Title: Seasonal Changes
Author: sorion
Fandom: Weiß Kreuz (no Side B, no Glühen)
Pairings: C/Y, S/O


Prologue: Joyful, joyful

"Joyful, joyful, Bradley!" came the annoyingly playful voice behind him, while he was standing on the balcony, leaning his forearms on the railing and overlooking the calm, white scenery below.

He was about to turn around and tell the redhead to get the fuck off his balcony, when a cup of steaming coffee entered his peripheral vision. And he wasn't annoyed enough at the telepath to ignore the offered beverage.

"Thank you."

"You're quite welcome, Bradley."

Brad rolled his eyes.

"Any news on the company's very own forecast?"

Rolling his eyes apparently wasn't effective enough, so he sighed and turned to look at the other man.

Schuldig just smiled and blinked at him coyly.

Brad faced outwards, again. "It's going to snow all day; take a coat."

Schuldig laughed. "I meant job-wise, Crawford."

"I know."

Schuldig snorted. "Fine. I'll go out." He turned to go but looked over his shoulder. "I even put cinnamon in your coffee… Where's your Christmas cheer?" He winked, even though the American couldn't see it and left.

Crawford smirked. Schuldig was a good friend. A horribly annoying friend, but a good one. He might just as well enjoy his own brand of Christmas joy… before the work caught up with them, as it soon would.

It was bad enough being sent to a new country at Christmas time. Everybody was busy, even more people than usual were on their ways from here to there, stumbling over their feet buying presents while still trying to look like they were happy…

And Tokyo wasn't exactly a quiet town at the least busy times.

Nagi certainly liked to come back… But Crawford himself… well, he didn't have a lot of good memories from the one time he was here at the tender age fourteen.

Schuldig appeared amused, even more so than usual… Something about the Japanese only thinking but not expressing. Crawford wasn't so sure about that. He remembered a certain type of Japanese not holding back a single thing. And it wasn't terribly funny to be on the bad receiving end of their attentions. Then again, his experiences were a bit one-sided.

Farfarello couldn't have cared less about the location.

So… He was back, then. And a challenging and interesting time lay ahead of them.

The rise and fall of a political family… the rise and fall of Esszet… He smirked into his coffee; that was a thought he didn't allow to surface too much. It had been hard enough to hide that premonition from his superiors. Hell, it had been hard enough to convince them that he couldn't see beyond the tip of his own nose. Had the elders ever found out just how strong his gift was, he would have been killed, immediately.

Rises and falls…

And the rise of Schwarz. Rise, no fall. He swallowed the rest of his coffee to tone down the still growing smirk.

Then there was that other team… Oh, yes. He looked very much forward to meeting Weiß.
Enemies, rivals, allies… and then…

He remembered that particular premonition well. Glowing emeralds, a lazy and beautiful smile, a gorgeous body, a honey-coated laugh…

Crawford turned to lean his elbows on the railing and looked inside in time to see Schuldig jiggle his keys in parting.

Honey for himself, and a bundle of light and love for their team sarcastic.

But work came first. Work, blood, death, pain. Obedience. Crawford's lip curled briefly in disgust.

He breathed deeply. His time would come. All their times would come. In less than three years…

"Joyful, joyful, Bradley…" he murmured and went back inside.


Chapter 1: January Cold

Crawford blinked to clear his eyes from the vision that had hit him suddenly. He noticed how Schuldig gave him a masked, curious look; he also noticed how none of their so-called employers did the same…

The politician and his sons were about as sane as Farfarello, but far less smart. Had they had even an inkling of common sense, they would have paid attention to a precognostic who worked for them. They would have noticed the slight change of his expression; they would have noticed the telepath's reaction to it… They would have cared more for his gift than the advantage of knowing whether their stocks would gain or lose a few points.

Instead, Crawford merely nodded absently at whatever it was that Takatori senior deemed important enough to steal his time with. For all he was concerned, the man could have given him a recital of that morning's weather forecast, and it would have interested him just as much.
Stupid, twisted, sick little maggots. The lot of them were not worth even a minute of his time.

Now, his vision on the other hand…

He raised his head when the (supposed) father of all and sundry stopped spouting his wisdom and noticed the man's questioning gaze.

He suppressed a smirk at the fact that even Schuldig had paid more attention than he had, quickly assembled all the information he needed and said smoothly: "Of course, sir. Right away."

He stood and left the room with his teammate by his side.

Schuldig smirked. {Interesting vision?} the telepath asked, discreetly using his gift to avoid being overheard.

{More interesting than him.}

{True… Unless you were subjected to his and his boys' thoughts like I am.} He shuddered, and he didn't even have to fake it. {I swear, if you keep forcing me to tag along to those meetings, some of the lovely little rat's nest they call a brain is going to rub off on me.}

Crawford raised an eyebrow. {Shields holding up?} The elevator door closed behind them.

Schuldig threw him an annoyed look. {Shut it! You know damn well that they are. But I can't very well monitor them and block them out completely, too, now, can I?}
The downside of being a telepath… Being in other people's heads, all the time, made it hard to keep them separated from one's own. And in that particular case he was well advised to separate his mind as clearly from the others as possible.

Crawford sighed. {How bad?} He saw Schuldig's jaw tense, before he got an answer.

{Pretty bad,} he admitted, but waved it off nonchalantly. {I'll handle it.}

Crawford wasn't fooled, but decided not to call the volatile redhead on it. {I won't need any more in-depth monitoring of that freak show. Just skim the surface from now on and warn me when they come up with something particularly stupid.}

They left the elevator, hearing only their footsteps echo through the otherwise deserted parking.

Schuldig raised an eyebrow. {More stupid than they already do?} He was frankly amazed by the Takatori's completely whacked imagination. Or maybe he was just freaked; he could never quite tell, nowadays.

Crawford had to grin at that, unlocked their car and got in.

After both doors had been closed, he turned his head. "Stupidity that causes Schwarz any problems. I couldn't care less about them."
He drove the car out of the building and waited for Schuldig's next comment. As expected, he didn't have to wait long.

"So," Schuldig started, once they were in Tokyo's afternoon traffic, "your vision?"

Crawford's slight smile turned sinister. "We are going to meet Weiß, today,"

"Kritiker?"

Crawford nodded slowly. He had very carefully not told Schuldig about the more… personal… long-term consequences of meeting that group. "Being led by our Mr. Takatori's brother, created only to bring him down."

Schuldig blinked. "Will we let them?"

"In time…"

Schuldig chuckled. "Good."

Crawford refrained from telling him that by the time it got to that, Schuldig would have preferred to do the killing himself.

*

Brad Crawford stomped through their apartment door, as soon as it was unlocked and practically ripped his tie off.

Schuldig trailed after him, keeping a watchful eye on Farfarello and smirked. "Quite the frustrating man, that Abyssinian, isn't he?"

Crawford stopped mid-step, turned around and pointed an authoritative finger at Schuldig, which looked rather silly, what with his tie still dangling from that hand. Crawford – annoyed at everybody and their dog (or cat, really) - switched it to the other hand and lifted his finger again.
"Don't test me." Had he been able to make punctuation visible in speech, there would have been a full stop after every word.

Schuldig just smiled benignly. "Or maybe he's much more frustrated than frustrating, eh? Bet I could help get that stick out of his ass…"

Nagi locked the door behind him and snorted. "I wouldn't do that. He could be hiding another katana in there, for all we know. He's definitely uptight enough."

"Puts our fearless leader to shame, doesn't he?"

Farfarello – obviously having had enough – brushed past them. "I'm going to bed," he stated, tonelessly.

Crawford breathed deeply. "You should do the same. And you," his authoritative finger came up, again, "keep clear of Abyssinian."

Schuldig saluted mockingly and grinned.

And Crawford didn't have to be a mind-reader to get the "you didn't say anything about the other kittens" message loud and clear. But, well, Schuldig would find out soon enough.

Later, when he was in bed and had built up the mental equivalent of a three foot thick lead wall around his thoughts, he wondered, whether he would have noticed the Balinese the way he did, had he not foreseen what would happen in the future.

In the end, he let the thought rest. He saw the future, and he would use it, accordingly.
Sometimes, that future might come to pass, because he had seen it; it might not come to pass, because he had prevented it; everything could go along as planned and his gift was merely a dent in the cogwheel of destiny…

He fell asleep, the picture of a sleek, black figure, blazing eyes concentrating on the battle, coat flapping with his movements, accompanying him into his dreams.

*

{This is going to be a bad habit. Like biting fingernails or something.}

Crawford grinned and effortlessly evaded the flashing blade, rushing down by his right ear. {It's going to get a lot worse.}

The answering mental laugh was full of adrenaline and amusement. {Good.}

"Who are you and what is your business here?" growled his adversary, bringing him back to the here and now.

'Ah,' thought Crawford, 'so he does speak, after all…' He answered the furious gaze with a calm one of his own. "We are Schwarz, and we're obviously here to stop you." He noticed Abyssinian's light frown, as the man made the connection between both team names. "That's all you need to know at this point."

Abyssinian yelled and attacked again.

Crawford sidestepped each of his blows and added helpfully: "I foresee your every step, Abyssinian. Surely you must have realized this by now."

Abyssinian stopped in his attack, but didn't avert his weirdly exotic eyes for a moment. "Of course you do," he said sarcastically.

"I also see that this is not yet the time to kill Takatori."

The eyes darkened and Crawford could almost see the man lose his grasp on common sense with the one simple trigger word. This could both be amusing and problematic, later.

"Then you die with him!"

The blow met thin air once more and Abyssinian found himself to be alone in the shadowy room.

The elevator door closed behind Crawford and he stood leaning against the back wall, his arms crossed. Their client had left the building.

No doubt, the Abyssinian would be frustrated within an inch of his life. And it would be a while before the man was able to find the peace that not even his enemy's death could grant him. But Abyssinian was not and would not be his concern.

He sent a message to Schuldig: {Pull out.}

{Aww. But we were just getting to know each other.}

{Knowing you, you've properly freaked him out by now. Give the others the signal.}

{Already did. And the Balinese and his yoyo-watch are so confused…} Schuldig closed the connection with a delighted laugh.

Youji was the last to return to the Koneko and heard Ken shout.

"I hit him! Three times! And he didn't even flinch!"

'Oh, shit,' he thought emphatically and opened the door.

"Youji!" Omi kicked over his chair when he rushed over to check on him. "Are you okay?"

Youji smiled slightly and nodded. "Yeah, sure. But… uh… those guys… Yours didn't happen to have any freak powers, did they?"

It got very quiet.

Aya broke the silence only after several long moments: "He said that they were 'Schwarz' and that he could see the future."

"And do you believe him?"

Aya's jaw clenched. "I can't believe, but I have no choice!" he hissed.

"Mine was…" Omi started, his eyes lost focus and he hugged himself against a cold nobody else could feel in the warm kitchen. "He must be younger than I am… Nagi, he said." He shook his head. "And he…" He cleared his throat. "He's a telekinetic," he closed analytically. "He had all of my darts just bounce off him and threw half the furniture at me without ever touching it."

His eyes still stared into distance, and Youji had the feeling that it wasn't the kid's capabilities but his age that got to Omi. None of them could really understand what it was like to be raised to do this job.
There was no doubt that this kid, Nagi, did. And then some.

"Mine just feels no pain," Ken said, shaking his head. Then he threw up his hands. "Or he has the freakiest self-control ever! And he likes to play with knives," he added as an afterthought and held up his shallowly bleeding arm.

Up until then, Youji hadn't even noticed the injury. Then he sighed, when the others' attention was directed at him. "I'm afraid I've been up against some kind of telepath. So you might as well kiss your dirty little secrets goodbye…" His amused tone belied the seriousness of their situation, but Youji didn't really know any other way to tell the others that they were practically dead meat walking.

"So…" Omi mused, "I guess it is safe to assume that Aya's adversary can see the future."

Youji let himself fall into a chair, rubbed his face and then looked at Aya. "Anything important he told you?"

Aya's expression underwent an interesting change, as if a draw-bridge had been slammed close. "No."

Youji didn't say 'that would be a Yes, then' out loud and exchanged a quick look with Omi who had noticed the same thing.

Omi sighed deeply, put his chair upright again and sat down. "That leaves another question…"

All eyes were on him.

"Why did they let us live?"


Chapter 2: February Chill

Schuldig was in a terribly good mood when he left, Crawford could tell. That good mood would turn into pain before the day was through, for Schuldig as well as… other people.

Crawford had considered warning Schuldig off, today, but he wasn't sure what exactly would happen to his plans if he did. His own future would remain mostly the same; Schuldig's, however… As long as Tsukiyono remained unaware of the fact that his future happiness depended on Crawford letting today's events take place, it didn't matter. And Crawford hardly ever had any scruples about weaving other people's futures, never giving them the chance to decide for themselves. Hardly.

He shook off the thought. What's done, is done; and what will be done, will be done. It was all the same for him.

And Weiß had killed a number of sisters in their time.

*

Youji knocked on Omi's door, holding a tray with his free hand. "Kid?"

No answer. Then again, he didn't really expect one. "I'm coming in, okay?" He tried the door and it actually opened.

The room was dark, Youji could only just make out the figure, lying huddled under his blankets.

"Please," the muffled voice croaked. "I just need to be alone."

Youji put the tray on the bedside table, turned on the small lamp and sat on the edge of the bed, carefully reaching out a hand to Omi's shoulder.
"You know," he started with his soft, even voice, "I really don't think you do, Omi."

The wretched sob that followed nearly broke his heart. He pulled away the blanket and the now unresisting young man into his arms and let him cry, doing nothing but holding him.

"You should… should have seen their faces…" Omi brought out between painful breaths. "They were… laughing at us, Youji!" His whole body shook.

Youji pressed him closer. "We'll get them for this," he promised fiercely. "They'll be sorry, I swear it to you."

Omi's fingers clenched and tried to get his crying under control, but he still wasn't out of tears to shed.
"Why?" he whispered. "Why did they kill her? She must have been nothing to them. And…" his voice hitched, "and they work for her father, don't they?"

Youji shrugged, which Omi didn't see but merely felt the shoulder under his face rise and fall.
"I don't know, Omi," he admitted. "It's us against them… and I guess she got caught in the crossfire. Or maybe Takatori did have them kill her, for some reason. He's certainly twisted enough."

Omi twitched and Youji cursed himself for letting his stupid mouth run on autopilot like that.

Youji ran his hand over Omi's back in soothing circles. "You're nothing like them. You know that, right?"

Omi became very still. "I'm not so sure."

The cold and detached tone in the young man's voice sent a chill through Youji's body and he pushed the other far enough away to look at him. "You can't mean that, sweetheart."

Omi shrugged and avoided his gaze. "I kill. They kill." He swallowed. "My own sister died because I was with her."

Youji's jaw set. "I think it was the rest of her family that put her in jeopardy, not you. I mean, who hired a bunch of assassins to go after us in the first place?"

"And who goes after her father. Oh, sorry, my father?" Omi looked about ready to burst from pain.

Youji tilted his head, meeting Omi's challenging stare head-on. "You do remember why we're after him, don't you? Because if you forgot, I can send Aya in here…"

And Omi cracked, again, the tears flowing, freely. "But not her. She didn't do anything!"

"No. She didn't."

She hadn't done a damn thing... And just like every other victim, she left people behind.

*

Schuldig left the doctor's office, moving cautiously. He would have stomped angrily, but really didn't dare. Instead he glared at Crawford and snatched his coat out of the other man's outstretched hand.
"The x-ray was clear, in case you were interested," he commented coldly void of emotions, "except for some small cracks on the periosteum." He turned and left, slipping into his green trench.

Crawford sighed and followed him. "I know."

Schuldig swivelled around and hissed: "You knew this would happen! You didn't warn me, Farf would actually kill her! You didn't keep that rotten cockroach from beating me with a fucking metal golf club!" His eyes glittered accusingly.

Crawford slipped his glasses into place. He had known all of that. But he didn't think that Schuldig would have appreciated hearing his reasons... "I don't see everything. And Farf was your responsibility. You know he's not stable. Yet, you took him with you to 'play'."

Schuldig was still clearly angry, but his expression softened somewhat. "He killed her! Not me."

Crawford sighed some more. "That is a circular argument. You took him."

Schuldig bit his lip. "You could have stopped Takatori."

Crawford nodded. "And I did. In time to keep you from being seriously injured and making sure he felt like you'd been sufficiently punished."
He saw the other man's face twitch as he hung his head in defeat, and he could almost feel the pain radiate off him in waves. He laid a careful hand on his shoulder. "Take it easy for a while. The soreness should pass within the week. And keeping out of Takatori's sight is probably a good idea for now."

Schuldig nodded. His back hurt like hell, and all he wanted was fall into bed with a bucketload of drugs and sleep the rest of the week away.

"And Schu..." he purposefully used the nickname to remind his volatile friend that he was his friend, "... watch yourself around Weiß. I know Bombay probably fascinates the heck out of you, but playing with them brings with it a number of repercussions that I have no control over. Their fates are intertwined with ours in various ways, already. Most of which you won't be able to anticipate."

"I get it," Schuldig mumbled. He didn't even ask for specifics, because he a) was too exhausted and b) had long since decided that he would trust Brad. He knew the delicate balance they were hanging in, and him knowing things too soon could make him act rashly or hesitatingly at the wrong time. Really, he had no choice...
"I trust you." He looked up, his eyes almost shy, seemingly pleading with Brad not to betray that trust.

Brad smiled slightly and gave a single, reassuring nod.

