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Rating: NC-17

Disclaimers: Don’t own ‘em. Never have, never will. I just like to play with them every once in a while. Suing me is pointless--I have no money.

Warnings: Aya and Schuldig are definitely OOC. A bit AU, and there’s language, and sex, and angst... and did I mention the sex? ^_^;; This fic is YAOI, which means men loving men. If you don’t like, please don’t read. Also, a bit of a spoiler for the end of the series. That said... Read on at your own risk.

Last updated: 16 July 2003

Nakki no Miko

"Ran, what do you think of this one?"

"It's okay," he said with a shrug. The woman holding the wedding dress in front of her frowned.

"You don’t like it." She didn’t sound disappointed, just stating a fact. He offered his sister a slight smile.

"It's not right for you," he said with another shrug. "Too frilly." She giggled then and hung the dress back on the rack. "I think Omi would agree, too."

"Omi would tell me I looked beautiful no matter what I had on," Aya said, rolling her dark violet eyes. "Hardly objective, I would think. That's why you're here instead of him." He merely answered that with one of his smirks. It was still hard for him to really smile, even after ten years of having his sister at his side. Weiss was officially disbanded, and now Ran worked for Kritiker on a case by case basis. He liked it that way. He had actually saved up enough money to buy a coffee shop close to where the Koneko had once been, and he actually enjoyed running it. Aya ran the small shop for him when he was away on missions, and occasionally Yohji or Ken would drop by. Both men had real day jobs now-- Ken a soccer coach at a local high school, and Yohji with his own PI company. Ken didn't work for Kritiker anymore, but sometimes Yohji did. Ran had always thought that he would lose touch with them once the flower shop closed down and their team was officially no more. He hadn't counted on the friendships he had developed with his Weiss team mates. Now, he could hardly imagine his life without them, and deep down, he still considered himself Weiss, and he still considered them his team mates.

Aya's attraction to Omi, however, had been a total surprise. He had been completely clueless, right up until the point Omi had officially asked for his permission to marry his sister. Yes, they had gone out together several times, but Ran had thought they were friends. He hadn't realized just how serious it was getting. His first instinct was to rebel, but he reined the impulse in and actually let Omi plead their case. And in the end, he had given them his blessing, for the simple fact that he knew Omi could keep Aya safe from the dangers their lives posed. But, he could hardly believe that his little Aya-chan was getting married. To a Taketori, no less. He smirked again at the thought. Sometimes life was disgustingly ironic. Aya caught sight of his smirk and scowled.


"Just thinking of how ironic things can sometimes be," Ran said softly. She didn't ask for an explanation--she didn't need one. Aya had insisted on the whole truth from him, and Ran had relented. She knew everything, from the fact that Ran killed for a living right down to the fact that he was gay. Ran liked it that way-- he didn't like hiding things from her, and she was more understanding than he had ever imagined she would be. Obviously that understanding extended to the rest of Weiss as well. Ran seriously doubted she would be marrying Omi otherwise.

"Omi's nothing like his family," Aya said after a moment, almost as if she had read his mind.

"It's okay, Aya," Ran said, offering her a tiny yet real smile. "I'm really happy for both of you." And he was, really. Gods knew Omi needed a little happiness in his life, and if Aya brought him happiness, Ran was willing to let her go. Her answering smile was pleased, and she started to browse through the rack again. Her expression became slightly mischievous as she perused the dresses hanging there, and she gave him a sly look from the corner of her eye.

"Now all we have to do is find you a nice man!"

"Aya!" Ran groaned and rolled his eyes, but he couldn't help the puff of laughter that left him. His sister was a hopeless romantic, and wanted him to fall madly in love with that right person. He was fairly sure that she understood that it really was impossible for him to have a normal relationship with anyone outside his world, but she was ever hopeful anyway. He had given up trying to convince her that he was perfectly happy with things as they were now. It was completely pointless, and Ran didn't mind her fussing much, anyway. As long as she was happy, it was more than enough for him. She giggled slightly, and turned away from the rack.

"Ne, let's go get some coffee, okay? I'm not really seeing anything here I like, and I could use some caffeine!" she said.

"Want to go back to my place, or someplace else?" Ran asked. He pushed himself away from the wall he had been leaning on, and she thought about it for a moment.

"Let's go someplace else," she said. "I can get coffee at your place anytime! You have time, don't you?"

"Hai. No mission this week, and Omi promised he'd run the shop for the day," Ran said as he followed her from the boutique. Ran didn't fall for the innocent look on her face for one moment. Omi was head of Kritiker now, and he knew Aya had somehow talked her fiancé into freeing up the week so that Ran could help her shop for her dress.

"Good!" she exclaimed. They walked to a coffee shop three blocks from the bridal shop, and Ran bought them both triple mint mochas before they seated themselves at a table. The coffee was good, and the shop was quiet and not crowded at all. Just the way Ran liked it. "Have you seen Yohji and Ken this week?" Aya asked as she sipped at her coffee.

"Yohji was over last night," Ran said with a nod. "He's met someone..."

"Girl or boy?" Aya asked, arching a brow. Ran snorted with amusement.

"Boy, believe it or not. I guess he's Kritiker, too. I've never met him, but Omi assures me he's a good man..." He was interrupted by Aya's laughter.

"Oh, Ran! You are a hopeless mother hen! You called Omi the minute he left your apartment, didn't you?" She laughed again when he gave her a sheepish grin. "Hopeless!"

"I can't help it," Ran growled. "He's my best friend, Aya! I don't want him to get hurt." Again. The word wasn't spoken, but it was implied, and Aya sobered slightly. She knew everything about Weiss, including the not so bright spots in their lives, such as Asuka. Yohji had told her about it one night, over coffee at the café. Aya had listened with an open mind, and she had shed more than a few tears with Yohji as he had relived that terrible moment in which he had been forced to kill his ex-partner.

"I know," she said with a wistful expression. "I was just teasing, Ran-kun. I think it's terrific the way you care for us all so. I know it makes me feel special." Ran shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He didn't like being the center of praise and attention for the simple fact that he honestly believed he didn't deserve it at all. Aya laughed at him. Ran took another sip of his coffee, and watched Aya's eyes wander around at her surroundings, and he frowned when he saw her eyes widen in momentary shock before she recovered.

"What?" Ran whispered, and Aya shook her head. He could feel the fine hairs at the nape of his neck standing on end-- there was something in her expression that had alarm bells going off.

"Ran, look, but do it slowly, ne?" she whispered back. His frown deepened as he stretched slightly and used the movement to cover his turning slightly in his chair. "The table in the corner," Aya whispered. Ran's eyes went to where she indicated, and he felt his breath leave him in a rush. Gods, no. Please no... "Isn't that..."

"Schuldig!" Ran hissed. Emotions that he had thought were long dead suddenly washed over him-- fear, anger, hatred. And suddenly all he could think about was the fact that sitting across the room from him was someone that could arguably be called the most dangerous person Ran had ever met in his life, and the fiend was entirely too close to his sister.

"I thought he was dead!" Aya whispered urgently.

"So did I," Ran said, his voice falling into the flat, lifeless thing it always was when he was in mission mode. His common sense was telling him to take his sister and get as far away from the place as possible. He was already turning the plan to get her out of the shop without the German noticing him around in his head when Aya spoke again.

"He looks sad." The words were the last thing he had expected to hear from Aya, and he turned his head to look at her with a startled expression. She knew. She knew everything that man had ever done to Weiss. She knew that Schuldig had been the one to steal her comatose form right out from under Ran's nose. His expression must have turned incredulous, for Aya shrugged. "Well, he does. Look at him, Ran!" Ran turned his head slowly, and realized that the Schwartz assassin was, indeed, not paying one iota of attention to his surroundings and did seem to be in a depression of sorts. Ran was all too familiar with the way green eyes were staring into a rapidly cooling cup of coffee. Schuldig looked like he had lost his way in life. Not that he ever had one! Ran thought darkly. But Aya's observation had him thinking now, and Ran found himself wondering what had happened to the rest of Schwartz. He was so lost in the speculation that Aya was already half way across the room before he registered what she was doing. And by then, it was too late.

He hated his life, or what was left of it. Schuldig stared into the mug of coffee between his hands and wondered if there was any hope for him at all. Ten years. Ten long, lonely years... Schuldig frowned and sipped at the coffee before he placed the mug back on the table and turned his head to stare out the window he was seated next to. Schwarz was no more. Schuldig had been the only one to survive the disaster at the Citadel ten years ago, and Schuldig had been forced to lay very low for four years following that. Not all of Estet had been destroyed, and he knew they would be looking for him. It was a thought that had terrified Schuldig to no end-- he didn't want to go back. He was free of them, and he wanted it to stay that way. He stayed low, and he watched and waited.

Ironically enough, it had been Kritiker that had finally made the world a safe place for him. The Organization had dedicated its time and resources to a three year long campaign to rid the world of Estet and all of it's subsidiaries, and it had allowed Schuldig to come out of hiding. He had gotten a job as a bouncer at a local dance club, and shortly after that had secured himself a decent apartment. It wasn't flashy, but it wasn't infested either, and it was in a decent neighborhood. It was perfect for him, really. So he went through the motions of being a real citizen, and had been doing so for the past six years.

But he still felt dead inside. He missed Crawford and Nagi, and even Farfarello if he was honest with himself. He was afraid to get close to anyone, lest they think him a monster once his talents were revealed. On top of everything else, Schuldig wasn't sure he could have taken the rejection. He avoided alcohol like the plague-- he knew it was dangerous to lose control, tempting as it was to drink his pain away. Instead, he came often to this coffee shop, sat in the corner, and wondered what his life could have been, if things had gone differently. Wondered what would have happened if he had somehow managed to free her from Estet. Wondered if it would have been any different.

"Ano..." the voice was tentative, and Schuldig lifted his head with the intention of telling whoever it was that they could leave him the hell alone. There were very few people in his life now that he willingly talked to, and as far as he knew, no one in this shop qualified. The words died on his lips as a pair of dark violet eyes caught his gaze and held it, and he realized with a start that he knew this person. She had grown into a beautiful young woman, and her eyes, surprisingly enough, held no fear as she looked down at him.

"Fujimiya-san?" Schuldig whispered the name, hardly believing his eyes. She nodded once, and worried her bottom lip between her teeth.

"Ano...are you all right?"

"Excuse me?" He really thought he hadn't heard her right. There was no way in the world that this woman would care if he was all right, was there? She bit her lower lip again, her eyes glancing towards the chair opposite him.

"May I sit down?" she asked, her voice wavering slightly.

"You most certainly will not!" Schuldig felt his breath catch at that cold voice, and he looked up to find himself the center of a very pissed off-- and frightened-- Abyssinian's attention. "We're leaving, now." The fear was rolling off the Weiss assassin in waves, and Schuldig realized it wasn't fear of himself as much as fear for his sister's safety. Schuldig could understand it and was amazed that Ran hadn't tried to kill him yet. He imagined the fact that they were in a public place was the only thing stopping the Weiss assassin from finishing him off for good. Schuldig looked away from those icy eyes and met Aya's friendlier ones.

