Brad Crawford took his glasses off and pinched the bridge of his nose for the
twentieth time, massaging his temples. He had a whale of a headache.
And he could pinpoint the source without looking...
"SCHULDICH!" he roared, trying again to be heard without lacerating his vocal cords. "TURN THAT INFERNAL RACKET OFF!"
The pounding beat did not diminish. If anything, it might have been cranked up a notch or two. Seething, Crawford pushed away from his computer desk and stalked over to the common room door. He was in a killing frame of mind.
Arms thrown wide, Schuldich gyrated in the middle of the common room, arms thrown wide. He was singing along with the music, nasal voice blending in perfectly with the vocals shrieking their way out of the stereo at top volume. "ERABARETA KA GA YAKI EREBARETA KANASHIMI EREBARETA—"
Nagi lounged on the couch typing away on his laptop, a look of intense concentration fixed on his elfin features. Crawford spotted the wads of cotton plugging his ears from destruction. Farfarello, on the other hand, was crouched in the corner, ear pressed to the heaving stereo, lips moving in a phrase that might or might not be a chant of "this hurts God...this hurts God..."
Jabbing harder than was strictly necessary, Crawford shut the power off. The room was dead quiet all of a sudden but for the ringing in his ears and the steady 'click-click' of Nagi's fingers over the keys. Farfarello fell over, no longer buoyed up by the wall of sound.
And Schuldich swung around, green eyes glittering. "You threw off my groove, man," he hissed.
Crawford snorted, ducked the punch that was thrown his way, blocked the knee to the groin, and shoved Schuldich over now that he was unbalanced. Schuldich sprang back a step, red hair looking more...ruffled...than usual. He had the weird trick of managing to look like an upset cat when he was pissed.
Crawford pushed his glasses up. It was tough being the alpha male.
"What I did was save everybody else's hearing," he informed them.
Farfarello stuck a finger into his ear. "WHAT?" he roared.
Crawford's lips twitched. If he thought Farfarello *had* a sense of humor, that might have been merely amusing. As it was...
There was a brief pause in the 'click-click' as the cotton wads pulled themselves out of Nagi's ears, hesitated, and hurled themselves at the trashcan.
"How boring, Crawford," Schuldich folded his arms, still in the middle of the room. "No play-fights with Weiss, no missions now that Este is dead and gone, no word from our current employers...whatever shall we *do?*" He waved an arm about extravagantly.
"It's none of my concern," Crawford shrugged. As he was about to turn and stalk from the room, he experienced an overwhelming desire to...throw himself on Farfarello, drag him off into a more-or-less quiet corner, and screw his brains out.
What he did instead was glare stonily at Schuldich. "Stop that."
"Whaaat?" Schuldich held his hands up in a parody of innocence. "Rats. If you were one of those fragile Weiss boys, you would be ravishing him into the next century by now. It's no fun to play around here." He glanced over at Nagi.
"Stop that," Nagi growled, fingers unceasing, not even looking up from his laptop. "I have not, am not, and never will be having sex with Crawford."
Crawford felt somewhat hurt by the vehemence of that statement. Was he so unattractive, for a gaijin?
Schuldich rolled his eyes and flipped his hair over his shoulders. "No fun, like I said."
"Go rent a movie, or something," Crawford scowled. "Your stereo privileges are summarily suspended."
Schuldich's scowl, in return, was thunderous. He glowered at Crawford for a moment between lowered red-orange brows. Then abruptly the clouds lifted and he was all sunny smiles, bouncing across the room to haul Farfarello to his feet. "All right, Daddy, that's a great idea," he beamed. "There's something I've been wanting to rent for the longest time."
"And don't call me Daddy!" Crawford snapped. There was something he didn't like about Schuldich's smile; more than the usual amount of uneasiness, at any rate. Anyhow, he knew Schuldich sometimes entertained thoughts -- very loud thoughts -- of seducing him, so calling him 'daddy' upped the squeamish factor.
"Whatever you say, Papa," Schuldich flounced towards the door, dragging Farfarello with him. Was that blood coming out of the white-haired one's ears? He shook his head. Somehow Schuldich managed to snag Nagi on the way out, loudly protesting but unable to shake the force of nature that was Schuldich with a mission.
