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Inertia

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Theme: 1. Anonymity, or, "Taken by the Faceless Stranger"

 

Schuldig stumbled out the back door of the club. Music and smoke-sweet air followed him like a hand on his back, pushing him along.

He wanted to like Tokyo. The neon, the crowds, the constant obnoxious pop music. It should be perfect.

Most cities thrummed in the back of his mind, rustle of leaves, curl of waves wrapping around themselves, knocked senseless against stone. Cities were easy. Too many voices for any single one to stand out.

His first day here, Tokyo had rolled his mind under like a riptide. After a week, he could just about handle the daytime streets. He'd really thought the club would be okay.

It was the difference in language, maybe. Most European languages were basically the same, but the minds here held different thought patterns, alien ones, woven by a language it had taken Schuldig nearly a whole half an hour to understand. And there were so, so many of them.

He leaned against the brick and breathed in wet air. It tasted like rain and car exhaust, rotting garbage and failure.

He didn't like Tokyo. Tokyo sucked. He'd get used to it--he had to; they were stuck here--but right now he wanted the quiet of familiar minds and his own bed. He'd only gone out in the first place in the hope of getting laid. Maybe Farfarello would be up for it.

He picked his way around soggy garbage toward the mouth of the alley. Rain collected in beads on his new coat and dampened his hair, sliding cold fingers down the back of his neck.

Wait. That wasn't the rain.

***

The more the rain picked up, the more Yohji thought he should go back inside, and the more he completely failed to move. One fat drop of rain landed on the tip of his cigarette and nearly put it out. He sucked hard at it for a few seconds and then stopped. He couldn't bring himself to work that hard at anything tonight. He let it drop from lax fingers and watched it tumble to the ground.

The white paper grew wet and dark, and Yohji stared at it, transfixed. Possibly that last drink had been one too many.

One too many drinks would explain how he'd gotten out here, and he had no other real explanation. He remembered the bar, the dance floor, and then the men's room, but apparently the walk to the back door and down the alley had left no impression.

The blackouts weren't good. He knew that. Getting himself to care was something else. Little slices of lost time...lost life. His life wasn't so fantastic that the loss bothered him. It was easier to pretend he'd died with Asuka. Manx had told him her organization had even arranged for a gravestone.

He shook his head, feeling his hair catch against the brick wall, dislodging his eyes from the cigarette butt now disintegrating in a puddle.

A creak of metal made him turn just in time to see a tall, slim girl step out of the club, walking away from him. Her coat was cinched in at her waist, and her hips swayed as she walked. Long, red-orange hair fell over her shoulders, parted in the middle to bare her neck.

He couldn't help it. He caught up to her in a few quick steps. Her skin looked so smooth, and it didn't seem right to leave it vulnerable like that.

His fingers brushed the nape of her neck, and it was startlingly warm.

***

Schuldig turned, shocked that he hadn't felt this man's presence, automatically gearing up for a strike that would crush his windpipe or twist his shoulder out of its socket. It would be easy. It was harder not to.

But the man was only touching his neck, and his mind was blank and sad. Schuldig looked him up and down. He was pretty, too. As tall as Schuldig, blond, faded green eyes that were slowly brightening with awareness.

Oh, shit, the man was thinking. He's a guy?

Well, that was easy enough to deal with. A simple twist of perception, and the man saw what he wanted to see; a tall girl, face as hard as Schuldig's own, surprising lack of cartoonishly large breasts. Interesting.

Schuldig planted a hand against his chest and shoved, sending him reeling back against the wall. The loss of contact to his neck made him shiver.

He grabbed the man's shoulder, mesh shirt slipping in his hand, and pulled, flipping him around to face the wall.

"Bend over, cowboy," and he heard his voice as the man heard it, only a little higher, every bit as harsh.

The man looked back at him, hands braced on the wall, hips canted back, all but asking for it. What was he expecting from his fantasy girl, a goddamn strap-on? Maybe he was. He looked hungry.

Teeth digging into his soft bottom lip, wet hair clinging to the angle of his cheekbone, eyes fixed on Schuldig's face. Mind strangely quiet, laced with longing.

Schuldig didn't know what the man wanted from this, but he knew what he was getting.

***

Yohji nearly moaned at the first touch of hands at the front of his pants, unbuttoning his fly. His cock was hard, despite the booze, with only the promise of touch. If that was, in fact, what he was being promised, bent over like this, unquestioning as she pulled his pants down to his knees.

The wet air settled over his skin and made him shiver. A bite to the side of his neck made him gasp. Sharp teeth, rough voice.

"Don't move until I say you can. Got it?"

He nodded once, glancing back, catching the gleam of a streetlight in hard, blue eyes. Hard as the chest pressing against his back, the thighs against his own, the length now sliding between his cheeks... He blinked and opened his mouth to say something--but it was only her fingers pressing into him, slicked and hot, and if she wanted it this way, it wasn't like he'd never done it before.

Wasn't even like he didn't like it. His head hung heavy between his shoulders, looking down at the dirty pavement, and her fingers curved just right, so right, and he moaned, low and breathless.

The sound bounced off the brick and flung itself back in his face. He forced himself further onto her fingers, hips twisting, uncaring how he looked, how he sounded. Cold sweat or rain made his shirt cling to his back.

Her fingers were long and thicker than seemed possible, blunt, hot, solid, and there was a flicker of thought itching at him, telling him something he didn't want to hear. Fingers, his mind told him firmly, and he let it go. Of course. What else would she be using?

He panted and moaned, ever louder as she struck deeper, filled him until he almost felt warm again. He wondered what she was getting from this, but the thought slipped away almost before it formed.

***

Schuldig pressed his forehead on the man's back for a second as he fucked him, tugging his shirt up, dragging nails down his side to hear his soft cry. There was no resistance in him. No pressure on Schuldig's consciousness beyond the muted hum of the city around them. The man's mind felt almost asleep, or somehow wounded. Unnaturally empty.

Bad for him, maybe, but a relief for Schuldig, who pressed in and in and in, and wrapped the man's mind around his own. There was nothing for him but this slow fuck, slippery and wet, the man's choked noises of pleasure the only sounds he cared about.

"Oh, God," the man whispered, fingers digging into brick. "Oh, God...oh..."

Fuck me harder, his mind said. Schuldig did, reaching around for his cock, pleased at how well it filled his hand, pleased at its heat and the way it grew and pulsed when he slid his fist over it.

The man pressed his face against his own arm, and his whole body shook as he came. Schuldig had no hope of control then, with the taste of his pleasure washing over him. He shoved the man up against the wall and dragged nails hard down his chest and slammed into with a strength designed to hurt. Fucked him still harder when the man only panted and pressed back against him.

His own climax was a surprise, sudden and sharp. He jerked the man upright against his chest and bit into his neck. His teeth closed over the man's hot pulse almost too hard. He'd never killed anyone that way, though he imagined Farfarello had. He wondered what it would feel like, that spurt of blood, hot as semen, metal taste against his tongue. Not tonight, he decided. It would make a mess, and he liked this jacket.

He pulled out and straightened up. He wiped his cock on the tail of the man's shirt and stuffed himself back into too-tight jeans again.

He disentangled his mind and felt the man start.

Schuldig grinned and turned him around, pushed him hard so his head bounced off the wall. Stripped away the illusion and waited for him to realize what he'd allowed to happen. It didn't take long. It was there in his eyes, more confusion than horror, more betrayal than anything else.

He stared, and Schuldig let him stare, let his own mouth twist to show smug satisfaction.

Prepared for violence, only waiting for an excuse to leave his body laid out on the pavement, Schuldig blinked when the man laughed. It was a short, bitter sound, and the resignation that came with it was almost a physical thing, hanging in the air between them.

The man shook two cigarettes out of a crumpled packet, lit both, and pulled one from between his lips, offering it up as easily as he had offered himself up. Schuldig took it without thinking, tasting the faint dampness that lingered on the filter.

He turned away abruptly, no longer as sure as he wanted to be in this situation. Not that it mattered. He'd never see the guy again. Still, as he walked away, his mind reached back and snagged a souvenir.

A name: Yohji Kudoh.

***

Yohji smoked and looked up at where the stars should be. The clouds were brown in the amber glare of the streetlights. The rain had stopped.

His memories of the last few minutes were hazy. What he could remember, he was trying not to think about. He felt unaccountably sober, and, for the first time since he'd agreed to join Weiss, that didn't seem like a bad thing. Well, no surprise there. Something like that could put a man off drinking for life.

He remembered a hard mouth, flat chest pressed against his own back, height and strength and...and... Her voice had been low for a girl, but still too high for a guy.

But the memory of her voice was slipping, displaced by the heat and pulse of something inside him, something that really couldn't have been fingers. His ass was sore. There was a stickiness as he shifted and stood straighter that he refused to even acknowledge.

Home, he thought. Shower. Less booze tomorrow night. Maybe he'd even go on the wagon for a while. He put his concentration into walking normally.

Back at his car, he slumped into the driver's seat and closed his eyes. He was still too drunk to drive. That hadn't stopped him last night or the night before, but he felt more unsteady tonight and less uncaring. He could sleep it off for a few hours and still be back by dawn.

Chapter Text

Theme: 3. The Sexuality of Terror, or, "Help, I'm Out of Control, Thank God!"

 

Yohji sat on his bed. He had one towel wrapped around his waist and another around his head. Both were streaked with red. He'd scrubbed his skin until it was pink from heat and friction, but he still hadn't managed to get all the blood off. Goddamn Aya and Ken. At least his own weapon was clean.

He remembered light glinting off Ken's claws as they tore into one of the bodyguards. He remembered blood dripping off Aya's sword as he guarded the door. Yohji had taken out the target himself.

Fat man in a suit too good for him and a comb-over Yohji wouldn't wish on anyone. Yohji had felt him struggle at the other end of the wire as he died. It hadn't been anything like strangling the dummies at the training center. More like reeling a fish in, feeling that life on the other end of the line fight and fade and finally give in.

The man tonight wasn't the first death Yohji had been responsible for, but he was the first man Yohji had ever set out to kill in cold blood. It hadn't felt as bad as he'd expected it to. He thought maybe that should worry him, but he didn't feel worried. He only felt tired, a little distant, and terribly old.

His leg ached from the bullet wound, over a month old now. He took four aspirin, dumped his towels on the floor, and crawled into bed. He was asleep as soon as he closed his eyes.

***

It was still dark when Schuldig woke up, and he was still wearing the clothes he'd had on when he fell into bed. A day of Takatori's business meetings had made his brain ache.

Sleep hadn't helped. They'd spent the day expecting an attack that hadn't come. He'd monitored every single person who'd walked into the conference room for six hours and found nothing. It put all of them in a pissy mood, which meant he couldn't drop his shields when they got back to the apartment. His mood was bad enough without their help.

He gave up on sleep and wandered into the living room. Crawford was awake, drinking coffee and reading a dog-eared paperback.

"Don't you know how those things end before you start them?"

Crawford didn't look up. "Everyone knows how Moby Dick ends, Schuldig. The end isn't the point."

"Then what is the point? If you're trying to bore yourself to sleep, wouldn't a pill be easier?"

"The point is never the end result. It's how you get there."

Schuldig stared at him. "You don't believe that. I know you don't."

"No. But you do, so stop bothering me about my choice of leisure activities."

"Fine, whatever." He wandered toward the kitchen to get some coffee.

"You're not going out, are you?"

He stopped and considered. He was dressed, after all. "Why shouldn't I?"

"It's four in the morning."

"I so very much care. Except not."

Crawford got that listening look on his face, the one that meant he was scanning the next few hours for trouble. "You might want to stay in tonight," he said at last.

Schuldig had his shoes on already, but he paused at the door. "Why?"

Crawford only shrugged.

"Is a meteor going to fall on me or something? Car crash? Wild dog attack, what?"

"Nothing that will cause you physical harm."

"Will you stop being all enigmatic and just fucking tell me?"

Crawford looked back at his book. "No. You might regret it in the long run, but it won't affect your job performance. It's up to you."

Schuldig flipped him off and left. He didn't remember until he was already down on the street that he hadn't planned to go out tonight at all.

***

Yohji woke up clutching at his own throat. It took him whole seconds before he could convince his body he wasn't strangling, before he could make his lungs take in air. He kicked off the covers and sat on the edge of the bed, gasping, convinced he could feel his heart hitting his rib cage with every beat.

The air in his room was too hot, too humid. He pulled on discarded jeans from the laundry basket, grabbed the first shirt he could find, and headed downstairs. He shoved his feet into his shoes and his keys into his pocket.

It was easier to breathe outside. He could feel his heartbeat slowing. He walked quickly down the street, eyes searching the sky for the moon. He didn't find it. The clouds were too thick. He walked faster.

There was always a moon in the dreams where Asuka died. He couldn't remember if there had been one that night. Even if there had been, it certainly hadn't been that color, red-orange, threatening to spill over with blood.

There had been a moon in this dream, too. Blue-white, pale and translucent. He'd watched it fade as he'd tightened his wire around his own neck.

The summer air hung on him like damp clothing, sweat adding to the stickiness. He wanted to stop for a drink, but he'd forgotten his wallet. He kept walking.

A pale, round glow, high above him, made him look up. It was a clock, high on one side of a skyscraper, lit with white neon. Four in the morning, it told him. You're out too late.

The streets were as deserted as they got. A street sweeper rumbled past him, throwing up air and dust that blew his hair in his eyes and made him cough.

He knew he should start back.

He wanted a Goddamned drink.

***

The sleeping minds Schuldig walked past were more restful than the ones he lived with. Less sharp, more wrapped up in themselves, definitely less pissy. Tokyo sucked significantly less at four in the morning, he decided.

This old man dreamed of boats; this woman's husband beat her in her sleep, though he was two years dead; this girl sat atop a pile of candy as big as a mountain and cried because she couldn't get down. Schuldig reached out and gave her a push. She tumbled head over heels, screaming.

Schuldig wondered if she'd break her neck when she hit the bottom, and if it was true that if you died in dreams, you really died.

His mind skidded away from the pointed thoughts of those still awake, sex or fear or just irritation at having to be up at this hour. He let his mind and his feet wander, and let his shields drop at last.

His consciousness grew to include the sleeping minds around him, the grumbling thoughts of the man driving the street sweeper, the focused intent of the alley cats and the rats they hunted. On the edge of his mind, he felt something familiar.

He couldn't pinpoint it, couldn't really be bothered to try. His awareness was a haze of thoughts and feelings and dreams now, very few of them his own. He knew he needed to focus. It was dangerous to let go like this. There was always the chance that he wouldn't be able to grab hold again.

The pavement under his feet was the only sensation he was sure was real, so he made himself take a step, feel it, solid and unyielding. He touched the smooth, cool glass of a shop window. These physical sensations he could claim as his own. The way his hair brushed his cheek, the weight of his gun in its holster and of his keys in his pocket...but he wasn't carrying keys.

He only had the keycard that opened both the front door of the building and the door to Schwarz's apartment. He put his hand in his pocket to confirm what he knew was true. The keycard lay flat against his thigh.

They were someone else's keys, then. He sometimes felt Farfarello's pain when he cut himself or the razor sliding neatly across Crawford's face in the morning, but picking up on a stranger's physical experience without trying was rare.

He looked around and saw no one, but there was a small tug on the web of his mind. He walked towards it.

***

Yohji stopped around the corner from the moon-clock, too tired to go on, too restless to go back. He sat on the steps of some official-looking building and wondered how Manx would take it if he got arrested for vagrancy.

He looked up from his study of the granite steps when he heard footsteps approaching. The man coming towards him had longish hair, the color washed out by the dim light. His coat was a familiar cut, and his body moved in a way that Yohji was sure he should recognize. Then a slice of light from the streetlamp revealed his face.

"It's you," Yohji said, as the man came to stop in front of him.

The man smirked. "And it's you. Yohji."

"How the hell did you know my name?"

"You're very popular at that club. It wasn't hard to find out."

Yohji frowned and shifted on the step. He could hear that voice, only a shade higher, whispering dirty words in his ear, and it wasn't just a memory. It sounded almost real.

"Yeah?" he said. "And how hard was it to track me down on a deserted street at four am? If you wanted to stalk me, you could've been less obvious about it."

"Coincidence."

"Sure." Yohji hesitated before asking, but in general he tried to get his sex partners' names, if nothing else. "So you know my name. What's yours?"

"Schuldig."

Yohji frowned to himself and tried the name silently. "Are you American?"

Schuldig looked offended. "Fuck, no."

Yohji shrugged. "No offense. Your Japanese is good."

Schuldig snorted and dropped down to sit beside him on the steps.

"So has your fuzzy little brain edited out the part where I fucked you in an alley or what?" he said. His grin was more a display of his teeth than of any emotion.

"No." Memories swam rapidly to the front of Yohji's mind, the invasion and heat and a scent that he can smell now. He didn't note it at the time, he's almost sure, but it's there in his memories nonetheless. Not cologne. Just...something. He breathed deep, trying to place it, and lost it altogether.

Schuldig's grin settled into something a little less predatory and more smug. "Good. Otherwise, I might have to remind you."

***

Schuldig watched the surface of Yohji's thoughts carefully and caught the swirl of desire his suggestion created. He let himself grin again. Perfect.

He laid a hand on Yohji's arm, fingers trailing down it, leaving goose bumps behind.

"I might have to remind you anyway," he said.

Yohji jerked his arm away. "Thanks, but no thanks."

He started to stand. Schuldig yanked him back down and leaned close to speak in his ear.

"I don't have to fuck you," he said, and he could feel again that ripple of anxiety and want. "I could just suck you off." He paused, letting that thought settle into Yohji's mind. "I'll pay for the room."

He sat back and leaned on the step above him, one corner of his mouth twisted up in a smirk he couldn't have stopped if he'd tried.

Yohji was staring at him. "I'm not going to...do that. For you."

Schuldig shrugged. "Whatever."

He waited long enough to feel Yohji's agreement, but not long enough for him to express it. He stood up, pulling Yohji with him, and started walking.

"There's a hotel right up there. You can decide on the way."

Yohji glanced at him. "You're just going to suck me off. And you don't want me to do anything for you."

"Don't sound so skeptical, pretty boy. Have a little faith."

He pinched Yohji's ass just to make him jump, which he did.

"Hey! Asshole," Yohji muttered.

"That's a bit lower." Schuldig slid a finger along the back seam of Yohji's pants. "I would've thought you'd remember."

Yohji took a quick step sideways, away from him, and he followed.

"Unless you're just playing dumb. Do you want me to remind you, Yohji?"

"I want you to keep your hands to yourself while we're in public. And I don't need any Goddamn reminders, thanks. I couldn't fucking sit down the day after."

Schuldig shrugged and smiled as sweetly as he knew how. "I tried to be gentle. How was I to know it was your first time? You were practically begging for it."

The look Yohji gave him was cold and hard. It might have been chilling if there was anything left in this world that could frighten him. He saw Yohji reach over and touch his watch, and saw his face fade to neutrality.

Interesting. A gift maybe, from someone who had taught him to keep his temper? Parent, teacher, old friend? Something to take, Schuldig thought, when this night was over.

It wouldn't be long now. The sky was starting to lighten at the edges. The watch looked like the expensive kind that would tell you what time it was halfway around the world and how many calories you used up in your morning workout. Crawford might like it.

Schuldig realized he was planning to kill Yohji when he was done with him.

***

Yohji watched Schuldig pay for the hotel room. Or at least, he watched Schuldig talk to the guy behind the desk and get a key. He didn't see any money being handed over.

"Are you already checked in here?" he asked, when Schuldig was done.

Schuldig brushed past him, jogging up the stairs. "I've got a key, don't I? Hurry up."

As Yohji followed him up, he wondered if that non-answer had been a deliberate evasion. But no, obviously Schuldig was checked in. Why else would the guy give him a key?

The room, when they reached it at the end of a badly lit hallway, was relentlessly barren and clean. If Schuldig had already checked in, he hadn't so much as sat on the bed and rumpled the covers.

"Are you here from out of town?" Yohji asked.

"We moved here a couple weeks ago. For work."

"We?"

Schuldig glanced at him. "My business partners. Don't worry. You can keep adultery on the list of commandments you haven't broken yet."

That was a faint relief, followed quickly by a reminder of which commandment was off that list forever as of tonight. He flinched away from the vision of the target's bulging eyes and purple face.

He shook his head and turned to lock the door behind him. When he turned back, Schuldig was close enough to make him start, studying his face as if he was looking for something. Again, there was that scent, indeterminate and faint.

Abruptly, it was gone. Schuldig stepped back, still looking at him, but not with the same intensity. His eyes were very blue, Yohji noticed. Omi was the only one he knew with eyes that blue.

A flicker of amusement passed over Schuldig's face, and he gestured towards the bed.

"Get on the bed. Time to start this party."

Yohji slid out from between him and the door and sat on the edge of the bed.

Schuldig planted a hand on his chest and shoved him down. For a second, he fought it, but something changed his mind, and he let his elbows slide out from under him until he was laid out flat. Schuldig knelt over him and grabbed a handful of his hair. The grip was tight, but not tight enough to pull. At least, not unless Yohji tried to move his head.

"Did you really think I was just going to suck you off?" Schuldig asked.

He hadn't, not really. He hadn't cared enough to think it through, not when the alternative was going home and trying to sleep again. He cared now, and he didn't like what Schuldig's smile was promising.

He bucked his hips up hard, trying to throw him off, managed to twist onto his side and shove against Schuldig's chest. The other man fell back across the bed for barely a second before he bounced back.

Schuldig kept his grip on Yohji's hair and held his head still. The right cross to Yohji's jaw happened so fast he never saw it coming.

He blinked, shook his head, reached for his watch, but Schuldig was too fast, faster than Yohji's trainers, faster than anyone should be. Yohji barely felt the touch on his wrist before he was pinned against the bed, Schuldig grinning down at him.

"What do you think you're going to do?" Yohji asked. "You can't hold me down forever." And the second you let up, I'm going to introduce my knee to your balls. I hope they get along, because they'll be seeing a lot of each other, he added silently.

Schuldig laughed and let go of him. "Are you worried about your virtue? How...inappropriate."

Yohji frowned, wondering if he'd misread this somehow. The fist to his jaw was hard to misread, but Schuldig wasn't following up. Instead, he was poking at Yohji's watch.

"This is cute. What does it do?"

"It tells the time." And strangles bastards who punch me in the face for no reason.

In another move too fast to take in, Schuldig had the watch off and was turning it over in his hands.

"Didn't your mother ever teach you about respecting other people's property?" Yohji asked.

"Didn't yours ever teach you about sharing?"

Yohji tried to stay calm. The mechanism that activated the wire was too well hidden to trigger accidentally.

Schuldig looked up at him and smiled. One finger found the catch as if he'd known where it was all along.

Yohji lunged for him as a length of wire shot out, but with Schuldig's speed he never had a chance. A confused and painful few seconds later, he was bound to the bed frame, arms over his head. He could feel the wire digging into his bare skin, promising pain if he pulled too hard.

Schuldig dusted his hands together and sat on Yohji's thighs.

"Pretty. You really add to the decor. Every room should come with an idiot tied to the bed."

Yohji glared, but said nothing. Given his situation, he couldn't really argue the idiot comment.

"Well?" Schuldig said. "Aren't you going to scream for help? Most people do."

"You've got a lot of experience in making people scream for help? I didn't peg you for a psycho."

"Oh, I'm completely sane. I've got a certificate somewhere that says so. Signed by a doctor and everything."

Yohji's mouth twitched. A snort that wanted to be a laugh escaped him.

"I'm not lying," Schuldig said. "Aren't you scared?"

"Should I be? You don't look real scary right now."

"I have a gun," Schuldig offered. He pulled it out and popped the clip briefly, angling it so Yohji could see. "Fully loaded."

Yohji had missed the gun somehow, even when Schuldig had been pressed right against his side. Dammit.

"Sorry," he said. "It's not the size that counts. It's how you use it."

Schuldig's smile was pleasant as he aimed the gun between Yohji's eyes. "Would you like to see how I use it?" There was nothing in his face to suggest he wouldn't pull the trigger, nothing to suggest he'd regret it if he did. Yohji didn't think he had nightmares about the people he'd killed.

"I can do without the demonstration, thanks."

Schuldig made the gun vanish inside his coat and shuffled up to sit on Yohji's hips. He settled his ass down, rocking slowly against him for a few seconds.

A few seconds was all it took. Yohji's cock, already half interested from the talk of blow jobs followed by the adrenaline rush, started to harden. Yohji cursed quietly.

Schuldig smirked. "That's better. More like how the evening was supposed to go. I'm not going to rape you or anything," he added.

Yohji wondered what 'or anything' included. He hoped murder and torture were in there somewhere.

"Because you're a nice guy and you don't do things like that?"

"No. It just lacks class. And making you beg for it is more fun."

"Right. Should've known."

Schuldig ground down against his crotch again. "You really should have."

Yohji's jeans were starting to get uncomfortably tight. His mind wouldn't stop replaying images of that night in the alley. And Goddammit, there was that smell again.

And Schuldig was staring at him. Again.

"I knew you liked it." Schuldig smirked.

What was this guy, a fucking mind reader? But no, he had to be talking about Yohji's current physical state, not about the alley.

"It doesn't mean anything," Yohji said. "Whatever you want to call this, it's still against my will." He felt like an idiot for saying it, for being in this situation at all.

"I haven't heard you tell me to stop."

"Would it do any good if I did?"

"Try it and see."

He might stop. This might be some kind of joke. It might even be funny if it wasn't happening to him.

He might stop.

Yohji opened his mouth...and closed it again.

***

He might stop...but he might not.

That was the thought Schuldig had expected. Some people would ask to be released, but more would keep their mouths shut and keep some kind of control. He understood that. It was what he'd done himself, in the past. Control, followed by revenge. Not that Yohji would get a chance for revenge.

Schuldig took his jacket and holster off, aware of Yohji's eyes watching every move. He dumped both on the floor.

He slid back a few inches and laid his hand over Yohji's crotch. He could feel the heat through his jeans, could trace the outline of his cock and feel it stiffen even more.

Yohji squirmed. He might stop... And, this time, it sounded like Yohji thought that would be a bad thing.

Schuldig laughed out loud. "I don't think I'll kill you, after all."

"Gosh," Yohji said. "Glad to hear it."

Then Schuldig reached into his pants and squeezed his cock, and he moaned.

Schuldig smiled. "That's better." He opened Yohji's pants and pulled them down, smirking when Yohji lifted his hips to help. "Thanks. Keep acting like this, and you might get that blow job yet."

"Go to hell."

Schuldig rolled his eyes, working Yohji's pants off over his shoes. "That's funny, coming from you." He reached up and twanged the wire around Yohji's wrists. "Nice weapon. Lets you get good and close. Do you enjoy your work, Yohji?"

Yohji's face was blank, though his mind was seething. "Do you enjoy yours?"

"What makes you think I kill professionally? Maybe it's just a hobby."

"Yeah. And maybe my wire's to hang clothes on."

Schuldig laughed quietly and wrapped his hand around Yohji's cock. "Stop talking now."

"Fuck you. I'll talk if I--"

He stopped abruptly as Schuldig squeezed a little too hard.

"Good boy. Nice dick, too."

"I like it," Yohji muttered.

Schuldig squeezed again. "What did I just say? Shut your mouth. Or I could gag you. Would you like that?"

Yohji shut his mouth.

"I'll take that to mean no. Just tell me if you change your mind."

This was not what he had planned, not by any means. His plans had involved more blood, but this was better. He hadn't expected Yohji to be this interesting. The first guy he fucked in Tokyo was an assassin? Now that was just pure luck.

He stroked Yohji's cock idly, watching it get harder, feeling it twitch in his hand. He smoothed his thumb up the underside, drawing fluid from the head, pressing just under the crown. Yohji bit his lip and closed his eyes.

Even without trying, Schuldig could feel the other man's pleasure starting to build. There was heat in the pit of his own stomach, oozing downwards, making him want to rub against Yohji's thigh.

He crawled off Yohji and looked up at him. "Spread your legs."

"What for?"

"Did I say you could talk? Spread your legs."

Yohji didn't budge.

Schuldig sighed and got his gun off the floor. He pointed it at Yohji's head. "Does this make things clearer? Did you miss the part where you don't have a choice?"

Yohji shrugged and didn't move.

Schuldig pointed the gun at his crotch.

Yohji paled, but stayed still. "You won't have much fun if you shoot me there."

"I won't have much fun if I shoot you in the head, either. Corpses aren't really my thing. Spread your legs because I'm going to fuck you. Is that better?"

Slowly, with faint color in his cheeks and not looking anywhere near Schuldig's eyes, Yohji spread his legs.

***

He didn't want to. Not at all. But he was pretty sure when Schuldig was done, he'd let him go. And that was worlds better than being found here, tied up with his own wire, especially if it got back to Manx somehow.

His cock was achingly hard, standing up against his stomach, making it hard to think. It hadn't actually been bad last time. He felt a wave of heat at the memory and closed his eyes. He didn't want it. It was just a way to avoid embarrassment, that was all.

Schuldig's hand slipped under his knee and lifted until his foot was flat on the bed. A slicked finger touched his opening, and Yohji bit his lip to keep quiet. His body wanted to push into the touch. He wouldn't let it.

It didn't matter. Schuldig was doing the pushing for him. His finger slid in, one joint, and then two. It curved and pressed, and Yohji couldn't stop the moan that was pulled from his throat.

"That's right," Schuldig said quietly. "We both know you want this. You don't have to admit it. Just let go and let yourself feel it."

That's the cheesiest line I've ever heard, Yohji wanted to say. But he stayed quiet. It was getting easier to let go every time Schuldig touched him.

Schuldig laughed quietly and pushed another finger inside him.

Yohji held onto the headboard as his body arched. He pressed his face against his arm. It was different than last time. He wasn't drunk. He knew what was happening and what was going to happen. He knew what Schuldig was and what he wasn't.

His hips rocked up, and Schuldig pressed deeper, twisting his fingers into him and spreading them. It hurt, without the haze of alcohol. He could feel sweat gathering at the back of his neck. Each stab of fingers inside him made his heart rate spike. He bit the inside of his cheek to keep quiet.

"You were better last time," Schuldig said, fingering him steadily. "More fun. Louder, too. Let's hear some of that."

Schuldig shoved his fingers in once more, other hand catching Yohji's nipple between thumb and forefinger and twisting. The sound that escaped Yohji's throat sounded horribly like a whimper to him. Schuldig did it again, and Yohji bit his tongue so hard he tasted blood.

Both hands left his body, and he lay still, breath scraping through a throat that seemed too tight. He felt dizzy and limp, raised leg sliding down to lie flat against the mattress.

"I'm going to fuck you now," Schuldig said.

Yohji didn't bother to open his eyes. He heard the slick sound of more lube being stroked onto skin. He did not hear the sound of a condom being opened. He opened his mouth to say something and decided abruptly that he didn't care. They'd already done it without once, and the odds of him dying of any disease were increasingly small the longer he stayed in Weiss.

Blunt heat nudged at his hole too suddenly, and he jumped.

"Well?" Schuldig said.

"Well what?"

"Aren't you going to say no?"

All Yohji wanted was that heat inside him again. He shook his head without opening his eyes and pretended not to hear Schuldig laughing at him as he pushed in.

He stopped with the head just inside and grunted. "You know, I talked to that girl who did you with the strap-on two months ago, and I'm sure she's not the only one. I don't know why you're so fucking tight."

Yohji took a steadying breath and opened his eyes. "I swear to God, if you don't shut up, I'm going to find a way to gag you."

Schuldig smiled. "I knew you'd come around eventually."

He'd been watching Schuldig's mouth, and he was almost sure his lips hadn't moved when he spoke. It felt something like vertigo, that dizzying sense of an imminent fall. He wondered if it was possible to get hallucinations from sexual frustration.

Schuldig pushed into his body, slow and slippery, and Yohji's mind cleared of everything except the need to come. Every movement made him want to squirm. His arms yanked against the wire involuntarily. He shut his eyes again.

Schuldig's knees nudged his ass; hands on his hips pulled him closer. Yohji felt skin and coarse hair against him and realized he was all the way in. He let out a breath. The stretch was bearable. More than bearable. And so much better than plastic. He had no idea how he could have mistaken this for fingers.

A hand under his knee lifted his leg to lie over Schuldig's shoulder. The same hand came back to rest on his hip, just brushing his cock on the way. He couldn't stop the sound he made at that touch, strangled and desperate.

Do it, he thought. Just do it, just fucking do it...

"Do what?"

He knew he hadn't said that out loud, but he was now, words spilling from him as if the question had tripped a switch.

"Fuck me," he said. "Do it, fuck me, I want it," and on and on, voice raw and body twisting. He couldn't stop. After a few seconds, he stopped trying.

Schuldig drew back and shoved his cock into him. Yohji heard the slick sound of the lube, the slap of skin as their bodies met. He heard himself moaning, and he didn't care.

***

It had just been a little mental nudge.

"Fuck me harder," Yohji growled. "Now, come on...Jesus..."

Possibly Schuldig had nudged too hard. It wouldn't be permanent (probably), but for now all that careful control and denial was gone. If this was what Yohji was like with his internal censor turned off, Schuldig definitely wasn't killing him.

It was usually better from behind, but he liked watching Yohji's face, knowing he was putting that expression there. Something like pain, but so different; mouth slack, flush spreading down his neck.

He fucked him steadily, hard, and deep, gave him everything he was asking for and started to lose himself in those demands. He could feel Yohji's pleasure, feel his own cock inside him, inside both of them, feel his mind start to drift.

His hand around Yohji's cock or Yohji's body around him; he couldn't tell anymore. His hips moved, and he panted and moaned and sank deeper, lost in impressions. Heat, skin sticky with sweat, the smell of sex rising around them.

He didn't know which of them came first, but it was a chain reaction. Waves of sensation rolled over him, crashed against him, until the physical action of fucking seemed secondary and useless. Until, finally, it was too much.

He came back from swimming blackness when Yohji kicked his back.

"Untie me, you asshole. And get off me. You're heavy."

Schuldig sat up, still dizzy, and pulled out of him too fast, watching his wince with satisfaction.

"Way to thank me for the best sex of your sorry life."

"Don't flatter yourself."

"Why not? You're clearly not going to, and someone should."

He reached up and unwound the wire, noting deep, red lines where it had pressed into Yohji's skin.

Yohji scooted back away from him and sat against the headboard, rubbing his wrists and wearing a resentful look.

Schuldig rolled his eyes. "It's your own fault for pulling so hard. Don't be such a baby."

"Excuse me? Whose fault was it I pulled so hard?"

"Oh, so now you're admitting it was the best you ever had?"

"Fuck you," Yohji said, but there was laughter in his voice and his eyes. "Where are my pants? I want a cigarette."

Schuldig pulled out two of his own, lit both, handed him one. It seemed only fair, after last time.

Yohji took one drag and started coughing. "What the hell is this? Tar? Dog turds?"

"Better than yours, is what it is. What were those, Virginia Slims?"

"Again, fuck you. And give me my pants."

"Get them yourself."

Neither of them moved. Yohji sucked in another, more cautious, breath of smoke.

"So you're not going to kill me?"

"Nah," Schuldig said. "Not this time."

"There's not going to be another time. If you're going to do it, you'd better do it now."

Schuldig picked up his gun and aimed it at Yohji's chest. "Bang, bang. You're dead."

"You know that's not funny, right?"

"I think it's funny."

"But you're a twisted bastard."

"You don't know me well enough to say that."

"Doesn't stop me being right, does it?"

Schuldig shrugged and zipped up his pants. He could feel Yohji's mind working through things. There would be questions, sooner or later, and he wasn't going to stick around for that.

He stood and strapped his holster back on.

"It's been fun, but I've got stuff to do. See you."

"Not if I can help it."

"Denial's only cute for a while, Yohji. Get over it."

On his way out, Schuldig gave the desk attendant's mind a little push. It would do the guy good to get rid of some of his aggression.

As he walked home, he wondered what Crawford had been so worried about. Uptight bastard probably just hadn't wanted him to have a good time.

***

Eventually, Yohji got his pants back on. He finished Schuldig's cigarette and another one of his own and waited until his legs were steady again. He disposed of the length of wire and made a failed attempt to clean up the mess on the sheets.

He was very glad, as he walked downstairs, that no one would be seeing that room until he was far, far away.

As he passed the front desk, the guy behind it called out to him.

"Hey, you! Where did you just come from?"

Yohji stopped and made himself smile. "Room two-twelve. I was with the guy with the red hair."

I was with the guy... Christ. With. Like that was any word to describe what they'd done. He hoped the heat in his face wasn't as visible as it felt like it was.

"What guy, what you talking about? Nobody's in two-twelve."

"You gave him the key less than an hour ago."

"Like hell I did." The guy came out from behind the desk, glaring. "I'm going to check that room, and you're coming with me. If it's been used, you're paying for it, mister."

Yohji patted his pocket in the hope that his wallet had materialized in its proper place. It hadn't. He ran.

The guy followed him for three blocks. Yohji hadn't thought he looked that athletic.

***

It was past dawn by the time Yohji got back to the shop. Aya looked up as he came in.

"You're on time," Aya said. He almost looked pleased. "The lillies need to be watered, and Ken didn't sweep the floor when he closed last night." Aya paused. "I was going to get some coffee. Would you like some?"

Yohji nodded gratefully and grabbed the broom. Thank God for Aya, who would never ask why he looked like hell, or where he'd been, or if he wanted to talk.

The sweeping only took a few minutes, and he decided it wouldn't hurt to sit down for a second before he got the watering can. He sat on the stool and put his head down on the counter, just to rest his eyes. He was fast asleep before Aya got back with the coffee.

Chapter Text

Theme: 6. The Closet, or, "Denial isn't just a River in Egypt!"

 

Time: 1am
Hours of sleep: 2
Beers: 1 1/2

The leftover half sat next to Yohji's elbow as he peered at the computer screen. It was probably warm by now; he hadn't touched it in an hour.

