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Nothing Ever Ends

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“Look away, Nagi,” Brad instructed, just before firing two shots under the chin of a man he had pinned to the wall. He let the body drop, and hoped his young companion wasn't internalizing the more disturbing sensory information he'd been exposed to so far that evening. Nagi was only eight years old. Brad had been hoping not to traumatize him too badly; if his evaluations came back badly at such a young age, Eszett would just as soon neutralize him than risk him growing to become a threat, and Brad had plans for the child.

When he turned to face Nagi the boy was holding his hands over his eyes, lips thin with a sort of determined sense of duty Farfarello and Schuldig had never managed. Then again, Brad wouldn’t have had to drag the eight year old out into a botched mission if Farfarello and Schuldig could follow orders.

Brad checked one more time that the room was secure before telling Nagi to open his eyes. He resisted the urge to holster his gun; the adrenaline rushes associated with battle were bad for calling visions and tactile sensations sometimes made concentration tricky, however he wasn’t foolhardy enough to stand exposed and weaponless in an enemy’s base. Holstered was as good as unarmed when dealing with psychics.

He got the information he needed, took Nagi’s hand with his right as his left held the gun, and continued through the building, firing clean shots from a safe distance well before his victims even registered his presence. Despite his best attempts to remain stoic, Nagi was whimpering by the time they got to the basement.

The room was poorly lit, being underground and with only a few stray hanging light bulbs jutting out from the ceiling. Dust and cobwebs abounded in the musty smelling room, along with stains on the concrete Brad decided he'd rather not think about. He could hear grunts and taunts nearby, and a sharp whining that sounded like Schuldig. He must have been gagged; the noise was muffled and he wasn’t screaming curses. On the rare occasions Schuldig was cornered and made to suffer, he tended to make a lot of noise.

Brad approached the end of the room and had a quick firefight with the three men who were abusing his teammates. Schuldig and Farfarello had been bound and gagged with duct tape that was now stained red. One of the men was holding a pair of pliers with a disturbing amount of blood and gore at the end of it. Brad shot him first, absolutely enraged that the mission had deteriorated to the point where some squatting mercenary had gotten to torture members of Schwarz. They were usually so much better than this.

The other two pulled their handguns while Brad shot down their colleague, though it didn’t do them much good. Nagi’s training was still in progress, but one of his first lessons had been telekinetically stopping bullets.

The men gaped at their floating bullets and Brad got to fully appreciate the fearful knowledge in their eyes as they blatantly appreciated just how fucked they were. He kept their kills neat and quick, conscious of Nagi’s presence. He did wish he could drag it out though, just a little.

First he freed Farfarello, who was in much better condition than Schuldig. He didn’t need his psychic abilities to understand why; simple knowledge of what the types of people who got on the wrong side of Eszett were liked combined with Schuldig’s general personality and way with words explained that. The men were blatantly sadists based on the other implements of torture scattered on the floor and someone like Farfarello, who couldn’t feel pain and wouldn’t know what sort of noises to make if he cared to fake the knowledge wouldn’t have interested them at all with someone like Schuldig to play with.

“Can you walk?”

“Of course I can…wait, I’m-a bit…bit dizzy I think,” Farfarello muttered, voice more gravelly than usual. “Just gimme a second, all right?”

“Of course. As soon as you’re feeling up to it take Nagi and wait in the car. Keep the doors locked until you see me.” He placed his gun on Farfarello’s lap and turned his attention to Schuldig.

It was possible he was squinting from pain and it was equally possible the teen’s eyelids had been glued shut by congealed blood. Too much blood, Brad thought, taking in the various cuts and bruises marring Schuldig’s normally attractive face. The pliers had been used on his nose; he wouldn’t be chasing off admirers until long after that injury healed. He’d also been hit in the head, or more likely had his head smashed against the concrete floor. Crimson had seeped into his hair in more than one place, gumming several of the pale green strands together.

Brad gently removed the duct tape, which peeled off easily due to the sweat and blood it was saturated with.

“C’mon Nags, let’s get moving,” Farfarello said. He took Nagi’s hand in his and headed for the stairs, minutely slowed by an unsettling limp.

“Schuldig, can you tell me how bad your injuries are?”

Schuldig groaned in response, which quickly turned into a sob. He was trembling. Brad touched his cheek, which was clammy but thankfully not feverish. He still hadn’t opened his eyes, leading Brad to believe he'd been right about them being stuck shut.

“Schu?” He wiped at Schuldig’s eyes with his shirt sleeve.

“My head hurts…” he moaned.

“Open your eyes. I need to see your pupils.”

Brad wrapped an arm around Schuldig’s back and tilted his face with the other until he could see his eyes, which fluttered open amidst some squirming and squinting. Brad let out a relieved breath. “I don’t think you have a concussion, which is a damn miracle considering the gashes on your head.”

I think I look worse than I am. Just get me home, Brad. I’m not dying, Schuldig thought at him. He closed his eyes and leaned against Brad’s chest, nuzzling like a sleepy cat. Brad dropped him.

“Fuck! What the hell?”

“Clearly it does look worse than it actually is. I’m not rewarding you for disobeying orders by carrying you to the car if you can walk,” Brad snapped.

I dropped my guard for like a minute, okay? I’m fucking sorry, Schuldig said, not sounding sorry in the least. He pushed his palms flat on the ground and tried to push himself up, but his shaky arms weren’t having it and he pitched forward back onto the floor. I think I do need help.

“Fine.” Brad lifted Schuldig up and headed towards the car, not liking the situation at all because with his hands full of injured telepath he’d have a much harder time fighting off unexpected company on the off chance his vision hadn’t been as thorough as he’d thought. He didn’t like the vulnerability that came with the predicament.

Schuldig, for his part. didn’t seem to care. He’d always trusted Brad to take care of him, and it showed whenever a situation like this came up. As soon as Brad showed up to bail him out he’d drop his guard and lick his wounds. He was leaning into Brad’s hold on him again, breathing heavily through his nose and seeming to take a lot of comfort from the contact, something else Brad didn’t like about the situation.

He helped Schuldig into the passenger seat, checked that Farfarello was still okay, and drove his team back to their quarters.


For the next two days Schuldig kept to the couch in the section of their main room they’d designated a sort of living area. He’d been supplied with a pillow and blanket, and Nagi was acting as remote control for their small and television set while he recuperated. This was saying a lot about Nagi’s respect for Schuldig’s injuries, because he hated the teenager and normally wouldn’t use his telekinesis to aid Schuldig unless he had to for work.

Farfarello had needed a few stitches and promptly accidentally tore them out, being unable to feel the extent of his injuries. Brad had threatened not to sew him up if he did it a second time. He’d broken a few toes in his right foot, the source of the limp, and had had those set and was now wearing a Velcro boot to keep him from further damaging the injury.

The clean up Brad had done had marked the mission as a success, and in the report he’d filed to Eszett he’d fudged a few details, something he could get away with as their next assignment wouldn’t arrive until well after Schuldig and Farfarello recovered. Of course his precognition could have been wrong, but so far it had rarely failed him and he was willing to gamble this time. Explaining that Schwarz had screwed up enough to have gotten injured seriously enough to need recovery time would end in a review, and reviews were to be avoided whenever possible for a team planning to stage a mutiny sometime in the next five to ten years.

Brad had set up in the smaller side room with a stack of files, researching for the next job he foresaw them being assigned while everything in the little house was relatively quiet. Nagi and Farfarello were in the yard doing exercises for Nagi’s telekinesis and Schuldig was taking a nap. He knew starting the research over two months in advance was a little impractical but he also didn’t want this upcoming mission to end like the most recent one. So far he’d been cold and angry to his teammates and kept his time filled with monotonous busy work, and it had kept him plenty distracted from brooding over how close Schuldig and Farfarello had come to death.

Well no, that wasn’t quite right. He’d gotten psychic notification of the screw up with time to spare as far as showing up and bailing them out went. But they’d gotten hurt, especially Schuldig, and he felt responsible.

“Brad? Can I talk to you about something?”

“I thought you were sleeping.” Brad looked up from the file he wasn’t really reading and frowned at his teammate.

Schuldig stood in the doorway of the little room, which really wasn’t anything bigger than a walk in closet. There were no windows, so the only light came from a small ceiling fixture that had a tendency to flicker. The room acted as bedroom for Schuldig and Farfarello at night, and was only furnished with a mattress and a few blankets and pillows. Brad was sitting propped against the wall with his long legs stretched out in front of him, orderly stacks of papers spread out on the mattress in easy reach.

“Eh, I’m not tired.” Schuldig sat down on the end of the mattress with his knees tucked under him, blue eyes trained on Brad. He looked a little nervous and that’s when Brad remembered a vision he’d had about a year ago that he was hoping wouldn’t ever play out.

‘Oh shit,' he thought as he remembered seeing the bandage over Schuldig’s nose that just managed to cover his fading freckles, the splint on his right ring and middle finger and that particular ratty grey t-shirt with the donut print pajama pants. He knew what was coming and he didn’t think he’d be any better at handling it now than he’d been in the vision, despite having over a year to come up with something better to say.

“So…can we talk?”

“I’m a little busy,” Brad muttered, glad Schuldig had given him the opportunity for a stall. Of course he wouldn’t be able to put this conversation off forever. He’d been half-expecting it since around the time Schuldig had turned fourteen.

Schuldig glanced at the files with a certain amount of skepticism. “We’re making a hit at the cultural festival? That’s not for two months. Geeze Brad, Farf and Nagi are busy and we never get the chance to hang out just the two of us anymore. If you don’t want to talk to me then just fucking say it.” He scowled, whiny and petulant as ever.

“Obviously we need more preparation before our missions based on that last one, and excuse me if I don’t find you to be an authority on mission prep.”

“Classy. You’re not going to let me live this down even though I was molested with pliers, are you? I learned my lesson!”

“Molested?” Brad repeated, horrified and likely showing it based on Schuldig’s expression.

“Well it was an unwanted touch. D’ya think what he did to my nose is permanent?” Schuldig lightly patted at the bandage over his nose, looking worried.

“Even if it is Eszett understands the value your looks have for undercover missions. I think they’d cough up the money for surgery rather than letting you have a deformity.”

“Oh joy of joy, more undercover perv jobs,” Schuldig said, venom in his tone. “My favorite kind.”

“Well we can’t send Farfarello. And it’s been almost six months since we've had to place you in that kind of scenario,” Brad pointed out.

“So when do the perv jobs stop?” Schuldig asked, flopping onto his stomach and playing with his hair. “I mean, eventually they’ll switch off to Nagi, won’t they?”

“Nagi’s training to be a hacker. He’s going to be intelligence.”

“Damn. And you’re strategy and Farf’s ugly, so I always have to be the booty? That just sucks.”

“Well the drag missions have been dramatically decreased since we got out of training,” Brad pointed out, then wished he hadn’t. Avery Grant, the senior telepath that had trained Schuldig, had abused him pretty badly, and particularly enjoyed putting the pretty child telepath in dresses. It was a conversation topic they tried to avoid.

Abuses of all kind were pretty rampant at Rosenkreuz , an unfortunate byproduct of stripping people of all freedom and personal dignity and then giving them power and resentment over each other. Sexual abuse in particular was apparently particularly bad in the telepaths barracks, where control games were encouraged. Brad hadn’t found this out until well after completing Rosenkreuz training. He’d never run up against anything in the precogs’ barracks, but he was also a good foot taller than most of the kids he’d dormed with and typically top of his class in hand to hand, only ever having been beaten by Sylvia Lin. Schuldig was possibly the most powerful telepath on record, lippy, and sucked at physical fights. Brad had been left with the impression that his mentor probably hadn’t been the first person to hurt Schuldig.

“I guess you’ve been doing a good job so far,” Schuldig said. His eyes were focused on Brad again, who looked away under the scrutiny. “I mean last night was a rarity. Getting my ass handed to me was constant with Grant and Miss Blanca.”

“I appreciate your confidence,” Brad answered dryly. He shuffled some papers, hoping Schuldig would get the message and let him get back to work.

“Brad there’s something I really need to talk to you about…I’ve been working out how I want to say this for, like-“

“A year and a half?”

“So you know?” Schuldig sat upright suddenly, an anxious look on his face “You Saw this already?”

“Yes…” Brad looked up and caught how hopeful Schuldig’s expression was, and resolved himself to keep his eyes on his papers until this damn conversation was over with.

“And? You know how I feel…what about you?” Schuldig leaned forward and knocked the papers back with his hand.

“I, well…we’re not on the same page.” Brad finally set the papers aside, deciding Schuldig deserved eye contact with his rejection, though he still periodically darted his eyes away to his fidgeting hands. Damn, but this was uncomfortable.

“Just to be sure, we are talking about the same thing, right?” Now he was grasping at straws. “I mean, if you’re not really talking about…you don’t have feelings for me? At all?” His voice had gotten very quiet.

“You’re my friend and my teammate, nothing more. And you won’t be. I’m sorry, Schuldig, but I’m not interested in teenage boys. I thought you liked girls.” Brad remembered him having quite the crush on Sylvia Lin, a talented telekinetic that Rosenkreuz had wanted placed on their team. Brad had had to show Schuldig a few of the visions he'd Seen of Sylvia betraying them to the Eszett Elders before Schuldig had finally accepted Nagi's place in Schwarz.

“I’m not picky about that shit. I know how I feel with you and I like it. You’re safe and, and I really don’t know how to describe the rest of it but it’s there. And I thought you felt something too,” he insisted.

“I feel affection for you, Schuldig. It’s strong, friendly affection. You’re my closest friend and I doubt I’ll ever have a bond as strong with anyone else. But it’s not the same thing as what you’re looking for. I really am sorry.”

Actually that did sound a lot better than what he’d said in the vision, but the result was still the same. Schuldig immediately averted his eyes and started finding excuses to wipe at his face, scratching above his eyebrow, patting his bandage and the such.

“Oh, but, like, are you sure? I mean how do you know you don’t like teenage boys? Have you ever thought about it before?”

“I’ve had enough time to think it over since Seeing this conversation, Schuldig. I’m straight and I prefer dating within my own age range. And even if you were older and female I’d think it was a bad idea.” A romance on the team would paralyze them, especially if it involved the leader and strategist.

Schuldig wiped at his eyes again. He started to speak then stopped when his voice cracked. His face was flushed and based on the fidgeting he was doing he likely wanted to lash out. Rejection counted as humiliation and Schuldig had never handled that very well.

“Schu? Are you okay?”

“Why would I fucking be okay?” Schuldig lurched backwards to avoid the hand Brad had been extending to touch his arm in an attempt at consolation. “Seriously, have you ever done this before? I’m trying to say I luh-that I like you and you fucking nothing me, how is that okay?”

“I don’t nothing you, Schuldig, I do care about what happens to you,” Brad corrected.

“Right, because you need me to take down the Elders, I know-“

“Not just that. We’ve been helping each other. You’re my friend. I care about you as my friend.”

“Friend. Fuck, I’m such an idiot. Farf was right. I was just thinking that maybe…I’m, shit. I’m done talking. I, I gotta go.” Schuldig hurriedly got to his feet.

“Wait, wait a minute.” Brad grabbed his arm and pulled him back down to sit on the mattress. The kid just looked so hurt and he had to do something to fix that if he could. He’d never meant to lead Schuldig on in the least, and to someone with normal socialization who could remember a life outside Rosenkreuz and Eszett their relationship really would have seemed like normal acts and gestures of friendship. But Brad was the only person who touched Schuldig without hurting him and he was the first person to talk to him about anything other than work. Farfarello was his friend as well, but that was an odd sort of relationship. Really, Brad couldn’t blame him for misinterpreting his few displays of kindness.

“Look, Schu, you’re going to have everything you wanted from me from someone else. I’ve Seen it and you are going to be so happy, I promise.”

“I don’t care. I want you to like me,” Schuldig said quietly. His expression was so raw.

“I know you do. I’m sorry. Do you want to See it?”

“What? Your vision of me?” Schuldig asked. His curiosity had blatantly been piqued but on principle he was probably going to resist a little longer. Mad about being rejected, he was going to be snippy for some time.

“Yeah.”

“I thought you couldn’t show me your visions.”

Brad nodded. “Normally I don’t because of caution. If you Saw it without the training and experience I’ve had you’d just change the future or fall into traps like self fulfilling prophecy. But I don’t mind showing you a snippet of something if it’ll make you feel better.”

“All right. Show me this weirdo who’s going to make me happy.”

Glad he’d been given the opportunity to distract his friend, Brad closed his eyes and recalled a carefully chosen vision while Schuldig established a firmer link with his mind until he could see the vision as well.

An adult Schuldig came into focus. He looked to be somewhere in his late twenties or early thirties. His hair was back to its natural color, and mostly pulled back from his face with a black elastic. His bangs and a few longer strands hadn’t caught in the tie, framing his face in a tousled early morning look. The freckles on his face had faded almost entirely; you would have to stand close to him to see them. He was wearing a faded t-shirt and boxer shorts, humming under his breath as he poked a spatula into a frying pan.

Schuldig cooking was something Brad had yet to see in life. He was lazy and never did anything resembling a chore without a battle, and so far no one on the team was sure he even knew how to cook, let alone if he was any good at it. Based on the vision he probably wasn’t; it looked like he was trying to make scrambled eggs but it was hard to tell based on the burned, sticky mess in the pan. He was failing, whatever it was he was trying to make.

A tall, lanky man entered the kitchen behind Schuldig, who was so focused on his horrible looking eggs he hadn’t noticed. The man was improbably gorgeous; heterosexual though he was Brad could tell that Schuldig’s future lover was an unusually attractive man, the type that should only exist in movies and not in real life in competition with normal people. His body was toned without being heavily muscled, skin golden hued in a perfect complement with his honey colored hair. He was wearing pajama pants that rode low on his hips and nothing else.

Brad hoped teenage-Schuldig noticed the smile that lit mystery man’s face as he watched the adult Schuldig fight with the eggs.

The man came up behind his lover and hugged him from behind, caressing his stomach and hips with long fingered hands. “Baby, you tried to cook for me?”

“What the fuck do you mean 'tried?' You’re eating this damn thing,” Schuldig grumbled.

The man looked at the frying pan, wrinkled his nose in distaste, and chuckled warmly. “Don’t make me distract you.” He kissed Schuldig’s neck, and he promptly dropped the spatula and leaned backwards, a blissful smile on his face.

“I tried…didn’t want to make you cook on your birthday.”

“I’d rather have had you stay in bed with me. But I appreciate the thought. Does that count as a pun?” He turned Schuldig in his arms so that they were facing each other. He began playing with the strands of hair that had escaped the elastic, stroking and caressing Schuldig’s face, which successfully distracted him from his cooking failure.

“I don’t think it’s exactly a pun. Sorry I suck at cooking.”

“I don’t care. I didn’t follow you to the other side of the world for food. Turn that off, throw it out and let’s head out for breakfast, okay? Crawford’s brother told me about a bagel place near here that’s supposed to be addictive.”

Schuldig reluctantly disentangled himself from his lover and turned off the burner. “Was it CJ or Darren?”

“Does it matter?”

“Yeah, I trust CJ. But Dar likes to fuck with people, and yes, even over food.” He began scraping the burned eggs onto a plate. The boyfriend quirked an eyebrow. “I think they’re too hot to go into the barrel. You’re off the hook; I won’t make you eat this gunge.”

Schuldig frowned, staring at the plate with an odd expression on his face, which his boyfriend correctly interpreted as self-disgust. Most people could cook scrambled eggs. The boyfriend pressed up against Schuldig again from behind, reached around him to grab a fork, and shoveled a bite of revolting looking eggs into his mouth.

“Yohji, what the hell are you doing?!” Schuldig exclaimed, watching the man’s face contort and even pale a little. He gulped the eggs down with a gagging noise and let out an exaggerated “yech!”