"At last, peace and quiet." Crawford glared around the messy common room. Now with all of them gone, he could indulge in his true passion undisturbed.
Fifteen minutes later he returned to the common room, dark hair tied under a kerchief, an apron thrown over the hastily-donned T-shirt and jeans, armed with mop and bucket and a good deal of determination.
"Once again, it's just you and me," he said to the empty room. He settled in for an extended, overdue cleaning spree.
After the cleaning, he might bake some cookies. Or possibly knit. Something soothing, like that new crochet design he was trying out.
"I've got it! I've got it!" Schuldich cackled maniacally, prancing back into the living room an hour and forty-five minutes later, on the dot. Whenever he went to pick a movie with those two that was the minimum amount of time it took.
Crawford looked up from his upside-down magazine, adjusting his glasses. He thought angrily of the crumpled knitting stowed beneath the sofa cushion he was sitting on. Why did Schuldich have such bad timing, always?
Nagi followed the orange-haired man, sulky expression turning to puzzlement. "Do you smell cookies?"
Crawford shrugged. "Must be coming from the air vent."
It was a good thing he had a high metabolism.
"I'm popping the movie in!" Schuldich bounced over to the VCR, grin wider than the Cheshire cat's.
Crawford peered at him, only slightly perturbed. "Oh?"
"This will be wonderful," Farfarello rasped, plopping himself down on the couch. "This movie will definitely hurt God..."
"Oh?" Crawford repeated, focusing his glare on Nagi. He was supposed to provide *balance* on these little movie missions.
The boy shrugged and looked uncomfortable. "It's just a stupid movie. How much harm can it do? Ano...Crawford, isn't your magazine upside down?"
"Huh?" Crawford looked at it. "Well, it's American, you know." He smirked a little and flipped it right side up when Nagi wasn't looking. He fidgeted and thought longingly of the knitting wedged beneath him.
Schuldich was cramming the tape in the VCR. He threw himself down on the loveseat beside Crawford, violating his mandatory three feet of personal space. Crawford edged away. Schuldich inched closer.
Nagi flipped the lights out without getting up from his place.
"Hey, I didn't say I was going to watch the movie—" Crawford objected, voice overloud.
"Why not stay?" Schuldich murmured, making him flinch violently. The man was *way* too close to his ear. "After all, you're the one who made me get the movie in the first place."
Crawford pulled himself to the edge of the couch, clinging to the loveseat arm. "Three feet, Schuldich," he warned.
"Hei, hei," the redhead sighed. He peeled himself away to the bare minimum distance for decency.
The screen flickered from inert black to blue text. The movie was starting. *Once upon a time warp...*
"I want some popcorn," Nagi decided. He folded his arms around his tucked-up knees, eyes going somewhat blank, and in the distance, Crawford heard the sound of cabinets opening and pots clattering. He winced. Nagi wasn't even looking, and he'd *just* cleaned that kitchen.
Blue text scrolled across the screen.
*In a galaxy very, very, very, very far away there lived a ruthless race of beings known as...Spaceballs. Chapter Eleven: The evil leaders of Planet Spaceball, having foolishly squandered their precious atmosphere, have devised a secret plan to take every breath of air away from their peace-loving neighbor, Planet Druidia...*
"This is ridiculous!" Crawford pinched the bridge of his nose. "It's such a cheap underbudgeted rip-off of 'Star Wars!' Anyhow, you can't steal air from a planet! I'm going to do some *real* work..." He started to get up and a hand clamped around his wrist.
"Ah, ah," Schuldich chided, green eyes glittering in the darkness. "I paid good money for us to see this movie. Be grateful, sit down, and watch it."
Crawford growled low in his throat and Schuldich released him. While pretending it was his own idea, he relaxed back onto the couch, arms folded, scowl deeply engraved on his face.
He *still* thought it was ridiculous. A woeful example of American cinematography. Why couldn't the German have rented 'The Sound of Music,' or something?
A bowl of popcorn floated into the room and Farfarello promptly dived near the vicinity of Nagi's lap.
"Farfarello!" Crawford reprimanded. "Don't attack your teammate!"
"I just want the popcorn," Farfarello raised a burning gold eye. "Just think...all that butter and salt...the way it sticks in your teeth...it—"
"—must hurt God; I know, I've heard it before," Crawford completed for him, sighing.
