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December 2006

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never too late

sonneillon_v in aegis_weiss

Early morning coffee!

It was earlier than Farf generally liked to be awake. Fuck the early bird and all that - he was a night owl and he preferred Tokyo at night. And when he stayed up late, he slept in, so hauling himself out of bed to go see Youji today was something of a production. He didn't fully wake up until he was standing in his favorite coffee shop, staring at the billboard, wondering what to order. He went with his usual, a hot chai, extra strong - Not a coffee drinker. But Yotan was even lazier in the mornings than he was and would need the caffeine. Well, everybody liked cappuccino, so he ordered him the largest size, got a small bag of cinnamon scones, fresh and hot because the store had just opened, and made his way to the address in the yellow book.

Truth be told, when Omi had said he 'hadn't tracked Youji down yet', Farfarello had been somewhat confused. The man had a business, a private investigator's office. He needed clients, so he needed to advertise. Farfarello had known where Youji worked, lived, even ATE for the past two years. He'd just never had a use for the information until now - until now, he'd never really entertained the idea of Weiss willingly working with Schwarz. Omi had broken down that barrier somewhat, though it hadn't occurred to him that neither Tsukiyono nor Schuldig had mentioned him. So when he pulled the black jeep up outside Youji's office and climbed out with an offering of food and drink, he didn't think Youji would be as surprised as he likely would be. He'd changed - grown his hair long and wore it in a loose tail (sexy), had a light gray eye patch that blended in much better with his skin (thankfully), and wore scuffed, relaxed jeans and a faded green t-shirt that said "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" in English across the front (gift from Schu). He had a battered leather satchel slung over his shoulder, a drink carrier in one hand, and a white paper bag in the other. He opened the door with his foot and walked in as if he belonged. "Good morning, Kudou-san," he said politely in Japanese, as if there was nothing at all strange about this. "I apologize for bothering you this early, but I thought you'd want the information as soon as possible so we can get started. Perhaps if Tsukiyono spent as much time worrying about real problems as he spends worrying about his sex life," he said in a joking manner.

The truth of the matter was Youji was too suspicious. Which was a good quality in a private detective but a goddamn lousy one in a friend.

Youji couldn't quite shake the feeling that - somehow - what he was doing was disloyal. For the sake of the past, for what Weiss used to be, once upon a time when he'd known how to trust. Not even eighteen hours back and he was already starting to wonder. It made him a bad friend. A successful detective. An *alive* assassin. Honestly, Youji, what would you rather be? He hadn't survived as long as he has without developing a healthy streak of pragmatism.

Omi, as he'd suspected, had kicked over his own traces suspiciously comprehensively. Nothing on Mamoru; kid might as well have never existed. Omi, legally, was miles away. How could he follow a paper trail when its subject, unlike most of the rest of the population, knew to pick up after himself?

The lack of information was interesting in itself, but it didn't tell him a thing.

He looked up from the computer at the sound of footsteps in the tiny outer office, frowning slightly. Client, perhaps? Didn't think it'd be the wife from yesterday - the tread was too heavy, movements too definite. He wasn't expecting any new custom. Someone calling in on spec, then? He caught, indistinct as a figure seen through fog, a glimpse of the stranger through the glass pane set in his office door. Tall, he thought. Athletic build. Didn't look even remotely like the breed of humanity who normally filtered in through his office doors, someone's wife, someone's father, weary and beaten down and letting goof hope. Another puzzle. Shit, it was too early for this.

The door--

Oh yeah. Definitely too goddamn early.

What was it, Youji caught himself thinking, about dead people? He'd gotten by quite happily alone for five goddamn years and now he couldn't seem to walk into a building without a dead guy surprising him there.

If Youji had ever sat down and made a list of all the people he'd never expected to calmly walk into his office as if he owned the building, Farfarello would have been pretty high on it. Right behind the Emperor Akihito and Megaman. Farfarello, with long hair and a tee-shirt saying 'kiss me' in English (*kiss me*?) and a take-out bag. The knives strapped to his ankles were just a courtesy detail and actually strangely comforting. They were normal and expected in a situation that was anything but.

He couldn't think of anything much to say to that, so he didn't say anything at all. He just stared.

