Greetings and welcome back to the Angst Theatre's debut performance of "Neutral Territory".

In this single chapter posting run, we turn our focus to the Schwarz penthouse where the true depths of the danger caused by Nagi's decision combined with a failed mission begin to come to light. As Schuldich silently agonizes about the future as well as the past, Farfarello is distracted by thoughts of his own, yet it is the arrival of an unnamed youth that starts to bring the situation to a head.

My apologies for yet another delay in getting this out to everyone, but back-to-school time for my kids means hectic schedules and routine illnesses which interfered with my plans to share this sooner. Also, please do not assume the tale is over until I add "Owari" the Japanese word for "End" to it. I'd noticed a couple of kind reviewers were afraid it was over already or permanently incomplete, a state it will not be left in as long as there is breath in my body. As always, for timely updates on this fic regarding posting, delays, etc, please look for my page at LiveJournal.com, username "e_sama".

On a happier note, my deepest thanks to all those of you who continue to show such wonderful support for this epic. The marvelous reviews here at ff.net, the comments on my LJ, and the private emails of encouragement have helped keep my muses going against almost overwhelming odds.

Enjoy the Angst!

~~~Enigma~~~

(who is delighted to add here that the next chapter is almost finished in rough draft form already and as soon as it as well as the next one are done, there will be more Schwarz angst to enjoy, so please don't kill the llama for the mild cliffhanger at the end of this, okay?)

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Title: Neutral Territory [part 34/?]

Author: Enigma

Written: begun October, 2001

Rating: R

Pairings: (Omi + Nagi) (Yohji + Ken) (Brad + Schu)

Category: Shonen ai/Yaoi Angst Friendship Romance Action Violence. AU-OOC. Giftfic.

Archive: fanfiction.net & mediaminer.org [author: "E-sama the Llama"] plus Wuffie.net [author: "Enigma"]

Warnings: shonen ai/yaoi, angst, masculine friendship in many forms, various levels of romance, action, coarse language, whiffs of citrus but nothing detailed, possibly graphic violence, bloodshed, tiny bits of humor, fluff, and sap; more warnings will be added as necessary. AU-OOC. Giftfic for Rubious.

Spoilers: Aya's sister's condition and a few other small things, nothing major.

Disclaimer: "Weiss Kreuz" is the property of Koyasu Takehito and Project Weiss. All original characters featured herein (including but not limited to: Glocksten, Charon, etc.) are © Enigma, 2003, and are not to be used without permission. This unauthorized work of fanfiction is intended for entertainment only; kindly do not sue me.

Notes: Omi's first trip to the public library results in an unexpected meeting when Nagi saves his life without being aware of the Weiss archer's identity. Can two lonely teens overcome the limits of their dark purpose in life to find friendship and possibly love in the midst of "neutral territory"?

//thoughts//

{{mental speech}}

*****

Sunday afternoon. Various locations in the Schwarz penthouse.

*****

As a relatively uneventful afternoon rolled past for four assassins concealed within Komagome Hospital, far across the city the three eldest members of Schwarz were having an entirely different experience and it was just as well that Nagi remained entirely unaware it.

Standing in the kitchen of the penthouse that he shared with his teammates, Schuldich pulled the refrigerator door open in search of something for Farfarello to drink since the Irishman had complained of being thirsty while too preoccupied to get anything for himself. With a frown since he didn't immediately find any of the citrus-flavored soda that Farfarello was partial to, he reached in and pushed a few items aside on a lower shelf only to find himself drawn aback when he encountered a forgotten container of leftover soba.

"Well, what do you know about that," Schuldich muttered to himself with a sigh. "All that fuss earlier in the week and Naggles never did get around to eating these. I might as well pitch them out now, though. Noodles as old as these can't be worth shit."

After taking the carton out and sighing yet again, the German crossed the short distance to the trashcan and disposed of the food Omi had so carefully packaged up for his new friend on only the second day of their true acquaintance. As he returned to his search for the soft drink Farfarello preferred, Schuldich's thoughts went straight back to the topic that they had been revolving around since he'd forced himself out of a warm bed and away from his slumbering lover's side earlier in the afternoon.