That seemed to satisfy Schuldig; and if they left side by side a little more slowly than usual, Brad knew that it would be worth it.

After Schuldig was in bed, deep in drug-induced sleep, Brad was standing on the balcony, only the muffled sounds of Nagi playing a video game in the living room and the traffic from below keeping him company.

He wasn't sure if he liked the feeling of knowing that he was the one responsible for Schuldig's injury, never mind his reasons for it.

Even Nagi was mad at him; and Farf gave him a strange look that indicated that maybe he didn't quite believe that their precog hadn't seen that one coming.

Making it up to Nagi was relatively easy. The boy knew without a doubt that Brad had each team-member's best interests at heart. He only needed remembering.
Farfarello on the other hand... Sometimes Brad didn't know what went on in the man's head. Not even Schuldig really did, and he had complete access, so to speak. Crawford knew that his insensibility to pain was not the only thing Farf had at his disposal; but nobody had ever figured out what other talent he might have up his sleeve. Whatever it was, every once in a while, it reared its head...

And unbeknownst to the Schwarz leader, somebody else was taking a similar time-out as he did, thinking about his own team-mates.

Youji stood at his open window and blew smoke rings into the cool air. Had he had a balcony, he would have had the very same stance as one Brad Crawford.

He rubbed the bridge of his nose and sighed. Omi had finally fallen asleep, after he had made him eat something. The boy's situation was completely inconceivable to him; there was no way for anyone to even come close to understanding what had happened to him over the last few days. Nobody should have to go through so much pain, never mind at such a young age.

On top of it, very slowly, some of Omi's lost memories started to come back, too, which really only made the situation more difficult to handle.
If Youji had thought that it couldn't possibly get worse, Omi's very few, selected words about his kidnapping, all those years ago, made him realize just why the memories had disappeared in the first place.

"Oh, God, kid..." he murmured.

Ken didn't know, and Youji made very sure that he wouldn't. He had other pains to deal with; he didn't need to know Omi's to be there for him. It would have only made it worse for Omi, seeing the pain in the other's eyes, all the time.

Aya... Well, Aya had his suspicions. But he hardly ever showed them. With the possible exception of the last mission debriefing, when he froze up at the mention of rape and kidnap victims.
Youji had no doubts that Aya would put his pain for his team-mate's suffering into the ferocity with which he struck down their targets.

*

"Get out of my way, Schwarz!" Amethysts flared, the deep voice growled, the body tense to the tip of the deadly blade.

The raised hands to show that there was no weapon didn't mean anything, and both men knew it.
"I'm not here to stop you, today, Abyssinian."

"Then what do you want?"

Crawford smirked and with one hand slowly opened one side of his jacked, while the other reached inside the hidden pocket even more slowly. He made sure that his nemesis could make out each of his movements; not to keep the other man from attacking – he could have evaded that without breaking into sweat – but to hint at a temporary truce. One that wouldn't hold, just now, but maybe Abyssinian would remember it in time.

He pulled out a small chip. "You won't find it where you are looking for it." He kneeled, never taking his eyes off Aya and laid the item on the ground. Then he stood.

Aya didn't dare to blink. "Why would you help us? Why should we trust you that it isn't fake?"

"It suits my plans. And you can have your hacker take it apart... It's not like you wouldn't have done it with the one you were planning to recover."
He carelessly turned around and before Aya could so much as tense his muscles to attack, threw over his shoulder: "Don't even think about it. Your team needs you alive. And one of them would step on the chip, rendering it useless, when they rush to your lifeless body..."
He threw him a last grin. "Your revenge is going to have to wait until our next meeting."

Then he was gone and Aya was once more alone.

Only when he got a nervous call from Omi over the intercom that he couldn't find the data, did he shake himself, picked up the harmless looking piece of metal and plastic an answered: "I have data. Pull out."

Youji was following the call, though frowning bemusedly and made sure that Ken had managed to get out. But when he left the building himself, he saw a shadow pass by and stop briefly in a streetlight.

Brad Crawford sent him a quick wave and a mocking smile and left.

Youji stood, frozen to the spot. What was Schwarz doing here? Intervening… or not?

After only a few seconds, Aya came up next to him.

Youji glanced quickly at him and did some calculations. He wasn't sure if he liked their result or not, though. "Did you get the data from him?" he asked as nonchalant as he could manage.

Aya stared at him, angrily. "What are you talking about?"

"Omi couldn't find the chip. Then you say you have it. And then," he nodded towards where Brad Crawford had left, "he runs by and leaves." He didn't have to say who he was talking about; Aya's expression told him clearly that the man knew, anyway.
"So. Did he give you the data?"

Aya stared ahead. "Yes."

"Did he tell you why?"

"Only that it fit his plans. Whatever the hell they are."

"Those guys are starting to freak me out. And I'm not talking about their powers..."

Aya nodded, and when they saw the other two run towards them, the team left.

But the same thoughts coursed through Youji's head for a while longer…
Intervening or not? And to serve what goal?


Chapter 3: March Dew

Tiny droplets of cold sweat built on Omi's forehead, while he kept staring at the information on the computer screen that gave the target's office an eerie blueish tint.

"Oh, God," he whispered, as more and more of his family's dirty secrets unravelled. He felt sick and had to swallow to fight off the urge to vomit.

The pain he had felt from killing his brothers faded behind a curtain of nothing but disgust for what he now finally accepted to be nothing but a target. No family. They never were.

His eyes became very cold, and he watched the completion of the file transfer with dark satisfaction.

Youji's words returned to him, and he nodded, once, now finally believing it.

"I am Omi Tsukiyono. And I am nothing like you. I hope you rot in hell."

He removed the data, put it in his pocket… and that was when all hell broke loose.

There was suddenly a cracking noise over the intercom, Aya's freezing voice stating: "You!" Then, yelling, running.

Omi shot from his seat and sped out of the room. There really was only one person to which Aya would react this way.

"Abyssinian! Report!" he barked.

No answer.

"Balinese, Siberian! Where is he headed?!"

Youji answered: "There's a chopper starting up engines on the roof. My guess would be, that's where his target is headed."

Omi responded, promptly. "All hands to the roof! Give him backup!" Then he followed his own order.

He had the building's outline memorised and quickly calculated the fastest route. He ran up a small flight of stairs, taking three at a time, before turning right to get to a different wing, only to be frozen solid at the gun pointed at him. Expressionless face, piercing eyes and flaming red hair at the other end of the barrel…

Omi tried to come up with something, anything, thinking about his darts and the probabilities to being able to use them against a telepath.

The shot rang through the hallway, and it took several moments of heavy breathing for him to realise that he was unharmed.
He swivelled around at a dull sound and could make out the dark figure of a security guard lying on the ground.

When he turned again, he only saw Schuldig for the blink of an eye and then the man was gone, with no apparent movement at all.

Omi's lungs burned from his harsh breaths, his heartbeat threatened to break his ribcage, and it took all his willpower to not give into the urge from his weak knees and just sink to the floor, shaking.
Instead, he stumbled towards the dead man on the floor and noticed from five feet away that there was no need to check whether he was actually dead or not: a small trail of dark, red blood, trickled from the hit right between the eyes.

Omi straightened and swallowed, heavily. Had he himself gotten him, the man wouldn't be dead, but merely incapacitated by means of one of his handy tranquilizer darts.
On the other hand, had Schuldig not gotten him when he did, Omi would now be a very, very dead assassin…

The sudden and almost deafening sound of a helicopter over his intercom forcefully snapped his consciousness back into his head, and he flinched. The shakiness and the questions were blown away, as if a switch had been turned, and his professionalism was firmly back in place.

He sped towards the helicopter landing platform on the roof, listening to more yelling. Aya cursing the name of his nemesis, Youji swearing at his own lack of speed, the low roar of the engines and the wind, hurried steps, more screams…

By the time Omi kicked open the door, he nearly ran into Youji and Ken who were standing still, staring at Aya…

… Aya, who was towering over the dead and bleeding body of one Reiji Takatori.

The chopper, apparently having given up on its employer, was now taking off, sending bouts of wind their way, tearing at their hair and clothing, giving the entire scene a feeling of finality; the heroes of an action movie, finally winning to a triumphant blast.

Except that Omi didn't feel like an action hero. He didn't feel like a winner. He didn't feel like they had reached a happy ending.

All he had gotten was the last view to the dead body of the man who had fathered him.

*

Crawford read through a possible contract file when the door to his office opened quietly. Both Schuldig and Nagi would have knocked, so he didn't need his gift to tell him who had just entered.

He looked up to Farfarello leaning against the closed door with crossed arms, studying him. "Yes?"

"Why did we let Weiß kill him?"

Crawford leaned back in his seat and let his hands fall into his lap, which would have conveyed the very picture of nonchalant to most people.

Farfarello wasn't impressed.

"We were no longer under orders to protect him and he fired us. There was no need to keep him alive."

One golden eye briefly wandered to the side in contemplation, then returned. "Doesn't that make Schwarz look bad?"

Crawford smirked. "On the contrary. He was safe, up until the minute he fired us…"

The one eye narrowed. "Why is Weiß still alive?"

"I still need them," he simply said.

Farfarello tilted his head. "Does Esszett need them?"

Crawford froze for a moment. The scrutinizing gaze of the other was most disquieting. The man knew something, but Crawford still couldn't tell what that was.
Of course, all of their goals should to all intents and purposes have been the same as Esszett's… But something told him that Farfarello maybe knew that was not really the case.

He was well aware that Schuldig's loyalty would always lie with him, and that Nagi would stick by Schwarz as well, as long as he was only in danger of dying and not being shipped back to Switzerland.

Farfarello's loyalties, however, were a mystery. He could not see the man's future, nor the immediate futures of others that were linked to him. But he had to decide on something, something that the Irishman would have already deduced from his seconds of hesitation.

"No. They do not." His calm exterior almost reflected his insides. Almost. Just like he was almost sure that he knew what side Farfarello would take if it came down to it.

Farfarello blinked. Then he let his arms fall to his sides and turned to reach for the door handle.
Just before he opened it, he smirked over his shoulder. "Good."

A slight tension left Crawford's shoulders, one that he had known was there but refused to acknowledge.

He allowed a secret smile to form on his lips. Yes, things would work out.
That Farfarello would be part of his goals was a given fact to him, but he had never really known in what way. Now, the picture that had formed around the Farfarello shaped blank spot in his visions became clearer.

Farfarello's next stop was Nagi's room, where he once more stood by the door and waited to be noticed.

The teenager was rattling along merrily on his computer keyboard and didn't notice his team-mate who could be as inconspicuous as a fly on the wall if it suited him, for almost fifteen minutes.
When he finally stretched and caught a glimpse of something in the corner of his eye, he flinched.

"Farf! What?"

Farfarello studied him for a moment and said, "I wouldn't worry, if I were you."

Nagi blinked. "Worry about what?"

"You won't have to go back. Ever."

A shiver ran through the boy's body and he suddenly had a very dry mouth. He tried to swallow. "What?" he croaked.

"Just stick to Brad. You'll be fine." He left without another word.

Alone in the room once more, Nagi unknowingly mirrored Crawford's earlier smile.
Farf didn't share his insights often, but when he did, it usually paid to listen to him. There was something going on, something that no longer included Esszett...

He bit his lip and crushed that thought in the making. This was not something he ever wanted to get caught thinking. At least not before...
He shook his head and went back to work. And if he was a little less afraid, well, who was to know?

Schuldig on the other hand was not as easily convinced as Nagi. Other than the teenager or Crawford, he did have access to Farfarello's mind, and merely didn't understand it. Having a blank spot where your vision was supposed to be had to be bad enough... but being able to see, knowing what was there while making neither heads nor tails out of what was in front of you was maddening. He could read and understand Farfarello when the other allowed it, but much like with the man's oral ramblings, his mind only made sense when it was focused enough to do so, when the Irishman actually wanted to communicate.

And now, he was transmitting bits and pieces of thoughts more or less coherently, but Schuldig still didn't understand. Or he did, but even with his knowledge of various psychic powers, he couldn't by the life of him explain where those thoughts had come from. They didn't look like one of Crawford's visions, and they didn't look like telepathically acquired information... Nevertheless, Farfarello seemed to know for certain that what he knew was true.
And Nagi believed him.

Stick to Brad... Well, it wasn't like he had planned on doing anything else...

*

"You," came a growling voice.

Crawford turned and lazily studied the tense frame of one Balinese, coming around a corner of the building where he had – well – waited for him. "Yes. Me. It's been a while, hasn't it?" he remarked casually, keeping two watchful eyes on the lethal figure closing in on him in the near darkness.

"You're damn lucky you came across me and not Aya."

Crawford raised an eyebrow, clearly conveying that luck had nothing to do with it. "I'd assumed you would be more likely to listen to what I have to say."

Youji didn't even pretend to be surprised at the setup. "And what do you have to say? It is your doing, isn't it? You have his sister."

"Not directly."

Balinese stared at his opponent and almost let go of his wire. "Directly?" he repeated.

"Now is not the time to retrieve her."

Youji snorted. "You're right. He wouldn't have listened, and rightfully so. Cut the crap, Crawford!"

Crawford sent him an unreadable look. "You know I'm telling the truth, Balinese."

Youji's attention slipped again for the barest moment, but the American didn't let on whether he noticed or not.
"I know nothing when it comes to you," he informed the other man quite solemnly.

Crawford tilted his head. "Don't you?"

Youji blinked. The man was right... There was… something… He didn't know why, but he did have the distinct feeling that he wasn't being lied to.
He narrowed his eyes. "Could be your pet telepath meddling with me."

"Could be." Crawford nodded. "But as you well know, you've had your PI instincts for too long a time for that to be true."

Youji just stared at him.

"You're slightly empathic. I could block that, easily... But it serves my purpose, at the moment."

"And what is your purpose?" Youji asked, not really knowing what else to say.

Crawford stepped closer. "The girl will be safe. But if you want for things to turn out well for everyone, you need to leave it for now."

"You telling me that suggests that we would be able to get her back, now."

Crawford took another step forward, now standing only a foot away from the other man. "Not without losing half your team. And by losing, I mean death."

"What would happen?"

"They would encounter some of my people; and while I have no plans of getting rid of any of you, I will not risk my own team to keep you alive."

Youji averted his gaze, trying to make sense of this.

"Youji."

Youji's head snapped back up.

"You have my word that the girl and your team will be alive and well, after this whole ordeal."

Youji received nothing but waves of honesty off the man, but as he had noted earlier, that didn't necessarily have to mean anything... On the other hand, Schwarz didn't have to depend on their cooperation if they wanted to kill them off. They would just do it, no problem; no matter how much he hated admitting that.
Then he tried a different approach: "What's going on?"

Crawford's lips quirked. "Nothing you would believe if I were to tell you."

Youji caught the dark, brown eyes dart quickly to his lips and back; and had he not studied them closely, he would have missed it…

Crawford noticed Youji noticing, of course and smiled a genuine, amused smile, when he saw the realisation in the other man's expression
"I will see you, soon, Youji." Again, he purposefully used the first name.

"Wait! What are we not supposed to do?" It would have been pretty stupid to warn him off something and not tell him what it was.

"You already didn't do it while you were talking to me."

Youji spun towards the sound of squealing tires and could only just make out an ambulance disappearing between the trees down the street.
Once he turned back, Crawford was of course long gone.

"Shit… Aya is going to kill me."

'Not, if you don't tell him,' a little voice in his mind informed him.
Well, no… Not then, of course. And well, technically speaking, he wasn't even entirely sure who had been in the ambulance, was he?
What was he supposed to tell Aya, anyway? That he didn't save his sister who the enemy said was there but isn't there, anymore? Yeah… He could just imagine how well that would go.

But even still… Then there was the whole 'nothing you would believe' thing and the 'almost-kiss look' thing. Youji knew that look, and Crawford knew that he knew and… And the man was a damn precog. Knowing kind of was his field of expertise.

"So where the hell does that leave me?" He huffed. "In the middle of a fucking mess, that's where."

"Balinese!" Omi appeared where only moments before Crawford had been. "What's wrong? You're not answering the calls!"

Youji reached for his ear piece… and noticed that it was unplugged. When had that happened? "I… uh… I must have ripped it out, accidentally."
'Yeah, right... Accidentally, my ass.'

The young assassin was still out of breath when he continued: "We didn't find anything. But I just saw some vehicle disappear… Looked like an ambulance. Did you see…?"

Youji made a split decision and interrupted the hopeful questioning. "No. Not an ambulance. Just some van that passed. It came from over there." He pointed to an entryway that led away from the complex. "Probably got lost or something."

"Oh." Omi's shoulders visibly sagged. "I had hoped…"

Youji swallowed. "Yeah. Me too, Kiddo."

The sad look was quickly replaced with that of the mission planner. "Must have been a false info."

Youji really, really hoped that his assertion was right and that it wasn't Schwarz' plan to drive them apart by making them deceive each other…

The middle of a fucking mess, indeed.


Chapter 4: April Shower

And that was when all hell broke loose. The only thing Crawford could do was to go with the flow – literally – and hope that his visions didn't turn out to be a dead end – again, literally – for the lot of them.

The first crunching sounds seemed harmless enough, not causing much more than dust and pebbles to rain down around them. But of course it didn't remain anywhere near as harmless.

The crunches were soon replaced by the kind of noise that nobody that had never heard it would ever really come close to imagining. Rumbling, shivering, groaning, roaring… Then there were the first deafening bangs of the bigger pieces of stone hitting the ground, as the whole ancient construction came tumbling down around them.

