care, and Aya is guilty because he cannot afford that care. She is what ties him to Kritiker and the fragile safety they provide for her, and for him by taking care of her. She is the shadow of a past that will haunt him for as long as she lies here, unmoving, the living dead.

And when she awakes, and she will awake one day, she will be guilty of giving him memories.

And he will love her for it. Aya bends forward and rests his ear against his sister's chest, listening to her heartbeat.

Botan watches the young man through the glass window set in next to the door that leads into Aya Fujimiya's sister's room, arms crossed over his chest. The conversation with Midori Anda - a very alive, very angry, and very determined Midori Anda - has not brought him one step closer to understanding the situation Weiß, and now he too, are in.

The explosion at Kourin that killed Masafumi Takatori being the result of an unlucky string of events plays no part in the ex-detective's contemplations. It does not matter who did what; what matters is who died, and who now wants revenge for that death. It doesn't take much thinking to figure out that the man behind the massacre at Makamura is Takatori, and that the slaughtering has been carried out by a group of people standing in Takatori's service. But there are unknown factors Botan cannot fit into any kind of order, and those are what make his eyes narrow as he watches the strange behavior displayed by Aya Fujimiya.

Aya Fujimiya, who carried two strangers out of a burning hell instead of helping his teammates. Botan has watched the security tape that picked up the scene and tried to make sense of the abnormal behavior, but he cannot.

Reading through mission reports sent in by Omi Tsukiyono, Botan now is fairly certain that the men who have carried out the slaughtering at Makamura are the same people Weiß have run into on more than one occasion lately. Schwarz. There are no photos of them, and some of the things reported by Tsukiyono sound as though the youngest member of Weiß had either been completely stressed out or under the influence of drugs by the time he had written them. People who jump off of roofs and land on the ground without breaking their ankles, who move so fast they become invisible to the eye, who 'move things with their mind' - too crazy. He will have to have a little one on one with Omi later, and have some of his questions answered.

Leaving those questions aside, Schwarz are a direct threat to Weiß, and subsequently, Kritiker. Killing someone who had been in a coma and completely defenseless marks them as cruel and cold; the way some of the staff members of Makamura have literally been cut to pieces marks at least one of them as a sadist who enjoys the sight of blood and dips his hands into it. According to most of the reports, up to now Schwarz's interference with Weiß' work had more or less been nothing but throwing pebbles.

Yeah, Botan thinks and snorts, and at Makamura they used a mountain to squash a fly.

Broken windows, and staff members with sliced hands. But the shards of those windows had been inside the building, not outside, as physical law would demand it. 21 corpses including Ken Hidaka, but they have left Midori Anda alive and even left her alive with a message: 'Give Weiß my regards'. Botan knows an invitation when he sees one. Leaving that woman alive has not been an act of mercy but an act of ridicule, and his guts churn at the thought of someone being out there who goes to such lengths just to throw the proverbial gauntlet.

The violation of Kritiker's computers are another factor. Personal files are gone and might, in this very moment, be distributed among the shady population of Tokyo. They might even be sent to the NPA; in the wonderful world Kritiker lives in, a murdered murderer is still a case to solve, even if the act itself has been a gift to mankind. Manx and Botan have not told any of Weiß yet that they have arranged for them to be shipped out of the country and out of Japanese jurisdiction range if things get too hot to handle. Persia might be able to keep Weiß out of firing range of the officials for a while, but not forever. The leader of Kritiker is walking a tight rope already.

Kritiker and Weiß, Reiji Takatori and Schwarz.

Inside the room Botan is watching, Aya turns his head to the side so Botan can see the young man's profile, and snarls at the air, lips drawing back from his face, as if talking to someone standing by his side. The Kritiker agent shakes his head; Manx and Persia both have warned him of Fujimiya's explosive temper and antisocial behavior. Right now though, Aya is behaving as though he has finally lost it. He has been Kritiker's problematic 'child' right from the beginning - people who are as focused on one thing as Aya is focused on Takatori are hard to handle and most times impossible to negotiate with because they tend to loose sight for everything but their target. Friends and foes both fall behind them on the way to their self claimed destination; it certainly does not help the matter that Aya's destination is Reiji Takatori, one of Japan's most influential businessmen, a man who hungers for the seat of Prime Minister. Newspaper questionnaires have attested Takatori high chances of winning the coming elections.