//After all those years of giving him grief, I thought I'd toughened that kid up more than I apparently did. Nagi was certainly as surly when he was home as any bratty teen I've ever met probably is, so where did I go wrong?//

Finding a cheerful yellow can labeled "C.C. Lemon" hiding behind some of his own jealously guarded Heineken Special Dark, the telepath miserably took this train of thought a little farther. [1]

//Since I was dead wrong about his ability to cope with life in general, how much of this disaster is actually my fault for always pushing him? Maybe if I'd been more of a friend to him instead of working so hard at being a royal bastard, I'd have seen this coming and could've done something to prevent him from making such a damned insane decision as to get involved with one of the Weiss kittens. Out of the hundreds of thousands of potential love interests, why the hell did the choice he made have to be one that could get them both killed?!//

Popping open the can of vitamin enhanced soda and then dropping in a straw without being particularly aware of doing either, Schuldich frowned sadly before concluding his inner monologue.

//Then again, if Brad and I don't handle this with kid gloves and kiss Estet's ass big time, those two might not be the only ones who end up dead because of this. Those other Weiss guys might as well have targets painted on their backs when the truth comes out and the same goes for the rest of us in Schwarz. All eight of us could be little more than just another puzzling mystery for some bored murder investigator any day now. If their goons bother to leave our corpses where someone can even find them, that is.//

After silently acknowledging that Estet would most likely be infuriated about the botched assignment as well as the unexpected new relationship tying the frequently opposing assassin teams to one another, Schuldich tried to push his negative thoughts away as he sent, {{Yo, Farfster. Want anything to go with your can of CC's? Something to eat, maybe?}}

Realizing they were using the silent communication technique primarily so that their leader could hopefully get some desperately needed sleep after a very long and difficult morning dealing with their bosses, Farfarello responded in kind, {{Not right now, Schuldich. My sweets aren't sharp enough yet to stop.}}

Chuckling quietly since only the one-eyed bladesman would ever call a pair of daggers that had claimed countless lives his "sweets", Schuldich replied, {{Whatever you say, you nutcase.}}

Farfarello sent back the mental equivalent of a rude gesture then a grin even as Schuldich walked into the room and placed the cold drink near him on the coffee table where a whetstone and other blade maintenance items were arrayed. He threw a grateful glance at the flame-haired man for only a moment before going back to work, not caring in the least that the German was attired in a skimpy crop top over daring jeans that took the current fashion of low-rise pants almost a centimeter too far.

The fact that Schuldich was wearing the type of outfit that usually preceded a disappearing act for the two eldest members of Schwarz to the sanctity of their bedroom did not elude Farfarello, however. Despite being in a fairly relaxed mental state, he wasn't unaware of the tensions surrounding him or that the telepath was most likely trying a little too hard to seem casual about it. With childlike wisdom and abundant trust, Farfarello recognized and accepted his role as follower, contentedly waiting until Crawford issued him orders or Schuldich made one of his pointed suggestions that were very nearly as commanding.

Not finding much of interest in the repetitive flash of a silvery blade across an implement that would renew the razor-sharp edge dulled by being used to block the Weiss swordsman's katana the night before, Schuldich glanced at the television screen for a moment. A particularly handsome youth with long blond hair, pointed ears, and a bow gripped tightly in one hand bounded gracefully across the lush landscape, but Orlando Bloom held no appeal for him at the moment, so he went over to look outside instead.

As a bustling sea of cars, pedestrians, and bicycles flowed ceaselessly past unfocused eyes, Schuldich was inwardly grateful that Farfarello had so little to say at the moment.

The amber-eyed teen seated cross-legged on the floor and patiently caressing blade to whetstone over and over seemed at ease and comfortable, dressed as usual in well worn bondage pants and a tee-shirt with some random logo on it. A favorite movie quietly kept him company enough that the German psychic was free to continue to fret over their now endangered future, something that would've been much harder to do if Schuldich hadn't been able to get some sleep after returning from Komagome Hospital.