Farfarello set the coffee down on the nearest desk and pulled the cups free from the cup holder. He set the cappuchino toward Youji and picked up the bag, holding it up in front of Youji's large-eyed stare. "Scones," he explained. Fresh and cinnamon, Youji could smell the delicious scent of them. "Help yourself if you haven't had breakfast. I thought you possibly hadn't... the rest of your teammates seem to be subsisting on take-out and instant ramen." He took off the satchel and set it on the desk, then paused and looked up at Youji. That tiger-gold eye blinked once, and then his tone gentled. "Come on, Kudou. Snap out of it. If I was going to kill you or spout anti-deity rhetoric I'd have done it already."

Coffee. Jesus Christ. The last time Youji seen Farfarello he had been introducing Ken's head to a pillar. Now the guy walked into his office calm as you like and offered him coffee. This, Youji thought, taking the lid off the coffee and blinking in surprises - how the Hell had Farfarello known he liked cappuccino? - was one of the bizarrest things that had ever happened to him.

Balinese demanded to know if he was nuts.

Balinese, Youji thought, could shut the fuck up. He looked up, gave the man a quizzical frown, and snapped out of it. Either he was going nuts or the world had always been like this and he'd been too busy pretending to be normal to notice. Either way, he thought, might as well go along with it. "I suppose there is that to say for it," he said, and was surprised by how normal, how casual even, his voice had sounded. "I take it you're not here for a consultation?"

"Actually, I am in a way." Farfarello offered him a sly grin and unbuckled the satchel. Several small binders, manila folders, and a few CD-RWs in clear plastic envelopes spilled out. "I told Tsukiyono I would share what I had with him by way of intelligence regarding... well, anything he was interested in. So here I am, sharing. Because, if I may be so frank, I am in great need of your expertise."

"Expertise?" Youji took a sip of the coffee, noting (again, with mild surprise) that it was actually very good. Of all the things he could have comfortably accused the man of, finding a decent coffee shop in downtown Tokyo really wouldn't have been one of them. Then again, he never would have suspected that the man would look particularly good with long hair either. Wasn't like just full of surprises?

He lost interest in the coffee, however, when Farfarello emptied the satchel he'd been carrying onto his desk. Reaching for one of the CDs, he held it up between forefinger and thumb, regarding it with a certain curious detachment. "Oh yes, Omi," Youji said far too casually. "I'm afraid to say that Omi hasn't been particularly forthcoming with me so far. Am I to take it that you - that is you and that redhead friend of yours - are working with Omi - that is, with us?"

And realized he had sounded incredulous, and rather wished he hadn't.

"Work?" Farfarello sounded downright rueful. He gave Youji a look that said he was nearly at the end of his rope. "That's a polite way to put it. *I* am working. Schuldig is... doing what Schuldig does. Which at this point, is mostly Omi." He plucked a binder from the satchel and offered it to Youji. "But in essence, yes. We joined Omi's Aegis Project of our own free will and for a very good set of reasons." He leaned against the edge of Youji's desk, but didn't SIT on it, as that would be rude and in any case, he hadn't been invited to sit down. "What, precisely, did Bombay tell you?" he wondered, folding his arms across the "Kiss me" t-shirt and raising one eyebrow.

Permitting himself a token second's surprise, Youji raised his eyebrows at the comment about Omi, but said nothing. He hated to admit it, but after what he'd seen yesterday, the way Omi had been interacting with Schuldich - he'd only expected it. It would have been nice, he thought, if the rest of Farfarello's words could have been brushed aside so easily. It would have been nice to be richer, too Didn't mean it was going to happen.

He took the folder, rested it on the desk in front of him, placing the tips of his fingers lightly atop it. "Omi told me," he said simply, "just what he needed to tell me to hook me. Namely, very little of anything and nothing at all that would still matter in the morning." He gestured vaguely toward the chair - a simple inclination of the head. "But this is turning into a longer conversation. You can sit down if you want to."

Farf smiled and promptly took a seat. "Everyone I speak to about this seems to suffer from information overload," he said dryly. "So I'll try keeping it short and succinct and you can ask further questions if you like. Eszet was not completely devastated when we took them out five years ago. They have rebuilt their strength and they are up to the same old tricks. They will soon be coming here for two reasons - revenge and redemption. They want us dead and they want that ancient ghost of theirs brought back to life to carry them to global domination. This time, it would be nice to destroy them entirely... that's what I have devoted my life to for the past three years, and it's what I hope Aegis will assist me with. There is too much to do and too few sets of hands."

"Eszet?" It took a moment for the name to really register with him but when it did, it hit hard. "Oh, them." And had to smile at the understatement of it all, though smiling was really the last thing he felt like doing.