Crawford yelled his earlier order at the top of his lungs, more for the benefit of the people not part of his team, than as a reminder for his own. "Water! Dive!"
Out of the corners of his eyes he could see that both Schwarz and Weiß followed his order without hesitation; and had he not had his mind full of the rather insignificant thought of staying alive, he would have found it amusing.

The water was icy cold, and Youji had to give up on trying to keep tabs on his whole team, quickly; it was very nearly pitch dark and the constant deep and terrifying whooshes of boulders hitting the water made him almost swallow water one too many times to think of anything but getting to the surface as quickly as humanly possible.

He followed the pale white light that he hoped was the moon and finally broke to the surface with one huge gasp. The roaring from under the water was now much more like screeches and crashes.

He breathed heavily for a long while and watched the last bits of the museum drown.

Then his head swivelled around, looking for any of the others. But with all the noise, the wild waves and the poor light, it was hard to make out anything at all.

Except for… Yes!

Only the need to keep himself above the surface kept him from sagging with relief, when he heard someone gasp, choke and cough, nearby.

"Ken!"

"Youji! Thank God!" Immediately, he looked around. "Anyone!"

Youji turned around his own axis for a while, before the biting cold caught up with him. "We have to get out of here."

Ken stared at him with wide eyes. "But… the others…"

"What do you expect us to do? We can hardly see anything above the water, there is no way that we'll find anything under."

Ken looked like he might protest.

"We need to see if any of them got closer to the shore and need help. They could be injured."

That got to the younger man and he nodded, hesitantly, but not without another painful look towards the still groaning ruin.

Omi dove through a small hole under water and towards what he hoped would be a way out. He did his best to tune out the noise that choked him more than the water ever could.
The tunnel seemed like a never ending stretch, but he simply refused to just accept that he would die here. Not now…

'Just a little more. Just a little further. I'll be out, soon.'

It got brighter, just the hint of something that might have been the weak shimmer of the moon…
YES! The tunnel ended and he could actually see the mirror surface above.

But just before he reached it, he saw something… someone… floating in the depths.
He recognized the shape, recognized the coat and the hair that even in the darkness was a different shade and length than any of the other's. The figure slowly drifted lower…

Omi gasped for air, didn't give himself the chance to think about what he was about to do and dove, again.
For a terrifying split-second he almost thought that he'd lost the other man, but then he could see him, considerably deeper than before.

He swam after him, grabbed his arm and pulled him back to the surface. He struggled with the dead weight that was the German telepath and thanked whatever deity either of them believed in that the tunnel had led him close to the shore.

As soon as he had ground under his feet, he dragged the man only just out of the water, laid him on the wet sand and checked for life-signs.

No respiration… No surprise, there.
But a weak heartbeat.

He tilted the man's head back and hoped that he still had enough of a breath to breathe for both of them. He blew, checked the rise and fall of the chest… good. He blew, again. Again. Again.

"Come on, you bastard. I still owe you my life!"

Another blow. Another. And then he spluttered, as Schuldig's lungs finally worked on their own and coughed out all of the water they had breathed in, earlier.

Only then did Omi realize just how dizzy he was and collapsed next to his… what? Enemies didn't save each other's lives, did they?

He watched the other man hack and cough for a while and tried not to imagine the burn in his lungs and throat…
"Breathing okay, again?" he gasped.

Schuldig ran a shaky hand over his face, coughed some more and managed a jerky nod. "Any…" he coughed, "… anybody else?" He rubbed his eyes looked to both sides.

Omi shook his head, trying to clear it. In the heat of the moment, he had acted only on instinct and had completely forgotten that the both of them had teams that were trying to get out, too. "Dunno." He brushed hair out of his eyes. "I was kinda busy."
The first look over the water was not exactly encouraging. Apart from the waves, there was nothing he could make out.

He wanted to stand up to get a better look and immediately fell back with a sharp cry, when a searing pain emerged from his right ankle.
"Shit!" he hissed and now noticed that his sock was not only soaked in water, but blood, as well. He must have been hit by a rock or kicked the cliff or something. With all the adrenaline cursing through his system he hadn't even noticed…

"Looks broken," Schuldig remarked from where he sat and studied Omi's unnaturally bent foot. He sighed a long-suffering sigh, like he was a reincarnated saint and not the asshole assassin that he actually was and struggled for a moment to stand. When he remained on his feet for longer than three seconds he hauled Omi up by an arm and slung it over his shoulder.
"Let's get going, Liebling."

Omi winced as he accidentally put some weight on his injured foot and protested: "But what about the others?"

"Don't know about you, but I think if there's still someone in there who didn't have a dashing hero to the rescue like me, they're dead." He coughed, again. "And I'm probably going to end up with pneumonia as it is, I don't intend to die of it."

Omi hobbled with the man, not having much of a choice and asked: "And how are we going to get out of here?"

"Car. There should be two of ours around here, somewhere."

It took them almost half an hour to get to Schuldig's read sports car.

"Schu!" A huddled figure shot up from where it sat on the ground next to the car.

"Nagi," Schuldig sighed, relieved and pulled Omi faster.

Nagi was about to throw himself at his team-mate and stopped in his tracks. "What are you doing, taking him with you?"

Schuldig grinned. "Seeing as he dragged me out of the water and made sure I breathed on my own, again, I thought it was a fair deal…"

Nagi's stormy eyes turned soft so quickly, it changed his whole face. He stared at Omi with a newfound confusion, respect and gratitude.

"Get in the car, kids. I'm driving."

When Schuldig dropped off the littlest Weiß to a fully lit building and frantic shadows moving within, Omi stopped next to his window and said: "We're even."

Schuldig gave a firm nod but felt like they were nowhere near even… Shooting some idiot was not the same thing as actively diving into deadly waters and dragging and reviving an assassin who… well… did what he did to Omi.

He closed the window, ignored the limping form disappearing into the house and turned to Nagi.
"Let's go home and see if the others are there, yet." He made every effort to use an assuring tone in his voice. He was fairly sure that Brad would make sure that all of them got out…But… No, he'd better not go there.

Omi hobbled into the kitchen to Ken closing a gashing wound on Aya's forehead with some butterfly clasps, Youji sitting nearby, tapping his foot, nervously, and Aya – the female one – hovering near her brother, all of them wearing bathrobes.

Aya's amethyst eyes widened, when he saw him. "Omi…?"

Ken actually gave a little cry and all but teleported himself over to the young man and crushed him close.

Youji stood next to them, practically the same moment. "Jesus, kid… Omi, I… Thank God!"

After another short moment, it was the four of them, standing in the doorway.

"Sorry, I'm late… My ankle…"

Youji simply picked him up. "I'll make sure he'll get some dry clothes and check on his foot," he assured Ken and Aya, smiled widely at them and hoped that they wouldn't think of asking how Omi had gotten here on his own, without transportation and an injured leg…

Omi seemed to realize that and blinked, confused. What did he know…? What must he think of him? Why didn't he react...?
The fact that Youji didn't want the others to catch on, just yet, made him consider that maybe the man knew a thing or two, himself, that he didn't want to get out…

Almost unwillingly, Ken finally let them go and then whooped loudly. Even Aya smiled, first at Ken, then at his sister.

They'd gotten real lucky, that day. All of them.

Only when Youji was on the stairs with Omi, the young man whispered: "And I had a debt to repay…" He sent an uncertain look at Youji.

Youji returned the look calmly and smiled. "I think I know what you mean."


Chapter 5: May Clear

Youji rushed under the roof of his favourite café and shook off his coat. The rain was starting to get to him... It hadn't stopped since their little diving experience.

The shop was pretty much deserted and he'd felt like he would go berserk if he couldn't get a decent cup of coffee and a cigarette.
Which was why he was now standing outside and having a smoke, before he could get inside to the hot, first-class cup of...

"Good afternoon, Youji."

For some reason, Youji wasn't surprised; which, on the other hand, did surprise him... "Crawford."

Crawford leaned next to the other man against the wall. "Your team is satisfactorily safe, I take it."

Youji rolled his eyes. "Smug asshole." He couldn't help but grin, however.

They stood that way for a while, until curiosity got the better of Youji, again.

"Why did you do it?"

Crawford shifted his weight to the other foot and sighed. "Various reasons. And none of them matter; what's done is done."

Youji considered that and decided he wouldn't get an answer to that question. No matter, he had others. "So... Word on the streets is that your telepath needed a little respiration..."

Crawford grinned. "And if my disobedient telepath hadn't ignored my order to keep clear of Weiß and proceeded to save your... respirator... he'd be dead, now. Well, both of them, really."

Youji's eyes widened and he turned to look at Crawford. "You ordered him off? Why didn't you tell him to save Omi? Why take that risk? He could have..."

Crawford just laughed at Youji's outrage. "I knew what he would do, of course. And..." he added, pensively, "... it had to be his own decision."

Youji threw his cigarette into a puddle. "You are one weird fucker, Crawford."

"Try living with my gift for a day, and you'll be a weird fucker, too."

Youji snorted, amused. "Why are you here?"

Crawford grinned. "Nagi informed me recently – and not without a certain vehemence – that he would flat out refuse to go after any of you, even if he were ordered to do so." He chuckled. "It seems that the death of the Esszett elders woke that backbone of his out of its beauty sleep."

Youji merely raised an eyebrow at the fact that Crawford apparently saw disobedience as a good thing. "And why all that concern from your little boy?"

"He is quite attached to Schuldig. Or any of us, really."

"Ah... The whole respirator thing."

"The respirator thing," Crawford confirmed.

"Still doesn't explain what you're doing here."

Crawford cleared his throat. "I will try to keep our assignments from yours, until the dust has settled. When we meet again during... work hours... it will be as competition, not enemies."

"And you are telling me this, why?"

Crawford grinned and took a step closer. "First, because at least one of you should be aware of the situation between the teams. And second..." Another step and a hand on the lanky Japanese man's cheek. "Because I thought you were less likely to bite me, if I did this."

And Youji was nowhere near biting the other man. The tall American was way too attractive, way too good a kisser, and the forbidden temptation way too alluring for Youji to resist.

He let his hands rise to the other man's head, thread his fingers through his perfectly groomed hair, accept the dominant tongue enter his mouth and gave back as good as he got. When the metal frame of the glasses pressed into his face, uncomfortably, he broke the kiss for long enough to remove them and shove them in Crawford's nearest pocket.

Crawford grinned at the gesture. He hadn't wanted to look what would happen, today, so he was relatively surprised at Youji's enthusiasm. While they were well hidden in their little corner, by both the building and the curtain of rain, they were still in the open and Youji was despite his laddish attitude a Japanese man whose ingrained culture would have to make him uncomfortable to at least some degree.
But he wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth... Sticking his tongue into Youji's seemed like the more pleasant solution, despite the acidic taste of the nicotine.

Youji entwined his tongue once again with the other's, humming contently, while his hands slowly wandered from the hair to frame the handsome face and tilted it so that he could deepen the kiss even more.

Crawford for his part felt like the teasing stripe of Youji's stomach was in need of some exploring. He first painted the skin with the tips of his fingers, then gripped the rippling muscles tightly, unable to resist.

Youji moaned, loudly and broke the kiss. "Okay, slow down, cowboy."

Crawford merely chuckled. "How long have you been waiting for the perfect moment to call me that?"

"Long enough." Youji grinned. It was a lie, but he couldn't resist. "Yank."
Youji the assassin was fully aware of the potential danger of the situation, even if he didn't show it.
Youji the red blooded young man was on his part of course aware of different things. Like the fact that he had been thinking about kissing the American since he had looked at his lips the other day (a fact of which Crawford was well aware, no doubt). Or that Crawford kissed like a man who knew very well how to play a human body in passion... Much like Youji himself, who usually was the one putting his knowledge to good use.
His libido informed him in no uncertain terms which part of his musings was of more importance.

Crawford leaned in to kiss his cheek and then lightly bite his ear lobe.

Youji sighed contently. "For how long have you seen this coming? Planning it?"

Crawford looked into the leaf green eyes, not quite as soft and inviting as he had seen them in his vision. Not yet... "By making sure that my team would be alive and well, yours had to be, as well... in every possible future I saw. One of them included this. At some point, anyway."

Youji let that thought course through his mind for a moment. Finally, he forced himself to step back and break the all too welcome contact. "What about your employers? You can't tell me they were all in that museum."

Crawford grinned. He had known that there was a professional in that tempting body, and it was amusing (if a bit insulting) that he would make an appearance, now. On the other hand, were Youji just a pretty face, he wouldn't be interested in him.
"The leaders are indeed all dead. The only thing remaining is the Rosenkreuz training facility in Switzerland, but after the fall of the elders, it turned out that the remaining body of the organization wasn't exactly displeased." His grin turned into a smirk. "Doing good business apparently ranks higher than world domination through a demonic power controlling everyone, including the very people that called upon it."

Youji couldn't help but chuckle at that. "And you know how to do good business," he stated.

Crawford merely nodded, self-satisfied. "I've had a high status in the institute both with the leaders and the people within. With the leaders because I served their purpose – or so they thought," the smirk widened, "and with everyone else because I lead the best unit they ever had and because I helped bring down the religious lunatics."

Youji snorted. "That's rich coming from the guy with the king of religious lunatics on his own team."

"Farfarello is... an entirely different matter than the elders, I'm sure you'll agree..."

"True," he conceded then frowned. "What is the deal with him, anyway?"

Crawford averted his eyes. "You're asking for quite a lot in exchange for a mere kiss..."

Youji laughed. "Seeing as you already know everything about my own team, I thought it only fair to level the field at least a little. Especially," he added after a moment's thought, "if my hunch is correct and you plan on some sort of cooperation. You're speaking to me, because I am more likely to listen than the others, remember?"

Crawford nodded. "Indeed. As for Farfarello, he has no classified gift, apart from his Cipa, which is not exactly a psychic talent, now, is it. He is also certifiably insane, but with our... superiors gone, we can finally start to treat him."

"Not classified doesn't mean it's not useful, whatever it is..."

"Not at all. On the contrary, changes usually indicate an increase in strength. Being born psychic is not a freak accident of nature, it's evolution."

{Are you sure it's smart to tell him all of that?} a voice in his head suddenly startled him.

{Are you monitoring me?}

{No, I'm monitoring him, but the result is the same... Been holding out on us, Bradley?}

Crawford could practically hear the smirk in that remark and resisted to roll his eyes.

{Anyway,} Schuldig continued, {I'm coming to pick you up. There's a mess with the new contract you got us.}

Crawford sighed, thought he should still try to get out of the situation at hand what he could and leaned forward to kiss Youji again.
"I have to go." He smirked. "But rest assured that I will see you, again."

Then Schuldig's red car pulled up and Crawford was gone.

Youji looked after it for a while, until he noticed, again that he was wet and cold and really wanted that coffee, now. He would think about what had just happened and the implications of it, later.

And maybe he should have another little talk with Omi. There were some things going on with their teams that he didn't understand. Fitting a new piece into the puzzle from Omi's perspective might clear up the picture a bit.

*

Omi carefully flexed his ankle that still hurt somewhat, but was as stable in its brace as it was going to get. At least it hadn't been broken, as Schuldig had thought, but merely badly twisted.

He sighed deeply and smiled into the sun. He had been so tired of water and cold and wet... Coming from the tumbling museum into the icy cold ocean, the continuing rain had weighed heavily on all of them, and he was glad that it was over.

He slowly strolled through the blooming park, leaning on his crutches. Nobody could have stopped him from going out, today. Not even Ay- Ran, who had thought that he should rest his injury some more. The promise to call, should he need assistance, made the redhead relent.

The twinge did get a bit worse, now, so he headed towards somewhere to sit for a bit.

When he got to the next row of benches and saw a different breed of redhead, he really should have been more surprised than he was. But given Youji's somewhat vague recollections about their enemies, he was not the only one to show a lack of... something towards Schwarz.
However, although he knew that Youji was not telling him something, he had yet to figure out what.

He debated the pros and cons of approaching the man, without noticing that he instinctively already did just that...

Only when he was standing right next to him, the curious, green stare directed at him, did he realize it.

Omi tilted his head. "How's that pneumonia of yours?"

Schuldig raised an eyebrow. "What makes you think I actually got one?"

"You still look a little under the weather."

Schuldig nodded. "I've got a cold. Pneumonia is gone, by now," he said, still feeling like he had to answer the younger man the question about his health that he, by all intents and purposes, owed to him.
He cleared his throat. "How's the ankle?" He only felt a little silly, actually asking about someone's well being.

Omi decisively sat down and stretched said leg. "Better. It wasn't broken."

Schuldig peeked at the other's surface thoughts and was surprised that he actually was less uncomfortable with this situation than he himself was. And then another thought came up, but he didn't have the time to ponder it, because Omi voiced it, quickly.

"What is going on with Youji?"

Schuldig raised an eyebrow. "He's your team-mate, not mine." He could of course imagine what Omi was talking about... But there were just some things that even he didn't want to think about, much less share with others.

Omi leaned his forearms on his thighs and stared into distance. "I've been talking to him more often than I used to, recently. And... for some reason, he wasn't only unsurprised at my helping you, but he seemed to have expected something like that."

"You told him, then?" Schuldig asked, actually curious.

Omi tilted his head. "I felt like I could..." Then he turned a sudden, sharp look at the telepath. "You wouldn't happen to have had anything to do with that, would you?"

Schuldig snorted and leaned back. "Why the hell should I care what you do or do not tell your team?"

"I didn't tell my team. Just Youji."