The incapacitating headache that had resurfaced after his typical battle-induced adrenaline rush had worn off had been a painful reminder of the precognition Crawford had shared with him and whose meaning was now all too clear. With a deep, heartfelt sigh, Schuldich realized that when he and his lover had been unable to understand the image of Nagi in tears and begging for something, they had also failed to contemplate that only a bond akin to love could've evoked such a response.

//We're both idiots and since we might all pay the ultimate price for our decision to support Nagi's attempts to find happiness, I might as well at least try to stop worrying over him. Instead, I ought to worry about Brad. Since I was asleep at the time, I haven't got the foggiest notion what kind of a deal he cut with Estet this morning when he phoned in a report on our fucked up assignment.//

Unwittingly chewing on a perfectly manicured thumbnail and then glaring at his hand accusingly as if the fault for the action was its alone to bear, Schuldich scowled and gave it more thought.

//I wonder what he told them about why he killed Glocksten or if he tried to blame Weiss for it? No, that's not right. We both know a couple of their resident mind readers are a helluva lot more powerful than I am and they'd catch him in the lie the moment he was within scanning distance of them. So, he must've told them at least a partial truth, but I'll be damned if I can think of a way he's going to cover up the business between Nagi and that Weiss kid. Oh, this really has all gone to the deepest level of hell in a moth-eaten handbasket, hasn't it?//

As a slow ache began to grow in Schuldich's heart while a cynical voice in his head mocked him by asking if there was time to order stylish new suits from Hong Kong for the funerals that now seemed unavoidable, his reverie was broken by a strange question.

With his can of lemony drink in one hand and carelessly waving a newly sharpened weapon with the other as he gestured towards the screen with its point, Farfarello remarked, "I want to go there sometime soon."

Startled slightly and admittedly confused for a split second, Schuldich replied, "Um, you know that Middle-Earth isn't a real place, right, Farfie?" Turning his back on the admittedly stunning view of the utterly modern oriental cityscape nearby, he went over and sat in a chair close enough to his teammate that they could converse fairly quietly.

Rolling his sole eye exaggeratedly, the Irishman heaved a classic teenager's sigh, then replied in annoyance, "I know that, Schu! Don't be silly. What I meant was that we all ought to go to New Zealand where they filmed this." Turning his attention back to the television, he added by way of explanation, "There's sheep all over the place that I could 'play' with and the food's supposed to be good, too. Loads of lamb and fresh mussels, just like I saw on Emeril one time. There's even wineries and you sorta like wine, right?"

Before Schuldich could reply, Farfarello's face fell and as a true frown crossed lips scarred by the tender embrace of the same dagger that was now shimmering rather too enticingly, he added, "There's lots of places with hardly any people around where we could stay. Maybe Nagi will feel better while his arm heals if we get away from Japan for a while since he doesn't like crowds and everything."

Finally realizing what his teammate's true goal had been regarding the unexpected suggestion that they travel to the southern hemisphere, Schuldich forced a smile that he didn't truly feel onto his lips and shook his head in gentle negation. As he carefully set aside the dagger before Farfarello gave in to its seductive call, he answered, "That's a nice idea and all, Farfster, really considerate of you, but I don't think the wide open spaces of New Zealand are what he needs right at the moment."

An image from the night before of Nagi, drugged, frightened, and in pain all because of the newly born though ill-fated romance with a youth he shouldn't ever have dared to spend time with filled the German's mind's eye. With a firmer shake of his head, he added, "Unless something major changes, I kind of doubt we could get him to leave Tokyo, much less his homeland, anytime soon."

"Oh," Farfarello responded dejectedly, then looked up into his teammate's eyes for a long moment before saying, "That's too bad. I think he'd like it there, it's nice and quiet." That said, he turned away from the telepath, picked up his second dagger, and began slowly grinding away the minute imperfections left behind by Abyssinian's sword.

Puzzled by the extended pause in his often confusing friend's words, Schuldich briefly wondered what Farfarello thought of the dark events that they had been through since midnight. However, he didn't wish to open a possible Pandora's box of new issues by inquiring, so he turned his attention instead to the absent telekinetic.