"Probably not a good idea," Schuldig finally answered. "Not unless you want him to kill me right here and now." He allowed a ghost of a smirk to cross his features, but it was a sad parody of what it had once been. She frowned slightly at that, and glanced sideways at her brother.

"Ran, you're being rude," she said suddenly. If Schuldig hadn't been so worried about what Abyssinian was going to do next, he might have found Ran's pole-axed expression funny. "Go sit down and I'll be back in a minute."

"Aya!" His voice held a tone that Schuldig was all too familiar with. The ice he heard there had often been present just before Ran had tried to kill him in the past.

"What, Ran?" Oh, she was annoyed with her brother now, and she returned his glare. It was like watching glaciers collide, and Schuldig watched, amazed, as Aya managed to stare her brother down. He was angry now, but he set his jaw and stalked back to the table he had come from. He sat back down, but his eyes were ever watchful. Schuldig had no doubt in his mind that the Weiss assassin would kill him if he even dared to look wrong at his sister. Aya looked back down at him and gave him a slight smile. "May I sit down? Please?"

"You're nuts," Schuldig murmured, and he motioned towards the chair. "You shouldn't antagonize him like that. Right now he's so angry with you, and he's thinking of a hundred and one ways to skewer me..."

"He'll get over it," Aya said with a sniff. "But... Are you all right?" The repeated question startled him into silence. He chanced a peek into her surface thoughts, and was nearly overwhelmed at the very real concern he found there. He withdrew from her mind with a wince and closed his eyes. He hadn't expected that, not from her.

"No, not that it's any of your business," Schuldig finally answered. He looked out the window again. He could feel her gaze upon him, but he didn't want to look. He didn't want to see pity in her eyes.

"I didn't think so," she said softly. "The others?"

"Long gone," Schuldig said with a shrug. "The same night your brother and his friends saved you." Funny, it didn't hurt to think about them anymore, but it had taken ten years for him to reach that point. "And don't ask me how I survived, because I just don't know. I woke up on the beach, and that's all I can tell you."

"Are you sure they're gone?" she asked, her voice a hushed whisper. He turned his head and met her gaze. There was hope there, hope that perhaps the rest of Schwarz wasn't really dead, hope that perhaps he hadn't really lost the closest thing he had ever had to a family. It was so strange to see it in her eyes, though-- she had every right to hate him, to despise him, but she didn't. All Schuldig could sense from her was a deep, heart-felt concern that very nearly drowned out the waves of anger that Ran was radiating from across the room. It reminded him so much of another. She would have been about her age, too...

"Yes, I'm sure," he finally said. "I had a link to all three of them. And they're gone. Only death could sever them so completely." Schuldig could hardly believe it when sorrow settled in her eyes, and when she blinked, a tear fell from the corner of her eye.

"I'm so sorry," she finally whispered. "You must miss them very much." Schuldig frowned.

"I do," he said, and his tone was clipped. She flinched slightly. "What do you want, Fujimiya? Have you come to gloat at your brother's victory?" He felt her denial before she voiced it.

"That's not it!" she exclaimed, and she was truly horrified to think that he believed that of her. "I just... You just looked so sad..."

"Yes," Schuldig hissed, suddenly annoyed by her statement of the obvious. "You try losing everything you care about, spend four years in hiding and ten years completely alone and see how well you do, onna. I can guarantee you'd not be any better off." He regretted the words almost instantly. Her expression became blank, but Schuldig could feel the hurt rolling off of her, and he hated himself for it. She didn't deserve that, especially not from him. She stood suddenly.
    "I'm sorry," she whispered, and she started to walk away, but hesitated at the last minute. She turned around, and extended her hand towards him, her fingers holding a small rectangle of paper. He reached up to take the business card from her hand, and looked down at it. The Kitten Café. Schuldig smirked slightly as he read the name in the corner. Ran Fujimiya, owner.

"From flowers to coffee," he muttered, chuckling slightly, and then he looked up to meet her gaze. He found himself caught by the intensity of her stare, and after a moment she bowed slightly.

"Ran...Ran's sad too," she whispered, and she turned and retreated to where her brother was waiting for her. Ran shot him a glare before he wrapped an arm around his sister's shoulders and the two disappeared from the shop. His eyes dropped back to the business card in his hand. What in the hell had she meant by that? He pondered it. He was still pondering it six hours later when the coffee shopped closed. He couldn't get the words out of his mind. Ran's sad too. Nor could he forget the pleading he had seen in her eyes the moment she had spoken the words. What did it mean? Schuldig found himself wishing he had read her mind. Anything would have been better than the sudden uncertainty he felt.

He was still fuming when they arrived at the Kitten Café, and Ran was still berating her.

"I can't believe you did that!" Ran exclaimed, as they entered the café. The place, having just opened for the night, was deserted, thank the gods. Omi, alerted by the sharpness of Ran's tone, looked up from where he was reading a magazine behind the counter, but Ran ignored him. He locked the door behind him and put the closed sign up before he turned and glared at Aya. "What were you thinking? Were you thinking at all?" Aya didn't answer him, and she wouldn't meet his gaze. Ran made an exasperated noise as he brushed past her. "That was beyond stupid, Aya!"

"I'm not stupid!" she exclaimed angrily, and her expression turned dark as Ran's answering sneer begged to differ. Oh, he was still shaking, his system still high on the adrenaline rush seeing Schuldig had caused. Oh, if only he had had his katana with him!

"Does someone want to tell me what's going on?" Omi's voice was calm and controlled, as it always was. Ran wondered how long that would last once he had heard what his fiancée had been up to. Ran glared at his sister again.

"Do you want to do the honors, or would you rather me?" Ran spat.

"I spoke with Schuldig today," Aya said, and her voice was steady and her gaze defiant as she glared back at Ran. A coward she was not.

"He's dead," Omi said flatly.

"Well, then we were both seeing ghosts!" Ran snapped. He was very near the end of his temper now. "It was him, Omi, and for some reason I have yet to understand, Aya saw fit to waltz right up to him and ask to join him at his table!" Omi looked startled for a moment before he looked at Aya.

"Aya?" She turned her gaze towards him, and when she didn't deny it, Omi gave a long-suffering sigh.  "Why?" Omi asked. Aya's expression turned pensive, and her eyes were pleading for Omi to understand.

"He looked so lost," Aya finally managed, her voice small.

"Well, what did you say to him, then?" Ran snapped. "What did he say to you?"

"I asked him if he was all right," Aya said, and her gaze was all fire again as she glared at him. "And he said no, he wasn't all right. The rest of Schwarz is dead, and he said something about being in hiding for years and being alone. I think... I think I offended him somehow."

"He deserves it!" Ran spat. "After what he did! He deserves a whole lot worse than you offending him!"

"Ran." Omi's tone was quiet, but the command under his softly spoken name did not escape him, and Ran snapped his mouth shut and clenched his teeth together. He refused to look at either of them. He couldn't understand why Omi wasn't more upset. "Aya, Ran is correct. That was not, perhaps, the best course of action on your part," Omi said. "You know how dangerous that man is."

"I know!" Aya exclaimed. She sighed heavily as she slid onto one of the counter stools. "He just... I'm sorry Omi. He just looked so alone." Omi sighed again, and Ran looked up to find the assassin looking at his sister with a mixture of love and exasperation. Ran could relate.

"Oh, Aya." Omi offered her a slight smile. "Whatever am I going to do with you?"

"I know I shouldn't have, Omi, but I couldn't stop thinking about what we talked about the other night, and thought that maybe..." Aya's words trailed off as she shook her head. "I'm sorry. I won't do anything like that again."

"What were you talking about the other night?" Ran asked, frowning.

"We were talking about Estet," Omi said softly. "Aya wanted to know more. I opened the case files and let her read them." Ran's frown became more pronounced. He didn't like the thought of her reading such things. "Ran, have you read the files yet?"

"No," Ran said, shaking his head. Why should he have read them when he had practically lived it? He had been one of the key players in Kritiker's annihilation of Estet. He hadn't thought there was anything to read about that he didn't know about already. He had shed more Estet blood than the rest of Weiss combined.

"You should," Omi said softly. "Kritiker has a few telepaths in its ranks now, and what they told us of Estet was chilling." Ran looked up, startled. He hadn't realized that Kritiker had taken any defectors in. He hadn't realized that any of the psychics in the ranks of Estet had wanted to defect.

"Have Ken and Yohji read them?" Ran asked. Omi nodded. "I want to read them." He wanted to understand what it was that would have made Aya feel that she could approach the former Schwarz assassin without an ounce of worry for her safety. He wanted to know what it was that made Omi accept it so easily.

"They're still in my room," Aya said softly. "Back at the apartment..."

"Go," Omi said, smirking. "Aya and I can run the café tonight. You need to read those files, Ran." Ran looked between his now boss and his sister, and after a moment, he nodded.

"Yes, I think I do."

". . .Schuldig was the easiest to control."

"Why is that?"

"They had his sister. Rumor was they killed his entire family as he watched, one by one, until only his sister was left. They gave him an ultimatum then--join them or they killed his sister. Schuldig was a kid--not more than 12, I think--and he was so terrified and afraid for his little sister that he agreed to it."

"That was all it took?"

"No. They kept her to insure he'd continue to cooperate--let him see her once in a while so he'd know she was alive."

"Is she still alive?"

"Last I knew, yes. Word is he tried to refuse the hit on Taketori's daughter--you know, Ouka?"

"Yes, we know."

"He told them he wouldn't do it. They hauled him into a room with his sister and broke three of her fingers before even asking Schuldig if he wanted to reconsider..."

Ran made a choked sound in the back of his throat as he read the words. He was trembling as he suddenly dropped the sheaf of papers onto his already paper covered coffee table, and he swallowed hard against the bile rising in his throat. There were several more transcripts like the one he had just finished reading, and they all painted a very bleak picture of what life had been for the members of Estet and Schwarz. It was nearly midnight, and he had been reading the files on Estet for over five hours, and he had learned things. Like the fact that Farfarello was crazy because Estet telepaths had mentally tortured him. Or that Nagi had been raped repeatedly by Estet's instructors. That Crawford had been brutally beaten and tortured the one time he had tried to escape Estet. That Schuldig had done every thing he did because the bastards had his sister.

    "Gods!" Ran swallowed hard, and felt that he might very well need to rush to the bathroom, for he was sure he was going to vomit. He swallowed several more times, and the sensation finally passed. He picked up the phone and dialed a number, and a moment later, he heard Omi's voice on the other end.

"Kitten Café! Omi speaking! May I help you?"

"It's Ran," he said, his voice nearly a whisper. There was a moment of silence on the other end. He could almost hear the wheels turning in Omi's head as the Kritiker leader assessed his tone of voice.

"You read it," Omi said, his voice suddenly serious.

"Hai," he answered, voice still soft.

"Are you okay?" Omi asked, his voice now colored with concern.

"No," Ran answered, honestly. "They had his sister, Omi!" Ran hissed. He felt his chest tightening again as he thought of it. Oh, he could so relate with a sister being threatened! He heard Omi sigh.

"I knew that would upset you," he said after a moment. "Do you understand now? Do you understand why Aya approached him?"

"Hai," Ran answered. "It was still stupid..."

"I know," Omi said, his tone wry. "But you know your sister, Ran. Her heart's big enough for the whole damn world. Even for Schuldig." Ran felt tears sting his eyes and found himself nodding, even though he knew Omi couldn't see him.