What to do now. Picking up the gauntlet means letting Weiß run into their doom, if Botan interprets their tired, worn expressions right. People are sometimes able to do wondrous things if they are stressed, but he believes more stress than what Weiß are already under will kill them at this point in time. The internal quarrels among the remaining members make them vulnerable to attacks from the outside. There is no report as to how they dealt with the revelation of Aya's 'betrayal', but Manx's words have painted a picture vivid enough to let Botan know that in order to support them, the first thing that needs to be done is having them sort out their personal problems with each other.

Or rather, Youji Kudou's and Omi Tsukiyono's problem with Aya Fujimiya.

Botan makes up his mind and opens the door to Aya-chan Fujimiya's room.

"It's time you went on a little holiday, Aya," he says. The cold, narrowed eyes that greet both his entrance and his words are nothing less than what he has been expecting. "Figuratively speaking only, of course."

"No. I'm not interested in any holidays." Fujimiya rises and turns his back to his sister's bed, glowering at Botan. "I won't let myself be intimidated into hiding for the rest of my life."

"Intimidated?" Botan's eyebrows rise. "This isn't about intimidation. This is about staying in the background until we know more about what's going on and how to deal with it."

"Same difference," Aya says. He takes his jacket from the back of his chair and pulls it on, his movement hasty, jerky, impatient. "I won't lay low. Not while those...monsters are out there. Not while my sister is here."

The sister. Botan glances at the girl on the bed and studies her pale face and fragile features. He can understand the need to protect her, but right now, seeing how Aya is behaving toward someone who supposedly is his ally, letting the young man go against Schwarz or Takatori would be a suicidal move. Botan steps into Aya's way as the other makes his way toward the door.

"And what do you plan on doing, if I may ask? Go out there and wait till Schwarz grabs you and do the same to you they did to the people of Makamura?" Botan holds his hand up as Aya starts forward, letting it hover an inch over his chest, not touching. "Aya, I know you're under a lot of strain. I know you fear for your sister's safety, and for the safety of your teammates. But letting yourself be killed isn't going to be of any help to your sister or them."

Aya tilts his head to the side and studies Botan. They are of the same height, but in everything else the Kritiker agent is the direct opposite of the swordsman. Botan's hair is black, his skin tanned healthily, shoulders broader than Aya's; he has light blue eyes with a narrow black ring around the iris, which give his eyes a startling effect. There is a three inch long scar on Botan's left cheek.

Flashback: Farfarello standing by the window, turning his head toward the onlooker as the onlooker comes closer, much like a camera zooming in on its goal, and the scars, darker than the rest of the milky skin of his face, adding lines of destruction to something beautiful.

"It's not going to help them either if we stay low," Aya says slowly, eyes fixed on the scar on Botan's face. "Schwarz will come after us, or we will go after them."

"How do you know that?"

"It's the way they work."

"I repeat, how do you know that?" Botan's eyes narrow, matching Aya's eyes. "According to the reports, you've only had minor run-ins with them. How do you know how they work?"

Aya's face changes from cold to aggressive within the space of a second, distorting his features. "I just know it, okay?"

It is not okay, but Botan lets it go, knowing he will not get a straight answer from the other man anyway. Dealing with Aya Fujimiya is like dealing with a spoiled child used to getting things his way and only succumbing to orders when he absolutely has to. He steps out of the way and lets Aya pass him, listening to the footsteps down the hallway. He hears Midori Anda's voice as Aya passes by her, but there is no answer from the swordsman, no greeting, not even a 'thank you for taking care of my sister now'. It angers Botan.

He catches up with Aya at the car. Aya stands sullenly, arms crossed over his chest, at the passenger door, eyes trained on the hood of the car. The early morning breeze moves his hair, carmine strands of hair obscuring violet eyes. Neither man speaks a word as Botan unlocks the door, and neither man speaks a word as the private mansion vanishes out of view behind them.