Schuldig debated for a moment whether he should tell Bombay about what his take on that particular question was or not. Then he thought, 'what the hell, Brad is sharing secrets, left, right and centre, too,' and went for it:
"You're the mission planner, aren't you?"

"What's that got to do with..."

"Which makes me think you have a knack for it, or Kritiker wouldn't have assigned you to it."

Omi leaned back, crossed his arms and huffed. "So?"

Schuldig grinned. "You are slightly, very slightly, precognostic." He let that sink in and watched Omi stare at him, incredulously. He chuckled. "And by slightly I mean that you should listen to your hunches when you have them. But I guess you already do that."

Omi pondered that for a moment. "You're saying... that I knew Youji would accept it more easily than the others."

"That... or his empathic abilities call to you."

"Empathic?" Omi snorted. "Are you telling me, my whole team is psychic?"

Schuldig breathed a laugh. "Hardly. Most people have a latent talent, and it has the tendency to show a little after trauma." He shrugged. "I guess you all qualify."
Only after he'd said it, did he realize that he'd given Omi an opening with that...

Omi realized it, too, but he didn't call Schuldig on the fact that according to what he'd just been told, Schwarz' past would more than likely have to have been as bad as it could possibly get. But there was only so much he wanted to know or was ready to talk to the other man about.
There were other more pressing matters to address, anyway. "What about Ken and Aya, I mean Ran?" He still wasn't used to calling him that; it had only been a short while since the real Aya was back in the picture.

Schuldig thought about it for a moment. "There is not much there to talk about. With them, it's more a tendency towards something than an actual latent talent. Fujimiya has some traces of an empath and a precog. Both of which probably do more harm than good, with him."

Omi blinked and decided to use Schuldig's informative moment for as long as it lasted. "How come?"

"Not strong enough to use, but strong enough for him to notice. He probably pulls back from people, because he can't deal with what he gets from them. And having known on some level what would happen to his family... Well, the guilt has to come from somewhere."

Omi paled. "Oh, God..." But after only a second of worry and pain he felt for Ran, he noticed that Schuldig had once again given him a hint to himself. Omi knew a little German; certainly enough to know what 'schuldig' meant and to be pretty certain that the name was not his real one. And, yes, the guilt had to come from somewhere.

Schuldig cursed himself silently. He must be losing his touch, if he kept slipping like that. Or maybe the kid was simply too bright for his own good.
"As for Hidaka," he continued back on the original track, "hard to tell... It has to be something physical like telekinesis or maybe teleportation."

"Huh... That would be pretty useful to cross a busy street." He giggled.

Schuldig snorted. "And I never lose at poker..."

Omi laughed then looked at his watch. "I'd better head back." He stood. "That was... actually sort of nice."

Schuldig didn't know what to say to that, so he just looked at the other man.

"And, uh..." Omi looked for the right words. "Tell Crawford... that if he's interested in avoiding confrontations with us... or even in some form of cooperation... he can contact me. Or Youji. I'm sure he can find a way."
He smiled briefly and left, leaving Schuldig behind to ponder the meaning of that on his own.

As for himself, he wasn't really sure if things were starting to clear up, or if they would become really complicated, now.


Chapter 6: June Warmth

Schuldig let himself drop into a seat facing the couch where Crawford was reading his newspaper.
"Okay, Brad. Enough's enough. Spill."

Crawford didn't even look up. "And what do you want me to spill?"

Schuldig could have played the stupid game, getting angry and demanding answers... but for some reason or other, he didn't feel like it. "You know damn well what," he said calmly.

Crawford actually blinked in surprise at the calm and reasonable tone in the other's voice. Finally, he sighed, folded the newspaper and set it aside.
"I'm not entirely sure, no," he noted. "You either want to know about Weiß or about Kudou. I understand and even condone the first, but the second – and more than likely the one you are actually interested in – is none of you business."

"Bullshit." Schuldig actually managed to maintain his calm air, but it cost him quite an amount of self-control (which he had, but didn't necessarily like to make use of). "If I were to, say, start fucking around with Abyssinian, you would interfere and demand answers. Rightly so, I might add."

"Because I'm the precog and you're not."

"And I'm the telepath, darling. You might know what happens, but I know what people, in this case Weiß, think. And taken your recent interest in Balinese, I am not so sure anymore, if you are actually the more mature of us."
He didn't laugh at the hilarity of that statement. He wanted to – oh, how he wanted to – but he didn't. He wanted to make a point, but even more than that, he was just too damn curious and wanted to know why Brad had held out on him. Or, more importantly, what he'd held out on him. And reason was a much better way to get things out of Brad. Usually, at least.

Crawford raised an eyebrow. "I bow to your acting skills."

Schuldig's poker face didn't waver. "Youji. Details. Now."

Crawford shrugged. "He's hot. I'm interested."

"And the fall of Esszett has nothing to do with that?"

Damn. Crawford frowned. Of course Schuldig would make that connection, the man wasn't stupid. Rash, but not in the least stupid.
"Are you saying you're not happy with them out of the way?"

"Hey, I just wanna know if Youji is the reason for you wanting to suddenly go after the old farts, so I can send him flowers." He grinned. "Well, maybe not flowers – you know, owls and Athens and all that – but maybe chocolates and a big-ass thank-you card."

Crawford had to chuckle at that. "You... are an incurable gossip."

Schuldig chuckled with him. "I trust you with the team security, and you should know that. But Youji..." He thought about it for a moment. "I am curious, but I'd also like to know what the situation with Weiß is, so that I know why the hell Tsukiyono would come up to me, ask me about my pneumonia and then give me the message for you that if you wanted to co-op with them, you could always contact him or bloody Youji." He frowned a bit, having actually forgotten about that last part.

Crawford tilted his head. "When was that?"

Schuldig shrugged. "Couple of weeks ago."

Crawford sighed. "And you didn't think you should have told me that?"

Another shrug. "Well, I remembered it, now," he defended himself. "Anyway, you wouldn't have done anything against them and your pretty Youji, would you?" He smirked.

Crawford crossed his arms. "Pretty isn't exactly the word I would have used." He only just avoided a pout.

"Hm..." Schuldig actually gave it a thought and mentally checked out the lot of Weiß. "True, I suppose. Fujimiya and Tsukiyono would fit that particular bill a lot better." He nodded to himself, satisfied with his assessment.

Crawford snorted and shook his head in fond exasperation.

"So how are things going? You can't keep holding out on me about you and Casanova."

"Schuldig..." he growled.

Schuldig just laughed.

But the fact of the matter was that there was nothing to hold out on. He hadn't seen the tall blond, not since the last time.
So maybe it was time to stage another meeting...

*

Despite Crawford's intention, another meeting took place without his seeing to, before he could meet up with Youji...
He had known that it would happen, but when the vision about the same evening had hit him, he had been surprised that it hadn't taken any longer.

Distracted, he simply nodded when Schuldig yelled that he was going out, slamming the door behind him.

Crawford suspected that the redhead had been close to going stir-crazy, after the pneumonia and the cold that had turned out to be a full-blown flu.
His going out the moment he got the chance was therefore expected.

His meeting Tsukiyono, on the other hand...

With the German out of the house, he quickly checked, if that changed anything in his planning.

After a while he sighed and opened his eyes. It... didn't look like it. And he really hoped that he was right.

Schuldig left the first club he had raided that night, only shortly after midnight, when he had gotten bored with the clientele. He didn't exactly mind horny people with nothing but sex on the brain, but none of them had interested him in the slightest.
This was one of the down sides of being a telepath: good looks were fine, but if the person belonging to them was as intelligent as a three day old loaf of bread, those looks didn't mean all that much, anymore.

Before he entered the next club, he actually scanned it, first, just to make sure that at least some of them could tie their shoes unaided.

When he came across a particularly familiar mind, he almost turned and left, but the fact that Bombay was hanging out in a gay club was too tempting an opportunity to ignore, so he entered, smirking.

He found the young man sitting at the bar and trying to dislodge an annoyingly persistent fellow, who had an apparent interest in the little Weiß. Schuldig actually raised an eyebrow at the man's thought, and had to admit that Omi's instincts were impeccable.
What a weirdo.

He waited for the music to take a small break for his entrance to get the desired impact, made sure that the seat on the other side of Omi was being abandoned and let himself drop into it.

Omi and the other guy – who mostly went after men, because going after flat-chested girls was frowned upon by the law and other unpleasant and interfering instances – swivelled around to stare at him.

Schuldig smiled widely, flashed his eyelashes and proclaimed, "My life-saviour!" in a sickeningly fake, high voice.

Omi was inclined to say the same thing to Schuldig for appearing before he could do something permanent – like killing – to the leech to his left.
He tried to send a very clear thought at the other man. {If you can get rid of him for me, I owe you one!}

Schuldig's smile turned sinister for the briefest of moments. {You don't have to shout at me, Liebling. I'm actually good enough to hear you, anyway.}
He switched his attention to the other man, prickling his paranoia just a little and smiled benignly at him, while his eyes bore into him and said the first thing that came to mind.
"You already met my boyfriend... Hi, I'm Schu." The introduction came with another bout of fear, until the other man's eyes were wide in unknown terror.

"I'm... I..." He stumbled off his bar stool, nearly fell down and all but ran out.

Schuldig chuckled evilly after him and waited for Omi to turn. "So..." he said. "Hi."

"Yeah. Hi." He cleared his throat, suddenly realizing that Schuldig had caught him in a gay bar... "Uh... Thanks."

Schuldig smirked. "You think you're better off with me?"

Omi snorted. "There was something seriously wrong with that guy. With you at least I know what..."

Schuldig had to laugh at that. "I could have sent him a little preview of what's wrong with you. I'm sure that would have gotten him to leave."

Omi's eyes took on a decidedly wicket gleam. "I guess that is one point that really makes me prefer you to most other wackos..."

Schuldig reached for the now absent man's drink, downed it in one swallow, got up and held out a hand. "You owe me a dance, at the very least, my pretty little homo."

This startled a laugh out of Omi and he took the offered hand without hesitation and followed him to the dance floor.

After only a few moments of having the young body move against his, he knew just what the grace of another assassin would feel like, dancing in unison with him.
{My, my... Isn't that a pleasant surprise...}

Omi reached up with his arms, slung them around the other's neck and inched impossibly close. {About as much a surprise as finding you in a gay bar.} He chuckled. {Or maybe not...}

Schuldig couldn't very well let the little maggot get away with that, so he grabbed a double handful of youthful buttocks, pulled him flush against his body, showing him exactly how well he fit into such an establishment.
He grinned and lightly bit the rosy lips in front of his. {Oh, really? You have no idea...}

Omi's breath hitched and his eyes fluttered. {I'm... beginning to...}
What on earth was he doing? Saving Schuldig's life was one thing – he'd been mostly acting on instinct, there, anyway – but this... he didn't really have an excuse, here, did he?

{A different sort of instinct?} Schuldig muttered in his mind, amusement apparent.

{Well... you could say that they're both life-affirming instincts...} An impish smile accompanied that comment.

Schuldig laughed out loud and didn't see a lot of reasons for holding himself back, anymore; he pulled the other man close and kissed him, deeply.

And Omi melted.

Schuldig used the immediate lack of shielding and slipped into the other's mind, seeing what kind of memories their activities woke in Omi. Considering the seemingly bold and – oh, yeah – talented ministrations, he was quite surprised that there were no memories of anything similar...
{You're pretty good for a virgin...}

Omi never interrupted or even slowed the kiss. {Lots of alone time to imagine... Nobody to actually go through with it. Nobody to understand...}

Schuldig didn't have to ask about what he meant with that last part... {So do you? Wanna go through with it?}

Omi couldn't answer for a moment. The kissing, dancing, feeling was as close to glorious as he could imagine coming...

{Or we can just keep this up for a while... Consider this my final offer to get even with you for dragging me out of the damn ocean. Weiß' choice tonight.} He delved his tongue deeper. {What's it to be? Some more dancing, grinding and kissing, or do you want me to show you the night of your life?}
Well... he said he'd leave the choice to Omi, not that he wouldn't make his own preference known.

Omi gave one last nip and looked into the flashing, green eyes. {I thought we were even? You save me, I save you?}

Schuldig thrust against him, keeping up the beat of the music. {You and I both know that it wasn't exactly the same thing, was it...}

{And in return I get a dance with the devil?}

Schuldig chuckled. {In the moonlight? I didn't know you were such a film buff, kitten.}

Omi remembered the last time he had seen Schuldig in the pale moonlight: soaking wet, not breathing and hardly managing a heartbeat. He remembered breathing life back into him... and how much more pleasant the soft lips felt, now.

Schuldig watched the thoughts and almost froze at the picture of himself, half dead... But the morbid musings were interrupted by Omi's decision that he could see before the young man voiced it.

Omi initiated another kiss. {Get me out of here...}

{What do you think of the backseat of a car? Or do you prefer a romantic love hotel?} He grinned into the kiss at Omi's reaction when he mentioned the car. It looked like his little virgin liked to play with cliché masturbatory fantasies... Well, it wasn't like he couldn't make those fantasies reality, for both of them.

{Car..?}

Schuldig broke the kiss, grabbed Omi around the waist and guided him out of the club, much to the chagrin of many of the other visitors who had enjoyed the view of the two beautiful men dancing...

Omi went more than willingly, almost frighteningly willingly; but once more, he couldn't make himself care. He was almost certain that he was in no immediate danger... And according to Schuldig – as far as he could be trusted – his intuition was worth at least something.
But, damn it all, the man was sex on legs, and he was only human, after all. A teenager, no less, with the raging hormones to go with it.

Schuldig unlocked his car, flipped the front seat forward and invited Omi onto the back seat. "It's going to be a little cramped, but that's half the charm of sex in the backseat." He winked.

When Omi climbed in, Schuldig couldn't resist letting his hand crop a feel of the inviting ass and let two fingers dip into the jeans-clad crack.

Omi turned around when he was in, shoved over and grinned at the other man who wasted no time coming after him.

Schuldig sat on the other side and his eyes darted towards Omi's crotch, not even trying to hide the interest. "Nice..." He slowly unbuttoned his shirt. "Lose the tee, Liebling."

Omi stared transfixed at the skin that was being revealed one inch at the time and ripped his own tight dark spandex shirt over his head and threw it away, so he wouldn't miss a moment more than necessary.
The silk shirt slipped off Schuldig and Omi breathed heavily while watching the lean arms, the well toned muscles on the pale chest and stomach. "You're gorgeous," he whispered, hoarsely.

Schuldig licked his lips. "You're not so bad, yourself." He reached for Omi's jeans and opened the button and zipper. "I'm going to have to help you out of this..." he purred, "since we're in such a close space."

Omi helped Schuldig along by kicking off his jeans along with his underwear and shoes, finally only sitting there in his socks, far too aroused to feel self-conscious. He reached for Schuldig's pants, struggled with the belt for a second and then opened the pants.

Schuldig raised himself on his knees to pull the pants halfway down.

That was enough for Omi, who grasped for Schuldig and pulled him into a deep kiss and to lie between his legs. He gasped into the kiss when they finally touched skin to skin.

Schuldig chuckled deeply and breathed onto the lips: "Want me to fuck you?"

"Oh, God," Omi moaned. "Hell, yes."

Schuldig reached in between the front seat and quickly ripped open a small compartment, where he pulled out some lube and condoms. He waved it at Omi.

"Always prepared?"

"I'm not the precog; I actually have to prepare for things." He opened the bottle and slicked a couple of fingers, letting them drift between Omi's legs.

Omi whimpered and spread his trembling thighs even more, granting Schuldig better access. When the first finger penetrated him, he gasped, arched off the seat and clawed at Schuldig's long hair, pulling him into a desperate kiss.

{Like the feel of that, do you?} Schuldig asked and carefully added another finger.

Omi quivered all over. {What are you doing to me?}

{Apart from this, you mean?} he asked, twisting the fingers slightly up and forward, making Omi actually squeal.
{I'm blocking your pain a little; and I'm letting my own excitement about just how much I want to fuck you feed back to you.} He opened the connection fractionally wider and let Omi know for certain that he wasn't the only one desperate for more.

Then there was no thought left for Omi, no consciousness, nothing but the startlingly new sensation of being filled in a much more satisfying way than with the fingers.
He threw back his head, pushed down with his hips and moaned, as any other form of communication had become impossible.

Not entirely so for Schuldig. "Fuck, yeah!" Not that this was particularly articulate.

Omi grabbed the back of the other's head and pulled him into a burning kiss, moaning, whimpering and gasping at Schuldig's deep and still slow thrusts.
Slow was not something he had the patience for, right now. {More... More, more, please!}

Schuldig sped up his movements, not minding the request one bit. It hardly ever happened that he managed to get a one night stand who was hot, eager, smart... and who called to his darker side with blood on soul and hands.
The latter had actually never happened, before. He'd seen blood stained minds, but he wasn't going to get his dick anywhere near some brain-dead, murdering psychopath. He didn't mind the murdering part all that much, but the kind that went out clubbing, was also the kind that would imagine their bed partners cut to ribbons during the sex (and afterwards making that become reality – or try to, anyway), and that was not exactly his idea of a good time, with him being a telepath and having to listen to it all.

But Omi, the deliciously arching and moaning body beneath his, had it all. The looks, the brains and the bloody soul – all of which rivalled his own.
Not much else to say but "Fuck, oh yeah!"

Omi clung to Schuldig, trying to cause more friction on his aching dick, but Schuldig would have none of that.
The redhead lifted Omi's legs to lie on his shoulders and folded his own knees under him to get a better angle for hard, deep thrusts.