"Omi, one thing-- four years ago, after we destroyed Estet... did anyone think to look for his sister?" Ran asked, his tone subdued.

"No," Omi said. "None of our agents ever mentioned finding anyone that matched her description. No one is sure what happened to her. It was assumed that she was killed when Schuldig disappeared after the Citadel."


"She could still be alive," Omi finished. "Do you want me to have it investigated?" Ran frowned slightly at that.

"Should we?" Ran finally answered.

"In the past, I would have said no, but that was when I believed Schuldig to be dead," Omi answered. "He's not. Maybe we should . .. "

"Would you?" Ran managed. It was getting harder and harder for him to speak, and his throat was tight with tears that so badly wanted to come, but Ran wouldn't allow it. His sister. They tortured his sister... Gods!

"I'll have our best investigators on it first thing in the morning," Omi said. "If we find her, then we can find him..."

"Hai," Ran whispered. "Omi...knowing what you know..."

"I forgive him," Omi whispered, and his voice held a slight tremor. "I think, if it had been me, I would have done the same. Wouldn't you have done the same, Ran?" Ran choked out a sound that was half laugh, half sob. He had done just that, hadn't he? He had killed for his sister over and over again, and in that sense, he was really no different than Schuldig or the rest of Schwarz. It was ironic, really. "Ran?"

"I'm fine," he managed. "Will you and Aya close up tonight?"

"We were already planning on it," Omi said. Ran wasn't surprised-- Omi must have known how upset he was going to be, how low this information would lay him. "Just get some rest, okay? I'll bring Aya right to the apartment door..."

"Take her home with you," Ran said softly. He heard Omi make a surprised noise. Ran knew Omi and Aya slept together, but up until now, he had always made a token protest every time Aya had decided to stay the night at Omi's apartment. But now... "I don't think I'd be very good company for her in the morning. I don't think I'm going to sleep well tonight, and I don't want her to worry. Please, take her home with you." And he knew she'd be safe if she was with Omi.

"Okay, if you're sure..."

"I'm sure," Ran replied. "Good night, Omi-kun. I'll see you tomorrow?"

"Yeah. I'll bring Aya-chan back to the café in the afternoon. Ran? Are you sure you're okay?"

"I'll be fine," Ran whispered, and he didn't sound convincing, even to himself. Omi gave the long suffering sigh he always gave when Ran was being difficult, but he didn't argue.

"Okay. Goodnight, then." The line clicked and went dead, and Ran turned the phone off and set it on the coffee table amidst the files spread there. Gods, Schuldig. You and me, we're not all that different, are we? It was a sobering though, and Ran sighed heavily as he reclined on the couch and stared up at the ceiling. It was a sigh of deep resignation.

There would be no sleep for him tonight.

He stood on the opposite side of the street and contemplated what he was about to do. Schuldig had tried to forget that day in the café two weeks ago. He really had. He had gone to throw the business card that Aya had given him away time and time again, and yet, he couldn't quite make himself do it. And oh, he had suffered after that meeting. Seeing her again had made Schuldig remember the agony he had seen in Ran's eyes the night he had kidnapped Aya-chan from the Koneko. Made him remember how much he had hated himself for putting that agony in those amethyst eyes, for Schuldig knew all too well how it felt. He knew what it felt like to have a loved one so ruthlessly threatened and endangered.

And the nightmares had started again. Nightmares of his sister. Nightmares of Weiss. Nightmares of the horrible things he had endured while Estet had all but owned him. He hadn't slept well in two weeks. Schuldig sighed heavily as he lifted his gaze from the card in his hand and looked across the street. The Kitten Café looked like a nice, cozy place. The kind of place that Schuldig wasn't sure he could even appreciate. Wasn't sure if he would be welcome.

Ran's sad, too. Aya's words rang in his mind, clear as the moment she had spoken them. Schuldig worried his bottom lip between his teeth as he slid the card into his pocket. The words had haunted his dreams too, and he still wasn't sure why she had said them to him of all people. And after two weeks of nightmares and uncertainties, Schuldig found that he wanted to know what she meant. And that was why he was here. He wanted her to explain. And maybe, maybe he wanted to apologize, too.

"Well, here it goes, then," Schuldig muttered to himself, and he looked both ways before he ran across the street. He paused for a moment in front of the door and took a deep breath before he opened it. The smell of coffee and mocha wafted around him as he walked inside, and he paused to look around. It was a nice place. The floors were hardwood, the table and chairs black lacquer, and the main counter gleaming silver. The place was busy, but not overly packed, and Schuldig found himself thinking that he could really grow to like it. If I'm not run out of here, that is, he thought darkly.

He spotted Ran almost instantly. There was a small line at the counter, and the Weiss assassin was making latte, his attention on the work he was doing and not on the door. It gave Schuldig a moment to really look at the man. Ran looked good, Schuldig decided. He had filled out a little and seemed to be slightly less willowy and more muscular beneath the black silk dress shirt he wore. His hair was still the same, a beautiful rich red and swinging ear-tails that were both tucked behind his ears at the moment. The gold earring that Schuldig remembered him having was gone, replaced by a diamond stud that caught the soft lighting and reflected it in tiny sparkles. He was stunning as ever, and Schuldig clamped down on the thought before he could go any further with it. Instead, he concentrated on forcing himself to cross the space between the door and the counter, weaving in and out of tables, until he was at the end of the line.

And if Schuldig was expecting a violent reaction to his presence, he was disappointed.

"I wondered how long you were going to stand out there," Ran said as Schuldig came to the front of the line. Schuldig should have known that Ran would have seen him, even if it were across the street. The Weiss assassin gave him a smirk. "I'd ask how you found out about this place, but I suspect my sister had something to do with it." Schuldig just nodded, still a little shocked at the lack of violence in Ran's greeting. He could read nothing from the man--Ran had always been able to shield his thoughts from Schuldig, and he apparently still could. Another slight smirk crossed his perfect lips. "So, what'll you have?"

"Hot cocoa," Schuldig said. Ran arched an eyebrow at that, but went about putting it together, none the less. Schuldig swallowed hard against the confusion he was feeling. This was not what he had been expecting. He had been expecting to be thrown out on his ear, to be scorned and turned away. He hadn't thought the red head would allow him to stay, much less be friendly. But Ran was calmly making hot cocoa for him, as if they had never been enemies. He reached into his pocket to find cash to pay for the drink when Ran set it on the counter in front of him, but Ran shook his head.

"It's on the house," he said, his tone neutral and giving away no clue as to what was going on in his mind. "Have a seat... Aya's going to be here in a few minutes. We can talk then.. " And Ran finally hesitated and really met Schuldig's eyes. "If you want, that is." There was uncertainty there, and Schuldig was overjoyed to realize he was not the only one thrown off by the havoc Aya had started.

"Sure," Schuldig said, and he offered Ran a ghost of a smirk before he took the cocoa and seated himself at a table that was as far from the other patrons as he could find. He paused long enough to remove his leather jacket and drape it over the back of his chair before he seated himself and took a sip of the cocoa. His eyes widened in delight as he tasted the sweet warmth. It was good. Not that cheap powdered crap that a lot of places served, but warmed milk with real cocoa and honey and a touch of cinnamon to make it wonderfully thick and sweet. Schuldig took a bigger sip, and closed his eyes as the warmth spread outward from his belly and he felt tension seeping from his shoulders and he relaxed into the chair.

It was a good fifteen minutes before Aya actually showed to relieve her brother of his counter duty, and in that time, Schuldig found himself fixated by the Weiss assassin. He watched as he waited on customers, and Ran's movements were graceful and efficient as he went about making the ordered drinks. Oh, he was still stunning as ever. Occasionally Ran would glance his direction, but Schuldig could feel no anger or malice from the man, just the blankness that he always felt when someone was shielding their thoughts from him. Interesting, Schuldig thought to himself. Just a mere two weeks ago this man had wanted to kill him. What had changed since then? Had Aya and he gone a round on it?

"Tadaima!" Aya's cheerful voice roused him from his musings, and she breezed into the shop like a spring wind, all smiles and sunshine. "Sorry I'm late! But I think I found the perfect wedding dress, Ran-kun!"

"Sou ka?" A small, genuine smile crept across Ran's features as his sister gave him a nod and shoved a magazine at him. Schuldig's breath caught at the sight. He had never had the pleasure of seeing anything but a scowl or a smirk on those features, and the real smile he wore now was breath-taking. Had Ran forgotten he was there? The Ran that Schuldig knew would have never allowed him to see such a thing.

"It's on page 23," Aya said. "The one in the center there." Ran opened the magazine, and the smile widened slightly. Schuldig felt something twist near the vicinity of his heart, and he found himself suddenly grateful that Aya was still alive and well. He somehow doubted that Ran would be smiling otherwise.

"I like it," Ran said softly. "Have you tried it on?"

"Hai! At the bridal boutique we were at two weeks ago. You know, the day that..." Her voice trailed off slightly, and Schuldig heard the thought continue on in her head. ...we saw Schuldig. She bit her lower lip before continuing. "It's perfect, Ran. Do you think Omi will like it?"

"Oh, I'm sure he will," Ran said. Schuldig felt a moment of surprise. Ran was allowing his sister to marry a Taketori? As if reading his mind, Ran glanced over him, and there was irony in that expression, and Schuldig couldn't help the soft chuckle that left him. Ran smirked slightly as he looked back at the magazine. "And speaking of two weeks ago..." Ran let his words trail off as he nodded in Schuldig's direction. Aya turned her head, and Schuldig had the honor of watching her eyes light up with delighted surprise.

"Schuldig-san!" She was across the room in a moment, and he gave a surprised gasp when her arms suddenly encircled his shoulders from behind. "Oh, you came!" she whispered, so only he could hear. "Yokatta!" Schuldig felt sudden tears stinging behind his eyes, and he desperately blinked them away. The emotions rolling off of her were nearly overwhelming. She was truly happy to see him. She released him and smiled down at him. "How long have you been here? And has Ran been nice to you?"

"Fifteen minutes, and yes he has," Schuldig said quietly, still slightly overwhelmed by her greeting. She grinned before she went back and slid behind the counter.

"I'm taking over now," Aya said and she gave her brother a smile. "Will you go with me tomorrow to order the dress?"

"Of course," Ran said. He moved away from the front counter and Aya started to wait on the new customers. Ran didn't come out from behind the counter immediately. Instead, he started to make a drink, and a moment later Schuldig realized he was making another mug of cocoa. Once he was finished with it, he filled another mug with coffee, and then finally left his sister to it and joined Schuldig at the table.

"Thanks," Schuldig murmured as Ran handed him the second mug of cocoa. He had already finished the first, and Ran must have noticed.

"Thought you might like another. You inhaled the first," Ran said as he seated himself across from Schuldig.

"It was good," Schuldig said with a shrug. Ran smirked, his expression telling Schuldig that he knew the German had thought it was more than good. Schuldig returned the smirk before he took a sip of the cocoa. The stuff was just this side of heaven, that it was! There was a moment of awkward silence before Schuldig spoke again. "Why haven't you kicked me out yet?" Schuldig whispered.