"Okay. Listen." They pass Tokyo's invisible city borders, thankfully after the rush of morning hour; not that it makes that much of a difference. Traffic in Tokyo is hell on wheels. Botan drives carefully, glancing at the man at his side once in a while. "I'm going to give you a direct order now, and you'll regret it if you disobey it. We have every reason to protect you, and I mean you, Aya, as long as you do as you're told when you are told. This is for your own safety. Those reasons go out of the window as soon as you start causing trouble."

Aya is looking out of the side window and makes no sign that he understands or even hears. Undaunted, Botan goes on.

"You and your teammates will stay at the safe place we directed you to. You will not go on another mission unless Manx or I tell you."

Still staring out of the window.

"Food will be delivered to your door. I'm going to inform the others as well that none of you are to leave the apartment unless the damn thing is on fire, understood?"

An echo of a sound. Botan decides to take it as 'yes'. "We have to figure out how to proceed now. It's gonna take at least two or three days. Until then, lay low. Read a book, relax, whatever you do. You'll be needing all your strength for what's to come, I'm afraid."

By the time Farfarello arrives at the hotel down at the waterfront, the sun has dipped the ocean into golden colors. He parks his black Jeep at the curb; after walking around for almost an hour, he had returned to Ginza and then sat in his car for half an hour, fleshing out the plan. As he now steps up to the front door of the hotel, a small smile is playing on his lips, the seeing side of his face bathed in gold, casting the black shadow of his nose across the other half of his face. In the warming sunlight, his scars almost blend in with the rest of his skin, giving him an appearance of pseudo-innocence. A pair of tourists, keeping close together as they hurry down the narrow sidewalk past him, one of them, a man in his sixties, casting a quick glance at the Irishman before hastening up his steps even more; when one ends up in the wrong neighborhood in a city such as Tokyo, a non-Japanese face might be a welcome sight, but not if the face belongs to a six-feet tall, white-haired Irishman who stands on the sidewalk as if taking a sunbath, bare arms, face and throat painted golden. The leather outfit might also have something to do with the haste. Farfarello snatches up a few words; Italian, melodic.

Tot opens the door for him as he knocks and steps aside to let him in, wiping orange juice from her upper lip with the back of her hand. On her bed, Neu sits with her legs folded under herself; her gaze, as she looks at Farfarello, is expectant. There is something in her eyes he recognizes, having seen it in Schuldig's eyes too often to not know what it is. Hunger. Good. Hunger sharpens claws and fangs.

I'll feed you, sweet. Honey and milk and blood.

"I have a job for you," Farfarello announces.

"Finally," Neu says.

Tot just smiles as she sits back down on her bed and looks at him.

"He's a brat!" Botan announces as he sits down on the couch in Persia's office and heaves a sigh. "Totally unwilling to comply, obnoxious, tight-lipped, stubborn.that list could reach epic proportions, you know?"

At the other end of the couch, Manx just smiles. She has been dealing with Weiß for a long time now; Botan's words are almost an exact echo of what her own words had been after Persia sent her on her first meeting with them.

"He's something else, I agree." She hands her colleague a folder, then folds her legs, hands cupping her knee. "The reports from the scene. And something that...well, just look at it first."

Botan glances at her, but Manx only nods at the folder. Inside, there are the reports from Makamura. Fingerprints returned no results, as expected. The blood on the walls has been matched to the victims; the killer did not shed any of his own. He keeps leafing through the carbon copies until he is looking at two pencil-drawn pictures of the men Midori Anda described to them; labeled 'Suspect One' and 'Suspect Two', they match the phantom drawings of the men Weiß have met in fights several times, their names on the old drawings tentatively given as Crawford and Farfarello. Crawford, young, clean-shaven, looking more like a successful stockbroker than a killer, glasses, dark hair, dark eyes. Farfarello, young, pale hair, eye patch, scarred.

"That doesn't give us much to go by," Botan says, a line of frustration creasing his brow. His fingers slide over the drawings as if he wanted to memorize their lines with his skin as well as his eyes. "And there were no photos of them here or at NPA?"

"None," Manx replies. "They are pros. They disabled the security camera system of Makamura and every other place where we saw them make an appearance so far before they ever appeared on the scene. They come and go like ghosts and leave almost no traces, unless you count a lot of corpses and blood on the walls. This is the first time though they left fingerprints - at least one of them. According to Anda, Crawford arrived on the floor where they kept Ken at the same time as the screaming started downstairs. So that means it was probably Farfarello who killed all the staff members."