Then he took Omi's hand and guided it to the needy erection between them. "Come on, baby, do it," he ordered with a particularly harsh push into the young body.

Omi screamed and his hand grasped his dick out of reflex, squeezing it tightly. There was no restraint left; all he could do was ride the ride and pump himself in concert with the expert thrusts.
His mind was swimming, his vision was filled with stars, and all he could hear was the music of mating, of fucking, of... "Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me," he babbled, not caring one bit that he must have sounded desperate, he just needed more, more of this, more of anything, more of Schuldig.
More... Did he say that out loud? He didn't know, anymore.

Schuldig stared at the flushed face and the beautiful body that rocked on the leather seat with his thrusts; the hair that entrancingly swayed along with it, except for the strands that were already sticking to the sweaty forehead...
He watched the young man bite his rosy, glistening lips, when he wasn't calling out to him with the most enticing pleas.

When Schuldig could feel the tightness pull at him, pulling at a string from the core of his chest to his balls that felt full enough to burst and then to his dick, he opened a telepathic, two-way link. (Or maybe he didn't actively open it, but merely lacked the control to shield himself properly. But who the fuck cared, anymore, right?)

He felt Omi, Omi felt him... He felt Omi feeling him... Omi feeling him, feeling Omi...

An endless loop of ecstasy... An endless loop of their entwined bodies and minds...

An endless yell of completion, both of them yelling, neither of them realising they were a different person, at all...

And then there was nothing but silence, the two of them breathing, lying entangled in each other's sweaty bodies, holding on, tightly...

A long moment of perfection.

Until Schuldig chuckled, lifted his head and looked into the divinely post-fucked face below his.
"You... are without a doubt... the best fuck I've ever had..." He still breathed hard and grinned widely.

Omi followed the hovering head enough to lick his lips and smirked. "Same here. Not that this is saying much..."

"Cheeky little bastard." He chuckled once more and shared a well-deserved kiss with his conquest.

Brad blinked.
Yes... That settled that, apparently.

He slowly shook his head at how the two of them could have actually believed even for a second that it would be this easy...

A one night stand. He snorted.
As if it were even possible that two people who were so much alike (much more than either of them would ever admit to), with as little other possibilities as people in their line of work had, could simply let it be.

There would be much turmoil to handle for the two men.

As for himself, he decided to take a different route. After all, he'd had a long time to get used to the thought of... To that thought.


Chapter 7: July Brightness

Omi tumbled home, headed for the shower to get ready for his shift that he would have to share with Youji.

On the one hand, he was very glad that it was Youji, because he really needed to talk to someone; on the other, Youji was chronically late for work and Omi himself wasn't exactly what one could call awake.

After the shower, however, he felt a little better. He got dressed and went to the kitchen for some caffeinated reinforcement.

Tired or no, he couldn't for the life of him get rid of the stupid grin on his face... He even enjoyed the twinge in his ass, for Christ's sake!

The thought made him grin even wider. But the images that the sore and tingling feeling evoked were not constructive; no, not at all. They might have woken him up some more, but there were other reactions to consider that were not exactly work-place acceptable.

He'd had sex. Real sex with another man. In the backseat of an admittedly very comfortable red sports car. (He'd also gotten to know the front seats, when Schuldig had brought him home. Although not before a reciprocal blow-job and another round of sex during the course of the night.)

Schuldig had promised him the night of his life; and, boy, did he deliver!

That alone made dragging his sorry ass out of the water worth the effort.

He was still grinning when the coffee maker informed him with a beep that his coffee was ready. He added some sugar and took his cup downstairs; leaving the machine running, in the hopes that Youji wouldn't take too long to get out of bed.

He opened the shutters, let the sunshine in and sat behind the register.

To his pleasant surprise, Youji actually appeared no more than ten minutes later with his own cup of coffee and another one for Omi.

Omi smiled widely at him. "You're a life saver."

Youji answered the smile with a small but honest one of his own and sat on the table, enjoying the quiet of the morning without any customers.

Omi fingered his cup and wondered if telling Youji about his late night adventures was a good thing or if this would finally go too far and make him take the matter to Kritiker...
He... hadn't really considered that option, which was admittedly quite stupid of him. But, well, having a personal life wasn't really a disciplinary matter for Kritiker agents, even if his choice of distraction maybe wasn't all that unproblematic.

Omi had tons of arguments and justifications ready, since he more than likely was going to need them, at some point.
The matter of secrecy was easily countered. His sleeping with Schuldig didn't change the fact that Schwarz already knew all they needed or wanted to know, either through telepathy, premonitions or simply by hacking Kritiker's mainframe.
The matter of safety – namely his own – was a little harder. But it wasn't like his profession was known for a long life-expectancy. And, once more, if Schwarz wanted any of them dead, they would be… No need for seduction, there.

Then there was the fact that Schuldig would be dead if it hadn't been for him. Of course, it could have been staged… But that would have been hugely difficult under the circumstances, not to mention potentially deadly.

No… Schwarz would be part of their lives, somehow. And his intuition as well as his common sense made him believe that the rival group was no threat…

"Something bothering you, kid?"

Omi flinched and almost spilled his coffee… then smiled, wryly. Of course Youji would notice... And his intuition also had something to say about the topic of one Youji Kudou. The man was safe.
"Can I tell you something?"

Youji blinked and raised an eyebrow. "I could understand you asking whether you could ask me something… Of course you can tell me something. Always. You know that."

Omi tilted his head and stared into his coffee. "It's... quite personal. But I feel like I'm going to explode if I don't tell anyone about it." He breathed deeply to lose some of the tension in his body. He was practically humming with excitement. Not all of it nervousness… most of it was still the high from last night. He shrugged. "And, well, you're the most likely candidate not to blow in my face for it."

Youji put down his coffee, sensing the seriousness of the situation, but smiled encouragingly. "I'm all ears."

"You're... not going to tell anyone, are you?"

"No, of course not." Youji shook his head. He was beginning to see where this was going. He'd had several talks with Omi about Schwarz, recently. Their views on the rival group seemed to separate them from the others; and Youji knew that at some point, they would have to share those views with both Ran and Ken. But, apparently, whatever was bothering Omi, was not going to be first on that list of topics to discuss.

Omi took another swallow and cleared his throat. "I... had sex, last night."

Youji blinked. Then blinked some more.
Okay... he was not expecting something like that. Though it kind of made sense that Omi would come to him about it. But why was Omi so reluctant about the whole thing?
"Uh..."

"With Schuldig."

Oh. That was why.
What the hell should he say to something like that?

Youji studied the young man before him, who still avoided his gaze.
Omi did look a little tired. Apparently, it had gotten late, last night... There was also a satisfied, happy glint in his eyes that Youji could only just make out under the layers of worry about the impending reaction.
So... The experience had to have been a good one, then...

He knew how to handle this; there really was only one way. He took a deep breath. "How was it?"

Omi's head shot up, his eyes wide in surprise. Then a tentative but relieved smile followed. "It was... amazing."

Youji smiled back. "And... you're sure he didn't somehow manipulate you into it?" he just had to ask.

Omi pondered that for a moment. It was a valid question... "I don't think that I would be so damned pleased with myself, today, if he had..."
He bit his lip, trying to hold back the full blown grin that threatened to return, but he failed, eventually.

Youji chuckled. "I can see that." He picked his coffee back up.

Omi narrowed his eyes in contemplation. "He never did tell me what's been going on between you and Crawford, though."

Youji smirked over the rim of his cup. "Definitely not as much as between the two of you."

Omi rolled his eyes, but he smiled while he did it. "It was just sex, Youji. But you..."

Youji's eyes lost their focus. "I'm really not sure. I just... feel like I can trust him."

"Trust?" Despite his own hunch that Schwarz didn't pose as immediate a threat as they could, trust wasn't a word he'd use in connection with them. "Isn't that a bit much?"

Youji sighed, frustrated at his own inability to express what was going on inside his head. "You already know about how he kept seeking me out, about the chip and about his promise that the four of us and Aya would be fine."

Omi nodded.

"He kissed me, a couple of weeks ago," he added, nonchalantly but seriously.

Omi grinned. "Did he, now? We seem to be developing a weakness for bad guys…"

A corner of Youji's mouth lifted at that and he tilted his head. "Don't you trust Schuldig?" he asked. He was honestly curious. Schuldig was the least trustworthy person he had ever met, but for Omi to sleep with him…

"No. We saved each other and now we had sex. But I don't really have a reason to trust him." That there was too much in their past to prevent that went unsaid.

"Well, we didn't save or sleep with each other," Youji finally said, "but I still trust him. I don't know why..." He rubbed his face. "I don't even know whether it's not all just Schuldig's doing or not."

Omi remembered the telepath's words. "Could be your empathy acting up."

Youji gave Omi his full attention, again. How did he…?

Omi smiled sheepishly. "Just something Schuldig said."

Youji stared some more. "Crawford told me the same thing." That didn't sound too good, because… "So, it actually could be a setup, then."

"I don't think so. You've always had it," Omi stated, matter-of-factly.

Youji sighed. Another thing that Crawford had told him. This was bad. There was no way to know for certain, and there never would be. But that was life, wasn't it? Unless you happened to be psychic; and this didn't sound like too much of a foreign concept as it had a year ago.
"We don't really have any other choice but to trust them, do we?" Youji said, resignedly.

Omi wasn't sure if he agreed, but he didn't have any emotions involved, while it seemed like Youji did...

This was when they should have discussed the topic some more, but in reality, this was when the first customers arrived.

And when Youji's face showed a weird expression when he picked up the phone half an hour before their lunch break, Omi pretended not to notice it.

He didn't even say anything when the older man left to go grab a bite, which cost him even more of an effort.

*

Youji sat down in front of the American at the small corner table. "Your telepath fucked our mission planner."
He folded his hands on the table and smiled a pleasant smile that didn't really suit the statement he had just made.

Crawford's lips twitched. "I am aware of that. Hardly anything I could do about it."

Youji nodded at the waiter who gave him a glass of water and picked up his menu. Then he focused on Crawford, once more. "I'm sure that had you disapproved of it, you would have found a way to stop it."

Crawford sipped his own water, a calm air surrounding him like a comforting blanket. "Keeping Schuldig busy would have done the trick, yes."

Youji nodded. There of course would have been a possibility if Crawford had seen it coming. And Youji highly doubted that he didn't.

"I recommend the tuna," Crawford added.

Youji huffed, amused, but opened the menu and found Crawford's suggestion to be valid. He put it down, again.
"I take that to mean that you didn't disapprove."

"No," Crawford agreed.

"To what purpose? Relief?" His tone and his expression conveyed disbelief. It simply didn't sound like Omi… "Omi said it was just sex..."

Crawford snorted. "I am sure that he would like to make himself believe that." He drank some more of his water. "They both would," he muttered into the glass.

This startled Youji, but he was interrupted by the waiter before he could word his surprise.

They both placed their order and handed back their menus.

Youji waited until the man was well out of ear shot. "Exactly what did you mean by that?"

Crawford sighed. "What do you think I meant?"

Youji just stared.

Another sigh. "You saw your man, this morning. Did he appear... smitten?"

Youji remembered the wide grins and the small, better hidden smiles, all morning. The way the young man described the entire encounter with Schuldig as amazing... and meaning it in every sense of the word.

Crawford apparently saw in Youji's expression what he'd expected and nodded. "He already knows it's more than sex and so does Schuldig. It'll take both of them a while to admit it, though."

"Is that the reason why you haven't tried to nail me, yet?"

Crawford chuckled. "Do you want me to?"

"I think that I would like to know what the hell you're up to, first."

"Right now? Lunch. And that is as far as I will look for you."

Youji pondered that. Did he actually want to know more?
First, he'd already decided that he would trust Crawford and therefore knew that their groups wouldn't go against each other, if the American had anything to say about it; and, well, he always did.
Second, he never wanted to know his own future and he wasn't going to start, now, just because he had a possible source right in front of him.
"You said that my team is safe, and I decided that I would trust you, since I don't really have a choice."

Crawford nodded at the team safety and straightened in his seat at the trust.

"That's really all I need to know."

Crawford kept staring.

Youji smiled, wryly and leaned his chin on a hand. "What can I say? You are one sexy bastard and kiss like whoa. And if even Omi is getting some, I'm starting to feel left out."

Crawford laughed.

It was quite a nice lunch. Youji returned to work, confused but relaxed, and kept watching Omi with a new kind of respect and sympathy...

Omi and Schuldig would have some aftermath things to deal with; he and Crawford on the other hand didn't appear to be in any hurry.

Crawford was the born hunter; he could wait for as long as it would take. Youji himself was sharp but also lazy.

They had parted after lunch with a long, slow and sensual kiss in Crawford's expensive car.

Youji smiled secretively at the memory and kept adding soil to a newly potted plant. A tantalising, fuelling dance of lips and tongue. Much more satisfying than rushed encounters with ditzy girls.
So much more promising.

"The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades," he sung quietly to himself.

No... No hurry at all...


Chapter 8: August Heat

The bells above the shop's door jingled when Youji left, leaving Omi and Ken behind.

Ken counted the money in the register; his eyes darted around, making sure that they were alone. Then he cleared his throat and started talking without looking up.
"Just the two of us..."

Omi smiled. "Yep." He only just realised now that he hadn't spent a lot of time with Ken, recently. It felt good, being with him, now. Growing closer to Youji didn't have to mean that he had to cut down on other friendships, after all.

Had it already been… How long had it been?
Omi considered that question. Aya had been living with them (well, Ran, to be exact) for almost four months, now. His own encounter with Schuldig would have to have been three months ago… God only knew what Youji had been up to in that time…

"Are you sleeping with Youji?"

Omi spun around to Ken, startled out of his reverie, only to see that the other still wasn't looking at him. Where the hell had that come from?

"It's just... you know... I wanted to let you know that it was okay, if you were, is all."

Omi felt a surge of warmth inside him. "Oh, Ken..." He smiled, widely.

Ken tentatively looked up from under his bangs.

Omi giggled. "I'm not sleeping with Youji, Ken."

Despite the words, Ken's shoulders sagged in relief. "Oh. Okay then..."

Omi laughed out loud. "You should see your face!"

Ken chuckled a bit, embarrassed. "I would have been okay with it. But it still would have been weird..."

"Tell me about it," Omi snorted. "What brought that on?"

Ken looked down, again. "You've been pretty chummy with Youji, lately. It's nothing bad," he added, quickly, "I just noticed. And you both don't appear like you wanted to talk in front of Ran and me. So..."

"So, you deduced that we were sleeping with each other."

"Yeah, yeah. Rub it in, why don't you," he grumbled.

Omi giggled some more then sobered. "Youji and I have... some... views... that we're not sure we can share with you guys."

"Views on what?" The tone in Omi's voice indicated that it was something job-related... They weren't going to leave, were they?

Omi sighed. Well, sooner or later they were going to share this, anyway... And he preferred to tell it to Ken, first. "Schwarz."

Okay, that was not what he had expected. What possible views were there? They were the bad guys who tried to kill them.
He kept staring at Omi, waiting for something that made more sense.

"Remember the chip that Ran located the once, instead of me?" He waited for a nod. "He got it from Crawford."

If Ken's eyes were wide, before, they were huge, now.

Omi nodded. "Crawford also guaranteed that we would all be safe. Weiß and Aya. And, well, we are."

"But... It's a trick! It has to be!"

"To accomplish what? Destroy us? They could do that whenever they wanted."

Ken looked away, again, deep in thought.

"And then there were my own meetings with them." Not that he was going to tell Ken about everything... "Schuldig saved my life the day Ran got Takatori."

Ken's head shot up. "Saved?"

Omi nodded. "A guard would have gotten me. He got him, first." He licked his lips, nervously. "And... I saved his life in return when the museum collapsed. He would have drowned."

Ken slowly shook his head, hardly believing what he heard. Suddenly he blinked. "He was the one who brought you home." It wasn't a question.

Omi nodded, again. "He did. And Nagi told Crawford that he wouldn't go after any of us, anymore, because I dragged Schuldig out of the water."

Ken slumped in his seat. "Jesus..."

Omi chuckled. "Yeah. Like I said; different views." He thought about telling Ran and what he would say about it. Especially, since Aya had been in the middle of the whole mess.
"Though I know Ran wonders about the chip, at least..."

"Just as well; he's less likely to bite off both your heads that way, when he finds out."

Omi let Ken have the time to let all of that sink in and started sweeping the floor. Ken didn't look like he was going to hit the roof, so that was at least something. Then again, he didn't know everything that was to know about the situation. Both his and Youji's situation, really.
While whatever had been between him and Schuldig was done, apart from their sort of understanding, the thing between Youji and Crawford was nowhere near coming to an end; on the contrary, if he'd gotten the meaning of the other's more or less veiled comments right.

Youji seemed dead set on trying to build a relationship with the American.
Though knowing Youji and considering just how damn attractive they both were, it had to be sexual in some way…

And Omi was a very perceptive young man…

*

By the time the sun slowly illuminated the room through the dark, red curtains, the next morning, Crawford finally got to see one of his long-time predictions, for the first time.
He hadn't been sure about the exact time-frame; what would happen when… And he had somehow expected this moment to be further in the future.

But it wasn't. It was here and now; and it was as glorious as he'd known it would be.

He was lying on his side, studying the sleeping body next to his, watching the warm light make the golden hair and honey-coloured skin start to glow.
Then, as the man apparently felt the scrutiny he was being exposed to, sleepy emeralds woke to life and a lazy smile with just a hint of depravity appeared. Muscles tensed and moved as Youji stretched.