He was grateful - odd thing, really - to Farfarello for being straight with him, last thing he would have expected, but all the man's words seemed to be good for was giving him that oh-shit feeling, the giddy sensation of teetering on the edge of a precipice and gazing, in sick fascination, into the abyss. Of all the people in his past he would have liked to come along and said a big Hello to him, Youji thought, Eszet were pretty damn low on the list. He had to marvel at just how ineffective buildings collapsing into the sea seemed to really be when it came to taking people out...

"In short, we're in deep." Youji said. Already. Jesus, less than a day back and already he was wondering what good one guy and a wire could ever be... "So, where do I fit into all this? An extra pair of hands, right? How can I help you?"

Farfarello smiled deeply and settled back in his chair, predatory glint of teeth adding to the impression of barely-leashed ferocity. "I'm so glad you asked." He leaned forward. "Simply put, I am the only one doing anything about the situation at the moment. Tsukiyono is too busy with... other things, Schuldig is useless, and my resources are already expended. An extra pair of hands would be terribly helpful. My primary issue is, tracking Eszet is a difficult proposition at best. I have people working on it, but they aren't digging up much. In their defense, they are not trained investigators. They don't know the habits of corrupt corporations or the best places to hide a money trail. That's why I need you. You're a detective, Kudou, and a damned good one, history aside. I have a hacker, but I need someone to show him where to look and which records to pull, then help him pour over the records, find the suspicious transactions, and chase THOSE down. This is important because I have every reason to believe Eszet is howling at the walls of China's major cities, and once they take Beijing, they will come here, and when they come here, I have to know - when, where,and how many. We have to be prepared for siege."

"Yes," Youji said a little dryly, "I think I met Omi's *other thing* yesterday." Resting his chin on his crossed hands, Youji leaned slightly forward, all at once conspiratorial, and it struck him anew what a terribly bizarre situation this was, and what a strange conversation to have with someone who, up until about fifteen minutes ago, he'd presumed to be dead, and about ten minutes ago he had
considered somewhat less than lucid. The strangest thing of all was that he believed him. It hadn't even occurred to Youji to wonder if Farfarello might be lying: even now the protest felt merely token.

(Lies benefited the liar; that was the point of them. He couldn't think what Farfarello would have to gain from spinning stories about Eszet, of all people - hold that thought, Kudou. You've got other things to think of right now.)

"Siege." Farfarello made it sound like a war: you and me against the wall, baby, and he never thought he'd think that of a Schwarz. "Jesus," he said into the silence, "I don't know. I mean..." He laughed a little ruefully. "I mainly do divorce work these days. Missing kids. At the very most a little light fraud. This..." Tapping the folders in front of him, "... this is major-league stuff. I'll try and help, if you think it's worth it, but don't you think you need an expert?"

Farfarello smiled wryly. "I have experts. You're also an expert in your field. And Eszet survives through fraud. I understand that it is a lot of work.... intimately, as I've been DOING all that work for the past couple of years. I'm not asking for miracles. Just work with my agent and do your best, and anything you can dig up will be helpful. It frees me up to concentrate on other things, like shoring up our defenses so they can't slip under my drag-net." He paused. "When I say 'siege' I am not exaggerating in the least. They have more money, they have Psions, they have more people and better equipment. And it is imperative that we keep them out, because if they get a foothold in Japan, the first thing they will do is kill us... Weiss and Schwarz both."

With Farfarello's mention of his sources, Youji felt himself relaxing slightly. This, at least, was reassuringly familiar territory. "No, that's fine," he said simply. Yes, very familiar territory, this. "You want to protect your sources. Fine by me. Believe me, you can't get by in this business if you're not prepared to respect a few confidences. Even when it comes to the divorce work." He smiled at this, as if the two of them were sharing a not particularly funny private joke. "If Bombay finds out, I won't try to deny it. But if he doesn't... well, what he doesn't know won't hurt him. But if it looks like he needs to know - well, I won't move on that without discussing it first. Fair's fair."

It should have felt like a betrayal, and Youji guessed in a way it was, but he couldn't really see it as one. Maybe if Omi had been open with him, if this whole 'Aegis project', whatever that was, hadn't felt like a betrayal already - but the thought felt petty and unreasonable, and more like the truth than he'd have liked to admit, so he pushed it aside.

"So, this Calcabrina character--" he stumbled slightly over the pronunciation, the foreign word sounding thick and unfamiliar on his tongue. "Anything I should know about him?"