"They have a third and fourth member."

She nods. "Yes. Again, we don't know if the names we have are their real names, but that's all we have. Nagi and Schuldig. Nagi is very young, a teenager. The one who 'moves things with his mind'. The other one, Schuldig...well, let's say he knows how to use a gun and seems to be incredibly fast. The reports Bombay sent us spoke of 'movement so fast it made our adversary invisible'."

Botan scowls and looks at Manx, shaking his head. "What's with all that psychic crap? 'Invisible', 'moves things with his mind', and oh yes, this is a real beauty: 'doesn't seem to feel pain or injury' - what are Schwarz, the next generation of Houdini? The evil Power Rangers?"

Manx chuckles at his words, then opens her purse and takes a small mirror out, checking her lipstick. Done with that, she glances at the folder on Botan's lap, and quietly says, "Check the last picture."

He does so.

And nearly laughs out loud in disbelief.

The picture shows what he knows to be the coat Aya Fujimiya wears during a mission; Botan recognizes the buckles. It must be a still from the security tape at Kourin, going by the overall darkness and grainy quality of the enhanced picture, but all that does not really register with the Kritiker agent as he lifts the photo up and studies it closer, mouth still open There is another one clipped to it, below it, but for the time being this one takes all his attention.

"We told Weiß that our lab agents hadn't been able to enhance the images. In reality, we've managed to get an entire series of them showing his progress quite clearly." Manx scoots closer to Botan and leans over, studying the picture herself although she has seen it, brooded over it and scowled at it at least a hundred times already. "Neither Persia nor I know what to make of it. The original tape only shows Aya carrying someone out of the laboratory, not who it is. When I confronted him with the tape, he denied remembering anything, but how can he forget something like this?"

Unknown to Botan, the picture he is looking at is almost an exact copy of the picture Omi has: parts of Aya Fujimiya's black-clad shoulder, wisps of that red hair just barely visible on the edge of the photo, and peeking out from behind that shoulder the face of the man called Farfarello, real name unknown. Smudges of dirt across a pale forehead, the strap of an eye patch dissecting it, disappearing into small tufts of white hair - or at least it looks white in this photo. The man is pale enough to be an albino, but Botan has never heard of an albino with yellow eyes. He holds the drawing fashioned from Midori Anda's description next to the enhanced picture - the similarities between drawn and real life are startling.

"Could you get a decent picture of the second person?"

Manx reaches over and lifts the first picture, revealing the second one beneath it. Long hair, eyes closed, face bloody.

"Schuldig," Botan says. He doesn't need to look at the phantom drawings to know it. "Do you think Aya..."

" a traitor?" The red-haired woman leans back and looks at the ceiling. "Hardly. He hates Schwarz almost as much as he hates Takatori, if not equally."

"Any reasons for him to team up with them?"

"None. At least none we know, and if you asked me if I could think of one, I'd have to say no. Have they anything to force him? I don't know." A frustrated sigh. "This whole thing doesn't make any sense. I could've somewhat understood him if the two people he carried out of Kourin had been strangers, innocents. But two members of Schwarz? I always thought Aya would be the first to just let them rot."

Any further conversation is cut short as Persia enters the room. Known to the public only as Shuuichi Takatori, chief of police of Tokyo, the younger brother of Reiji Takatori, is a solemn, reserved man in his late forties. His bearded face is kind but can be stormy when the occasion calls for it; there is resemblance between him and his older brother Reiji, in the way they wear their glasses, in the way their hair lies against their head, and at times, and the newspapers have reported on this with glee, in the way they act. Reiji Takatori is a shark in the business field, Shuuichi Takatori a wolf when it comes to criminal activity.

Manx and Botan rise from the couch and bow as Persia crosses the room and sits down behind his desk. It is the same desk where his orders for Weiß are filmed, but today the Venetian blinds behind the leader of Kritiker are open, and the light that pours into the nondescript office is not fuzzy but friendly, making Persia's brown eyes twinkle until he turns his back to it.