Still, probably better to be frying his eyes doing research than getting drunk. Getting drunk had gotten him into this in the first place.

Less than a full week had passed since the night at the hotel. He'd had two wet dreams, probably because he'd doggedly refused to jerk off. The only images his treacherous body wanted to jerk off to were images of him.

Schuldig. The object of his wet dreams and of his research. Yohji hadn't expected to find out much and was therefore not disappointed. He knew only two things that he hadn't know when he'd given up on sleep an hour ago.

One; Schuldig was most probably German, because two; schuldig was a German word. It meant guilty. A codename, maybe, but Yohji couldn't figure out why he'd give out his codename to a stranger.

Yohji yawned and picked up his beer. It was warm. He almost drank it anyway, but if he wanted to get drunk, he'd need a lot more than half a can. It probably wouldn't help if he did. He just needed willpower. And sleep.

He poured the rest of the beer into the sink and got back in bed.

***

Time: 7:30am
Insomnia: 1
Yohji: 0

Yohji slumped over the counter, breathing in coffee steam. Just over half an hour to go until the before-school rush started. He wondered if Aya would let him go back to bed. Probably not.

Aya was transplanting a cactus in the corner and giving him suspicious looks. Aya had been giving him suspicious looks all week, every time he showed up for work.

Granted, it wasn't usual for him to be on time when he had the morning shift, but it wasn't a sign he was in league with the devil either. Unless the devil had orange hair and bright blue eyes. Last night, still awake around three, he'd considered that possibility.

Yohji shook his head and stood up. Sleep deprivation, that's all it was. It was why he was on time and it was why thoughts like that seemed so reasonable, and it was why he kept noticing the way Aya's hair brushed his neck and the way Aya's jeans clung to his thighs.

"Am I supposed to be doing something?" he asked, secure in the knowledge that Aya could always find more work to do. Hopefully, something distracting.

Aya shot him an even more suspicious look. "The plants out front need watering."

Yohji went outside, found he'd forgotten the watering can, retrieved it, and went outside again. His coordination was shot from the five hours of sleep he'd gotten in the past forty-eight hours, and what he watered was mainly the sidewalk. At least it got him away from Aya.

Schuldig was bad enough. Noticing Aya's jeans was much worse. Next it could be Ken. Or, God help him, Omi.

He wasn't gay. Definitely not.

One encounter (the first didn't count) didn't change that. One guy didn't change that. Maybe he had some kind of previously unrealized fetish for obnoxious German assassins. Or being tied up. (Or fucked in alleys--shut up, doesn't count.)

He did still like girls--for example, the one jogging on the other side of the street with an bra insufficient to its task--but he hadn't been able to bring himself to go out since that night. It had taken him until this morning to realize why; he was afraid they'd know. Know that he'd gotten fucked (twice) and liked it.

He knew it was stupid. Even if they did know, they probably wouldn't care, and even if they cared, there was always someone else.

And now there was a guy jogging down the opposite side of the street, bare-chested, sweatpants slung so low he could see-- Never mind what he could see.

He went back to watering the sidewalk. It was safer.

***

Afternoon naps: 1
Disturbing dreams: 1
Beers: 3
Peace of mind: Nowhere in sight

The last can was cold and faintly damp as he held it to the back of his neck. Insomnia was better than this. Disturbing sex dreams would've been better than this, even disturbing sex dreams about him.

Yohji took deep breaths as his body once again convinced itself that it wasn't strangling. He checked the clock. Five thirty. He'd gotten almost two hours of sleep. Not bad, though his eyes were still grainy, and his skin felt raw.

A shower, he decided. That might help. He shrugged on his robe and walked down the hall. The door to the shower room was closed, but opened as he approached.

Aya stepped out, wearing a towel and nothing else. His hair was damp and dark with moisture. A few beads of water clung to his chest. He brushed past Yohji with hardly a glance.

Yohji went into the shower room, slammed the door, and locked it. "All right," he said out loud.

Bisexual. That wasn't so bad. Just because he maybe...slightly...liked guys, didn't mean he had to do anything about it. Marginally bisexual. Barely bisexual. Objectively speaking, that was probably more mentally healthy than an obnoxious-German-assassin fetish.

It wasn't as if he wanted to jump Aya's bones. He just appreciated beauty when he saw it. At least, he was pretty sure he didn't want to jump Aya's bones. Maybe he'd better find out. He didn't need any more surprises.

He hung the robe up and got in the shower, steeling himself.

Conditioner on palm, palm on cock. If his body wanted guys, he'd give it guys. And maybe he could go out tonight and not think about Schuldig or Aya or low-slung-sweatpants guy. Just an experiment, he told himself. It wasn't as if he was going to make a habit of this.

He let his mind wander. Behind closed eyes, he saw rough brick, felt Schuldig slamming into him from behind. His cock started to harden in his hand.

Aya? Aya, wet from the shower, forgot his--his--fuck, hair dye, whatever. Forgot it and came back in, got into the shower with him, hands on his hips, Yohji's cock rubbing between their bodies as he pressed close, Aya's mouth finding his...

That was where it broke down. He couldn't imagine how Aya would kiss. Hard and cruel, like he was when he killed? Or hesitant? He couldn't have had that much experience, the way he shied away from even casual touch.

Yohji opened his eyes in frustration. He didn't have to kiss him. He just had to...get Aya down on his knees, sucking...no, fuck, it wasn't going to work. Which was probably good, since he had to work with the guy.

It was much easier to imagine how Schuldig would kiss. Hard, because he'd know exactly what he was doing. A hand in Yohji's hair, pulling his head back, exposing his neck. Teeth on his throat. Or a knife. Something sharp and dangerous.

Yohji heard himself moan as the steam built. His free hand cupped his balls, squeezing softly in rhythm with his strokes.

Schuldig would want to fuck him again, would say so right in his ear. Hand moving down his back, fingers slipping between his cheeks.

Yohji's own fingers moved behind his balls, seeking, but he stopped himself. He didn't do that to himself. He only let the girls do it because they wanted to. He didn't like it that much.

So he'd tell Schuldig no. No, get down on your knees for me. Suck me off like you promised, you sick fuck.

And Schuldig would stroke him roughly--yeah, like that--and get on his knees, grinning up at him, that tilted devil's smile. He'd kneel and lick--

Yohji trailed fingers over his cock, panting. He let one drag right across the head, too slowly, because it wasn't him doing it so he couldn't judge how long to linger. Imperfectly perfect, and just a little too much. His thighs shook.

More. Suck me. He couldn't tell whether he'd said it out loud. Didn't care. He thrust hard into his hand, curled fingers slick and wet and hot as lips and tongue.

He gentled his thrusts, made his grip looser, and in his mind Schuldig teased him. Tongue--thumb--rubbing over the head of his cock. Mocking smile and mocking words.

Yohji could only gasp in reply. His hips snapped forward, and he lost control. The pressure built as he fucked Schuldig's imagined mouth, and he came with a ragged breath and the sharp crack of his head against the tile wall.

He stared at the wall opposite, hand still moving lightly over his cock. His mind was thankfully blank, his breath harsh in his throat.

It felt so good not to think. He moved under the spray and closed his eyes, warm water streaming over his face and down his body. After a minute, he slid down the wall to sit on the shower floor. The impact of the water on his eyelids turned his vision to dark red and purple swirls.

It didn't matter what he was, he realized. It didn't matter whether he wanted Schuldig again or not. It wasn't like he could call him up and ask if he wanted to screw. Not that he would if he could.

All right. So he might. But only because of the peace it bought him. Only because of the time afterward, now, when he wasn't the guy who'd gotten his lover killed, or a murderer, or even a fucking florist.

It was better than booze, even if didn't last as long. Yeah. If he had Schuldig's number, he might call. And if he liked guys, really, wasn't that the least of his problems?

The water was starting to cool. He forced himself to his feet and washed quickly. He turned the extractor fan on to suck up some of the steam and dried off, wrapping the towel around his waist.

The mirror was fogged, so much water condensed on its surface that the drops gathered together to form tiny rivers that ran slowly down to the countertop. Yohji wiped a patch clear with his palm and looked at his face.

He looked different now, he was sure. Thinner, older, harder. Something. When he joined Weiss, Manx told him his life was over. He was just now realizing she was right, just now beginning to resent it.

Is this it? he asked his reflection silently. Booze and sex and blood and bad dreams? Why are you even bothering?

He held his own gaze for so long his eyes started to ache, and stopped only when someone pounded on the door.

"Will you hurry up in there?" Ken yelled. "I just got back from a game!"

Which meant he would be covered in mud and stray blades of grass. Yohji smirked to himself--at himself--and put on his robe. Ken could find out for himself how much hot water was left. He brushed past Ken and walked back to his own room.

He lay on his bed and looked up at the cracks in the plaster ceiling.

Why are you even bothering?

He didn't want to die. Maybe that was a good enough reason for now. He closed his eyes and slept through till morning with no dreams.

Chapter Text

Theme: 24. Doctor's In, or, "My, What a Big Thermometer You Have There!"

 

The bulging eyes and red face of the man who murdered Maki hadn't phased Yohji at all. He'd almost smiled, watching the man gasp for air, watching thick fingers close uselessly over the wire around his neck. He'd barely even felt it as Omi's careful stiches popped, one by one.

Now he was bleeding. He could feel it soaking the bandage.

Aya, Omi, and Ken had left him alone with her body afterwards, as if there was anything he could do for her now. He'd always thought flowers shouldn't be wasted on the dead, but laying the orchid over her clasped hands seemed inevitable. He wondered if the moon he was sure to see in his dreams tonight would be that pale violet.

He went down the stairs and out the fire door at the back of the building. He dialed Aya's cell phone number, told him he'd get home on his own.

There was a pause before Aya replied. "Don't drink," was what he said, at last. "Your wound--"

"I know," Yohji snapped, and hung up. The alcohol would make it harder for the blood to clot. But damn, he really wanted a drink.

He wondered how he'd get home. He could walk, in theory. It wasn't that far. Maybe twenty blocks. He could call one of them for a ride later, but Ken or Omi would want to talk, and he couldn't face that. Aya would've been okay, except he'd apparently forgotten how to mind his own business.

Yohji paused in the shelter of a doorway to light a cigarette. He wasn't supposed to carry those on missions either. No wallet, no ID, no personal items of any kind. Fuck it; it wasn't as if he was going to leave the butts at the crime scene.

They were allowed to carry cash, but he'd forgotten. Just getting here had been as much as he could manage.

Street lights cast his shadow across the pavement, sharp and slanted, as he walked. It looked too distinct to be just a trick of the light, as if it had a life of its own.

***

"Just watch," Crawford had told him. "Don't interfere."

So Schuldig just watched. He watched four dark shapes go into the building. He heard the dying screams of the senior members of Riot in his mind. He watched three shapes leave.

Schuldig's job was over. The 50-50 chance that Takatori would choose this night to visit his business associates had not materialized. It would've been much easier to just make up Takatori's mind for him and ensure he'd spend a nice evening at home, but Crawford had said no. Which was weird, because normally Crawford was all for fucking with Takatori's mind.

So Schuldig was out in the damp night for basically no reason at all, while the rest of them ate pizza and watched Japanese-dubbed Alfred Hitchcock movies. Fuckers.

But as long as he was out here already, he might as well find out what had happened to the fourth member of the team. That one had felt familiar to him.

Schuldig didn't know that many people in Tokyo, and fewer still who killed for a living. When he rounded the back of the building, he wasn't exactly surprised by what he found.

Yohji was leaning in a doorway and he slid down to sit on the doorstep as Schuldig watched. He curled over, head resting on his knees. The hand holding his cigarette lay limply on the cement.

There was no guilt in his surface thoughts, which was a nice surprise. Had he really come that far in...what? Three weeks? Maybe a little longer. The loneliness was unsurprising, considering his team had just up and left him behind. Crawford could be a stone bastard and a fair few of Schuldig's scars came from his displeasure, but he'd never left one of them behind.

Schuldig studied Yohji's hunched figure for a second and then pushed a little deeper. Pain was his immediate impression, quickly followed by an anger that left no room for guilt, or at least not simple guilt at the lives he'd taken tonight.

Yohji raised his head, looking around, and Schuldig pulled quickly out of his mind.

"Who...?" Yohji said. He tried to get to his feet and didn't make it.

Schuldig stepped out of the shadows. "Well, well. Fancy meeting you here."

***

Yohji groaned and lowered his head again. "Wonderful. Just what I needed."

"I am, actually, thanks for noticing. I mean, unless you want to sit there and bleed to death. Up to you."

"If that's the choice that involves you fucking off, then yeah."

Schuldig braced a hand against the wall, leaning over him. "Too bad for you, then. You don't get to die when I might still want to kill you someday. Get up."

"Make me."

"Fine."

There was a dizzying moment when Yohji thought he might lose the remains of his long ago supper, and then he was slung neatly over Schuldig's shoulder.

He punched him in the back as hard as he could, painfully aware that it wasn't very hard at all. "What the hell! Put me down!"

"Shut up. And if you hit me again, I'll take you to the hospital."

Yohji re-thought the kick he was planning to aim towards Schuldig's stomach. The hospital would mean police when the doctors saw the bullet wound.

"Where are you taking me now?" he asked instead.

"There's a first aid kit in my car."

A few more steps passed in silence. Yohji's weight was not on his wound, but while the position wasn't actually uncomfortable, it was still embarrassing.

"I can walk."

"Bet you can't."

"I can."

"Bet you your watch you can't."

"Put me down."

"Is it a bet?"

"Yes, all right? Just put me down." He'd killed three people tonight. Walking a few blocks shouldn't be a problem.

Schuldig put him down. Blood rushed to, or possibly away from, Yohji's brain. Darkness crept over his eyes, and the hole in his side throbbed. He took two steps and crumpled slowly to his knees.

He braced his hands against the sidewalk and let his head hang down until he was sure he wasn't going to pass out. When he looked up, Schuldig was squatting beside him.

"Hand it over," Schuldig said, grinning.

"You should've said which watch. I've got two more at home."

"But I want that one."

"Too bad for you."

Schuldig frowned. "I should just leave you here. Welsher."

"Feel free."

There was a brief pause.

"What are the other two?"

Yohji sighed. "One of them's a Rolex."

"Ding, ding, ding!" Schuldig sang out cheerfully. "We have a winner."

Yohji's arm was pulled over Schuldig's shoulders, so that when Schuldig stood, he was forced to his feet as well.

"I like that watch," Yohji muttered.

"I bet you'll like not dying more. It's fun. Trust me."

"I'm not going to die. It's just a scratch."

Schuldig helped him the last two blocks to his car, and Yohji lost track of his irritation in the pain of getting his body to move. He almost wished he hadn't asked Schuldig to put him down.

At the car, Schuldig yanked the passenger's side door open and dumped him onto the seat.

"Take your shirt off."

Yohji tried. He really did. He just couldn't get the sleeves to cooperate, and the world was going spinny again.

Schuldig smacked his cheek lightly, and he realized he'd been staring at his own reflection in a store window, one arm tangled in his sleeve.

"You are such an idiot." Schuldig tugged his shirt off over his head, and Yohji winced as the movement pulled the muscles in his side.

Schuldig peered at the wound. "You popped your stitches? Good job."

"Didn't do it on purpose," Yohji mumbled.

Schuldig did things to the wound that stung and soothed by turns. Yohji closed his eyes. He'd seen enough of his own blood.

***

Schuldig taped the bandage into place. The stitches would need to be redone, but that could wait. Would have to wait, anyway. This wasn't the place for it, and he could hardly drag Yohji back to Schwarz's apartment. Not without some very pointed questions from Crawford, anyway.

He looked at Yohji with mild annoyance. "Will they come pick you up if you call them?" he asked.

"...Who?"

"The people you came here with. I saw you. Don't bother lying."

Yohji sighed. "Yeah. Not gonna call though."

"Then call a cab."

"No money."

Schuldig frowned at him. "What exactly were you going to do if I hadn't shown up?"

He shrugged. "Hadn't gotten that far."

Schuldig backhanded him. Not too hard, but enough to make a satisfying noise. Two satisfying noises, since the crack of knuckles against Yohji's face was followed by a loud, "Ow!"

Yohji rubbed his jaw. "That hurt, you son of a bitch."

"Don't call my mother names. Get your phone out and call your little friends."

"You're not driving me home?"

Schuldig just stared at him. Yohji seemed to be as surprised by the question as he was.

"I thought...to get the watch...fuck. Never mind." Yohji stood up quickly and sat back down hard, clutching his head. "Fuck," he said again.

Schuldig pushed his legs into the car and closed the door. He got in the driver's seat and started up.

"Where are we going?" Yohji asked.

"Hotel."

"Don't stick me with the bill again. I don't think I can outrun anyone right now."

Schuldig pulled out his cell and dialed Crawford's number. It'd be easier to use telepathy, but telepathy wouldn't interrupt their viewing of North by Northwest.

***

"Was that your boss?" Yohji asked after Schuldig had hung up.

"Yeah."

"You..." He trailed off, wondering if it was a good idea to point out that Yohji now knew his boss' name.

Schuldig snorted. "Yeah, I used his name. It's Bradley Crawford, actually, but he gets really pissy if you call him Bradley. Please," he added. "You and your little band of merry men are not a threat to us. Not remotely."

"Why are you doing this?" Yohji asked.

"I told you. You don't get to die until I've decided whether or not I'm going to kill you."

"I wouldn't have..." He stopped. He didn't think the wound was life threatening, but the truth was he'd barely looked at it. He thought about bleeding out in that doorway, less than a block from the bodies of the men he'd killed. Two weeks ago, it would've seemed appropriate. Now it just made him shiver.

"Yeah, well," he said instead. "You let me know when you decide."

Schuldig didn't answer or look at him. After a minute or two of silence, Yohji wondered if he'd spoken at all.

That faint scent he remembered from their last encounter crept over him.

"Do you want to die, Yohji?"

"No." It felt different saying it out loud.

"If you ever change your mind..."

He rolled his eyes. "You'll be the first to know."

"Good boy."

Schuldig pulled into the hotel parking lot and skidded into a parking space with a twist of the wheel and a scream of the brakes. He grinned and leapt out of the car, around at Yohji's side and yanking him to his feet in a second.

Yohji tottered and swayed, and the world went a little dark around the edges. He closed his eyes, but Schuldig's grip on his arm was insistent. He was towed along until they reached the lobby and he could lean on the counter while Schuldig spoke to the girl behind it.

"Pay her this time," Yohji hissed at him.

Schuldig sighed deeply. "Fine. You're no fun at all."

But he did hand over a credit card and got a key card in the usual way. Thankfully, the girl asked no questions about Yohji's state, even with his shirt still off and blood seeping through his bandage. In fact, she didn't even seem to notice.

It was a nicer hotel than the last one; marble floor, fountain in the center of the lobby, glass elevators that let you look down as you rode up to your room. Or, in this case, gave everyone in the lobby a good view as you were groped by the man riding up to your room with you.

Yohji pushed weakly at Schuldig's chest. "Quit it." He could see the girl who'd checked them in staring.

Schuldig laughed and stuck a hand down the back of his pants. "You're too easy."

Yohji thought about kneeing him, but Schuldig stopped just then, still laughing as the elevator doors opened.

"You are such an asshole," Yohji muttered.

"Whatever. Come on."

Dragged down the hall and into a room that smelled faintly of roses, Yohji collapsed on the bed. Sleep would be good, he thought. Sleep would be fantastic. Miraculous, even. A reason to start attending church again.

Schuldig sat beside him, bouncing the bed. "You want those stitches now?"

"Whatever," Yohji heard himself mumble.

He felt himself rolled onto his side, felt the bandages peeled away. There was nothing else for a while except for easily ignored rustling sounds.

He slept.

***

Schuldig finished the stitches, but kept the pain block in place a little longer. The pain would wake him otherwise, and he'd just start griping. Not that that wasn't entertaining, but Schuldig needed to think.

He sat at the head of the bed, arms around his knees. The light from the open bathroom door was enough to let him see Yohji's shadowed face and the stained white of his new bandages.

This was a little too much work for a watch.

He drummed his fingers on his knee, thinking back, not quite sure how he'd gotten here. Each step had seemed logical enough. Yohji was a damn good lay. There was no point letting him die. Which, all right, he probably wouldn't have done, but a few bandages weren't much trouble.

The hotel and the stitches, that was something else. That seemed like maybe a little too much for a guy he'd only fucked twice.

On the other hand, Yohji was clearly an idiot, and who knew where the fuck he would've ended up if Schuldig had just left him there. Not that it mattered. But he was a good lay.

Yohji groaned quietly and curled further in on himself. Schuldig gave more concentration to the pain block and watched his face smooth out.

A light push with one foot rolled Yohji onto his back, sprawled diagonally across the bed. Half-naked and unconscious. Schuldig leaned forward and touched his lips, which parted. Schuldig's finger was drawn into his mouth.

Interesting. He drew his hand back, noting the slight suction and the wet heat of Yohji's mouth. Payment, he thought. It was only fair.

He unzipped his pants and pulled out his dick, stroking it a few times. It didn't take much, not with Yohji lying there, lips parted and faintly wet. He knelt over over his chest and cupped the back of his head, lifting it. Bringing Yohji's lips in contact with the head.

Yohji made a face at the bitter salt of the liquid that slowly gathered at the tip, but it was the easiest thing in the world to make him believe it was sweet. Sweet like honey, no, like booze. Just a little twist in perception, and Yohji's tongue was lapping at him steadily, lips brushing and bumping against him until he'd had enough teasing and started to press inside.

He stopped with just the head inside, soothing Yohji's mind, keeping him from consciousness just a little longer. Yohji was sucking gently, idly, tip of his tongue pressing almost too hard against the slit in search of that taste.

Schuldig gasped, thrust forward, let go of his hold on Yohji's consciousness a little sooner than he'd planned. Watched his eyes open.

For a few seconds, Yohji kept sucking lazily at his cock, looking up at him with heavy-lidded eyes. Those few seconds made his cock pulse with heat, made him want to fuck Yohji's mouth right now.

Then the panic cut in, and Yohji was pushing him off, scrambling back across the bed and almost off it before Schuldig let up on the block and all the pain hit him at once. Yohji curled onto his side and groaned.

"You didn't have to stop," Schuldig said. "You were doing so well."

"I fucking hate you, you son of a bitch. What did you do to me?"

"I rescued you from certain mugging and stitched you up and paid for your hotel room. You could show a little gratitude."

"You drugged me."

"Do you feel drugged?"

"...It wore off. Just in time."

Schuldig snorted. "Right. Because that's a more logical explanation than you being a natural cocksucker."

Yohji just shut his eyes and turned his head away.

"I could make the pain go away," Schuldig offered. "If you finish what you started."

"No more drugs," Yohji said, voice muffled by the bedspread.

"No drugs. And it wasn't all that bad, was it? Tasted better than plastic, I bet."

He shunted some of the pain away, let it fizzle off harmlessly before it reached the brain, just a few chemical chains broken. Yohji breathed out in relief.

"What makes you think I ever--"

"Sucked Keiko's strap-on before she fucked you?" He smiled, watching Yohji's face turn a shade paler. "Girls like to gossip. So, did it? Taste better?"

Yohji frowned. "It didn't taste like...like I thought." Like women. Or like me.

Schuldig laughed. "Yeah, well, I'm just special. Doesn't hurt as much now, does it?"

Yohji shook his head. "How did you do that?"

"Does it matter? Get over here and finish what you started."

"No." Yohji yawned and laid his head back down on the bed, hand tucked under his cheek. "Gonna sleep now," he mumbled. "Night."

Schuldig stared at him, lips pressed tight. He could make Yohji do this. He wouldn't even have to control his movements. He could use the pain to push him into it. Yohji wasn't all that far from actually wanting it.

"Fucking hell," Schuldig said.

Yohji either didn't hear him, or chose to pretend he didn't.

He could force him, but then he'd probably have to force him next time too, and that got boring fast.

Schuldig sighed as loudly as possible, just in case Yohji was faking it, and took himself in hand.

***

Yohji woke up well rested and in surprisingly little pain. His side hurt when he sat up, but he could sit up, and his head wasn't spinning any more. He looked around for Schuldig, but the room was empty.

His stomach itched. He reached down to scratch it without looking and found himself scratching something off. It came off in flakes, and at first he thought it was skin. Then he looked down. Dried in white streaks across his stomach, it was certainly not skin. He groaned and dragged himself into the bathroom to wash it off. Nice, Schuldig. Very classy.

Even classier was the note written in soap on the bathroom mirror: Don't you fucking dare get room service! Yohji was heading for the phone with a smile on his face almost before he finished reading it.

He almost changed his mind when he noticed the neat stitches in his side. Almost.

Two hours later, well fed and reasonably clean, he left the hotel--through the back door, just in case. His cell phone rang as he stepped outside.

"Hello?"

"Where are you?" Aya demanded.

"Fuck, do we have another mission already?"

"Just answer the question."

"I'm..." He looked around and gave Aya the name of the hotel. "I don't know what street. I wasn't really paying attention."

"Just stay there," Aya said. "I'll pick you up."

Ten minutes later, the white Porsche pulled up, and Yohji got in.

"What's wrong?"

Aya said nothing. Yohji grabbed his shoulder to get his attention. "Aya, seriously. What is it? Is everyone okay?"

Aya shook off his hand. "Next time you're wounded and you choose to stay out all night..." He paused, clearly restraining himself from filling in what he thought Yohji's activities might have been. "Next time, call."

Yohji stared at him. "Were you worried about me?"

"It would be inconvenient to deal with a replacement. It took long enough to get used to you."

If you looked hard, there were dark circles visible under Aya's eyes. He looked crankier than usual. Somehow, Yohji kept himself from grinning.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I just called a friend, and he got me a hotel room. I wasn't thinking real clearly."

Aya looked almost curious, but of course he wouldn't ask. Aya never asked. And last night's behavioral aberration had apparently been brought on by actual human concern, for all he was trying to hide it.

Yohji patted his shoulder. "Thanks for the ride, man."

Aya didn't quite shrug his hand off this time, though he looked as if he might like to.

"Do you still know people?" Yohji asked suddenly. "From before?"

Aya shook his head.

"No one at all?"

"No." Aya glanced at him. "Do you?"

Yohji shrugged. "Sorta." But he didn't, not really. He knew people to say hello to in clubs or on the street, and he still had contacts at the police station, but that was all.

There was no one from before who mattered, no one but Asuka. It had always been the two of them against the world, with no room for anyone else.

Well, there was plenty of room now.

He talked through the rest of the ride home. Aya's responses were monosyllabic, but at least he responded. Aya gave him an odd look when he suggested they all get take-out and a movie, but didn't refuse. When they got home, Ken and Omi jumped at the idea, even before Yohji said it would be his treat.

***

"Where'd you get that?" Nagi was staring at his wrist.

Schuldig held his hand up, turning it so the gold of the watch flashed in the light from the halogen track. He'd say this much for Tokyo; the apartment was nice.

"Like it? It was a present from our fearless leader."

Nagi glanced at Crawford.

"He's lying," Crawford said, without looking up from his computer.

"Did you steal it?" Nagi asked.

"No, I didn't steal it." He was about to say more when Farfarello looked up from the knife he was sharpening.

"His boyfriend gave it to him," Farfarello said. There was no hint in his face that he was joking, but amusement hung around him so thickly that it took no effort to pick it up.

"Excuse me?" Schuldig said. "I don't--"

"Fucked him three times, and not killed him yet," Farfarello said.

"Twice!"

"What were you doing all last night, then?"

"Were you following me?"

"Yes." Farfarello went back to his knife sharpening, point made. His attention span was short, but in this case not short enough.

"Well?" Nagi asked. "What were you doing if you weren't fucking him?"

"Tending his wounds," Crawford said. Schuldig could feel his smirk from all the way across the room. "In a hotel room, which Schuldig will be paying for out of his personal account."

Nagi almost laughed, except of course that Nagi didn't laugh, so it turned into a cough as it left his throat.

"I hate you all," Schuldig said. He turned up the volume on the TV.

***

Yohji climbed the stairs to his room, buzzed more on laughter than on beer. They'd rented something historically inaccurate with swords, which had given even Aya something to point and laugh at, though he didn't laugh so much as grumble. Still, everyone had looked like they were having fun. Yohji counted the evening as a success.

He switched the lights on in his room and kicked the door shut, pulling off his shirt at the same time. He dumped it in the hamper by the dresser, and his eyes were caught by a piece of folded paper propped against a bottle of aftershave.

A note. He picked it up and unfolded it.

What did I say about the fucking room service? You owe me.

His Rolex was gone from the back of his underwear drawer.

Yohji sat on his bed and lit a cigarette.

Schuldig could easily have called the hotel and asked for an itemization of his bill. That would explain how he knew about the room service charge. He was an assassin and was presumably capable of searching a room without leaving it looking like it had been searched, which explained the fact that the watch was gone and nothing else seemed to have been disturbed.

These things, with their logical explanations, brought back other things, which didn't have logical explanations.

Drunkenness was not enough of an explanation for that night in the alley. For not realizing he was getting fucked, for God's sake. And he couldn't begin to rationalize why the guy at the hotel had just handed over that key card with no payment.

And last night... He didn't want to think about last night.

He had no explanation, except that something fucking weird was going on. The credit card Schuldig had used at the hotel would have a mailing address attached to it. It wasn't much, but it was a start. He'd always liked mysteries.

Chapter Text

Theme: 2. The Audience

 

The conference room was too small, too hot, and too full of boring people. Schuldig tuned them all out and tuned in to Radio Yohji.

Yohji was, at this moment, flirting with the desk attendant at the hotel from last night in an attempt to get Schuldig's credit card receipt.

It wouldn't help him much, even if he managed it. The billing address was an empty office, and no one from Schwarz had ever so much as seen the place. Yohji would check it out, leave disappointed, and his hunt would hit a dead end. That was no fun.

Schuldig nudged the girl's mind a little.

***

"Oh," she said. She looked as if someone had come up behind her and pinched her ass.

Yohji leaned forward. "Oh?"

"I just remembered," she said. She was frowning to herself. "I... He asked me to give you..."

"My watch back?" Yohji asked hopefully.

"A...message." Her face cleared. "Yes, that was it. A message. He asked me to tell you that you might find this address helpful." She wrote rapidly on a sticky note and handed it over to him.

He smiled at her and produced a rose to match the one he'd given her when he arrived. "Thank you." It was probably the best he was going to get. "You have no idea how much I appreciate this."

One more smile, and he was on his way. Not that all his smiles had done him any good. She was impervious. Or maybe being seen with one's gay lover took the punch out of any subsequent flirtation.

He looked at the address and started the car, pulling out into traffic.

Gay lover. Jesus. Not lover, absolutely not. Annoying gay-- Actually, he could just stop with "annoying." At least he knew that was accurate. Maybe Schuldig wasn't even gay. Maybe he was bi. Maybe he'd just sleep with anything. Several creative spam subject lines regarding barnyard animals leapt into Yohji's mind, and he winced.

What kind of a fucked up name was Guilty, anyway? That was another reason he'd wanted the credit card receipt, though the name on it would almost certainly be false. That way, when he saw Schuldig again, he could greet him with his fake name and watch him be...totally unsurprised, probably.

Schuldig didn't seem like the type to show surprise, even when he felt it. Which probably wasn't often.

Yohji took two more lefts and pulled up outside a large, grey office building. He went in and took the elevator up to the fifth floor.

"Hi," Yohji said to the young man behind the desk. "I'm hoping you can help me. I was sent here by a guy--about this tall, bright orange hair, always wears this tacky yellow bandana?"

The young man smiled politely. "I'm sorry, sir. I don't recall anyone by that descrip--"

***

Just wait two seconds, Schuldig thought at Crawford. He planted a thought in the mind of the man Yohji was talking to. Wherever that man had his first kiss, that's where Yohji would be sent next. Schuldig hoped vaguely that it would be in Tokyo, or at least in Japan.

He didn't have time to come up with anything better. Crawford was fuming.

What? Jesus, calm down. Does his jowliness want a slushie or something? I'm not a goddamned errand boy. Send Nagi.

Also not a goddamned errand boy, Nagi sent calmly over their link.

No, Mr. Takatori does not want a "slushie." Crawford's thoughts were tinged with impatience. Schuldig, if you could keep your mind on the job?

***

"--tion." The young man frowned. "Oh, wait. His name is Schuldig?"

"Yes," Yohji said. "That's right."

"He said you should go to...um. To the American School. He said you'll find something under the bleachers."

"He did, did he?"

"What?" The man frowned. "I'm sorry. Can I help you, sir?"

"I was just on my way out, thanks."

Yohji turned and left.

The American School was halfway across town. He set out through midday traffic.

Too fucking weird. The guy didn't recognize the description, but he suddenly came up with Schuldig's name? And remembered, out of nowhere, where Yohji was meant to go next on this wild goose chase?

Yohji's brain sorted through the possible meanings, but putting two and two together was only getting him negative three. Something was wrong. He started to wonder if he was being led into a trap.

He flashed briefly back to the night Schuldig had tied him to the bed, trapped and helpless, and his cock stiffened slightly inside too-tight jeans. No, he told it. Bad timing.

He tied his jacket around his waist before he got out of the car. Walking around a high school with a hard-on was not a good idea unless you wanted people to think you were a pervert.

He stopped at the front desk to get a visitor's badge and made up an apparently convincing story about wanting to check out the school for his brother's son. Finding the gym was equally easy.

The bleachers were decked out in crepe paper and team spirit banners. The space behind them was littered with empty paper cups, soda cans, candy wrappers, and odd socks. Among the detritus stood a girl; blonde, pretty, overly lip-glossed, wearing a cheerleading outfit.

"Hi, Mr. Kudoh!" she said. "He told me to wait for you here."

"I see. What's your name, honey?"

"Alice Holden. I have something for you."

"From him?"

She nodded and walked up to him. "A kiss."

***

"You know," Schuldig said. "Flying kids, pirates, Indians, Captain Hook?"

"Peter Pan," Farfarello answered from the back seat of the car.

"Yeah, right. What was the thing he thought was a kiss?"

***

She held out her hand, and on her palm sat a silver thimble. As he watched, it caught the light, shimmered briefly, and disappeared.

The girl started to scream.

Fifteen minutes later, Yohji sat in the principal's office. It looked much like the principal's office at his old school and was making his stomach churn in the same familiar way. They'd already called the police. He had to get out of here.

"If you tell us what you did," the principal was saying, "it will help us help her. And perhaps we can speak to the police on your behalf."

"I told you! I never touched her!" But he could hear the girl crying in the other room. He wasn't surprised no one was buying his story.

***

"Just drop me off here," Schuldig said.

"Going to molest high school girls?" Nagi asked.

"Don't be jealous, Nagi-chan. Someday you'll be old enough for me to molest you, too."

He got a telekinetic smack in the back of the head for that one, but it was worth it.

Crawford pulled the car over silently, and Schuldig got out. He could feel the panic in Yohji's mind from here. He walked inside, whistling.

***

When Schuldig walked in, everything stopped. The principal stopped talking. The girl stopped crying. The two teachers fluttering around her with tissues and sympathy stopped moving altogether. They stood frozen in place, like statues.

Yohji looked up at Schuldig, grateful despite himself.

"Fun day?" Schuldig asked.

"It sucked, thanks for asking." What the hell are you? he thought, but didn't say.

Schuldig rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on. You must've figured it out by now. What do you want me to do, hire a skywriter?"

"You can read my mind," Yohji said slowly. He looked around the room. "You're controlling them."

"Took you long enough. Want to get out of here?"

"Hell, yes."

They were only out in the hall when Yohji heard voices from behind them again. He glanced back, expecting pursuit, or at the very least a whole lot of yelling and confusion.

"Nothing happened," Schuldig said. "Little Alice had a stomach ache. They'll send her to the nurse. You were never here."

"You can mess with their heads that easily?"

Schuldig snapped his fingers. "Easy as that."

He stopped and put his hands on Yohji's hips, shoving Yohji hard against the wall. "You know what else I can do?"

Then he was on his knees, unfastening Yohji's pants.

"Schuldig! What the hell!" But Yohji was too slow to fend him off, and he had Yohji's pants open, Yohji's slowly hardening cock in his hand--and no one was paying them any attention.

A crowd of students passed. Two teachers chatted outside a classroom opposite where Yohji leaned against the wall. The janitor leaned against his broom and waited for people to get back to class so he could start sweeping again. None of them seemed to notice that Schuldig was now licking broad strokes up Yohji's cock.

"Oh, Jesus," Yohji said weakly, and closed his eyes.

"Better keep quiet." Yohji could feel Schuldig's smirk pressed against his thigh. "If my attention wanders, they'll hear you before they see you."

Yohji clamped his jaw shut and knocked his head back against the wall as Schuldig's lips slid slowly up the hard length of his cock. It was so slow, tongue teasing and licking the around the head, up the underside, the barest scrape of teeth that made his hips jerk forward and almost made him yell.

Schuldig pinned his hips to the wall with a cruel pressure and sucked him steadily. He felt heat and suction and small puffs of hot air where Schuldig's breath hit his skin. He gasped as Schuldig took him still deeper, and opened his eyes.

A group of students stood by their open lockers, not four feet from them. Yohji turned his head away.

Schuldig did something amazing with his tongue, and Yohji had to bite the heel of his hand to keep quiet. There were people fucking everywhere, and Schuldig was too good at this, and Yohji didn't want to--not here--but Schuldig swallowed around him, and he came so hard he felt weak from it.

He slid down the wall to sit on the floor. The polished concrete was cool under his hands. He took a few seconds to simply breathe before he risked looking at Schuldig.

"Bit of an exhibitionist, Yohji?"

"A, no. And B, no one could see anyway, so that's a stupid question."

Schuldig laughed and zipped up his pants, making Yohji fumble to get his own closed. A few streaks of white on the floor told him he was not the only one who'd gotten something out of this. Thank God, because he wasn't about to blow anyone in a school hallway, invisibility or no invisibility.

He wondered, suddenly, if he was losing his mind. It would explain a lot.

