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Aya didn’t bother looking up from his arrangement when the bell above the shop’s door chimed—Omi suspected he’d adopted a strategy of ignoring incoming customers until someone else dealt with them—so he didn’t immediately notice Schuldig and Nagi saunter into the shop. Omi palmed a dart and tensed, watching with narrowed eyes as half of Schwartz crossed the Koneko’s threshold, Schuldig’s arm slung companionably around Nagi’s thin shoulders.

Schuldig leaned in closer to his companion. “You know,” he began, his nasal voice cutting through the din of the after school crowd without him having to raise it. Out of the corner of his eye, Omi saw Aya’s head pop up like a Jack-in-the-box. “I didn’t even realize Justin Timberlake was in Japan right now-” at this several other heads in the shop turned towards Schuldig “-let alone signing autographs just down the street.”

For a moment the shop was eerily silent, the only sound the soft hum of the coolers. One girl’s unholy shriek broke the silence, opening the floodgates and goading the other patrons into action. Omi tried not to lose sight of his enemies in the ensuing exodus of squealing high school girls from the shop. Sliding between perfumed, bubblegum chewing bodies, he edged over to a more defensible position by the coolers, instinctively adopting a supportive stance so that Aya could take point. He darted a quick glance at his teammate. Okay, maybe he wouldn’t have a very wide attack perimeter with the florist shears he held in a white-knuckled grip, but still, Omi could back him up.

The last customer made it out of the door in a flurry of clicking heels and fluttery hands. Schuldig—having weathered the stampede without being trampled, unfortunately—snapped out of his casual posture like a soldier coming to attention. “Nagi,” he said, pulling a gun out from beneath his jacket, “door.”

“On it,” Nagi said, grimfaced. The cooler Omi stood next to shuddered and then flew away from the wall, screeching across the shop’s floor before crashing against the doorway. Omi blinked stupidly at the dusty patch of linoleum where the cooler had sat and tried to kick start assassin’s reflexes that had apparently decided to take the afternoon off. One of the heavy workbenches from the back room whizzed past his ear on its way to the growing pile of debris blocking the doorway.

“Die Schwartz!” Aya shouted, brandishing the florist shears over his head and lunging toward Schuldig. The sound startled Omi out of his stunned contemplation of the barrier being erected at the front door. A ceramic planter floated off the shelf behind Aya and before Omi could open his mouth to call out a warning, brained him in the back of the head. Aya dropped to floor, unconscious or badly dazed, the shears sliding end over end across the linoleum before disappearing under the counter where they kept the cash register. Omi felt the familiar weight of the dart in the palm of his hand and shifted his attention from the spreading patch of wetness at the back of Aya’s head to the vulnerable spot on Nagi’s neck a few inches below his ear. If he could take out the telekinetic quietly, maybe he’d have time to grab another dart out of his backpack before Schuldig could retaliate.

“Give it a rest, kitten,” Schuldig said, not even looking in Omi’s direction as he plundered his thoughts. He paced in a tight line at the front of the shop. His eyes shifted from the windows to the barricade at the door that Nagi was still working on. “We’ve got bigger fish to fry today.” He craned his neck up, squinting. “Can you work the security gate from in here, Nags?”

Nagi gave a terse nod and the security gate rolled down in front of the windows like it was on ball bearings. After a moment of irrational jealousy—he always had to fight that gate down at the end of the day—Omi finally found his voice. “What are you doing in my shop? You can’t just…this isn’t-” he sputtered, gesturing uselessly with the hand that wasn’t holding a dart. He realized he probably didn’t sound like the lethal hunter of dark beasts that he was, but dammit, Schwartz was playing way outside of the rules here. “You sent all the customers away,” he petulantly stated the obvious.

“I bought us some time,” Schuldig said, brushing past Omi and heading to the storeroom. “There’s only the two exits, right?”

Omi resisted trailing after the telepath, choosing instead to take another look at Nagi, finally registering the wide, slightly frantic look in his eyes, the way he held his hands clenched tightly at his sides. In the storeroom, Schuldig was shoving boxes against the door that led to the alley, muttering something in German. Still busy processing the fact that these two had waltzed into the Koneko in broad daylight, cleared out the shop, and trapped him inside it all in under three minutes, a corner of Omi’s busy brain nevertheless found time to come to an important realization.

Schwartz was scared.

Schuldig snorted, but didn’t bother to correct Omi’s thoughts. He grunted, putting his back into moving one of the massive bags of potting soil. “Little help here, Nagi!”

Nagi nodded again—not that Schuldig would be able to see it from the storeroom—and Omi wondered if he was answering him in his head. He caught the sleeve of Nagi’s uniform as the boy made to move past him. Nagi stopped and looked pointedly at where his fingers wrinkled gray fabric. “What the hell is going on?” he whispered. Nagi’s eyes flickered over to the windows at the front of the shop.

“Before I give myself a hernia, dammit!” Schuldig bellowed. Nagi shook off Omi’s hand and scurried back to the storeroom.

Left in relative privacy in the front of the shop, Omi made a beeline for the extra darts in his backpack, wondering if he should chance leading Schwartz deeper into the building to go for his crossbow. So far, Schuldig and Nagi had shown surprisingly little hostility, moving against them only when Aya had. Remembering his teammate with a guilty start, Omi spirited darts away in the pockets and folds of his clothing and moved to where Aya lay on the floor. While he tucked a dart into one of his overlarge socks with one hand, he carefully felt Aya’s neck with the other. Aya’s pulse was strong and steady, but when he tried shaking his shoulder, patting his cheeks, and calling his name, he got no response. He gingerly probed at the back of Aya’s head, fingers slipping in bloody hair—all head wounds bled like crazy, no matter how minor, he reminded himself—and winced in sympathy when he felt the large bump. He was just convincing himself there was no sign of a skull fracture when he heard the screams—and not the sort that Justin Timberlake inspired—coming from the street. He made it to the barricaded windows just in time to see the severed head of a girl who’d been shyly asking him about the price of geraniums not fifteen minutes ago bounce off the security gate and roll onto the sidewalk. Ignoring the crazy spatters of blood that had made it past the gate to streak the window, Omi pressed his face against the glass, trying to see what was going on outside.