"A lot of reasons," Ran said after a moment. He stared down into the black surface of his coffee before he looked up and met Schuldig's gaze. Schuldig started when he heard Ran's voice in his head. Can we talk like this?

Are you sure you want me in your head? Schuldig thought back. Ran snorted.

I could shut you out, and you know it. I'm not afraid of you, Schuldig. Not now. And I'm not sure that I ever really was. He felt a flash of confusion from Ran before it disappeared, almost as if it had never been there at all. As for why I haven't kicked you out... I've learned a few things since we last saw you.

"Oh?" Schuldig spoke the word out loud. He took another sip of the cocoa, and couldn't stop the blissful smile that touched his lips as he swallowed. Ran's smirk was a bit wider now, and Schuldig laughed. "Okay, it's more than good. It's fucking awesome. Happy now?"

"Getting there," Ran said, and his expression was abruptly sober. Schuldig, I know about your sister now. Schuldig froze, and then slowly lowered the mug to the table, for his hands were suddenly shaking. Schuldig just stared at the table top for several moments before he looked up and met Ran's gaze.

How? Schuldig whispered into his mind.

There were several Estet telepaths that defected to Kritiker in the aftermath of its destruction, and they were quite informative, Ran returned. Schuldig bit into his lower lip to keep it from trembling. He wanted to cry. He wanted to cry so very badly. I understand a lot about you now.

"Do you?" Schuldig said, out loud.

You know I do, Ran thought at him. I killed for my sister too.

Ran watched the expression on Schuldig's face carefully, waiting to see what the German would do. Schuldig seemed speechless, and Ran had a suspicion that the man was fighting to keep it together.

"I never wanted to," Schuldig finally said. But they would have done such horrible things to my Greta.

"Was that her name?" Ran murmured. He found himself wondering what Schuldig's sister looked like.  Did she have red hair too, and the same emerald eyes? Did she have Schuldig's alabaster skin, or his easy grace? Ran kept those thoughts close to himself, careful to not project them. It was frightening him, the way he was suddenly feeling. It had been a long time since he had experienced anything remotely like it, and it was almost alien to him now.

"Hai," Schuldig whispered. "She was sweet--like Aya-chan. I...I don't know what happened to her. I think she is probably dead."


Estet swore they would kill her were I ever to die. It was their way of keeping me from committing suicide. Schuldig swallowed hard. When I chose to hide, I probably sealed her fate. It's my fault.

"She would have wanted you to be free," Ran whispered, and he was surprised at the intensity with which the words came out. Schuldig's smile was sad.

"Yes, she would have," Schuldig whispered. "She used to beg me to not give in to them. But I couldn't abandon her, Ran. She was my sister..."

"I know," Ran whispered. Aya chose at that moment to wander by the table, and she smiled down at them.

"Did you need refills?" she asked, smiling. Ran smirked as he shook his head.

"Relax, Aya-chan," Ran chided. "I'm not going to hurt him." She scowled at that.

"You had best not! It's bad for business to kill the customers!" she exclaimed, and Schuldig chuckled softly as he finished his second mug of cocoa.

"I have to go now, anyway," Schuldig said. He stood from the table and looked down at his watch. "I have to get to work." Was it Ran's imagination, or did he sound reluctant to leave?

"Where do you work?" Aya asked.

"I'm a bouncer at a dance club," Schuldig said. "I've been working there for over five years now. You and Ran should come visit sometime." Ran frowned, and Aya giggled. She knew just how much he hated the bar scene.

"Ran would never go to a club!" Aya exclaimed, still laughing. Schuldig shrugged and then winked at Aya.

"I'll leave that part up to you," Schuldig said. "But if you get him there, I'll get you both in for free." Schuldig pulled a card out of one of his coat pockets and handed it to Aya. "The address is there. Just give the door man that card and he'll let you in." Ran frowned again at the mischievousness he saw in his sister's eyes.

"I can bring Omi too, can't I?" Aya asked. Ran saw surprise flash across Schuldig's features, but he nodded. "Good! We'll be there, Schuldig. It might take me a few days, but I'll get Ran there."

"We'll see," Schuldig said. "And thanks for the cocoa, Ran. It was nice." And with that, he turned and sauntered from the shop. Ran watched him leave before he turned his attention back to the woman standing next to the table.



"Ran, come on!" Aya pleaded. "Would it hurt you to have some fun?"

"I have plenty of fun, and all without going to noisy dance clubs!" Ran said.

"But we've been invited! And I haven't been dancing in so long!" Aya said, her voice dangerously close to a whine. Ran winced.


"Ran!" Her tone was annoyed now, and Ran sighed. There was no hope for it when she got like that. He was going to the club, whether he liked it or not.


"Hm?" Schuldig turned to find his boss, Amano, standing at his elbow. The club was crowded, and the music louder than usual to compensate for the noise. Amano leaned in and spoke directly into his ear.

"There's someone at the front asking for you. A girl and two guys," Amano said. "The only person I know that has hair redder than the one kid is you!" Ran! Schuldig felt his eyes go momentarily wide with surprise. It had been nearly a week since he had visited Ran's café, and he had started to believe that the whole thing had just been a strange dream. He had hoped that they would come, but he hadn't really been expecting it. It had been too much to hope for, and Schuldig hadn't allowed himself to. He had experienced enough disappointment in his life. "They say they're friends of yours..."

"They are," Schuldig found himself saying, and realized that he really wanted for the words to be true.

"I didn't know you had any friends," Amano teased, his voice still raised to be heard over the music. "Why don't you take the rest of the night off? Kazuki's been wanting extra shifts anyway. Spend some time with your friends!" Schuldig gave Amano a grateful smile. The man was in his early fifties and was an excellent guy to work for. He was almost like a father to Schuldig now-- as he was for most of his young employees. The man had a way of attracting people who needed a serious break in their lives. He had never asked Schuldig about his past, but the German was certain that Amano somehow knew he had endured a lot. It was like that for almost all of his employees-- they all, in one way or another, had a past that haunted them. Amano just gave them a safe place to be. Schuldig gave the older man a smile.

"Thanks. I think I will!" Amano nodded and weaved his way back to the bar, and Schuldig went to find his way to the front entrance. It was the only spot in the entire bar that was well lit, and Schuldig paused for a moment when he first spotted them, and felt his mouth go dry. Ran... Oh, bloody hell. Ran was dressed to kill. The Weiss assassin looked as if he had poured himself into the black leather pants he was wearing, and he wore a white silk shirt that was oriental in style, with finely tailored sleeves and a Mandarin collar and frog closures down the front. Black suede boots covered his feet and added a nice touch to his ensemble. He was just... Beautiful. It was the only word Schuldig could use to describe Ran at that moment. He just stared for a few more moments before he finally pulled himself together and crossed the room.

"There he is!" Aya exclaimed. She was dressed in jeans and a poets shirt, and her eyes sparkled as she looked up at him. "Schuldig, you remember Omi, don't you?" Schuldig turned his attention to the third member of their party, and smiled slightly to hide the sudden nervousness he felt. Now, here was someone that might very well hate him...

Relax. Schuldig started slightly at the sound of Omi's voice in his head. All's forgiven, Schuldig. I know why you killed Ouka...

That doesn't make it right, Schuldig thought back, frowning slightly. He wanted Omi to understand. He wanted Omi to realize that he hadn't wanted to do what he had done, and that he didn't expect forgiveness from the young man.

Not tonight, Omi thought back. Let's argue about this some other time, ne? This is the first time in quite a while that Aya's been able to get out like this, and I don't want to ruin it for her. You can understand that, ne? "You look well," Omi said out loud. "Thanks for inviting us."

"You're welcome," Schuldig said, and he turned his gaze to where Ran was watching them. "I'm amazed she got you here."

"I always get what I want," Aya said with a grin. "I just have to whine enough, that's all!" She was bubbling with excitement, and she made a happy sound as a new song started. "Oh, I love this song! Let's go dance, Omi!" Omi gave them a wry grin as he was dragged away into the depths of the club. Schuldig watched them go, an amused expression on his face.

"Thanks," Ran said, his voice barely audible above the noise. "She's really happy to be here. She likes stuff like this."

"And you don't?" Schuldig asked.

No, Ran thought to him. Schuldig rather expected it was because the man didn't want to try shouting above the music. This is more Yohji's scene.

I can see that, Schuldig sent back. If Ran wanted to talk along a telepathic route, Schuldig wasn't going to argue. He didn't like yelling to be heard, either. Can I buy you a drink? Amano--that's my boss--has given me the rest of the night off. I think he's amused that anyone would come here asking for me.

I don't drink, Ran returned. Schuldig gave the red head a wry smile.

Me either. But the bartender makes excellent coffee. Or would you prefer a coke?

It doesn't matter to me, Ran returned with an eloquent shrug. Schuldig found himself staring again, and he looked away before Ran could realize it as well. They made their way to the bar, and Schuldig spotted Omi and Aya on the dance floor. They were moving beautifully to the hard beat that shook the floor beneath them, and Schuldig found himself wondering how Ran would look out there. I'll bet he looks hot as hell, Schuldig thought to himself. He pushed the thought away before it could cause an embarrassing reaction. Schuldig flagged down the bartender, and a moment later he and Ran were off to find a table somewhere near the dance floor. As luck would have it, they found one on the edge, and the two men sat down.

I didn't think you'd come, Schuldig sent tentatively. Ran just glanced at him before he turned his attention back to the dance floor.

Aya's very persuasive, Ran said, and Schuldig saw a ghost of a smirk play across his lips before it disappeared. She'll keep coming back here if you let her.

Why wouldn't I?
Schuldig asked. At this point, I'd give her almost anything she asked for. She's the first person in a very long time that's treated me decently and not expected anything in return. Ran looked away from the dancers and met his gaze.

Unlike me, Ran sent back, and his tone was wry. I was afraid for her.

I know you were, and if our positions had been reversed, I would have acted the same. To be honest, I don't understand why you were so nice to me two weeks ago. Regardless of what you've learned, you'd be within your rights to hate me, Ran. And I don't understand why you don't. Schuldig looked away from the piercing amethyst gaze to take a sip of his coffee.

I don't understand, either, Ran's voice finally answered. Again, there was a flash of confusion from the younger man before it disappeared and was replaced with resolve. But I don't, Schuldig. I just...I just can't. Ran smiled slightly. I think I've forgotten how to hate, now that Aya's with me again. Schuldig smiled slightly at that.

She and Greta would have gotten along so well, Schuldig thought, wistfully. They really are so much alike... Schuldig let the words trail off. It was hard to think of her. Schuldig was fairly certain that she was dead, certain that Estet had kept their promise to kill her should he ever die or disappear. And he had loved her so much! She had been the only thing left of what had been a loving, close-knit family. And now that, too, was gone.

Ran watched the emotions play across Schuldig's face, and he felt his heart twist slightly at the sorrow and loss he saw there. He resisted the urge to tell the man that Kritiker was searching for Greta. There was no guarantee that they would find her, and if they did, she very well might be dead. He didn't want to get Schuldig's hopes up-- it would be far too cruel to do so. It was better to let him think her dead until Kritiker could prove otherwise.

"Do you want to dance?" Ran asked out loud, hoping that it would take Schuldig's mind off his sorrow. Schuldig looked up, surprised.