All in all, the man was the very impersonation of 'inviting'.

After having caressed every inch of visible skin with his eyes, Crawford now sent his hands to follow that lead.
"Good morning," he said, his voice hoarse from sleep.

"Good morning." Youji smiled at him and followed the attentive ministrations with a steadily growing heat in his gaze.

Crawford raised himself on one elbow to lean over the other man. Youji reached out one hand to lay it on his cheek and then slowly run it into the hair and around the head.
And there it was. The transformation of a perfect premonition into the picture of a no less perfect moment.
"I've seen this," he whispered.

Youji simply smiled at first then a smirk formed. "Worth the wait?"

Crawford chuckled and gave into the pull of Youji's hand on the back of his head.

There was no hesitation in the kiss. The tongues tangled the moment their lips touched and twin moans escaped their throats.

Youji cradled Crawford's head with both hands and manoeuvred the man to lie on him, letting their bodies entwine and feel their counterpart.
In that moment, he regretted that Crawford wasn't a telepath, so he broke the kiss and gasped, "Did you know we would fit so damn well?"

Crawford moved his body, making sure that Youji felt every inch of their – indeed – well matched bodies.
"Of course," he said through a smug grin.

But they both knew that it was more than the physical that matched. It was their minds, as well. Both focused, both intense, both ruthless on their job. Crawford was cold and calculating, but used all means at his disposal to keep his team safe. Youji was very emotional and would sometimes take in lame birds a little too eagerly, but he noticed every detail with shark-like attention.

Yes, they matched and at the same time complemented each other.

And if he hadn't just straddled the body beneath his and therefore been otherwise engaged, Crawford would have once again asked himself, if his visions were in part his own subconscious that showed him what would suit him the best and not simply the future as it could be.

As it was, his thoughts couldn't have been further from anything but the mouth kissing his, the hands roaming over his body and both their heats swelling against each other.

Crawford blindly reached for the bedside table, freed a single condom from its package with practised ease, opened the wrapper and lost no time, rolling it onto Youji's dick.

Youji watched him pouring some lube over him and grinned. "It never ceases to amaze me that Brad Crawford likes both the giving and receiving end in bed..." He was mostly teasing, but before he'd gotten to know the man, it would have seemed hard to imagine.

Crawford chuckled. "You of all people should know the merits each option has to offer..." He lifted and then lowered himself slowly, not needing any more preparation.
He gasped and grinned, as Youji began to fill him. "Besides..." he added, "I am in control, here." And just to prove his point, he clenched his internal muscles, making Youji choke on a moan.

Youji grasped the other's hips. "Less talking, more moving," he urged.

Crawford pushed down the last bit and smirked. "You're lucky that your request suits my meticulous plans."

Youji's answering laugh drowned in another moan when Crawford started a slow, steady rhythm. "Mmmh, yeah," he made his approval known and revelled in the feeling that taking his time granted him.

After only a moment, Crawford leaned down and ravaged Youji's mouth.

*

Nagi tiredly looked up from his book and laid it on the kitchen table, frowning at Schuldig who chuckled, self-satisfied.
"What?" he asked, suspiciously. Amused and self-satisfied generally suited Schuldig very well, but it also meant that he had stuck his telepathic nose into where it didn't belong.

Schuldig grinned at the teenager, briefly considered what and how to explain his discovery and settled for the frank version. It was fun to ruffle Nagi's feathers every now and then, anyway.
"Brad's banging Youji. Again."

That definitely woke up Nagi, despite having had an all-nighter with some stupid school report. It still took him a couple of seconds to place the first name to the right Weiß face, though.
He blinked. Yo-yo playing playboy guy?
What he asked, however, was, "Again?"

Schuldig raised an eyebrow. "That's what you're interested in? Not the other part?"

Nagi huffed and crossed his arms. "Well, again implies that you knew they'd done it, before." He didn't like being left out of the loop. It just wasn't fair, him being the only one who didn't have the advantage of seeing things, either from other people's minds or the future or whatever the hell Farfarello was doing.
On top of that, he was the youngest, and therefore frequently left out of things. (Crawford claimed that it wasn't true, but grown-ups always said that, and this secret proved that he was being kept in the dark, didn't it?) Not fair. Not at all.

Schuldig smirked. "I did," he confirmed.

Nagi waited for more information. He knew that Schuldig was dying to gossip, but unfortunately, so was he... "So?"

"You're cute when you're impatient."

Nagi rolled his eyes. He hated being the youngest. He was not cute, goddammit!

'Oh, yes, you are,' Schuldig thought, but didn't project it. Finally, he took pity on their nestling. "They've been doing it for a while." He shrugged. "And you were the one who told him that you wouldn't fight Weiß..."

Nagi just stared. "I didn't say that so that he could go and fuck the first one of them that crossed his path!" Honestly! He would have thought that Crawford of all people would have had more restraint. He wasn't Schuldig, after all.

Schuldig's eyes lost their focus for a moment. The way Crawford had talked about the other man... "I don't think he did... I think he planned this."

"Planned Youji?" Nagi asked sceptically. Ri~ight. Crawford didn't have a single romantic bone in his body.

Schuldig didn't know anything about actual planning. He knew what Youji thought about it and what Brad had said... But... "Possibly."
He thought about that some more. There was the fall of the elders, the sort-of truce with Weiß, the slowly growing network with the former Esszett groups... They still worked their asses off, sure. But Nagi now went to school regularly, Farf started to react to the meds (somewhat, anyway)... "Maybe he finally decided that we should get a life..."

Nagi snorted. "Why don't you go after one of them, too, then?" An unbidden image of Schuldig and Fujimiya popped into his mind; and the two variations of red clashed horribly. Never mind everything else.

"Been there, done Bombay," Schuldig stated flatly.

"What?!" Nagi all but screeched. Thankfully, no picture popped up, this time. Nagi wasn't sure if he'd have survived it.

Schuldig flicked an annoying strand of hair out of his face. "Oh, don't get your neatly pressed panties in a twist, Junior. It was just the once."

Nagi did his staring thing, again, until he schooled his expression into something more neutral. "And? How is he?"

Schuldig looked at him, feeling something between annoyed and vaguely approving. "You're a little bitch. Do your homework."

Now it was Nagi's turn to smirk. "Touchy, touchy."

And now there was a picture, neatly placed in the spot in his head that he had planned to do his project with. Damn. No way would he be able to work, now!
He grabbed his book and bolted from the room to get ready for school.

They did... make an interesting couple, truth to be told. Unusual, but strangely fitting.

He would have to put some thought into Brad and Youji, too, then, if it was true that it had been going on for a while.


Chapter 9: September Storm

"Those blundering, incompetent, bleeding-hearted, fucking..." Schuldig paused, flailing his arms in frustration, trying to find a fitting word to describe the other group of assassins, "... Weiß!"
He smashed his gun in a corner and stumped further into the apartment, fully intending to just throw himself face-down on his bed and sleep the experience off.

The rest of Schwarz followed him, somewhat calmer.

Nagi tried unsuccessfully to hide an amused little smile, Crawford pulled off his jacket, unimpressed, and Farfarello laughed.

Schuldig swivelled around and stared at the Irishman. "You find this funny? You find it funny that it's actually come down to us working with a bunch of morons that would rather spare some idiot security guard's life – one, who, by the way would have been on their target list, if they would have bothered to research properly – before watching their own people's backs and get the job done? That's funny?"

Farfarello merely smiled at him. "I find it funny to see fear on your face."

Schuldig didn't find this in the least funny. "What the fuck are you on about, you lunatic?" he hissed, coldly.

"Fear for that pretty little fallen angel of yours." He chuckled.

That shocked Schuldig into silence. For about five seconds. "You..." Despite his intentions, he couldn't finish that sentence; he wouldn't have known what with.

"Maybe you just need to get some..." Farfarello snickered.

Schuldig snorted. "That is not the problem, let me assure you."

Farfarello's expression turned into one that he'd only had since the new medication. It was entirely too controlled and too assessing for Schuldig's tastes.
Then he actually leered, stepped right up to Schuldig and added, "I meant getting some more of him..."
He chuckled, unabashedly amused, walked around the once more stunned German and disappeared into his room.

Schuldig huffed, entirely disgusted with Farfarello's gall, the stupid implications and most of all his own reaction.
"Oh, for fuck's sake!" he spat and went to his room, as well, not in the mood to see either Crawford or Nagi's reaction to the little display.

Once it was quiet, again, Nagi turned to Crawford. "He's got a point, though. Why are we working with them?"

Crawford hung up his coat and replied, "This was merely a coinciding case. We weren't working for the same contractor."

Nagi tilted his head. "But we will, won't we? At some point?" There was really no question where their team was headed, in the long run.

"Naturally, there would be problems with our two teams in opposition or even mere rivalry. Freelance has its merits, but those are, frankly, limited for a team of our calibre."
But despite that, Crawford wouldn't have risked just popping into the flower shop one morning, declaring that they had joined Kritiker; psychics, psychos and everything. Which was why he had decided to start with working for them under his usual freelance contracts. The first one having been tonight.

Nagi's eyes darted towards the door where Schuldig had disappeared. "I'm worried about Schu. That display today wasn't a bit like him."

Crawford dismissed it with a flick of his hand, making very sure to make Nagi believe that it was not a matter worth thinking about. He needed to keep that little part of his planning under wraps, if he wanted Schuldig to come to his senses. And the German had to do it on his own, had to make his own decisions. (As did Tsukiyono. But he was less likely to be influenced by his plans; and it wasn't like he could read minds and simply get the information from Youji.)
"No need," he assured the teenager. "He'll come around." 'Just not in the way you would expect,' he added silently, and mentally heavily warded.

*

Schuldig lay in his bed, fuming for a full hour, before he was calm enough to think about what Farfarello had said, earlier.

So he was worried about the Bombay getting killed. What of it?! It was his damn right to actually feel something for the people he slept with! (He studiously ignored that he had slept with people he killed later on.)
He had known the lot of Weiß for a long time, he now had to work with them on a more or less regular basis, and he'd even had direct orders to keep the other team from getting injured on that particular job. That's what he had done. End of story.

His mind drifted across the city to the object of his thoughts and found that the other assassin had apparently already dealt with the fact that he had once again been saved by Schuldig and was now much more interested in recalling their one night out...

Schuldig smirked. Now, those were satisfying thoughts to have... He gave his connection to Omi a bit more intent.
{Are you in the mood to work off some of that extensive energy?} He chuckled slightly at Omi's startle.

The young man caught himself, quickly, though. {Where?}

That was even easier than he'd thought. He sent Omi the mental address of a hotel. {The car has its flair, but I intend to fuck you silly, and I need more room for that.}

Omi wasn't going to argue, especially since the mere thought of getting it on, again sent a pleasant tingle up and down his spine (never mind his dick).
He acknowledged the location, got out of bed and dressed, hastily.
{Be there in twenty.} He wondered yet again whether it was stupid to blindly go with his instincts... But in the end, he just couldn't make himself care. That one night had been way too good to ignore.

The sex had been incredible, Schuldig was a wet dream come true (when he wasn't out to kill you), and the touch of another's mind was blinding in its perfection.
He could definitely see why Youji would be drawn to an assassin. There were no dark secrets lurking in the shadows. They both not only knew of the darkness, but lived in it, themselves.

Omi sneaked through the silent house, had the foresight to leave a note on the kitchen table and then set off with his bike.

It only took him fifteen minutes, and Schuldig was already waiting for him, telepathically leading him to a room. Omi briefly thought about what this would have to mean in connection with the proximity of the Schwarz residence, but he dismissed it, because after opening the door, he had much more pressing matters to tend to.

Such as Schuldig grabbing him and kissing him senseless, while kicking the door closed.

Omi only half registered the bang of wood on wood, threaded his fingers through Schuldig's copper hair, not letting him move an inch away from his hungry mouth.
The next thing he felt was cool air on his upper body, as his shirt disappeared and then the bed on the back of his legs.

Neither of them realised exactly what was happening in the next minutes. Clothing was ripped off, there was grinding of desperate, naked bodies and the unmistakable cries, moans, whimpers and sounds of sweaty flesh against sweaty flesh.
There must have been lube or preparation, or else Omi was simply too far gone to feel pain, anymore. He didn't know.

One last, loud cry from both of them, and the blizzard of jumbled thoughts, as well as their vibrating bodies, slowly calmed down, leaving them breathless and clinging to each other.

*

Ran entered the kitchen, seeing only Youji, nursing a cup of coffee.
"Where's Omi?" he asked, having expected the young man to be up before him (and definitely before Youji).

"Out. He should be here in time for his shift."

Ran looked like he wanted to press for more details, because Youji studied his cup with a little too much attention than would have been justified for a piece of porcelain.
But as it was, his sister entered after him, chirping a cheerful "good morning" to Youji.

Youji smiled at her. "And a beautiful morning to you, too."

Ran's eyes narrowed, suspiciously. Youji jumped at the chance to shift his attention from Ran too eagerly and chatted with the girl in a manner that was not usually his style, this early in the morning (or before at least lunch, really).

However, at some point, Aya had to leave for school, and that left Youji to Ran's scrutiny.

Youji sighed. "Omi is... sort of seeing someone," he admitted.

Unfortunately, this didn't reassure Ran one bit. "If that were all, you wouldn't have hesitated to tell me."

Youji cursed himself, silently. "He confided in me," he improvised. "I didn't want to betray that."

Ran leaned against the sink, crossed his arms and stared at him. "Is it Naoe?"

Youji forced himself to look surprised. That was a little too close to home. "Are you nuts? Apart from computers, they don't have anything in common, anyway." He shrugged it off, trying for nonchalant.

Ran raised an eyebrow. "Who does he have things in common with, then?"

Youji avoided his intent stare. Well, that was that, apparently. Damn paranoid, observant assassins.

"There is only one possibility left, you realize that." His tone was flat, but interestingly enough not accusatory. "I doubt that Crawford would be interested in a boy who is ten years younger than he is, and Farfarello's fantasies would probably include slicing him to pieces, not sleeping with him."

Youji sighed, deeply. Damn assassins. "He slept with Schuldig twice, now, that I know of." The one last night was his deduction from Omi's note and Crawford's warning that it would happen, again, sometime now. "And it's none of either of our businesses."

Ran sighed and sat down.

At least he hadn't started yelling, which was something, Youji supposed.

Ran rubbed his eyes and lifted his head, wearily. "How is he dealing with it? What does he get from it?" The latter he added with a incredulous frown.

Youji shifted, uncomfortably. Despite having used that he didn't want to betray Omi's trust as an excuse, he really did want to keep it.

"I won't let him know that we talked. I'm just worried."

Youji believed him. Had he been in Ran's position, he would have reacted the same way.
He drained his coffee and put down the cup. "What he's getting from it seems obvious to me. Sex means contact. Contact with someone who understands is even harder to come by for people like us." He stared at a point in the distance. "And from what Omi told me, being with a telepath brings with it a number of advantages..." The corner of his mouth turned upwards, involuntarily.

Ran snorted. "I can imagine."

"As to how he's dealing with it..." The smile vanished. "I am pretty sure that it'll settle, eventually."

"Are you, now..." His eyes got that analysing glint, again.

Youji felt suddenly very, very exposed. He only just had the time to think 'oh, fuck,' before Ran continued.

"And why would you be certain about something in the future, I wonder?" His tone made very clear that he didn't wonder, at all.

'Now what, you genius?' Youji asked himself.

Ran still wasn't angry, but looked merely tired. "We are going to have to work with them, again, then, I take it?"

Youji nodded, somewhat surprised.

Ran bit his lips, absently. "It explains how close you and Omi have become..." Then he blinked. "Does he know the same about his relationship with... him that you do?"

Youji shook his head. "No. They have to figure it out on their own."

Ran let that sink in. He had noticed that Omi seemed distracted, lately. Not necessarily unhappy, but... searching. He had the distinct feeling that it would get worse, before it could get better.
"How long? How long before it... settles?"

Youji's sincere, green eyes met Ran's. "I don't know."

*

Omi woke up with a warm body behind his, not touching, but there. He sighed. This could easily become addictive. The contact of body and mind, never having to hide his sometimes darker thoughts...

Then there were the facts that made every addiction a bad thing. Getting used to it in such a short time, knowing what the man had done and might still be doing, not knowing what Kritiker and Weiß would think – and more importantly do – should they ever find out... and still wanting more.

Funny, how he didn't think the same way about Youji's bounds to Crawford. This might have had something to do with the fact that Youji himself didn't think of it as an addiction, but some sort of relationship.

Omi sat and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. Too bad he couldn't think of this as anything but a mistake, temporary insanity or something...

He swallowed heavily to squash the thought that maybe, just maybe, he would have liked it to be something else. This was out of the question. He had to keep Weiß in mind, had to keep in mind that Schuldig wouldn't hear of it, anyway.
Still...

He shook his head, stood up and got dressed.

Schuldig woke to the word mistake. Not that he was surprised, but being dismissed like that by someone whose life he had saved, not only once but twice, irked him. But at least Omi had to actively remind himself that Schuldig had to be a mistake.

Just now, there were thoughts of the sister coursing through the young man's mind. Yes, well... that was something that would guarantee that he would never be anything but a mistake.

To his own surprise and somewhat against his will, he suddenly said: "I'm sorry."

Omi froze in pulling on his t-shirt then finished the motion and turned. "What?"

Schuldig pushed himself up on his elbows. "The girl. That was unnecessary." Lovely. He couldn't possibly have come up with a worse choice of words, had he tried.