Schuldig smacked his shoulder, not lightly, and hauled him to his feet. "You're not going crazy." He grinned, showing far too many teeth. "You're going sane in a crazy world."

Yohji looked at him for a few seconds. "There's something wrong with you."

"Is not. I told you, I've got a signed certificate and everything."

"Which you wouldn't need if you weren't fucking bat-shit insane--" He stopped himself and glanced around at the students who still filled the hallway. All of them were now staring at him. "Can we leave now?"

But when he looked back, Schuldig was already gone.

Yohji walked calmly out to his car, got in, and drove calmly home.

He stopped in the kitchen for a beer. Aya was sitting at the kitchen table.

"Do you think telepathy is really possible?" Yohji asked him, not really expecting an answer.

Aya looked at him like he was insane.

Yohji nodded in resignation and started up the stairs. Two steps up, Aya's voice stopped him.

"I think it's not much more unlikely than our cover story," Aya said.

Yohji turned around and stared at him. "Aya, did you just make a joke?"

Aya shrugged, almost smiling. "Telepathy and assassins posing as florists? It sounds like something my si--" He stopped, and his smile vanished. "Like something a teenage girl would watch." He stood quickly, not looking at Yohji as he left the room. "We have a mission tonight," he called over his shoulder. "Make sure you're ready."

Yohji watched him go, leaned against the wall, drank his beer. Sane in a crazy world. Yeah, that sounded about right.

Chapter Text

Theme: 8. The Phonebooth, or, "Aural Sex."

 

It was five in the afternoon when the phone rang. Yohji groaned. They already had ten orders that had to be ready tomorrow. He considered just not answering, but Aya would hear it sooner or later, even from the back room.

"Kitten in the House florists, how may I help you?"

"Well," a voice drawled, "you can start by stripping, and then--"

"Schuldig!" Yohji hissed. "Shut up! You can't call me here, how the fuck did you get this number?"

There was a brief silence. "Phonebook, Kudoh."

"Oh. Yeah."

"Not that I couldn't have picked it out of your head, but the phonebook's easier."

"Yeah, okay, shut up already. What do you want?"

"Do I have to repeat myself? I said you can start by--"

"Stop that! I'm at work."

Schuldig laughed. "Christ, you sound so outraged. Like the other woman's called while you're home with your wife. Got something with the redhead on the side? I won't tell, scout's honor."

Yohji hung up on him.

The phone rang again ten seconds later.

"Kitten in the House florists, how may--"

"Oh, come on, at least tell me what you're wearing."

"Loose jeans that are not sexy in any way and a big grey sweatshirt."

"Liar. Fine, I'll tell you what you're wearing."

Yohji glanced out the front window. "How--"

"Telepath. Now, let's see...you were so lying about the jeans. So tight I can tell you're not wearing underwear. That half-shirt... Jesus, how did anyone ever think you were straight?"

"I am--"

"But that's not nearly as interesting as what you could be wearing."

Yohji shut up and listened, despite himself.

"Can't be all that comfortable, jeans rubbing right against your cock all day. You need something in between. Say, something red, satin, a little bit of lace..."

"Shut the hell up!"

"Oh, come on," Schuldig purred. "Don't tell me you've never thought about it. Everyone thinks about it--trust me on this. It feels nice, all slick and cool when you first put them on...tight, too. Wrapped around your cock like a hand in a satin glove. Lace scratching at your thigh..."

"I'm not... This isn't... I'm supposed to be working," Yohji finished, lamely. It was only Schuldig's voice that was getting him hard, nothing else. Like those dogs, with their fucking bells.

"And you're walking around all day like that, and no one knows, just your dirty little secret. And mine, of course. I know all your secrets."

Yohji swallowed.

"Oh, yeah. Every sick jerk-off fantasy you've ever had, Kudoh. Remember that dream last week, bent over and fucked in the middle of the dance floor? I can make it happen. You can have every guy in the club...or rather, they can have you." Quiet laughter, menacing and velvet-smooth.

Yohji gritted his teeth hard and shut his eyes for a second. He kept himself from snapping back long enough to think for a second. He was tired of taking Schuldig's shit. It was time to give something back.

"Are you working from some kind of script?" he asked.

"...What?"

"Because those are pretty bad lines. You should think about firing your writer."

Silence. Yohji smiled. "Oh, I'm sorry. Did you write all that yourself? Well, you know. Some people just don't have that talent. Nothing to be ashamed of."

Schuldig hung up on him.

Yohji grinned and copied down the number that showed up on caller ID.

***

Schuldig groped for his cell phone in the dark and flipped it open.

"What?" he snapped.

"Is that any way to answer the phone?"

"What?"

"Didn't your mother teach you any manners?"

"Kudoh?"

"Little slow on the uptake for a telepath, aren't you?"

Schuldig sat up in the dark, blinking. He went after Yohji, not the other way around. On a scale of wrong, this was right up there with Nagi laughing. No, this was worse. This was like Nagi dating. What the fuck?

"I was asleep," he said, and then winced, suddenly aware of how many points that admission had lost him. "What the fuck time is it?"

"Two in the morning."

"You waited, didn't you? You waited till you knew I'd be asleep. Little fucker."

"You're the little fucker, Schu. I'm the little fuckee."

Schuldig barely stopped himself laughing. That wasn't how the game was played. "If that's what you called for, I'm a little busy right now, but I could pencil you in for tomorrow..."

"Nah," Yohji said. "You said I could start by stripping. Just thought I'd see what you said next."

"You're naked?" Fuck, but Schuldig hated being this slow. He shook his head and threw the covers back, shivering in the cool air.

"You're the telepath. You tell me."

He was. Schuldig knew it almost before he reached out to Yohji's mind. Naked and hard, too. Lust both colored and clouded his thoughts. And he hadn't gone out and picked up some girl. He'd called Schuldig. Interesting.

"So you are. Go and pull a chair up in front of that mirror. I want to watch."

"If you can't see me, how do you know I'm naked?"

"Because you know you're naked, idiot. Stop asking stupid questions and move the chair."

Yohji moved the chair.

Schuldig closed his eyes and looked through Yohji's instead. He smiled.

"Good. Now spread your legs."

Yohji obeyed. "Like what you see?"

"Remember what I said about little fucker?"

It didn't even phase him. Now, that was confidence. Schuldig was almost impressed. Most guys took size cracks about as well as Farfarello took Catholic jokes. Of course, Yohji really had nothing to worry about.

Schuldig looked him over slowly; hard cock, tight muscles, smug smile. Even his tan was perfect. Bastard.

"Asshole," Yohji said, but there was no heat in it.

"We'll get to that later."

Finally, a touch of unease from Yohji. Schuldig smiled to himself and showed Yohji himself through Schuldig's eyes, pinned against the wall, tied to the bed, hard and panting.

"Fuck," Yohji breathed.

"Mmhmm. That's the idea. But for now...just touch yourself."

Yohji did, palm rubbing once over the head of his cock and then wrapping around and sliding down, up, down. Fast and hard, no warm up at all, but that was understandable. He seemed to be fairly warm already.

"Slower," Schuldig said.

Yohji ignored him.

"I can make you go slower." He wasn't sure he could from this distance, but it sounded good. It would be interesting to find out, anyway.

"Yeah, right," Yohji gasped, but he did slow down. Maybe he didn't want to find out.

"Good boy."

Schuldig had expected a 'Fuck you' in response to that, but Yohji said nothing. Schuldig looked out through his eyes and saw nothing.

"Open your eyes, idiot."

They opened, first a slit, and then more. Yohji stared back at him from the mirror.

Yohji's face was flushed, and his cock stood up hard between his thighs, fluid glistening at the tip. His thumb caught it and smeared it across the head.

Schuldig closed his own eyes for a second, feeling his breath come faster, though still not as fast as Yohji's. "Anyone ever told you you're easy, Yohji?"

"Lots of people."

"Surprise, surprise. Anyone ever told you your ass was made to be fucked?"

No answer. Schuldig smiled. "No? Well, I doubt I'm the first guy who's thought about it. Or about getting you down on your knees and fucking that pretty mouth of yours. How does that sound?"

"Not gonna happen," Yohji said.

But Schuldig could see him in the mirror, his hand speeding up again, tongue flicking out to wet his lips.

Schuldig laughed. "Oh, it'll happen. I can be patient."

"Funny," Yohji panted. "Hadn't noticed."

"You have no idea how patient I've been with you. I could have you over here sucking my dick right now. In fact, maybe I should..."

He'd intended to say more, but Yohji was right on the edge, fist tight, pumping hard. He felt it as Yohji came, a slow roll of pleasure through his body, almost enough to get him off with no touch at all. Almost, but not quite.

"If the idea turns you on that much--" he started, smirking.

"Sorry, what?" Yohji interrupted. "I stopped listening a while ago."

And then the bastard hung up on him.

Schuldig glared at the phone for a second and then gave up and set it aside. This was the second time Yohji had left him hard with only his own hand for company. Something was changing, and Schuldig didn't like it.

Chapter Text

Theme: 21. Alone Time, or, "When I Think About You, I Touch Myself"

 

"What are you doing?" Schuldig asked.

Crawford didn't look up from the computer. "Why do you bother to ask when you can see what I'm doing?"

Sometimes, Schuldig wished he were more like Crawford. Crawford never seemed to get bored, even though, by Schuldig's reckoning, he should be bored all the time. He knew everything that was going to happen, but it never seemed to bother him. Maybe, Schuldig thought, he was bored all the time, and he'd just gotten used to it.

"Why do you answer when you know I'm just trying to bother you?"

Crawford looked at him over his glasses. "What makes you think you're bothering me?"

Crawford was almost smiling, fingers still moving over the keys. He seemed to be in a good mood for once. Schuldig wondered who was going to die.

"Don't I always bother you?"

"Don't you have anything better to do?"

Schuldig grinned and lay back on the couch, spreading his arms wide. "Do I look like I have anything better to do?"

Crawford stopped typing. He rested his chin on his clasped hands and watched Schuldig with narrowed eyes.

"When are you going to see your boyfriend again?"

Schuldig paused and bit back the automatic denial. He'd been denying it all week, for all the good it had done him. "What makes you think he's my boyfriend?" he asked instead.

"Why haven't you killed him yet?"

"Why do you care?" Schuldig asked. That was always a good one.

"What makes you think I do?"

"Why are you asking?"

"Why do you think?" Crawford shot back.

That was a good question, actually. Why would Crawford be asking? Generally, he was aggressively uninterested in Schuldig's personal life.

"Had any visions lately?" he asked.

Crawford just smiled and started typing again.

"Go away, Schuldig. You're bothering me."

As much as he hated to follow Crawford's orders when he didn't have to, he did feel like getting out of the apartment for a while. He took Crawford's car. When he ended up parked across the street from Yohji's flower shop, it wasn't really a surprise.

His fingers twitched towards his cell phone, but he didn't call.

Crawford was up to something. He approved of this...thing...with Yohji. Schuldig had no idea why and couldn't begin to guess, but he didn't like it. It might be better to stay away from Yohji.

His mind reached out, searching. Yohji was in his room--not alone. Some girl with a mind like a pink cloud was with him. Drugged on something maybe, or else just really fucking stupid.

Yohji was already inside her, moving slowly, making her moan. Schuldig could hear it, or the echo of it, through Yohji's ears, feel what Yohji was feeling. Slick, tight, hot. Not as tight as Yohji's ass, but not bad.

This was safer. He didn't trust Crawford's interest.

He slumped down in the seat and spread his legs, unzipped his pants, pulled out his cock. He stroked himself slowly, in time with Yohji's thrusts.

It felt almost perfunctory. He was hard enough, but his mind wouldn't leave him alone. Yohji shouldn't matter. He was a fuck toy, warmer than plastic, more interesting than most things that ran on batteries, but he didn't merit this much thought.

Of course, Crawford seemed to think differently.

Crawford was not who he needed to be thinking about while he was jerking off.

He growled under his breath and slammed the back of his fist against the window, half-hoping it would break. It didn't, but Yohji's Rolex did. The glass over the face fell out in tiny shards, and one of the hands stuck up at an odd angle. Schuldig ripped it off his wrist, opened the door, and threw it onto the sidewalk.

Fuck Crawford and his schemes. Fuck Yohji and his girls. They were both too much trouble, and if there was trouble in Schuldig's life, he liked to be the one causing it. They could both go to hell.

Schuldig zipped up his pants and put the car in gear.

Chapter Text

Theme: 30. The Playroom, or, "Wow, Santa Never Brought Me *That* Kind of Toy!"

 

Schuldig stopped calling.

It took Yohji a while to notice. There were missions, clubs, take-out with his teammates to keep him occupied, and one morning he woke up and realized that it had been over a month since Schuldig had called or showed up out of nowhere to bother him. Or do anything else to him.

Yohji had found his Rolex outside the shop a while back, glass face shattered and hands bent, but he'd figured it for petty revenge, not a permanent dismissal.

To be fair, he hadn't called Schuldig either. Well, of course he hadn't. For obvious reasons. And it wasn't like they were going out. And Schuldig was an annoying son of a bitch.

Yohji reached for his cell phone and dialed.

A mechanical voice informed him that the number was no longer in service. He supposed that meant Schuldig was either no longer in Japan, or he'd changed his number for some reason--or just to avoid him? What the fuck? Schuldig was the fucking stalker, not him. If that bastard was still in the country, he was in serious trouble.

Yohji tried the phonebook first, just in case, but there was no Schuldig (unsurprising; how was that even a name?) and no Brad Crawford.

He still had a few contacts in the local police force, though he called them less and less often. Manx's intel was way beyond what they could offer most of the time, but this he could not ask Manx about. He picked up the phone again.

"Detective Yamashita, please. This is Yohji Kudoh."

After a few seconds of some kind of soulless pop music, Yamashita's voice came on the line. "What do you want, Kudoh?"

"Nice to hear your voice, too! Gosh, it's been a long time."

"Do you want me to shoot you?"

Actually, it was kind of nice to hear his voice. His permanent irritation with everyone and everything was reassuringly familiar.

"Yeah, that's why I called. Does Friday work for you?"

"Anytime, anywhere."

"You're a good guy, Yamashita. Really. It's not everyone who'd make an offer like that." Schuldig had, he remembered. And then fucking disappeared. Not that Yohji particularly wanted to be shot in the head or anything, but that wasn't the point.

"What do you want, Kudoh?"

"I want an address and phone number for a guy named Bradley Crawford. Or...Schuldig."

"No first name?"

"No other name at all, as far as I could find out. First and last, that's it. Like Madonna. But not as hot." That was kind of a lie. Madonna wasn't looking so good these days.

There was a pause as Yamashita presumably wrote things down.

"Fine. I'll get back to you."

The connection was broken before Yohji could say goodbye or anything else, but he got an email a few hours later with an address and phone number for one Bradley Crawford.

The address was in the heart of the Akasaka financial district, which seemed like an odd place for an assassin to live. On the other hand, they'd probably be able to afford it. And no one would bother to hire them to kill poor people, so it was probably a short commute.

Schuldig knew his car, so he took the subway.

The building, when he found it, was all glass and steel, ultra modern in and out. Even the doorman was slickly dressed in a grey suit that matched the stainless steel pillar he stood next to.

Yohji flashed him a smile and an out-of-date P.I. license that didn't look too dissimilar to a police I.D. from a distance.

"I'd like to avoid troubling any of your residents," he said. It was always a good way to start out. "I'm looking for a man, a foreigner. Red hair, blue eyes, obnoxious as hell. Seen him?"

"But--he is one of our residents. He is Mr. Crawford's...permanent guest."

"I see." He could also see that the poor guy was dying to know if Schuldig would be hauled off to jail any time soon, though when it was concern or hope was harder to tell. "Just a background check," he said. "We need to make sure things are in order."

He walked away before the man could come up with any awkward questions. He had some shopping to do.

***

Everyone except Crawford looked up when the doorbell rang.

"Who the hell is that?" Nagi asked.

Schwarz didn't get many visitors. Schuldig reached out and prodded their visitor's mind sharply.

"Delivery guy," he said. "Get the door, kid."

"You get the door."

"You--"

"I'll get the door," Farfarello said. He stood, stretched, and tucked his knife away.

"Oh, for fuck's sake, sit down." Schuldig got up and pushed past him. "You're dripping blood. Again."

He yanked the door open and had a long, white box thrust into his hands.

"Sign here please, sir."

He signed there please, sir. "What the hell is this?"

"Flowers, sir." The delivery man put on a smile that was clearly forced. "Have a nice day now."

Schuldig poked at his mind a little harder, but as far as Delivery Guy knew, it was just flowers. He kicked the door closed.

The box weighed more than flowers should. He refrained from shaking it and glanced at Crawford.

"Hey, is this going to blow up if I open it?"

Crawford shook his head, watching him with barely concealed amusement. He'd even put his book down.

Schuldig suddenly had a bad feeling about this. Bomb or no, he was careful as he eased the lid off.

Inside, among a dozen red, long-stemmed roses, lay the object that accounted for the box's weight: a black dildo, excessively detailed, easily as long as his forearm. Veins stood out from the surface of it. When he poked it with a finger, it gave slightly.

Crawford, that bastard, was snickering into his hand.

"Been waiting for that all day, haven't you?"

"You have no idea," Crawford said.

"What is it?" Nagi said, from just behind him.

Schuldig tried to slap the lid on, but it was too late.

Nagi raised an eyebrow. "I've never seen one that..."

Big, presumably, though Nagi never finished his sentence. Schuldig had seen one that big, but he couldn't guess who would send him one.

Schuldig glanced at Farfarello, but even the looney seemed hypnotized by the foot-long weapon of ass destruction nestled among the roses.

"Is there a card?" Farfarello asked.

Schuldig hadn't thought to look, but there was. It was addressed to him, which didn't seem to surprise anyone. He opened it.

Dear Schuldig,

You should take your death threats more seriously. What if I'd changed my mind?

-Y

"Who's Y?" asked Farfarello, who had somehow crept close enough to read over his shoulder.

"None of your fucking business."

"Yohji Kudoh," Nagi said. "Schuldig's boyfriend sent him flowers."

"Not just flowers." Farfarello picked up the dildo, turning it this way and that so the sunlight from the window glinted off of it. "Do you think this is meant as a suggestion?"

Schuldig snatched it back. Not that he wanted it, but nothing good could come of letting Farfarello keep it.

"It's art," Schuldig said firmly. He planted it on the chrome and glass coffee table, where it stood, quivering slightly. "A conversation piece."

"No," Crawford said.

"Aw, c'mon, Brad. You don't think it's pretty?"

Crawford didn't answer, but Schuldig was pretty sure the thing would be long gone by morning.

"You made me change your cell number," Nagi said. "How did he find you?"

"How should I know?"

"Why would he want to find you?"

Schuldig threw a pillow at him. It didn't connect, of course, but it was the thought that counted.

Farfarello took the flowers gently from him. "I'll put these in some water."

Schuldig would have objected, but the pillow he'd thrown at Nagi came back at him and smacked him in the head. It took a few minutes to get Nagi to stomp off to his room in a huff, and by the time Schuldig followed Farfarello into the kitchen, the roses had already met their fate. Their decapitated heads bobbed cheerfully in a sink full of water.

It was just as well. He'd never gotten flowers before and hadn't been quite sure what to do with them. Keeping them in a vase in his room was obviously not an option, but just throwing them away seemed tacky somehow.

"Nice," Schuldig said.

"You should call him," Farfarello said. "I like his sense of humor."

"You would."

"Was the sexual aid meant to indicate that you'd fucked him over, or that he planned to fuck you over, do you think?"

"I'd like you better if you were stupid instead of just fucking nuts."

Farfarello flashed him a grin. "I'd probably like you better if I were stupid, too."

"You murdered my roses."

"Should I murder your boyfriend as well?"

Schuldig considered it for a moment. "Nice of you to offer, but no. I can do it myself."

He could. He should. For some reason, he wasn't one hundred percent certain he would.

Chapter Text

Theme: 28. The Theater, or, "Oh, is the Movie Over Already?"

 

It only took a week for Yohji to realize he was stalking Schuldig. Kind of. Slightly. If you wanted to define 'following him around and lurking outside of his building and attempting to go through his mail' as 'stalking.' Which Detective Yamashita probably would, so it was a good thing he didn't know about it.

Stalking Schuldig was educational. Yohji got to see parts of Tokyo he'd never seen before, often parts he never wanted to see again. At first, he was sure Schuldig was leading him to these places on purpose and then disappearing, but the more he saw, the less sure he became.

One day, Yohji saw him kill a man. It was near dusk, in Kasai Rinkai Park, by the water. There were families nearby, children playing in the grass, still wearing Mickey Mouse ears from their trips to Disneyland. Schuldig was walking near the water with a man in his mid-forties, greying hair, wearing a business suit. Schuldig pulled out a gun and shot him through the forehead. He tumbled into the water and sank like a stone.

In the paper the next day, Yohji read about a body found in the park, pockets filled with Krugerrands. That explained why he didn't float, but also gave Yohji a whole raft of questions, none of which were being answered by tailing Schuldig around the seedier parts of Tokyo.

Three days later, Schuldig entered a movie theater and bought a ticket for some new movie with dinosaurs in it. Yohji followed him in, hoping he didn't have someone to kill in there as well.

Even in the already dimmed light of the theater, Schuldig was easy to spot. He was sitting in the back row, one seat in from the aisle. Yohji took the aisle seat.

"Hey," he said. "What's up?"

"Look, I know I'm hot and all, and that was obviously the best sex of your sad little life, but you have got to stop following me around like a, a--"

"Stealthy, sexy ninja, who has much better fashion sense than you could dream of?"

Schuldig glared at him. "You do not, shut the fuck up. And stealthy? Please."

"More than you, anyway. You whacked that guy in the middle of the park."

"No one saw, did they?"

"I did!"

Schuldig rolled his eyes. "Because I let you."

"Yeah, why did you let me? And why'd you leave that guy's pockets full of gold? And why have you been letting me follow you around if I'm so annoying?"

"Letting you? You're Mr. Stealthy Ninja."

Yohji paused. He didn't see much point in answering that. "Did you get my present at least?"

"Oh, yeah. Fabulous. Use it every night."

Yohji kicked his ankle.

Schuldig gaped at him for a second, and then elbowed him in the ribs. "What the hell is with you?"

"You're the mind reader. You tell me." Because honestly, Yohji wasn't sure himself.

Schuldig looked at him, and Yohji caught a whiff of a familiar smell. At first, he thought it was someone's buttered popcorn, but it changed with every breath he took of it. He blinked.

"It's you, isn't," he said. "I can smell you reading my mind? That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard of."

Schuldig shrugged. "Not my fault you're a freak. It's a sound or a touch to most people."

"Or a taste? Can it be any sense?"

"None of your business." Schuldig stopped and frowned at him. "You're not afraid of me."

Yohji didn't answer. He wasn't.

"Why not?"

"Got better things to be afraid of, I guess."

"You really don't. I could turn your head inside out right now, and you'd spend the rest of your life in the produce department of the nearest hospital."

"Are you gonna?"

"I might. Or tell your little friends back at the flower shop all your darkest secrets."

"They already know my darkest secret." Schuldig seemed momentarily confused, eyebrows drawing together. "The assassin thing," Yohji clarified.

"Oh, that. I was thinking more like telling them you take it up the ass."

"Sort of inaccurate, don't you think? The last time was over a month ago."

A woman in the row ahead of them gave them a pointed look, and Yohji suddenly realized that the movie had already started. There was a brontosaurus onscreen, eating what looked like a saber-toothed tiger.

"Huh," Yohji said. "I thought they were vegetarians."

Schuldig was still frowning at him, looking more confused than pissed off. "Just--shut up and watch the movie," he said finally. "And don't steal my Pocky."

Yohji didn't. He sat in the dark and tried to watch the movie, but it wasn't easy. Fifteen minutes later, about the time the cavewoman took off on the pterodactyl, he turned to Schuldig and whispered, "I feel like I'm getting dumber by the second. If I watch this whole thing, you won't need to mush my brain."

"Shhh," Schuldig hissed. "I like it."

"You have horrible, horrible taste."

"Fuck you."

The other way around sounded better to Yohji, but he said nothing. After a few seconds, he laid his hand on Schuldig's thigh and started to slide it upwards. He wasn't sure why; he wasn't particularly turned on. But he did like having Schuldig on the run.

Fine time to lose your heterosexual angst, Kudoh. The words appeared in Yohji's head, not really equivalent to hearing them at all, but more of an abrupt, irritation-tinged knowledge.

Maybe I just like doing it in movie theaters, Yohji thought back.

Schuldig snorted out a brief laugh that made the woman in front of them jump. If you want to jerk me off while I watch the movie, go ahead, but don't think I'm doing anything for you.

Yohji did want to, actually. It was a surprise to him, but not only did he not mind the hard heat now pressed against his hand through Schuldig's pants, he enjoyed it. He liked the immediate response when he rubbed a certain way, the intimate and exact knowledge of how this must feel. Not quite as good as telepathy, maybe, but the closest he could get.

He popped open the button of Schuldig's pants one-handed and pulled the zipper down. Onscreen, a cavewoman rocked her baby to light background music, and the rasp of the zipper teeth was clearly audible. So was Schuldig's small inhalation as Yohji touched his cock.

No underwear. Not a shock.

The cock in Yohji's hand was hot and smooth, skin stretched tight, already mostly hard. He worked his thumb around the head, sliding up and over, feeling it harden fully at his touch. The chair arm between them made it awkward, but it wouldn't budge. Yohji resigned himself to acquiring a bruise near his elbow where the edge of it dug into his skin.

He drew his hand back for a second to lick his palm, and then reached over again and wrapped it around the shaft. He heard Schuldig's quiet hiss and felt him shift in his seat. Yohji worked his cock slowly, steadily, more a tease than a means to an end.

Schuldig took nearly half an hour of slow and careful touches before his hand clamped over Yohji's wrist. Yohji strained to keep his hand moving and then to pull away, but Schuldig was stronger than he looked.

Finish it, he hissed into Yohji's mind.

Then let go of my hand, asshole.

"You don't need your hand," Schuldig whispered.

In his mind, Yohji could see Schuldig sucking him off in that high school, everyone blind and deaf to them. It was so vivid and detailed that he could almost feel it again. He wasn't sure whether it was memory or something Schuldig had sent him, but he did get the point.

Payback. Yohji did sort of owe him. And maybe it wouldn't be entirely horrible--and what the hell was he thinking? "Are you messing with my head?" he whispered.

Schuldig grinned at him. "Sorry. All you. Not my fault you suddenly want to suck cock--or maybe it is, in a way, leading you down the path of--"

Yohji kicked his ankle again, much harder than last time.

Schuldig made a stifled noise of pain and grabbed Yohji's hair, forcing his head down until Schuldig's cock was not more than an inch from his lips.

It was instinct to try to pull away, but Yohji stopped himself from trying. It would hurt, for one thing; Schuldig had a good grip on his hair. For another, he was suddenly unsure that it would be as awful as he'd always assumed it would be. It was just a cock, after all. He had one just like it himself. And he could always stop if he hated it. Schuldig wouldn't force him--or, okay, he might try, but Yohji had teeth and wasn't afraid to use them.

He licked at the head. It was warm, vaguely salty, a little bitter where fluid had gathered. Not bad. He did it again, and Schuldig's hand tightened painfully in his hair.

Yohji glared up at him. "Let go, asshole. And don't think I'm swallowing."

Schuldig smirked and released his hair. "Tell yourself whatever makes you feel bet--oh--" He broke off as Yohji took the head in his mouth. Maybe it was just for effect, but it was an effect Yohji was satisfied with.

Schuldig was silent after that, eyes still apparently fixed on the screen when Yohji snuck a glance up at him. His hands were locked tight on the seat arms.

Yohji used his hand on the shaft and tried not to drool, gag, or let his teeth touch anything they shouldn't. He found all three things more difficult than he'd ever thought they could be--this was clearly a learned skill, not that it was one he was planning to learn. Still, he couldn't have done too badly because he was pretty sure it was less than two minutes before Schuldig came. Without a warning, naturally. Yohji hadn't really expected one.

He sputtered and spat and swore under his breath, but it was not, all in all, as bad as he'd expected it to be. He'd eaten things on purpose that tasted worse, although generally only because he wanted to impress a date.

He dug in his pocket for something to wipe his mouth with, but Schuldig offered him a handkerchief first.

"Thanks," he mouthed. The movie, incredibly, was still not over, though it looked like the caveman didn't have long to live if he didn't get away from that T. Rex. He wiped his mouth and looked at the square of cloth. It was white, with the initial C in one corner. He hoped it didn't belong to the dead guy in the park.

Schuldig was frowning slightly, looking more serious than Yohji was used to seeing him. "I didn't make you do that. Not even a nudge."

Yohji rolled his eyes. "Yes, Yohji Kudoh, cocksucker. Of my own free will, I get it. You don't have to rub it in."

"No, I meant-- Fuck it. Get out of here. Let me watch the end of the movie."

Yohji offered him the handkerchief back, but Schuldig waved it away.

"Fine," Yohji said slowly. "So I'll give it back next time I see you?" He hadn't meant for it to be a question, but it was.

"Fine, whatever," Schuldig muttered. "Just stop fucking stalking me."

He snatched Yohji's pen out of his jacket pocket and scribbled a phone number on the back of Yohji's hand.

Yohji got yet another glare from the woman in front of them as he stood up and made his way out of the theater. He got a soda at the concession counter and looked at the number on his hand. This was stupid, wasn't it? Chasing Schuldig all around town like he was a target--he didn't know what he'd been thinking. And this was the result. Movie theater blowjobs and a number he couldn't now picture himself using.

It wasn't as if they could go out to dinner or something. It wasn't as if either of them would want to. Yohji could call him up and say, hey, let's fuck. But he probably wouldn't. Even after today, it would feel too much like admitting something.

He went into the bathroom and washed his hands. They were sticky anyway. He scrubbed at the number until it was just a few blue smudges on his skin. As he walked out, he found he could remember it anyway. He'd always had a good memory for things he wanted to forget.

Chapter Text

Theme: 16. The Classroom, or, "Teacher Hit Me With a Ruler."

 

Schuldig woke to the sound of his cell phone. It rang with a shrill midi version of the Smurfs theme song. That had to be Nagi's doing, and he would pay, as soon as Schuldig killed whoever was calling him. He checked the caller ID. Yohji. Of course. The other three people with this number would just kick his door.

"I didn't give you this number so you could call me every ten fucking seconds."

"If you don't want me to call you back, don't leave raving drunk messages on my voice mail at two in the morning, asshole."

"I was not drunk!"

"You were so, so drunk."

"Was not."

"Were too."

"How old are you again?"

Yohji snorted. "I'm both younger and better looking than you. Does that answer your question?"

"I haven't had coffee. Why the fuck are you calling me?"

"Because you told me to, and if I'm awake this early, you should suffer too."

"How early is it? And I did not."

"Nine. And I quote, 'Booty call, baby!' Ring a bell? And then there was a lot of babbling about salmon mousse and eating gold leaf, and then you said to call you back."

It did, unfortunately, sound faintly familiar. And there had been a lot of free champagne at the incredibly dull party last night. And Crawford had looked pretty unhappy with him by the time they left.

"If you eat gold leaf, you shit gold," Schuldig said, for something to say.

"Yeah, I think you mentioned that." There was a pause, and then Yohji continued in a rush. "Do you want to get coffee or something?"

"What, now?"

"No, next year."

"Fine, whatever."

"That place near you with the weird pink sign."

"Fine."

They hung up almost at the same time, and Schuldig frowned at his phone for a few seconds. Coffee? That sounded almost like a date.

***

Yohji was already there when he arrived, slumped over a table near the window with his face in a cup of coffee. Schuldig got his own and joined him. A few seconds after he sat down, a waiter came over and set a bowl of chicken curry between them.

Schuldig recoiled slightly. "What the hell? It's breakfast time."

"Oh, God. I don't know. It sounded like a good idea when I ordered it."

Schuldig pushed it across the table at him with one finger. "If I'm the one who called you drunk last night, why are you acting like you're the one with the hangover?"

"I couldn't have been drunk too?"

"You weren't."

"If you're gonna read my mind anyway, do I have to talk?"

"What, you want me messing around in your head?"

"What difference does it make? You already know the only secret I've got."

Maybe that was true, and maybe it wasn't, but Yohji certainly believed it was. It made Schuldig want to go rooting in his mind for secrets he'd forgotten. Maybe later.

"The redhead woke you at five? For what?" Yohji just waved a hand, a gesture to continue. Schuldig did, and got a strange montage of blurred flowers and crankiness. "Unloading the delivery truck?"

Yohji nodded and slurped coffee. "He and Omi usually do it, but Omi--uh."

Schuldig rolled his eyes. "You just said I already know all your secrets."

"Yeah, but..."

"It's not magic. I don't need their names to put a fucking hex on them. I can just go break in and shoot them while they're asleep."

Yohji swallowed. "But you won't, right?"

And there, yeah, there was the fear Schuldig had expected from him all along. Schuldig smiled. "I might."

"Don't."

"Or what?"

"I know where you live. I know where your friends live."

Schuldig laughed. "You wouldn't have a chance."

"I would find a way." And Yohji believed that, too. It didn't take a telepath to see it. He still looked tired and pale, but his eyes were as hard as Schuldig had ever seen them. Images of explosives and sniper rifles flickered through his head.

He didn't really stand a chance, not seriously. Not if Crawford was paying attention. But Crawford didn't always, because he was an arrogant son of a bitch. Schuldig wondered how far Yohji would follow them if they left Japan, how long he'd keep trying. He was stubborn, and he wasn't stupid, or he wouldn't still be alive.

Yohji would be all on his own, obsessed and murderous and half-crazy. And lonely. A month, tops, Schuldig thought, before he could talk him into fucking again. He'd never fucked anyone who had serious plans to kill him. It sounded like almost too much fun to pass up.

But, realistically speaking, Crawford would probably order Yohji killed after his first try. That wouldn't make for much of a game.

Schuldig shrugged and leaned back in his chair. "Relax. I've got no reason to pick on your little friends."

Yohji jerked his curry towards him and started eating, but his thoughts were still going a mile a minute, full of violence, choked breath, and bulging eyes.

Schuldig kicked his shin under the table. "You can't even shoot, can you?"

"Yes."

"Not that sniper rifle you were picturing."

"I can learn."

"I'll teach you."

Yohji stopped, chopsticks halfway to his mouth. Curry sauce dripped on the table.

"I'm serious," Schuldig said.

Yohji took his bite and stayed quiet. Whatever was going on in his head, it didn't involve thinking.

"Yeah," he said, after a second. "Okay."

***

There were times it was good to be a telepath, and one of those was when you had to carry a rifle case through a crowded lobby and into an elevator headed for the top floor.

"How hard is it?" Yohji asked. "To make sure they don't notice anything."

"You're not making it any easier talking about it."

Yohji sighed, but he shut up until they were in an empty office with the door locked. "Open the window," Schuldig told him just as he was about to ask again.

Yohji shot him a dirty look, but opened the window. Then he thought the question at Schuldig as loud as he could. It wasn't half as loud as Nagi could sulk, but still irritating.

"Don't yell, asshole. What the hell is wrong with you? I could make you jump out that window right now."

"The threats are getting old. Just answer the question."

"Fuck. Not that hard. Making you jump would be harder. But not that much harder."

"I'll keep that in mind. Let's see the rifle."

Schuldig shoved the rifle case at him and leaned back against the wall, arms crossed over his chest. Yohji released the catches and pulled it out. He set it on the desk with a clatter.

"Hey, careful with that. That's precision German engineering."

"What kind is it?" Yohji asked. He found the magazine, checked it, and fit it in place without hesitation. It was more than Schuldig had expected of him.

"UA TPG-1."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"I don't know. What do car model numbers mean? Who cares. UA is Unique Alpine, the company that makes it."

"Never heard of them."

"Watch me be not surprised."

Yohji frowned. "I thought these things were all bolt-action."

"Well, you watch too much TV. It's accuracy versus speed of reloading. Farfarello prefers speed, and I've never seen him miss a shot with this thing." Schuldig pushed him out of the way and shoved the desk up against the window. "Lie down."

Yohji did, and fitted the rifle to his shoulder, looking through the sight. Schuldig looked at his ass and slightly spread legs, but there'd be enough time for that after the lesson. For now, he sat on the edge of the desk and tried to recall what his firearms instructor and Farfarello had said about these things.

He lectured, pretty well if he said so himself. Yohji took it all in, with his face half-turned towards Schuldig, the skin of one cheek turning faintly pink in the sunbeam that fell across it. When he was done, he nudged Yohji over and lay beside him, pulling out the spotter's scope that hardly ever got used. Farfarello usually did this alone.

"Pick a target, any target. How about that guy down there, red jogging suit?"

"I'm not shooting people."

"I could tell you these aren't live rounds."

"And I wouldn't believe you."

"Fine, be that way. There's somebody walking a dog down there..."

"No pets."

"You're just making this harder on yourself. Birds? I assume you're okay with birds? As long they're not the pretty Polly want a cracker kind?"

Yohji's face flushed slightly, from more than just the sun.

"You're the one who wanted to learn this," Schuldig said. "You know what you do with sniper rifles? You kill people. Maybe if you're in the military or something you take out radios or explode mines from a safe distance or whatever the fuck, but you're not in the military, and the only reason you're ever going to use this thing is to kill. So stop being such a sissy and pick a fucking target."

Yohji looked back into the scope. "The bench down there in the park."

"There's no one on it."

"Gold star for observation."

"Jesus fucking Christ."

"I'm not killing anyone! How can you just-- How?"

Sociopath was the word hovering in his mind, but there was more weight to the question than that; less righteous outrage and more curiosity. Not just How could you, but almost How can I?

"I took a night course. How to be a remorseless killer in twelve easy lessons."

Yohji just looked at him.

Schuldig shrugged and took the rifle from him. He aimed at a man down on the street, about a block away, and shot a hole through his hat. He smiled a little as he watched the guy scramble after it and look around blankly for the culprit.