Shutting the sounds around him out of his awareness, Schuldich let his eyes unfocus and relaxed into the softness of his chair before sending out ripples of mental power, searching for Nagi's mind in such a way that he could observe yet not be noticed in return. He hadn't gotten permission to do this and he was taking a definite risk if Crawford disapproved, but he felt a sudden need to confirm for himself that nothing new had gone wrong for the frail youth.

Even though the telepath knew exactly where Nagi should have been at the time geographically speaking, it truly was a search since his powers didn't flow along physical paths. His hunt took a little longer than it might have if his prey had been awake, but Schuldich was just as glad to take the time when he discovered that the midnight-eyed boy was deeply asleep, dreaming of nothing thanks to the mind numbing painkillers in his system.

After broadening the range of his scan just enough to detect the nearby medical personnel and thereby confirming that Nagi was right where they had left him, Schuldich drew in a deep breath and pulled the undetected probe back into himself with a slow inhalation. A sense of relief eased a small fraction of his concerns even as the rasp of metal against stone and the soft strains of an amazing soundtrack once more were allowed to enter his awareness.

Luminous green eyes slowly reopened and with a soft huff of breath, the German promised himself not to repeat that performance without his leader's permission. Their "bedroom only" relationship had been stretched to its limits recently and unless they took strict steps to return to their usual roles, they would only be begging for additional trouble that they simply didn't need at the moment.

As if summoned by Schuldich's private thoughts, Crawford suddenly emerged from the short hallway that connected the living area with the office and bedroom portions of the penthouse. Ignoring the two Europeans seated nearby, he went straight to the front door which he then opened even before a somewhat startled young man in a nondescript uniform could ring the doorbell.

With a frown, Schuldich noted a particularly large, canvas duffel bag in his lover's hand that was emblazoned with the logo of the dry cleaners that they routinely utilized. To make matters worse, he knew for a fact that there had only been a few items in the bag on Friday, yet now it was filled to capacity, something that forebode nothing good.

Stammering and trying to cover his momentary lapse of aplomb by glancing at the client information card in his hand, the youth outside the door asked, "Um, is that the laundry you wanted done, Crawford-san?" He pointed to the bag and then belatedly added when the imposing American frowned disapprovingly at him, "I'm sorry, sir, but I just started working there a couple of days ago, so I don't have one of the company uniforms yet."

Adjusting his wire-rimmed glasses in a gesture meant to conceal at least some of the sense of censure he felt towards the boy since he had instructions that he would've preferred to give to a more experienced employee, Crawford sighed, "I see." Relief crossed the teen's face as he handed him the bag and stated in no uncertain terms, "I require that these be cleaned and returned to me by no later than eleven o'clock tonight."

Accepting the bag with a small wince since it was quite heavy, the boy replied, "The manager told me you might ask for something like that, but he also told me to tell you that it would be an awful lot more expensive than usual. Sunday's the only evening he spends with his family all week long, and--"

"Enough!" Crawford commanded with a piercing mahogany glare even as he squared his shoulders and crossed his arms menacingly over his broad chest. Due to the height difference between himself and the Asian youth, he was literally looking down his nose at the boy as he stated flatly, "Assure your manager that the additional cost is of no consequence to me. Something I *thought* he was fully aware of already."

Taking an involuntary step backwards, the delivery boy stammered, "Y-y-yes, sir!" Clutching the bag to himself like a shield, he added nervously, "If there won't be anything else, um, Crawford-sama, I'll hurry and get these back to the shop now."

Failing to note the significant shift in honorific, Crawford merely nodded and instructed, "See that you do just that." Without allowing the youth a chance to say anything else, he closed the door firmly before turning away and finding himself under close scrutiny by lustrous emerald eyes filled with curiosity and dread. Arching an eyebrow challengingly, he demanded, "Do you have some no doubt pithy yet irrelevant comment to make, Schuldich, or were you just distracted by the potential plaything that I've dismissed so abruptly?"

Realizing he was being given an unsubtle reminder of just exactly where they were and who else was in the room with them, Schuldich flipped a wayward lock of fiery hair over one shoulder dismissively. Then he snorted in annoyance, "As if an empty headed dweeb like *that* could possibly present *me* with much entertainment, Craw-Frodo?" Rather pleased with his insulting nickname that combined that of his leader with that of a character currently trembling with fear on the television screen that they were ignoring, he added harshly, "Not fucking likely!"