“Now you can never say I don’t love you. Babe, you have got to explain to me how you made the eggs slimy and crunchy at the same time.”

“Why don’t you find something to wash that taste out of your mouth first,” Schuldig suggested with a smirk.

“Yeah, good idea. Ick…” The boyfriend walked over to the fridge and took a swallow of juice from a carton. He’d just barely replaced it and shut the fridge door before Schuldig grabbed him for a passionate kiss. He threaded his hands through his boyfriend’s hair, using it to pull him close.

“Happy birthday, kätzchen,” Schuldig all but purred.

“Mmm…thank you. Much better than scrambled eggs.”

The vision faded and Brad opened his eyes, reorienting to the walk-in closet bedroom. Schuldig kept his eyes firmly shut, a sad smile on his face while the tears he’d been holding back flowed freely down his cheeks. Brad refrained from speaking. He’d give him as long as he needed to come back to reality. In the meantime he could always go back to those files…

Schuldig finally opened his eyes and self consciously rubbed at them. “Wow, that was, um…is that, like, likely to happen?”

“At this point it’s pretty likely. I’ve Seen a few visions with that man and you, er, involved. You suit each other pretty well but there’s always a good deal of drama following you. He’s going to become an enemy of Eszett’s and get involved in the game.”

“Well drama keeps things interesting,” Schuldig said. He smiled again, and chewed on his lip. “Thanks, Brad. I…I guess I really needed that.”

“You’re welcome. But this was an extenuating circumstance. I’m not going to make this a regular thing-”

“No, no I get it. I really want that one to happen. Did you notice how he came up behind me, twice?”

“Yes…” That had been the most striking thing about the vision. Schuldig involuntarily freaked out when taken by surprise from behind.

“I’m gonna really feel comfortable around him I guess,” Schuldig said, eyes distant.

“Are you lonely?”

“Not really…I just like the idea of someone liking me. You know, attention, but the good kind?”

“Right, understandable.” Having received love and affection before, Brad could live without it for the foreseeable future. In fact he planned on it. He didn’t want to open himself to those kinds of emotions until he was in control of his destiny again, which meant freedom from Eszett and Rosenkreuz. But he could also see how someone who’d never had love would be curious about it.

Schuldig’s inability to use the word love and tendency to replace it with weaker synonyms was going to be a problem. From what he’d Seen it was going to piss the boyfriend right the fuck off that Schuldig was going to be emotionally guarded. This Kudoh appeared to be very open and also very touchy-feely.

If he survived the first week of trying to date a temperamental child of Rosenkreuz though, he’d probably be fine.

Chapter Text

Five Years Later...

 

Oracle? I could use a little help if...shit.

Schuldig's vision whited out, and when he came back to himself his side was aching and uncomfortably damp. He squinted, trying to make sense of his surroundings. He attempted to push himself up onto his arms, but then his palms slid out from under him and he wound up flat against the uncomfortably damp ground again.

Oh. He'd fallen into a trash can and spilled its contents fucking everywhere. He'd have been angry about it, but his head was spinning and the pain and nausea were too distracting for something as inconsequential as stained work clothes to matter all that much.

As part of a poorly planned and absolutely hideous last minute mission for Rosenkreuz that had been sprung on Schwarz when they were already up to their eyeballs in Eszett bullshit, Schuldig had spent the last four hours chasing a particularly stubborn group of psychics who'd escaped from their captors. Said assholes were annoyingly resistant to the fact that they were slated for death and Schuldig was going to be the one to kill them. It didn't normally take him that long to clean up Rosenkreuz messes, but then, Schwarz was split up among a few different assignments and apparently he'd gotten used to having the whole team behind him. Perhaps he'd gotten a bit lazy.

Okay, he'd definitely gotten a bit lazy. Sure, some of the fuckers he'd killed had been remarkably talented for untrained psychics, but that still shouldn't have been more than a minor nuisance at most. Untrained psychics were unpredictable and tended to overdo it when attacking, but Schuldig had been neutralizing Rosenkreuz escapees since he was Nagi's age. He usually used their inexperience and bad judgment to his advantage. Two of the idiots had fried their own brains lashing out at Schuldig, as per his plan, but the last one had taken an annoyingly long time to kill and managed to get in some good shots. As a very well trained and powerful telepath, he'd managed to protect himself from the pests, but his shields had taken quite the beating. He could use back up.

Yeah, he'd definitely become a bit complacent when it came to solo work.

His attempt to contact his team leader telepathically left him clutching his skull and whimpering while crouching in the contents of the garbage can he'd knocked over, so it was safe to say back up wasn't coming. Telepathic communication was definitely out until he got his head in order. But he couldn't recuperate in a pile of garbage in some strange alleyway behind a fast food restaurant. He needed to get back to his team. He was too vulnerable, out in the open with damaged shields.

Then Brad's voice sounded in his head. The unfinished plea must have actually gotten through.

I'm busy trying to keep Eszett's latest pawn alive. This idiot's going to make us work for it, unfortunately. You're going to have to finish up your own mission tonight, Mastermind.

The nausea Schuldig had been feeling increased in intensity as the targeted thoughts crashed into his weakened and exposed mind. He waited it out, tried to form a reply, and then blacked out again.

When Schuldig came to, a strange man was feeling along his neck for a pulse. Schuldig stared blearily at the man, transfixed by his wavy blond hair and vibrantly green eyes. He felt sluggish and slow, but not in nearly as much pain as he should have been. With how damaged his shields were, he should have been in agony. The thoughts of Tokyo should have been pressing against him, but instead he felt a little dazed and pleasantly numb.

It took him a second to realize it was the stranger. There was this odd, unfamiliar warmth pulsing through his head, and the man's incredibly comfortable brain seemed to be the source. Most people pushed against Schuldig's mind, subconsciously rejecting the invasion of even unintentional telepathic probes. This guy wasn't pushing against him at all; Schuldig's damaged telepathy was resting in the steady thrum of the man's surface thoughts. He felt solid; safe. Schuldig had a head injury, for fuck's sake. He should have lost himself in the chatter of innumerable strange minds, something that had been a constant danger and annoyance since Schwarz had relocated to Tokyo.

Whoever this man was, Schuldig was determined to keep him until he felt better.

“Oh good. You're starting to come to. Hey, uh, do you speak Japanese?” the man asked. He helped Schuldig into a sitting position and kept an arm braced around his back. Schuldig picked up a few concerned thoughts from the guy; that Schuldig looked like a lost tourist, that if he didn't speak Japanese it was going to be harder to get him help, that he looked kind of hot but this was not the time to be noticing things like that…

Hm. Nice looking guy with a soothing thought structure that made Schuldig feel better when his telepathy was wrecked, and also gay. Hell, Schuldig might hold onto this one even after he felt better.

“Are you okay?” the man repeated. Inwardly, his thoughts were getting a bit panicky, which made them much less relaxing to listen in on. 'Shit, what if he doesn't speak Japanese. He looks like a tourist. Maybe I should call an ambulance or something.'

“No,” Schuldig spluttered out. The last thing he needed was to get carted off to a hospital. The doctors wouldn't be able to help him, but they might make some kind of problematic paper trail while trying to figure out what was wrong with him. Brad would definitely get pissy if he had to kill innocent medical professionals and destroy their records. “I just need to rest up. Um, m'fine, really.”

He squeezed his eyes shut in a grimace, and waited once more for the world to stop spinning. Damn. Even thinking was starting to hurt. He wanted to just lightly rest on the comfortable man's thoughts again. Summoning a last reserve of strength, Schuldig implanted a mental suggestion that the guy take him home and let him crash on his couch.

To his great surprise, the mental suggestion took. The effort of putting it there caused Schuldig to black out, but when he woke up he was in the stranger's house. The stranger had done him one better; Schuldig wasn't sprawled over a couch but in the man's bed.

Okay, actually that made him nervous. The man had removed Schuldig's headband and sunglasses and was leaning over him, carding his hands through Schuldig's hair. Schuldig darted away from him, breath speeding up as he started to panic. Thankfully, his mind was still pretty well connected to the pretty boy's from his earlier telepathic manipulation, and he caught a surface thought about checking the strange looking foreigner over for injuries.

It looked like he had a genuine good Samaritan on his hands. Schuldig honestly wasn't sure how to respond to that. He'd have been in familiar waters if the man had been trying to prey on him while he was incapacitated. Thanks to spending his formative years at Rosenkreuz, that was a situation he was plenty familiar with, and he knew exactly what to do in such an instance; you kicked the bastard's ass and took off. This was...different.

Besides, he most definitely felt like shit. He was not up to kicking any ass, and was therefore very much in favor of the earlier plan of hiding out with the man with the comfortable mind until he recovered.

“It's okay,” the stranger said. “I'm not trying to hurt you. I was just thinking that you might have hit your head or something. Are you okay? Maybe I should have driven you to the hospital. Why the hell didn't I drive you to the hospital? I swear that's what I was going to do.” The guy gave his head a little shake, and then the very pretty green eyes went vacant as Schuldig once again implanted mental suggestions.

Where he wasn't at his best, his touch wasn't as deft as he'd have liked. Instead of the sort of untraceable tampering that he usually went with, where the normals thought they'd come up with the thoughts on their own and never would have suspected interference, this was a straight up mind whammy. The stranger placed a pair of sweatpants and a baggy t-shirt at the end of the bed, then left the room to go sleep on his couch.

Schuldig remained prone on the bed, listening in on the man's surface thoughts while his head pulsed with pain. As soon as his host was asleep he got up, shrugged out of his work clothes and into the pilfered pajamas, and then dropped onto the man's bed to sleep off the worst of his injury.


Even when he stumbled in at odd hours of the morning, barely functional and in rough enough shape that he didn't always pry himself out of his clingy clubbing outfits, Yohji never slept on the couch in the living room. The couch was Omi sized. If he was careful about how he positioned himself, sometimes it was even Aya sized. It wasn't Ken sized, and it was most definitely not Yohji sized.

Accordingly, when Yohji woke up in the middle of the night with sharp pains in his neck and back, he was incredibly confused about finding himself sleeping on said couch. He was also fully clothed, which was not a usual bedtime habit. Not only that, but since the guys were out working that human chess case, the house was empty. Even if there had been something wrong with his bed, there were three other beds to choose from. Why the fuck had he sabotaged his spine by sleeping on the damn couch?

Then memories of the strange foreigner with the long orange hair and striking blue eyes came back to him. He remembered finding the man crawling around on all fours in an alleyway, suspecting that he needed medical help, and resolving to get him to a hospital. And then...not driving to the hospital?

Yohji tripped over his own feet shooting off the couch and running for the stairs. What had he been thinking, taking a stranger back to their house. The guys would kill him. Kritiker would kill him. Had he been thinking?

The door to his bedroom was open a crack. Yohji peered in. The stranger was still sleeping in his bed, now dressed in the pajamas Yohji had left out. The light from a nearby streetlamp shining through the bedroom window illuminated the man’s bright orange hair pretty vividly, so half a glance told him that.

He looked different than before, like he was actually sleeping as opposed to struggling with whatever that weird injury had been. The guy was familiar looking. Yohji knew he'd seen him somewhere before but he couldn't place it.

Well he looked harmless enough, but something in his gut told Yohji to keep his guard up. He hovered in the doorway, unsure of what to do. It seemed pretty crazy to shake the guy awake with baseless claims about ill intent based entirely on his gut instinct. However his gut instinct had proved a priceless boon during his PI days.

“Mmm…shut up,” the man groaned. He pulled Yohji’s pillow over his head and rolled away so that he was facing the wall instead of the doorway. Yohji quirked an eyebrow. It had sounded like that comment was directed at him but he hadn’t been talking. The stranger must just be talking in his sleep, he realized.

A warm sort of foggy feeling came over him. Cotton, he thought, it felt kind of like cotton. He closed the bedroom door and went back downstairs.


Schuldig woke first. This happened to be sometime around noon. He was a late sleeper on a normal day, as long as Schwarz business didn’t get in the way. Worn out from a messy battle, Schuldig could easily sleep into the evening but he didn’t like the thought of his reluctant host wandering upstairs all suspicious again, so he crept downstairs as soon as he was fully conscious.

He passed through the living room and into the kitchen, intent on breakfast before leaving the pilfered hospitality of his conspicuously attractive Good Samaritan. God he hoped this household had cereal. A big bowl of corn and sugar was Schuldig's preferred way to start off a morning…afternoon. Whatever. Alas, cereal but no milk, which was morally wrong as far as Schuldig was concerned. He sifted through the cabinets in search of a good breakfast substitute and landed on a box of chocolate banana Pocky with Omi written tidily across the front. Schuldig snagged a packet and sucked on a stick as he continued his search.

Schuldig and Brad had done their advanced training with a couple of Rosenkreuz big shots, one of them your typical power-obsessed sensitive prick and the other far too maternal for a festering hellhole like the psychic “school.” She liked to cook and she’d awoken early every morning to make big breakfasts for her young students; pancakes, waffles, French toast, fried dough, omelets, bacon and sausage…all sorts of wonderful things. No one in Schwarz really liked to cook except Farfarello, but it was always a toss up as to whether he would make something edible or something with a revolting amount of cabbage in it. Mornings like this when he was facing a box of seaweed flavored crackers (who the hell had told the Japanese seaweed was food!) or soggy leftover noodles, Schuldig really missed Miss Blanca. His arteries probably didn’t though.

He snagged the noodles (more messily labeled Ken) and sat down in the living room in an armchair facing the couch.

His host was still asleep, and unlike after Schuldig's first mental nudge to get him to go to bed, the second time he'd stripped down to his boxers. How he could sleep on a sofa about a foot shorter than he was was a mystery. Schuldig's initial mind whammy must have worn off by now, so the sleep was somehow natural.

Schuldig had had a very nice night’s sleep sprawled out over the lanky man's bed. The rest had done him good. Other than a slight headache he could easily ignore, there were no lingering traces from last night's battle with the rogue psychics. He'd have to take it easy for a day or two if he didn't want his shields to crap out on him though, but that shouldn't be a problem. He'd finished the Rosenkreuz assingment, and Brad was handling the Eszett one.

He most definitely didn't want to use his telepathy for work, but dicking around and messing with people was different. He was certainly recovered enough for that.

Now that he was feeling better, Schuldig was finally getting curious about his host. He easily slipped back into the eerily welcoming mind, filtering right past the dreams and looking into some of the man's memories and deeper reflections. The first thing he did was find a name to attach to the pretty boy. Yohji Kudoh. Why did that sound familiar? He was pretty sure he'd heard that one before...

Schuldig just stopped himself from swearing when he found images of garotte wire and explosives. So this was one of the Weiss? Interesting. If he'd had to guess, Schuldig would have thought Kudoh was a model or a J-Pop star rather than an assassin. Having caught a few mental images of the guy's housemates, boy band made way more sense than assassin/florist. Unless Kritiker had some sort of policy about only getting bishonen for their hired killers.

Schuldig would have the luck to accidentally flag down one of his future enemies for a lift when he was injured. Brad was not going to be pleased about this. The Schwarz had gotten very specific instructions to leave the Weiss alone for the time being. They were going to do some generic bad guy type posturing later on, and then lure the kitties into position so they'd unwittingly aid them in their mutiny against the Eszett Elders and their eventual escape. But Brad had said the whole thing was delicate, and if they weren't careful about the way they handled the Weiss then the plan could collapse on them.

He watched the rise and fall of his sleeping “enemy's” chest and let out a sigh. He really did have the worst fucking luck. This was the first person he'd ever met that his mind could just rest against, said mind came in a very pretty package, and he was off-limits unless Schuldig wanted to die a painful and messy death. Fucking peachy.

Well, he was already here and it wasn't exactly his fault. Brad couldn't blame him for anything that had happened so far. Schuldig gave up on the noodles as too disgusting to finish and switched back to the Pocky to get the horrible taste out of his mouth. If he were a responsible assassin he'd leave while Kudoh was still asleep.

Instead, Schuldig took his time eating the Pocky and ogled the gorgeous nearly naked man.


Yohji sat up suddenly when he woke and groaned in pain. He’d strained something in his back, this being the primary reason he never crashed on the damn couch.

The man he'd helped out last night was sitting across from him eating candy he'd flagrantly stolen from Omi's stash in the kitchen. He was still wearing Yohji's clothes, which was not something he was used to seeing without having slept with the house guest in question the night before. He gave his head a shake to clear it, and then glowered at the man.

“Who are you?” Yohji demanded, not liking the way the stranger was smirking at him, obviously finding humor in Yohji’s back pain.

“I go by Schuldig. Pocky?” He held out a stick of the candy, as though he were being generous by offering Yohji someone else's property.

Something finally clicked in Yohji's mind. Maybe it was seeing the guy alert, or the distinctive looking smirk on his face, but Yohji remembered where he'd seen him; a news segment on that politician Aya hated so much. He worked for Reiji Takatori.

Damn. He was definitely dead if the guys found out about this.

“That’s Omi’s Pocky. Shu-ru-ditch?” Yohji tried slowly. Schuldig scowled.

“Close enough. No, it’s not, just call me Schu.”

“All right. You seem better this morning,” Yohji said. He stretched out his back and arms with a groan and a worrying popping noise. Again, his “guest” seemed to be deriving an annoying amount of mirth from his discomfort.

“Hm? Oh, yeah. Thanks for helping me out last night. I’ll be on my way shortly.”

“Schu? Aren’t you curious about who I am?” Yohji was a bit surprised by how calm the guy was acting. He certainly wouldn’t have been if he’d woken up in some stranger’s house.

“Oh, I’ve already got a bit of an idea. Work, you know, it’s for the best to keep up on the other hired guns in the city.”

“You think my job is comparable to yours?” Yohji asked, startled and definitely concerned about that hired gun comment. Schuldig scowled at him, and then Yohji felt the warm-cotton feeling start to return. A realization shattered it pretty quickly. “That’s not you, is it?”

Schuldig grumbled something that sounded like it had the invective of profanity under his breath. “Is what me?” he tried, but his heart wasn’t in the delivery.

“Come on, we both know what I’m talking about. How do you do it?” Yohji leaned forward, eager for an answer. He'd already bumped into some pretty odd things in his time working for Kritiker. Meeting a guy who could manipulate minds, though not exactly expected, didn't seem entirely unrealistic at this point and he wanted to know more about it.

Schuldig looked completely thrown. “What do you mean how do I do it? It’s just…what I do,” he said. Yohji quirked an eyebrow. “What do you want from me, I haven’t had any caffeine yet.”

“I can remedy that.”

Schuldig's eyes narrowed. He finished the stick of Pocky while he considered the offer. “This is a shit idea. Having a fucking coffee date is the last thing I should be doing.”

“Then why did you stick around? Why didn't you just mess with my head again and take off while I was asleep?” Yohji got up from the couch, sure that Schuldig would follow him.

“Brad's gonna fucking kill me,” Schuldig muttered. But he followed.

Chapter Text

Twenty minutes later the two assassins slid into a booth at a cafe up the street from the flower shop. Schuldig was still wearing the borrowed clothes, and didn't seem at all concerned about being out in public in pajamas. Yohji thought for a moment he might be using whatever power he had to make people see him differently, but no, they were definitely getting odd stares and he caught at least one passing comment about the foreigner's unkempt appearance.

Yohji quickly ordered a black coffee while Schuldig took a moment to stare at a menu. He ended up ordering some sickly sweet sounding confection that involved three different flavor shots, and threw in a sticky bun to go with it. Yohji scowled at him. “I said I'd buy you a coffee.”

“There's some coffee in the drink.”

“Your taste in food is disgusting. I’m very surprised you have such nice teeth.”

“We have pretty good healthcare with my work. You know, to compensate for the high risk of unnatural death.”

“Right.”

“Gotta have healthy bodies if there’s gonna be anything worth harvesting after the fact,” Schuldig cracked. “We’re all potential organ donors, whether we want to be or not.”