For a long moment, Omi did nothing but blink at Schuldig. Sorry was not a word that he connected to the man, in the least.
He remembered Youji telling him back then that the killers would be sorry; he just didn't think literally sorry...
Finally, he cleared his throat. "You being sorry doesn't bring her back to life any more than me hating you for getting her killed," he stated matter-of-factly. His expression softened, and he let some part of himself go, not knowing exactly what part it was. "But it feels better."

Schuldig stared back at Omi's slight smile, unsure about what to make of this kind of undeserved forgiveness.

Omi bit his lip and picked up his jacket while trying very hard not to think about how much he wanted Schuldig to ask him to stay or to see him, again. He ducked his head and turned to go.

Schuldig didn't call him back.

'And that is that. A mistake.' It was both their thought.

*

Crawford stood on the balcony and wondered whether he should be glad that Schuldig and Omi's encounter hadn't ended in a major fight and hurt – which would have been one of the possibilities he had seen – or angry at the stupidity the two were displaying.

"My friend, one day, one mind is going to surprise you."


Chapter 10: October Changes

She stood outside the building, her briefcase weighing heavily at her side. She hesitated, as she had done for the majority of the past weeks. Her whole life had become one, big uncertainty.

But what's done is done, and the weight in her hand was proof of that. Still... There was one last step to take. Not a step that could change the decisions she had already made, but definitely a step that would change the lives of others.

She adjusted her grip on the handle, steeled herself, crossed the street and made herself known, before her four handsome florists could close the shutters on the shop.

"Hello, boys," Manx said, trying to appear no different than usual, and smiled.

Four more or less enthusiastic greetings were returned, and Youji ushered the last starry-eyed teenage girl out the front door.

The sound of the shutter crashing down was a lot louder than it had ever appeared to Manx, before. She nodded towards the back door. "Shall we?"

She took the lead and therefore missed the looks that the other three exchanged. Her attempts to appear no different were obviously unsuccessful.

Once they were all seated (except for Ran, who never got over his habit of standing against the wall), she stood up front and faced them.
First things first, though. "Ran, when will your sister be back?"

Ran shifted his gaze from the floor to the woman. "She has language lessons, tonight. It will be another two hours before she gets here."

Manx nodded, curtly and relieved. It would be hard enough to tell these four. But Aya... She would have to know at some point, but surely not just now...
"Weiß," she started and desperately looked for the words she had so carefully prepared in her mind. They were all long gone. She busied herself with putting her briefcase on the table and opening it. That way, she could hide how her hands were shaking, and she didn't have to look any of them in the eyes.
"I am not here with a mission, today, but with an... announcement."

She cleared her throat and forced herself to look up. "As of this morning, Schwarz is under contract with Kritiker. And since you have already proven that you work well with them, and because you are still our top assassination team, they will be mostly assigned in some constellation with you four." Ah, right... Those had been the words she had planned on saying. It was rather nice of them to show up, at all.

Now to wait for the fallout.

Suddenly, Youji laughed. "That's it?"

Manx stared at him.

"You should see your face," he said, laughing some more.

Manx kept staring.

"It's not like we couldn't see it coming," Ran added. "Like you said, we had to work with them, before."

Ken chuckled when he saw Manx' eyes widen even more, at Ran's acceptance. "And what with all the life-saving going on..." He nodded towards Omi. "I guess we'll survive."

Manx sat down. "What life-saving?"

Youji grinned. "The score is two to one for Schuldig at the moment."

Omi finally took pity on the woman and leaned towards her. "It's not that we're not weary of them. We are. You can't have the kind of history that we do and not be. It's just that..." He stopped. Just what?

"The dynamic's changed," Ran continued.

The others silently agreed with him, though all of them also still had the mentioned weariness in their eyes. Even Omi and Youji...

"Aya might not be all too pleased, though," Ran added.
That was an understatement. Aya might not have remembered Schwarz herself, but both Weiß and Sakura did, and especially the latter had no reason to hold back her distaste and fear, to put it mildly... "I would appreciate it, if you could keep this arrangement from her, until I can make sure she will not panic."

"That goes without saying," Omi agreed. "But what about the command structure?" he asked Manx.

Manx needed a second to get her brain to catch up with the team's acceptance and talk business. She cleared her throat and opened the briefcase.
"The details are in the contract. Basically, you, Omi, will remain the de-facto team leader, since you're also the one to plan missions. Crawford will be your counterpart in Schwarz. And... you will have to work with him."

Omi merely nodded. "Naturally."

"As for mission leaders," Manx continued. "You are going to have to work on a case-to-case basis, depending on who goes on what kind of mission." She hesitated. "This will have to be cleared with Crawford, and you both have to agree. Weiß' seniority cannot be taken into account in this, I'm afraid, unless there is a breach of contract."
That was one point that she had strongly disagreed with when writing down the terms of their cooperation. Having both teams on the same command level could cause a number of complications. On the other hand...

Omi shrugged it off and voiced the reason that in the end had made Kritiker agree. "Crawford would never have taken the deal, otherwise." He smirked. "I certainly wouldn't have."

*

"Crawford! It's your boyfriend!"

Crawford looked up from the computer screen in his office, when Schuldig's voice boomed through the apartment. He had barely noticed the doorbell, since he was buried in work, but it was kind of hard to miss that kind of announcement.
He rolled his eyes and stood up.

On his way to the living room, he heard Nagi giggle, uncontrollably, in his room.
He sighed, but couldn't help but be pleased at the changes the boy had undergone, these past few months.

He was also pleased to find Youji and Schuldig talking. That is, until they directed eerily similar smirks his way and Youji greeted him.

"Hello, lover."

Schuldig chuckled and Crawford hid an involuntary smile behind his hand that pushed up his glasses.

"You two are not to see each other, again," he declared. "I'm certain that having both of you in the same vicinity breaks some law or other in the space-time continuum."

Schuldig laughed out loud and Youji followed Crawford deeper into the apartment and to his room.

The door was barely closed when Youji was all over the other man, kissing him, deeply.

"You're keeping me from work, you realize that," Crawford said, but at the same time, ripped off his tie.

"Tough. You signed a contract and didn't tell me, you bastard!" He smiled widely – and a bit out of breath – when he said it.

Both shirts were now gone and lying abandoned on the floor, somewhere. Crawford smirked. "And you thought that was reason enough to just show up here? Give my poor, unsuspecting team such a shock?"

Youji laughed and pulled the other man towards him, again, kissing him, all the while unbuttoning his pants. It didn't take him long to get rid of the pants and boxers, and he immediately took hold of the burgeoning erection, giving it a teasing pump. He broke the kiss to gasp and say, "It was reason enough for me to want that up to the hilt inside me."

"Do you, now?" He watched Youji peel off his own clothes.

Youji let himself be guided to the bed and thrown onto the mattress. Crawford hovered over him and then pressed down, both feeling the warm, tense body of the other, the heat for the partner. Lips mashed and mated, only gasps disrupted the sounds of wet tongues entangling.

"I like your bed," Youji murmured against the other's lips, the not so hidden meaning obvious. It was the first time either of them was at the other's home...

Crawford broke the kiss and framed the beautiful face beneath his and gave an answer to both meanings.
"I like you in my bed." My bed, my home, my life...

Youji's expression softened, the passion still there but taking a loving air.
Then he spread his legs and gave the other man a small, teasing kiss. "Don't leave me hanging, here..."

"Wouldn't dream of it," Crawford growled and feasted on Youji's mouth, again, blindly tore open the bedside drawer to get to the lube and condoms.

Youji's whole body arched while he was being prepared, and his moans sounded as desperate as the tense face indicated.

Crawford licked and bit his way from the neck to one nipple. "You are so beautiful..."

Youji chuckled, breathlessly and peeked down. "You're quite the handsome devil yourself, Mister Crawford."
He reached for the broad shoulders and pulled the other man up. "Come on..." He kissed him, his tongue grazing the lips. "Come on. In me, now, please."

Crawford swiftly prepared and positioned himself. "How could I ever resist a gorgeous plea like that?"

Youji gave a long, low groan when he was being entered and tilted his head back, inviting Crawford to take advantage of the offered neck, once more.
He lifted one of his legs to lie on a shoulder and slung the other around the torso of the body moving above, with and into him.

Something was different, this time. Like an obstacle had crumbled, leaving them to their own devices, forcing them to let go of... something. And, well, something had changed; they were no longer opposing forces, a signed stack of papers marking not an ending but rather the final step into a new beginning.
And that something turned the last sharp shards of restraint between the two colours on each end of the spectrum into dust.

Crawford's fingers left red marks on the leg on his shoulder as he grasped it vigorously, losing himself in the passion, pounding the tight ass offered to him, holding nothing back.

Youji lifted his hips to meet the thrusts, and pulled his lover into another kiss, not quite daring to voice the love for the man he felt at that moment. His thoughts, however were not as concerned. He did love him, was almost certain that the feelings were returned in kind...
Brad Crawford did not only see the future, he was the future. His future.

Youji whimpered when he approached his climax, when the emotions became so crystal clear that there was no denying them.

Crawford saw the exquisite desperation in the other's face, kissed his beautiful white hunter and reached between them to stroke the hard, silky and heavy erection...
"Youji..." he gasped, urging him on.

Another whimper and Youji grabbed the dark, short hair. He stared directly in Crawford's eyes. "Brad. Love..." And he was being thrown over the edge, clinging to his lover like to a life-line, dragging him along. "Ah! You..."

Only a couple of thrusts into the ass tightening in orgasm and Crawford was lost and found at the same time.

They were both breathing heavily, holding each other's cooling bodies... when they were interrupted.

{Quite the performance, boys...}

Crawford lifted his head from where it was lying in the crook of Youji's neck and rolled his eyes.
{Piss off!} he answered, feeling much more amused than annoyed, really

Youji, who could hear both of them, laughed out loud.

*

Crawford found Schuldig where he knew he would find him – the very spot he himself used to clear his head – on the balcony.

Schuldig heard and sensed him approach, managed to cool his expression into something as neutral as it would ever get with him and turned to smirk at his boss.
"I'm surprised you're already up and about... Kudou still asleep?"

"He left," Crawford informed him.

Schuldig tilted his head. "I must say, I am both impressed and surprised. Didn't know you were such a tiger in the sack, darling."

Crawford leaned against the apartment wall and returned the gaze, calmly.

"I also didn't know you were capable of actually feeling that much for another human being..."

Ah, there was the actually crux of the matter and also the reason why his friend was standing out here in the cold... "Jealous?"

Schuldig snorted. "Of Youji? Hardly?"

Crawford pushed away from the wall. "I meant both of us." He shook his head, when he saw another sarcastic comment coming. "Not us as people. You're jealous of what we have."

Schuldig's expression froze. "You of all people should know that I was never meant for something like that. I'm just not wired that way." He tried very hard to shrug it off, but it didn't take a psychic to see that his insides were twisting painfully at his own words.

"I did warn you."

Schuldig's eyes narrowed.

"About our fates being entwined with theirs," he clarified.

Schuldig looked at the floor. It was no use to lie to himself or Brad. They already both knew what was happening, what had happened…
Schuldig also remembered how Brad had told him that playing with Weiß would change something. He hadn't believed him. Why should he have? He was invincible. Nothing and nobody could get to him…

It looked like Brad had known all along just how wrong that assumption would be in time.
'You knew and you still let me kill her...' he thought hard enough to hurt, but not hard enough to actually project. It was his own stupid fault, anyway. However much he wanted to, he couldn't blame that one on Brad. His own fault.
"Figures," he forced out and turned to stare outwards, look anywhere but at his all too perceptive friend. "How long have you know?"

Brad's lips twisted - out of pain, not amusement. "Since before we came to Japan."

Schuldig's jaw set. "And what are your plans for me now?"

"That's up to you, my friend." Brad sighed. "Right now, you're just being stupid."

A shiver ran up Schuldig's spine. Up to him? As if he had a choice; as if he could change anything if he fucking tried…
"He…" He swallowed. "He would never…"

"Yes," Brad interrupted. "He will. If you want him to."


Chapter 11: November Calm

Ken ripped open the door to Youji's room, not bothering to knock, and stormed in. When finding the blond in residence, he closed and locked behind himself.

Youji was reading propped up on his bed, lifted on eyebrow at that display and straightened. "I'm a taken man, Ken. Don't even think about it," he said in a joking tone.

Ken rolled his eyes and just sat on the bed next to Youji. "Oh, please; as if I'd be interested in Crawford's leftovers."

Youji blinked. Had one of the others told him? He certainly hadn't… at least not so far. "I... didn't know you were aware of that…"

Ken blushed a bit and stared at his knees. "I wasn't. I had my suspicions after all that's happened; and you just confirmed them." He smirked at the lanky (former) playboy, feeling very satisfied with himself that he had been able to get Youji to admit it.

Youji goggled at him some more. It looked like he had underestimated Kenken… Then he smiled. He had planned on telling him, sometime soon, anyway. Especially, since Ran had asked him tell to Aya about it, to maybe let her see that Schwarz was not the scrape at the bottom of the barrel that she thought they were. It would make letting her in on the newest team developments so much easier.
"Sorry for holding out on you…"

Ken waved it off. "No problem. I'm not here because of that, anyway." His hands clasped each other in his lap. "I'm worried about Omi."

Youji sighed. So was he… It had been almost two months, now. Two months of cooperation and picture perfect missions. Two months of two certain professionals acting more professionally than they usually did, which was ridiculously professional in Omi's case and plain ridiculous in Schuldig's…
Not even Crawford could find a flaw in Schuldig's work performance, and Omi's respectful politeness – towards the telepath especially – was bordering on anal retentive.
So, yeah, he was worried, too…

Ken peeked at Youji from under his bangs and continued: "I figured… that there must be something between Omi and Schuldig. And either they don't want anyone to know – in which case they're doing a terrible job of it – or they're don't want the other to know, and they're both being wilfully or stupidly blind."

Youji chuckled at that description. "It's the latter, and I really hope they're done being stupid, very soon."

Ken rubbed his face at his second suspicion being confirmed. He had thought he was ready to hear it, and he was… somehow. That didn't stop his stomach from churning, unpleasantly.
He took a deep breath. "Considering what that would mean…" He shook his head. "It's kind of weird that I hope they'll sort it out, too."

Youji smiled at him. "In time, he will be glad to hear that."

Ken snorted. "He'd better be. What is their problem, anyway?"

"They had sex, and now they both think that the other couldn't possibly want more."

Ken was pretty sure that his heart skipped a beat at the word sex… He swallowed. "Couldn't someone tell them that they're wrong? I mean…" He helplessly gestured towards Youji. "You or… You know."

Youji smiled, ruefully. "He did tell Schuldig something. But what with the past Omi and Schuldig have, they have to come to the conclusion, themselves."

"But how much longer? Omi is so high strung and so miserable, I'm not sure I can keep on just watching."

"Brad said…" he paused a second, when he realized that he had used the man's first name. Ken was worried enough, there really was no need to upset him further; but he didn't seem to react, so that was okay. "… He's not sure how long it will take. But they will be fine."

"Okay, then…" Ken wasn't exactly pleased with the situation, but there wasn't anything he could do. Youji was right; interfering now would only mean that Schuldig and Omi didn't take care of their unresolved business. And from experience, he knew that such business always came back to bite you in the ass, sooner or later.

Youji tried to ease Ken a little more. "They'll be fine. Just give them time; it's not easy for either of them."

Ken nodded absently, he had already let go of that train of thought and was pondering something else, now. "So, how about you then? You seem to be happy enough…" He smiled, tentatively.

Youji answered it, warmly. "I guess… maybe I thought it was time to grow up."

"I think I understand." There had been no more self-destructive womanizing in months, no more drowning his hidden sorrows… And Crawford was… well… "It's like… I mean, he's sort of..." Ken found it was harder to describe than he thought it would be.
He snorted and a crooked grin grew on his face. "Apart from the whole assassin business, Crawford is sort of a calming presence, isn't he? Kind of like a steady rock."

Youji had simply let Ken think about what he was going to say and had to admit that he had a point. "He is."

"Given his talent, that's not really surprising, right?" He chuckled. "I mean, he sees things before they happen, and then all he can do is wait for them… That would make someone patient, I guess."

Youji laughed.

*

Despite his firm resolutions, one morning, Crawford had enough. He knocked on Schuldig's door, didn't wait for an answer and found him surfing on his computer.
"I have a job for you."

Schuldig turned with his chair. "I thought we weren't supposed to do jobs on our own, anymore. What with Kritiker breathing down our necks…"

Crawford crossed his arms. "I'm afraid, this one you're going to have to deal with on your own."

Schuldig blinked. That didn't sound like Brad.

"You are going to the flower shop," he said in his most commanding voice, "and you are going to talk to Tsukiyono."

"Excuse me?"

Thunderclouds almost visibly gathered above Crawford's head. "You heard me. This has been going on for too long, already. You are being stupid, stubborn and unreasonable, both of you. And I've had enough."
Frustration aside, he did of course double and triple check whether his interference at this point would damage the precarious relationship…

Schuldig half-turned away. "Why don't you have your boyfriend talk to him, then? It's as much Omi's problem as it is mine."

Crawford sighed. "You know you're going to have to take the first step. He thinks you're not interested; and it's very easy for him to talk himself into thinking that it's a bad idea."

"Well, maybe it is!" Schuldig suddenly yelled. "I practically had his sister killed! I kidnapped him and let him be tortured! I…"

"And yet he would have you, if he knew he could," Crawford interrupted, calmly.