Underneath the haughty nastiness he was flinging at his partner was a telepathic entreaty for an explanation as to what the hell was going on. However, all that Schuldich got in return was an exhausted mental voice promising to clarify matters in the privacy of the master suite and nowhere else.

Scowling at the German's sneering face with apparent fury, Crawford snapped in reply, "You've never been very picky about your victims when you were truly bored, smartass, so don't act all high and mighty about it!"

Even as their feigned bickering escalated to insults both personal and worse, Schuldich was carefully scrutinizing Crawford's appearance and demeanor in an attempt to judge his true mental and physical states. One of the most worrisome things that he noted was something that had been obvious from the moment the precognitive had entered the room, yet he hadn't given it due consideration until this point.

Attired in a completely atypical pair of khakis that were exclusively for vacation wear under normal circumstances and a thick, navy blue turtleneck, Crawford seemed to be dressed for the dead of winter, not late autumn. Schuldich correctly assumed that this meant the tall man currently assailing him with barbs not worthy of recording had been feeling cold earlier as if it was already much later in the year than it was.

Far worse than the thought that Crawford was feeling chilled was the unpleasant realization that this outfit also implied that every last one of the infamous white Armani power suits had been in the load of clothes that had just vanished with the boy from the dry cleaners. The stylish three-piece suits were not only terribly expensive, they were also quite warm. Thus, if he'd had the choice, he'd most likely have chosen one of them instead of clothes that he usually wore strictly to give himself more anonymity than his usual eye-catching garb ever could.

Giving as good as he got with equally forgettable insults and innuendo, the telepath further noted that his partner in the hopefully deceptive argument was visibly strained and Crawford's complexion was ever so slightly paler than normal. This in turn made the dark circles under mahogany eyes stand out more than they would have otherwise, clearly proclaiming the effects of a long, difficult night that segued seamlessly into an equally challenging morning that was followed by very little sleep. If more time had elapsed, he was certain there would be a commensurate hollowing of Crawford's cheeks since he was no more likely to make it a point to eat when under stress than most people are.

When one of Crawford's more scathing remarks gave him an excuse to do so, Schuldich suddenly sprang out of his chair, stood in an openly provocative yet somehow threatening pose and declared vehemently, "I do *not* have to sit here and listen to your *utter* crap, asshole!" Resting one hand on a cocked hip that caused the dangerous hip-hugger jeans to slip a fraction lower and thereby revealed a tuft of orange-red fur ordinarily not allowed public viewing, he waved a hand at Crawford's face and stated, "Don't even *bother* to talk to the hand! I'm outta here!"

There was no need to extend a wordless invitation to follow since this was a carefully choreographed dance that they had performed in numerous variations in the past. Such words and actions typically implied that they were going to vanish for either gentle lovemaking or, more likely if this had been an actual argument between them, fairly rough, occasionally pain-laced sex with very little love until after the fact.

Stalking out of the room with a growl that sounded like a preemptive claim that he would not give up the dominant sexual role without a fight, Schuldich didn't even pause to bid Farfarello farewell or even to make sure that he was still in a stable mental state. There wasn't really a reason to do so since he usually maintained a light telepathic connection with the Irishman, one that would alert him if a problem arose.

Throughout the harsh discord, Crawford had remained where he had been when the mock battle had erupted, but the sound of a bedroom door being slammed with unnecessary force changed all of that. Keeping what he hoped was an appropriate expression on his face, he threw a glance at the silver-haired teen who hadn't paid them the least bit of attention since he was too wrapped up in the repetitive strokes of a dagger's blade across a whetstone.

To Crawford's surprise, Farfarello had lost interest in the movie that continued to play without an audience and his sole amber eye seemed sad as he stared at the already unbelievably sharp edge so temptingly close. Of course, this also implied that he'd not paid the least bit of attention to the performance the others had put on mostly for his benefit. But that was acceptable since it was better to have stayed in character as antagonistic leader and second in command as opposed to concerned lovers than to have allowed the prior blurring of their roles to continue.