There was a futuristic ship scrolling across the screen. It had been scrolling, apparently, for the last five minutes.
Schuldich was creeping ever-closer to his lap.
*This movie has NO point,* Crawford decided, and settled in to endure the bout of movie-watching.
He smacked Schuldich's hand as it settled on his thigh.
The end-credits began to scroll across the screen and Crawford fumbled for the remote for their thirty-six inch television. Schuldich was seconds away from reaching out and touching him again.
"Now, if only we could unleash the power of the Schwartz on those Weiss bastards..." Schuldich was musing in his low nasal voice. Then he turned to Brad with evidence of a pout. "But you won't let us!"
Crawford ignored him, pushed his glasses up, and glanced over at the other couch, nearly falling off the loveseat in shock.
Farfarello and Nagi were engaged in a deep, tongue-chasing, soul-embracing liplock.
"What the hell is going on here!?"
With a guilty start, Nagi broke away from the white-haired Irishman. "Uh...what?"
"Maybe they're feeling the same kind of animal magnetism that dragged Lone Starr and Princess Vespa together, despite the chasm of differences between them," Schuldich sniggered in his ear. "The only thing that brought them together was the script. And in the cards for us..."
Crawford jumped away. "I am NOT sleeping with you!" he shouted at the red-haired German, jabbing a finger at him from the safe vantage of the middle of the room. "No matter how much you whine or beg or plead or try seductive tactics, it's just not going to work!"
Schuldich sighed and draped himself across the loveseat, resting his head on folded arms. "So are you saying you're not gay?"
He turned red. "I never said that..."
"Ja, we're going to go hurt God," Farfarello interjected, dragging Nagi up from the couch and along with him. The boy was scowling a whole lot but didn't appear to be struggling. A smirk crossed Farfarello's scarred features. "We're going to hurt God a whole lot."
And they left the room together.
"I don't think I want to know," Crawford muttered. "Well, I'm going to go get some paperwork done..."
"Who do you think you're fooling?"
Schuldich's voice rang out like a nasal trumpet.
"Wh-what do you mean?"
"You're going to go play with a set of Weiss dolls. Admit it," Schuldich accused. "Next thing I know, I'll walk in on you and see a Yohji-doll grappling with an Aya-doll, and a Ken-doll humping an Omi-doll's leg."
"WHAT!?" Brad's voice cracked, strangled.
"Hey, I'm just kidding," Schuldich said, sounding warm and amused. The redhead took a second look at him, head cocked. "It was a joke...you don't *really* do that, do you?"
"Of course not!" Brad sputtered, thinking uncomfortably of the Femo figurines he had constructed the other week, simply for the pleasure of smashing them into pulp, and other indignities. Particularly an Aya one, with tiny red clay sidelocks. It came too close to Schuldich's accusation.
"Well..." Schuldich pushed himself up from the couch with lazy grace. "Now that the movie is over..."
Brad averted his eyes from the lean figure. He knew Schuldich was using subtle mental pressure again, he just *knew* it. And if he wasn't, then he didn't want to know.
"Can we go take over Weiss?" Schuldich asked him eagerly, raking red-orange hair out of his eyes. "With ludicrous speed and judicious application of the Schwarz?"
Crawford groaned. "I knew we never should have watched that movie."
"Come on, you know you just want to give the order..." Schuldich wheedled, sidling up to him. And unexpectedly, he TWINED. Brad struggled but Schuldich had a good grip and a lot of determination. The redhead smirked and uttered softly, "I see your Schwartz is as big as mine."
"Will you stop that!?" Crawford demanded, outraged, trying to disentangle the exasperating German. "You know your advances are entirely unwelcome!"
"I know," Schuldich agreed, "and I don't care. I've tried subtle telepathic suggestions, blatant hints, and seductive overtures. Now I'm going for brute force." From some unknown cache, he produced a length of rope.
Crawford struggled a great deal, acquired some bruises and scrapes and managed to get in a few good punches, but ultimately succumbed to Schuldich's Boy Scout-class ability to tie a really good knot or twelve. He had time to wonder, as Schuldich dragged him over the bare floorboards, about just one thing.
WHY hadn't he seen this coming?