"I see you've read the file," Persia opens the conversation, motioning for Botan and Manx to sit down in the chairs in front of his desk. "What is your impression?"

Botan glances at the photo he still clutches and tries to put his thought into any kind of order that would make sense to him and maybe shed some light on whatever is going on within Weiß, and specifically Aya Fujimiya, at the time being.

The basics first.

"Aya-chan Fujimiya has been safely transported to a location outside of Tokyo. I took Fujimiya there early this morning and afterwards dropped him off at the new apartment, along with the strict order to not leave it unless on Kritiker orders. I have arranged for food delivery."

Persia nods. "How is the sister?"

"No change in condition as far as I could see. The surviving member of Makamura has taken over caring for her. Miss Fujimiya is still in a coma." Botan takes a breath. "It appears Aya Fujimiya is unwilling to really cooperate with us at the time being. I've ordered a few people to do checks on the apartment because I think he'll try to take off on his own. With the chance of this other group, Schwarz, doing something equally brutal like what they did at Makamura, I guess sooner or later we will have to put a guard in front of Weiß' apartment door. Not to protect them, but to keep them in the apartment. Especially Fujimiya. He's a hothead. Explosive temper. He'll lust for blood after what happened to his teammate."

"Ken Hidaka, yes," Persia says, running his fingers along the edge of his desk, eyes fixed on the tabletop. "What happened to this young man is a tragedy. Losing any more members of Weiß would be nothing but a slap in our faces."

Manx and Botan both think: 'Makamura was already a slap in our faces', but neither of them voices it. A minute passes, a minute where the sound of their conversation is drowned out by the sound of the cars outside, and Manx thinks that funnily enough, the city willingly retreats for a while when one focuses on other things, but she never lets you forget her.

"Manx and I have debated on how to proceed now." Persia straightens up in his chair and folds his hands in front of him, letting them rest on the desk. "I agree that for the time being, Weiß should remain undercover and make no appearances. The missions we had scheduled for them will be delegated to other groups. You are aware of the problems within Weiß?"

Botan nods. "They're not overly happy with Aya having helped two strangers out of Kourin."

"Members of Schwarz, as far as we know," Persia corrects the younger man, and then scratches his beard. "Hidaka's death is going to put further strain on them. We've decided to not tell them about those 'strangers' being Schwarz. Your opinion?"

"I agree."

"Good." Persia leans forward. "Botan, what do you think is going to happen now?"

The question puts him at a loss for a moment. What is going to happen now, other than a storm of shit raining down on them? What is going to happen now other than Weiß breaking apart, bursting at the seams like pillows stuffed with too many feathers?

"If I had to make a wild guess...I think Makamura was only the beginning," he finally says, weighting his words with care. "If this is Schwarz we are dealing with, and I'm willing to bet a lot it is, then they'll keep murdering to draw Weiß out. On Reiji Takatori's orders."

A glance at Persia, but the leader of Kritiker only watches him calmly. Botan continues, "My belief is that they - Schwarz - have been ordered to eliminate Weiß because they killed Masafumi Takatori."

Persia's, Shuuichi Takatori's nephew. Botan asks himself how Persia deals with it - being of Japanese origin himself, the family is something very dear to Botan. Just how dear, he learned when his daughter disappeared two years ago, leaving only the butchered body of his wife behind. Memories. Bad. Frowning, Botan pushes the mental images of his laughing, smiling, adorable daughter and wife away. To a Japanese, his family and his family's standing are foremost in importance.

How does it feel to know that the men you send out each night with the mission to do good, killed your own nephew and are a direct threat to your own older brother, Botan asks himself. It is not so much a question of morality but of pure curiosity - the Takatori clan of Tokyo has roots that go back in time for at least four hundred years, if not longer. Families with such a long tradition have a reputation of being close-knit groups that rut together against any threats from the outside; with the Takatori clan, the roles have been reversed, it seems. The threatening forces that appear to be tearing at the clan and its members don't come from the outside but from the inside, eating like cancer at the love and trust that is supposed to keep a family together.

One of those forces is Reiji Takatori.

What is stronger - the bond of blood, or the will to do justice?

With Persia, it is justice, apparently.