"Most people just aren't that special. You think it matters if they live or die, but it doesn't."

"It matters to them."

"Yeah, but I don't give a shit about them, and I'm the one on the twenty-second floor with a high-powered rifle. No, shut up," he said, cutting Yohji off. "You want to know why I don't care about their incredibly dull little lives. I want to know why I should. Would it make a difference if I told you Hat Guy down there kicks dogs or beats his wife? How bad do they have to be before they deserve a bullet through the skull?"

"We kill to protect the innocent," Yohji muttered, but it sounded more like the party line than something he believed.

"Yeah?" Schuldig laid the rifle down between them and nudged it towards Yohji. With both of them stretched out on their stomachs like this, heads turned to face each other, he could feel Yohji's breath, see the green of his eyes and the tight contraction of his pupils in the bright sun. "Better shoot me, then. Don't know how many innocents I've killed, but I know it's more than you've saved."

It was a lie, really. Nobody was innocent, and most of Schwarz's contracts were on people way scarier than Yohji had ever met. But it fucked with Yohji's head, and that was the point.

Yohji's hand curled around the barrel of the rifle, and, stupidly, Schuldig's heart rate picked up. Even if Yohji'd had any kind of decent training, Schuldig would still be faster, and a sniper rifle was no weapon for close combat, but--well, danger got him hard. And Yohji was so close, and his fingers smelled like gun oil as he touched Schuldig's face.

Somehow, Schuldig didn't see the kiss coming.

"Shut up," Yohji said. "Just shut up. I don't want to hear it." He hauled Schuldig closer and crushed their lips together.

A few minutes later, five thousand dollars of precision German engineering hit the floor with a dull clang. Schuldig barely noticed.

Chapter Text

Theme: 4. The Thrill of the Forbidden, or, "No, You Must Not!...Here, Let Me Help You."

 

By the time they got Omi checked out by a doctor and then home, it was past midnight. The poor kid was nearly asleep when they pulled up outside the shop. Aya all but carried him upstairs.

Yohji grabbed a beer and sat at the kitchen table. Aya came back down not long after.

"Beer?" Yohji asked him.

Aya hesitated and then nodded, slumping into a chair. Yohji got up and opened the fridge for another beer, enjoying the brief wash of cold air. When he handed it over, Aya tipped it back and drank half the bottle without pause.

"Hell of a night," Yohji said. Aya grunted. "That guy," Yohji started, and then stopped short. I've been fucking him didn't seem like a good conversation starter.

"He must work for Takatori."

Yohji drew patterns in the condensation on his beer bottle. He risked a glance at Aya, but Aya had no expression on his face at all. "He did something pretty bad to you, huh?" Yohji said quietly.

Aya's eyes focused on him, and his hands pressed flat to the table. He looked almost stricken at the question.

"Sorry, you don't have to--"

"He murdered my parents." Aya said it so fast that the words ran together. "My sister and I got out and he was there, waiting--" He stopped, jaw clenched.

"We'll get him," Yohji said. It was probably the wrong thing to say and his own revenge hadn't helped--fuck, not at all--but it was all there was to say. Aya thought it would help anyway, and maybe it would, for him.

Aya just nodded and took another pull at his beer.

"That was a good thing you did for Omi tonight." Someone ought to say it, Yohji thought, and Ken wouldn't.

Aya laughed shortly and shook his head. "You really think so?"

"You don't?"

"He's going to kill his family."

And Yohji couldn't think of anything to say to that. It was true, and saying they weren't really his family--well, that was true too, but maybe it didn't matter. Yohji'd never met his father, but that didn't mean he'd be okay with killing him.

"Can't believe he did that," Yohji muttered. "To his own brother. What's wrong with that family?"

But when he looked up from his beer, Aya was gone, mostly empty bottle sweating on the table. Condensation spread out in a little pool around its base. Yohji finished it, and his own.

He thought about Schuldig, something he'd avoided doing all night. He got up and poured himself a shot of whiskey. Not thinking was the better option.

The not thinking lasted all of five minutes. He dialed Schuldig's number as he slogged up the stairs to his room.

"What the hell?" he said, when Schuldig picked up.

"We work for the Takatoris. What'd you expect?"

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe not torturing my team mate? That would've been nice."

"I barely touched him. His brother was the one smacking him around. Isn't it sad when families fall out?"

"I've seen your faces, now I'll take your lives?"

"What? You don't appreciate my sense of drama?"

Yohji found himself smiling at that, just for a second. It was just so Schuldig.

And he worked for the bad guys. It had been bad enough when he was just some random hired killer. It had to stop.

Yohji hung up on him.

***

Omi disappeared the next night and returned in the morning, just in time to catch the news on television. He switched it on and sat on the couch, ignoring Ken and Yohji's questions, ignoring Aya's silent anger.

"--whose body was found this morning--" the television said. All three of them stopped and turned to watch the screen.

There were distant shots of Hirofumi's body being pulled out of the water and close-ups of the arrow shaft, already pulled from--the newscaster said--the victim's eye. There was no blood on it, only a translucent residue that could be anything from vitreous humor to brain tissue to some congealed bodily fluid. Maybe it was just gunk from the water.

It took Yohji at least a full minute of the weather report to drag his eyes away from the screen. Ken was looking at Omi with an expression Yohji couldn't read at all. Aya was gone. Omi met his eyes and smiled briefly at him.

"I should write the mission report," he said, and stood up. His expression turned uncertain, and Ken caught his arm as he stumbled.

"You should go back to bed," Ken said, and dragged him toward the stairs with a grip that had to be painful.

Omi was back downstairs by that afternoon, manning the counter, surrounded by the influx of high school girls fascinated by his bruises and abrasions with no idea how they got there.

"Were you in a fight, Omi-kun?" one of them asked, and the rest all leaned forward with a collective indrawn breath that sucked all the air out of the shop. Omi smiled and explained that he'd just fallen off his bike, and Yohji had to step outside.

Through the plate glass window, Omi looked the same as he ever had. The slight reflection cloaked his injuries, and even without the barrier between them, Yohji couldn't tell what was going on in the kid's head. He didn't look like he was trying to put on a good face. He looked unaffected, unchanged, like someone else had stood on that bridge last night and put an arrow through his brother's eye. There was something wrong with the world when Aya was easier to read than Omi was.

He turned away from the window and leaned against the brick wall, lighting a cigarette. A flash of color across the street jerked his head up, but it was only some woman's red scarf.

The brick was warm and rough and caught at Yohji's shirt. He slid down the wall into a squat and ended up with his back bared and lightly scratched. He sucked at his cigarette and watched a trickle of water run from one of the larger plants he'd hosed down earlier to the gutter.

His knees started whining after a minute or two, and the brick bit at his skin, but he didn't move. His cigarette burned down to the filter. The thing was, if he got up, he had nowhere to go but back inside.

Omi was creeping him out, just a little. It was a horrible thing to think about a friend, and he knew it, but still. Even so. He couldn't help it. So it's okay to kill as long as you make sure to bitch and moan about it afterwards?

The thought sounded so much like Schuldig that Yohji scanned the street again. No one there. He pushed himself to his feet and started back inside. At least the onslaught of underaged girls would keep him from thinking.

***

He'd left the window open when he went to bed. That was the first thing he remembered when he woke up with his wrists pinned behind his back and a cool breeze on his bare ass. He held himself still, mind straining for more information. It filtered in: he was naked; the person on top of him was too, at least from the waist down. When he turned his head to the side, he saw his watch was gone from the bedside table. And there was the scent.

"You smell like dandruff shampoo, Schuldig."

There was an offended stillness behind him, a just-perceptible tensing of the thighs that rested outside his own. "Fuck you too, Yohji. Try to show a guy a good time..."

"Your idea of a good time should get you jail time."

"It's a little late to claim you don't want it. Especially since you're already hard."

He was. Dammit. "Get the hell off me."

"Aw, you don't mean that." Schuldig ground his hips down against Yohji's ass. His cock slid in the valley between Yohji's cheeks.

Yohji gritted his teeth. "I really do."

"Go lie to somebody who can't read your mind. Lie to your little friends. Tell them you're not a slut, tell them you don't fuck around with the opposition."

"I didn't know!"

"Oh, yeah. I'm sure they'll care."

Even with as little movement as Schuldig was allowing him, he managed to get one knee drawn up, and that gave him some leverage. Schuldig couldn't be reading his mind all that closely, because Yohji's sudden backwards shove took him by surprise. He wrenched one of Yohji's arms as he fell back, but Yohji was free and on top of him in the next second.

Yohji grabbed his wrists and slammed him down against the bed. "Tell them," he snarled. "Go downstairs and fucking tell them right now. Either that or shut up about it. This blackmail crap is not going to work on me."

Schuldig smiled. "You don't really want that, do you? You think they'd let you stay here if they knew? Poor little Yohji, out on the streets, all alone."

"You don't know a goddamn thing about being alone, not like I do, and I can do it again if the alternative is letting you fuck with my head for fun and profit, so get your bony ass out of my bed and tell them!" He was yelling by the end of that. He hadn't meant to yell. He planted his foot in the middle of Schuldig's chest and shoved him off the bed.

Schuldig landed in an easy crouch and looked up at him through the strands of bright hair that fell across his face. He leapt, and Yohji was suddenly unsure of what he was seeing--feline grace or actual slitted cat eyes and shadow-gold stripes. He hit Yohji's body with bruising force and a solid thud, bearing him back against the mattress. Nails that might as well have been claws raked down Yohji's sides.

"You don't know shit about me," Schuldig said, soft and hot, right in Yohji's face. "You think I'm fucking with your head now? I can make you see anything I want, believe anything--"

"Is this the part where you 'come for my life'? Because I'm bored already."

"I'm going to cut you up in little pieces and feed you to--" And then Schuldig kissed him. Or more accurately bit his bottom lip and sucked hard at the small scrape left by his teeth until blood welled out of it. "I'm going to destroy you," Schuldig whispered, and his lips brushed Yohji's as they formed the words.

Yohji smiled a little. "Drama queen."

"I could."

"I know."

Schuldig frowned a little at that, and the lingering shadows of fur and teeth disappeared.

"A tiger?" Yohji said. "Seriously?"

"Shut up. First thing that came to mind."

His lips were still touching Yohji's, and they were so close Yohji couldn't really focus on his face. His hands were tight on Yohji's arms, not letting go.

"If you're not going to destroy me, I guess we could fuck instead." Yohji didn't know why he'd said it. Just because it was what they did, maybe. Because they wouldn't have to talk anymore, and things would only get worse if they kept talking.

There was a second where Schuldig looked almost uncertain, like he was thinking a dash for the window might be a better option. Yohji spread his legs and wrapped them around Schuldig's waist and kissed him, and Schuldig's hands dug into his hair and held on.

They broke briefly, and Yohji saw Schuldig's clothes wadded up at the end of the bed as if thrown down there with force. Schuldig's hips hitched lower, lined up with his, and their cocks slid together. Yohji reached for the tube on his bedside table, but Schuldig grabbed his wrist and rutted up against him, breath whining in his ear. He reached around and his fingers pressed between Yohji's cheeks. He wasn't trying for penetration, just a rubbing pressure that made Yohji squirm and bite at his neck and shove down hard against him.

Sweat and pre-come slicked their motions a little, but Yohji was getting off on the almost-too-much friction as well, and the way Schuldig's free hand scrabbled and scratched across his shoulders.

That was what made him lose his breath and his rhythm and wedge a desperate hand between them, stroking both of them together as rough as he could take it. His lip was bleeding again where Schuldig had bitten it, and that tang spread through his whole mouth and flavored the incomprehensible words Schuldig was projecting into his head. They followed each other too fast, and all Yohji really understood of them was his own name.

Schuldig came first and drew blood again with his nails as he did. Yohji followed a second later with Schuldig's come slicking his hand and cock.

Schuldig was utterly silent afterwards, even when Yohji stirred himself enough to pull a blanket over them. "You can stay if you want," Yohji said. It was a bad idea, yeah. Everything that had just happened was a bad idea. Yohji was too tired and too fucked out to care. He curled up on his side, facing away from Schuldig.

A few minutes later, Schuldig's tense body uncoiled, and his weight left the bed. The only sound as he left was the window closing.

Chapter Text

Theme: 22. Bottoms Up, or, "Surprise! Guess's Who's on Top Tonight?"

 

The cherry blossoms were out, and they were making Schuldig sneeze. Still, he sat on a park bench and sipped at his coffee because it was currently a better option than going home. Crawford and Nagi were arguing. When Nagi was this worked up, Schuldig's teasing only got him slammed against the wall and the damn cherries were making it hard enough to breathe as it was. He sniffled.

Yohji sat down beside him and passed him a tissue.

Schuldig squinted at him. "Why are you here?"

"Why are you?"

"I like being drowned in pollen," Schuldig said.

"Doesn't everyone?"

Schuldig blew his nose, loudly. "You really want to know why I'm here?"

"Oh, yeah. I really do." Yohji sat back and laid an arm along the back of the bench. His fingers brushed Schuldig's shoulder blade through his jacket.

"Fine. I'll tell you." And he did. He started with Nagi's infatuation with crazy bunny girl, explained Crawford's sudden, massive control-freak crackdown, and ended with, "And then I left so my teammate wouldn't crush me like a bug. Really, is it fair to give teenagers psychic powers like that? I don't think so. The worst I could do was spill everyone's secrets and mock them mercilessly. I couldn't kill anyone. I mean, not without a lot more effort than he has to put into it."

"Uh huh," Yohji said, and Schuldig realized with amazement that he hadn't been listening.

"Yohji!"

"Yeah, yeah, crazy psychic assassin antics, I got it. If somebody had teased you about your first crush, wouldn't you have killed them if you could? Without too much effort, obviously."

"...Maybe."

"Oh, shut up, you totally would have."

"Fine! What's your point?"

"If you're allergic to the goddamned trees, stop whining and go somewhere air conditioned."

"Like where?"

"Like a hotel."

Yohji looked at him, and Schuldig finally got it. "You want to have sex? Now?"

"Is this why you were at my place the other night?"

"What?"

"All this crap with your friends," Yohji said. "Is that why you snuck in through my window and tried to fuck with my head?"

No part of that sentence sat comfortably in Schuldig's head. 'Friends' for a start. Crawford? His friend? That didn't work, no matter which way he twisted it around. And it only got worse from there. It was possible that was exactly why he'd stopped by to fuck with Yohji's head. He hadn't given it a lot of thought at the time, beyond knowing Yohji would be worked up after the blond kid's bad night. Knowing that Yohji's reaction was bound to be distracting. It had been.

"Fucking with your head is its own reward," he said.

Yohji just looked at him.

"What?" Schuldig snapped. There was nothing obvious going on in Yohji's thoughts, and he couldn't be bothered to dig deeper. Crawford did that too, that not-thinking thing. It pissed Schuldig right the hell off. He threw the now-used tissue back at Yohji.

Yohji batted it away. "That's disgusting and so are you. Do you want to go to a hotel or not?"

"It's suddenly okay to screw around with, what was it, the bad guys?" He put air quotes around bad guys, and Yohji rolled his eyes.

"I'm spying on you," Yohji said. I want you. My friends are as fucked up as yours. I don't care.

Schuldig couldn't tell whether he'd meant to let those thoughts slip through or not, but it didn't matter. He meant it. He didn't care. Schuldig was pretty sure he wanted to care, and maybe when his friends stopped acting like superfreaks, he would, but not now.

"Okay. Be sure to tell them how good I am in the sack."

"Sorry," Yohji said. "I already told them the truth."

He said it so straight out that Schuldig was left gaping for a second. He shoved his way into Yohji's head, ignoring the cross look it got him. No, it had just been sarcasm. Of course it had. Like Yohji would tell them anything about Schuldig if he didn't have to. Right.

"Whatever," Schuldig said. "You're paying."

***

The room was small and pink, with a stuffed pink octopus on the bed, leaning against the pillows.

"I can't believe this is my life," Schuldig said.

"It's not my fault! It was the only room left, and you were standing there groping my ass! What did you want me to say, thanks but we'll go do it in the alley?"

"Oh, just get your clothes off."

"Wow, Mr. Romance." But Yohji did start stripping, shoes and socks first, until he stood naked on the pink shag carpet. "Well?"

Schuldig smirked and unzipped his jeans.

Yohji crossed his arms and glared.

"Oh, fine." He threw his clothes piece by piece onto the (pink and white striped) chair. There was an awkward moment then, and Schuldig thought this was probably the first time they'd been naked together on purpose.

Yohji turned down the bed and got in. The sheets were pink too. "Turn off the lights."

"Got something to be ashamed of?" Schuldig said, which was a little stupid, since he knew Yohji didn't.

"Turn off the lights and get in bed or I swear I will punch you right in the face."

"Jesus," Schuldig muttered. "Fine."

With the lights off and the blinds closed, the room was a solid block of darkness. He only found the bed by tripping over it. Yohji pulled him closer, and his feet tangled with the sheets. He kicked briefly to free himself and nearly rolled off the bed. Yohji caught him around the waist, one hand spread out warmly across his side. They were both still.

"Okay?" Yohji whispered.

"...Yeah."

He eased closer, and Yohji tugged the blankets up like they were going to sleep or something. Which they weren't. And the whispering was stupid, and he'd been doing it too, what the fuck. He reached for Yohji and grabbed something fuzzy and soft instead.

"What--"

"Octopus," Yohji said. "I think." He was still whispering as he pushed the octopus away and curled his hand around the back of Schuldig's neck. "Lip still hurts. Be nice."

That should've made Schuldig want to bite, but it didn't. Yohji's lips felt good against his, warm and wet, opening easily at the brush of his tongue. Not being able to see Yohji's faced helped, he decided; that, and the inaudible hum of pleasure Yohji was generating. It sounded like yesyesyes without the words, and felt a little like a drug.

Yohji's hands swept over his back and ass, and Yohji's cock was hard and nudging against his hip, and the kiss just got more. Wetter, deeper, slicker, more of everything, and it took Schuldig a stupidly long time to remember that he could breathe through his nose too and that they didn't have to stop.

Yohji smelled like oranges and tasted like alcohol and why had he been drinking so early in the day? Schuldig couldn't quite believe he cared even as he sorted through Yohji's thoughts to find the answer: a fight with the surly one whose hair color had to come out of a bottle.

"Would you rather be fucking him?" The words were quiet and fell mostly into Yohji's waiting mouth, and from the way Yohji pushed still closer and licked at his lips, Schuldig hoped maybe he hadn't heard.

"Who?" Yohji mumbled. And then, as he rolled Schuldig onto his back and slid a leg between his thighs, "No. Rather be fucking you." He stopped, then. His hand rested almost possessively on Schuldig's stomach, fingers curling over his hip. Everything about his silence and stillness said he was expecting a refusal.

"I bet there's lube in the drawer," Schuldig said.

"Yeah." Yohji was still whispering. "Bet there is."

The lube came in little single-use packets and glowed in the dark. Yohji's coated fingers glowed green. "Abracadabra," he said softly, and drew glowing patterns in the dark.

"Crazy," Schuldig told him, but laughter escaped him as Yohji's glowing finger flipped him the bird.

One whole packet got used up in little obscene stick figure drawings on Schuldig's thigh. There were stick men doing it doggy style and stick men doing it up against the wall and several stick men and women doing increasingly improbable things involving vegetables.

"Pervert," Schuldig said. "What's the cantaloupe for anyway?"

"That's her boob!"

"You suck at drawing, too." He thought he should tell Yohji to get on with it, get it over with, get to the orgasm already, but he didn't. He thought about the last guy who'd fucked him--Farfarello didn't count--some American tourist who'd gone home with a desire he couldn't explain to tell his wife about an illicit affair with his boss that he'd actually never had.

Yohji's fingers finally slipped lower, and Schuldig thought about his last year at Rosenkreuz, some oversized kid shoving him face first against a wall and clawing at his pants. He'd smelled like sweat and cabbage, and Crawford had yanked the guy away before Schuldig could even start to fight back. Farfarello had bitten bitten his ear clean off. The memory still made Schuldig smile and made him even more sure that friends wasn't the right word for Schwarz. Not at all.

"Your balls glow in the dark," Yohji said seriously.

"As long as they're not radioactive."

And then Yohji's finger was pushing into him, slick and easy. The knobs of his knuckles were thick, and his skin was cool enough to be a shock. Schuldig hissed a little and closed his eyes.

"Okay?" Yohji asked, and Schuldig had to wonder if this was some parody of care, maybe an attempt to make him feel guilty about the way he'd fucked Yohji the first time, but no, the inside of Yohji's head was all too sincere.

"I'm fine."

"You're sure?"

"I do this all the time, asshole. Just not with you." All the time was an exaggeration. The American tourist was over a year ago. And what's worse was that Yohji wasn't even annoyed; just relieved.

Apparently his relief was best expressed by driving Schuldig crazy. He crooked his finger and rubbed over Schuldig's prostate again and again, rocking into Schuldig's body with little twists of his wrist and arm. He added another finger and it went in easy, and suddenly there was the whole weight of his body behind those short thrusts, and Schuldig was gasping.

His feet slipped on the sheets and the room seemed too warm. He could feel fluid seeping from the head of his cock to make sticky trails on his shaft and belly.

"That's enough," he said, but Yohji just worked in a third finger, twisting, stretching him wider. "Yohji."

"Hm?"

"Did I mention not being a fucking virgin here?"

"Not enjoying yourself?" Yohji's hand rubbed up the length of his cock, and Schuldig could almost hear Yohji's smirk.

But Yohji pulled his fingers out anyway. He wiped them against Schuldig's inner thigh and started working another packet of lube open. Schuldig clenched his teeth and fought not to yell at him to hurry up. He didn't like the three-finger thing exactly because it left him empty and twitchy and wanting more in a way that left him dependent on whoever he was with to get him untwitchy. He hated that.

It was way too fucking long before he felt Yohji's cock settle at his opening and Yohji's hands push his thighs wider, up and back. He went with it. The stretch to the backs of his thighs felt good and so did the stretch lower down when Yohji finally started to push inside.

"Fuck," Yohji muttered. "Fuck, tight, you're sure this doesn't hurt?"

"Keep going."

He did, surging forward probably harder than he meant and ending up half draped over Schuldig's body, between his legs. They panted together, and Yohji's hand flexed on the inside of his thigh, nails digging deep and releasing.

"Jesus," Yohji breathed. His thrusts started out short and irregular--not surprising given that it was the first time he'd fucked anyone in months--but they smoothed out and lengthened into something Schuldig could ride like a wave. His own hips tilted up to meet Yohji's but he couldn't do much else from his position except take it.

He did, and Yohji gave it to him faster and rougher, and Schuldig's mind went beautifully blank as he reached up a hand to stroke himself off. Nothing but white noise and fucking for long, long minutes, and he came like a slow fall, and Yohji was still fucking him. He let himself float along on afterglow and Yohji's pleasure, and he felt Yohji's orgasm almost like he was coming again himself.

He didn't realize he'd fallen asleep until after he woke up.

Yohji was propped up against the pillows next to him, smoking. His head was tipped back and his eyes were closed. His hand rested lightly on Schuldig's hair.

It was an effort not to freeze up. Leaving himself so defenseless was bad enough; letting Yohji know it had been an accident would be worse. Yohji could've killed him in his sleep. Could've done anything at all.

Not that he had a reason to think Yohji would, but he had no real reason to think he wouldn't. No certainty. And he should've been certain before he dropped his guard like that.

Schuldig clouded Yohji's perceptions as he slipped out of bed and dressed. He'd be halfway home before Yohji even noticed he was gone.

Chapter Text

Theme: 25. The Planetarium, or, "Sex Under the Stars"

 

Yohji woke with his cigarette cold and expired and the other half of the bed empty. He didn't remember falling asleep. He hadn't even been tired. It was the middle of the day for fuck's sake. Maybe it was a leap to blame Schuldig and his mind whammy, but not a huge one.

Jesus. It wasn't like Yohji'd been planning to tie him to the bed (which Schuldig had done to him) or or take him home to meet his mom (which Yohji sincerely hoped Schuldig would never do to him). The entire extent of his plans had been: maybe some food would be good.

Some food would still be good. And maybe it was better that Schuldig had taken off. The knowledge that he'd handed Omi over to his brother's less-than-tender mercies kept slipping out of Yohji's brain, and he didn't think it had anything to do with Schuldig's manipulation. He just didn't want to remember.

He picked up the phone and dialed the flower shop. Aya answered, voice low and cracked with weariness. Yohji wasn't sure he'd slept since the night of the party.

"You busy?" Yohji asked him.

"What do you want?" Aya snapped.

"Lunch. You up for it?"

"Some of us have work to do." Aya hung up.

Well. So much for that. Things would settle down. Aya would go back to being his normal cranky bastard self instead of his current sleep-deprived super-elite cranky bastardness. Everyone would get used to Omi's sunny-faced fratricide, and Ken would stop playing soccer in his room at three in the morning. It would all be good.

And Yohji would still be fucking around with the enemy.

He lit his cigarette again and stood in front of the window, pushing the drapes wide. He wondered idly if the glass was mirrored on the outside. If not, the offices across the way were going to get a nice view. His clothes still lay scattered on the floor.

He shouldn't be doing it. Shouldn't be doing Schuldig. The others wouldn't like it. Aya really wouldn't like it. Manx would flip her lid. Yohji was finding it seriously difficult to care.

Maybe if Schuldig hadn't come over right after the party and been his normal irritating self. Maybe if Yohji had felt any sense of shock or betrayal over what Schuldig had done. Maybe then things would be different. But like Schuldig had said, it was just work. In a way, that made it easier to take, since Yohji was pretty sure Schuldig would fuck around with his friends just for fun.

So what exactly had changed? Nothing. Yohji had never deluded himself that Schuldig was a nice guy, or even a decent human being. The only reason he could see to stop sleeping with him now was so that, if the others found out, he could say, Yeah, but I stopped as soon as I knew.

Maybe that was a good enough reason.

The cigarette went bitter and died as it burned down to the filter. Yohji stubbed it out and put his clothes on.

Back outside, he took a seat at the counter of the first noodle shop he passed. Someone sat down right next to him, though the seats at the
counter were nearly all empty.

Schuldig had once give him a physical description of Farfarello. It was the sort of description that stuck with you. Yohji wondered what the odds were on there being two white-haired, scarred, one-eyed men wandering around Tokyo.

"You know who I am," Farfarello said. It was a statement.

"Yeah."

"He told me about your tattoo. Have you sinned?" He said it like a casual inquiry.

"All the fucking time."

"And have you learned?"

"Not a goddamned thing."

Farfarello smiled, and it made Yohji wanted to take a few giant steps backward. "I see why he hasn't killed you yet," Farfarello said.

"Yeah? Wanna share?"

Farfarello looked like he was considering it, but after a moment he shook his head. "No."

Farfarello got up and walked out.

"Ready to order?" asked the guy behind the counter.

"Ah--no, never mind."

Given a choice between food and prying into Schuldig's personal life, Yohji knew which option he was going for. He slipped out the door just in time to see Farfarello round the corner at the end of the block. He followed.

There was nobody easier to tail on planet Earth, Yohji was convinced. Between the hair and the clothes and the total lack of any attempt at stealth, Yohji was still sticking with him an hour later. Farfarello had stopped to buy groceries, and to feed some birds in a park. Yohji had been just close enough to hear him pouring poison into their little birdie ears about St. Francis of Assisi.

It had been a pretty well reasoned argument for a complete whackjob. Yohji had listened from behind a bush and caught himself thinking that Farfarello had some valid points. By the time Yohji trailed him back to the building all four of them lived in, he was half convinced that Farfarello was saner than Schuldig, not that it would take much.

Farfarello went inside, and Yohji approached the entryway. He was tempted to pump the doorman for more information, and he was willing to bet the guy would be more willing to talk about the white-haired wonder than about Crawford.

The door opened again, and Farfarello stuck his head out. "Are you coming in?" he asked Yohji.

Oh.

Yohji did. Anything else would've felt too much like running away.

The elevator ride up was silent. Farfarello unlocked the apartment door and walked straight in, leaving Yohji to follow. Farfarello wandered into another room, ignoring him completely, but the man on the couch sat up straighter and set his newspaper aside.

He was tall, dark-haired, with wire-rimmed glasses. He wore a suit and a smirk, both of which sat comfortably on him. He stood.

"Yohji Kudoh," the man said. "Come in. I've been waiting."

"Uh," Yohji said. "I just--" Want to leave now, thanks. "Farfarello invited me in. Uh. You know my name."

"Yes, I do."

"Right, good," Yohji muttered. He looked around, seeking some sort of landmark or familiar point. He felt completely at sea.

He stood on a spotless cream-colored carpet and surveyed a surprisingly normal landscape of modern furniture, scattered magazines, and shoes in several different sizes. Also, the giant black dildo Yohji'd bought Schuldig perched on top of the entertainment center like some looming bird of prey.

The man followed Yohji's gaze. "He thinks I don't know it's up there. I wish he'd just keep it in his room. I'd like my handkerchief back at some point, by the way. I get them custom made."

Yohji's brain took about five seconds to sort that out; the C embroidered on the handkerchief Schuldig had given him in the movie theater, Schuldig's repeated references to the leader of their little team. So, this was Crawford. Yohji had expected someone who smiled less. The smile was unnerving him.

"Nagi," Crawford called. "Come meet our guest."

A boy around Omi's age poked his head out of a door that opened off the hall past the living room. He was smaller than Omi and looked somehow more delicate. Also, definitely more ill tempered. His mouth was drawn into a tight line.

"Why?" he said.

The smirk grew a size larger. "It's Schuldig's boyfriend."

Nagi stepped entirely out of of his room and looked Yohji up and down. He ended with an expression of mild distaste. "What's he doing here?" he asked Crawford.

"I'm not anyone's fucking boyfriend," Yohji said, possibly more loudly than the situation called for.

"But you are fucking," Nagi said. "I have the surveillance video to prove it."

Yohji gaped for about five seconds and then shut his mouth with a snap. "What is this? Some blackmail shit?"

"It's not about you," Crawford said. "Think of it as sibling rivalry."

Nagi glared and slammed back into his room.

"He's young," Crawford said, not quite apologetic. "And loathes any suggestion of a relationship between him and Schuldig, blood or otherwise."

"Can I have a drink?" Yohji said weakly.

Vague memories were stirring in the back of his mind; human chess, a helicopter, Aya's freaked out scream and sword toss. This had been the guy with Takatori. His bodyguard. Of course.

Something told him this would be a good time to run, but Crawford was handing him a scotch. Yohji wondered if he should worry about drugs, but seriously, why would they bother. He knocked it back and felt calmer for it if not much happier.

"Nice place you got here," he said.

"Job perks. Mr. Takatori likes to have us nearby."

"Aren't you supposed to be, like, a little discreet about this shit?"

"Why?"

Crawford could pack a lot into one word, including Yohji's essential inconsequence and impotence compared to Crawford's team. The word 'impotence,' in particular, hung in the air.

"Yeah, okay," Yohji mumbled.

The windows behind Crawford showed a sample swatch of downtown Tokyo, sunny and bright, steel and concrete and hurrying footsteps. Crawford looked, in that second, like he owned it all.

Yohji shook his head, crossed his arms over his chest. "Can Schuldig come out and play?" he said.

Crawford didn't say I can see why he hasn't killed you yet, but there was an echo of something like the same sentiment in his posture and voice when he spoke.

"He's here. I don't know if he'll let you in. Second door on the right." He nodded towards the hall.

Yohji knocked on the appropriate door.

"Fuck off," Schuldig said.

Yohji kicked the door. "Let me in," he hissed. No one could blame him for sounding a little desperate, especially not when Farfarello came to stand in the mouth of the hallway, sharpening a kitchen knife.

There was a brief silence, and then the door snapped open. Schuldig stood on the other side of it, looking a bit wild. He grabbed the front of Yohji's shirt and dragged him inside.

The inside of the room briefly made Yohji forget about everything else. There was a desk with a computer on it. Apart from that, there were stars. The ground felt like a floor under his feet, but all he saw when he looked down was vertigo-inducing darkness shot with points of light.

Schuldig shook him. "What the fuck are you doing here?"

"What the fuck is this?"

They stared at each other. After a moment Schuldig sighed and let him go. "It's just a hologram. Psychic assassins don't faze you, but you can't cope with a little starfield? It's like a screensaver grown up. What the fuck are you doing here? Are you nuts?"

Yohji crossed his arms over his chest and backed up until he had a wall to lean against. Or something that felt like a wall. "What, none of your other boyfriends ever came to visit?"

"You're-- Who have you been talking to? Crawford? Have you seriously been out there," he waved a hand wildly towards the living room, "talking to Brad fucking Crawford? Seriously?"

"You sound like it's a miracle I lived through it."

"It is!"

Yohji frowned at him. He actually sounded worried. "I tailed Farfarello here. He stopped by to ask me about sin and stuff. I didn't just--decide to drop by."

"Good to know you're not completely mentally deficient. Now leave."

"I just got here. You could at least offer me a drink."

"If I do, will you leave?"

"No. I already had one anyway."

"You'd better hope it wasn't poisoned."

Yohji shrugged.

"Fuck. There's having a death wish and then there's just plain stupidity."

"Didn't know you cared."

"I don't."

The words came out so loud, both in the room and inside Yohji's head, that he flinched. If he hadn't already been jammed smack up against the wall, he would've stepped back.

Schuldig stepped back instead. He ran his hands over his face and back through his hair. Bits of it stuck to his face, charged with static. "So you followed Farf, and he invited you in."

"I didn't think he knew I was there."

"He's not stupid."

"Yeah, I got that."

Schuldig turned away, kicked the chair in front of the desk, and then flipped it around to straddle it. He leaned his arms on the back and stared at Yohji. "You're not as scared as you should be."

"Gosh, so sorry. What are you doing in here anyway? Plotting to overthrow civilization as we know it?"

"No, that's Crawford's deal. I was just--" Schuldig gestured towards the computer screen.

"Porn? You're looking at internet porn?"

"Fuck off. It was something to do."

"Clubbing's something to do. Getting drunk is something to do. Looking at internet porn alone in the dark is something sad losers do."

"Don't even try to tell me you never look at porn."

Yohji shrugged, peering at the screen. "Everyone's a sad loser sometimes. That's not very good porn."

"Depends what you like."

"If you like girls being tied up and hosed down with water, I'm sure it's very good porn."

"Don't mock my tastes, Kudoh. I'm fucking you, remember."

"You don't want to tie me up and hose me down, do you?"

"Tie you up and gag you maybe."

"You can't gag my brain."

"I totally could."

"Yeah? So do it."

Schuldig frowned at him. "You're not supposed to invite me to screw with your head, Yohji."

"Dare you."

"Yohji--"

"Chicken." It was stupid, yeah, but he once he started arguing with Schuldig it was hard to stop. And then Schuldig stopped him.

Yohji looked around the room with wide eyes and not a thought in his head. There was no panic at the sudden silence in his mind, no fear, no worry. Nothing. He touched his own mouth, but there were no words to come out.

With his mind empty, his eyes focused more fully on the stars around him. There were whole twisting galaxies, binary systems, streaming comets. Like looking at the universe all at once, pouring it right onto his brain. He slid slowly down the wall, still staring.

Schuldig came to sit beside him, and when Yohji turned to him, his face was just as fascinating as the stars. He raised a hand to touch his hair and cheek. Seeing this much felt almost like being blind.

And then it was all gone, and his head was chock full of everything from self-doubt to grocery lists again. He leaned back against the wall, aware of Schuldig's shoulder and thigh pressing against his. Even with all his words back, he couldn't seem to find the right ones.

"You could wake me up before you leave next time," he said, finally. "I'm not gonna be an asshole about it or anything."

There was a long silence and an exploding star over to their right.

Schuldig glanced over at him, frowning just a little. "Yeah, whatever," he said. "Sure. What the fuck." He looked away again fast.

"And don't kill me in my sleep."

"No promises."

Yohji just smiled a little and shook his head. "Fine. Be that way."

Chapter Text

Theme: 5. The Harem, or, "When in Rome..."

 

No amount of logic or badgering could convince Omi to leave Ouka's body in the park. They waited as long as they could, until they heard police sirens in the distance. Finally, Aya shocked him to stillness with a slap across the face and dragged him back to the car.

Yohji drove them home silently, eyes fixed on the road. He wasn't going to think about it, not now. The only thought he failed to shut down before it reached his awareness was a guilty relief that he hadn't told them, that he wasn't connected to this in their minds.

He knew it was a horrible thought. The guilt of it jabbed at his stomach all the way home and for the next five hours as he tried to sleep. He let it. He deserved at least that much.

The next morning, he was up so early it was really still night. The world outside was fading into focus, but not there yet, still too grey and dark. Aya was bent over his coffee at the kitchen table, more or less in the same position Yohji had left him in to go to bed.

"Hey," Yohji said.

Aya nodded briefly in greeting.

"We're gonna kill them, right?"

Aya looked up at him slowly. "Yes. We're going to kill them."

Yohji sat and drank coffee and thought about Schuldig's team. Schuldig's unfortunate sense of humor. Schuldig's body next to his as he slept. Fuck.

They were all going to die. They were going to go up against Takatori and Schuldig's people, and they were all going to die. It would probably be messy and painful. Well, that was that. He'd never expected a long life span in Weiss anyway.

 

***

Schuldig hadn't realized there was anything Takatori Reiji loved like he'd apparently loved Ouka. There was nothing in his head but blind rage, no room for subtle mental suggestions or prodding. Schuldig could still stop him, but it would leave him more fit for the produce aisle than high political office.

Farfarello's voice was a low grumble in the back of Schuldig's mind: killhimkillhimkillhim. Predictable and tempting. But you don't kill the people you're protecting, not without orders, or Eszett makes you real sorry. Way sorrier than a golf club to the head. And Crawford would be there soon. Schuldig could feel him coming. Running, actually, which made Schuldig smile even as Takatori clubbed him again.