“I’d like to say that’s horrible but I can’t rule that out for my…company either.” He'd never really given that any consideration before but could easily see Kritiker harvesting their organs, should anything go wrong on a mission. Damn. Well now that thought was going to haunt him for awhile.

An employee approached their table and set Yohji's coffee in front of him. “Your order’s going to take a little longer, sir,” she said apologetically to Schuldig, who waved it off. The girl retreated for the counter, and started giggling with her coworker. Yohji couldn't tell if it was the school girl admirer type giggling he was used to from his shifts at the Koneko, or if they were making fun of Schuldig's odd appearance.

“So Weiss, what do you want to know?”

“Okay for starters how do you know about Weiss?” Yohji asked, somewhat disconcerted. That feeling disappeared as Schuldig spat out what was undoubtedly a curse in some foreign language. It was kind of cute. “So I’m not supposed to know that you know about Weiss?”

“Pretty much. Brad’s gonna fucking kill me-”

“Brad?” Yohji tried to recall the news clip Aya had growled at before stalking out of the kitchen the other morning. He'd been even less social than usual for the rest of the day, which happened whenever that pompous politician came up. “Is Brad the guy who wears the ugly cream colored suit? Glasses?”

Two foreign expletives. Yohji snorted.

“You’re good, Weiss,” Schuldig said, shaking his head. “To be fair though I’m not normally this transparent-“

“I know, no caffeine.”

“Please, don’t insult me. It’s not just coffee. I am a professional. I’m recovering from a head injury,” he explained, grin indicating he wasn’t too ruffled.

“Head injury? I thought so, but I checked for one…you didn’t have a head injury,” Yohji murmured. Schuldig tapped his temple. “Oh…internal? So it’s related to the cotton thing…you really do get inside peoples’ heads, don’t you?”

Schuldig laughed. “You get it figured out in less than twelve hours and the idiot we’ve been working for has no clue. Seriously, he thinks we’re just overpaid bodyguards.”

“I guess it's a good thing he's never had to talk to you while you were under the weather then.”

“Yeah, about that...I should probably put off this conversation for some other time when I can be more aware of my boundaries and be properly evasive and deceptive.”

Yohji frowned at Schuldig, who was apparently being serious. “Schu, I used to be a private investigator. It’s my natural temperament to be prying and ask a lot of questions, I’m not sure I could just turn it off.”

“Damn, then I should probably leave.” He looked reluctant to actually do so. Yohji touched his wrist and he paused, expression difficult to read as he stared at Yohji's fingers lightly touching his skin.

“Don’t go. I’ll behave, I promise. Besides, you haven’t had your disgustingly sweet breakfast yet and I’m sure as hell not trying to ingest that mess.”

Schuldig snorted as he sat back down. “Okay, fair. But we can't talk about work.”

“I suppose I can stick to that. Your boss doesn't seem so pleasant that I'd want to linger on him as a subject if I didn't have to,” Yohji said. Schuldig grinned, and Yohji felt an odd sort of warmth at having gotten him to smile. He wondered if that was more of the cotton-thing, because there was no good reason for him to enjoy making some strange guy smile like that. Now if Schuldig were a good looking woman…

He'd gotten remarkably good at lying to himself about his attraction to the occasional man. There might not be much point in keeping that lie going in this particular instance though. Schuldig had switched up Yohji's thoughts on him a couple of times already; it wasn't a far leap to assume that he might be seeing them too.

Judging from the way Schuldig's eyes widened before looking Yohji up and down with an assessing look, he might be onto something there. And then Schuldig's voice sounded in his head. Yeah, I'm a telepath. That's exactly what I do.

“How is that...never mind. I've seen weirder shit.”

They were briefly interrupted by the employee returning with Schuldig's custom beverage. Yohji grimaced when his companion took a large sip, and sipped at his coffee to rinse the imaginary taste from his mind. Schuldig smirked at him. “What?”

“Your mind is just...I don't even know. But you're freaking adorable, kitten.”

“Ugh. Can you not?”

“Have a less stupid code name then.”

“I didn't come up with it.”

“God, that's almost worse.”

Yohji rolled his eyes. “Okay, fine. The cat theme is dumb. I suppose you have some kind of bad ass codename then?”

“Of course. My codename is much better than...dammit. Kudoh, you really need to stop baiting me or this conversation is over. And I'd really rather stay and finish my coffee.”

“I don't think you get to call heated syrup coffee.”

Yohji cast about for something else to talk about, but his mind kept flitting between different questions that he was sure Schuldig would refuse to answer. He wanted to know how the telepathy worked, if Schuldig was picking up on every thought he had (Schuldig winked at him, so he assumed he'd at least gotten that one), if there was a way to make it stop or if it was just always going, where he'd come from, if he had a last name or if Schuldig was the last name, if he was getting any closer on pronouncing it right (Schuldig laughed and shook his head, so that was a no), if he'd noticed Yohji checking him out...and now he really needed to come up with something else to think about.

Schuldig possibly did get that last thought. The smirk slipped from his face, and it might have been a coincidence but he leaned back a little from the table, putting just a bit more space between him and Yohji. “Sorry,” Yohji muttered. “That must be weird, seeing the thoughts of people who are into you when you're not into them. I'm, uh, not trying to think that anyway. I'll...yeah, anyway the food here is really good.”

“Please, anything but small talk. I'm stuck babysitting a fucking politician right now, Yohji. I've had enough insipid small talk to last me a life time.” Schuldig ran a hand through his hair. His expression was starting to relax but his body language was still rigid and nervous. Yohji wasn't quite sure what to make of him. “I...have had interesting experiences seeing the thoughts of people who find me attractive. Sometimes it's not too bad, sometimes it's a little weird, and sometimes it's downright horrifying. You're...not horrifying.”

Yohji noticed that there was no category for 'pleasant' in there, which brought up even more questions that he was likely not getting an answer to. He'd have thought telepathy would be a massively unfair advantage when it came to flirting. “Not horrifying? I guess I can work with that. I've been called worse things.”

“I'll bet.” Schuldig frowned. “So how come you're trying to suppress your gay thoughts? I see people doing that shit all the time and I've never understood it. A lot of people do a number on their heads trying to be something they're not. You're not going to be less gay by ignoring it. Or bi, in your case.”

Yohji cast a wary glance around the restaurant. Schuldig was talking pretty loudly, especially considering the subject matter. But no one appeared to be paying attention to them. They're not, Schuldig confirmed. He quirked an eyebrow expectantly.

“I dunno,” Yohji mumbled. “It's just...well, most people are ashamed of it, aren't they?”

Schuldig shrugged. “I'm not. What's the point? The thoughts haven't gone away by ignoring them, have they? So why not just enjoy yourself. And please don't try to spin some bullshit about morality. You're already going to hell for professional reasons, if such a place exists.”

“True enough,” Yohji said, though his tone wasn't nearly as lighthearted as his companion's. The conversation had lost all its charm for him.

Schuldig let out an irritated huffing noise. “Fine. We can talk about something else. I just thought I might be able to get somewhere on this with you. Even though I can see what they're thinking, I don't really get people. But you're pretty easy to talk to, and your thoughts are...different. I don't get tangled up in them the way I do in some peoples' heads. It makes me want to ask questions.”

“Well that I can understand.” Yohji wanted to laugh. “I just don't know if I'm the best guy out there to explain human behavior to you. I don't know if you've noticed this yet, but I'm a teensy bit screwed up.”

“Eh, if you were stable and grounded I wouldn't get along with you.”

They kept to lighter conversation topics while they finished their coffees. Schuldig used his telepathy to eavesdrop on the thoughts of the other patrons, and he shared some of the more bizarre and unexpected ones with Yohji. It was an odd form of people watching, but an undeniably interesting one.

All in all, it was the most pleasant afternoon Yohji had had in a very long time. He couldn't recall ever being this open with someone before; even before signing on with Kritiker he'd been a bit guarded. But there was no point trying to play it cool with Schuldig; he could see through Yohji's facades and misdirections, so he might as well just be himself and give the guy a little less to tease him over.

Not that he really minded being teased by Schuldig. He was funny. A bit self-centered and odd, but he seemed pretty harmless...well, other than having mentioned also being an assassin. But Yohji lived with three other assassins that he rather liked. He didn't consider it an automatic deal breaker, where potential friendships were concerned.

Their coffees were long gone, but the two men lingered at the table, trading jokes and determinedly ignoring the fact that they had lives they probably ought to be returning to. The afternoon was sliding into evening. The other Weiss must have returned from the mission by now. Yohji ought to be meeting up with them. But he didn't want to leave.

Then Schuldig gave a sudden start. He clutched his hand to his skull, eyes squeezed shut in a pained grimace. Yohji reached across the table and touched his arm. “Schu, are you okay?”

“Yeah, I...ugh. Hold on.” He flinched away from Yohji and sat facing the wall of the restaurant. His eyes stayed shut for a moment, thin lips forming words though he didn't actually say anything. After a few minutes of this he opened his eyes and turned back towards Yohji. “Telepath thing. I just got chewed out for being MIA since last night. I'd...I should probably head out.”

He looked about as reluctant to leave as Yohji felt. “Can I see you again sometime?”

Schuldig smirked. It didn't reach his eyes. “I dunno, Yohji. This has been fun and all, but I don't know how much time I want to spend with a guy who sits there thinking, 'damn he's hot. Wait, no, I shouldn't be thinking that. Aargh, I wonder if he heard that?' I heard every damn time, by the by. It gets old after awhile. Your interest would be much more flattering without the denial.”

“So...do you want me to be interested in you?”

He didn't answer right away. It took Yohji a moment to realize he was flustered. So far Schuldig was coming across as the embodiment of bratty confidence, which had to be the result of having the conversational upper-hand of knowing exactly what your companion thought. It felt like an accomplishment, to surprise him even a little.

Also he was kinda cute with his face going red like that.

“Oh fuck you. I am not blushing.”

“Okay, we'll go with that. So when can I take you out?”

Schuldig looked lost. “What?”

“I'll work on the denial. Without that, my interest is flattering, right? So let's go on a date.” Yohji thought he'd been reading this right, but he was starting to lose confidence. Schuldig wasn't smirking anymore. If anything, he looked a bit frightened.

And the response to that thought was definitely not working in his favor. Schuldig's expression had come uncomfortably close to a snarl. Something about Yohji's expression snapped him out of it, and he gave himself a little shake. “Don't mind me. I'm still not feeling one hundred per cent thanks to last night, and Brad's yelling at me again. I really gotta get back.” He stood to leave. Yohji hurriedly dropped some cash on the table to cover their bill, and then followed Schuldig out of the cafe. It took him a bit to catch up to Schuldig; he walked fast and, despite his striking appearance he had a way of getting lost in a crowd.

He must have wanted to be caught. At the very least, when Yohji grabbed his arm he didn't get pissy. He slowed his step and let Yohji match strides with him. “If you're not feeling well then let me give you a ride home.”

“Sorry, kitten. But I can't let you know where I live and besides that, it's best if your teammates don't catch a glimpse of me. Especially Fujimiya. He's...not thrilled with my current employer. Neither am I, for that matter, but I don't think that's going to matter to Abyssinian.”

“You're going to be okay though, right?” Yohji thought of the way Schuldig had been crawling around the alley when he'd found him. If any of that injury was still lingering, he didn't want to leave the guy by himself.

Schuldig's expression softened as he caught wind of Yohji's concern. “I'll be okay,” he said. “Last night wasn't the first time I got my ass handed to me, and it probably won't be the last.”

“If you're sure.”

“I am. Besides, we don't have another option. I mean it this time, Yohji. If I don't get going it's not going to end well for me.” He grasped Yohji's hand and gave it a small squeeze. “But if I get the chance to sneak away for a night I'll definitely take you up on that date. Just don't hold your breath or anything.”

“Well. I know how busy the assassin business can get.”

“Yeah,” Schuldig breathed, and it looked like he might have had similar feelings to Yohji in regards to feeling known. “Well, I'll see you around then.”

“Yeah, I...” Yohji trailed off. He'd been thinking of going in for a kiss, but Schuldig slipped away from him before he made up his mind. He scanned the sidewalks, counting on the eye catching orange hair to help him spot the other assassin, but it appeared Schuldig didn't want to be caught this time. With a disappointed sigh and a slightly hollow feeling in his chest, Yohji started back for the Koneko.


“Where the hell have you been?”

“You're slipping, Bradley. Normally you're the one telling me where I've been.” Schuldig kicked his shoes off and slumped into the living room. He had a headache again, and the long walk home through swarms of people and bright lights hadn't helped things. He was regretting leaving his work clothes, which included his sunglasses, in Yohji's bedroom.

Retrieving them was going to be a convenient excuse to see his kitten again though, so he wasn't regretting it that badly.

He dropped onto the couch in a heap and pointedly ignored Brad standing over him with his arms crossed. “It does not take twenty four hours to kill three untrained psychics.”

“And indeed it did not. I got a little disoriented last night so I could be wrong, but I think it only took me a half hour to kill the first two kids. It's recovering from the psychic sucker punch that last shit got in that ate up the rest of the day. Speaking of which, could you grab my painkillers for me?”

Brad scowled, but he did motion towards the coffee table where a bottle of Schuldig's pain meds, designed specifically for him with his powers in mind, were sitting along with a bottle of fruit juice and a replacement pair of sunglasses. There were some definite advantages to being friends with a precog. It was also nice to know that Brad wasn't actually angry with him, just annoyed.

He must not have Seen where Schuldig had recuperated. Schuldig had a feeling his leader would be all kinds of pissed if he knew his teammate had been off flirting with one of the Weiss. They'd all been given very clear instructions to keep their distance from the other assassins for the time being. Schuldig hadn't stumbled across Yohji on purpose, but he also knew that that wouldn't matter to Brad.

Schuldig downed the pills, half the bottle of fruit juice, and was just settling down for a nap with the new sunglasses dulling the meager light from the table lamp when Brad suddenly bolted upright. Schuldig frowned, and quietly hoped the vision Brad had just seen wasn't about him.

Then Brad thumped him upside the head. “What the ever loving fuck is wrong with you?” they both snapped at the same time. Schuldig curled into a ball and started rocking back and forth. He came uncomfortably close to hurling the fruit juice onto the rug. Brad rubbed his back, and when he spoke next he kept his voice quiet.

“The pain pills haven't kicked in yet?”

“No, asshole, they haven't.”

“Hm. They used to be instantaneous. We're going to have to keep an eye on that. The last thing we need is for you to build up a tolerance, or worse, a dependence on a Rosenkreuz drug.”

The pain ebbed down to a manageable level, enough for Schuldig to risk lifting his sun glasses and aiming a glare at Brad. “As always, I'm touched by your concern. Truly.”

“I shouldn't have hit your head while you're recovering from a telepathic injury. Is that enough to appease you?”

“Oh go fuck yourself on something pointy.”

Brad sighed, in that long suffering sort of way that indicated, among other things, that he wasn't planning on leaving Schuldig to nap with his cartoons, which would have been his current best case scenario. The Oracle was preparing himself for an involved chat. “Schu, you can't go on a date with one of the Weiss.”

Schuldig flopped back against the arm of the couch and closed his eyes. “I have no romantic interest in our faux enemies,” he lied. “You don't think much of me, do you, Crawford?”

“Honestly no, not really.”

Schuldig aimed a weak kick in his general direction, more to make a point than to actually land the hit. Brad easily avoided it, and then resettled himself on the coffee table in front of Schuldig. Schuldig glared at him again, and then replaced his sunglasses. “Can't you yell at me after my nap? It'll be more productive that way. I get fuzzy when I take this shit,” he said, motioning towards the pill bottle.

“Oh, don't worry. I'll repeat my injunctions against romantic entanglements with the Weiss after your nap. As much as necessary, even. You know, I'm honestly surprised I'm even having this conversation with you. I'm going to have to warn Nagi off of crushes on multiple rival assassins, but he's a teenager. You're...” he trailed off.

“Broken,” Schuldig supplied. He didn't need his telepathy to know what Brad was thinking. Brad started, possibly thinking Schuldig had gotten around his mental shields. Schuldig scowled, and Brad quickly looked away. “You can say it, you know. We both know it's true. And since I am so spectacularly broken, I don't think I'm feeling any of the shit you're accusing me of. I liked spending time with Balinese. He has a particularly comfortable mind that I was drawn to while I was hurting, and he's hot. That's all there is to my interest.”

“Now, maybe. Look...there's something...there's something weird about the Weiss, okay? I don't understand what it is, but they're always in the center of the action and that's something that we need to plan around. I've been coaxing visions on this for a long time. The Summoning won't go the way we want it to if they're not there.”

“I know, I know. They're the Kritiker team that needs to be investigating Eszett, and we're the ones that are going to draw them there. We've been over this.”

“Right. So they need to believe we're loyal to Eszett, or it won't work. They need to think we're evil.”

Schuldig couldn't help but smirk at that. “Oh, we're only pretending to be evil?”

It was Brad's turn to glare. “Touche, I suppose. Regardless, our plan works better if we keep emotional distance from the Weiss. So, to return to the point of this conversation, you can't go on a date with Balinese until after the Summoning.”

He'd been about to argue some more, but Schuldig paused, thrown by the condition Brad had placed on him. “Wait...it's okay after the Summoning? Have you Seen something?”

“Yes...” Brad said it slowly, in that irritating tone of voice he used when he thought Schuldig was being stupid on purpose. His brow furrowed, some actual irritation showing. “Are you starting to get loopy from the meds? Don't you realize who Balinese is?”

Actually, he was feeling sleepy, and his brain was getting that lovely numbness that so many telepaths chased. Everything was quiet, for once. If he wasn't so sleepy he'd be able to think for himself without having to sort anyone else's bullshit from his thoughts. “Balinese?” he repeated, trying to latch back onto the conversation. He felt like this one might actually be important, and not just because Brad said so. “He's Yohji.”

And Yohji was so very pretty and easy to talk to. And he wasn't scared or angry about the mind reading. He should have been. Everyone else was. Even the other members of Schwarz freaked out when Schuldig pushed back their shields, and they knew he wasn't trying to (well, he wasn't always trying to).

“Yes, Yohji Kudoh. In another five years or so, you're going to try to cook him breakfast for his birthday.”

“But I can't cook,” Schuldig mumbled, words starting to slur as he slid towards unconsciousness.

He thought he heard Brad make some sort of snide remark about his culinary skills before he switched off the light and threw a blanket over him.

Chapter Text

“One of them threw a sword at the helicopter? Why?”

“He couldn't have expected it to hurt the helicopter. It must have been frustration. Crawford? It was frustration, wasn't it? Hey, from what you've said I wouldn't put anything past these Weiss guys.”

“Mm. Plus, considering me, we can't exactly expect every other assassin group we meet up with to be completely rational.”

“Farfarello, that was unusually insightful of you.”

“I'm having a good day so far. Check on me again tomorrow though. I feel like I'm getting close to a turn.”

Schuldig pulled the blanket up over his head and groaned. “Will you all just shut up?”

“You're in a common room, Schuldig. Crawford said we're allowed to treat you like furniture when you're acting the part,” Nagi said, some smugness in his tone.

Schuldig reluctantly sat up, not because he actually wanted to talk to any of his housemates, but because the sunglasses had gotten tangled in his hair while he was sleeping and he was aware enough of his surroundings to be uncomfortable (and it wasn't just the sunglasses tangled in his hair making him uncomfortable – Nagi was sitting on him and the kid had a bony butt). The medication had worked its way through his system, and other than being a bit cranky and dazed, which were unworrying side effects of sleeping as long as he must have, he felt back to normal. “How long was I out for?”

“Twelve hours,” Brad said. He was sitting across from them in the armchair with most of his attention ostensibly on a laptop. “I think we're going to have to start looking for an alternative to the Rosenkreuz meds. You only slept for nine hours last time and your injury was more severe.”