"We have no other choice but to wait for them," Persia says after Botan has finished his recollection. "If my brother and I had a better standing, there would be a chance of finding out, but as it is, we can only wait."

They talk for a long time, and the sun passes its zenith.

In about five hours, a store owner in Shinjuku will arrive at the door of his little business and find that the lock has been tampered with. He will step inside furiously and hurry through rooms that, surprisingly, have not been demolished, as he has feared. Before he even thinks of calling the police, he will check to see what has been taken, and find only a few minor things missing. Among them, five kilos of state of the art TNT - dynamite - he kept in the back of his shop, in a box hidden under a low table. A few guns. Ammunition. Nothing too terrible. When he turns on the TV that hangs on steel hooks in a corner of his weapon store, he will see the early morning coverage of the fatal destruction of the 'Blue Moon' bar, and forget about calling the police altogether.

Like rats on the hunt, Neu and Tot slip through the shadows of the night, side by side, following the street until they arrive at the back entrance of the building that looms against the moon. They are dressed in black, their shoes have rubber soles, and what little equipment they have is stored securely in backpacks.

Both have the hoods of their sweaters drawn up over their hair and deeply into their faces. Although it is the middle of the deepest night, the chances of being spotted in a city like Tokyo are high; there is always the late tourist, or the husband coming home from a drinking binge with other office workers, or the hooker waiting for clientele at illicit street corners. A city like Tokyo doesn't sleep, ever.

They need no words to convey messages, never have. Glances between them are enough, nods, the move of a hand now pointing at the corner of the building, where the light falling through an open door just about to close silhouettes the figure of a man stumbling across the street.

The 'Blue Moon' is a bar mostly frequented by cops. It is not a disco, nothing that would draw a tourist with candy-colored lights or loud music, no: a quiet bar, two streets down from the NPA precinct, with tinted glass windows and a sign on the door that says, jokingly, 'Let's walk another beat for a while. Come in!'.


Tot tries the backdoor of the 'Blue Moon' bar, then kneels down and inserts a Dietrich - a key-like, small piece of metal used to open doors by the cops and the common thief alike - into the simple lock, which springs open after a moment of turning and twisting her tool. Instead of opening the door wide, they open it a crack, and listen to the sound of pleasant music and men's voices streaming to meet them. As Tot glances around the door, she can glimpse a sliding door at the end of the backroom of the bar, three quarters closed, giving her a nice view of the bar and two obviously drunk cops, one of which is still wearing his uniform.

Without taking her eyes from the scene in front of her, she lifts a hand, palm up; Neu places the simple bomb they fashioned from a cut metal pipe, two detonators and a lot of metal shrapnel into her partner's hand, glancing back at the corner of the building to check for unwelcome company. Two fingers touching Tot's shoulder announce the air is clear, and the small girl slips into the backroom, making her way across to the second door painstakingly slowly.

There she remains. Listening. The two cops at the bar she has seen earlier have turned their heads around away from the bar, looking at something taking place a little further away. Risking a glance around the door, nothing more than a quick peek, Tot sees that everyone seated at the bar and the barkeeper are looking the other way; there are loud, slurred voices; maybe an argument, but Tot does not really care.

Now look, dear, in order to get the best results, you always have to take care where to place the bomb. Hell's voice, sounding clear in her ears despite the din of the bar. It all depends on what you want to accomplish, and of course on the type of device. Choose a place where it won't immediately be found, that gives you enough time to get away and detonate it from a distance.

She hefts the pipe, the metal cold under her fingers, and considers.

If you want to just do damage to a building, an embassy for example, you'll need to place your bomb as close to the middle of that building as possible, and chances that the rest will just collapse like a house of cards are high. If you want to damage people, really any kind of place will do, as long as people are close to it. The force of the explosion will create a vacuum that sucks back anything in its nearer vicinity and creates pressure of nearly 3 000 pounds on each square centimeter. That is why you need to be in a safe distance to detonate it. If you can't detonate it by remote, make sure you've given enough time on the detonator's timer to get away. You don't want to blow yourself away, do you? I didn't think so.

Her fingers find the open end of the pipe and gingerly she reaches inside, slowly, oh so slowly, finding and flipping the tiny switch on the detonator that will set off the bomb. Seven minutes.