“…don’t know, but Brad really dropped the ball on this one and- Hey! Get away from the fucking window!” Schuldig’s voice drew Omi’s attention away from the window and what he assured himself he couldn’t possibly have really been seeing out there. He’d seen more than his fair share of the disturbingly improbable and improbably disturbing, but some things were just impossible. Had to be.

An invisible hand gave him a less than subtle push away from the window. Omi went with it, whirling around to face where Nagi stood slightly behind Schuldig in the middle of the shop. “What the hell was that?!?”

“Trust me, kitten, you don’t want to know,” Schuldig answered, smirking yet oddly sincere.

“B-but, the people out there,” he stammered, “the girls from the shop-”

“Are buying us time, like I said.” Schuldig stepped over to Aya and nudged at his ribs with the toe of his shoe. “You good to get him downstairs, Nags?” he asked, prodding again with his foot. Nagi nodded.

“But you can’t just-” Omi began to protest, turning back to the window. The screams had started to fade.

“Look, Weiss, we can and we did. This shit starts going down when me and the kid are out on recon, Crawford’s not answering on the party line, and Farf has apparently gone bye-bye. Now is not the time to be on the street, so it’s a good thing we knew somebody in the neighborhood.” Schuldig grinned crookedly. It sent a shiver down Omi’s spine.

He squeezed the dart that was still in his hand. “I have to help those people,” he said through gritted teeth. “Kritiker will-”

“Kritiker will what?” Schuldig asked. “You really think they’re gonna be able to deal with that?” Schuldig lifted his chin towards the window. “If we can’t handle it, you sure as hell can’t handle it either.”

“The rules have changed,” Nagi piped in softly. He solemnly met Omi’s gaze. Omi looked away first, frightened of what it might mean if they were right.

Pressing his advantage, Schuldig continued. “I only need one of you right now, so if you wanna go out there and play hero, I’m sure I can find a way to wake up Abyssinian here.” He grinned evilly and gave Aya a kick in the ribs. Omi reflexively took a step forward, lifting the hand with the dart. “Or,” Schuldig said, raising his hand to still Omi and taking a step away from Aya, “we can all hole up here, and you can show us what sort of cool toys you kitties keep in your little clubhouse downstairs.”

Omi looked from Schuldig and Nagi, down to Aya, and then to the window and back again.

“Well kid,” Schuldig asked, “what’ll it be?”




Twenty-four hours later

Schuldig blinked at the sunlight, dazzlingly bright after the dimness of the Koneko’s mission room. Beside him, Nagi squinted before schooling his features into the usual expressionless mask. Behind the mask, the boy’s thoughts buzzed with a smug and slightly dreamy satisfaction. Schuldig snorted and rolled his eyes, leading the way around to the font of the building. A few girls loitered in front of the closed security gate, curious as to why their favorite florists were closed. A surreptitious glance at the sidewalk showed a faint stain. Schuldig shielded his eyes and looked to the outdoor café up the street where a dark haired patron sat quietly with his newspaper and coffee.

/Did you actually get Farf to clean up his own mess this time?/ he asked with slight amusement, slowly walking toward the café.

Crawford ignored the question. /Did you get the information?/

/As if there were ever any doubt. Hey, did you know Abyssinian wears little silk briefs?/ Schuldig waited a beat for Crawford to take the bait. When—predictably—he didn’t, Schuldig fetched a dramatic sigh and continued. /Prodigy found what we need on an unnetworked computer while I kept Bombay busy fearing for his life and trying to defend Abyssinian’s unconscious virtue./ He glanced down at Nagi. Speaking of virtue….

/Siberian and Balinese?/

/Out of town, just like our intel indicated./ Schuldig tugged Nagi’s sleeve, steering him off the course to Crawford’s table and inside the café instead. /Look, Brad, everything went off without a hitch, alright? We’re getting a drink./

Nagi raised his eyes to Schuldig’s face but didn’t protest when Schuldig shouldered him into the line.

“You know,” he said, just loud enough for Nagi’s ears, “the next time you get a little crush on the ‘competition,’” he pushed the air quotes into the boy’s thoughts to spare himself from making the actual gesture, “and decide to spend three hours with him alone in the broom closet, I’m gonna have to tell Crawford it’s time for you to get the sex talk.”

Nagi’s face remained impassive, but the tips of his ears turned red. “He…wanted to look for…supplies.” The blush spread down to his neck. “Besides,” he said quietly, “I already got that talk after Tot.”

“No, you’ll get the other sex talk.” Schuldig put on his best predatory grin. “The one where Brad actually knows what he’s talking about.” He stepped forward in line and ordered a drink that was mostly sugar and foam, not because he wanted it so much as because he knew it would irritate the hell out of Crawford. “And by the way…your little boyfriend? Serious issues. Anybody with the Godzilla movies that deeply embedded in his psyche has got real problems.”

Nagi placed his order—house blend, black, no sugar, Crawford’s very own Mini-Me—before turning his eyes back to Schuldig. “Is that what you made him think was out there?” The corner of his mouth twitched.

Schuldig shrugged. “Who knew one of Farf’s little indiscretions would give me the chance to pluck the kid’s deepest fears out of his head?”

Rolling his eyes, Nagi took their order from the cashier and turned away. Schuldig grinned and allowed himself a moment to savor the satisfaction of a job well done before joining his teammates.