“I don't think there are exactly an abundance of painkillers for telepaths out in the world. What did you have in mind?”

“Nothing yet, but I'm going to start looking.”

Nagi chimed in with a suggestion. “What about our Eszett pawn? One of his kids is a scientist, isn't he? We could loan Schuldig out to him a few times a week for lab rat purposes. It'd be mutually beneficial.”

Schuldig tipped his legs, which would have sent Nagi sprawling to the floor if he weren't expecting it, and also not able to telekinetically catch himself. As is, he merely darted onto the arm of the couch.

Brad gave them all a look; one of the ones that made his glasses reflect the living room lamp light in a particularly evil and potentially unsettling manner that they were all thoroughly used to at this point. “I don't think I need to explain why I intend for us to have as little to do with Masafumi Takatori as Eszett will allow.”

“I was joking,” Nagi grumbled.

“You're not funny,” Schuldig said. “Stick to sulking. You're much better at that.”

“It's in your delivery,” Farfarello added. He was sitting on the floor in front of the couch, positioned between Nagi and Schuldig. He reached up and gave Nagi a condescending pat on the leg, a perfectly deadpan expression on his face that made Schuldig laugh and Nagi struggle not to. “Don't worry, when we're all finished teaching you everything we know about evil occultism and psychic assassin life, we'll get back to teaching you the secrets of comedic timing.”

When he was having a clear day, Farfarello was actually very good company. Schuldig was a bit sorry he'd slept through so much of this one.

“So you guys were saying something about an escape helicopter?” Schuldig managed to get the sunglasses out of his hair and set them on the coffee table. He sat up straight, tucking his legs under him, and Farfarello took the invitation to climb up onto the couch next to him. He started toying with Schuldig's hair, untangling some of the strands that had gotten caught around the sunglasses, which was why Schuldig had made room for him. Even on his good days Farfarello was fidgety, and for someone with very little hair of his own he was very good at getting rid of knots and tangles.

“That was the other night,” Brad said. “While you were neutralizing the Rosenkreuz escapees, I was seeing the Eszett pawn to the site of a possible business collaboration.”

“Right, right. The human chess thing,” Schuldig mumbled.

“A very disappointing operation, if you ask me,” Farfarello said. “It didn't resemble chess in the least. No rules, no strategy. They just had a bunch of amateurs killing each other on a chess board. The name was completely misleading. I'd have refused to play.”

“I suppose it's fortunate no one was asking you to play,” Brad said with a smirk. “At any rate, it's all moot. Not only did the pawn decide this venture was beneath him, but the Weiss showed up and killed the organizers.” He glanced at Schuldig and looked away, still smirking. “Or, three of the Weiss showed up.”

Nagi and Farfarello both looked at him with some curiosity. Schuldig scowled, and kept his focus on Brad. “Don't make me rip the rest of the story out of your brain. What happened with the sword? Did someone really throw a sword at the helicopter?”

“Abyssinian. And no, Nagi, I don't think he actually thought he was going to stop the helicopter. His driving purpose in life is to kill our temporary boss as painfully and messily as possible-”

“Good man,” Schuldig interrupted.

“So I believe that was an expression of frustration that we had an escape helicopter to begin with. We've been placed fairly well, as far as this assignment goes. Takatori is somehow responsible for most of the tragedies that have befallen the Weiss, so our association with him works in our favor.” He finished his statement through the telepathic link Schuldig had formed for the team, on the off chance any clairaudients were tracking them. We'll catch their interest, and they'll have no problem assuming we are the sort of evil super villains they should keep tabs on and try to stop.

Did you figure out why they need to be at the Summoning with us yet? Nagi asked. Schuldig had never particularly cared about that detail but it was irritating the crap out of Nagi, who was frustrated by any move he couldn't see the logic in. Brad and Schuldig were a lot less fussed about seeing any kind of order in the universe, and merely settled for making sure its whims suited them, while Farfarello chose to make his own order where arguably none existed at all.

I've hit on something, actually, Brad said. I think it's Abyssinian. There's something odd about him and his sister. I'm looking into it, and I'll update you if I sort it out.

“Wait, but if our temporary boss is responsible for everything bad that's happened to the Weiss, won't that make it harder for Schuldig to court his new boyfriend?”

Schuldig smacked Farfarello, for all the good that did him. The jerk was annoyingly amused when he watched Schuldig clutch his hand in pain. “Fuck you. That would have really hurt a normal guy. You're going to have a bruise.”

Farfarello flipped up his eyepatch, showing off the disconcerting scarring underneath. “I'm strongly affected by your warning, and express contrition for my teasing.”

“Asshole.”

“So you've said. But Bradley, how come Schuldig gets to have a boyfriend and the rest of us can't?”

Nagi raised an eyebrow. “Do you want a boyfriend?”

“Not particularly. But I thought you did.”

Nagi's face colored. It appeared Farfarello had hit on something. “I'm going to my room.”

“I don't have a boyfriend,” Schuldig yelled. Nagi answered by slamming his door shut behind him. Schuldig turned towards Brad. “Why did you tell them I have a boyfriend?”

“I'd have gone with the redhead, myself.” Farfarello stroked a long strand of orange hair he'd just finished untangling. “Unless you were worrying about clashing? But the redhead seems more interesting.”

“You just like him because he uses an edged weapon.”

“That's not true. The dark haired one uses an edged weapon too. I find the redhead aesthetically pleasing.” He licked his lips, and Schuldig caught images in Farfarello's head of Abyssinian's unique hair dripping with blood. Yeah, he was getting pretty close to a turn. Schuldig quickly backed out of Farfarello's head and strengthened his shields, lest he get caught up in any of the noise.

Brad removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Schuldig is not dating Balinese.”

“But you said-”

“I said they had chemistry, and that we needed to keep an eye on that so that his hormones don't ruin our plans.”

“Hey!” Schuldig was severely tempted to throw something at Brad, but his speed was useless on that particular target. He'd never land the hit. Better to hold onto the pillow in case he needed to smack Farfarello again. The pillow would help him make his point without breaking his hand.

“Okay, new team rule. No member of Schwarz is allowed to pursue a romantic relationship with any member of another assassin group until further notice. This includes but is not limited to; Weiss, Schreient, Farblos, Grau, Teufel, the Coven, or anyone else we happen across. Any questions?”

Farfarello raised his hand. Schuldig smacked him in the head with the pillow. “What about carnal relationships that lack romance?”

Brad looked almost pained. But after this many years, he should have been aware of exactly how precise he needed to be with his wording. “Just stay away from the Weiss.” He closed the laptop with a snap and retreated for his own room.

Farfarello remained sitting next to Schuldig for a while longer, petting his hair even after he'd finished with all the tangles. His mind had quieted down again, and though not uncomfortable to be near, was not nearly as soothing as he'd found Yohji's head.

“Hey, Farf?”

“Mm?”

“Want to go for a ride? I need to get my old sunglasses back.”


“So, what do you think?”

Farfarello narrowed his eye, his gaze intent on the crowded flower shop across the street. It was difficult to make out the florist-assassins among a hoard of schoolgirl aged admirers, particularly from their vantage point in Schuldig's car. They were parked across the street and only had a clear view of about half the shop. “I think it's a very good thing we don't work for Kritiker,” Farfarello said, after considering the scene before him. “I could never keep that sort of cover. I'd frighten the children.”

Schuldig rolled his eyes. “I mean, you're right. It's a good thing the shady organization we're currently beholden to doesn't want us to work retail as a day job, but that's not what I was talking about.”

“I know it wasn't. I'm not really sure what to think just yet. They're a bit ludicrous, aren't they?”

“Most definitely.”

“So which one's yours, again? Crawford told us the other night but the thought didn't stay with me.”

“I don't-”

“Schuldig, you're best off telling me. We're going to be fighting the Weiss eventually. I'd hate to lose myself and harm something you were fond of.” Anyone less acquainted with Farfarello would have taken that as a threat, but Schuldig understood it for the sign of affection it was. Farfarello lost control of himself during his violent fits; that was the source of his codename. Schuldig still didn't like the insinuation that Yohji was at all special to him, but he did find Farfarello's friendly offer to do his best not to maim the kitten kind of endearing.

It shouldn't particularly matter which one I'm supposedly into, Farf. We're not allowed to kill any of them . I thought Brad drilled that into your head by now.

Aye, and so he has. But I can inflict much upon a soul without killing it. You've seen me in action before, Schuldig. You know how I work. Let me know which one it is you fancy, and I'll make an effort not to harm him too badly.

Schuldig scanned the crowded shop. His mind had already found Yohji's; he'd been enjoying the man's surface thoughts since they'd gotten within a few blocks of the store. He hadn't bothered actually looking for him. It didn't take him long to spot his kitty. Yohji was the tallest person in the flower shop, and one of few blonds (and possibly the only natural blond). He stood out.

“He's the tall one leaning against the counter. Over on the right.”

“The one avoiding his work?”

Schuldig smirked. “Yep.”

“I'd say you're suited for each other then. Hm. He's pretty enough, I suppose. He doesn't look like anything particularly special though. Why's he caught your interest?”

“Hey, for some people being pretty's enough.”

Farfarello didn't deign to respond to such an obvious deflection. He turned the full weight of his attention on Schuldig, which was an annoyingly effective tactic. Even though they'd been living and working together for ages, Schuldig still hadn't worked up a resistance to that unsettling hyper-focus Farfarello got. It was meant to creep people out and it accomplished its goal with an impressive thoroughness.

Under such circumstances it was better to just answer him. And unfortunately, since Farfarello did know him so well he'd have to be truthful. Either that or mess with his mind, which wasn't something Schuldig was feeling foolhardy enough for at the moment.

“I...like his mind. He doesn't try to push me out, and he's not prickly or overwhelming. His thoughts are...” Schuldig frowned. “It's hard to describe. It's warm, I guess? When I got hurt, I felt better once I found his head. I felt like I could just rest, and that I'd be okay until my shields were built back up. It's stupid, really. He didn't know anything about telepathy, and he certainly doesn't have shields of his own.”

“Oh.” Farfarello's expression remained vacant. He turned back towards the flower shop. “I was expecting something more complex than that. That's...simple.”

“Well I'm sorry I'm not more entertaining.”

“You should be. What's he thinking about right now?”

Schuldig paid a bit more attention to the surface thoughts he'd been resting against, and then snorted at what he saw. “Me. He's thinking about me. Oh fuck, that is just...”

“Disgustingly saccharine. You've known each other for two days.” Farfarello's eye narrowed. “I don't think I like him. Where's the little one? That's the one Nagi likes.”

“Nagi picked one? He hasn't even seen the Weiss yet.”

“Maybe not in person, but he's been gathering intel on them for over a year. Oh, I think that's him wrapping flowers at the table.”

Schuldig stared into the shop. “I thought that was one of the schoolgirls.”

“No, look. He's wearing an apron.”

“And he's thinking about closing the store early so he can finish his homework before he starts another round of mission prep. Yep, that's definitely another Weiss. Wait...wait, he's their Kritiker liaison. He's one of their fucking team leaders.”

“The little blond thing in the pink belly shirt?” Farfarello threw Schuldig a look, as though he expected Schuldig to be messing with him somehow.

“I shit you not. That's Bombay, and he's the Kritiker liaison, and he plans their fucking missions and writes their reports.”

“Huh.”

“I think it's a very good thing we don't work for Kritiker.”

“I heartily concur.”

Schuldig returned his focus to Yohji's mind, intrigued by the thoughts he'd been looking at before Farfarello distracted him. It seemed Yohji had gotten bored with the flower shop, and while paying nominal attention to his creepily youthful admirers, was daydreaming about someone he actually wanted to date.

It looked like Schuldig's taunts had gotten through to him. Considering he'd made the career switch from private investigator to hired killer, it seemed ridiculous to worry about something as trivial to finding some men attractive. Now that he wasn't shying away from his homosexual fantasies in shame, he was starting to indulge them.

“Schuldig? Is everything okay?”

“Huh?” He gave himself a shake. “Yeah, everything's...swell.”

“You got real quiet and your face went all red.”

Schuldig tilted the rearview mirror until he could see his face. “Oh for fuck's sake.” That was the second time Yohji had made him blush. He was going to have to work on that. The kitten had just caught him off guard, was all. Considering how badly Yohji had been repressing his gayness, he hadn't expected to see anything half as vivid as what was in the guy's head.

And the pervert looked so impassive and calm. No one in the flower shop had any idea what was going on in that pretty little head.

“Schuldig?”

“Just shut the fuck up, Farf.”

“It's him, isn't it? Balinese? He's the one that's making you act so off. You're still poking around in his head.”

Schuldig snatched the bag of clothes he'd borrowed from Yohji and started to get out of the car. “Listen closely, asshole. I don't have a boyfriend. I don't care if you maim Balinese. And I will not put up with the three of you teasing me like I'm some lovesick teenager. I'm going in to get my clothes back.”

“What'm I supposed to do?”

“I don't fucking care. Walk home.”

Farfarello scowled at him. “Then why'd you even invite me?”

“Damned if I know, now fuck off.”

“Fuck off yourself.”

Schuldig risked giving Farfarello a telepathic nudge. He hated trying to mess with Farfarello's head; it was far too easy to get lost or overpowered by the unconventional arrangement of his mind. Simple commands usually worked though, and besides, if he took Farfarello out he was technically responsible for getting him back to their quarters again.

Once Schuldig was sure his mental suggestion had taken and that Farfarello was indeed walking back towards their building, he locked up his car and crossed the street.

Chapter Text

It felt like the shift in the Koneko was never going to end. Considering the job was just a cover and that assassination was supposed to be the main business, Yohji felt they kept the shop open too many damn hours a week. The shifts weren't so bad when they were between missions, but when Kritiker was leaning on them then the florist by day assassin by night thing was incredibly draining.

The guys were all showing a bit of wear in their different ways. For starters, Ken had slept through the first half of the shift. They'd decided to just give him the day once it had become clear rousing him was going to be more effort than it was worth. Omi was doing some kind of side project for Kritiker in addition to school, the flower shop, and the recently wrapped human chess mission, and as usual was wearing a chipper mask while working himself to death. And then there was Aya.

The quiet and mysterious bad ass of the team had been a regular pill since the last job. Not that he was overly friendly on a normal day, but Yohji had spotted a definite downward shift in the guy's mood. He'd tried to get the details from Ken but that had been a mistake. Ken was a good guy but maybe not the most observant assassin in the world. He'd known Aya was upset, said something about Aya going after someone who wasn't the target and then throwing his sword at a helicopter, but that was all he had.

Yohji quietly decided against skipping out on missions in the future unless absolutely necessary. On the one hand, the rest and recovery time had done him good and he'd probably really needed it. On the other, he didn't want to have to rely on Ken Hidaka's powers of observation if it was avoidable.

Yohji leaned against the counter and glanced across the store to where Aya was working on a floral arrangement, his face set in stony determination. Yohji was a tad bit surprised the grimace Aya wore hadn't chased away the schoolgirls. He and Omi were ringed by far more of them, since the two of them occasionally acknowledged the pests and talked to them. But silent and moody still had his admirers. Aya was the most recent addition to Weiss, and Yohji was still trying to figure the guy out. The man was an intriguing puzzle, and one Yohji had been enjoying immensely until he'd gotten distracted by another redhead.

Ah, Schuldig. Now there was a puzzle to keep his mind busy anytime the flower shop got tedious. He couldn't get the other man out of his head, to the point where he'd started to wonder if maybe that was some kind of telepath related thing. He'd ultimately dismissed that thought, and figured it was just a result of him letting go of his repression. Schuldig was right, honestly. Pretending he was straight hadn't really been working, and besides that, feeling ashamed of his sexuality seemed rather stupid, given the life he was leading at the moment. Strangling people with garotte wire for a paycheck was far more worthy of shame than occasionally checking out other men.

Plus Kritiker had found it necessary to surround him with nothing but incredibly good looking guys. If he continued spending time with Aya while trying to ignore how freakishly attractive the man was he was going to drive himself insane. Not that he had any real interest there; Aya was kind of a jerk. Interesting yes, but cold and aloof and cranky as all hell. He might be fun for a night but certainly nothing long term. Plus he'd probably gut Yohji if he ever expressed those sentiments aloud, which was also an unattractive trait when considering potential partners. No, if Yohji was going to date an eccentric man with eye catching red hair, Aya wasn't the one he'd pick.

He should have tried to get Schuldig's number or something. He was sincerely regretting the fact that he had no way to contact the guy. If he did, he could use the excuse that Schuldig had left his clothes behind to try to see him again. As is, bumping into a psychic assassin was probably just going to be a one-off thing. He'd probably never see Schuldig again.

'Get a grip,' Yohji thought, starting to get irritated with himself. It wasn't normal for him to fixate on one person like this. The last time he'd fallen for someone the universe had torn her away in a spectacularly painful fashion for all involved. He was supposed to keep his guard up. Stick to light flirtation, one or two dates with the same person at the absolute most. He certainly wasn't supposed to get this stupid or mushy.

Once they finally managed to close up the shop Yohji stalked upstairs as quickly as possible. With his luck Manx would be by with a mission. He was determined to get changed and get the hell out of the building before his evening was snatched away from him. He was thinking about Schuldig too damn much. He needed a distraction, and whereas a new mission would certainly qualify, he was hoping to find a slightly more enjoyable distraction than that.

The plan was to hit one of his usual haunts, find a pretty face, and hopefully end the night in a friendly bed. Then he walked into his room and found Schuldig stretched out on his bed flipping through a comic book, a stick of Pocky dangling out of his mouth. “Hey, kitten.”

“What? How did-what are you doing here?” Yohji quickly shut the door behind him and crossed the room. “How did you get in?”

Schuldig glanced up from the comic book and quirked his brow. There was something distinctively patronizing about his smirk. “How do you think? Oh, wow, you're really expecting an answer?” He finished off the Pocky, a sharp grin on his face.

“Well, yeah! This place is supposed to be hard to break into!”

Schuldig snorted. “If I wasn't so amused I'd be insulted by the low opinion you have of my skills.” He sat up and shoved the comic book aside. “As to what I'm doing here, I needed to get my clothes back.”

“Oh, right.” Yohji went to get them from the top of his dresser. They were neatly folded, with the sunglasses resting on top of the pile. He saw the pajamas Schuldig had borrowed from him sitting on the floor by the foot of the bed crumpled up in a shopping bag. “You know, I was just thinking that returning these to you would have been a pretty good pretense to get to see you again.”

“Mm hm.”

Yohji stood in front of the bed for a moment, holding the neatly folded clothes and watching Schuldig, whose catlike blue eyes were also trained on him with an intensity Yohji had yet to witness from the laid back man. “Um...how long have you been waiting for me?”

You mean how many kinky fantasies did I see flit through your head while you were bored?

“...yeah. About that, uh...”

But before Yohji could think of anything to say, Schuldig had tugged him down onto the bed and pinned him. The clothes, no longer neatly folded, landed in a flutter on the floor beside the bed. “I saw a few.” Their faces were very close. Yohji could feel Schuldig's breath against his mouth. “Just so you know, I am pretty flexible but I don't bend quite that much.”

“Noted.” Yohji hesitantly reached to touch Schuldig's fiery hair. It felt nice, sliding through his fingers. It looked so wild, and somewhat damaged and fried. He was surprised it felt that soft.

Schuldig's eyebrow quirked. “You think my hair looks fried?”

“Well...” And unbidden, all the haircare products Yohji would have liked to use to treat the damage came to mind. “I mean, you do have some split ends...”

Schuldig climbed off of him and gave his head a shake. “You're an odd one, Kudoh.”

“Really. And here I thought us assassins were bastions of stability and normalcy.”

“Okay, fair point. Listen, I like my hair. I have no intention of hacking off any of it, even the dead ends.”