It was all a little blurred; Crawford's explanation to Takatori, the nauseous walk to the car, the ride home. Farfarello held him more or less upright in the back seat. Someone dragged him inside. He couldn't see very well and every part of him ached. After that, there was nothing for a while.

Crawford was sitting next to his bed when he woke up, reading. He set his book face down on his lap. It was probably Anna Karenina because he'd been reading it for weeks, but Schuldig's eyes wouldn't focus on the cover.

"Why," Crawford said.

"Didn't mean for her to die," Schuldig mumbled. He hadn't. She would've been so much more entertaining alive, attracted to--as far as she knew--her own brother. And Omi, fuck, his anguish had been perfect, the fucking platonic ideal.

"Take these," Crawford said. He held out two small pills. "And explain."

Schuldig swallowed them, hoping they were painkillers. "Sounded like a good idea at the time?" He tried a weak smile.

"Schuldig." There was a warning in Crawford's voice.

"It was--fuck, how could I not? He's just blown off his his whole family, killed his fucking brother, gotten his memory back, declared war on the Takatoris, and the one chick he wants is not just on the opposite side, but his sister? Seriously. How did you not see this coming?"

"Somehow it didn't occur to me to monitor his love life as closely as you obviously have."

"Your fault then."

Crawford sighed. "I've been occupied. I assumed Mr. Kudoh would keep you out of trouble. I supposed you realize how effectively you've killed that relationship with this stunt."

"I wasn't even the one who shot her!"

"You gave Farfarello the gun. You know how he is when he's excited."

"Fuck you. And it wasn't a relationship."

"I see."

It shouldn't have been a devastating parting shot, but somehow, from Crawford, it was. He left and shut the door gently behind him.

Yohji wouldn't care, Schuldig thought. Not really. He didn't even know Ouka. They couldn't have exchanged more than a dozen words, ever. No reason he should care.

Schuldig reached out, searching mentally. He found Yohji easily enough, but there was a second when he wasn't sure it was actually Yohji. Yohji's mind had never felt so closed off before, not even when Schuldig had him tied up with a gun to his head. Schuldig poked at him, and got a such a wash of anger that he pulled back.

He picked up the phone. It seemed safer. It rang and rang and he didn't let himself think why he was bothering with this right now when he had so many better things to do, like abusing painkillers and forcing Crawford to bring him toast in bed.

It rang some more. He hung up and dialed again. It rang.

Finally, Yohji picked up. "Don't fucking call me again, you son of a bitch. Just don't."

He hung up.

Fine. Fuck Yohji anyway.

***

The clubs were exactly the same, right down to the familiar faces ringing Yohji in the red glow of the gelled spotlights.

"Where have you been?" Chigusa demanded, and the other girls joined in, voices high above the pounding bass of the music.

He had a drink and another and didn't really answer any questions, and it was like no time had passed at all. His world was suspended outside with all its craziness, and this could be any Friday night in the last five years, and he could be anyone at all.

Schuldig hadn't called again. Yohji raised his arms and danced and thought about killing him. He thought about doing it from far away with the sniper rifle. He thought about doing it up close and personal, his wire wrapped around Schuldig's neck.

He thought about telling Omi he'd fucked the guy who murdered his sister. Girlfriend. Whatever. He had another drink and wondered if Schuldig's team had been working for Takatori when Aya's family was killed.

You're scum, he thought. It was like a little tune playing in his head. He couldn't think of a single person who would disagree with him if they knew the truth. Except maybe Schuldig.

"Vodka," he told the bartender, knocked it back when it arrived, ordered another. He needed to make his brain stop, and if drinking himself blind was the only to do it, well, he wouldn't need his liver in his old age anyway.

He sat in one of the booths in the back, and the girls flocked around him. He felt touches on his thighs and on his stomach where his shirt rode up, no idea which hand was whose. He wished he could work up the enthusiasm to take any of them home.

His eyes started to blur with vodka and flashing lights, and probably that was why the flash of red-orange in the crowd looked so familiar. He looked away.

***

Schuldig and Farfarello stood on the edge of the dance floor. The whole place vibrated with music, and the clash of hundreds of minds was almost worse than the pain from the various lumps and bruises on Schuldig's skull.

Farfarello stood close enough that their shoulders touched. That made the crowd easier to bear. It gave him space to think, but thinking didn't help. He had no idea what he was doing here.

Spoiled for choice, Farfarello thought. He nodded towards the small harem clustered around Yohji over in the corner.

Like he's a fucking pimp.

And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. Farfarello paused. What's he thinking?

Wondering how much more he can drink before he passes out.

Not as wise as Solomon.

Not even as wise as you, nutjob.

Farfarello shifted, not offended, just impatient. Why are we here?

I didn't ask you to come.

Bored.

Looking for something to do? Farfarello turned towards him, light in his eyes. The girls, Schuldig told him. They can go.

Farfarello's hand flexed on the handle of his knife, and he faded away into the crowd. Schuldig hoped he would do it quietly, somewhere out of sight, but he didn't care enough to make it an order.

Chapter Text

Theme: 9. Sex and Drugs, or, "That's Some Funny Tobacco in that Pipe, Mr. Caterpillar."

 

Yohji ducked his head as he ran out of the lab, but the explosion dogged his heels. Little stings peppered his back and legs, and he figured he'd be picking glass out of his ass for a good hour before he could sit down to drive.

He limped over to his car and bent over it, fingers searching for the remnants of beakers and test tubes lodged in his skin and clothes. The lab had been too clean, too shiny with metal and bright lights. Everything had looked so well scrubbed that it gave him bad feelings about what might have been done there that required so much effort to scrub away. The stainless steel tables had built-in metal restraints at their corners. It had been empty of people, thank god, but stuff still burbled away over low flames here and there, filling the room with a strangely sweet smell, cinnamon and lilac.

He could still smell it, and the smoke rising from the remains of the lab were tinted green. He hoped none of that shit had been in the glass that cut him. Hospital time. He kept a few shards for testing and slipped gingerly into the driver's seat.

Hours of tests and what felt like several gallons of blood later, he was released.

"Everything looks fine, Mr. Kudoh," the doctor told him. She wasn't the same doctor as last time. He'd never seen the same doctor twice at Kritiker's favorite hospital. He wondered if that meant anything, but mostly he just wondered how soon he could get home and pass out.

Under fifteen minutes was the answer. He face-planted onto his bed and didn't move for nearly twelve hours.

When he woke up, it was light out, and Aya was shaking his shoulder.

"Wha--stoppit," Yohji mumbled into his pillow. "Whayoudoin?"

"Are you awake?"

"Maybe. Mission?"

"No."

Yohji turned his head and squinted up at Aya. "My day off."

"Yes."

"So why're you up here shakin' me?"

"The hospital called. They found some anomalous results in your blood work. Do you feel all right?"

"Tired."

"Besides that."

Yohji stretched and rolled over onto his back. "Ow, fuck. Besides the death of a thousand papercuts? Yeah, I think I'm okay."

"What were they working on at that lab?"

"I-- I don't know." He looked at the bedsheets instead of Aya. "I didn't ask. There was no information in the mission assignment. Just--search and destroy." He was supposed to ask. He was supposed to care. He really, really didn't.

Aya was quiet for a minute or so, long enough for Yohji to start drifting, sleep creeping up to swallow him again. He could see Asuka standing just behind Aya's shoulder and blinked hard until she faded away again.

"You should eat," Aya said, finally.

"Yeah. Okay."

Aya actually made him lunch. It was only instant curry, but still, Yohji was forced to wonder just how worried the hospital was about his blood work. He slurped at his curry and watched Aya wipe down the counters.

"What did they say, exactly?"

"Anomalous was about all they said. And to call if you started experiencing symptoms."

"Symptoms of what?"

"They didn't say."

"Fantastic." He caught a flash of movement at the doorway and turned, expecting Omi or Ken. There was no one there. He shook his head. "So if I start turning green or anything, give them a call?"

Aya nodded, no hint of a smile. He sat down across from Yohji and didn't move.

"Are you waiting for me to turn green? 'Cause I wasn't planning on it."

"Just waiting," Aya said. "You shouldn't be alone."

Yohji figured it was a sign of how completely fucked up he was that Aya's words made his throat tighten for a second. It had been a bad few weeks, and he'd gotten used to the idea that no one actually gave a shit about him despite knowing it wasn't true. Guilt, he thought. It was a wonderful thing, for certain definitions of 'wonderful.'

So was the awkward silence that followed. Yohji scraped up the last of the curry and flicked his eyes to the doorway again. Nothing there. Just movement. Some kind of inner ear thing, maybe.

"How's your sister?" something made him ask. He flinched in anticipation of Aya's reaction, but Aya actually didn't look mad at all.

"There's no change," he said quietly. He folded his hands on the table. "She smiles sometimes. Like she's asleep and dreaming."

"She look like you? The eyes and the hair?"

"No. She looks--like my mother. Dark hair, fine bones. She wasn't finished growing yet, but..."

"But?"

"But they say she hasn't aged at all. Physically." His voice is flat, but there's a hint of question in his eyes when he looks up at Yohji through the ragged fringe of his hair. Yohji was suddenly reminded that Aya was actually younger than he was, and had been younger still when he'd lost his family.

"Would there be that much change?" Yohji asked.

Aya shrugged, sort of hunched over, and got up. He yanked two mugs out of the cabinet and started making the angriest pot of tea Yohji had ever seen. "They don't know anything," he said.

"He's right," said another voice. Young. Female. "The doctors really don't know very much. They are trying though."

Yohji turned slowly to look at the doorway. There was a girl standing there, high-school age, with long dark hair and Aya's startling eyes. She smiled at him.

Yohji closed his eyes tight and swallowed down a rush of panic and adrenaline. "Aya. You see anything over by the door?"

"No," Aya said shortly. He was probably concentrating on the tea.

Yohji opened his eyes. Aya's sister waved at him and faded slowly from sight.

Right. A hallucinogen. He could handle that without ten thousand zillion more blood tests, especially if he hid out in his room all day. It couldn't last much longer. He gritted his teeth until Aya was done making tea and then stood.

"I'm gonna take mine upstairs, okay? Lie down for a while. I don't feel so hot."

Aya frowned. "How so?"

"Nothing to worry about. Just, you know. Tired. And all those little bits of glass in my back didn't help. I'll be okay after a nap."

Aya nodded and handed him his mug, and Yohji retreated upstairs. He stretched out on his bed and closed his eyes. He saw Asuka in his sleep, but that was nothing new. The new part was that she was still there when he woke up.

She leaned over his bed, smiling at him. "You are such a dumbass, Kudoh."

He shoved the heels of his hands into his eyes until he saw stars and nothing else, until he could pretend that the tears were from pain. He didn't stop to think after that, just grabbed shoes and jacket and got out the door. The only thought in his head was escape, but it was worse out on the street.

Just stepping out the door he could see a dozen girls that might've been her and weren't. He knew they weren't. One of them turned around and looked at him with Asuka's face. "Remember that one night," she said, "when you tried to cook me dinner?"

Yohji ran. He didn't stop until he was more or less free of human traffic, in a nearby park. He dropped onto a bench. His hands were shaking.

Aya's sister patted his knee. "Don't worry," she said. "It'll all turn out for the best."

He covered his face with his hands. It worked last time. "Please don't," he mumbled. "You're freaking me out." It was probably a bad idea to talk to hallucinations.

"Why the fuck should I care what freaks you out?"

That wasn't Aya's sister. Yohji opened his eyes and found things had gotten worse. It was Kase. For a second, Yohji if he'd survived, but he'd seen what was left when Ken was finished. There was just no way.

Kase looked past him, out to the field, where Yohji saw Ken kicking around his soccer ball. "That son of a bitch," Kase said. "I can't believe he killed me."

Yohji got up and walked away. Maybe he should go to the hospital. But what could they do? Fuck around with antidotes that might just make it worse. Or sedate him. Later, maybe. If it got worse.

Goddamn Tokyo streets. It wasn't like he'd want to live anywhere else, but maybe just once in a while--like when he was doped up on mystery designer drugs--he could do with a few less people around.

"Hey there, hotstuff," said a voice at his elbow. He was almost afraid to look, and for a few steps he didn't. "Come on," she said. "I know you remember me. It hasn't been all that long."

"Hi, Maki," he whispered.

"I'm not her, you know."

Not Asuka. No, he could tell the difference.

"I know." He kept walking, looking down at the sidewalk, at the little black spots that used to be someone's gum, at the odd sparkles in the cement caught by the sun. It was easier with her than with any of the rest of them, somehow. She'd been easy to talk to when she was alive, too.

"Damn," Maki sighed. "You're still just as fucked as when I met you, huh?"

He laughed. "Worse. God, way worse." He stopped short in the middle of the sidewalk and turned to her. "I'm sorry, he said. "Fuck, I'm so sorry." He reached for her arm, but as his hand closed over it, she was gone.

People were staring, he realized, making detours around him and leaving him stranded on his little bare patch of sidewalk. He couldn't move, felt walled in by all these people and their normal lives happening around him. Freaks on this side of the glass, please, no trespassing. He made himself lower his hand finally, but that was all he could do, and what if it wasn't a hallucinogen? What if it was just designed to drive him fucking batshit crazy?

He thought maybe it'd alrady done the job when Schuldig appeared in front of him. "What the hell," Schuldig said, and grabbed a handful of Yohji's shirt to drag him into an alley.

"Your hair's wet," Yohji said.

"I was in the fucking shower when you started flipping your fucking lid! What is wrong with you?"

"This lab, and this drug, and--" Yohji gestured with his hands. "And, oh God." Kase was flipping him off over Schuldig's shoulder. Yohji jerked Schuldig around. "Can you see him?"

Schuldig twisted back around. "No. But I can see him in your head. 'I see dead people'? Get a grip. This is not a movie, you're not going nuts, and you're definitely not psychic. You're having a bad trip. Pretend it's the sixties, you'll feel much better."

Yohji just blinked at him. He was still holding onto Schuldig's shoulder, and yeah, he still hated him, but he couldn't make himself let go. "You heard me? This far away?"

Schuldig shrugged one shoulder. "You were loud. And annoying."

"Like half of Tokyo."

"You're worse."

Hate. Right. Because Schuldig was a heartless murdering asshole. He knew that. "Well, great," he said. "You came, you saw, I'm not bugging you anymore. So leave."

"Don't even," Schuldig muttered, and then he had Yohji by his collar and was dragging him onto the street. They were in a taxi before Yohji could say more than two words, those two words being, "Fuck you."

"Whatever," Schuldig said. "Shut up. Two seconds after I leave you're gonna be out of your head again."

"I can deal with it," Yohji snarled.

Schuldig looked startled for a second, but shook his head. "If you could've, you would've."

"I can go to the hospital."

"Ha. Yeah, that'll help."

"They can knock me out."

"No, they can't. They don't know how this shit'll react with anything they give you, so they won't give you anything, except maybe five point restraints." He paused. "Trust me, I know." He gave an address to the taxi driver and sat looking straight ahead while Yohji stared at him.

That sounded like Schuldig was here just to help him out. It suggested feelings like sympathy and compassion, feelings he was pretty sure Schuldig didn't have. Or at least feelings he didn't want to think Schuldig had. Things were complicated enough already.

"Where are we going?" he asked.

"Home."

"Whose home?"

"Do I look stupid? My home, the one that's not chock full of people who want me dead."

"They've got good fucking reason to want you dead."

"So do you."

Five minutes of strained silence saw them to Schuldig's door and inside. Crawford, Nagi, and Farfarello stared as they walked by, but Schuldig dragged him along, and no one said a word.

"Are they--" Yohji started as Schuldig slammed the door to his room closed behind them.

"Crawford probably saw it coming. Sit." He pointed at the bed.

Yohji sat and looked around. He'd expected something more...insane...from Schuldig's room. There was a bed, a black leather chair with a curved lucite table beside it, and a black lacquer dresser with a mirror over it. Judging from the rest of the apartment, the furniture had been here when he arrived. The bedspread, though, was a psychedelic flower pattern in orange and purple. It matched Schuldig's hair. And there was a poster on the wall of some guy with crazy gray hair.

"Who's that?" Yohji asked.

"Beethoven, you cultureless dick."

"You listen to Beethoven?"

"Yeah, so?"

"Nothing, no reason." Yohji sat and fidgeted with the edge of the bedspread. "So. Now what?"

"Still seeing dead people?"

"No."

"Then chill."

"Fine."

He lay back on the bed with his arms cross behind his head, and seriously, this was weird. It was too weird to sort through. He wouldn't try, he decided. He'd wait until he could leave and then he'd, well, leave. And pretend this never happened, and everything would be fine. For a certain definition of the word 'fine' that meant really fucking confusing and awkward.

"Get your shoes off my bed," Schuldig said.

He kicked his shoes off. Schuldig sat beside him and pushed him over until he could lie down as well.

"Your shoes are still on."

"It's my bed."

"You walk in the same shit I do all day."

"My shoes, my bed. Shut up." Schuldig punched his shoulder. It wasn't exactly gentle, but it wasn't meant to leave a bruise either. Yohji found himself smiling automatically in response, opening his mouth to say--something. He stopped.

"Are you going to keep being a total asshole about this?" Schuldig said.

Yohji couldn't think of a thing to say to that for a good thirty seconds. "You--fuck, you murdered my friend's sister! I can't believe you seriously need me to explain this! I shouldn't even be here." He started to get up and stopped halfway when Schuldig didn't stop him.

He'd been so, so right about the awkward and confusing part.

Schuldig was frowning at him. "I told you it was Farf."

"Yeah, and you clearly don't give a shit."

Schuldig shrugged. "I really don't. I didn't know the girl. I wish she wasn't dead, because her bastard father wouldn't have smacked me around with a golf club, but apart from the concussion, no, I really don't give a shit. Did you expect me to?"

Yohji slid his socks over the smooth wood floor. It felt very faintly warm. "No. Not really."

He could hear Schuldig breathing and the faint sounds of conversation from the living room. The shuffle of his socks on the floor made little whispering sounds, like voices he couldn't quite hear. He tried to convince himself to get up and leave, but he was still sitting there when Schuldig gripped his sleeve and tugged him back down to lie on the bed again.

More breathing silence, measured by the rhythm of his heartbeat and the dull pounding in his head.

"I might care if I killed you," Schuldig offered, after what seemed like hours.

The words sounded too abrupt in the stillness surrounding them. When they faded away, Yohji wasn't sure Schuldig had really said anything at all. Little pricks of pain from his back prodded him over onto his stomach, and soon enough exhaustion prodded him into sleep.

Chapter Text

Theme: 15. The Bordello, or, "Dude Looks Like a Lady of the Night."

 

Omi stepped back and surveyed Yohji from top to bottom and back again.

Yohji shifted from foot to foot. "The shoes hurt."

"You get used to it," Omi said.

"I don't want to get used to it."

Omi sighed and put his hands on his hips. "It's just a couple of nights, Yohji-kun. You did say you'd do it."

"I will. Not gonna like it, though."

Omi gave him a sunny smile. "Give it a chance. You might."

"Omi!"

Omi grinned. "Yohji! What?"

"Are you telling me you enjoy dressing up--like this?" He gestured down at the short, spandex skirt clinging to his thighs and the fishnets held up with garters. The garter straps were visible, stretched down his thighs in a way he would've called trashy if that wasn't the entire point of this outfit.

"It's nice to be someone else sometimes," Omi said. He straightened Yohji's tank top, one Omi had pulled out of the back of his own closet. It was hot pink and said Princess on it in glittery cursive. Yohji refused to imagine Omi wearing it.

"I guess," Yohji muttered. "Somebody not a hooker, maybe."

"Somebody not a killer," Omi said quietly. He turned away, fussing with the surveillance equipment that was meant to record anyone watching Yohji and his 'clients.' It would be concealed in the alley. The original plan had called for Yohji to wear a wire as well, but he just wasn't wearing enough to keep it hidden.

"I thought you might appreciate that," Omi added.

Yohji had a comeback for that waiting to get past his lips almost before Omi was done speaking, but he caught himself. "Yeah," he said. "Maybe."

He wished Omi were the one doing this, but when he'd tried to suggest it, Aya had dragged him aside and explained what kind of people Omi would attract as johns. Entirely the wrong kind of pervert. Yohji hated it when Aya was right.

"Costumes, disguises," Omi said, directing the words down towards his equipment. "It's like they change who you are. Who everyone thinks you are."

"And that's the same thing, pretty much. Right?"

Omi gave him a brief smile over his shoulder. "Do you really think that, Yohji-kun?"

"I think it matters what other people think. Whether we want it to or not."

"You two done with the philosophy?" Ken said from the doorway. "If we get this over by ten, I can still watch the game."

"Is that seriously all you think about, Ken?"

Ken shrugged and mimed kicking a soccer ball at him. "Maybe. Better that than other things I could think about."

"Point. Goal. Whatever. We ought to go then."

"I'm driving you," Ken said.

"You my pimp?"

Ken slugged his arm cheerfully and headed outside. "Hurry it up, Ho-ji. We don't have all night."

***

The shoes hurt like a bitch. At least they weren't the high heels he'd tried on at first, but high-heeled boots weren't much better. Their major advantage was the added stability and the the fact that his legs were only freezing from the knees up. It wasn't much colder than it had been during the day, but standing around in the dark on cold cement with the alley channeling wind right up his skirt--he'd be glad when this was over.

Aya moved towards him, glancing from side to side, every inch the john afraid of being caught. He was the last of Yohji's fake clients for the night. A few minutes with Aya in the shelter of a deep doorway, another half hour or so, and then home, warm socks, and hot soup.

"How much," Aya muttered.

Yohji told him, and they retreated. The doorway was small enough that, to shield them both from view, they had to stand close. Yohji didn't mind. Aya was warm.

"All right?" Aya said quietly.

"Bored. Cold."

"Here." Aya handed him a small flask. Yohji was expecting booze, but it turned out to be coffee, which was actually better.

"Thanks, man."

Aya shrugged awkwardly. "You have the hard job tonight."

"Damn right. If I get one more joker arguing over the price of a fucking blowjob, I'm gonna break his nose. I mean, a thousand yen? Come on, do I look that cheap?"

"Yes," Aya said.

"Eh, screw you, too."

"It gives you a good reason to turn them away."

"Don't need a good reason. 'Sorry, you're too ugly' works just fine. Only fun part of the whole night."

"That's unkind," Aya murmured, but he was smiling a very Aya smile, the kind that didn't actually move any facial muscles at all.

"Did you see that one guy?"

"Well," Aya said, and didn't add anything else, which probably meant he agreed.

They talked quietly for a few more minutes, and then Aya went back the way he'd come. Yohji counted down the minutes, pacing up and down his little stretch of pavement to keep warm and alleviate the ache in his feet.

"Hey, baby," said a voice from the shadows. "How about a freebie?"

It was Schuldig. Of course it was Schuldig.

"Get out of here," Yohji hissed. "You're fucking up our operation."

"Hey, I'm lending authenticity to your 'operation'," Schuldig said. He didn't make air quotes, but Yohji could hear them anyway. He put his hands on Yohji's hips and walked him backwards into the shadowed doorway. "You don't think you ought to actually have sex with one of your clients? Couldn't hurt, right?"

"We're not doing this," Yohji said. He hoped desperately that Aya and the others hadn't recognized Schuldig if they'd seen him, and that they wouldn't come back here to check on him.

"Yeah, yeah. Heartless, murdering bastard, heard you the first time." Schuldig wedged a leg between his thighs and bit lightly at his neck.

"Then why don't you leave me the fuck alone?"

"Why don't you shut the hell up? You're cold, right? I can help you out with that."

"Get off," Yohji mumbled, but there was a limit to how hard he could fight without letting the others know something was wrong, so what he mostly did was squirm, which only gave Schuldig the opportunity to get his hand up Yohji's skirt.

Schuldig grinned. "No lace? Maybe ruffles? I'm disappointed. Still, commando's a good look on you."

"I hate you," Yohji said, and wished like hell he meant it.

"Do not." Schuldig's ice-cold fingers warmed slowly on Yohji's hip and inner thigh. His thumb swiped over the head of Yohji's cock and made Yohji shiver.

"Do so." Yohji couldn't move much at all now. Schuldig's chest was pressed against his, Schuldig's arm twisted at an awkward angle to stroke Yohji's hardening cock.

"Do not to infinity. Shut up."

Yohji did, but only because Schuldig kissed him then. And okay, a little because it wasn't true. Yohji expected more than this, expected a quick turn and shove against the wall and Schuldig hauling his skirt up to slick his ass, but all Schuldig did was kiss him and jerk him off, slow and steady.

"Surprised you haven't had any real customers, looking like this."

"I didn't pick the clothes."

"That was a compliment, asshole." He squeezed Yohji's cock a little and wiped gathering fluid off the head. He painted Yohji's bottom lip with it and went back to stroking him, still too slow.

"I look good in hooker clothes? Maybe that's a compliment where you come from."

"You look good in slut clothes," Schuldig said in his ear. "Like you'd give it away for free. Just like you're doing."

Yohji wanted to reply, but Schuldig sped his hand up, and Yohji was left arching against him and trying to keep quiet. "Fuck," he panted. "Schuldig..."

"Mm?"

"You bastard."

Schuldig shoved Yohji's tank top up under his armpits and licked over his nipple. He blew cold air over now-wet skin, and Yohji bit his lip on a moan. It wasn't fair that Schuldig could still do this to him, and so easily.

Schuldig's teeth closed on his nipple, and his tongue flicked over it. Yohji pushed both his palms against the door behind him, dug his nails into its metal surface. His hips pressed out against Schuldig's hand, and he turned his face away, wishing for more control.

"Good," Schuldig mumbled against his chest. "That's good." He licked and sucked and bit at Yohji's nipple, just the one until it was red and swollen, and he let Yohji fuck his fist with increasingly urgent jerks of his hips.

Yohji came hard about two seconds later, biting the heel of his hand so he wouldn't cry out. Schuldig smoothed down his skirt and then his tank top, and pressed him flat to the door with his body weight. His fingers curled around the side of Yohji's ribcage, and his thumb rubbed circles over Yohji's abused nipple through the thin cotton. It almost hurt, but only almost, and Yohji's nerves were wound so tight he twitched and moaned a tiny bit at the feeling, hot and raw.

Schuldig kept it up, torturously slow, as he dragged Yohji's hand down to the length of his own cock outlined through his pants. Yohji rubbed his palm over it, listening to Schuldig's encouraging hiss and the rasp of his quickened breathing.

He felt Schuldig's free hand clamp around his upper arm, nails pressing into his skin. He felt also the tension in Schuldig's body and the damp patch at the front of his pants. His fingers closed around Schuldig's cock through his pants and stroked him as well as he could, rough and fast, pushing him hard. Probably too hard, from the pressure of Schuldig's hand on his arm. That might leave bruises.

"Don't," Schuldig said, and then he was coming, his open mouth pressed to Yohji's shoulder. Yohji pulled his hand away and wiped it on Schuldig's shirt.

They stood still for a few seconds, both of them leaning forward until their foreheads touched.

"I want you to leave," Yohji said quietly. "I don't want to see you again." And that was true.

Schuldig looked at him a moment longer, but didn't argue. He slipped away into the shadows that lined the alley. Yohji lost sight of him almost immediately.

Chapter Text

Theme: 14. Virtual Reality, or "Jacked In, Jacked Off."

 

Yohji hadn't left his apartment in two weeks. If anyone'd asked, he would've told them that losing so much hair to the fire had been an insurmountable blow to his vanity and he wasn't coming out again until it grew back.

In reality, he was just...tired. Anyway, nobody asked.

The hair thing was pretty bad, he had to admit. He needed to get a proper haircut at some point. For the moment, he'd taken scissors to it himself. With enough hair gel, it looked like a fashion statement. Nobody had seen it yet except the delivery guys

At 2:30 on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, he was still in bed, smoking. There was a growing pile of cigarette butts in the ashtray beside his bed. His clothes sat in his open suitcase across the room. There were a few CDs, too, a couple old photographs, a handful of random crap he'd swept off his dresser in the rush to pack.

His laptop sat on the small couch by the window. His one rescued pair of shoes and his mission boots were stationed by the door. That was it. His whole life packed into a suitcase, himself packed into a one-room apartment.

He'd made a list of pros and cons regarding this situation his fifth day here.

-Pros-
No killing people
Lots of quiet
Weighed down by fewer possessions (?)

He wasn't sure that last one was actually a pro.

-Cons-
No idea what to do with life other than kill people
Missing Aya and Ken and even Omi
Manx is a horrible person who won't give out any of their numbers or their new email addresses
Washing hair with dish soap = not a good idea
Limited food options

Technically that last one didn't count. It was his own fault for only eating what someone was prepared to deliver to his door. The list was stuck to his fridge with gum because he had no fridge magnets. It was probably there for good.

He dragged himself out of bed. Today was the day. He'd go out, get some groceries, some new jeans, maybe a haircut and a gym membership. Right after he checked his email.

It wasn't something he'd expected to take up much time. More of a ritual: wake the computer from its sleep, push the mail icon, wait for the disheartening clonk noise that meant no one gave a shit whether he lived or died. Today, there was no clonk. Instead, there was a bright and cheerful ding. He opened the email.

still want me to leave you alone, dipshit?

So. He knew who that was from, even without the address. The reply he sent was:

Yes.

But he didn't mean it this time. He wondered if Schuldig would know that. He went to shower and clip a few more stray burnt ends out of his hair. When he got back, he had another email.

want my dick in your ass again?

Yohji rolled his eyes. He absolutely didn't think that was funny, even a little bit.

I can't deal with all this romance. You're gonna make me cry.

He got dressed in relatively clean clothes and stood in front of the door for five minutes. He reached for the doorknob about twenty times before he finally smacked himself across the face--it stung--and wrenched the door open. Like hell he was going to stay in this shit apartment for the rest of his life.

When he returned four hours later, he had new jeans, laundry detergent, a slightly less frightening haircut, real shampoo, a lot of instant curry and instant noodles, and actual fresh vegetables. He also had another email.

stop feeling sorry for yourself and get on aim. you loser.

Yohji frowned.

What's aim?

He had to wait about an hour for the response, but he made good use of the time. Steamed vegetables and sesame oil tasted almost shockingly good after two weeks of grease and malnutrition.

omg moron. go here.

There was a link, which Yohji followed. He downloaded some software and set himself up an account. He signed on.

heresjohnny: took you long enough. that's the most boring screen name ever
yohjik: Fuck you too, JOHNNY.
heresjohnny: it's from a movie, shut up
yohjik: What movie?
heresjohnny: i knew i should've gone with redrum
yohjik: Murder backwards? Oh, that's subtle.
heresjohnny: dammit
heresjohnny: now you're spoiled for the movie
yohjik: WHAT fucking movie?
heresjohnny: never mind
yohjik: I hate you.
heresjohnny: do not
yohjik: Do too.
heresjohnny: do not
yohjik: Do too.
heresjohnny: do not and you think i'm hot too
yohjik: I am rolling my eyes right now. Also, why are we doing this over a computer when you can talk into my head?
heresjohnny: i'm trying to be polite, you dick
yohjik: Ha, ha.
heresjohnny: i knew this was a waste of time
yohjik: Must be nice to be right so often.
heresjohnny: must suck to be a fucking DICK so often

Schuldig signed off, and Yohji looked blankly at the computer screen for a minute before he did the same.

***

Crawford smacked the back of Schuldig's head, hard.

"Hey! What was that for?"

"Being stupid."

"He's being a pissy little bitch! And since when do you give a shit anyway?"

Crawford dragged a chair closer and sat. He watched Schuldig's face with a disturbing intensity that Schuldig had come to associate with the use of his talent.

"What?" Schuldig demanded. "Do I have a fatal disease and he has to give me bone marrow or something? Stop looking like that."

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Then what--"

"But I might point out that he has a very good reason to be angry with you. And that an apology might help, if you were looking for a solution rather than another round of not very creative insults, although I do realize that's what you two do for fun."

"This from Mr. Never Apologize Never Explain?"

"You asked for advice."

"I did not!"

"Well, you should have. You could use some. You're a very bad boyfriend," Crawford said solemnly. He left while Schuldig was still sputtering too hard to form words.

He wouldn't apologize. He wasn't sorry. He didn't know why he'd bothered to email Yohji in the first place. And Crawford giving him relationship advice was frankly creepy.

"Schuldig."

He looked up. Farfarello had poked his head through the door and was watching him. "What?"

"Bored. Want to go hunting?"

Schuldig winced and hoped Crawford wasn't lurking nearby. He wasn't supposed to encourage Farfarello's bad habits, and usually he didn't. But he'd felt restless this past month, in need of something to do with himself. Obviously, it was a complete coincidence that he'd last had sex with Yohji in an alley about a month ago.

"I think it'd be a bad idea," he said. "You know what Crawford said after the last one, and he'll be watching."

Farfarello shrugged and climbed up to perch on Schuldig's bed like an oddly jointed bird. "Are you going to write him?"

"Who, Crawford?"

"You know who."

Schuldig got up and shoved him off the bed. Farfarello took it calmly, looking up at him from the floor.

"My whole life is suddenly about him, according to you assholes! I'm sure Crawford's plotting something, but what do you care who I fuck?"

Farfarello stretched out on the floor and propped his feet on the side of Schuldig's desk. "No one but you's mentioned him for weeks. Thought you were done."

Schuldig kicked him, not hard enough to bruise and it wasn't like he could feel it, but it was the principle of the thing. Farfarello grabbed his foot and twisted until he overbalanced and fell to the floor.

"Ow!"

"Crawford's right," Farfarello said. "Apologizing would help. Normal people like that. Crawford always made Nagi apologize when he was younger and broke things."

"Are you calling Crawford normal?"

Farfarello shrugged. "Normaller than us."

He wasn't sure Crawford was normaller than anybody, but he did see Farfarello's point. "I'm not sorry."

"Neither was Nagi. You don't have to be sorry unless you expect to be absolved of your sins."

"I like my sins right where they are."

"Then you've nothing to worry about."

Oh--fine." He went to the computer and opened his email program.

sorry

The reply came back before he was prepared for it.

Sorry for what?

"Dammit."

Farfarello got to his knees and looked at the screen. "Sorry you upset him."

"I'm not!"

"Schuldig."

"What?"

"Apologize or kill him. You're getting boring."

"I'll kill him," Schuldig said, but he didn't move and he knew he wasn't going to. The worst part was that Farfarello clearly didn't think leaving Yohji alone was an option anymore.

for upsetting you

He stared at the words for a long time before he hit send. Yohji's reply came back almost immediately.

Like hell you are.

Farfarello looked between Schuldig and the screen as if he were watching a tennis match. "I could kill him," he offered, ever helpful.

"If anyone's killing him, it's going to be me," Schuldig said.

fine, i'm not. fuck you anyway.

He pressed send. That was probably that. A couple of rounds in the back of Yohji's head and Schuldig would never have to think about him again and Crawford would shut the hell up about it and everything would go back to normal.

Ding, said his computer.

He had another email.

I'm on AIM if you want to not storm off this time.

"Are you just going to sit there?" Schuldig asked Farfarello.

"You said I shouldn't go out."

"I said you shouldn't go out and kill people."

Farfarello shrugged. "Same difference."

"You know I hate when you say that. Are you American? Are you in high school? Does it make any fucking sense whatsoever? No, no, and no."

"I like American television."

"You would."

Farfarello propped his chin on Schuldig's thigh. "Are you going to have cybersex now?"

"Maybe."

"I'll watch."

"Fine, whatever."

He signed on.

heresjohnny: hey
yohjik: Hey. You apologized.
heresjohnny: i'm not actually sorry
yohjik: I know that, I'm not stupid.
heresjohnny: what, it still counts?
yohjik: You get points for trying.
heresjohnny: do i get to cash these points in for sex?
yohjik: Maybe.
heresjohnny: how about a blowjob?
yohjik: How about you unzip your pants?

He didn't have to. Farfarello did it for him.

heresjohnny: done. you've had cybersex before haven't you?
yohjik: I didn't even know what AIM was, dumbass. And you're spoiling the mood here.

"Oh, that's disgusting," Nagi said, from the open doorway.

"You're disgusting," Schuldig said, without looking at him. "You're the one watching and thinking about--" He stopped and looked over at Nagi, frowning. "Ramen? You're watching me having cybersex and thinking about ramen? What the fuck is wrong with you?"

"I'm hungry."

"I've got something for you to put in your--"

"If you want to keep it, don't finish that sentence." Nagi left. After a few seconds, the door shut behind him.

Schuldig looked back at the screen, trying to remember what he'd meant to say before the interruption. Oh, yeah.

 

heresjohnny: am not
yohjik: We're not doing that again. Put your hand on your dick.
heresjohnny: now who's mr romance?
yohjik: Did you do it?

Farfarello to the rescue again. He held the base of Schuldig's cock and ran his tongue up one side, swirling around the head. Schuldig's breath hitched a little, and he started to get hard.

Yohji, a quick telepathic check-up showed him, was already hard. He was on the bed with his laptop and without his jeans. The images in his head were all of blowing Schuldig in that movie theater.

heresjohnny: i did it. i'm doing it. are you srsly getting off on this?
yohjik: Are you?
heresjohnny: maybe
yohjik: freak
heresjohnny: put your fingers up your ass. go get lube, i'll wait

There was a long pause. Yohji was stroking his dick, staring at the computer screen, wanting to. Schuldig could've pushed him into it, but he didn't.

He didn't have to. Yohji dug a bottle out from under the bed and squirted some onto his fingers. He spread his legs and rubbed cool gel over his hole. Down a hand, his typing got much slower.