"I thought you didn't like places like this?" Schuldig returned. Ran smirked.

"I don't. But that doesn't mean I don't like dancing," Ran said. "So, do you?"

"If you want," Schuldig said, shrugging. Ran finished off the coke he was drinking and then stood. "Okay, then." Schuldig got up and followed him. They wove their way through the dancers already on the floor until they came to the place where Aya and Omi were already dancing. Aya looked up and smiled at him as Ran started to move with the beat. He started out tentatively-- it had been a very long time since he had done this, and he had to admit that he was feeling a bit self-conscious, and that it had a lot to do with the German assassin dancing next to him. Schuldig was already lost in the beat, and Ran found his eyes roaming over the man's undulating body. Schuldig was dressed in a simple pair of jeans and a long-sleeved black t-shirt, and he made them look so damn good. Ran swallowed hard as he realized where his thoughts were going.

He had thought about Schuldig a lot after the German had visited his café. He had turned every encounter he had ever had with the German over and over in his mind, and had gradually realized that perhaps hate had not been the only thing he had ever felt for Schuldig. The German was easy to look at, there was no doubt about that, and there was something about the way he moved. It made Ran feel things-- things that frightened him. Don't feel bad, kitten. It goes both ways. Ran started, and looked up to find emerald eyes gazing at him intently.

I'm sorry! Ran thought back. He hadn't meant to let his thoughts get to Schuldig, and he felt a blush spread across his cheeks, and he was suddenly grateful for the darkness of the club. Schuldig smirked, but it wasn't the cold, mocking smirk of his past. This smirk was warm and a tad amused.

I didn't know you swung that way, Schuldig whispered into his mind. And if it makes you feel any better, I was admiring you, too. Ran felt his blush burn hotter. Schuldig had never stopped dancing, and he moved closer to Ran. I have a confession to make, Ran. I've always thought you were beautiful...

"Stop." Ran said the word out loud, and swallowed the sudden lump in his throat. This was going places that Ran was certain he wasn't ready to go, especially not with his sister around. And the sudden want he felt was frightening in its intensity. It was happening so fast... and all for a man that he had hated just a scant month ago. "Please..."

I'm sorry. Was it his imagination, or did Schuldig sound disappointed? Ran shook his head slightly.

It's not you... It's me. Ran suddenly found that it was too hot in the close confines of the crowd dancing around him, and he suddenly turned and pushed his way through the writhing masses and headed for the door. He heard Aya call out his name, but he ignored her. He breathed in the cool night air deeply once he made it through the door, and he leaned against the building and closed his eyes and tried to get his breathing under control.

"Ran!" Aya was there, her eyes concerned, Omi standing right behind her. "Ran, what's wrong?"

"Nothing," he returned flatly. "It's just too crowded in there for me." He paused and looked up at his sister. "Would it upset you too much if I just went home?" Aya frowned, and Ran knew she was aware that there really was something going on, but after a moment she shook her head.

"I'm sorry," she said, and she stepped forward and hugged him. "I really thought you'd have fun." Ran wrapped his arms around her shoulders and hugged her tightly before he released her.

"It's okay," Ran said, and he managed a smile for her. "You and Omi stay. Have a good time... and tell Schuldig I'm sorry." Aya frowned at that, but Ran was already turning away. His apartment was only a couple of miles from the bar, and he found that the idea of a walk was appealing to him. It would give him time to sort out his feelings-- if he could.

"All right! What happened?" Schuldig looked up from where he was nursing a second cup of coffee and found Aya and Omi standing next to the table, and Aya looked angry. Damn, those glares of death seem to run in the family, Schuldig thought to himself as he met her fiery gaze. Now, do I tell her the truth? Or do I feign ignorance? Schuldig didn't even have to think about it. After all that had passed between himself and the girl and Ran, Schuldig knew he could never knowingly lie to Aya.

"I caught him staring," Schuldig said with a wry smile. "And I told him that he was beautiful."

"Oh!" Aya gasped, her eyes going wide, and Omi was suddenly stifling laughter behind a hand.

"I don't think it was what he wanted to hear," Schuldig said with a shrug.

"He never wants to hear anything positive about himself," Omi finally managed. He slid into the chair across from Schuldig and shook his head. "No wonder he ran."

"Well, that, and the fact of, well, look who it came from," Schuldig said, and his expression was suddenly sober as he regarded Omi. "I kidnapped his sister. I killed your sister. I made his friend shoot him. He carries scars from my knives. I've tried to kill him." Schuldig swallowed hard and blinked against the sudden sting of tears. He felt a hand on his, and looked up to find that Aya had seated herself in the chair next to his and was now holding his hand. Schuldig turned his hand over and wrapped his fingers around hers, and she squeezed.

It's okay. She thought the words at him. You've always liked him, haven't you? Schuldig gave her a slow nod.

From the very first time I saw him, Schuldig admitted. He and Crawford were fighting. A flash of grief flashed across his features as he thought of his American friend. Oh, he still missed them! Aya sensed it, and her grip tightened again. It was something, Aya, to watch them fighting. The only reason Crawford survived it was because of his talent. Ran's fast. The fastest I've ever seen. It was amazing. I remember Crawford saying that it was the first time in his life that anyone had ever really presented a challenge. Schuldig paused and gave Aya a wry smile. I think Crawford liked him, too, but I could never be sure, really. Crawford was a lot like your brother in the sense that I could never read him. It made life interesting... He let the thought go and swallowed the lump that had appeared in his throat.

Oh, Schuldig. I'm so very sorry for you and the rest of Schwarz, Aya returned, and her eyes were sad and filling with tears. I'm so sorry those terrible people got their hands on you!

I hated myself, Aya. I hated myself every time we were ordered to fight Weiss, and the day they told me to kill Ouka... he let the thought trail off, and he couldn't continue it. They had hurt Greta so badly that day. He had refused the hit, and they had broken three of her fingers. Schuldig could still hear her screams in his ears, her sobbing as she begged him to refuse the hit, even as they broke yet another finger. He had agreed then, and they had taken Greta away from him. That had been the last time he had seen her. When they ordered us to kidnap you, I didn't dare refuse, Schuldig finally continued. And I'm so sorry, Aya-chan. I'm so sorry for all the grief I've caused you and Weiss.

I know, Aya soothed. I know all about your sister, Schuldig. I've read the files, too. Please don't do this to yourself.

"Aya," Schuldig whispered her name. She was so much like Greta. Kind, sweet, and so very forgiving, even when she shouldn't be.

"You don't have to be alone anymore," Aya said out loud. "I'll be your friend, Schuldig. Will you let me do that? Please?"

"Me too," Omi said, and Schuldig could feel the sincerity in the emotions they were projecting. Schuldig swallowed hard against the tears that so desperately wanted to come, and after a moment he managed to speak.

"I'd like that."

It took Schuldig another week to gather enough courage to venture back to the Kitten Café. He wanted to see Ran, but he didn't want to push his luck. And after the bar, Schuldig wasn't sure he'd be welcomed by the red head at all. It was after seven, and Schuldig rushed into the shop out of the rain that was falling. He shook the droplets from his duster and looked up, his green eyes searching for Ran.

"Konban wa!" Omi's cheerful voice greeted. The Weiss assassin was behind the counter, and leaning against the counter was none other than Yohji Kudou. Schuldig froze. He knew where Ran and Omi stood with him, but here was another uncertainty. Yohji met his gaze, and after a moment a lazy smile graced his sensuous lips.

"Well, well. Look what the cat dragged in," Yohji drawled. "Omi-kun said that you were around." Schuldig couldn't sense anything but amusement from the oldest Weiss assassin, and he felt himself relax.

"Hello to you too, Kudou," Schuldig returned, and he let his own lips curl in a smirk. "You're looking well."

"So are you, for someone that's supposed to be dead," Yohji returned. His expression turned abruptly serious as Schuldig crossed the room to the counter. "How have you been?"

"Yohji, I didn't know you cared!" Schuldig exclaimed as he forced a smile onto his lips. He let it fall away when Yohji didn't play along, and heaved a sigh. "You've read the files, too."

"Aa." Yohji's expression was somber as he nodded. "So has Ken-ken," Yohji said with a shrug.

"Ken-ken?" Schuldig chuckled slightly. "He fucking hates it when you call him that, doesn't he?"

"That's why he does it," Omi said as he rolled his eyes. "Would you like something to drink, Schuldig?"

"Cocoa," Schuldig said. "Where's Ran?" Yohji smirked again as he asked the question. Schuldig had the distinct impression that the blonde was aware of his attraction to the former Weiss leader.

"Out, with Aya. They're picking out flowers for the wedding," Omi said. Schuldig laughed at the irony of it.

"Well, if anyone would know flowers, it would be Ran, ne?" Schuldig finally managed. " has he been?"

"Miserable," Yohji answered, still smirking. "But it's his own damn fault. I don't know why he insists on being the Ice Prince. I can't even get him to talk about it. All I could get out of him was that you were involved somehow. Had to get Aya-chan to explain in the end." Schuldig felt himself blushing. "Don't sweat it, Schuldig. No one's immune to that man's beauty, cold as it might be." Omi cleared his throat slightly.

"Yohji, behave," Omi said. "Here's your cocoa."

"Thanks," Schuldig said, and he took the mug and took a ginger sip. It was just as good as Ran's, if not better. He turned a suspicious look on Omi. "You taught him to make this, didn't you?"

"Un!" Omi smiled brightly. "You can stay as long as you like, but I'm not sure when they'll come back..."

"It's okay," Schuldig said with a shrug. "I'm going to have to go to work in a few minutes, anyway. But give Aya a hug for me, and tell Ran..." Schuldig closed his mouth and sighed. There was so much he wanted to tell Ran, but most of it he should probably tell himself rather than relay it through friends.

"I'll tell him you stopped by," Omi said, smiling kindly. Schuldig gave them a weary smile.

"Don't give up so easily, Schu," Yohji said, quite seriously. "Believe me, even if it is a pain, it'll be worth it, if you win him over." Schuldig met Yohji's jade gaze.

"And you'd be okay with that?" Schuldig finally managed, his voice soft.

"Yeah, I would be. Of course, if you break his heart, I'll break your legs..." Schuldig laughed sharply before he abruptly sobered.

"And who will protect me?" He whispered. He felt the loss of his Schwarz team mates acutely at that moment.

"Schu?" It was Omi, and he sounded concerned, and it was at that moment that Schuldig realized a single tear had made its way down the side of his cheek. He shook his head and wiped the tear away with an impatient gesture. It had been so long since he had shed tears. He wasn't going to start now.

"It's okay," Schuldig said, and he forced a smile. "Hey, can I get that to go, Omi? I really need to get to work." He didn't really need to be there for another hour, but he suddenly wanted to be alone with his memories of his team mates. Omi's expression as he transferred the drink to a disposable cup told Schuldig that the Weiss assassin knew it. "Thanks."

"You're welcome," Omi said. "Come back soon, ne? Aya's worried, and I think Ran would like to see you..."

"We'll see," Schuldig managed. He gave Yohji a slight smile. "See you around, Kudou."

"I hope so," Yohji called out as he headed for the door. Schuldig only nodded before he pulled his coat close and headed out into the rain.