“So get a good conditioning treatment. I mean, it's not going to fix the ends that are already dead, but it'd stop you from damaging more of your hair.” Yohji decided to push his luck a little. He crawled further down the bed towards Schuldig and toyed with a shorter strand of hair, one that was by his face. “How long have you been coloring it?”

“I dunno, like five years? Yohji? What the fuck is this? I didn't come over here for a styling consultation.”

Yohji smirked. He couldn't help but feel like he had the upper hand. It probably wouldn't last very long, so he decided to make the most of it. “And what did you come here for?”

Schuldig was clearly about to say something about his sunglasses. He got a few syllables into the sentence before Yohji tugged him close for a kiss. Schuldig's hands immediately flew to Yohji's shoulders, whether to push him off or hold him in place was hard to guess. It was possible the telepath didn't know himself. But Yohji persisted, and after a long moment of indecision the hard mouth opened against his, and the strong hands made up their mind to tug him closer.

He'd been leaning up on his knees, but Yohji fell backwards and kept his grip around the squirmy telepath, so that Schuldig ended up straddling him. He was surprised, given the man's attitude and their power imbalance, that Schuldig was letting him have so much control. But he decided to make use of it. His hands eagerly slid under Schuldig's baggy t-shirt, sending shivers up the man's back as he mapped out every bit of skin he could reach. His mouth was just as sweet tasting as Yohji expected, although that could have been a side effect of the large quantities of sugar Schuldig consumed.

He broke the kiss, and smiled when he saw Schuldig confusedly go to kiss him again. “Hey, wait a sec. How far are you looking to go right now?”

“Huh?” Schuldig blinked a few times, then seemed to notice he was wrapped like a boa constrictor around the other man. His pale cheeks flushed, and his eyes squeezed shut. “The fuck are you talking about, Kudoh? Why are you talking?”

“Because communication is important here? Look, you have an unfair advantage. You already know everything I want to do with you, and you're getting refreshers as we go. I need you to actually talk to me though. Are we kissing, are we trading friendly hand jobs, or am I going to see how stupidly off I was in imagining the extent of your flexibility?”

Schuldig's face was bright red. “I'm sitting on your fucking lap and you're asking me what I want?”

“Yeah. Uh...that's kind of how this is supposed to work, actually. Have you only slept with other telepaths? Do you guys just think at each other and never ask anyth-”

Schuldig placed a hand over his mouth. “Shut up. I can't think with you blabbering on like that. Let's, um, let's just stick to kissing, okay?”

Yohji felt some disappointment. He'd been rather excited about the idea of sexual exploration with the gorgeous redhead. It had been quite a few years since he'd felt the sort of excitement that came with this level of novelty, and where he'd been repressing so many of these desires, the urge to give in and indulge himself was almost overwhelming.

But Yohji was not into coercion, and only ever had as much fun as his partners. If Schuldig wasn't into it, Yohji wouldn't be either. He'd just have to make sure they had one hell of a make out session.

Schuldig's eyes widened. He looked completely off balance. Yohji frowned, and gently touched the side of his face. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah,” Schuldig breathed. The haunted look left him, and some of the familiar arrogance returned. “I'm good. Really good, actually. Um...maybe we could try the friendly hand jobs?”

“I mean, if that's what you want I won't talk you out of it.”

“I think we've done enough talking.”

Yohji was about to state his enthusiastic agreement when Schuldig shut him up with a fierce kiss of tongue and teeth that sent him flat against the mattress. Yohji tangled his hands in the unfairly soft orange hair and, once more, was ceded control over the kiss far faster than he expected. Not that he minded. Kissing was definitely one of the skills his previous experience transferred over to, whatever the gender of his current partner. He might be a little unsure of what he was doing for the rest of it, but he knew he was a damn good kisser.

He slid Schuldig's t-shirt up again, and let out a surprised squeak when he saw what was under it. “How the hell do you have abs?”

“What the fuck are you talking about? And again, why the fuck are you talking?”

Yohji pushed up onto his elbows as Schuldig fell back onto his side. He pointed at him accusingly. “Those are real, defined abs. I actually work out. You laze around with comic books and junk food. How? That is not fair.”

“I don't just laze around reading comic books, asshole. We haven't even known each other for a week. You don't know anything about me.” He tugged his shirt back down.

“I can already tell you don't work hard enough to have abs like that. This is another freaky thing related to your powers, isn't it?”

“Actually, yeah. My body processes calories in a manner that's conducive to both eating whatever the fuck I want and also looking amazing in tight pants. Is this weird jealousy of yours killing the mood? Because I gotta say, if you're going to sleep with men you're not going to get very far if you get angry at your partners for being hotter than you.”

“Hey, wait a minute. I didn't say...” Yohji trailed off. Schuldig's smug grin was one of the most infuriating things he'd ever seen as well as the sexiest. He both wanted to hit the man and also pick up exactly where they'd left off.

I get that a lot.

“I'm sure you do.” Picking up where they left off won out, and so a moment later he was yanking the t-shirt over Schuldig's head and doing his best to admire the well defined abs without jealousy while he kissed the man senseless. He seemed to be doing a pretty good job of it; there were no more snarky thoughts intruding into his head, at any rate.

Yohji started massaging the front of Schuldig's jeans, and listened to the delicious moan that action coaxed from him. He got the button open on the stupidly tight jeans and started working the zipper when Schuldig jerked back. “Schu? We still on for friendly hand jobs, or do you want me to walk it back?”

“I'm fine.”

“Okay...” He got the zipper down and helped Schuldig shimmy out of the jeans. He seemed really tense, which was just odd because supposedly Yohji was the one expanding his horizons here. Schuldig had called him out on his repressed sexuality. Yohji had just taken it for granted that Schuldig had been with guys before.

Schuldig's obnoxiously teal boxer shorts had slid down a little ways while they were struggling with his pants, revealing some coarse hairs. Yohji's eyes fixed on the bulge, damp from precum, and he realized how tight his own pants felt, and the last little lingering doubt he had about his sexual orientation completely dissolved. Yeah, he might be a womanizer, but he was definitely gay for the right man, and at the moment Schuldig was very much the right man. He wanted to feel Schuldig's cock in his palm, watch his sharp featured face change as he pleasured him, swallow his moans, listen for his own name as he made Schuldig come…

“Fuck, Yohji...” And then Schuldig came. Yohji tried very hard not to think about how disappointed he was, knowing full well that the damn telepath would hear every bit of it.

But they'd barely done anything.

Schuldig's face was beet red. He ducked his head and cursed under his breath, then quickly pulled his pants up. “I got a little lost in your head. It happens. Uh...fuck. I'll still get you off.”

“Schu...stop.” Yohji touched his chin, tilted his face up, and gently kissed his lips. “There's no rush or anything. We're between missions. If you're up to it, we could stay in here all night and...” Something about the look on Schuldig's face shut Yohji up. Then he heard footsteps approaching his door, and realized just before the knocking started that Schuldig must have heard the thoughts of whoever it was that was sent to get him.

It turned out to be Ken. “Hey, Kudoh. Get your lazy ass up, if you're still home. Manx is here.”

Yohji cursed and fell back against the mattress. Much as he enjoyed flirting with Persia's sexy assistant, he didn't much like the idea of trying his luck while tenting his pants. He had a feeling castration was probably among the woman's many skills, and didn't want to cross the line from bantering flirtation to all out sexual harassment.

Then his thoughts turned heated, with an urgency he hadn't felt before. He bit back on a moan, still somehow conscious of Ken standing just outside his doorway while all sorts of erotic thoughts tangled in his mind at once, and a hot mouth descended on his neck while strong fingers massaged the front of his pants.

He came faster than Schuldig had. “You're welcome,” the jerk whispered before snatching up his clothes and lightly leaping out the window.

“Yohji, are you home? Guys, I don't think he's home!”

Still reeling a bit from the most powerful, if sudden orgasm he'd ever had, Yohji managed to collect himself enough to shout in the general direction of the door. “I'll head down to the mission room. Just give me like five minutes.”

“Kay. Never mind, guys! He's here after all! Tell Manx we'll be there in a minute!”

Yohji reached a shaky hand for his nightstand and the pack of cigarettes he'd left there. He wondered if sleeping with a telepath was always going to be this strange. And tried not to think about how easily he'd accepted that he wanted to make a habit of sleeping with a telepath.

 


 

“Nagi, I need you to come with me.”

Nagi slipped his headphones off and shot Brad a sour look. “How long is this going to take?” He was sitting cross legged on his bed with his computer open in front of him and stacks of books on either side. None of the books were open, and the post-its he was using as bookmarks were still in the same place they'd been the last time Brad had spoken to him, so he assumed the books were only there to mislead him into thinking Nagi was studying.

He was probably hacking Kritiker again. On the one hand, Nagi's interest in Kritiker would undoubtedly come in helpful down the line. On the other though, it was a bit annoying the way his team was going against his orders to leave the damn Weiss alone for the time being.

“This will go a lot quicker if you come with me. We'll be back in twenty minutes, tops.”

“You're holding Farfarello's straitjacket.”

“Yes I am. Please follow me to the car.”

“Fine.” Nagi closed his computer, climbed to hit feet, and followed Brad to their front room. He pulled on a pair of boots, his jacket following him telekinetically as they left the apartment until he was ready to pull it on. Brad considered saying something to him about that but decided to let it drop. There weren't any neighbors around to see it. Their neighbors, being mostly sensible individuals, had made a collective decision to have as little to do with the “bodyguards” as they could get away with.

Brad drove them in silence for several minutes before pulling the car to the side of the road and parking it. Farfarello was standing on a sidewalk just a few feet away from them, staring intently at the entrance of a Catholic school. He was stationary, but his face and his hands kept twitching, and every so often his legs would jerk, like he was trying to walk and battling with himself over it.

They got out of the car and approached him. “Farfarello, I need you to come with me.” Brad spoke in a firm tone that Farfarello completely ignored. He didn't so much as look at his teammates, eye focused with rigid determination on the building in front of him.

Brad held out the straitjacket and, with an annoyed sigh, Nagi floated it out of his hands and secured it around Farfarello. Brad grabbed Farfarello's shoulder, but it was Nagi's power that guided him into the backseat of the car, and Nagi was the reason the tranquilizer made it into his system.

“He didn't fight us this time,” Nagi observed. “Why?”

“Because he was already fighting a telepathic command to return to the house. He couldn't further split his focus from that.”

“Schuldig.”

Brad nodded. “Yes. To be fair, the telepathic suggestion would have worked if Farfarello was in a different-”

“Farfarello said he was close to a turn. We were all in the room. Schuldig should have stayed with him.” Nagi crossed his arms over his chest and rolled his eyes. Brad didn't say anything, because the boy was absolutely right. And he'd remind Schuldig of that in no uncertain terms the next time he saw the pest. If Brad's vision had come even five minutes later, Farfarello probably would have been able to break the telepathic command and gotten into the school, and then they'd wind up in the news, the Elders would have been angry with them, and Farfarello, if not all of them, would have wound up at Rosenkreuz for a review.

Brad was pretty sure he'd stressed this to his team enough times, but Schuldig apparently needed it drilled into his head again; they needed to avoid Rosenkreuz reviews at all costs. The last thing Brad needed right now was for Rosenkreuz telepaths to be digging away at their heads. Not when they were this close to mutiny. He wanted the Elders to think of them as reliable but otherwise unremarkable workers that they didn't need to keep close tabs on. No one should be paying attention to them for at least another year. They'd get to cause all the mayhem they wanted in the lead up to the ritual, but for the moment they needed to lie low.

Schuldig's carelessness was going to get them killed one of these days.

“Why do you let him get away with so much?” Nagi seethed. “If the rest of us screwed up with as much consistency as Schuldig does, you'd have our heads.”

“To be fair, I'm about as hard on Farfarello as I can be about his many unfortunate incidents, but he also isn't in control of himself when they happen.”

“Schuldig is. You let him get away with murder. Often literally.”

“Drop it, Nagi.”

“I'm just saying-”

“We can't replace him at this stage, so we'll have to make do with what we have.”

Nagi rolled his eyes again and pointedly stared out the window until they pulled back into the parking garage for their building, a mere fifteen minutes from when they'd left. Brad went to get Farfarello from the back seat and was a bit surprised to find Nagi waiting for him. He'd expected the kid to run back for the privacy of his room so he could further cyber-stalk the Weiss in peace.

“Where is Schuldig, anyway?”

Brad didn't want to admit that he didn't actually know. He had a guess though. “It's none of your concern. Are you here to offer me assistance carrying Farfarello into the house, or do you have better things to do?”

Nagi didn't answer. By the time Brad hauled his unconscious teammate from the backseat of the car the kid was gone, which was unfortunate. He hadn't been entirely sarcastic with his request. Farfarello was the heaviest member of Schwarz and a telekinetic assist would have been appreciated.

It took another twenty minutes to get Farfarello secured safely in his room. Brad had to check him over for concealed weapons, search the room, call a few visions to double check himself, triple check all of Farfarello's restraints, and then check that they had the appropriate medications on-hand. Based on his visions, this series of fits wouldn't last too long. Farfarello was going to be a bit odd and forgetful for the next few days, but the violent Berserker fits were only going to last through the night. He'd be nearly himself again after a good, drug-induced sleep.

Once Farfarello was taken care of, Brad shut himself into his own room and prepared to call a few visions to help him deal with his other wayward teammate.

Chapter Text

Roughly fourteen Years Ago…

 

Brad Crawford, like the other precognitive psychics who were being transported to the main Rosenkreuz training facility, was a shaking wreck when he arrived at the psychic “school.” None of the adolescents were exactly overjoyed at their situation, but the precogs, who had more of a grasp on what awaited them, all conveyed a palpable terror that the other kids didn't.

Brad was especially terrified. He'd had his first visions about Rosenkreuz when he was six years old, and by the time he was in middle school he'd started Seeing possible futures of mutiny and escape. Those visions had been comforting, and something he'd spent a lot of time focusing on once he realized the inevitability of his kidnapping and imprisonment, but now that he was actually there he didn't want those visions so close to his surface thoughts. Just because he'd Seen his successful mutiny and escape didn't mean it was necessarily going to happen. He knew a little more about his powers than your average untrained psychic, and he understood that the visions he saw were forecasts. It was up to him to make sure they actually happened.

The kids were divided into two groups and made to stand in lines against the walls of a narrow corridor. Two men and three women started slowly walking between the lines, looking at the kids with predatory smiles. It was obvious how much they were enjoying the fear their presence excited. One of the women nodded towards a trembling boy and a guard shot him. A girl standing next to the murdered boy screamed and she was killed as well.

Brad faced front and tried to keep his mind blank. He'd had some lessons on that and had gotten fairly good at obscuring his thoughts but he'd also never been tested like this before. The kind old man who read cards for tourists in the sweet smelling gift shop he used to hang out at had never tried to be anywhere near as intimidating as the Rosenkreuz administrators.

Oh god. He was going to die. There was no way these terrible people could look in his head and miss all the visions he'd had about destroying their organization. He'd never be able to fake loyalty to them. They were going to see everything.

The woman who'd gotten the boy killed started to walk past Brad, then turned on her heel and stood in front of him. She grasped his chin with her bony, claw like hand and forced him to make eye contact.

“My, that's an interesting head you've got there. Rather orderly for an American. Their teens are never this disciplined.”

Her eyes were a cold gray, one of them cloudier than the other. He tried not to stare at the discoloration, and then realized that it was probably safer to focus on that than all the thoughts he didn't want the telepaths to see.

A pressure started to build in his temple as the telepath began picking through his thoughts in earnest. She was moving past the surface ones. She was going to see everything. He was going to wind up dead, just like the two teens who were still twitching a bit on the ground, their blood now sticking to the sneakers of the next nearest, terrified children in line.

Then, with a startling suddenness, Brad was alone in his head. The pressure was gone, as though it had been flung away. The woman scowled. Her fingernails bit into Brad's skin as she squeezed his chin harder, turning his face from side to side. She squinted, but she couldn't get past whatever it was that had kicked her out.

She definitely wasn't amused anymore.

“Powell, what is it,” one of the other telepaths barked.

“This little shit knows how to shield.”

One of the men walked up to her, grasped her shoulder and pulled her a slight distance from Brad. “And you can't get past it? An untrained whelp that hasn't even been processed yet? You're slipping, Powell.”

“Heh. Let's see you get past that shielding then. If it's so easy, I'd like to see you try.”

“All right, then I will.” The man yanked Brad's head back by the hair. He tried not to flinch, but the move had been surprising as well as painful. His eyes started to well with tears. Fear kept him otherwise motionless.

Once again, some kind of invisible barrier protected his thoughts from the telepath. He couldn't get through either. The woman, Powell, still looked pissy about it, but the man was intrigued. “All right, boy. Where did we grab you from? Powell said you were American. Were you from the East Coast or West Coast?”

“East.”

The man made an impatient gesture with his hand.

“Massachusetts. Um. I'm from Beverly?” All the adults he'd heard so far had far flung accents when they chose to speak English. He wasn't really expecting them to know where Beverly was.

To his surprise, the man nodded as though he'd expected it. “Salem, then.” He turned towards Powell. “There's your answer. One of the local psychics must have taught him to shield. They look after each other in Salem. Don't waste your time hammering away. His shields are going to hold, and I'd like to get these kids processed sometime before lights out.” He started to walk further down the line, paused, and then motioned to a girl standing at the end of the line. “Will somebody please kill that one? She thinks she's going to lead an uprising, the delusional little fool.”

“What? No, I swear I wasn't thin-” Her plea was cut off with a well placed shot, and her blood stuck to the bottoms of their shoes as the kids were led to the next phase of their processing.


Brad had most certainly not learned how to shield his own thoughts while living walking distance from Salem. The man, who he'd later learn was named Grant, had been right in his assertion that they looked out for each other. Brad had made friends with a kind old clairaudient gentleman who'd taught him a great deal about precognition, and some simple techniques that could sort of count as rudimentary shielding. He'd never actually met a telepath though, and therefore had limited knowledge of how to guard against them.

Salem was a unique city in that it had a thriving community of professional psychics. Some of them were hacks, many of them were well intentioned normies who thought they possessed a gift, and about a quarter of them were genuine psychics who pretended to be one of the former. Working as a professional psychic who came across as a fake was an excellent way to throw Rosenkreuz scouts off your scent. Al, the clairaudient who'd given Brad his first lessons in using his gift, had been eluding capture for over three decades.

For the next several weeks Brad's thoughts remained well guarded. This bothered some of the Rosenkreuz officials more than others. Grant, who held a lot of sway in the organization, continued to laugh it off. He was of the opinion that if someone was strong enough to get away with something then they had a right to do it. If they couldn't crack Brad's shields, that was on them.

In the meantime, Brad kept having visions related to his eventual escape. He Saw himself leading a team of assassins. Initially the lineup was fluid. For a good long while one of his classmates, a beautiful telekinetic girl named Sylvia, was part of his roster. Despite his circumstances, Brad was still a fourteen year old and he'd become enamored of the girl, right up until the vision where she betrayed him to the Elders of Eszett and blew his brains out. He couldn't help flirting with Sylvia a little, but any actual interest he'd had in her died with the disturbing vision.

The first member of his team to remain fixed in the visions was his telepath. He made sure to pay attention on the few occasions his duties brought him near the telepaths' barracks, wanting to catch a glimpse of the man he'd Seen in his visions in real life. To his consternation, he never bumped into the guy.

He knew there were going to be two other members of his team but the future hadn't fixed on anyone specific yet. The other two kept changing, and sometimes he couldn't See them at all. The telepath was usually right by his side though.

Really, Brad supposed he shouldn't have been as surprised he was when he returned to his cell one night after a particularly punishing training session and found the telepath lounging on his bunk. The other bed was empty, as his roommate had been killed the day before.