There were smoke rings floating across his field of vision, obscuring the ceiling as they broke up to form hazy trails.
The voice pulled him back to coherency.
"What have I done?" Crawford put his hands to his face. He'd just slept with Schuldich, that's what he'd just done, his internal self-monitor told him ruthlessly. And it had been strenuous and astonishingly flexible and exhilarating and—he squashed the voice.
"You slept with me!" the nasal voice beside him informed him cheerfully. "No Virgin Alarms in this dual-level apartment." He blew another smoke ring.
"I wasn't a vir—" Crawford slapped a hand to his forehead and shut up. On the other hand, there had been no alarms when Farfarello dragged Nagi off, either.
"So now that we've had incredibly satisfying, sheet-drenching, extremely acrobatic sex, can we go beat Weiss now?" Schuldich demanded, sounding entirely too energetic.
"I don't know about that," Crawford grumbled. What did Schuldich think, that he was in charge now? Just because they had slept together? This once -- it wasn't like they were *ever* going to do it again...
"What I think, is that I need some dinner," Schuldich announced, stretching languorously.
"Reading my thoughts," Crawford accused. "I'm the leader. Remember that? Not you. *I* am the leader."
"Whatever," Schuldich sat up, muscles in his golden-skinned back rippling, tossing his hair. "And who was the one crying out 'More, baby, oh, yeah, more' huh?"
"Never mind that," Crawford said uncomfortably.
They got up and dressed on opposite sides of the bed. Crawford refused to look at the red-haired German; it would give him an edge he didn't need.
"I hate you!" Crawford informed him. "I have hated you from the first day I laid eyes on you."
"I know," Schuldich reminisced, "I said 'yo' and you said 'hmph' and I said 'hey, baby, you look like a nice piece of a—"
"I remember just fine," Crawford cut him off. "My point is, why would I start sleeping with you now? I don't LIKE you!"
"I know, baby," Schuldich beamed, suddenly on his side of the bed and patting his cheek. "But I'm good in bed, right?"
Crawford opened his mouth, lifted a finger, snapped his mouth shut, and glared. "I should have crushed you from the start like the insect you are. In fact—" he rose in volume, crossing his arms and inching towards the door, "if it weren't for the unfortunate requirement for your particular abilities, you—"
"Wow." Schuldich was staring intently at his face. "You know something?"
"What?" Crawford squelched the urge to run. Was there something on his face? Surely Schuldich wasn't contemplating a repeat performance.
*He* certainly wasn't.
"You are UGLY when you're angry," Schuldich concluded, then a maddening grin crossed his face and he waltzed straight past Crawford and through the door.
Crawford stared after the departed telepath. "That's it," he vowed. "Some day soon, I am going to kill you. And I won't necessarily wait until you're asleep." That stupid movie, he fumed; that stupid movie had exacerbated everything.
"Hey, are you gonna have some dinner, or what?" Schuldich's voice floated back to him.
"And it will *hurt,*" Crawford added, following with a great degree of trepidation.
Nagi was perched on a stool in the kitchen, munching on a plateful of chocolate chip cookies. "Hey, guys, look what I found."
Crawford smoothed his hair back nervously. "Oh, I wonder where those came from." If anyone found out about his domestic inclinations, there went his status as alpha male.
"Found 'em stuck in an air vent."
"Is Farfie off his meds again?" Schuldich asked with a blink.
Nagi shrugged. "Dunno. He sure seemed...um...okay to me."
Farfarello padded into the kitchen with a dreamy expression on his face. Crawford's and Schuldich's heads both whipped around to glare at Nagi.
"What?" Nagi said defensively.
"I saw God..." Farfarello proclaimed, opening the fridge and extricating a packet of raw meat.
Crawford and Schuldich continued to stare at Nagi.
"He didn't see God," Nagi contradicted, "he just broke the mattress box. Um, and the frame. And I think the headboard got some damage, too."
Crawford covered his face with his hands.
"It was the power of the Schwartz," Nagi explained.
"That's it," Crawford growled, "we're trashing that stupid movie." What was going on here? First Nagi and Farfarello, now he and Schuldich -- something against the very bedrock of his principles -- and now...
"Now we're gonna go beat Weiss, right?" Schuldich prodded.
"NO!" Crawford pinched the bridge of his nose. He had a monstrous headache again.