Another week went by before Schuldig saw Ran, and as it was, he was surprised where he found him.

"Schuldig! Your friend's here!" Amano told him as he walked into the club. Schuldig drew up short and frowned slightly.


"Yeah, you know, the red head? He's been at the bar for nearly an hour now," Amano said. Schuldig frowned again at his boss's tone of voice--the man sounded concerned. "He looked like hell when he got in here, and he's been drinking since he arrived."

"You mean cokes, right?" Schuldig asked, and he was starting to get a very bad feeling. It intensified when Amano shook his head.

"No, man. Gin, straight up, since he's been here," Amano said. "Ruthie said he's already had two."

"Fuck." Schuldig hissed the word as he nodded his thanks at Amano, and barely heard Amano tell him that he had the night off, if he needed it. He pushed his way through the noisy patrons, and finally made it to the bar. Ruthie met his gaze as he drew near the bar, and she gave a meaningful nod towards the far end of the long counter. Schuldig looked, and there was Ran. Schuldig felt the breath leave him in a hiss as he recognized the trench coat Ran was wearing. Ran had been working tonight, and not at the Café, either.

"He's not well," Ruthie murmured as she leaned over the bar to talk into his ear. "Came in here looking like a ghost nearly an hour ago, and he's shaking, Schu. Spilled the first drink I gave him, his hands are shaking so badly. He asked for you, though."

"Thanks," Schuldig muttered before he walked the length of the bar and sat next to Ran. Ran jumped slightly, and looked up at him. His face was almost ghostly in the faint lighting of the bar, and Schuldig reached out to wipe away a dark spatter on one cheek. He knew it was blood, and it probably wasn't Ran's. Ran started slightly at the touch, but he didn't pull away. What's wrong, Ran?

I'm having a bad night. Ran's voice sounded slightly muzzy in his mind. The Weiss assassin was already well on his way to being smashed. He knocked back the rest of the drink he was working on and signaled for another. Ruthie gave Schuldig a questioning glance, and Schuldig nodded. He'd make sure Ran made it home okay, and the look he gave Ruthie told her that. She returned the nod before placing a fresh drink in front of Ran and then walked away.

You had a mission tonight, Schuldig guessed. Ran nodded and gulped down half the new drink and wiped his mouth with the back of a shaking hand. Amano had been right--Ran looked like hell. His amethyst eyes were haunted. What happened, Ran? Come on, it will be better if you talk...

He killed her. Right in front of me, and I couldn't get there fast enough! Ran's words trailed off, but in his inebriated state he wasn't able to shield his mind as well as he normally did, and Schuldig picked up a few images from the man's mind that told him all he needed to know. Ran's mission had been to take out a local Yakuza crime lord, but in a last ditch effort to save himself, the bastard had taken one of his own maids as a hostage. And he had shot her before Ran could kill the man.  Schuldig felt the immense horror and guilt Ran had felt in that moment, and he closed his eyes against the intensity of the emotions. Ran lifted the drink and finished off the last half of it before he slammed the glass back on the counter.

Ran... Schuldig didn't know what to say. He didn't want to tell the man that it was all right, because it obviously wasn't. Ran wouldn't be there drinking himself into oblivion if it was. But he wanted to say something-- anything-- to make the pain radiating from Ran lessen some. Ran waved for another drink, and Ruthie brought it to him, without questions. Hey, you better slow down, Schuldig warned, not unkindly. Ran glared at him before sipping at the fourth drink of the night.

I don't want to, Ran returned, sounding sullen and not a little drunk. I want to fucking forget the look on her face. I want to forget that I fucked up so royally tonight.

Is the target dead? Schuldig asked, and Ran nodded. Then it wasn't a fuck up. The bastard will never do that to anyone again. Ran's laughter was bitter, and he gave up sipping the gin and knocked it back in two gulps. Schuldig could sense the muddled mess the alcohol was making of Ran's mind and judgment, and he wasn't surprised when the Weiss assassin motioned for Ruthie again. Her beautiful features were set in an extremely concerned expression, and Schuldig met her gaze and shook his head once.

"Maybe you've had enough, ne?" Ruthie suggested lightly. Ran glared at her.

"I want another," he ground out.

"No, I think you're done," Schuldig interjected. Ran's gaze turned to him, and there was so much anger there that it nearly overwhelmed him. He was still ready, though, when the red head took a swing at him. Ruthie made a surprised sound as Schuldig dodged it easily. Ran's momentum turned him completely around, and Schuldig caught him as he fell backwards and pressed Ran's back against his chest with a fierce embrace. Enough, Ran. You're hopelessly drunk, Schuldig admonished. And this isn't going to make the pain go away. You know better. Ran struggled for a moment, and then abruptly gave in. Schuldig sighed heavily as he felt his body go completely limp. Ran had passed out.

"Holy shit. I don't think I've ever seen anyone that drunk move so quickly in my entire life," Ruthie said. "I thought for sure he was going to clock you!" Schuldig chuckled slightly.

"I've always been faster than him," Schuldig said, and he gave her a wink. "Tell Amano that I'm gone for the night. I'm going to take sleeping beauty here home." He hefted Ran's dead weight over his shoulder and gave her a smirk. "And tell him, depending on how things go, I might not be in tomorrow, either. I'll call him tomorrow afternoon and let him know for sure."

"You've got it," Ruthie said. "And Schu? Good luck!" Schuldig laughed as he carried Ran through the crowd and finally out of the bar. It took him a moment, but he finally found the white Porsche that he knew belonged to Ran, and after a moment of fishing through the pockets of Ran's coat, he found the keys. It wasn't until he had Ran strapped into the passenger seat and was behind the wheel of the car that Schuldig realized he had no idea where the man lived. And picking it out of his head wasn't an option. The alcohol had completely shut the Weiss assassin's mind down, and it was quiet in there. "Shit!" He looked around the car, and after a moment, he found what he was looking for in the glove box. He picked the cell phone out of its hiding place and flipped it open. It only took him a moment to find the number in the memory--Persia. He selected the number and hit the send button.

"Persia." It was Omi, but Schuldig recognized the tone. Omi was in mission mode, and he sounded pissed. He wondered just how long Ran had gone without checking in.

"It's Mastermind," Schuldig answered. He wasn't sure if the line was secure, and if it wasn't, codenames were best. He knew Omi would recognize the name. There was a surprised gasp from the other end of the line, and then Omi's voice turned anxious.

"Where's Abyssinian?"

"Safe," Schuldig answered. "Mission was completed, but he had a real hard time of it," Schuldig said. "He was at the bar and drinking heavily when I arrived at work tonight. He's passed out now, and I want to take him home. But..." Schuldig paused and gave a slight chuckle. "He passed out before I could get his address from him."

"Baka!" The word held a wealth of exasperation and not a little love for the red head. "Good thing you called on that phone," Omi said. "It's a secure signal. I can give you his address over the phone." Omi gave him the address, and Schuldig memorized it before he spoke again.

"Do me a favor, ne? Don't let his sister come home to the apartment tonight," Schuldig said. "I don't think Abyssinian would like it if she saw him this way."

"Of course," Omi returned. "Thanks, Mastermind. Kritiker owes you one." The line went dead, and Schuldig flipped the phone shut and looked sideways at the man passed out in the passenger seat. Even completely drunk and disheveled the man was beautiful. Ran, you baka. You're going to have one hell of a headache in the morning. Ran stirred and mumbled something in his stupor. Schuldig sighed and started the car. Time to get sleeping beauty home.

The sun was too bright. It was the first thought Ran had as he returned to consciousness. He stirred slightly, and moaned at the pain in his head. It felt like his mouth was stuffed with cotton, and his head was pounding harder than a taiko drum. What the hell happened? he thought as he flung an arm over his eyes to shield them from the sun. He lay there for several moments before the memories started to come to him. The mission... Oh, he had fucked up the mission so badly. And then the bar. He had wanted to drown out the image of the young girl's face after her boss had shot her in the heart. And he had been damn close to doing so when Schuldig had showed up. He wasn't even sure why he had chosen that particular spot to get drunk, except that it was the first place he had thought of. He frowned slightly. He couldn't remember much else beyond that, except that he had been angry with Schuldig for some reason. It was all blank after that.

But, how had he gotten home? Ran rolled over and sat up slowly, his head protesting the whole way. He fought down a wave of nausea. He was dressed only in a t-shirt and his briefs, which meant someone had helped him here and had undressed him before tucking him into bed. Gods, let it not be Aya! Ran thought with an inward groan. He didn't think he could bear the thought of her seeing him like this! He sat there for a moment before he slowly got out of bed. His shoulders hurt slightly as he moved. He was only twenty-eight, but Kritiker's doctors had told him that he was developing arthritis in his shoulders and back. An assassin's life was taking an early toll on his body, and Ran was feeling it now. He pulled a terry robe on and tied it closed before he opened his bedroom door and stepped into the hallway.

"Aya?" Ran winced as the sound of his own voice seemed to rip through his hung over head.

"She's not here," came the reply from the vicinity of the kitchen. Ran shuffled his way to the kitchen, and found Schuldig over the stove. He was dressed in only jeans and a t-shirt. Ran glanced towards the living room and saw signs that the German had spent the night on his couch-- a sheet and a blanket had been pulled from the hall closet and were now a rumpled mess at the end of the couch. "Coffee?"

"Please," Ran found himself whispering back. Ran accepted a steaming mug from Schuldig and took a few sips before he spoke again. "What happened? I remember being angry at you..."

"You were," Schuldig interrupted. "I wouldn't let you have a fifth drink last night." Ran groaned softly and rested his head in his hands. "You passed out after trying to knock my lights out." Schuldig sounded amused. "I called Omi and got your address. He's madder than hell at you, by the way." Ran groaned again. There was nothing worse than a pissed off Omi. Fuck. "I brought you home, put you to bed, and then passed out on the couch. I was tired after hauling your ass up the stairs!" Ran smirked slightly at Schuldig's teasing tone.

"Thank you," Ran finally said. He lifted his head from his hands and met Schuldig's gaze. "You didn't have to stay."

"Yes, I did," Schuldig returned. "You were a mess last night." Ran looked away from Schuldig's knowing gaze and shrugged. He regretted the movement almost instantly, and an involuntary hiss left his lips as dull pain shot through his shoulders. Schuldig's green eyes narrowed. "Were you injured last night?"

"No," Ran returned. "I've arthritis in my shoulder joints and spine," Ran said. "The doctors tell me it will only get worse if I continue."

"Then quit," Schuldig said. Ran shook his head.

"No." Ran stood and made his way to the cupboard over the sink and found the small vial and one of the disposable syringes that were secreted away behind a row of glasses. He didn't like to use the Demerol unless he really needed it, but now that he was awake, his shoulders were starting to scream. "You know I won't," Ran said as he readied a syringe with a dose of the medication.

"I know that you should drink some water and have something to eat before you shoot that up," Schuldig said. Ran frowned as the syringe was suddenly plucked from his fingers. "You're dehydrated, and I know from experience that you'll get sick if you give yourself that before you've rehydrated yourself."

"Give it back," Ran said, his voice flat and icy. Schuldig smirked and shook his head.