Brad didn't recognize him right away. In his visions, Schuldig was in his early twenties and had been living away from the Rosenkreuz campus for several years. As such, he was well nourished, reasonably well dressed (clashing fashion sense aside), and had eye catching hair that varied in color. Sometimes it was green, it had been a bright shade of magenta for exactly one vision, and most often it was an orangey red.

The child lazing on his bunk was severely underweight. The beige jumpsuit of coarse cloth hung off his slender frame even worse than it did on a typical student. His hair was pale yellow and unevenly chopped. He had a busted lip, two of his fingers were taped together, and a good amount of his skin was marred with cuts and bruises. Still, he was a confident mess. Despite this being the first time Brad had ever been in a room with him before, he recognized Schuldig instantly. His easy arrogance singled him out.

“What are you doing here?”

“I want to talk to you. Duh.” He sat up on the bed and tucked his legs under him, possibly to make room for Brad. Brad remained standing, however, and continued his study of the boy. Schuldig looked a little young to grow into the man he'd Seen in the visions.

He was very clearly following Brad's thoughts, because that one earned him a contemptuous scowl. “I'm nine, actually, not six. And the word kindergartener doesn't really apply, does it? It's not like either of us are ever going back to a real school again.”

“Nine,” Brad repeated, because that was almost as bad as what he'd been guessing. All the kids he'd been brought in with had been about his age. The youngest person he'd met so far was twelve. “How long have you been here?”

Schuldig made an iffy motion with his hand. “They actually did get me for the first time when I was six. Or, I think it was six. I've had a few accidents with my head so my memory's a little unreliable. Anyway, I got away for awhile but they found me again, and I escaped a couple more times but they always drag me back. That's why I wanted to talk to you though. I'm sick of running away and I like the visions I saw in your head. It looks like if I follow you I won't have to run away all the time.” He said the last part carefully, and watched Brad for a reaction.

He made sure not to give one. Instead, he focused his thoughts and tried to think a sentence as clearly as possible. Can you hear this?

Schuldig's face scrunched up, and he pressed his hands over his ears. Course I can, and you don't need to shout.

I've never done this before. How do I project my thoughts without it feeling like I'm shouting at you?

Just think normally, you idiot. I'm going to hear it. I'm sitting like a foot away from you and I've been guarding your head for months. I'm used to the way your thoughts feel.

Do you...see all my thoughts?

Schuldig laughed and shook his head.

No. I've got better things to do than monitor some stupid American who doesn't know how to think without shouting. But I've seen a lot of them, and I've been making sure that nobody else does. I'm very good with shields.

How did you learn that?

Brad was certain Schuldig must have picked up shielding before he'd arrived at Rosenkreuz. They wouldn't have allowed such a powerful telepath to learn how to block them out until they'd broken him down and assured his loyalty to the Organization. Brad could confirm with his own gift that Schuldig was anything but broken down. Hell, one look at the arrogant smirk that appeared to be his resting expression would convey that to anyone, with or without psychic talents.

I dunno. I've been able to do it as long as I can remember though. I like your visions, Brad. I don't want them to get you killed. I want to make them happen.

We're in agreement on that. Brad finally crossed the room and joined Schuldig on the bunk. If we have any hope of making that happen though, the first step is simply to stay alive. You shouldn't be here.

“They're not going to kill me,” Schuldig said bluntly. “They kill all the other kids because they're not worth keeping alive, and killing them scares the valuable ones into doing what they want. I know they want to use my powers. They're trying to break me and make me like them but they're not going to win. I've been in their heads too, and I know what they're thinking. They won't really kill me.”

“But they'll hurt you.” Brad looked Schuldig over and pointedly nodded his head. “It looks like they already have.”

“I'm not scared.” Schuldig's smirk slipped, and his voice trembled a little as he spoke.

“You should go back to the telepaths barracks. They'll notice you're missing soon.” And we don't need them to know we've been talking.

That's true, I guess. I wanted to meet you though. You already got better at thinking at me. You're not shouting anymore. I'll see if I can teach you how to shield your own thoughts. The stupid administrators think you're doing it on your own.

I know. Schuldig, thank you.

Schuldig hopped off the bed and started for the door. He turned towards Brad and flashed him that distinctive smirk. You can pay me back by helping me kill every last one of these bastards.

Brad listened carefully, but even in the perfect stillness of the barracks he couldn't hear Schuldig. The boy moved incredibly quickly and silently. That was going to be useful down the line. Still though, he'd have far fewer injuries if he was more judicious in how he used his talents. Brad's visions had already shown him that Schuldig wasn't very good at keeping himself safe, unfortunately, and that there wasn't going to be a lot he could do to mitigate that.

Well, he could keep Schuldig alive, at least. That was something.

I'm still reading your thoughts, jerk. You'd better aim a bit higher than 'alive.'

Does that mean you're going to listen to me when I tell you not to do something stupid? Brad thought back. He leaned back against his bunk and folded his arms behind his head while he waited for a response.

I don't like it when people tell me what to do.

That was definitely an understatement. I'm not a huge fan of it either, but we're going to have to deal with it for awhile. I've been mulling over these plans for a long time now. I know what I'm doing, and I won't tell you to do anything that won't ultimately help you. I need you to trust me or this is never going to work. You might as well just stop shielding me and turn me in to the administrators right now.

Fuck that. You're my ticket out of here.

So does that mean you'll trust me?

Brad waited again. Schuldig was a little longer in answering than he would have liked. After a few minutes he worried the kid had gotten caught sneaking around the campus when he was supposed to be in bed, but then the snide young voice sounded in his head again.

Sorry, I was just getting back into my room. I had to focus real hard to slip past the guards. I already trust you, Brad. I wouldn't be shielding you and risking an ass kicking to see you if I didn't. We're a t eam now, okay?

For the first time in months, Brad smiled. Something came loose in his chest. The pain of separation from his family (he'd still yet to have any visions of being reunited with them, even after his mutiny), the constant state of terror he'd been forced to live with, the trauma of seeing people murdered in front of him on a daily basis and the uneasiness of having such a practice normalized into routine, all that pain and horror muted a bit and he felt something almost like joy.

They weren't alone anymore. He knew they were going to get through this.

Yeah, Schuldig. We're a team. They're going to call us Schwarz.

Schwarz? Do we gotta wear black?

Brad almost laughed. No, we don't have to color code.

Good. I like bright colors. When I don't have to wear these stupid beige jump suits anymore I want to wear the loudest colors I can.

I'm sure we can manage that. Good night, Schuldig.

G'night, Brad .

Chapter Text

The next couple of weeks were almost pleasant. Schuldig popped in and out of Yohji's life at his convenience, almost always snacking on something with more calories than Yohji usually ingested in a week. They had sex about as often as they didn't; Schuldig could be contented with lounging on Yohji's bed and teasing him over his thoughts, which was surprisingly enjoyable. Yohji still thought the man was pretty funny. He usually stopped short of being outright mean, and whenever he crossed the line he got adorably flustered enough that it made up for any feelings he wounded.

The visits were proving helpful for Yohji's mood. As it turned out, being an assassin working for a shady organization that sent him out on downright bizarre missions was stressful. Yohji had taken the job knowing it was going to mess with his head, but he'd underestimated exactly how badly it was going to get to him. Blowing off stress with Schuldig was helping him keep his head together. The telepath knew who he was and what he did, and since he did something of the same (though he never said much about his own work), there was no judgment or discomfort there. Yohji couldn't hide anything from him, what with the telepathy, so he didn't even try. He was just himself, unguarded, and it was okay. It was the most comfortable he'd been around another person in over a year, since…

Nah, he still wasn't going to let himself think about that one.

Sometimes he thought he was crazy, and that his damaged brain had just conjured the sexy redhead to make him feel better. No one else knew about Schuldig. He avoided the other Weiss and either snuck into Yohji's room or gave him a telepathic nudge to meet him outside. Yohji had a feeling he should have been bothered by that, but truth be told he didn't want his housemates to know about his trysts. Frankly, he needed them too much to risk having them taken away, and try as he may to convince himself that he wasn't doing anything wrong, in truth Yohji knew that spending time with a man he knew so little about that could read his damn mind was a bad choice. With how sensitive their work was, this could definitely come back on Weiss and possibly endanger all of them. It was stupid, really. For some reason though, Yohji trusted Schuldig. He knew what he was doing was harmless (or, he really really wanted to believe it was, so he'd convinced himeself that this was one of those perfectly reliable gut feelings he'd depended on during his PI days).

Schuldig had been pretty honest with him so far. He'd told him he was an assassin too the first time they'd met. It hadn't been on purpose, but in its own way that was comforting. Schuldig sucked at lying to him. He always talked more than he meant to when they were together, so in a way Schuldig was just as unguarded as Yohji was. Besides, Schuldig liked him too. Yohji would be able to tell if he ever actually wished him harm. No, he was pretty sure he was right. Schuldig was harmless.

It was fine. Everything was going to be fine.

 


 

“Hi, Ken-kun!” Omi greeted as he burst into the kitchen, his chipper facade boosted to its maximum level by sleep deprivation and caffeine. “I'm so sorry for running late at school and missing the first part of my shift. I can open for you tomorrow morning to make up for it...” He trailed off, as he realized that his housemate's presence with him in the kitchen was rather conspicuous, considering the work schedule for the flower shop.

“Don't worry about it, Omi.” Ken had his head in the refrigerator, sifting through their containers of leftovers for something that still appeared safe to ingest. “We closed the shop already.”

“But we're supposed to be open for another four hours!”

“Yeah, but Aya wanted to take off, and me and Yohji both decided that we just...didn't feel like being open anymore.”

“Ken-kun! You guys can't keep doing that.”

“Why not?” Ken opened a carton, gave it a dubious sniff, and then instead of throwing it in the trash where it clearly belonged stuck it back in the fridge and continued his search. This little display of lazy housekeeping did nothing towards improving Omi's mood. He was overworked enough without having to clean up after three roommates who were either too lazy, inconsiderate, or distracted to pitch in.

“It's just our cover,” Ken continued. “As long as we're reliable with the assassin stuff, Kritiker shouldn't care that much about the shop. Yohji was saying that he thinks we keep the shop open too many hours, and he made a good point. Of the two jobs, that's not the one we should be overworking ourselves for and losing sleep over, right?”

“But it's important precisely because it is our cover!” Omi exploded. “If we do a lazy, half-assed job with it people will wonder how the Koneko stays in business and then they'll notice it and us more. You can't just close the shop because you feel like it.”

“I guess. Well, there's not much we can do about it today though. Aya and Yohji already took off, and I'm going out to watch a game. Why don't you get caught up on your homework or something?”

Ken emerged from the fridge in triumph, letting the door shut behind him as he took a fork to some leftovers that Omi had intentionally hidden in the back of the fridge for himself. He noticed the look on Omi's face and misconstrued it as relating to their conversation. “I'm sorry, Omi. I promise, we'll be better about manning the shop from now on. Or, I will, anyway.”

Somewhat mollified by the apparent sincerity of the apology, Omi set his bag on the table and turned to the cabinets instead. He knew perfectly well what the contents of the fridge were like, and that it was overdue for a clean out. But his stash of candy should be safe, and would hold him over until he could have something delivered. He was the only member of Weiss with a strong sweet tooth, knowledge he used to his advantage when purchasing snacks.

He let out a choked sound of dismay when his hand patted over an empty stretch of shelf. “I'd really like to know what keeps happening to my candy! You all keep saying you don't even like candy, but this is the second time this week I've been cleaned out.”

“I don't know what to tell you, Omi. I'm still not the one stealing your snacks.” Ken noisily slurped the food he had stolen, directly in front of Omi, never realizing how close he came to being hit.

Upstairs, the telepath listening in on the exchange burst into giggles that he refused to explain to his companion, who still hadn't realized the suggestion to close the Koneko early hadn't originated from his own thoughts.

 


 

Anal sex, it turned out, wasn't actually supposed to hurt. This was news to Schuldig, who had come of age mostly in the brutal environment of a Rosenkreuz training facility followed immediately by working as an assassin. Even his (mostly) consensual sexual encounters had been on the rough side.

Yohji, with all the maturity of a man in his early twenties, had voiced an interest in “butt stuff.” Intrigued by what he saw in the guy's head, Schuldig went along with it. He was a bit surprised to discover that Yohji was already pretty experienced with anal sex – he'd just never tried it with another man.

He'd also hit on a strategy for what he referred to as Schuldig's stubborn lack of communication during the act. Yohji visualized a steady stream of filthy things and studied Schuldig's reaction to his thoughts. If Schuldig got excited, he did the thing. If he got a neutral or tense reaction, he tried something else.

Schuldig had never had a partner pay that much attention to him before. In the moment he definitely enjoyed it. The sex was phenomenal, the constant strain that came with his telepathy got a nice rest after a couple of hours in Yohji's company, and Yohji was a pretty decent conversational partner. But afterwards, when he'd left the Koneko and returned to the world of Schwarz and Eszett, Schuldig felt uneasy.

He'd made the mistake of staying in bed with Yohji after the other man had fallen asleep and, though physically comfortable, was unable to drift off himself but loth to move. Yohji was having pretty warm and fuzzy dreams, as opposed to the PTSD shit Schuldig sometimes glimpsed if he checked on the kitten at a late enough hour. He didn't want to wake him up, which was part of what was bothering him so damn much. He shouldn't have given a flying fuck about waking Yohji up.

Schuldig sighed, and shifted in bed just enough so that he could actually see the stupid asshole that had him feeling annoyingly sentimental and conflicted about it. He just didn't get Yohji. The man killed people for a paycheck, so where the hell did he get off being so damn nice? Why did he care if Schuldig enjoyed the sex as much as he did? Strike that. Yohji seemed to prefer it if Schuldig had a better time than he himself did. It was a weird point of pride for him to make sure his partners were taken care of. And even though he killed for a paycheck, he did have standards about which assholes he'd go after. Schuldig mostly killed evil people by default; getting in Eszett or Rosenkreuz's bad graces required a certain kind of lifestyle. But if he did have a choice in the matter, he was pretty sure he wouldn't make nearly as much of a fuss about it as the Weiss did.

He just didn't understand why it was he was getting along with Yohji. There was no reason for it, beyond the superficial. Nice body, nice thought structure, yeah. Those were convenient things. But this was more than convenience. Schuldig really liked him, and from what he could see in Yohji's head, Yohji liked him too. Or, he liked the person he thought Schuldig was.

There was no way this was going to end well. If there was one thing Schuldig's life had drilled into his head repeatedly, it was that superficially pleasant, uncomplicated things didn't last. They inevitably mutated into something cruel and painful.

Schuldig felt too itchy to stay in one place. Still not wanting to interrupt a rare restful sleep, he slipped Yohji a telepathic command to stay asleep as he climbed out of bed and got dressed, and then cursed himself out for bothering with such a pathetic nicety. He climbed out the window, leapt lightly onto the sidewalk below the building, and started back for Schwarz's quarters.

To his great surprise, the Oracle wasn't still brooding away in his office. Schuldig checked the time and realized that it was almost four in the morning. Which meant, per Brad's schedule, he'd be getting up soon anyway.

He waltzed into Brad's bedroom, flicked the light on, and plopped down on the end of his bed.

Brad pulled a pillow over his head and let out a loud groan. “Fucking hell, Schuldig. Go to bed!”

“Tried. I couldn't sleep, and I had a beautiful naked man wrapped around me dreaming the most pleasantly soothing mush. So you being all disgruntled and barking orders at me like that certainly isn't going to work if that didn't.”

“I have to spend twelve hours with Reiji Takatori tomorrow, seven of which will be in the company of one or both of the bastard's screwed up sons. If I'm not well rested I may finally snap and shoot him in the face.”

“I'm failing to see a downside here.”

“Messy death for all of Schwarz at the hands of the Eszett Elders.”

Schuldig frowned, and then switched the lights back off. He didn't leave though. He lingered by the open door, tapped his fingers against it a few times, and finally just came out with it. “Are me and Yohji really compatible?”

“Yes. Now go to sleep.”

“But...why? How does that work?”

“I don't fucking know! You don't even have to go to sleep. Just leave me alone. Schuldig, I promise. Whatever it is that's bothering you about your ideal match getting along with you, it can wait.” He removed the pillow from his head, and consequently his last words were much more clear. Schuldig made out a trace of sympathy in them. “We can talk about this later, okay?”

“Yeah, I guess. Um. Have you Seen much about this, uh...thing?”

Brad sat up and rubbed at his eye with the heel of his hand. He really didn't do well without a decent night's sleep and a fuck ton of caffeine. “I've Seen a fair bit. And I'm not showing you anything else. Really, I shouldn't have shown you the thing with the scrambled eggs.”

“I can't believe I forgot about that.” Schuldig grinned, thinking back on how often he'd replayed that bit of the future in his mind as a lonely teenager.

“Schu. Just don't over think it. It's only going to go to hell if you make it more complicated than it needs to be.”

“You just told a telepath not to over think something. That's kind of our specialty.”

“Right. Well, if you want to have this conversation tomorrow, hopefully sometime after I've spent a miserable twelve hours with Takatori where I don't get to shoot him in the face...”

“Right, right. Goodnight, fearless leader.” Schuldig left, shutting the door behind him, and went into his own room. He put on some cartoons, and tried to stop thinking about the fact that there was a nice guy out there who enjoyed his company and wanted him to be happy. And he continued to avoid the thought that it might bother him if the nice guy learned anything of substance about him and changed his mind.

 


 

Brad's eyes kept drifting shut no matter how hard he tried to keep his attention focused on Reiji and Hirofumi Takatori's business meeting. He hadn't gotten any precognitive whiffs of anything remotely dangerous (or significant, or interesting) happening for at least another couple of weeks, but he also wasn't foolhardy enough to depend entirely on his gift to suss out danger. He'd gathered a group of powerful psychics together to overthrow one of the most dangerous occult organizations in history and his strategy partially depended on overconfident psychics expecting their gifts to be more than enough to protect them. He knew how to exploit that brand of hubris, and constantly checked it when he saw signs of it in his own thoughts.

But Reiji Takatori was just so damn difficult to take seriously. The man was more like a caricature than a person. If Brad could have designed an evil yet incompetent pawn for Eszett's use, he would have considered Takatori too insultingly simplistic to be a realistic option. He'd have added some redeeming traits just to make the pawn seem like a person. After all, he curried political favor by letting violent perverts reenact the Most Dangerous Game, one of his kids was a literal mad scientist, and he'd destroyed the Weiss' lives in thorough but coldly indifferent manners that had kept him from even noticing the broken young men he'd left in his wake. Rosenkreuz had fucked him and Schuldig over in arguably worse ways, but at least that brutality was acknowledged.

The self-important droning of the politician combined with a slightly too warm office had Brad nodding again, and the next thing he knew he was standing on a hiking trail he hadn't seen since childhood. Brad blinked a few times, then took a cautious step closer to a decrepit balance beam and the heart-healthy instructional plaque propped up next to it. The text was in English. He was Seeing something in Northern Massachusetts.

Dream-visions were finicky things, and the dread that accompanied the realization might have jolted him out of his trance, but he used his training to remain in the receptive state he needed to keep it going.

This was his home. He shouldn't be Seeing anything about his home, because his current life shouldn't be touching his home in any way. He'd sacrificed an awful lot to keep the psychic assassin life the hell away from everyone he'd known and loved before Rosenkreuz. Something was incredibly wrong.

A young man, probably about Schuldig's age, ran into the clearing. He was about a head shorter than Brad, with stylishly cut black hair and striking brown eyes that he played up with eyeliner. He looked more suited to a night club than a nature trail, but a quick glance told Brad that his tight fitted black clothing was accessorized with concealed weapons. This was someone in the business.

The man stopped and squinted at the sign. His lips formed words, though he didn't say anything.