"Come, mein leibchen, it's no use resisting. The power of the Schwarz will overwhelm everything."
"Don't be ridiculous," Crawford snapped. "You may have *somehow* been able to overwhelm my natural aversion to you last night, but I'M in charge here! Where would you all be right now if I hadn't foreseen that Takatori would go up in flames?"
"Anybody could see that coming," Nagi murmured, monotone. Then he blinked. "Crawford and Schuldich slept together?"
Crawford's cell phone rang. Glaring around at his three partners, he stepped to the far side of the kitchen and flipped it on. "Crawford here."
"What did you *do* to him?" Nagi whispered on the other side of the kitchen. "He seems even more tightly-wound than usual."
Schuldich smirked and deigned to answer.
"All right, that's it," Crawford flipped his phone shut. "We've got a mission. Let's go."
"I'm not done with breakfast," Farfarello looked up from his steak.
"Farfarello!" Nagi exclaimed in shock. "You're cooking it!
"Wouldn't sexual conquest be more effective? Faster and satisfying, too," Nagi was arguing, as Schuldich spun the wheel, maneuvering Tokyo city streets towards the address Crawford had given.
"This is coming from the boy who wanted to date the blue-haired bubblehead who fought with a pink umbrella," Schuldich rasped.
Nagi flushed. "You just *have* to cast up my one mistake to me, over and over, don't you!? After you three, even Tot looked good!"
"What we really need," Farfarello spoke up darkly from the back seat, disregarding seatbelt laws and curled up in fetal position, "is a gigantic vacuum cleaner. Then we'll suck the air out of that stupid flower shop -- and all the flowers, too -- and make them all DEAD."
"That's no fun," Schuldich objected. "Then we don't get to screw around with 'em."
"Will you listen to yourselves?" Crawford cast his hands up. "You're ridiculous! All of you! Absurd!" To himself, he reflected quietly it was obvious why HE was the leader.
"Loosen your necktie once in a while, Crawford, before it strangles you," Schuldich muttered. He made a hair-rising left turn, screeched into a parking lot, and pulled to a stop inches from a brick wall. Farfarello was whispering something over and over that sounded like the Hail Mary.
"What's that all about?" Crawford demanded, half-turning to glare at the Irishman.
"Schuldich's driving definitely hurts God," Farfarello stated, "so I'm trying to call His attention to it."
"Oh. Well, let's get going."
The building security was a joke. Actually, the building security was dead.
"Keep your heads up!" Crawford snapped. "It's Weiss! They're here!"
"Great!" Nagi brightened.
Schuldich shot him a suspicious look, but let it pass.
Fifteen minutes later, they rounded a corner and ran smack into Weiss, all four of them. Crawford pulled his gun and prepared to fight.
Damn. Why hadn't he seen this coming?
"So, Weiss, we meet again," Crawford snarled. Damn. They were too late -- Weiss had already finished off their target, but maybe they could mend matters with their employer by presenting them with Weiss bodies.
"Aa," Aya returned coldly, lifting a gleaming katana.
Crawford leveled a gun at his face.
Aya's mouth tightened. "Fine, then."
"Wait!" Nagi cried, throwing up a telekinetic barrier that pushed the two grim leaders apart. "If we're going to do a final showdown, we need to do this properly!"
"Final showdown?" Crawford muttered, then, sotto voce, "Are you kidding? Koyasu produced this series."
Nagi whipped out a deck of cards. "Uno!! And the loser has to formally declare he yields!"
Brad and Aya both eyed him in consternation. Then, Brad turned to the youngest member of Schwarz.
"Nagi, did you by chance get hold of Schuldich's crack pipe again?"
"No, really!" Nagi insisted. "This is the best way!"
Omi from Weiss stepped forward. "I agree!" he said stoutly. "No more bloodshed!"
Brad and Aya looked at each other narrowly. "You agree to these terms?" Aya asked in his low voice.
Crawford shrugged. "I don't see why not," he said, "since battle after battle has proved inconclusive."
"This is no fun," Schuldich complained. "The loser should fall on his own sword, or something like that."
Crawford raised a brow. "What if I lose?"