On the other side of the door, a shelf is leaned against the wall. Carefully, aware of the seconds ticking away now, and tick-tick-tick there goes your life my dear, so run like the wind and behold Genesis in fire from afar, giving birth to destruction, Tot places the bomb on the shelf on eyelevel, pointing the open end at the door. Making sure it won't roll off, she then walks backwards two steps, turns, and slips out of the backdoor, closing it behind her.

She holds up the five fingers of her right hand, waggles the index finger of her left hand. Less than seven minutes now. Neu nods. Together, they walk away, sliding the hoods of their sweaters down as they step onto the sidewalk. Neu takes the baseball cap she had worn earlier from her backpack and puts it on. Six, even five minutes are plenty to be in a safe distance, and the bomb is not supposed to bring the building down. They just want to bring people down, and people are made of less sturdy stuff than houses.

Aya rolls over in sleep, drawing the blankets higher up his body, moaning softly as the fires of Kourin come back to haunt him in nightmares. Sweat starts beading on his brow, eyebrows crease, lips draw tight, teeth grind, all the little movements of a body under the influence of something unpleasant. He keeps tossing and turning until Schuldig, having a first row seat in the theatre of Aya Fujimiya's horrors, is bored of seeing the same scenes repeated over and over again, and forces Aya's subconscious to dream about fucking Farfarello, the Irishman spread on dark, blood-red satin, supplying scenes from his own extensive experience.

The barkeeper of the 'Blue Moon' bar opens the sliding door to the backroom and walks inside. He knows this backroom inside out and does not need light to find the bottles of sake stored in a box next to the door. As he leaves the room again, he leaves the sliding door half open.

In the rooms next to Aya's, Youji and Omi sleep the sleep of the exhausted. They do not dream.

Neu and Tot walk one block, glancing at their watches. They do not talk. Instead, when they arrive at an all-night vendor, they buy two ice cream cones, and sit down at the curb to enjoy them.

In the Schwarz apartment, Crawford opens his eyes and stares at the ceiling, which, of course, he does not see in the darkness of the night. He switches his bed light on and grasps for his glasses, eyes hurting from the intense light of the explosion his vision has shown him. Sitting in bed for a moment, he gets up and walks to the window, drawing the blinds.

Farfarello has been standing at the window of his and Schuldig's room for nearly two hours now, staring out over the black waters of the canal, staring at the lights of Tokyo, luring, tempting.


He stands casually, hands in the pockets of his worn black jeans, bare feet against the carpet. He can feel the fibers of the carpet against his toes, tickling when he moves them; all in all, he does not move much, except for the shifting of a hip, the bending of a finger inside his pockets.

He is humming. Behind him, his shadow sprawls over the floor of the room, moving when he does. His eye glides over the rugged horizon of Tokyo, the skyscrapers shooting up into the dark sky like the fingers of a hand reaching for heaven. Will they ever reach it? Farfarello certainly hopes so. Maybe then mankind will finally look upon the great Liar upon his throne of deception and see the truth themselves. They had been on the way there, once. The Tower of Babel had been the first step, but back then the Liar had destroyed the tower and given man the 'gift' of many tongues.

Cast me from heaven and I'll build a tower to reach you, Liar. Your gates won't be safe from me. Run. Hide. I'll find you.

Schuldig, somewhere out there. In the body of one of Schwarz' enemies, and hopefully annoying the hell out of them.




Crawford narrows his eyes.



Neu and Tot savor the late night snack, eyes lifted toward the sky.




Aya reaches climax, his groan muffled by his blanket. His mind, fighting to escape from the confines of a dream not of its own making, turns and twists under the iron grip of something, someone alien, much like a freshly caught fish will flop around on dry ground. Schuldig plunges him straight into the next dream.


Farfarello hums, "...'pop!' goes the weasel..."




Notes: Thank you to Mei for brainstorming with me and supplying me with an idea for Botan's real name, as well as supporting me through writing this monster. Also, thanks for beta'ing the first draft.

The idea to include 'Pop! Goes the weasel' in this part of Dust Dancers came to me during a RP I had with - again - Mei. So I accredit him for usage of the popping weasel, too.

Part 7: Chapter 9   |   Fanfiction