Then a form moving too fast for human vision to trace collided with the man and they went tumbling to the leaf strewn ground.

“Fuck! Hadrian, I was trying to concentrate!”

The superhumanly fast creature, who appeared to be a male teenager, grinned. “Bullshit. You weren't paying attention to your surroundings at all, Dar. You were asking to be attacked.”

“I felt something,” the young man insisted. “It felt like...I think it's still here. Wait.”

The teenager gave an exaggerated sniff and cocked his head to the side. “Werewolf senses aren't picking up anything remotely interesting. Well, I mean those guys from Rosenkreuz we're supposed to kill are a little further up the trail from us, but I'm guessing that ain't what you're talking about.”

“No, this is a psychic thing, not a physical one. I thought I...I thought I felt my brother.”

“Oh, Cliff? Shit, if he's around maybe we should lead the Rosenkreuz guys back to Salem before we-”

“Not Cliff,”Darren Crawford snapped. He rubbed his temple, then looked exactly where Brad would have been standing were he actually there.

“Brad, is that you?”

Brad came out of the vision with a start. He was tempted to run, to scream. He'd never wanted to do something more in his life. But he was still in a small space with a handful of Eszett property that, though buffoons, could be dangerous.

And Hirofumi Takatori had noticed him startle. “Mr. Crawford,” he said in a low voice, “is there anything we should be concerned over?”

Brad shook his head and curtly waved the pest off. He took a quick assessment of the room; the elder Takatori was still droning on self-importantly, his creepy son had gone back to taking notes, and the business associates were all desperately trying to curry favor with the immoral asshole through fawning and promises of favors.

Everything okay, fearless leader?

Outwardly, Schuldig looked the same as ever; disdainful but attentive. Brad shouldn't have been surprised. If Hirofumi had noticed his lapse, of course Schuldig would.

He'd been pissy about being dragged along for Brad's marathon-day of pawn sitting, something he'd interpreted as a punishment. It was a consequence, certainly, though not exactly a punitive one. Brad didn't do well with interrupted sleep, which might have been why he'd slipped into the trance-vision to begin with. He'd brought Schuldig along so he'd have someone he could occasionally talk to, which in theory would keep him grounded. It hadn't exactly worked, but he was glad Schuldig was there.

How fast can you get us out of here without suspicion?

Done.

Before Brad could even begin to form a rant about the need for caution, Takatori's phone rang. “Excuse me, gentlemen. I'd better take this.”

Hirofumi was blatantly miffed by his father's lack of professionalism. He tried to keep it from his manners, but the businessmen noticed. They didn't seem to think much of their potential collaborator's son; once Reiji left the room they acted as though the meeting were over, and ignored Hirofumi's attempts to keep the conversation on business matters.

After a few more minutes of that grating nonsense, Reiji Takatori burst into the room with all the grace of a constipated elephant and summarily dismissed everyone.

Hirofumi's face went red. “But father, are you quite sure that this business needs to be attended to with such urgency?”

Schuldig's grin widened. He folded his arms across his chest and leaned back against the wall to watch the fireworks.

“We can always return later for the pleasure of Mr. Takatori's hospitality,” one of the men said. The sycophants bowed their way out of the office, and once the door closed behind them Reiji turned his full attention on his son.

“So. You find yourself indispensable enough that you'd go against my word in a meeting. This is quite a turn, Hirofumi. I'd expected better of you.”

“Forgive me, father. I shouldn't have spoken out of t-”

“No, you shouldn't have. If it happens again those sportsmen you've organized will find themselves with new prey. Plodding, stupid, awkward prey that's been overshadowed by its younger brother's talents.”

Hirofumi's face went from red to white impressively quickly. He mumbled something inaudible before leaving the room.

Don't get any ideas that the asshat was showing affection for the other weirdo. He just likes to play them off each other to keep them both emotionally crippled.

I don't really care that much, Schuldig.

Honestly, neither do I, but I thought I was monitoring the horror shows that are these fuckers' heads for a reason.

Brad pointedly ignored Schuldig's insolence and secured them their dismissal from a rather agitated Eszett pawn. The ass even beat them out of the building and to the parking garage, and Brad had yet to witness anything faster than a stroll out of Takatori. “Schuldig, you didn't do anything serious, did you?”

“Nah, this was harmless. Actually, we can use this trick indefinitely without anyone noticing I'm pulling strings. I prodded his bastard daughter into working up some tears and giving Papa a call. That's the only one of his kids he likes. If he feels like he can get away with it, he'll drop everything for the princess. And koala-burns knew that meeting was just as unnecessary as we did. He only kept it going because he likes having his ass kissed.”

“Mm.”

“Brad?”

“What?” Brad snapped. It was taking too damn long to get back to their building. He had so many things he needed to check into. Why did there have to be so many damn people in Tokyo? Couldn't the traffic move any faster?

“Um...care to tell me why you had me do a thing you normally forbid me from doing? Not that I mind being free of that tedious ass meeting and the chambers of horrors that are the Takatori family heads, but still. This is out of character.”

“I can't talk about it yet.”

“Was the vision that bad? Shit. I've never seen you this rattled.”

No, he hadn't. Brad only got this upset and therefore sloppy when he Saw danger surrounding one specific group of people.

What the fuck was Darren even doing decked out in assassin gear talking to werewolves? It was risky to try to check in on his family. He didn't want to draw any attention there if he could help it. But clearly his idiot younger brother needed some more looking after.

Brad had been fourteen years old when he used his precognition to lure the Rosenkreuz scouts into abducting him and only him, leaving his two psychically inclined brothers alone. He'd used what little occultism he'd been able to pick up to bind their gifts, making them appear normal unless someone really searched through their heads. Darren was supposed to finish school and get a job at an art museum. He was going to take care of their mother when she got too old and creaky to keep working as a nurse's aid. He was going to help Cliffie deal with his bullies in middle school and keep the sensitive young boy safe.

This was not the future Brad had thrown his life away for.

“Brad, you still with me? If you don't tell me what's going on I'm going to make mincemeat of your shields and find out for myself.”

That got his attention. He realized with a start that Schuldig was actually scared. He'd seen the man through plenty of disasters over the years, but fear had never been a go-to emotion for the brash young man. His response to danger and pain was usually to get annoyed, and then angry if the situation called for it.

This was new. It gave Brad some appreciation of just how much Schuldig trusted him and his guidance, that his reaction to seeing his “fearless leader” rattled was so uncharacteristic.

“It's fine, Schuldig,” Brad said, doing the best to keep his voice firm and authoritative. He'd need to keep one hell of a facade going if he was going to get by Schuldig's scrutiny. There were some definite downsides to having a nosy telepath for a longtime colleague. Especially considering the telepath had been infatuated with him before Brad had fully learned how to shield his own thoughts. No one knew him better, no one ever would, and therefore no one would ever be able to suss out attempts at misdirection and deflection like Schuldig.

“Brad?” Schuldig snapped his fingers next to Brad's ear. Brad roughly shoved his arm aside, throwing him back into his own seat. “Well maybe you shouldn't be the one driving if you're spacing out this much.”

“I'm fine.” Brad was reasonably confident he'd See it if they were going to crash. “Besides, we're almost there.”

Schuldig needled him for the duration of the short ride back to their place. Brad felt him nosing against his shields once or twice. He shot Schuldig a withering glare each time and he immediately backed off again.

Once they were inside Brad strode through the apartment and immediately shut himself in his room without comment. Which, come to think of it, might not have been the best way to convince his team everything was fine. Nagi had looked alarmed when he'd seen Brad barreling through the living room.

Fuck. His distraction really was making him sloppy. Brad took his glasses off, rubbed at his eyes, and then sat down on the floor and rested his forehead against his knees.

“Okay,” he mumbled. He wasn't really sure what to do, so he tried to think of what his mentor would have advised were she there.

Sometimes he really missed that woman. Miss Blanca had always known exactly what to say, which wasn't exactly an uncommon trait among precogs, but the urge to comfort others was certainly rare with the Rosenkreuz affiliated ones. Miss Blanca would always be there with a mug of tea for herself, cocoa for him, and they'd talk out his visions until he could look at them in a rational, detached sort of way and make sense of them. No urgency, no fuss, and he always emerged from those conversations knowing exactly what to do next. She'd helped him get Schuldig put on his team, helped them secure their transfer to Eszett, and put them on the path to collecting Farfarello and Nagi. There wouldn't have been a Schwarz without her.

She'd never come out and said that she knew what Brad's end game was. Only a fool would have given voice to such things. But Brad was certain she'd known, and that she also wanted to see the Elders slain and Eszett fall.

Miss Blanca would be asking him questions about his vision, he realized. They'd be pointed questions, to keep him on track and to take his emotions out of his planning. First and most important, could he figure out when the vision was supposed to happen?

The leaves implied fall. Fall in the US. Of course. Of course Rosenkreuz would send scouts to Salem in October. They'd been doing that for decades. Okay, he still had a couple of weeks to get a jump on this.

Brad closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths. Another vision would be helpful, but they never came when he was agitated.

The werewolf. Darren had called him Hadrian. Maybe he could look the guy up, track some useful intel down through him. It might still lead Rosenkreuz or Eszett back to his brother, depending upon how closely they were affiliated, but if he covered his tracks carefully it could be a workable lead.

He was going in circles. Brad needed to decide if he was going to nitpick this vision to death or try to coax a new one. He also needed to decide if he was going to put the Japan operation in jeopardy by jumping on a plane and rushing to Salem to check on his family. All his visions had said that Takatori wasn't going to actually use Schwarz for anything for at least another month or so, and the Elders weren't paying that much attention to their East Asian operations at the moment. He could sneak away, and if the rest of his team covered for him there was a good chance no one would even notice.

Quite suddenly, the door to his room was blown open with a deafening noise. Nagi walked in with his hand held out in front of him. He looked alarmed, or what passed for alarmed for the apathetic teen. Schuldig was just behind him, more agitated than he'd been in the car.

“Schuldig said you were freaking out.” Nagi frowned at him. Brad felt a little ashamed of himself. His team was genuinely worried for him, it seemed, and now they'd found him rocking back and forth on the ground hugging his knees. He immediately sat up and tried to restore some of his dignity. “What's going on, Crawford?”

“It's-”

“Don't say it's nothing!” Schuldig yelled. “We know you, Brad. Oh for fuck's-we're going to the Space Room.”

“Schuldig, no-”

Schuldig showed his usual regard for Brad's orders, and the next time he blinked Brad found himself in the dizzying telepathic “room” Schuldig had constructed for their team conferences.

The Space Room wasn't technically a real place, though Schuldig did sometimes manifest it around offices or studies so Nagi could make use of a computer while they plotted. It was a space that existed in their minds, a manifestation of the team's psychic link. It was incredibly well shielded; they could speak openly instead of having every thought literally go through Schuldig, and not have to worry about other psychics picking up what they said in visions, telepathic scans or telempathic scans.

If the Elders ever realized what Schuldig had made they'd probably all be executed on the spot.

Farfarello had been in his room before Schuldig threw the Space Room up. He was wearing pajamas and holding a sketch pad and a stick of charcoal. He took a moment to look at his surroundings, then stuck the charcoal behind his ear and flipped his eye patch back over his missing eye. “Little late for business, isn't it? Or did Takatori actually having something interesting to say during that meeting.”

“The meeting was a waste of time, like half the shit he has us do. I'm calling this meeting because Crawford had a vision that scared the piss out of him and I want to know what's up.” Schuldig crossed his arms over his chest and glared pointedly at Brad.

“It wasn't about anything to do with Schwarz.”

“And is that supposed to make a difference?” Nagi's tone was a lot less hostile than Schuldig's, but his melancholy was more effective in guilt tripping their leader. For half a second, Brad was tempted to give in and accept the support his team was offering him.

It probably would have been easier to take this on with Schwarz's various talents to call on. Nagi had gotten a frightening amount of intel with much less to go on than a first name and a physical description. He could easily track down this Hadrian person. Schuldig was nothing short of incredible when it came to dispatching psychics. He could probably kill whoever was poking around Brad's hometown without Schwarz being implicated.

But the more people he got involved, the messier it would get. He needed to deal with this fast, and with as little fuss as possible. Schuldig and Farfarello were chaos incarnate, and Nagi was too altruistic to be trusted with something that could be given the character of a mercy mission. He wouldn't want to stop at saving Brad's family, but they couldn't go after Rosenkreuz in earnest yet. They weren't even free of Eszett, and they never would be if they split their attention between the would-be world dominators and the psychic school.

“Crawford, let us help you. Whatever it is, you don't have to face it alone. That's the whole point of us working together, isn't it?”

Schuldig snorted. “The kid's being sentimental and sappy about it, but he's not wrong. You've backed me up when I've put my foot in it on non-Schwarz stuff. I could stand to pay back a few of those favors.” It was a hilarious understatement of the nature of their friendship, but not an inaccurate one.

They were being annoyingly stubborn. Brad cast about for something to say to get them to back off, but it was difficult to think of something on the spot that would both explain his actions and also make them drop the conversation.

Well, they were already in the Space Room. He could lie about a whole host of dire things without it necessarily coming back to bite him in the ass.

“I can handle it,” he said, working some genuine irritation and stubbornness into his tone. “But if you must know, the vision was of the Summoning. I haven't Seen it go that badly since before we finalized our team lineup. This vision implied that someone betrayed our plans to the Elders. That damn well shouldn't happen, since everyone in this room is supposed to be trustworthy. Now can you kindly leave me the fuck alone so I can see what needs to be done to restore the future we're working towards?”

It looked like he'd hit on a believable lie. All three of them looked discomfited. Nagi started anxiously shifting from foot to foot, and Farfarello took the charcoal stick out from behind his ear and started rolling it between his thumb and forefinger.

“Now, I don't think any of you are actually going to betray us. I'd have Seen that before now,” Brad assured them. “But there have been some recent changes.” He threw an irritated glance Schuldig's way, which took no acting ability whatsoever to muster. “We have to be careful what we're telling Kritiker agents.”

Nagi and Farfarello both turned their own scathing looks on Schuldig. “Oh fuck off! I'm not telling Yohji anything.”

Nagi rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Crawford's visions say otherwise. Plus you're the only one talking to a Kritiker agent.”

“Yohji's too dumb to use anything I say against us.”

“You told me he's smarter than he lets on and not to underestimate him,” Farfarello said.

Brad's tactic for distraction worked better than he could have hoped. Schuldig must have been feeling more self-conscious about his fling with Balinese than Brad had realized. He should have noticed that if the vision really was just about them and their goals, Brad would have soundly chewed him out for it in the car and that'd have been the end of it. Instead, he spent a good twenty minutes defending himself and his actions against Nagi and Farfarello, who were reasonably upset by the idea of Schuldig's lack of impulse control potentially getting them killed. Nagi already felt Schuldig got away with too much, and was all too ready to raise hell over what he felt were grave injustices within the team.

Eventually, Schuldig got pissed off enough that he abruptly pulled them out of the Space Room, called them all assholes, and stormed out of the apartment.

“He's going to get us all killed,” Nagi said. “Crawford, you are working on this, aren't you?”

“Of course I am. Potentially, Schuldig's dalliances with Balinese will work in our favor. We've just got to keep an eye on things and keep it all within the domain of our control. I can't say as much for your involvement with Schreient.”

Nagi's face colored, and he abruptly excused himself from the room. Good, that was two of them taken care of.

Farfarello silently regarded Brad for another moment, then picked up his sketchbook and started for the door. “I guess we're done here. Let me know if there are any other serious threats against the team though. You always forget to update me, and I'm not mad all the time. I can help with the plotting too, you know.”

“I know. You can help by keeping an eye on Schuldig for me.”

Farfarello smirked. “Was that intentional?”

“Hm?”

Farfarello tapped his eye patch. “Guess not then. G'night, Bradley.”

As soon as Farfarello left for his own room, Brad grabbed his laptop and started looking up flights to Boston.

Chapter Text

“Crawford's gone.”

“That's nice.” Schuldig walked past Farfarello, intent on getting into his bedroom, reinforcing his shields, and spending as many hours as his state of Eszett servitude would allow the hell away from people.

Storming out of the apartment after the impromptu Schwarz meeting hadn't ended terribly well for him. His first impulse had been to go bug Yohji, but as he'd been doing that rather a lot lately and was starting to feel uneasy about it he'd quashed that urge and decided to hang out in crowded areas and fuck with people (one of his favorite past times). Tokyo was nothing if not crowded, so there'd been an ample supply of unguarded minds to mess with.

Too many, it turned out. Eventually the foreign minds had overwhelmed him and influenced his actions. He'd had a real problem with that aspect of telepathy when he was younger, but supposedly he'd gotten control of it during Rosenkreuz training. The issue had returned once they'd moved from more rural areas to Tokyo proper. Schuldig was having a difficult time managing his telepathy, and having a harder and harder time hiding that from his team.

He collapsed onto his bed and hid his face in his pillow, silently giving thanks that he'd gotten his head together when he'd merely been walking into the tattoo parlor and not after the needle was already buzzing. Some of his early experiments with hair color had actually been the result of mistaking other peoples' whims for his own desires. He'd kept the orange for so long because he was pretty sure that one had been his own idea, and not something he'd picked up from another mind (to be fair, he was pretty sure very few people would intentionally choose the shade he'd gone for so it must have been his own idea).

“Schuldig.” Farfarello was standing in the doorway, voice flat but mind whirring. Schuldig let out a small groan and put a little more urgency behind strengthening his shields. He did not want to pick up any of Farfarello's messiness while he was feeling sore. “Crawford's gone.

“Whoop dee do. Who's he babysitting this time?”

“No one. Or, none that I can tell. He left a note saying he'd be away for two weeks, and that you're meant to fill in for him with Takatori while he's gone.”

That got Schuldig's full attention. “Wait, what? Fucking hell! I'm not taking over the Takatori job! We're supposed to be sharing that burden. He can go fuck himself if he thinks he's pawning that off on me.” Schuldig climbed out of bed and started for the office. “Where's that fucking note?”

Farfarello followed him into the office and tapped him on the shoulder while he was tearing through the papers Brad had left on the desk. He handed Schuldig the note, and his scowl deepened as he read it.

He might as well not have bothered. Farfarello had already told him the only real information in the damn thing. “Where the hell is he?” Schuldig kicked the desk chair over in frustration.

“Dunno. Was hoping you might be able to figure it out.”

“What makes you think I know something when there's no fucking information in this thing?”

Farfarello shrugged. “You usually know things Crawford doesn't want you to. I guess it doesn't much matter. He says he's only gone for two weeks, and nothing interesting's supposed to happen until after that.” Farfarello paused, and regarded Schuldig out of one shrewdly narrowed golden eye. “He means for us to stay here, you realize.”

“If he didn't want me to go looking for his stubborn ass he should have left a better note.”

“Schuldig, he said you're to handle the Takatori job in his absence.”

“Yeah, well, Takatori can look after his own fat ass until I get back.” Schuldig picked up the laptop and unceremoniously barged into Nagi's room. “Hey, kid. It's time to earn your keep. Tell me where Brad went.”

Nagi, who was sitting on his bed with his own laptop, briefly glanced up from the screen to shoot Schuldig a contemptuous look. “Are you telling me you don't know how to check someone's browsing history by yourself?”

“Why would I bother learning hacker shit when that's what we keep you around for?”

“That's not hacker...urgh. Fine, if it will get rid of you faster.”

Farfarello let out a croaky laugh at that. Schuldig gave his shields another bit of fortification and took a step away from the mad man. He handed the laptop to Nagi and waited behind him with his arms crossed over his chest. “So? Where'd Brad go?”

Nagi held his palm open over the keys, using his telekinesis for the typing. He started off looking contemptuous and vaguely annoyed, which wasn't unusual when he was dealing with Schuldig. But his expression turned to one of genuine concern when he found the information he'd been looking for. “He flew to America. Schuldig, you don't think this has something to do with that vision he had yesterday? The one that freaked him out?”