"Not impressed. Sit down. I've made some rice and an omelet, and I'm not going to let you have the Demerol until you've eaten and drank at least a quart of water. Those are the terms, Abyssinian. Take it or leave it." Ran glared at the man for several moments before he sat back down at the kitchen table. He was too fucking tired to argue.

"You're a bastard," Ran said, with no real venom.

"So I've been told," Schuldig said with a shrug. Silence fell over them, and it surprised Ran just how comfortable it was. He felt no urge at all to make small talk, and Schuldig seemed fine with that. Schuldig set a plate of rice and eggs in front of him, and Ran started to eat it without comment. A glass of water was set next to his plate a moment later. Ran was nearly finished with the eggs and was working on his second glass of water when he sensed Schuldig kneeling next to his chair.  Schuldig's fingers closed around his free wrist and pushed the sleeve of his robe upwards to expose his upper arm. "Just a prick," Schuldig warned before he stuck Ran's arm with the syringe and administered the painkiller. Ran swayed slightly in his chair as the drug hit him, and he felt Schuldig's hands on his shoulders, steadying him. "Finish the water, Ran, and we'll tuck you back in to bed. You should feel fine when you wake up later."

"Will you stay?" Ran found himself asking. He lifted the water glass and downed the rest of its contents before he put it back on the table. He tried standing, but the Demerol was already working, and he swayed dangerously. Schuldig's arms wrapped around his waist and held him upright. Ran sighed and leaned against the man, and closed his eyes as Schuldig's warmth surrounded and permeated his being. He hadn't realized he was cold.

"Sure," Schuldig whispered. He let the German help him back to his room and into bed, and when Schuldig made to leave the room, Ran latched onto his wrist. Schuldig looked down at where Ran held him and then met his eyes. "Ran?"

"Stay," Ran whispered. Schuldig frowned slightly, a reflection of the trepidation Ran was sure he was feeling. "Please, I want you to. And it's not the drugs talking." Schuldig gently pulled his wrist from Ran's grasp, and after another uncertain look, he crawled onto the bed next to Ran. Ran sighed as he closed his eyes, his cold, tired body seeming to gravitate of its own will towards the German's warmth. Schuldig hesitated again, but eventually embraced Ran and tucked him close to his side before pulling the covers up over them.

"Go to sleep," Schuldig whispered. "You'll feel better after more sleep."

"Okay," Ran managed, and then the Demerol finally overwhelmed him and sent him into a dreamless sleep.

It was a slight noise at the door that woke Schuldig, and he blinked his eyes open and turned his head. His green eyes grew wide at the sight of Aya standing there, staring at him with her mouth slightly open. He opened his mouth to explain, but she recovered and put her finger to her lips before she crept closer to the bed and kneeled next to it.

"He was hurting?" she whispered. "I saw the syringe on the counter..."

Yeah, Schuldig answered telepathically. How long has he been this way?

A couple of years now, Aya answered. She reached out to brush fiery strands of hair from Ran's sleeping face. His head was pillowed against Schuldig's chest, and he sighed and shifted closer in his sleep. Aya smiled softly as she met Schuldig's gaze. It'd be better if he'd go see a masseuse every once in a while, but I think you know that it's not like him to admit that he might need help. How long has he been out?

What time is it?

Almost noon, Aya replied.

Only three hours, then. He'll sleep for a few more if we let him, Schuldig answered. He asked me to stay, Schuldig said. He wanted her to understand that Ran had invited him into his bed. It was important to him, for some reason. Aya smiled.

You don't have to explain. To be honest, I was hoping for this, Aya said. That's why I gave you his business card that day. At the time I wasn't thinking much beyond friendship for the two of you, but after that night in the bar, I started to hope for more. You'd be so good for him, Schuldig. He wouldn't have to hide his life from you, and you, of all people, understand what motivates him. Aya smiled again as she reached out to lay a palm on his cheek.

Are you giving me your blessing? Because if you are, I'm going to seduce him when he wakes up, Schuldig admitted. Aya stifled a laugh behind her hand and she nodded.

Yes, I am, she said. She stood and gave him another smile. I'll go stay with Omi today, and I'll take care of the Café. Tell Ran to just stay home and get some rest, and I'll see you both tomorrow, ne?

Sure thing,
Schuldig returned. Thanks, Aya-chan. She just smiled and waved as she left the room. A moment later he heard the apartment door open and then close, and he was alone with his sleeping beauty. Schuldig settled in and allowed himself to drift back to sleep.

It was a nice dream. Gentle hands were caressing his skin everywhere, and soft, warm lips were scattering kisses in their wake. Ran moaned softly as a moist tongue trailed a path down the center of his chest before detouring to make a lazy circle around first one nipple and then the other. Oh, it was a nice dream, indeed.

"It's not a dream," a soft voice husked at him. Ran frowned, and then slowly opened his eyes.  Schuldig leaned over him and gave him a lazy smile. Ran froze and swallowed hard.

"What are you doing?" he managed, his voice coming out strangled. Schuldig's eyes lit up with mirth as he bent down and pressed his lips against Ran's cheek.

"Why, waking Sleeping Beauty with a kiss, of course," Schuldig purred. Ran closed his eyes as Schuldig shifted, and he gasped when he felt Schuldig's warm lips press over his own. Schuldig pulled away after a moment, and Ran slowly opened his eyes.

"I'm awake," Ran whispered.

"I'll say," Schuldig replied, and his hand wandered down to cup Ran's rapidly hardening arousal. Ran closed his eyes and groaned as Schuldig ran his palm along the hardness trapped in Ran's briefs. Oh, that felt good. It felt better than anything Ran had felt in a very long time, and he found himself desperately hoping that Schuldig wouldn't stop. "Only if you want me to," Schuldig whispered.

"I don't want you to stop," Ran managed to breathe.

"And here I told Aya I was going to have to seduce you," Schuldig purred into his ear.

"Aya was here?" Ran asked. Schuldig nodded as he rubbed Ran's arousal again. Ran groaned and rocked his hips upward in reaction.

"She gave us her blessing," Schuldig replied. Ran couldn't help the chuckle that left him.

"I rather suspect this is what she had in mind for us all along," Ran said, the words coming out in a gasp. Schuldig was doing some amazing things with his hand.

"I suspect you are right," Schuldig replied. "But I really thought I'd need to seduce you."

"No seduction required," Ran said, and he gave Schuldig a small smile. "Do you remember that night in the bar? You told me you had always thought I was beautiful."

"It's true," Schuldig whispered. He bent and kissed Ran again.

"Well, it went both ways," Ran confessed. "I think I just confused the lust with hate at the time."

"And now?"

"I'm over the confusion, I think," Ran whispered. He met Schuldig's gaze with his own. "I think I know exactly what I want."

"And what do you want?" Schuldig whispered.

"You," Ran replied.

"You've got it," Schuldig breathed, and then they were kissing again. Very soon they were both naked, and Schuldig was raining kisses and soft touches all over his skin. Ran went rigid with anticipation when he felt Schuldig's moist breath on the head of his manhood, and then cried out when Schuldig swallowed him whole. Ran's head lolled on the pillow as Schuldig's mouth worked over him, the pleasure almost overwhelming. It had been so long...

"Schu..." The word came out a pleading moan, and Schuldig chuckled softly as he released Ran's arousal and crawled over the man. Ran wrapped his arms around Schuldig's shoulders and held the man close as their lips meshed in another kiss. "Schu, please..."

"Do you have anything?" Schuldig whispered, and Ran pointed to the bedside table. He arched an eyebrow at the unused tube of lubricant he found there, and Ran felt himself blush.

"Yohji," Ran said, and by the way Schuldig rolled his eyes, Ran knew he didn't have to explain the fact that it was a gag gift from his friend.

"I'll have to thank him for his thoughtfulness later," Schuldig said, his grin turning wicked. The German slicked his fingers before discarding the tube on the table. His expression turned serious as he looked down at Ran. "Ever done this before?"

"A very long time ago," Ran whispered. "Another lifetime ago." Schuldig nodded once in understanding.

"Relax, then," Schuldig whispered, and Ran felt a finger circling his entrance. He forced himself to take a few deep calming breaths, and then gasped when he felt Schuldig slip inside. Schuldig went slowly, and after a few minutes he added a second finger. Ran gasped softly as the German found his prostate, and moaned softly as Schuldig started to stroke the spot with a gentle touch.

"That feels good," Ran whispered, and it was almost unbearably good. "Want more," Ran managed, and he looked up at Schuldig. "Please." Schuldig smirked as he withdrew his fingers and slicked his arousal with the remaining lubricant. He lifted Ran's legs and wrapped them around his waist before positioning himself.

"Since you asked so nicely..." Ran gasped as Schuldig pushed forward, slowly parting and filling him until he was completely buried in Ran's clenching warmth. Ran shivered and closed his eyes. "Okay?"

"Yeah," Ran managed. He opened his eyes and smiled up at Schuldig. "Move, please?" Schuldig pulled out slowly and then sunk himself back in with a sharp snap of his hips, and Ran could only moan as pleasure shot through his system. It was good, and it felt so right to have Schuldig right where he was, in his arms and moving inside him.

Gods, Ran! Ran was overwhelmed by the wash of emotion that Schuldig projected towards him, and he wrapped his arms around Schuldig's neck and pulled him down for a bruising kiss. Schuldig's hand found its way between them and wrapped around Ran's arousal. Ran groaned as Schuldig ran his fist up and down his length, the sensation more than he could resist. He cried out sharply as his pleasure peaked and an orgasm washed over and through him. Schuldig cried out Ran's name a moment later, his whole form trembling with his release. Ran caught him as he came down from his high, and he rolled them so that they were laying on their sides, facing one another.

"Gods, Ran!" Schuldig breathed, and he kissed Ran on the forehead. Ran just smiled, too sated to want to speak. Schuldig pulled him close and molded their sweaty and sticky bodies together. Ran wrapped his arms around Schuldig's waist and tucked his head under the German's chin. "Oh, that was fine," Schuldig whispered against his hair.

"Mm hm," Ran managed, and he was smiling now.

"We can do that again, soon, right?" Schuldig asked. Ran had to chuckle. Schuldig sounded like a kid at an amusement park begging to go on rides.

"Aa," Ran answered. "As often and for as long as you like." Schuldig went still as he said the words, and Ran pulled away enough so that he could look him in the eyes.

"What are you saying?" Schuldig finally whispered. Ran smiled and let his mental shields drop so that Schuldig could see what he was feeling. Tears welled in the telepath's green eyes and Ran lapped them away before he gave Schuldig a long, leisurely kiss. "I love you, too," Schuldig whispered against his lips.

Schuldig sighed contentedly as he ran his hands over Ran's almost porcelain flesh. The Weiss assassin was on his stomach and practically purring as Schuldig rubbed sandalwood scented oil into his sore back. The Demerol had worn off, and Ran was still in pain, and Schuldig had talked him into letting him massage some of the stiffness away. And Schuldig was enjoying the feel of Ran's warm skin beneath his slicked hands and the presence of Ran's mind in his own. After dropping them nearly an hour ago, Ran had yet to replace his mental barriers, and Schuldig was basking in the warmth of his lover's emotions.

That's nice. Ran's voice was languid in his mind. I could get used to this.