Schuldig still had the same helpless (if less gob smacked) look on his face when Crawford had dropped his all-too-fucking-reasonable bombshell on him, as he did, now, turning off the engine of his car in a parking space by the flower shop.

He leaned his chin on the steering wheel and peeked into the shop. He was almost sure that he could see Kudou and Hidaka through the window, but because of the beautiful weather, there wasn't much else but the reflections of the sunlit exterior to make out.

Great. Now what? Walk in and ask for Tsukiyono?
He sighed, stared ahead along the street and absently rubbed his lip with his thumb.

Just sitting here, until he could resist the temptation and talk himself into leaving again seemed like a good idea, right about now…

Nagi knocked timidly on Crawford's office and peeked through the slightly open door. "Brad?"

Crawford waved him in without looking up and put the file he was reading through aside. "Have a seat." He knew of course what this would be about; because he had seen it coming as well as because it would have been hard not to hear the exchange between himself and Schuldig, earlier.

Nagi sat. "So..." A smile threatened to escape when he realised just how ridiculous the situation was.
"Did you just order Schu to kiss and make up with Omi?" He bit his lips, so that he wouldn't laugh out loud.

"The team dynamic was starting to suffer, and this had to stop." He did his best to keep the same straight face he had with Schuldig, but his cheek twitched, traitorously.

Nagi couldn't help it; he burst into fits of giggles.

Crawford allowed himself to smirk. "Leaving the humorous aspects aside…"

Nagi snorted.

"… It really was reaching levels that were no longer manageable."

Nagi rolled his eyes but nodded. "Even the agents noticed it." At Crawford's widening smirk, he laughed some more. "I think Schuldig's face when Manx told him that she was surprised at his professionalism would have been a classic Kodak moment."

Crawford chuckled. Yes… that had been quite a view.
Schuldig was of course a professional on the job, but he was usually way less than that in his interaction with colleagues… And his reputation in that respect had apparently reached Kritiker, as well.
"They will soon know just how wrong they are in that assessment."

Not just now, however, as this was the very same moment, Schuldig turned off his engine and intensely ignored the inviting flower shop on the other side of the street.

And Omi… Well, Omi was in the green house, watering and cleaning the plants.

His mind was miles away, though. (Had he known, however, that his latent precognostic tendencies were acting up, because some part of his unconscious felt the presence of a certain telepath, he would have realized that his mind was not miles away, but about half an hour in the future.)

He kneeled in front of a palm tree and suddenly squeezed his eyes shut. "Why do I still miss him?" he whispered.
It wasn't like Schuldig had dropped off the face of the earth; how could he miss him? Fine, so the sex had been really good, that didn't warrant the almost painful longing he felt, now.

Oh, Gods… He could almost taste him…

In the next room, one wall apart, Ken now recognized the red car standing across the street. "Youji…?" he asked wearily. What the heck was he doing here?

He inched closer to Youji who turned towards him and then followed his line of sight.

"Is that… Schuldig in that car?" Ken asked, just to be sure.

Youji couldn't see more than a shadow in the car… But the shadow had long hair and was sitting hunched over the steering wheel. "Looks like it."

"Well, why is he just sitting there?" He was about to go and ask him, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him.

"OMI!" Youji yelled, merging the touch of his hand into something comforting, because Ken realized at the same moment what Youji thought Schuldig had come here for.

Ken directed big eyes at the other. "Do you think he came for... You know..."

Youji didn't get around to answering the question; Omi entered from the green house and peeked into the shop, curiously.

"What's all the yelling about?"

Youji nodded towards the window. "It's for you."

Omi looked outside and he gasped. Images of the car and its owner and images of him in the car with its owner sprang to mind and he felt his cheeks heat up...

And before he could stop himself, he all but bolted out the front door. He had just about enough common sense left to check for traffic, before he crossed the street.

The moment of immobility was also the moment that Schuldig noticed the young man.
It wasn't so much the blond head gleaming in the sunlight, more like the surge of barely contained emotions rushing towards him like a tidal wave.

"Shit," he cursed himself for not leaving earlier, fumbled for the door handle and got out of the car.

Omi ran towards him and stopped only two or three steps away.
Now he was the one cursing himself for his behaviour. He might as well have spouted love poems... Silly, lovesick teenagers were not really in the other's repertoire, and he damn well knew it.
"Uh... Hi."

Schuldig shielded himself to the best of his ability and unknowingly agreed with Omi's assessment that starry-eyed youngsters were not his thing. Usually... He didn't even want to think about what this starry-eyed youngster did to him.
He forced himself to get to the point; no use in delaying the inevitable.
"Crawford seems to think that I'm being an idiot. So either he's right, and I was, or he's wrong, and I'm making an even bigger idiot out of myself, now."

It took Omi a moment to decipher what Schuldig was trying to say with that. When it finally hit him, his eyes widened.
Oh, Gods... He needed to get the man out of the open, now. "This doesn't sound like a side walk conversation."

Schuldig just blinked and tried to appear calmer than he was.

Omi took a more or less inconspicuous, deep breath. "I have some beer in my room, if you like..."

Schuldig nodded, looking somewhat dazed and followed Omi to the back entrance.
On their way up the stairs he asked, "You have a fridge in your room?"

Omi chuckled. "Do you think, what with Youji and Ken in the house, my beer would survive an hour in the kitchen fridge?"

Schuldig breathed a laugh, really glad for the ice-breaker.

Omi unlocked his room and went straight for the beverages. "It's not German," he said and handed Schuldig his drink, "but Sapporo has its own merits." He grinned.

Schuldig opened his drink and took a large swallow, while looking around the room. This was... dangerous. It was Omi's private room, his domain...

Omi bit his lips, when Schuldig unconsciously licked his. "You realize I'm trying very hard not to jump you." Somehow, he expected Schuldig to say something like 'why don't you, then?'... But that was not what Schuldig did say.

It was what Schuldig wanted to say, very much so, and it took all of his nearly non-existent self-control to keep quiet.
He drained half of his can and kept his head tilted back for a moment, staring at the ceiling. "I cannot believe I am going to say this..." he mused.
When he looked at Omi, again, a bitter twist pulled at his lips, as if it was physically painful to say, "I want more than that." But say it, he did...


Chapter 12: December Beginning

"You knew."

Crawford briefly wondered why the deep, meaningful conversations always happened in either his office or on the balcony. (This one on the balcony, incidentally.)

"You knew and you let it happen," the voice insisted.

Crawford turned to look at Omi. "That would be a yes and a yes."
He invested another quick thought on how the hell a trained assassin had gotten into their apartment, while he knew that Schuldig wasn't back and wouldn't have been up and about at this hour, even if he had been here... But Nagi shooting him a teenagerish Look before disappearing in the general direction of his room answered that. It was a look that said 'You cooked the mess, you can clean it up; and unless you raise my pocket money I will not help you.'
Just as well. This would be a delicate path to tread.

Omi bit his lip at the calm answer. "You... could have stopped Farfarello from killing my sister, and you let him do it, anyway."

"Tell me..." Crawford started carefully, "... are you happy?"

"What does it matter?!" Omi yelled. "My happiness is not worth a human life!"

"Is Schuldig's?"

Omi froze. His stomach must have dropped several inches along with his heart. His throat constricted...
"You cannot seriously ask me if I value my... sister's life or my lover's happiness more."

Omi's hesitation on the word 'sister' told Crawford that Schuldig must have told the young man about his screwed-up family history.
He decided to be frank. "Which of the two do you think ranks higher with me?"

Omi visibly crumbled. "It wasn't for you to decide," he whispered, pained.

"I didn't." He waited for Omi to look him in the eyes, again. "All I did was not act."

A tear rolled down Omi's cheek. "She could be alive..."

Crawford pushed up his glasses. There was another bit of information he hadn't told the young man... Something that the Weiß would probably not accept. Omi, on the other hand, might.
"Have you been following the news after your... uncle's death?" He purposefully used the real title.

"Of course I have," he choked.

"Ouka would have killed herself within a week, after finding out what her family did and then realizing that you're not really her brother."

Tears were flowing freely, now. "I could have stopped her!"

Crawford nodded. "You could have, with my interference... The first time."

Omi trembled.

"I do not see everything. I did, however, see that she would have been miserably depressed for the rest of her life. And even with outside interference, she would have died, sooner rather than later, by her own hand."

Omi rubbed his eyes and tried to breathe, deeply.

"Instead," Crawford continued, "... instead, she died loved in your arms; my team mate and friend got a chance at being happy and so did you."

Omi was silent, remembering Ouka's last moments. She had been happy...
And Schuldig... Last night, he had been watching him sleep for the longest time. The cynical assassin's face had been relaxed, and he was lying trustingly in his arms.

"Now, I'll ask you, again. Which of the two do you value more?" He knew the answer, even though Omi did not give it.

Omi hardly remembered how he got home. He must have been on his bike; he must have gone upstairs by way of the back entrance; he must have unlocked his door (since, for some reason, he did remember locking it before he left)... But he didn't remember doing any of it.
It felt like he had been standing on Schwarz' balcony one moment and by his own bed with a still slumbering redhead in it the next.

He undressed, absently, wanting to feel the other's skin against his own and climbed in.

Schuldig made a mewling noise and inched towards the warmth without waking. Only when Omi pressed him close and started shivering did he slowly open his eyes.
Omi had left...? He quickly scanned the young man's recent memory and his breath hitched.

Oh, shit. That motherfucking bastard!
What the hell had possessed Brad to tell Omi that?! He would never forgive him that it had literally been a toss-up between his happiness and his sister's life...

Omi suddenly lifting his head jerked him back into the here and now.

"He was right, you know" Omi calmly stated, perfectly aware that Schuldig was now up to date on what had happened, earlier. "I'm a horrible person for it, but I wouldn't want things to be different."

Schuldig felt something warm burst in his chest (or he might simply have been hungry), but he squashed it. Better now than later…
He snorted. "Are you trying to tell me that if you'd have had the choice, you would have chosen this future?"

Omi shook his head. "Of course not. At the time, I had no reason to care about your happiness."

Schuldig averted his eyes. This was stupid. And sooner or later, Omi would realise it, too.

"The question is, then," Omi went on, "whether you are happy or not..."

Schuldig was about to say something contemptuous, but Omi kissed him before he could.

The kiss was long and deep, and not something Schuldig could resist. He let Omi roam his hands over his warm and tense torso, allowing himself to respond.
He felt so good... Such a gorgeous body, such soft skin marred only by scars, such intoxicating sounds...

When Omi broke the kiss, he hovered only millimetres above the other's lips. "You already apologized to me... Now, I want you to prove that you meant it."

Schuldig gave in to the temptation to lean up kiss him, breathing heavily.

Omi ended it after a moment. "You owe it to me and to her to be happy." Omi smirked. "Got that?"

The incredulous look on Schuldig's face made Omi laugh. The jade eyes became slowly, very slowly, warmer... the expression softer...
"Do I have any say in this?" he asked with just the hint of amusement.

"Nope," Omi informed him, cheerfully. "You..." he pointed at Schuldig's chest, "are going to make love to me. Like last night."

Schuldig's smile widened and he let his hands roam over his lover's back and shoulders.

"And then I am going to return the favour. Like last night."

Schuldig chuckled and his hands went up and around Omi's head to pull him completely over his body and into a kiss.
Who was he to argue with that logic, anyway? While he could still feel the sadness under the surface of Omi's thoughts, he could also feel the deep urge to let go…

Omi kissed his way along Schuldig's neck and then chest and murmured against the skin. "You had better make sure that you're pretty damn happy."

Schuldig moaned when the clever mouth latched onto a nipple and thread his fingers through the soft, blonde hair.

Omi wandered lower. "And if you're ever not happy with something, you will tell me."

Schuldig gasped at a sharp bite on his abdomen. "Don't you... ah... think that I'm the type to voice my displeasure?"

Omi swirled his tongue around the navel and then kissed the skin above it. "Mostly... Just making sure it'll stay that way."
He ran his hands lower and along the thighs, all the while grinning up at Schuldig.

"If you keep going, it'll make me very happy."

Omi sent him an angelic smile. "I might just do that..." And in one, smooth motion he swallowed his cock down to the hilt.

Schuldig threw his head back and yelled, "God! You... God..." He panted, his chest heaving, his fingers tightening their hold. "Om-mmmm..."

When he stopped, Schuldig all but whimpered and forced himself to look at the smirking little imp in his lap.

Omi nodded towards the bedside table. "Hand me the lube and a condom, will you?"

Schuldig fumbled around the mess of wrappers, tissues and drinks they made last night and knocked over the reading lamp, before he finally found what he had tried to get to.

Omi, the little bitch, giggled at him.

Schuldig threw both at him and waggled a finger, still panting. "You? Are evil. Everybody buys that innocence crap. But me? I see you... oh..." His speech left him, again, when the condom was smoothed over his cock with a not really necessary amount of pumping.

Omi giggled, again, and Schuldig smiled at him. The young man looked just about happy, right now, too. Happy and horny...
The hands that could kill a man with their precision now slicked the throbbing heat of their lover with just as much concentration.

When Omi finally lowered himself steadily onto the erect shaft, Schuldig was an incoherent mess. A very delicious incoherent mess.
Not that Omi was faring so much better. He didn't hesitate, didn't tease; he needed to feel. He needed to feel filled, connected. He needed to feel, physically, that Schuldig was happy, was with him, was in him.

Schuldig gripped the moving hips, would definitely leave bruises. He moaned and gasped at the perfection of the experience... But despite the younger man riding him into oblivion, he couldn't tear his eyes from Omi's.

They were connected in every way possible; connected with all the senses of the body and the mind. Schuldig not letting go of their mental connection for a second, even though the other senses threatened to rip the control out of his hands. The looks, touched, kisses, bites were driving them as nuts as the smell of clean sweat and musk, their voices calling out for each other.

Schuldig didn't even realise how he started to babble loving obscenities and mindless encouragements. "Do me, baby, do it, ride me, fuck me, take me, so tight, so fucking tight, baby, give it to me..."

Omi whimpered and bent down to lick his way into the teasing mouth, entwine his tongue with the one he could catch a glimpse of, while it was forming the words he so loved to hear.
He panted and moved faster. "So good, so good," he murmured into the other's lips. He framed the beautiful face beneath his in both hands tightened his internal muscles, just so... "Come, now, come inside me," he urged.

Schuldig had enough of his mind left to quickly grasp Omi's heat between them to pull him along over the edge and threw his head back in a constricted, guttural cry.

Omi held tightly onto the copper hair and sobbed in his climax and then collapsed, breathing heavily.
He was way too far gone to stop himself from whispering, "I love you, love you... so much," not caring one bit if Schuldig was ready to hear something like that or not. It was the truth, and it wasn't like he could have hidden it, what with their mental connection still wide open.

Schuldig petted the blonde hair, utterly exhausted, and kissed the sweaty temple. His eyes had a faraway look in them... But he was not exactly far enough away to answer in kind...
He brushed a strand of damp hair with his nose. "I guess I am sort of happy," he allowed.

And this was all Omi needed to hear. He smiled widely and kissed the neck his face was buried in.

When Youji entered the kitchen, he found a hugely grinning Ken nursing a cup of coffee and Ran, smiling a bit more reserved.

"Were you driven out of your room by the noise next door?" Ken asked.

Youji smirked. Ken's description was an accurate one... No way was he getting any more sleep with the other two having found their 'common ground'.

"Took them long enough," Ran noted.

Ken snorted. "Even Aya said that... Though she was beet red, when she left."

Ran scowled at that. "I am going to have to have a talk with Omi about proper behaviour..."

Youji just patted his shoulder. "Aww... Leave the lovebirds alone." He got himself some coffee and sat down.
"Besides," he added, "Manx said something about re-evaluating our living arrangements." He coughed. "Brad might have called her about the uh... upcoming domestic arrangements around here..."

Ken's eyes widened. "You guys are not going to move in with Schwarz, are you?"

Youji shook his head. "I doubt that any of us would be quite ready for that... Nonetheless, having boyfriends come and go could make this place a little cramped."

"And noisy," Ran agreed with a pointed look upstairs.

As on cue, there was a loud bang.

All their heads shot up and Ken incredulously asked, "What are they doing up there?"

The bang was followed by another and another, the successions quickly establishing a rhythm.

Youji raised an eyebrow. "That answer your question, Kenken?"

Ken snorted. "This is... not what I expected, a year ago..." He smiled into his cup. "But I kind of like it."

Youji and Ran exchanged a quick look, both apparently aware of something that Ken was yet to realise...

"So..." Youji said, casually. "You seem to be getting along well with Nagi..."


"Happy Christmas, Schuldig."

Schuldig turned his head from where he was sitting precariously on the balcony railing, dangling his feet.
"It's July, Brad." He swung his legs over and turned his whole body, when he saw Crawford offering him a cup of steaming coffee and hopped off his seat.

Crawford smirked. "Just a little reminder."

Schuldig took the cup and smelled cinnamon...
His head shot up. That would mean... His lip twitched. "That long? You knew everything since before we ever got here?"

Crawford's eyes glittered behind his glasses, while he sipped his own coffee.

Schuldig tilted his head. "And did everything turn out to your satisfaction?"

"I dare say that things exceeded my expectations."

And taking the glaring hickey right above Brad's impeccably pressed, white collar and his own, still deliciously tingling body from the past night with Omi (as well as their freedom from lunatic masters, of course)... Schuldig was inclined to agree.

Christmas come early, this year.

FIN

2008-05-08

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