“No, I think it's a total coincidence he's flown to his fucking homeland for the first time in the fourteen years I've known him hours after nearly pissing himself in fright over a vision. Of course it's that!” Schuldig closed his eyes in a pained grimace. His head was throbbing, but he was too angry to care about how much his shouting was exacerbating the headache. “Fucking hell. And the way he manipulated us after the vision. I'm going to fucking kill him. I would have helped him, mind you, but he'd have to know how to function like a human fucking being and talk to people instead of just treating us like god damn chess pieces!”

Farfarello tilted his head to the side. “Are you done?”

Schuldig really wanted to hit something, but punching Farfarello had only ever resulted in a bruised hand for himself and a mocking laugh for Farfarello. He settled for pacing around Nagi's room. “Nagi, book a flight to wherever the hell he went.”

“The note said to stay here and look after Takatori,” Nagi grumbled. He did start looking up flights though.

“Koala-burns requested us for two meetings this week. He didn't specify which members of Schwarz had to guard him. So far he's only wanted us to stand behind him and look intimidating so he can impress whatever soulless pieces of shit he's making business arrangements with. Farf's creepy looking enough to count for both me and Brad. You guys are more than capable of handling this without us for a few days.”

“Crawford said to stay here, Schuldig. He said that you need to fill in for him, not me or Farfarello. Remember what happened the last time you went against his visions?”

Involuntarily, Schuldig rubbed at his neck. Or, more precisely, a scar on his neck from a gunshot that would have been fatal if he'd been any slower.

“This is different,” he insisted. “I'm not necessarily going against a vision. I'm going against his fucking stubborn, arrogant, manipulative precog tendencies, yes. But nothing in the note says he had a vision that things go to hell if I personally don't Takatori-sit. One of you guys can do it. I'm just going to find him, find out what's going on, guff him upside the head a few times, and then I'll come right back.”

“I don't believe that at all,” Farfarello said. Schuldig balled his hands into fists, ready to lay into Farfarello, when he turned to Nagi and smirked. “Schuldig's never landed a hit on Crawford in his life.”

Nagi snorted, and then went back to whatever the hell he was doing with his computer. “The more he talks, the less I mind the possibility of losing him for a week.”

Farfarello leaned over Nagi's shoulder and peered at the laptop screen with his unnerving hyper focus. “I've never been to Massachusetts before.”

“None of us have,” Nagi said.

“Bradley has.”

“Not since he's been one of us,” Schuldig said. “I wonder what the hell's going on.”

“Well, if he doesn't kill you you'll have to tell the rest of us when you get home. I got you a flight that leaves in three hours. You've got a stopover in Atlanta.”

“I want to go.” Farfarello reached over Nagi and tapped the laptop screen. “See if there are any other seats.”

“Farf, you have to stay here. You're Takatori sitting.”

“You're supposed to be doing that. If you can be spared, I can be spared as well. I'm sure Nagi can handle it on his own.” He paused, then looked thoughtfully at the scowling teen. “As a matter of fact, I'm sure he'd be better at it than me.”

“I mean, you're not wrong, but...” Nagi heaved a deep sigh. “I shouldn't have said that.”

Farfarello gave his shoulder a cheery squeeze. “Get me a good seat and I'll bring you back a souvenir.”

Might as well, kid. I'm not exactly thrilled at the idea of leaving him alone with you. He's been kinda off lately, even for him.

Agreed, Nagi thought at him. Are you sure you want to do this, Schuldig? It'll be harder to handle him if he has an episode while you're traveling. He's going to be off his routine.

I'll be fine. I take Farfarello for trips all the time.

Nagi's expression darkened, but he refrained from putting words to how he felt about Schuldig's ability to monitor Farfarello on trips. Schuldig saw the innocent civilians Farfarello sometimes butchered as an inconvenience one had to plan around. Cleaning up after dead innocents was something akin to taking an umbrella if it looked like rain. Nagi, meanwhile, saw dead civilians as a tragedy to be avoided at all costs.

He was a funny little assassin, that one.

Kid, of the two of us, who has more experience keeping an eye on Farfarello on his bad days?

...Definitely you. But you're so careless about it. Schuldig, if you want me to do this for you, you have to promise me you'll actually look after him. We're already playing with fire, here. I don't like the idea of going behind Crawford's back like this.

I'll be sure to let Brad know that, and then maybe next time he'll think twice before freezing us out.

Nagi's brow creased again, and he let out a tiny sigh as he finished typing. “I booked you a window seat, Farfarello.”

Farfarello's face brightened. “Brilliant. Thank you, Nagi. I guess we'd better start packing.”

Nagi's eyes widened, and he dove off the bed to follow Farfarello out of the bedroom. “Just remember, I'm not coming with you to the airport so I can't fool the luggage scanners. You can't pack any knives this time! Farfarello, are you listening to me?”

 


 

The first thing Brad did when he got off the plane at Logan was buy an iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts. He didn't even like iced coffee that much, and he'd never had any fondness for the actual food and drink produced by the chain, but there was just something about being home again that made him weak for the signposts of New England, and being within thirty feet of a Dunkin Donuts at any known time was definitely one of those signposts.

He threw out the mostly full coffee while he waited for the Silver Line outside the airport. His sentimentality had mostly been appeased by the one gesture, and now his head was focused on his goals once more. The long, uncomfortable flight had mostly been spent in psychic trance, filtering through visions and figuring out what he was going to do once he actually got home.

Thankfully, it didn't appear he'd be leaving any trace of his presence during his excursion. As far as anyone from Rosenkreuz or Eszett would know, Brad was still in Tokyo with his team, lying in wait for when the Japan project picked up. He'd be able to check on his mother and his brothers, find out for sure what Darren was up to, and nip back to Japan before anyone else was the wiser.

His visions could have been a little more informative in regards to his wayward brother. He'd Seen a few interactions between himself and Darren, which was disappointing. He was hoping to fix things from the shadows. It was better for everyone if his family continued to believe he was dead. From what he'd Seen, Darren was already pretty mixed up in the shady occult organization world domination game. He'd managed to undo the binding Brad had put on him, and had full access to his telempathic powers.

Brad hadn't worked with any empaths while at Rosenkreuz. He was hoping telempathic shields and telepathic shields worked the same. Darren hadn't been very good with his powers as a small child, of course, but Brad did have vague memories of the kindergartener whammying him with crippling mood swings so he could do petty things like sneak into the kitchen for extra snacks or stay up late watching cartoons. Considering the little victories he'd pulled off as an untrained child who didn't fully understand that he had powers, Brad shuddered to think what the intervening years of training and honing his abilities might have wrought.

Brad was almost to North Station when he got the vision of Schuldig and Farfarello arriving in Boston. He just managed to catch himself before he started cursing aloud (although really, that probably wouldn't be worth much notice on the Orange Line). He got off at the next T stop and started backtracking to the airport.

 


 

 

“Will you fucking shut up already?” Schuldig yelled, startling several passersby as his traveling companion hadn't been saying anything at all, and the outburst appeared to have come out of nowhere.

Farfarello tilted his head to the side, and then took Schuldig's arm in his. “Flights don't agree with you.”

“No, they don't. Ugh. My head is killing me. Is there any chance you could think just a little bit quieter?”

“Not sure how, I'm afraid. Here, let's just sit down for a bit.” He tried to steer Schuldig towards a line of seats, but Schuldig wriggled out of his grasp and continued towards the baggage claim. “No. I need to get out of here. We're going to get a room somewhere, I'm going to sleep this off, and then we're going to find Brad so I can guff him upside the head. C'mon.”

“Schuldig? That's not where our bags are.”

“Hm?” Schuldig realized he'd been matching strides with a large (and loud) family, and was heading for the same carousel they were. He gave himself a shake, and joined Farfarello at the proper carousel.

Something that had the potential to grow into panic started squeezing his stomach. True, the flight had been absolute agony. Flights were never exactly easy for him, but having to pay attention to Farfarello and keep him from fixating on passengers and trying to lure them away to the restroom hadn't helped any. Schuldig usually downed medication and slept when they had to travel like that; Brad was usually the one who looked after Farfarello. He'd definitely underestimated his ability to multitask between minding Farfarello and keeping his shields strong. But on the plus side, Farfarello hadn't killed anyone, and there'd been a chatty Sunday School teacher sitting three aisles away from them.

The effort might not have been worth it. Boston was a much smaller city than Tokyo (fucking hooray), so in theory there should have been a lot less strain on him. Since the airport was so hectic and crowded, Schuldig wasn't quite feeling the relief to his battered mind yet. He was hoping that he'd start to feel the difference once they got away from Logan.

Farfarello was wearing sunglasses over his eye patch, in a ruse to make him less noticeable that sometimes worked. It seemed to be serving them well so far. No one's eyes were lingering on him for very long, despite his striking appearance. Many a passerby's thoughts had been something along the lines of, 'Look at all those scars. Walk faster; I don't want him talking to me.'

The fact that he appeared to be dragging around a dazed drug addict of questionable gender (or so he registered to most of the New Englanders they passed), also contributed to a generally shared desire of folks to keep their distance.

“Schuldig, are there many Catholics in Boston?”

Schuldig snorted in answer. “From what Brad said, there's a fuck ton.” Oh shit. He probably should have deflected that question instead of answering it. Farfarello's grip on his arm started to loosen. “Farf, no. We're not here to hunt Catholics, we're here to find Brad.”

“We can do both...” He got distracted as he was talking. There was a young woman nearby wearing a rosary as jewelry. Farfarello had questions for her. They would start with a chat about her choice in fashion accessories, and move into a more philosophical direction from there. But it would need to be a private discussion. Witnesses would cut it short. They always did, and he had so many questions…

With an agonizing burst of strength and will, Schuldig pulled himself out of Farfarello's head. His vision went white from the strain, and he found himself on his knees on the dirty floor of the airport. When he looked up Farfarello was gone.

Well, at least none of the New Englanders had stopped to intervene. They were all doing their best to pretend they didn't see him and carrying on with their own business.

Schuldig climbed to his feet, wiped a trickle of blood from his nose with the back of his hand, and retrieved his and Farfarello's bags. He'd get a room, get his head in order, find Farfarello, and then finally complete his objective and find Brad. Until he could use his telepathy without pain, he was going to be useless at anything else.

He was too focused on keeping his shields from collapsing to notice the boy tailing him out of the airport.

 


 

Schuldig was face-down on a hotel bed when he heard a knock on the door. He let out a groan, and sent out a telepathic tendril rather than get up and answer it. He abruptly withdrew the telepathic probe when he felt the buzzing static of Farfarello's head. His thoughts were quieter than they'd been in the airport, but he still didn't want to take any chances.

The Berserker seemed to have been sated by some kills. Schuldig pointed him towards the bathroom as soon as he let him into their room. “Did anyone see you?”

“Only those I intended. It took me a bit to find you, you know.”

“Well did you think I was going to wait for you at the airport?”

“No. It would have been nice of you, but I didn't expect it.”

“Will you clean yourself up before you stain something in the room? Wait.” Schuldig grabbed Farfarello's arm to stop him, and then deftly removed the rosaries he was wearing from around his neck. He had five of them. Schuldig blinked a few times, and wondered vaguely how long he'd been asleep for. “You are definitely not allowed to start collecting these.”

“That's not fair. At least I know how they're meant to be used. I inquired of all five of those I sent to Him, and it turns out they were for fashion and not devotion.”

“Oh, so you're planning on using five blood spattered crucifixes to say the Rosary now?”

“Well, no. But the point is I'd know how to if I wanted to.”

Schuldig scowled at him. “Clean up. If you behave for the rest of the trip I might let you keep one of these.”

Farfarello took a few steps closer to Schuldig, shoulders squared for a challenge. “You're not at your best right now, Mastermind. What makes you think you're in a position to tell me what I will and will not do? We're already breaking the rules. I don't mind breaking a few more.”

Schuldig didn't so much as flinch. “Even on a bad day I'm still faster than you and I can still knock you out before you can blink. Between the two of us, I'm in charge. Now get in that shower and wash off the damn blood!”

Farfarello clearly did not like that answer. He stood regarding Schuldig through a narrowed golden eye for a long, tense moment. Then, in a move that would have taken anyone but a supernaturally fast telepath by surprise, he lunged. Schuldig caught his arm and used his gift to send Farfarello into a deep sleep.

Schuldig still wasn't back up to full strength but the strain from the flight was on its way to being another unpleasant memory. He felt a sore sort of throbbing in his temple from using his telepathy without more rest and that was it. All in all, not bad. Grant used to make him work in that state more often than not. Brad had more compassion for his teammates than the Rosenkreuz administrators had, but practicality often forced him to make them work when they were sore too.

Schuldig reassessed this rose tinted view of his functionality when the door to the hotel room was kicked in and he found himself in the embarrassing predicament of defending himself from assailants that he had not sensed coming until after he'd seen them. “Farf!” he barked, despite knowing full well he'd have to lift the telepathic command to sleep, and he was damn well not splitting his attention from the men trying to kill him.

The younger one was also fast. Possibly faster than him.

The odds on this fight weren't looking good. If Farfarello weren't unconscious on the floor he'd have probably already leaped out the window and taken off.

He got off a few shots, came close to hitting one of them, and then the fast one disarmed him and pinned him to the floor. Schuldig felt along their minds and found fairly impressive shielding in place. It would take him a few minutes to get through that. He started working on it, in case he had the few minutes.

The second man knelt next to Schuldig and pressed a handgun under his chin. “Hi there.” The guy, who was racially ambiguous but looked vaguely East Asian to Schuldig, spoke in English with a light Boston accent. He'd been caught by locals, then (and, as seemed to be their habit, the Americans assumed everyone else spoke English too; rightly so in this case, but still). “My boss told me you and the sliced ham over there are from Eszett. We haven't tangoed with your folks yet. May I ask what the fuck you're doing in the States? This is Coven territory. You're not welcome here.”

“We're not here for work,” Schuldig answered, which, while perfectly true, was also an attempt to get the kid to keep talking. He was almost through the fast one's shields.

“I wasn't under the impression the Eszett Elders gave their slaves vacations. I'll ask again, Red. The fuck are you doing in Boston?”

“Sightseeing, mostly. We heard there were a lot of Catholics here. The sliced ham has a thing with Catholics so he wanted to take a detour.”

The guy grinned at him, and there was something familiar looking about it that Schuldig couldn't place. If their circumstances had been different Schuldig would have been checking him out at the very least, and possibly even flirting with him. He was really hot. Stylish black hair, amber eyes, nice teeth, and the tight fitted black clothing he wore hinted at a trim and toned body.

However, Schuldig was already sleeping with one rival assassin, and had no interest in making a habit of the practice. Besides, Yohji had yet to pull a gun on him. He found that to be a decided turn off.

The guy continued grinning, and twirled a strand of Schuldig's hair around one of his fingers. “Okay then. I'm losing my patience for your flip answers. Let's try another tactic.” His eyes turned almost yellow, and then Schuldig found himself overcome with an intense feeling of agonizing heartache. It was something like what he'd felt when Brad had rejected him, but worse, amplified. His brain was flooding his body with the painful emotional residue from every painful rejection, parting, and disappointment in his life.

Later on, when he had the leisure to think about the attack he'd conclude that some of his brain's response to the telempath's manipulation must have been based in those memories from his early life that his telepathy had destroyed. He hadn't really cared enough about anyone to feel the kind of heartbreak and despair he sometimes glimpsed in other peoples' minds, but apparently he'd felt that way once because when an empath plucked those strings his body remembered what to do.

The empath dialed back the attack after a few minutes of watching Schuldig writhe. He was still playing with Schuldig's hair, and clearly enjoying his work as much as Schuldig enjoyed telepathically torturing his own victims. Again, he was both incredibly angry at the guy and uncomfortably turned on.

“I felt you nosing at my shields, Red. And I gotta say, it's pretty insulting that you're so well guarded against fellow telepaths but it looks like it never occurred to you to learn how to defend yourself from an empath. I know they teach the Rosenkreuz kids that we're just stunted telepaths, but c'mon… You didn't actually believe that horse shit, did you?”

“Looks like he did, Dar,” the fast one said.

Schuldig gasped for breath, and tried to get his head to clear. He'd almost been through the fast guy's shields. If he could just keep them talking for another twenty seconds and finish cracking them…

The empath, Dar, hit him with another flood of strong, painful emotions. Schuldig was rendered a sobbing wreck.

“Feeling chatty yet? I'm very well rested myself, so I can keep this up for hours. What's your mission, you Eszett piece of shit. Are you here for Rosenkreuz? Are you here to steal more children for their experiments? You're not getting any psychic child soldiers from our turf, you festering excuse of a human. Apparently no one ever tipped you off about the Coven members watching New England. I love killing your people. I take great pride in putting as many Rosenkreuz bastards in the ground as I can.”

“Some day we'll have to collaborate. In the mean time, Darren, I'm going to have to ask you to put the gun away and stop torturing my partner.”

The yellow light disappeared from the empath's eyes as suddenly as if a switch had been flipped. The fast one (who was also strong and it was not fair in the least for him to possess both of those gifts) tightened his grip, but they both turned their attention on the man who'd just walked through the gaping hole where the hotel door had been.

Schuldig had only been happier to see his team leader on a handful of other occasions. He'd been more fucked with less chance of securing his own escape in those instances.

“You know this guy, Dar?”

“Yeah. Holy shit, yeah.” The empath jumped to his feet and ran at Brad. Schuldig struggled against the other asshole's hold instinctually, intent on defending his leader, but it proved unnecessary. The empath wasn't charging Brad. He ran to him to hug him.

And disturbingly, Brad returned the embrace.

“I'm very mad at you,” Brad said.

“Oh, I could kill you, you pretentious, manipulative son of a bitch.” The empath's voice sounded cheerful, and he was squeezing Brad tightly, but there was something off in his tone. “You lied to me, bound my powers, let Mom think you'd been killed, and got yourself kidnapped by fucking Rosenkreuz. I have some very choice words for you.”

“Darren, I did all that to protect you. And the way you've respected my sacrifice.” Brad ended the hug and gestured at Darren's apparel in distaste. “I was trying to keep you out of this life.”

“Yeah, because lying to me and keeping things from me always worked out the way you wanted them to, huh?”

“Darren, what the hell is going on?” the guy holding Schuldig yelled.

“Are you two related?” Schuldig squinted at the two of them, and then remembered how familiar looking Darren's evil grin had been.

Darren clapped a hand on Brad's shoulder. “Yeah, this is my big brother. So I guess we won't kill you after all, Red. Or the sliced ham, if you want to wake him up.”

“Sliced ham?” Brad repeated.

Darren shrugged. “Your teammate's all carved up. What happened to the guy? Was he caught in an explosion or something?”

Brad glanced at the gaping hole that had been the hotel door and then turned back to his brother. “Something like that. We should probably take this someplace more secure.”

“Yeah, that's a fair point. Hadrian, let Red up. We need to get out of here.”

The other assassin released his hold, and Schuldig immediately sat up and started rubbing the sore spots on his arms. “It's Schuldig, by the by.”

“Don't care. I'm still calling you Red.”

“Ah huh.” Schuldig looked the brother over again as something discomfiting occurred to him.

Brad, your little brother wouldn't happen to be my age, would he?

He might be. We're kind of guessing your age, what with that psychic feedback accident that wiped your early memories.

Yeah, yeah. But you know for sure how old he is. Is he twenty two?

Brad sighed, and slightly inclined his head in a nod.

So he's the same age as me, he's just as much of a smart ass, and we have similar powers?

Schuldig, drop it.

He did, but only because there were implications to their similarities that he didn't want to get into if he was going to keep checking out the irritating enemy psychic. And as he'd just seen the guy turn around in tight black pants, he very much wanted to keep checking him out.