Farfarello eased his lips up the shaft of Schuldig's cock, and Schuldig's typing got a bit slower as well.

yohjik: forget it, I'm not doing that.
heresjohnny: you'd rather suck my dick? fine by me
yohjik: If you haven't already come by now.
heresjohnny: are you trying to imply something about my manly prowess?
yohjik: Hope you've got a good grip on that prowess. You can hold it while I lick you.
heresjohnny: more tongue, bitch
yohjik: I'll bite your prowess RIGHT OFF if you call me that again.
heresjohnny: sorry
yohjik: See? It hurts less the second time.
heresjohnny: shut up and suck my dick
yohjik: I am. Got it all in my mouth now, tongue pushing along the bottom.
heresjohnny: fuck
yohjik: That's later. When I turn you over on your stomach and ride you so hard you can't walk tomorrow.
heresjohnny: think you're up to that, huh?
yohjik: I know I am. Just as soon as you come. I'll do it right after, just slick my cock and push in. That's how you like it, right? Rough?
heresjohnny: okay
yohjik: Schuldig?
heresjohnny: what
yohjik: You can fuck my mouth if you want.

Schuldig groaned and grabbed Farfarello's hair. He did fuck his mouth for a couple of strokes, but really he was already there and Farf had been taking him deep anyway, sucking hard. Schuldig sat back in the chair and panted and felt Yohji come, two fingers shoved up his ass, other hand working his cock hard.

There was a pause while they both recovered.

heresjohnny: hot
yohjik: Yeah.
heresjohnny: see you around?
yohjik: Maybe.
heresjohnny: okay
yohjik: Okay.

Yohji signed off first.

Farfarello still had his hand on Schuldig's cock, his cheek on Schuldig's thigh. "Shall I fuck you so hard you can't walk tomorrow?" he asked.

"What the hell. If it'll keep you out of trouble."

Chapter Text

Theme: 19. The Gymnasium, or, “Who Likes Short-Shorts?”

 

Yohji's clothes lived in the closet now. He had groceries in his refrigerator. He cooked. Not very well, but he did. He'd even bought curtains after catching his neighbor across the way watching him undress three nights in a row.

He had a gym membership and worked out nearly every day, plus yoga on on Tuesdays with Hiro and tai chi on Thursdays with Sven. Sven was sort of subtly hitting on him, he thought, and he wondered if he were giving out gay vibes now thanks to Schuldig.

He was getting nine hours of sleep a night. Smoking less. Drinking less.

He thought he might go insane from the boredom. Any second now.

"And the knee is connected to the elbow," Sven was saying, "so they lift in unison, all your weight on the right leg, yes, just so." He gave Yohji a smile disturbingly full of straight, white teeth.

When class was over, Sven caught his arm and started talking about the importance of daily practice. He seemed to be leading up to something, and Yohji didn't want to know what.

"Uh, yeah, sorry. Look, I have an appointment, so--"

An arm draped around his shoulders, and a hip nudged against his. He knew who it was before Schuldig opened his mouth.

"You shouldn't flirt with other people's boyfriends, asshole. That kind of thing gets you punched where I come from."

"You come from Texas?" Yohji muttered under his breath. Schuldig kicked his ankle and pulled him away, leaving Sven stuttering apologies and denials.

"You are such a jerk," Yohji said.

"I was making a point," Schuldig said loftily.

"No, you weren't. You were being a jerk. Because you enjoy it."

"Well, yeah. Okay. Point.

"What are you doing here? Don't say defending my honor."

"You don't have any honor to defend."

"I think you mean virtue, and you're not answering my question."

"Where are we going?"

"The locker room. I need to change."

"Then I'm here to have sex in the locker room."

"With me, or just whoever's around?"

"Well, not with Sven."

Yohji hesitated. He wanted to know if Sven really had been hitting on him, but asking was the same as encouraging Schuldig to pry into his head. And it wasn't like Schuldig wouldn't do that all on his own, but Yohji probably shouldn't act like he was condoning it.

"Yes, he was," Schuldig said.

"You're not supposed to answer questions I don't ask."

"That's a stupid rule. Anyway, you wanted to know and you don't really give a shit whether I invade his privacy or not. You just wish you did."

That was unfortunately true. "Didn't they teach you ethics at psychic assassin school?"

"Did you think about that sentence at all before it came out of your mouth?"

"...No. Not really."

The locker room was covered in tiny blue glass tiles that reflected bits of people in unsettling ways. Yohji usually tried not to look at it too hard, but Schuldig seemed fascinated. He passed his hand in front of the tiles, an inch away, and watched its image fragment.

"Matches your eyes," Yohji said. He'd meant it as another jibe--he wasn't sure how, but it had made sense in his head--but it was actually true.

"Nice of you to notice. Are we going to fuck or what?"

The few other men in the locker room looked away. One cleared his throat in a pointed manner.

"We could go somewhere else," Yohji suggested.

Schuldig grabbed his shoulder and pushed him up against a bank of stainless steel lockers. He smirked as he leaned in close, white teeth closing over Yohji's neck a second later. He bit and licked and muttered, "Your shorts are ridiculous. It's no wonder Sven was pining for you."

"My shorts are perfectly normal."

"Ahem," someone said. It was probably the throat-clearer.

Schuldig ignored him and slid a hand up the leg of Yohji's admittedly rather short shorts. He cupped Yohji's ass and squeezed.

"Excuse me," the same someone said.

Yohji was pretty sure he should care about this too. He was also pretty sure he didn't, especially with Schuldig's fingers pushing between his cheeks and Yohji’s shorts rubbing over his cock as the fabric was pulled taut.

"You can't just--" A hand landed on his shoulder, and he shoved the throat-clearer away automatically.

"Schuldig," he muttered. Schuldig was busy sucking a mark into his neck. Yohji tugged his hair. "Make him fuck off."

Schuldig made an agreeable noise, and he must've done something because no one seemed to have anymore objections. Either that, or Yohji just didn't notice them. Schuldig's hand pushed down the front of his shorts and closed around his cock. His thumb rolled slowly around the head, and Yohji could feel his grin, teeth pressing into the join of Yohji's shoulder and neck.

"C'mon," Schuldig said. His hand slid up and down the length of Yohji's cock easily. "Sooner you get off, sooner you can get on your knees for me. I've been waiting for that."

"Right here?" Yohji said, but he almost liked the idea. Right here, a little reality in the middle of his fake-normal life.

"Right here." Schuldig's fingers slid into the damp heat between Yohji's cheeks. One fingertip pushed against his hole and inside. Schuldig wriggled it slowly back and forth, working it in a little further, making its stretch and invasion impossible to ignore. Yohji clutched at Schuldig's shoulders as he started to come.

When he opened his eyes again, the throat-clearer was watching him. The man had pop-eyes and a dark-flushed face. His expression suggested extremes of rage. He wasn't moving at all.

"Schuldig."

"What?"

"Did you make that poor guy watch us just now?"

"Eh. He really wanted to anyway. Deep down."

"Let him go."

"He'll just go tell on us."

"Let him go."

Schuldig sighed. "Fine."

The throat-clearer shook himself all over and bolted for the door, still wearing only a towel. Schuldig whooped with laughter, and Yohji clapped a hand over his own mouth to stifle himself. The guy hadn't deserved that, he really hadn't. Even though he had been a total asshole.

Schuldig smirked and punched his shoulder. "That was awesome."

Yohji mustered a glare, but it was a weak one. “You know they’ll never let me back in this place, right?”

“You don’t give a shit,” Schuldig said, and he was right.

Chapter Text

Theme: 29. The Conservatory, or, "Making Sweet Music"

 

Schuldig took the envelope and opened it. Opera tickets. "More clean up?"

"The last of it. We're leaving next week."

"There's two here. Who am I taking?"

Crawford just looked at him. Reading Crawford's mind without permission was a dangerous pastime, but Schuldig gave it a shot anyway.

"Oh, no," he said. "You are not serious. I know you're not."

"On the contrary, I think you know I am."

"Well, I'll pretend you're not. That way we all get to keep our sanity where it is."

Crawford wandered off with a disconcerting smile on his face and an even more disconcerting image of Yohji in his head. Yohji was wearing a tuxedo and carrying a single red rose. Schuldig prayed that was Crawford fucking with him and not a true vision.

Maybe it was time to start seriously trying to figure out what Crawford's deal with Yohji was. How he was meant to do that, Schuldig had no idea. He didn't normally try to second guess Crawford anymore. It just didn't work.

Don't go alone, Crawford thought at him just then. It'll look suspicious.

There was no point in even trying to ask anyone but Yohji. Crawford would see to that, or had seen to it, or had foreseen it. He didn't sound that smug without good reason. Maybe Yohji would say no.

***

"Hello?" Yohji said.

"Do you want to go to the opera tonight? You can say no. It's totally fine if you say no. Completely."

"...Do you want me to say no?"

"Yes and no."

"I don't have a suit."

"Like I care what you wear."

"I guess I could go," Yohji said. "Why are you going to the opera?"

"I have to kill someone. Don't worry, he's bad."

"You need a date to your murder?"

"Apparently."

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means fuck you. Are you coming or not?”

Yohji sighed. "Fine. But I'm not doing anything but watching people sing and drinking champagne, got it?"

"You took that pretty well. The murder part."

"You're going to kill him whether I go or not. And you did say he was bad. I'm having trouble imagining what you consider bad, but I'm guessing it's pretty fucking bad."

"I could be lying."

"You wouldn't bother."

There was a pause before Schuldig said, "Yeah, you're right. So, seven?"

"Fine."

"I'll pick you up."

There was a click, and Schuldig was gone. Yohji glanced at the clock and sighed. He had time to get a suit. Or something that would be less conspicuous at the opera than jeans. He didn't want to be the under-dressed guy everyone remembered when the cops found the body.

***

Schuldig picked him up in a limo.

"That's not a tux," Schuldig said when he got in.

"Was it supposed to be?"

"No!"

"Did someone slip you extra freak pills this morning or something?"

"Hey, Farf's the only one who has to take freak pills."

"They don't seem to work too well." He hadn't even been thinking of Ouka when he'd said it, but he could see her in the silence afterwards. He'd watched her bleed out with that little smile on her face. And okay, Schuldig didn't fire the gun, but he may as well have. It made Yohji's brain hurt.

"Then you should stop fucking thinking about it," Schuldig said.

"I can't." He would've liked to, even if he didn't think he should. "She was a nice kid, you know? I mean, a real brat, sure. But not mean like some girls that age are."

Schuldig yawned ostentatiously. Yohji kicked his ankle, not gently.

"The absolute least you can do is listen." Schuldig gave him a narrow-eyed look, but said nothing. "Good. So." But he didn't actually have that much left to say, which was sad all by itself. "She really liked Omi. Got me why. Maybe it was, you know, being related and all. But she just wouldn't stop until he let her in. I think it was good for him, even with how it ended." He shrugged, uncomfortable, half-wishing he hadn't said anything. Wasting his breath, really. "Anyway. Somebody oughta be sorry she's dead."

"Her father was."

"Huh?"

"Takatori. He loved her."

"That son of a bitch didn't love anyone."

"Oh, very dramatic. Also stupid. Evil bastards are people too, and almost everyone loves someone, or thinks they do. That's why they do the horrible shit they do."

Yohji raised his eyebrows. "Horrible?"

Schuldig shrugged. "Takatori's not the worst we've worked for."

Yohji waited, but he didn't seem inclined to go on. It made Yohji wonder again why they'd let Aya kill Takatori. Maybe he just hadn't paid his bill? Maybe now wasn't a good time to ask. Schuldig didn't look happy.

Yohji frowned and kicked his ankle again, a lot more gently. "So. Who're you killing tonight?"

"Political associate of Takatori's. He was into that whole hunting humans thing and had ties to Riot. He's making noises about taking over where Takatori left off."

"And you care why?"

"Orders," Schuldig said shortly.

"Orders from who?"

"Crawford. Duh."

"I don't believe that Crawford is secretly manipulating the political structure of Japan, I'm sorry."

"Are you sure?"

"I-- He's not, is he?"

Schuldig just shrugged, which could mean anything.

***

"We get a box?"

"Should hope so," Schuldig said. "At least this way we don't have to look like we're paying attention."

"You don't like opera?"

"Do you?"

"Never been."

"It's awful." Awful might be too strong. He could take it in small doses, but the one time Crawford had dragged him to a whole show, he'd almost walked out. All the wailing and screeching drove him nuts and the music, fuck. Those opera guys were on some kind of eighteenth century crack, especially the Italians.

Anyway, they didn't have to stay for this one. He just had to get the target and get out before anyone realized he was dead. Tanaka Kazunori--the box farthest from the stage on the same side of the theater as their own. Schuldig could just see Tanaka, well enough to know he wasn't alone. That would be too easy.

"Stay put," Schuldig told Yohji. "I'll be right back."

He pushed aside the blue velvet curtains and stepped out into the hall. Tanaka's box was two short flights of steps down, also curtained in velvet. Schuldig poked his head through the curtains and made sure everyone in the box saw him as one of the dark-suited opera staff. "Message for you, Tanaka-san."

Tanaka frowned. "I don't wish to be disturbed."

"I'm sorry. Takatori-san did say it was urgent." Every single person in the box stiffened at the mention of Takatori's name. Interesting.

Tanaka followed him easily after that, and Schuldig clouded his thoughts enough that he didn't realize they were headed for the men's room until they were already inside it.

"What--" Tanaka started, and Schuldig reached out to snap his neck, easy and quiet. And then a man came out of the one stall at the back of the room and stared at them. He was no one Schuldig knew, but he was clearly someone Tanaka did. He glanced at Schuldig and frowned.

"Who--"

Schuldig swore and reached out to wipe the memory from his mind, but in that moment, Tanaka turned and bolted. "Fuck!" He's coming your way-- He cut off the thought and cursed again. Yohji was not involved in this, no reason for him to help.

Schuldig wheeled and started after Tanaka--only to find him five feet away with Yohji's wire wrapped around his neck.

"I just--did it," Yohji said. His voice was quiet, and he was looking down at the body. "I didn't think."

Schuldig poked at him mentally, but there wasn’t much going on in Yohji’s head, and there was no time to worry about it now.

"Go sit down," Schuldig told him, and when he didn't move, put a hand on his shoulder and pushed him back towards their box. Yohji went.

That left Schuldig to deal with the body, but Tanaka wasn't a big guy. Schuldig heaved him up in a fireman's carry and hauled him back to the men's room. He got him situated in the stall and kicked him for good measure. "And stay there," he muttered.

The other guy had wandered off, but a quick check of his inane thoughts assured Schuldig that the memory block was working and there would be no problem. That only left Yohji.

When Schuldig got back to their box, he found Yohji sitting up straight, looking at the stage with a fixed stare.

"Thanks," Schuldig said. Yohji's head was a mess. Schuldig couldn't tell what he was feeling because he couldn't tell what he was feeling. Schuldig sat gingerly, as if Yohji were a bomb he might accidentally set off with a careless move. "He really was a bad guy," Schuldig said. "Killed a bunch of people."

"Not as many as you, I bet," Yohji said. His voice was flat, and he was still watching the opera, or at least looking in that direction.

"No. Probably more than you though."

"Good to know where I fall on the scale."

Schuldig wondered what other people thought of Yohji, how much they saw of him when they couldn't see inside his head. He looked dead calm right now, and you couldn't tell much from his voice. Obviously none of the idiots he'd lived with had been any use when he'd gotten those drugs in him either.

Maybe it was good Schwarz wouldn't be in Japan much longer. The feeling of Yohji's mind seething below the surface of his calm was oddly unsettling. Schuldig opened his mouth to say something along those lines, that he'd be out of Yohji's hair soon and he wouldn't have to worry. What came out instead was: "We're leaving next week. You could come with us."

Yohji turned slowly to stare at him with the same fixed attention he'd given the stage. "Leaving--what? Where are you going?"

"Don't know yet." Oh, Crawford was going to kill him this time for sure. "Probably Europe, maybe France or Germany."

"To work for someone else?"

"On break, more or less. There'll be a few jobs, but nothing regular for a while."

"What kind of jobs?"

"What kind do you think?" Schuldig snapped. "I didn't make you kill him, Yohji. I'm not going to make you kill anyone. I don't need your fucking help, okay?"

"You did tonight."

"I would've caught up with him."

Yohji looked away. "I know."

And there was something, either in the confusion of his mind or maybe just in his voice that made Schuldig say, "I wouldn't stop you either. If you wanted to."

"If I wanted to?"

"Most of our targets are just as bad as yours were, you know. Nobody hires assassins for Mother Theresa. Not ones like us, anyway. We're too expensive."

"Stop talking."

"If you don't want to--"

Yohji moved with startling speed to straddle Schuldig's lap and wrap a hand around his throat. "Shut. Up."

Schuldig swallowed, and Yohji's hand tightened just a fraction more. The other joined it, curled around the side and back of Schuldig's neck. Neither of them had any idea what Yohji would do next, and the uncertainty gave Schuldig a spike of adrenaline. He felt chilled and overheated, both, and Yohji was squeezing.

Schuldig shivered and put his hand on Yohji's thigh, sliding it upwards. He cupped Yohji's cock through his pants and found him already half-hard. "I'll suck you," he said roughly. "Sit down. Let me."

"No."

"You're cutting off blood to my brain here."

Yohji's hands loosened ever so slightly. His thumb stroked along Schuldig's carotid artery, soft and slow. Schuldig looked straight at him as he undid Yohji's pants and reached inside.

They should be leaving right now, before someone found the body, before the police were called. This was meant to have been a quiet little murder. Oh, well.

Yohji hissed, and the look he gave Schuldig was almost desperate as Schuldig touched his cock, rubbed up and down the underside. "Easy," Schuldig said. It felt oddly like calming Farfarello.

One of Yohji's hands dropped to his chest, pushing lightly over his heart. Schuldig stroked in time with his heartbeat. He could feel Yohji's pulse in his fingertips, see it in the jump of his pulse at his throat. Yohji was panting only a few seconds into it. He slumped forward against Schuldig's chest, face wedged awkwardly against his neck, nose and lips mashed into his skin.

Yohji was coming before the next song wound down. His hips jerked, and his cock spurted hot over Schuldig's hand, and he collapsed forward like he'd lost consciousness. His hand wound into Schuldig's hair at the nape of his neck and held on.

"You're not exactly normal either, are you," Schuldig said quietly.

The sound Yohji made might've been meant as a laugh. Or maybe not.

"Just think about it," Schuldig told him. "You've got till next week to decide."

Chapter Text

Theme: 27. The Mile-High Club, or, "Wow, This Gives a Whole New Meaning to Flying the Friendly Skies!"

 

Yohji had his suitcase packed, his fridge cleared out, the few material components of his new life sorted and set aside. He told himself he wasn't going, but by now he knew it was a lie.

He sat on his small bed and smoked cigarette after cigarette until his ashtray was full. His suitcase sat by the door, old and scuffed, a tear on one corner.

If Schuldig didn't call, he'd go somewhere else. Anywhere. A place where his neighbors wouldn't ask about his nonexistent job and where large, blond tai chi instructors wouldn't hit on him like he was just some normal guy. At least Schuldig knew what he was.

An hour passed. Schuldig didn't call. They must've left for the airport by now, Yohji thought. Maybe he'd go New York City. Or India. Somewhere far away.

There was a knock on the door.

Schuldig opened it and stuck his head through. "Limo's downstairs. Are you coming or what?" He grabbed the suitcase and started back down before Yohji could answer.

Yohji caught up with him halfway down. "They don't mind?"

"Crawford already had your ticket bought. Farfarello likes you--be afraid, be very afraid--and Nagi doesn't like anyone, so don't worry about it."

Schuldig herded Yohji in first, which meant he was sandwiched between Schuldig and Farfarello. He was fine with that, oddly. It was a world better than sitting next to Crawford or Nagi.

Nagi glared. Crawford drummed his fingers on the plush seat. His nails were short and surprisingly dirty. There was a red-purple bruise on his left thumbnail.

Yohji let the silence stand for a few minutes and then tugged Crawford's now-clean handkerchief out of his breast pocket. He held it out.

Crawford tucked it in the pocket of his dark suit with just the tip showing. "Thank you," he said. "Good of you to join us."

"Uh, yeah. Thanks. For the ticket."

"It wasn't a problem."

"So. Where are we going?"

"Are we seriously taking him?" Nagi said. "He's not even--" He made a vague hand gesture that could've meant anything from 'short' to 'a zombie.'

"Farfarello's not either, technically speaking," Crawford said.

Schuldig, Yohji noticed, wasn't saying anything at all. Thanks, asshole.

"HIs weapon is good," Farfarello said. "Works from a distance, just like yours." He grabbed Yohji's wrist with one hand and flicked a length of wire out easily with the other.

"Hey!" Yohji tried to wrench his wrist back, but Farfarello's grip was like iron. Yohji couldn't get even an inch of freedom for leverage, and the sight of his wire in Farfarello's hand was unnerving. Also, Nagi was smirking.

Yohji tried politeness. "Can I have my wrist back?"

"No, I'm using it." Farfarello seemed fascinated by the wire itself, holding it up so it caught the light.

It made it relatively easy to shoot another length into his trapped hand and loop it around Farfarello's wrist. Yohji pulled carefully, not quite trusting that Farfarello really wouldn't feel it. When there was no reaction, he pulled harder. Blood started to leak from where the wire cut into Farfarello's skin. It was only a few seconds before there was enough to make his grip slippery and give Yohji the chance to twist away.

Farfarello's smile when he did was actually more disconcerting than watching him lick the blood away afterwards, which Yohji wouldn't have believed until he saw it. Nagi seemed abruptly to lose all interest in the situation and pulled out a book. The title was in a language Yohji didn't even recognize, let alone understand.

Nice, Schuldig said.

You couldn't have given me a little help there?

Schuldig smirked. Sink or swim.

***

Schwarz flew first class. Yohji was not surprised. He and Schuldig were seated together, for which he was almost too grateful.

"Where are we going?" Yohji asked.

"Switzerland. Some old pile in the mountains. I just hope it's got decent plumbing."

"A castle?"

"Don't get too excited. Remember these things were built like five hundred years ago, before people invented decent food and hygiene."

"I can't believe this is my life."

"You'll get used to it. You got used to your last job, didn't you?"

Yohji's stomach twisted a little at that, mostly because it was true.

"How much do you get paid? Uh." He hadn't meant to ask that. He hadn't even been thinking about it. Well, not really.

Schuldig smirked. "A lot more than you did."

"Enough for castles in the mountains."

"That's not ours, it's--a rental."

He'd paused a little too long there, Yohji thought, but he couldn't imagine why rental properties would be a touchy subject. Unless it wasn't rented at all. But Schuldig didn't want to tell him, it was probably pointless to ask. He could poke around when they got there.

Schuldig nudged him. "Telepath? Hello?"

"What, you're going to lock me in a tower? Because otherwise I don't see how you can stop me."

"Sexual exhaustion."

"Dream on."

"I could start right now." Schuldig put his hand on Yohji's thigh. "Ever done it on a plane?"

"Seriously, how do you ever get laid?"

"You're easy?"

"When I'm not around."

Schuldig didn't answer, just moved his hand up to cup Yohji's cock through his jeans. Yohji wondered how long it had been since Schuldig had fucked anyone else. Schuldig squeezed, not all that lightly. Yohji grunted.

"No speculations," Schuldig said. "You want to join the Mile High Club or what?"

"Not with half of first class watching us, no."

"You were okay with half your health club watching us."

"They didn't count."

"And these sheep do?"

"It's different."

"How?"

"They can't just leave the room, for one thing. For another, shut up, I'm not doing it and you can't make me."

"Can so."

"If you were going to, you would have by now."

Schuldig looked at him for a few seconds. Yohji's hand started to move without his permission. He watched it unbutton his own pants, pull the zipper down, and push inside. His own fingers brushed his cock, and it felt like being touched by a stranger.

"That's--" he said, and stopped. He had nowhere to go with that sentence, no comparison to make. "Fuck."

"I could make you do that too," Schuldig said quietly. "You want to finger fuck yourself right here while the sheep watch?"

"They're people," Yohji muttered. "You're being an asshole."

"And it's turning you on."

Sad, but true. "So stop jerking me off with my own hand and let's go do it in the bathroom like normal people."

"Normal people who fuck on airplanes?"

"You're the one who wanted to do this. Stop fucking arguing."

But Schuldig didn't release him. His own hand touching his cock, out of his control, was easily the strangest thing he'd ever felt, alien and unreal. He kept his mouth shut when he would've told Schuldig to stop because--well, because he wasn't sure Schuldig would.

He was getting hard. The sensation of his cock under his fingers, the heat and smooth skin, combined with not knowing how the next stroke would feel, was getting to him. Making him squirm in his seat a little, and he was glad he was sitting by the window. Probably no one could see. No one was looking.

Schuldig smirked. "You're not fighting it much. Oh, wait. You're not fighting it at all."

"Would it do any good if I did?"

"Are you going to try it and find out?"

No. He wasn't. Instead, he leaned back and spread his legs. His hand eased his cock out and gave it two long, slow strokes. He bit his lip to keep quiet.

"You look good," Schuldig said. "Like a huge slut, but good."

Yohji glared at him. And then the compulsion to touch himself was gone, or at least the part of it that came from Schuldig.

"You are such a bastard," Yohji said.

"Please feel free to keep going."

Yohji swore in his head, fuckitfuckitfuckit, and yanked Schuldig's pants open. Schuldig was already hard, dick wet at the tip when Yohji got it in his hand. He glanced up and saw Schuldig's wide eyes right before he leaned down and sucked the head into his mouth.

Schuldig made a strangled noise and grabbed Yohji's hair. Yohji found it was possible to smirk with a cock in his mouth and did, sucking harder, stroking the shaft with one hand.

"Dammit," Schuldig muttered. Both his hands were in Yohji's hair now, and he held Yohji still as he thrust up. Yohji gagged, but then Schuldig was coming and all his concentration was on not choking. Swallowing seemed like the better option.

His throat and jaw ached by the time Schuldig let him go, but he was still hard. He rested his forehead on Schuldig's thigh and just breathed, not willing to move yet.

"Can you get arrested for public indecency on an airplane?"

"Not if no one noticed," Schuldig said.

"How could they not have?"

"Guess."

"Oh. Well." Yohji ground his teeth briefly. "Thanks."

"Don't choke on it. Oh, wait. You already--ow!" he said, as Yohji pinched his side.

"Shut up," Yohji said, sitting up. "And return the favor."

Chapter Text

Theme: 12. The Garden, or, "The Great Outdoors."

 

The castle rose sharply out of a green valley, all pointy turrets and weathered stone. It was smaller than Yohji had pictured it, but still the biggest private house Yohji had ever seen, more than big enough to get lost in. Not that he was lost, obviously. He was sure he'd seen this hallway before, and yeah, hey, there was the staircase at the end of it, right where it was supposed to be. Just a couple flights down and he'd be in the kitchen.

Two flights down, Yohji opened a narrow, red door and stepped out into the gardens. Huh.

There were roses to the right in pink and gold, lilies to the left, bone white and as big as his head, dripping with yellow pollen. Straight ahead was a hedge with a break in it. Yohji stepped through and found only more hedge, a long green corridor stretching out on either side.

It took him till he rounded the first corner to get it: a maze. Well, nothing better to do. He turned right and started walking. When he put his hand out to brush along the hedge, little twigs caught at his fingers. The leaves were glossy and sharp at the edges. They reminded him of Schuldig.

He'd find his way out of this maze eventually, but he was caught in a much more complicated one. One he wasn't sure he'd be allowed to leave, although Schwarz had been disturbingly free with information of all kinds. Either they genuinely saw him as a zero on the threat-o-meter, or he'd be dead before he got off the estate.

A hissing rattle stopped him short. He looked down. Coiled in the deep grass about a foot away was a large black and red rattle snake.

Yohji's thoughts stopped rambling in useless circles and lined up neatly: he was well within striking distance. The snake looked pissed off. Shouldn't it be hibernating or something this time of year? There were rattlesnakes in Europe?

His brain even got it together enough to realize that, of those thoughts, only the first two were really useful right now.

If he stepped back, it might strike. If he stayed still, it might strike. If he stepped forward, it almost certainly would strike. He looked at his watch. He looked at the snake. It coiled tighter and hissed. The inside of its mouth was pink as cotton candy, and its fangs were long and wet.

Yohji leapt back at the same time as he threw his wire out in a fast arc. It caught the snake a few inches into its strike and cut it cleanly in half. The two halves evaporated in a hiss of air and a swirl of leaves.

"Nice," Schuldig said behind him.

Yohji swung around and hit him in the mouth. He cut his knuckles on Schuldig's teeth, and Schuldig howled and sat down hard in the damp grass.

"Ow! Fuck, you son of a bitch!"

Yohji squatted down next to him. He touched Schuldig's bleeding lip. "Guess I wasn't thinking."

"Oh, ha ha. That hurt. Jerk."

"That's what you get for making me fight imaginary giant snakes."

"You were bored. I was helping."

"I wasn't bored."

"Okay, you were moping like a big baby."

"I'm not supposed to worry about whether you're going to kill me?"

"Never bothered you before."

"You never had a reason to kill me before."

Schuldig grinned, bloody and lopsided. "Baby, I don't need a reason."

Yohji tried not to find that comforting. He watched blood ooze into a round droplet and spill in a thin, crimson line over Schuldig's chin. He leaned in and licked it up, tongue curling over the edge of Schuldig's lip before he sucked at it. Metallic-salt taste leaked onto his tongue, and he felt Schuldig's hand  grip his hair.

Schuldig made a small, surprised noise, and pulled Yohji down on top of him in the wet grass. Schuldig's hips ground up against his, and Yohji failed utterly to be surprised by his hard-on.

"Sicko," he muttered.

"I'm not the one licking up other people's blood."

"I"m not the one getting off on it."

"You're not the only one getting off on it, at least." Schuldig's hand tightened in his hair. "You want to fuck me?"

"Right here?" Yohji had no problem with that, he realized. He didn't know when he'd gotten hard. He hoped it was from the kiss, or Schuldig's body under him, and not from the blood. He could still taste it.

"Yeah, right here. Just like this." Schuldig shoved Yohji off and knelt, shoving his pants down before bracing his hands on the ground. "Go on, shove it in."

"I don't have--anything."

"Spit's good enough. I heal fast."

Yohji seriously thought about it, was up on his knees behind Schuldig and rubbing against him, in fact, while he thought about it. Schuldig was the expert, after all, and if he said he could take it--

Yohji's thoughts, or justifications, got cut short as he realized the patch of white he'd taken for flowers or mist was in fact Farfarello.

"Uh," he said.

"Don't stop," Schuldig growled. "In fact, fucking start."

"We have company."

Schuldig raised his head. "Oh, him. He doesn't count."

"Crawford wants to see you both," Farfarello said. "He says you're ignoring him, Schuldig."

"He's bleating in my head fifteen times a fucking day, and he wonders--shit. All right." Schuldig pulled his pants up and stood. "This better be important."

Farfarello flowed toward him and caught his chin, tipped his head. He nosed along Schuldig's jaw and licked over the cut on his lip, now mostly clotted. And then he turned and left.

"What the hell," Yohji said, and swallowed. His dick was still uncomfortably hard in his pants. Farfarello's little display hadn't discouraged it at all. He rubbed his palms against his thighs and looked down at the grass.

Schuldig's fingers dug into Yohji's arms, and Schuldig pulled him to his feet. He was grinning at Yohji. "My two little psychos. No wonder he likes you."

"Shut up, I'm not--"

Schuldig spun him around and pulled Yohji back against his chest, hand down his pants, rubbing hard at his dick before Yohji could even get his breath back.

"Don't, oh shit, don't--"

"No, don't, stop," Schuldig said, voice mocking. "Stop me, then."

Yohji closed his eyes and closed his fist around the slippery fabric of Schuldig's jacket. His hips jerked forward.

"You can fuck me later," Schuldig promised, and shoved Yohji's mind full of how that would feel, smell, taste. Yohji came in his pants with Schuldig's hand working him hard right through it.

Yohji sagged against him. "Asshole. Gotta change now."

"What, and keep Crawford waiting?"

"I can't go see him like this!" It was the most horrifying thought he'd had in a long time, and there was no way to keep that out of his voice.

Schuldig laughed. "You can borrow my coat. Keep it closed, no one will see."

Yohji walked out of the maze on shaky legs, with Schuldig's coat wrapped around him and Schuldig's hand resting on the back of his neck. Farfarello fell in on Yohji's other side as they neared the house. Yohji felt like he was drowning, swallowing water with every step, but it still felt better than just treading water.

Chapter Text

Theme: 13. The Stables, or, "Giddyap!"

 

I hate you, Schuldig thought at Crawford. Also, you're mean, and a rotten person.

Crawford turned his head so that the sun coming in the window bounced off his glasses and blinded Schuldig briefly.

"Of course, you don't have to go with them," Crawford told Yohji. "I realize you didn't come here with the expectation of...working. You're perfectly welcome to stay here. With me."

"I'll go," Yohji said quickly.

Crawford smiled in a way that said the world was very predictable, and he liked it that way.

***

The mission was straight forward: go steal something, bring it back. They had an address near Lugano in Switzerland, and they had a picture of the item in question and its owner. What they didn't have was Crawford.

"I'm in charge, right?" Schuldig had said.

Crawford had looked him up and down, looked Nagi up and down, and sighed. "Cooperate. Don't screw it up."

"Why aren't you coming?" Farfarello had asked.

"I have arrangements to make."

Arrangements. Like that was any excuse for leaving them without a leader. Not that they needed him. Obviously. But Schuldig had to admit that things went more smoothly with Crawford around.

"Look!" He smacked his palm against the table. Nagi didn't react at all. Farfarello smirked at him. "This doesn't have to be fucking complicated. In and out, kill whoever gets in our way, Nagi floats the stone slab out, we're done. What's the problem?"

"Blueprints," Nagi said. "Exit routes, patrol patterns, alternate plans, emergency contact points. All things your plan lacks."

"So find stuff out! That's what you do."

Nagi rolled his eyes and slid a heavy folder across the table at him.

"Little shit. You could've given me this before."

"You should've asked for it."

"I don't see you coming up with anything, computer boy."

Nagi pressed his lips together and crossed his arms over his chest. "I'm not wasting my time.You wouldn't follow my plan anyway."

"Got that right," Schuldig said. It was an automatic response and probably a stupid one. Nagi thought about stuff a lot. More than Schuldig did, for sure, but even so, he wasn't about to go taking orders from a scrawny kid not even old enough to drink.

"We can go over the wall here," Farfarello said. "Nagi disables the camera, and the forest covers our approach to the stables."

Yohji was looking over his shoulder, nodding. "Yeah, we should be good right up to the bridge. Guards here and here. Easy enough to take out." He looked up at Schuldig. "Or you can just make them not see us, right?"

"The ones I know about, yeah. Who died and gave you two the idea you could think for yourselves?"

"You if you're not careful," Yohji drawled.

Schuldig caught Nagi not-at-all smiling over that and scowled. "Fine. Go for it. Have fun. When it all goes to hell, you two can phone Crawford and tell him all about it."

Yohji shifted uncomfortably, but Farfarello looked serene as ever. Schuldig put his feet up on the table and waved at Nagi's folder. He tipped his head back and closed his eyes. A few seconds later he heard the familiar tapping of Nagi's computer keys. A minute after that, Yohji and Farfarello started talking quietly together.

Weird. Fucking weird. He didn't like it. Yohji wasn't even supposed to be here, let alone planning ops. He should be back at the mansion. Although, granted, the thought of leaving him along with Crawford was vaguely terrifying.

"Yeah," Yohji was saying. "Through the back door of the stable, and then here, third stall, right?"

"Yes. I will kill the guards."

"Schuldig can do his mind whammy on them, he said."

"I want to kill them," Farfarello said.

Schuldig slitted his eyes open a fraction to watch Yohji's reaction. It looked mainly like exasperation.

"If we get in and out without anyone knowing we were there, it'll be a lot harder for them to figure out who stole it, right? They might not even know it's gone for a day or two."

"Crawford would let me kill them," Farfarello said. Schuldig didn't actually think that was true, but whatever.

"I'm not telling you what to do," Yohji said. "I'm just saying maybe you want to use your brain here. Yeah?"

An appeal to logic? Interesting tactic. Doomed, but interesting.

"All right," Farfarello said. "I won't kill them." He even meant it, as far as Schuldig could tell. His cracked brain was often not the easiest to read. Of course, just because he meant it now didn't mean he would still mean it when presented with fresh targets.

"And no slaughtering the local clergy to get it out of your system," Schuldig added, because Yohji didn't know about that little foible. "Not until we're at least two towns away from here."

Farfarello bared his teeth at them all in what was probably assent. Yohji, Schuldig was pleased to see, was easing away from him. The thought loudest in his mind was, I want to go home.

You don't have a home, Schuldig thought at him.

"Fuck you," Yohji told him, and walked out. He didn't go far, just out onto the balcony. He squatted down, back against the wall, shoulder leaning against the railings, and lit a cigarette.

Farfarello started after him, and Schuldig caught his arm. "I don't think he wants to talk to you right now."

"Mm," Farfarello said, still watching him through the glass.

"What is it with you and him anyway?"

"His sins are written all over him." Farfarello paused. "And he looks like an angel. He might be Lucifer, don't you think?"

"And he calls me batshit insane."

No one went after Yohji. Well, Schuldig wasn't about to do it, and Nagi would probably literally rather die. They finished the plan with minimal bitching, and Farfarello and Nagi went back to their hotel room.

Schuldig watched Yohji smoke. He felt a low-grade resentment bubbling up inside him, and he didn't know why. There was no other reaction he could reasonably have expected from Yohji. Even Schuldig had been mildly freaked out by the priest killing when Farfarello had first joined their team. Even Crawford didn't like it much.

Rain was starting to leave dark spots on the concrete balcony. The outside light flickered on as the sun faded. It's orange-gold glow cast Yohji in a strange light, and it's reflection off the glossy white wall gave him a distorted halo.

Yohji stubbed out the remains of his first cigarette and lit another one. He didn't move. Schuldig poked at his mind. It was entirely blank. At that moment, Yohji turned and looked at him. His face was pretty fucking blank too.

Schuldig shoved his chair back and slammed the sliding door open. "What's wrong with you?"

"Those nuns on the subway in the newspapers a couple months back. That was him, wasn't it."

"So fucking what? You knew we weren't saints."

"I knew you were assassins. I think I missed the memo on the serial killer thing."