Whenever you want,
Schuldig promised him. He moved his hands lower until he was kneading the muscles in the small of Ran's back. Ran relaxed further into the mattress with a soft sigh. Schuldig smirked slightly at the arousal that was starting to color the edges of Ran's emotions, and he let his hands move lower until he was running them over the curves of Ran's buttocks. The arousal spiked sharply, and Ran gasped softly. Schuldig reached for the bottle of oil on the bedside table and dribbled more oil onto his fingers before setting it aside.

Please... it was a whisper soft plea in his mind, and Schuldig chuckled softly as his re-slicked fingers found Ran's crevice and then his opening. Ran shifted slightly to give him better access, and Schuldig sunk a finger deep into the clenching warmth. He continued to massage the small of Ran's back as he prepared him. Each gasp was breathless, and Schuldig felt himself grow harder with each soft exclamation Ran made. Schuldig finished preparing him, and then shifted Ran upwards.

Up, now, Schuldig whispered into his mind. Ran moved slowly upwards until he was kneeling facing the head of the bed, his white hands gripping the ebony headboard. Schuldig shifted so that he was kneeling directly behind the pale form. He shifted Ran so that he was nearly sitting in his lap and positioned himself at Ran's tight opening. Slowly, now, Schuldig sent, and Ran groaned softly as Schuldig eased him back and down onto his arousal. Schuldig closed his eyes as Ran took him in, and when the Weiss assassin was fully seated, he pulled Ran against him and wrapped his arms around his waist and held him close.

Schuldig... Feels good, Ran whispered into his mind as he rolled his head back and let it rest on Schuldig's shoulder. Schuldig held him tighter and gave a slight upward pulse with his hips. Ran's breath hitched slightly before he issued a soft moan. Wish everything felt this good... Schuldig's hands mapped out the planes of Ran's chest, and he found a nipple and rolled it in his fingers. If it were possible, Ran's form relaxed even further and the Weiss assassin's back pressed into his chest as Ran gave himself over to the sensations.

You're perfect like this, Schuldig purred. He shifted his hips upward again and moaned as the movement caused delicious friction between them. Ran gasped, and his arms reached up and back to wrap around Schuldig's neck. Schuldig pressed his cheek against Ran's temple and set a steady pace. It didn't take them long. Ran gasped as Schuldig dropped a hand to his arousal and gave it a gentle squeeze before pumping in time with his thrusts.

"Schuldig!" Ran cried the name out loud, and Schuldig gasped as the mental link they had fed Ran's pleasure back to him. He gave a choked gasp as he abruptly found his release, and he fed it back to Ran. Ran gasped as they shared the high, his eyelashes suddenly glittering with unshed tears as Schuldig's emotions melded with his own. Schuldig held him close, until they both settled and their heart rates slowed.

"Okay?" Schuldig whispered into his ear.

"Yeah," Ran whispered back. He felt a wash of confusion from Ran, and his green eyes widened slightly in horror as he realized that Ran wasn't really projecting that. "What's happened?" Ran asked softly. The Weiss assassin had felt him go completely still, and Schuldig again felt pure emotion coming from the man in his lap. "Something's different."

"I didn't mean to," Schuldig found himself whispering, and was relieved when all he felt from Ran was curiosity.

"What did you do?" Ran asked. He shifted from Schuldig's lap and turned and knelt facing him. Schuldig swallowed hard and looked up at him, and felt another wash of relief when Ran just gave him a slight smile and reached up to push his vermilion hair behind his ears.

"You can be angry if you want to," Schuldig finally managed. "I didn't mean to do it." He took a shaky breath. It had been a very long time since he had last lost control of his talent like that.

"Can I know what you did before I get angry?" Ran asked with a wry smile.

"There's a link between us now," Schu said softly. "It's permanent. I'm sorry, Ran. I got caught up in the emotions. I didn't mean..." His words were cut off when Ran suddenly leaned forward and sealed their lips in a slow kiss.

Hush. Ran broke the kiss slowly and pulled back enough so that he could look Schuldig in the eye. It's okay. I don't mind.

"Really?" Schuldig whispered. Ran gave him a slow smile.


Two more rounds of love-making and three hours later, Ran and Schuldig finally managed to find enough will power to get themselves out of bed. Ran found it difficult to keep his hands off the telepath.

"Is it the link?" Ran asked as he slid his hands over Schuldig's slick skin. They were in the shower now, and Ran had soaped his hands up before slowly spreading the lather across the German's chest.

"Partly," Schuldig murmured. He gave Ran a slow smile, and Ran tilted his head back to accept a kiss. It's mostly just you. Ran felt himself blush slightly, but suspected that Schuldig was correct. Now that he had been reminded of just how pleasurable it was to give and receive a gentle touch, he couldn't get enough of it. He was like a starved man at a banquet. Interesting imagery, Schuldig chuckled into his mind. You can eat me anytime you want, Ran.

"Baka," Ran whispered, but his amethyst eyes were amused. They finished washing, and Schuldig toweled him dry before Ran returned the favor. "It's really permanent?"

"Hai," Schuldig said. "Unless we are separated for a long period of time." Ran couldn't help but smirk as he shook his head.

"It's permanent, then," he said. He felt a wash of overwhelmed emotion from the German. You're not going anywhere, Schuldig. Not now. Not ever. He dropped the towel and stepped forward and wrapped his lover in a fierce embrace. Schuldig's arms wrapped around his shoulders, and they stood that way for quite some time before Ran stepped away. "Food," he said.

"Sounds good," Schuldig said with a nod. "You cooking?"

"If you want," Ran said. "I have to warn you, though, all I know how to cook is Japanese."

"Maybe we should order out, then," Schuldig said, and his eyes danced mischievously. "I've already had more than my fair share of Japanese today."  Ran rolled his eyes, but quickly replied:

"Then German's out too, isn't it?"

They agreed on pizza in the end, and were well into it when Ran heard a key in the door. He and Schuldig were watching the evening news as they ate, and his eyes glanced at the VCR clock. It was just after 7:00 pm, and Ran found himself frowning. It was too early for Aya to be home, especially if she were going to close the café tonight.

"Ran? Schuldig?" It was Aya, and Ran set his plate on the coffee table and stood as she walked into the room. Schuldig raised a hand in greeting, his eyes never leaving the news cast. So he didn't see what Ran saw. Schuldig didn't see the emerald eyes peering out from a face that looked so much like his own, or the long strawberry blonde hair that flowed over her shoulders down to her waist.  Ran froze, nearly immobile with surprise as he looked between his sister and the woman that had followed her into the apartment. She is just as beautiful as you, Ran found himself thinking.

"Who?" Schuldig said out loud, and he turned his head to look up at Ran. Ran was nearly overwhelmed by a sudden wash of emotion from his lover-- disbelief, fear that what he was seeing wasn't real, and under it all, hope.

"Heinrich?" Her voice was a soft alto that was beautiful in Ran's ears. Schuldig rose slowly from the couch.

"Aya?" Ran turned a questioning look at his sister, and her eyes were already filling with tears.

"They found her the day before yesterday," Aya said, and she laughed through her tears. "That's why Yohji couldn't go with you on the mission-- he flew out to get her."

"I wasn't going to take any chances with her safety," Omi said as he entered the apartment. He closed the door behind him and gave Schuldig a smile. "Yohji doesn't know German very well, and she doesn't speak Japanese, but he managed to make her understand that you were here, and that if she came with him, she could see you."

"Greta?" Schuldig finally found his voice, and Ran again felt strong emotions from his lover. The disbelief was melting away and being replaced by pure joy, and Ran couldn't help the tears that sprang to his eyes. Greta sobbed suddenly, and flung herself into his arms, and Schuldig wrapped his arms around her so tightly that it seemed he might break her.

"Tell her, Schuldig," Omi said. "Tell her you're both free now. We couldn't make her understand. She thinks we own you." Schuldig choked on a sob, and he started to speak rapid fire German to the girl in his arms, and as Ran watched, understanding dawned in her eyes, and she started to shed tears of relief as her brother held her close. She pulled away slightly, and after her eyes flicked around the room at the others, she asked an obvious question.

"She wants to know who you are," Schuldig translated.

"Tell her the truth," Ran said suddenly. Schuldig looked up at Ran, and Ran let his tears fall. The emotions were too high in the room for him to do anything else.

"And what is the truth?" Schuldig whispered. Ran smiled through his tears and met the girl's curious green gaze before he answered.

"Tell her we're family."

Aya and Omi were married six months later, and Ran thought that his sister had never looked so beautiful. She was dressed in a white wedding dress that was simple in design but looked stunning on her, and she fairly glowed with her happiness. Standing with her was Greta, her dress a deep, green velvet that brought out her eyes. Aya and Greta had hit it off immediately, and the German girl had been deeply touched when Aya had asked her to stand up as her maid of honor, in German, no less. The two women had been teaching each other their native languages over the past months, and the two were becoming close friends now.

They're both lovely, Schuldig's voice projected in his mind. Gods, Ran. I never thought that I could be this happy.

Me either, to be honest, Ran returned. They were sitting in the front row with the rest of Weiss, except for Ken, who was standing up as Omi's best man. Schuldig's hand found his own, and Ran intertwined their fingers.

We should do this, too, Schuldig whispered into his mind. Ran looked sideways at Schuldig.

Are you serious? Ran asked. Schuldig's hand tightened around his.

Yeah, I am, Schuldig answered. Ran felt a wave of love from the man, and a small smile touched his lips. Would you marry me, Ran, if I asked nice enough? I don't think there's another person in this world that I love more than you, and I definitely know that there isn't another who would put up with me like you do! Ran swallowed a smirk.

Are you asking? Ran sent back. Schuldig didn't get a chance to answer, for the minister was pronouncing Omi and Aya man and wife. Ran forgot about their conversation for a while, as they were all wrapped up in the reception, and it was much later, after Aya's college friends had left the reception, that Ran finally got his answer.

"Ran?" He was standing at the edge of the dance floor watching Aya and Omi dance to the last song.

"Hm?" he turned, and froze at the sight of Schuldig down on one knee before him. The German held an open velvet box in his hand, and nestled in the soft midnight fabric was a pair of sliver rings. Ran was dimly aware that his friends were watching them intently, and he swallowed hard as he met Schuldig's gaze. The emerald depths were dancing with a mixture of love and mischievousness, and Ran realized that he must have been planning this for quite some time. "So, will you marry me?" Schuldig asked.

"Baka, do you need to ask?" Ran returned, and he let his emotions travel to his eyes. "Of course I will." Friends and family cheered, and Schuldig gave a sigh of relief as he stood and wrapped Ran in his arms. I must not be doing something right, Ran sent to him. You were actually afraid I was going to say no.

I can't help it,
Schuldig whispered into his mind as their lips met in a kiss. I keep feeling as if this is a dream that I'm going to wake from, that I'll find I'm still a member of Estet and that they still have my sister, and that you're my enemy, not my lover. I keep waiting for the ax to fall.

"Well, stop it," Ran said out loud. "This is reality, Schuldig." He pulled away and gazed into his German's eyes. "And you're stuck with me now. Forever."

"I know," Schuldig chuckled. "It's perfect," he said before he claimed Ran's lips with another kiss.

And it was.


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