Schuldich smirked at him. *I have every confidence,* the redhead's thoughts projected into his mind, *that you'd see it coming and cheat to win.*
Crawford sniffed disdainfully. As if he'd need to CHEAT at Uno. He was American; he'd grown up playing it.
Farfarello hauled over a folding table he'd pulled from some closet or another. He had been gnawing on one of the rusty legs. He set it up and Nagi thumped down the deck of cards.
"You both know the rules?" Nagi asked.
"All right," Nagi said, starting to shuffle and cut the cards.
"Wait!" Aya held up a hand, expression forbidding. "I don't trust you. You could stack the deck."
Nagi blinked, sniffed, then turned, holding the deck of cards out. "Fine. Omi -- you shuffle. We all know you'd never cheat at cards."
"Aa~ra, Nagi, how do you know that?" Schuldich drawled.
Nagi shot Schuldich a Look.
Once Omi had dealt, Aya and Crawford drew their cards, staring narrowly over the edges at each other. Voltage began to fill the air. Aya slapped down a blue 4. Crawford slammed down a blue 'Draw Two' right on top, barely missing the Weiss member's fingers.
"That's it!" Aya howled. "Shi-NE!"
"Aya! Play fair!" Yohji barked.
Aya glowered at the lanky brunet, sulking. He stared at his cards. "Or what?"
"You know what," Yohji sighed.
"My," Schuldich said, affecting surprise, "I didn't know you could do so many things with a jar of peanut butter. Kudos, Kudou."
Aya drew two, then with maniacal laughter, slapped down a blue 'Reverse.' Crawford raised a brow at him, and played a Wild Card. "Green, I think."
"Brad, baby, that's the color of my eyes," Schuldich cooed.
Crawford veinpopped. "Forget I said that. Make it yellow."
"You can't take it back," Aya said with a scowl. He chucked down a green 'Draw Four' card without changing expression.
*This is so stupid,* Crawford fumed, pinching the bridge of his nose. He drew four cards and put down a green 2.
Aya slammed down a 'Draw Four Wild' with a triumphant glint in his eye. His mouth quirked.
"Damn." He could see quite suddenly that he was going to lose. *Or,* he could...
"Red," Aya declared, as Crawford drew four cards. "The color of blood. A perpetual reminder of the imouto-chan you..."
"Oh shut up, will you!?" Crawford said, exasperated. "We never gave a damn about your bloody imouto-chan! We were following orders!
"And never mind the fact that it was fun, too," Schuldich said in an undertone.
"I'm so sick of you whiny children always blaming us for your failures! When are you going to learn that evil will always win, because *good* is *dumb*!?"
Crawford clapped his hands over his mouth. He *could not* believe he'd just said that.
"Crawford~! SHINE!!" Aya whipped out his katana and cleaved the folding table in half, not minding whatever damage it did to the edge. "That's it! We're going to kill you after all! Who's with me!?" He looked around.
Nagi and Omi were slumped against the wall, making out like there was no tomorrow.
Yohji was in the process of being dragged down the hallway by Schuldich, who had a good grip on his hair.
Farfarello was crouched at Ken's feet, begging him to unsheathe his bugnuks so he could lick them.
Aya veinpopped. "I hate you all."
Crawford looked at Aya levelly. "There's only one thing to do, in this case."
"If you suggest we go off to a quiet corner to make it like minks, I'm going to backhand you. With my sword," Aya told him.
Crawford made a face. "Perish the thought. Please. No, obviously we're winning -- so you may as well sell your teammates to me, for a profit of course, and then you can go do as you like."
Aya stared at him flatly.
"What's the catch?"
Crawford had to fight to contain his grin. Hook, line, and sinker.
*Make sure you don't pay TOO much for Yohji,* Schuldich told him. *I want to keep him. He's fun.*
Crawford shuddered. As long as it kept Schu out of his pants, he'd go to any lengths.
Ten minutes later, Aya walked out of the building with a sheathed katana, a billfold in his hand, and a tiny, but definite smile of satisfaction.
He was sure he'd gotten the better bargain.
What could Crawford possibly want them for? Anyhow, this money would cover Aya-chan's college education and other expenses.
Twenty minutes later, Crawford was fighting a migraine as he tried to herd his obstreperous teammates and their new playthings out the door. *After* he had collected the security cameras for resale, of course.
He *knew* he'd gotten the better bargain.