Shaking his head, Crawford decided to delay attending to his worried partner long enough to intercede and quietly moved to crouch beside his teammate and ask, "Farfarello? Don't you think that is enough?" Looking him directly in the eye and not allowing the teen's attention to leave him, he commanded calmly, "It would be best if your daggers were both sheathed and put away now."

Staring back with an expression of blank trust, Farfarello agreed, "All right, Brad." As he reached for the sleek, custom-made sheathes that could be worn at wrist or ankle, he broke eye contact and the sense of disquiet intensified.

With a small wrinkle marring his forehead, Crawford inquired, "What's the matter? Was there a problem between yourself and Schuldich before I came out here that I ought to know about?"

Shaking his head even as the deadly blades vanished into their leather cases, Farfarello replied, "No, not at all. He even got me some pop when I was thirsty." Glancing at the now empty can nearby and recalling who it was that usually brought him such things, he added forlornly, "When is Nagi coming back? It doesn't feel like 'home' when he's not around and he was gone a lot last week."

Even as Crawford was stifling the desire to admit that the telekinetic might never return to them at all, Farfarello added with a sincere moue of unhappiness, "I taped the two-hour, 2000th dish 'Iron Chef' special for us to watch together. It won't be as much fun if I have to watch it all by myself."

Rising back to his feet without ever once feeling a need to pat the Irishman's shoulder reassuringly as Schuldich might have, Crawford commented, "There's no way of telling when Nagi will return to us, Farfarello." The idea of saying more about the two blue-eyed teens' relationship flit past and was dismissed out of hand, so instead he added a conciliatory suggestion, "But perhaps you and Schuldich can plan to visit him in the hospital in a day or two. His arm was badly wounded, so I assume he will remain there for some time to come."

Heaving a mournful sigh, the younger assassin remarked, "Well, that's better than nothing, I guess." Even as his attention returned to the small screen and a cinematic symphony of images and sounds, he muttered to himself, "Maybe I can talk Schu into watching IC with me. At least he'll appreciate Chairman Kaga's weird sayings and cool clothes more than Nagi ever does."

Shaking his head and not making any promises for the flame-haired man whose impatience about speaking with him was an almost overwhelming presence in his mind by this point, Crawford made his way to the master bedroom without another word.

Undisturbed by his sudden solitude, Farfarello allowed Aragorn and company to carry his thoughts away from the disappointments of life as he knew it and off into a land unspoiled by the poisonous touch of Estet or any of the other forces that had conspired to deprive him of sanity. His blissful, disconnected state was something he would not be allowed to enjoy forever, though, and before the year was out a stranger would quite literally ghost into his life and disrupt what little normalcy had been built for him.

Whether or not that would cost the already tragedy-besieged young Irishman was impossible to predict, however. Occasionally, like some cosmic jest no mere human could ever hope to comprehend, it is those least firmly tied to the real world who could most easily accommodate the type of cataclysm that was inexorably headed their way.

*****

To be continued.

Author's Notes:

[1] The soft drink of choice for Farfarello in this fic, C.C. Lemon, is a vitamin C enhanced product of the Suntory company of Japan and is quite delicious. Interestingly enough, my good friend Yanagi-sen who has recently returned after a year in the JET program mentioned that in its homeland, C.C. Lemon is advertised using the characters from "The Simpsons", something that surprised me. She also mentioned that the melon flavor in the same product line is quite tasty, so if you get a chance to try either you might wish to do so. As far as Schuldich's preference in beer goes, well, the Llama is infamous for his love of dark brews, so it only makes sense that the German telepath would enjoy them, too.

[Posting Run Dedication] This chapter is hereby dedicated to Heaven Star, a simply wonderful person who began reading this story when it was already quite long yet went to the trouble of leaving true reviews at ff.net for each chapter all the same. This type of kindness and loyalty to a story deserves public recognition and thanks since it's one of the best ways for a writer to stay motivated. I further appreciate her friendship in the world of LiveJournal.com, so it's with a doubly grateful heart that I hope she will enjoy this angsty slice of Schwarz life.

Please be advised: Part 34 will be posted alone.

Posted: 07 September 2003 ~1:45am EDT