"It's a pressure valve, keeps him from going totally loony tunes. If you're looking for a monster, I'm the monster you want. I do what I do because I want to."

Yohji laughed a little and propped his chin on his knee. "Yeah, you're the monster I want, all right."

For some reason, that didn't seem as funny as it should right now. Schuldig scowled and grabbed the door handle, about to slam it shut when Yohji spoke again.

"I want to like you," Yohji said quietly. He looked out toward the lights of the town. "You're making it harder than it needs to be."

"Who asked you to like me? Jesus. Who asked you for shit?"

"Nobody," Yohji said. It sounded pretty final if you couldn't hear what he was thinking; a mix of I hate you and don't go.

Schuldig sighed. "You don't hate me."

"I know," Yohji said, muffled.

"When you're done with the melodrama, come back inside."

Yohji whipped around and grabbed his wrist. "You are the queen of melodrama, Schuldig. Don't even."

Schuldig closed his eyes briefly and sat down next to him. "Maybe. About some stuff. But some stuff just is the way it is, and there's no point."

"The sky's blue, the grass is green, my boyfriend's an evil murderous freak?"

"I'm not your boyfriend."

"You asked me to move in with you."

"I did not!"

Yohji looked over at him, rueful, almost smiling. "You did. You asked me to move to another country with you."

There wasn't a lot he could say to that except shut up, and Yohji was quiet now anyway. The concrete sucked as a lounge chair. Schuldig wondered how long it would be before they could go inside, and then remembered there was nothing stopping him from leaving any time he wanted. He shifted and looked toward the sofa inside.

"Aren't you getting rained on?"

"Kinda."

"You know, there's a hot tub whirlpool thing in there."

Yohji didn't answer.

After a minute, Schuldig said, "We are freaks. That's why."

"Why what?"

"You get it a little now. It's hard to give a shit about people who'd lock you up if they knew what you were, right?" Yohji nodded a very little bit. "It's harder when they wouldn't just lock you up but slice you open to see what makes you tick. We're not human. Not really."

Yohji was quiet for a lot longer this time, and Schuldig kept almost poking around his thoughts and then chickening out.

"You're a bigger perv than I thought," Yohji said finally. "Fucking around outside your own species."

Schuldig punched him too hard in the shoulder out of relief. "Ow!" Yohji said, and shoved him. Schuldig tipped backwards, and Yohji sat on his chest and looked down at him.

"You're getting a boner right now, aren't you?" Yohji said.

"Oh, fuck you."

"As long as we're doing whys, why do you get all worked up when I hurt you?"

"You're not hurting me." Yohji pulled out his wire and pressed it across Schuldig's throat. Schuldig breathed in quickly. "Okay, that wasn't actually a request."

"If you prick us do we not bleed?" Yohji said, sounding like Farfarello at his most reasonable.

"Everything bleeds. And don't quote dead Englishmen at me." With every word, the wire vibrated against his skin.

Yohji sighed and sat back. His wire snicked back into his watch. "Be fair. Not all of them would want to cut you open. Lots of them would fight to keep that from happening. I mean, until they got to know you and found out what an annoying prick you are, obviously."

Schuldig wondered if Yohji realized he'd said 'they' instead of 'we' to refer to the rest of the human race. He wondered if it were a good sign or a bad one.

"Obviously." There were people like that. The trouble with telepathy was that you couldn't write off everyone. Some people would try to help him, just exactly because they did think of him as human. Yohji wasn't one of them, and Schuldig was glad. That kind of anonymous compassion really pissed him off.

"This isn't about Farf, is it?" Schuldig asked.

"Yes. No. Kinda." Yohji sighed. "Not really. It was a shock, but." He shrugged and stopped talking, which was fine, because Schuldig didn't need telepathy to hear the rest of it. Yohji kept letting himself forget exactly who he was fucking. It used to be funny when he had these little flip-outs. This time, Schuldig wasn't so amused.

He shoved Yohji off him and stood, dragging Yohji up with him. Yohji's skin was hot under his palms as he pushed him up against the wall. He thought there should be something dramatic he could say, about morality or choices or stupid shit like that. There wasn't.

There was just the two of them standing out in the rain like idiots and going around in circles. He smoothed down Yohji's shirt.

"I'm going inside. You coming?"

***

Nagi floated them over the wall one by one. They vanished into the trees, quiet on a bed of damp pine needles. He and Yohji and Nagi were quiet enough. Farfarello moved like a ghost, almost literally, so pale in the moonlight he looked translucent. Schuldig caught Yohji looking at him once or twice, but he didn't look scared. Only wary, and that was just sensible with Farfarello.

Pine trees dripped rain on them, shaggy arms drooping down to touch them. Through the trees, Schuldig caught glimpses of the guards. There were a lot of them. He wondered if they were all for the stupid marble slab Crawford had sent them to get. He wondered what it was for, and what Crawford was planning, and what Eszett was planning. He didn't wonder with much of a hope of finding out. If Crawford and Eszett had a secret-keeping contest, there wouldn't be a prize awarded because the judges would never know it had even happened.

They reached the far edge of the mini-woodland portion of the garden. Beyond lay a short stretch of grass, the stream with its arched bridge, and on the other side, the stable with its basement storage area. There were two guards, just as expected and, just as Schuldig had expected, Farfarello went for them immediately. Schuldig caught the back of his collar and held fast.

"Hey!" Yohji hissed. "What was that? You agreed--"

"Yes, but I want to kill them," Farfarello said reasonably, or at least in a reasonable tone of voice.

"You can't," Schuldig said. "Cope." He took Yohji's hand and pushed it against Farf's collar until Yohji got the idea and caught hold. Yohji looked like he'd been asked to take a man-eating leopard out for walkies, but he didn't let go.

Schuldig concentrated. It was harder to fool people who were on guard duty, who were expecting or even hoping for trouble to alleviate the boredom. One of them leaned against the bridge and rolled a cigarette. The other looked up at the dark sky and sighed audibly.

They didn't want to be out here on this cold, wet night. Warm and dry, Schuldig thought, in front of a fire with a good, dark beer. Bottle loosely in your hand, feet propped up, warm all through. Crackle of the fire, your family's voices in the next room. One and then the other drooped against the railing of the bridge, not asleep, but far away and dreaming.

Schuldig nodded and led them out over the gently creaking wood planks of the bridge, over the crunching gravel on the far side, and into the dim light of the stables. The horses shifted nervously as they entered, but Farfarello went to them one by one, and they quieted. He had a way with animals that Schuldig found by turns touching and disturbing.

The third stall on the left was empty, and the trap door was right where it should be.

"This is too easy," Yohji muttered.

"You're just used to working with losers who can't follow a simple plan."

As soon as all four them had let themselves down into the low tunnel under the stable floor and closed the trap door behind them, an alarm went off. Four metal walls slid down from the ceiling to box them in.

Farfarello flung himself uselessly at one wall. Nagi looked from one to the next, clearly searching for any kind of control panel or mechanism he could work on. Yohji looked up like he expected the ceiling to close in and crush them. It didn't.

Instead, three small vents opened up, and gas started billowing out of them. It was cloudy and green and smelled like toothpaste. Surely nothing that smelled like toothpaste would be lethal.

Schuldig pointed a warning finger at Yohji. "If you say I told you so, I'm going to kill you in your sleep."

Yohji grinned at him. "I told you so."

Chapter Text

Theme: 18. The Lockup, or, "Drop the Soap, Baby."

 

Schuldig woke up first. The four of them were in a grey stone cell with bars across the front. Yohji and Farfarello sat propped against one wall, heads lolling towards each other. Nagi was face down on the floor, limbs sprawled out and taking up most of the minute square footage.

Schuldig kicked Nagi, who didn't even twitch, and then Farf and Yohji. They twitched and groaned respectively.

"Wake up," Schuldig said. "Entertain me."

"Fuck right off," Yohji mumbled, and Farfarello made a sound that was probably agreement.

"I'm bored," Schuldig explained.

Farfarello flipped him the bird and slid sideways to lean on Yohji's shoulder. Schuldig brightened. That would alleviate his boredom for sure, as soon as one of them noticed it.

He had to wait a few minutes, but eventually Yohji struggled out of the grip of the drug and blinked blearily at the white haired head on his shoulder.

"Whassa," Yohji said, and then, "Fst?" He shook his head. "Hallucinations?"

"Nope, sorry."

Yohji eased away from Farf with commendable stealth and moved to sit by Schuldig. He slumped against Schuldig's side and put his head on Schuldig's shoulder, which was...weird. Schuldig shifted, made vaguely uncomfortable not by the physical position but by the implication that Yohji was happy to use him as a pillow. Even when they fucked, they didn't sleep together except by accident.

He elbowed Yohji in the ribs sharply. "Find something else to lean on. Do I look like furniture to you?"

"Ngk," Yohji said. He sat up straight, rubbing his eyes. "God, you suck. Like I didn't feel shitty enough. What was that stuff? My mouth tastes like...something awful, I'm too stupid to come up with metaphors right now."

"Similes."

"Thanks, Captain Grammar. Where are we, and why aren't we trying to get out?"

Across from them, Farfarello made a half-snorted inhale and started a long slide down the wall to the ground.

"We're not exactly one hundred percent," Schuldig said. "Besides, once Nagi wakes up, he can just bend the bars out of the way. No point doing anything right now."

"You guys have it way too easy. Some of us have to actually work to get away when people capture us, you know."

"When did you ever get captured?"

"Before we met."

"I knew that." If it'd been after, he would've known.

"A couple months before." Yohji waved a hand and nearly hit Schuldig's nose. "There were these crazy guys, and, like, a giant scorpion."

"Scorpion, huh?"

"Yep."

"How big?"

"Medium dog size? More or less. Like a golden retriever."

"That's a pretty big scorpion."

Yohji shrugged and nodded, like he might've seen bigger. Show off.

The barred door to their cell slid open. Some loser in jackboots stepped in and pointed a gun at them. Yohji was up and kicking it out of his hand in a second, kicking him in the head and spinning around to take out the other two guards as well. He looked back to Schuldig, grinning, a little color in his cheeks.

"Nice going, jackass," Schuldig drawled. "Now we gotta carry Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming out of here."

"What about the thing?"

"They probably already moved it. We'll have to find out where and try again." He picked up Nagi and slung him over one shoulder. The kid really needed to eat more.

"How come you get the light one?" Yohji asked, getting Farfarello's arm around his shoulder and hauling him upright.

"So the light one doesn't kill you when he wakes up. Come on."

By the time they found the stairs up, Farfarello was walking in a shambling, zombie-like way, and Nagi was making little noises of protest at being bounced around. "Your own fault," Schuldig told him. "If you were a normal size, you'd be awake already."

The stairs led up through a storm door that flipped open to reveal the stables to the right, the house just behind them, and the edge of the mini-forest across the stream. There was no one in sight, but there were voices, raised and excited.

"Do they know we're missing?" Farfarello said. He stood upright now, with just a hand on Yohji's shoulder.

"Not yet. They don't know what the hell's going on, and they don't like it. Come on, let's get out of here."

They crossed the bridge and cleared the trees. Schuldig leapt to the top of the wall, and Farfarello handed Nagi up to him before climbing up himself. As Schuldig perched there, waiting for Yohji, he saw a pickup truck coming toward them. In the back, covered in a tarp, was a rectangle roughly the size of the marble slab they were looking for.

"Is that it?" Farfarello said.

"I think it is."

Yohji scrambled up beside them. "You guys are so lucky it's disgusting."

Farfarello jumped down and sprinted for the truck.

"Don't we need to help him?" Yohji said.

"He's fine." Schuldig waved to him. "Faster, pussycat! Kill, kill!" It wasn't really a fair match. There were only two guys in the cab and two guards in back.

Blood spattered across the passenger side window, and Yohji looked away.

"Those guys could have families, you know."

"They're just minions. Redshirts. They're expendable."

"No one's expendable."

"You don't really believe that. You don't give a shit about them."

Yohji kicked his heels against the stone wall and watched Farfarello take out the two guards in the back with his bare hands. "I think I do, actually," he said slowly.

He meant it, too. That was new.

They left the bodies by the roadside and drove back towards town. Nagi woke up and demanded to sit in the front, which left Yohji in the back with Farf. Yohji seemed fine with it, and when Schuldig poked around in his head, he got the image of Farfarello as some kind of strange, wild creature: not subject to human rules.

Schuldig wondered how Yohji saw him, too, and if that had changed in the last twenty four hours. He wasn't sure he wanted to know.

Chapter Text

Theme: 10. Boot Camp, or, "Why Do the Bad Guys Always Have the Sexiest Uniforms?"

 

Schuldig ranted into his cell phone a few feet away from the stolen truck. Yohji caught occasional words, but only enough to pick up that Schuldig was not happy with whatever Crawford was telling him. He returned to the back of the truck to sit with Farfarello.

"What's Rosenkreuz?" he asked.

Farfarello paused in the act of cleaning his red-stained nails with the fine point of his knife. "Our alma mater," he said. "As the cruel and bloody virgin who raised the son of God up for slaughter, so Rosenkreuz has to been to us." He paused. "Except Nagi. He's barely set foot there. Schuldig says that explains his cheerful and sunny disposition."

"I think that's where we're going next."

Farfarello blinked at him slowly. "Don't worry. I will watch over you."

Yohji stifled the urge to say, please don't, because having Farfarello on his side was almost certainly better than the alternative.

Schuldig stopped ranting just then and threw his phone at the stream beside the roadway, where it hovered for a moment and then floated gently to Nagi's hand.

"We'll be there," Nagi said. "Goodbye."

"Brat," Schuldig muttered. "Show off."

Nagi said nothing, but went to stand next to him. After a moment, Schuldig put a hand on his shoulder.

"Schuldig had the worst time of it," Farfarello said. "It's easy to hurt a telepath."

Yohji swallowed. He was liking the idea of this trip less all the time. "What about you?"

"They couldn't hurt me. Not even when they stole my eye." He said stole as though he still resented the theft and meant to get it back.

"And Crawford?"

"Crawford won't talk about it."

If there was a less reassuring statement in the world, Yohji had yet to hear it. He hugged his knees and looked at the untroubled sky. "Is everyone there like you guys? Are there other...gifts?"

"A Pandora's box full," Farfarello told him, but that was the last question he would answer.

***

Rosenkreuz looked like one of the more serious medieval castles, as if it might have a ready supply of boiling oil and probably thought windows were less for letting light in than for letting arrows out. It squatted at the top of its small mountain and greeted visitors with a spiked iron gate. Yohji wouldn't have been surprised to see heads on the spikes.

When they'd met up with Crawford yesterday, they'd switched from the pick-up to a hearse. The slab fit perfectly in the back.

Schwarz had also switched from their normal clothes to all-white suits, which left Yohji feeling alone and rather grubby in his jeans, but he could see why Crawford had insisted. Himself excluded, they made a striking image lined up in front of the shiny black car with Nagi floating the stone slab before them.

Some fossilized old guy stepped out, and the four of them bowed to him in unison. Old Guy said some stuff Yohji couldn't understand and then apparently took the slab off Nagi. It floated along after him.

Can we go now? Yohji thought at Schuldig.

No. We're staying at least for the night.

Yohji walked close behind them through stone corridors that went on and on. He didn't know why he was here. He thought for sure he'd get sent back to the hotel, or even back to Japan, but no one had suggested it. He was too curious to suggest it himself. Who wouldn't want a tour of the world's premiere psychic assassin school?

The four of them got shown to a room on the second floor. There were two sets of bunk beds and bars on the window. Schuldig threw himself down on one bed and inhaled loudly.

"Ah, sour cabbage and socks! The smell of my childhood. Great to be back."

He didn't sound like it was great to be back, but he didn't sound freaked out either, which was a relief. He'd looked kind of freaked out, for about an hour after he got the news they were coming here, and then he'd been himself again. Mostly. Sort of.

Nagi took the top bunk of the other bed, climbing up and unpacking his laptop immediately. Farfarello sat on the bunk under him and stared into space.

"Where'd Crawford go?" Yohji asked.

"Away, to commune with higher life forms. He gets his own room, too, the bastard."

Yohji eyed the top bunk and then sat beside Schuldig, shoving his feet out of the way.

Schuldig bounced right up as soon as Yohji touched him, on his feet in a second. "I'm going for a walk. Get us some food. You stay here." The last was directed at Yohji. The other two showed no desire to go anywhere.

"Sure, whatever," Yohji said.

Schuldig stared at him hard, but Yohji ignored him and stretched out on the bed and concentrated on his desire for a nap, which was completely real. The last decent night's sleep he'd had was before they'd jacked the slab.

"Fine," Schuldig said, and stalked out.

Yohji closed his eyes. He wondered if he'd been supposed to see the switch very late last night, where Slab A had floated out of the truck and lowered itself neatly into a river as Slab B took its place. Farfarello and Schuldig had slept through it. Nagi and Crawford had barely spoken to each other. It was over in three minutes.

And then Yohji thought about pink elephants, because Schuldig wasn't the only telepath in this place. He dreamed about them, too, though he hadn't meant to actually fall asleep.

When he woke, Schuldig was still gone and Farfarello was asleep with his arms crossed over his chest like a corpse. Nagi was ignoring everything but his computer screen. Perfect.

Yohji slipped easily out of the room and took the first turn to the right. More narrow, stone hallway, punctuated by occasional wooden doors, banded with metal and dark with age. He turned right again, and again.

Finally, he saw a door that didn't look like all the others. This one led outside to a small courtyard, paved in stone, with a few straggly plants surviving around its edges. He leaned against the wall and lit a cigarette.

There were a few kids playing a blue rubber ball. In addition to hands, feet, and heads, they also seemed to be using telekinesis to add a third dimension to the playing field. The ball soared and bounced off shuttered, third-story windows.

It didn't take them long to notice him. When they did, they all packed into a tighter group, youngest kids at the back.

"Who are you?" a girl said. She was twelve at the most, with straight brown hair and freckles. "Are you a new teacher?"

"I'm nobody," Yohji said. "Don't worry about me."

They surged closer, less frightened now, more bold. "Are you allowed to be here?" the girl said.

"Far as I know."

A little boy of four five peeked out from behind her. His eyes were very wide. "He's with Schwarz," the boy said, lisping a little on 'Schwarz'. "He's having sex with Mastermind."

"Is that true?" the girl demanded.

Yohji blinked. "Uh. Well, not right this second."

"Well, obviously." The girl sniffed. "What's your name?"

"Yohji. What's yours?"

"Marika. Do you really not have any gift?"

He smiled. "Do my superhuman charm and good looks count?"

She actually seemed to think about it before she shook her head. "Not much good in a fight. Although." She frowned. "I guess Mastermind would take care of you. So maybe it does count. I'm sure he wouldn't if you were ugly."

"Hey, I don't need him taking care of me. I'm fine on my own, thanks."

"Marika," the little boy said. He tugged her sleeve. "They're coming."

Her face blanked. "You should go back to your room," she told Yohji, and then she was leading the other kids back inside.

Yohji sucked hard on his cigarette. Take care of him, right. She'd clearly never met 'Mastermind'. God, what a name. It made Yohji pretty sure that whoever had come up with it had never met Schuldig either, and he made a note to tell Schuldig that later.

He scanned the three doors that led onto the courtyard, eyes flicking from one to another to another. When 'they' emerged into the weak sunlight a minute later, he relaxed. A bunch of skinny little teenagers might be scary to a five year old, but not to him.

They marched right up to him. The leader was a sallow-faced boy with red hair and blue eyes, who looked otherwise nothing at all like Schuldig. "Did you see a bunch of kids? Which door did they take?"

"What's it to you?"

"We want that brat. He did a shit job shining our boots. We're supposed to teach him a lesson."

Supposed to. As in, had been told to? But they didn't exactly seem reluctant.

"You shouldn't pick on little kids. It's not nice." He had to laugh at their expressions, but something inside him wound up tight. Clearly, it was not something anyone had ever said to them before. He wondered how old Schuldig had been when he came here, and he remembered Farfarello saying that it was easy to hurt a telepath. Like the little boy with Marika.

The red-haired boy's mouth and nose wrinkled in a brief snarl. "You're not a teacher. You're not from here."

"Damn straight I'm not."

"I'll call the proctors on you."

"You do that. I'll wait right here. Name's Yohji Kudoh."

He watched doubt skip from face to face; news of Schwarz must be all over the castle. There were only five of them. He thought he could take them in a fight if he had to, though he didn't like the idea much. Three of them were smaller than Omi, and it would be hard not to hurt them.

"You just tell us which door, and--and we'll leave you alone," the boy said. He stood up straighter and lifted his chin.

Yohji sighed. "Piss off, kid. You're bugging me."

There was a pause. The sunlight grew stronger, less watery. A sparrow landed in the courtyard and pecked at the gravel between the paving stones.

One of the others nudged the leader. "You can't let him say that."

"Yeah, come on. He's just a normal."

But they all looked nervous now, Yohji thought.

"You know Herr Alvar will hear about it," one of the smaller boys said.

The red-haired boy drew himself up all over again. "You can't talk to us that way. We're not kids. We're Eszett."

"Yeah, whatever. Look--" Yohji stopped, cut off by some invisible force clamped round his neck and waist, pinning him to the wall.

The first punch landed on his cheekbone, and then his stomach, and then his mouth. Yohji stared at the boy's desperate face and thought: He doesn't want to do this.

He thought: Schwarz could've crushed us any time they wanted.

And then the boy's fist hit his left eye, and it was hard to see or think anything at all.

The next thing he was clearly aware of was a scream. He was surprised to find it wasn't his.

He was on the ground, and his right eye offered him a flat, depthless view of the boy, lying near him and clutching his arm. Yohji could see white bone through a gash in his sleeve and blood soaking into the white shirt. Nagi was standing over him.

"Take him to the infirmary," Nagi said.

"What about--" One of the smaller boys nodded to Yohji.

"I'll deal with him."

Nagi waited until they were gone and then squatted down beside Yohji. "Didn't he tell you to stay in the room?"

"You didn't stop me."

"Now you know why you shouldn't go wandering. You're like a mouse in a castle full of cats here."

"He didn't want to hurt me."

Nagi raised one eyebrow and pointedly poked Yohji's throbbing cheekbone.

"Ow. Fucker. You broke his arm."

"It'll heal," Nagi said. "Get on your feet."

He didn't offer to help. Yohji wasn't surprised. It was a painful and dizzying few seconds before he pried himself upright. After two tries, he managed to stay that way. He put one hand against the warm stone wall and breathed deep.

"They have healers here," Nagi said.

"You just offering information, or are you going to take me to see them?"

Nagi smiled very slightly, more a twitch of his lips. "Just offering information."

"Right," Yohji muttered. He leaned against the wall and rested his head on it. He touched his face and felt hot patches and puffy skin, but surprisingly little blood. None of the sharp pain that would suggest a break.

When he opened his eyes, Nagi was looking at him intently.

"What?"

"Hold still." Nagi stepped closed and touched his bruised cheekbone with one finger. He closed his eyes.

Yohji felt the knot of heat and pain there get bigger and brighter, but he didn't move. He fought not even to wince in case it disturbed whatever the hell Nagi was doing to him and made it worse. The pain got worse anyway, a burning, with pressure behind it, like something was pushing out from under the bone. He dug his nails into his palms.

Finally Nagi dropped his hand and slapped it flat against the wall.

"Didn't work, huh?" Yohji said.

Nagi looked up at his cheekbone. "Made it worse."

"I guess moving little stuff is harder than moving big stuff."

Nagi frowned at him. "How could you possibly know what I was doing?"

"Because I've been hanging out with you guys for way too long, and I'm not stupid."

"Fine. Do you want the healers or not?"

"They'll do what you just did, except better?"

"Yes," Nagi said, frowning even more. His lower lip was threatening to pout.

"Let's go."

When they got to the infirmary, Schuldig and Farfarello were waiting for them. Schuldig smacked the back of Yohji's head, and then had to catch him as he overbalanced.

"You fucking idiot," Schuldig said.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Which way to the painkillers?"

The professionals did do a better job of it than Nagi, but it hurt almost as much. Yohji took it as well as he could. Nagi left. Farfarello hovered over him, clearly disconcerting the healers. Schuldig turned away and smoked a cigarette in the corner.

By the end of it, he was woozy and dizzy enough that he had to let Farfarello help him stand. Farfarello stroked Yohji's hair back from his face in an almost motherly way, hands gentle and surprisingly soft.

"Oh, get off him," Schuldig said, but not with much force. He put his cigarette between Yohji's lips, and he and Farfarello walked on either side of him, a sort of honor guard, as Yohji shuffled back to their room.

"You took it much better than most," Farfarello said. "Schuldig screams like a baby when they heal him."

"I do not!"

Listening to their bickering, Yohji suddenly found himself missing Aya and Ken and Omi almost more than he could stand, another physical pain on top of the too many he'd already had today.

Schuldig put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed, not looking at him, still at it with Farfarello. Yohji had to smile. It was almost enough.

Chapter Text

Theme: 26. The Sauna, or, "It's Getting Hot in Here, So Take Off All Your Clothes"

 

They left the castle the next morning. Yohji was still obviously feeling his injuries, though there was no visible mark left on him. He dozed on and off. They didn't stop until they'd left Germany, but for what country Schuldig wasn't sure. It was dark, and he didn't care enough to ask. It was Crawford's business anyway.

Dinner was brought to Crawford's hotel room, and they all ate crowded around the coffee table. Afterward, Schuldig enlisted Farfarello to drag Yohji off to the sauna.

"I'm going to fall asleep," Yohji said. "You'll have to carry me back."

"It'll help the healing. You've been sitting all day."

"You can't let the blood stagnate," Farfarello chimed in.

"I think you both just want to see me naked."

In fact, there were towels all round, which was good, because sitting on one of those superheated wooden benches bare-assed would've been fucking painful. Yohji slumped between the two of them and didn't even protest when Farfarello started telling them an exceptionally bloody version of Jesus's death on the cross.

"But sins are never truly forgiven. God hoards them like a squirrel, cheeks fat with the nuts of our wrongdoing."

Yohji choked out a laugh at that. By the tiny smile on Farfarello's face, maybe that was what he'd been going for.

"So it is exceptional that you've forgiven us," Farfarello said. "I thought it would all go wrong after I killed your women at the club."

Schuldig closed his eyes. He didn't need Crawford's gift to see how this would go. He should've warned Farf to keep quiet about that, but it might not have mattered. This was what he got for hanging out with crazy people.

"I read the papers," Yohji said. He sounded very calm. His mind felt very calm too, in that before-the-storm way. "Three of them. Their throats cut. I assumed it was someone after their money. Their purses were gone."

"I did not steal from them," Farfarello said. "Perhaps some thief came by after I left."

"I see," Yohji said.

There was a long silence, uncomfortable for everyone except Farfarello, who entertained himself by holding one finger over the hot rocks in the middle of the room until his skin blistered. Schuldig didn't care enough about his well-being at the moment to stop him.

"Why those girls?" Yohji said. "Why the ones I was with?"

Schuldig closed his eyes and didn't try to stop it.

"I'm not supposed to kill just anyone," Farfarello said. "I get in trouble. Schuldig said it was all right."

There was still nothing in Yohji's thoughts that Schuldig could get a grip on. He braced himself, remembering the speed of Yohji's attack at the opera.

There was no attack.

"What was it like?" Yohji said.

Schulding felt the beginning of some hairline fracture in Yohji's mind. He smacked him hard across the face.

"Farf, out. Yohji--" Yohji was looking blankly at him. Schuldig hit him again and watched some sense return. They looked at each other in silence for a long time, long after Farfarello had left.

"I think I should go home," Yohji said, quietly.

"Yeah. I think that's a good plan."

More silence.

"I can make you forget this," Schuldig offered.

"All of it?"

"Yeah."

Yohji looked away. "No. I don't want to forget."

Schuldig drove him to the nearest airport the next morning.

Chapter Text

Theme: 20. First Timers, or, "Yes! I'm Finally Getting Some!"

 

Yohji lay on his bed and looked up at the cracked ceiling, white paint yellowed from his cigarettes. He was thinking about the warm weight of Asuka’s body on his back as he strangled her to death. He could still feel it, almost all the time. He felt it now, even through the solidity of the mattress and the froth of dirty sheets rucked up by his shoulders.

He let his cigarette hang over the edge of the bed and tapped ash onto a piece of paper on the floor. It was a note, from Farfarello. He’d gotten it shortly after the thing with Ruth. It said: I’m sorry -F.

Sorry for killing Yohji’s dates that night? For killing all those priests, or Farfarello’s own mother, or-- The list went on a ways. Maybe it didn’t matter. Maybe he was just sorry in general.

Yohji wondered what it would feel like to have your whole world turned over like that. Everything you thought was true reversed. He’d thought about it a lot since Asuka. Neu. Whatever.

He’d thought: What if Neu wasn’t Asuka? (She was.) What if Asuka weren’t dead? (She was.) What if she were living somewhere in Tokyo, happy, maybe married? Maybe even with kids. (She wasn't.) Why wouldn’t she have come and seen Yohji? Memory loss, Yohji decided.

He made himself stop after that. Even crazy thoughts were easy to believe when you really wanted to believe them.

He grabbed the piece of paper and brushed ash off of it. I’m sorry. A blanket apology, like the one Schuldig had given him once upon a time. Farfarello’s was probably more honest.

Crazy thoughts were also easier to believe when you were crazy. Some days, Yohji wondered what that would be like. Farfarello never blamed himself for anything. He was the victim. Maybe that would be easier.

And then Yohji remembered, again, the slap Schuldig had given him in the sauna.

Two very physical memories, one to drive him nuts, the other to pull him back. One from Asuka, his partner, best friend, lover, maybe the best person he’d ever known. The other from a guy who killed for fun, set kids on fire, kidnapped Aya’s baby sister-- It went on and on. There weren’t words bad enough for Schuldig.

Yohji wanted to see him again.

His phone rang.

Yohji picked it up, wary. “Hello?”

“Stop thinking so fucking loud,” Schuldig said. His voice was blurry and rough with sleep.

“Did you mean it when you said you could make me forget?”

There was a long pause.

“Yeah. Is that what you want?”

Yohji closed his eyes. “How’s Farfarello?”

“Better. He was bad for a while. Messed up. But he’s less crazy now.”

“That’s what counts, I guess.”

“Crawford says it’s not the end that matters. It’s how you get there.”

Yohji watched smoke spiral up toward the ceiling. “Just for a day,” he said. “I’d like to forget for a day. You know? Like a vacation.”

“You don’t get vacations from life.”

“I know. Yeah, I know. Go back to sleep. I’ll try to think quieter.”

Schuldig hung up on him.

***

Schuldig put the phone down and wondered what Yohji would be like if he forgot. It would have to be big, that chunk of memory wiped clean. All the way back to Asuka, meeting her, loving her. It would be hard to do.

He thought about Farfarello as he was now. Nagi had started calling him Jei sometimes to piss him off. At first it had worked. Now Farf answered to both names.

It wasn’t the goal, Crawford always said. It was the process. But a guy who could always see the goal would say that, wouldn’t he?

Schuldig closed his eyes. He wasn’t much on thinking, or what-ifs, or maybes. He reached out to the signal fire of Yohji’s mind and started moving things around.

***

Yohji woke up with a desire to scratch some part of himself he couldn’t quite reach. It felt like the middle of his back, but when he used the eraser end of a pencil to extend his reach, it turned out not to be that after all. It faded anyway while he was in the shower. He had popcorn for breakfast. He’d been dreaming of it just before he woke up.

“Better?” Aya said, when Yohji went down to work his shift at the flowershop.

Yohji had been...sick? Yeah, that must’ve been it. He’d been skipping shifts, making his friends work overtime. That wasn’t cool. “Yeah, much better.” He smiled. “Sorry, man.”

Yohji hadn’t ever thought he’d end up as a florist, but it was really a pretty good job. You got all kinds of people in, for all kinds of reasons. It was fun trying to work out the stories behind this bouquet of orchids or that vase of sunflowers.

“You’re selling a lot today,” Aya told him, with a little frown between his eyes, a little wrinkle of his nose.

Yohji shrugged. “I like talking to people,” he said. “They like talking to me.”

He went out for lunch to a ramen place a few blocks away and slurped down noodles. Afterwards, he walked through the park. A man with red hair--red-orange, not ember-red like Aya’s--stopped him to ask for directions.

“Sorry, which way?” the man said.

Yohji tried again, but maybe the man’s Japanese wasn’t so good. He clearly wasn’t getting it.

“I’ll walk you to the cross street,” Yohji said. It was a beautiful day, and he didn’t have to be back for another half hour.

“You’ve lived here all your life?” the man asked. His name was Schuldig, he’d said. It was German. It had a nice sound to it, Yohji thought.

“In Tokyo, yes. And you?”

“Oh, I’ve lived all over.”

“Sounds exciting,” Yohji said. “Like where? Germany, obviously.”

“Obviously. And Japan,” Schuldig added, with a tiny smile.

Yohji smiled back. “Yes, of course. Anywhere in between?”

Schuldig told him a ridiculous story about the floating mansion he’d lived in on the Ganges in India.

“Pulled by swimming cows,” he added.

“You’re making that up.”

Schuldig shrugged. “Of course. No air conditioning, no TV? Forget it.”

“You might’ve had a generator.”

“Well, we didn’t.”

“In your floating house that you never lived in.”

Schuldig rolled his eyes. “You’re an expert on floating houses?”

“Just the imaginary ones. I could imagine a generator. Pretty easily. And something better than swimming cows.”

“Like what?” Schuldig said.

“Dragons. Hydras. Crazy monsters with tentacles and too many mouths, I don’t know. Why would you pick cows?”

“There were a lot of them around.”

“Giant fish,” Yohji suggested.

“Do you want to go to dinner tonight?” Schuldig said.

Yohji said yes, and smiled up at the blue sky. He was having a pretty good day.

***

Schuldig bought him flowers, for the irony.

Yohji was delighted.

Schuldig was fucking disturbed by that, but recovered a bit when Yohji felt the need to point out that pink roses 1) were for friendship and 2) clashed horribly with Schuldig’s hair.

“That was a totally gay thing to say,” Schuldig told him.

“Gayer than letting a guy buy you flowers? And dinner?”

“Who said I was paying?”

Schuldig took him to a Mexican place run by a guy from Brooklyn. It served nachos, a lot of sticky things piled high with cheese, and tongue tacos. Schuldig ordered the tongue tacos for both of them while Yohji stared around at the mind-bending kitsch. There were sombreros everywhere, including one on Elvis’s head in the velvet painting on the wall.

“Tongue?” Yohji said, when the waiter left with their order. “Really?”

But he ate it, and liked it. Schuldig watched and wondered if he screwed up the wiring somehow or if Yohji had just been naturally this accepting before his life went to shit. Weird food, strange men asking him out on the street. Sex in the men’s room.

Okay, they hadn’t gotten that far yet. Schuldig put a hand on his thigh. Yohji smiled at him, so sweetly it kind of hurt. The smile vanished when Schuldig’s hand moved upward to cup Yohji’s package.

“Not here,” Yohji said.

To Schuldig’s surprise, he meant it, one hundred percent. When you messed with the human mind, no matter how carefully, you never really knew what you were going to get. It was one of the reasons Schuldig kept doing it.

Schuldig did pay for dinner. Yohji said he’d started it by buying him flowers, and he had to see it through now.

“Does that include my dick up your ass later?” Schuldig murmured.

“Maybe.” Yohji stuck his hands in his pockets and strode out onto the sidewalk, leaving Schuldig to catch up.

Yohji bought them both ice cream, and they ate it as they walked.

“It’s funny,” Yohji said. “I feel like I can trust you.”

“You can’t.”

Yohji licked down level to the cone and took a bite of it. He threw the rest away and backed Schuldig up against the plate glass window of an office building. He took Schuldig’s face between his hands and kissed him, soft and wet, tongue easing into his mouth. “Let’s go back to your place,” Yohji said, and he meant that one hundred percent, too.

Schwarz had a rented house this time, a low, walled place surrounded by high rises and busy streets behind its wooded gate. The garden smelled green and wet, and Schuldig led Yohji between long-needled pine trees and over a half-moon bridge to take him in the back door.

The futon, laid out on tatami, was covered in Schuldig’s new duvet, a Little Mermaid one. Living with it was a trial, but the memory of Brad’s face at the department store made it all worthwhile. Schuldig had made sure to tell him what the cashier had thought about three grown men and a teenage boy buying Disney princess bedding.

Yohji barely gave it a glance before he pushed Schuldig down on top of it. “Matches your hair,” Yohji said.

“She dyes it.”

“You dye it.”

“I do not!”

“Prove it,” Yohji said, and pulled Schuldig’s pants down. They were tight. It didn’t go quickly, but Yohji didn’t give up. He didn’t unbutton them either, so that by the time the waist band was down to Schuldig’s thighs, his legs were pinned together.

“Nice,” Yohji said. He looked Schuldig over, gaze settling on Schuldig’s cock and the red curls surrounding it. “Condoms?”

Schuldig handed them over. Yohji clearly thought he was going to be on top, and Schuldig didn’t care much either way.

Sex happened. Schuldig found he didn’t care much about that either. Yohji wasn’t technically lacking or anything. The orgasm was decent. Beyond that, though, there was nothing, not even the customary little thrill Schuldig got from headfucking the occasional strangers he picked up, like he’d once picked up Yohji.

When he thought about it, this was the closest he’d had to “normal” sex in years. No wonder it was boring. If he lifted the mental blocks right now and watched all that knowledge and trauma rush back and settle in the low places of Yohji’s mind, with the memory of this night without it, now that would be interesting.

He already knew he wasn’t going to do it. He let Yohji leave, tracked him across town and into sleep. He put things back the way they had been. It was much easier to excise one night than years.

***

Yohji woke up with a body that wasn’t yelling at him for drinking too much or lying in bed too long or crying. No dull headache, back ache, swollen nose. He was hungry for the first time in days. He felt--physically--good.