Farfarello considered that for a moment. "His code is Calcabrina. He goes by Shou. He has a great love of computers, and he is a Seer... instead of one Talent, he has three minor, related Talents. He escaped from Eszet when we brought about the collapse. The rest is his to tell. I will say that he is a devout Buddhist. He believes in harmony with other creatures and doing no harm. He stands with us against Eszet, contrary to his principles of non-violence, because if they are not stopped they will bring the entire world to darkness and that is a cause greater than all of us." He shrugged. "When I need someone dead, I have other options."

"Sounds like he's an interesting guy," Youji said. Yeah, he thought he could work with that. Had to admit it was nice to know his prospective contact made it a habit to do no harm. Of course, he'd reserve judgment on the guy's skills until he'd seen him in action but (weird, but true) until he knew better he guessed he could trust Farfarello's word. "I'm going to need his details," he said, he felt rather obviously. "Where abouts in China is he, anyway? You mentioned Beijing..."

Farfarello shook his head. "No offense, Youji," he said almost gently, "But that remains secret. As I said, my drag-net is not perfect and we are not the only ones with a telepath. None of Weiss has been taught to shield or veil their thoughts, though that will become extremely important soon... for your own sake, against Schuldig, as well as anything," he said dryly. "Shou has a partner to protect him but I will not put them in unnecessary danger. They are in mainland China. That is all you need to know." He withdrew an address book from his pocket and ripped out a page, producing a pen with a flick of his fingers and scribbling on it. "His e-mail address, the ICQ where he spends his time, a generic phone number that routes to where ever they are staying. Also, my home number, business number (which I am rarely at), and cell number (which I have on me always, but it is not a secured line). Hard files may be sent here, data files to this secure e-address."

"Okay, okay, I'll forget I mentioned it. I just wanted to make sure I didn't wake the guy up at four in the morning or something, but I guess we can both handle a bit of lost sleep if it's in a good cause." It wasn't like Farfarello didn't have a damn good reason to be paranoid, though - how the Hell did you hide from a telepath? was it really something they could learn?

"No kidding?" He said in mild surprise. "You can learn how to shield your thoughts?" And there he'd been wondering how anyone lived round that Schuldich character without killing him on general principle, just to get him out your head...

Another smile, couldn't go too wrong with them, really, and Youji was taking the paper Farfarello held out to him, tucking it away inside his own organizer before it could get lost amongst the clutter of files and papers that littered his desk (had to admit it; he admired Farfarello's organization). He'd transfer them into the book itself later. "Thanks," he said; brisk, businesslike. "I'll keep them safe. Any thoughts on when would be best to get in touch?"

"Calcabrina is expecting you," Farfarello told him with a slight smirk. "I told him nearly a week ago that I would try to secure your help. He doesn't speak Japanese but I understand he has an excellent translation software, so it shouldn't be a problem." He stood from the chair, sensing that their conversation was about to come to an end. He paused. "If I understand his intentions correctly, Tsukiyono intends to forge Aegis into a killing group again. You, Hidaka, Fujimiya. Something tells me you would not appreciate the resumption of your former lifestyle, but it is not my place to assume on your behalf. Just know that I can and will pay you to work for me. It's only fair when you invest your time to the detriment of your own business."

It seemed odd to realize he'd been second-guessed. That's what you get for being so damn accommodating, Youji chided himself, but a job was a job whoever it came from and it wasn't like business was so damn good he could turn Farfarello down... "I'll be in touch, then."

Farfarello stood, and Youji stood with him, skirting around the overloaded desk - gosh, was all that clutter for him? God almighty, Kudou, how do you get yourself into these situations? - and preparing to show Farfarello the door. It was only when Farfarello mentioned the bill that he realized he hadn't even mentioned money. Smooth, Kudou: what were you planning to do, build a house out of manila files and eat shredded paper?

(But to know this was only professional was a comfort, somehow. It wasn't a betrayal at all; just business.)

So he simply smiled, and nodded, and pretended it didn't matter what Omi might be paying him to do. "The bill will be in the post."

That got a grin out of Farfarello, and he let himself be herded out. The entire affair made Youji uncomfortable and he could tell, but Kudou would be grateful of it later when things got a bit more... intense. And when Omi started taking greater interest in fulfilling what he'd set out to do in the first place. But he'd worry about that later. "Good morning," he said formally, politely, and left the office to head back to the jeep. He'd let Kudou mull things over on his own time. Meanwhile, he had some other things he had to accomplish.