He got up, showered, and ate breakfast without once feeling the soft weight of Asuka’s body on his back. He was still too busy being surprised he didn’t feel like shit. It was a nice change.

In the shop, Aya smiled at him. The shock of that kept everything else at bay for a solid hour, and then there were customers to flirt with and deliveries to make, and he did after all like talking to people. It was an easy thing to forget sometimes. The good things always were.

On his lunch break, he stood outside the back of the shop and smoked a cigarette, slowly, hollow-cheeked and savoring. He looked down at the litter of crushed petals and up at the blue sky.

Life was pretty horrible, in a lot of ways. But he still wasn’t ready to trade it for the alternative.

Chapter Text

Theme: 23. Preventing Hypothermia, or, “Let Me Apply Some Liquid Heat to Raise Your Core Temperature.”

 

Water, water everywhere. Logic said it had to be water--the temple had been built out over the hurling waves, smelt of salt all over, sticky with sea-spray. Therefore the falling darkness Yohji moved through was water.

The cold was all-enveloping, gnawing through him like frozen meat clutched too hard--nothing colder than meat straight from the freezer. This was like having it slapped all over him and the meat tenderizer rubbed straight into his eyeballs.

He was still on the down--down like a rollercoaster, heart thumping, bubbles replacing the wind in his face. Chunks of the temple fell around him, bounced off him, headed out of his increasingly small field of vision. Was the light fading or was it unconsciousness coming to get him? Things were moving slowly. He didn’t yet feel the need for breath.

One chunk, glistening white, fell into his open hand. He clutched it and went down that much faster.

He thought, Aya has his sister back.

He thought, we stopped them. Whatever they were trying to do--and he still didn’t really understand--it was over.

It was over, and if he caught a larger chunk of temple, he would be over. It would be downhill all the way, and his next breath would be his very last.

He let the white stone tumble away and struck out upwards, just like that. Still not ready for the alternative. He grinned into the salt water, and it stung his lip. He licked at the sting and tasted what might be blood, or might just be more salt water.

On the way up, he caught a flash of red and grabbed for it without thought, or the hesitation that thought might’ve given him. Once he'd caught a handful of Schuldig’s beacon-bright hair and reeled in his unconscious form, it was impossible to let go.

Yohji swam like he was walking with a limp. There was a rhythm to it--reach out, pull the water closer, pause. Readjust his grip on Schuldig. Reach out again. Like this, the shore grew nearer, the vast stretch of blackness that reflected nothing and so was clearly not water. Beyond that, far beyond, the lights of civilization twanged against the tuning fork of the clouded sky.

Yohji’s leg cramped. He lost sensation in his fingers and toes. His heart pounded painfully in the way he’d heard it did at the beginnings of hypothermia--hard work to warm a piece of slowly freezing meat.

When he finally rolled Schuldig’s dead weight free of the waves, for a moment the only part of CPR he could remember was that chest compressions should be done to the beat of Stayin’ Alive, an absurdity he must've picked up on television because it definitely hadn't featured in his training.

Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, he thought as he checked Schuldig’s throat for obstructions and pulled out the piece of seaweed lodged under his tongue. Been kicked around since I was born. Mouth-to-mouth. It came back. His own hands were so cold that he couldn't tell if Schuldig was cold by comparison. There was probably a lower end to what human fingers could feel, he reasoned, like there were upper notes no man should try to sing.

Schuldig curled in on himself all at once and hurled up water so dark in the night that Yohji thought at first it must be blood.

They looked at each other. Schuldig was shivering visibly, which meant at least he was warmer than Yohji - Yohji had stopped shivering ten yards out from shore. They eased closer together, each barely moving, seeking a warmth neither possessed.

We’ll die here on this beach. Yohji didn’t know whether that was his thought or Schuldig’s. He nodded.

“At least it won’t be on purpose,” he said aloud. Schuldig’s rusty, bubbly laugh was the last thing he heard before he passed out.

***

When he woke, it was to the familiar smell of a hospital. He opened his eyes. Aya’s sister was sitting by his bed in Aya’s orange sweater eating cubes of blue Jell-o. Schuldig was nowhere in sight.

Aya-chan gave him a little wave. “Ran asked me to sit with you,” she said.

Yohji tried to answer, but only croaked. Aya-chan helped him sip some water and fluffed his pillows for him.

“I talked to you,” she said. “Didn’t I? While I was...asleep.”

Yohji swallowed, and then swallowed again. “Thought that was the drugs,” he got out. If the hallucination of Aya’s sister was real--and it surely had been; Aya-chan looked now just as she had then, and Yohji had yet to see a photo of her--what about the rest of them?

“Maybe it was. I couldn’t talk to you again after that.”

“Where’s-- Was anyone brought here with me?”

“No one. Are we missing someone?”

“No,” Yohji said automatically. “No.” If Schuldig wasn’t there when they found him... Had Schwarz come for him? Someone else? Eszett? No way to know. “Ken and Omi?” he said, somewhat belatedly. “They’re all right too?”

“They’re fine. You’re the last one awake. The last one I’ve met, and the first.” She picked at the sleeve of Aya’s sweater and glanced up at him through the fringe of her hair. Her smile was genuine, but brief. “I like my brother’s friends," she said.

“And your brother?”

She shrugged. “He’s not Ran anymore. I guess he can’t be after all this.”

“You know he took your name?”

She nodded and smiled down at her hands. “So he wouldn’t forget.” She looked up suddenly. Her eyes were the same color as Aya’s and every bit as determined. “So you call me Ran, okay? Because I won’t forget either.”

Yohji knew fucked up when he saw it, and he knew stubborn, too. He nodded. “Ran. Got it.”

She smiled at him. “He won’t like it,” she said.

“Nope.”

“I’ll need backup. Are you going to be on my side?”

Schuldig was still out there somewhere, thanks to Yohji. Schuldig was the one who’d taken her from her hospital room. Yohji knew it. Crawford wouldn’t have done it himself. Schuldig would’ve been the one he sent.

“Sure,” he said. “Sure, I’m on your side.”

“Cool. Do you want some of my Jell-o?”

“Can I eat?” Yohji looked at his IV. “How long have I been unconscious?”

“Oh. Well, a couple days. Maybe you shouldn’t start with Jell-o.”

“Not blue, anyway.”

“I’ll get the doctor?”

“Yes.”

The doctor came. Aya, Omi, and Ken came with him. There was a lot of excited talk and laughter that mostly went over Yohji’s head. He felt the shreds of his energy fraying further with every second. His eyes were closing.

“Don’t worry about anything,” Omi said. “I’m taking care of it.” He had ditched the bad clubbing clothes for a plain, black shirt.

Maybe it was that, or maybe it was the sliver Yohji’s world had tightened down to as his lids closed, but he looked a little like Persia. With that thought, Yohji slipped out of his life and into dreams. His dreams were more believable.

Chapter Text

Theme: 17. The Grotto, or, “Underwater Wonders.”

Yohji sat on the couch with Aya’s sister. Everyone but Aya was calling her Ran now, and everyone but her--Ran--still called Ran's brother Aya. It was making Yohji’s brain hurt.

Today had been Ran’s first day back to school. Yohji didn’t think she’d be going tomorrow. Or maybe ever again. She had come home, put on Aya’s flannel pajamas, and put The Little Mermaid in the DVD player. The pajamas were huge on her, hid her feet and hands entirely, and she folded herself into a corner of the couch like a small bundle of washing.

“It’s just so stupid,” Ran said, during the crab’s solo.

“Hm?” Yohji was in his pajamas, too, though his were more subdued. He hadn’t been home from the hospital long.

Home, of course, needed giant air quotes around it. They were staying in a rented house north of Tokyo. It was made of concrete and steel and no doubt had been ultra modern in early eighties. The garden outside had been allowed to run wild. The trees were smothered in vines, formerly trimmed topiary now grew into monster shapes, and the ornamental grass was taller than Yohji.

Ran seemed to love it. She walked in the gardens every day. Sometimes she dragged Yohji along. He glanced over and saw her pursed lips and eyes fixed on the screen.

“Hey,” he said. “What is it?”

“Everything! School. Those kids. Groceries!”

“Groceries are stupid?”

“Life!” She sighed. “Trying to live like we’re normal. Especially Ran trying to pretend like I’m just a normal teenage girl who hasn’t been in a coma for years, or had psychic visions or whatever that was with you, or almost got possessed by a demon. Like I should go on like I was. It’s crazy. He’s crazy.” She bit her lip. “Is he crazy?”

Yohji put an arm around her. “Nah. He’s not crazy. He’s...a little stuck in the past, is all. We all are.”

“Not me. I just want to get past all this. To something real.”

“Did they give you a hard time at school?”

She shot him a poisonous look. “That is not what this is about.”

“What’s it about then? Enlighten me.”

She pressed her lips together and looked at him hard. He could see little gold flecks in her eyes that he thought were just hers. Or maybe he’d never looked so closely at Aya’s eyes.

“I want to do what you all do.”

He leaned back against the couch. “You want to kill people.”

“No!” She hugged her knees. “Yes. If that’s what it takes to be part of your team. I will. You only kill bad people.”

“It doesn’t matter if they’re good or bad, Ran-chan.”

Maybe she understood that. She was quiet afterwards for a long time, long enough that Yohji let his eyes close and rested his head on the back of the couch. Sleep was never far away these days.

He wasn’t surprised to find himself dreaming, or even that he knew it was a dream. He dreamed about the night at the temple a lot.

He fell through blue water that darkened to black as he sank. Chunks of white marble fell around him like stars. He could breathe in the dreams, which made them something short of nightmares.

This time, he found himself sinking faster and faster, the rush of water past his skin as palpable as wind. He was falling toward something this time--toward something real.

Suddenly, the water was lightening again, from black to indigo to azure. Below him was the sea floor, made up of red-gold sand. When his feet hit it, it puffed up in a sparkling cloud. There was a cave in front of him. He walked into it.

He followed an upward slope for an impossible time. The water drained away until only little waves licked at his ankles. Things crunched under his bare feet and a familiar scent rose up. The froth on the waves was made of popcorn.

Schuldig waited for him, seated on a rock, chest bare, hair longer than Yohji remembered it. He’d traded in his legs for a fish tail.

Yohji blinked at him. “You’re a mermai--”

Man,” Schuldig snapped. “Merman.”

“Are you dreaming, too?”

“Probably. They drugs they have me on keep me under most of the day. Nothing much to do but dream.” He flipped his tail and scowled. His hands were chained to the rock.

“Who? Those creepy fucks from Rosenkreuz?”

“No. Just your run of the mill loony bin. Restraints, anti-psychotics, sedatives, blah, blah, blah. Been through it before.”

He didn’t look as blase as he sounded. His shoulders hunched in, and his head dropped forward, hair hiding his eyes.

Yohji went to him and yanked at the chains.

“You can’t break them,” Schuldig said. “They’re there in real life, and my subconscious knows it.”

“Where? What hospital? Are you still in Tokyo?”

Schuldig shrugged. “Who knows? Unconscious, remember?”

“How did you get there?”

“Don’t remember much. I woke before you. Went wandering around, got picked up by the cops. My energy was too low to keep my shields up. Wham, bam, french fried brain pan. Haven’t woken up properly since.”

“Were you trying to find me? I never dreamed about you like this before.”

Schuldig shook his head. “I was trying for Crawford, but he’s a slippery son of a bitch even in his dreams.” He paused and wiggled on the rock. “This merman thing is your fault, I take it?”

Yohji thought furtively of Ariel, and shuffled his feet. “Maybe? It’s a dream. Who knows?”

“Did you remember--” Schuldig said, and stopped.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“Schuldig--”

UNDER THE SEA, WISH I COULD BE PART OF YOUR--

Yohji woke with a start to find Ran stabbing at the remote.

“Sorry! Sorry, I was trying to turn it down, and I hit the wrong button,” she said. She paused. “Were you dreaming? You kept twitching.”

Yohji sighed and rubbed at his eyes. “Yeah,” he said. “Just a dream.”

But it wasn’t just anything, and no matter what Schuldig had done, he couldn’t let him rot in some psych ward, drugged and tied up.

“You want to work a mission with me, kid?” he asked Ran. At the time, it seemed like a good idea. The way her eyes lit up only helped him convince himself.

Chapter Text

Theme: 11. The Ward, or, “The Sleeves on this Jacket are a bit Long, Sir.”

 

Great idea, Yohji told himself. Yeah, man, you are so fucking smart.

Because obviously what this mission needed was an inexperienced teenager with authority issues who’d been kidnapped and held prisoner by the guy they were trying to rescue. Would Ran recognize Schuldig when she saw him? Yohji thought she would.

The back of the hospital was dark, quiet, and locked up tight. Yohji checked his watch. “Two minutes,” he whispered to Ran.

She nodded, crouched beside him behind a dumpster, wearing bits of Omi’s old mission gear. “It smells,” she whispered back. “And this alley is gross.”

He hadn’t noticed before--he’d smelled worse things--but it did. “Thanks for pointing that out.”

“I want to do it,” Ran said suddenly. She turned her brother’s stare on him. “When the guard comes out, I want to do it.”

“Fine,” Yohji said.

She gaped.

“And I will never take you on another mission as long as I live. And you can bet the rest of them won’t either,” he added.

Her mouth tightened, but she only nodded. He was ready for trouble when the guard stepped out for his hourly smoke, but she followed the plan.

Yohji slid forward out of the dark and knocked out the guard. Ran injected him with a cocktail that should keep him unconscious for an hour or so. They slipped inside the dark hospital and closed the door behind them.

Their footsteps echoed on balding tile. Only every other overhead fixture was lit. The air smelled of disinfectant and formaldehyde. It was a familiar smell, one that got worse the more familiar it became. It was so familiar by now that it made the back of Yohji’s neck go cold and his stomach sink.

He glanced at Ran, but she stalked on beside him, jaw set so hard he could see her muscles clenched even in the dim light. She pulled out the map he’d given her and found their position. “This way,” she said.

She must know that smell even better than he did. Aya was actually going to kill him when he found out about this.

Yohji followed her through long corridors, lined with locked rooms. Each held some damaged mind. They were only going to leave with one. Yohji wondered what it took to get locked up here. Surely not much, or there wouldn’t be so many rooms. Maybe more of the world was crazy than anyone knew. Himself included, certainly, or he wouldn’t be here.

He took a few quick steps and caught Ran’s arm. “Do you know who he is? Who we’re going to get out?”

He said it much too loudly, and his words bounced off the tiles.

“Fuck,” he added, and pulled them into the shadows in case they’d attracted any unwanted attention.

“Yes,” Ran said simply.

“Then why did you want to help?”

She bit her lip a moment. “They’re not that bad. I know Ran would say I’ve got Stockholm syndrome or something, but I think it’s just that I spent so long listening to them. I was alone a long time. Ran could only visit so often. I know he tried, but... It was nice hearing them all argue about what to watch on TV or who was supposed to do the dishes. And sometimes they talked to me, like I could understand. He-- Schuldig did it more than the rest.” She paused and sucked her lower lip thoughtfully. “The crazy one slept on the floor beside me sometimes.”

Yohji could just picture that. It gave him the creeps.

“This is it,” she said, turning to a door that looked just like all the other doors. The number stenciled on it was 69, which made Yohji smirk.

He bent and went to work on the lock, Ran watching over his shoulder. “Stop that,” he said. “Keep an eye out for the guards.”

“All right, but you have to teach me that later.”

“I’ll think about it.”

The lock was old and yielded easily, but the hinges screeched when he pushed the door open. He and Ran both froze. “In,” he muttered, and got them both inside and out of sight.

With the door closed, the room was lit only by the small square of light from the hallway. The bubbled glass cast a strange shadow on Schuldig’s face where he lay, balled up under a thin, grey blanket. At least there were no restraints now, but Yohji could see the raw skin on one wrist where it stuck out of the covers, fingers dragging limply on the floor. His head was shaved down to a red stubble.

Ran stepped forward, but Yohji caught her shoulder and shook his head. He called Schuldig’s name softly. No response. He took the box of tissues off the windowsill and tossed it onto Schuldig’s stomach. Still nothing.

Even so, he was still prepared when he touched Schuldig’s foot and Schuldig lunged for him. It was worryingly easy to hold him down. Yohji gripped his upper arms in deference to his abused wrists and looked down into his vacant eyes.

Schuldig subsided under him to seemingly involuntary twitches and muscle spasms. Just as Yohji started to relax, he felt something crawling along his arm. He looked down and saw a bright red millipede, at least three inches long and as thick around as his finger. He could feel its billion little legs perfectly, scratching against his skin, advancing up toward his shirt sleeve.

He let go of Schuldig and slapped at it, but he knew even before Schuldig started to laugh that it couldn’t be real. It vanished before he could touch it, but Schuldig’s dry, racking laugh went on and on, his eyes still empty as before.

Within seconds, Yohji could hear the same laughter coming from other inmates up and down the hall. Maybe all over the building. He wondered how much more crazy the crazies had gotten when Schuldig joined them.

“We have to get him out of here,” he said, more to steel himself than because Ran needed telling.

Ran nodded.

“Did you see that on my arm?”

“No.”

“He made me see...something. He’ll probably make me see more stuff. I’ll try to ignore it, but I may not be much use on the way out.”

She nodded again, silent and steady and reminding him strongly of Aya.

“All right," Yohji said. "Check the hallway and let’s go.”

They went. Yohji was barely aware of the hallway. There were snakes and spiders on him, rats around his feet, red eyes in the dark. He kept a firm grip on Schuldig and tried to be grateful he had no serious phobias. After a while, there were naked girls, and then naked guys. There was no Asuka though, which he took to mean Schuldig didn’t have any problem with him personally at the moment, or possibly that Schuldig wasn’t even aware who he was.

He dumped Schuldig in the back of the car and sat down hard on the pavement, rubbing at his arms. He could still feel rat feet on his skin.

“Are you okay?” Ran said.

“I’m fine.” He’d have to be. She couldn’t drive.

“Where are we going?”

“You’re going home. I’ll take him--somewhere.”

“I want to come!”

“Get in the car.”

“But--”

He hauled her round to the passenger’s side and stuffed her in.

On the road, with Schuldig giggling now and then in the backseat, he felt a bit calmer.

“Your brother can’t know. You realize that, right?”

“Of course.”

“And he’ll want to know where you are. In theory, you’re still recuperating. I can get away with vanishing for hours at a time. You can’t.”

She slumped down in the seat, jaw set, but she didn’t argue.

After he dropped her off, he took Schuldig to a cheap hotel. Yohji sat in a chair at the end of the bed and drank thin, acidic coffee. Schuldig slept the whole night through.

Chapter Text

Theme: 7. The Wardrobe, or, “I Feel Pretty!”

 

Schuldig didn’t wake up.

Yohji wasn’t surprised. The doctors had really pumped the drugs into him, and he didn’t look great even apart from that.

He was too thin, and the shadows under his eyes were were dark and sunken. He had bedsores on his back. It hard to even blame the interns for that if they’d had bugs crawling all over them every time they touched him. They must’ve thought they were going mad as well.

Yohji paced the hotel room, four steps from wall to wall. It was grey from ceiling to floor and offered no distraction from his problem.

Schuldig needed to be in a hospital. Schuldig couldn’t be in a hospital. Yohji had just seen how that would end.

Yohji was spoon feeding him water, but he choked as often as he swallowed. He needed an IV.

Omi knew how to insert an IV. They could all manage stitches and basic first aid, but Omi knew a lot more than that. He could insert a catheter too, something Yohji was glad he had no personal knowledge of.

Omi also had maybe the best reason of any of them to hate Schuldig. Aya’s sister was still alive. Ouka was not.

Yohji weighed other options in his head, but most of them ended with Schuldig dead or back in the nuthouse. And Omi wasn’t as homicidal as Aya. Usually. He dialed.

Ran answered. “What’s up?” she said. “Is he, uh, you know, okay?”

“Is Omi there?”

“No, he’s with his grandfather or something. You didn’t answer my question.”

Yohji frowned. “Omi has a grandfather?”

“I guess? Look, is he okay or not?”

Yohji hesitated, but she’d done well so far, covering for him and keeping this from Aya. “No, he’s not. He’s still unconscious. I need to talk to Omi about him. Do you know when he’s getting back?”

“Today, supposedly. He’s been gone since the night we, you know. Did that thing.”

“Is Aya standing right there listening to you?”

“Little bit.”

“Then stop saying shit he’s guaranteed to ask you about. Also, ‘did that thing’ sounds like you mean sex, and he will kill me if he thinks we f-- made love.”

“You’re ridiculous, and he wouldn’t-- Oh! Omi’s back. You want to talk to him?”

“Yeah.”

In the end, Yohji just asked Omi to come over rather than trying to explain. Yohji met him in the hall outside the room and almost didn’t recognize him.

The black turtleneck was a serious improvement, so Yohji didn’t mention it. But the hair he had to comment on. “Are you dying your hair now? Did you really go to your grandfather’s house and dye your hair? What’s next, a perm?”

“It’s only a little darker!” Omi flushed. “I thought it would make me look more serious. I-- I’m taking over Kritiker.” He glanced up and down the hall. “Can’t we go in?”

“You’re--” Yohji shook his head. “Not until you explain that. What?”

“My grandfather--”

“Who no one knew you had.”

“I didn’t either! It’s not as if I was keeping it a secret! Anyway, my grandfather sort of started Kritiker. It’s the family business, I guess. That and murder and dirty politics. So now it’s my turn.”

“So...we all work for you now?”

“Sort of. In a way?” Omi looked down at his shoes, which were also new. “Aya’s going to hate me, isn’t he?”

“Dunno. Are you going to make his little sister an agent?”

“It’s what she wants. And she did do well when you and she broke Schuldig out of that mental hospital.”

Yohji gaped.

Omi gave him a wan smile. “I know a lot of things now. I know you went to Europe with Schwarz while we were separated. It’s all right, Yohji. I’m not angry.”

Yohji leaned back against the wall, suddenly in need of support. He couldn’t think of a thing to say to that. He took a shaky breath and cleared his throat.

“So, you might be willing to stick an IV in him?”

“We’ll take him to the Magic Bus Hospital. I promise you, he won’t be drugged or locked up again.”

“Omi--”

“I think. Uh. I think Mamoru would be better." He pulled at the neck of his shirt. "I have to get used to it.”

Later, sitting at Schuldig’s bedside in the hospital, Yohji slept for the first time in three days. For the first time in almost a year, he had no nightmares.

***

Weiss (plus Ran) had their team meeting in the hospital waiting room, and maybe that was why it went so well. They were all too familiar with that room, with the feeling of sitting there, staring out dark windows, and knowing they might be a team member short by morning.

“I’ve recruited Nagi Naoe,” Omi said.

Aya jerked his head up from his contemplation of the empty coffee cup he held. He’d taken the news about Schuldig almost frighteningly well, perhaps because he didn’t know the whole story yet. This looked more like the reaction Yohji had expected.

“Recruited,” he said, softly.

“He came to me,” Omi said. “And offered his services. You saw what he did at the temple. How stupid would I have to be to turn that down?”

“How stupid would you have to be to take him up on it?” Aya said. “They killed your-- They killed Ouka. They kidnapped my sister. They worked for Takatori.” He was still using his reasonable voice. Yohji wondered when they’d get to the yelling.

Omi drew himself up. “Ran is safe. Nothing will change Ouka’s death. I believe Naoe’s offer was made in good faith. This is the way it’s going to be, Aya.”

His tone said: Deal with it or get out. Aya stood and walked away.

Yohji waited for someone to go after him, but no one did, not even Ran. Ken sat with his eyes on the floor as he had since he arrived. Ran’s jaw was clenched so tight Yohji could hear her teeth grinding. Omi just looked sad.

Yohji swore. He caught Aya up around the corner and stood between him and door.

“You know this is wrong,” Aya said. His hands pushed deep into his pockets. The overgrown fringe of his hair hid his eyes.

“I don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong. I haven’t for a long time.”

“Just because you’re fucking him?”

“No. It wasn’t that. It was the first guy I strangled.” Yohji sighed as his brain rolled out the memory of pop-eyes and lolling tongue yet again. “He was a bad dude, sure. Was it wrong to kill him? Yeah, probably. Does it make it less wrong because he couldn’t hurt people anymore? I don’t know.”

Aya frowned at him, raising his head so his eyes showed, clear and full of confusion. “It was necessary. What we did was necessary. Can you imagine how many people would be dead now if not for us?”

“What I can’t imagine is how I came to be fucking the guy who murdered Omi’s--” He was still unclear on that relationship. “Ouka. And kidnapped Ran. And why are you not punching me right now?”

“I thought it would end when I got her back. But it’s not going to, is it? We’re too far gone.”

Footsteps echoed up and down the hall. Yohji leaned back against the wall and felt the warm plastic through his clothes. Aya was staring at him intently.

“Yeah,” Yohji said. “Maybe it’s not too late for you, I don’t know. But for the rest of us, yeah. For sure. It’s been too late for a while.”

“Even Ken?”

“Aya. Ken’s the guy who deliberately picked a weapon that gets his victim’s blood all over him. I’m pretty sure it was too late for Ken before he joined Weiss.” Yohji chewed his lips a second, debating. But why not? “Omi--Mamoru, sorry. Wants Ken to see a shrink. All of us, actually.”

Aya snorted. “Is he including himself in that?”

“Yeah, he is.”

Aya stuck his hands in his pockets and looked away. “This isn’t the life I wanted, Yohji.”

“Well, of course it’s fucking not. Who the hell grows up saying, 'Daddy, I wanna be an assassin when I grow up'?”

Yohji could see the curve of Aya smile from behind his hair, the slight hitch of his shoulders that might indicate laughter.

Aya was quiet a long time after that, smile slowly fading. People hurried around them, the scent of antiseptics and latex stretching out behind them like contrails.

“Are you in love with him?” Aya said.

Yohji flinched. Usually he could count on Aya not to ask any personal questions at all, but when he did, they were always the hard ones.

“No. I don’t know. Does it matter?”

Aya looked up at him. His smile was back, and he looked like he’d come to some decision. “No,” he said. “I guess it doesn’t.”

He gripped Yohji’s shoulder, squeezed hard, and then pulled him into an equally hard hug. There was a lot of strength in Aya’s skinny little arms. Yohji felt vaguely bruised afterward as he watched Aya walk away.

Yohji went back to the others. Mamoru stopped chewing his thumbnail and looked up. “Is he coming back?”

“Yeah.”

“When? Did he say?”

“No. But he’ll be back.”

Ken looked up, knees jiggling. “In time for the party?” he said.

Mamoru smacked his knee. “Ken!”

Yohji looked between them. Tomorrow was his birthday. He’d forgotten. “Sorry?” he said. “In time for what? I didn’t hear you.”

“Nothing!” Ken said. “Nothing. Never mind.”

Mamoru clearly knew Yohji was faking. Maybe Ken did too. They moved the conversation onto other things.

***

Schuldig woke up just after midnight on Yohji’s birthday. The on duty nurse called Yohji’s cell phone. Schuldig had made it out of bed, gotten a gun off one of the guards, and was barricaded in a supply closet on the fourth floor. Yohji rolled his eyes and ran three traffic lights getting there.

He knocked on the closet door, standing well to one side. Schuldig shot through the door at crotch height.

“Nasty,” Yohji said. “You’re wasting ammo though. You’ll never shoot your way out of here.”

There was a long silence, during which Yohji took the coffee someone offered him and slid down to sit on the floor. He was aware of Schuldig rifling through his brain. It was almost comforting. Yohji wondered what Mamoru’s shrink would make of that.

Nagi’s working for that little blond twerp? Schuldig thought at him.

“We are all working for that little blond twerp.”

The door cracked open. “Don’t include me in that,” Schuldig said.

“No one’s gonna make you kill anyone.” Yohji smirked. “We don’t need your fucking help, okay?”

“Asshole.”

Yohji felt knots dissolving inside that he hadn’t even been aware of. “Takes one to know one.”

“I’m not staying in the hospital.”

He said it with a lot of determination for someone who had been in a coma a few hours ago. Yohji remembered something he’d said during Yohji’s brush with designer drugs about his previous experience with hospitals. It made him fold without argument.

“Yeah, okay,” he said. “You can come to my surprise party then.”

“What?”

“It’s my birthday. Ken sucks at keeping secrets.”

“Happy fucking birthday,” Schuldig said, and passed out.

Yohji carried him out to the car over the doctors’ protests. They slept in Yohji’s bed. Schuldig had just enough consciousness to plaster himself against Yohji’s back like a heat seeking missile, freezing cold hands on Yohji’s stomach.

When he woke, the shower was running, Schuldig was gone, and Ran was sitting cross-legged at the foot of his bed.

“This is fucked up,” she said.

"Yeah." Aya was going to kill him when he got back for teaching her bad words.

“Omi made you a cake.”

“He wants to be called Mamoru now.”

She rolled her eyes, hard. “Whatever. He can keep on wanting. He can’t boss me around.”

“He’s kind of our boss now.”

“He has an apron with kittens on it.”

“I see your point.”

Ran clicked one fingernail against her teeth. “He’s in there?” She nodded to the bathroom.

“I assume.”

Schuldig came out just then, wrapped in a towel, wet hair streaming down his back. He and Ran froze in the same instant. They looked at each other, and then they both looked at Yohji.

“She says she doesn’t hate you,” Yohji offered.

“You talked to me,” Ran said, very softly. She stayed where she was, though her hands were clenched tight in the fabric of her jeans and her face was pale.

Schuldig was quiet, one hand clutching at his towel. He looked a bit pale as well, and thoughtful, like he was trying to remember something. “Sorry we...tried to put a demon in you?” he said, slowly.

“Why did you?” Ran said. Her voice was even softer, almost a whisper.

“Dunno. You’d have to ask Crawford.”

Ran’s jaw set in a very Aya-like line. “I will,” she said. She slid off the bed and backed toward the door, keeping Schuldig in sight the whole time. “I’m going to make tea. Don’t come out, the decorations aren’t all up yet.”

Schuldig sat down hard on the bed. “And you think my friends are weird.”

“You did that whole thing with the big stone and the demon and whatever and you didn’t even know why? I didn’t think you trusted anyone that much.”

Schuldig looked at him like he was the crazy one. “It’s not trust. It’s just Crawford.”

“Sounds like trust.”

“You just don’t know him. Things happen like he says. He knows what he’s doing. That’s all.”

“It didn’t seem to work out so well this time.”

“He doesn’t make mistakes. This is the way he meant it to go all along.”

“Kind of a crappy plan.”

Schuldig shrugged. “Whatever didn’t happen must’ve been worse.”

Put that way, it didn’t sound like trust. It sounded like faith.

Schuldig shot him an irritated glance. “Stop picturing him with robes and a beard, it’s ridiculous.”

“Yeah. Doesn’t go with the glasses and the smirk.”

“We’re all alive,” Schuldig said. “We’re all sane. Except Farf, obviously. Those old fuckers are dead. Hopefully everyone thinks we’re dead. It could be a lot worse.”

“I guess.”

Schuldig got dressed. After a few minutes, Ken came in to get them. Everyone shouted surprise, even Schuldig. They ate cake for breakfast.

***

One month later, Yohji and Ran were fully recovered. Schuldig had put on weight and grown his hair out. He had some muscle tone again and when he punched Yohji’s arm for saying stupid shit, it actually hurt. Yohji said stupid shit more than he needed to, even though he knew Schuldig would know why he was doing it.

The year was swinging toward summer. Flowers bloomed outside. Schuldig’s allergies were cresting on a tide of used tissues, and he and Ken argued over the paper every single morning.

Ran worked out with terrifying single-mindedness until she she could run three miles and do fifty push-ups without stopping. Yohji gave her self defense lessons in the back yard for hours every day.

They had nothing else to do. Mamoru had disappeared into his new life, said he’d call when he needed them. Yohji was beginning to think he’d never intended to call.

They were outside when the car pulled up, him and Ran, brandishing sticks at each other, somewhere between play and training. Schuldig lay on the grass, dozy and full of Benadryl. Ken was bouncing a soccer ball off his head, counting the number of bounces aloud.

The car was sleek and black, with dark windows. Yohji already knew who was in it by the way Schuldig was grinning. Crawford got out and stepped onto the little patch of lawn in front of their house.

“Yo, Brad,” Schuldig said. He didn’t get up, didn’t even sit up.

Crawford walked over and nudged Schuldig with the toe of his shoe. “Lazy as ever.”

“Duh.”

Crawford turned to face the rest of them, and Yohji guessed no one else noticed the continued contact, Crawford’s foot along Schuldig’s ribs, Schuldig’s fingers touching Crawford’s ankle.

Ran held her stick like it was a sword, and like she knew how to use it. “Why did you do it?” she said.

Yohji assumed, from previous experience with Crawford, that he would brush her off. Instead, he was quiet a moment, looking not quite at her and not quite past her.

“Think of the future as a series of paths,” he said. “I took the turnings that were least likely to get us all killed.”

“Us?”

“Schwarz, obviously. Your survival didn’t factor into my calculations.”

“So raising a demon was more likely to keep you alive?”

“Oh, there was never any chance that would work. The ceremony was fundamentally flawed.”

“Then why did you do it!” Ran threw her stick down. “Why! Why involve me and my family at all? Why kill my parents? Why kidnap me? Why do any of it if you knew it wouldn’t work?”

Crawford raised his eyebrows. “Takatori killed your parents. From the moment it was discovered that you’d stopped aging in your coma, it was inevitable that the elders would attempt the ceremony. But they were weak. Their combined power wouldn’t even tempt the thing.”

“So you did it.”

“Yes.”

“Even though you knew it wouldn’t work.”

“Yes. It woke you up, didn’t it?”

Everyone except Schuldig gaped at Crawford. Schuldig only smiled.

“They will be hunting for us,” Crawford said. “If not now, then soon. We need Kritiker’s protection, at least for the moment. One favor for another. You see?”

“I was planning to kill you,” Ran said.

“I know. You had a sixty percent chance of success. It would’ve been poison in my wine, ten years from now.”

“Hey, I thought you weren’t mad at us,” Schuldig said.

“Not for what you did to me,” Ran said. “For what you did to my brother.” She glanced at Schuldig. “And I’m not really mad at you. That’s like getting at mad winter for being cold.”

A spate of nervous, awkward laughter ran around their little group like a virus. Even Crawford smirked.

He said, “Mamoru wants to see all of us tomorrow morning. Nagi and Farfarello will be there as well,” he added to Schuldig. “I’ll be here at nine to pick you up.”

He went back to the car, tossed a duffle bag at Schuldig, and drove off.

“What’s that?” Yohji said.

Schuldig unzipped it halfway and tipped to show the white dress clothes Yohji remembered from their arrival at Rosenkreuz. Yohji nodded, an uneasy feeling settling in his stomach.

It only grew as he helped Ken make dinner. Ken poured over the reciped he'd printed off the internet and sliced the sheets of pasta into skinny noodles.

“What do you think of it?” Yohji said.

“I think they’re not quite even.”

“Not the noodles.”

In the pause that followed, they could hear the sound of Schuldig and Ran arguing over the remote in the next room.

“I think it’s life,” Ken said. “I think it’s better than the alternative. Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Yohji sliced thin carrot rounds and tried not to think about those uniforms--Schwarz closing ranks, Weiss firmly on the outside. He didn’t know why the thought bothered him so much. They might be working together, but Crawford and Mamoru obviously didn’t consider it a permanent thing.

How could it be, when Schwarz were who they were? It put them and Kritiker on opposite sides of the game. Except, for the moment, it didn’t. Were Schwarz actually evil or were they just paid to be? Would Schuldig have done the things he’d done if it wasn’t for Eszett? Did it matter, since he had done them?

Yohji shook his head and blanched the carrot rounds in batches, plunging them into ice water after. It didn’t matter.

***

After a month of sharing a bathroom, Yohji and Schuldig had perfected the art of brushing their teeth at the same time without spitting on each other.

“What are you going to do after Kritiker?” Yohji said.

Schuldig shrugged, mouth full of toothpaste foam. He spat and rinsed. “Whatever. Crawford will work it out.”

“Are you going back to Europe?”

“I don’t know. How should I know?”

Their eyes met in the mirror, and Yohji could see Schuldig come to some realization about a second before he came to the same one.

“You don’t want me to leave,” Schuldig said.

“Do what you fucking want,” Yohji told him. He would’ve left, then, but stalking out carrying a foam-laden toothbrush did not make for a dramatic statement. He rinsed it and put it back in the holder, and by then the momentum was gone.

They got into bed, uneasy as they hadn’t been this past month. Schuldig flung the covers back again and got up.

“There’s something you should see,” he said. He tossed the duffle bag Crawford had given him on the bed.

“What?”

“Just look.”

Yohji pulled out the uniform--and saw there was another underneath. And another underneath that. One was in his size. The other was much smaller.

He looked up at Schuldig, who was standing by the bed with his arms crossed over his chest and a distant look in his eyes.

“Me and Ran,” Yohji said.

“Yeah.”

“He didn’t ask us.”

“Crawford doesn’t really ask people things.”

“I can’t--do the stuff you did.” Yohji touched the fabric. It was cool and very smooth.

“People can change.”

“Not that much.”

“I didn’t mean you," Schuldig said.

“Oh.”

Schuldig got into bed beside him, and they leaned together until their shoulders touched, until they were propping each other up.

***

Yohji wore his uniform the next day. Ran did not. She looked it over and shook her head. “Maybe later,” she said.

Some odd twist of fate and laundry meant she and Ken wore mostly black.

Mamoru was wearing his now-customary black turtleneck when he greeted them at his grandfather’s estate. Farfarello was there, in white. Aya and Nagi came out of the house together. Nagi wore white. Aya wore his old orange sweater.

They sat down together in the gardens, on green grass as soft as pillows.

“Grass stains,” Yohji murmured to Schuldig, on his right.

“Yeah. Crawford’s gonna flip his shit.”

On Yohji’s left, Aya coughed and covered his mouth, eyes creased with amusement.

Crawford and Mamoru got down to business. Yohji leaned back on his hands and smiled up at the deep blue sky. Things could, in fact, be a hell of a lot worse.